The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Why I am an atheist – The third bit

The story so far: Young impressionable boy attends very wacky Catholic school then moves to less wacky Catholic school but ends up deciding that just because something is less wacky doesn’t mean it isn’t wacky.

___

I was walking through Sydney airport. I can’t remember the exact date, and I can’t remember where I was going, but I was definitely walking because my feet were moving alternately in a forwards direction, and it was definitely Sydney airport because it was Sydney and I had paid too much for parking and there were planes everywhere. I also remember that I decided to pop into the book shop, and a book with a bright red and white cover caught my attention. It had “The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins” plastered across the front cover, almost certainly because that was the book’s title and author.

“That looks interesting,” I thought. So I picked up a copy, opened it to a random page, and started reading.

Now, it doesn’t happen very often, but every now and then you discover something so profound, so Earth-shattering, that it shakes you to your very core. One minute you’re sitting there thinking you’ve got it all figured out, and then BAM! A feint breath of knowledge has left you breathless, or a truth has suddenly rendered everything a lie, and all of a sudden you know nothing, Jon Snow. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that feeling you had when you first saw the end of The Sixth Sense (OMG he’s the dead person!), or the opening credits of Renegade (OMG he was a cop and good at his job!), or when your parents told you that Santa Claus isn’t real (OMG they were the ones secretly judging me all year!). And as I was standing there in the airport bookshop reading those random pages, I realised I was right in the middle of one of those moments. Yes, my friends, in that one, single instant, I was struck by an immediate, sublime realisation.

“This book is crap,” I thought.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “Don’t judge a book by its cover and a few random pages you read at the airport.” And OK, fine, that’s a well-known and common expression when it comes to books. But then again, I was able to conclude that Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey were crap after reading a few random pages at the airport, and we all know how they turned out. Well I don’t because I concluded they were crap and didn’t read them. But the point is that I’m really good at deciding that a book is crap after reading a few random pages at the airport, and my brief encounter with The God Delusion hadn’t done much to make me doubt the awesomeness of my crap detecting abilities.

Perhaps that surprises you. It definitely surprised me. I mean I expected Twilight and 50 Shades to be crap, since there’s only so much quality you can muster if you’re a barely literate moron writing about emotionally-stunted haemophiles who sparkle outdoors, or nauseatingly bland soulless billionaires with mummy issues. But Dawkins was a well-respected evolutionary biologist with a fancy accent and a dozen best-selling books to his name. And he was writing about one of the oldest and most important questions mankind has ever pondered. Surely he could manage to avoid being crap while I read a few random pages at the airport.

Surely.

___

If you’re going to argue against one of the oldest and most important questions that mankind has ever pondered, you’re probably a little boring and don’t have any friends. But also, you should at least have the decency to consider the best arguments mankind has to offer. For Dawkins, this apparently amounted to something called the “five proofs of Thomas Aquinas”.

For those that don’t know, Aquinas is something of a rock star in the Catholic Church, and would definitely be lead guitarist if Jesus ever started a band, which would obviously be called Nine Inch Nailed and have hit songs like “There’s something about Virgin Mary”, “Judas is a jerk”, and “I died on the cross for you, you selfish bastards”. Anyway, while not writing hit singles with his Lord and Saviour, Thomas apparently liked to spend a bit of time thinking about some of the most important questions mankind has ever pondered. So as well as being a little boring and not having any friends, he also thought about the existence of God, and came up with what he believed were five indisputable facts that proved His existence. I say “His” existence, because if God does exist then he’s obviously a man, since, you know, childbirth. And mansplaining morality on inconveniently phallic stone tablets.

Anyway, this was all news to me while I was standing there in the airport bookshop. In 12 years of Catholic schooling I had never seen or read anyone trying to prove God’s existence before, let alone someone as revered as Thomas Aquinas. After all, what’s the point of proving something so obvious?

Aquinas attempted it anyway, apparently, and concluded that yes, there is a God. This was probably a good thing for Thomas, given the consequences for concluding otherwise at the time, but I digress. The point is that Aquinas’ arguments as presented by Dawkins seemed to be if not outright asinine, then at least very, very silly. Now don’t get me wrong. Aquinas is one of the all-time intellectual titans of the Church, and probably knew Latin and how to spell “transubstantiation” and the difference between the immaculate conception and the Virgin birth. But there was no escaping the fact that his arguments were, in a word, crap. The conclusion for me was obvious. Dawkins was a massive jerk who’d deliberately left out all the good arguments for God’s existence, and just included the crap ones.

“Screw you, Dawkins,” I thought. “I’ll read the in-flight magazine instead.”

And I did. It had an article about two Instagram influencers from the Gold Coast who tried cupping in Canggu. It was called “Two Girls One Cupping”, and it was not crap.

___

Several years later, the red and white book that I had disgustedly discarded in an airport bookshop had sold three million copies, spawned a multitude of books in reply, and kick-started the New Atheist movement. The in-flight magazine I had chosen instead had achieved none of those things. It was time, then, to give “The God Delusion” another go.

Perhaps it was the intervening years of ever-dwindling faith, or the fact that I wasn’t reading a random chapter at the airport, but upon reading it properly for the first time, it didn’t immediately strike me as crap. In fact, it was so not crap that by the time I was a few chapters in I was actually starting to think that maybe Dawkins kind of had a point.

Books being what they are, I was of course destined to eventually reach the bit about the five proofs of Thomas Aquinas. You know, the bit that I had read at the airport and decided was crap. And by turning the pages in a sequential fashion, which is how my mum taught me to read books, I did indeed reach that bit. Here they are, paraphrased by me, in all their glory:

  1. Stuff moves, but can only move if moved by something else. So, like an awkward first date, someone had to make the first move.
  2. Stuff is caused, but nothing can cause itself. So there must be someone to blame for all this shït.
  3. Stuff exists, but nothing can bring about its own existence. So all this shït had to come from somewhere.
  4. Stuff can be good, but goodness is relative, so there must be something reeeeeeeeally supremely good against which we measure stuff’s goodness.
  5. Everything looks designed, including us. So there must be a designer.

So there you go.

The good news is that they appeared to be pretty much as I remembered them, which admittedly doesn’t happen very often, what with my memory being a bit rubbish. The good news, however, was that… oh wait, I’ve said the good news already, dammit. The bad news was that they still appeared to be crap. Proofs 1 to 3 are basically the same, and just scream intellectual laziness. “I can’t think of any other way this might have happened, so… God!”. Proof 4 is one of the most ridiculously see-through non sequiturs in the history of mankind. Goodness is relative so there must be something that is infinitely good? On what planet does that make sense? The only one that maybe had a chance was Proof 5. But that was hardly decisive, especially given the idiocy of the other four.

I read them again, slowly, and then I read them once more. And try as I might I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something had to be missing. Surely the ultimate question of life the universe and everything didn’t boil down to three identical platitudes, a play on words, and ignorance of evolution.

Surely.

Luckily for me, I was at home and had access to Google. So I googled “the fuve proobes of thomas aquians”, and after Google helpfully corrected my typing I soon discovered something incredible. Dawkins had, in fact, fairly and accurately presented the five proofs of Thomas Aquinas, and these were, in fact, the best arguments for God going around. People were still using them today, some 800 years later. Needless to say, this came as quite a shock. And so instead of wondering whether Dawkins was a massive jerk, I found myself wondering something else.

“Hang on… is this all we’ve got?”

And so began a big personal voyage of discovery. But you’ll have to wait for Part 4, so there.

– Tim

Religious Freedom – Scomo’s Biggest Meta-Achievement

scott-morrison

Scott Morrison can always be relied upon to fearlessly create change by legislating things which already exist. Take the food adulteration laws he so bravely championed, whereby he created a separate offence for something which already existed as an offence in the criminal code, and then whacked a sentence on it which nobody in their right minds would ever apply. Sure, it’s a double up on an extant law, and sure, its value is purely symbolic, but that’s the beauty of Scomo. He can create reform without the messiness arising from actual change. Scomo is the master of what I like to call meta-achievement. Or to put it in the words of one of my favourite poems/satirical political programs:

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us – if at all – not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

The Hollow Men, T S Eliot

It probably makes more sense if we remember that our fearless PM’s core discipline is marketing. For Scott Morrison, appearance is reality. Gesture is motion, and shape is the same as form. Or, to put that on a level more commensurate with his actual world view, looking like you’re doing stuff is, like, the same as doing stuff.

And this is why I’m pretty relaxed about Scomo’s push to introduce religious freedom legislation. By all accounts (by which I mean his), this legislation will mirror existing anti-discrimination legislation. The same legislation which, when combined with the constitution, actually provides comprehensive protections for religious freedom. Which is the exact thing he’s so keen to appear to achieve. Because in the universe particular to Scomo and the weirdly angry culture warriors who sing his praises, appearing to achieve something is the same as actually achieving something. You can tell this belief is sincere by the way he says publicly, and without irony, that he intends to introduce an anti-discrimination law which mirrors current anti-discrimination laws. He’s not even lying to us – he’s just incapable of living in a world where symbols aren’t the things in themselves. Because, and I emphasise this point in case I’ve been too subtle about it, he is essentially a hollow man.

Of course, there are functional aspects to this action. Scomo is famously and unashamedly a Pentecostal Christian, a faith position which I and every other sane observer feels to be weirdly at odds with having a Bachelor of Science. But then, B Sci grads I’ve spoken too are unanimous in their opinion that that particular undergraduate degree has about as much substance as a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, which is basically best when it’s three ply, soft and absorbent.

You see, Scomo has a rank and file of Christian soldiers in his cabinet and his backrooms, and more importantly, in his support base. He needs must create a symbol of intention in order to ensure that he’s not knifed like the bloke that he himself knifed. And seeing that they’re all happy clappy Christian types, he knows that they’ll be happy with a symbolic gesture which may or may not have actually happened. Given that this is really the stock in trade of the fundamentalist loony… sorry – I mean sincere and dedicated Pentecostal.

So perhaps we should just sit back and enjoy the light show. I mean, it’s not as if anything is actually being achieved – it’s just meta-achievement in the classic Scomo vein.

“Or perhaps we should get on the same page as Scomo on symbols. Because on a level which has nothing to do with his elaborate simulations of leadership, symbolic actions do change reality.”

Or perhaps we should get on the same page as Scomo on symbols. Because on a level which has nothing to do with his elaborate simulations of leadership, symbolic actions do change reality. This one, for example, has the power to change us from a secular and sane country into a cut-down version of evangelical America. From a certain point of view, it might be considered our duty as non-crazy, non-fundamentalist citizens to make it very clear to our symbolically sensitive meta-leader that this particular meta-achievement is offensive to our existing liberties and to the idea of effective and meaningful government.

At the risk of sounding American, we should tell our MPs what we think of this. No, really. Sure, they’ll ignore one or a dozen of us, but they can’t ignore all of us. Or, if a more direct approach appeals, there’s always the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s contact form here: https://www.pmc.gov.au/contact-us

Because as Scomo himself says, he’s listening, and hearing, and if he’s listening, he’s doing.

An open letter to Israel Folau

Izzyyyyyy! Maaaaaaaaaate!

How’s it going, champ? I guess that’s a silly question though eh mate. It wasn’t that long ago that you were raking in the big bucks and you were loved by everyone and you’d helped us lose our 16th Bledisloe Cup in a row. Then a few short months later you’re out on your arse and only liked by Christians and Andrew Bolt and you’re reduced to begging for money and you probably won’t get to help us lose our 17th Bledisloe Cup in a row. I feel for you mate. That really sucks. What do you think has sucked the most?

I reckon it would have to be not being able to play for your country any more. They say there’s nothing quite like pulling on that Qantas Wallabies jersey and losing a Bledisloe Cup for your country. I wouldn’t know cos I never got the chance to lose for the Wallabies. Not because I wasn’t capable, mind you. I reckon I could lose a game of rugby like nobody’s business. No, I never played for the Wallabies cos my mum wouldn’t let me cos I don’t have any muscles and I’m a bit of a sook. She was right, of course, but it still hurt.

I would have loved to represent my country. Imagine being able to represent the country of ANZACs and Dame Nellie Melba and Cathy Freeman and Russell Crowe. How proud must you be to be given the opportunity to go into battle for us, your fellow Australians, who were one of the first people to give women the vote and decriminalised homosexuality and recently had over 60% of the population vote for marriage equality, despite religious opposition to all three of them. Oh I guess it also sucks to lose a $4 million contract.

Or maybe the worst thing was having to choose between representing your country and telling atheists and adulterers and drunks and gay people they’re going to hell. That’s gotta be a tough choice. I mean, not many people like the pious judgement of people they don’t know, but that’s not your fault, Izzy. And people need to know these things.

That’s why I told the new Jewish guy at work that his people killed Jesus and he’s probably going to burn in Hell for all eternity. Shimon got all butt-hurt about it, of course, but Shimon loves getting butt-hurt, and I was just stating facts. What am I meant to do? Keep my opinion to myself? How would he know he was going to Hell? It was all fine though. The next day he came to me and told me that he’d thought about it and he’d completely renounced his Judaism, accepted Baby Jebus as his Lord and Saviour, and regrown his foreskin. So I guess I did the right thing.

Then there was that time that I told the CEO of my company that he’d lied about our projected profits. He tried to say it was just an unexpected experience deviation, but that just made things worse. “Try telling that to Jesus!”, I said with a chuckle. Yes we were at the Christmas Party but a lie is a lie no matter what time of year it is. Then I took his drink off him because he’d had two already and Jesus doesn’t like drunks.

Anyway, Izzy, the point is that you’re amazing. Just imagine how many liars have stopped lying and drunks have stopped drinking and rimmers have stopped rimming because of your Instagram posts. I only saved two people from Hell, but you’ve probably saved millions.

That’s all for now mate. I lost my job at the last Christmas party so I gotta go finish my resume. Good luck with the fundraising, and don’t lose hope. You’ll be back losing games for the Wallabies in no time.

Yours sincerely,

Tim

Latest Vatican Research Findings: Boys Have Penises

The Vatican or, more specifically, The Congregation for Catholic Education, has just released a document regarding the teaching of gender theory. As part of the GBA service, I have read this document so that you don’t have to waste the precious moments of your life doing so.

Plenty of other press organisations have covered the provocative timing of this release, as well as the reliably dissident Jesuit response, but there’s been little to no engagement with the actual arguments as yet, mostly owing to that tried and true journalistic practice of never reading more than the abstract and conclusion of anything, no matter what it is. I, however, believe that there should be little to no engagement with the actual arguments because they’re either not actually arguments, or they are arguments, but they’re stupid.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, beyond the usual guff about love and doctrine, and that curiously unique Vatican style – all technical sounding multi-syllables interspersed, seemingly at random, with sudden bursts of mediaeval English and Latin. I knew that it would basically be a combination of rebuttal book and conversation starter: a set of things teachers can say when confronted with non-Catholic or, as I like to put it, sane views of an issue, as well as a call for academics and whatnot to engage with their position. This kind of polarity is also typical of the Vatican – an open-hearted and sincere wish to listen, combined with a greasy bag of low-down sophistry designed to maintain, at all costs, their doctrinaire view of the world and of themselves. Like an obese contortionist covered in food waste, official Vatican thinking has a tendency to be simultaneously compellingly beautiful, impressively agile, and deeply repugnant.

I knew, basically, that it would be very like other Vatican documents from this department. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was how dim-witted it would be. Its attempts to define and answer gender theory reminded me of nothing so much as an octogenarian attempting to use Snapchat. The little tour of ‘gender theory’ the authors take us on is so befuddled, so obviously confused and intellectually outpaced, that it’s almost charming. One of their more risible contentions is the idea that the body, the sex, of an individual is a primary determiner of gender. This isn’t amusing or insane in and of itself, of course – what’s laughable about it is their assumption that gender theorists don’t agree with this. They do. For the same reason that most academics agree that rocks are made of stuff that forms rocks.

And then there’s their central contention – that gender theorists believe that gender is solely down to “human choice”. Now, I’m undecided on whether this is disingenuous or dim-witted, but the strong implication of the language is that this means an individual human’s choice. This is emphatically not an accurate summation of gender theory. Most theories of gender performativity, etc., emphasise the role of social and cultural constructs in the formation of gender. The radical bit is pointing out that these are artificial, and that the individual can and often does have significant agency in determining whether or not to conform to them. Which is actually a near identical position to the one adopted by the Congregation. Which would obviously be inconvenient and embarrassing, so I guess I’m going to opt for ‘disingenuous’ as the word which best describes the logical core of the argument.

Another charmingly oblivious aspect of the paper is its consistent use of the term ‘ideological’ to describe what they term to be the ‘radical’ end of gender theory. In the same paragraph – often the same sentence – as a call for the rejection of “ideologically based” theories, is a call for teachers to promote “doctrine”. One man’s ideology is another man’s doctrine, I guess. But this seemingly genuine lack of self awareness is another example of unexpected charm. It’s like Basil Fawlty – so flawed he can’t see his own flaws which, in certain contexts, is counter-intuitively endearing. The whole Catholic Church is a bit like that, and this comes through very clearly in this pretzel-like grab bag of random half-truths and invalid arguments.

Of course, when once we get past the impressive sounding ‘philosophical’ language, and the big-hearted rhetoric of universal love, the charm starts to wear off. Actual analysis of this document reveals that its entire position is based on a straw man and a false dichotomy. The egregious misunderstandings of gender theory are revealed as not so much befuddled as they are wilfully, shamefully dishonest and misleading. And the notion that only the most radical aspects of gender theory are being taught in schools, and that this represents a cultural crisis, is in actual fact on the same level of sanity as Alex Jones or David Icke. It does not represent reality in any way, and this isn’t because it’s a bunch of doddering confused old men doing the thinking. It’s because the Church is pulling an extremely nasty trick – the same one they’ve been pulling for about 1800 years. “We love you, whoever you are,” this document says, “so please come and talk to us so we can explain to you why you’re not allowed to own who you are.”

The Jesuit priest James Martin hit the nail exactly on the head. Or, to be more Catholic about it, rem acu tetistigi-ed. “Sadly, …[this document]… will be used as a cudgel against transgender people, and an excuse to argue that they shouldn’t even exist.” He’s right – it will be. Primarily because that is exactly what it was made to be.

Why I am an atheist – The second bit

The story so far: Young impressionable boy attends wacky Opus Dei school until he and his parents start to think Opus Dei might be a bunch of weirdos so they decide to try the Jesuits instead.

___

After renouncing the flagellating wackiness of the Opus Dei guilt machine, my parents and I packed up our rosary beads and set out for the wild west of Catholic schooling – the Jesuits. Mr Mullins, the Opus Dei assistant principle, made it clear that he thought this was a terrible decision, telling my mother that my soul was in great danger, and that he would pray for me. Mum told Mr Mullins to go fück himself. Not out loud, of course, because she’s a lovely young lady and would never speak to anyone like that, unless they reeeally deserved it. Which he did. But she still didn’t say it because, as I said, she’s a lovely young lady. And so off to the Jesuits I went.

The most remarkable thing about the Jesuits was that they weren’t really that remarkable. Sure, they were all monumentally overweight (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and they all had terrible haircuts (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and one of them was eventually sent to prison for being a kiddy-fiddler (not that the Church thinks there’s anything wrong with that), but I was generally just amazed at how normal everything seemed.

For starters, there was no talk about it being a sin to kiss girls, which allowed me to carry on not kissing girls, but with the added bonus of not being able to claim it was for religious reasons. Popularity seemed to be determined by more normal things, too, like sporting ability or what suburb you lived in or sometimes even personality, rather than naff reasons like knowing the Catechism off by heart or going to confession. Speaking of confession, my new school showed an exceptional lack of enthusiasm for guilting us all into going to confession. Or to Mass, for that matter. They didn’t even guilt us into going to confession before Mass to confess that we hadn’t been to the previous Mass. In fact, the only confession I really remember is Brother Healy confessing that humans actually evolved from apes, and not two functional idiots wearing fig leaves in the Middle East.

This was, I admit, a little bit strange at first. But it didn’t take long to get on board with the Jesuit’s refreshingly non-judgey vibe. Free from the Sauron-like gaze of the Opus Dei Fasholics (a brilliant portmanteau of “Fascist” and “Catholic” that I just invented), I decided to stop going to Mass every Sunday. I also stopped going to confession to confess that I wasn’t going to Mass every Sunday. And by the time an authority figure with poor judgement asked me to give the farewell speech at the end of Year 12 dinner, I didn’t mention God or Jesus at all. Not deliberately, mind you, but because I was too busy being outrageously funny and it just didn’t occur to me.

Continuing my trend of attending increasingly secular educational institutions, I then trotted off to university where, for the first time ever, I wouldn’t have to take an exam about God or Jesus. I probably should have, given my first year results, but I digress. The main thing to note was that, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t subjected to daily reminders that there is a God and a Jesus and they need to be worshipped. The void was filled by other things like beer and maths and statistics and beer, and conversations with my new classmates became less “How good is Jesus” and more “OMG like what’s the eigenvalue of that case of beer”. Before I knew it, I had become the sort of Catholic that Opus Dei had warned my mother about, and I started only going to Mass at Christmas and Easter. On the one hand, this kind of meant I was definitely going to hell, but on the other hand, Mr Mullins had said he would pray for me, and mum hadn’t told him to go fück himself so he was definitely still praying for me, so I was sure it would be fine. And it was fine, until two things happened that made me stop going to Mass for good.

The first was that, like every other cool idea I’ve had (e.g. jet engines and socialism), this one had been invented already, and pretty much every normal Catholic already only went to Mass at Christmas and Easter. This meant the church was packed on those days, and a packed church seemed to make this particular priest very, very grumpy. To wit, instead of dedicating his sermon to the birth or resurrection of Baby Jebus as the occasion required, he dedicated it to telling us all we were annoying, ungrateful little shïts for only coming at Christmas and Easter. Somehow it failed to occur to him that he was basically wishing for the church to be that packed every week, which was odd, since we knew from what he had just told us that a packed church made him very, very grumpy. In any event, it didn’t take long to realise that the best way to avoid a lecture on diligence from someone who drew his salary from a collection plate was to just not go to Mass. Ever.

The second thing that happened was that I went back to Mass.

Yes, I had already decided that I would just stop going, but a friend of mine asked me to go one day, coincidentally to the same church as the above, and I thought that since it wasn’t Christmas or Easter, maybe the grumpy priest would talk about something interesting rather than being grumpy. And he didn’t disappoint, spending a good 25 minutes reinforcing traditional gender roles in heteronormative family units. Men do the jobs, you see, and women do the kids, and that’s how God wants it. I should add that this was about 20 years ago, and I had never even heard the words “traditional gender roles” or “heteronormative family units”. But even then, listening to a religious justification for entrenched sexism from an unemployed celibate man in a bright green muumuu struck me as odd, and it turned out to be the final straw. When it came to Mass, I was done.

___

Questions are an interesting thing. You grow up believing something without question, and then one day, a lone, innocent little question presents itself. In my case, I was told that if I accepted communion in my hands, there was a chance Jesus would end up in the washing machine, and that would be bad. And the question I had was, if Jesus was God and God was all-powerful, why would he allow himself to be put through the washing machine? And even if he did allow it, why on earth would he care? Surely an omnipotent being that conquered death could conquer a Fisher & Paykel 8kg WashSmart front loading wachine machine with SmartDrive™ technology for a quiet and reliable wash. And that’s the thing about questions. If the answers prove unsatisfactory, they invariably lead to more questions.

My next question was around how Jesus came to be inside the communion wafer in the first place. For those who are unaware, it happens through the power of transubstantiation – a very silly word for the very silly belief that a grumpy celibate man in a bright green muumuu is imbued with the power to turn a small flavourless cracker into the actual flesh of Jesus Christ. For an extra ten points, he is also able to turn a shït Hunter Valley shiraz into Jesus’ actual blood. And no, I am not joking. This is what practising Catholics actually believe. And while it does shed some light on why you might be careful not to put some of the wafer through the washing machine, it doesn’t really explain why it’s apparently OK to chew Jesus up and subject him to our digestive process. I mean, if Jesus knows how to exit the wafer before he encounters the wonders of the lower intestine, surely he can figure out how to avoid the much more hygienic process of a spin and rinse.

While such questions led to the gradual waning of my Catholic belief system, there remained some things that, to me, were still obvious and irrefutable. In other words, I came to realise that while the Catholic version of God may not exist, surely there is some being that created everything and transcends us all. That seemed like a reasonable position to take.

That was until I read a little known book called The God Delusion. And that’s when things got even more interesting. But you’ll have to wait for Part 3, so there.

– Tim

Why I am an atheist – The first bit

It’s a sin to kiss girls for pleasure.

Or at least, that’s what the Catholic religious studies teacher said to his class of impressionable 13-year-old boys, on an otherwise uneventful day, at an otherwise unremarkable school, in Sydney’s north west. While most of the boys nodded their heads in solemn approval, and a few struggled to stifle their sniggers, one of the boys did neither. For that boy, something about the teacher’s pronouncement just didn’t make sense. So he sat for a moment in ponderous silence, until he was struck by a sudden realisation.

“Oh my god!” he blasphemed internally. “That means it’s OK to kiss them as punishment! And it’s OK to kiss boys for pleasure.”

Needless to say, Thomas went on to become a Catholic priest, and an expert in Canon Law. Funnily enough, I also happened to be in that class, but I was struck by a different thought.

Why else would you kiss girls?
_____

Now that I am an atheist, it’s easy to look back at events like that and say, in a Wonder Years voice, that that’s when I knew. That was the moment. That was the first, small tug on the thread of my religious belief, that led to the unraveling of my entire Catholic cardigan. It’s also easy to say that it was the reason I didn’t kiss a girl until I was 19, but if I’m being honest, it had little to do with either at the time. The truth is that I was an insufferable little holy child, up to my holy little eyeballs in Jesus. And my teacher’s idiotic pronouncement on kissing, while slightly puzzling when I was 13, didn’t announce itself as completely idiotic until much later.

Until that happy thought dawned on me, however, I had a religion to immerse myself in. So after being born, somewhat ironically, in the City of Churches (now known as Radelaide), I set about Catholic-ing the absolute shït out of it. I prayed. I learned my Catechism. I gave up lollies for Lent (well, sort of). I had my Reconciliation, First Communion and Confirmation. I went to confession and told a celibate old man that I was a really shït 13-year-old. I had that same celibate old man tell me that if I said three Hail Marys I’d be turned back into a not-quite-as-shït 13-year-old. I asked for, and was given, a missal for my birthday. I went to Mass. I capitalised the word “Mass”. I accepted the absolute, mind-mashing lunacy of transubstantiation. I went to Mass and believed that I was eating a thin, tasteless wafer made of actual Baby Jesus. And when I ate Baby Jesus, I made sure to have the priest put Him straight on my tongue, lest I get some Baby Jesus on my hands, and then put my hand in my pocket, and then put my pants in the washing machine, and end up drowning poor Baby Jesus in warm water and OMO (no, I’m not joking). I wore a scapula. I said the Regina Coeli every midday during Lent, and the Angelus every midday otherwise. I had a guardian angel, who I named Raphael. And when I went to bed, I prayed for my elder brother’s immortal soul – out loud – while he was trying to sleep on the bunk above me (he was very grateful for the help, and didn’t think I was an annoying, pious little shït at all).

You might wonder why I felt the need to pray for my brother’s immortal soul. I mean, let’s face it, Sydney’s North West is a long way from Sodom, even before Hillsong moved in. But chief amongst our Catholic duties was going to Mass every Sunday, so we went to Mass every Sunday, until one day my brother decided not to go to Mass every Sunday. This was, embarrassingly, quite big news at the time. “But… but… we have to go to Mass on Sunday!”, I protested. Now, you might think that, being a child, my protestations were of the “it’s not fair that I have to go and he doesn’t” variety. Looking back now, I wish they were, but the truth is much more naff.

You see, one of the Ten Commandments is to honour the Sabbath. And according to the particular brand of Catholicism that I was exposed to (Opus Dei), that meant going to Mass on Sunday. Not going to Mass on Sunday therefore constituted a mortal sin – a sin considered so heinous that, if left unforgiven, warrants an eternity in Hell. So, essentially, if my brother skipped Mass and then got hit by a bus before going to confession, he’d end up in Hell all because he hadn’t gone and pretended to listen to a celibate old man turn a cracker into a miscreant Jewish tradie. I’d then be sad because I wouldn’t get to see him for all eternity because I was definitely going to heaven on account of my weekly consumption of the aforementioned tradie. This was a problem. So I did what any little brother would do and told one of my teachers. He then suggested the one course of action that was absolutely guaranteed to not accomplish anything – prayer – and I thus found myself annoying the living shït out of my brother, by praying for his soul from the bottom bunk. He of course told me to shut the hell up. And I of course prayed that god would forgive him for telling me to shut the hell up. And if I could wish for anything right now, I would wish that none of this actually happened.

In any event, my prayers had little effect. My brother did not start going to Mass, and he did not start going to confession to confess the fact that he wasn’t going to mass. I, meanwhile, began to wonder why god would send a perfectly nice human to hell for all eternity, for the perfectly understandable crime of not spending an hour listening to a celibate old man turn a wafer into Baby Jebus and then not going to confession to pretend to be sorry about it. The whole thing seemed a little… well… silly. Not to mention mean.

It was at that point that my parents and I decided that perhaps Opus Dei wasn’t the most sensible version of Catholicism, and we thought it might be a good time to throw our luck in with the Jesuits.

So we did.

And that’s when shït got interesting. But you’ll have to wait for Part 2. So there.

Hillsong’s Not So Happy Clappy Underbelly

I’m currently working on a story about Hillsong. Given that I only occasionally pretend to be a journalist, this work is going quite slowly, but it is going nonetheless. The working thesis of this story is that Hillsong is in fact a dangerous cult, on a par with Scientology, and even the casual and peripatetic inquiries I’ve made so far have given me enough material to put together this preview.

We like to think of Hillsong as a sort of eccentrically fervent church, a weird and anomalous phenomenon, with beliefs on the insanity end of the stupid spectrum, sure, but just another happy clappy congregation at the end of the day. This just isn’t true. Quite a few people, I’m sure, are aware of the fact that Hillsong is not a church but a for-profit enterprise. This has been made pretty obvious in the past, with their past ownership of Gloria Jeans and their previous Australian head actually saying on Sixty Minutes that they operate for profit. But there are many indications that Hillsong operates on another and far more sinister level as well.

Let’s take the idea that Hillsong is anomalous – a strange but harmless blip on society. It isn’t. It’s the whale amongst a network of Pentecostal churches who share money, lobbying power, and insane beliefs, and a member of one of these churches is our current Prime Minister. What this means is that there is an entire mechanism or network of people surrounding and supporting him in our nation’s corridors of power who are similarly deranged. Okay, maybe ‘deranged’ is a bit subjective, so let’s go with ‘compromised’ instead. We need only look at the tender treatment of these churches in the media, the glad-handing and soft-soaping that both political parties undertake every single election cycle with these congregations, to see that this disturbingly regressive and reason-immune cluster of churches is burrowed tick-like into the highest levels of the Australian establishment. This makes them both mainstream and deeply unacceptable.

But there’s even darker stuff to be found. One of the frustrating things about journalism is that quite a bit of the evidentiary basis for a story is ultimately going to be anecdotal. The idea is to collect enough of these anecdotes – verifiable ones, for preference – to start the sort of evidence avalanche which can properly be termed as data. I’d like to share some of the anecdotes I’ve collected so far. To protect sources and keep my promises, I’m going to have to use alpha-numerics instead of names.

A1 came from a Hillsong family. He was brought up in a high powered Pentecostal community – the kind and level which owned Gloria Jeans. He has a fairly typical story to tell, with the usual catalogue of psychological damage one can expect from an organisation which thinks of shame as a beneficial child-rearing tool. His sexuality was constantly under the microscope, and he was driven from church to church, pastor to pastor, in order to have his most intimate thoughts and actions parsed and examined for orthodoxy. So far, so typical, as far as religion goes. But he also describes the extreme pressure put on him by the church to cut himself off from all secular forms of counselling, instruction, or support. It got to the point where he was being advised not to have any friends outside the church, and not to speak to family members who had yet to accept the church’s embrace. This was my first sniff of cultish practice, and it’s absolutely classic of its kind.

G3 was a working girl and meth addict. She was accepted into the church on the back of a ‘chance encounter’ at what can only be termed a crack house in Terrey Hills. Initially, all was wonderful. She received great support in addiction recovery and in other aspects of re-building her life. Things took a turn for the dark when she suddenly found herself steered towards a volunteer program made up of people like herself, formed specifically to target drug addicts, sexual abuse victims, and other vulnerable people for recruitment. This wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem. It’s very easy to see this as an ordinary outreach program, but there are a few key aspects of it which ring serious alarm bells. Like the fact that this outreach sent recovering addicts back into drug dens and haunts to trawl for more members. Like the fact that even when she relapsed (which she of course did multiple times owing to being sent back into crack houses on a regular basis) and began prostituting herself again, the church was still more than happy to accept their twenty percent tithe – insisted on it, in fact. Like the fact that when her parents attempted to move in to support her, strong pressure was placed on them to route money to the church so that they could ‘take charge’ of her recovery. Ultimately, G3 died of an overdose, miserable and conflicted about her faith, on the dirty carpet of a heroin dealer’s living room.

So the next time you see a Hillsong lovie with the cheerful t-shirt and the Christian rock, or a family member or friend considering going along ‘just to see what it’s all about’, please do keep these two stories – two amongst a great many more, some of which involve actual kidnapping and coercion but which I do not currently have permission to share – in mind.

Don’t Take (non-excisable) Drugs

When white middle class kids start dying, we can generally be pretty confident that there will be calls for change.

One disadvantage of this excellent system, however, is that the initial conversation tends to be made up of people who have decided to weigh in on an issue after decades of failing to take any active interest in it. Issues of pill testing, and the looming elephant in the room – prohibition – are no exception. A lot of genuine and laudable emotion is being aired and expended on both sides of what we must laughingly term ‘the debate’, but there is a big – a bloody enormous – gap in all of this. And this comes with the failure to ask a single simple question: “Is there a good reason for the prohibition of narcotic substances?”

Despite the fact that almost everybody assumes that there is, it’s actually far from being uncontested. The origins of prohibition trace back to surprisingly stupid roots. Global substance control has its origins in the US Temperance Movement, a movement which, by today’s standards, is actually quite extremist. It was arguably pretty whacky in its own day too. There’s lots of history on the subject, and it’s actually unusually unanimous when it comes to how and why prohibition came about. Put simply, the discovery of the process for extracting vegetable alkaloids was a major revolution in humanity’s unceasing quest to find ways to both enhance and inebriate consciousness. There followed a period generally known as ‘The Great Binge’, in which cocaine and heroin were found in pharmaceutical, beauty, and fad products, and seemingly everyone in the western world was off their trolley all the time. In the wake of the big world wars, necessary re-definitions of the contract between citizen and state impacted the types of laws being proposed and accepted by most western nations. It’s in these periods we find stuff we’re still very much in step with today. Laws about workers’ rights and safety, grand social security mechanisms, our current attitudes to education rights and suffrage, and also the attempted prohibition of alcohol, and the successful prohibition of most of what we today classify as narcotics. It’s generally agreed that the substances which came under most fire fell into the following categories:

  • Popular with ethnic minorities and the poor
  • Not one of the USA’s biggest exports (tobacco)
  • Largely imported from non-western countries

It’s the first point which needs to be stressed. The prevailing belief at the time was that the poor and ill-educated were helpless children, incapable of stewarding their own lives, and that they also needed their souls saved from the damnation inherent in self-indulgence. So they could get to Christian heaven. It’s arguable, but it’s probably reasonable to assume that a combination of organisational inertia, mission creep, and the kind of amnesia pretty well unique to western cultures is what has resulted in these motives not only remaining unquestioned, but being actually forgotten.

Drugs kill people, certainly. I’d be willing to bet that the chilling statistics around overdose deaths and whatnot are actually true. Pretty well as true as those same (and much larger) numbers that we associate with alcohol and tobacco. But whereas with alcohol it was recognised that its prohibition had resulted in the sudden creation of a murderous and obscenely wealthy new criminal class without causing any appreciable drop in its consumption or its harms to individuals and society, no such thought process has occurred with relation to narcotics. But the facts speak for themselves. Taking only a single case – the Mexican and Colombian cartels – drug prohibition has created a situation in which addiction and usage rates have dropped 0% (and this is using the lowball figures we get from activities that are illegal), and criminal organisations large enough to represent existential threats to actual modern states are running global, multi-billion dollar businesses, with side enterprises in sex trafficking and contract murder. No matter how much we might deplore big pharma’s practices, it’s unlikely that legalisation would lead to, say, Pink Pharmaceutical running hookers from Guatemala, for example. Or killing thousands of people in gang firefights before stringing the dismembered corpses up on telegraph poles.

Put very simply, our current global drug policy is three things:

  • Utterly ineffective
  • Deeply irrational
  • Actively harmful

And you don’t have to take my word for any of that: https://www.unodc.org/wdr2018/prelaunch/WDR18_Booklet_1_EXSUM.pdf

But it’s interesting – very interesting – to note that despite a multi-volume report outlining the manifold failures of prohibition, there is little to no mention of legalisation. It’s all coded into the US friendly phrase ‘harm reduction’. Which is ludicrous.

All this brings me back to our fearless Premier as a case in point. She is, in fact, representative of the people in this case, in that she has a knee jerk, deontological response predicated by personal morality, and an ingrained refusal to think about its actual origins. The thing is, personal morality really doesn’t trump half a million deaths per year world wide. It doesn’t automatically negate the need to think in broad policy terms for a person who’s ultimately responsible for the welfare and safety of a whole state. And, in my opinion (and this is the only actual personal opinion contained in this piece), is like all other personal beliefs, opinions and prejudices, in that it’s a citizen duty to think past and beyond them when discussing matters of state and national import.

In which I am proven to be an amazingly prescient genius person and not just because I know the word “prescient”

Hi there. I’m Tim. Sometimes I make predictions. Sometimes they are hugely false, like that time I predicted Trump would resign after six months because he would get sick of working eight hour days. Silly me… I should have figured he’d only work a three hour day. But sometimes… sometimes I prove to be amazingly prescient. Like the time I predicted this:

Once marriage equality comes in, the objections [to it] will stop. The bigoted fear-merchants who fought for so long, and warned of such dire consequences, will put down their tooth and nail, pack up their placards, and fade into obscurity.

You see, today marks the first anniversary of that time the Liberal government made us all waste $120 million to spend a few months vilifying the LGBTIQ community to re-verify the results of countless already-available public polls and decide on an issue that wasn’t the public’s business and parliament could have voted on for free. So it’s a perfect time for me to reflect on my prediction and check in on how amazing I can be. And lemme tell you… all signs point to me being quite amazing.

You see, I have noticed a little bit of a trend in conservative objections to progressive ideals, which seems to be thus:

  1. An injustice is recognised.
  2. A proposal is made to correct the injustice.
  3. We are told that correcting the injustice will lead to the wholesale destruction of society.
  4. The change is made anyway.
  5. Society is not destroyed.
  6. All the people who said society would be destroyed forget about it and move on to something else.

This exact sequence of events has played out in a multitude of historic advances. Female suffrage, inter-racial marriage, no fault divorce, IVF, and the decriminalisation of homosexuality, to name but a few. In each case, we were told that to make the change would be to ring the death knell of life as we knew it, and usher in a new era of calamity and universal suffering.

We know, of course, that in each case, no such calamity ever came to fruition. Instead, we collectively benefited from a society that was more accepting, more kind, and one step further along the long path to true equality. Every time these disastrous changes were made, we saw that, ultimately, life went on, and after a while, most people didn’t care.

I should point out that, logically speaking, this does not at all prove that their objections were unfounded (there are many other reasons that prove that). What it does highlight, however, is the perfidy of their professed sincerity.

Let’s just think about this for a second. Female suffrage, we were told, would be an absolute disaster. One poster that depicted the dangers of female suffrage showed “a grim-looking man arriving home from work to a scene of domestic chaos, with weeping children, a dangerously smoking lamp, and a casual note attached to a suffrage poster – ‘Back in an hour or so’”. My god, that sounds horrendous! Can you even imagine? If you can’t imagine, the people of the time were happy to produce gems like this to help out:

Yes, friends… if women were allowed to vote, it would definitely, definitely result in never ending nagging.

So, with so much on the line, what did such people do when women were finally granted the right to vote? Did they fight to their last breath to have universal suffrage overturned? Are they still fighting today? Or did they all die from incessant nagging? The answer to all of those questions is a resounding “No”. I wonder why.

Which brings me to my prediction about marriage equality in Australia. We were told that it would destroy families. We were told it would result in people marrying their cats. We were told that there would be another stolen generation, which was a rather oblivious objection, coming as it did from the sort of Christians who instigated the original. Even I can admit that, if true, that would be a high price to pay indeed.

History now shows that they lost, as they were always going to. That’s not particularly interesting, given the multitude of polls that showed that defeat was inevitable. What is interesting, is what happened next.

And what happened next was… nothing.

Sure, there were a few whinges on social media. Lyle probably cried, not there’s anything wrong with that. But apart from that… nothing. No extended campaigns to reverse the decision. No marching in the streets demanding the maintenance of the status quo. No bills introduced to parliament to prevent this catastrophic change to Australian society.

Which means one of two things. They’re just a fear mongering bag of dïcks, or they don’t really believe the shït they’re shovelling.

And just to be fair, I’ll let them decide which.

Religious Protections? How Astonishing!

scott-morrison

It’s generally a good rule that you can determine what’s important to a country by observing what its government or laws protect. Of course, in the case of Australia, the phrase ‘unrepresentative swill’ has a curious persistence in the public mind, possibly created by the fact that we are, in fact, governed by unrepresentative swill. Just as cream rises to the top, so too does scum, and generally in unregarded places – the dark corners and byways of our great nation where we can’t be bothered to go. It’s worth thinking about how we actually got our current crop of leaders. It would seem that the main ways would be through the kinds of community networks churches are so good at (more of which in another post), and through the internal mechanisms of the two major parties and their feeders, being the union movement and big business/big Jesus respectively. So for Australia, what needs to be said is that you can tell what the government, without reference to the people, cares about by observing what it’s most willing to protect by law.

Back in the heady days of the Same Sex Marriage Don’t Call It Marriage Equality Debacle And Signal Failure Of Parliamentary Responsibility, which I call ‘The Coward’s Plebiscite’ for short, many questions were raised, some by this author, as to whose job it actually was to make laws. Now this is quite a basic question, and it was quite tricky to expand the answer – parliament – into a six hundred word post. I did this mainly by impugning the character, tolerance, and courage of our fearless leaders, being hesitant to address that which is much more difficult to determine, i.e., what they were actually thinking. In the light of hindsight, and with our nation’s new First Creationist, I mean, Prime Minister, having emerged from his gratuitous bloodbath to set his policy agenda, it has, in fact, become a bit easier to determine what it is this particularly trollish coterie known politely as ‘the conservative faction’ were actually thinking. Basically, our first impression was correct. So unwilling were they to institute equal civil rights for homosexuals, they followed a template from their favourite bedside book and did a Pontius Pilate. Washing their hands of the responsibility, they devolved the power of execution onto the mob hoping, I’m now absolutely certain, that the mob would be nasty and vote to crucify the progressive movement. The fact that they were so emphatically wrong still keeps me warm on cold nights with the memory of the time I fell even more deeply in love with my country.

But that’s all ancient history in the rough and tumble of politics, right? Well, not exactly, as it leads me back to my original point that you can tell what a government thinks is important by looking at what it’s willing to protect with legislation. The review on religious protections, commissioned by Turnbull as he bravely ran away from yet another of his political principles, has reported. The government is now getting ready to implement its recommendations, and all of this is going very smoothly. The report’s still secret (not officially, just in a ‘not yet released’ way), but even the Jesuits on the panel are saying that it’s just a matter of putting ‘some small tweaks’ into existing anti-discrimination laws. I really don’t have a problem with this. Religious freedom is key, and is the very principle which allows me to say that Scott Morrison’s religion is only separated in craziness from Scientology by its age and pedigree. But the problematic part is what it tells us about the nature of this government.

Basically, this Liberal government was so unwilling to make laws protecting the equal civil rights of people outside their own template of normal that they spent twenty million dollars of our money taking a punt on the Australian public being as ungenerous and backward as themselves. Simultaneously, they’re so willing to protect their own atavistic, myth-loving kind, that they’re announcing legislation to do so, almost as a first action after the chaos of their own utterly self inflicted wounding. So it’s pretty clear that religion is the most important thing to these people. I would hazard a guess and say that this is simply not the case for the majority of Australians, but I don’t have to thanks to the census. Which leads me back to the idea of ‘unrepresentative swill’. Worth thinking about, if you live in Wentworth or, if you don’t, as a thought to save up for whenever God tells our PM to call an election.