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CWaC Round 1 – The case for Secularism

Welcome to Conversation With a Christian, Round 1.

Steve and I haven’t discussed marriage equality at all before now, but I suspect that a lot of his arguments will be religious in nature. In anticipation of that, then, I want use my first post to make a case for secularism in general, before moving on to marriage equality in particular.

First… the case for Secularism.

So, why is secularism a good idea, in a modern democracy such as Australia? Why should we base our laws solely on that which can be justified by reason? There are, in my opinion, four very good reasons.

1 – What about those who don’t believe?
Let’s say there exists an act, let’s call it X. It is admitted by everyone, atheist and theist alike, that X causes no objective, real world harm, excepting the breaking of a faith-based law, and the offending of a deity. How should we deal with X, as a modern, ostensibly secular, society that needs to enact laws that apply to everyone? Should the state enact laws against X that apply even to those who don’t believe in the faith that condemns it? Should the number of faiths or people that condemn X make a difference? Should we take into account the level of god’s alleged offence, or the number of years a particular faith has been around?

These are important questions, and it would seem that almost all modern democracies have answered them with a rather emphatic “No”. If they hadn’t, it would now be a crime to:

  • Worship a god other than the Christian variety;
  • Make a graven image;
  • Take god’s name in vain;
  • Dishonour one’s mother and father;
  • Work on the Sabbath;
  • Lie; and
  • Covet your neighbour’s goods or wife.

In fact, in our own country, only two of the Ten Commandments are to be found in the criminal code (murder and theft), and it’s no coincidence that those are the two that also happen to have very good, non-religious arguments that support them.

It’s clear that there are a great many religious laws that, as a society, we have decided should only apply to those that want to follow them. That is, I trust you’ll agree, a good thing. I for one am very glad that we don’t arrest people who try to ordain women, force people to be audited for thetans, or prosecute people for pushing a pram outside the bounds of a thin piece of elevated wire at a particular time on the weekend (seriously).

I hope you are glad of that, too. There is no doubt that the three things I just mentioned are very important to the followers of the religion from which they originate (Catholicism, Scientology and Orthodox Judaism), but if the offence finds justification solely within the pages of a Holy book, then there it should remain.

2 – The invention of argument
The year is 1820. A convicted con man named Joe wants to take another wife, but the secular laws of his state currently prevent him. As a disloyal horny misogynist with a vivid imagination, what should he do? Should he have a frank discussion with his wife about his desire to expand their sexual repertoire? Should he retake his workplace’s Sexual Harrassment training? Or should he invent Mormonism?

We all know what happened. Joseph Smith invented some ridiculous story about a set of golden plates with god’s latest and greatest revelation, and, 192 years later, we had a Mormon running for President of the United States. And if you think that the days of invented religions are behind us, think again.

If faith-based arguments are valid, it becomes very easy to justify whatever it is that you want – as easy, in fact, as inventing a faith.

3 – The problem of absolutes
When it comes to sin, the major religions don’t tend to allow much wriggle room. I mean, it’s not like abortion is OK if the life of the mother is in danger, or homosexuality is OK on Tuesgay. Do you remember the fuss that was made over Pope Benedict’s “concession” on condoms? To anyone with the smallest inkling of common sense, allowing the use of condoms by an HIV-positive man within the confines of marriage amounts to nothing more than an extremely obvious yet astoundingly narrow relaxation of a rule that shouldn’t exist in the first place. To the world’s Catholics, however, it was a great, magnanimous demonstration of wisdom and compassion.

Allowance for shades of grey (hopefully more than 50) is essential for fair and reasonable government. To the writers of faith-based laws, it’s a sign of weakness.

4 – Which faith is right anyway?
We know that not every faith can be right, and that they often contradict each other. There are even contradictory beliefs within the same faith. Just within Christianity, we can look at priestly celibacy, or homosexuality, or the ordination of female clergy, or the ordination of sexually-active homosexual female clergy. Each is allowed under the progressive watch of the leaders of the Uniting Church, but not their (stubbornly orthodox) Catholic equivalents.

With so many faiths shouting to be heard, to whom should we turn our ears? What if one faith condemns marriage equality, and another embraces it with sequinned arms?

So, in conclusion…
… secularism is the way to go, and we shouldn’t make laws unless there are very good, non-religious, reasons for them, right? Right.

Over to you, Steve!

Conversation with a Christian

Some of you may have noticed that I am somewhat in favour of marriage equality. What you may not realise is that I don’t understand anyone who isn’t.

Well I guess that’s not quite true. I understand why some people oppose it. Whenever the winds of change come forth to blow away the inequities of our forebears, a brigade of close-minded hypochondriacs stands ready to defend their right to discriminate. We saw it in the fight for universal suffrage, we saw it in the Civil Rights movement in the US, and we’re seeing it again now. There will always be people like Fred Nile, Bill Meuhlenberg, Jim Wallace and Margaret Court, trotting out the same old arguments, and the same old warnings of moral decay and social collapse. People for whom no argument, no matter how rational, will ever be enough to erase a prejudice as indelible as their love of Status Quo. Sorry, the status quo.

What I don’t understand is why so many awesome people oppose it. I have a lot of awesome friends, which isn’t surprising because awesomeness is one of the prerequisites, but every now and then one of them surprises me by expressing an objection to marriage equality. These people aren’t like Mr Meuhlenberg – they’re sensible, well-educated, good-natured, nice people.

I find it baffling.

So, Huge Blog Audience, meet Steve.

Steve is one of my awesome, sensible, well-educated, good-natured, nice friends. He is, in fact, an absolute champion. He is also Christian. And he has very kindly agreed to have a little bit of a blog conversation with me on marriage equality.

The purpose of the discussion, from my point of view, will be two-fold. First and foremost, I want to get to the bottom of why people like Steve oppose it. And when I say “oppose”, I mean active objection, not passive distaste. The tenets of Steve’s faith make it clear that marriage equality is not a “good” thing, but I’d like to get to the bottom of why it’s viewed as a “bad” thing, and, in particular, why people like Steve feel they should try and prevent if they can.

My secondary motive is an unashamed attempt at conversion. I want to try and convince Steve that, even if he personally believes that legalising marriage equality would be “wrong”, if it came down to a referendum, he shouldn’t necessarily vote against it. So, Steve, and any other marriage equality opponents who happen to be reading, prepare yourselves … for conversion!


As well as giving up his precious time to give me someone to argue with on the internet, Steve has also very kindly offered me first post.

See? Told you he was nice.

GBAV – Genesis 3

Gn 3:1Now, for some reason there was a snake in the garden, and he was the most cunning animal god had made, which, when combined with Adam and Woman being not only a bit slow, but having easy access to the world’s most dangerous fruit, sounds like a recipe for disaster. But I’m sure everything will work out OK. And the snake said to Woman, “Has god said you can eat every fruit in the garden?”

Gn 3:2-3And Woman replied, “Well it was all a little confusing, because he said we can eat every fruit in the garden, but then he said we’ll die if we eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which may mean we’re not allowed to eat from it, or it may mean we can eat from it as long as we sign some kind of waiver acknowledging the consequences, not that we know what the consequences are, because he didn’t explain what ‘death’ actually is. And he didn’t tell us not to eat from the Tree of Life, which seems odd, because knowledge of good and evil sounds kind of lame compared to eternal life, whatever that is. But yeah, if we eat or touch the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, we’ll die. God was very clear on that point. Eating the fruit means we’ll die straight away.”

Gn 3:4-5And the serpent said, “God is trolling you! You won’t die, your eyes will be opened, and you will have knowledge of good and evil.” And Woman saw that the snake was indeed cunning, because he had figured that all out just from the tree’s name.

Gn 3:6And Woman looked at the fruit, and thought it looked no worse than all the other fruit she’d been eating, and would impart some kind of knowledge that she had no use for, so she ate it. And then Adam walked over to complain about his missing rib again, but Woman stopped him, and said, “In a minute Adam, dinner is ready.” And Adam ate the food his wife gave him gratefully and without mentioning that not only did it look a little dry, but they had fruit for dinner last night as well, which would be silly things for a husband to say to his wife, even back then. Even more so, actually, since Woman was the only woman on the planet, and masturbation hadn’t been invented yet.

Gn 3:7And verily, just as god had said, they dropped dead right then and there, if you let me change the meaning of “dead” briefly to mean “the opposite of dead”. For they did not die, and their eyes were opened and they had knowledge of good and evil, just as the snake had predicted, but they also realised they were naked, which I don’t think anyone saw coming. And, lo, Woman cried out “Oh my god, I’m naked!”, and Adam cried out “Oh my god, that chick’s naked!” So they grabbed some fig leaves, and pulled some needles and thread off the Tree of Needles and Thread, and made themselves some undies. And, now that I think about it, that means they also instantaneously learned how to sew, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil should probably have been called The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and Sewing. And Nudity. Anyway, when they had finished, Woman said to Adam, “Does my bum look big in this?”, and Adam said “No” because that sounded like the right answer, but Woman didn’t believe him, so she tried on another 15 sets of fig leaf undies, before finally settling on the ones she had tried on first.

Gn 3:8And then they heard god walking around the garden, so they hid themselves, because they were embarrassed about being naked in front of all those people that didn’t exist.

Gn 3:9And god called out to Adam, saying “Adaaaaaaaaam! Where art thou?” Gn 3:10-11And Adam seemed to not understand the concept of hide and seek, for he jumped up immediately and said “OVER HERE!” And god said, “Why were you hiding?” And Adam said, “I was afraid because I was naked, even though I have the biggest penis in the world, so I hid myself.” And god said, “OK, let me get this straight. I told you if you ate some fruit it would kill you, so you ate it, then because you realised you were naked you hid from the person who actually created all the hiding spots, even though you weren’t naked because you had just put on some undies, and then you gave away your hiding spot at the first opportunity. Is that about right?” And Adam felt ashamed, and a little bit stupid, and said “Well when you put it that way…” But then Woman stepped forward, and said unto god, “Um, god… I have a question. You wanted us to do good, but we did evil, right?” And god said, “You sure did.” And Woman said, “OK. So here’s my question. How were we supposed to know what was good and evil before we had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?” And god went quiet, and several minutes of awkward silence went by, before Woman said, “God?” And god replied, “In a minute, Woman! I’m thinking.” And after another 426 minutes god shrugged his shoulders and said, “Whatever. Adam – why did you do this?”

Gn 3:12And Adam shouted “WOMAN MADE ME!”, because, apparently, he was a jerk.

Gn 3:13And god said unto Woman, “Sorry I made Adam such a back-stabbing nark, but, is this true?” And Woman said, “Verily, I was tricked by that really cunning animal that can speak without vocal chords.”

Gn 3:14And god turned to the snake and said, “Right, Snake, because you told the truth about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and Sewing and Nudity, you will be struck down with the most severe punishments I can muster. Not only will you have to move around in the same way you always have, Gn 3:15but I will make your kids and Woman’s kids dislike each other, and her kids won’t invite your kids to birthday parties, and vice versa, and her kids will step on your kids’ heads, and your kids will bruise her kids’ heels. So I guess your kids will have to wear helmets or something.” And the snake looked confused, and said “Helmets? What are you talking about?” And god said, “Well, her kids are going to be stepping on your kids’ heads, but your kids’ heads are pretty soft, so they’ll need to wear helmets if they want to bruise her kids’ heels.” And the snake said, “That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard”, which means a lot coming from the most cunning animal god had created.

Gn 3:16And unto Woman he said, “I was going to give your womb a zipper to facilitate childbirth, but because you were naughty, you will have to push babies out your vagina instead. You will also find Adam attractive, and he is the boss of you. Don’t look at me like that, you had this coming.”

Gn 3:17And then finally he turned to Adam and said, “Dude. You listened to your wife. What were you thinking? I will now announce some rather random punishments that are just as bad as pushing a baby out your vagina. You will have a frowny face as you eat dinner, Gn 3:18and thistles will grow out of the ground, and you’ll have to eat herbs, Gn 3:19and eating bread will make you sweaty.”

Gn 3:20And Adam thought it was about time he gave Woman a name, so he called her Eve, because she was the mother of all living, except of course Adam and Eve, who were the only ones living.

Gn 3:21And Adam said, “God, these undies are a bit drafty, can you make us some clothes?” And so god called forth the mink, and said unto her, “I need to borrow one of your babies.” And out of the baby mink he made two pretty awesome fur coats, which sounds implausible, but was a lot easier than making a whole person out of a single rib.

Gn 3:22And then god said, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil and sewing and nudity.” And Adam said, “Us? What do you mean us?!” But god ignored him, and said “Now, lest he eat from the Tree of Life, and live forever, Gn 3:23I will kick him out so he can go and till the ground in his awesome fur coat, like some kind of ancient agrarian pimp.”

Gn 3:24So he drove the man out of the garden, in a rickshaw probably, and in Eden he placed Cherubims and a flaming sword which turned every way, to protect the Tree of Life. And if you follow my earlier directions to Eden, you will find the Cherubims and the flaming sword, for I’m not making any of this stuff up, I pronise.


<< Genesis 2 | Genesis 4 >>

The Weird World of Brendan O’Neill

A few days ago, Brendan O’Neill posed this question: “Has there ever been a weirder political issue than gay marriage? A cool-headed look back at events in Britain last week … suggests, no, there hasn’t been.”

And this, apparently, is why:

  1. Gays didn’t want marriage in the 1970s. Because, after all, “the truth is early gay radicals campaigned against marriage, not for it.”
  2. Yeah sure, most people agree that granting marriage equality is the right thing to do, but no one thinks it’s a big deal. Because, after all, “a recent poll did indeed find that 55 per cent of Brits support the idea of gay marriage, but it also found that a measly 7 per cent think gay marriage is ‘important’.”
  3. Today’s gays won marriage rights in Britain far too easily. Because, after all, “Rosa Parks and those who followed her had to go through hell – marching and boycotting for years, getting attacked by police dogs, whacked with water cannons, shouted at, spat on, jailed.”

Those are some pretty sophisticated arguments. Possibly too sophisticated to refute. But I’ll have a go.

  1. So what?
  2. So what? And;

Does it really matters what gays thought of marriage in the 1970s? Isn’t the more relevant point that some from the LGBTI community want marriage now? And do you think that a gay person’s view of marriage in 1970 may have had more to do with rejecting one of the defining features of their oppressors?

And is something right because it’s right, or because a certain number of people think it’s important? Should we have granted citizenship to Aboriginals if most of the country thought it was a non-issue?

And should we only treat people equally if we’ve first made them grovel and beg and dodge our attack dogs? Are you really saying that you’d be more likely to support marriage equality if you could yell and spit at a few queers first? What on earth is wrong with you?

One final question, Brendan. If marriage equality is such a non-issue, and it’s a simple change to make (which it is), WHY THE FCK ARE YOU WASTING EVERYONE’S TIME WRITING THIS RUBBISH? It would be better for everyone if you just shut the fck up, and got out of the way.

We’d like to move on, too.