Atheism repels feeble Easter attacks

By David Swanton 

Posted Thursday, 15 April 2010 in ON LINEopinion - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


At Easter and Christmas we usually expect religious leaders to either wax lyrical about how their religion is better than others or attack others to divert attention from their own religions’ problems. And so it was again this Easter when Christian leaders, including Dr Peter Jensen (Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop) and Cardinal George Pell (Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop), attacked atheists (SMH, April 2, 2010 ) just when the media headlines were once again focussing on religious leaders covering up the activities of many priests as sexual predators.

Atheists simply accept that there is no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a god, gods or the supernatural—no more, no less. There is no element of indoctrinated belief about atheism. Atheism is founded on the concept of evidence.

Atheism’s firm foundation on a desire for evidence, and not belief, is consistent with rational thinking and plain common sense. We use evidence as the basis for our scientific, medical and legal work. On the other hand, religions are a set of beliefs, and many people follow them regardless of what evidence or rational thinking might suggest is a better option. This is why most mainstream religions need to indoctrinate children when they are young, before their critical thinking skills have been fully developed. Consequently, many rational people would disagree with Peter Jensen, when he said (commenting on the passion of the atheist) “we are not dealing here about cool philosophy up against faith without a brain.” (Courier Mail, April 2, 2010).

Religious leaders have never encouraged their congregations to use their brains throughout history, and this situation has not improved in modern times. It would be uplifting if religious leaders encouraged their congregations to reflect on why they all follow a discriminatory religion that is sexist (females can’t become Archbishops), religist (Christians believe that people not of their religion are going to hell—not really a warm sentiment for people they do not know), homophobic (the Bible condemns homosexuals), racist (the Christian God seems to have a morbid hatred of all people not from Israel in the Middle East), and murderous (Churches have killed and persecuted thousands/millions through religious wars, crusades and inquisitions). It is no wonder that many rational people are passionate about standing up for equality and opposing religious-based discrimination, because clearly the Churches reject equality, despite their hypocritical overtures to the contrary.

The reported statements of another Catholic Bishop related godlessness to Nazism ("Nazism, Stalinism, Pol Pot-ery, mass murder, abortion and broken relationships-all promoted by state-imposed atheism"), but he (naturally the Bishop was a male) is making errors in logic. If he is saying that Hitler was an atheist and wrong, therefore atheism is wrong, he is incorrectly asserting that what is true of one person of a group is true of the whole group. (Interestingly, the consensus seems to be that there is no evidence that Hitler was an atheist, though one could make a strong case that his public statements indicate that he was either a Catholic or very politically astute. It seems though that German Christians supported Hitler).

Nobody says that “because of atheism we can’t eat meat on Friday” or “because of atheism we must invade other countries”. Religions however have done more than driven people to peculiar eating habits; they have frequently and regularly caused conflicts and wars. There is nothing to attack with regards to atheism, except to claim that atheists are sensible—which of course is more compliment than criticism.

An equivalent statement to the Bishop’s is that if a priest is a Catholic and a paedophile, therefore Catholicism is paedophilic. Or if the Bishop was saying atheism promoted Nazism and mass-murder, then equivalently one could argue that Catholicism promoted mass-murder and paedophilia. If one had nothing better to do, one could have quite a good deal of fun turning illogical religious generalisations back on the religious leaders who make them.

George Pell stated that atheists “sponsored no community services”. I’m sure he has heard of Oxfam, The Red Cross, UNICEF, the Fred Hollows Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, medical charities and The Gates Foundation, which are secular charities, to name a few—but as he would probably assert that it is wrong to lie, he must have forgotten about these.

For a leader of the Catholic Church that has abundant riches, one would think that George Pell would advocate giving the Church’s riches to those deserving charity. Christians would acknowledge that their Christ taught “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor”, bu t that is another inconvenient maxim for the Catholic Church to ignore. Religious leaders would be wary about asking Christians to use their brains on that issue, because intelligent Christians would discern the hypocrisy.

Peter Jensen also claimed atheism is a religious commitment, but as atheism has nothing to do with unsubstantiated belief, it clearly is not. I also suspect he also would not want governments to grant atheist organisations the same tax-free status that religions enjoy. In the 21st century it is absurd and inequitable that governments give tax deductions to religions that discriminate against ordinary people. Perhaps George Pell and Peter Jensen should consider why churches do not pay income and other taxes, effectively bludging on society and increasing the burden of taxation particularly on the poor and needy. Australians must speak out against the regulatory sanctioning of religious discrimination if we are to be viewed as a modern progressive nation that values equality for all of its citizens. Citizens of all countries must do the same. Furthermore, religious leaders should look at their own problems before concocting stories and pronouncing judgement on those who complain about unfounded religious beliefs, religious indoctrination, sexual predation in religious organisations, and the imposition of religious views on others.

As Christians, Peter Jensen, George Pell and others should take note of “Judge not lest ye be judged”. In more familiar modern vernacular, this translates to “don’t make unjust judgements about others” because if you do (and again in modern vernacular) you will be a bloody hypocrite.

Ridiculous statements by religious leaders appear in the media because these religious leaders have more influence with many political leaders than would be expected based on the religions’ poor ethical positions, as exemplified by the subjectivity of their religious beliefs (developed by ignorant people in antiquity) and how mainstream religions discriminate against people. Only when religious discrimination and indoctrination is banned, churches eliminate the predatory sexual behaviour of many of their leaders, hand the perpetrators over to authorities and justly compensate the victims, and religions and their business enterprises pay their share of tax, can religious leaders’ diatribes be considered anything other than a pitiful cry for attention.


David Swanton is an ethicist, PhD scientist and director of Ethical Rights. He is also ACT Chapter Coordinator for Exit International.