5. The interface of religious, political and cultural aspirations
5.1 a) How would you describe the interface between religion and politics and cultural aspirations in contemporary Australia?
1. Religion has an influence on Australian culture, policies and society that is greatly disproportionate to the number of its adherents, and to its value as an ethical system, given that one of its crimes is advocacy of discrimination.
b) What issues does this include?
2. About 70-80% of Australians support voluntary euthanasia. People in the final stages of a terminal illness should have the right to choose assistance in dying, if that is their informed will. It is an individual’s life, and only each individual knows what is right for themselves. To deny this is to impose one’s will on other individuals, and this is what religions do. Religions have denied, through legislation supported by Christian politicians, information relating to voluntary euthanasia to be transmitted electronically. Religions are trying to stifle organisations whose members have different beliefs to the organised religions. The Australian Government is attempting to block the use of websites, such as that for Dr Philip Nitschke’s organisation, Exit International. The Australian Government has banned Dr Nitschke’s and Dr Fiona Stewart’s book, The Peaceful Pill Handbook. Yet Australians are accessing this book online because it provides advice on matters that are important to Australians.
3. Many Australians want information on end of life options, but the religious zealots in the Australian Government have effectively sabotaged the rights of elderly individuals to access this information through the imposition of their personal religious views on ordinary Australians.
4. Religion adversely affects attitudes towards women and homosexuals, whether embryonic stem cells can be used in research (they are not persons, they are but cells without a brain), the rights of ordinary Australians to compete against religious organisations in the provision of government services and to not be discriminated against in their ordinary lives.
5. In 2008, governments supported the Pope’s visit to Australia for World Youth Day. Subsequently, Australia appointed a diplomat to head a post in the Vatican. Although the Pope has only recently and obliquely apologised for all the wrongs done by his church over thousands of years to other peoples, he still does not support the use of condoms in third world countries, contraception or abortion, he heads an organisation that discriminates against women, homosexuals, non-believers and other races, preaches beliefs in imaginary gods as a truth, and that people who commit some sins will be punished for eternity. That is not a very forgiving attitude.
6. The Pope presides over a church that was indifferent to the plight of Jews during the Holocaust and which has a terrible history of war, violence and sexual predation from its leaders. Yet the Australian Government refuses to make plain that these policy stances are unacceptable, and that the Pope’s discriminatory views about non-Catholic, female or homosexual Australians are unacceptable. People should not be allowed to preach discrimination under the guise of religion.
5.2 How should government manage tensions that develop between aspirations?
7. Governments can manage tensions through constitutional change, political reform and strong rational, non-partisan political leadership. A regulatory regime is required to eliminate the tax-exempt status for the non-charitable elements of religious organisations and prohibit discrimination at all levels of all organisations. Education is required, and while governments can initiate this, religious organisations will need to realise that they cannot accept their religious texts as truths, and that discrimination is wrong.
5.3 How do you perceive gender in faith communities?
8. The female gender is greatly disadvantaged and discriminated against in Christianity and Islam. Mainstream religions oppress females. This is unacceptable. Religious people would not like others to discriminate against them, so it is hypocritical for them to do to others what they would not like done to them. They should not judge, lest they be judged.
5.4 Do you believe there is equality of gender in faith communities?
9. No. Women are third-order citizens in Islam, and second-order citizens in Christianity, and both situations are unacceptable. It will take some time for women to reach equality in living standards and equality of pay and rights, but only if explicit and implicit religious discrimination ceases. How can women have parity in everyday life, when religious people consider women unworthy of religious leadership? Every church or religious service reinforces the fact that women are unworthy of religious leadership. This discriminatory baggage is then carried into general society. It is not surprising that women do not reach positions of status at the same rate as men.
10. Politicians must have the moral fortitude to ensure that Australian females are not subjugated by discriminatory religions such as Christianity and Islam. Have politicians ever wondered why they can tolerate a situation that so discriminates against Australians? An irate politician should act on the exclamation of ‘how dare these religions treat Australian women, homosexuals and non-believers with such contempt’. That is over half of the Australian population. Discrimination is wrong.
5.5 What do you think should be the relationship between the right to gender equality and the right to religious freedom in Australia?
11. Gender equality must take precedence over religious freedom. The former is ethical and does not cause discrimination; the latter is unethical if it results in discrimination. Australia cannot afford to have people hiding behind a religious cloak of intolerance and irrationality to justify discrimination against women, or any other groups of people. If religious freedom took precedence, then any religion that discriminates against people based on race, colour, sexuality, creed, religion, disability, political, sporting or other affiliation would be acceptable. Discrimination could be rife. A new religion that discriminated against Aboriginal, black or disabled people in the same way Christianity and Islam discriminate against women would be abhorrent and unacceptable. People should have the freedom to choose their own religion, but they do not have the right to discriminate, impose it on others or act on it so that it adversely affects others.
12. If religious freedom were paramount, then extreme religious groups could establish themselves in Australia, as their discrimination would be no less severe in principle than Christian and Muslim discrimination against women and homosexuals, though the extent of the discriminations has varied through the ages and with different belief systems. Discrimination is discrimination, and unacceptable to those who contend that all humans should have equal rights.
13. Religious organisations’ discrimination and history of killing through crusades, inquisitions and religious wars has not deterred as many people as it should from the clutches of the mainstream religions. The power of childhood indoctrination is strong—this is why religions do it—and unless freedom of choice is provided in childhood, the wrongs, discrimination and divisiveness of religion will continue in society. Discrimination and fear of other religions leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to violent conflict, and unfortunately this sequence has repeated itself for thousands of years.
14. Article 1 of the UDHR states that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’ Religions must cease discrimination and treat all people equally to be consistent with this Article.
5.6 Citizenship and Australian values have emerged as central issues, how do you balance integration and cultural preservation?
15. The rights of the individual must have precedence, as I have argued previously. A stable and humane culture will follow from tolerance of others, and without the discrimination and the subjective commentary on others inherent in mainstream religions. Many politicians talk of the rights of the individual, but its use is often rhetorical, as politicians do little to enforce the principle. Many politicians probably fail to see the conflict, but it is clear: religious people would not like to be discriminated against solely because they are religious and so religious people should not discriminate against others.
5.7 What are reasonable expectations to have of citizens’ civic responsibility, rights, participation and knowledge?
16. People should understand that their own views about how they behave and what they believe are personal and should not be imposed on others in society. They should be aware of their rights, and that discrimination against others, and intolerance of others, is unacceptable.
5.8 Is there a role for religious voices, alongside others in the policy debates of the nation?
17. Religions discriminate against women, homosexuals and non-believers, amongst others. Discrimination and vilification should not be permitted. Religious and non-religious people must always be able to debate religious and other issues freely and respectfully. However, religious leaders’ arguments that:
- creationism is right (contrary to scientific evidence)
- imaginary gods exist, souls exists, miracles occur or prayers work (contrary to scientific evidence)
- men are superior to women (contrary to evidence)
- homosexuals do not have the right to head their religion (denying them basic rights)
- voluntary euthanasia is wrong because it is against God’s law (while their religious texts tell that their God kills people, including children)
- all people should be treated equally (when their religious texts tell that those not of their religion should be punished for all eternity)
- their religion is ‘right’ (while their religious texts speak of murder, slavery, sacrifice, atrocious crimes against non-believers, and other disgusting acts)
- freedom of religion is right (while their religious texts advocate discrimination against people of other religions)
- their religious values are ‘right’ (while conveniently overlooking the fact that most of their members subjectively follow their religion because of their childhood indoctrination, and if they were to have been raised by people of another religion and culture, they would have followed that other religion)
are ridiculous and lack credibility.
18. It is unlikely that a religion, a system of faith and worship, often involving an imaginary god, should have credible things to say on, for example, economic and scientific issues such as climate change.
19. The Bible revels in telling of God’s wrath in killing. Most Australians have heard the stories. The Christian religion has killed in crusades, inquisitions and religious wars. Despite all their killing, some Christian religions then attempt to oppose abortion and voluntary euthanasia because cells or people die. Hypocrisy does not sit well with rational beings.
20. Objective people can rightly ask on what basis can religions:
- call for equal rights, when they discriminate against women, homosexuals and non-believers
- oppose the use of condoms, which would prevent transmission of sexual disease, particularly in third-world countries
- seek scientific evidence supporting their convictions, when they conveniently ignore substantial scientific evidence undermining their religion
- call for the right of freedom of religion, when they deny others the rights to their own lives, and try to impose their own religious values on others.
These religious positions are possibly why more people are moving away from religion. However, the bonds formed through childhood indoctrination are strong, and some concerted effort will be required to break them and free minds to think without bias.
21. If there were a religion that does not discriminate, does not impose its views on others, does not have a history of violence and confrontation, does not have subjective belief systems (involving imaginary gods), is not scientifically flawed, treats all with respect and equality, advocates a better life for all, and perhaps provides guidance (without demanding unquestioning uncritical obedience) as to how people should and society should be structured so that the world can be a better place, then its ambit would go beyond the narrow and divisive themes of most current religions. People might welcome its objective and well considered views in debate.