Author Archive: Hank
Hank was born of bird-watching bushwalking music-loving parents from whom he gained his love of nature, the universe & bicycles. Today he's a musician, non-profit aid worker, beagle keeper and fair & balanced internet commentator - but that just means he has a chip on each shoulder.
For now, I shall leave alone the good knight’s contention that Hitler was a “Darwinist atheist” (certainly not a Darwinist and arguably not an atheist, given his obsession with Nordic mythology and the occult, not to mention those SS belt-buckles that said “God is with us”), as well as his claim that “Atheists struggle with morality, it just doesn’t sit well on their worldview, even though they sense God’s law on their hearts, like we do.” Both are baseless and false and not worth any decent person’s time. I shall answer his questions though, and with as little snark as I can muster, given that I know I’m answering someone who believes I may have “fascist tendencies” (bah – I’ve never once advocated a merger of state and corporate power) and struggle with morality even though I apparently really do believe in God, even though I say I don’t – but obviously I’m just rebelling against our heavenly father like I did against my real one when I was 15. Really, if Christians wish to have an open dialogue with atheists, these tiresome myths must be left at the door.
Anyway, on with The Interview (I have sent this post as an email to the good knight and eagerly await his reply:
1) Do you believe that the universe was brought into being out of nothing by a person (agent)? Is it possible that this agent could communicate to us, or that we could discover something about that agent? (i.e. – does God exist, is he knowable)
No. However, if an agent powerful enough to create the universe existed, you’d expect such an agent to be able to communicate with us in some way we could all understand, all at the same time. Also, if such an agent wanted anything about itself to be discovered, surely that agent would know the best way for us to do so. Revealing himself to a small number of people and letting them fight amongst themselves about who was right about what for two thousand years doesn’t make a lot of sense.
2) Explain to me in which religion you were raised by your parents, if any. How did your parents approach religion in the home? (strict, lax, etc.)
My parents didn’t raise us in any faith. I became a Christian at a young age after being exposed to it at primary school (age 5-12). Religion didn’t come up in conversation at all at home (let alone positively or negatively). We were, however, taught the importance of empathy, politeness, generosity, respect and decency (both directly and indirectly, by our parents’ examples). Both my parents are fine moral people, having proudly served their family and community their whole lives. My father was a public school science teacher (now retired but continuing to serve with Meals on Wheels). My mother was a long-time public servant and both parents were tireless social campaigners in our local area, defending our community hospital and local bushland reserves against corporate and government interference.
3) What events in your past affected your beliefs about God’s existence and knowability? (e.g. – I studied biology, comparative religions or anthropology, or I met a girl I liked)
I present without (much) comment the following from the governor of Maine, John E. Baldacci:
“I have followed closely the debate on this issue. I have listened to both sides, as they have presented their arguments during the public hearing and on the floor of the Maine Senate and the House of Representatives. I have read many of the notes and letters sent to my office, and I have weighed my decision carefully,” Governor Baldacci said. “I did not come to this decision lightly or in haste.”
“I appreciate the tone brought to this debate by both sides of the issue,” Governor Baldacci said. “This is an emotional issue that touches deeply many of our most important ideals and traditions. There
are good, earnest and honest people on both sides of the question.”
“In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions,” Governor Baldacci said. “I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.”
Welcome to the inevitable progress of American society.
Cue wingnut outrage in 3, 2 …
Today, April 25, is ANZAC Day in Australia & New Zealand. A most reverent & sacred day in this part of the world, it commemorates the day in 1915 when Australia and New Zealand Army Corp troops (the nominal ANZACs) made a landing at Gallipoli on the coast of Turkey (a place now called ANZAC Cove).
The day certainly isn’t a celebration of a great victory – the Gallipoli campaign (the brainchild of a young Winston Churchill, then chief of the navy) was an abject failure and cost tens of thousands of ANZACs their lives before their eventual withdrawal by British high command after having gained mere yards. A mistake by the planners meant that instead of landing at a lightly defended beach, the ANZACs landed at a steep, mountainous cove peppered with Turkish machine-gun positions. With the advantage of height and numbers, the Turkish guns made a complete mess of the troops storming the beach. The ANZACs were tenacious, made small gains, dug in and held on as they were ordered to for months, but made no appreciable ground and were pulled out months later, their ranks decimated by superior numbers and by the privations of trench warfare.
But why remember such horror? Our troops had certainly been involved in military action before and with more success, in places like the Crimea and during the Boer War. Well, despite having first been colonised by the British in 1788, Australia didn’t become a federated nation until 1901. ANZAC Day marks the first time Australian troops went into battle representing their own nation and not just a colony of Imperial Britain. It is considered by some an important step in the building of our national character – the baptism by fire of our fledgling democratic nation in international conflict. Others see it as a warning not to simply do the military bidding of another nation (a warning that’s rarely been heeded).
These days it has chiefly become a day of rememberance and for thanksgiving for the sacrifices of all our fallen soldiers, sailors & airmen and a day to spare a thought for those currently serving around the world. Today, Australians & New Zealanders will be attending parades or watching them on TV, having barbecues (thought it is autumn and getting chilly), playing two-up, going to church services, many will be in Turkey at ANZAC Cove itself for a dawn service, or just taking a minute whenever they can to remember Australians that risked or gave their lives for our country. Far from glorifying war or violence, ANZAC Day is a day of quiet reflection, of appreciation of sacrifice … and to remember how those bastard Brits shafted us at Gallipoli.
Listening to the radio at work just now, I heard the breakfast DJs Matt & Jo talking to an alleged psychic/medium from New Zealand – the name escapes me for now so for the sake of convenience I’ll call him K (for Kiwi). The segment began with K’s story of how, in his youth, he started seeing spirits in the form of small bright lights in front of his vision (similar to what happens to me right before I cop a massive debilitating migraine). These spirits would reveal things to K about peoples’ still-living relatives. When he talked about it he copped flak from his peers, so he concealed it until relatively recently. It was, more or less, along the lines of most medium origin stories: young child with a gift hides it as a child due to teasing or trouble, then makes a living off it in adulthood. You could also apply that to a lot of X-Men origin stories, but that’s another, um, story.
The fun began when K started a reading for the DJs Matt & Jo. During the intro, Jo sounded like an agnostic sort-of believer (not really sure, but willing to believe – I guess she watches “Medium” and not “The Mentalist”) whilst Matt was a dead-set skeptic (you make the big claim, you provide the big evidence). Knowing this, K “read” Matt first, saying straight off that his mother, who had died of cancer, was “there” with a small girl (or talking about a small girl) and there was also the presence of a dog. Matt stated that his mother hadn’t died of cancer, that there was no “small girl”, alive or dead, that applied to his life and that all the dogs that could possibly have been relevant were still alive. Immediately, K became defensive and flatly stated that Matt was wrong. “You’re wrong, this is what they’re revealing to me.” Matt defended himself, saying “Sorry, but I’m just being honest – none of what you said applies to me,” which attracted the response, “Well, you’re just being a skeptic.” He spat the word “skeptic” out like was poison. “The spirits are telling me there was a small girl and a dog which mattered in your life, so you should take notice of that and think about those things – that’s what the spirits say, but let’s move on.” Swiftly turning his attention to Jo (I could almost hear Matt derisively raising his eyebrow), K mentioned something about a car accident involving her father (whom he knew to be deceased). Jo, now sounding unconvinced, revealed that her father had actually died in a plane crash. “Ah yes,” said K, sounding increasingly desperate (yet still nice and smug), “that’s what it might be,” then attempted to include the third member of the studio crew (whose name escapes me) in his reading (also to whom nothing applied). This vagueness went on for a couple more uncomfortable minutes (uncomfortable for K anyway, I’m sure, but I was enjoying it) and then they threw to a song. I would love to have been a fly on the wall as K made his (no doubt speedy) exit from the studio.
Iowa & Vermont just became the third and fourth American states to legalise gay marriage. They join Massachusetts and Connecticut in a small but no doubt slowly growing club: states who are no longer bound to bigotry against their own citizens. Running score: Humanity – 4; Dark-Aged superstitious bollocks – 46. But the human beings are making ground.
Also, it seems DC is now willing to recognise same-sex marriages performed in other states. Do I hear a tide turning here? Sploosh, sploosh. Yes. Yes, I do. I’m willing to take bets on how long it takes the remaining 46 to come around (in the case of Calfiornia, to come back around). It might take a decade or even a few decades, but one thing’s for sure: it’s inevitable. Fighting this is as effective as Canute attempting to hold back the ocean.
Predictably, various proponents of the “gay marriage = slippery slope to hell in a handbasket where everyone can marry their sister” or “omg the liberal ay-leet are a-tryin’ to dess-troy Jeee-zuss with their The Gay Agendas!” arguments are coming out of the woodwork, riding their highest horses onto oversized soapboxes and, well, bitching and moaning like a pack of moaning bitches. Some make the arse-backwards claim that The Gays are trying to destory marriage itself! Well, somebody needs to explain that to me. Gay couples want to be a part of something that they’ve been excluded from for their entire lives – how does that equate to wanting to destroy it? All gay people want is the same thing everyone else gets: the right, bestowed at birth, to marry the love of their life. They don’t want to ruin it for anyone, including themselves.
Of course (and as usual) when it comes to fundamentalist hand-wringing loons, the reality of the situation is something completely different. They say it’ll destroy the institution of marriage, they say it’ll mean the end of the family, some even seem to think it’s all part of The Gay Agenda’s plan to have The Gay taught in every schoolroom in the country (and by “The Gay” these people mean “have sex with anything, anywhere, anytime”). However, what they really mean is “Wah. Sob. We’re losing our grip on an exclusive Christian heterosexual privilege that we didn’t earn (but got really, really used to having, puh-raise Jee-zuss) and have really only held onto through laziness/reluctance/fear of losing votes on the part of the legislature and disproportionate fundamentalist representation & lobbying in government going back two or three decades. Oh noes! People are waking up and realising that not only will they not go to Hell for giving The Gays equality, they’re also starting to realise we in the Religious Right are not as numerous or important as everybody used to think we are (and they may be onto the fact that we’re hyper-reactionary & paranoid with delusions of persecution – or perhaps they’ve just realised we’re full of shit)! And not only that, it’s all happening democratically and we on the nutjob fringe don’t have the numbers to stem the tide forever! Oh, and thinking about gays just makes me feel … icky … so they shouldn’t get to marry each other. It’s unnatural … or something. There’s even something in Leviticus about them being, well, icky, in the eyes of God (but we won’t discuss the other parts of the Bible that make selling my daughters into slavery or killing the children of my enemies or massacring, with bears, children who tease bald people just fine – they’re just metaphors, outdated tribal moralities or other things that can be described by various phrases designed to both support our bigotry and deflect criticism of it).”
Tough cheese, brethren. You’ve had it your way for long enough and it’s time to let the other kids play. Time for equality – not “special rights”, not privileges above and beyond those of good ol’ God-fearin’ straight folk – just the same rights and the same privileges everyone who happens to like the opposite sex gets. Hell, some would argue that it’s straight people who’ve had the special treatment for so long and that it’s simply time to level the playing field for everyone.
As any childcare worker or nanny could tell you, the kid who gets spoiled rotten his whole life and suddenly gets asked to include other kids in his sandbox is always going to throw a tantrum. So what do you do? Give him a cuddle and make the others go away? Or tell him to harden up and deal with reality? You can’t insulate yourself from stuff you find objectionable forever. After all, people here in the real world have been tolerating bleating fundie idiocracy and its accompanying rise to inordinate levels of power and influence for years. Well, it’s time for a dose of reality. Time for all hysterical homophobes to harden up and deal with the inevitable progress of fairness & equality – or be remembered in a similar light as those who opposed Rosa Parks sitting where she damn well pleased.
Ah, those blessed Scandinavians. Reputedly cool, calm, collected, rather good race drivers and, it would seem, not really that concerned about gods one way or the other. During my time observing and participating in discussions about religion and its public role over the last few years, Scandinavia has often been held up as a bastion of faithless virtue, a shining beacon of godless goodness, a prime example of what can be accomplished on a transnational scale without referring to scripture but merely concentrating on what works for the populace.
Atheist/secularist/humanist commentators often to point to Scandinavian social successes (for example low unemployment, high standards of living, functioning democracies, effective public health care & education) as evidence against the claims of many religious people that if we in the West abandoned our “Judeo-Christian” values or kept our church & state separate, our nations would all fall, unrestricted by fears of celestial surveillance, into a grimy, black crevass of murder, pillage and hedonism (one could argue that the US in the last eight years has fallen into an economic & diplomatic hole of a similar depth, led by a very religious man who was happy to pander to very religious people for his entire reign, but that’s a whole other article).
According to a recent New York Times article by Peter Steinfel on a study by Californian sociologist Phil Zuckerman (here), it seems that far from there being only two sides to the god coin, the Scandinavians, almost characteristically, have ended up on a third side. And here it is:
They don’t care.
Excuse me. I nearly choked on a handful of almonds. My created/intelligently designed oesophagus is just a little too close to my trachaea, making it very easy to block the latter with particles of chewed food whilst laughing my arse right off its hinges when I read stuff like this FOX article:
State Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) proposed House Bill 2800 when he learned that The Institute for Creation Research (ICR), a private institution that specializes in the education and research of biblical creationism, was not able to receive a certificate of authority from Texas’ Higher Education Coordinating Board to grant Master of Science degrees.
So. “Education” and “research” (grin) of biblical creationism (chortle). OK, well, although I’m no theologian or creation scientist (snort) , allow me to sum up the entire proposed course for you:
Education: God did it.
Research: it says in the Bible that God did it.
Thesis: the Bible says God did it; the Bible is always right because God wrote it; God is always right; the evidence for this is in the Bible which God wrote; my conclusion is that God did it (and is always right, just like the book He wrote).
Well done, here’s your diploma & whimsical “WWJD” t-shirt that all the kids are wearing. That’ll be several thousand dollars. Hmm?
Well, it will if the Australian government gets its way on its internet censorship bill. That’s right. The ACMA seems to have placed Wikileaks on its potential web blacklist and seems set on throwing fines of up to $11,000 at anyone who links to it.
I’d happily go all out on this one, but a fellow Antipodean has already got this one in his sights:
I’m posting this on my American blog because the Australian government, through the Australian Communications and Media Authority is fining people on Australian sites who give the links below the fold $11,000/day. Pretty well everything I feared about censorship by the internet filter and heavy handed government action is coming true.
First of all, it transpires that only one bureaucrat at ACMA is required to block and ban a site, with no further oversight or redress. Second, it turns out that yes, ordinary and popular pornography sites are being blocked, so that if the filter becomes mandatory, these legal sites will effectively become censored for no apparent reason (other than political whim or special privileges). Thirdly, the whistleblower site Wikileaks is blocked by the ACMA blacklist.
John follows with the excerpt from a Crikey article:
Like New Labour in the UK, the ALP has now abandoned that [civil liberties movement], for a number of reasons. Once it committed itself to neoliberal economics (“social capitalism”) Labo(u)r became freaked about the social dissolution and rupture, the desocialisation created by turning the polis into a giant market of winners and losers. The tough answer to this is genuine social democracy, in which people have a social being not entirely defined by whether they’re a “winner” or a “loser”. The easy answer is to let the market rip, allow it to change the culture, and then seek to control and reshape people’s behaviour, selling it to them as “protecting the many against the few”.
HIV/AIDS is possibly the worst health crisis to hit this planet. It’s also arguably the worst thing to happen to the African continent since white people were regularly kidnapping its inhabitants and trading them like farm machinery.
But the one hopeful thing about the whole situation is this: while there’s no cure yet, AIDS is easily preventable. Ridiculously easily preventable. Avoiding the sharing of needles & using contraception are the two most effective ways to avoid the long, tortuous, wasting death we’ve all come to associate with this horrendous epidemic. And if you’re not an intravenous drug user (or you studiously avoid sticking sharp, blood-stained things in your body), there’s 50% of your prevention pretty much sorted already.
So … how the hell are you supposed to react when the gold-robed, paedophile-protecting dictator-for-life of the Catholic Church continues to threaten people with eternal torment for using contraception during sex (based on a very, very, um, interpretive interpretation the Bible) and instead tells people “just say no” to sex? In this story (BBC) Pope Oberstumbannfuhrer Herr Kaiser Ratzinger (I refuse to use his picked-out stagename, he’s not Axl Rose for crying out loud) once again proves to the world that not only is his outlook anachronistic, unrealistic & laughable, it’s also flat-out fatal. To millions upon millions of people.