It seems I am a coarse, uncaring beast

Cardinal George Pell, who is Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, has opined that people without faith are bad people. If Australia ceases to be guided by Christian principles, then “Australian society will become increasingly coarse and uncaring.”

Faithless are coarse, uncaring and without purpose, says Cardinal Pell

Let me tell you a story about the good Christian mothers and fathers at the school my children attend. At least, I assume that they are Christian, because they send their children along to the inter-denominational services, and many of them are sending their children off to private church-run schools when they go to secondary school.

Last year, one of the mums at school had twins. She already had four children, ranging in age from 10 down to 5. Her partner left her during her pregnancy, so she was trying to manage on her own. Things weren’t too bad, except that she had a c-section, which meant that she couldn’t drive her car for six weeks. So each morning, she was getting up, feeding and tending the babies, getting the other kids organised, and then putting the babies in the pram, and walking the children to school. Another mum saw all this happening one day, and was appalled. So with the consent of the new mother, and with the assistance of classroom teachers, she sent out an e-mail, asking people to volunteer to help with getting the two younger children to and from school each day. The two older children could get themselves to school along quiet streets on their bikes.

I read the e-mail, held my head in my hands for a few moments, because I already had a fair amount on, and then e-mailed back. Of course I could find a few minutes in the morning to help, especially when I was already out and about getting my own children to school.

The next day, the mum who organised the e-mail told me that I was the only person who had replied to her. It seemed that there was some gossip going around about the new mum, so plenty of the other parents at the school didn’t think she was worthy of help.

I think that could fairly be described as uncaring, and coarse.

Over the next day or two, a few more parents stepped up, and a roster was organised, and family friends stepped in, and one way and another, the new mum was able to get through those first few weeks. But the original response was uncaring, and unkind, and insensitive, and crass.

I have been angry about the whole incident ever since, and I am made even more angry when I read comments like George Pell’s. As far as I know, we are the only avowed atheists in the school. Everyone else goes along with the regulation Christianity, bar a few children who come from families with other faiths. But ours was not the uncaring and coarse response.

George Pell didn’t stop with the nasty comments about non-Christians. He also thinks that people without faith lead meaningless lives. “… without God the universe has no objective purpose or meaning. Nothing beyond the constructs they confect to cover the abyss.”

Hmmm…. I see that exactly the other way round. I look into the abyss, into the wonder of the universe, into the utter inconsequence of the speck of existence that is me within this universe, and the abyss looks back it me. I can stand tall, knowing that I am responsible for me, that the universe really does not care about my existence, that there is no vengeful or beneficent being keeping tabs on my life, and rewarding or punishing me as she sees fit. This has created the greatest sense of freedom I have had, and the greatest sense of responsibility. And this is what gives my life meaning. Not some external story that I tell myself, some construct I confect to shield myself from the horrors of the night, but meaning generated from within, from trying to understand myself, and the society within which I live.

Take your fairy tales, and your nasty epithets, George Pell, and stuff them where the sun don’t shine.

Update: You should also read tigtog’s brilliant post at Hoyden about Town, where she shreds this claim that Pell made.

Cardinal Pell said education was not enough to create a civilised society, that faith was necessary too. He cited the example of 20th century Germany, which he said was the best educated society in the world when Hitler became leader.

16 responses to “It seems I am a coarse, uncaring beast

  1. I feel similarly to you, the absence of a god makes the universe all the more amazing to me.

  2. This post is a thing of beauty wrought from the ugliness of Pell’s words. I’m proud to be a coarse and uncaring beast in company such as yours.

    I think I need to go to bed, I’m getting slightly (badly) poetic. I blame the #poetryretractions on Twitter.

    And now I can hear a Scottish accented voice in my head saying “Put me doon, there’s going to be poetry!” Definitely time for sleep.

  3. I should make it clear that I don’t think that the various faiths professed, or nominally adhered to, by parents at my children’s school was the cause of the coarse and uncaring behaviour. The point is simply that Pell is wrong to imply that there is a causal connection between lack of faith (secularism / agnosticism / atheism) and boorish behaviour.

  4. In my experience idiocy is an equal opportunity employer.

  5. Nasty, nasty little man. I read this too and laughed hollowly. Thanks for your considered response which was much more useful.

    As for the situation at the school, it took me back a long way to similar situations when I had children at school. It’s not a place I want to revisit. Oh, the inhumanity. And it’s women who behave like this. Reason #3645 why we need feminism, as Dr Cat might have said.

  6. Words almost fail me on this
    But I think George should worry about his own flock and his own clergy before he needs worry about or speak about us
    You have summed it up very well

  7. compassion doesnt come from being christian, it comes from within.. I find it similarly hard when “christian” is equated with perfection… I am christian although questioning that at the moment…. and hate getting tagged in with people like Pell, or politicians who claim to be christian but want to rip social welfare to pieces and make us pay for health care…. not the sort of christian I was brought up to be.

    Beautifully written post, and if being coarse etc means being like you then sign me up too (but by Pells thing I arent coarse or uncaring, stupid really)

  8. And what on earth is this stricture about about driving for six weeks after birth – caesar or not? I’ve heard it a bit recently. Is it related to insurance? I’m hearing increasingly that women are told not to. It’s never been a problem – what’s changed? And why aren’t women questioning it?

  9. I ended up writing a rant about this too, which is not nearly as reflective as this wonderful post of yours. I focussed on his Godwinning –

    Cardinal Pell said education was not enough to create a civilised society, that faith was necessary too. He cited the example of 20th century Germany, which he said was the best educated society in the world when Hitler became leader.

    As you might expect, I opine that it is not the lack of faith but the lack of critical thinking skills that allow authoritarian demagogues to insidiously corrupt “civilised society”, and guess which sort of worldview encourages people to respect and obey authority no matter what? Not the ever-questioning skeptical worldview, is it now?

  10. I’ve asked Mr Google, and it appears to me that hospitals (ie the staff member who discharges them) are telling women their insurance won’t cover them if they drive within six weeks of birth, but the insurance companies aren’t concerned (even after a caesar) unless the women has been specifically told by a doctor that they mustn’t drive. Very strange – it causes so many problems for post-partum women when they can’t drive, that I’m wondering why more don’t question it.

  11. Since Pell seemed to be busy assuming everyone else’s motives and inner feelings, my mind leapt immediately to doing the same to him. When I read it, I was put in mind of Sir Humphrey discussing the fact that almost none of the archbishops believed in God. I couldn’t help seeing a man who’s lost his faith, can find nothing to replace it and is terrified of everything around him. I’m almost certainly wrong, I have no more insight into this man’s mind than he does into mine, but it was the most charitable reading I could make of him.

    Lovely post.

  12. @ WK I was told two weeks, but really up until two weeks were up I was too stiff and sore anyway. Getting in behind the steering wheel, for me, after major abdominal surgery was pretty difficult. I think most Drs say that don’t do it you won’t be covered by insurance to cover their own butt just in case you get hurt doing it. /thread jack

  13. Deborah and Bluemilk you have hit the nail on the head for me. Thinking how small and insignificant I am in the greater universe actually makes me very happy. I also know that no one is going to magically come down and fix this place if we stuff it up and that if species start to go extinct that there is no reason why Homo Sapiens Sapiens can’t be one of them.

    Plus I think, despite my godless life, I do quite well in the general happiness stakes. I don’t need that crutch Mr Pell.

  14. Yep, I like the idea that, because there is no God, we are responsible for making our own meaning of the universe. This cardinal fella sounds like he’s just spouting myths and has no actual, personal experience of the difference (if any) between the character of Christians and that of non-Christians.

  15. Well said, Deborah, you gladden my atheist heart.
    My atheist brain always struggles a bit at this time of year with the wholesale embracing of Christmas rituals. This is illustrated in a small way by Christmas carols – I am not that fond of the triumphal ones like Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (though I love thumping it out on the piano), and I positively loathe the secular carols such as Christmas on the Beach and Snoopy’s Christmas. The ones I really like are the endearingly batty ones with lines like “don we now our gay apparel” and “bring us a figgy pudding” and “bring me flesh and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither”. They speak of conviviality and cheer, which is nice.

  16. Hehe. I have a Bob Rivers Twisted Christmas album, which includes “I Am Santa Claus” sung to the tune of Iron Man by Black Sabbath. among other treasures.