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.”
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.