Tag Archives: Atheism


Apparently, churches don’t want schools to offer ethics classes as an alternative to scripture classes, because then…

religious children miss out on ethics.

Source: Catholics try new tack in ethics row.

H/T: Lauredhel, on Twitter

So religion doesn’t teach values and ethical behaviour after all! Who’d have thunk…

Update: Lauredhel has a considered post about teaching scripture and teaching ethics in schools, including a bit about the pearler I’ve quoted above. You should go read it: Catholic: “Scripture kids would miss out on ethics”


I’m normally a fan of Tapu Misa’s work. Over the last few years, her columns in the Herald have made me think hard about Pasifika, and about Pasifika as part of the glorious hodge-podge of New Zealand.

But of late, she has gotten onto a Christian kick, exemplified by today’s offering.

There’s about three egregious errors in the column, common to many Christian apologists. None of the errors is overt, but they are subtle assumptions, worked into the text, so that it’s hard to question them. I do not think for a moment that Tapu Misa is engaged in some kind of Machiavellian* attempt to suborn her readers through sly argument. She is too honest for that. However, I think it’s worth having a look at the subtext of what she has written, just because it is so much part of her own thinking and writing that it doesn’t seem to be questioned at all.

First up, the conversion experience. Apparently, some Christians have conversion experiences, where like Saul on the road to Damascus, they see the light. The experience of conversion is taken to underpin the veracity of Christianity. But, it turns out that lots of people have conversion experiences, including atheists. There are whole sites dedicated to atheist conversion stories. I have written about my own conversion experience here, ‘though as it turns out, for me it was more a process of scrabbling around trying hard not to convert, over years, than any sudden leap into the light.

The conversion experience is neither here nor there. Lots of people have them in lots of circumstances. They are meaningless as evidence of anything other than having had a conversion experience.

Second, the idea that being a Christian is somehow counter-cultural, against the overall stance of society, and somehow, this makes the Christian a rebel.

This is a bizarre claim. Christianity is deep in the structure of our society, from the special holidays we have for Christian festivals (Christmas, Easter), to the words of our national anthem, to the prayer that parliamentarians say at the start of each day’s sitting of Parliament. Christians get special seats on ethics panels, and they get to be registered as churches, so they can collect a variety of benefits (such as no rates, and no taxes).

Every now and then, I see a car with a stylised fish symbol bumper sticker. In the early days of the Christian churches, Christians were persecuted. Yet they still had a need to meet each other, to make contact, and share their beliefs. So a Christian meeting another person would carefully draw a fish in the dirt with their feet. If the other responded, then both of them would know that they were Christians. The fish symbol, looking something like this – fish.jpg – was a Christian identity badge.

Very nice. But why on earth do today’s Christians need it? They are not persecuted in this country, by any measure. Indeed, we bend over backwards to accommodate them. Perhaps by using the symbol, contemporary Christians can feel that they are worthy of their god, and that they really are fighting against the established order. Whatever. Like the claim that being Christian is counter-cultural, it’s a way of saying ‘Christians contra mundi’, and thus reinforcing the idea of Christianity being special, and therefore right.

And the third error? The claim that the world is a better, richer, more compassionate place with God in it.

Right…. that would account for the Crusades, then.

Seriously, this is a version of the claim that god makes you good. I have two problems with this claim. It seems to me that you are a poor sort of person if it is only some sort of external agent that makes you good, makes you compassionate, and willing to help your neighbour. Surely decent people do this anyway, without a god to tell them to do it. The second problem is a straightforward empirical claim – many Christians simply are not good people. Bishop John Spong is interviewed in this week’s NZ Listener; he says that he has received 16 serious death threats in his life, but none of them came from atheists or Buddhists. The implication is that the death threats came from Christians, and other people of the book. There is ample evidence to suggest that while there are, no doubt, many good Christians, there are many bad ones too. Goodness does not rest in Christianity, nor does Christianity cause goodness.

I’m unimpressed by this column. Tapu Misa has evidently found god, and that’s jolly nice for her. But do the rest of us have to put up with her god-blathering? I will be voting with my feet, or my eyes, and just not bothering with her god-talk columns again.

*Machiavelli is one of my heroes, and one day, I will write about him.

Why philosophers should rule

Some grumpy days, I think that Plato was right. In The Republic, Plato argued that philosophers were the only people who could truly perceive the Good, so they should be the kings. Interestingly, he thought that women could be philosopher kings too, ‘though it would be an exaggeration to claim that he had a high opinion of women in general. It was more that he thought that anyone who displayed the requisite qualities could be a king, and he was sufficiently intellectually honest to admit that these qualities could be manifested in women as well as in men.

I get grumpy when I read wittery little pieces like this one, by the soon-to-be dean of the Anglican cathedral in Parnell. First of all, I get annoyed when someone says that their belief in god gives them a special right to speak on ethical issues. There’s a whole set of untested assumptions in there: that some god exists; that if some god exists, it is a particular kind of god; that the particular kind of god that the person is claiming as a moral authority is in fact the particular kind of god that exists; that the person making the claim knows what this god thinks. The Dean-elect doesn’t even attempt to establish any of those claims.

That’s probably fair enough in a newspaper column. But unlike Sundays when he commands a pulpit, he is not preaching to the converted, and it might be good form to acknowledge that believing in ghosties isn’t much of a basis on which to make ethical claims.

Then he states his base position.

The gift of life is a sacred thing. Our laws reflect that. They seek to protect human life above all else. That’s why our society does not allow euthanasia. We believe there are limits to our right to interfere in the natural course of life.

Where to start?

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Friday features

Or maybe that’s Friday fetishes.

I thought that ‘Friday Feminist’ would be fun – somewhere to showcase a little of what I am interested in. At some stage, I might move on to a ‘Friday Political Philosopher’ but there’s plenty of scope yet in feminists.

I’m not the only person who runs a Friday feature. PZ Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, runs a fabulous blog called Pharyngula. It’s a mix of biology, evolutionary biology, atheism, and political commentary. I recommend it. And he runs a Friday feature, the ‘Friday Cephalopod’. Go take a look at this week’s Friday Cephalopod; as Professor Myers says, it’s a jewel.

Any other Friday fetishes out there?