Tag Archives: Religion

Why we write

The vast majority of the human race drifts without record from conception to extinction. Their lives go unrecorded, and it is only theology which might make us suppose that these individual lives have any previous or future existence, or indeed, during their palpable existence on earth, that they have any identifiable significance. For most, it is a tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing; but, most significant of all, it is a tale which is not told. It is only by telling the tale that we create the illusion that there is a tale to tell. The rise of the rise of the novel in literature, which came with a great resurrection in the art of biography, a passion for journals, letter writing, personal confessions and memoirs, all of which happened shortly before or during the lifetime of Rousseau, gave to articulate beings the means of creating a shape, of holding onto words and moments which would otherwise be forgotten, of creating a barricade against death.

A. N. Wilson, Tolstoy, W. H. Norton and Co, 1988, pp. 88 – 89.


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.

On the inconvenience of periods and pregnancy

Cross posted

The New Zealand Herald contacted me yesterday, wanting a comment on this invitation being sent out by Te Papa (the New Zealand national museum).

Te Papa storeroom tours

A behind the scenes tour of Te Papa’s collection stores and collection management systems
Te Papa, 10:30am- 2:30pm, Friday 5th November 2010
Places are limited to 7 people

A chance for Local regional museums to visit various Te Papa store rooms and meet the collection managers of:
– The Taonga Māori collection – Lisa Ward, Moana Parata, Noel Osborne
– Photography and new media – Anita Hogan
– Works on paper – Tony Mackle
– Textiles – Tania Walters

Conditions of the tour:
* No photographs are to be taken of the taonga, however some images can be made available.
* There is to be no kai (food or drink) taken into the collection rooms.
* Wahine who are either hapü (pregnant) or mate wähine (menstruating) are welcome to visit at another time that is convenient for them.
* We start our visits with karakia and invite our manuhiri to participate.

Who is it for?
– This tour is for representatives from small museums, art galleries, heritage organisations, the arts and cultural sector or iwi organisations.

(I’ve edited the layout and fonts and so on, to fit on the screen, and the emphasis is mine.)

The Herald reporter suggested that I might have something to say about the practice of excluding menstruating and pregnant women being sexist and archaic. However, I didn’t. I sent back these three quotes.

It’s fair enough to respect cultural protocols, but maybe Te Papa could say that, instead of their mealy-mouthed request for pregnant and menstruating women to come back at a time that “is convenient for them.” I’m perfectly able to function when I’ve got my period or when I’m pregnant. It’s far more inconvenient to have to make special arrangements to come back at another time.

I don’t understand why a secular institution, funded by public money in a secular state, is imposing religious and cultural values on people. It’s fair enough for people to engage in their own cultural practices where those practices don’t harm others, but the state shouldn’t be imposing those practices on other people.

It’s up to Maori to work out if and how and when cultural practices should change for Maori, within the traditional freedoms of liberal democracies. If it is important to Maori people that pregnant and menstruating women aren’t included in the tour, then maybe the tour shouldn’t take place at all.

The story appeared in the New Zealand Herald this morning:

Anger at Te Papa ban on pregnant women

It’s interesting to see which of my quotes was used in the story, and how it was used.

Stuff also has a story about the invitation. They contacted Boganette for comment.

Pregnant women warned off Te Papa tour

What are they really teaching in those scripture classes?

There’s an on-going stoush in New South Wales about scripture classes in public schools, which I written about before: Irony. Some Christians are argued that scripture classes are very, very, very important because children learn ethics from scripture. Which is tosh, of course – see Mindy’s excellent post about this claim: Values are not exclusively Christian.

But what is actually being taught in those scripture classes? The Macquarie Centre for Research on Social Inclusion has taken a look, and the results are… revealing.

Creationism creeps into NSW schools

STUDENTS at one NSW school were told by an untrained scripture teacher they would “burn in hell” if they didn’t believe in Jesus

And, elsewhere in the state, children at other schools were given creationism showbags. A survey by Sydney’s Macquarie University also found 70 per cent of scripture teachers think children should be taught the Bible as historical fact and 80 per cent believe students should not be exposed to non-Christian beliefs.


Scripture teachers generally discouraged questioning, emphasised submission to authority and excluded different beliefs.

Isn’t that great! Just what you want in the public education system: children being taught to not question, to defer to authority, to become rigid thinkers. An excellent strategy for the complex and diverse world of the 21st century.

An alternative ethics program has been developed for students who opt out of scripture classes, and is being trialled in schools. Here’s what one student she was learning in ethics classes.

A few words from an Ethics trial class student

The teacher gives us situations like whether we think something is fair or not, and then we discuss the topic and give our own opinions. It’s important because it gives us an opportunity to see other people’s point of view and perspectives on things without anyone being right or wrong. That means we feel like we won’t be judged on our answers and gives us a chance to justify what our perspectives are.

I know which I would prefer for my daughters.

What’s that got to do with it?

Scoop has been reporting the cause of the Iranian hunger striker. Ali Panah does not want to be deported to Iran, because he fears that his life will be in danger, as a convert to the Anglican church.

For the most part it’s all straight forward reporting. But why does Scoop feel the need to point out that the Minister of Immigration, David Cunliffe, is himself the son of an Anglican vicar.

Anglican Archbishop David Moxon emerged from a prison visit to Mr Panah declaring he is fully persuaded of the genuineness of the Iranian asylum seeker’s Christian faith. Mr Cunliffe is from an Anglican background himself his father was a ‘man of the cloth’.

What’s the rhetorical point – that Mr Cunliffe should be more sympathetic to Mr Panah’s cause, just because he is an Anglican?

I would be deeply worried if the Minister for Immigration, or indeed any minister, took his or her private religious beliefs, if any, into account when making decisions within their portfolios. I expect them to act in an unbiased manner, not give their own private beliefs sway.