Wednesday, 26 May 2010

I, the Face of Evil

Last night’s Insight program on SBS dealt with Special Religious Education (SRE) classes given to school children in Australian public schools. The program focused on the current initiative in NSW to offer ethics classes to kids whose parents don’t want them to take part in religious education and who, thus far, had to spend that hour a week sitting in a remote corner reading a book. You can read about the program and even view it here.
While I found the program interesting enough to watch I am of the opinion the debate was a failure for the simple reason it chose to ignore the elephants in the room: First that there is no room for advocating specific religions in the public schools of a secular and multi cultural country; that principle question was never under serious debate. The second and an even bigger elephant is the reality that the religious institutions are objecting to the ethics alternative for the simple reason that without little children indoctrinated in their dogmas their source of power will further diminish. It is, after all, nothing about the belief in an almighty god but rather a power struggle between the religious institutions of old and the movement of reason that started since Galileo’s time and keeps on pushing religion out of the equation further and further.
What I did find interesting about the program, in an annoying kind of way, was the freedom some of the representatives of religion took upon themselves when presenting their ideas. Let’s look at three of those ideas.

First there was Glenn Davies, the Anglican Bishop of North Sydney. This dude jumped the gun by offering an idea religious people often flag:
…as it were, atheistic religion of some sort…
That is, the idea that atheism is just another religion. Well, if the state of having no religion is equal to having some sort of a religion, does that mean that I can go and sell being barefoot as the latest in shoe fashion and make money out of it? Or does the state of having no money to own a mansion by the beach mean that I can claim to own one?
I find this "atheism is another religion" argument incredibly silly. The bottom line is that religion comes with a leap of faith in the supernatural as a mandatory prerequisite; atheism refuses to accept that, therefore it cannot be a religion. To the incredibly cynical Glenn Davies I will say, stop taking us rational people down to your level.

Then came along Mazen Fahme, who organises Islamic Special Religious Education in NSW (where there are enough Muslims in the public schools). Fahme’s first claim to ridicule was the following:
And the other issue that we have is that who is to, I suppose, say what ethics are common right now? Ethics can evolve over time.
Oh yeah, and religions haven’t evolved over time. In fact, just this morning I sacrificed a goat so my gods will like me enough to ensure my train to work is on time.

The time for silly jokes was over with Fahme’s following statement:
The other issue we have with ethics as well is that it does lack the substance in that with religion, it gives it extra dimension. As a religious person, when I was asked to serve someone or assist someone, I'm doing it for no gratitude in this world, I'm doing it for the pleasure of my creator and for reward in the afterlife. When you put that purely with no religion and just ethics then I don't have to serve this person, I want the reward in this world and so forth.
If you didn’t get it, Fahme is essentially saying that those who do not believe in a god cannot be moral because they lack that almighty surveillance camera in the sky looking over their shoulder. By Fahme’s account, I, for one, have nothing stopping me from being truly nasty to my fellow human beings because I don’t believe in god (any god, for that matter).
Maybe it’s just me, but I find the people that need god by their side in order to act ethically the most unethical people around; they’re definitely the scariest, because once they’re of the belief that god wants them to do something nasty to someone else they could convince themselves to ignore the common sense inhibition to be nice to one another and commit atrocities. Perhaps these things have happened before, like, say, September 11.
There you have Insight’s contribution: The realization that I am sharing the planet with would be monsters created out of religious dogma taken too literally. I knew these people existed; what I didn’t know is that these people have control over public school agendas in Australia and that they’re mainstream enough to express their views in mainstream current affair program. What do these people think of the 30% or so of Aussies that declare themselves to lack faith? Do they really perceive every third person they see on the street a potential serial killer?
What can I say? Us humans have a long way to go still.

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