Victorian MP Fiona Patten Introduces Bill to Tax Religious Organisations

Victorian Upper House MP, Fiona Patten will today first read a Bill in the Victorian Parliament to amend the Charities Act 1978 to exclude the advancement of religion as a charitable purpose. This amendment will ensure that tax exemptions for charities in Victoria only apply to those organisations engaging in objectively charitable works.

Most people understand a charity to be ‘an organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need’. We want Victoria’s laws to reflect this. Genuine charitable work, including the charitable work performed by religious institutions, should be tax exempt. However, the current construction of ‘advancement of religion’
permits something else. The Bill will also see amendments to the Duties Act 2000, the Payroll Tax Act 2007 and the Land Tax Act 2005. The Bill is effectively the first step toward parliamentary debate around the country to allow religious institutions in Australia
to be taxed.

The Bill speaks to former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard’s prediction yesterday, that removing tax concessions for churches could push the more recalcitrant ones on child sexual abuse matters, to act more decently. Ms Patten said Commercial enterprises owned by religious institutions should be subject to the same legal and financial laws as other commercial entities, but they are not. “Taxing these types of businesses makes common sense” she said. “ And taxing them fairly does not inhibit their ability to generate profit for the church, it just ensures that the state benefits too. It also importantly provides much needed

Ms Patten has been a contributor to the debate around child sex abuse in religious orders for nearly two decades now. “In 2000 I published a dossier called Hypocrites (PDF copy attached), on the sexual abuse of children within religious institutions and named hundreds of convicted church clergy as evidence of the need for a Royal Commission,” detailed Fiona Patten MLC. “I listed what I thought the terms of reference should look like including an examination of the content and practice of training programs that clergy undergo and an examination of the effects if any, that celibacy and sexual repression have upon child sex abuse.”

The ground-breaking expose Hypocrites was delivered to every State and Federal member of parliament in Australia. Its controversial content made headlines, yet the reaction by those in a position to make the abusers accountable was as
extraordinary as the revelations.

“As a political figure at the time, representing Australia’s sex industry, I was ridiculed and threatened by members of parliament for making these claims. Some, like federal MP, Bruce Baird, even threatened me with eviction from the federal parliament if I ever stepped inside the building. I had a number of serious death threats as well which were investigated by the AFP and many MPs said they would take legal action against me if I ever sent something similar to them again,” explained Ms Patten.

After forming the Australian Sex Party in 2009, Ms Patten became the first leader of a political party to call for a Royal Commission into child sex abuse in the church and the first to promote a Royal Commission into such abuse as a formal policy. Four years later, Prime Minister, Julia Gillard announced the current enquiry. Ms Patten said it was a great irony that Australia’s churches and many of the same MPs who criticised her for calling for an enquiry into child sex abuse were now the ones calling for an enquiry into religious protections.

“Religious ‘protections’ have been one of the main causes of sexual abuse in the churches. They were protected not only by their own flock but by ignorant Members of Parliament, Police, Judges and legal professionals who denied the compelling evidence.


Fiona Patten: 0413 734 613

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  • Miriam English
    Shane, apologies if I sounded angry. I wasn’t. I was just astounded at the way so many Christians dance around the words in their Bible, using them to rationalise hurting people — especially women and gays, while professing love for them. I wouldn’t even mind this so much if they kept their hurt to themselves — if you are opposed to gay marriage then don’t marry the same sex yourselves; if you’re opposed to abortion then don’t have abortions yourselves — but Christianity always tries to force this on other people too, preventing gay people in loving, devoted relationships from getting married, preventing other people gaining access to abortion, pushing religion onto children in school, and so on.

    And I have absolutely no time for crooks and charlatans like Ravi Zacharius. I can’t understand why religious people believe anything said by a crook who lies about his credentials. But it’s worse than that. I can’t understand how people overlook massively broken logic, just because the speaker has a smooth and reasonable-sounding manner? I see this time and time again with religious leaders. Their appeal is largely in mannerisms and appearance, but also in simply telling people what they want to hear. When it comes to making sense, religious speakers are, time and time again, terrible.

    Joan Chittister is only religious speaker I know of who makes sense. She is inspirational, intelligent, and honest. I admire her greatly. I’m sure there must be others, but I haven’t heard of any.

    Shane, you can’t refer to the Bible for your moral messages. It has so many contradictions that you can easily support ANY moral stand you want by selecting the appropriate verses. This is why there’s roughly a thousand major kinds of Christianity.
    Each is absolutely certain that they alone have the true interpretation of the Bible. They each disprove each other.

    Whether you like it or not, your morality comes from secular society. You need look no further than slavery, racism, sexism, and homophobia to see that, but secular morals reach throughout society and have greatly improved society in many other ways too. Religion keeps us tethered to a dangerous and intolerant set of rules written by primitive superstitious people from the Bronze age and early Iron Age.

    When Christian groups have become tolerant and genuinely loving, this has come from the secular morals surrounding them, not from their Bibles.

    The most atheist places in the world have the least violence, the least disease, the best levels of education, the longest lifespans, and the highest levels of happiness.

    If there really was a god then religion would improve our morality. Instead, it rationalises hurting and denigrating others under the guise of being loving.
  • Mrs A Quinn
    You can’t ban abortion. You can only ban safe abortions. So, how exactly how prolife are you? Unsafe abortions kill women. This is a fact. Your cherry picking of the bible is simply irrelevant.
  • Sean Kelleher

    When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage but no other injury occurs, then the guilty party will be fined what the woman’s husband demands, as negotiated with the judges. If there is further injury, then you will give a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a bruise for a bruise, a wound for a wound.
  • Shane Pingle
    Hi Miriam,
    may I ask what translation you are reading, specifically regarding the Exodus 21:22-25 passage (and surrounding chapters for context)? I wish to learn more about abortion. (no I haven’t studied ancient Hebrew, but I wish to to go and ask the question to a couple of friends of mine who have, I will also ask the hard questions of them regarding the Numbers 5:11-31 passage).

    I certainly hold ladies in very high esteem (husbands love your wives like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her (Eph 5:25), treat all ladies as you would your sister or mother (1 Tim 5:2), and their rights are certainly not less important than children.

    Jesus upped the ante on the Mosaic law, in the Sermon on the Mount. If someone looks with lust it’s the same as adultery, if someone has hatred towards a brother it’s the same as murder. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5-7 he quotes the Law “you have heard it said, but I say until you…..”

    He quotes this Exodus 21:22-25 passage in Matt 5:38-42:
    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." NIV

    The standard is so high, no-one can achieve it (Romans 3:23) – which is where the Gospel comes in (John 3:16).

    As Sam Harris would say ‘pay attention to the frontiers of your own ignorance’. Plato quoting Socrates said ‘an unexamined life is not worth living’. I wish to do this – if my worldview cannot stand up serious scrutiny I would like to know about it. I sincerely apologize if I have caused anger – this is not my intent.
  • Miriam English
    I’m always amazed at the way Christian apologists manage to twist and change the “unchangeable” word of their god to mean anything they want.

    The Numbers passage is clearly about aborting a pregnancy. No amount of playing with words can alter that.

    The passage about Jeremiah is specifically about Jeremiah’s predestination and can’t be made general.

    The Psalm you mention talks about god’s role in creating everything. It doesn’t mean that we are people before we are people.

    The Exodus passage you refer to says the OPPOSITE of what you’re saying. It says that hurting a woman causing her to miscarry means that the man who hurt the woman has to pay a fine. Note that it says he has to pay the fine for hurting her, not for causing the miscarriage. It then goes on to talk about the assaulter having to suffer like for like in further damage to the woman “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Christian apologists try to make that last part sound like the passage is referring to the aborted baby, but it is clearly talking about the woman, as babies don’t have teeth and nobody would flog a foetus (stripe for stripe), but it was common to do that to women.

    It’s weird that you’re able to recite the rules of the Old Testament and then, almost in the same breath, say that Jesus replaced them with “love your neighbor”. You don’t see a flaw in your thinking there? And how is it loving to force a real woman through a potentially dangerous pregnancy for the sake of a potential human? It amazes me that Christians focus so much energy on an unborn, potential human and completely ignore the real human carrying it. It is even more bizarre that so many of these who get so worked up about something that’s not even human yet, when the woman is forced to give birth and it is now human, they want nothing to do with it, voting to scorning single mothers, trying to make life even more difficult for them, and happy to starve their child. Religion is twisted.

    I watched that video of Ravi Zacharius, but I wish I hadn’t. That guy is a really smooth talker. He is frankly brilliant at making illogical arguments sound reasonable. But if you take his gentle-sounding, reasonable-sounding tone of voice away and hear what he’s actually saying, it is terrible. He talks, for instance about Christians being against racism, but the Bible is emphatically pro-racism. It goes on and on about hating people who are different. Slavery is seen as normal and natural, and not even Jesus condemns it. Zacharius also makes awful errors about the three forms of society (which he makes up). Autonomous people don’t need to fall into conflict. And carrying out god’s law doesn’t avoid conflict (which god? and which of the more than a thousand major divisions of Christianity has his teachings right?).

    But Zacharius’ worst is where he makes doing horrible things to gays sound reasonable and loving. I found myself positively repulsed at that point. The torturers for the Inquisition killed and maimed people by using his arguments. They wanted sinners’ souls to go to heaven — it was all about “hate the sin, love the sinner”. It let them do terrible things to people and have a clear conscience about it. As for traditional marriage… you mean a man having many, even hundreds, of wives? You mean forcing a woman to marry her rapist? You mean virgin girls taken as spoils of war to be made wives? You mean forcing a slave to be your wife? Those are examples of traditional marriage in the Bible.

    But two men, or two women who are in love, and committed to a lifetime of love together, can’t be allowed to marry because that magically hurts marriage? How does that hurt anybody else’s marriage? It is deeply broken thinking. If someone is opposed to gay marriage, then they should not marry someone of the same sex. But stopping people in love because it upsets someone’s religious prejudices? No. That’s insane.

    Zacharius is a con-artist. He lies about his credentials, and is brilliant at twisting words to be whatever he wants, without letting logic and good sense get in the way, while managing to sound reasonable. It reminds me of the way the Bulbophyllum plant produces an irresistible stench to attracts flies, which it then feeds on. Zacharius’s lies are the stench and he makes millions of dollars from feeding on the hapless Christians drawn to him by telling them what they want to hear.

    Is it any wonder people are leaving religion in droves? The encouragement to muddled thinking by crooks like Zacharius is horrifying. Apologists use good Christians for their own evil purposes — political power and making money — by using emotional subversion and twisting words to con people into supporting terrible things.
  • Shane Pingle
    Hi MIriam,
    with due respect the Numbers 5:11-31 passage you presumably refer as supporting abortion, is the only one that I’ve come across that pro-choice advocates refer to. There have been many commentaries and discussion about it. It’s in there, along with some other difficult passages in the Bible.

    In answer to your comment: The Bible never specifically of abortion. there are teachings in Scripture that make it clear what God’s view of abortion is. Jeremiah 1:5 tells us that God knows us before He forms us in the womb. Psalm 139:13-16 speaks of God’s active role in our creation and formation in the womb. Exodus 21:22-25 prescribes the same penalty—death (in the Mosaic law)—for someone who causes the death of a baby in the womb as for someone who commits murder. This clearly indicates that God considers a baby in the womb to be as human as a full-grown adult. It is a matter of the life or death of a human being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27; 9:6).

    Looking at the weight of evidence across the Bible, and keeping in mind that Jesus came and replaced the Old Testament Mosaic system completely (he replaced the 613 Mosaic laws with the simple two part one ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind: and to love your neighbour as yourself’. It speaks to the heart of the matter. With this in mind, I’m personally pro-life.

    I agree with Sean on his points below about transparency/tax etc, no need to rehash them here. I have posted the link regarding trying to show Jesus love that takes precedence above everything. I posted the link to the Ravi Zacharius discussion that talks about the complexities of these things – it all depends on your starting point / worldview.

  • Miriam English
    Oops, sorry. Looks like I got Sean and Shane mixed up. Apologies.

    On the topic of abortion, it seems pretty easy to me. A foetus before about 6 months has the same level of brain activity as an adult who is brain-dead. The question should then be centered around the woman. After that point, the overwhelming concern should still be with the mother, as the danger to her of late-term abortion increase dramatically. A potential human being is not the same thing as an actual human being. The foetus is a potential human being; the mother is a real human being. A potential human being can never be more important than a real human being. It always struck me as weird that the life of the woman is always ignored in the abortion debate among religious people, while the potential human that’s not even a separate entity yet takes over their minds.

    Do you realise your own Bible recommends abortion in the cases of rape and infidelity? Do you realise the Bible never once says anything against abortion? It had plenty of opportunity, as the practise was reasonably common — there were plenty of writings from the time that recommend the use of herbs like pennyroyal, silphium and hellebore to induce abortion. Some suggested heavy physical exercise, and others even discussed surgical abortions. And biologically speaking, more human embryos are aborted naturally than come to term, so you could say god aborts more babies than people do. Did you know that even Christian evangelicals were okay with abortion until, I think it was the 1970s, when they saw the opportunity to drum up power by using emotive (and incorrect) arguments against abortion. And to this day, the biggest users of abortions are Christians, because of the lack of sex education and contraceptives.

    So, Shane, you didn’t answer the points about sexuality, taxing for-profit religious organisations, churches being transparent with their finances (as all other non-profits have to), or any of the other questions.
  • Shane Pingle
    Hi Miriam and Sean,
    interesting discussion. From my worldview it’s a bit more black and white regarding abortion. Life is sacred, as people created in God’s image are equal before Him. There is the answer to every rights question I have.

    From a personal perspective, I have a 14 year old daughter, and my wife and I would love more kids but have been unable to (spent >$20k on IVF). I’m very thankful for one child, and I work with children and love them to bits. Reading about late term abortion makes me very sad. I am pro-life.

    I know you will say this is not a rational response to the situation, but part of being human is very deep emotions. One can say one is irrational because of deep emotional pain. But then what is an emotion (anger, love, pain, etc). It’s just chemicals in our brains and just an illusion?

    Trying to balance out the views from multiple worldviews. If I try to think from a atheistic worldview, what is wrong with eugenics as a whole – creating a super-race by selective breeding sounds good. Actually are we are working against evolution by supporting the elderly, mental handicapped, and unborn children who may be mentally handicapped or inconvenient. (we refused the pregnancy test for down syndrome for our daughter)

    I think as technology gets better we should be looking to extend life and quality of life – I hate the trillions of dollars countries have to (or choose to) spend on defence. It’s utterly ridiculous how much is spent on destroying one another.

    I really thought a lot as to whether to include this link as it is in answer to a question asked of Ravi Zacharius on sexuality. For me, trying to mirror the love of Jesus overrides anything else. The answer is in three parts, and the problem he explores is there are three types of culture (government). theonomous (from God or from above such as the Indian culture), hereonomous (another law such as in Sharia law countries) with the rules being dictated to by the leadership at the top, and then we have autonomous (where there is no absolute truth and it is all relative).

    His point is we all want Autonomy and we don’t want to be dictated to from , but as soon as we disagree in an autonomous society we default back to the Heteronomous culture where you have to do what I say. I want to dictate to you what is right. How do you deal with a society that is post-absolute truth?

    Anyway, I hope this is a helpful post. It’s probably not as thoughtful as my previous ones.
    Have a nice rest of the weekend. Must run, I’m late for church (I kid you not)… :) :)
  • Sean Kelleher
    I can’t claim any expertise on tax, but…

    The opening post presents Fiona Patten’s proposal as abolishing “advancement of religion” as a recognised charitable purpose, which at face value does not seem to be the same thing as saying for-profits should pay tax.

    With regard to an unborn being considered a human being (with some or all of the rights thereof) will always be a philosophic question, dependent upon a particular philosophic idea of what constitues a person. If you start from the position that an ability to independently exist and have a certain amount of brain function is necessary to be considered a person then you arrive at your conclusion. Someone with a different starting point comes to a different conclusion. We don’t have a society wide agreed starting point for the question.
    Nor do we have black and white in practice. The severely disabled are still recognised as being human; we increasingly recognise that a mother has a duty (though we don’t enforce it in law) to avoid things like alcohol that adversely impact the development of a foetus. I’m not persuaded that personhood can be reduced to a clear black and white. It’s a question I struggle with, rather than a question I have an answer to..
  • Miriam English
    Sean, I’m impressed. Very cool.

    In Australia, for-profit companies run by religious organisations don’t pay tax. I think most people, religious or not, would agree with you that this is wrong. This is what Fiona Patten wants to change.

    In Australia, religious organisations don’t have to be transparent about their money, so churches can be funding gun-running and blood-diamond smuggling (like Baptist minister Pat Robertson in USA), or spending millions on hateful anti-gay campaigns (like the Salvation Army), or funding other awful things, and their members wouldn’t know. Secrecy invites corruption.

    Abortion questions are actually fairly easy to resolve if we carefully consider the rights and biology involved. It takes about 6 months (24 weeks) for the foetus to reach a point where it can survive without the mother (though requiring intensive medical support). Before that it can’t in any way be considered a person, as the brain is not really operational. Also, by that time it is getting difficult and risky for the mother to abort. In the USA they have the timing about right. In Australia things are still too restrictive.

    You and I are surprisingly alike.
  • Sean Kelleher
    My responses, as a religious person:
    1. For profits should be paying tax.
    2. All organisations that handle money should have their books accountable.
    3. Marriage equality is agood thing.
    4. Equal rights are essential, and a move toward equal opportunity a good thing.
    5. Women have a right to control their own body, including deciding on contraception. Abortion is more difficult, since it involves the conflicting rights of two beings, if you take the unborn child as someone with rights. Resolving situations where two inalienable rights conflict doesn’t have neat solutions.
    6. Religious organisations should not be able to discriminate wrt employment, providing services for fee, or where they are contracted or financed by the state to provide those services.
    7. No.
  • Miriam English
    Shane, a few quick questions:
    • Should religious, for-profit companies pay tax?
    • Should churches have to open their books and be accountable? (All other non-profit organisations are required by law to do so.)
    • What do you think about gays getting married?
    • Should men and women have equal rights and opportunities?
    • Do you think a woman has the right to control her own body and decide on contraception and abortion?
    • Is it okay for religious organisations to discriminate against gays, or trans people, atheists, or people with different colored skin? (It’s illegal for any other groups in society to use those as reasons to discriminate against people.)
    • Is it okay for churches to cover up child rape, conduct massive homophobic campaigns, promote fear of trans people, back socially oppressive authoritarian politicians, and push denial of climate change?
  • Miriam English
    Shane, Steven Pinker’s article is a fairly long one. It is at and the misquote by Craig comes from near the end after the sub-heading “Is Morality a Figment?” in which he gives the firm answer, No! Morality is real and sensible. He discusses why morality is a logical result of the real world we live in. This is why I was so annoyed at Craig’s despicable misquote. Craig tried to make a very good and moral person look monstrous by quoting something out of context. And what does Craig want to replace Pinker’s logical morality with? He wants to take us back to Bronze-Age morality, where the laws themselves were abominations, and honour killings were acceptable, where mass-murder is okay if he thinks his imaginary god has prescribed it.

    I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I think “religion is the cause of all bad” and “secular morality is the cause of all good”. I’m sure I didn’t say that. I do worry about the way religion imports broken thinking into general discourse, but one of the best thinkers I ever knew was one of my 3 best friends when I was a kid, and he was religious. I have other friends who are good and moral people who are religious. And I’m fairly sure you are a good and moral person, Shane. Just because a person is free of religion is no guarantee they will be a good person. I’m sure there are some horrible atheists. The probabilities are where the dangers lie. An atheist who is a good person will do good. An atheist who is bad will do bad. But a religious person who is good can do terrible things because of religion. I’ve seen countless examples of religious people who are undeniably good people, but are perfectly happy to put gay kids through the meat-grinder because they think that’s what their religion teaches. And remember the recent horrible vote on whether gays should be allowed to marry? That was instigated by the religious lunatics in the government. It stirred up a hornets nest of lies, hatred, and violence against gays by religious people. I’m sure most of those people are usually good, but their religion pushed them to commit great evil against people who were simply in love.

    The weird thing about religion, and its ability to manipulate people into doing bad things is the way its leaders can get people to do the opposite of what their religion actually says. Take, for example, the outrage against abortion by religious people. Nowhere does the Bible say anything against abortion, and it specifically recommends abortion in the case of rape and infidelity. Do the religious leaders tell their followers this? No. The followers don’t read their own Bibles and never actually question their leaders, but then religion teaches emphatically that to question is bad — temptation by the devil — so it’s not really surprising.

    The Nazis were devout Christians, but they followed their leaders into doing some of the greatest evil in history. Religion makes this possible. Or more accurately, dogma makes this possible. It’s just that religion is the most dangerous of the dogmas because the groundwork is already laid, and an imaginary god is beyond being questioned.

    Sorry about the long answer to that. It bothers me that so many religious people (you’re not the only one) think my description of the dangers of religion mean I think that everything bad can be laid at the feet of religion, and secular people are automatically good.

    There is plenty of information on how to teach kids to think clearly. It doesn’t need to be anti-religion. It should simply teach kids to think for themselves and to use good sense when doing so. That, just by itself, would almost eliminate most of today’s problems — racism, homophobia, misogyny, climate-change denialism, evolution denialism, and much more.

    I haven’t read anything by Marx. My reading is mostly about science (most of the sciences) and technology (mostly computer technology).

    Yes, confirmation bias is a powerful thing. I try to avoid it by simply not believing in anything. Everything is up for review all the time. It is very freeing. A number of times in the past I’ve found that something I’d assumed was in fact wrong. When you’re not attached to such things, a major shift in understanding can deliver genuine joy. I’ve never understood why people become so attached to ideas that they feel under threat when they are challenged. Why would anybody want to ensure they are wrong by denying reality. It always seemed totally whacked to me. Much better is to be uplifted by the very great pleasure in learning new things.

    I wish you well, and hope you enjoy your weekend too.
  • Shane Pingle
    Thanks Miriam. Yes I agree with the way William Lane Craig delivered his quote of Stephen Pinker at the end was abrupt. I hadn’t got that far yet in the video. I’ll have to go and read what Stephen Pinker was talking about in context.

    I’m not sure the viewpoint that ‘religion is the cause of all bad’, ‘secular morality is the cause of all good’ is doing justice to the complexity of the human condition. I also still am pondering how in your comment you might teach primary school children clear thinking, so that they might navigate cesspools of illogic by high school : in a way that hopefully allows them to consider various worldviews based on evidence.

    Also, is the idea of tribalism from Marxism? Coincidentally, I liked the article

    Also aware of my own ‘confirmation bias’, whereby we all go looking for views and people to support our own worldview and ideas. I like the Sam Harris quote ‘we need to pay attention to the frontiers of our own ignorance’ : which I heard quoted in a message from Andy Stanley a pastor in America. :)

    Thanks for your comments, I’ve learnt some things.
    Take care and enjoy the rest of the weekend.
  • Miriam English
    Shane, stating the truth is not insulting. William Lane Craig has zero sense of logic and merely looks and sounds confident and authoritative while spouting nonsense that is keyed to trigger sympathetic feelings in religious people.

    This is one of the most insidious things about religion. Religious people feel it is okay to use all kinds of actual insults against atheists and other religions, but the minute you point out the bad logic they use, they think you’re insulting them. “Religious Freedom” has become the freedom avoid being contradicted, while doing real harm to others.

    I found Jordan Peterson’s outlook terrible. Talk about glass half empty! I shudder to think what he’s teaching patients in his clinical practice. They must come out more depressed than when they go in. We are surrounded by the wonder of life and the natural world and all he can talk about is suffering. What a waste of breath.

    Rebecca Goldstein was the only person who spoke much sense. She struggled a bit, and it got up my nose the way Craig kept rudely dismissing her. She was on the side of optimism and logic. She’s right about the dangers of transcendence — patriotism and other forms of tribalism, including Nazism prove that. She had difficulty explaining the difference between dangerous transcendence and the kind that is merely uplifting:
    • when I look out from my verandah and see all the trees and the water flowing up from their roots to the leaves where sugars made from light and air and that water, which then flows down to the rest of the tree
    • when I look at the enormous space encompassed by the branches, giving the birds so much more room to perch and play than I have down here on the flat ground
    • when I look at the ants and their enormous underground mazes and the way they aerate the soil and carry material from deep down up to the surface, gradually reshaping hillsides and the way they farm aphids and lerps on some plants
    • when I write a computer program that uses economical logic to do something complex and useful
    • when I listen to a beautiful piece of music
      That’s good transcendence. It doesn’t hurt anybody and embodies actual truth about the real world.
  • Shane Pingle
    Hi Miriam (and Graham), I finally managed to watch some of the rest of the video (now up to 1.44 with the question and answer section), I had only gotten up to the end of Rebecca Goldstein’s initial speech when I shared. There’s quite a lot to think about in it.

    What did you think of Jordan Peterson recounting his dream at 1:32->1:37? (bear in mind he is not a Christian, he’s very much secular)

    Any what do you think of Rebecca Goldstein’s response thereafter who has a suspicion and horror of transcendence (that which transends the invividual and is common across all humanity), because of where that type of thinking took the Nazis to where they arrived. She would like just the ‘nicer’ transendance of music, art, books, poetry, not the larger we they arrived at a ‘drunken transendance’.

    Also, why so many insults? what core motivation drives a need to insult?
    ‘inability to reason logically, lack of clear thinking, reckless way he stacks unfounded assertion.., cesspools of illogic, arguments floating on a flimsy raft of logical fallacies’, and that’s just in two posts. Really?

  • Miriam English
    Thanks for the link Graeme. That is a great analysis of Craig’s inability to reason logically. I am horrified by the lack of clear thinking he shows, and the reckless way he stacks unfounded assertion upon unfounded assertion. He is a great example of how people can be led by merely appearing authoritative without needing to make any sense at all.

    We desperately need clear thinking to be taught in schools. Primary school if possible, so that by high school, kids will already effortlessly bridge such cesspools of illogic as William Lane Craig.
  • Graeme Hanigan
    I am constantly stunned by the presentation of William Lane Craig as a philosopher of some renown in Christian apologetic circles.
    I like the analogy of his arguments floating on a flimsy raft of logical fallacies as an alternative house of cards. If he is the best they have the apologists are in trouble.
  • Miriam English
    Shane, I watched the video. Thank you for the link.

    William Lane Craig’s total misunderstanding of atheism made almost everything he said almost a complete waste. Surely he knows some good atheists who have meaning in their lives. When he spoke of the existential dread of a world without a god, it seemed to me that he was not describing a problem with atheism, but that he was announcing his own fears motivating him to be willingly blinded by religion. He sounds like an addict fearing for his wellbeing without his drug. I have none of those fears. I have a very good understanding of morality, and I have a powerful sense of purpose and meaning in my life. I don’t need to pretend to myself that an imaginary god supplies those things.

    Despite the protestations of the religious, their god doesn’t actually supply a reason or purpose or meaning for life. Craig unwittingly showed this in his final statement when he suggested that we might be like cats and dogs in a library, where we see the books but don’t understand what they contain. This is the problem with religion. It says it supplies meaning and purpose, but it actually doesn’t. It says the meaning is held by god, but unknowable and you have to be satisfied with that — to live like a pet.

    Near the end of the video Craig quoted Steven Pinker. He must have known he was taking Pinker out of context and that Pinker was actually arguing the opposite of what the quote made it sound like. That is dishonest and despicable. I’d previously thought Craig was an honest (if misled) person. Now I know he’s just someone who would lie if it gives him an advantage. I now wonder if his catastrophically wrong description of atheism was not a misunderstanding, but a deliberate mislead.

    I was appalled at Jordan Peterson’s bleak and darkly depressing view of life. We don’t derive our meaning from suffering. That should be obvious to anyone not clinically depressed. He actually pointed to music as an example of something that bestows uplifting meaning, but there are so many more… they shouldn’t need to be listed.

    Rebecca Goldstein struggled, but gave the best accounting, I think. But even she missed a few points of importance. While the two men waffled on about abstract irrelevances, she stuck with the real world and tried to make good sense.

    It’s surprising to me that religion can still make any claim to morality when you consider the immorality that comes out of the Bible, the Koran, and the Torah (probably the Bhagavad gita and other religious tomes too, but I haven’t read them). Just on the single point of slavery alone, religion should be buried. Secular morality has ended slavery, is helping move us to emancipation of women, equality of gays, rights of the child, and of animal rights. Religion has fought vociferously against all those, and always justified by the warped books they love more than life.
  • Shane Pingle
    Hi Miriam, I’ve been pondering your response for a while. I thought I might share this ‘Is There Meaning to Life? – a philosophy discussion with William Lane Craig, Jordan Peterson and Rebecca Goldstein’

    I’ve only just started watching it but . I too am honestly asking serious questions of my worldview, in a search for meaning, purpose, truth, and reason. I don’t know if this will be of interest to you, but I just wanted to share.
  • Miriam English
    [The second part.]

    Shane, atheism has little to do with the list of issues you mention, which you clearly think are deal-breaker paradoxes:

    — Nothing produces everything
    I’m atheist, but I doubt the universe ever had a beginning. On the other hand you’re religious and you think it was created from nothing. I don’t think you pondered your objection properly.

    — Non-life produces life
    Once upon a time, before people understood biochemistry, they believed in vitalism. They thought there was some elusive life force that made things alive. Now we understand biochemistry and know life is chemistry and physics. Life obviously gradually developed in many small steps from non-life.

    — Randomness produces fine-tuning
    You really do need learn about evolution. It is a very simple and easy-to-understand concept. You can download Darwin’s “Origin of Species” for free:
    or listen to it as an audiobook while walking, or gardening, or driving if you don’t have time to read:

    — Chaos produces information
    You misunderstand. Chaos IS information. Perhaps you meant as your objection “Chaos produces order”, but just look at how crystals grow from disordered mixtures. There are countless examples of order condensing out of chaos.

    — Unconsciousness produces consciousness
    The neurons in your brain are not conscious, but the actions of networks of them produce consciousness. So, yes. Unconsciousness does produce consciousness. Also, the pressure of evolution naturally develops consciousness out of unconscious predecessors because a conscious organism is better able to deal with the world around it and survive to pass on its genes. Where does consciousness begin? It is difficult to say. There’s pretty compelling evidence that insects and spiders have some level of consciousness. It is difficult to imagine a jellyfish or a sponge being conscious though.

    — Non-reason produces reason
    Humanity has grown slowly, painfully, through unreasoning to rationality. Lack of reason is gradually giving way to reason, as superstition and religion wither away.

    Shane, the Christian worldview that you state is not shared by all Christians. It is standard religious arrogance to think that your particular one of the thousand different versions is the only “true” Christianity. But for what it’s worth:

    A perfect god who has free will, makes humans who are broken, but it isn’t his fault that they are damaged goods, even though he knew the future and what the result would be. Could anybody think up a more ridiculous story? An all-knowing god would understand how to make people with free will so that they could choose wisely. But worse that that, this “loving” god tells us that he’ll torture us, not for an hour, or a day, or a week, or a year (any of which would be obscene) but forever, unless we discard our rational thinking mind and stop asking questions, accepting a contradictory book of bloodthirsty mythologies and superstitions that culminate in an appalling human sacrifice so that god can forgive us for our supposed ancestors’ transgression. Holding someone culpable for their ancestor’s crime is deeply immoral, but even so, if god wanted to forgive us, why wouldn’t he just forgive us like a moral person would? It is absurd. None of it makes any sense, but that’s very important, because religion uses this lack of sense to paralyse their followers’ critical thinking. This one of its most dangerous devices.
  • Meredith Doig
  • Miriam English
    [Shane, I’ll reply to your comment in 2 parts. My longer response seems to have difficulty posting here.]

    Wow, Shane. I’m taken aback by how wrongly you paraphrase my statements. But then, I shouldn’t be surprised; sadly, many religious people have difficulty putting their case honestly.

    I notice you gloss over the fact that religion around the world is associated with higher rates of murder, disease, poverty, unhappiness, and many other social ills, whereas high concentrations of atheists are associated with more peaceful, healthier, happier societies. This is exactly the opposite of what you’d expect if there was a god.

    Richard Dawkins is very direct, but he is not evangelical. Religious people often hate what he says because they are accustomed to people tiptoeing around them and not directly calling them out. The odd thing is, Dawkins speaks more reasonably of religion than most religious people speak of atheists. But, as I say, religion’s lies have been protected by a veil for so long, that to speak the truth appears outrageously rude to religious people.

    I never said that atheism is the cause of all good, nor that religion is the cause of all evil. I’m almost inclined not to bother even arguing against such an absurd statement. Rationality is a tool and atheism is merely a conclusion reached by using that tool. In themselves they are value-free, but can be used to achieve great good. Dogma, on the other hand, is usually used for bad.

    Stalin trained as a priest in a seminary in Georgia and used its lessons to create a dogma that worked like a religion. He thought he could use the techniques of the church to usurp its power. He made his party sacred and himself the unquestionable supreme source of it, like a Pope. Was he actually atheist? I have no idea. If he was atheist, it had nothing to do with his unhinged personality. He certainly didn’t use rational thinking. His anti-science dogma in promoting Lysenkoism led to millions starving to death.

    Pol Pot was educated as a Buddhist monk and used religious dogma to work his followers up into a bloodthirsty frenzy. He was not rational, nor was he atheist.

    Hitler was fanatically Christian and raised in rabidly anti-semitic Christian schools. As leader of the Nazis he carried a Bible with him everywhere and often quoted from it. His speeches had frequent references to god, Jesus, and family values. In fact they could have come from any Christian fundamentalist preacher today. His private journal, intended for his own eyes only, also has frequent references to him doing god’s work and defending Jesus and Christian values. He only allowed devout Christians into his inner circle, and disliked distrusted and atheists.

    Using the “Tu quoque” fallacy in an attempt to deflect, by saying that atheists do bad things too, shows you have difficulty thinking clearly — sadly, a common problem with religious people. Unlike religion, atheism isn’t a motive to do bad things. It’s not a religion — there is no prescriptive rulebook for atheism. Religion, on the other hand, is the direct cause of a vast array of terrible things, because they spew forth from their holy books.

    I can’t remember off-hand the names of the very early atheist Abolitionists. I’ll find them later if you want. You mention William Wilberforce as an example of a Christian Abolitionist, but he didn’t get his anti-slavery morality from the Bible, which is depressingly pro-slavery. James Oglethorpe used Humanist Rationalist arguments of the Enlightenment against slavery, banning it from Georgia (in America). A small group of Christians who were influenced by him and his writings convinced Wilberforce to take up the abolitionist cause. The church opposed the Abolitionists pretty-much all the way (except for the Quakers), so in a religion-dominated society gaining powerful Christian advocates was important. Yes, Christians eventually came around to oppose slavery, but the movement against slavery began with atheists.

    You say that Jesus commanded people, “love your neighbor as yourself”. That’s excellent advice. Philosophers had been saying the same thing long before him. It’s a pity that religion almost never follows that advice. The keeping of slaves, the anti-semitic teachings of the church down the centuries, the racism, the misogyny, the homophobia — all this runs rabid in the church and among religious people generally. The whole terrible “vote” on whether loving gay couples should be allowed to marry, and the insane “Religious Freedom Review” attempting to enable and widen homophobic hatred, these are powered by “good” Christians. Interestingly, you’ll find the best examples of people being good to their neighbors in societies with high concentrations of atheists. Religious society gets its good morals from secular society, not the other way around. We’ve come a long way from the awful morality of the Bible.

    You can quote nice things from the Bible and I can quote the abhorrent things from the Bible that religious people use when they want to hate and hurt people. It’s all there. Please don’t pretend that the Bible is all sweetness and light.

    When you ask, “The brain was ‘designed’ by mindless unguided processes?” all you show is that you don’t understand how evolution works. It is so simple a child can understand it, yet part of the damage done by religion is causing its followers to shield their minds so effectively that most never understand the beautiful elegance of evolution. But even without understanding it, they scorn it. What a pity. In contrast, atheists tend to have actually read and understood the Bible, so that they know what they are arguing against. Puzzlingly, most Christians never actually read their Bibles, except for a few cherry-picked verses.

    While I don’t entirely agree with Stephen Hawkings’ ideas about the beginning of the universe, give the guy some credit. He was a very, very smart man. You seriously think he said something as simplistic as that? John Lennox, on the other hand, is being dishonest. He is mis-stating Hawkings’ argument. This is an annoyingly deceitful tactic used far too often by religious people. I’ve never understood what is the point of “lying for Jesus”. Surely a truthful stand would be far more effective. If god was real he wouldn’t need people like Lennox to lie for him.
  • Shane Pingle
    Hi Miriam,
    Thankyou for your response. To try to summarize your points (but not being able to adequately address them in this post):

    ‘Atheism is not evangelical.’ Richard Dawkins seems fairly evangelical is his book, the God Delusion, comparing religion to smallpox virus but harder to eliminate.

    ‘Atheism is the cause of all good, Religion is the cause of all evil.’ Historically this is provable to be false just in the 20th century, given the regimes of Stalin, Pol Pot (Hitler’s worldview was also interesting).

    ‘Slavery was abolished by atheists.’ William Wilberforce.

    ‘Various groups rights all established by atheists.’ Jesus Christ summarized: ’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

    ‘Our brain was designed to deal with the natural world.’ The brain was ‘designed’ by mindless unguided processes?

    ‘Modern technology, based on science is superior to the The Bible was written by Bronze Age goat herders.’ Richard Dawkins probably covers this train of thought.?.
    Stephen Hawking affirmed there is no god:
    ‘Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing’.
    John Lennox has pointed out flaws in this statement:
    ‘Clearly, he assumes that gravity (or perhaps only the law of gravity?) exists. That is not nothing. So the universe is not created from nothing.
    Worse still, the statement “the universe can and will create itself from nothing” is self-contradictory. If I say, “X creates Y,” this presupposes the existence of X in the first place in order to bring Y into existence. If I say “X creates X,” I presuppose the existence of X in order to account for the existence of X. To presuppose the existence of the universe to account for its existence is logically incoherent.’

    The aim of my post is not to win an argument, nor offend, but rather to try provoke thought. Atheism is a worldview, just like other worldviews. The natural world cannot answer the question of ‘Why?’, it can only answer ‘What’. Some issues I have with atheism are:
    - Nothing produces everything
    - Non-life produces life
    - Randomness produces fine-tuning
    - Chaos produces information
    - Unconsciousness produces consciousness
    - Non-reason produces reason

    Lennox would suggest that the choice the New Atheists posit between Science and God is a false alternative in his debates with the New Atheists.

    The Christian worldview: Humanity, originally created in God’s image, is fallen, and commits atrocities against each other (motivated by their worldview), and each person decides for themselves based on evidence whether to accept the claims of Jesus Christ.

    I can’t comment on the Muslim faith/worldview, nor on the details of the extra-Biblical traditions of the Catholic faith (Jesus was scathing of the religious leaders of his day, and called them Hypocrites and whitened tombs full of dead mans bones).

    I notice on the rationalist website a new project called ‘The Reason Project’, and will be interested to see what is created. There is a site called ‘The Bible Project’ up and running which is worth a look as well.
    Have a great weekend.
    Kind regards
  • Miriam English
    Shane, the parts you’ve quoted out of Hugh Harris’ article in the AIMN were intended as somewhat tongue in cheek, not prescriptive. If an atheist movement became evangelical I expect it would lose most of its people.

    You’re missing the point if you think rationalists are against god, a being that doesn’t exist. We are against the damage that is caused by people who would ram that belief down everybody else’s throats. Religion causes untold grief around the world. Where religion is strongest, so is murder, poverty, disease, unhappiness, and many other social ills. The statistics on this are clear in the most wealthy countries. Doubtless the poorer countries follow the same trend.

    To say the brain exists, but not the mind, is wrong. The mind is the action that the brain performs. A rock rolling down a hill is real and so is its rolling action.

    Our brain was designed to deal with the natural world. It fits very well with reality and logic, but does make some mistakes. We have developed a system of techniques can be used to protect against those errors. It is known as science. Science works.

    We can get our morals from logic and an understanding of our nature as social creatures. The movement against slavery was atheist. Churches fought hard to excuse and retain slavery. Civil rights and women’s rights come from atheists. They were and still are opposed by religion. The same is true of gay rights, children’s rights, and animal rights. Secular society has advanced morality leaps and bounds beyond what religion is capable of. Religion causes and excuses wars, pedophile priests, witch-burnings, racism, and much more. Religion is generally morally corrupt, except where they have adopted secular society’s broader morals.

    The term “scientism” is not the same as a scientific approach to the world. “Scientism” generally refers to a facile and mistaken approach to science. You’re setting up a straw man. I accept most science-based explanations of the world, but that acceptance is always provisional. No scientist worthy of the name thinks that they are always right. I accept that the universe is probably 13.8 billion years old, but I’m perfect happy to have that changed by more information when the James Webb Space Telescope is launched.

    It seems you are merely trying to tear down rationality, yet you try to use rationality to do so. Doesn’t this strike you as absurd? But it is worse because you don’t propose anything to replace it. Do you believe in myths? Do you think that the superstitions of Bronze Age goat herders are superior to the technologies that make possible your computer?
  • Shane Pingle
    Front page from rationalist society website;
    Rationalists hold that all significant beliefs and actions should be based on reason and evidence, that the natural world is the only world there is, and that answers to the key questions of human existence are to be found only in that natural world. “We’re in favour of science and evidence as opposed to superstition and bigotry!”

    We can look forward to such a beautiful non-religious future: classes on anti-theism, ‘supercharged Antitheism’, ‘we atheists will band together, gather up our copies of “God is not Great – Religion Poisons Everything” … and begin offering evangelical classes in a new type of Theism’. ‘and our “God is dead” Sombrero party, climaxing spectacularly with the smashing of a lolly-filled Pinyata of Christ the Redeemer.’

    My question is: Why are the rationalist society so against Someone that does not exist?

    John Lennox raises some interesting questions to ponder:
    . If reason and rational thought come from your physical brain (not mind, mind does not exist in the natural world), which is the product of unguided mindless processes, how can you trust it to do logic?

    . The natural world offers both animals working together (bees, ants) – showing altruism, and animals killing and eating each other (including their young in order to mate sooner), survival of the fittest. How does a rationalist decide which path to take?

    . a view that we call “scientism” : and that is that science is the only way to truth, now that is just logically false, because the statement “science is the only way to truth” is not a statement of science, so if it’s true, it’s false.
  • Vicki Murphy
    Churches receive $billions of dollars tax free and free of legal status to be sued by victims. The churches have abused and lost their entitlement to tax free – whatever it was in the first place. Tens of thousands of us are approaching old age with our lives ruined by church abuses. We have struggled throughout life with the lifelong effects of the abuses and have been unable to achieve any financial stability for old age. The church should be required to pay tax to the costs of running independent/religious free services for victims and their families – car/transport, housing, in- home aged care not run by church organisations and free health care to enable some healing via comfort as health issues, frequently generated by the abuses, become chronically debilitating. The churches had their chance and do NOT deserve any more chances.
  • Bprophetable
    Please remove Free Car Rego from religious organisations. Free vehicle registration means every other road user is subsidising proselytising bigots on the road.
  • Miriam English
    Sean, there is actually considerable evidence that the core functions of religion are not in society’s best interests. Statistically, higher concentrations of religious people coincide with greater numbers of murder, divorce, abortion, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, poverty, infant mortality, and much more. All these social ills are reduced in more secular societies.

    Please note that I’m not saying no good can come from individual religious people. I’m a great admirer of the Benedictine nun Joan Chittister, for instance, but the organisations are not forces for good at all. They are focal points for malaise.

    I’ll grant you that many wealthy corporations use tricks to avoid paying their taxes and can be morally bankrupt, but this doesn’t invalidate the idea that they should pay tax. It just means those laws should be properly enforced.

    Properly wielded, tax laws can be used to open up shady organisations. It was the only way Al Capone could be brought to justice. Many churches are corrupt. I’m not talking about a local Anglican church where a few elderly people meet on Sunday for tea and biccies. They won’t be affected any more than the local computer club, or the local flower society. The big problems are cult-like organisations like Jehovah’s Witnesses that maintain walls of secrecy and extract billions of dollars from their followers, and the Seventh Day Adventists that operate Sanitarium, a large corporation that runs tax-free, and Hillsong which has clear designs on establishing theocracy through controlling the highest stations of politics, and the Catholic church that bleeds billions of dollars from the poorest people in society and owns vast amounts of real estate and other assets, while maintaining a choke-hold on many of our politicians and has caused untold harm in its schools preaching against science and physically, sexually, and mentally abusing children.

    Stopping sexually abusive priests from being allowed to teach children is a valuable suggestion and you’re right, it should be adopted, but it wouldn’t address the plethora of problems in religious organisations.
  • Sean Kelleher
    “actually religious organisations’ genuine charitable activities are explicitly exempted in the above article.”
    What you mean is that a narrower view of what constitutes genuine charitable activity will apply. A religious member understands the overall aims of the religion to be in the public good. And even a non-believer may understand the community fostered by a religious congregation to be in the public good.

    The IPA, on the other hand, want to make sure that social and environmental activist organisations are no longer considered in the public good. Opposite sides of the same coin.

    Where the system is being exploited for personal gain, if it is to a significant extent, then that needs to be dealt with for what it is.