Sunday, September 19, 2010

The 21st Century's Religious Battlegrounds.

The 20th Century saw the first World War fought on nationalism, the second on a megalomaniacal racist ideology as well as nationalism, then the Cold War on a no less megalomaniacal,now communist-anti-religious nationalism of the East, versus individual freedoms and the free market ideologies of the West.

Where to next? How can the world live in peace for long? Democracies are for the educated, freedom loving, middle classes.
Inevitably, the conflict focus shifted towards the democratic religious freedoms of the Judeo-Christian West being attacked by the poor Islamic theocracies of the ME, Africa and Asia.
In each case,it was and is economic disparity which creates jealousies between warring nations and even between splinter groups within nations. These are the root causes of all wars and conflicts. Is religion the common denominator now (?cosa belli)or the means to an end? For the fanatical Islamists,- it is their Hitlerian or Stalinist aim to rule over an Islamic world. For the Shiite rulers like Iran's Ahmadinejad,Hezbollah, Hamas et al. it is simply to show up to the majority Sunnis and the West that they are as powerful and as good as they are at .....what?

In between,- of course there is tiny Israel,- the perennial Jewish scapegoat,- far too successful at surviving for the other religions to swallow.

Between political repressions, armed conflicts and poverty in the third-world, it is the West, including Australia which is swamped by an exodus of people from those countries.

Their religious customs vary, their cultural backgrounds are different to the European ones and there is not just racism which is feared,(as the 2 articles below show) but a religious and customary intolerance when new minority communities may insist on maintaining ways of life which are totally at odds with the accepting resident majority. Unless the demographics change of course- then all will adapt to the new cultures' way of life as Australia already has since the WW2.

As I keep maintaining,- if we want new immigrants to become accepted citizens in their new countries, there are certain fundamental laws and principles which they must be told about from the beginning. Most come because they think that freedom and tolerance means that they can keep on living and doing everything the way they were used to in their (obviously failed) previous homeland.It is the economic advantages they want, first and foremost. The educated elite would know what to expect and try to integrate, but most refugees are not of that class. They need a lot of help, support, investment in education, absorption and intercultural bridge-building. It usually takes a couple of generations to work themselves in successfully.

Except that now we have the internet and when do we want everything? Now!
Is it timely for the world to prepare for a cyber war next perhaps?
The 'space invaders' may be here already!

Barney Zwartz

Which groups of Australians most worry other Australians? Muslims, gays and -astonishingly- witches. These apparently anachronistic views appear in a survey of public submissions to a national inquiry into freedom of religion and belief in the 21st century, from which the draft report was submitted last week to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

(Professor) Parkinson thinks political correctness has nearly made genuine belief about right and wrong illegitimate.
“What has been an orthodox view for thousands of years is now almost illegal to express.”

He (Professor Patrick Parkinson, Sydney Uni.) says there are legitimate concerns that moves to protect religious freedom might actually limit them. ''The Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission is exhibit one. The HREOC [Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, now the Australian Human Rights Commission] also got off to a terrible start with Tom Calma. The religious freedom issue was very significant in resistance to a human rights act, because there was a view that the commission was aggressively secular and didn't respect or understand religious rights when in competition with anything else,'' Parkinson says.

''The commission has a lot of bridge-building to do. But the president, Catherine Branson, is very well aware of our concerns and, I think, keen to mend fences.'' Parkinson is less optimistic about the Victorian commission. ''It will need to shed some of its more extreme and dogmatic positions in order to regain the trust and respect of faith-based communities in Victoria.''

Victorian Equal Opportunity Commissioner Helen Szoke says the organisation has spent years painstakingly engaging with religious groups. ''I think everyone is completely respectful of the values and beliefs of Christian organisations, but they are both protected by the human rights and equal opportunity framework and also have obligations under it,'' Szoke says.

Clearly, consensus is a long way off, and the commission will need the wisdom of Solomon if it is to satisfy both those who want religious exemptions reduced, and those suspicious souls who in their submissions called it ''the Freedom from Religion inquiry''

Religious intolerance is only for the weak

Martin Flanagan
September 18, 2010

WHILE appearing to smoke joints rolled with pages from the Bible and the Koran in footage posted on YouTube, Brisbane atheist Alex Stewart had this to say: "With respect to books like the Bible and the Koran, whatever, just get over it.'' This could be a line from a Cheech and Chong movie. Stewart went on: ''Is this profanity? Is it blasphemy? Does it matter?'' Well, it matters to some people.

America right now is in strife in this regard. The issue of a Muslim community centre being built near the Ground Zero site is proving bitterly divisive. President Barack Obama stands in the middle trying to preserve calm, but a recent survey shows more Americans now believe Obama is a Muslim than when he was elected president. That's worrying. Even more worrying is that 60 per cent of those people said they got their idea from the media.

One of Obama's most vocal critics is media "personality" Glenn Beck. Last month, writing about a Beck "Restoring Honour" rally, celebrity journalist Christopher Hitchens said the upsurge in anti-Muslim feeling among white Americans reflected the fact that the day when they no longer constituted the majority of the American population was now within "thinkable distance".

Hitchens is also an atheist. In June, he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer and announced that he was dying. This has led to him receiving a flood of emails from believers offering prayers on his behalf. One emailer called on him to convert to Christianity, saying he would be the biggest recruit to the cause since Saint Paul. Hitchens is the former Trotskyite who ended up championing the invasion of Iraq. Saint Paul is the former tax collector who became the early Christian church's great proselytiser.

The comparison is an intriguing one.

During last month's federal election, a young man told me he was voting for Tony Abbott because Julia Gillard had no family and Abbott did. He added, ''She's an atheist. She doesn't believe in anything.'' As a matter of logic, it doesn't follow that an atheist doesn't believe in anything. Generally, what characterises atheists is a radical disbelief in the story of divine behaviour attributed to the religious entity commonly called God.

In this respect, I am impressed by the Jewish practice of not using the word God. They write G-d and, in so doing, dismantle much of the argument before it begins. Most arguments about God are really arguments about ideas of God; about mental images of God (which might, in turn, be seen as examples of idolatry). It's a lot harder to imagine G-d than it is to imagine God.

During the election, I heard a woman who was against Gillard say that atheists didn't believe in anything outside themselves. But what if they believe, for example, in justice as a basic human right? And what if they believe that, in humankind, there is a capacity for good - along with all the other human capacities - that can be appealed to. These are beliefs in something both outside the individual and greater than the individual.

Debates about atheism tend to be boring. Like all conflicts to do with religion, they seem to end up with kindred spirits in passionate opposition to one another. A recent example was the Florida pastor who proposed burning the Koran because, in his view, it was not a book of peace - without appearing to realise he was committing an act of war. Earlier this week, the number of people said to have died in Kashmir as a result was already 19.

I understand people being attracted to atheism at this time. The great question asked by our age may indeed be: Is religion ultimately a blessing or a curse for humanity? But there is a fundamental difference between religion as an idea and a good person who's religious. I hope I show respect to good people wherever I meet them, and an age-old sign of respect is to avoid giving needless offence.

But there's also an argument here to do with global realpolitik. We have to find a way to live with one another, or what do we honestly expect is going to happen on our already overcrowded planet?

There are intellectuals who argue that conflict is inevitable, but the further such voices of reason live from the places where the conflicts are actually occurring, where thousands of civilians are being blown apart and bereaved, the less persuasive I find them. Some would say the position of tolerance I am arguing for is weak and based on an illusion. I say it is coldly pragmatic and may require all the strength we can muster.

Martin Flanagan is a senior writer.

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