Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Australian Census 2016 and the 'No religion' option

So, apparently this piece of idiocy is doing the rounds on social media.

It's a shame that people are falling for it. Let me analyse it... 

If this came from a Lawyer, it was from one who got their degree on the back of a cornflakes box.

Yes, the Census is Tuesday the 9th of August.

"For the first time this year there will be a 'no religion' option" <- Wrong. The no religion option has been there since 1991. It's just that this time, it's at the top.

Yes, the Muslim population will mark 'Muslim' on the form. All 2.2% of them. About 475,000 people. Fewer, it might be added, than Buddhists at 2.5% or 529,000 people. Christians, conversely, made up about 61% of the population in the 2011 census or 13,150,600 people - significantly higher than the 2.2% of Muslims.

The largest group among the Christians are the Catholics at 25.3% or 5,439,200 people. The 'no religion' total is about 22.3% or 4,796,800 people. About 800,000 people behind the Catholics (not Christians in general - just the Catholics).

"Eventhough you may now have no religion, please consider enter the religion you were christened or born into" <- This is asking you to lie on your census form, which I think you'll find is illegal (I'm struggling to find out for certain). Hardly advice you'd expect from a lawyer.

"Otherwise in time Australia will officially be declared a Muslim country" <- There are 5,000,000 more *Catholics* in Australia than Muslims. Not Christians in general, just Catholics. For Muslims to be the highest sub-group approximately 2,500,000 people who put Catholic on the last census would have to put MUSLIM on this one. That's simply not going to happen.

And even then, the 3,000,000 *Muslims* would still be behind the 7,711,000 remaining Christians and would still be behind the nearly 5 million 'no religion' people.

But...No one is asking Catholics to put "Muslim" on their form. People are asking that if you are 'no religion' you put 'no religion'.

Approximately 22.3% or 4,769,000 people marked No Religion on the 2011 census. When a similar change was made to the New Zealand census, the 'no religion' response grew about 7%. If that were to happen in Australia - and ONLY from the Christians, it would see No Religion rise to about 6,330,000 people and Christians drop to about 10,550,000 people. STILL significantly higher than any other group, and MORE than 10 MILLION people higher than 'Muslims'.

Please don't fall for the nonsense. Please don't be 'scared' into lying on your census form because of morons. Say no to bullshit

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Society vs God

There seems to be a school of thought among certain believers that without their version of 'God' life is meaningless and there's no motivation to be good. There's no motivation to improve oneself or the society in which one resides. 

As an atheist who is not an anarchist, who is not trying to do my best to destroy society as I know it, to me the above train of thought is somewhat odd. 

The idea among some (most? all?) believers is that we do 'good' (what is good?) on earth so 1: We please god. 2: We can get into heaven. Essentially being rewarded for doing what god wants. 

Side note - of course it gets complex when we talk about things such as salvation and redemption. We can, seemingly, get away with (almost) anything if we repent. John 14:6 seems to suggest that no matter what one does in the way of good deeds, if you don't believe in, and accept, Jesus as your saviour, there's no heaven for you. 


For the sake of simplicity, let's go with Do good. Believe in god. Get into heaven. 

Seems like pretty good motivation to be a good person, I guess. Then there's the opposite side of the scale - hell. The Jews don't really have hell. Christians have told me it's eternal torture in a lake of fire. Christians have also told me hell is simply separation from God (whatever that means). I have had a group of very angry appearing Muslims literally yelling at me (et. al.) that Christopher Hitchens was in hell simply because he didn't believe in God. 

Again, for the sake of simplicity, let's go with: Do bad. Don't believe in God. End up in Hell. 

Seems like pretty good motivation to not do bad, I guess. 

But for me, the atheist, I have no heavenly motivation or threat of hell to make me do good, or stop me from doing bad. I can choose to do as much bad as I want and not fear the post-life repercussions. 

So....why aren't I out raping, stealing, and killing as much as I want? Well, I am. As much as I want, happens to be zero. 

What stops me? There is no short answer, but I can tell you one thing...it's not 'I don't want to go to jail'. 

The quote from Abraham Lincoln comes to mind: 
“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion.”
Put this alongside the Golden Rule and you've a pretty good basis for a secular morality. Pretty good...but not perfect. 

For example, you'd not want a masochist to live by the Golden Rule and one person's idea of 'doing good' may vary vastly from someone else's idea. But it's a start. 

From here, you build a society based on empathy, and compassion. Let reason and logic guide decisions. Discuss all the alternatives and work together to conclude what's best. 

It's not easy. What's 'best' for one won't always be what's best for another. What the 'majority' wants is not always going to be fair, kind, or just. The majority can be wrong. 

It's a work in progress. Hard work. People can sometimes take to the streets in order to have what is 'right' be accepted by society as a whole. I've been part of doing this myself. 

When this kind of change comes about, it's not the religions leading the march. They're on the sidelines, protesting that it's happening. 

The Australian Christian Lobby, for example, recently complained about  a children's television program, Play School, showing a 'family' as having two dads. Yes, really. 

In many countries around the world now, same-sex marriage, or marriage equality, is the norm. In Canada it's been the norm for over 10 years. Last time I spoke to my Canadian friends, Canada was still going. It hasn't crumbled. 

In Australia, what many of us see as an unjust situation (Including my state premier) is seen by a lot of believers as 'wrong'. They are not leading this fight for equality and fairness, they are protesting it. 

This is just one example. 

But...I can hear the believers in my head now...this is just about the 'how' not about the 'why'! Why bother making a fair and just society if I'm not wanting it for 'God'? 

Well, my believing friends, as hard as it may be for you to accept, I want it for 'society' itself. 

I live here, you know? As do my friends, as do my family. As do strangers. I want the society I live in to be the best it can be because it benefits us all. A society where I have access to food and shelter and education and healthcare gives me, and those I know and love a better quality of life. Also *other people* having access to food and shelter and education and healthcare give me, and those I know and love a better quality of life. 

The healthier the society in which I live, the happier I will be. 

Of course this raises two further questions. 1: Is this motivated by selfishness? 2: Why do I want to be happy. 

1: Kind of, yes. I want people to be happy for their own sake. If I see people who are miserable, it makes me sad. If I see people who are happy, it makes me happy. I've seen videos of complete strangers having something wonderful happen to them (finding a lost dog, hearing for the first time (thank you science) a loved one returning home after being away for a long time) and that makes me happy. So I guess, on some level, you could say that I want others to be happy, because it makes me happy. But there are also times when I'm not happy, for reasons completely unrelated to other people. And it doesn't matter how joyful they are that their beloved pet has been returned, or their son/daughter/dad/mum/husband/wife has returned from the war, something is going on with me that just can't allow me to be happy at that moment (my parents dying being the biggest and obvious thing). 

But even in *those* moments, I still want other people to be happy. I wouldn't want me being sad to bring other people down. What motivates this desire? The desire that other be happy even if I am not? Evolution. 

There is evidence that altruism is biological. That it is an evolved trait. There is also evidence that altruism and empathy is found in non-human animals too, for example elephants.

Our evolutionary path has seen us develop traits that we action for the benefit of our species and not necessarily ourselves as individuals. There is an innate desire to protect the species. Almost all species protect their young. Many species also cooperate on a group level. A group of elephants will form a circle around a cow about to give birth to protect her from danger whilst she's unable to protect herself. 

A happier species is a healthier species. Countries that rate highest on human development index (rating such things as life expectancy at birth, education, standard of living) correlate very closely with countries whose citizens are the happiest. Simply put, looking out for ourselves (as a group) makes us happier and makes us healthier. 

Doing what we think God wants us to do? Doesn't work quite as well. Countries at the top of the HDI are overwhelmingly secular and have comparatively low religiosity. Countries towards the middle and bottom, are overwhelmingly theocratic and have high (to almost total) religiosity. 

Of course there are many more factors here than belief. The bottom quarter of the HDI is predominately African and the environment plays a huge part in this. But it is undeniable that there is a correlation between secularism and well-being. 

What is clear though that society as a motivator *works*. Wanting to do good for the society in which we live *works*. It demonstrably leads to a healthier life. It demonstrably leads to a happier life. And the desire for a healthier and happier life is innate. 

Why would I need a belief in a god and an afterlife to motivate me to want to live in a happy and healthy society when a happy and healthy society is its own reward? 

Rather than asking an atheist why we care about life, if this is all there is, the question should be to theists - why isn't this life - your friends, your family and your society enough?