02 October 2009

Australia's ABC Q and A last night

In response to a question from the audience:
Thousands of people dying from earthquakes can't be called 'god's punishment', why is it that a person being saved from under the rubble days later is almost invariable called a miracle? And, also why should God be credited for good act of a human being saving a fellow human being from under the rubble, while God being spared for the calamity that was brought up on the people?

Christopher Hitchens' answer is not the focus of this post. The responses from two of the religious representatives are really lame and avoided the whole question. From Father Frank Brennan,
Natural disasters happen and an omnipotent God lets them happen, for those of us who believe in God. It's not about God saying that we won't let nature take its course. Those of us who do have a religious faith, we equally, I think, are committed to science but, like Christopher says, we all look for patterns. We look for patterns in our daily lives. We look for patterns in our histories. We look for patterns in the world and, yes, some villages might be called blessed. Well, if they didn't lose anyone, they wouldn't call themselves cursed. And so what - how do they see themselves?

What's the role of god in such disasters? No answer!

From Waleed Aly:
Well, I think, by definition, if you believe in God, you would have to say that at the very least God allows this thing to happen because to say otherwise would be to presuppose that God lacks the power to stop it, which - I don't know of any religious traditions, certainly no monotheistic religious tradition that would say that. I do want to say something that I definitely agree with in what Christopher said, and that is that this sort of very simple dichotomised thinking about natural disasters - that they are punishment or reward and this is the prism through which we view them - I mean, this has to be some of the most rudimentary, unsophisticated thinking that religious people and, frankly, irreligious people, who perpetuate it even via criticism, have ever produced. I think it's a ridiculous assertion and I've not really encountered a serious religious thinker, as opposed to one who is too busy playing forms of identity politics or some other kind of rabble rousing - persecuting some rabble-rousing religiosity, who would argue that. The simple fact is that things happen in life that are, in our subjective experiences, grotesque and other things that are wonderful and our judgments, immediately, about whether they're grotesque and wonderful are, in a sense, beside the point. The question, I think, for religious people who are actually serious about being religious people and with all the introspection that that implies, is what do you do about it and what do you do with it? It's possible that by surviving the earthquake and moving on to behave in all sorts of ways, that you cast yourself into some kind of eternal destruction in religious terms. That's entirely possible, in which case you probably would have been better off to have been killed in the earthquake. It's entirely possible that by gathering all sorts of riches in life and having an easy life, that you are similarly deforming your character as a person, so I think the key question is not so much what is God doing - although that's a perfectly legitimate question - field of inquiry. But I think the more important question for people, particularly religious people, is: who am I in response to this? What am I doing? Each of these is a test, whether you're in the good side or the bad side of it, and what do you do with it? And I'm more interested in that, frankly.

Blababa... So what's god role in disasters?

On the issue of doing charitable deeds, see how they avoided the issue of god as well:
Frank Brennan: Well, let's take it. I mean, people like (indistinct) have argued very strongly and persuasively, like yourself Christopher, that empowerment of women is the key to the development of peoples. Now, why don't we just drop the bagging and smearing and saying, all right, anyone who is out there, let's judge them by their fruits? Whether they're atheists or whether they're Catholics or whatever, let's drop the bagging and smearing. Let's say, right, we agree. What we've got to be working for is the empowerment of women. And there are people of religious dispositions who are passionately committed to that and, yes, there will be mistakes made in terms of policies and in terms of moral theories, but that's where I think, in a pluralist society like Australia, we can have the respectful dialogue and we can work those things through, as we do this evening.
Waleed Aly: I think there's a real call that needs to be made for some honesty here on the part of religious people. And that is that, yes, lots of religious people do lots of very good things and there was research published, I think, two years ago looking at generation Y Australians that found that those who were more religiously committed were more socially aware, they were more committed to the social good and all that sort of thing, and you can point to those studies and you can say, "That's wonderful." But, in a sense, I think you get caught in a reactionary argument, which is with all these people lining up saying, "Look how horrible religion is," you get a religious response that says, "No. No. No. No. We're good. Look at these charities," turning a blind eye to not only some of the points that Christopher raises, but also the fact that there are religious charities that do a lot of that religious work for their own ends that, in my judgment, are actually quite nefarious at times. Religions can be used as a cover and a pretext for violence and evil and all sorts of things. It can be instrumentalised in that way. It can also be instrumentalised in the opposite way. And so I kind of echo what Father Frank Brennan has said here and that is that if you actually look to the substance of what people are doing, rather than asking the first question, is this a religious organisation or is this not, and then trying to make some judgment about their conduct and their motives on the basis of that, then I think you get further down the track of making some kind of assessment. I think we get caught in these petty games about, well, you know, are religious people good or bad. Just get on with being good or being bad and let people make up their own mind.

It is good that religious people can be so open and concern about the well-being of fellow human beings. The key core of religion is the belief in god and how that is related to doing charitable work is again totally side-passed.

The same happens when an audience asked about their views on gay marriage. [We all know catholic's official position, right?] Here is Father Frank's response.
I would approach the issue of gay marriage, distinguishing two things. One, people of a religious disposition may have a view about what they call the sacramentality of marriage. I would see that as a separate question from the civil institution of marriage. Now, in terms of the civil institution of marriage, I think one of the welcome developments in Australia is we've got to the stage of saying that discrimination against people on the grounds of their sexuality should be wiped out completely and that we're a better society for that being the case. In terms of the next step, whether or not in civil law there should be a recognition of the bond between two men or two women as being the same as marriage as it's presently understood, the real issue, I think, is whether or not that decision is best made by our elected politicians or whether it's made by our elected judges. And I think at the moment, in Australia, the view has been that that should be a decision of our elected politicians. My own view is, moving around the country, I think that younger Australians, they don't see it as a problem. It's not an issue. I think for a lot of older Australians it's still an issue and, guess what, a lot of them happen to be married. So in terms of a free and democratic society, for those who are civilly married, then we've got to bring them with us as we look at any change on that issue.

OK, the audience did just ask for his opinion. But in light of the Q and A, I would have expected Father Frank to defend his church's position, which frankly is undefendable.

I think I am disappointed with the responses given by the religion representatives. They just hide and tuck to avoid the key question.

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