A good day for freedom of information and speech in Australia, but unfortunately we can not yet close the book on this sordid saga. For those who have not heard, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s planned internet filter has thankfully been shit-canned, although regrettably not completely. There will be a 12 month review of the whole plan and if the Gillard government is re-elected it may re-emerge in some form. Ideally - after an ALP victory - it along with Conroy will be ditched completely, and this along with the demise of Kevin Rudd will help Labor be mostly free of the insidious Christian influence that is dragging the Liberal Party ever further to the right.

For those unaware of Senator Conroy and his shameful body of work, a bit of background: Although a member of the Australian Labor Party, he is a fundamentalist Catholic conservative who’s chief qualification to the National Parliament is that he once represented Australia in international volleyball. In his time in opposition after his election to the Senate in 1996 he disgraced himself with a series of public and shadow-cabinet blunders, white-anted the leadership of three successive ALP leaders (Beazley, Crean and Latham) and in such issues as the Iraq War and the availability of the emergency contraceptive RU486 voted with the Howard government rather than his own party. However his lowest point came in 2000 when he spread malicious rumours about Labor MP Greg Wilton who was suffering from depression in the wake of his marriage’s breakdown. Conroy leaked to the Murdoch papers that Wilton was going to lose his pre-selection before the next election and would be forced out of parliament. This was the last straw and tragically on 14 June 2000 Greg Wilton committed suicide.

Mark Latham recounts how in the wake of Labor’s loss of the 2004 Federal Election Stephen Conroy confessed he wasn’t really interested in any particular policy areas which is how he ended up in the communications portfolio, and Kevin Rudd – perhaps recognising a fellow conservative Christian – kept him there instead of having him clean toilets at Parliament House which is all he’s fit to do. Hopefully Julia Gillard drops both him and the whole internet filter if they win the next election. It is disgraceful that a member of the parliament could insinuate that anyone who opposed his draconian clampdown on internet freedom and freedom of speech was somehow supportive of child pornography. We are all against child abuse but we don’t all agree Chinese Communist Party-style censorship is the answer.

Vote one The Australia Sex Party!
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    The Vision Bleak

The Rise of Atheism convention OR Barney Zwartz Barney part the 4th.

I was going to write in detail about The Rise of Atheism convention that Joanne and I attended last weekend, but something more important got in the way. Yes, in something that will come as no surprise to most of you, The Age's resident faith head Barney Zwartz was dispatched to give his opinion of events with not the hint of journalism in evidence. Haha evidence, who needs that when you already know your opinion is right before you step out the front door? For those with a bucket handy, his pathetic shots at the highly successful and sold out event can be read here. This could not stand so I have just emailed him the below response:

Dear Barney

It’s been a while since I wrote to as I recognise you are a busy person, and I have instead restricted my comments about religion, politics and national other affairs to the letters page of The Age. You may be interested to know my published views on religion have resulted in an angry Christian posting me some threatening hate mail. I can say that neither I, nor any of my many atheist friends have ever posted hate mail to any believer, what happened to turning the other cheek and loving thy neighbour? I’ll leave that up to other Christians to decide.

As you can probably guess, my reason for emailing was that travesty of a write-up you penned about the Rise of Atheism convention in Melbourne. It is no exaggeration to say your piece was both biased and disingenuous, and some corrections are in order. I can imagine one reason for your case of sour grapes came via the huge laugh Rationalist Society of Australia President Ian Robinson received for observing that while we are lucky in this country not to be put to death for our lack of religious belief, we do have to endure ignorant libel from Barney Zwartz. That was cheap shot I admit, but not without truth. However rather than turning the other cheek as Jesus himself advised, you instead to decided to lash out vindictively rather than by using reason, thus proving Mr Robinson’s point perfectly. I also object to your assertion that any joyful gathering of like-minded people is in some way analogous to a church service, as if the religious have a monopoly on such things.

Yes, comedian Jamie Kilstein’s material was a bit blue, but what you deliberately neglected to mention is that he bought the house down. Also, there were no children there. Many of us found this materiel especially refreshing in John Howard and Kevin Rudd’s Australia where we have our political leaders trying to force their own form of Christian morality down the throats of the nation and censor everything they personally find objectionable. Most humour comes from mocking the establishment and those in power; comedy by its nature is ant-establishment. There is far more humour in the silly costumes and beliefs of say, the Catholic Church, than there is in the behaviour of freethinkers and scientists; sorry, but that’s just the way it is. Find me a polite and conservative Christian comedian who could get as many laughs in such a short space of time and I’ll eat my pointy hat.

Your Uriah Heep-esq exertions about how so very humble you and other believers are compared with atheists sits somewhat awkwardly next to your overall tone of sneering condescension. And as Sam Harris observed, by believing the universe was designed with them in mind and that God has a special plan for them, your average Christian sitting in a church on a Sunday is committing a feat of arrogance unmatched by any scientist, and there have been a lot of arrogant scientists. I personally found there to a positive and cheerful atmosphere at the convention, and enjoyed talking to visitors from both near and afar. I don’t know if you talked with any of the attendees, but I suspect not as then you wouldn’t then have been able to deploy your favourite adjective, “militant” (just to use a few of your favourites, “strident” would be another) to describe atheists. I did look out for you and was prepared to offer to have a look over your notes to make sure you were giving a fair representation of what occurred. Regrettably my partner and I could not locate you.

I would imagine you likewise find it instructive that the federal government gave $20 million towards the Catholic World Youth Day in 2008, and the Victorian government gave $4.5m towards the Parliament of World Religions last year - but in our supposedly secular society, requests for funding an atheist conference were rejected. How sad it is to be despised for merely speaking to truth and advocating reason over blind adherence to Bronze Age myths. If only we’d run around babbling in tongues and agreeing that women were second-class citizens, then we would have been rolling in cash Scrooge McDuck-style. If there was even a grain of truth in the claims the world’s religions make then they would welcome more events like The Rise of Atheism convention. They would encourage criticism of their belief systems and then confidently shoot down all arguments against their faith one by one so at the end even the most impartial observer could see the unquestionable truth shining through all the smears. But this is not the case. The religious know that their houses are built upon sand and that even the most cursory examination of what they are espousing will cause the whole edifice of dubious morals, outdated dogmas and scientific impossibilities to collapse. So they attack the medium rather than to answer tricky questions, far better to demonise Richard Dawkins and other atheists than address the substance of their arguments.

If I could ask a personal question, I would wonder if any of what the speakers said get through to you, or since you already know that Christianity is true, such notions as evidence and logic can be easily waved aside as they are nothing compared to the awesome ignorance of faith? Did you watch all the speakers for the weekend, or at least all of the Sunday speakers? I’d be interested to know if you found Dan Barker’s amazing transition from evangelical preacher to atheist as compelling and fascinating as I did. And Robyn Williams spoke very well and surely you don’t consider creationism-believing Senator Steve Fielding as anything other than a bad joke, worthy of being mocked? I watched Q&A on the ABC last week and even the other Christians on the panel seemed embarrassed to share a faith with him.

The conference was not just attended by hardcore atheists - there were rational people of all description in attendance (and even one party-pooping Christian who proceeded to waste Professor Dawkins’ time with an inane question). It was not dedicated to one purpose. Rather, it was a statement of intent, to show that there are large numbers of atheist, agnostic and above all secular Australians who do not approve a Christian minority’s attempt to overtake this country. We do not want chaplains and religious instruction in schools, prayer in parliament and censorship of free speech and the internet. Australia should continue evolving into the very model of a secular 21st century democracy, with freedom of religion and freedom from religion for all. That is an Australia we can all be proud of, believer and non-believer alike. And one more favour, please point out those self-deprecating religious folk for me, will you? I didn’t know they loved a laugh at their god and their beliefs, I must remember to join you and them for a chuckle about your religion and then we can call back Jamie Kilstein and get cracking on those atheist jokes you’ve been hanging out for.



Two much better wraps of the convention can be found by following the below links:
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    OSI - Blood

Coming this September to a bookstore near you....

The next salvo in the religious culture war is set to be fired:


Charles Darwin's masterpiece, "On the Origin of Species", shook society to its core on publication in 1859. Darwin was only too aware of the storm his theory of evolution would provoke but he would surely have raised an incredulous eyebrow at the controversy still raging a century and a half later. Evolution is accepted as scientific fact by all reputable scientists and indeed theologians, yet millions of people continue to question its veracity. In "The Greatest Show on Earth", Richard Dawkins takes on creationists, including followers of 'Intelligent Design' and all those who question the fact of evolution through natural selection. Like a detective arriving on the scene of a crime, he sifts through fascinating layers of scientific facts and disciplines to build a cast-iron case: from the living examples of natural selection in birds and insects; the 'time clocks' of trees and radioactive dating that calibrate a timescale for evolution; the fossil record and the traces of our earliest ancestors; to confirmation from molecular biology and genetics. All of this, and much more, bears witness to the truth of evolution. "The Greatest Show on Earth" comes at a critical time: systematic opposition to the fact of evolution is now flourishing as never before, especially in America. In Britain and elsewhere in the world, teachers witness insidious attempts to undermine the status of science in their classrooms. Richard Dawkins provides unequivocal evidence that boldly and comprehensively rebuts such nonsense. At the same time he shares with us his palpable love of the natural world and the essential role that science plays in its interpretation. Written with elegance, wit and passion, it is hard-hitting, absorbing and totally convincing.
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    Looking forward

The First Quarter 2009 Atheism Review:

The last month has been a very good one for atheism, and by extension a bad one for the religious. In the short time left before schadenfreude becomes an English word, I'd just like to say how much easier it makes our work when the religious struggle so to discredit themselves. In the battle of ideas, it sometimes seems we can win the fight and barely have to lift a finger in the process. Happy 200th Birthday, Mr Darwin, and long may the intellectually strong out-compete the weak of mind and of will.

By now you all will have read about the devastating bushfires in my home state of Victoria which have killed 189 people so far and that figure will certainly rise as they sift through the ruins and ashes of the previously beautiful town of Marysville. While there have been many amazing stories of courage, compassion and sacrifice in these difficult days, one far-right Christian Cult by the name of Catch the Fire (ironically enough) saw it fit to shit all over those affected by the conflagration by releasing this statement in the midst of the ongoing crisis and mourning. Naturally the sane among us would question the linkage of abortion and the deaths of hundreds, including many children, but in the demented worldview of the religious, God punishes the "babykillers", by killing babies, and we're supposed to thank him for it. No thanks, you fucking nut-jobs. I hope you all fast yourselves to death and you can go safe with the knowledge that you've turned just about all of Australia, secular or religious against you.

Meanwhile in Europe the Catholic Church under the increasingly shaky command of Emperor Popatine, shoots itself once more in the head by welcoming a holocaust-denying bishop back into the fold. Yes, for all his other failings, you'd at least think that this of all Popes would be more sensitive to feelings about the holocaust, but no. In perhaps the only respectable period in this most wasted of lives, the young Josef Ratzinger was forced to join the Hitler Youth at 14, but he fervently opposed Nazi ideology and deserted the German army when drafted towards the end of the war. However like all truly devout people, his faith comes above all other considerations and he can't resist the idea of a more unified and powerful Catholic Church. And his Backwardness is especially keen in this instance as this ultra-orthodox Society of St. Pius X's medieval worldview synchs up rather nicely with his own and stuff the consequences.

Finally, moving to the Subcontinent, where India's Hindu nationalists, no longer satisfied with whipping up racist hatred and renaming things after their own stupid gods, are now beating up young Indians for having the temerity to celebrate Valentine's day with their partner. Six men from the Hindu nationalist group Shiv Sena were arrested in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, after they cut the hair of couples in a park on Valentine's Day. In Pune two couples were stopped by activists from the same group and forced to "marry" on the spot by exchanging flower garlands, five more members of Shiv Sena were arrested in Delhi for threatening couples. In the central Indian city of Ujjain, Hindu fanatics beat a brother and sister they mistook for a couple displaying affection. In the cities of Aurangabad and Bijnaur activists blackened the faces of many couples they said were behaving inappropriately. They may have been successful in renaming Bombay, but these Taliban-wannabes don't realise that they can't remake India in their own image, this is a country that is yes, part Hindu, but also part Buddhist, part Islam but constitutionally secular. India may indeed be going through some culture wars as it emerges out of crushing poverty to become one of the world's leading economies, but given a choice between the future and the past, I think few young Indians will be looking backwards to the religious barbarism of yesteryear.

There are countless more examples occurring every day, these are just three of the most obvious to have popped up since the start of the year. I've always maintained that religion is the best advertisement for atheism, and this is borne out in the media daily. Hope everyone had a great new year's and is looking forward to a godless 2009.
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    Wumpscut - Christfuck

Sacrilegious Stand Up Comedy

Just for a laugh I thought I would post some short excerpts of stand up routines from some of my favourite comedians riffing on our favourite subject - religion.

Bill Maher:
Taken from his 2003 HBO special, Victory Begins at Home, all of which is piss funny and is well worth you buying/downloading.

Dennis Miller:
From his 1990 HBO special, Black & White. This was before he went all right wing and started lending tards like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly a veneer of respectablity by appearing on their shitty shows.

Billy Connolly:
No introductions needed here, I'll only just remark that if anything he swears even more than normal here....

Bill Hicks:
From the man who described his intelligent brand of venom as "Chomsky with dick jokes" comes this twisted take on the stupidity of Christianity and Christians. And a good joke at the expense of Jackie Kennedy.

George Carlin:
One of the saddest losses of this year, George Carlin, if anything, actually got angrier as he got older, and this fantastic riff on the stupidity of the 10 Commandments is classic Carlin.
  • Current Music
    The Retrosic - Antichrist

Harry Potter and the Triumph of Atheistic Rationality

As with most people that call for the banning and burning of books, the self declared "moral majority" (in reality, neither) in the United States and elsewhere are both ignorant of what it is they race to condemn, and oblivious to the fact that their actions both promote the work in question and nullify any criticism that could be made of the works on any grounds other than literary. The religious right's reactions to Harry Potter series are textbook example of this misguided - won't someone think of the children! - panic. Any reader of Ms Rowling's works will find tales of fantasy, adventure and escapism from the toil of daily routine. What they will not find are invocations of satanic powers, ritual animal sacrifice and blasphemy against the holy ghost. But as is the case with most controversial books from Lolita to The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail to The Bell Curve to The God Delusion, the louder the chorus of opposition, the less likely it is those criticising have actually read the work in question. The Bell Curve discusses differences in intelligence, therefore it is wrong because all people are equal; Harry Potter uses the word "witch", therefore it is a celebration of Satanism and a rejection of Christianity. So their hammer of judgement falls without having examined any of the evidence. However the real irony is that there is plenty in the Harry Potter series for Christians to object to, but they see none of it through the haze of their 13th century paranoia about "witchcraft". One of the best things about art and literature is that we can interpret them as we wish. So thusly, I present an argument for Harry Potter as a celebration of the rational and rejection of the superstitious.

One of the interesting and widely commented on aspects of the Harry Potter series is the banality of so much of the magic. Of course in The Philosopher's Stone Harry is amazed at the new world he finds himself a part of, but in the later books, apart from the occasional moment of wonder at some new spell, creature or artifact, for the most part, magic is an accepted fact of the characters' lives. In that way it is much like the technology we ourselves use - we don't think often of how wonderful the microwave, the internet or powered flight is, but to anyone unfamiliar with these things, magical they would seem. In Ms Rowling's world, magic is something that you learn, and can then apply to the world in interesting ways, like how knowledge of physics has lead to the inventions such as the telescope, the internal combustion engine and the internet. There is nothing in Harry Potter that any druid, witchdoctor or shaman would recognise as "magic", there is no personal voyage, no mysticism, no ritual and no reverence of the sacred. Likewise there is no revelation, no requirement to hold any particular faith and no reference to any god or devil - which makes the Harry Potter universe irreligious and antithetical to any new age or traditional belief system.

The education that the main characters receive at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is also instructive. While they lack any instruction in English, Latin geography or the arts, the curriculum they do do study reflects a scientific course of education much more than it does an occult or spiritual one. In fact parallels can be drawn between the magical subjects at Hogwarts and ones familiar to us: Numerology can be considered a substitute for mathematics, Transfiguration for physics, Potions for chemistry and Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures for biology. It is also interesting that the students study astronomy rather than astrology, that latter, one would assume, would fit more easily in at a school of magic, however at Hogwarts the students study the world for how it really is, rather than what any particular dogma wishes it was - the very definition of what science is.

The one exception to this is the field of Divination - a subject derided by Harry, Ron and especially Hermoine, as false and a waste of time, and it's teacher, Sybill Trelawney as an obvious fraud and charlatan. Divination is the only subject at Hogwarts that is drenched in mysticism and the arcane, but these attributes are mocked by the main characters rather than revered. It is telling that out of all the Gryffindors, only Lavender and Pavati are impressed by Trelawney's theatrics and preaching of doom, and they are considered to be gullible ditzes, looked down upon by the very rational three main characters. Of course while the Trelawney plays an essential part of the series' overall story arc, she does not realise it, and her use to Dumbledore has nothing to do with the subject she teaches. Her power of prophecy are a natural ability she is not aware of, so because she is useful, Dumbledore keeps her close but never for a moment thinks the nonsense she drums into the kids is in any way true. This is an excellent metaphor for the occasional good things that come out of religion and other irrational belief systems - good things in themselves don't make other things true. Forgiveness is nice, but doesn't mean the Resurrection took place, crystals are amazing things, but that does not mean they can cure cancer and so on.

While the above can be considered just interpretation, what is not arguable is the godlessness of the books. There is no overt mention of anything to do with religion in any of the Harry Potter books - the characters discuss the mysteries they are trying to solve, not the mystery of the Trinity, and the they make their own decisions in life, they don't spend time on their knees begging for guidance. What pisses off the religious is that Harry Ron and Hermione exemplify the rationalist worldview - that people are responsible for their own actions and it is only the decisions we make that chooses our path in life. They are good people because they choose to be, not because of any religious belief. Even Voldemort, the villain of the piece, does not act the way he does because he is "evil" or any other such simplistic/dualistic reason. "There is no good or evil, there is only power" is his motto, and this is in a lot of ways true - the religious like to believe they are pure good and others are pure evil because their worldview is so constricted; the rest of us realise there is more to life than that. For certain Voldemort is violent, cruel, sadistic and power-hungry, but to say "evil" is a cop out. The fact that a series of books ostensibly aimed at younger readers can convey so much more complexity and a better understanding of the world than any monotheistic religion speaks volumes about the contemptibility and wretchedness of the "great" faiths of this world. Although because the claims they make about the world would put Trelawney to shame, one can understand (if not sympathise with) how threatened the popularity of the Harry Potter series makes the religious feel.
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    Nest - Woodsmoke
House parasite

"Leg-drop the pastor!"

Todd Bentley claims to be a faith healer, and he is *wildly* popular. (He is also praying for Armageddon.) Here, he describes some of the things the holy spirit has told him to do in order to "heal"--including kicking an old lady in the face, knocking out a man's tooth, and using various aggressive take-downs. (On a clergyman, no less.)

Oh, and don't worry--they don't actually show the tumor exploding and falling down the woman's leg in a shower of blood....