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Opinion: AIM: Free Speech corrupted by Religious Politics

Published on The Australian Media Network  21.3.17

Brian Morris takes on the political correctness of the Left and Right in an attempt to reopen debate on Free Speech, religion vs science, and how ‘Freedom of Religion’ has been corrupted.

How do we react to the growing use of ‘trigger warnings’?  This may seem an early digression but it becomes relevant.  What is it with the ABC and their escalation of trigger warnings — advising radio and TV audiences that “this story” will include offensive language, or that images may cause distress?  And it’s prevalent across all national networks.

Have media consumers become so fragile that they’re unable to ride out the highs and lows of local and international news without suffering a nervous breakdown?  Are children being overprotected?  Why has the ABC adopted this insipid practice, imported from US universities where students are wrapped in cotton wool to protect their regressive eccentricities?  And it’s this campus intolerance that silences speakers who hold views that upset them.  The Right then reacts; the intolerance is ramped up; and Free Speech gets trashed.

That said, here’s a trigger warning!  “Don’t shoot the messenger — this may well cause equal angst among the Regressive Left and the Repressive Right“.  Political and religious debate has been deteriorating for decades but it has now become irredeemably rooted in the Trumpesque mantra of “if you’re not with me, you are against me.”  And that’s very much the view of the Christian churches and their PR lobbyists.

Free Speech is the central issue — and while it remains a vexed question in politics, the taboo to openly criticise religious doctrine in Australia has become more deeply embedded.  It’s much the same as US campus intolerance to views contrary to their own, where public debate on the foundational beliefs of all religions has been sabotaged by religious politics.  Two good examples are the inability to freely discuss Islam, and another is the recent imbroglio involving the Bible Society, Coopers brewery and marriage equality — where conservatives raged against public disgust of the shamelessly contrived video, staged by the Society.

The Bible Society has escaped unscathed from its thinly veiled attempt to politicise same-sex marriage with a fake video, leaving Coopers floundering with declining sales.  It was a religious PR stunt that backfired badly.  But it was never a gay marriage “debate”!  Really; two blue-suited right-wing Liberals mumbling awkwardly at parliament house, drinking Coopers beer — and never mind that Tim Wilson is gay.  He and Andrew Hastie are MPs in a conservative government which still rejects an open conscience vote on same sex marriage!

It wasn’t good enough that the directors of Coopers had agreed to print biblical verses on 10,000 cans of beer — the Bible Society couldn’t help themselves; so they decided to stir up a political hornets nets.  The reaction was swift.  In a market economy, the public was wholly entitled to boycott Coopers — if not for the sham video, then for trying to ram bible messages down their throats — literally!  Where was the right of reply to this shoddy exercise by a wealthy religious organisation that has been biblically obsessed for 200 years?  Unfortunately Coopers copped all the flak — the Bible Society, like all churches, remained immune!

But the question of Islam is far more dramatic and deep seated — the way that extremist views have corrupted Free Speech.  It has left only a narrow strip of ground at the centre of the debate — occupied by those who are religion-neutral — and who stand between the warring factions of the Loony Left and Rabid Right.  One conjures up the image of a raging battle field, where a neutral identity in No-Man’s Land is being raked by withering fire from both sides.  It’s a concerted attempt to shoot the messenger.

The Regressive Left view all scrutiny of Islam as “Islamophobia”.  In truth, their position can only be described as being “Islamophile” — an inability to consider any shortcoming within Islam!  In fact, any written or spoken word against the supernatural beliefs of Islam is somehow seen as racist!  In reality, moderate Muslims are working tirelessly to reform Islam from within!  As for the Rabid Right, their position is quite unmistakable — Pauline Hanson et al regard all Muslims as being their religious and political enemy.

Attempts to speak freely — from a rationalist and atheist perspective — focus exclusively on the undeniable fact that Islam is simply the third Abrahamic religion.  Together with Judaism and Christianity, Islam is based on supernatural God-beliefs.  It is impossible to deny that the Quran is founded on an alleged vision of the angel Gabriel, by a desert warlord.  As with Christianity and Judaism there’s a litany of man-made doctrines that follow from hallucinations of their invisible deities — and they culminate in paranormal beliefs of a human soul and the fictitious promise of a utopian afterlife.

Competing supernatural beliefs continue to divide the world in hate, bloodshed, misery and destruction.

Science has taught us so much since the Age of Reason.  All “gaps” in human knowledge — which for centuries were attributed to “God” — have now been discovered and verified as “natural” by tens of thousands of scientists across the world, and in every field of science.  Geologists, physicists, biologists, mathematicians,  cosmologists and scores of other disciplines have opened up the sheer inescapability of a wholly “natural” universe.  Everything is made entirely of atoms from the Periodic Table — leading to the molecules and compounds that make up ever material substance and all living organisms; including ourselves.

From years of exhaustive experiments — most recently by particle physicists at Geneva’s Large Hadron Collider — we now know ever particle and force within the sub-atomic structure of the atom.  Not simply the elementary protons, neutrons and electrons — but the quarks, neutrinos, fermions, gluons, and Higgs field.  There is no other particle or force that has any bearing or influence on the human brain — which is made entirely of atoms — that could even conceivably represent a living “soul”.

So — no ghosts, no poltergeists, no spiritualists talking with the dead, no magic crystals or psychic healers, no astrology, and no supernatural forces that influence any sphere of human existence.  There is no eternal soul that miraculously leaves the brain at death to reside forever in heavenly bliss, or some imaginary satanic damnation.  We have only one life so embrace it and enjoy it now, to your fullest potential!

But NONE of this gains any public discussion.  The media is mute.  And challenging the flawed provenance of any religion remains taboo.  Scientists, like all academics, are not media junkies — they recoil at the very thought, except for a precious few.  And even fewer are brave enough to broach the emotive issue of paranormal religious beliefs — they prefer to avoid the swift and vicious backlash from belligerent archbishops, muftis, and the slick religious PR machines such as the Australian Christian Lobby.

And here’s the killer.  The churches only every talk about “Freedom of Religion” — as if it’s their passport to freely spruik their myths and supernatural dogmas without question.  This is where the term has become corrupted.  Religious freedom is simply the right to hold “beliefs”, it is not a right to shield those beliefs from sceptical analysis and inquiry!

In truth, the full term is “Freedom of Religion and Belief” — and that includes non-belief and atheism!  Article 18 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) — to which Australia is signatory — makes it patently clear that Free Speech includes an open inquiry of the foundations of religion.  There is NO TABOO in doing so, but the media hasn’t yet got that message.  And we’re still teaching Christianity in schools — without the science that can now contradict it.  It is the antithesis of ‘critical thinking’ — a skill that all children need desperately to learn.

The rationalist and atheist position is certainly to acknowledge that all people have the right to believe what they wish — provided it does no harm.  That includes treating people of religion with respect — but it does not mean their religious views are free from scrutiny!  It is not incumbent on atheists to “prove” there is no God, but it is clearly beholden on Christians, Muslims and Jews to provide “evidence” that their supernatural beliefs are true!  For an evidence-based society — and after 2,000 years of myth and pious fraud — this is an open public debate that we urgently need to have!

Plain Reason: promoting science, reason, and critical thinking.