Monthly Archives: January 2012

Australia Day 2012: Evil prevails, when good men say nothing

Let me begin by stating my unequivocal support for Aboriginal rights, equality, reconciliation, and the improvement of health, welfare, education, work and leisure opportunities for Indigenous people.

I’ve been to Canberra several times and I’ve seen the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.  I think it’s an important reminder of how bad things used to be, and how much has yet to be done.

Is the Tent Embassy an untidy blot on the carefully manicured Canberra landscape? Yes, indeed. But our treatment and neglect of Indigenous Australians is a far more untidy blot on the carefully manicured historical landscape of this country.  The Tent Embassy is an important symbol of that.

When we have taken so much from the traditional owners of this country, I think it is petty and churlish to deny them the right to their embassy.  If politicians want the embassy dismantled, they should work harder (and smarter)  to fix the problems it is there to remind them of!

That said, I am sickened and appalled at what appears to have been an attempt by some Aboriginal activists and their cohorts to bully and frighten Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday.  Apparently,  some intemperate remarks from Tony Abbott, earlier in the day,  caused anger.  As a result, a group of protestors decided to take their grievances to a restaurant where the politicians were dining.  According to news reports, a group of approximately 200 angry agitators gathered outside the restaurant. Some banged on the glass sides of the restaurant building in sufficient numbers and with sufficient force to raise security concerns. Some activists chased the politicians’ car down the road, banging on its roof and bonnet while others threw plastic water bottles at the vehicle.  Whether there was ‘actual’ violence is a moot point – a climate conducive to violence was created by the intimidatory and provocative action of trying to accost the Opposition Leader, using a disorganised protest at a public venue. I stand firm in condemning this.

I am no fan of Tony Abbott and I find his remarks about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy ill-timed, ill-considered and insensitive. I am also no fan of Julia Gillard or her party who appear to have given little but lip-service to Indigenous issues.  Saying “sorry” was a grand and necessary gesture, but it was not followed with meaningful, practical action.

However, despite my strong sentiments in favour of the Indigenous antagonists in this melee, I simply cannot sit silent and implicitly support their actions yesterday.  To be blunt, storming a restaurant, threatening the property of those not even involved in the dispute, frightening patrons who very likely support your cause, trying to make your point through physical intimidation and belligerent behaviour, and causing the Prime Minister of this country to cower in fear as she is rushed through a street brawl is thuggery pure and simple. I will not condone it with my silence.

Indigenous Australians have every reason to be angry. They have every reason to defend their embassy. But this is Australia and, whatever our history, whatever the mistakes of the past, here, today, we do not fight political battles with physical violence.  I don’t care whether you’re black or white. I don’t care what your grievance is.  This is not how we do things in this country and unless those of us who support social equity, progress and human rights stand up and condemn this action, we are a part of the problem.

I do not ever want to see an Australian Prime Minister (or any other person), male or female, having to be dragged from a building in fear again.  I don’t care what your cause may be; this is not the way to address it. No matter how angry you are, no matter how provoked you feel you have been, you do your cause no favours by resorting to mob violence (and, yes, the threat of violence is still violence in my book).

I live by the maxim:

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

What happened yesterday was good people with a good cause doing evil.  And I will not stay silent.

Chrys Stevenson

Gillard, Abbott escorted under guard amid Aboriginal Tent Embassy protest, The Australian

See also Australia Day by Mike Stuchbery, the sentiments of which I heartily endorse  – 

Extract:  “You can sit me down and discuss radical means of action. You can talk to me all you want about not falling into line with the hegemony, that you’re not there to look good for the cameras.

Fact is, you’re in Canberra. It’s Australia Day. The focus, whether you like it or not, is on you. Any aggro and there will be newsvans down there within minutes to provide fodder for a fortnight’s frenzied headlines.

Use your bloody heads, as well as your hearts.”

An argument in favour of exorcisms – ‘in the spirit’ of Margaret Court

I’ve used this technique before, but I think Margaret Court’s latest rant on homosexuals and same-sex marriage in today’s Herald-Sun warrants another reality check.

Sometimes a different ‘spin’ on an argument helps us recognise just how cruel, outdated, hateful, ignorant and just plan batshit crazy it is.

In the following article, based on Margaret Court’s opinion piece in the Herald-Sun, the words highlighted in red are mine, and not Margaret Court’s.

I have used the basic structure and logic of Court’s  article, not to argue against homosexuals and same-sex marriage (as she does in the original) but, in this case, to argue in favour of treating mental illness with exorcisms (as carried out by Jesus).  If this seems a rather bizarre idea, remember that exorcisms are still performed today and that, not so long ago, Hillsong-aligned Mercy Ministries was exposed for conducting exorcisms on young, vulnerable girls admitted to their program with the promise of comprehensive medical and psychological support for depression and eating disorders.

The Herald-Sun should be ashamed for printing this disgusting drivel from Mrs Court.  Mrs Court has every right to her obscene opinions, but the Herald-Sun has no more obligation to give her a platform for her views than some raving racist who wants to tell the world that Indigenous Australians are biologically inferior to caucasians, or that all Muslims are terrorists.  By giving Mrs Court a forum, the Herald-Sun is complicit in adding to an anti-gay culture which results in unacceptably high rates of youth suicide, self-abuse, self-harm, psychological distress, alcoholism and drug abuse.  They should be ashamed.

If you’re as disgusted as I am, contact the Herald Sun and direct your remarks to the editor:

Phone: (03) 9292 1226
Fax: (03) 9292 2112
Email: news@heraldsun.com.au

An argument in favour of exorcisms ‘in the spirit’ of Margaret Court

Court’s original argument against homosexuals and same-sex marriage is here.

NB: This is a satirical re-write of an article by Margaret Court. Words marked in red are mine.

Matthew 17:14-18: “There came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed…And Jesus rebuked the devil “

WE live in a blessed nation but Australia is on a steep moral decline.

Everywhere you look we are making excuses for a sliding lifestyle and more people are blind to it than ever before.

Our Constitution is based on biblical principles and our nation is great because of it.

We are a country with a moral fabric and families … But increasingly our kids are being taught that anything goes. Today, more and more Australians are afflicted with mental illness, and, as the Bible tells us, this is not due to chemical imbalances in the brain, or psychological trauma, but demon possession.

As a society we are losing touch with fundamental Christian values, as our leaders lean towards an agenda of political correctness, spreading the myth that mental illness is something other than a punishment for one’s sins or spiritual weakness.

We live in a world of moral values. Even those without faith know what is right and what is wrong. We all have a conscience and so many people get trapped in the pattern of saying something is right when deep down they know it isn’t.  Deep down mentally ill people know they are sinners and that God has inflicted this as punishment upon them.  Effectively, they have chosen mental illness, and by submitting to an exorcism they could choose to be free of this affliction.

… Looking back, you can see that there has been a steep decline, especially when it comes to the issue of mental health. There is so much scripture within the Bible that points to the cause of mental health problems.

Let me be clear. I believe that a person’s mental health status is a choice. In the Bible it says that mental health issues are inflicted as punishment for sin. It is not something you are born with, or something which occurs because of physiological or psychological causes. Mental illness is caused by sin or spiritual weakness; by demon possession.

Do not be wise in your own eyes; 
   fear the LORD and shun evil. 
This will bring health to your body 
   and nourishment to your bones.

– Proverbs 3:7-8

My concern is that we are advocating to young people that it is OK to suffer from mental illness; that it’s not their fault and they shouldn’t be stigmatised. But I truly believe if you are told being mentally ill is not your fault, it will  impact your life and you will never see the need for repentance. If somebody is told mental illness can be helped by drugs and cognitive therapy, they may start to believe it. Acceptance is ultimately unkind.

We are living in a society that takes the easy way out. Drugs and cognitive therapy, are the soft option; only exorcism can drive the demons from your soul!

Exorcisms are traumatic. But people suffering from mental illnesses need exorcisms – and I think we are losing sight of this.

We are led by politicians and mental health ‘experts’ who lie and spread deceit. They no longer accept the Bible as the last word on health issues and that affects us all, as a nation. Lies that demons don’t exist, and don’t cause illness,  just don’t seem to matter much any more.

There is so much deception in the world and it’s getting worse by the minute. The Gospel of John speaks of a mad man being possessed by demons so there is the proof. … We have lost our way and have been deceived by the secular view that illness is not supernaturally imposed for sins against God.

It worries me because I fear our next generation will lose all direction and become more possessed by demons than ever before.

I can’t understand, if we are a blessed nation under a biblical Constitution, why there is such a push to send people with mental health problems to psychiatrists and psychologists?  Indeed, our church coffers would swell significantly  if mentally ill people were forced to attend churches for exorcisms. We could provide these at exorbitant prices and pay no tax on the profits. My own church could certainly do with the cash …

That is why I believe we need to stop all government subsidies for mental health treatment because mental illness is God-ordained and only exorcism in a House of God can set you free.

The New Testament is the greatest book on psychology. It shows you how to live victoriously. It’s our TV guide to life. It has everything in there for every facet – even how to run a nation…

A nun at my primary school once held my head under water for several minutes in order to drive demons of disobedience from me.  It was one of the best experiences of my life. She could see the potential in me long before I did.  I just had to get rid of those d****d demons! She gave me a grounding for the future, for which I remain grateful … That’s what our kids need right now: people who are willing to physically abuse them into submission, people who will make them submit to exorcisms if they suffer from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or depression. This is what the Bible prescribes …  in a world where we have become far too scared to reject unbiased research, scientific and medical consensus and the rights of individuals to be treated with dignity, respect and acceptance.

Margaret Court is a pastor and a current world No.1 fundamentalist, homophobic, bigot.

Chrys Stevenson

See also Mike Stuchbery’s: Margaret Court, Translated

Court’s original op-ed piece in the Herald-Sun is here.

Furious Purpose’s, Stirring the Pot for Shits and Giggles contains the brilliant quip:

“The former Catholic turned fundie evangelical who runs her own church in Perth should have stuck to hitting tennis balls. Her intellectual stamina is to her forehand what Tony Abbott is to Plato.”

Margaret Court’s views increase gay suicide risk: health advocate, The Australian

Melinda Tankard Reist – Defamed Freelancer, Faux Feminist or Foxy Fundamentalist?

Other commitments have prevented me from weighing in to the debate about anti-abortion, anti-porn lobbyist, Melinda Tankard Reist and her threat to sue, blogger, Dr Jennifer Wilson for defamation. In the meantime, much has been written – both in the media and in numerous blogs and twitter comments (see the twitter stream for #MTRSues). This is my contribution. I hope it is fair, but I make no pretense at being unaligned – I stand firmly in Dr Wilson’s corner.

Dr Wilson angered Ms Reist by claiming in a blog post that she is ‘deceptive and duplicitous’ about the religious agenda which drives her activism. A lesser claim is that (shock, horror!) Wilson wrongly characterised her as a Baptist.

Melinda Tankard Reist admits to being a Christian – although, from what I’ve seen, when questioned on this topic  she affects the demeanour of a dental patient, just prior to a painful extraction. By her own admission, the impression Ms Reist wants to give is that although she tries to follow the teachings of Jesus, her opposition to pornography and abortion is based entirely on credible, unbiased evidence without any ideological spin.

Ms Reist claims to be a feminist and wants her work accepted under that banner. And yet, feminists who have worked long and hard to advance women’s rights and freedoms object vehemently to Reist co-opting the word to advance an agenda which calls for women’s rights to be curtailed (allegedly in their own interests).  Ms Reists’s paternalistic (maternalistic?) view of women as victims who must be protected is inconsistent with the tenets of modern feminism.

The meaning of words usually has some ‘wiggle room’ but meaning cannot be infinitely elastic. I could call myself a Christian but inevitably people are going to look at my work and the kinds of people I hang out with and suggest that to do so is ‘deceitful and duplicitous’ –  and they’d be right.

The parallels between Tankard Reist’s views and those of far-right, conservative, religious institutions and organisations, raises  important questions as to whether she can be rightfully characterised as a ‘feminist’. Reist, it seeems, is the ‘pin-up girl’ for a regular tea party of fundamentalist religious organisations whose dogmatic beliefs favour discrimination, chauvinism, misogyny and paternalism.  (I’m reminded of Jim Wallace’s view that female soldiers should not be able to serve on the front lines because his wife needs his strong, male hands to get the lid off the Vegemite jar at breakfast time.)

Inevitably, these synergies and relationships raise doubts about whether Reist’s views are genuinely based on what is best for women. Is it possible, instead, that her views derive from the right-wing religious groups in whose company she is so often seen?

Certainly ‘rebranding’ these dinosaurs’ antediluvian views as ‘feminist’ and disseminating them via a young, articulate and attractive woman would be a particularly ingenious marketing strategy. (Despite Melinda’s extreme sensitivity to the sexualisation of women, there’s nothing more compelling than a foxy fundamentalist.) Sadly, I’m not totally convinced Pell, Wallace and their ilk are that clever. Perhaps Reist’s role as the marketable face of out-dated dogma is purely serendipitous – like the rookie golfer who, with no skill whatsoever, just happens to hit a hole in one.

Regardless of how it came to be, it is true that evangelical and conservative Christianity could do with an image update. The likes of Jim Wallace, Bill Muehlenberg, Fred Nile, Peter Stokes, Cardinal Pell, Peter Jensen, Steve Fielding and Danny Nalliah aren’t exactly a big drawcard for women and Gens X and Y. Even that cool-cat hipster, Brian Houston, is beginning to look uncomfortably like Glenn Robbin’s Uncle Arthur kicking up his heels to Lady Gaga at the family Christmas party.

But, getting back to the threatened defamation action; Ms Reist objects to Dr Wilson calling her ‘deceptive and duplicitous’.  Perhaps ‘evasive’ or ‘coy’ may irk her less? Whatever terminology is used there is no doubt that Ms Reist, herself, has spoken of her desire to keep her religious views out of the public sphere so that her work will be viewed without the imputation of religious bias.

I don’t know Ms Reist’s work well enough to comment on its content. But others, whose opinions I respect, suggest that it does not come from a place of pure research, scientific objectivity, or an ideologically unhampered commitment to women’s rights.  And, if this is true, women have a right to know what interest groups, religious views, or non-feminist agendas may influence Ms Reist’s choice of source material and filtering and selection of data.

There are many credible academics and scientists who somehow manage to separate their religious beliefs from their research. Honest researchers – whether secular or religious – go where the facts lead them. They don’t begin with an immutable position and then try to assemble facts to prop it up.  The fact that Ms Reist is a Christian – even a fundamentalist Christian – shouldn’t negatively influence her work if it is backed by credible evidence drawn from reputable, mainstream sources or based on methodologically sound research. Indeed, if this was the case, Ms Reist would stand out as a shining beacon of hope in the stench-ridden swamp land of fundamentalist propaganda.

But, if it’s true that Ms Reist’s approach to research is obtaining anecdotal ‘evidence’ from a carefully pre-selected, non-representative cohort of women; if she buys in to hysterical and unsubstantiated Catholic conspiracy theories about abortion rights and a Nazi-style secularist eugenics agenda; if she spreads rumours about the medical ‘risks’ of abortion which have long since been debunked;  if her arguments on the psychological toll of abortion and pornography on women and the wider population don’t stand up to expert scrutiny – then she is not disseminating information, she is disseminating propaganda, and the public deserves to know the difference.

Whether Ms Reist is genuinely able to separate her religious views from her academic research, or whether she is a shill for a fundamentalist boys’ club, her ‘brand’ has almost certainly been irreparably damaged by the foolish decision to threaten Dr Wilson with legal action.  Instead of silencing rumours about religious bias, she has ignited a firestorm of international publicity. While it is (remotely) possible she may have some legitimate complaints relating to Dr Wilson’s critiques it seems Ms Reist made no attempt whatsoever to resolve the issue through discussion.

Whether at Ms Reist’s hand or not (who are you jjane246?), the recent sanitising of her Facebook page and Wikipedia entry to expunge her numerous links to the religious right, play to Wilson’s advantage rather than Reist’s. The decision to threaten heavy handed and intimidatory legal action on what any court must surely decide is a trivial matter, makes Reist look like a schoolyard bully.

Worse, because defamation actions are notoriously costly, Reists’s threat sets off even more rumours that her legal costs might be underwritten by one or more of the wealthy religious institutions which so enthusiastically support her views. There is no doubt there are quite a few right-wing homophobic, misogynistic religious wowsers who would like to see bloggers like Wilson, Leslie Cannold and, dare I say, me, cowed into silence.

Finally, this whole debacle has brought Melinda Tankard Reist’s work to the attention of a whole host of feminists, academics, writers and journalists who may not otherwise have heard of her.  Melinda may be enjoying the spotlight, but I doubt the added scrutiny is going to work in her favour.

Chrys Stevenson

Please consider signing this online petition which requests that MTR stop her legal action against Wilson:

Fighting the propaganda war – religion against human rights & secularism

On Wednesday, 18 January, I spoke, on behalf of Reason Australia,  to a group of about 40 people at the Maroochydore branch of Dying with Dignity (Voluntary Euthanasia Society) Queensland.

(Illustrated) audio is now available online in 2 x 15 minute videos.

 

 

Here’s the crux of my speech:

“… it’s probably not going to come as a great shock to you when I suggest that most of the misinformation about [voluntary euthanasia] comes from religious institutions and their fundamentalist supporters.

But, today, I’m going to take this argument further. I’m going to suggest that you aren’t the only victims of religiously motivated propaganda. I’m going to suggest looking at the issue of voluntary euthanasia more broadly; and I’m going to ask you to consider forming alliances with groups which are fighting on other fronts, but which share the same broad goals as you.

And what are those goals? It seems to me, you aren’t just fighting for the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia.  In broader terms you’re fighting for a secular government, for a clear separation between religion and state.  Because, if we had a truly secular government – one which based its policy decisions on reason and credible evidence – voluntary euthanasia would be legalised tomorrow …

The forces that oppose voluntary euthanasia are the same forces responsible for the pernicious infiltration of evangelical religion into our governments – and particularly into education, health and welfare, They’re the ones delaying justice for those who’ve been sexually or physically abused by the clergy. It’s religious groups and their supporters who oppose stem-cell research. These are the same people who believe their values should determine what websites you can access on the internet, or what movies you should be allowed to see.

At the very core of all these disputes is your right to freedom from other people’s religions. On this basis, the battle to be able to die with dignity, is not that different to the battles being fought over, let’s say:

  • women’s reproductive rights
  • same-sex marriage and adoption rights
  •  the insanity of placing evangelical religious chaplains into schools at the expense of youth workers with tertiary qualifications in mental health.

Any of these issues might be won tomorrow if governments could be persuaded not to buckle under pressure from religious groups and, instead, make decisions based on credible evidence. ”

I’ll be speaking on this same topic at Dying with Dignity’s NSW AGM and conference in Sydney on 24 March 2012.  The public are welcome to attend.  Contact DWD NSW for more information.

There’s been a largely positive response to the speech – particularly in comments to the version of the newspaper article published online.

One of the audience members on Wednesday asked why, when gay marriage affects such a very small proportion of the population and voluntary euthanasia potentially effects 100 per cent, the gay lobby is getting all the attention.  I replied, “Because they’re better lobbyists than you.”

All of us, for example,  could learn a lot from the efforts of Alex Greenwich and his Australian Marriage Equality lobby.

I did have quite a giggle at one of the letters to the editor in this morning’s daily which reminds me somewhat of a Ronald Reagan movie – it’s so bad, so full of wrong, that it’s actually incredibly entertaining:

“Religious atheist preacher and author Chrys Stevenson told the govern-bent that religious groups (other than her own) often used misinformation and discredited research to prop up their own ideology. What, and the church of atheism doesn’t?” Atheism is as much about faith as any other belief. Still haven’t found those missing links yet have we, Chrys?” – Greg , Caloundra

But then, there was this:

Chrys Stevenson, it’s good to see someone standing up for a secular government. Religion – any religion – has no place in government, especially in a multi-cultural, modern nation like Autralia. The only way to ensure fairness for everyone is by keeping the law and government segregated from religion. We aren’t living n the dark ages any more, where the most ignorant screams the loudest. So let’s hope the government is swayed by researched logic rather than unsupported beliefs. Chrys, you have respect and support from me and my family.” – CP, Warana

So there’s hope, yet, isn’t there?

Thanks CP, whoever you are.

Chrys Stevenson

If you’re at the Sunshine Coast and agree with the sentiments expressed in the video, please consider joining the Sunshine Coast Atheists.  For more information email:  sunshinecoastatheists@gmail.com

Chrys Stevenson & Peter Ellerton discuss “The Australian Book of Atheism”

In July, Peter Ellerton and I spoke at the Reality Writes literary festival about our chapters in Warren Bonett’s The Australian Book of Atheism.

Geoffrey Datson did a great job of recording our presentation and festival organiser, Annette Hughes, gave me permission to use it.

Unable to do anything by halves, I used the audio to create a series of four x 15 minute (approx) videos.

In this discussion I talk about religion (or the lack of it) in early colonial Australia. You’ll hear about saucy female convicts, the flogging parson, and how a group of outback workers payed a travelling parson to ‘clear out’. I also talk about the links between trade unionism and atheism and the atheist origins of the Eureka Stockade.

Peter discusses his chapter, Theology is not Philosophy. He explains why philosophy (at least in the modern Western tradition) has little to do with finding the “Meaning of Life” and much more to do with critical thinking and reason. Peter explains why he doesn’t really care what you believe – as long as you can explain why you believe it. He also discusses why opinions are not facts and why it is not an act of personal disrespect or vilification to criticize ideas.

It’s an interesting mix of atheism, history, politics and philosophy and I do hope you’ll enjoy watching the videos.

Chrys Stevenson

If you enjoyed these, you might consider subscribing to my new YouTube Channel.  I hope to add more content during the year.

The Australian Book of Atheism is available from Embiggen Books and all other good bookstores. It is also available on Amazon and in a Kindle version,

On Meryl Dorey, Woodford, vaccines, PR, Uncle Tom Cobley and all …

Readers who’ve been following my adventures doing battle with the organizers of Woodford Folk Festival and anti-vax campaigner Meryl Dorey may be interested in this rather rambling ‘candid’ interview with Peter Bowditch of the Ratbags Radio podcast.

 

Radio Ratbags:  Chrys Stevenson