Sunday, 25 January 2009

Frame on Militant Secularism and Atheism in Australia

Last Tuesday I went and saw Bishop Tom Frame, director of St Marks Theological College in Canberra talk on: The New Crusade? Militant Secularism, Strident Atheism and Social Harmony in Australia (ANU advert). This was a free lecture and it filled up 10 minutes before the event. A few of my friends who were going to see this got turned around at the door.

Tom spoke on what he called "Militant Secularists". He considers himself a secularist, where he thinks anyone can have their say in the public square where as Militant Secularists want to ban all religion from the public and want it to just be kept at home. Tom sees that this will not work, as religion does operate in a community and that a church should be treated just a like a pony club in society. Tom went on to quote Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, the Australian, the Canberra Times and comments from random Australians on those news website. He point was that there was a rise of militant secularists in Australia, and that they really haven't thought through the issue of secularism.

Tom also mention that between 1870-1900 Australia did involve itself in some form of Social Darwinism and fears that we may go down this path. Not from Richard Dawkins, but maybe from someone who pushes what he says further. Tom ended by mentioning a topic on the Richard Dawkins website about this lecture and how someone posted an email they wrote to the ANU appalled that they would run this event. Tom said that this whole event is a response to this type of thinking.

Tom also quickly put forward that a council should be put together to discuss how religion does affect society and that some form of eduction to the media and the general public about how to write and conduct yourself in regard to people who you don't agree with.

There was a good 45 minutes of question time afterwards from a good mix of people. The first two really stuck out to me. They said that Tom has really caricatured this New Atheism and has just quoted all the extremists, and using common knowledge it should be reasonable to conclude that there are some nice and friendly atheists. After those comments the whole talk seemed like Tom was worried about a small fringe of the fringe group and not some mainstream or popular community. 

There was a question from a lady who posted on the Richard Dawkins website and said that Tom didn't mention all the other posts how other atheists were slamming the guy who sent the email to ANU about this lecture. You can view the discussion here (you need to log in) (or uses google's cache that has the start of the discussion). I think the discussion about  it gets rather amusing (its an Internet forum after all). There are two people going back and forth about free speech and what you should do with people who you disagree with. The one against the email to the ANU correctly pointed out that this person was only making Tom's point. (The same discussion topic has a follow up and review of this lecture starting page 3, its a good review, but you have to sign up).

There was a comment from a guy who said that all religions attract bigoted people. The last question of the night was from some statistician who reference a study they did in the 1940's (or something like that) who said they found that people of any religion are less likely to be anti-semantic. There was a guy who called himself a Militant Secularist, but Tom thought he sounded just like a secularist as he would allow Churches to talk to Parliament. There was the granddaughter of the man who put God into the preamble of our Constitution and both her and Tom agreed that the Lords Prayer should be removed and it does discriminate.

Tom seemed to be a genuine guy who struggles with doubt. All in all it was an interesting lecture but I found the question time more revealing. 

You can download the audio here (18.7mb) to check to make sure I have been accurate as all the above is from memory 5 days ago, so I might have missed/tweaked something.

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