Category Archives: ethics

What is it good for?

To paraphrase Edwin Starr’s song War:

NSCP, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing

Today @ChrysStevenson tweeted about an article on the sunshinecoast.com.au site titled: School Chaplains programme could end. Written by Liberal National Federal Member for Fisher Peter Slipper who warns that “a valued school programme could be at risk under Labor.” That “valued” school program? The totally wasteful, dangerous and delusional National Schools Chaplaincy Program (NSCP). Slipper warns that under a Labor government Gillard may cancel funding to the NSCP, he states that:

The Liberal National team has committed to keep funding part-time school chaplains for at least another three years.

As if that’s a good thing!

Apart from a few deluded religious people, and obviously the churches as they see this as a great, taxpayer funded, way to proselytise to a captive audience, I don’t accept that there really are that many people who think the NSCP is a good idea?

Slipper tries to argue

“Even the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described school chaplains as the ‘glue’ that holds school communities together.

Well Rudd would, he’s a deluded religious nut too.

Slipper’s final statement

“A lack of continued support for this project would simply be another Labor backflip.”

Should be worded:

“A lack of continued support for this project would simply be the right thing to do.”

The only possible reason I can see that some school principals and teachers see the NSCP as a good thing is that it provides government funding for some sort of counselling. The problem is that this funding is going to unqualified and unskilled religious ministers. What the government should do is provide the same amount of funding to fully qualified, trained, experienced, secular counsellors such as the Australian Psychological Society has recommended in their submission (pdf).

I posted a comment on Peter Slipper MP’s article, under my twitter OzAz name, and also sent the MP an email, this is a copy of that email:

Just read your piece on the mysunshinecoast.com.au site. I for one, and there are very many like me, would be more than happy to see the National Schools Chaplaincy Program (NSCP) end. It is a total waste of taxpayers money and appalling that taxpayer funds are used to promote religion in public schools.

I have posted a comment on the site, I trust you will bother to read it and the other comments deploring the NSCP. In case you do not have the time to read all the comments, I posted this link: http://www.psychology.org.au/Assets/Files/APS-Submission-School-Chaplains-July2010.pdf I strongly suggest you read it, take your obvious religious bias out of the equation and decide if the APS has a valid point.

I’m not affiliated with the APS at all, and not sure if their proposal is the best, but I am sure it would be better than having chaplains performing counselling services, and at least it is a secular approach. Which is the way it should be in state schools.

Regards

May I suggest you also write a comment and or send an email to Peter Slipper peter.slipper.mp@aph.gov.au letting him know that a lot of people do NOT want the NSCP.

Cheers

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Ethics and Religious Education

The St James Centre has been trialling, successfully from what little I’ve heard, ethics classes in schools as an alternative to religious education (RE) classes. Why RE is being taught in PUBLIC schools is beyond me, but that’s not the main point. The point is the religious don’t want these ethics classes. Why? Heaven forbid (TIC) that children will be taught ethics, but that doesn’t seem to be the main problem the religious have with the program, as pointed out in this article on smh.com.au

THE Anglican Archbishop of Sydney has privately lobbied the Premier, Kristina Keneally, against the permanent introduction of secular ethics classes in public schools, saying they would jeopardise the future of religious education. (emphasis mine)

Or should that last word be indoctrination? 🙂

Why is the Archbishop worried? Probably because he knows that old adage “give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man” and is worried he and his cronies won’t be able to continue to brainwash young children into specific religious dogmas.

I have no major problem with comparative religion being taught in schools in a social science type class. Where children are taught the histories and beliefs of all religions as concepts not as truths. Where they can be taught issues related to freedom of religion and freedom from religion, as well as the separation of church and state; among other religious issues that impact everyone on a secular nature.

from Jason via email:

The Christian rent-a-crowd have been busy inundating NSW MLC Penny Sharpe’s inbox, pleading with the government to kill the St James Centre NSW ethics classes so they won’t compete with scripture classes. (from Penny’s twitter timeline http://twitter.com/PennySharpemlc/status/12190784832 )

We need to let Penny know that there is support in the community for the ethics classes in NSW. Please consider sending her a personalised message of support on why you think this is an important initiative.

You can contact her by email: http://pennysharpe.com/contact

Or you can tweet her @PennySharpemlc (please use twitter hashtag #nswethics )

Or send her a message on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pennysharpemlc

Government at all levels needs to know that many people approve of the ethics classes being taught as an alternative to the RE classes. Senior clergy should not be allowed to sway the decision making process as they have a very obvious bias toward being allowed to indoctrinate young children into their specific religion. Please contact Penny and other parliamentarians (particularly your local MP) and let them know that you want alternatives to RE classes and that the ethics classes should be taught in all schools. Don’t let the religious rent-a-crowd hijack another excellent program, a program which can only be a good thing for children to learn,

Media coverage of the issue and related issues (thanks again to Jason and others)

http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/find-these-kids-an-alternative-for-gods-sake-20100411-s0c7.html

http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/keneally-allows-anglican-church-to-vet-content-of-ethics-lessons-20100412-s43m.html

http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/bishop-enters-battle-against-secular-ethics-classes-20100413-s7pp.html

http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/you-cant-teach-ethics-without-referring-to-christianity-20100409-rxai.html

http://www.atheistfoundation.org.au/media-releases/ethics-classes-not-attack-religion

http://www.smh.com.au/national/letters/churches-have-nothing-to-fear-from-clear-thinking-20100413-s7dj.html

http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2010/s2871823.htm

http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/how-the-west-was-lost-a-lack-of-faith-in-civilisation-20100411-s0ow.html

http://www.smh.com.au/national/the-diary/top-cop-leads-god-squad-20100411-s0wp.html

http://twitter.com/PennySharpemlc (Penny’s twitter timeline)

There are some amazing, and a little scary, stories from parents particularly in the comments on the first link.

I don’t have, and never had, children in school but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to discuss this issue and help stop the religious having undue influence over young and impressionable minds.

update 26 July 2010

Here are a few more links for all things SRE, RI (RE), NSCP and Ethics Classes .

http://www.highcourtchallenge.com/index.html

http://www.stopthenscp.org/religioninpolitics.htm

http://www.backintheact.com/index.html

http://campaign.specialethicseducation.com.au/index.php

http://parents4ethics.org/

http://www.australiansecularlobby.com/

Note that Queensland has slightly different laws when it comes to Religious Instruction (RI) (sometime wrongly labelled as ‘Religious Education’ (RE)) compared to NSW and it’s Special Religious Education (SRE). From what I gather the National Schools Chaplaincy Program (NSCP) is above and beyond RI and SRE?

Religious Education – it should be taught by religious people in religious places (NOT public schools, or any other public or government institution) to people who want to learn it, not to people who have no choice (ie. children who are ‘forced’ to attend).

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Filed under Anglican Church, atheism, atheist, Catholic, ethics, religion, religious school, secular

An Alternative to Religion

We don’t need religion to make us good human beings.

From “An Alternative to Religion” by Dr. Dennis Morris; an essay in the book “atheos: Without God, Down Under” published by the Atheist Foundation of Australia.

Morris’s excellent essay discusses alternatives to basing our moral outlook and ethics on humanity rather than religion, here are a few experts I particularly liked:

Instead of the meaningless expression of: Body, mind and soul, we can rather use: Physical, intellectual and emotional;

He also has a good alternative to the use of the word faith:

confidence

Considering the number of times I’ve got into hair-splitting discussions with people over the use of the words ‘faith’ or ‘belief’, from now on I’m going to use the word ‘confidence’ when I’m not 100% sure about something but I strongly believe it to be correct have confidence it is correct.

Morris also discusses the difference between religious and social ethics. Religious ethics are authoritarian, which is, as he says, “quite literally childish”, whilst social ethics aren’t. He has a good example:

To a small boy the reason he must not pull his sister’s hair is that his mummy will be angry or punish him. He has made a great leap forward toward maturity of moral judgement when he realises that the reason why he should not pull his sister’s hair is that it hurts her.

I have confidence that the world will be a better place when the whole of humanity realises that: whatever we do we should do in an attempt not to harm others, because we understand it may hurt them, not because some divine being has told us not to.

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Morality is no new thing

Religious people think that they ‘corner the market’ when it comes to morality. They believe in an absolute morality obtained directly from god. They believe that only humans have morals.

Religious people are wrong on all accounts.

I, and many others, have discussed the ‘absolute moral’ concept before and shown it is false and baseless. Morals, whether the religious like it or not, are not absolute and change (hopefully for the better) as societies change. The only moral that does appear to be relatively universal is the one commonly called “The Golden Rule” “an ethical code that states one has a right to just treatment, and a responsibility to ensure justice for others”, which despite what some religious people believe was not invented by the authors of the bible.

I, and many others, have also discussed the fact that religious people (in particular members of the Abrahamic faiths who assert this the strongest) did not invent, or discover, the foundation of morals. Morals came about because societies would never have flourished without them.

Today I’d like to direct the religious to the article in the UK Telegraph titled Animals can tell right from wrong, which discusses a new book which says that:

Scientists studying animal behaviour believe they have growing evidence that species ranging from mice to primates are governed by moral codes of conduct in the same way as humans.

There have been documentaries and articles before which discuss how some animals demonstrate that they help each other, or work together towards some common aim, but the book this article’s information comes from claims

that morals are “hard-wired” into the brains of all mammals and provide the “social glue” that allow often aggressive and competitive animals to live together in groups.

Whilst this book has its detractors, many of them still admit that some animals share many of the psychological qualities previously only attributed to humans. As  Professor Frans de Waal, a primate behaviourist at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, said:

“I don’t believe animals are moral in the sense we humans are – with well developed and reasoned sense of right and wrong – rather that human morality incorporates a set of psychological tendencies and capacities such as empathy, reciprocity, a desire for co-operation and harmony that are older than our species. (emphasis mine)

“Human morality was not formed from scratch, but grew out of our primate psychology. Primate psychology has ancient roots, and I agree that other animals show many of the same tendencies and have an intense sociality.”

The article then discusses various animals and shows examples of their ‘moral’ behavioural traits.

Elephants

In 2003, a herd of 11 elephants rescued antelope who were being held inside an enclosure in KwaZula-Natal, South Africa.

… example of animals showing empathy for members of another species – a trait previously thought to be the exclusive preserve of mankind.

Diana Monkeys

A laboratory experiment trained Diana monkeys to insert a token into a slot to obtain food.

A male who had grown to be adept at the task was found to be helping the oldest female who had not been able to learn how to insert the token.

… there was no benefit for the male monkey …

Rodents

Experiments with rats have shown that they will not take food if they know their actions will cause pain to another rat.

There are several other examples in the article of reciprocity, ethics, morals, a sense of justice and other traits commonly thought to only exist in humans. It just demonstrates to me that morals, ethics, etc. are some primal instinct that may be there in all animals to some extent. Morals (as I have pointed out before) are a societal necessity, not something handed down by some mythical being.

Whilst the book may have some questionable conclusions I think it would be a good read, and the principles behind it warrant further study. From the brief review in the Telegraph and at New Scientist it certainly appears that the authors have some very valid propositions.

What do you think, do animals have a moral code, are they capable of showing empathy; and what does this mean to the way we treat them?

Hat Tip to toomanytribbles for blogging the Telegraph article.

PS. I realise I may have generalised in my opening statements, but I have heard all those statements from so many religious people.

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been reading

I’ve been reading many of the Carnival of the Godless posts today, some quite enjoyable and interesting reads. One of the posts directed me to an article by Christopher Hitchens in which he poses two ethical challenges, as paraphrased below:

Name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.

The second challenge. Can anyone think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith?

The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first awaits a convincing reply.


Db0 has provided even more tools and resources to assist bloggers, including another blog directory with rating system.


That’s all from me today, I’ll try and post something more interesting and tangible soon.

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Book Review – The Atheist’s Guide to Religion

by William Harper, self published

This book is a mix of brief but informative facts, coupled with light hearted quips which makes for an easy read.

There are quite a few ‘facts’ quoted in this book but unfortunately no bibliography or references at the end. There are also several hypothesis to which there are no references, but in the most part, IMHO, they are quite feasible.

Bill’s writing style can be quite laconic in parts and he likes to use stories to demonstrate arguments. For instance, he invents Gorak the caveman to demonstrate the development of government and religion in early society. Whilst Bill obviously has no facts to back up Goraks story, the hypothesis is sound.

Sections of the book reminded me of shows like ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ where they extrapolate known facts and develop a ‘what might of happened’ scenario. Some people may find this a more entertaining way of learning, I did.

The book covers the invention of god(s), evolution and the brain, the rise of various religions, the growth of Theology, philosophy and the Church, where religion is today, ethics and morality, and what to replace God with.

Highlights from the book:

The new found skills of logic, art and speech would take religion from a purely instinctive pastime into an organised one.

Indeed, one might say that from that point on, all religious history has been a process of mere tinkering.

  • Plug in god (A),
  • Select sacrifices (B),
  • Offer prayer set (C), and
  • Embellish with rituals (D).

How true is that?

I liked Bill’s take on all those sports stars that pray for God’s help, his theory:

For every winner, there must be a loser that God prevented from winning. … Think of the Headlines!

God arraigned on match-fixing charges!

I had quite a chuckle at that one.

When discussing the historical Jesus, I think Bill missed one possibility. He states there is “a contradiction between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of the Christian faith.” What about a third possibility; the Jesus of Myth?

I found the Philosophy chapters most interesting. Again only a brief outline but gives an idea how some modern day thinking originated – both in and out of the church. His discussions on altruism, selfishness, racism, self-sacrifice, humility and self-worth are quite though provoking (students of philosophy and ethics may not get as much out of these chapters as I did).

The next section where Bill discusses alternatives to ethics, morality and the State are, for me, the best sections in the book. His new virtues:

  • Rationality
  • Pride
  • Justice
  • Integrity
  • Benevolence

are well argued, as are the criteria he uses to justify them. I’d like to expand on this but fear I’d breach copyright. The book puts a big, and probably justified, emphasis on self-worth.

Bill surmises that an alternative to God and religion is vital as the religious instinct is too strong to merely cast it off. His answer:

to replace religion with Objectivist Agnosticism

He argues that the need for spirituality and religion is an instinctive need. A need which can be deflected by teaching a new set of ethics “based on the logical analysis of the human condition” and without any organised religious dogmas.

The idea that ethics and philosophy should be taught in schools from a very early age has excellent merit. For too long ethical instruction has come from the parents and churches who bring their own agendas and warped sense of moralities. A common ethical background that espouses self-worth and rationality and eschews religious overtones may well provide a new era of enlightenment.

Summary

Whilst reading this (or any) book I try to understand the motive and audience. I think Bill may have done himself a disservice by targeting this book strictly at atheists (eg. the title and cover picture, and some of the anti-religious quips). With a different title, and taking out the sarcastic digs at religion, this book could also be an excellent reference to religious people. Especially ones that are doubting their faith or questioning religion. The explanations of why we are like we are and why religion exists, as well as viable alternatives to religion, is of importance to atheists and theists alike.

Overall a good read and a worthwhile addition to my atheist book collection. I would have preferred some references and bibliographies, but I guess Google and Wikipedia are always available.

When I get a chance I intend to research Bill’s ethics concepts further and maybe post on the subject. I certainly agree with him that ethics and philosophy should be taught in schools in a non-judgmental, non-religious manner and from an early age.

If you are interested in getting a copy of this book it’s available on-line from Bills web site (make sure you send him an email if you do order a printed copy as there is/was a problem with the ordering system). The book can be purchased as a printed copy or as an eBook download.


On the book theme, I see Richard Dawkins has got a new book out. It’s called: The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing and is a collection of almost 100 essays by leading scientists covering all sorts of scientific fields.

Also as you can see in my library list I have a copy of The Portable Atheist, which I’m yet to read. Well Breaking Spells has already read it and posted a great reference to all the essays, with links.

(Note: the Australian version of this book has an all blue cover)

Last but not least, I’m currently reading Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? by Morgan Spurlock (the guy who did Super Size Me). An excellent read, quite humorous at times, but also providing a good insight on the mind-set of Islam and how and why Osama and Islam became so dangerous.

(Note: the Australian paperback version of this book has a completely different cover – Morgan riding a camel with warfare in the background)

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