Do authoritarian religions produce intolerant bullies?

In mid-2017, one of the Australian States is reportedly about to legislate the availability of physician-assisted death, with necessary safeguards to avoid anyone being killed, and preventing an avalanche of deaths rushing down a slippery slope. Up pops someone protesting against this availability.

He does not want this right, but I do. He has no right to speak for me or to represent the whole population. No one has, not even a bioethicist or a theologian representing a church of choice. In fact, over many decades, more than 80% of the Australian populace has sought what was once described as voluntary euthanasia, now defined more specifically as physician-assisted death under the most stringent conditions.

His defence in seeking to interfere with my right is that his God, through the medium of his priesthood, denies such a right – which is based on compassion. Since his God is surely the universal god of all mankind, how could he claim that his priesthood has sole right to interpret God’s wishes? In the absence of revelation, has not his priesthood made an arbitrary judgement – an assumption – on this matter?

This church, whose spokesmen have persistently opposed voluntary euthanasia (as well as certain processes related to the nether-regions of women), is based on a claimed authority, and had exercised strong control (as evident to me during my residence – as an adult – for nearly 70 years in Australia).

Those who belong to this church are entitled to live by the codes of conduct set by its priesthood. The rest of us should not be required to do so.

Thus, no more than 20% of the Australian population can be claimed by their church to oppose the right to voluntary euthanasia or physician-assisted death sought by more than 80% of the population over decades. The 30% of the population who stated in the last Census that they had no religion can surely demand that religious institutions (or their spokespersons) do not interfere in their lives by claiming to speak for a God they deny. These people are atheists, with a right be so.

Australia is officially a secular nation, in spite of the apparent control of national policies by Roman Catholic politicians currently. Hopefully, State Governments will allow compassion as a human right, by challenging any church-determined policies to the contrary. We do need choice, not rule by religious bullies!

On the sea of life, let us all paddle according to our respective rhythms. Do respect my right as I respect yours.

Will dogma continue to smother compassion?

Has not the dogma of the religious sect supported by a minority (less than 25%) of Australia’s population prevented voluntary (repeat, voluntary) euthanasia, or physician-assisted merciful death?

Offer compassion to those suffering severe unalleviated pain, and for whom palliative care has been shown to be inadequate, and there will arise stern warnings about ‘killing.’ This is a favourite word for those whose religiosity (involving arbitrary definitions) over-rides all other considerations. This will be followed by a further warning about the ‘slippery slope,’ a concept denoting a downward-spiral of communal morality.

Ah, the certainty of it all. Commence with a definition of choice, and following pure logic, one can reach a conclusion to satisfy one’s bias.

The following letters to the Sydney Morning Herald should be read by those for whom theology has a right to bury compassion for fellow-humans.

“The proposed NSW Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill would establish the most tightly controlled regime of any of the 13 jurisdictions in the world that allow choice (‘Euthanasia poll: most doctors and nurses back bill on assisted death,’ June 25). The NSW bill is based on the Oregon model, operating for 25 years. It has strong support from the community and medical profession, and similar regimes have been adopted in five other US states, plus Washington, DC. Eligibility criteria are clearly and strictly defined, and there is no slippery slope. Opponents try to sow seeds of fear and doubt, but their claims are not supported by evidence. Out MPs must be guided by facts and not fear.” Dr. Sarah Edelman, President, Dying With Dignity, NSW

“Finally, palliative care doctors are breaking ranks to acknowledge they cannot alleviate all suffering and that voluntary assisted dying can be part of a continuum of medical care for the terminally ill. (‘Euthanasia poll: most doctors and nurses back bill on assisted death,’ June 25). In jurisdictions where assisted dying is legalised, it works hand-in-glove with palliative care. This is the model we want.” Penny Hackett, Willoughby.

Western democracy of the Australian kind allows our politicians to dance to a beat determined by their respective controllers. If politics allow, surely they will dance to the beat of their religious beliefs.

We will remain a backward nation for another generation or two.

Political vs. religious rights

“… religious persons are still citizens with an equal right to be heard on matters such as abortion and euthanasia as anyone else.” So said a Catholic professor of theology recently. As it only a political statement, it is thereby contestable.

Why are Roman Catholics who oppose these 2 practices, because their Church leaders require them to do so, entitled to deny non-Catholics a right to the practices? “I am not allowed these; so you can’t have them”: Is this how Australian multiculturalism is supposed to work?

Do man-made arbitrary definitions of human life and their ownership (which are not universally accepted and reflected in the dogma of the many religions available, have priority over alternative, equally arbitrary, values and beliefs of other religions, especially those seeking succour from the same God?

Or, would religious Muslims have a right to have a say about Catholic practices which they oppose? That is, could Muslims have a right to require legislation which reflects their edicts rejecting non-Muslim theologically-based practices?

More importantly, why would religious Roman Catholics have a right to interfere in the lives of others, when the values and practices of those others do not in any way impinge upon the freedom and lifestyle of Catholics?

Religious dogma divides a people – for no good reason other than enabling the exercise of authority by a controlling religious institution. Why would religiosity require control? Religion is surely intended to guide humans to God, and not to say whose God is superior, or whose theology takes one to God more quickly or with certainty.

Would it not be a measure of relative religio-political rights were each one of us to be free to follow a belief-path of personal choice, without interference from any one, or interfering with any one’s beliefs?

The available evidence shows that the basis of morality is significantly innate. Observe young children carefully. Throughout most of the world’s population, moral behaviour is also not engendered by a controlling priesthood. Humanity at large shares a culture of co-operation voluntarily. A family of atheists could easily guide their children to a spiritual life without any intervention by a dogma-driven religious institution; and aided by professional school teachers.

It is a truism that there will always be someone, or a group, or an institution, to tell us how to live our lives. We need to tell them to back off, leaving us free to make our own decisions about how we live.

I do believe that we are innately inclined to bond with fellow-humans, in the way we instinctively yearn for communion with the Divine.

I have also argued that the major religions are equal in their potential, in that they all share 2 core beliefs: that there is a Creator of all which exists; and that, as co-created, we humans have a bond with, and responsibility for, one another. While religious dogma may play a role in bonding the members of a faith, they surely should not be used to divide people – as has happened, and continues to happen. Who gains from division?

Read the endorsement for my approach to religions by the late James Murray, formerly the Religious Affairs Editor of ‘The Australian’ in my book ‘The Hidden Footprints of Unity.’ Refer my WordPress blog or amazon.com.

Racism and tribalism (3)

Is there such a people as a white race? Where does the Hispanic of Central and South America fit in? How pompously patronising were some English writers in the not-so-distant past who referred to the descendants of some former nabobs of India as having a ‘touch of tar’; or some poor fellow-countryman’s family as having had a ‘nigger in the woodpile.’ The nabobs were English buccaneers who, having taken control of parts of India, had then adopted the lifestyles of the Indian rulers they had deposed, including the taking of ‘native’ wives. Many of the children they produced were then educated in Britain, with some subsequently entering Parliament.
Then there was Winston Churchill who reportedly described Mahatma Gandhi as ‘that nigger.’ In Australia, way back in the late 1940s, a young fellow-student of mine of Irish descent also described Gandhi as a nigger (‘He should have been shot’ he said), in a voice redolent of the catarrh-ridden accent of some English teacher in one of the grammar schools of Australia. It was a time when the ‘micks’ (as the non-Irish referred to the Irish Australians) overtly sought to enter high society, which was dominated by the Protestants, especially the Freemasons.
A slight digression would be relevant here. We Asians, especially our elders, were not impressed with white people; not only because of our colonial experience, but also because their skin colour was seen as not attractive! After all, 85% of mankind is coloured; and some mixture of colours in any one location is commonplace. The white people were thus an anomaly. Worse still, in the tropics, the ‘Europeans’ were described as ‘smelly.’ Apparently, their sweat gave out an odour, attributed to their diet of beef. It was just as well too that we, the younger generation with little to no direct contact with the British coloniser, were taught not to be anti-British or anti-European, while remaining anti-colonial. That is, we were not racist in any sense! My extended family is not even tribal, with cross-ethnic marriage now almost the norm.
When I arrived in Australia, I had no idea that Australia was so racist. The few Aussies I had met in Malaya were friendly people; there was nothing snooty about them. Yet, on a busy Saturday morning in 1949, within the crowded precincts of a fashionable Collins St. arcade in mid-town Melbourne, dressed rather expensively (Harris Tweed coat and the rest of it), I heard a shout. It was ‘Why don’t you go back where you came from, you black bastard?’ To my great surprise, I was the target.

Black? I was a very light tan, as yet unburnt by the Australian sun. Bastard? My elders may not have been as tolerant as I with this insult. It did not take me long to appreciate that the word could mean opposing meanings. Ironically, a European migrant friend and I soon developed this greeting ‘How are you, you old bastard?’ to be used whenever we rang each other across the nation.
In 1995 or thereabouts, after a novice politician, Pauline Hanson, reflecting the values of the more conservative of the populace, had claimed that there were too many Asians in the country, I had rude gestures directed at me in public places. When I subsequently sent the Hanson electoral office my first book ‘Destiny Will Out’ (an experience-based book on migrant settlement policies), pointing out that, as an Asian, I had made some contribution to Australia, I received a nice thank-you note.
Then, in the decade of the noughties of the current century, the proprietor of a small subsidy-publisher, who had described my first book (published in London) as ‘well written and interesting,’ told me that ‘Australians would not want to read about their country from the point of view of a foreigner.’ That was when I spoke to him about my second book.

This book was titled ‘The Karma of Culture’; it was endorsed by 3 senior academics in diverse disciplines. The book dealt with these issues (as defined by a professional manuscript appraiser): the cross-cultural impacts of a culturally diverse migrant intake; the potential for Asian cultural and spiritual values to influence Western thinking about democracy, human rights, and social values; and the consequences of attempted cultural retention by immigrants.
(These are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door.’)

Racism and tribalism (2)

Tribalism is easy to understand. What is racism? Traditionally, race seems to have been synonymous with tribe. Yet, the term race could not possibly have been applied rationally in the unending confrontations between the tribes, later, the nations of Europe; these people are too much alike in appearance through significant cross-breeding. That is, over a long period of time, many of the tribes of Europe moved into the temporarily traditional terrain of others of that stock, thereby creating a blended variety of European of white appearance. Yet, there are significant pockets of Europeans displaying visibly divergent appearances in cranial structures and facial features.
A similar pattern of long-term blending, with significant pockets of facially divergent peoples to be found – going from East to West – in the lands of China (excluding its occupied territories), the southern coast of Asia and islands south and east occupied primarily by the people known as Malays, the Indian sub-continent, Central Asia (including China’s occupied territories), Western Asia, Arabia and adjacent terrain, North Africa, Central and South Africa (excluding the settlers from Europe), the Americas before it was invaded by Europeans, and the diverse peoples of the Pacific.
Within each of these huge areas, there are fine gradations of skin colour, reflecting earlier incursions and intermixing. Yet, there are visible similarities in body shape, cranial structures and facial appearances which can separate the bulk of the people in each major geographical category (as defined above) from the others. The categorisation set up above is obviously not a fine cut, but a broad-brush canvas with tolerable credibility.
It is not surprising that an attempt was once made to identify only 3 categories of humans – white, black and yellow. The success of European colonisation had led to the claim that white people were at the top of the totem pole of inborn abilities. A major problem was that the white people were described as Caucasian, which also includes my ancestral people. We are apparently Caucasian too! And many of my family are quite light in colour, implying that there is a North Indian or even a Central Asian strand within my genetic inheritance. For instance, the son of a nephew has green eyes. And I have been taken to be a North Indian by North Indians, while the Tamils have no trouble in identifying me as one of them. Back to the drawing board!
A more difficult problem is that skin colour, shape of cranium, and facial features aside, we humans are too alike. ‘What a bummer’ said my pink-faced Eurasian friend, whose Malay grandmother’s genes having been totally submerged by the genes of a single European ancestor.
It is my belief that the term race was conceived by the colonising ‘supermen’ to apply to inferior coloured people. I thus argue that ‘race’ is a construct of colonialism, which asserted then that white people are inherently (that is, genetically) superior to all other people. There was nothing new in this sort of claim. The Chinese just know that they are a superior people. So do the Indians. My mother was not far behind in making a similar claim.
Indeed, this pride in our ancestry enabled the early Asian student entrants like me to ignore those Australians who had cloaked themselves (without cause) in the garb of superior colonial Christian whites. I found it fascinating to observe common-garden Aussies behaving in this way.
The rulers of this superior species residing in Europe then fragmented the diverse non-whites into a number of races, the categorisation varying with the definer. All discriminatory policies and practices (apart from those of religion) referred to an implicitly inferior ‘race.’

 

(The above are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door.’)

 

Racism and tribalism

When a white nation, officially openly racist, changes itself within half a century into a modern cosmopolitan multi-ethnic and culturally tolerant one, any coloured observer would be pleased. Since many, if not most, nations contain an admixture of peoples offering a diversity of beliefs, values, traditions, and ethnic origins and histories, Australia could safely join the Family of Man.
However, the rate of change in the composition of the nation must enable even an evolving host people to adapt and, hopefully, to reach an accord of tolerance promising acceptance – both within themselves and between host and migrant. In their felt need to expand the population, as well as to further diversify the immigrant intake, have recent Australian governments introduced the seeds of tribal contention and conflict?
My experience of Australia’s racism and tribalism is indicative of how far we have come in terms of tolerance. The credit for much of this improvement must go mainly to our school teachers, their students, and those Anglo-Aussies who reached out to us foreigners; as well as to us, the immigrants.
From the earliest times, groups or collectives of human beings would have necessarily fought one another to obtain sustenance or resources. Or, learn to work together for a common cause. Because an urge to dominate and thence to control (an inheritance from our faunal, that is, animal, ancestors) is found in some members of humanity, conflict is often unavoidable. Competition for resources (including women) would lead to inter-tribal clashes. Tribes may also split through the young bull taking on the old bull, or through an alpha-male going on the rampage.
Traditionally, an extended family (one sharing a common ancestor) would co-exist with other extended families, were they to be a settled people occupying a specific location, with a common language and shared cultural values and practices; they would represent a clan. A number of co-operative coherent clans would represent a tribe. A tribe would look after, fight for, its interests with vigour and cunning.
A typical example would be the Roman Catholics of Australia, mainly of Irish descent. They would do everything they could to keep separate from the Protestants; This included a separate education system. They would practice discrimination, even as they complained about being discriminated against. This was the divided Australia I came into in the late 1940s. Yet, both sides of this divide had one significant attitude in common; they were, in the main, tribal and racist.
The shared religious prejudice may now have been dissipated or become tactically subterranean. There is some evidence of an on-going strategy for supremacy by the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
Officially, the racism of the official White Australia policy has gone. The racism in the populace has been substantially diluted; only the yobbo expresses any ignorantly-held prejudice. Racial vilification laws exist to contain those who need to display their superiority.
(The above are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’ This is an end-of-life rear-vision look at the progress Australia has made in its human relations.)

 

My experiences on matters Aboriginal

“I have met very few Aboriginal people over half a century in Australia. How am I to meet them? Our paths are so far apart.” … …

“The first Aborigine I sighted was inebriated. I saw him hit on the head (yes the head), and chucked (yes chucked) into a paddy wagon. This was in Melbourne more than fifty years ago. In Brisbane and Perth in the following years, I saw Aborigines being harassed by the police. Since I was with an inter-varsity hockey team in Brisbane, I should have been safe. Yet, one night, walking back to the campus alone, I was scrutinised by the police in a way which I found uncomfortable.

Regrettably, in the early 1990s, I saw young Aborigines, well dressed and behaving themselves, and in the company of young whites, being harassed by the police. In the late 1990s, I was followed by a motorcycle cop, on an Easter Sunday, for many kilometres before being stopped. I fear that he had assumed that a brown fellow driving an old car sedately had to be a ‘coastal blackfellow’, with all the implications of that for the latter.

In a small seaside town north of Perth, nearly fifty years ago, I was in the company of a dark Indian, with the even features found in South India, and a pinkish Eurasian. The latter claimed proudly that he had a Malay grandmother, although this was not discernible. We had got off a small boat and, at the bar of the nearest pub, were asked if we were Aborigines. Surprised (how on earth could we be, given our appearance?), we said no — and were permitted to drink on the premises. The barmaid explained that Aborigines were not allowed to be served.” … …

A few years later, a tall Chinese Malaysian, an even-featured Sri Lankan, a tall Indian Malaysian and I (with Ceylon Tamil ancestors) happened to find ourselves in a bar in a country town. Our car had broken down, and we were lost. A group of men at the far end of the bar showed a great deal of interest in us. Then the largest fellow in the group came up to us and said something strange, and in a gruff voice: “Where are you boys from?” Seeing that this was none of his business, and taking a punt, I responded with “What’s it to you, mate?” in what my Aussie friends describe as a British accent.

He stared at me, then relaxed. Sticking out a bloody great big paw, he introduced himself by first name. We got on well. I realised later that we had been in ‘boong’ (blackfellow) country, and that the big lad must have been the local sergeant of police.” … …

“Somewhere along the line, I set about trying to help Aborigines in the public sector in Canberra to improve their skills, thereby raising their confidence and presentation. I offered training in chairmanship and public speaking (skills shown to benefit everyone); and on their own terms. They could have their own Aboriginal club within Rostrum, an Australia-wide organisation well regarded for its training capabilities, and whose graduates were in senior positions in both the private and public sectors. Or, we could provide training in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, there being no indigene employed elsewhere. Or, they could train themselves in that Department under our expert guidance. We had the skills and the will. There was, regrettably, no interest, in spite of my trying to persuade the highly-regarded Captain Saunders (ex-Army and an indigene), and the Department’s senior management that what I offered was valuable. So, that was that. Since it would have cost the Aborigines nothing, except a little effort to learn and to practice …!”

“After retirement, in my township, I met a wide range of Aborigines, a few seemingly full-blooded. There were those who were apparently well paid, driving expensive cars, and employed by Aboriginal organisations. I was told by a couple of them that, in spite of their academic or professional qualifications, there were no jobs available to them in the private sector.” … …

“The most impressive Aborigine I have met to date is a young lady, who (as she said) developed her Aboriginal heritage only after reaching adulthood. Today she is an elder, busily guiding her people, as well as building bridges between black and white. I sense, with regret, that only a minority of whites are interested in reconciliation, and in assisting the Aboriginal people to develop themselves. In the light of the country’s history, any effort to reach out to the Australian indigene in an un-patronising manner is surely a most progressive step. However, when I attended, as a member of a local adult education committee, a reconciliation study, I was impressed with the understanding and goodwill displayed by the white people participating, and the way local Aboriginal women guided the group.”

(These are extracts from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity,’ published in 2005. However, I am aware that quite a number of Australian Aborigines are now highly qualified, and hold high positions – unlike the early 1950s, when (during my psychology course) we were told that clever Aboriginal students were dropping out of high school, saying ‘What’s the use?’ How terrible that must have been for those youngsters!)