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.

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.

When Mass had great weight (1)

The new Branch Head, with legs crossed and hands steepled, sat in silence for about a minute. His 3 Section Heads waited. He opened his first meeting thus: “I have not attended Mass for a few years; I have been busy with my work.”

In the silence that followed, first one, then another, of his underlings admitted that they too had not attended Mass for some time. The third underling, an Asian immigrant and a Hindu, realising that a certain bonding had just taken place, silently wondered whether he dared ask about the nature of Mass. It was made clear in the following weeks that he was ‘not one of us.’

The bitter sectarian divide, which had both Irish Catholics (‘micks’) and Protestants (‘prods and masons’) complaining about discrimination by the other side for nearly 2 centuries, became mainly dissipated (perhaps somewhat subterranean) when a new government opened the doors of the hitherto White Australian nation to the lighter-coloured East Asians (the much-feared ‘yellow hordes of the North’ of yesteryear). The evidence for the latter intake is available i the Australian Census of 2002.

During the 3 decades of the 1950s to 1970s, the Asian had made a sufficient contribution to the federal public service trade union’s governing body in the national capital to be granted a Meritorious Service Award. Since the members of the governing body were almost totally of a Roman Catholic persuasion, the Asian’s drinking mates in the 1960s and 1970s included 2 Kennedys and 3 O’Briens.

That is, he was fully accepted by his work colleagues and his union’s leaders. However, when he sought to remain in the Senior Executive Service, tribal discrimination struck. In each of 2 departments, for almost a year, he had been on higher duties successfully.
In the first instance, he had been denied through a secret document which contained a terrible lie. He managed to obtain this document only 2 years later, when he had moved to another department – by invitation from its Head.

The second occasion involved an interview for the position he had been acting in with 2 Division Heads, held between 5.15 pm and 6pm. The next morning he discovered that his job had been cancelled by close of business (4.51pm) the previous day, the day of the interview! What bastardry, was his thought.

Further, although he had led a union committee for 7 years (out of 10) on merit protection, he himself experienced more petty discrimination at work in his late 50s. So, he retired prematurely at age 60. As the only coloured employee in that department at the level of Director, he did not wish to damage the department by going public; he also sought to protect his superannuation rights.

Hopefully, although Australia’s immigration and refugee policies favour Christians, Mass may not have the weight it once had.
(Comment: The small gang which made his life difficult was not racist, only tribal. The Hindu’s competence was never challenged. That may have been the trigger for closing ranks against him. Read Part 2.)

When did citizenship become a right?

For many years, Australian citizenship was available to permanent residents only after a residence of 5 years out of 8. Choosing or accepting the citizenship of another nation led to the loss of Australian citizenship. That is, since citizenship required a commitment to the nation, its institutions, social mores, and cultural values, dual citizenship was not possible.
Then, in a competition for what was erroneously perceived as ethnic votes, one government reduced the waiting period to 3. Soon, the government of the opposing political colour reduced this period to 2! This was not only cheapening the value of citizenship, but also permitted those of a criminal intent to keep their heads down for 2 years before continuing on their chosen path – but as Australian citizens. They could not be deported.
Citizenship could be denied for security reasons; or because of a criminal record. Citizenship could be cancelled were it to be proven that the application for citizenship had contained a lie. Any child born in Australia did not qualify for citizenship when the parents were not permanent residents. That did not prevent some temporary-resident women giving birth in Australia, and claiming a right to stay.
Strangely, there is currently a provision for a temporary-resident child to apply for citizenship after reaching 10 years of age.
Worse still, a conservative government introduced the right to dual citizenship – apparently for political reasons; this effectively made an Australian passport only a document of identity. As well, an Australian citizen is now able to fight for the nation of his ancestors without been seen as a mercenary.
Then, there is no way that nations bound by the Napoleonic Code on citizenship will not apply that code. Under that Code, the descendants of a national person remain citizens of the nation of the parent (or other ancestors), no matter where these descendants now live, and their associated citizenship rights. China is a relevant example for Australians who had migrated from that nation.
Relatively recently, a Prime Minister and a State Premier together ended the prevailing emphasis on retention of ethnic cultures, and some ethnic empowerment, both embodied in multiculturalism policy, in favour of a shared citizenship; and the integration of imported ethnic communities into the national ethos.
Currently, there is a proposal to strengthen national identity through ensuring that citizenship is granted only to those permanent residents who accept Australia’s values, who seek to integrate into the nation culturally, and who will not be a burden on the taxpayer. Obviously, these should have been, and should be, priority requirements for acceptance for residence.
Permanent residence for 4 years to qualify for citizenship, and the denial of citizenship to the children of non-residents, will presumably remain core features of a tighter policy.
Citizenship is not a right. It needs to be earned. As the nation’s borders are strengthened, internal cohesion, through commitment to the nation, and what it stands for, needs to be enhanced.

Side door entry to Australia (Part 2)

The Labor Party then sought white left-wing  HEs (humanitarian entrants).  So I was informed.  We found them in post-Allende Chile.  However, there soon developed a flood of applicants from all of Central and South America.  Then the Vaticanites enabled East Timorese to receive HE admission, even when they were living in Portugal, their country of nationality!  Our senior bureaucrats and Ministers can indeed be very flexible in their decision making.

All of a sudden, Poles living within Poland could qualify as HEs!  How influential was the Polish Pope?  Then, for a while, ‘White Russians’ came from China as HEsThese had fled the arrival of communism in Russia 60 years before.  An all-white colleague of mine used to claim proudly that he was Chinese; he was born in China of White Russian parents.

There were also Jewish Russians who had been permitted by the Soviet Government to join close family in Israel but who, on arrival in Vienna, sought El Dorado in Western nations.  The Prime Minister of Israel in the 1980s was not happy at having up to 85% of potential citizens deflected elsewhere, mainly by professional recruiters from the USA.

Then, contrary to policy, presumably through Ministerial discretion, a number of Jewish Russian women married to non-Jewish men were permitted entry to Australia.  They had left Israel because they did not like their experiences as second-class citizens of Israel.  There are two other classes below them, as confirmed to me by my good Jewish Australian friend who had spent some time in Israel.  (My friend is not ‘self-hating,’ is knowledgeable, and observes the Jewish traditions.).  One of these Jewish Russian women subsequently worked for me in the Department of Immigration;  she was a worthy immigrant, who also told me a great deal about Israel.

When a global HE policy replaced the Middle Eastern HE policy, the first batch approved overseas were not Baha’is, as expected, but Afghan carpet merchants from Pakistan.  Some of Australia’s visa-issuing embassy staff were very flexible.  At that time, the Baha’i were the only people known to be persecuted in the Middle East.  A little later, we accepted a number of Bahai’is.  As with other HEs, they were placed in a migrant hostel in a city in which resided members of the same community. These had agreed to assist the initial settlement of the new arrivals.  A kind hostel manager had arranged for a local imam to greet the arrivals.  The next day he rang me to ask what he was to do with the halal meat.  This was the measure of the care we gave all new arrivals.

Some Ministerial approvals were also so flexible, that I was threatened by an ethnic Australian sponsor of his relatives overseas when I pointed out that I did not have the authority to approve entry outside policy.  The sponsor himself had benefited from an earlier flexible Ministerial approval.  Eminence in one’s profession can engender uncivil conduct!

For a short period only, the Tamils of Sri Lanka had entry as HEs;  not surprisingly, the majority approved seemed to be disproportionately Christian.  Yet, this was a generous entry policy, as even migrant entry from the Indian sub-continent had been constrained for years by positioning a strong arm against the entry door.  This was achieved by limiting the Australian immigration staff over there.  Two of those who had worked in this region subsequently worked in my team, one after the other.  They were not posted overseas after unwisely protesting to the head of the department about this discriminatory practice.

Eventually, I was directed, but at my initiative, to close down the White Russian and East Timorese policies;  they were not needed.  The other ethno-specific regional HE policies were far too sensitive politically;  our global HE policy did not obviously pay adequate respect to the tribo-cultural sensitivities of the communities affected.

There had to have been great flexibility in approvals at certain overseas posts.  Why?  Because, surprisingly, many HEs, especially the Poles, subsequently returned home to obtain jobs in keeping with their qualifications (such jobs not readily available in Australia).  Vietnamese HEs who had allegedly fled the takeover by the communists went back to Vietnam as Australians to conduct businesses.  So much for their earlier ‘genuine’ fear of persecution or discrimination!

 

(The above is an extract from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’

Only careful selection of applicants for migrant entry to Australia, by Australian officials assessing their potential for integrating into the nation, can ensure subsequent inter-community cohesion. Acceptance of Australian institutions and social mores and values, and an ability to learn English, were essential pre-requisites. Applicants were also discouraged from introducing their tribal prejudices into Australia. Side-door entry was not as stringent.)

      

 

What of institutional religion?

What place is there for the major religions (within the posited framework of an autonomous nested mesh of destinies ranging from the personal to multiple collectives)?  Divested of the detritus of dogma deliberately designed to distinguish each sect or faith from the others, and then to enable a claim of an unwarranted theological superiority, and thereby an exclusive path to heaven, two core beliefs are shared by these religions, except BuddhismFirst is a claim of a creator god.  The second is that, since humans are the products of this creation, we are bonded to one another.

What a wonderful concept.  It is a great pity that it seems to apply only within the boundaries of each religious sect.  The others are outsiders, heretics, heathens, etc. and are therefore not going to be ‘saved.’  Thus, in the name of their god, each priesthood is likely to display or even preach prejudice towards those not under its control or influence.  There will, of course, be great exceptions – priests within each religion who are truly ecumenical (accepting related sects within their religion as non-competitive), or who are freethinkers in their tolerance, even accepting other religions as comparable paths to the one God of mankind.  I have enjoyed conversing with some of these enlightened exceptions.

What of those who quite impertinently suggested that my soul would remain doomed if I did not convert to their sect?  My riposte to such soul gatherers is as follows:  ‘When you ascend to the Celestial Abode of the Heavenly Father, you will find yourself shaking hands with Caluthumpians and members of all the other religions.’  Regrettably, some ‘wannabe’ saviours seemed discomfited by such a vision;  I have watched a few dash down the road with displeasure after receiving my good news!  I wonder how the atheists react on entry to this Abode.

Is it not true that institutional religion has pitted followers of one religion against another, and sect against sect within many religions, butchering fellow humans and defiling them in every way in the name of their faith?  Under the pap propagated by their spin-doctors, it is carnivore-eat-carnivore, that is, dog-eat-dog!  This situation continues.

A true measure of the quality of a civilisation is the way the least viable of the people are treated.  This criterion, in my view, also applies to religions.  On this test, the major religions, if not all of them, fail.  The life chances, the quality of life, of those at the bottom of the socio-economic pile are generally ignored by their co-religionists in power, in government.  It is a great pity that it was the communist nations which provided some uplift to their peasants, lifting them from their squalor.  Our only hope is the secular nation, which subordinates saving the soul to filling an empty belly.

Would it not be wonderful if individual humans were able to seek succour from their god or spirits or whatever, without being caught up within an institutional religion with all its divisive binding rules, regulations and practices, as well as its priesthood;  that is, without an intermediary?  This is not to deny that there are many who derive some peace of mind through their priests.  From observation, the two main groups in Australia are the elderly and the newly converted (mainly East Asians).  This peace of mind, if associated with sectarian prejudice, may not however be the best ticket for entry to Heaven.

Yet, the real need by the majority of humans to have some hope of alleviating their suffering as they strive merely to exist, to survive, to protect their families (especially their young), cannot be denied.  However, how could they accept that their prayers, their entreaties, are in vain;  and that they need to work through their personal destinies in each life?  Do not the alleged interventions by some kind god, or the claimed miracles brought about by saints, offer (blind) hope?  Should the purveyors of this hope, the middlemen, most of whom live well and in security, therefore be tolerated?  If so, at what price?

Yet, I will make it clear that I am not denigrating the kindness of most of those I refer to as middlemen.  I continue to deal with them.  They are worthy of respect.  They have chosen to help their church-attending flocks as best they can, but within the closed framework of their dogma, and the well-trodden paths of tradition.

(The above are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’)

 

Unacceptable religious interference

Nothing divides people more effectively than beliefs derived from their religions. For years, compassionate people, and those suffering ongoing severe pain (undiminished even with palliative care) have sought legislation permitting voluntary euthanasia. While reliable sampling estimated public support at about 85% – stable over decades – Australian politicians have refused to accept that compassion should over-ride religiosity.

It is not that our politicians are all religion-bound. It is that they fear the power of Christian churches – even in a secular nation – the principal objector being of the Roman kind. From time to time, legislation to enable physician-assisted death, under the strictest, most stringent protective criteria, is rejected by politicians. (Even human rights legislation is denied, allegedly through religious interference.)

Our politicians profess to represent their electorates in parliament. In reality, they represent their political party only – or face career extermination; and they are clearly under the collective thumb of authoritarian priesthoods.

What is strange is that “We are not allowed to have it. So, you too can’t have it” is the line followed by vociferous objectors to voluntary euthanasia. Then, archbishops, bioethicists, other religious functionaries, and some lay people go public, seemingly in a co-ordinated manner (as they are doing now in the State of New South Wales).

They claim that people will be killed – even by themselves (through suicide). Then, they bring up the slippery slope argument. The essence of this argument seems to be that the elderly will be put to death by their family – presumably for financial benefit.

As well, medicos are told that they are to save lives, not ‘take’ lives. Whereas the Hippocratic Oath says simply that medicos should do no harm – not keep patients alive at any cost (usually at the patient’s cost).

Not that long ago, the head of a State Branch of the doctors’ union asked the Federal Parliament for the right of a doctor, in his expertise, to over-ride the legally-binding document known as the Advanced Health Care Directive (AHCD) or its equivalent. This effectively says ‘Do not resuscitate’ in specified circumstances; or ‘Do not operate on me unless I say so.‘

More recently, the General Manager of a private hospital stated that his professional staff were “unhappy” at their being constrained by AHCDs (Really!); but nothing was said about their religious proclivities. Then an academic ethicist asked about the rights of his conscience. But, could each set of variable faith-based ethics have an independent legal status, binding all residents in a secular nation?

It cannot, however, be denied that a couple of European nations of a predominantly Roman Catholic persuasion already have laws permitting physician-assisted death (viz. voluntary euthanasia).Reportedly, they have adequate safeguards to prevent ‘killing’ and ‘slippery slopes.’  How backward is Australia, and how lacking in compassion. (This situation also allegedly applies in the non-availability of medicinal marijuana for those who can benefit most significantly from its application. I have seen a video of its benefits.)

In a multicultural nation whose citizens are encouraged by the government to maintain their diversity in cultural values and practices, ridiculously, the religious edicts of a minority Christian population are allowed to dominate the lives of other communities.

It should be noted that voluntary euthanasia will not be compulsory. Do allow compassion free reign. If an authority will not extend compassion to fellow humans, then that authority will necessarily be time-limited. Does God not see all that happens?