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 Buddhism. First 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.

The 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.’)

 

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The push of a past life (3)

There has to be a Cosmic reason for the existence of the past-life (reincarnation) process. It has to involve moral progress through experiencing a sequence of Earthly lives.

In a long chain of Earth-life experiences over time, each past-life lesson should have a role to play; to contribute to progressive learning. In this life, I have learnt to forgive, a significant change for a former fighter. I do not seek the sound of someone’s family jewels hitting the ground, with a little sliced help from me.

While it is probably beyond the competence of a normal human mind to obtain an understanding of the place of mankind in the Cosmos (not just on Earth), it is the reincarnation process which suggests that there is an underlying pattern.

Perhaps it is best that we keep trekking on our individual paths of destiny (using our free will), and let the Cosmos lead us individually and collectively to where it will. We should find joy in the journey, without worrying about our destination.

The myth of racial discrimination (2)

Instead of the confusing use of the semantically misleading terms race and racial, as argued in my previous post, statements of prejudice, as well as acts of discrimination, can sensibly refer to skin colour – a major trigger of hate (or stupidity). There could, however, also be an inherited cultural sensitivity associated with ignorance.

I do admit to being sensitive about colour in one instance. I will not eat beetroot because I do not like its purple colour.

Returning to reality, being a foreigner (or outsider) can be accepted as another trigger for prejudice and discrimination. This would include entering not only ‘white space’ but also British white space (although the latter is now seemingly superseded).

Another trigger is tribal superiority and prejudice. This would cover religion (a major source of claimed superiority); cultural values and practices (eg. the taboo in Australia against killing a goat in one’s backyard for a festival); and social mores (eg. spitting in public) – quite a catchall! Using ethnicity as a marker for abuse can have no future when there is so much cross-ethnic marriage (including partnership and cohabitation).

Countering prejudice and discrimination through the law is available only to the wealthy; or to those with access to pro bono lawyers. Education? The ignorant will probably ignore any media campaign (if they are aware of it); while the opportunists will do what it takes to achieve their ends. Morality (like Grace) needs to be bestowed; although it may of course be learned.

In the sphere of international relations, where there is no place for morality, there is a strange assertion about racial discrimination. Anyone criticising Israel for one of its policies (while clearly not anti-Israel) can be accused of being ‘anti-Semitic’. Yet Western Asia has speakers of a range of Semitic languages who subscribe to a variety of religions; they are all equally Semitic!

There is clearly a need to get rid of the concept of ‘race.’ Which government will dare take necessary action? A recent attempt to go part of the way foundered on a confusion of semantics, politics, human rights, free (but responsible) speech, egoism and exceptionalism. There were hidden ‘sacred cows’ behind some of the waffle.

Is modern Australia lacking the necessary intellectual depth to deal with human rights and free public expression? When voluntary euthanasia is described during a recent debate as ‘killing’ (reflecting only a particular theology), I wonder whether there is a place for not only compassion but also for honesty in public policy.

 

A personal morality beyond inherited culture?

In one situation, the driver of a military tank seeks to avoid crushing the intrepid individual obstructing his path. He does this even as this individual repeatedly blocks the evasive moves attempted by him. The individual is unharmed.

In another place and time, a heavy vehicle is reported to have been run over the individual obstructing its path. The driver had allegedly been directed to destroy the home of this individual, as official policy. Should he have avoided harming the individual?

Was the difference in morality influenced by tribalism? In the first situation, the two persons shared a nationality. In the second, there was a significant difference in both ethnicity and religion between the two persons. Even if the second driver was influenced by a subconscious tribal prejudice, one which identified the defiant individual as ‘not one of us,’ should a sense of a shared humanity under Heaven claimed to be imparted by all the major religions have led to an ending which did not involve a dreadful death?

There are, of course, tribes and tribes. In those nations created by immigrants (the prominent ones being the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), political parties represent the tribes of primary relevance. Cultural tribes co-exist beneath this umbrella. In the rest of the world, it is cultural tribalism which guides, if not controls, societal conduct. A tribe can be defined as a people joined together by a common origin, a shared language, religion, and the cultural values and practices which have evolved over time.

Where the extended family reigns supreme, as in most parts of Asia – even modern Asia – tribal traditions will be upheld. Unlike the nuclear families of the Ultra-West, (the four principal nations mentioned above created by immigrants), the extended family is there to provide support to each individual. This support may be psychological or social or financial. Such support counter-balances the obligations which bind the individual to the collective. And it is the conglomeration of extended families which constitute the tribe.

And, as long as tribalism reigns supreme, with religion the main glue bonding its components, inter-tribal prejudice may manifest itself.

Against this background, the contrast identified in the opening sentences above raise a significant question: is there not a need for, and an expression of, a personal morality even when tribal prejudice prevails? The answer? That one needs a conscience beyond the imperatives of tribal prejudice and religious ignorance..

 

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.

When Mass had great weight (2)

“Do you realise that you are frightening the s..t out of your fellow Section Heads in the Branch?” asked my new boss. He too was a Roman, but was an outsider, recruited from a university. He nodded when I replied “You know my work.” He then asked “How is it then that you are frightening the s..t from my peer group? When I simply smiled, he said “Tell me “

This is my story. Out of the blue I received an invitation from the head of another department (a man I did not know) to transfer across, with a promise of promotion to the Senior Executive Service as Branch Head. A week after my arrival, the head of management asked me if I would consider a particular task. After examining the job, I agreed. To that, his strange reply was “Don’t be a bloody fool.” That was because I had only 10 weeks to implement necessary structural and operational changes, and to inform all overseas posts about the new policy.

My small team of 3, backed by 3 Division Heads, and assisted where necessary by 3 other agencies, did meet the normally impossible deadline which the Minister had set. The Departmental Head, having expressed his thanks, then asked me to accept the job of Chief Ethnic Affairs for the State of Victoria, based in Melbourne. The task was to implement a new policy of financially assisting the smaller immigrant communities in their settlement. The government would fund the employment of a social worker by each ethnic community. I was to investigate these communities.

My new small team of 3 immigrants made considerable progress, aided by my direct access to the Minister, and my ability to talk freely, on an ethnic to ethnic basis, with community workers and leaders. They liked that.

When the Departmental Head retired without promoting me, I returned home. The new Head, a returned Ambassador, told me that, instead of being promoted, I could head our London Office. Did that office need a Mister Fix-it? Or, was it a sop by a Laborite? I rejected that suggestion. Had I not proven myself – not once, but twice?

In the meantime, No.1 on the promotion list became Branch Head. I, as No.2, was ignored. A few ranked below me were sequentially promoted; and I had to work under them. With one exception, I experienced petty discrimination, and was moved frequently, with a new job each year. It was made clear, with not much subtlety, that I was not one of them. I suspected that I was expected to crack under persistent pressure.

Yet, I was untouchable, indestructible. The Chairman of the National Ethnic Affairs Advisory Council, Emeritus Prof. George Zubrzycki, had already commended me for the depth of my work and my speed of report. A few members of that Council, plus a few other ethnic community leaders in the relevant State, then supported my application for the position of Chairman of the Ethnic Community Council of South Australia and, later, of Western Australia. The pay was the same. For the record, parochialism prevailed in both States; and a new position of Deputy Chairman was then created in each State.

Ironically, because I had been sequentially responsible for all the migrant settlement (or integration) policies, I was able, after retirement, to write (with a prior prod from the spirit realm), about the great value of these policies. Emeritus Prof. George Zubrzycki was a leading supporter of the first 2 of my books. He died soon after. He had also written to me to say that he agreed with all that I had written in ‘Destiny Will Out’ – my first book – except on voluntary euthanasia. No devout Roman Catholic could support that policy of compassion.

In areas of social policy, Mass (even with limited attendance) has strong gravitational pull in Australia. Papal Bull rules! Just look at the controllers in federal Parliament.

Protecting national borders and ethos

Modern Australia was founded by immigrants, and developed by immigrants.  Under the sway of capitalism – that the economy must grow for ever – governments tend to favour a rising rate of immigration.  This policy is the preferred substitute for a long-term development plan, or even a population policy.  Awaiting for God’s Will may explain this approach.

However, refugees and asylum seekers either cannot afford to wait, or chose not to wait, for God’s Will.  Of course, there are genuine refugees and ‘wannabe’ refugees.  The majority of the latter are most likely to be economic migrants who, in all probability, would not pass our normal selection process. – which has worked well.

Today, asylum seeking is probably the biggest entry racket, aided by some Aussies who seem to believe that the Australian taxpayer is required to benefit every claimant for refugee status.  This is in contrast to tradition where the migrant is expected to benefit Australia.  Even border control now awaits God’s Will, since neither side of politics has any policy worthy of note.  In the meantime, what are the issues involved?

To begin with, national borders remain relevant, notwithstanding that national sovereignty has been substantially fractured by the role of the UN, its conventions, and coalitions of saviours (whether or not operating with UN approval) engaged in the War on Terror.

Migrant entry, normally through some form of screening, is intended to benefit the receiving nation.  The post-second world war policy of seeking immigrants commenced with entrants from Britain.  It was extended sequentially to Europe, the Levant, East Asia, then other Asia, and finally became truly global.  Australia’s immigration program is now somewhat substantial.  This sequence of geographical sources reflected the gradation of acceptance from white skin colour to all other colours, and thereby to all cultures, as enabled gradually  by a growing public tolerance.

Family reunion, introduced only a few decades ago when sought by settlers from the Mediterranean, was intended to keep the sponsoring immigrant happy.  Because of continental Europe’s rapid economic development, few family members in the Mediterranean region could be persuaded by family in Australia to use the new program.  Instead, the early beneficiaries were the British;  later the East Asians.  Even if entry is restricted to nuclear family members, there may be little increase in the productive capacity of the nation.  All immigration has cost-offsets;  family reunion can represent a substantial cost.

Refugee entry is also selectiveAs with immigrants, refugees had to be seen to be able to fit into the national ethos.  For instance, rural people were not wanted.  Both categories represent front door entry.

The initial post-war batch of refugees (these were, in the main, real refugees) were Europeans displaced by the war.  I studied and, later, worked with some.  The first girl to befriend me in Australia had come out of a Nazi concentration camp.  A year later, I went out for a while with a lass who had a number etched on her arm, and got to know her family.  A country which had decided to collect immigrants had to take some of the displaced persons.  Australia did very well by taking its share.

The ones I met were middle-class, educated, skilled.  For a few years, in the 1960s, my wife and I entertained one of these, an elderly man.  He had, he said, 2 doctorates, but worked as a clerk in my agency.  I believe that he too was Jewish.  My Holocaust-survivor friends and I never discussed their experiences;  I felt very sorry for them.  My life under the Japanese could not have compared with their plight.  Yet, there was one exception.  In 1948, a Polish ex-serviceman and I talked deep into the night on a few occasions about his experiences as a resistance fighter.  I saw some of the false documents he had used.  Later, I also got to meet a few Czech and Hungarian refugees who had fled the Soviet invasion of their countries in 1956 and 1968 respectively.

(Comment: My work with the then Department of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs for nearly a decade was on all aspects of migrant integration. But I had considerable personal contact with refugees and immigrants before that. We foreigners were attracted to one another. The Europeans had respect for Asian cultures, and were colour-blind (including the women).

Careful selection by officials ensured that all entrants were interested in, and capable of, successful settlement. The record shows the success of this policy; the second generation had     reportedly done better in life than the offspring of the host people. I could believe that.

What I refer to as side door and back door entry policy subsequently changed that.)