Do intolerant religious bullies represent an institutional religion?

In mid-2017, one of the Australian States was 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 to 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.

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Denial of freedom for sectarian religious reasons

A minority religious community (a Christian one) has allegedly denied freedom of choice in certain key areas of Australian social policy to fellow citizens not sharing their dogma. With an exaggerated emphasis on the procreative aspects of women, this community’s preferred restrictions in these areas of social policy impinge upon all residents, irrespective of their divergent religious beliefs and associated social values.

How had this minority been able to have its religious dogma-based values over-ride the clear boundary between faith and politics which should apply in a modern democratic Western nation?

Is Western democracy, as practised in Australia, the allegedly superior version of accountable government, now being sold with much vigour to non-Western cultures in Asia and the Pacific, responsible for this unrepresentative and unbalanced outcome? Isn’t Western democracy secular, with diverse communities of believers free to practice, or not, their faith (with all or some of the associated dogma)?

What is the rationale, ethical or legal, for denying members of other Christian sects, or of other religions, or non-believers in institutional religion, or even atheists and agnostics, freedom of choice as to how they live their personal lives, and without interference in the lives of others? Who should decide, and on what criteria, that a right or practice unacceptable to a religious minority should be taboo for all citizens? What can one say about a political process which enables this inequitable outcome?

In a secular society displaying a variety of religio-cultural value systems, should not freedom of choice according to personal conscience be granted to all residents by legislation, and indeed captured by a national bill of rights? How does a Western democracy based upon representative government permit the oppression of alternative values as recently applied in the former Soviet Empire?

My beliefs

My belief in the reality of the world of spirits (human souls) supports what I was taught to believe in my youth, enhanced by my recent understanding of Hinduism. This understanding was obtained late in life through my reading of the Upanishads. These writings represent, to me, the highest level of metaphysics of any religion. A succinct summary of my beliefs follows. I have been reading about religion and society since I was about 24.

At death, I would join the souls of my predecessors (except those who have been reincarnated). After a period of learning in whatever dimension I find myself, I would be reincarnated on Earth. Let me make clear that I was never taught to believe in a spirit domain from which the soul of a former relative or, for that matter, the soul of perhaps a guru, could enter my life and offer me advice. Or that those in this spirit domain might be able to influence the direction of my life at some significant point – as has apparently happened more than once!

Moving on – each Earthly life would involve me paying for the sins of my past lives while being offered opportunities to learn to better myself morally, possibly spiritually. After many, many rebirths, I might be permitted to return to that Ocean of Consciousness from which, it is said, we had originally arisen.

The ultimate objective of this extended process? To improve the stock of human souls? So, is there meaning and purpose in human existence? The above belief would give meaning where none exists for the unbeliever. It would give more meaning than the claim that human existence has meaning but only for each Earthly existence. A concept embodying continuity through lifetimes, of opportunities to move up some moral scale life by life, of exercising free will rather than being carried blindly through time on Earth, is enticing, because it offers a path of purpose, and of hope – with free will.

What need can there be for an authoritarian priesthood with a controlling theology? Were we not born to breathe freely?

Civil law challenged by personal beliefs

Were a doctor or surgeon to believe that, in the light of his knowledge and skills, his patient should receive the treatment or surgery he considers appropriate, could the patient’s wishes be ignored, especially if the latter is unconscious?

In the event that the patient had previously provided the hospital with an Advanced Health Care Directive (AHCD), a legally-binding document signed in sound mind, and had also reminded the relevant medicos of the existence of such a document (as I have each time I was listed for surgery), could the surgeon ignore my right to decide how I am to be treated?

My AHCD says that any procedure requires my consent; and that I am not to be resuscitated if unconscious. That is, to allow nature to take its course.

The issues raised here are:
Who owns the body and mind of the patient?
What of his human rights, since his legal rights may be abrogated?
• What consideration should be given by the medicos to the patient’s quality of life post-treatment?
• What logic underwrites this medico stance to god-like status?
• Should life be prolonged at any cost? Why?

How, in an officially-secular democratic nation, could a medico’s beliefs over-ride the legal rights of a fellow-human? We do need the protection of the law from arbitrary decisions by others.

The unwarranted exercise of power in religion

Acceptance of a variety of religions in our daily life without demur; realising that religious belief is a private affair; knowing that diversity in the form of prayer and the path taken to seek union with the Divine is a core feature of humanity; and accepting that the services provided by priests seeking to guide followers to God is of great value; all these were taught to me by my Hindu family.

We lived in a British colonial territory, with a variety of ethnic communities and their religious commitments. Culturally, there was mutual acceptance. My family’s close friends included Christians of 3 sects.

Hindu priests facilitated our reaching to God. They did not control our lives. It was therefore a significant cultural shock for me to find, from the late 1940s on, in Christian Australia, not only a bitter sectarian divide, but also control of Roman Catholics by their priests. The latter, compared to Hindu priests, lived rather well; but also preached prejudice – through the guise of Catholics being always facing discrimination.

I was offended by those priests and laymen who asked me to join ‘the faith’ for my ‘salvation.’ When I asked my first priest-interlocutor why I, a devout believer in God, needed his Christian salvation, he was silent – then moved away silently. An honest priest! Yet, I have been shouted at by some laymen for not accepting the primacy of the Pope.

Why does a religious organisation, or one of its operational arms, need to be authoritarian, to exercise control over, not only the minds, but also the behaviour of its followers? Such behaviour includes overt discrimination of the kind I experienced in the late 1980s (as recently as that). That was because I did not belong to ‘the faith.’ That was made clear. I took early retirement as a result.

To claim that your beliefs (and theological dogma) are superior to those of others is, to me, tolerable. But does your Earthly ego then require you to denigrate competing faiths? Or, to dominate official policies to favour your theology? Or, worse still, for your followers to discriminate against those of other faiths?

It is not, however, the religion which is at fault in inflicting assumed authority with asserted power over believers; and in seeking to impose sectoral theology-derived social values over the policies of the totality of the nation. It is the behaviour of quite ordinary men, claiming extraordinary power, blinded by their collective egos. Do they need to be reminded that we co-created humans are equal, not only under the law, but also in the eyes of God?

Time to divest authority and power from the practice of guiding fellow humans, while on Earth, to the Divine?

Faulty Vatican logic

The Roman Catholic Church, the largest religious organisation in the world, can be, has been, and is, an influence for good. In the 1980s, during the reign of the Polish Pope, Australia was persuaded to accept, as humanitarian entrants, Poles living within the nation. Elsewhere, those qualifying for this category had to be outside their country of nationality; and to have a genuine fear of discrimination by the authorities. In the 1990s, I met one of these Poles, and he was thankful for his entry into Australia.

During the 1960s and 1970s, through both my work and my extended (and in-depth) voluntary contribution to my trade union, I acquired quite a number of ‘micks’ (Irish Catholics) as my drinking mates. These included 2 Kennedys and 3 O’Briens. The Catholic-controlled union awarded me a Meritorious Service Award in the early 1980s.

All the above is to establish that, as a metaphysical Hindu, I accept all the major religions as equal in their potential. Their adherents all pray to the same God, do they not? (However, could I expect reciprocity of tolerance?)

Moving on: I can understand the Vatican denying contraception and other practices related to the ‘netherlands’ of women. I can also understand the Vatican’s desire to increase its followers through these restrictive practices.

However, through imposing, via government policies, these edicts on contraception, abortion, and voluntary euthanasia over the whole population (especially when the Roman Catholics are a small proportion of the total population), the so-called ‘prods & masons’ will also increase in number. Any difference will reflect the number of children produced per family. In the 1960s and 1970s I was told by my Catholic colleagues that Catholic priests demanded (as was then their reported wont) that each Catholic family produce a minimum of 4 offspring.

There is also the faulty logic of the Catholic Church competing with other faiths. Why seek political power over other faiths? Is this Church saving souls through the moral guidance of its followers, or is its primary role to assert control over the diverse paths to out Creator? To what end? All Earthly benefits expire at death, do they not?

Like all of one’s co-created fellow-humans, each of us will surely ‘wing’ our way to the Afterlife (Heaven, if you wish) at death, untrammelled by the weight of transient wealth, pomp, and Earthly power.

‘Mainstreaming’ vs. a parallel service in assisting immigrant integration

 

My new team was of genuine migrant origin, both born overseas. They had arrived in their teens without any knowledge of the English language and were now fluent. They also had tertiary qualifications. One, a Greek, had work experience in the State government; the other, a Polish-Jew, had private sector and political experience.

Our job was to be a conduit between the Federal government and the migrant communities; the latter would be more adequately aware of the government’s policies to help migrants settle more successfully into the community. More importantly, the communities would be better able to inform the government of any unmet settlement assistance needs, especially in obtaining access to services, including government services. These services would include immigration, welfare, legal, health, and so on. Improved access to services was the call.

To enhance this access, the Federal Government had already established a telephone interpreter service, a translation unit, (to translate documents of relevance to the immigrant’s settlement), migrant resource centres (MRCs), and schemes of grants. MRCs were small shop fronts offering meeting rooms for the local ethnic communities, and information, counselling and advice in some of the languages predominating in the district. Essentially, they were advisory centres for migrants, with all the attendant benefits flowing from that. I was to be involved with all these services later as Director of Policy.

The grants-in-aid scheme or GIA enabled a community to employ a welfare worker to service those of its members who needed advice, in their own language, on what services were available and how to access them. Another grants scheme subsidised one-off projects relating to settlement issues, including research. Mainstream, i.e. Anglo-Celt, organisations were eligible. The project subsidy scheme was a sort of slush fund or grease to quieten or sweeten those who went public about some poor ethnic group or other being in need about something or other!

There were lots of caring people suddenly coming out of the woodwork. Some projects, on the other hand, were of genuine value and reasonably desirable, even if not necessary, reflecting the views of very sincere people.

When I arrived upon this scene, there had already been a substantial public debate about the provision of settlement services by ethnic communities through public funding. The predominant issue was whether taxpayer-funded plural service structures would result and, if so, whether this would be detrimental to a cohesive nation. The underlying question was, and still is, why service providers at any level of government, or even in the private sector should not ensure that their services are uniformly accessible to those in need of such services. This was the concept of mainstreaming.

If such access required the provision of interpreters and translators, and public relations and information campaigns to reach their non-English-speaking constituency, the service delivery agencies, whether public or private, had an obligation to do so. And many did move along that track. However, the Federal government decided to embark on the funding of ethnic-controlled access mechanisms (it was mindful of the ethnic vote); and, in the early Eighties, it decided to establish in Sydney and Melbourne small but high-powered, high-profile ethnic-staffed units to liaise with the leaders of the local ethnic communities.

In the process, we would obviously come to know not only the hot spots of need, but also the hot spots of unrest. My team’s focus initially was on communities we knew little about, and whose needs might be great but who did not know how to express these needs. But we did also pay our respects to the major communities through their power brokers.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out,’ written in 1995/6, and based on my experiences in the 1980s, might today raise such questions such as: Was this policy the beginning of a political approach by government to offer a degree of empowerment to the major ethnic communities, who were led mainly by second generation Aussies? How would this impact on the integration of immigrants into a cohesive nation?

As well, had service providers, whether public or private, actually been deficient in the extent, or quality, of delivery?

In this context, some members of the media, and a few junior academics of ethnic descent, had to be told persistently that there can be no second or third generation immigrants (or refugees). When accepted, the entrant became a first generation Australian, the descendants would be second and successive generation Aussies.

There also arose the issue of defining ethnicity. I asked the ‘Bulletin magazine’ whether the following person is an ethnic and, if so, how he is to be defined: Malaysian by birth, Ceylon Tamil by ancestry, Hindu by culture, and Australian by citizenship. That’s me! Readers, especially academics, were silent.)