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Is religious belief ever 'child abuse'?

Roslyn Ross is a recent addition to Webdiary's columnists and already, with Sometimes rules were made to be broken and Time to ‘tell it like it is’ for the sake of Aboriginal culture she has shown - not gratuitously or thoughtlessly - a taste for the controversial. I should disclose that before publishing the below the Webdiary team discussed it, but in the end there was no dissent to publish. Even though I fundamentally disagree with Roslyn on this one, I would encourage people to read this twice, and to be careful not to caricature the position. Thanks Roslyn. Hamish Alcorn.

by Roslyn Ross

The Government may have acted quickly last year to quash any backbench discussion about banning headscarves from public schools but it is an issue that needs to be discussed in depth, not only for the sake of the children involved, but for the sake of our society in general.

It seems we are quite happy to force kids to ‘cover up’ for their own good but reluctant to force them to ‘uncover’ for their own good. And there are reasons why headscarves and ‘cover-up’ clothing are not necessarily good for young girls. Studies show higher rates of Vitamin D deficiency in women and girls who are kept covered and that’s before we get into the area of emotional and psychological health.

The fact that it is only girls who are treated this way makes it quite clear that it has more to do with misogyny than any real spirituality. Muslim boys can have bare heads and bare arms and bare legs; boys can feel the sun on their skin; boys can run free with uncovered legs... But not girls.

This is hardly fair in the land of the ‘fair go.’ I can accept an adult woman may choose to dress in this way but I believe that society has an obligation to protect young children from being forced into anything that may be detrimental to their physical, emotional or psychological health.

Little girls are being forced to dress in a way that can only serve to prevent them from feeling free and a part of the society around them. How much fun do you think it is to be covered up like this in the middle of a hot Australian summer? Not much I suspect, and yet we are prepared to go along with it completely ignoring the fact that schools have rules about uniforms that we demand everyone else follows.

Schools have uniforms for a reason. The word says it all - uniform. The goal is to unify, to create a sense of cohesion, belonging to community as opposed to the individual, all of which is believed to help young children grow to be functional citizens. Allowing some children to remain ‘apart’ from the school community, for whatever reason, is fraught with potential problems. Not only do these girls not have the rights of their non-Muslim friends, they don’t even have the same rights as their Muslim brothers.

Most schools have some sort of regulations in regard to what students can and cannot wear. Length of skirt, cleanliness of clothes, colour of hair and jewellery are frequently regulated or banned. So what is the issue with banning headscarves? Or Jewish caps, Sikh turbans and crosses and all the other religious regalia that has no place in the schoolyard, as the French so sensibly decided.

But it is a religious belief, says the argument, as if this is justification. We’re selective about what we justify though. Polygamy, involving adults, is a religious belief too but we ban that. So is female genital mutilation but we ban that. There are lots of religious beliefs that we ban in society in general and discourage in schools in particular. There’s something very unhealthy about allowing little girls to be singled out in this way and we are ignoring that salient fact.

The Prophet directed that both men and women should be modestly dressed but his followers unfortunately took the original teachings and embellished and adapted them to cultural mores and the tradition of the chador, burga or headscarf is no more than cultural tradition emanating from backward patriarchal societies.

That’s not to say the beliefs did not draw upon a long history of associating the head and hair with the spiritual and religious. The ancient Greeks offered their hair to river gods on attaining manhood, and warriors pledged their locks for victory. Virginal maidens also had to choose between the sacrifice of their hair and their chastity, both being equivalent in the eyes of the deity. Because hair was widely regarded as possessing the essential power of oneself, its offering was indeed frequently substituted for the sacrifice of one's personal power, even for one's life itself.

Those accused of witchcraft, and most of them were women, were sometimes compelled to have their entire body shaved because it was believed that the power of evil was concentrated in their hair. To remove the hair on the head would be to weaken the power of the individual to focus evil, whilst removing body hair was a safeguard against a more ubiquitous evil that might cling to the form which first attracted it. Perhaps the female propensity to depilation has more to do with such unconscious beliefs, both in women and in men, than anything else.

It is not surprising therefore that patriarchal societies retained this actual or symbolic ‘sacrifice’ for women in a bid to deny them their own ‘power.’

The tradition of women covering their heads can be found in all patriarchal religions. In Corinthians I 11:3-10,16, St. Paul's views on the veil come across strongly: “Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonours her head - it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil... That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels... If anyone is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God.”

So, women have been wearing the veil to show submission to authority, to God and men! The veil was supposed to be a sign of modesty and chastity. Even in the Old Testament, removing the veil was seen as a way to humiliate a woman, punish adulteresses etc. (Numbers 5:12-18, Isaiah 3:16-17, Song of Solomon 5:7). Some Christian sects such as the Amish and Mennonites insist on females being veiled to this day, as a way of being modest and chaste and as a symbol of the woman's subjection to man and to God.

In times past, times that we would consider less enlightened, a woman could not enter a Christian church without covering her head; she would have to be ‘purified’ after giving birth, that miraculous and precious state considered to be unclean by a patriarchal society that feared, if not hated the feminine; she would not be allowed to enter a church while menstruating and would have to undergo a ‘cleansing’ ritual before she could return.

A woman’s hair was thought to represent passion, abandonment, sexuality... all of the things that patriarchy and its religions sought to control if not punish and we can only be grateful that the modern, developed world, has moved on and left, in the main, such unpleasant beliefs and habits behind. Although, in many Catholic countries, women will still cover their heads before entering a church.

Still today, in some Jewish sects, women are forced to shave their heads and wear wigs. In ancient times, Jewish women would go out in public in a full veil as well, as a bare head was considered “nudity” and the woman could be fined a serious amount (Numbers 5:18, Isaiah 3:17, II Maccabees 4:6, Sus. 32). A man could even divorce his wife if she was found bareheaded in public.

In India the veil still holds sway, but then Hinduism teaches that women are inferior to men. Sanskrit literature is replete with instances where women have to wear veils. It is not surprising, as the laws of Manu clearly state that the status of women is completely dependent on the man. Hindu women are still prevented from entering a temple while menstruating and in orthodox Hindu and Buddhist religion, the presence of a woman is still seen as ‘polluting’ to a priest.

It’s all very unpleasant really and smells of patriarchal prejudice however it manifests; even in something so seemingly simple as girls wearing headscarves. Put on a headscarf for a week and make sure you buy synthetic, because that’s what most of them are made of, and make sure you wear it in the middle of summer, oh, and make sure you have your arms and legs covered and then go out and play sport and then make up your mind as to whether or not this amounts to a form of abuse.

Because the fact is, it is not just about little girls wearing a headscarf, it is about discrimination and prejudice inflicted on children who have no way of defending themselves. We discriminate when it suits us as to what ‘religious’ beliefs we will allow in our society so there are precedents well and truly set upon which we can make a decision to ban headscarves in the best interests of the children involved.

And that’s because it is not just about a simple headscarf; it is about an attitude, a belief in the inferiority of women; a belief in the evil of the feminine; a belief that women (and girls) must be controlled. In Islamic societies women who do not adhere to the rules are likely to have acid thrown in their face. Islam, Political Islam and Women in the Middle East.

The Iranian writer and women’s rights activist, Azam Kamguian, says the control of children, particularly girls, in Islamic culture, amounts to child abuse.

In a strictly Muslim society like Iran for instance, religious teaching regarding women is one of the most devastating aspects of the Islamic educational system in Iran, she says.

This teaches children that women are inferior to and equal to only half of a man, that women belong to men, that men have the right to punish their wives if they do not obey them and that women are the potential source of corruption in society so hijab should be imposed on them.

They are taught that the veil is the legitimate physical border of a woman's existence in society to protect men and the community from any possible moral and social danger and destruction they may cause.

According to Islamic values, which are the basis of laws in Iran, women are accused of being the source of corrupting the community and the agent of leading men astray. For this ‘crime’ they are controlled and punished from early childhood to the moment of death.

Girl pupils are under enormous pressure in school as well as in the society. The veil (hijab) is imposed on them by force. This deprives them of free movement, the ability to play and happiness and enjoyment in social activities.

Kamguian says that putting the veil on the heads and bodies of little girls and adolescents has a devastating impact on their minds and lives. Imagine how more traumatic it must be when the society at large is as radically different as Australia.

Putting the veil on the heads of children and adolescents who have not come of age should be prohibited by law’’, she continues, “because it is the imposition of certain clothing of the child by the followers of a certain religious sect. In order to defend the civil rights of the child and this imposition should be prohibited by law. The child has no religion, tradition and prejudices. She has not joined any religious sect. She is a new human being who by accident and irrespective of her will has been born into a family with a specific religion, tradition, and prejudices. It is indeed the task of society to neutralize the negative effects of this blind lottery.

Society, says Kamguian, who grew up in such an environment, is duty-bound to provide fair and equal living conditions for children, their growth and development and their active participation in social life.

No nine-year-old girl chooses to be married, sexually mutilated, serve as housemaid and cook for the male members of the family, and be deprived of exercise, education, and play. The child grows up in the family and society according to established customs, traditions and regulations, and automatically learns to accept these ideas and customs as the norms of life. It is not their choice and indeed to speak of the child herself choosing the Islamic veil by is a ridiculous joke.

One can only add, how many little girls in Australia would choose to be wrapped up in this way, beyond the novelty of ‘being like mum’ for maybe a week.

Society, says Azam Kamguian, is duty-bound to defend the rights of children.

We should demand that standards which have turned into norms as a result of the enlightenment and just struggles of numerous human beings in the West be rules and norms in education in countries under Islamic rule.

As a woman, lucky enough to grow up in freedom I can only say ‘hear, hear’ to that and wish to see the same for all girls no matter what religious beliefs their parents may choose to hold.

Children have a right to be protected and society has an obligation to guard the rights and well-being of children. This issue is about much more than a headscarf; it is about the sort of attitudes we want to encourage in our society and the rights of those who have no power to defend themselves.


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Many chuckles here

Hey all,

What a collection of vague accusations and simple rubbish some have put on this thread.

Firstly I think Geoff should just admit everything on behalf of the Jewish population. That way at least the accusers may shut up for a while! They'll be so busy celebrating and writing to their mates, should they have such.

For Deb, oh ye of little faith! I call on the heavens to open and swallow all us non believers. Has it happened yet? Perhaps I need a different incantation.

For Bryan, if you don't think there is brainwashing in religious upbringing you are a fool. Of course not all children are so trained in religion but many are. Simply having parents around is in itself a blatant form of brainwashing. It's nature and we just hope that parents use that power wisely.

Have you seen that clip of Afghani children reading their books, swaying to and fro as they do? What do you call that? And don't tell me Christian religions are different. Reading the Bible without explaining to children that it is an account of a man and his beliefs written by men (not a God) a couple of hundred years after he died is much the same. And about a man who lived 2 thousand years ago. And that the same Bible they have been given has been altered countless times. Etc,

Children are given Bibles and told this is "the truth". What do you call that?

As to your statement of non believers taking "it on faith". Get a grip mate; you are one of those with blind faith, not the non believers. At least admit the truth to yourself mate.

More generally, religion is a protection, but so is having an independent mind. To me that is much preferable than being asked to believe in something no one can prove. Religion is a false protection and one that every child should examine once they are able to make their own life.

On the issue that Roslyn actually wrote about, most of those ancient beliefs are simply that: ancient beliefs and customs developed by people (men, actually) with little knowledge of the world and nature. Even today we don't know that much but we have progressed somewhat on basic science.

These beliefs have little relevance in today's world except for those that want to control the behaviour of others under the guise of religion.

For Jay S, you may be right about other countries having female PMs' etc before Australia but I would point out we have certainly had some old women in that role. No offence to old women!

Gender neutral?

Will, "It" is gender neutral.

Looking the chaos, hatred and mayhem that exists in our current world, to imagine that it was made by an 'IT' perhaps makes it more comprehensible to those looking for someone or something to blame!

Hope this helps.


Bryan, could I be prayer-free too, please, please?

You made the statement to Deb that: “I suspect the biggest problem you have with religion is faith in things unseen and unknowable”.

Bryan, this may come as a shock but most intelligent, educated people have problems accepting things unseen and unknowable!

Resilience & religion

Craig R, thank you for going to the effort to look for those studies. I didn’t get very far myself as I didn’t spend much time on it, PubMed is the only database I am familiar with, and I don’t have the skills to evaluate methodology. I did find the following abstracts which might be of interest to you though – three looking at religion/spirituality and resilience, but only one which looked specifically at youth. I don’t know if they separated out sufficiently the effects of faith itself from connectedness to a faith-based group. I’m not even sure that would be possible.

Stress-related responses after 3 years of exposure to terror in Israel: are ideological-religious factors associated with resilience?

Religious faith and spirituality in substance abuse recovery: determining the mental health benefits.

Adult burn patients: the role of religion in recovery. (Case reports)

The impact of adolescent spirituality on depressive symptoms and health risk behaviours

Interesting to hear about your black uniforms too. A few days ago I sat in traffic behind a very well-cared-for, very black ute adorned with some gruesome-looking stickers of a skull wearing an army helmet. I found myself wondering whether the young man driving and “wearing” that vehicle was as aggressive as it looked or whether he just felt he needed the externals to be able to face the world confidently.

He’s quite a way from little Fatima’s headscarf, but it’s all fascinating.


Further to my comment about gene technology being the way to save mankind from itself, I suggest the introduction of wombat genes to human embryos.

That would surely make us more warm, cuddly, passive and tolerant, less egocentric, aggressive and depraved.

Fiona: Daniel, are you talking about real wombats here, or those of the Muddle-Headed persuasion?

Gene Therapy

Humans already have the gene, Daniel, it’s called a double x chromosome. The problem is that not enough humans with these traits make it to positions of leadership.

That can't be!

Jay S, I have a Y chromosome, and I also have Wombat genes (fat and dopey) so you can't be right about XX. There must be a more complicated genetic relationship than male and female alone.

Take a Very Deep Breath, David. You Will Need It

David Candy:

"My point is if we wish to rip head coverings from Muslim girls then we need to rip them from the head of Jewish and Christian girls as well. Also head coverings of Jewish boys. I wouldn't object though to ripping baseball caps off anyone...

So my point is any person stupid enough to rip headgear of Jewish boys will contend with organised Jewish objection everywhere. Try and you'll see I'm right.

Yet if only Muslims are done, the Jews in the US and Australia will not speak up, based on their recent form. It seems genocide or marginalisation is only wrong for some semites, not all semites."

Well, I don't have to try it to see what the response would be. It has already been tried. Jewish and Christian support for Muslims girls who want to wear headscarves to school. And baseball caps for Jewish boys.

You really have covered the field in a few days, haven't you? Money pouring, political pressuring, Western Jews. Jews controlling US foreign policy. US Ambassadors meeting US Jews about Iran. Extreme Jewish sects apparently mistreating women and teaching the Muslims how to do it. Fraudulently claiming an article written by a Jewish writer and a program broadcast by the ABC as authority for all of this. Politically well organised Jews (what's the "monolith"?). Talk about the "Semitic race". False, implicit, snide allegations of hypocrisy.

And now what? Marginalisation of Muslims? Genocide? Where? Who by? The Jews?

All this in what was supposed to be a discussion about whether kids should be allowed to wear religious garb to school. Give me a break.

How about posting one more comment, David? The hole you have dug is definitely deep enough. One more shovelful and you will have buried yourself forever.

The failure of religion.

Surely any objective examination of the last 6,000 bloody years of human history would clearly demonstrate that religion has totally failed to pacify the human beast. Not only has it failed but, on many occasions, it has instigated wars, massacres, invasions, torture (the Spanish Inquisition), burnings, etc.

Likewise, examination of the role of education in the last two hundred years would show a similar result. We humans can now kill each other more quickly and in larger numbers but are still filled with blood lust (eg, America will attack Iran soon) and some of us regularly carry out rape, torture, incest, genocide, murder, etc much as we have always done.

Religion and education have both failed dismally because humans, basically, are still primitive beasts.

The only realistic way to change human nature is to modify our genes.


Look what religion did to Chopper Reid.

Faith promotes resilience?

Perhaps the psychologists amongst us could comment on the studies of resilience in adolescents which I understand have identified religious faith and/or connection with a faith community as a "protective factor".

Craig R Ed.: Interesting. I'll look into it Robyn. The connection with community - whether a community of faith or not - most certainly is a protective factor.

Connections, divisions and uniforms

Robyn, I can confirm that there is a wealth of research demonstrating that connectedness is an important protective factor for youth. It has also been found that, in addition to connectedness with parents, young people benefit from a connectedness to a community of adults outside their immediate environment. Membership of a faith-based organisation, in as much as one is a community, has been identified in studies as a contributing to the protective factor that is connectedness.

What I've not found (yet) is anything looking into the relative efficacy or effectiveness of membership of faith-based vs other types of organisation. I'll keep looking.

The general idea though, that connectedness supported by group member is a protective factor, raises an interesting angle on the issue Roslyn has raised. In one sense, wearing or not wearing certain items to show membership of a group could be seen as demonstrative of a connectedness to a community and in that way could be seen as something supporting the individual's sense of connectedness. On the other hand, the purpose of a uniform (whether it's religious garb, secular school uniform, expensive suit or certain sneakers) is to distinguish the group that wears that uniform from the broader community. It signals membership of a certain group and it signals disconnectedness from other groups.

I've been intrigued for some time with the psychology of uniforms. Over the years Philip Zimbardo and his famous Prison experiment has been mentioned numerous times by 'diarists. So I'd like to draw attention to some other studies.

When I was just seven years old I joined a junior rugby club - The Bulls. I could have joined another club in the district, but I remember being most keen to join the Bulls because they had an all black uniform (the Tigers' home ground was closer to my home, but their uniform was brown and gold - same as my school uniform at that time, and I loathed those colours).

As I was entering my teens I took up track and field and joined a club with a predominately black uniform. Same with the basketball team I played with aged about fourteen or fifteen. Then in my late teens, when it came to finding a seniors’ athletics club, I went to the one with an all black uniform. (That's not to say I was always representing teams with black uniforms. As a member of a representative school team I wore the school colours - green and gold - and I did play second row for those brown and gold Tigers for a few seasons in the end).

Why all this personal history of my uniform wearing? Well, it is because of that history that this study sticks in my memory: Frank, M. G., & Gilovich, T. (1988). The dark side of self and social perception: Black uniforms and aggression in professional sports. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 74-85. (download .pdf)

Frank and Gilovich's study highlights how teams that wear black uniforms tend to receive harsher treatment from umpires, referees, etc, and in certain circumstances individuals who don a black uniform actually play more aggressively than rivals in non-black uniform. Their concluding line:

"...the present investigation makes it clear that in certain contexts at least, some people become the bad guys because they wear black."

One other study I recall (Johnson R. D., & Downing, L. L. (1979). Deindividuation and valence of cues: Effects on prosocial and antisocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1532-8.) varied the manipulation of anonymity developed by Zimbardo.

In this Zimbardo-like experiment participants were made anonymous (and thus deindividuated) by means of mask and overalls reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan outfits or by means of nurses' uniforms. Compared to the control group (participants wearing no uniform), the participants were more often nasty when wearing KKK gear and nearly always nice when dressed as nurses.

So when I was a bad boy in my black uniform I might actually have been a good guy for sending opponents to the nice nurses!

Point being - perhaps we need to re-examine the whole gamut of uniforms people wear and ask how this affects our perceptions of self and other.

Accentuate the positives

I don't think anyone would deny that religion can have a positive impact on people, particularly the young, but it would be hard to make an argument that this is because of the clothing that is worn as opposed to the beliefs they are taught.

There were many wonderful aspects to christianity in the years when it was believed that God taught black people were inferior and it was right to have them as slaves; when it was believed that God said women should be beholden to their husbands and obey; when it was believed that women's brains were not capable of absorbing religious teaching as men could ..... I could go on.

The point is not whether religion can have positive effect, the point is where religion is practised in a way which amounts to misogyny (as christianity once did and as fundamental religions of all kinds still do) or child abuse.

Playing catch up

India elected its first female prime minister within twenty years of gaining independence. Sri Lanka has had two. Even Pakistan, a Muslim nation, elected a woman head of state in 1988. Australia has had a hundred years of women's suffrage. Isn’t it time we caught up? Even the Kiwis are ahead.

Women as leaders

Jay S, in the countries which you cite as having had female leaders the culture is both patriarchal and tribal. The women were elected not because people believed that women were as capable as men, but because the women had a winning card .... their fathers, or husbands, and their lineage.

They were elected in spite of being women and would have had a snowball's chance in hell of being elected if they had not had the right men in their family.

Australia is behind in respect to women leaders, as are the Americans and probably for similar reasons .... we are still, inherently patriarchal societies, far more than the Scandinavians or it seems, the New Zealanders.

A female PM?

Jay S, does it especially matter what sex the PM is? Gender equality should mean that the only reason we should elect MPs is simply due to merit, not gender.

Female MPs, I would hazard a guess, see themselves as representatives of their electorates first, representatives of their party second, and female somewhere around tenth or eleventh. Same with male MPs. Should this not be so?

So why is there an issue if we haven't had a female PM?

By the by, this is an interesting point - when a female head of government became a real possibility (1980's onwards), there have been few opportunities for a female to become PM - we have only had three in the past two and a half decades. So there hasn't been a huge chance for anyone becoming PM, really.

And also - in that time we have seen the self destruction of just about every single possible female candidate - just think about Bronwyn Bishop and Carmen Lawrence. Jenny Macklin is simply a stopgap (both electorally and factionally), and Julia Gillard had the mark of death put on her by Mark Latham, ensuring that her career implosion is imminent. And the only real contender on the Liberal side would be Helen Coonan, except that she is a senator, making it almost impossible to become PM. So there isn't a great chance of us having a female PM soon, either. But as I have said above, that doesn't really matter, I guess.

Australia is not sexist - yeah right

The probability that gender is not a factor in the selection of Prime Ministers, Stuart, is 0.000000029802.

Disparity of representation

Jay S, it only matters what sex the PM is in terms of the disparity in political representation which is revealed by the lack of women given that women in all societies, except those which practice female foeticide (or abortion of girls) generally make up more than half of the population.

If there were true gender equality, which we know there is not, our political representatives would be pretty much half male and half female with a tendency toward the female and our leaders would have been equally represented by females.

It is remarkable only because of the lack of women in political life, particularly at leadership levels, although the Scandinavians seem to have done best on this front.

We have come out of a strongly patriarchal world and the prejudices and bigotry are still with us. We still live in a largely patriarchal world and I suspect many women would say that the glass ceiling is as solid as ever.

The structures of both the Liberal and Labour party are man-made and favour men; ditto the corporate world. That's a fact. A woman not only has to be twice as good as a man to get anywhere, she has to be damn lucky as well.

The female political figures that Stuart cites as evidence of the inability of women to rise and remain, or their tendency to implode, is also, I suggest, evidence of the system which seeks to bring women down in a way that is rarely directed at men.

Take a closer look at the women in question and then trawl through some of the dark deeds done by male political figures and then tell me if you think the system is equally hard on men as it is on women.

Evidence would suggest that the tall poppy we most dislike, for whatever reason, is the one with a woman's face.

It is brainwashing

I think that all forms of religious instruction to young children should be regarded as brainwashing.

Parents do not have a right to fill a young child's head with religious dogma, fear and prejudicial views which only serve to "close" their young minds to sound and mature reasoning later. Every parent can instill moral values in children, letting them know right from wrong and know community values without any religious instruction/education.

If an adult cannot get through their life without the crutch of religion to lean on for comfort, then that is their choice and their faith. The same responsible adult should wait until their children are of an age when they have skills in sound reasoning and judgement before putting issues of all religious faiths and no religion before the child. They should allow the child the freedom to make the same choice in religion that they have had themselves.

Why not wait until the time that weighty subjects such as sex education are  discussed?

The reason that most parents of faith should honestly acknowledge is that they deliberately set out to indoctrinate the child before they have a chance at reasoned response. They want to "get in first" so that their child is a living and thinking carbon copy of themselves, with the same blind and unquestioning beliefs.

Parents have rights

Deb, your position is understandable but parents do have rights in terms of how they bring their children up.

What you call brainwashing is what they call love, concern, and taking responsibility for the spiritual and moral welfare of their children. At best that is exactly what it is; at worst it is brainwashing.

Many people turn to religion out of fear, either conscious or unconscious, and the greater the fear the more important it becomes to not just believe but to have others believe because that reaffirms your rightness and your security.

People do genuinely believe in hell and eternal damnation and it is sincere fear for their children which makes them demand religious affiliation. They believe they are helping and, often, that they are saving their children from a terrible fate.

One may disagree with such positions but I think it is important to respect the fact that most people act out of concern and love, however dysfunctional the results may be.

It is a reality that great evil can come out of acts defined as “good”, but then great good can come out of what others might define as “evil.” Some of those who have grown up in the most religious and most dysfunctional of family environments have grown up questioning and seeking and have, in the doing, brought great wisdom to the world.

Bugger, I've been caught out.

Deb, you've caught me. When my son Joseph was born, I started worrying immediately that he would develop an independent mind sufficient to see through my flaws and foibles. Luckily I noticed that at birth he had no personality or intelligence of his own.

"Let's disable him with superstition immediately", I thought to myself. After all, the great thinkers all agree that humans are the only measure of the universe, and nothing of greatness, awe and mystery exists. If it can't be measured or described in an academic paper from some westerner, it doesn't really matter.

Isn't that what Einstein meant when he said of the uncertainty principle that "God doesn't play dice with the Universe"? Or was he the sort of selfish mental pygmy that would countenance religious faith?

My wife and I chose Catholicism for our son at church, and paganism at home - and it's worked. He is an automaton doing only those things we've licensed him for. ha ha ha (evil laugh).

If you really believe that claptrap ... I'll pray for you.

I'll pray that you become illuminated to the mysteries of life that encourage and allow us to become ever more powerful and loving in our relationships with family, friends, community, nature, the cosmos and mind of God.

To agree with Roslyn's article, I'd first need convincing of the "superiority" of western culture. The atom bomb doesn't do it for me. Television (content) indicates a certain superficial barbarism. As for materialism, we're drowning in it.

If that's what you want, you can have it, but will you please take it outside to alleviate the stink?

Bryan, don't pray for me

Bryan, no need to waste your prayers on me. I'm already in wonderment at the miracle of the universe. I also know that the source of the wonder is evolution, not creation. I am not shackled by myth and fear.

Albert Einstein was not religious either:

 "I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religion than it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

"I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own -- a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism."

"I do not believe in the immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it."

"If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for a reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed."

- Albert Einstein, German-born American physicist

Regarding your  Mickey Mouse Fan Club, query to Mike Lyvers,  it isn't widely known, but apparently Walt Disney was not religious

Walter "Walt" Disney, American cartoonist, showman, and film producer (1901-1966).
I had one report that Disney was non-religious. Apparently, he was not a member of any religion and did not attend services. Also, he apparently had an entirely secular funeral. It was "very private" and off-limits to the press, perhaps to conceal it was not religious. There is no "In God we Trust" on Disney Dollars!

Fiona: Hi Deb, can you give sources for these two quotations?

OK. Consider yourself prayer-free

Deb, I'd never put my prayers where they weren't welcome.

You say that you aren't shackled by myth and fear, and yet you seem to me enslaved to a view of God as both supernatural and superhuman.

I'm entirely comfortable with Einstein's views of God and the Universe, and my own conception of God changes as I grow older and gather more experience. For me, God is in everything, and of everything, in an expanding universe playing through the big bang cycles of becoming. Vishnu breathing.

I suspect the biggest problem you have with religion is faith in things unseen and unknowable. Just relax, everything'll be OK.

One thing I do know is that I don't want you constraining the life choices of my family, any more than you'd want me to return the favour.

Religious or secular, I'm sure we all agree that the children of God are entitled to undertake their own journey to the heart of love and reason.

just who is enslaved?

Bryan, why would I give supernatural and superhuman status to something that does not exist? You must have read me wrong, I do not view god in any way, I do not view god at all (nor do you), god only exists in the minds of some people. There is no supernatural and the only superhumans are us - evolutionary products of the marvellous engineering of nature.

I don't need a faith in the unseen or unknown; I live in the here and now. I do not need to feel that someone is looking after me, keeping me safe and comforting me when I feel lost and afraid - of whom or what? Myself?

Religious or secular, I'm sure we all agree that the children of God are entitled to undertake their own journey to the heart of love and reason.

“…their own journey, or the journey that their parents have already mapped out for them?”

Are you saying that it's only people who believe in your god who know love and reason? That's funny; you might have noticed that it's the religious who are bent on the destruction of peace and goodwill to others, all in the name of god of course! And reason? Well, how much reasoned thinking and evaluation of evidence is there in a belief in mystical people in the air around us? I hope you also believe in the fairies at the bottom of the garden and giant, flying pigs, as there's no evidence to prove otherwise. You may as well believe in it all, not just a selective unseen and unknown.

It's a Mystery

Deb, it’s the God you deny, the God you seem to continue to think I believe in, that’s got the characteristics I describe. I suspect that has to do with bad ideas someone tried to force on you sometime.

Plenty of my friends have had this experience (so have I), and some of us have never gotten over it (in our 50s now). Some have gotten over it, and that’s what I’d like to focus on.

Children are resilient, intelligent, and curious. They look out on, and go into, the world every day. You can serve all children by acknowledging them, paying attention to them, and affirming their ability to do good things. Making petty rules (like headscarves) more important than values... well, I think it’s a poor choice.

I’m not exclusive, in fact I’m common as muck. We are all children of God, whether you believe it or not. I assume that everyone on Earth is on a journey to the heart of love and reason. The social condition suggests that many have lost their way.

Finally, you ridicule the unseen and unknowable by pretending to live in the here and now. Surely you’ve noticed that mystery surrounds us all the time. Mind interacts with matter and energy in a way which is as much “art” as “science”.

There does seem to be a unified external reality. I suspect you take this on faith, just as I believe the nature of God is love.

Materialism sucks, really!

No mystery, the scientific evidence is overwhelming

No, Bryan, I have managed to work out for myself by way of rational thought that there is no god. No-one except the religious nuts that knock on my door when I'm trying to relax, have tried to force any ideas on to me. The friends that I know who have a belief in god are given respect for their views by me and they know of and respect mine. We all work well together, socialise together and have no problems.

Giving young children a religious education (of any faith) early in life is, I think, a poor choice. Let their minds be free and unhampered of adult myths, guilts and fears until they have the emotional and physical maturity to decide for themselves. Let your faith come to them when they are ready for it, don't force it on them and indoctrinate them into your religious dogma by stealth because they are too young and gullible to know any different.

I am not a materialistic person, I live in the here and now but I do not need to collect houses, cars, money and other items to feel secure in myself.

Paranormal phenomena have a habit of going away whenever they are tested under rigorous conditions. This is why the $1,000,000 reward of James Randi, offered to anyone who can demonstrate a paranormal effect under proper scientific controls is safe.

Scientific beliefs are supported by evidence, and they get results. Myths and faiths are not and do not.

“...when two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong.” (Richard Dawkins)

Simply said, Bryan, I think you're wrong!

Dawkins wrote an open letter to his 10 year old daughter, explaining religion and science:

Good And Bad Reasons For Believing

Where's the proof?

The science proving a unified external reality is to be found.... where? Or do we just take that on faith?

The Einstein & Disney link

Yes, Fiona, quotes are from:


Fiona: Thanks, Deb.

Einstein and religion

Einstein was not religious, Bryan. He defined "God" as "the sum total of all laws of physics." So his statements referring to "God" must be understood in that context. He did not follow any religion.

"Western culture" was the first to invent the atomic bomb, a dubious achievement but definitely "superior" in comparison to, say, scimitars as weapons.

Einstein and "God"

Actually, Einstein had a lot to say about "God". Certainly no atheist.

different god

Wikipedia has this to say: "Others - for example Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein - considered God to be essentially the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe."

That is a far different concept from the anthropomorphic deities of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

An Anthropomorphic "God"? Where? Show Me Him.

I cannot speak for Muslims. But I know quite a few religious Jews and Christians who certainly do not have an anthropomorphic concept of "God". In fact I do not know any who do. There is nothing new about this. Maimonides (1134-1204) certainly did not hold such a concept. It is hardly surprising that Einstein did not either. In fact it would have been shocking if he had. My guess is Maimonides would have regarded such a thing as idolatry.

The literal meaning of scripture and the grand old myths is one thing. In my experience religious belief is something else entirely.

Different experiences

Our experiences are different. All the Christians I have known did indeed express a belief in an anthropomorphic God, though they, of course, insist that it is the other way around, ie., "man was created in God's image."

I believe in Spinoza's God

Mike, I posted the following quote from Einstein in the Garden of Eden thread last week:

"I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings."

Re: Spinoza's God

But doesn't Spinoza's determinism raise its own problems for any religious doctrine: if God "reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists" and doesn't concern himself "with fates and actions of human beings" are we humans outside the "orderly harmony?" If all's determined, where does that leave free will? or choice?

Maybe God has set up "rules" to run the universe, but She's left some room for contingency, chance, choice, etc. In other words perhaps She's not a micromanager.

God the hermaphrodite?

Will, you refer to god as "She" while others refer to god as "He". If god has to be personified then wouldn't it be more likely that god was/is a hermaphrodite? Just thought I'd throw that one in for the hell of it.


Be very careful about throwing things in "just for the hell of it", Phil.

An anthropomorphic male God is one thing. An anthropomorphic female satan is something else.

You have been warned.

She-devil? But of course!

Ah, Geoff, you are indeed a wise man. Be afraid, be very afraid!

Can't wait to read your analysis of John Knox's First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women!

Have It Your Way

OK OK. A woman anthropomorphic God and the traditional bloke Satan is fine by me.

It's the hermaphrodite God that I have an issue with.


God the non-gender-specific?

Phil, the hermaphroditic god would probably be closest to the representations of the Buddha, in which s/he has both male and female attributes. (Experts on Buddhism please correct me if that's wrong).

Anyway I use "she" and "he" alternately because I don't know a gender-neutral term.

I heard a Biblical scholar on Radio National last year talking about the earliest scriptures having reference (and undoubtedly reverence) to a female counterpart to Yahweh ("God"). The female God was part of the original Hebrew scriptures, according to this scholar.

As good as it gets for the moment

Bryan, if you read what I wrote you would see that what I am saying is that Western society is deeply flawed, but as good as it gets for the moment. And, because it is the most modern, most developed, and most civilised (although not truly civilised or not as civilised as one would wish to be as I also said), it offers at this time the greatest opportunity for the most people to live free and fulfilling lives.

Having spent more than ten years living in four Third World countries and having visited even more, I can say that the optimum quality of life for the greatest number of people exists in the West, in the modern world.

That is because it is here that the greatest levels of gender equality have been reached (some places like Scandinavia more so than others); the greatest tolerance of religious belief has been reached; the greatest tolerance for the mentally and physically disabled has been reached (don't look for wheelchair ramps in India even when they can afford to put them in because the mentally and physically disabled are still objects of shame); the greatest tolerance for sexual differentiation has been reached; the greatest capacity for a community consciousness (this means being able to care about what happens to people even when they are not a part of your family, tribe, religion or community) has been reached; the greatest consciousness of responsibility  as a community to the poor, the disabled,  the old and the dysfunctional has been reached and the highest levels of Government accountability in terms of providing education, health care and safety nets for the citizens.

It may not be perfect and I agree with you in regard to the bomb and television content but life, as we live it, is still as good as it gets in this day and age. Which is why everyone else wants to live that way too.

That was my point. Just as one could have found much to condemn in 19th century Europe it was still, in terms of its capacity to provide a quality of life, superior to what you would find in poorer, less developed societies.

Religion, secularism, and humanism

Deb, you cannot disassociate religion from the world, because secularism and humanism are as much religions as Christianity and Islam. Their precepts (created through a couple of thousand years of human thought, revision, rejection, recognition, etc) are based on essentially the same basis as religions, or at least come to the same conclusion - this way is right, the rest is wrong.

Don't you understand - forcing me to remove the possibility of preaching of my faith to others is imposing your system of belief on me, just as harshly as you accuse me of imposing mine on others. But since you believe yours to be correct, mine to be superstition, you either don't accept or ignore that intrinsic flaw.

“Parents do not have a right to fill a young child's head with secular and humanist dogma, fear and prejudicial views which only serve to ‘close’ their young minds to sound and mature reasoning later. Every parent can instil religious values in children, letting them know right from wrong and know community values without any secular/humanist instruction/education.” If you don't get the joke with this changed quote, it makes it even funnier still.

only the religious want to impose their views on others

Stuart, there's a difference between allowing people to make up their own minds after presentation of all supporting arguments, facts and evidence, and preaching at, or trying to brainwash with your own subjective, imposed views to a captive audience. The only one forcing views upon others is you - why do you feel a need to convert everybody around you to your own belief system, are you so insecure in your faith?

Nonsense, Stuart!

Stuart, you're not making sense here. Neither secularism nor humanism mean "forcing" anyone to believe or disbelieve anything they want. "Forcing" certain beliefs (ie through the threat of death in, say, Iran or Saudi Arabia) is seen only in highly religious societies.

Loyalty Oaths

Mike, are you saying the Loyalty Oaths of 1950s USA, during McCarthyism, were "voluntary".

Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Mickey Mouse fan club?

Illiberal policy

That policy was illiberal, to say the least, and thus clearly inconsistent with liberal secular humanism.

No, I was never a fan of the mouse.

Roslyn, I beg to differ

Roslyn, I beg to differ on a couple of your points. Years ago religion was open in having influence in government, now it is more subtle but just as strong, if not stronger. Its control, comes through corporate ownership, through schools and political parties. Approx 75% of federal education funds goes to religious schools, the majority of employment and welfare funds is controlled by religious organisations. In the US, we have the religious right in the white house and controlling foreign policy and domestic funding. Most of our politicians are active members of religion and we have a group of major politicians, that gather each week to pray and formulate policy.

I don't believe that prayers should be said in our governments nor at public events, unless they are specifically religious events. As to necessary, we can see around the world the growing factional fighting that is associated with monotheistic religion, sadly it's becoming a problem here. We were the most secular country, but I think the next couple of years may show how controlled we are.

I agree that we can't stop children from being brainwashed by any ideology in the home. But why should something so violent and destructive be taught in schools, as some form of good way to live and believe. Considering its history and current approach in the world, isn't that hypocritical and very confusing for the young, they do wacth tv.

“Religion at its best, and that means all of them, offers great comfort to many people and also brings much good into the world.” I would be interested to see the evidence of what good it has brought to the world, and what comfort it's brought to the millions that have had their lifestyles, beleifs and lives destroyed by the monotheistic, spreading the word of their factions by instilling the fear of god in people.

Spirituality is very different to religion. Religion is a control, by any method and at any cost, ideology. Spirituality can be seen in every life form, even insects have a form of spirituality. It has nothing to do with the belief in a god. To give you an example, in the wild we see how the fittest survive, predators always cull their food mostly from those that are sick, old or injured. They rarely kill for the sake of killing unless cornered and threatened. If you look at places where both predators and flee animals gather for water and it's scarce, they will all drink together in harmony. There is never a killing spree.

This was also the approach of animists and those that have a concern for life. Yet with the spread of monotheistic religion, we have seen the wholesale slaughter of life throughout the planet for gross self satisfaction. The enslavement of animals as well as growing extinctions caused by monotheistic societies, believing they have only to be accountable to God after their death for whatever they do, and will be forgiven if they repent. That to me is not the sign of a spiritual person, or society, but the sign of a barbaric ideology that forsakes all but themselves.

I respect all that show by their way of life, concern for all existence, and not those that espouse to love and caring via a failed and very suspect ideology, yet show no compassion in their application in how they treat the life form's and ecology of this planet.

Until monotheistic religion is expressed in a way that gives verifiable proof of its purported ideology. Then, I see it as despotic, destructive and an excuse to be irresponsible. I fail to see how we can raise children in a caring way by exposing them to a dangerous psychological and physically violent ideology, then telling them that it's good. I see that, as a society that's very psychologically unstable.

The rise of religion in the US

Alga, my comments were in regard to Australia. You are making a comparison with the United States and that is a very different matter. As the most religious of all the developed nations, and the one most inclined to a conservative if not fundamental style of religiosity, the US has seen religion move into the political arena intrusively, and one could argue dangerously, in recent years.

Australia has seen some voices raised in this respect and John Howard seems happy to milk this cow of public opinion along with others. But Australia is probably the most secular of all of the developed nations and therefore at the opposite end of the spectrum to the US and unlikely to follow too closely in its path.

Saying that, however, I would qualify, that we do live in more conservative and cautious times. We live in a time of fear, whether it is about interest rates, bird flu, terrorists or ecological destruction, and that colours how people see the world and impacts upon their attitudes and decision making.

Interestingly, while recent polls show a majority of Australians support the Howard Government for economic reasons, they pretty much oppose it on most other things. There's strong evidence that Australians have become more liberal not less.

I agree with you in terms of keeping prayers away from government and public events. These are traditions we have inherited from more religious times.

You said:  "But why should something so violent and destructive be taught in schools, as some form of good way to live and believe."

Because what they are teaching is the good part of it in the main. But teaching all religions as a subject, historically and anthropologically would make sense.

You said: "I would be interested to see the evidence of what good it has brought to the world..."

Historically religions have been major players in charity work and that continues today, the Salvation Army being a classic example and that is just one of many. The movement to abolish slavery was sourced in people who were responding from a strong basis of religious belief. It was not and is not all bad.

You said: "...what comfort it's brought to the millions that have had their lifestyles, beliefs and lives destroyed by the monotheistic, spreading the word of their factions by instilling the fear of god in people."

Well, this is very true but it is the worst of it. There is a best of it and an even bigger middle bit of it.

You said: "Spirituality is very different to religion. Religion is a control, by any method and at any cost, ideology. Spirituality can be seen in every life form, even insects have a form of spirituality. It has nothing to do with the belief in a god."

I agree absolutely.

You said: "To give you an example, in the wild we see how the fittest survive, predators always cull their food mostly from those that are sick, old or injured. They rarely kill for the sake of killing unless cornered and threatened. If you look at places where both predators and flee animals gather for water and it's scarce, they will all drink together in harmony. There is never a killing spree."

Interestingly, and don't quote me on this, I think the only exceptions are amongst monkeys.... primates like us.

You said: "This was also the approach of animists and those that have a concern for life. Yet with the spread of monotheistic religion, we have seen the wholesale slaughter of life throughout the planet for gross self satisfaction."

Yes, I do agree in the main. Religions have lost their spirituality in the strangulating web of rules and regulations. As if any God worth bothering about could truly care what we eat, wear, drink or even if we pray when the only thing which matters is what is in our hearts and minds and how we act toward our Self and others.

But that's a lot harder than sticking to the rules which is probably why the rules have been so popular. If you do what you are told then you don't have to take responsibility.

Child abuse

I suspect that fifty years from now society will consider our current practice of incarcerating children for several hours a day barbaric and inhumane.

When my then primary school children came home from school, I would ask them what they had done that day. Invariably, they would talk about their morning or lunch break. The time in class was a vague blur.

Seriously, Roslyn, I think that Muslim girls already have enough troubles of their own without our help.


Seriously Jay S, the point is we have a responsibility to offer help to children in need no matter how may troubles they already have. The point is to seek to lessen those troubles. Choosing to do nothing because you perceive they have enough problems already hardly seems to make sense.

And I doubt that the education system per se will be considered inhumane fifty years from now, although no doubt some of the ways in which it is practised will. One can see that from the changes which have taken place over the past fifty years.

The fact is children like to learn and are happy to spend all day and most of the night doing so. Education is no more than learning. The art is to get the practice of education right because the need for it goes without saying.

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