Model Leadership for Atheists Worldwide, Australia & New Zealand

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Congratulations on the formation of the Secular Coalition of Australia and New Zealand!


In 2012, Dr Meredith Doig and Rod Bower of the Rationalist Society of Australia contacted me about speaking in Australia and New Zealand. Initially, I was uncertain about making such a trip – after all, my book, Attack of the Theocrats: How the Religious Right Harms Us All and What We Can Do About It!, is about a strategic plan to rid American society of theocratic policies. My book is based largely on my experience as an American politician, lobbyist and political organizer. Also, I thought that since I work for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, people really would want Richard Dawkins himself – not me. Finally, I assumed that a secular speaking tour of Australia was redundant because it is perfect – they have no such problems Down Under. Right?

Nevertheless, Meredith Doig – perhaps the single most determined and well-organized volunteer secular activist I have met – kept answering questions and educating me. I continued on with my schedule, speaking and organizing on other issues, but, bit by bit, I came to recognize serious problems of church-state separation in Australia and New Zealand.

So, a trip was planned that led to my meeting a remarkable group of activists with a new focus for Australian and New Zealand secular events (after all, they’d already hosted wonderfully successful conferences). Our focus (I did feel I became at least an honorary Australian and New Zealander) was on public policy and the issues and laws unique to these countries that require a clear, strong secular response.

Written By: Sean Faircloth, RDFRS
continue to source article at secularcoalitionanz.org

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  1. Unfortunately they have just got rid of an atheist PM and installed a staunch Catholic. After the upcoming general election they are likely to be saddled with a fellow traveller of the dreaded Opus Deii.

    • In reply to #1 by Kevin Murrell:

      Unfortunately they have just got rid of an atheist PM and installed a staunch Catholic. After the upcoming general election they are likely to be saddled with a fellow traveller of the dreaded Opus Deii.
      Julia Gillard (Australia) may have been an atheist but she was certainly opposed to gay marriage. Why? Maybe a political deal with the Catholic church who have a strong presence in Australia? New Zealand, ( an independent nation, not part of Australia BTW) has had atheist Prime Ministers since 1999 and have only just passed the gay marriage bill. It’s been interesting to watch views change on this issue over the last thirty years.
      I think that it’s important to be patient and rational, as changing people’s views takes time. I find a lot of the mean, nasty anti-religious comments on sites such as this counter-productive. It seems just another form of tribalism. Satire is fine but it should make people laugh. I stopped visiting this site for a while as I felt that there was such hatred for religious people that in my experience was quite unjustified. After reading some of the comments I felt I was in the company of bullies. Most people I know are just trying to do their best to live a good life, religious or not. I don’t want to hate people for having different views from my own. And I don’t like all members of a group being demonized because of the actions or views of some of them. Just my opinion.

      • In reply to #3 by currerbell:

        I stopped visiting this site for a while as I felt that there was such hatred for religious people …
        I don’t like all members of a group being demonized …

        You need to give some specific examples of this.

        I guarantee you will find with re-reading it is the religious IDEAS that are being attacked, NOT the people. The few commenters who break this rule are normally criticised for it immediately, because ad-hominem’s are one of the first logical fallacies that rationalist learn to recognise.

        I think you are confusing hatred with completely justified anger toward some religious policies and actions. Read Greta Christina’s book “Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless” to get a better understanding of where this anger comes from.

  2. I see the essence of the separation of church and state debate is how much power does a majority have to impose religious notions through the law.

    For example, the majority does have the right to make rape illegal, even if the reason they want such a law is purely to appease Jehovah. The minority accepts the law as making sense secularly too.

    However, would a majority have the right to make blood transfusions illegal, given the only reason is religious? I would say no. However, it might be very hard to stop a majority from abusing its power.

    The religious majority persecutes gays, opposes birth control or opposes abortion of a single cell for purely religious reasons and they have been getting away with it. They are effectively using the law to impose their religious beliefs on others.

    There might be quite a squawk if a religious majority banned religious clothing of other religions, or commanded everyone wear a crucifix, even if this symbolic yoke imposed much less on practical freedom.

  3. Sean, good stuff. What I would like to know is any tips on being an atheist leader, for example the importance of emotional intelligence. I’m a Brit and have just set up a group in Brazil. So, any tips on leadership?

  4. To currerbell:

    I think there should be many approaches to ridding this world of religious superstition (redundant, I know). There are plenty of accommodationists who may use the soft approach. But I am happy that Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and especially the many commenters here take a more “strident” approach against religion. Come on, praying to a “sky daddy” really is ridiculous and not worthy of an adult. Someone has to say it. If not this webpage, who will?

  5. Compared to the USA, Australia and NZ (I currently reside n Australia an have also lived in NZ) might well be less encumbered with religious influence in politics however, particularly in Australia, there is still an unhealthy degree of religious interference. Here is an article in this mornings Sydney Morning Herald
    http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/nile-bill-to-ignite-debate-over-abortion-20130629-2p3y1.html
    Perverse political horse trading, privatise a port in exchange for kow towing to the religious.

  6. The atheist PM catered to the Australian Christian Lobby, a fundamentalist group which doesn’t represent most Christian churches. She funded chaplains in the public schools, funded religious schools and opposed same sex marriage. She apparently has no regard for the separation of religion and state. The fact is that there is no Australian politician with a reasonable chance to be prime minister at this time who seems to have any regard for the separation. With atheists like that in power religious lobbies make out. She apparently leaned over backward to show her atheism was merely personal and would not inform public policy.

    • In reply to #9 by dovidl:

      The atheist PM catered to the Australian Christian Lobby, a fundamentalist group which doesn’t represent most Christian churches. She funded chaplains in the public schools, funded religious schools and opposed same sex marriage. She apparently has no regard for the separation of religion and state….

      Makes you nostalgic for Whitlam, Hawke, Frazer, Keating, even Ming. They had their faults, but at least they weren’t in thrall to Church. That started with Howard, and is likely to continue for some time to come, My impression is that there has been a rise in fundamentalist religion in Australia, with mega churches and Xtian lobby groups. But then, I suppose the fifties were very bad times for religion in politics, with Mannix, Bob Santamaria, the DLP, anti communist witch hunts, the cold war, etc. Maybe I’m just seeing the past through rose coloured glasses.

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