Christian church leaders, elders, and others have been in damage control since the census figures came out last week showing Christianity falling to 44 per cent and no religion rising to 39 per cent.
They sounded like a whole lot of executives and apologists for the tobacco industry hiding the truth with propaganda, fuzzing the facts to deny that lung cancer was the inevitable consequence of the product. Except this time, it was child abuse and abuse of authority, not lung cancer.
Just as people have woken up to the harm of tobacco, so, too, they are waking up to the harm of organised religion. And the consumption of both have plummeted.
All of the hand-wringing about the need for religions to acknowledge that they have done terrible things and to reform to attract people back to religion, is a misguided waste of time. The product is as flawed as tobacco.
You cannot suck in the nicotine and get a feel-good without a price. It is a con. You cannot suck in religion, follow the leaders, and pay the organisers a tithe in return for everlasting life. It is a con.
Yes, religious people do a lot of good works, but, they could do them despite their religion not because of it.
There is an enormous Catch-22 here which goes back to the Reformation. Martin Luther and others correctly railed against the hypocrisy and veniality of the 16th century Catholic Church. They protested against the idea that rich people could pay for good works to be done in their name and for masses to be said for them and that that would guarantee them a place for them in heaven.
They protested against the nepotism and opulence of the 16 th century church.
Luther and the Protestants rejected the need for a priest and/or a saint (defined by the church) to intercede for them in order to gain salvation. A human and conscience stood alone.
But Luther also said that, as there is an all-good and all-powerful God, there are no good works except those which God has commanded. So, under his religious precepts, the good works are not even human-generated. They are pre-ordained by God.
The Protestants then tangled themselves up logically. Human experience told them that they needed people to exercise their free will to do good works (especially within the organised religion which could hardly survive without them). But if they taught that God is all good and all powerful then that God must determine what happens, not the free will that organised religion wants people to exercise to choose their religion and to choose to do good works within it for its greater glory, propagation and survival.
Faced with that contradiction they retreated into the slogan of “God works in mysterious ways”, telling followers not to try to apply reason and common sense to something which does not bear the scrutiny of reason and common sense.
The “mysterious ways” nonsense has people praying to the all-powerful, all-good God to relieve them from the suffering of Covid, gun deaths in the US and the wars in Ukraine and elsewhere. But that would be the same all-powerful god that permitted the virus, guns and war in the first place.
“Mysterious ways” and “God’s will” excuse humans from not acting to cure the ills of society, which they should do because it is the morally right thing to do, not because a religion ordains it.
God does not work in mysterious ways because he (and of course an all-powerful alpha male has to be a he) does not exist except as a human construct.
It has taken a while, but 40 per cent of Australians – and everywhere else in Europe and the Anglosphere outside the US – which was founded by religiously predisposed people fleeing persecution – have called Christianity out for the con-trick it is. That number is growing. Muslims and Hindus cannot be far behind.
The census shows that an inexorably rising percentage of people no longer accept the very dubious trade off of submitting to temporal religious authority and giving large sums of money to it in return for ever-lasting life after death.
Kerry Packer’s approach to life might have been found wanting but his approach to death was not. He said after a heart attack left him clinically dead for six minutes in 1990, “I’ve been to the other side, mate, and there’s nothing there.”
Death and taxes may be inevitable, but the afterlife is not.
Where do we go from here? Well, not putting filters or sweeteners on the flawed product would be a start. Then we should wind back all the special privileges religion has in our society, especially government funding of religious schools.
That began in 1962 when the government ordered an over-crowded Catholic school to build more toilets. The Bishop of Goulburn’s response was to close six Catholic schools and inundate the state schools.
He made a point, but the Government’s response was wrong. It gave the bishop money to build toilets. It should have just built more government schools.
Now we have the obscene position of private, mainly religious, schools wallowing money they do not need for education while state schools are starved, resulting in an overall lowering of educational standards because too much government education money is wasted on swimming pools, concert halls and chapels. (The government money is not allowed to be spent directly on those things, but it frees up money for the schools to spend on those things.)
The tax concessions for religions should be curtailed. Only identifiable charitable things should attract concessions. And the propagation of religion should not be one.
Church people have been calling for reform of churches in the wake of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the calls have increased since the census figures came out revealing so many people think that religion is beyond reform.
Besides, Christianity had one crack at reform in the 16 th century and that did not work out too well – often going up in flames.
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 5 July 2022.