Christmas

The unfortunate stench of desperation

I am not taking any delight in feeling the need to discuss issues arising from the behaviour of some Western Christians … yet again. It’s on the record that I approach life from an atheist perspective. At the same time I continue to respect the right of religious people, including Christians, to observe their faith.

However, in a 21st century secular society some limitations will have to be accepted by Christians. I understand this is difficult for some Christians to process, especially in light of a long line of privileges that have been historically bestowed upon them, some of which are now being challenged by an evolving, modern and increasingly secular society. For example:

  • religious beliefs cannot be equated with, or override, proven observable facts, and social and scientific theories; and
  • freedom of religion must give way when it comes into conflict with the dignity of human beings.

Anchoring yourself to a ‘holy text’ reflecting the morality and intellect of ancient humanity is a personal lifestyle choice, and you have no right to force those values on our modern, secular society.

There are very good reasons why many of the ‘social norms’ espoused by ‘holy texts’ are now considered immoral, and even illegal. To try to hold a 21st century humanity hostage to selective, literal interpretations of such texts, misinterpreted and misrepresented over millennias by a collection of well-meaning fools, self-serving frauds and criminal charlatans, is an intellectual crime against humanity.

It’s not that god’s authority over humanity ended. Such authority never existed.

There is no such thing as ‘god’s law’, and never has been. There were only ever the ‘laws of man’. Laws established and modified in accordance with the parameters of evolving and prevailing cultural and social norms, and the intellectual development of societies.

A secular society does not imply religious persecution, and many people of faith also accept and agree that our government, political system and public service are best separated from the churches, and organised religion.

A secular society doesn’t mean that politicians and public servants can’t be people of faith – but it does mean that while they are acting as representatives of the people and agents of the secular state, their faith must come second to respecting the constitution, laws and social norms of our secular democratic state, especially when their religious teachings conflict with those laws or social norms.

Only public policy and laws guided by common decency, human dignity and fairness, and informed by proven observable facts, and social and scientific theories, will be good public policy and law. Such policies will arguably always satisfy the fundamental principles of all religious beliefs, without importing the uninformed bigotry and prejudices developed and retained by their institutions over the centuries.

The ‘war on Christmas’

This brings me to the ‘war on Christmas,’ which has now become an annual, largely American, evangelical Christian tradition. The ‘war on Christmas’ is an alleged atheist, secular conspiracy against American Christians, designed to remove Christ and Christianity from Christmas, and it is also seen by many of them as part of a larger, organised persecution of American Christians.

This year’s festivities were kicked off early by Joshua Feuerstein, a gun-toting social media evangelical Christian, who insists Starbucks’ new Christmas coffee cups are designed to ‘take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups, that’s why they are just plain red.’

Yes it’s a ‘coffee cup conspiracy’ against Christians, Christ and Christmas …

You may remember Mr Feuerstein from his other recent Christian social media publicity stunt in which he responded to a father who didn’t see a problem with his young son picking up a Little Mermaid doll at the toy store, with a YouTube video in which he swears, waves a gun around while holding his young children and then puts an (unloaded) gun in his young son’s hands and encourages him to pull the trigger.

Of course, this is just the latest skirmish in the long-running lunacy that’s the ‘war on Christmas,’ which comes with the sad stench of desperation.

The reality is that Christmas has a complex history, even in Christianity.

For example, one of the most significant symbols of Christmas, the Christmas tree, is a tradition started in 17th century Germany, derived from the old pagan practice of bringing greenery indoors to decorate in midwinter, and Santa Claus is also a descendent from old pagan concepts of spirits who traveled the sky during the winter.

There was a time when even Christians weren’t so keen on Christmas, and it took hundreds of years for the pagan midwinter festivals to evolve into Christmas. Puritans initially rejected the idea and banned Christmas outright, considering it paganism.

Nevertheless, most people still love Christmas, because it is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with family and friends. In this increasingly fast-paced world of ours, Christmas is a few days of peace, quiet and tranquility which is enjoyed by most, regardless of religious affiliation.

Even a staunch atheist like me can have a Christmas tree up every year – in fact, to everyone’s amusement, this year it has been up for a couple of weeks already. There is nothing wrong with people enjoying this holiday unaffected by Christian belief and ‘disconnected’ from Jesus. Non-believers finding their own joy and meaning in the holiday season should not affect or diminish the enjoyment of the religious aspect of Christmas by Christians.

If it wasn’t for the incessant complaining by some misguided Christians about the ‘war on Christmas,’ perhaps we could all just enjoy this wonderful holiday in peace and quiet.

Mr Feuerstein didn’t end his Christian Christmas feud with Starbucks with the above video. He published another even more appealing video shortly afterwards, which he then promptly deleted after a few hundred views. I can’t imagine why …

Is marriage equality a human rights violation?

Closer to home, marriage equality has become a drawn out war of attrition between a majority consisting of both religious and secular Australians and a religious extremist minority.

The latest salvo fired in this sad and tired war came from the conservative members of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights which recently examined, among other things, a private member’s bill, the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2015, designed to legalise marriage equality. The three Coalition Senators penned a dissenting view in which they suggest legalising marriage equality in Australia would breach human rights.

The Committee itself handed down a report overall supportive of the idea of marriage equality:

… by restricting marriage to between a man and a woman the current Marriage Act appears to directly discriminate against same-sex couples on the basis of sexual orientation.

Many countries have afforded legal recognition to same-sex couples and international jurisprudence has recognised that same-sex couples are just as capable as opposite-sex couples of entering into stable, committed relationships and are in need of legal recognition and protection of their relationship, be it marriage or legally recognised civil partnerships. This change in views is relevant in considering whether there is objective and reasonable justification for treating same-sex couples differently.

The committee has assessed the bill against article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the right to equality and non-discrimination) and is of the view that the bill, in expanding the definition of marriage, promotes the right to equality and non-discrimination.

The committee has assessed the bill against article 18, read in conjunction with articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the right to freedom of religion and the right to equality and non-discrimination) and a number of committee members are of the view that the bill is compatible with the right to freedom of religion, as any limitation on the right to freedom of religion is proportionate to the objective of promoting equality and nondiscrimination.

The committee has assessed the bill against articles 17 and 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 10 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (right to respect for the family) and is of the view that the bill promotes the right to respect for the family by extending the availability of marriage to same-sex couples.

The committee has assessed the bill against the rights in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As the bill is limited to the legal recognition of a relationship between two people, and does not regulate procreation or adoption, the committee is of the view that the rights of the child are not engaged by the bill. In relation to the obligation to consider the best interests of the child, to the extent that the bill engages this right, the committee is of the view that the bill does not limit, and may promote, the obligation to consider the best interests of the child.

So far so good. But enter the conservative, religious grouches of the Committee, the Coalition Senators, who penned a 29 page dissenting report on the matter:

The Committee report makes a number of unsupported findings in regard to the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (the Bill). In particular it finds that the Bill is compatible with, and in some cases promotes, the rights engaged by the relevant human rights treaties. Such conclusions are not merely unsupported by a thorough understanding of the content of the international instruments and the judicial decisions made concerning them; they betray such a degree of ignorance of those instruments and decisions as to render the conclusions unreliable.

Accordingly, we do not agree with the Committee’s finding that the Bill be included in the committee’s report as a ‘Bill not raising human rights concerns.’

The report by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights was a replay of another recent report issued by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, which rejected the idea of a plebiscite or referendum on marriage equality, with the majority recommending Parliament pass the required legislation as a matter of urgency, with conservative members of that Committee also dissenting and issuing their own report disagreeing with the majority recommendations of their own Committee.

These reports offer further evidence that there is a religious conservative minority that will never accept marriage equality. Therefore the only question that remains is, how long should a liberal, secular democracy keep the human rights of its LGBTI community suspended on the whim of an increasingly shrinking minority, whose views on the subject belong to another time?

In the meantime, as part of the United Nations Human Rights Universal Periodic Review of its commitment to human rights, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden have openly called Australia out on falling behind its international peers when it comes to protecting the human rights of LGBTI people, due to its continued denial of marriage equality.

The hypocrisy of religious people in their ongoing homophobic persecution of homosexuality is mind-blowing. What’s even harder to understand is why society quietly acquiescing to their nonsense.

No, it’s not a breach of your human rights when a group of people who were denied their fundamental human rights, for a very long time, are afforded the same rights and protections you have always enjoyed. That’s social justice and progress, both as inherent in humanity as breathing – evidenced by … our entire human history.

Cultures, beliefs, opinions and religions are all mere constructs and temporal in nature. However, there is a constant: we are all born human.

People have rights, constructs do not.

Related stories:
One Million Moms vs Campbell’s Soup
Kim Davis’ media circus rolls on
Kim Davis – the poster child for Christian privilege
Kim Davis’ anti-gay roller coaster ride
The Senate to Parliament: Do your job!
An unhinged Marriage Alliance loses it again
Kim Davis and the ‘authority of god’
Ashley Madison and marriage equality in Australia
The great gay plebiscite and referendum confusion of 2015
The growing fire inside me
‘Welcome’ Marriage Alliance
The hypocrisy of ‘religious freedom’
Bishop Spong serves up a truth train
The great marriage equality freak out
Gays cause [insert natural disaster of your choice] …
Catholic Church ‘warns’ businesses over public support for marriage equality
The Coalition’s marriage equality fiasco
LGBTI human rights and marriage equality

If we choose to protect constructs, whether for cultural or social reasons, the ‘rights’ attaching to such construct should always be secondary to, and be trumped by, the right to equality and freedom from discrimination, hate and persecution based on one’s innate human characteristics, where such characteristics cause harm to no one.

And let’s face it, the only real harm that arises as a consequence of homosexuality is the harm inflicted on the LGBTI community by homophobia and societal exclusion and discrimination.

The great irony here is that the United Nations has been a big advocate for recognising equality for LGBTI people — to use the Charter of Human Rights to try and justify homophobia and bigotry is bizarre and insulting.
Senator Rob Simms

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