someone else’s post, for whom FB blocked me for 12 hours

Apparently, if we don’t bow down and believe in Gerald’s imaginary jesus, we are worthless and our lives have no value. There is no reason to live without kissing fictional-Rabbi-jewish jesus’ zero-evidence ass. This is the mind-frame of a serial killer or a soldier during a christian Inquisition. Now, since our views and beliefs (that he psychically knows) are that we are not worthless, then we are a living contradiction. Oh, and all of us are Atheists…of course. We will be posting a link to his claims; here is his statement:

Gerald Gravelle: “Lets consider for a second the mere size of the universe as we know it. The inconsequence of your existence in the reality of the known world. If there is no god if there is no afterlife then your existence in itself has no worth. Me you and every living thing on this planet is of no use to the universe. If earth were to cease tonight the universe would know nothing of your demise.

So without hope of anything, without a chance of more than life as you know it, I ask why? Why continue to exist when life or death has no meaning to this universe? You have hope of more, you deny it publicly, but the fact that you strive to survive tells us all that you believe your life has worth, has value. So u tell me if your life has value has worth! What does the universe know of you? If there is nothing more, if all you will ever be ends with your death then we all are truly useless. So if this is the case there is no god there is nothing more than the life you have , why be offended by the words of a man who HOPES for more than can be seen?

If he’s wrong and there is no god than the lives of all of us, not just children, are inconsequential in the enormity of space.

You believe you have worth you believe your life has value, without a god…. You exist for no reason… You my atheist friend contradict your beliefs with every breath.”

The Old Lady

Once upon a time there was a sweet little old woman living in a charming old building in a city full of churches. She was an unassuming old lady, with a love of music, of birds, and of gardens; she was kind to cats and sick possums, and always polite to tired waitresses.
But she had a bunch of truly mean and sneaky friends who just WOULD not leave her alone. No matter how much she dodged the issue, pleaded workload or weariness, lack of talent or failure of inspiration, they never let up the pressure. “Write the book!” they cried. “Tell us a story!”, they begged. “Pull finger!” demanded her daughter (who was herself an arch-procrastinator).
The old lady sighed, and began to look in the employment opportunity pages in the local newspaper with an eye to escaping the pressure by acquiring a job.
Alas, jobs for old women seemed very thin on the ground – no, let us be honest: jobs for old ladies were non-existent. She tried citng her qualifications: “Over-qualified,” cried the employers, or: “Out of date! No relevant experience!” sniffed others. So she tried disguising herself as a younger woman, put on her most fashionable clothes, straightened her aching back, and walked as briskly as she could into an interview room filled with terrifyingly young executives. But the walking stick and the wrinkles on her hands gave her away.
“Be off with you,” cried all the employers. “You have your pension – how can you contemplate taking a job from a deserving young person, you selfish old Boomer, you!”
So, sadly, she returned to contemplation of her wordsmith’s anvil and forge, and sat thinking of the implications of old age – or perhaps, the intimations of inevitable mortality.
It was depressing, but eventually she determined that she’d do as those pesky friends urged her: she would write something. She would write on a topic she knew all too well: growing old, and she would find something positive to say about a process that is usually ignored by everyone below the age of fifty – apparently in the hope that its problems  will all be resolved by the time they reach their own three score and ten – or twenty.

It’s a strange thing, old age, she mused. It creeps slowly up on you, its changes almost imperceptible until one day the face of an old woman looks back at you from your mirror, and you recognise that the aching knees and sagging stomach of which you’ve been complaining are exactly the same symptoms of old age you once recognised in your own mother. Suddenly the once reliable body you took for granted rudely declines to perform all the daily tasks it once achieved with enough energy left over to go out partying in the evening.
The old woman thoughtfully stripped off her clothes, and stood before her mirror: a small,  dumpy figure – definitely shorter now than when she was twenty – stomach sagging and ungainly, crepey skin about the arms and neck, wrinkles on the face that surely, *surely* weren’t there last month? And was that a varicose vein spreading a dark blotch along the side of her knee? Damn! It was not one varicose vein, but three! And that left arch was suspiciously lower than the right – no wonder her feet ached so abominably.
“Bugger!” thought the old woman, hurriedly wrapping a wooly dressing gown round herself, “I really am growing old. How the hell did that happen so fast? Just yesterday, I was only eighteen!”
When she was eighteen, the girl who became the old woman was slim, light on her feet, smooth skinned, bright-eyed and sure of her welcome in a grown-up world. Old age was not something that happened to the people she knew. She swam in the wild west ocean waves, rode large fast horses, drove large fast cars, climbed large, steep rocks, stayed out all night at parties or sat up into the smallest hours with equally bright-eyed friends, talking over the ways they  meant to change the world; then got up, painted on a new face,  and went to work in the morning still bright-eyed and laughing, with all the other bright-eyed, under-slept girls who ate up their lives as if they were an inexhaustible resource.
“Bugger again!” thought the old woman, “If only I’d realised I wasn’t immortal!”
There were so many things she’d never done, and now surely, would never achieve. I’d liked to have seen the Grand Canyon, she thought, or swum on the Great Barrier Reef, or attended opening night at La Scala. Maybe I would have done all those things, if I’d known how fast the next fifty years would spin away down into the past. I’d have gone to Europe when I was twenty, worked my way around England, rubbing ancient brasses in even more ancient churches (back when brasses could still be rubbed) and climbing castle ruins or exploring impossibly grand houses in equally impossibly grand gardens on my days off. Or gone to America, ridden a Burro on a switchback trail down the side of the Canyon, and marvelled as I went at the layers in the rocks,  and read their long, slow history. If I’d had the sense of a wet hen, I’d have studied geology – I always loved it at school, why didn’t I study it properly? Having too much fun being eighteen, bright-eyed and heedless, I suppose. Or I could have followed those other bright-eyed, heedless young girls to Europe, or Africa, and spent a few years living from hand to mouth, and come home home travel-worn, wise and sophisticated, and wearing the latest gear from Carnaby Street. Or, she thought sadly, remembering an old grief,  I could have decided to take the overland route, and disappeared into the wilds of Kashmir like her friend Becca, never to be seen again.
How long ago it seems, and yet how close, she thought. Do we ever really age in our own minds, or are we always eighteen, forever looking for the excitement that life promised us, and never quite delivered? Parties and friends, enemies and calamities, triumphs and failures, candles in wax-encrusted bottles, music and stories and singing folk songs in a smokey dark cellar while drinking – daringly – the ferocious red vin du pays produced by the as-yet-unsophisticated vintners in my home town. Did I really talk about existentialism with a bearded boy and a girl dressed in nothing but a silk curtain? Demonstrate against the Vietnam war by marching down the main street of my city carrying an incredibly heavy placard? Or sing Scottish folk songs while – who was it -ah yes, Ranald – played the guitar? I suppose I must have done, mused the old woman, or else I’d not remember it all so vividly. I certainly drank that execrable wine – how sophisticated we thought we were. I’m damn sure the multiple gold medal winners who made it wouldn’t now care to be reminded of just how terrible it was!
And then there was the music: the lessons, the vocal excercises, the choir practice; scrabbling through Gran’s old sheet music, looking for something old and folksie to sing at the club, and finding The Road to Dundee, and The Four Maries. That was a feather in my bonnet, she thought, and a sweet memory. Singing those two songs in that dank cold cellar, with only the awful coffee or the even more awful wine to wet my throat; but OH! what joy to be applauded by those ferocious critics – my peers!

I’ve had some good times, she thought. Some very good times; and they are my very own to keep, and to treasure. There’ve been  bad ones, too – very bad ones, she thought, her mind shying from the worst of them –  but the good ones – ah! the good ones.

“So how can you tell me you’re lonely…”

It’s a tired old cliche that says “things aren’t always what they seem”, but it’s probably its very accuracy that has made it a cliche! Today, I saw this embodied in a busker playing the flute in the main street of my ultra-upmarket suburb. Here was this huge man, shaven-headed, bearded, tattooed, wearing jeans and a gray T-shirt with the Eureka flag on the front, standing in the entrance to the shopping mall, his backpack on the ground, his flute case open for donations in front of his boot-clad feet. I’d not have blinked had I seen him in the front bar of the rather rough pub further down the road, or straddling a motorcycle roaring up the road in convoy with a hundred others – but there he was, playing the transverse flute perfectly competently, to the accompaniment of one of those portable karaoke things that provides an orchestral backing for a soloist. His music case had quite a haul of gold coins in it – and that’s definitely an accomplishment: this is a hard-headed neighbourhood.

But this part of the city is a curious place  – a  place of sharp contrasts, and none greater than that of the wealthy professional classes, and  the “old money” people whom one thinks of as the typical residents, and the “others” who live on the fringes of the good life the town likes to think of as normal. The residents of the halfway houses and hostels belonging to the mental health services, the all but defeated people who queue at the Centrelink offices, and the many elderly residents who’ve grown old in the houses they built with the fruits of the hard years they worked after they fled the remnants of their homes in shattered Europe are very much a part of it, too.

This is where I live:  one of Adelaide’s “leafy” suburbs – those magically blessed areas between the foothills and the city proper, where the streets are wide and tree-lined, the houses are gracious old mansions with spacious gardens and many trees, and  fashionable cafes, boutiques and antiques shops outnumber all others. My home is a small townhouse built within a huge old heritage listed building on the fringes of all this bounty, and I’m well aware of my good fortune in having such a place to live, in a city where so many people have no home at all. Aware, also, that there are many in this area who begrudge me my home, and distrust and despise most of the others who share this old place with me.
It is deceptive: a fascinating old stone-built building, with lovely gardens and  trees, a desirable address, good amenities, and neighbours in the very top income bracket. But this property belongs to the Housing Trust, the homes are all rented, and the tenants all in that niftily worded “lower socio-economic bracket”. Some of us are not people you’d ordinarily want for next door neighbours – there’s the ex-jailbird, the alcoholic, the mentally challenged man who works in the sheltered workshop, the ailing old man with the very dodgy past, the schizophrenic law student, the family whose father is  just out of prison, the African refugees with the troubled teenage son – and of course,  the “normals” who are either old, sick, disabled or a combination of all three. Not yer usual upwardly mobile young marrieds or your old money professions, I must admit. And there are those in this area who make it quite clear they don’t approve of this little piece of reality embedded within their urban dreamscape.
But we’re not alone – living like little chips of rough-edged grit in the smooth cream sandstone of the district are many of the city’s outcasts and oddballs, made conspicuous by the nature of their surroundings. Lonely people, strange people, different – sometimes dangerous – people: the debris of the city, washed up in the streets of the wealthy, where they hover, not quite a part of the place, but yet not quite alien, because everyone recognises them as a part of the street life.
They drift vaguely on the very edges of our lives – barely acknowledged, but a part of life in the city, even if some of us would rather they’d go and live that life elsewhere. Some are respected as senior members of the community: the ancient Greek man, once tall and strong, and probably quite vilely arrogant if present showing is anything to go by, but slowly fading to a withered shadow of his former self, who walks slowly, slowly up the road to the Italian cafe on the corner. There he orders a single expresso coffee, and sits in the corner reading the Greek language newspaper the cafe proprietors buy in especially for him and his cronies, who on fine days, all foregather at one of the street tables to gossip, and cast scornful glances at the handsome young Italian waiters, or surreptitiously ogle the girls passing by. They are all growing old.
Others, less purposeful than the old Greek, wander the main street: two haggard men, always together: long-haired, gaunt, with prison tattoos on their necks and hands, wander up and down, sit in the sun at the bus stop or in the arcade – the mothers have driven them out of the little park, where the children play.  They are essentially aimless; only  on pension days do they have purpose: there’s a briskness to their walk that’s missing the rest of the week; their destination is the pub on the corner, where they’ll drink until the publican refuses to serve them, or their money runs out.
There’s the sad, lost lady, recognisable to some as a once well-known actress, who walks haltingly up and down the avenue near her home, her face vacant, her luxurious hair now gray and tangled, hanging about her bowed shoulders. Her eyes are quite blank. She dresses always in the same sad-coloured tracksuit, winter and summer, her feet  thrust into broken old sandals; sometimes – I suspect when she’s remembered to take her medication – there is more purpose to her walk, and she will give you a tentative smile if you smile at her first. But she seems to be quite alone: I’ve never seen her in company with anyone else.  Just as lonely is the bitter old woman with the twisted spine, who takes her shopping cart up the same road – no smiles from her: just a grunt, or a snarl if you’re in her way.
A tiny little Italian man – no taller than me, and I don’t top five feet – bustles up and down my street carrying a long hooked piece of wire, with which he rumages round in rubbish bins, collecting empty cans and bottles to take to the recycle depot a mile down the road. He reminds me irresistibly of Geppetto,  from Pinocchio: he has something of the same canny innocence as the lonely old toymaker.
The scavengers must have their own patches marked out, because he never strays onto the territory of the fierce old woman with the shopping trundler who collects on the other side of the road. She can be seen every week, her trundler loaded to the brim, huge striped bags filled with bottles hanging off the sides, manhandling the awkward weight of the trolley down one of the busiest roads in Adelaide – sometimes out in the traffic, as she claims it’s easier than the lumpy broken footpaths. How she’s avoided being hit I have no idea!
Cliche it may be, but things aren’t always what they seem: the city is  a palimpsest; on the face of it the lovely, gracious old colonial town with its pleasant, laid-back lifestyle, its art galleries and its cafes and its parks, but hovering within that pretty picture is the half-life of the shadow people, whom the busy  dwellers in those beautiful mansions know about, but never see – even when their paths cross in the main street. My town – not my hometown: that’s a very different, much harsher place – but I call this one home, now. It’s a beautiful place, but it can be very bleak for those of us less fortunate than others.

Pots and Kettles: or What Makes Us So Sure We’re Superior?

I like the principles of the Humanist Amsterdam Declaration of 2002 (  http://www.iheu.org/adamdecl.htm ); it seems to me to offer a sound ethical base on which to live the personal secular life. Allied to the ideal espoused by Thomas Jefferson, who wrote of a “wall of separation between church and  State” it describes for me the ideal nation state. A place where, with care and thought, both the person of faith, and the rational atheist could co-exist without discrimination or fear. But that presupposes goodwill on both sides, plus a willingness to agree to disagree on matters of faith and reason, to eschew the partisan arguments and point scoring that characterise what, to my perception, has become a battle of knock down, drag out one-upmanship between the adherents of religion, and the proponents of atheism.

Being agnostic myself, I find it all but impossible to empathise with the feelings of outraged hostility that  a declaration of atheism draws forth from even quite moderate-thinking people of religion. But having been raised within the Christian faith, and only with difficulty shaken it off in adulthood, I also find it hard to comprehend the mocking hostility of many atheists towards those who choose to believe. What is the tolerance differential between  persons of faith who proclaim  atheists to be enemies of god, or in league with the devil, and the rational atheists who denounce them as deluded fools, and declare that faith should be supplanted by the excercise of reason? What fatuous self-satisfaction is displayed by both sides of the divide, as the man of faith congratulates himself on sustaining his faith, and the rationalist prides himself on his intellectual superiority to the man of superstition (or woman, as the case may be).

Proponents of the establishment of a fully secular state argue that such a government would not oppress the religious – but rather, that secularism would ensure freedom of worship for those inclined. Which is a fine, high ideal, and probably what most of us have in mind when we push for it, but how reassuring are our arguments to those who see the spectre of religious persecution in the condemnation of their faith by the more outspoken atheists? How do jeers and mockery translate when you’re on the receiving end? It’s usually incumbent on the proposer of a new policy to explain that policy eloquently enough to persuade the opposition that they have nothing to fear; so how well do we do score in that test? Are moderate Christians, Muslims and Jews swayed by the eloquence of those arguing for the separation of powers in Australia, or are they retreating behind the barricades, under the impression that they’re being attacked? It’s my purely subjective impression that many  moderates – often people sympathetic towards the ideals of secularism – either avoid the debate entirely, or feel harassed and insulted by the sudden emergence of a vocal atheist movement  whose public utterances they feel discredits their faith, as it calls in question their intelligence. To point to past persecution of atheists by the Church as excuse or reason for atheist hostility to religion now, can scarcely be a useful response in these circumstance, even if it does reference factual events.

There’s considerable quite realistic apprehension about the spread of ultra-fundamentalist Christianity and Islam – but it should perhaps be regarded not just as the rise of ignorance and bigotry, but as a backlash against the speed with which science and technology have overtaken our world – and the atheism that proclaims science as its only guide and mentor. To many people, fundamentalist faith represents a shield of certainty against a fearful and incomprehensible world. Religion’s been with us since the dimmest, deepest past, as an explanation of  natural phenomena we didn’t have the knowledge to comprehend, and as the shaper and instigator of social change. It serves as a unifying cultural ideal, which being human, we’d defend to the last ditch.  Our religions have served that purpose for millenia – united us, shaped us as we shaped them, formed our cultures and our thinking, until most of us don’t even recognise a religious meme or symbol when we see one. Attempting to tear religion out of our culture would be as futile as trying to tear out our own veins. We can eschew it, abjure it, deny it – but whatever religion has helped form our cultural matrix will remain a part of our lives. It’s hardly surprising then, when secularists talk of abolishing all forms of religious observance from our governments, that Christians feel uneasy and defensive in the face of what seems like an attack on their cherished faith, and the more ignorant and conservative turn to the dogmatic certainties of fundamentalism.

If we, as secularists, hope to separate our state from the church, we need to find a way to do this without igniting the fears of persecution and the desire for martyrdom that lie close to the surface of all Christian teachings. To that end, we need to accept the decisions of those who choose to follow a religious faith, and refrain from mockery and abuse. We are not ourselves persecuted in this country,  there is legal protection of our right to proclaim our atheism. Surely it is not all that difficult to reserve our criticism of religion for the tenets of its faith, and when necessary,  for the corrupt practises of some of its priests, rather than for the ordinary persons practicing it?

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