‘Dear God. Save us from those who would believe in you.’ Not long after the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11 last year, those words were sprayed on a wall in New York. Knowing what provoked them, I sense fear of religion in them. Their wit does not dilute the fear, nor does it render its expression less unsettling. To the contrary, it makes the fear more poignant and its justification more evident.
Enough people have been murdered and tortured over the centuries in the name of religion for anyone to have good reason to fear it. Is it, therefore, yet another example of the hyperbole that overwhelmed common sense and sober judgment after September 11 to sense something new in the fear expressed in that graffiti? In part, I think it is. But the thought that makes the fear seem relatively (rather than absolutely) novel is this: perhaps the horrors of religion are not corruptions of religion, but inseparable from it. To put it less strongly, but strongly enough: though there is much in religion that condemns evils committed in its name, none of it has the authority to show that fanatics who murder and torture and dispossess people of their lands necessarily practise false religion or that they believe in false gods. At best (this thought continues), religion is a mixed bag of treasures and horrors.... (read more)
Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt is renowned as the woman who defeated David Irving in court after he sued her for describing him as a Holocaust denier. Her portrayal by Rachel Weisz in the film Denial (2016) ensured that Lipstadt and her landmark victory achieved even wider celebrity ...... (read more)
The link between fundamentalist religion, violence, and madness is well established. The conviction of absolute truth becomes especially toxic when believers are convinced that the end of the world is nigh. This is exacerbated in times of major socio-economic change and political instability, such as during the Protestant Reformation ...... (read more)
Barney Zwartz reviews In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, homosexuality, hypocrisy by Frédéric Martel
Almost from the day Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis in 2013, he began denouncing fake devotees, whited sepulchres, and hypocrites at the Vatican. His targets, as Frédéric Martel makes clear, are the high-ranking clergy who vehemently condemn homosexuality while themselves often ...... (read more)
Paul Collins reviews 'The Fountain of Public Prosperity: Evangelical Christians in Australian History 1740–1914' by Stuart Piggin and Robert D. Linder
Mythology, Manning Clark regularly assured us, was our ‘great comforter’ because it explained creation, evil, and our place in the world. According to Clark, three ‘mythologies’ were dominant in the formation of non-Indigenous Australia: Protestantism, Catholicism, and the Enlightenment ...... (read more)
David Rolph reviews 'Religious Freedom and the Australian Constitution: Origins and future' by Luke Beck
The role of religion in public life in Australia has become a prominent issue again as a consequence of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. Significant opposition to the passage of marriage equality in 2017 was due to the mobilisation of many faiths and denominations. The centrality of religion in the marriage equality debate is best demonstrated by the title of the legislation amending the ...
The Bible in Australia is an unpretentious title for a remarkable book, and yet it is accurate enough. The Bible has been an ever-present aspect of life in Australia for 230 years, but no one has ever thought through its profound importance before. By starting her argument in a place both strange and obvious, Meredith ...... (read more)
Like it or lump it, Catholicism is enormously influential in Australia. This is true even just in terms of raw statistics. The Catholic Church is the largest religious body in the country, with 22.6% of the population self-reporting as Catholic in the 2016 Census. It is also Australia’s largest non-government employer ...... (read more)
In December 2015, Israel’s Ministry of Education banned Dorit Rabinyan’s prize-winning novel All the Rivers from the high school curriculum on the grounds that the story of a romance between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man ‘threatens separate identity and promotes intermarriage’. Far-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett backed the decision ...... (read more)
Morag Fraser reviews 'Martin Luther: Rebel in an age of upheaval' by Heinz Schilling, translated by Rona Johnston
Australia’s politicians may be too mired in power skirmishes to notice that 31 October 2017 marked the five-hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther’s trumpet blast of the Reformation: the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses, his ‘Disputation on the Power of Indulgences’, on the bulletin board of a castle church in the ...... (read more)