How to become an atheist 2



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Proving yet again that anything can and will happen in America, the University of Miami has announced that the establishment of the first academic Chair “for the study of atheism, humanism and secular ethics.”

They have bold plans for this trail-blazing and innovative new program although I am understandably reluctant to suggest that they are praying for its success. They might think I was being somewhat flippant.

It is being established with a $US2.2 million donation from a wealthy retired Florida businessman, Louis J Appignani who is a prominent atheist. Recently, discussions between the University and Mr Appignani were accelerated – well, he is 83 and, obviously, coming closer to the day when he will meet his Maker, or not as his case might be.

Professor Harvey Siegel from the University’s Philosophy Department who helped get the show up and running has revealed discussions with Mr Appignani began 15 years ago.”There was great reluctance on the part of the university to have an endowed chair with the word ‘atheism’ in the name, and that was a deal-breaker for Lou. He wasn’t going to do it unless it had the word atheism in it,” Professor Siegel said. And, after all, “it” did mean a handy $US2.2 million and no God-fearing tertiary institution is going to refuse that, are they?

Already the University has established a committee of faculty members to conduct a search for the foundation professor. I worry that they will find a true atheist and thus betray the very foundation of the new department – when they have a shortlist will each candidate have to declare, with hand on the Bible, “I swear by Almighty God, that I am an atheist”? What if the successful candidate is later revealed to be an agnostic – a true non-believer of the belief that God doesn’t exist?

Understandably, the new department will not be included in the Department of Religious Studies. If atheism is a religion then bald is a hair colour.

And what will the university do if a student in the new department is caught either asking God for help during an exam paper or, even worse, thanking God for a successful outcome?  In the event of an exam failure, no student could blame God, could they?  Perhaps such a student could quote George Bernard Shaw who observed, “I’m an atheist and I thank God for it.”

Atheism is flourishing in Australia.

In the 2011 census, 22.3% of Australians – 4,796,787 people – said they had “no religion” which was up 3% on the 2006 census. Of course, this could include agnostics, humanists, ignosticists, pantheists and even apatheists who are just too bloody lazy to care one way or the other. Believe me, there are lots of other ways not to believe.

In the 1901 census only 0.4% of Australians said they had no religion so the Godless have made giant strides. In 2010, the Global Atheist Convention was held in Melbourne and more than 2,000 people attended. Tickets sold faster than they would for an Abba reunion.

We have had many openly atheistic or agnostic politicians although many are reluctant to come out of the confessional, as it were.

In 2010, “The Sunday Age” asked all thirty of the first Rudd Ministry about their religious beliefs. Fifteen declined to comment, ten said they were “Christian”, three were “Atheist” while two said they were “Agnostic Christian” which might seem a bit mutually contradictory. Prime Minister Rudd used to make a great show of holding media conferences outside his church after morning service while Prime Minister Gillard was openly atheist. It’s probably a bit of a stretch to describe their mutual loathing as a battle between God and Satan.

When Gough Whitlam was asked if he was ready to meet his Maker when that day came he cheerfully announced that he was although he did wonder if God was ready to meet him. By now, both would know, wouldn’t they? I do hope it wasn’t a case of disappointment all round.

The Australian Federation of Atheists (AFA) is jogging along quite nicely and this year at their AGM, they welcomed Bahar Mohabattalab to their committee. Ms Mohabattalab’s name suggests Arabic ancestry and the AFA said “… her insight into the Muslim community and determination to assist people leaving that religion will be invaluable.”

Leaving the Muslim faith is called apostasy and many devout Muslims believe the penalty should be death but the AFA is hardly in a position to seek God’s protection, are they?

In a very real sense, I feel sorry for atheists because they have no holidays. What do they do at Easter? On Christmas Day?

Fortunately, the Australian Trade Union movement remains wholly Christian. I mean they have to, or be complete hypocrites, because double time penalty rates on Sundays were designed to compensate workers who have been kept from their religious observation.

Bless you all. Here endth the lesson.

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Russell Grenning

Russell Grenning is a Brisbane-based former journalist and retired political adviser who began his career with the ABC in 1968 in Brisbane and subsequently worked on the Brisbane afternoon daily, "The Telegraph" and later as a columnist for "The Courier Mail" and "The Australian". He worked for a string of senior Ministers in the Federal, Victorian and Queensland Governments as well as in senior executive public relations positions, including Assistant Federal Director, Public Relations, for Australia Post, Public Relations Manager for the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Principal Adviser, Corporate Relations, for the Queensland Law Society.

  1. I always thought that it was an imposition on society to have universities run faculties of religion. If they did so, I wondered why they didn’t have faculties of astrology simply to complete the study of nonsense. Both subjects have intrigued humanity for millennia, so I guess it’s a study in human psychology more than anything else. (There’s a faculty for that!)

    Having a faculty to study atheism is perhaps more problematical since atheism is a belief in nothing. But, most of us who are atheists, agnostics or simply non-believers are Humanists (note the big H) so there is something to study that will help progress humankind; secularism and Humanism – the new direction badly needed if religious intolerance isn’t to kill us all off.

  2. Apart from all the other nonsense, it’s not hypocritical to be paid more for days that fewer people are willing to work, whether it’s the weekend, the night shift, or religious holidays (even if it isn’t a holiday you celebrate). It’s just supply and demand.

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