Friday, November 27, 2009

Atheist discrimination in the Australian government?

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Next March, the 2010 Global Atheist Convention will take place in Melbourne, Australia, with presenters such as Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion, among others), PZ Myers (of Pharyngula fame), Dan Barker (founder, Freedom From Religion Foundation), and many other high-profile members of the atheist movement. This will be the biggest atheist event in Australian history (cool), with world-class academics swooping in from around the globe to talk about reason, humanism, science, and (of course) godlessness.

Now, naturally, such an impressive event takes a lot of moolah to set up, and therefore the Atheist Foundation of Australia, who are behind the whole event, have approached the government with a request for $270,000, which is actually rather modest in comparison to financial demands made by other conventions. The government neglected to confirm the money, though, and kept dragging its feet for a long time without ever really saying yes or no.

That is, until it flatly refused the funding. Now, okay, that would be quite a sting, but nothing to really get bent out of shape over – after all, times are tough and perhaps the government is just trying to conserve its funds. But then, such an excuse is quickly revealed as bullshit seeing as the Aussie gov’t has happily handed over $2.5 million to the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a religious convention also billed to take place in Melbourne early December ’09?

To put it into perspective: a religious organization was blithely given nearly ten times the funding that was itself refused to the atheist convention. If this doesn’t absolutely reek of hypocrisy, I dunno what does – just check out the government’s silly excuses:

[Atheist Foundation of Australia president David Nicholls] said the State Government, after five months of discussions, informed him on Monday that, as his event was "already secured," the Government would not pay to attract it to Melbourne.

Government spokesman Luke Enright said: "The decision not to fund this event has nothing to do with religious ideology – the convention just doesn't meet the criteria required to receive government funding".

Oh, really? Pray tell, which requirement wasn’t met? The one where it needed to be a religious event, perhaps? I dunno about you, but the only word coming to mind when I read this is “bullshit!”.

Reverend Tim Costello, a patron of the world's religions event, said it was important to support the forum, as "90 per cent of the world is deeply religious".

"In a global context, most of the world is profoundly religious, and there literally can't be peace without religious peace," Mr Costello said.

There’s that word again – “bullshit”. It takes either dishonesty or ignorance (or, considering this is a reverend, probably both) to claim that “90% of the world is deeply religious”. First of all, religious people of any sort, which include anyone with beliefs in a higher power such as deities, make up no more than 80–85%[1] of the world’s population. (It may sound like a small distinction to make between 80–85% and 90%, but then, that does entail a difference of anywhere from 5–10% of the world’s population, or in more practical terms, anywhere from 335 to 670 million[2] people.)

Second, the totality of this 80–85% of the world’s population is in no way “deeply” religious; rather, the vast majority are casually religious: they believe in God or other deities, maybe the pray now and then, but the majority of them likely don’t even attend any places of worship or follow most (if not all) of their sacrosanct rituals. Think of the majority of the people you see every day, in the streets, at your workplace, and so forth: do they look like they’re all “deeply religious” to you? Most of them will probably never even mention their faith at work, or anywhere else, unless the conversation turns to it directly.

All in all, just another sweet little reminder that the government isn’t always as honest and forthcoming as it would like you to believe.

[1] “Nonreligious” people (including atheists, agnostics, humanists, etc.) currently make up about 16% of the world’s population according to

[2] According to 2008 estimates, which place the world population at about 6.7 billion.

(via Pharyngula)