Separating fact from fiction

Most of those who invoke the doctrine of the “separation of church and state” in political discourse these days evidence little grasp of it’s actual meaning. It’s become a kind of popular Dawkinsian rallying cry for the “new” atheism. Peter Pelzer (Letters, 20/11) is but the latest of many, with his call for greater financial “separation”. The common idea seems to be that religious faith has no rightful place in public life or policy.

In fact the historic principle of church-state separation has little directly to do either with any person’s belief system or with the modern phenomenon of tax exemptions or deductibility. Rather, it’s about whether a particular religious institution is an organ of the state. Unlike Britain, Australia is not and has never been a country where the state is constitutionally enmeshed with any religious body, to the great relief of Christians and secularists alike.

The Australian taxation system makes special provision for religious bodies, not because of anything they believe, but in recognition of their contribution to the well-being of society generally and the marginalised in particular. The emphasis is on their non-profit charitable status. Anyone objecting to that might try envisioning a health or welfare system without them.

To wit, to who?

I’m trying to decide whether to be more grateful to Greg Craven (Opinion, 4/11) for injecting some balancing wit into current public debate on the merits of theism, or to his respondents (Letters, 5/11) for demonstrating that we Christians are not the only folks who take ourselves too seriously at times. In this AD (After Dawkins) era, when it’s become standard literary fare to laugh off all religious believers as simpletons with “an imaginary friend”, it’s a little bemusing to have non-believers taking offence at the occasional bit of Aussie repartee coming the other way.

Time to lighten up, guys … or we might start praying for you.

It doesn’t work

I’m a film dork, if there’s such a thing. (And if there isn’t, there will be when you’ve met me.) When I’m with a bunch of people who are talking movies, I try to grunt intelligently but my answer to every question is “No, I didn’t actually.” After giving that answer six times, the room knows there’s a cinematic philistine in its midst. (I do occasionally see it on DVD when the world’s moved on, but no one’s asking by then.)

So it was truly out of character that, with a nearly empty evening beckoning, I spent last night in a nearly empty cinema. On the screen was the latest Woody Allen directed flick Whatever Works. It was nearly empty too. I picked it because it was in a timeslot that worked and because I don’t mind some of Woody Allen’s one-liners.

Whatever it was it didn’t quite work for me, but I’m glad I saw it to remind me of the senseless futility of the world viewed through the prism of nihilistic agnosticism. I knew Allen was a bit of a nihilist, penning classic lines like “Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable.” But I’d forgotten just how truly empty and purposeless that world is. From a quick google about Woody Allen, a spiritual drifter from an orthodox Jewish background, he strikes me as a man running from God – and making hard running of it too.

To watch this film is to take a crash course in the brand of ancient gnosticism which, predicated on the ultimate meaninglessness of pretty much everything, advocates the worship of today’s erotic pleasure ahead of yesterday’s covenant.

Will someone please pass me a Bex …