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Daniel survives

By David Palmer - posted Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Before I respond I need to point out, and this is a faith based statement derived from the Bible but in accordance with everyday reality, that whilst our original parents, historical Adam and Eve, were created in the image of God with truly wonderful potentialities, they fell into sin, that is, they rebelled against God’s authority in their lives and chose the path of disobedience, what is called original sin, a contamination spreading throughout the human race and impacting the world we live within. Anyone denying this aspect of human existence is not listening to their radio or reading the papers or more importantly being self critically aware. To say this is not to say that religious persons are inherently better persons than atheists for they as much as the atheist share the same addiction to bad behaviour. However, none of us whether religious or otherwise are as bad as we could be – even the vilest murderer or paedophile can love his mother. We who bear God’s image can do many good things regardless of belief system, but scratch any one of us hard enough.....

The point I want to make on the evidence of what I heard at the Convention is that Atheists are not morally serious. Atheists judge their goodness in terms of their support for human rights, i.e. other people held at a distance. So they support things like the feminist cause, equality for homosexuals, they are against racism, they are for the Palestinians but against Israel, and so on.

But what did they have to say about the issues that touch people closer to home. In the 1960’s we had the cultural revolution which brought with it cohabitation, no fault divorce, freely available abortion, all generally to the disadvantage of women and their children. We live in a society today with multiple broken relationships, failed marriages, children being fought over, boys without fathers modelling what it is to grow into manhood. We have unprecedented crime levels so that we lock doors, install alarm systems, drive children to and from school, install cameras on trains and in shopping malls, every public space covered in graffiti.


Did the Atheist Convention address any of these issues?


Did we hear of the philanthropic interests of Atheists? Well, we did hear of a school for 200 students in Uganda, but that was it. Certainly no Richard Dawkins Atheist Academic Academy.

We heard a lot of bitching about Religious Education in Schools and the legal campaign by atheists to get religious education thrown out of schools. But here’s a thought: why don’t atheists band together and provided volunteers to teach atheism in parallel to those religious education classes entirely run by volunteers. No, that won’t happen because atheists are not morally serious, they are not dealing with the reality of people’s lives. And they would only teach atheism if paid to do so.

Sam Harris gave by far the best talk of the Conference. It was about death – it was insightful, serious but in the end it failed the compassion test, it was not morally serious. His basic point was that we spend wasted time going back over the past and planning for the future when we need to make most of life NOW. I couldn’t agree more.

The question was posed of how to deal with the issue of the grief associated with a person dying. The answer was the personal therapeutic one: we cope personally with grief by “bearing down on the present moment”. That is just so inadequate, so unreflectively self centred.


Is this the best we can offer the grieving, to say nothing of the dying person himself, herself?

In total contrast, arriving home Sunday evening I tuned into the ABC’s Compass programme which dealt with the work of the chaplains at a Sydney hospital.

There he was, a burly tattooed dying man with a chaplain sitting beside him. With the agreement of this man, the Chaplain led him through a prayer of confession and trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, which this dying man insisted on praying. After the prayer the cameras lingered and after a space of time the man said, “that was good”. After a further space of time he said “I’m now ready to die”, words to that effect. I say, thank God for that chaplain!

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About the Author

David Palmer is a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Australia.

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