Girl Tuesday raises the issue of freedom of religious belief.
Girl Tuesday raises the issue of freedom of religious belief. gregorydean

Show some mercy to the non-believers: Opinion

I WAS raised in a Catholic family, but I have to confess (pun intended) that my bulldust meter was clanging from an early age.

I was a precocious six when I questioned the veracity of Jonah being swallowed by a whale, only to emerge unscathed three days later (Sister, how could he breathe? Sister, what did he eat and drink?). Rather than teach the concept of allegory, the ironically named Sisters of Mercy insisted, between relatively harsh punishments for questioning the word of God, that the story was real.

Fast forward a few years and I sit happily with my atheism. I expect no reward after I cark it; instead I do what I believe to be the right thing because, well, it's the right thing.

My primary schoolmates and I shared a common belief then that the "Publics" (those who attended a state school) were godless creatures and destined for Hell because most of us were unfamiliar with religions other than Judaism (and Jews, we were told, were responsible for killing Jesus). Tolerance, let alone acceptance, was not taught; it was Catholicism or eternal damnation.

I've since experienced many other brands of god-bothering. I have Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist friends. I even have acquaintances who speak in tongues. For those who don't, those "tongues" are not ancient languages bestowed on the faithful; rather, they are what I would describe as ululation, a yodel-like vocalisation often used by many cultures to signify joy and celebration. There's nothing wrong with that, but speaking in tongues doesn't involve being blessed with a miraculous knowledge. It's more the cliched war cry of the television western Native American.

The drive of religious zealots to proselytise came under public scrutiny last week when an American missionary, John Chau, was killed by a remote tribe he was determined to drag kicking and screaming into his faith. No matter that contact with the world could have spelled death for the people he sought to "save"; something as simple as the common cold could have wiped them all out as it is believed the Stone Age Sentinelese would have no resistance to disease.

The ultimate arrogance ... potentially wiping out an entire civilisation who mind their own business and have existed virtually unchanged for thousands of years so their souls will progress to a better place.

And then we have Tony Abbott, special envoy for indigenous affairs, questioning why an acknowledgment of country was read out at a recent hospital opening, rather than a Christian prayer. Because, Tony, one is referencing an historical fact.

The other, not so much. And, according to the Constitution, here in Australia there must be a separation of church and state.