The article by Jonny Scaramanga (NI 483) reminded me of my own past and why I became an atheist. My mother, as a child, idly picked a leaf from a hedge to suck. When she reported the ‘theft’ in confession the priest, instead of saying that it was okay, told her to say five Hail Marys, a prayer for him and put a penny in the box! She then received absolution. She had also as a child watched her little sister die on the floor with a choking fit while their mother said: ‘’tis God’s will’ and continued to fondle her rosary.
My sister was told that men were dirty, filthy creatures. She never married and died a virgin.
I have often wondered why, if they were telling the truth about our Maker, it was necessary to threaten everlasting burning as a punishment for non-belief, putting the fear of God into us.
I support Thomas Paine who wrote: ‘All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind and monopolize power and profit.’
I proudly profess my atheism even to Jehovah’s Witnesses to save them the trouble of coming down my driveway. They don’t seem to mind, so I continue my gardening, being careful not to disturb the fairies.
‘Worshippers of the Almighty Invisible Hand’ (NI 483) highlighted the need for the struggle to separate church from state to be repeated in the modern context. In the 21st century, our struggle has to be to separate corporation from state, as well as, of course, to eliminate the vast wealth disparities across the globe, and to hugely reduce humanity’s greenhouse-gas emissions.
Free speech and offence
He asks: ‘Since when have people been justified in... attacking someone else’s beliefs and value systems and thinking that they can do this with impunity?’
Well, at least since 1948, when the United Nations agreed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of which states:
‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’
If by ‘impunity’ Hiest means retaliation, then of course one should expect equally robust free expression in response; but if he literally means punishment, then that would certainly count as ‘interference’.
It might be considered bad manners to disregard others’ feelings by ridiculing their cherished beliefs but people do have the right to do so without facing death in response.
The key point is that there would be no motivation to offend another person’s beliefs if they didn’t try to impose those beliefs on others.
The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists chose to offend with words and drawings. The religious fundamentalists chose to offend with murder. There is no equivalence, despite Daniel Hiest’s apologist’s defence of cultural relativism.
David Ransom, right from the beginning you set me in a state of emotional glow (NI 482). I have no talent to make money either. I wasn’t frogmarched at the beginning of the Uruguayan crisis, but when our union sent us on strike, it gave us instructions to avoid detention. I duly stuck to it, driving my jaded old car 300 kilometres on one occasion, to remain out of sight for a week. On 8 October 1969, however, I was with my fellow bank officers in Montevideo barracks under military rule, when the Tupas briefly seized the city of Pando. We were forced to work in the bank, taken back to the quarters for the night, early morning military instruction and so on, for nine days. I decided that this situation was becoming unfair to my wife and children. In 1971 on my 34th birthday we were all flying to Australia.
Your brilliant analysis of the bank boondoggle has amazed me with a depth I’d never come across. That is the beauty of NI, where you can poke right down into the crude reality of neoliberalism. I hear every day seemingly security-assuring political addresses telling the people that jobs will be created. Yes, probably out of thin air. The spiels are loaded with the level of hypocrisy needed to satisfy the unaware listeners, and the voracity of the upper end of town. I adhere to your optimism about dinosaurs and zombies that ‘at some point, we will come to our senses. Then the darkness of neoliberalism will disperse...’
The other half
In ‘The House of Saud’ (Worldbeaters, NI 482), you suggest the answer to why Western countries prostrate themselves before the Sauds is oil. You are half right. The other half is guns. Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest purchaser of arms – the leading customer for both the US and Britain. It appears that for guns and oil, the West will sell its soul.
West Papua’s troubles
One example. In March 2015, many West Papuans held fundraising events for Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam devastated much of that country. When fundraising was happening on the streets of Yahukimo, Indonesian police and soldiers opened fire. One person was killed, five shot, 26 tortured, 34 arrested and detained and one kidnapped.
Thousands of West Papuans have fled into the jungle and feel they cannot go back due to the presence of the Indonesian military and police. The Indonesians in Yahukimo have been provided with help from a disaster-management organization but the West Papuans have not.
This is only one instance. There are continual reports of violence against West Papuans committed by the Indonesian military and police.
It is time for world leaders and the UN to take notice and confront Indonesia over its treatment of people in West Papua. After more than 50 years the time has come for recognition of West Papua as a separate country.