Sharlene Zeederberg

About Sharlene Zeederberg

Passionate about doing things differently, challenging existing assumptions, creativity, exploring, self-actualisation, family, and travel.

While discrimination in the name of religion is not new, it has no place in 2020

As someone who grew up with apartheid, Morrison’s right to discriminate under religious auspices bristles me with familiarity.

 

 

As someone who grew up in the heyday of apartheid, it is deeply shocking to me that Australia is proposing to legislate the right to discriminate against others. The idea that religious belief justifies such behaviour is doubly horrifying. The world is replete with examples where religious belief gets a higher priority than human rights, where secularism is but a dream, and nowhere is the societal outcome positive.

Lest we forget, religious justification is exactly what ISIS used as they rampaged through Syria and Iraq pushing gay people off buildings, taking sex slaves and decapitating those that defied their religious ideology. And, perhaps it is worth noting, that apartheid too was justified to us children too as the divine will of God. The architects of this most heinous system of government were devout Christians and Verwoerd himself, the so-called architect of apartheid, studied theology at University.

That, if nothing else, should warn us away from using religion as a basis on which to make laws to govern a nation.


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The idea that ancient texts, however sacred to some, forged at a time of superstition and ignorance about the natural world should dictate our modern-day laws is deeply unsettling. But more than that, it is astoundingly hypocritical. There are plenty of instructions from God in Leviticus – the root of faith-based homophobia – that we rightly deem unacceptable in modern, civilised society.

The keeping of slaves, the death penalty, stoning of women and the horror show of blasphemy laws to name some of the more obvious ones. Would we allow people to practice these things on the basis of their faith?  No. As a society, we have rightly seen these things to be the abhorrent manifestations of man’s worst impulses, yet we are reluctant to treat the bigotry towards gay people in the same light. But it is. Religious belief, on this point, is merely a mask for bigotry.  

Homophobia is only one side of the story. The interference with women’s reproductive and employment rights is another where this proposed legislation will set us back. The scriptures are replete with stories and myths that reinforce the perspective that women are the property of men, the cause of sin and an inferior member of the human race. The idea that women are not equal, nor deserving of equality, is still deeply ingrained in many religious communities that call Australia home. The proposed legislation will allow people to justify their misogyny and reinforce the entrenched patriarchy that still exists in our society.

We should be working to end this, not give it permission to continue.

People are only born with the capacity for belief, not the content of those beliefs. What you believe is shaped by the environment you grow up in. Beliefs are acquired through exposure, and in many cases indoctrination. Born into another culture, another religion, you would believe different things, and just as strongly. Israel Folau wasn’t born a homophobic bigot he was taught it. We should teach the sons and daughters of this nation to be better human beings, to challenge intolerance, not provide implicit acceptance of it.  

Beliefs, especially religious ones, are not an accurate reflection of the world. They are not true nor do they represent fact. If anything, they are the opposite, for they have their origins in the deep and distant past in a different time and a different place. A time before people understood the scale of the universe, biology, genetics or evolution.

A time before people (and God, presumably) knew about dinosaurs or germs. As we learn more about ourselves – our cognitive biases, our credulous natures, our attachment to stories and, more importantly, our capacity for prejudice, surely it is time to challenge those religious beliefs that are complicit in intolerance, not revere them? Institutions that receive tax-breaks, free access to the minds of children and an invested “moral” authority by society should be held to a high account – one that serves all people, across all races, genders, and sexualities. 

 

Israel Folau wasn’t born a homophobic bigot he was taught it. We should teach the sons and daughters of this nation to be better human beings, to challenge intolerance, not provide implicit acceptance of it.  

 

As tempting as it might be to reinforce peoples’ natural inclination towards discrimination for political gain, we must hold the Australian Government to a higher standard. One that ensures all Australians have access to equal standing and respect, both within the legal framework, and within the minds of the people of the nation. The most stable societies in the world are those where a firm boundary exists between government and religion.

Only in secular societies is there space for all the vagaries and varieties of people’s individual faiths. And people should be entitled to their faith, as they are in Australia more than most countries, but only when it doesn’t impinge on the rights and freedoms of others to practice their beliefs.

Maybe our government should take a leaf out of Jesus’s book, and challenge the religious establishment to better represent the possibilities of divine compassion and connection that so many find comforting? 

 

 

 

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