Friday, July 27, 2012

Making god interesting and punishing the poor

I've two columns out today.

For the ABC, my regular column on religion: 'Is god interesting?' If the idea of God is false, clumsy or even mad, might it still be worthy of thought? My answer is that it can be very interesting, but not as a standard truth claim. A sample:
Forgive me for quoting the side of an English bus, but Professor Dawkins is right: there's probably no God. And even if there is a God somewhere and somewhen, we have no good reasons for believing in him, her or it - and certainly not in the omnipotent, omnipresent, loving God of the Bible. A simple 'we don't know' is far more reasonable, epistemologically speaking. 
Yet scholars, prophets and lay believers have spent countless hours discussing this idea. More worryingly still, I have spent many such hours myself. Why does anyone bother?

In the Canberra Times, I've a piece on austerity: 'The politics of bashing those down on their luck'. I'm arguing that tightwad 'austerity' policies are dodgy in times of recession. They often fail to kick-start the economy, and do lasting damage to communities. They can also be opportunistic attempts to gain political mileage from the poor. A sample:
This is as much about identity as it is about dollars. In Down and Out in Paris and London, Orwell wrote of Paddy, homeless for six months. ''You don't want to have pity on these here tramps,'' said Paddy, ''scum, they are. You don't want to judge them by the same standards as men like you and me.'' Paddy was also a tramp, but he wanted to feel superior to his unlucky peers. Paddy maintained that tramps were lazy, and greedy, and needed to be dissuaded from charity by wretched food. Orwell explained that most homeless men were exhausted by hunger, illness and laws requiring constant travel, and that no one would live this way out of sheer idleness. But Paddy needed to believe that he was hard-working and decent, and fundamentally different to all the others in similar circumstances. 
Australia today has its fair share of Paddies. Not necessarily the very rich, who have the connections, wherewithal and skills to remain aloof from poverty - not to mention some of the 20 trillion dollars reportedly stashed in offshore accounts worldwide. I mean the millions of families who are just one illness, injury, divorce or retrenchment away from mortgage stress, Centrelink or charity hand-outs.  
The point is not that the lower middle-classes are not decent and hard-working. The point is that many need the fiction of their own special stoicism to carry on; the fantasy of a slothful, avaricious mob, to highlight their own goodness, and provide an example of how far one can fall.

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