Celebrating the GAC

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, like the British one (are the two related? or is the ABC just a slavish imitator?), has a Religion and Ethics page, as if the two were a natural pair, as if secular ethics didn’t and couldn’t exist, as if religion had a lock on the subject.

The page is (apparently) reacting to the Global Atheism Convention with an orgy of atheism-bashing.

There is for instance a numbingly self-important and over-written jeremiad by someone called Scott Stephens. I don’t know who he is; I hope my Oz readers will clue us in. Have a sample of the jerry:

But what is most pronounced and historically novel about this form of “agonistic hyperpluralism” is that it is dispersed among individuals themselves, and not simply bound up in adjacent communities. This reflects, does it not, the great cultural revolution that has taken place over the last four decades, a revolution every bit as thoroughgoing and perfidious as those that ravaged the East in the first half of the twentieth century.

Unlike socialism – which invariably took the form of the radical assertion of the state over the economy, culture and indeed the bodies of the people themselves – the revolution that has defined our time and continues to hold sway within western liberal democracy is the assertion of the freedom, the rights and the pleasure of the body over every other person or institution that might stake some claim over it, whether it be nation, tradition, community, marriage, children or religion. Or, as Herve Juvin has nicely put it, the western body is “a body without origin, character, country or determination.”

Interesting, isn’t it. Sophisticated in language, while the idea expressed is deeply sinister.

One could point, he says, to

 the widespread abrogation of our morally symmetrical responsibilities to the unwanted elderly and the inconvenient unborn: one group shovelled away behind the walls of third party care and the other sentenced to death; both in the name of choice and out of fear that our lives might be dragged down into their servitude.

Or to the increasing desperation with which voluntary euthanasia is being legislatively pursued in the West, where the fear of the slow loss of autonomy in old age has usurped the fear of death itself, and where the choice of one’s own death is deemed the ultimate assertion of freedom.

And there the Catholic bullshitter comes out from behind the sophisticated mask. That’s such crap. Nobody thinks the choice of one’s death is the ultimate assertion of freedom; people (in large numbers) think it’s sometimes the best option for people who want it.

It’s interesting that this ABC page is deluging Richard Dawkins with scorn and loathing while promoting good old-fashioned authoritarianism and Your Body Is Ours thinking.


  1. Brian says

    The ABC is the public broadcaster. Affectionately known as Auntie. It has a charter to make it independent and as reality favors the left, it was sort of left leaning. But our last conservative government, many of whom thing a public broadcaster is evil, because it’s not part of the market, stacked the board of the ABC with stooges and it’s decidedly become conservative and often just echoes the standard Murdoch line.
    Australia is the worlds first Murdocracy. 70% of newspapers in the capitals are owned by Murdoch. Lachlan Murdoch is CEO of one of the big 3 commercial TV networks. The rest of the media tow the line. After all if you need a job, Murdoch is the most likely employer, so best report the Rupert line.
    Anyhow,that point of that digression is that the Murdoch line is essentially conservative, god, country, nationalism, covert racism, doff hat to the Queen and so on. apparently it pays to be to have the proles bothering god, hating migrants, and being distracted by sports. That has infected the ABC, so religion and ethics page is just a cover for bashing lefty atheist types. I used to like and trust Auntie, not so much these days. At least they give the odd good guy, like Russell Blackford, some space from time to time….

  2. mnb0 says

    Silly me.
    I thought ” Religion and Ethics page” meant that Religion had nothing to do with ethics – was amoral.

  3. John Morales says

    But rather a different slant on its news page: Future of religion questioned as atheists gather

    Notable from that piece:

    But Mr Stephens agrees with atheists that religion has no place in politics or education.
    He says instead of opposing each other, atheists and religious minds must come together to wage war on society’s moral crisis.

    “An alliance between atheists, humanists and those who belong to the Catholic and Orthodox tradition to begin fighting for what is best and most defendable and most virtuous within western civilisation,” he said.

    (I’ve heard that claim before! ;))

  4. Fin says

    Scott Stephens is a disingenuous turd. Like Alvin Plantinga with analytic philosophy, Stephens is misusing and misinterpreting continental thought in order to push an ideological agenda. He drives me up the wall, especially so because he tends to behave atrociously if you ever have the temerity to point out the egregious flaws to his arguments (I have, in the past, received abusive emails from the fellow).

    He also dominates the Religion & Ethics section of the ABC in much the same way Chris Mitchell dominates the Australian newspaper: even pieces that ostensibly disagree with his point of view have an overall theme that coheres with his position. Many people have complained to the ABC about his behaviour, to no avail.

    What Stephens does is equivalent to climate change deniers who use anomalous scientific data to deny the consensus, which ends up smearing philosophy as a whole.

    In defence of the ABC, however, there are many people who are much more sympathetic to the views of Dawkins and others like him, but it is worth noting that none of them are ever published within the realm of the Religion & Ethics section. Tony Jones was particularly critical of Pell during the Q&A episode that Stephens is writing about, most of the interviews Dawkins has done on the ABC have been either ambivalent or sympathetic. It is merely the Religion & Ethics section that is so virulently idiotic.

  5. says

    As long as people are otherwise distracted, they won’t be asking about young Catholic boys and men driven to suicide by clerical sexual abuse. See


    The latter story has results of a a readers’ poll tagged at the end: “Should there be a government inquiry into sexual abuse within the Catholic church?”

    Result: Yes 95%
    No 5%




  6. Aliasalpha says

    Yeah stephens is a Grade A dick who couldn’t construct an argument if it was made of 2 pieces of giant baby lego & came with instructions.

    Sadly the video isn’t available anymore but kylie linked to a debate stephens was involved in, the short version is she wasn’t impressed. For the longer version read the article, for the “won’t he ever bloody shut up?!?!?” version, read my first comment which may be longer than kylies article but is a ‘live’ response to most of the stuff that was in the video.

    In summation, stephens presented the weakest of all the arguments but did so in the most confident manner. He’s an excellent speaker with the analytical skills of an echidna thats been run over by a truck. He strikes me as a classic case of a charismatic bullshitter getting to where he is through little more than verbal flim-flam.

  7. mnb0 says

    @3: “atheists and religious minds must come together to wage war on society’s moral crisis.”
    Oh, that’s a good idea, especially as so many religious organizations are part of that very crisis.

  8. Smokey Dusty says


    The ABC seems to have the political left and right convinced it is biased. In my view that’s a strong indicator of its impartiality. The fact is that ABC management and staff mounted a principled and professional (and successful) defence of their editorial independence. They deserve credit for that.

    Religion was in its charter long before the conservative Howard government. You’re barking up the wrong tree there.

  9. sansha says

    I’d not heard of Scott Stevens but then I don’t really frequent the ABC religion and ethics quarters. I do love the ABC and think they do a good job of providing content (like science programs!) that are largely economically unviable on the major networks.

    Could have done without the misogynist comedian on the opening night, but otherwise, I was actually much more impressed by the GAC than I expected to be. I would have liked slightly fewer speaker and more time from each but didn’t feel as rushed as I had worried would be the case. Hope we do it again soon.

  10. says

    “Nobody thinks the choice of one’s death is the ultimate assertion of freedom” – well actually I do.

    Who are you (or anyone) to tell me when (or how) I must die? It’s my life and if I want to end it, I will.

    While the religious rulebases condemn suicide, it is also not looked on with favour by the non-religious (evolutionary and biological reasons may be evident for why this is) – but tell it like it is, anti-suicide laws are nothing more than a holdover from when the religious establishment wrote the rulebook.

    So IMO there is no need to pander to the fears of the religious by hastily denying the right to allow a person to determine the time and nature of one’s own death, but to stand up proud and say: “Yeah and so what?”

    Paradoxically, those most frightened of death are those who are most religious. Which is the cause and which is the effect here, anyone care to hazard a guess? I’m racking my brains …

  11. says

    If you recall, Scott Stephens is the guy who didn’t understand that the John Jay College report into Child Abuse in the clergy, didn’t actually demonstrate a statistical correlation between child abuse and the sexual revolution.

    (Their feet don’t touch the ground…)

    Also, Stephens may be the one tweeting from the Religion and Ethics portal, who suggested that I hadn’t actually read the report. Fun times. 😛

  12. says

    Matt Westwood – yes, I know all that, and agree with it. See Eric MacDonald’s Choice in Dying for more. But that wasn’t the point. Stephens is pretending that choice in death is an actual goal in itself, and the top goal at that, as if we all actually love death. He’s bullshitting, and my post was pointing out the bullshitting. It certainly wasn’t saying no we secular people don’t want choice in dying.

  13. says

    Well like most of what I post it assumes long-term readers, who already know (or have good grounds to assume) what I think about choice in dying. It’s always a balancing act, knowing how much to explain and how much to assume readers already know. I err on the side of the latter, because I hate being boring.

    Stephens is annoyingly skilled at insinuation.

  14. says

    Stephens’ blindspot is evident when he insists we should dismiss academia and trust in church teachings that agnosticism is naive and godlessness is wrong.

  15. says

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