The Age Religion Editor Barney Zwartz pointed out that “it was superfluous for speaker after speaker to point out that believers are deluded fantasists who believe in a magic friend who does magic tricks, because for almost everyone at the conference that was an article of faith already.”
But just because the conference demonstrated such arrogance and intolerance, don’t be lulled into the thought that the atheist movement has no agenda. It does, and it doesn’t include you if you believe in a higher power! Their number one goal is to reduce the footprint of religion in society. This they want to achieve via clear and focused targets that were identified at the conference: removing funding for religious schools, removing tax exemptions for religious agencies and working to make separation of church and state more explicit.
I agree with the separation of church and state. Jesus made it clear that his kingdom was not of this world. But that doesn’t mean that church and state need to be enemies. There needs to be mutual support, recognition and appreciation for the benefits that both provide. But what about the other two targets?
Removing funding for religious schools would actually cost the taxpayer more money. For example, one local independent school receives almost $3,000 of funding annually per primary student and about $3,800 per secondary student. The average cost of educating a student in a government school in Australia is over $7,000 (primary) and over $9,000 (secondary).
In other words, every primary student at this local school saves the taxpayer over $4,000 a year and every secondary student saves the taxpayer over $5,000. The combined saving to taxpayers from families attending this school is over $13 million annually.
What needs to be made clear is that scrapping – or reducing – government funding to independent schools will increase fees, force some families to send their children to government schools and put extra stress on the public school system. This in turn will cost the taxpayer more.
The same is true if tax exemptions for religious agencies are removed. These exemptions are given because the government recognizes the tremendous work accomplished by churches, and other religious institutions, in providing social welfare to poorer Australians. If these exemptions are removed churches will have less money to continue their social welfare work. The government will need to pay for what the churches will no longer be able to provide – and it will cost the government more because they do not have the ability that the churches have in mobilizing large numbers of volunteers.
Atheists need to wake up to these truths and, instead of making their agenda the tearing down of that which contributes much good to society, why not apply that same energy to making a positive difference in the World? I am aware that Richard Dawkins recently spearheaded the raising of hundreds of thousands of dollars to help victims in Haiti. That is wonderful. But the atheists are still a long way behind those of us who are inspired to make a difference because of “our magic friend!”