ALS Topic 57 -  ONLINE - Attitudes to Religion: Moral Argument Vs 'Is There a Market for It?'

Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, ALS 57
Saturday, 11 April 2020 11 am to 1:30 PM (end time flexible)

Venue: Venue: ONLINE using the ZOOM meeting app .

Notes to remember online:

a) Zoom is available to use directly in your browser, or can be downloaded to Windows 10, Apple O/S, Android or Apple phones. You don't have to join Zoom to participate. However if you join (free) you can get a personal login and test your microphone & video before the meetup. There are Zoom tutorials on Youtube, and also on the Zoom site itself.

b) To participate in the Lunchtime Seminar Online you will have to paste in a meetup code and password on Zoom. These will become visible on your app after you RSVP.

c) We are limiting the online meetup to 8 people per session. After 8 RSVPs, people go onto a waitlist. If you decide not to come, cancel quickly so that anyone waiting can be notified to attend. If there is a lot of interest, we might be able to run another session at a different time/date.

d) The free version of Zoom only gives us 40 minutes. However, I understand that after that we can re-start for another 40 minute segment, and so on. This Saturday's meetup is our first try online, so there will probably be some teething mistakes.

e) People attending can make a $2 donation in Australia using PAY ID. All the major banks in Australia have PAY ID if you activate it. To send me money, the banking app with PAY ID will ask for my phone number: 0479 154 831

f) If you are not in South Australia, remember that in Adelaide we operate on Central Australian Time (11 a.m.)

g) Before the meetup, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A COPY OF THE FOCUS QUESTIONS BELOW TO LOOK AT WHILE YOU ARE IN THE ZOOM PROGRAM. It is best to print them out. I don't want to waste time having to read these out to people during the meetup.

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding.

Focus Questions

1. What is a fair dividing line between pragmatism and being unprincipled? Idealism has a troubled history in dealing with the realities of human behaviour, but a disregard of ethical or social values, while profitable, also leads to catastrophe.

2. It's a bit of a mystery (to me anyway) why an omnipotent god or gods, existing independently of humans would bother with human ideas of morality at all. Yet the human chatter about god(s) is obsessively concerned with what god(s) might think of human morality. What is going on here in human thinking?

3. How can the good guys be separated from the bad guys in religious organizations? Religion has always been a perfect cover for psychopaths. This is because religion provides a set of public rules to guarantee the appearance of virtue if the rules are followed. (Obviously most of the devout are not psychopaths. However, they do provide herd protection for those who conform, including the bad guys). In the last few years it has also emerged that religion has been the perfect cover for paedophiles. Why did it take so long to nail this?

4. Does the market for religion work on different principles for men and women? For example, why is it that by far the largest number of religious leaders are men in most religions, yet the largest number of faithful devotees seem to be women (check any Christian church for attendance patterns)?

5. What is the best way to deal with the built-in intolerance within religions (and ideologies)? When any group of people believe that they have a superior explanation of life & a better social system, by default they relegate the rest of humanity to an inferior class. Sometimes this is not more than an attitude. At other times such discrimination may be written into the canon of the religion and justify the persecution of others.

6. How can religion be separated from other social customs? Very often practices 'required' in a religion have no basis in the religion itself. However, religious leaders use their power to insist on their preferred codes of behaviour, diet, dress etc. (For example, there is no original requirement in Islam for women to cover their heads. In my lifetime, women in Indonesia and Iran usually didn't ...)

7. Why is religion losing its market share (is it)? The market for established religion has diminished drastically in Europe and Australia (and even much of the United States), as well as other places. Why? On the other hand, in South Korea churches and sects sprout like mushrooms, and that country has the world's second largest number of missionaries - while the neighbouring culture of Japan remains uninterested. Why?

8. How should the State compromise with religion? Part 1: Liberal Democracies - The governing rationale of Liberal Democracies is (supposedly) to provide services needed by citizens. If a significant number of citizens feel that a religion is central to their lives, then there is clearly 'a market for that religion'. How can a democratic government negotiate the needs of that religious market. and balance it against the (sometimes conflicting) interests of other citizens and organizations? [e.g. Think of the present wrangle over anti-discrimination legislation in the Australian parliament].

9. How should the State compromise with religion? Part 2 : the Chinese case - Traditionally the Chinese emperor was both divine and secular. Maoist China said only atheism made sense and banned religion. But there is a huge psychological market for religious ritual & belief in China (there always has been). The present Chinese leadership recognizes this, ambiguously, but doesn't want any competition for the Chinese Communist Party.

=> Correction, Thor : - The statement in Question 9 that the Chinese Communist Party banned religion is a bit misleading. For example, China has always had significant Muslim populations (the Hui people are misleadingly classified as an "ethnic minority"). Also Buddhist & Tao temples etc persisted. Such groups were even given a formal position in documents. However, like other civil organizations [e.g. labour unions] they were (and are) infiltrated by Party representatives and rendered utterly powerless. They had to maintain the Party line.

10. How should the State compromise with religion? Part 3 : The Russian case - until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1992, the USSR was officially atheist and established religions were discouraged or suppressed. Now Putin wants to write the position of the Russian Orthodox church into the Russian constitution. This is part of a bait which he hopes will have him elected leader (dictator) for life. Historically religion has been used as a tool worldwide in the service of political power. How can such misuse be prevented or limited?


Extra Reading, Comments and Links

Thor May (2015) "The peculiar interest of god(s) in human morality". The Passionate Skeptic website @  [note: The article has links to many, many articles on the topic by other authors]

Thor May (2015) "Probing the limits of tolerance? - Can we reconcile “live and let live” with “drawing a line in the sand”?" The Passionate Skeptic website @  [note: The article has links to many, many articles on the topic by other authors]

Thor May (2014) "Does religion emerge as a product of complex systems? – exploring an allegory" The Passionate Skeptic website @  [note: The article has links to many, many articles on the topic by other authors]

Thor May (2014) "What will be the dominant ideologies of the 21st Century?" The Passionate Skeptic website @  [note: The article has links to many, many articles on the topic by other authors]

Thor May (2013) "The Agnostic's Survival Manual" [e-book] The Passionate Skeptic website @ 

Francesco Sisci (13 February 2020) "Religions and the reform of the Chinese state". Settimana News @  [Thor, background: Sisci is an Italian journalist who reports on both the Vatican and Chinese politics. He has a position in a Beijing university]

Luke Beck (February 19, 2020) "Religious discrimination bill backfires on Christians." Brisbane Times @ [Luke Beck is an associate professor of constitutional law at Monash University and the author of Religious Freedom and the Australian Constitution: Origins and Future (Routledge, 2018).]

from IAN BEUTLER - IT seems to me, Thor, after many years of careful observation & analysis, that there is also a well-hidden all-powerful political, but "disguised in plain sight" -secret, & unrecognised party here. It's similar to China's , but here it is so ingrained, it is even unidentifiable. It's name could aptly be, The Incurably-Dumbass-Stupid Party. My last estimation was that 95 percent are (unconsciously)devoted members, enrolled mandatorily, by default, from birth. Typically, no body even wants to know about it. Corruptivity-training begins from birth & in the mother's milk, even if any child could be this fortunate..

=> Thor - see Thor May (2015) "The Unexpected Power of Stupidity" at

>> Thor, comment : See Massola below reporting on when religion messes with science in Indonesia (same story with Islam in Iran ... and Hindu India, where priests are advising that drinking cow piss is a virus protection .. and also prayer amongst what's left of Christianity in Italy and often elsewhere ...). At a personal level the placebo effect can be potent. At state level things get disastrous >>>

>>> James Massola (17 March 2020)Joko Widodo 'did not want to stir panic' but Indonesia is now playing coronavirus catch-up". Brisbane Times @  [Quote: "Jakarta: The Indonesian government's handling of the coronavirus crisis has been an omni-shambles from the get-go. .. The government was in denial for more than a month, as almost every other country in south-east Asia reported cases, claiming it was coronavirus-free. .. Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto said, repeatedly, that this was all thanks to the power of prayer and attacked anyone who suggested otherwise. ...A Harvard University study that suggested it was (basically) impossible there were zero cases was, Terawan claimed, an "insult" to Indonesia.]

Jason Wilson (4 April 2020) "The rightwing Christian preachers in deep denial over Covid-19's danger - A number of American religious leaders have endangered their flock by holding services – and by claiming the virus can be defeated by faith in God". The Guardian @ 

Bernardo Kastrup, Henry P. Stapp, Menas C. Kafatos (8 April 2020) "Coming to Grips with the Implications of Quantum Mechanics - The question is no longer whether quantum theory is correct, but what it means". Scientific American @ 

=> Thor May, comment - Quantum mechanics is known to produce effects, and the effects can be predicted. In that sense, quantum mechanics can be defined as a certain effect under certain conditions. The problem is that quantum mechanics defies all the other effects that we use to predict and comprehend the structure of the world as we know it. The authors of this article argue that we can only come to terms with this connundrum by accepting that there is a "mind" which trancends our own, not seperately - we are part of this trancending mind - but with outcomes which we can observe. Material outcomes are determined by this trancending mind. However the t-mind, they say, is not spiritual in any traditional religious sense. ... Hope I have not misrepresented this - these guys do NOT have a gift for clear science journalism.

Brad Chilcott (12 April 2020) "The global crisis hammers home this truth: people matter more than religion". The Guardian @ 


Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar

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Convenor : Thor May Personal website (legacy)
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