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leave your atheism in the cloakroom

By Diogenes (articles ) | Aug 03, 2010

  •  Fact: Australia’s new Prime Minister Julia Gillard is an avowed atheist. 
  • Fact: Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth has observed that Christian voters might be uncomfortable with atheist leadership.
  • Fact: Liberal columnists have charged Archbishop Hickey with intolerance, apparently because he committed the unpardonable offense of taking Gillard’s public statements seriously.

Now comes Michael Mullins, editor of Eureka Street, who teaches media ethics and therefore knows how to take a balanced view. He is not uncritical of the archbishop, but he finds fault with Gillard as well.

Indeed it could have been a mistake for Gillard to 'declare' her atheism, almost as if she was giving witness to a firmly held religious belief. Atheism signifies a lack of belief. There is not a lot that can be said about it without running the risk of it becoming a belief and its believers adopting the religious posturing many atheists abhor.

Not exactly. It is agnosticism rather than atheism that signifies a lack of belief. An agnostic admits that he doesn’t know whether or not there is a God. An atheist is someone who positively believes in a negative proposition. Since it is logically impossible to prove that negative, atheism is perforce a system of belief.

Mullins concludes his analysis by suggesting that Gillard might have been wiser to adopt a different approach “by declaring candidates' religious views a private matter that should not distract from voters' judgment of their competence and policies.” Which is, mutatis mutandis, what JFK told the Protestant ministers in Houston. 

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  • Posted by: rpp - Aug. 03, 2010 6:38 PM ET USA

    As a former atheist, I concur with Diogenes that atheism is indeed a system of belief. Furthermore, many atheist do engage in the the very "religious posturing" they abhor. Take, for example, the atheists demanding that anything that contradicts their religious belief be hidden from society, like "In God we Trust" on American currency.