More Delusions About Religion: A Follow-Up

Back in August last year, I wrote the post ‘More Delusions About Religion‘. It was my response to a Letter to the Editor that a Chris McColl had sent to his local newspaper in Australia. I saw the letter because George Takei posted  it on his Facebook page.

Yesterday, Chris himself came across my post and was good enough to respond to my comments.

(I’m going to call Chris McColl “Chris” throughout this post. In New Zealand and Australia we’re mostly egalitarian by nature and prefer first names. I’m being friendly not rude.)

‘More Delusions About Religion’ post

In the original post, I agreed with some of Chris’s points, but took issue with some others. The main areas of disagreement were:

1. Chris made a direct comparison between the Troubles in Ireland and the violence in the Middle East. He considers both political. My contention was that religion is a major part of the issues in the Middle East.

2. Chris wrote, “… nobody suggested that Roman Catholic nuns should be banned from wearing a habit, covering their hair”. I think this is a mistaken comparison because a habit is a closer equivalent to a uniform for work and a choice; a burqa is a religious and, in some countries, legal requirement.

3. Chris wrote, “The current turmoil in the Middle East and beyond has nothing to do with religion …”. I disagree with that, as regular readers will know.

Chris’s Comment

All indented words are Chris’s.

Dear Heather,

I came across your blog by accident, and thought it might be good to reply to your comments on my “Letter to the Editor” in our local paper (“The Border Watch”, Mount Gambier). I should explain I am not an academic, theologian nor historian – I am a self-employed apple grower, but I have lived in the Middle East for a few years and I am a keen student/observer of human nature.

(See a short clips from the documentary Chasing Asylum here, here, here, and here. It is horrifying. As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s hard to believe this is happening in a modern Western democracy.)

I was moved to write the letter after seeing the documentary “Chasing Asylum”, which details the Australian Government’s disgraceful treatment of asylum seekers. What I wrote originally was too long for the paper, so I cut it in half and sent two “stand alone” letters. If you would like to have a look at the other “half”, you should be able to find it with the following link:

(Click letter to go to link provided by Chris to his Facebook post.)

(In Response to My Comments)

While I said “nothing to do with religion”, I probably should have said “almost nothing to do with religion”. Because I believe that is the case. I think there are some strong parallels with Northern Ireland and the Middle East. The details are different, the scale of the problem is different, but there is a common theme. If you are wanting to bring down Western imperialism across the Middle East, and Western society in general, then DAESH has a winning formula, and the likes of Trump, Turnbull, etc. are playing into their hands. This whole thing is not about religion, it is about politics, power, control (just as when the Irish were/are trying to get rid of the English).

After I wrote the letter, I came across an opinion piece by the Archbishop of New York which expressed a similar sentiment. You might find it interesting:

Regarding your suggestion that “perhaps he is a Protestant himself”, I was christened in an Anglican church about 59 years ago, and have hardly been back in one since. I have both Irish Catholic and Protestant heritage, but I could probably be classified as somewhere between atheist and agnostic.

I absolutely disagree with your belief that globalization is good for people. Please take a look at some of the work by Helena Norberg-Hodge and Samuel Alexander, at the following links:

Best wishes

My Response to Chris’s Comment

Firstly, I’d like to thank Chris for his response. I acknowledge the courage it took to put himself in the public arena like this.

As far as his second Letter to the Editor goes, I disagree with nothing. In fact, it’s great to see an Australian expressing these sentiments. The reason successive Australian governments get away with their appalling treatment of asylum seekers is that there is a level of political support. What happens at Manus Island and the other detention camps will only change with people like Chris expressing their disapproval publicly.

Chris doesn’t find the arguments I made in the previous post convincing. His opinion that there are “… strong parallels with Northern Ireland and the Middle East …” remains. I don’t disagree with what he writes next though:

If you are wanting to bring down Western imperialism across the Middle East, and Western society in general, then DAESH has a winning formula, and the likes of Trump, Turnbull, etc. are playing into their hands.

One of my recent posts was about Trump playing into the hands of Islamist extremists. So, obviously I’m with Chris here. Despite the way Trump is treating him so far, Australia’s prime minister Malcolm Turnbull continues to align his country so closely to the United States it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan

The  next link Chris provides is to an article about comments by Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan. It’s from the Catholic Herald of 5 March 2015 and fairly short, so I’ll reproduce the whole thing.

ISIS is as Muslim as the IRA was Catholic, says New York cardinal

ISIS is no more Muslim than the IRA was Catholic, the Archbishop of New York has said.

During an interview with CNN, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said: “The IRA claimed to be Catholic. They were baptised. They had a Catholic identity.” But, he continued, “what they were doing was a perversion of everything the Church stood for.”

Cardinal Dolan went on to tell the presenter Chris Cuomo that Islamic State extremists “do not represent genuine Islamic thought”, but are a “particularly perverted form of Islam”.

“The analogy [to the IRA] is somewhat accurate,” the cardinal said, adding: “These are not pure, these are not real Muslims. Now what we need and what Pope Francis has led the world in saying, is we need the temperate, moderate, genuine forces of Islam to rise up and say this: they do not represent us. Now, that’s beginning to happen. God can bring good out of evil.”

Pope Francis has also consistently said that ISIS does not represent true Islam.

Needless to say I disagree with this. In my opinion it’s the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, which religion is particularly fond of using. I understand the desire of any good person to disassociate their religion from murder, but it’s just not true. It’s also particularly hypocritical coming from cardinal Dalton. I suppose all those paedophile priests aren’t real Christians either.

As Chris notes, I did say in my previous post, “… perhaps he is Protestant …”. He has rightly called me out for this. It was sloppy writing and I shouldn’t have done it. I apologize Chris.


Chris does not agree with me that overall, globalization has had more benefits for humanity than downfalls. Globalization isn’t perfect – nothing is. It has, however, literally brought billions out of extreme poverty. There is no doubt either that it will benefit billions more in the future. The data below from the World Bank via Our World in Data shows the huge reduction in poverty due to globalization. (This graph was also in in last post. Click on the heading of the graph to go to the source.) I guess Chris and I will have to agree to differ on this one.

The last two links are to what I assume Chris believes are a better solution.

The Economics of Happiness and the Simplicity Institute

The two links go to websites for Local Futures – The Economics of Happiness and the Simplicity Institute – Envisioning a Prosperous Descent.

I must admit, I haven’t had a very thorough look at these sites. Previous looks at similar sites have been unable to convince me that the ideas are realistically viable. Therefore I’ve never spent a lot of time researching the theories.

Having said that, they do have many good components. For example, they promote a move to renewable energy sources. This, of course, is essential to the future of the planet. The Trump administration’s move back towards fossil fuels is, long-term, perhaps the worst of his many stupidities.

They also work to expose the psychological effects of excessive consumerism, which I think more people need to be aware of. There’s hardly a woman alive, at least in the West, who doesn’t have body image issues to some extent. More and more men are a victim of this phenomenon too.

However, another of the things The Economics of Happiness website refers to is food miles. We know though that buying food locally isn’t necessarily the most environmentally friendly thing to do.

Food Miles, Carbon Footprinting and their potential impact on trade

The above is the name of a study by Caroline Saunders, Andrew Barber and Lars-Christian Sorenson (pdf here) from 2009. The following is the abstract:

To obtain market access for NZ food exports to high value developed country markets exporters are having to comply and consider environmental factors such as carbon footprinting. This growth in demand for environmental attributes is shown in the rise of the food miles debate or concept. Food miles is a concept which has gained traction with the popular press arguing that the further food travels the more energy is used and therefore carbons emissions are greater.

This paper assesses, using the same methodology, whether this is the case by comparing NZ production shipped to the UK with a UK source. The study found that due to the different production systems even when shipping was accounted for NZ dairy products used half the energy of their UK counterpart and in the case of lamb a quarter of the energy. In the case of apples the NZ source was 10 per cent more energy efficient. In case of onions whilst NZ used slightly more energy in production the energy cost of shipping was less than the cost of storage in the UK making NZ onions more energy efficient overall.

The paper then explores other developments in market access to developed markets especially the rise in demand for products to be carbon footprinted and the introduction of carbon labelling. A review of latest methodology in carbon footprinting the PAS from the UK is reviewed and implications for trade assessed.


Once again, I’d like to thank Chris for responding to my post, and for doing so in such a thoughtful way. I found the exercise of having to justify my opinions in detail interesting.



If you enjoyed reading this, please consider donating a dollar or two to help keep the site going. Thank you.


10 Responses to “More Delusions About Religion: A Follow-Up”

  1. Coel says:

    There seems to be a presumption here that Northern Ireland’s troubles are not about religion:

    This whole thing is not about religion, it is about politics, power, control (just as when the Irish were/are trying to get rid of the English).

    But it’s not true that in Northern Ireland, “the Irish were/are trying to get rid of the English”. Rather, about 40% of the Northern Irish want to be independent and about 60% want to remain part of the UK.

    What is the difference between these two factions? Well, the only real difference is religion. They have proceeded with parallel cultures and histories for the past couple of hundred years, with schools being for children of one faction, or for children of the other faction, but not for both, and with churches being for one worshippers of one faction, or for worshippers of the other faction, but never both.

    Why this separation? Religion. That’s the only major reason why those two factions have developed separately for generations. So yes, the IRA was not driven by theology and its goals were political rather than religious, but it’s just not true to say that religion had no part in it.

    • That’s actually a really important point that I myself have failed to point out – a majority of those in Northern Ireland actually want to stay part of the UK.

      The IRA has it’s historic roots way back in the English Reformation of the 16th century when Henry VIII broke from Rome and the Irish (conquered by England in 1169) remained largely Catholic.

      In most countries it’s paedophile priests that the Church moves from place to place. I recall at least one priest in Northern Ireland who killed for/with the IRA in a bombing. He was moved to a parish on the west coast of Ireland for the rest of his life. At the time it was decided it would be bad for the Church to expose him. The story didn’t come out until the 1980s when he died.

  2. HaggisForBrains says:

    You’re quite right, although as you probably know it’s more complicated than just religion. There’s a lot of history there, but religion is what keeps it simmering, in my opinion.

  3. j.a.m. says:

    “I suppose all those paedophile priests aren’t Christians either.”

    I can’t speak for Cardinal Dolan, but I’m pretty sure he’s never claimed that a man who has received Holy Orders from the Catholic Church is not at least nominally affiliated with the Christian faith.

    In any event, respectfully, it’s a poor analogy: terrorism is to Islam as pedophilia is to Christianity. Your thesis is that a terrorist who happens to be Muslim would not be a terrorist (or would be less likely to be) if he did not identify as a Muslim. The analogous claim would be that a pervert who happens to be Christian would not be a pervert (or would be less likely to be) if he did not identify as a Christian. I don’t believe you intended to draw such an analogy, since the latter claim would be wholly unreasonable.

    • I missed out a word in that sentence – it was supposed to read REAL Christians, not just Christians. I’ll fix the text later when I have access.

      • j.a.m. says:

        Thanks for the clarification, but I’m not sure that it helps the analogy. All real Christians are sinners, and some real Christians suffer from mental illness. Cardinal Dolan nor anyone else would deny that all real Christians do bad things, and some do really vile things. There are pedophiles who are real Christians, but the question is whether anyone is a pedophile *because* he is a Christian.

        As I understand the claim about Islam, it is that some of its teachings are interpreted to give warrant to terrorism. Unless you want to say that something in Christian doctrine can be fairly interpreted to give warrant to pedophilia, then it is a false analogy.

        • You’ve pretty much made my point j.a.m. You may not hear it, but many of us hear all the time that such-and-such isn’t real Christian behaviour and therefore so-and-so isn’t a real Christian. People with a more ground-of-being interpretation of Christianity aren’t usually so hypocritical, but there are plenty who are.

          Both Christianity and Islam have teachings that give warrant to some pretty bad stuff. At the moment there are witches all over the US in particular who are casting spells for President Trump to be removed from office. The Bible says, “Though shalt not suffer a witch to live.” (Exodus 22:18) Some would say that gives them the right to go out and kill witches. The only real difference in most Western democracies is that we’ve have the Enlightenment and they’re secular and are therefore now governed by rule of law rather than Biblical law. It’s not that long ago that witches were indeed legally killed by the state.

          There are Christian countries in Africa where women, and sometimes men, suspected of witchcraft are still killed and not just in isolated areas. It’s common in Papua New Guinea, and parts of the Caribbean too. There are Christian countries where witchcraft is a crime on the books.

          There is nothing in the Bible that forbids paedophilia. Mary was very young when she was allegedly impregnated with Jesus.

          The point is, you can’t say someone isn’t a real Muslim because they’re a terrorist like Cardinal Dolan has, and you can’t say that about any Christian either. Scripture is open to interpretation and interpretation changes all the time and is different in different places.

          Look up the “No True Scotsman” fallacy at the link given in the post. It will explain it better than I can.

          • Ken says:

            Have to say I also thought the analogy didn’t work, because while some Muslim terrorism can be said to be done in the name of Islam, priests’ pedophilia is not done in the name of Christianity. The problem is instead human failure protected and abetted by a corrupt organisation, the Catholoc church.

  4. nicky says:

    One could take issue with the ‘last word’ though. It could be argued that Western Europe has suffered from being too tolerant (multiculturalism and the like) of Islamic intolerance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.