Our last day in Auckland, New Zealand started with a bit of bad news: China, one of the countries we planned to visit on our global tour, was refusing to grant me a visa unless I signed a document promising not to write about the country. Apparently, they expected a bad review. I can’t imagine why. Is this detrimental to our project? On the contrary. It is interesting and very telling. I mean, for our purposes, what else do you need to know about China? Pardon me a moment while I mark them off the list of contenders for the title of “World’s Greatest Country.” Besides, I have already been to China and will write about it anyway. But this is a setback from the standpoint of logistics. The domino effect on the rest of our itinerary promises to be an expensive nightmare. Sheesh.
Our spirits quickly improved, however, as we watched Alabama steamroll Florida State while we waited for our flight. A 17-point victory and four hours later, we were in Brisbane, Australia. Originally, Brisbane was to be no more than a layover of a few hours. But since we had to stop there anyway, why not stay for a couple of days and have a look around? The Great Ocean Road, the Twelve Apostles, the spectacular views of the southern part of the country, we had done that before. This was an opportunity to see something different.
Yes, like China, Australia is one of the countries on this tour that Zachary and I had visited before. On that prior occasion, we were sponsoring a major debate in the Melbourne Town Hall between Oxford University Professor John Lennox and Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer on the question “Is there a God?” Lennox is a Christian, Singer is an atheist. The event garnered a lot of attention in Australia. ABC television took interest in it and so did the people of Melbourne who filled the Town Hall. As the organizer and moderator for the event, I scheduled a lunch with Singer to discuss details of the debate.
Peter Singer is one of the most influential philosophers of the last forty years—and is quite possibly the most dangerous. His textbooks on ethics are used in universities all over the world. In 1975 he published Animal Liberation, thus giving rise to the modern animal rights movement. In his mid-sixties at the time of this, our second meeting, Peter is a lean, bespectacled Australian with unkempt gray hair and a dour demeanor.
We met at a sidewalk café in one of the fashionable neighborhoods of his hometown of Melbourne. As we browsed our menus, I listened as he explained his animal rights philosophy. Peter, who is vegetarian for obvious reasons, ordered gnocchi. I ordered kangaroo. I couldn’t resist.
Singer is the most philosophically consistent atheist I have ever met. Journalist Kevin Toolis writes of him: “[W]hat is legitimate for Singer is just plain murder for other people.” It is Singer’s view that man is an animal like any other and that he deserves no special status among the various species. That is, he argues, a residual of Christian thought. Worse, he has argued that parents should get twenty-eight days with a newborn child to determine if they want to keep it or euthanize it. This is, of course, where atheism, pushed to its natural outcome, takes you.
“Under Singer’s worldview,” Toolis continues, “if you came across a new-born infant, who had no family, and a mature chimp and could only save one of them, you might actually be under a moral obligation to save the chimp.” Very few people—indeed, very few atheists—would say such a thing. But, then again, very few people are atheist ideologues. This is the ugliness of atheism. To say that there is no God is not a morally neutral statement. It is to say that morality itself is merely an illusion, an artificial human construct with no more validity than the instinctual rules that regulate a colony of ants. As Fyodor Dostoevsky so eloquently put it: “If there is no immortality, there can be no virtue and all things are permissible.” Ruthless adherence to atheism’s logic means exactly that.
And Peter Singer is, unquestionably, ruthless in his application of atheism’s logical implications. Like all true ideologues, he places ideas above people because he deems them more important than people. You need not have lunch with the man to figure this out. Read his books. Listen to his lectures. In this, he really thinks he is morally courageous because he subordinates his feeling for what he believes is the greater good. That’s what ideologues do, and it is why they are so dangerous.
Singer’s worldview, never really out of fashion in Australia—on the contrary, he is something of a hero in Melbourne—is gaining momentum. Euthanasia, though technically, illegal, is seldom enforced. Australians reporting no religion increased noticeably from 19 percent in 2006 to 30 percent in 2016. And, as with global trends everywhere that Christianity is in decline, sexual anarchy and confusion are on the rise. Indeed, so confused are things in this respect in Australia, that a Christian group’s Fathers’ Day commercial celebrating fatherhood was recently pulled from television because it was deemed “too political.”
This nonprofit has aired these commercials for years, so why were these sweet, moving spots deemed unacceptable now? Fathers’ Day was yesterday here in Australia. Later this month the country will vote on gay marriage and no lobby was more powerful than the present gay lobby. With this in mind, you understand what they object to in this commercial. It isn’t the ad per se; it is authentic marriage and the distinctive roles of a man and a woman within that God-ordained institution that offends them. In modern Australia, dads are a political liability and a reminder of a “hierarchical” past many want to leave behind.
Australia is one of the most aggressively secular countries in the world, and like New Zealand, it doesn’t really have prominent, substantive conservative voices or media. There is the Left and, well, other versions of the Left. The nonprofit’s experience with their tame and socially edifying commercial is typical in this country.
Watch the Fathers’ Day ad and see if you agree, as I do, with Dostoevsky’s warning that in a world without God, all things are, indeed, permissible.
Australia star rating 6/10
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Larry Alex Taunton is a cultural commentator, freelance writer, and the author of The Faith of Christopher Hitchens and The Grace Effect. You can follow him at larryalextaunton.com or on Twitter @larrytaunton.