Presentation to the Melbourne Atheist Society, November 14, 2012
It is appropriate, given a recent interest in the affairs of the United States of America to refer to some writings of early political leaders of that country, and compare them with words from some of their contemporary leaders. For the latter are very well known. They have been raised to prominence in the world media in the most recent weeks. For it is in the political system that the distinction between the secular and theocratic have the greatest practical importance. The state, and all its subsystems, are what makes up so much of our lives in a direct and visceral manner, and highly influences our environment and habits. Many atheists obvious enjoy picking on what they consider to be the comically irrational among metaphysical theists of all shades - "Fundies Say The Darnest Things" certainly makes for entertaining reading. Sometimes however there is anger; Richard Dawkins, for example, argued that we should take astrology seriously as "a wicked fraud". To be sure, there are an unfortunate few who take it seriously, but through perception, expectation, and motivation these can even have a positive placebo effect - the same can be said about various forms of ritual and prayer, psychoanalysis, and so forth. Likewise we can also find a great deal of value in the inquiry of metaphysics where it is intellectually challenging; the debate between the atheist, the gnostic, the pantheist, the panentheist, the deist, various forms of personal theism, the antitheist, the questions of immanence and effability, and so forth. Sometimes however people become very angry at these discussions - at which point a dose of apatheism, a practical lack of pathology on theological issues question, is suggested. When Denis Diderot was accused of being an atheist, he responded with indifference: "It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley; but not at all so to believe or not in God."