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Using the Bondi Junction tragedy to push theological agendas

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(Stan Grant | Screenshot via YouTube)

Stan Grant's column in 'The Saturday Paper' about the theological repercussions of the Bondi Junction murders is ultimately exploitative, Rosemary Sorensen writes.

APPARENTLY, Stan Grant is a theologian.

This credential has been added to his impressive journalistic career by The Saturday Paper, where he writes a fortnightly comment piece.

His foggy rants about why Christianity is necessary for morality used to appear weekly on the ABC website during his time presenting Q&A — but now, following a short-lived appointment as the head of Monash University’s Constructive Institute, the sermonising has found a home at The Saturday Paper, who has updated his bio-note: 'Stan Grant is a theologian, writer and Charles Sturt distinguished professor'.

This reporter thinks of calling themselves an ethicist, by the way, due to enjoying reading books written by philosophers and liking to apply what is read to real-life situations. But that would be hubris. Which appears not to bother Mr Grant, as he reads his way through what appears to be a circumscribed list of books by religious thinkers of whom he mostly approves.

That is his right — and good on him for using the time made available to him since his resignation from the ABC because of vicious racist attacks to plunge bodily into the study of theology. This reporter quibbles, however, that that makes him a theologian, particularly since it appears he’s not actually studying theology, per se, but only those parts of theology that suit his agenda: i.e. that support his offensive and easily challenged belief that only Christianity provides the basis for morality.

Following the murders of people in the Bondi Junction shopping centre, Stan Grant wrote in The Saturday Paper that: 

'The morning after the tragedy at Bondi Junction, I was in my church to ask God how such crimes are possible'.

Given the daily news, one must imagine Mr Grant is there every morning, asking that same question, but this awful crime was close to home and we saw it very quickly on our screens, so many people have, like Grant, inserted themselves into the story with responses ranging from “I shopped there just last week” to “this shook my faith in my God”.

Grant’s response intimates that atheists and scientists are to blame. Somehow, explaining beauty scientifically and without reference to God means “the world and everything in it is yours” – and on mornings after the killings in a shopping centre, the world looks bad.

Sounding very angry and thrashing around to lay blame, Grant writes:

'At times like these, the faithless have all the answers. I am a fool to believe in God. The universe is a crapshoot of numbers and humans are just the triumph of selfish genes. Okay. You win. Atheists, have your day. The world and everything in it is yours. There is no divine.'

He then goes on to list everything from sunrises to Shakespeare, Beethoven and kindness, to prove that those atheists are wrong.

Stamping one’s foot and shouting in the face of the godless is unhelpful and illogical. It is another expression of the inexplicable assumption that an atheist is amoral and that only religious faith – specifically Christianity – makes morality possible.

Grant wants to believe that the good in people is his God living within those people.

He completes his insertion of himself into this story:

'Suffering did not drive me from God, it drew me to God'.

His outpouring of confused anguish is poignant, but laced with the assumption that someone without God-belief won’t be feeling as deeply – and therefore as meaningfully – as those like him who find solace in their faith.

On the contrary, the secular faith Martin Hagglund writes about in This Life respects and loves the mystery of life, incorporating the beauty of both science and philosophy into an optimistic understanding of humanity within the natural world.

According to Hagglund, living with the belief that there’s an infinite afterlife devalues this life and only an understanding of mortality provides the joy, compassion and care to support an ethical existence.

A good life is not guaranteed by religious faith, as we have daily proof. If your anguish is relieved by hoping that a god is listening, go for it, but accusing those who find hope and meaning without that of 'having all the answers' – and who therefore are supposedly heaping derision on Grant’s pain – misunderstands and misrepresents those whose faith does not need a god.

For Grant, an atheist is someone for whom 'the world and everything in it is yours'. It’s quite the opposite: nothing in the world is yours, you are part of everything.

Rosemary Sorensen was a newspaper, books and arts journalist based in Melbourne, then Brisbane, before moving to regional Victoria, where she founded the Bendigo Writers Festival, which she directed for 13 years.

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