Meet me and be ‘enlightened’ – Sydney, 20 June

Bentham CartoonLater this month, on Friday, 20 June, I’ll be speaking at a symposium on The Enlightenment and the Roots of Humanism. The event is being hosted by the Humanist Society of NSW to celebrate World Humanist Day.

Speakers include: Meredith Doig, president of the Rationalist Association of Australia;  Emeritus Prof Frank Stilwell, professor of political economy at Sydney University;  and Dr Ian Ellis-Jones, a lawyer and Unitarian minister.

You can see the program here.

My speech, “Christian nation? Nonsense on stilts! How Jeremy Bentham’s humanism shaped Australia”  will rebut the oft-repeated claim that Australia is a ‘Christian’ nation. I will argue against the notion that our systems of government, law, and education are based on Christian principles, and that our values are ‘Judeo-Christian’.

Instead, while conceding that Christianity has been influential, I will suggest that the little-known (to most) Enlightenment philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, lays claim to a far greater influence. Indeed, it has been said that Australia is a ‘Benthamite’ society.

Bentham, an adamant atheist, humanist and the father of utilitarianism, never set foot in Australia, but took a keen interest in it.

It has been fascinating to discover the diverse ways in which this eccentric, brilliant thinker impacted the course of Australian history and the shape of its institutions, even well after his death and into the present day.

Bentham was a heavy-weight thinker, but he was also a bit weird and wonderful. I hope my speech will educate and inform, but also honor Bentham with a bit of ‘weird and wonderful’ as well.

If you are in Sydney (or can get there) I’d love to see you at the symposium.  I’ll be there for the day, so there’ll be plenty of time to mix and mingle.

Here are the details again:

The Humanist Society of NSW presents a symposium on

The Enlightenment

and the Roots of Humanism 

10am – 4pm, Friday, 20 June, 2014

(my speech around 11.45 am)

Waratah Room,

State Parliament House,

6 Macquarie Street, Sydney

(Hyde Park end of Macquarie Street)

Cost: $30 per person includes lunch and afternoon tea

RSVP: By 10th June to Affie Adagio on 0421 101 163

Official Program

Chrys Stevenson

14 thoughts on “Meet me and be ‘enlightened’ – Sydney, 20 June

  1. M D Fisher

    The term Judeo-Christian is an oxymoron. The Christian religion centres on the worship of Jesus and most Christine sects worship a triune God. Jesus has no place at all in the Jewish religion which has no Trinity. He is not recognised as a prophet or in any other manner. Yet the term continues to be used. Judeo-Islamic makes more sense since both religions are purely monotheistic with a unitary deity and share dietary laws but I have never heard that term used.

    1. Annette

      Some use the term “Abrahamic”. Judaeo-Christian could be said to be “Old and New Testament”.

      1. M D Fisher

        Abrahamic includes Islam. Old Testament is a Christian not a Jewish term. To Jews what Christians call the Old Testament is the Bible.

      2. Annette

        Yes I know. I think the general public, and especially officialdom, would understand Judeo-Christian to imply the ten commandments and the sermon on the mount, Chrys is justified in using “Judeo-Christian” in this context.

  2. M D Fisher

    That is correct. Judeo Christian is a linguistic bit of nonsense which Christian politicians are in the habit of using to ally the ‘good’ Jews with them against the ‘bad’ Muslims. All three Abrahamic faith are nonsense, but Judaism in belief and practice is closer to Islam than it is to Christianity.

  3. Annette

    Hi Gladly. That’s why I left “judeo-christian” in inverted commas. The lobbyists and pollies wouldn’t. I think we all agree it’s a bit dumb. Will you be posting your talk later? I live 3 hours from Sydney.

  4. Mickey

    Relative morals and humanism come and go throughout the ages (including the enlightenment era you so fondly adore) while progessivism drives our youth into bouts of despair and depression due to a sense of non-belonging and cultural disownership in favour of personal enlightenment and moral relativism.

    Christian values and morals remain constant and drive the progress of democracy, real humanism and a sense of community to those that believe.

    The atheistic religion is by far the most damaging to our youth, as can be seen with their downward spiralling morals, mental disorders and eventual sway towards other spiritual modes such as buddhism and mysticism and magic, the slavish following of Harry Potter to give their life meaning and even permeates into adulthood. The shrinks are doing good business thanks to our enlightenment.


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