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Asylum seekers and atheists

April 13, 2010

The increased arrivals of asylum seekers on Christmas Island has made this the hottest political issue at present. This issue raises man ethical responses and I was wondering how an atheist would approach the issue. I posted a question on the ABCTV Q&A message board – this was my question…

“I noticed there was a question on the Q&A last night about what Jesus would do with asylum seekers. However I haven’t heard an atheist voice in this discussion. What would Richard Dawkins (for example) do with asylum seekers?”

The only serious attempt at grappling with this issue came back like this…

“The only determinate of how many asylum seekers we should accept is the long term ecolological carrying capacity of the Australian continent. That includes surface water availability only as energy intensive water sources like desalination are clearly not sustainable in the long term. It also includes the productive capacity and nutrient levels of our soils, and this is considerably less than most other countries due to the geological age and stability of our continent. If we have spare capacity then we can accept more and if not then we should reject them. Impoverishing Australia in the name of humanitarianism helps neither current Australians nor future asylum seekers. It it does make it easier to preserve our unique biodiversity”

This is an interesting response – the ecological sustainability response. It seems at many levels to be sensible and potentially rational. However this response carries a number of problems as I outlined in my next post (which was never followed up on)..

“This is an interesting and thoughtful response, though it doesn’t seem terribly compassionate nor generous.  It is also ambiguous at points, for example, how would you measure such capacity? Would such a ‘capacity measure’ factor in productivity improvements? What if all other countries around the world adopted a similar approach and such an analysis meant there was no space for anyone? Would we be content to send refugees back to their homeland to be killed or just leave them in a ‘no-mans land’ to rot? Is this where rational atheism ultimately leads? To simply satisfying our self interest?”

However this is not the only atheist opinion on the issue. I found another strident atheist opinion here..

http://thecarapace.blogspot.com/2010/04/ruddiculous-immigration-policy.html

I found these quotes interesting…

“Do refugees really consider the immigration policy of a country before they leave for it? No. These people are fleeing for their lives. The conflict in Sri Lanka between the LTTE and the Sinhalese Buddhist government is over. That does not mean that the hatred or persecution of Tamils is over. If it was why would they be risking their lives to leave?”

“I know the detention center on Christmas Island is full and the government hasn’t a clue what to do. What I also know is that calling refugees illegal immigrants, denying them due process and sending them back is the WRONG thing to do.”

This actually has compassion and respect for the individuals concerned. However my question is, on what rational basis do you determine this as the ‘WRONG’ thing to do?

Why are there two such divergent atheist opinions on the matter? How does an atheist do ethics ? These are important and critical questions if atheist ethics are to be taken seriously.

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