Thursday, April 22, 2010

ANZAC Day Atheism

About a week ago, I was poking around trying to find info on how other Atheists spend ANZAC Day.  I posted something about it on my Facebook.  One of my rellies asked, "Sorry, pardon my ignorance but what does Atheism have to do (or not do) with ANZAC day?"

If you're not an Atheist, you're probably asking the same thing about now.  If you are an Atheist, you're probably shaking your head in a combination of disbelief and frustration, as I did.

Quick detour for definitions:

ANZAC Day is a day of remembrance in NZ and Australia.  Specifically, it is a remembrance of the soldiers who fought at Gallipoli in WWI.  The Gallipoli Campaign started on April 25 1915, so ANZAC Day is commemorated on that day.  However, it also commemorates all the other soldiers of both countries who have fought in any war.  The traditional way to commemorate ANZAC Day is by attending a Dawn Service.

When I talk about Atheists, I'm talking about people who, after examining the facts and the evidence, have made a conscious decision that they do not believe in God.  I'm not talking about people who haven't really thought about it, or who don't particularly think it's important either way.

So, are you beginning to see why I wonder what Atheists do on ANZAC Day?  I want to commemorate the day in some fashion, because I have plenty of relatives who have fought in various wars, and I respect the freedoms that all the soldiers of both my countries have fought for.  I do NOT want to do that by going to a religious service.

Neither Australia or NZ are particularly religious.  Australia has no State religion, and around 40% of New Zealanders claim no religion at all.  And yet, as Commonwealth countries, both countries have that insidious Christian foundation that permeates everything: the major holidays are Christmas and Easter, there are churches everywhere, and yes, ANZAC Day is commemorated in a religious manner.

Of course, looking at ANZAC Day from a purely religious angle ignores all the other issues with the day.  The blog post I found when I was doing my search mentions these.  ANZAC Day is a celebration of war, and also, primarily, a celebration of men.  Yes, women are in the military now, but the vast majority of people who have fought for either country are men.  ANZAC Day glorifies war, so that while we are remembering those who have fought and died for our countries, we are sending more off to die.

Yes, it's important to remember the wars.  But we should do so by remembering everyone who was involved: not just the men, but their wives and mothers and daughters who kept the countries running while they were absent, who gave them birth, who gave them something to live for when they returned home in despair.  We should remember the activists who stood up and said "this is wrong".  And we should do so in a way that is inclusive of all people who now call these countries home.

So what will I be doing this ANZAC Day?  I will go for a walk and think about everything I've mentioned here.  And then I will bake some ANZAC biscuits.  And then I will go to work, like I do every Sunday.

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