ben.eficium is the blog of Ben Slack, citizen and principal consultant at Systems Xpert.
All posts are Copyright © Ben Slack on the date of publishing.

12 August 2014

Why I will no longer visit certain churches

My decision to not attend the christening of our nephew Fergal on the weekend has attracted some attention from friends and family. For anyone interested, this post attempts to spell out my reasoning.

For many years I have been uncomfortable attending ceremonies in churches where doctrine holds contraception sinful. I can honestly say I feel ashamed whenever I walk through the door.

The reason for my discomfort is that in the past three decades millions of children in Christian majority developing nations and other Christian communities have been born with HIV - the Philippines and Nigeria being notable examples. Many, perhaps most of the HIV positive parents had no education or access to contraceptives due to policies of churches and the state foreign policy they successfully influence.

The effect of HIV and AIDS in developing nations is catastrophic. Apart from the deplorable human misery, coping with with so many sick people weakens and destabilises governments, diverts untold resources from economic development, increases a state's reliance on charity and foreign aid and demoralises whole communities. If the active suppression of family planning activities and contraception methods and devices were brought to an end in these communities, the number of people contracting HIV and babies being born HIV-positive would rapidly decline.

I believe that by stepping inside a church you are implicitly stating your approval of the institution. I do not approve of the actions of the relevant churches and am boycotting ceremonies in any institution which does any one or more of the following:
  • actively preaches against contraception in developing nations;
  • provides "independent" (i.e. non-missionary) medical aid which does not include family planning and contraception;
  • lobbies developed world governments to discontinue provision of family planning and contraceptives in their national aid programs; or
  • accepts taxpayer funds to deliver aid programs which do not include family planning and contraception.
The Roman Catholic Church is the largest congregation that meets these requirements, but there are many others. I will apply the rule to all sects of all faiths equally. The philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb said that if you see a fraud and say nothing, then you are a fraud. I have said nothing for far too long.

I have asked myself how this boycott compares with others preaching their own religion or beliefs. Am I not as bad as Nicole's aunt, who not only declined the invitation to our civil wedding ceremony, but insulted our choice and my beliefs in writing and actively proselytized her own version of Catholicism?

I came to the conclusion that my decision is not in the same category. My aim is not to insult anyone, deride their faith or preach my version of agnosticism. My hope is simply that people who are interested in hearing my point of view will examine their own views on this topic. If they find my reasoning unconvincing or my morality faulty, then I will respect that. If they find my argument valid, then it is my hope that they might work within their church organisation and take reasonable steps to change attitudes and behavior.

I don't want to see the end of organised religion or religion itself. I don't want anyone to give up a faith that provides them with fulfillment. I don't want anyone to change their mind on any matter but church doctrine on contraception. The irony being surveys consistently find a majority of Catholics in Australia neither believe or practice church doctrine on contraception anyway.

08 August 2014

I never hire the university medalist

I've hired a lot of business analysts and developers over the years and one thing I've learned is the university medalist or academic high achiever is almost never the right person for the job. An aptitude for academic excellence primarily means that someone is very talented at completing university courses. The degree to which this talent indicates an excellent worker is not as clear as most people think.

Almost every time I have hired an academic high achiever (I'm talking distinction+ average marks), that person has proved disappointing and I think I know the reason why.

A lot of people who earn those marks do it through the kind of time consuming rote learning perseverance that is not desirable or sustainable in full-time employment. A lot of these kids were doing assignments on Friday and Saturday night after having studied for 55 hours during the week. Sure, sometimes corporate work requires these kinds of hours but everyone knows it is not sustainable week-in-week-out. Someone who required that kind of time to get those marks is not going to deliver the same quality in the time available for corporate work.

What you really want is the girl who cruised through the course with as little study as possible, read the textbook a couple of days before the exam and walked away with a credit to distinction average having put in about 20% of the work of the university medalist. That's the person who's going to deliver good consistent work in the kind of turn-around modern business requires. The kind of mind who will find the easiest way of achieving a goal. And they're not going to burn out after 2 or 3 years.

There is always the chance that a high achiever is an exceptionally talented "cruiser". So you have to develop the interview questions and testing that identify quick original thinking. But you should be doing this anyway. My advice - don't look at or ask for an academic transcript and don't assume a good student makes for a good worker.