politics and religion
It’s not a secret that former Prime Minister Abbott is a ‘committed Christian’. Former Prime Minister Rudd also wore his Christianity on his sleeve — frequently shown on the Sunday night news answering questions outside a church in his electorate. Both are entitled to their beliefs, as are the 30% of Australians who consider their religion to be important in their lives.
None of us should really care if politicians choose to spend some time in a Christian church on a Sunday morning. We should be concerned, however, about the way religion is creeping into public life. Around half of Abbott’s federal cabinet was Catholic — and, as with other belief models, there are different ‘levels’ of belief. Abbott’s Defence Minister Kevin Andrews was much more (small ‘c’) conservative and could not support issues in which the Catholic Church’s formal teaching was overturned —such as same sex marriage. Newly minted Prime Minister Turnbull is a (small ‘l’) liberal Catholic who morally and ethically has no difficulty claiming to support issues such as same sex marriage while being a regular Catholic churchgoer. The Saturday Paper
reported on a speech by the Liberal Party hopeful before the Canning by-election, who proudly claimed growing up in Victoria and accompanying his religious minister father on trips around the parish, as well as the work he and his wife do with their church group, as examples of why he would be a good member of parliament
Former Prime Minister Menzies founded the Liberal Party in the 1940’s as a secular party in which people would have a forum to debate and discuss ideas — the best to be implemented in government — so why has that changed? The Saturday Paper
discusses research from Paul Pickering (from the ANU) dating from 1998 where he compared the first speeches of the 1975 and 1996 cohorts in Australia’s parliament. (Both years were when the Coalition regained power from the ALP: in 1975 Fraser defeated Whitlam, and in 1996 Howard defeated Keating.)
“The rise of concern with the family appears to go hand in hand with an increase in religiosity in Australian politics,” wrote Pickering. “Where God received only one reference in the first speeches of the 1975 cohort … the first speeches of the ‘Class of 96’ contain numerous references to God and Christian principles.”
Pickering’s analysis highlighted something else, too, which he described as a “shrill chorus of anger”. He cited numerous examples of new members railing against “minority groups”, about “thought control and social engineering”, and about “political correctness”. And against government itself. Tony Smith, who replaced Bronwyn Bishop as speaker, warned against “the insidious rise and rise of the state”, which he likened to a “great praying mantis”.
There were no such expressions 20 years prior, Pickering noted. He characterised the class of ’96 as “the children of the ‘common sense’ revolution”.
Some of those who are overtly Christian frequently claim that, due to their faith, they have a higher understanding of morals and ethics than the 70% who claim to have no religion. Demonstrably, it’s a fallacy.
Josh Duggar was an Executive Director of Family Research Centre (FRC). His parents are Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, parents of 19 children, who preach their belief in their god across the USA. He is married with four children
Among the many initiatives he was involved in with the group were ones that firmly campaigned against equal rights for LGBT Americans, the legalization of same-sex marriages and a woman's right to choose.
In his role as Executive Director of FRC Action, he said in one interview that he was committed to 'taking the message of faith, family and freedom all across America.'
Josh also bragged that his family was the 'epitome of conservative values.'
His opposition to gay marriage while at the FRC was based on his belief that it threatened family values.
Josh Duggar resigned his position with FRC after his name and details were found in a list of 37 million customers hacked from the Ashley Madison website — that promoted ‘cheating’ on customers’ partners.
If you have the time you could also search for information on the rise and fall of Jimmy Swaggart, as well as ponder the link between tithing and the growth of the property portfolio owned by Hillsong, which started 30 years ago in a church hall in Sydney and now spans the world.
People with religious beliefs are not all bad. The Political Sword
has previously published an article on our TPS Extra
site about the work of religious people who have genuinely dedicated their entire adult lives to helping others
. Some religious people find other ways to promote their beliefs, such as the Anglican church in Gosford New South Wales. Rod Bower, the priest at the church, regularly changes the signboard outside the church and seems to have a rather good ability to make pithy comment on current events, comparing them to genuine Christian values. One of his recent signboards is pictured at the top of this article and quotes Abbott in the dying days of the Gillard government, a statement that came back to haunt him towards the end of his prime ministership. Apparently the CEO of Transfield was not happy with one of the recent signs — ‘HESTA divests Transfield. Good on ya
’ —and asked to speak to the Bishop who supervises the Gosford Anglican Church:
Bishop Thompson said the Transfield chairwoman was "concerned to engage with the church in the light of Father Bower's messages".
He supported his priest, even if Transfield saw him as troublesome.
It seems that those with a strong religious belief have the same range of human behaviour as anyone else. Some live their values on a daily basis; others are found on websites that promote cheating on their partners. So why do some of the 30% with religious beliefs attempt to claim moral superiority and dictate terms to the 70% who don’t have a strong Christian religious connection? Are the silent majority ‘less worthy’ people because they don’t regularly darken the door of a Christian church?
Is it a fear of the unknown that makes traditional Christian values seem safe to a proportion of the 30%? Most Australians are of European descent and there is still a significant number of the Australian population who, at formative periods of their lives, were told that the Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Greek or Vietnamese nations were the enemy due to war or massive immigration at some point in our history. To an extent the people from the Middle East are being characterised in a similar way today as they have a different culture and religion from our European ‘norm’, as do the majority of refugee seekers. Psychologists have demonstrated that it doesn’t take much for a person to demonstrate xenophobic tendencies more or less ‘on demand
Researchers are discovering the extent to which xenophobia can be easily — even arbitrarily — turned on. In just hours, we can be conditioned to fear or discriminate against those who differ from ourselves by characteristics as superficial as eye color. Even ideas we believe are just common sense can have deep xenophobic underpinnings. Research conducted at Harvard reveals that even among people who claim to have no bias, the more strongly one supports the ethnic profiling of Arabs at [US] airport-security checkpoints, the more hidden prejudice one has against Muslims.
But other research shows that when it comes to whom we fear and how we react, we do have a choice. We can, it seems, choose not to give in to our xenophobic tendencies.
Self-professed ultra-conservative Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi has frequently commented on the dangers of Islam
A frequent commentator on the ‘dangers’ of Islam, Bernardi has the Koran on his iPad but acknowledges he hasn’t read it, except for the passages he quotes to advance his arguments. He doesn’t know the ‘five pillars’, or basic tenets, of the Islamic faith. He claims his warnings about Islam are based on the “unique perspective” he gained while travelling in Europe where, he says, Muslim migration has led to “almost unprecedented levels of social unrest”.
He goes on:
“I keep saying this is not about Muslim people,” Bernardi insists. “A lot of Muslims eat pork, there’s a lot of Muslims who don’t pray five times a day or go to mosque, there’s a lot of Muslims who decide to drink alcohol. There’s a lot of Muslims who are terrific people, that are fantastic, like people of any faith.”
In other words: Muslims are fine, as long as they don’t practise their beliefs. In Bernardi’s maiden speech he —
extolled the importance of a strong economy, small business, the defence industry and entrepreneurship, and derided the “new culture of rights” in Australia. He thanked his mother for staying at home to raise him, hailed “the sanctity of human life” and marriage as “a sacred bond between a man and a woman”, and pledged: “I shall be guided by my conscience, my family, my country and my God.”
There is a large leap of faith (sorry about that) required to make any logical sense out of those quotes and how they can be the belief system for one person. Bernardi is guided by the sanctity of human life and is guided by his particular version of god. Yet he likes Muslims who effectively forgo the tenets of their particular religion to fit into Bernardi’s particular version of a ‘normal’ society. The terrifying thing is that Bernardi seems to have gained significant assistance from the American Tea Party
To be fair, Bernardi isn’t the only one with this peculiar mindset. The Psychology Today
article referred to earlier in this article reports on an experiment performed by an American researcher:
Psychologist Markus Kemmelmeier, at the University of Nevada at Reno, stuck stamped letters under the windshield wipers of parked cars in a suburb of Detroit. Half were addressed to a fictitious Christian organization, half to a made-up Muslim group. Of all the letters, half had little stickers of the American flag.
Would the addresses and stickers affect the rate at which the letters would be mailed? Kemmelmeier wondered. Without the flag stickers, both sets of letters were mailed at the same rate, about 75 percent of the time. With the stickers, however, the rates changed: Almost all the Christian letters were forwarded, but only half of the Muslim letters were mailed. "The flag is seen as a sacred object," Kemmelmeier says. "And it made people think about what it means to be a good American."
In short, the Muslims didn't make the cut.
Not mailing a letter seems like a small slight. Yet in the last century, there have been shocking examples of xenophobia in our own back yard. Perhaps the most famous in American history was the fear of the Japanese during World War II. This particular wave of hysteria lead to the rise of slurs and bigoted depictions in the media, and more alarmingly, the mass internment of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry beginning in 1942. The internments have become a national embarrassment: Most of the Japanese held were American citizens, and there is little evidence that the imprisonments had any real strategic impact.
The targets of xenophobia — derived from the Greek word for stranger — are no longer the Japanese. Instead, they are Muslim immigrants. Or Mexicans. Or the Chinese. Or whichever group we have come to fear.
The Howard, Rudd and Abbott governments were past masters at the art of creating xenophobia, using terms such as ‘illegal immigrants’ and ‘boat people’ for refugee seekers who have every right to seek asylum in Australia. Sure, some of them don’t follow the same holy book as Howard, Rudd or Abbott claimed to do but neither do 70% of Australians who completed the last census. It is too early to determine if the Turnbull government is going to display any more genuine Christianity and humanity in relation to refugees, although there doesn’t seem to be any real impetus for meaningful change.
Unfortunately the actions of people such as Howard, Rudd or Abbott demean the community service performed by religious organisations such as the Anglican church in Gosford or the people we looked at some time ago in this article
on TPS Extra
. It’s also interesting that Catholic and Anglican Bishops are ‘pragmatic
’ about the introduction of same sex marriage, yet the people paid to make these decisions are kicking the can down the road, one would assume to avoid upsetting a proportion of the 30% of the population that find religion important in their lives.
How do the religious political conservatives justify their belief that the majority of citizens in a country should be bound to their beliefs? It would be interesting to hear how Howard, Rudd, Abbott, Bernardi and so on can justify their actions with the teachings in their preferred holy book of ‘Do unto others as you wish them do to you
’ (Luke 6:31
What do you think?
Who is the real silent majority? — the committed Christians or the 70% (as 2353 points out) of Australians who are not regular church goers or have no religion. And are the 30% now trying to impose their views and values on the rest of us? Does it become a problem when such people are in our parliament, and leading our nation, and making decisions that influence the future of our nation?
Next week Ken will expose ‘The philosophical myth of neo-liberalism’.