The silent majority

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’.

Rate This Post

Current rating: 0.4 / 5 | Rated 12 times

Ad astra

27/09/20152353 The aspect of your fine piece that intrigues me most is the way in which some people hold entrenched beliefs, even though the facts belie them. Whether these beliefs are religious or political or economic or environmental, or for that matter in any other sphere, I am astonished how they can fervently hold these beliefs when they fly in the face of contradictory evidence and logical reasoning. Taking first some strongly held religious beliefs, it seems that proponents are able to dismiss opposing views on the grounds that the Bible or the Koran specifically endorses their views. If it is believed that, for example, the Bible is literally true, that every fact and every assertion in the Bible is correct; there is simply no room at all for contrary views in the minds of those who hold that to be so. Debate and argument are therefore without merit, since no change of view is possible or acceptable. I have encountered fundamentalists with whom discourse about the validity of their beliefs is just not feasible. Those with scientific minds use the scientific method, which follows a protocol: Formulate a question that needs an answer, make observations, propose a hypothesis, design and perform an experiment to test the hypothesis, analyze the resultant data to determine whether to accept or reject the hypothesis, and if rejected, propose and test a new hypothesis. Sometimes hypotheses that seem reasonable at the time turn out to be wrong in the long run. As Karl Popper, one of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century taught us, no amount of experimentation can [b]absolutely[/b] prove a theory, yet a single experiment can disprove it. This is why scientists, no matter how confident they are about the validity of their hypotheses or theories, will not absolutely confirm them. Climate scientists are a contemporary example: whilst there is a 97% consensus that the globe is warming, they will not, indeed cannot express completely certainty. This allows those who wish to deny the reality of global warming to say that since the scientists are not absolutely certain, there is room for doubt, skepticism, even denial of global warming. Those who hold fundamentalist beliefs, religious or otherwise, are not so constrained. They hold their beliefs absolutely, based on an assumption that, for example, the holy books to which they subscribe are absolutely correct. There is no value in entering into a dialogue with them when they hold such entrenched beliefs, religious or otherwise, as folk singer and activist Joan Baez asserted on the Jon Faine show on 774 Melbourne radio last week. This has been my experience. Logical, fact-based reasoning is not just pointless, but a frustrating waste of time. Cory Bernardi is one who holds views that cannot be changed by facts or reason. Yet his ilk hopes, indeed expects that others be bound by [b]their[/b] beliefs, even though the only reason they can advance for them is not scientific data that is testable, but instead tracts from holy books, in which they have absolute faith. Which begs your final question: “[i]How do the religious political conservatives justify their belief that the majority of citizens in a country should be bound to their beliefs?[/i]” My answer is: “I don’t know, and I suspect I never will.” That is the frustration that scientific thinkers have with those who beliefs are faith-based. Thank you for once more for stimulating our mental apparatus.


28/09/20151. Malcolm Turnbull poised to end improper influence of religion on government Andrew Masterson, Sep 27 00:15:00 EST 2015 Perhaps now, with a changing of the guard in the government, the place of religion will subside. Indeed – although one must note the pitfalls of optimism here – it seems that Turnbull's elevation may well signal the end of the religiously motivated language and policy that characterised much of Tony Abbott's tenure. And that must surely be a good thing. Even from this short distance, it seems clear that Abbott and many of his ministers couched their dialogue with the Australian people in a language of conservative Christianity that sat at dramatic odds even with mainstream Christians. 2. Malcolm Turnbull's realism a good antidote to Tony Abbott's messianic obsessions Tony Walker. Sep 25 2015 at 2:53 PM On May 1, 2009, Malcolm Turnbull delivered his most significant foreign policy statement as then Opposition Leader, replete with three phrases in Chinese. In hindsight it was a good speech – a nuanced speech – about how to manage relations with China and the United States from the perspective of someone who actually knew something about China. "Let me state this plainly," he said at the Lowy Institute. "It makes no sense for Australia in 2009 to base its long-term strategic policy on the highly contentious proposition that Australia is on an inevitable collision course with a militarily aggressive China." 3. 'Never be ashamed': Pope forcefully defends immigrants in Philadelphia Rory Carroll, Alan Yuhas & Angela Bruno. 27 September 2015 08.50 Pope Francis stands firm amid a tide of Donald Trump-fuelled xenophobia in the presidential campaign but pontiff challenges some progressive views...Pope Francis has channelled the spirit of America’s founding fathers to make an impassioned embrace of immigrants and cultural diversity, insisting that newcomers to the United States must not be ashamed of their traditions. 4. Obama says a thing. Republican outrage. Pope Francis says a similar thing. Where's the outrage? Laura Clawson. Sep 24, 2015 at 11:56 AM PDT 'during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.…' (Obama). 'We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind....' (Pope Francis). 5. The Ghost of Tony Abbott exacts his revenge Andrew P Street. September 27, 2015 - 6:27PM Our former PM attempts to save us from the twin threats of accurate data and alternative music - from beyond the political grave!....Friends, one of the things that future generations are going to look back upon with contempt and mockery is the way that the for-want-of-a-better-word Right have been engaged in an insane "culture war", which holds that Our Way Of Life is under shadowy threat by all sorts of outside forces and must be protected at all costs. 6. Australia's ousted prime minister left bruised by domestic stumbles Kaori Takahashi. September 25, 2015 1:00 am JST In Australia, prime ministers usually serve two three-year terms. For one to leave office without seeing out even one term is highly unusual. Abbott made it clear that he had never thought such a humiliating thing would ever happen to him. 7. Tony Abbott should stop playing the sore loser and retreat gracefully Tim Dick. September 27, 2015 - 3:36PM When deposed as prime minister, Tony Abbott pledged: "There will be no wrecking, no undermining, and no sniping." We all knew what he meant: he would be no Kevin Rudd. His pledge lasted all of a week before the wrecking, undermining and sniping began. It's continued this weekend. L'esprit de Rudd is back in the air. 8. Annabel Crabb: Why I can't forget the way Tony Abbott ate that raw onion Annabel Crabb, March 22, 2015 "History is a raw onion sandwich. It just repeats, it burps." Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending. ...Now: not being surprised by things that Tony Abbott does is becoming a national skill-set. But in the days since, I find that I cannot read or think about anything the government does without thinking of that moment, and wondering who eats raw onions, and why, and what it might possibly mean for the nation that the Prime Minister is one of them. 9. Vacant boards common as Coalition considers the worth of community advice Anne Davies. September 27, 2015 - 2:51AM ...many boards.....are either below strength or have been effectively left inoperable by the Coalition government under Tony Abbott....A review of the AusGov site reveals significant numbers of vacancies, particularly on boards set up to provide the government with input on policy matters as diverse as securing the safety of the blood supply to advising on consumer affairs....The government has promised that more boards will be scrapped in the 2015-16 mid-year economic statement, which may in part explain why some boards have been run down. 10. New Special Minister of State Mal Brough under investigation by the Australian Federal Police Rachel Olding. September 27, 2015 - 9:54PM His new role as Special Minister of State requires him to raise and reform parliamentary standards. However, federal MP Mal Brough is not yet free of his own damaging allegations that he broke the law in one of the murkiest episodes in Australian politics. Mr Brough is still under investigation by the Australian Federal Police for allegedly illegally procuring and distributing copies of disgraced former speaker Peter Slipper's diaries in 2012, 60 Minutes reported on Sunday night.


28/09/20152353 (and others) You may enjoy this very short clip which I think appropriate to your piece.


28/09/2015Ken - thats wonderful


29/09/2015"Do unto others as you wish them do to you’ (Luke 6:31). " People of the neo-con mind-set have a slightly different take on this, which they no doubt justify through their faith or perhaps by some "scientific thinking " of their own: "Do unto others as they would do unto you - but do it first"’ .

Ad astra

29/09/2015Folks I have just now posted on [i]TPS Extra[/i] the sequel to [i]How has Federal politics come to this?[/i] It is titled: [i]What joy! An era of Abbott-free governance.[/i] You can read it at:


29/09/2015Totaram - I suspect you're not far off the mark there. Another indication that the literal reading of spiritual texts is hit and miss. Bernardi admits in a quote above that he has the Koran on his iPad - the only bits he has read are the sections that support his xenophobic view on life.

Ad astra

29/09/2015Folks If the above link to the [i]TPS Extra[/i] piece: [i]What joy! An era of Abbott-free governance[/i] does not work, try this:


1/10/2015Greetings Comrades And Thank You 2353. All my life I have been nontheist. I am eternally astounded that people who shed their belief in Santa Claus by age 8 can seriously continue for all their lives to believe in God at all, let alone a Judaeo-Christian one that can be appealed to for personal favours and forgivenesses. And used to justify any action at all due to the fact that Scripture can be read any bloody way you want. "The Devil quotes Scripture for his own". But what has me eternally livid is that Godism is allowed to enter into what are supposed to be secular institutions, including at the very top, i.e.Parliament, where, grotesquely, prior to every session, "The Lord's Prayer" is read to sanctify the Members' deliberations. Where Members are induced (though not obliged) to swear allegiance to the System on the Bible. (Loyal affirmations are accepted but sneered at by Christians.) But the FUNDING of Godism - specifically the Christian version - is the most outrageous aspect of all. All religious organisations are tax-bloody-free FFS! And their superiority-indoctrination camps, called Private & Religious Schools, are funded at a level which leaves me ! GRRRNH! And under this insane Government - WORST OF ALL - is the financial and political support for CHAPLAINS in STATE schools! This is the sort of issue that people have fought wars for. But Damn, Australians just d-uhhrr and let it happen like boiling frogs. Abbort used his Catholicism to be forgiven by the likes of Pell for any inhumanity he showed. And his supercilious successor Turdball has CONVERTED to Catholicism. Dear Dog! And then there's the Happy Clappers like Morriscum and the batshit crazy religiomanes like Cory Bernardi ... I used to hope that the world would mostly get over Religion before I died. But it's like a malignant cancer, and I fear that it will never be cured until it destroys us all and Life on Earth with us. It's that bad. But thanks again for the article 2353! :~)


1/10/2015TT You are forgetting that they don't mind destroying all life on earthe because, after all, it is not this life that really counts. Klling us all off more quickly just speeds access to heaven/paradise... (insert word of choice). It is a cop out that allows all sorts of ineqaulities and injustices in this life. It takes some (like the current pope) to remind the 'faithful' that there are aspects of this life that matter.

Ad astra

2/10/2015Folks I have just now posted on [i]TPS Extra[/i] a new piece: [i]The man who mistook his Party for a toy[/i].


3/10/2015President Obama was wrong: Australia is not like the US Michael Pascoe. October 2, 2015 - 3:26PM Unlike Australia, the US is at war with itself, strongly divided on racial, religious, political and social lines. We have our problems, significantly worse in some places than others, but overall our gaps are bridgeable. The US seems to prefer to use its societal chasms as moats and defend their borders.... It doesn't seem to help to have a large body of religious fanaticism – it doesn't help anywhere, whatever the particular brand of religion. There's little difference between the violently fundamentalist Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Jew.
How many umbrellas are there if I have two in my hand but the wind then blows them away?