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a few remarks on religion in politics in Australia

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prayer to a particular god in parliament. pourquoi?

 

Julia Gillard, our Prime Minister, is an atheist, though she clearly tries to contain the ‘damage’ that this may cause to the super-sensitive Australian electorate. I think it’s a shame that she seeks to tread so lightly in this matter, because Australia has a long history of atheist, or at least not particularly religious, PMs, including Curtin, Chifley, Menzies, Holt, Gorton, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Keating. Though Howard was a regular church-goer, Kevin Rudd is really the only PM over the last seventy years who has made an issue of his religious belief [and even then not so much of one, though his regular church-front press conferences were a pain].

Considering this, it’s possibly a bit surprising that religious ideology and religious lobby groups such as the Catholic Church, the Australian Christian Lobby and even the Exclusive Brethren are so prominent in Australian political circles. Religious influence is also detectable through particular MPs, including those in the current ministry. Ministry, hmm – an unfortunate term. Stephen Conroy, the federal minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy [imagine the incomprehensibility of that title thirty years ago], has been responsible for the development and processing of an internet filtering system pitched at the ISP level which has garnered many brickbats over the last couple of years. Conroy is a Catholic who voted against the Northern Territory euthanasia bill and is generally regarded as socially conservative. In 2009 a list of the sites earmarked for blocking by the system, which was being promoted as essentially targeting child porn, was leaked online and published by Wikileaks. The sites included legal porn, euthanasia sites and  the sites of fringe religious groups, including Christian groups. All sites that a good god-fearing Catholic might abhor. These leaks have led to a backlash against Conroy, especially from the internet industry, in spite of Conroy claiming that 85% of ISPs were in favour of the filter. He has been unable to provide any proof for this claim.

However, this is fuzzy stuff. Conroy plausibly claims that the blacklisted sites were not chosen by himself or anyone else in government; they simply followed the recommendations of the independent Office of Film and Literature Classification. Similarly, current Labor minister Tony Burke’s influential anti-euthanasia speech to the NSW parliament in 1996 avoided all mention of ‘Christian values’ [and indeed it was a well-argued speech], but his subsequent collaboration with Federal Liberal MP, and fellow Catholic, Kevin Andrews to defeat the Northern Territory euthanasia law has understandably caused some discomfort to secularists.

Those of us who are interested in keeping religion out of politics will tend to watch out for particular policies and how they fare in the legislature. There are the ‘sanctity’ issues – sanctity of life [euthanasia and abortion, and anything that meddles too much with life such as stem-cell research, gm products, cloning and the like] and sanctity of marriage [gay marriage], – and there are issues specific to religion [from tax breaks for religious sects to chaplains in state schools and prayers in parliament]. None of these issues are anything like as disturbing as the wholesale assault upon science by the religious right in the USA, but they are still live issues.

It always intrigues me that the major Christian lobby groups, such as the Catholic Church and the ACL, take up their positions, which generally have the effect of promoting homophobia and misogyny, in the name of ‘Christian values’, often treated as synonymous with ‘family values’. Yet there’s little in the gospels, or the New Testament, that promotes family of any kind. Neither Jesus nor Paul of Tarsus, the two great sources of Christian value, were family types. Paul, like Jesus, never married, and could only grumpily concede that it was better to marry than to burn [1 Corinthians 7:9]. Jesus refused to have anything to do  with his family when they came to see him [Mark 3 31-35, Luke 8 19-21], and claimed that he’d come to earth not to bring peace but a sword, with which he would set son against father, daughter against mother and so forth [Matthew 10 34-39; Luke 12 49-53]. All of these passages emphasise the same message, that blood ties are of far less value than the ties that connect those who believe in the supreme value, if not divinity, of Jesus himself. Typical hubristic cult leader talk. It reaches its zenith in Luke 14;26: “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” What a pleasant fellow.

Anyway, the question of whether these lobby groups accurately represent the thoughts of their idols is largely irrelevant. They’re essentially ultra-conservative political factions who will borrow the cloak of piety whenever it suits them [okay, to be fair, the Catholic Church also advocates for the marginalized – if only they could make their advocacy unconditional]. Sites worth watching in this regard are:

The Australian Christian Lobby

Family First [an essentially Christian political party – putting family first like Jesus didn’t]

Catholic Church in Australia

The Centre for Independent Studies [secular, but with Christian influences]

Catch the Fire Ministries

Australian Christian Values Institute

More ecumenical and generally liberal Christian sites worth knowing about:

The National Council of Churches in Australia

Religious Society of Friends in Australia [Quakers]

Anglican Church of Australia

Uniting Church in Australia

An article worth reading here suggests, I think convincingly, that religious lobby groups are far less effective in electoral terms than might be expected from the publicity they garner. Cause for optimism.

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Written by stewart henderson

September 28, 2011 at 3:19 pm

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