I can’t be the only Christian who’s been told “Religion has no place in politics”. It’s a widely-held view, and one expressed to me most recently by a journalist from a national newspaper whilst interviewing me for the upcoming “Living with the Enemy” (“LWTE”).

Here in Australia there has been criticism of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Roman Catholicism interfering with his decision making.

I’d like to ask him: How many of your policies does your god disagree with, Mr Abbott? If the answer is ”none”, is he an elephant stamp or an estimable deity?

The religious justification of political acts sends a shiver down my spine.

Closer to home, in the trailer for the upcoming LWTE one of my conversation partners says, in a similar vein,

If people have religious objections, they can have those religious objections, but they can have them somewhere else.

The point of all this is clear. Religion, it is argued, should have no place in public debate. It ought to be excluded from the voices and opinions that are listened to as we come to make decisions on the big issues.

I want to take 4 posts to make some brief initial response to this basic position. My outline is this:

  1. It’s a rejection of democracy.
  2. It’s an alienation of a significant portion and  of our population.
  3. It’s willfully blind to the great positive contribution Christianity in particular has had on Western society.
  4. It’s naïve about the biases and untested assumptions that every contributor to our public debate has.

I won’t be writing long essays, just the beginnings of the basic response to the position; some things to think about and some ideas about how to reply.

So first the most basic response.

To deny any voice, religious or otherwise, is a simple denial of democracy.

Western liberal democracies function under what I will refer to as the democratic contract. Most simply put, there is a contract between individuals in a democracy that accepts that we all get a say in our government in return for allowing that government to legislate in ways that we may not agree with. Our right to elect whoever we choose is also our implied to consent to submit to government by those that the majority choose to govern (in whatever way we, as a society, have decided that government will be elected). My implied consent to be prepared to be governed by someone with atheistic convictions which I do not agree with is the matching implied consent of my opponent to be prepared to be governed by someone with religious convictions.

And that’s the beauty of democracy. We may not like what someone believes, we may think that there is no logical or consistent basis for their beliefs, we may even think their position is dangerous, but we’ve all agreed to subject those beliefs and ideas to public debate and assessment rather than silence them. My right to be part of public debate and even influence government is my opponent’s right. When he seeks to remove my right he is actually undermining his own right.

Now there is always a risk in this. No-one needs reminding that Hitler came to power through the ballot box. But that’s the decision we’ve made together. Ideas we don’t agree with are rejected by public scrutiny and discussion but not by silencing and excluding them.

Further, it misunderstands the “secular” nature of Australia (and similar provisions in other countries). Here in Australia, s.116 of the Constitution states the following:

Commonwealth not to legislate in respect of religion

                   The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

I think it’s safe to say that Tony Abbott hasn’t sought to establish a religion or impose religious observance. Yes, his religion may have influenced his opinions and our legislation but that’s a different matter (and one we’ll deal with in the 4th piece in this series). However, what our opponents in this debate are advocating is a form of religious test as a qualification for office. Now that’s ironic.

It comes down to this: as electors we’ve contracted with each other to decide things by election. Excluding any voice from that process, however much we might disagree with or dislike it, is to actually reject the process itself.

Comments

comments

46 comments on “Christianity in Public Debate? 1 – the rejection of democracy

  1. Here's where your argument comes crashing down in flames. The religious views vary according to the agenda of the religious person. That is to say a Christian can "interpret" the Bible to say whatever they want it to say.

    Here's a glaring example. You're an Anglican Minister and your views on significant social issues (we'll use marriage equality as an example) are completely at odds with those of the Anglican Parish of Gosford. So essentially if one brand of Christianity can't sing from the same song book how can you expect us to take those views seriously?

    And finally, you're expecting a "faith" to have input in our lives and laws. Faith is to have a blind belief in something that has never even been remotely proven to exist. I reject the notion of "faith" interfering in my life. Feel free to have faith yourself, but don't expect me to respect it or have it dictate my (law abiding) life style.

    • Respectfully, Sir-James Best, but along with faith, neither love nor justice have ever been remotely proven to exist either.

        • A legal system that deals with justice? I think it might be a mistake to confuse the two as being one and the same. Is love truly a human emotion?

  2. Jim, they're fair challenges. Let me try and address them:

    With respect to myself and the good reverend from Gosford you should assess each claim on it's own merits. Setting aside whether you agree with either of us, the only question you have is which one of is reading the Bible consistently and accurately? If you actually want to "take these things seriously" then that's an analysis that requires from openness to understanding the issues and the patience to weigh it all up.

    As for "faith", I'm afraid that you're talking about fideism. It might suit the pop atheists to define Christian faith in that way but it's not the way that we ourselves understand what's going on. For clarity – and to prevent you from making statements in the future that you now know are incorrect – when the engaged Christian speaks about "faith" he is using the Biblical definition which is muck akin to "trust". The Bible's argument (classically stated in Heb 10:23) is that give there are certain facts we are sure of about and how He has acted, we can therefore trust Him – ie "have faith" in Him.

    Those "facts" are, of course, a wider discussion but for the Christian they centre around the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. You are obviouly not yet convinced of those historical claims but you don't have to be to at least represent the Christian's position more accurately. I trust that now you're a little clearer you will, in the interests of honest dialogue, no longer be throwing around the "faith vs facts" fallacy.

  3. Jim – one more thing. More broadly my argument does not depend on the veracity (or otherwise) of the religious (or any other) claim. It is simply that we allow those claims to be tested in the public debate, not excluded from the debate. As I write,

    "And that’s the beauty of democracy. We may not like what someone believes, we may think that there is no logical or consistent basis for their beliefs, we may even think their position is dangerous, but we’ve all agreed to subject those beliefs and ideas to public debate and assessment rather than silence them. My right to be part of public debate and even influence government is my opponent’s right. When he seeks to remove my right he is actually undermining his own right."

    Your answer to that appears to be "well, I don't think you have any logical basis so you should be silent", which is exactly the pov that I seek to critique. You don't really best me in this discussion by simply repeating the claim I am responding to.

  4. The argument for the separation of Church and State is a nineteenth-century one that went to the divisiveness of sectarianism rather than freedom of religion or freedom of speech. Indeed, s116 of the Constitution guarantees that freedom. This challenges the very premise of the argument that “To deny any voice, religious or otherwise, is a simple denial of democracy”.

    The principle of the separation of Church and State is about protecting the secular state from subversion by any religious institution and, as such, is an affirmation of democracy designed to protect the system against undemocratic institutions. The Catholic Church, in particular, is authoritarian, autocratic and rejects democracy for paternalistic command and control in which the laity – while involved to a greater degree than when I was involved pre-Vatican II – have no say over significant moral and organisational matters, unless it is affirmation and implementation of hierarchical pronouncements. The Anglican and other churches, such as the more socially progressive Uniting Church, have synods in which there is greater or lesser ability for lay involvement in key decision-making – such as the ordination of women clergy, bishops and – heaven forbid – gay clergy [the Uniting Church do]. So some churches do have input from representatives in decision-making. How this is done I do not know and cannot comment on their democratic efficacy. The mega-churches appear to be run as businesses and most businesses do their utmost to neuter any suggestion of democracy in the workplace if it involves organised workers.

    Elected representatives bring to their role, of course, their moral framework, religious or ethical, to the questions of our time: social justice, public health, environmental protection and food security, treatment of asylum seekers, state surveillance, abortion, gay marriage and so forth. That is, parliamentarians engaged in dealing with the moral questions each of the issues raise bring their own perspectives, religious, ethical, cultural, class [yes], and the ideology that encompasses all these and more besides. Mostly, politicians float their beliefs in the Party room but take a collective Party stance on legislation.

    Sitting at the core of the twenty-first century concern for religious influence in the State is the subjugation of the secular but complicated and often conflicting responsibilities of the elected members to represent ALL of the electorate and not merely special interest groups. MPs succumbing to inducements offered by, or threats made from, lobbyists whether industry, business or religious are as much a threat to representative democracy – the subversion of which is appallingly apparent in the United States – they are undermining democratic principles. And religious bodies have sought undue influence over modern parliaments as long as business groups have.

    The elected member’s primary responsibility is to the secular work of the state. It is not to promote a particular or arcane religious agenda. And, above all, it is the moral and legal imperative of a representative to improve the lot of all Australians, protect the security of the nation and its citizens to maintain the freedom from religion [again the US fails this principle in some States where atheists are banned from public office and the informal exclusion of atheists in other States], and not to impose bigoted minority moral stances on the whole of the population. And make no mistake, the agenda of some of the religious bodies, to which some MPs align themselves, is to transform Australian society according to their exclusive-salvation models, something that is the antithesis of democracy.

    One of the greatest threats to democracy is the neo-liberal/Tea Party agenda for small government withdrawing government’s role in providing services and a social safety net in an individualist ideology in the name of “small government”, lowering taxes for the rich, and deregulation. The point here is that the brand of neo-liberalism embraced by the US Tea Party and its imitators in Australia and elsewhere is underwritten by extremist, right-wing religious fundamentalism that subscribes to the moral rectitude of the fittest and the blame game for those who fall away from the quest for the holy grail of wealth. It provides the justification and the consequent program written in the Abbott Regime’s Budget attacking the most vulnerable.

    In the end, the critical question of religion and politics is the honesty of candidates presenting themselves for election. And we have seen precious little of that in the last election. That honesty should go not only to the social, economic, environmental questions, justice, and humanity. It should also go to whether or not the candidate embraces the whole of the electorate or gives primacy to his or her religious beliefs over and above the job they were elected to perform. We expect our politicians to bring professionalism to their work. We expect them to be trustworthy and deal with issues on their merits. We demand of them that they not seek to impose religious demands on the shaping of legislation. We do not expect our politicians – as some of them have been doing – to ape US Presidents with Bibles and prayer books in their hands the post Sunday Service doorstops. We do not deny politicians their private religious beliefs nor that those beliefs will influence their decisions but the Parliament and the hustings are not the places to witness and proselytise.

    This is not a denial of voice, but a democratic constraint in an affirmation that religion is a private matter as far as the Parliament and the governance of Australia is concerned. It has no place in political discourse or in the framing of legislation and its debate.

    • Jim,

      MPs succumbing to inducements offered by, or threats made from, lobbyists whether industry, business or religious are as much a threat to representative democracy – the subversion of which is appallingly apparent in the United States – they are undermining democratic principles. And religious bodies have sought undue influence over modern parliaments as long as business groups have.

      That’s an argument againt all “succumbing to inducements” and “undue influence”, not against religious opinion (or any other opinion) impacting upon the choices our politicians make.

      the hustings are not the places to witness and proselytise

      On the contrary, the hustings are EXACTLY the place to witness and proselytise and our politicians witness to and proselytise in favour of a smorgasbord of opinions and views. You just appear to want to exclude one particular subset of opinions and views because ou don’t lke them. But then that’s pretty much akin to me saying “I don’t think libertarianism ought to influence public debate – people are free to be libertarian in private but it’s got not place in the Parliament”.

      • Your first point: if read read the whole of my comment, you’ll see I address this.

        The second point: you fail to address issues about the roles and responsibility of politicians. I don’t object to churches commenting on public policy. I would even suggest they have a social obligation to do so. I object to POLITICIANS elected to a secular Parliament bringing religion into it: religions don’t have a monopoly on morality but they behave as if they do and their activist adherents do; and for every sect there’s a different perspective from the vile [eg., Westboro Baptist] to the progressive [Gosford CofE; some work done by Australian Catholic Bishops on the workplace, for example]. But I don’t elect my REPRESENTATIVE to rant on about RELIGIOUS matters: I expect him or her to deal with the issues I referred to for the WHOLE COMMUNITY. And, on that point, while the assumption of moral monopoly is offensive to good people [there is, as I have suggested, a multitude of interpretations of morality – pick your sect] it is also arrogant of a politician with a particular religious belief to seek to impose it on the electorate. It is such adherents to religion who have the moral blindness to push the Hockey budget’s burdens onto the poorest and most vulnerable Australians with arguments that are, to put it mildly, without empathy, without justice, and without Christian principle. Not only that, the government has been deceitful, lied about its true intentions, concocted a fake budget emergency, denied the facts of the health of Australia’s budgetary position, and shown no compassion. As I see it, the churches have been quite restrained in their criticisms of this government’s loathsome agenda [don’t get me started on the inhumane rendition of asylum seekers to remote concentration camps on islands in the Pacific or their odious plans to send refugees to Cambodia or return Syrian refugees back to the war zone]. Talk about post-modernist moral relativity!

        Finally, what I see when politicians in each of the parties here and in some other western countries, especially the United States, spruik religion is usually justification for authoritarian measures that have no respect for people’s bedrooms, their privacy, their liberty, or their well-being. Religions do a lot of social good through their charitable work, but religion in politics is too often without charity. The politicians who wear their religion on their sleeves and talk about family and [religious] values in the same breath are the ones who most likely pass laws undermining work-life balance, that weaken family financial security by undermining workplace laws, that make it harder for the unemployed to support the costs of finding work, that treat the disadvantaged and the poor without dignity, that place proportionally greater imposts on the income of the poorest while protecting the most wealthy, who make access to affordable health more difficult, that channel support from government schools to the wealthiest private schools.

  5. Freedom of Religion & The Secular State by Russell Blackford is a book worth reading on this topic. Probably a book I should read again as this issue seems to often come up.
    Very quickly my positions is: say what you want from your religious perspective but the role of government should limited to the secular world and policies justified without any need to invoke rules set by a deity or a holy book. PM Abbott/LNP may believe marriage for same sex couples is wrong because of religion beliefs but really ought to use secular reasoning when deciding policy.

  6. David Ould you have summarised my point clearly. It is all about interpretation and once something is open to wide and wild interpretation it becomes manifestly unreliable.

  7. Jim Best but that's no different to any other political opinion – we have many politicians who look at the same facts and come to differering conclusions. Are you therefore arguing that we ought to let none of them speak?

  8. David Ould let's get back to basics. Our laws should be based around the same logical system that our courts of law operate. Courts do not accept hearsay, innuendo or reasoning based on myths. That is all I expect of our government, they rule according to facts and evidence. Religion does not meet either criteria.

  9. Some minor editing:
    The argument for the separation of Church and State is a nineteenth-century one that went to the divisiveness of sectarianism rather than freedom of religion or freedom of speech. Indeed, s116 of the Constitution guarantees that freedom. This challenges the very premise that “To deny any voice, religious or otherwise, is a simple denial of democracy”.

    The principle of the separation of Church and State is about protecting the secular state from subversion by any religious institution and, as such, is an affirmation of democracy designed to protect the system against undemocratic institutions. The Catholic Church, in particular, is authoritarian, autocratic and rejects democracy for paternalistic command and control in which the laity – while involved to a greater degree than when I was involved pre-Vatican II – have no say over significant moral and organisational matters, unless it is affirmation and implementation of hierarchical pronouncements. The Anglican and other churches, such as the more socially progressive Uniting Church, have synods in which there is greater or lesser ability for lay involvement in key decision-making – such as the ordination of women clergy, bishops and – heaven forbid – gay clergy [the Uniting Church do]. So some churches do have input from representatives in decision-making. How this is done I do not know and cannot comment on their democratic efficacy. The mega-churches appear to be run as businesses and most businesses do their utmost to neuter any suggestion of democracy in the workplace if it involves organised workers.

    Elected representatives bring to their role, of course, their moral framework, religious or ethical, to the questions of our time: social justice, public health, environmental protection and food security, treatment of asylum seekers, state surveillance, abortion, gay marriage and so forth. That is, parliamentarians engaged in dealing with the moral questions each of the issues raise bring their own perspectives, religious, ethical, cultural, class [yes], and the ideology that encompasses all these and more besides. Mostly, politicians float their beliefs in the Party room but take a collective Party stance on legislation.

    Sitting at the core of the twenty-first century concern for religious influence in the State is the subjugation of the secular but complicated and often conflicting responsibilities of the elected members to represent ALL of the electorate and not merely special interest groups. MPs succumbing to inducements offered by, or threats made from, lobbyists whether industry, business or religious are a threat to representative democracy, the subversion of which is appallingly apparent in the United States. The captives of the industry lobbies or, say the ACL, undermine democratic principles. And religious bodies have sought undue influence over modern parliaments as long as business groups have.

    The elected member’s primary responsibility is to the secular work of the state. It is not to promote a particular or arcane religious agenda. And, above all, it is the moral and legal imperative of a representative to improve the lot of all Australians, protect the security of the nation and its citizens, to maintain the freedom from religion [again the US fails this principle in some States where atheists are banned from public office and the informal exclusion of atheists in other States], and not to impose bigoted minority moral stances on the whole of the populaThe argument for the separation of Church and State is a nineteenth-century one that went to the divisiveness of sectarianism rather than freedom of religion or freedom of speech. Indeed, s116 of the Constitution guarantees that freedom. This challenges the very premise of the argument that “To deny any voice, religious or otherwise, is a simple denial of democracy”.

    The principle of the separation of Church and State is about protecting the secular state from subversion by any religious institution and, as such, is an affirmation of democracy designed to protect the system against undemocratic institutions. The Catholic Church, in particular, is authoritarian, autocratic and rejects democracy for paternalistic command and control in which the laity – while involved to a greater degree than when I was involved pre-Vatican II – have no say over significant moral and organisational matters, unless it is affirmation and implementation of hierarchical pronouncements. The Anglican and other churches, such as the more socially progressive Uniting Church, have synods in which there is greater or lesser ability for lay involvement in key decision-making – such as the ordination of women clergy, bishops and – heaven forbid – gay clergy [the Uniting Church do]. So some churches do have input from representatives in decision-making. How this is done I do not know and cannot comment on their democratic efficacy. The mega-churches appear to be run as businesses and most businesses do their utmost to neuter any suggestion of democracy in the workplace if it involves organised workers.

    Elected representatives bring to their role, of course, their moral framework, religious or ethical, to the questions of our time: social justice, public health, environmental protection and food security, treatment of asylum seekers, state surveillance, abortion, gay marriage and so forth. That is, parliamentarians engaged in dealing with the moral questions each of the issues raise bring their own perspectives, religious, ethical, cultural, class [yes], and the ideology that encompasses all these and more besides. Mostly, politicians float their beliefs in the Party room but take a collective Party stance on legislation.

    Sitting at the core of the twenty-first century concern for religious influence in the State is the subjugation of the secular but complicated and often conflicting responsibilities of the elected members to represent ALL of the electorate and not merely special interest groups. MPs succumbing to inducements offered by, or threats made from, lobbyists whether industry, business or religious are as much a threat to representative democracy – the subversion of which is appallingly apparent in the United States – they are undermining democratic principles. And religious bodies have sought undue influence over modern parliaments as long as business groups have.

    The elected member’s primary responsibility is to the secular work of the state. It is not to promote a particular or arcane religious agenda. And, above all, it is the moral and legal imperative of a representative to improve the lot of all Australians, protect the security of the nation and its citizens, to maintain the freedom from religion [again the US fails this principle in some States where atheists are banned from public office and the informal exclusion of atheists in other States], and not to impose bigoted minority moral stances on the whole of the population. And make no mistake, the agenda of some of the religious bodies, to which some MPs align themselves, is to transform Australian society according to their exclusive-salvation models, something that is the antithesis of democracy.

    One of the greatest threats to democracy is the neo-liberal/Tea Party agenda for small government withdrawing government’s role in providing services and a social safety net in an individualist ideology in the name of “small government”, lowering taxes for the rich, and deregulation. The point here is that the brand of neo-liberalism embraced by the US Tea Party and its imitators in Australia and elsewhere is underwritten by extremist, right-wing religious fundamentalism that subscribes to the moral rectitude of the fittest and the blame game for those who fall away from the quest for the holy grail of wealth. It provides the justification and the consequent program written in the Abbott Regime’s Budget attacking the most vulnerable.

    In the end, the critical question of religion and politics is the honesty of candidates presenting themselves for election. And we have seen precious little of that in the last election. That honesty should go not only to the social, economic, environmental questions, justice, and humanity. It should also go to whether or not the candidate embraces the whole of the electorate or gives primacy to his or her religious beliefs over and above the job they were elected to perform. We expect our politicians to bring professionalism to their work. We expect them to be trustworthy and deal with issues on their merits. We demand of them that they not seek to impose religious demands on the shaping of legislation. We do not expect our politicians – as some of them have been doing – to ape US Presidents with Bibles and prayer books in their hands at post Sunday Service doorstops. We do not deny politicians their private religious beliefs nor that those beliefs will influence their decisions but the Parliament and the hustings are not the places to witness and proselytise.

    This is not a denial of voice, but a democratic constraint in an affirmation that religion is a private matter as far as the Parliament and the governance of Australia is concerned. It has no place in political discourse or in the framing of legislation and its debate.tion. And make no mistake, the agenda of some of the religious bodies, to which some MPs align themselves, is to transform Australian society according to their exclusive-salvation models, something that is the antithesis of democracy.

    One of the greatest threats to democracy is the neo-liberal/Tea Party agenda for small government withdrawing government’s role in providing services and a social safety net in an individualist ideology in the name of “small government”, lowering taxes for the rich, and deregulation. The point here is that the brand of neo-liberalism embraced by the US Tea Party and its imitators in Australia and elsewhere is underwritten by extremist, right-wing religious fundamentalism that subscribes to the moral rectitude of the fittest and the blame game for those who fall away from the quest for the holy grail of wealth. It provides the justification and the consequent program written in the Abbott Regime’s Budget attacking the most vulnerable.

    In the end, the critical question of religion and politics is the honesty of candidates presenting themselves for election. And we have seen precious little of that in the last election. That honesty should go not only to the social, economic, environmental questions, justice, and humanity. It should also go to whether or not the candidate embraces the whole of the electorate or gives primacy to his or her religious beliefs over and above the job they were elected to perform. We expect our politicians to bring professionalism to their work. We expect them to be trustworthy and deal with issues on their merits. We demand of them that they not seek to impose religious demands on the shaping of legislation. We do not expect our politicians – as some of them have been doing – to ape US Presidents with Bibles and prayer books in their hands at post Sunday Service doorstops. We do not deny politicians their private religious beliefs nor that those beliefs will influence their decisions but the Parliament and the hustings are not the places to witness and proselytise.

    This is not a denial of voice, but a democratic constraint in an affirmation that religion is a private matter as far as the Parliament and the governance of Australia is concerned. It has no place in political discourse or in the framing of legislation and its debate.

    • The elected member’s primary responsibility is to the secular work of the state.

      No, I genuinely don’t believe it is. It’s to represent those who elected them. So we all choose someone to represent us and the most popular candidate gets the nod.

      The state does not have “secular” work – it simply has work. It is governed by the people we have chosen according to both our views and our assessment of their views. Our constitution prevents the state from promoting one specific religious view (ie by the establishment of a church or formal adoptoin of a particular religion) but does not prevent the religious (or the Jedi, or the trainspotters, or the UFO enthusiasts or any other number of people we might think have a screw loose) from taking part in that system.

      Again, democracy is about the involvement of all. Once you start pushing for the trainspotters to be silenced, that’s the death of democracy.

      • You misrepresent me [see my earlier post and response – you really should take this one down because there was obviously a SNAFU with the submission] and provide assertions rather than acknowledge the argument. How can you assert that the elected member’s primary responsibility is not to the secular work of the state? Where does religion come into it? And which version of Christianity comes into it? And which religion, for that matter? And if you looked at my posts a little more clearly, you’ll see I distinguish between religion in politics and religious commentary on politics. I’m not shutting anyone up and there is absolutely nothing in what I have written here that would support your inference. If the State simply has work, that is by definition, “secular”. Thank you! The relevant definition in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary: “Belonging to the world and its affairs as distinguished from the Church and religion; civil, lay; non-religious; non-sacred”. S116 of the Constitution [I refer to this point, so don’t see why you reiterate it in rebuttal]: specifically protects religious freedom. But, it does nothing to endorse religious involvement either. The founding fathers certainly acknowledged the separation of church and state. s116 is a weak acknowledgement of that principle.

        Look at it this way: you want religion in politics. OK, then, what version of Christianity do we incorporate into the political process- Catholic? Protestant? Reformist? Progressive (Uniting Church)? Hillsong? Baptist? Fundamentalists? Traditionalists? The really weird sects? Islam? What version of Islam – Sunni, Shi’a? Buddhists? Hindus? Pantheists? All of these and more are to be found in Australian Society and many of them are in theological conflict ecumenism notwithstanding, and on social questions such as marriage equality, about which, as I have pointed out, your church is divided. It’s on this point that the Founding Fathers were in agreement, a view that found its way into the notion of “Free, Secular and Compulsory” education in the 1870s.

        • Jim, believe it or not I’m trying to respond to what you say and hoping you will do the same.

          Look at it this way: you want religion in politics.

          Actually no. I simply want the freedom for anyone to be in politics and influence our decision making. Doesn’t have to be religious. In fact, in order to make that point I brought in the Trainspotter and UFO Enthusiasts Party.

          OK, then, what version of Christianity do we incorporate into the political process- Catholic? Protestant? Reformist? Progressive (Uniting Church)? Hillsong? Baptist? Fundamentalists? Traditionalists? The really weird sects? Islam? What version of Islam – Sunni, Shi’a? Buddhists? Hindus? Pantheists? All of these and more are to be found in Australian Society…

          And my only point here is that any and all can be part of our national debate and therefore influence our national government. Frankly, I don’t have a conceptual problem if our Prime Minister is a zealous disciple of the Flying Spaghetti Monster! If he persuades the electorate that he is the right man for the job then I see it as a victory for democracy. Most of the time I have someone governing me who I think isn’t the best and sometimes who has some crazy ideas. But not once do I ever argue that they should have no place in government.

          I think to want to exclude people who the electorate have chosen (and therefore consented to their views being part of our decision-making process) is the height of arrogance.

          My point is simply this. We all have a right to speak up, vote, and be voted for. The electorate will decide who they want representing them, not those who think they know better than the electorate.

          btw, I think you’ll find the Founding Fathers were quite happy for religious positions to be expressed at the heart of a nation’s self-understanding and government, “one nation under God”, “all men created equal” etc. etc. They just wouldn’t allow the government to be sectarian. But then nobody here is arguing for it either.

          • David, my point was not limiting WHO are in politics but in HOW they participate when they place religious dogma above secular matters. I also specifically acknowledged a role for religions in public debate. I have not ruled out influence on political debate, but I have ruled out religious discourse by the politicians: it’s not part of their job. I asked in my original response that politicians be professionals dedicated to the social and economic welfare of the nation. As far as I can see those bringing religion into it have undermined all of these in these latter days. The Hockey budget demonstrates that.

            If you want to get to the nub of my complaint about religious warriors in the Parliament it goes to the claim by religions over morality. While there are probably a substantial number of principles to which most people would agree constitute ethical behaviour, they exist independently of theological dressing. And I would be offended by any suggestion that you might make that my principles only exist because they were brought down by a god because I do not subscribe to Middle Eastern tribal cosmology explaining the unknowable two to three millennia ago.

            But you won’t see me expecting that I should impose my world view on the people through Parliament because I think that the trappings of religion obscure the objective of leading a good life. But you would see me resisting the creeping fundamentalism that threatens our progress. Put it this way: Pentecostalist and Evangelical Churches are working flat out to get Creationism taught in schools. And they have their champions in the Parliament in the far right wing of the Liberal party. Creationism subverts the science curriculum and leads to the false conflation of knowledge and belief. Where these fundamentalists have such an impact on political policy, and that is happening increasingly in Australia, we see the right wing denial of a moral responsibility to do whatever is humanly possible to mitigate the effects from emissions of global warming. The actions of the Abbott Regime in killing off the one action we have taken as a nation that returned a significant reduction in Australian emissions is part of that ideology. The moral judgement will be made about contemporary leaders failing their duty to future generations in this time by our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

            The justification for this deliberate neglect on climate change comes from the same fundamentalists among the neo-conservative and Tea Party imitators in Australia whose ideology includes a religious justification for extreme capitalism and minimising the role of government. In the end you ask: is religion in public political life good and right for Australia? I don’t believe it is and I hold that position because religious states demonstrate the worst inhumanity, repressive regimes, and authoritarian conformity. While they are not behaving like the barbarians invading Iraq right now, those neo-conservative and Tea Party forces I mentioned have no more regard for democracy than the dictators throughout history who have brought misery upon their people. In an open society, religions have a voice, and I would defend that. But in the State they might have an influence, therefore, but not a role through proxies among politicians.

            BTW, you won’t find either of the expressions, “one nation under God” or “all men created equal” in the Australian Constitution. You will find them in the American Constitution. Indeed, the term “God” is not to be found anywhere in the Australian Constitution. A reference is in the Act setting up the Constitution, but not in the Constitution.

          • Jim, thanks for your comment.

            Don’t you dare to accuse me of “decid[ing] to reject the democratic contract.” This is typical of many driven religious people who impute motives they have no right in logic to put forward. One cannot have an argument with religious activists – they always take the next illogical step in an argument. This effort is absolutely offensive.

            Well I’m genuinely sorry if you feel offended. I’m not sure if what I’ve said is illogical, though, it’s just that you don’t agree with it.

            I have no doubt that you are deeply committed to the democratic process and the activities that you describe evidence that. But one can be committed to a process and still inadvertently undermine it. In this case my argument is simply that no matter how committed one is to the democratic process, if we seek to exclude one particular type of voice from decision making then we’re actually undermining the whole process.

            As for your comments on the Founding Fathers, it is clear to me that I have misread you.
            I’ve lived in Australia for over 10 years and have never heard the phrase “Founding Fathers” used in relation to this country. So I made an assumption that was incorrect. On reflection the context of your statement should have clarified that for me – which only serves to demonstrate that we often make assumptions about each other’s argument that a bit more careful reading and reflection would mitigate.

            I’m genuinely sorry.

            We still disagree on what it means for the State to be “secular”. You obviously take a far more all-encompassing application of the concept than others do. I’m all for laws not being made to mean more than they really say and in this case that’s what I think you’re doing.

        • I have not ruled out influence on political debate, but I have ruled out religious discourse by the politicians: it’s not part of their job. I asked in my original response that politicians be professionals dedicated to the social and economic welfare of the nation. As far as I can see those bringing religion into it have undermined all of these in these latter days. The Hockey budget demonstrates that.

          I genuinely don’t see the sequiter here. Hockey’s budget has no overt religious policies in it. none of the issues over which he has been (and perhaps rightly) criticised have flowed out of religious positions.

          While there are probably a substantial number of principles to which most people would agree constitute ethical behaviour, they exist independently of theological dressing. And I would be offended by any suggestion that you might make that my principles only exist because they were brought down by a god because I do not subscribe to Middle Eastern tribal cosmology explaining the unknowable two to three millennia ago.

          Perhaps they don’t. But the reality is that much of our moral framework does flow from a Judaeo-Christian foundation. Yes, we’ve moved some way from it but to claim that the two are unrelated is an overstatement. But it’s not actually pertinent to my point. My point would still stand if the party in power got their framework from a detailed analytic process concentrating on how much poo a dung beetle produces. You might think it’s nonsense, I might think it’s nonsense, but democracy either is democracy or it’s not.

          But you won’t see me expecting that I should impose my world view on the people through Parliament because I think that the trappings of religion obscure the objective of leading a good life.

          No, but the reality is that you do impose your world view on other via the democratic process. We all vote for those that we want to represent us, we all have a world view that influences that decision, and we’ve all implicitly agreed to allow impositions upon us by others who we may not share axioms with. But all of a sudden because there’s a certain set of axioms that you don’t like you’ve decided to reject the democratic contract.

          BTW, you won’t find either of the expressions, “one nation under God” or “all men created equal” in the Australian Constitution. You will find them in the American Constitution. Indeed, the term “God” is not to be found anywhere in the Australian Constitution. A reference is in the Act setting up the Constitution, but not in the Constitution.

          You were the one who raised the issue of the Founding Fathers in order to suggest they wanted religion out of government. I was simply demonstrating that wasn’t the case.

          As for our own parliament – as you note it’s in the Act and we have prayers at the opening of every day. It’s part of how this nation officially understands itself. That can, of course, change – but the fact that we don’t like it ought not make us deny the obviousness of it’s existence.

          • Don’t you dare to accuse me of “decid[ing] to reject the democratic contract.” This is typical of many driven religious people who impute motives they have no right in logic to put forward. One cannot have an argument with religious activists – they always take the next illogical step in an argument. This effort is absolutely offensive. I have stood for Parliament: I have put myself on the line for democracy. And I know about single interest people who pop up at election time with their arcane obsessions and religious nutters asking simplistic questions in “surveys” about complex matters to which I would never give a yes/no answer. I have also belonged to and worked for genuinely democratic organisations that look after their members. And I have been elected in my last full-time post to represent staff on the top body of the institution in which I worked. Have you? And as for your final paragraph – I’ll be “christian” and suggest that you are at best ignorant and at worst deluded rather than outright dishonest. AUSTRALIA has founding fathers: they were part of the Constitutional conventions in the 1890s. I’d do a bit of research before I mouthed off about the Australian Constitution, confusing it with the constitution of a foreign nation, to support your religious position on politics, which I find offends the secular nature of Australia’s principal political institutions. So yes, I raised the Founding Fathers – Australian, not American. But then I am an Australian and very consciously so: I’m fifth generation on both sides of my family. And I have studied Australian History at school and university. Yes, there is a prayer at the commencement of each sitting of Parliament, and many MPs absent themselves during it. More MPs swear an affirmation when they are sworn in rather than an oath on the bible. But that is irrelevant to the central tenet of the secular nature of the State, which you deny but cannot ignore if you subscribe to facts.

            I’m drawing a line under pointless engagement with someone who distorts what is on the screen in front of him. Good night!

  10. As long as religion exists it will affect government and policy, while we live in a democracy. No one is trying to take religious rights away. What people are saying is that no one should be allowed to make policies solely on religious belief or opinion, doing so does not speak for all, and sometimes can end up taking away rights from certain groups within our society. That is why government and religion should be separate. Tony Abbott is free to hold whatever religious beliefs he wants, but when making polices he must listen to the people not god.
    And let me ask this would you be so upset about this if our prime minister was Jewish? Or of some other religion? I don't think so somehow. I think you'd be joining your conversation partners, because their religion would not represent you and your beliefs.

  11. Maree, you write "And let me ask this would you be so upset about this if our prime minister was Jewish? Or of some other religion? I don't think so somehow. I think you'd be joining your conversation partners, because their religion would not represent you and your beliefs."

    I fear you've not properly read the article. Yes, I would be upset and I set out the reasons why clearly.

  12. Jim Best Jim YOU claim it does not. My argument is that it's a discussion to have in the public domain – not one that you have the right to silence because your personal position is that it's not logical.

  13. David Ould ultimately it's like this. I'll use the marriage equality issue. You as a Christian have a point of view that marriage equality equates to sin (I'm paraphrasing) and you expect your Christian followers to fall into line. That's fine with me, if people choose a lifestyle that doesn't interfere with mine I won't lose a wink of sleep.

    But you are wanting to impose your views in a way that interferes with people who have no interest or following of your lifestyle. You and the likes of The ACL are lobbying government to impose your will on people who have not the slightest interest in the set of rules you choose to live by. Why do you expect Atheists to follow Christian rules? Can't you see the appalling arrogance in that? Can't you see that it is imposing on someone's free will?

  14. Jim Best I fear that this is a clasic example of you being simplistic. If you browse this website you'll see that the discussion about same-sex marriage has a far larger scope than just religious arguments. They're part of it but by no means the whole of it.
    I don't expect anyone to follow my "rules". But in terms of your assertion about "imposing on someone's free will" I will simply refer you to the OP and my point about a democratic contract. If I might be so bold, it seems to me you just don't like democracy when it means you can't get your own way.

  15. To address your points quickly:

    1. It’s a rejection of democracy.
    No, it’s an affirmation the principles of secular democracy.

    2. It’s an alienation of a significant portion and of our population.
    No, it’s an agreement between portions of the population who hold different beliefs to practice these beliefs themselves, but not to use the
    state as an implement to force others to follow their beliefs.

    3. It’s willfully blind to the great positive contribution Christianity in particular has had on Western society
    No, it’s based on the continual evidence that *some* people of faith would like to see their own moral code enforced upon everybody else,
    and that life is better for everybody this way..

    4. It’s naïve about the biases and untested assumptions that every contributor to our public debate has.
    No, it is in fact aware of this, and quite aware of the biases and assumptions made by people who would prefer to enact sectarian policies
    based on some principle of ‘moral majority’.

    The principle of freedom of religion is meaningless if it does not also embrace freedom *from* religion.

    These concepts have been a part of modern democracy since the formation of the United Sates. Can I suggest you do more reading on the subject before making the assumption, according to your own *bias*, that this important principle of modern society is based on simple unthinking prejudices ?

    • well Matt, I’ll leave you to address the arguments when they’re made, rather than responding to what are, at the moment, just assertions with respect to 2,3&4.

      As for 1., I think our discussion here demonstrates that there are differing understandings of what it means for us to have a “secular” democracy. It seems to me that some people’s vision of what the “secular” means requires us to undermine the “democracy” part of it.

      • ” It seems to me that some people’s vision of what the “secular” means requires us to undermine the “democracy” part of it.”

        Can you expand on this ? Because it seems to me that this statement casts aspersions on your opponents without qualification.

        • hi Matt,

          I’ll have a crack. I think the OP does set the argument out fairly clearly. However, it’s clear from discussions here that perhaps the real issue is a massive difference in the understanding of what it means for our government to be “secular”.

          My basic argument in this piece is that to exclude any voice from the decision-making process is a denial of democracy. As such I claim that those who do want to exclude voices (and in particular in this context religious voices, but it could just as well be the trainspotting/UFO reporting party) are undermining our democratic process.

          For clarity, I don’t claim they’re doing it deliberately – I don’t see people saying “stuff democracy!”. But I do think that often that’s the effect anyway. I also think that it means that although we claim to have consented to the democratic contract, we actually want to subvert it.

          Happy to put further qualifications on it if you think it would be helpful and, of course, happy to clarify further if you have more questions.

  16. Maree Jane in terms of "being silenced" I was simply referring to the desire of some to remove our voice from political decision making. I trust the few examples in the OP give weight to that claim. I'll try and find some time for the video.

  17. Maree Jane serious question, how do you think that channel moves a debate like this along? All it appears to want to achieve is to ridicule those it doesn't agree with. If people here want to simply engage in ridicule, I'd suggest they go somewhere else. I'd like to have genuine sustained conversation here, dealing with the substantive positions that people are raising, not knocking down strawmen.

  18. David Ould no, not simplistic, just sticking to the facts. And your plug on about democracy; if a vote was held on the issue of marriage equality it would get passed in a landslide. And you cannot, repeat cannot dispute that, the polling is clear. Again I tell you that you are trying to impose your beliefs on a society, of which around 70%, clearly disagree with you.

    Here's another fact from the ABS

    Reporting a religious affiliation is not the same as actively participating in religious activities. In the 2010 General Social Survey (GSS), 15% of men and 22% of women aged 18 years and over said they had actively participated in a religious or spiritual group. Even fewer reported doing voluntary work for their church or organisation: 7.2% of men, and 9% of women.

    In essence you are part of a minority group trying to impose your will on a community that has already formed a crushing majority opinion on this issue. That is because most fair minded and decent people view marriage inequality to be unfair and discriminatory. Get it, you are out of touch with reality.

  19. Jim Best thanks Jim – I deal with your second point tomorrow. As for "forcing my view on a community" again I simply note that you don't appear to like democracy when it goes against you. People of every different opinion and belief argue for their point of view. We all get a vote as to who will represent us in parliament knowing full well what their policies and positions are (and we may have influenced them through our prior discussion and debate). And then the democratic contract is that we accept the results of that process.

    except, apparently, if there's someone that we disagree with strongly – in which case you're really simply arguing "let democracy be damned". I'm simply arguing that we allow the democratic process take it's course. You appear to be arguing that the democratic process should be set aside if you can't have your own way. I think you ought to reflect upon that a little more.

  20. David Ould you are the one thumbing your nose at democracy. 70% of people want marriage equality. Stop wasting your time demonising people. Your efforts could be channelled into areas far more beneficial for society. The sooner you accept that your views are both anachronistic and bigoted the better off things will be, but we both know that won't happen.

    Up until the last decade or so I was your typical early 40s Australian homophobic bloke. I didn't go through any particular epiphany, I just grew as a human being, became a better human being. I hope one day you'll be able to look back with shame as I do.

  21. Jim Best again I fear you misunderstand not only me but also the system we're in. Australia has a parliamentary democracy – we've decided that rather than polling the electorate on every major decision we will, instead, delegate that power to elected representatives. If you want to have referenda on every issue then you are welcome to advocate for the Swiss system or one like it. I'm confident in our system, but not sure why you're not.

    As for "demonising people", I have no idea where in this thread I've done that. I've simply tried to have a discussion with you about how our democracy works and whether we think that those who we consider to have objectionable or illogical views ought to still have a part. But now you've just resorted to namecalling.

    Let's both of us be clear, once again, which one here is advocating mature and open debate and which one of us is trying to shut it down, not least by name-calling. Take care Jim. See you on another thread.

  22. David Ould I didn't call you a name. You openly state that homosexuals are sinners and will go to hell (please correct me if that is wrong). That is demonising people, plain and simple. One of us is sticking to the facts and it's not you. You've tried to twist my words throughout out this discussion with no success.

    • Exactly, Jim Best. I think, David, if you invite comment and debate, it’s a bit rich then to attempt the moral high ground when someone makes a perfectly valid point about, say, the breadth of support for marriage equality and [some of] the churches’ views being out of step. There are great divisions in your own church on that question, which serves to highlight the shaky grounds of your claim for religion in the secular political arena.

  23. Hi David,

    I recently watched this video lecture by Ryan T. Anderson on “What is Marriage?” in the Stanford Ascombe Society conference. He deals with the policy of marriage from a philosophical and legal standpoint, arguing that marriage should be of complementary gender. It is a very convincing lecture and I hope it’ll help you in your thoughts/discussions.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWIhZ5xJJaQ

    Thank you for your good work and effort.

  24. David Ould this is the second time I've engaged in debate with you. Twice you've tried (politician style) to drag the discussion away and start waffling in intangibles. When I try to drag you back on topic you claim name calling or some other school yard tactic, then take you bat and ball and go home. You are not a man of robust character.

  25. Jim Best as you wish Jim. FWIW, it's the second time you've come in all guns blazing. I'm quite happy to talk about all sorts of things, but I don't see the need for anyone to tolerate name-calling and mudslinging. That's not a "school yard tactic", that's just me saying if you want to call names, I'm not interested in talking. Your call.

Leave a Comment - but please pay careful attention to the commenting rules