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Pious pollies paralyse popular policy

By Brian Morris

A raft of socio-political issues – under the cold hand of winter – have advanced with all the speed of an Antarctic glacier. And these furtive frigid fingers – foiling progress – are those of pious politicians.

But the polarisation of politics and public policy will soon come to a head; determined by two telling factors.

The first will be same-sex marriage – that’s if the Turnbull government is returned in July and they persist with the socially divisive, religiously vindictive, and utterly wasteful $160 million-dollar plebiscite.

When Ireland, America and Italy – three of the most culturally Christianised countries – can contemplate and codify laws to validate same-sex unions, then one must stand staggered by Canberra’s Christian conservatism to steadfastly strangle progressive change. There will be a backlash.

The second factor will also set into stark relief the religious disconnect between government and the people.

On August 9th, the Census will herald a substantial change on the question of Religious Affiliation. Just five weeks after the election – and under the weight of a record 440 submissions – the Australian Bureau of Statistics has finally moved the ‘No Religion’ option (up from last place) to the top of the form.

At the 2011 Census the ‘No Religion’ tally was just 22 per cent – an absurdly low figure given its position, and a ‘loaded’ question that assumed every person had a designated faith. New Zealand lifted its ‘No Religion’ option to the top in 2013, almost doubling its score. Australia will undoubtedly follow suit.

Religious neutrality has been rising steadily for decades. A Morgan Research graph from April 2014 showed Christianity was down from 61 per cent (2011 Census) to 52 percent. Conversely, the No Religion figure was up from 22 per cent (in 2011) to a record 37 per cent. By the August Census it will be closer to 50 per cent.

Similarly, the Catholic tally in 2011 was just 25 per cent, but given the number of scandals over the past five years that figure is expected to fall significantly – primarily due to the Child Abuse Royal Commission.

These two converging graph-lines of religiosity – one falling, one rising – may not have the seismic upheaval of grinding tectonic plates when they meet, but the political tremors will certainly become more severe.

A widening religious disconnect between parliament and the people will inevitably become more volatile.

That the full sweep of social policy has become more religiously-politicised is beyond doubt, with a stark imbalance between the religiously neutral community and politicians who flaunt their faith.

This federal election is an opportune time to lift the taboo – to openly discuss how religion has become an increasingly divisive force in politics.

Voters – and mainstream media – are free question all candidates on how their religious beliefs (or none) impact in the political sphere, and determine their mindset on the full range of contemporary issues.

In a secular democracy we need politicians to be transparent, honest and accountable for their decisions.

We do know that heavily Christianised politicians reject the secular agenda. Last August, Tony Abbott won a two-thirds LNP party-room majority to dump their own ‘conscience vote’ on same-sex marriage – opting instead for a divisive and non-binding $160 million plebiscite.

And John Howard took unilateral action in 1997 to overturn an established law allowing Voluntary Euthanasia in the Northern Territory. The ABC’s Vote Compass, just released, shows that from 200,000 votes cast a clear 75 per cent support Voluntary Euthanasia laws. Only politically influential church groups remain opposed.

Both actions by Abbott and Howard were influenced by religion – as are all contemporary secular issues.

They include the Safe Schools Program, the need for ‘ethics’ classes rather than religious education in all schools, abandoning the Chaplaincy Program, enforcing national pro-abortion laws (still illegal in some states), it means rejecting Malcolm Turnbull’s brain-snap to fund only private schools, and instead to fully fund public education (Gonski).

And it also means taking immediate action to legalise same-sex marriage; to abandon the extravagant and vindictive plebiscite; and to legalise voluntary euthanasia.

It includes, too, action on climate change, and scrapping the absurd practice of ‘prayers in parliament’ – and replacing them with a secular pledge; to uphold all national and international covenants and to work for the benefit all members of society.

Parliamentary ‘religionism’ is way out of step with a public majority who now reject corporatised Christianity. And if Malcolm Turnbull is returned on 2nd July the nation will have another government that is very little different from the Christian Right government he inherited from Tony Abbott in September last year.

We have high-profile Christians like Cory Bernardi, George Brandis, Scott Morrison, et al talking up religion; the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship is run by MP Louise Markus, one of several parliamentary members of Hillsong; and PCF organises Canberra’s Prayer Breakfasts for the entire political fraternity.

Like no other nation that is constitutionally non-theocratic – federal parliament begins each session with the Lord’s Prayer, and it’s a sanctuary where politicians can indulge their religious predilections. And while Canberra persists with its Prayer Breakfasts, the legal fraternity gathers – a phalanx of judges, barristers and lawyers – for their annual Red Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney.

When senior members of the legal profession who administer secular law – not canon law – line up for God’s blessing of their work, you have to ask whether they know anything at all about separation of church and state.

All this in a constitutionally ‘secular’ nation!

Indeed, it can be said that almost since federation Australia is better described as a “Soft Theocracy”.

It’s a term coined by Dr Max Wallace, author of ‘The Purple Economy’, which examines the wealth and power of religion and the need for democracies to ensure they have a robust and constitutionally enforceable separation of church and state – equal to the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and the judiciary.

Secularism is very simple, to quote James Kirk Wall.

“No persecution or privileges (handouts) based on religious beliefs. It’s not pro-atheism or anti-atheism. It’s not pro-religion, or anti-religion. It’s about individual rights and liberties. It’s about the law applying equally to everyone.”

But as Canberra continues to bask in the warm glow of supernatural indulgence, almost eight in ten members of a long-suffering public clearly and explicitly want secular change.

As evidence, an independent IPSOS poll in January showed that 78 per cent of the population want religion and politics to be separated from the affairs of the nation – both at the state and federal level.

It’s time we lifted the taboo to publicly discuss religion in politics and to demand of our politicians – and all the hopeful candidates – that they clearly identify the extent to which their religious faith will dictate their party room vote on the entire secular agenda.

And there is no earthly reason why MPs and Senators should not publish the depth of their God-beliefs in their parliamentary biographies – or the personal websites of candidates seeking election.

They are required to declare their pecuniary interests – why not their supernatural interests?

What’s also alarming is that no politicians are prepared to state they have ‘no religion’ – when the majority of Australians no longer feel the need for corporatised churches or paranormal beliefs.

Interestingly, the new voting system for the senate makes it much easier for electors to individually select representatives for both houses – candidates who might better reflect their own secular values.

Brian-Morris-0-Head-Shot-150x150 About Brian Morris: World travel shaped Brian’s interest in social justice — wealth, poverty and religion in many countries. His book Sacred to Secular is critically acclaimed, including from the Richard Dawkins Foundation. It’s an analysis of Christianity, its origins and the harm it does. It’s a call for Australia to become fully secular. More information about Brian can be found on his website, Plain Reason.


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  1. Jack Russell

    Thank you Brian.

    My sentiments exactly, apart from being slightly less reasonable than you on this subject.

    I would go as far as forcibly removing the religious from all public spheres if there were any attempt to resist, particularly in the case of indoctrination of children. An age of consent must be firmly enforced here – perhaps 21, considering what they do to young minds.

    They should accept that the millenia of rorting is over and gracefully surrender, but I doubt that would be the case. Religious representatives have been perverting the governance of this country and profiting from the public purse for far too long to willingly concede to losing their wealth, power, and perks ponzi scheme.

    Our politicians must serve only one master, the voters they are supposed to represent.

  2. Matters Not

    Great article! Liked this bit in particular.

    They are required to declare their pecuniary interests — why not their supernatural interests

    why not their supernatural interests Yep! If they have a ‘magical interpretation’ of the world, then what else do we as citizens (legal voters) need to know? When ‘faith’ overrules ‘rationality’ and ‘science’, their answers to the significant questions are there for all to see.

    A great insight. There is a pressing need to come clean on the ‘metaphysics’, or disregard of same.

  3. kerri

    I have always found the narrow, teaspoon size brains of those who believe in their invisible friend astonishing! They are incapable of comprehending what an imposition their personal beliefs are on so many facets of life for we realists! Government and society should both be secular. Why so many arcane practices are maintained just to keep the noisy god botherers happy is beyond belief. I would rather swear on a Roald Dahl storybook than the bible. At least Roald wrote a good story with some moral worth.
    All aspects of religion should be removed from modern, progressive societies and organised religion should be treated like any other hobby!
    Excellent article Brian. So much to agree with.

  4. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    The cold hand of Winter has always controlled Australian politics (although there was a Spring awakening with Gough in 1972.)

    The most recently identified groups are identified according to organised religion.

    Also, the Worse have Always been the cold hands by exponents of male superiority (mostly by inferior-thinking males and intimidated females, etc.)

  5. Gangey1959

    Hear hear, well spoken Bruce.
    I like the idea of each of our pollies having to state their personal version of imaginary friend, and what they both might elect to do when it comes to the crunch in Parliament given that the imaginary friend is not allowed to vote.
    It surprises me that very few of them admit to no religion at all. How pathetic.

  6. Miriam English

    Wow! I had no idea superstition so permeated our government and judiciary. Ugh. Thank you, Brian for that info.

    kerri, I know a lot of religious people who aren’t stupid. It really isn’t fair to characterise them all as so. However you are dead right about their apparent inability to understand what an imposition their superstitions are upon the rest of us. Even more extraordinary are those who become angry if we (atheists and agnostics) wish to be as outspoken as they are, as if we are somehow attacking them and their superstitions. Next time a religious person says, let us pray, expecting everybody to bow their heads and pretend, can you imagine the look of shock if an atheist dared to speak up and politely ask “Why should we pray to a non-existent god?” Can you anticipate the anger? Even some of the atheists and agnostics would be annoyed. They might call the questioner rude. But why is it rude to do the same thing as the religious person? Why do they get a free pass to ride rough-shod over everybody else? Why can’t we call it out for what it is?

    Thankfully things are changing, and swiftly. It won’t be long before those with superstitious beliefs are seen as a backward minority. I’ll be so glad when that time arrives and we can finally prise those cold dead fingers from the warm, beating heart of secular society.

  7. Miriam English

    It’s odd… Australia used to be a country where people were suspicious of a politician who advertised that he was religious. Are things shifting towards the USA’s condition of suspecting non-religious politicians? Or is it that the politicians are so lost inside their own bubble that they simply believe it is so?

    (In USA surveys show pedophiles to be more trusted than atheists!!! That country is bonkers.)

  8. Möbius Ecko

    Some interesting facts came up in this conversation. Also it’s an interesting conversation. I didn’t know that Julia Baird, who I admire as a journalist, was so religious.

    Has atheism had its day?

  9. Ian Sprocket Muncher Parfrey

    Quote Miriam :- “(In USA surveys show pedophiles to be more trusted than atheists!!! That country is bonkers.)”

    Indeed, the US is well beyond bonkers. It is truely pathetic in it’s amazing ability to Kneel down to a ficticious Airborne Deity AND The Almighty Dollar and still be looked upon as intelligent.
    Australia, by being in the US’ sphere of influence, is just as pathetic because of the willingness to be led by the nose wherever the US wants.

    I have never been able to comprehend how two diametrically opposed ideologies – Christianity and Wealth – can possibly co-exist and still be deemed relevent and/or taken seriously. You know what I mean – Rich Man, Camel, Eye Of A Needle.

    Rid the world of both and it’s very possible to bring true Peace to the World.

    Won’t ever happen though.

    Same as it ever was.

  10. etnorb

    And “they” do ALL this in the name of their “god”? How incredible is that the USA, Ireland & Italy–all very “religious dominated” countries have been able to “allow” same-sex marriage, with little or no, cost to their people! And yet our inept, lying, flat earth, tea party, right wing, quasi-religious liberal mob cannot “allow” anything like same-sex marriage to even be determined, except with a so-called plebiscite–a complete waste of time, and an obscene waste ($160 million!!) of taxpayers money also–just to decide! WTF?

  11. king1394

    While on the subject, it is well past time also to remove the tax-free status from religious organisations and their assets

  12. Miriam English

    Ian Sprocket Muncher Parfrey, there is actually a good chance that money could become obsolete, or at least morph into something more like the “Like” buttons on many social media sites. It won’t happen soon, but I think we can see the very earliest beginnings in the open-source revolution, the sharing culture, and the rise of donation payment for various forms of art. At the same time organised religion is definitely dying all around the world. So things are gradually improving.

    The question is, is improvement coming fast enough to save humanity from itself? At the moment it’s too hard to tell. These things tend to take exponential curves — both the degradation of the planet and its climate, and the improvement of humanity — and we are notoriously bad at intuiting exponential change. We think linearly.

  13. Athena

    “They are required to declare their pecuniary interests — why not their supernatural interests?”

    I couldn’t agree more. If our politicians insist on believing in fairy tales, then it’s unlikely they will be insisting on good solid evidence when making decisions that affect all of us.

  14. win jeavons

    I very much doubt that Jesus would recognise their “faith” in any way ! The Rome of the Borgias might though.

  15. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Hear, hear win.

  16. Pingback: Opinion - AIM + NM 26.5.16 - Pious Pollies vs Public Policy | Plain Reason

  17. Joseph

    Julia Baird’s religiosity has been plain for a long time.

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