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Politicians, piety, and popular public policy

By Brian Morris

Why politicised religion is at odds with the public mood on contemporary social policy.

There are national implications for the persistent influence that permeates our legislatures — a religious presence that now offends three-quarters of the community. It’s a political malaise we inherited along with colonisation — largely ignored by media but recently described as a “theocracy inside our democracy”.

Rather than representing public opinion on contemporary social policy our federal and state MPs increasingly reflect an escalation of this ecumenical elitism. It’s not dissimilar to “establishment elitism” that created such public angst — a boil-over that prompted Brexit and the calamity of Donald Trump seizing the presidency.

Why is it that our politicians fail to respond to the mood of the populous? Federal parliament failed to act on popular support for same-sex marriage — an abrupt repudiation of a conscience vote coupled with malicious determination to run a costly and divisive plebiscite. Until rogue senators finally echoed public dissent.

Again, in the early hours of November 17, South Australian MPs showed equal contempt for overwhelming public support on Voluntary Euthanasia (VE). The Bill was dishonestly defeated — for the 15th time. VE is a secular initiative that consistently registers 75 per cent approval from the voting public.

So why is this continual parliamentary rejection of VE so “dishonest” — and what is the common denominator that puts these MPs so staggeringly out of step with public opinion?

One clue is the ‘category‘ of social policy that is constantly defeated. It’s abortion (still illegal in Queensland), it’s contraception (remember RU486), it’s gay marriage, it’s religious instruction in schools and prayers in parliament, and it’s Voluntary Euthanasia. All are issues opposed by our devoutly Christian politicians.

Inescapably, the Bible is a determining factor here. Now a figurehead for the VE cause, Andrew Denton describes this blatant unwanted intrusion as a “subterranean Catholic force”.

And blatant it is. An IPSOS poll earlier this year showed that 78 per cent of Australians wanted a clear separation of government and religion. The August Census will also confirm all recent polls that show the nation is now majority religion-neutral.

But with monotonous regularity a raft of social policy is dishonestly defeated by parliaments who command a Christian voting cabal that far outnumbers public support. For VE, that ratio is an alarming 2 to 1.

At worst, only 25 per cent of South Australians oppose voluntary euthanasia — yet 51 per cent of the state’s MPs voted it down. And this was not to move the Bill into law but simply to take it to a committee stage for review and fine-tuning. It was a complete repudiation of the public’s demand for a Dying with Dignity law.

What makes this cycle of defeat so dishonest — for all manner of secular legislation — is the basis on which MPs parade a litany of flawed and fallacious arguments in an attempt to camouflage their biblical beliefs. They use arguments shown to be false — over many years — in all the countries which have legislated for VE.

It seems bizarre that religious MPs will stand, straight-faced, arguing vehemently about the “slippery slope”, the “lack of medical safeguards”, and a gradual degeneration of any VE law to permit “lonely and depressed” young people to commit “legalised suicide”. These are deceitful fear campaigns that subvert the truth.

In August 2015 Tony Abbott — a celebrity Catholic — staged his joint Liberal-National party room meeting that voted 60 to 30 against a conscience vote on same-sex marriage, opting instead for the $160m plebiscite. Malcolm Turnbull, also as Catholic, continues to defy public and parliamentary calls for a conscience vote.

Why are we electing politicians with religious beliefs that are wholly out of step with contemporary Australia? ‘Personal faith’ is one thing, but the propensity to politically exercise extreme Christianity is quite different!

How much more honest — how much more courageous — and how much more transparent parliaments would become if politicians just had the fortitude to declare their opposition to VE — and to all social policy — was based primarily on their personal religious beliefs!

And that would greatly assist the entire democratic process. Electors would become more acutely aware of how their state and federal MPs voted on all secular legislation that is influenced — to a greater or lesser degree — by passages taken from the Old Testament. And Christianity is founded on this First Book — the very justification for Jesus’ crucifixion is rooted in “atonement of original sin”; and other biblical fables!

Indeed, it is this ‘Hebrew Bible’ that dictates the “values” held by extreme Christians. These are the MPs who influence the entire contemporary social agenda – a religio-political elite that rejects the wishes of voters. And that clearly includes the 78 per cent of voters who vainly demand the separation of religion and politics.

Brian-Morris-0-Head-Shot-150x150About 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. Harquebus

    Religions have an established well organized network and an army with appropriately brainwashed conditioned minds to choose from. Religious belief must be repudiated and the corporate media who, I suspect are similarly infiltrated, must play the dominant role. No other group has the influence needed to perform this task.
    Also, conditioning children to believe in the existence of deities is, in my opinion, child abuse.
    A good article. Well done.

  2. Kaye Lee

    One reason so many politicians are outwardly Christian is because of the power network it provides. The ONLY reason Tony Abbott was offered a Rhodes scholarship was because of Catholic connections – he was a good student, not a great one, and he was an ordinary rugby player. You will also notice the local solicitors and real estate agents at mass – it’s all about the networking.

    They then can’t offend the power base by supporting what most people want.

    Their may be a few who truly hold personal beliefs but they sure as hell don’t display Christian values when it comes to caring for those who need help.

    This refusal to even discuss dying with dignity is causing an unbelievable amount of tragedy.

    The highest age-specific suicide rate for males in 2015 was observed in the 85+ age group (39.3 per 100,000) with 68 deaths. This rate was considerably higher than the age-specific suicide rate observed in all other age groups. I heard of one old man who used a nail gun. Why must we put them through this horror?

    They have found in the Netherlands that many people who have been approved for VE die of natural causes – it is just something that gives them the security of knowing that if the struggle becomes too hard they can end it.

  3. Harquebus

    Kaye Lee
    My mum’s aunty was Dutch and is one who falls into the category mentioned in your last paragraph. My mum made a special visit to see her. Her aunty died an unpleasant death the day my mum left to return to Australia and just days before her VE permit would have been granted.

  4. Kaye Lee

    My Dutch b-in-law’s mum did use VE when the struggle with her brain tumour became too much. Her husband had died a year or two before hand, her condition was untreatable, The decision was very hard but it allowed the family to all be there together to support her and each other. Like abortion, it is not a decision anyone makes lightly – it should be respected.

  5. kerri

    Well said! Religion is the scourge of society, maliciously weaving it’s way into the lives of ordinary people who have zero interest in being controlled by the beliefs of others. For too long the pious few have demaded their rights whilst completely refusing to even acknowledge the rights of those who can see instituitionalised religion for what it is. Far more harm has been done on the earth by religious forces than by any other compelling means. Meanwhile religion takes the spoils in terms of credit for “miracles” whilst denying the hard work of many whose tireless efforts have brought about a result wholly human induced. Not miracles! Hard work and effort.
    Whole races have been murdered in the name of religion.
    A common nay almost universal theme of war is religion.
    Child abuse.
    Torture and cruel punishments.
    The obscene wealth of the Vatican and its banks.
    Mass murders by religious sects.
    Religion needs to be treated for what it is a fanciful belief peddled to control those too weak to believe in themselves and the capabilities of others.

  6. Kaye Lee

    George Carlin: “Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man — living in the sky — who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you.”

  7. Harquebus

    Kaye Lee
    I’ll see your quote and raise you two.

    “I’m completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. … These two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.” — George Carlin

    “Having a war about religion is like having a fight over who’s got the best imaginary friend.” — Yasser Arafat

    “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” — Abraham Lincoln

    Thanks for the quote. I collect quotes.

  8. Zathras

    For any modern society concerned with the notions of progress, fairness and equality, religion is a poison.
    However, we’re stuck with it but we can cope with one of its worst aspects – intolerance.

    Almost every day we’re bombarded with stories and YouTube clips of ranting extremists from one religion in particular but the media seems to completely ignore the insane excesses of other religions – but they certainly exist.

    Some even-handed reporting would help put things into context and help expose political hypocrisy.

    The Trump victory was celebrated by Evangelicals despite them not approving of him personally.

    Given his personality and scandal-ridden life, chances are Trump may not even last his full term but nobody is thinking about VP Pence as his replacement.

    Here’s a man who believes in creationism, wants to ban all abortions and even believes that smoking is not harmful – the equivalent of a Christian Taliban leader.

  9. kerri

    The Westboro Baptists alone are good reason for religion to be outlawed!

  10. Harquebus

    I forgot about this which, I only just read last night.

    “”This is what the pastors created,” she said, simmering with anger. “This is God’s work.””

    “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.” — Desmond Tutu

  11. Miriam English

    Interesting, what Kaye said above, about it being all about the networks. And the politicians, being networkers above all else are scared to upset that influence, even if they themselves are not actually religious. The network then becomes the vast, shadowy evil that we have to fight.

    It made me think of an episode of the wonderful TV series Get Smart in which Max and 99 infiltrated an evil network of master criminals wreaking havoc around the world. In the end our heroes have the bad guys where they want them and reveal themselves, covering the bad guys with their guns and arresting them all. Then the bad guys reveal themmselves one by one as undercover agents from CIA, Mossad, MI5, French Intelligence, NSA, Naval Intelligence, and various other agencies around the world. Max and 99 are astonished that there are no actual bad guys — they were all agents working undercover doing all the bad stuff.

    Maybe all our idiotic politicians are like this too. Perhaps very few are actual believers, but are in it purely for the network. If they had a little courage we might see how very few are actually religious morons.

    I collect quotes too. Of the several hundred I’ve collected many choice ones are about religion, so thanks Kaye and H for those ones above. Here are a few of my favorites:

    Is God willing to prevent evil but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
    — Epicurus (341-270 BCE)

    When it comes to religion, the truth is all it takes to insult it.
    — Zinnia Jones

    Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.
    — Lucius Annaeus Seneca (aka Seneca the Younger) – Roman Statesman (b. ca. 5 BCE – d. 65 CE)

    A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.
    — Friedrich Nietzsche

    You can safely assume you have created God in your own image
    when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.
    — Anne Lamott

    Gods are fragile things; they may be killed by a whiff of science or a dose of common sense. They thrive on servility and shrink before independence.
    — Chapman Cohen

  12. jimhaz

    The last quote by Chapman Cohen is quite funny and appealing.

  13. John Townsend

    Although the majority want separation of church and state, and don’t attend church services, they are apathetic and loathe to take a side. Many don’t even know what the word “secular” means. We have much work to do, but articles like this make the “round the BBQ” talk so much easier, thank you. What does it take to get this into mainstream media?

  14. Anomander

    I watched my father suffer excruciating pain of liver cancer over the course of 2 long years.

    On more than one occasion he said to me “I’ve had enough. I’ve lived a good life. I had many ups and down. I found the love of my life and formed many lifelong friendships. I got to see my two children grow into fine, upstanding adults and raise their own children to also be fine adults. Why should the personal beliefs of a minority of religious fanatics dictate whether I have the right to live or die on my own terms?”

  15. Andreas Bimba

    Organised religious groups like the conservative Catholics, fundamentalist Evangelical Protestants and the pro Israel Jewish lobby endeavour to impose their values and objectives onto our political system. They have a voter base and skilled activists that gives them disproportionate political power, especially in a duopoly type of political system where relatively small numbers of votes in a few swinging seats can decide which half forms government. The fact that our political system yields to minority positions promoted by these groups is yet another example of our dysfunctional democracy.

    Religious groups and devout people are not all so partisan and probably a majority do want a more just and egalitarian world or at least the excesses of capitalism to be curtailed. To be fair a wide range of religious groups lobby for both sides of the progressive – capitalist divide but the right wing side appears to be more politically effective.

    Big business and the wealthy have an overwhelming influence over our democracy and these more traditional religious groups usually cooperate with big business. This is understandable as the ruling elites of religion and business have cooperated to lead and control the flock or the masses from the beginning of civilisation.

    We the ‘sheep’ have allowed this rule by the elites because we have behaved like scared, passive and ignorant sheep while the wolves do as they please. A functioning democracy is supposed to provide a better balance of power between the people and the elites but over the last 30 years especially, this has been taken away.

    The duopoly has been hopelessly corrupted and will probably never reform. We could decide to vote en masse for more ethical political parties like the Greens but our corporate ‘ministry of truth’ mass media and general negative indoctrination, ignorance and apathy makes this unlikely. We could petition for democratic reforms like proportional representation voting to enable a true multi party political system but again the mass media, the political class, the wealthy elites and other powerful vested interests will likely overwhelm the process and again get their way. We should try anyway.

    If in the end all legitimate democratic methods have effectively been blocked this just leaves civil disobedience, protest and probably violence. Without a functioning democracy we are inevitably heading towards terrible lives of poverty, mass unemployment and servitude in a world of brutal militaristic corporate feudalism with endless wars on a dying planet. Much of our population, and the world’s population already lives like this, no wonder they in desperation often choose extremist leaders.

    It is conceivable that much of the working class that has been treated most appallingly in the modern era of neoliberalism will turn to right wing extremism. The fact that sections of the capitalist elite fund and support such groups should give a clear indication that this path has already been hijacked and corrupted. Donald Trump and our One Nation are clear examples of this.

    Bernie Sanders almost got there before he was blocked by a corrupt Democratic Party but his movement, that has its roots in the Occupy Wall Street movement, has shown it is possible to break through. Start organising.

  16. Ray the D

    If god made us in his image, then why aren’t we invisible

  17. Harquebus

    In addition to my earlier comment regarding my mum’s aunty.
    I have since found out that the catholic church refused to participate in her funeral service in any way because of her decision to VE. The church intended to kept their doors closed to her.
    Because her passing occurred naturally before the VE permit was granted, she did get her church service and consecrated burial.

    It appears from the comments that, we are all in agreement on this issue.

  18. helvityni

    “A search for somewhere convenient for Friday prayers has led to an unusual joining of two communities.

    Every Friday, St Paul’s Anglican church in Beaconsfield, just outside Western Australia’s port city of Fremantle, hosts Muslim prayers in its community hall.

    Fittingly, the hall was the original church.

    The enterprise began shortly after Imam Faizel Chothia knocked on the door of Reverend Peter Humphries….”

    SBS news item from last night, that’s rather nice, I thought: Peter Humphries is actually practicing what he preaches… 🙂

  19. Athena

    “I am now convinced that children should not be subjected to the frightfulness of the Christian religion […]. If the concept of a father who plots to have his own son put to death is presented to children as beautiful and as worthy of society’s admiration, what types of human behavior can be presented to them as reprehensible?”
    ― Ruth Hurmence Green, The Born Again Skeptic’s Guide To The Bible

  20. Harquebus

    Andreas Bimba
    Well said.

    “Peasants also had to work for free on church land. This was highly inconvenient as this time could have been used by the peasant to work on their own land. However, the power of the church was such that no-one dared break this rule as they had been taught from a very early age that God would see their sins and punish them.”
    “For all peasants, life was “nasty, brutish and short.””

  21. Alan Baird

    Bloody good article and phrased in appropriately annoyed terms as this malign presence continues, unobstructed and indeed assisted by the pompous, contemptuous political windbags that surface from time to time to show that they are willing to make laws that represent THEIR prejudices but (un)scrupulously ignore the opinions of the populace. Repeatedly. Catholics pop up everywhere and if not, rusted on conservative prods. Their attitude is much the same. They desire CONTROL over your options whatever the dire situation you’re in.
    One of the best illustrations of the obnoxious hypocrisy was the record of a conservative politician (someone will remember his name: 20 years ago at least) who was ALWAYS lecturing people on moral matters with an ultra-pious and lofty pulpit and was red-hot on items like organ replacements. Especially that… until his heart gave serious trouble. Immediate change! Busted a gut to get something done. Happened years ago but it still rankles. My mother died last year asking politely, repeatedly, for her pain to be eased by being allowed a ‘pass’ but everybody was so “nice”. NO pain relief worked so don’t always believe the enthusiasts in the slow-death industry that say all pain can be eased or removed. She was a secular saint who didn’t deserve what she got. Bastards. The church has made sure they are VERY well represented in parliament. Out here they are just resented.

  22. Kaye Lee

    Alan, Hillsong is getting a growing presence – several politicians have a connection including our Treasurer – and they are a real worry. Wealth is everything to them.

    From the last census (2011 of course….we could be waiting a long time for the 2016 data)

    the Charismatic churches such as Baptist (+35,757) and Pentecostal (+18,305, which includes Hillsong) continued to record increases (they were well up from 1991-2006 so this is a longer term trend).

    Mind you, in 2011, there were 65,486 Jedi in Australia, up from about 58,000 in 2006,making it the 18th largest religion response in Australia, just behind Sikhism and ahead of Seventh Day Adventists and Atheists.

  23. win jeavons

    NOT devoutly : Christian ” politicians ; dogmatically religious pollies. who call themselves Christian because it draws the votes of conservatively religious folk, Christian, Muslim and other.

  24. Max Gross

    There IS a Christian Taliban at work in this country (Australian Christian Lobby, Exclusive Brethren and like-minded evangelical cults), all hell-bent (pun intended) on imposing their twisted world view on the rest of us. The fact that our parliament opens with the so-called Lords Prayer is the alarm bell ringing for some time now. Currently, there are more “devout” Catholics and Opus Dei nutters warming the benches than ever before. They are not there to simply hold hands and shuffle their prayer beads!

  25. kerri

    @Miriam English
    I also like the omnipotence paradox.
    Could God create a rock so heavy that he himself could not lift it?
    Have you listened to Denton’s podcast? Better Off Dead! From The Wheeler Centre!
    I highly recommend it! Especially for listening to highly pious carers and theosophers inability to counter Denton’s exquisite logic!
    @Alan Baird
    Denton’s podcast also covers the lie of pain relief.
    My sister died 22 years ago of secondary cancers feom breast cancer contracted at 25 (14 years earlier).
    Every time she opened her eyes she requested a lethal dose. Of course the nurses just laughed like she was being funny. Her “Doctor” kept telling my parents that “nature would take its course”. He was of course a catholic and managed to charge her daily for every visit where he would glance at her charts and leave. Her death could not come quick enough for all of us. But then we weren’t profitting from a protracted hospital death.
    @Max Gross I often wondered if that religious fervour seen in parliament was a large part of the visceral hatred of Julia Gillard ?? Never fully expressed of course, because we are all good christians here in this place.

  26. graham knight

    it seems very simple to me its called burden of prove those who make the claim have to prove it !that is their claim that there is a god ! mind you it has never been proved ‘ so why do we let them get away with this lie ?

  27. wam

    why stop with the rabbott and trunbull. There are, apparently 4 jesuit boy’s schools in Aust. Pyne shorten, joyce, the rabbott and hockey were products. albo and most of the boys were catholic christian bros and trunbull a convert(as is blair) Imagine the indoctrination there?? A few of the nasty women are catholics cash or anglicans bishop again private school.
    The state may be secular but the politicians are indoctrinated.
    ps kerri christians believe god made women with a flaw that render them unable to lead indeed mitt romney believes when a boy turns 12 god gives him the right to advise women including him mother.

  28. Alan Baird

    Yes, Kaye, they pop up all over the place. Remember the way Rudd and Kenneally got the press photographers to “find” them emerging from church and luckily had a camera on hand. Just accidentally. Cheeses of Nazareth! Even the bloody bible shook a finger at the Righteous who paraded their virtue for others. Hypocrites! And yes, Kerri, your description rings oh, so true. The benign smile and the invocation of St Theresa, you know the one who presided over the deaths of lots of the pious dead. They’re all singing from the same dreadful hymn book. If there was a genuine divine presence it’d follow these ghouls up and order a slow miserable death with the holy choir singing them on their various ways… DOWN into the ground and not up to the third planet on the Right.

  29. Zathras

    Religion doesn’t necessarily provide a reason for people to behave badly and be hateful if they have any real sense of morality, but it certainly provides them with a convenient excuse to do so.

    The KKK for example gets all it’s inspiration and justification from the Bible.
    Did they start at the beginning and work out their own conclusion or did they start with their hate and work backwards?

    “If God hates gays then it must be OK for me as well” is the latest excuse.

  30. Harquebus

    That story about your sister has me lost for words.

    Since Zathras brought it up, here is something else that I read last night.

    “He went as far as to call Reform Jews “evil” and homosexuals “a cult of abomination,””

  31. silkworm

    “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.” – Steven Weinberg

  32. Miriam English

    🙂 Yes, that Steven Weinberg quote is one of my favorites.

  33. Alan Baird

    I remembered (computer assisted) that god-botherer politician who was against organ replacement et al! Jim Cameron! Refused to wave through the Human Tissues Bill (or similar) but later needed human tissues of his own. Wiki even had THAT detail about the boy! He was a red-hot holy roller but briefly recanted on tissue issues (most expeditiously and with great despatch) when it applied to him. He’d make an excellent member of the lunar Right Right right now but he’s dead. Decomposing. All that tissue, mostly his. No divine intervention unfortunately, even for someone as Holy as He. He has progeny and one’s a real chip off the old block. Ross Cameron. He’s probably teamed up with Cory (I’m Quite Sane) Bernardi by now or maybe someone else from Team Australia (Headquarters in Manly). Speaking of Manly, I blame the effluent in the harbour. Or it could be walking out of the surf in the ocean nearby in budgie-smugglers, quite possibly. The person that is, not the effluent but people CAN become confused. Hard to tell really.

  34. graham knight

    power is like a drug more you have the more you want . and these Polly’s wont give it up with out a fight !

  35. corvus boreus

    My favourite local god-nut pollie is the Rev Fred Nile of the NSW X-ian Dems.
    A political wheeler and dealer who enjoys disproportionate influence, Fred is strongly against public school parents having the optional freedom of formal ethics classes for their children as an alternative to religious indoctrination (Fred opposes ethics in schools) and is in favour of the castration of our state’s anti-corruption body (Fred supports corruption in politics).
    Nutso, nasty, and more than a little dirty.

  36. Zathras

    corvus boreus,

    Fred Nile is a great argument for atheism.

    Despite all his holy pronouncements, who was the Minister who claimed a house donated to his Festival of Light for himself and used it’s address as a basis of claiming bogus Travel Allowance for himself while in Sydney during Parliamentary sittings?

    He’s against ethics because he simply doesn’t understand what it is (or chooses not to.)

  37. Harquebus

    Not entirely related but, a good laugh.

    “Late last night, a Phoenix police officer broke into a local YMCA during a meeting for Christians who are striving to live a masturbation-free lifestyle. The officer’s intentions was to save the organization’s dolphin mascot from a burning fire, but it turned out there was no fire and detectives say the officer was on a “massive amounts of LSD and hallucinating”.”


  38. Pingback: Opinion: Religion in Politics: new evidence | Plain Reason

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