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Trying to juggle religion with politics in Australia

Wednesday 29 May 2019

1 It must be very difficult for men like Prime Minister Scott Morrison, when, like love, truth is a central tenant to the Christian faith he follows but is not part of his politics.

Particularly when he wants to form a special bond between what he believes in and the Christianity he follows. More so when the adherents of his religion insist on a literal interpretation of it.

In recent times the subject of religion and its relationship to politics has become a talking point in the media, mainly due to the fact that the Prime Minister is a Pentecostal Christian.

The problem here is that he and others like him, if they want Christianity to have a greater influence on our politics and society, have to admit that their particular offspring of it believes in a literal interpretation of everything the Bible says.

That being that every word is the absolute truth; the word of God. Unlike his politics where lying is very acceptable.

Having had experience in both mainstream and Evangelical churches, I can tell you that the Uniting Church, for example, long ago cast away any vision of hell but fundamentalist churches insist it’s real.

Unquestioning literal interpretation of the ancient scriptures leads to opinions like those of champion footballer Gary Ablett to confirm champion rugby player Israel Folau’s view that homosexuals belong in hell.

Opinions seem to bounce from one side of the net to the other, clipping the net cord without ever conceding a point, or indeed missing the point that in Australia the “Christian church is fighting for its very survival.”

It is impossible to estimate the damage done to the Catholic Church by the abuse of children. Talk to a priest and he will tell you of the diminishing congregation. I have.

Now the Catholic Church is more interested in saving the institution than attending its flock.

Despite some growth in charismatic churches, mainstream churches are declining rapidly.

However, when one sees or listens to religious discussion one would think they are humming along splendidly. They are not. Get into a religious discussion and you will quickly find that Christianity is on the nose. Toxically so.

In his engaging and most thoughtful book “Losing My Religion” Bishop Tom Frame (he is the Priest that conducted the services after the Bali bombings) concludes that:

“Unless there is a turnaround in the fortunes of all community organizations by 2025 the Christian Church will be a marginal player in Australian life with only a few remaining remnants.

When the Christian affiliation of the population drops below 50 per cent, projected to happen around 2030, those identifying, as Christians will be found in four main clusters.

The Roman Catholic Church will continue to exercise sufficient discipline among its people to resist the mutating of popular culture.

The Pentecostal/Charismatic churches will flourish in the larger cities, form communities within communities and become more sect like.”

The conclusions he draws would appear to be backed up by the results of the last five, five yearly Australian censuses.

The last one showed a remarkable increase of 30 per cent in unbelief.

In fact, five of the eight states and territories now have more unbelievers than believers. In country areas, Christian churches are closing at a rapid rate and this is attributable to a number of factors including an ageing population.

Much research has been done over many years into the decline of belief and church attendance in Australia.

Today only around 7 per cent of the population regularly attends Sunday services. Of these many are what I call cultural or recreational churchgoers who don’t have a particularly strong belief, but attend because it forms part of their social circle.

When these people are deducted from the 7% there is probably very little real belief.

However, the main reason for the decline in belief I would suggest is the fact that children are now better educated than their parents. Today’s generation questions everything. They have an excess of information.

With access to information on the Internet it is now easy to reason and question traditional problematic belief.

The young have also become impatient with religions inability or failure to remedy human suffering and put an end to social inequality. If anything, it tends to exacerbate these problems.

Moreover, of course the young find it difficult to fathom how the ethical problems of today can be solved by referring to a moral landscape thousands of years old, and written by humans with intellectually inferior minds than the advanced scientific ones of today.

They are being asked to accept a set of rules and values that assume that the world they live in has never progressed scientifically, morally or socially.

Many conclude that religion (and its God) is a man-made concept and has been a monumental failure.

So in Australia given that the census (taken every five years) continues on its downward spiral and Bishop Frame is correct in his assumptions we could expect that within 15 or 20 years the Christian church will no longer exist.

Although this piece focuses on Australian faith it is worth noting that recent surveys in the US see for the first time a decline in belief in people under 30.

This also backs up my reasoning on the impact of education outside of traditional sources. Most major social problems in the US occur in the most Pentecostal/ charasmatic and under educated states.

Note: This link is a summary of the Australian 2016 Census. It doesn’t paint a very rosary picture for faith in Australia.

No matter what spin may be placed on the census results, the one thing that stands out is that the young have little interest in religion. Diversity and what happens around it may very well hold the key to Australia’s future thoughts on ethics, values and social structures.

2 Another area in which the Prime Minister will find himself at odds with his faith is when the clergy remind him of what the scripture tells us.

On 23 May 2019, “60 Christian leaders representing eight denominations and twelve organisations from across five states in Australia sent a letter to Scott Morrison,” telling him to get his act together regarding climate change.

One signatory Rev Dr Michael Frost of Baptist Churches of NSW, published the letter online and candidly told him by quoting biblical scripture to be aware of his responsibility as Prime Minister:

“The bible both begins and ends with God’s presence on Earth overseeing the wise stewardship of all of nature,” the letter reads. “Until that time, our responsibility is to manage it for the benefit of all creation and not just with the short term in mind.”

The question obviously arises as to whether the Prime Minister should obey the scriptures or follow his political instincts.

”Science has made in my lifetime, the most staggering achievements and they are embraced, recognised and enjoyed by all sections of society.” (John Lord).

“The only areas that I can think of where science is questioned are in the religious fever of climate change doubters, conservative politics and unconventional religious belief.” (John Lord).

3 A journalist put the following question to Mr Morrison: “What’s your belief, do gay people go to hell?” Mr. Morrison replied:

“I support the law of the country and I always don’t mix my religion with politics and my faith with politics.”

And there is the conflict of interest. If he were true to his faith then he would have answered; “Well of course. That’s what the Bible says”

Australian Pentecostals in my experience take a dangerous literal, approach to the Bible, (or cherry pick when they want too) believing that if speaking in tongues and miracles happened in New Testament, times then they should happen today.

“A commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, is the best way of providing solutions to human problems.“ (John Lord).

They are generally very conservative, totality against same sex marriage, which is consistent with Morrison’s stance together with his views on greater religious freedoms.

4 If as I do, you believe that Jesus was the world’s first socialist then you would find it extremely difficult to accept the Pentecostal/charismatic church’s adoption of conservative political and social values.

In particular its adherence to “prosperity theology“, which links any scripture that suggests that God wants the very best financial success for his followers to you personally.

The Prime Minister will be taking a great risk if he chooses to unite his Christian beliefs with his political philosophy. Australians have never liked “Bible Bashers.”

“If you read the Bible with literalist intent it becomes the only text book on living never updated but if you read it with logical reasoning and an exploratory mind all manner of things are revealed.” (John Lord).

My thought for the day

When asked as to my belief or otherwise in religion, or indeed my tendency toward a continuous search for truth. I can only say that I am in a perpetual state of observation which is the very basis of science or fact.

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  1. Alpo

    To be influential at elections and contribute to swinging voters towards the Liberal party the Christian churches do not need to represent a large majority of voters, they only need to represent enough voters to make the difference in specific electorates. What’s extremely worrying is that such churches have become experts, around the world, at infiltrating low-income sectors of society, the natural constituency of left-wing parties.

    There is great danger ahead. The ALP and Greens must come up with ways of giving hope to the dispossessed, in competition with such Christian churches and right-wing populist parties. It is a fight for the heart and mind of those down below!

  2. Phil

    Good point there Alpo. Give the masses hope. Don’t give them justice, income, social, medical, educational, support. Just hope. Albanese recently used that word in outlining his way forward – have to say it left me very uncomfortable.
    Morrison’s pentacostalism is a scam and I don’t see any evidence that he has any genuine spiritual underpinnings – he’s putting on a show in the tawdry manner of the ad man that he is, but I do see a deeply conservative authoritarian whose temper is held just barely under control. He is a divider.

  3. Jack Cade

    The late Christopher Hitchens challenged an audience to nominate an issue in which ANY religion had been a positive force for good, or even an improvement in society that would not have happened without religious input. The audience was silent. Even the concept of ‘op shops’ began with the likes of Ox-Fam, not any church.
    It is my belief that churches are simply corporates, and act like corporates. And ‘religions’ like that espoused by Morrison don’t study the bible looking for ways to do good, but looking for ‘get out of gaol free’ cards, excusing their ways of accumulating wealth by using the Old Testament rather than the sayings of a penniless nomad in Israel who relied on charity to survive and criticised the Hillsongs of his day.

  4. Terence Mills

    I seem to remember that Morrison promised discrimination law amendments to make it clear no student (or staff member) at a private or religious school could be expelled or sacked on the basis of their sexuality. This was back in October 2018 and attorney general Christian Porter was to draft amendments for legislation to close existing religious exemptions within weeks.

    The legislative changes were to be implemented prior to the parliament rising for the election : it
    didn’t happen !

    Listening to the debate on Q&A on Monday it seems that certain religious vested interests not only want what they call protections, they want to be to be able to discriminate against non-believers and in some cases against those whose belief system they don’t agree with.

  5. corvus boreus

    Of course, although broad Christianity is the predominant brand of organised religion in Australia (particularly in terms of political power/influence) mention should be made of both other faiths and the influence of recent arrivals on Australian ‘religiosity’.

    There is also the factor of immigration, and the fact that many recent arrivals come from nations / cultures ruled by relatively theocratic regimes, or where recent missionary influences / interfaith conflicts have centralised and prioritised the role of religious identity within those populations.

    Currently, the fastest growing religion in Australia is Hinduism, mainly due to our high levels of immigration from India, and the various sects of Islam are also benefiting from a steady influx of fresh blood.
    Christian churches have also benefited from our high immigration levels, with attendance levels of missionary-style churches being greatly bolstered by arrivals from areas of West Africa, Asia and the Pacific islands, who, as a rule, do not carry their faith lightly.

    It is worth remembering that, when discussing religion in Australia, white Christians are merely one part of the whole picture.

  6. Leanne Jones

    This article is spot on about religion and politics in Australia. What l really dislike is the fact that most polititions think that religion is a handy scam to appeal to voters to say they must be good people and great leaders because they’re religious.
    Evangelical Christians like Morrison have no problem with lies, obfuscation and deceit to get what they want. I can’t stand that they cherry pick the Bible for their own convenience. I will be happy when religion dies out. To believe in books like the Bible or Koran that they are a guide to morals and life is just ridiculous to freethinkers. Religion and politics do not belong together. l find it disgraceful that the kind of politics men like Morrison practice does not look after those who are struggling, are old, disabled, poor, homeless, mentally unwell, Aboriginal or white. All they care about is enriching themselves and the 1%.

  7. Keitha Granville

    “Jesus was the world’s first socialist”
    I also love to point out to people who blabber on about Christ and Christianity, Jesus was a Jew. He didn’t invent Christianity, that was a manufacture after the event. He was a disaffected Jew, fed up with the intrusion of politics into religion. He wanted to change HIS church, I don’t believe he planned anything new.

    I reckon he’d be horrified with the Pentecostals, they espouse everything he was fighting against, and nothing that he was fighting for.

  8. Kaye Lee

    Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

    2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.

    5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.

  9. Wam

    Dear oh dear, lord, you really must see Rashomon to give your thought on observation and fact human context.

    Religion is by man for men. Women don’t rate as equal because god made them unclean for 25% of the month.
    He, in a rare moment of equality, also gives any man, in contact with menstrual blood, a week’s unclean status.
    How about religion being so powerful as to convince women that the pastor’s semen is ‘holy milk’?
    This and Folau’s instructions to god as what to do with gays should be discussed openly. The media should be able to ask questions on religious beliefs and stereotyping be discussed. Especially the private school indoctrination programs?
    Why should factors that may be significant in decision making be kept secret?

    Well said, Phil, Albo without teeth is a combo of shorten and Beasley. Scummo and narrow nose will be laughing.

  10. Andrew J Smith

    From former NYT journalist Chris Hedges author of ‘American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America’

    ‘attacks the movement as someone steeped in the Bible and Christian tradition. He points to the hundreds of senators and members of Congress who have earned between 80 and 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian Right advocacy groups as one of many signs that the movement is burrowing deep inside the American government to subvert it. The movement’s call to dismantle the wall between church and state and the intolerance it preaches against all who do not conform to its warped vision of a Christian America are pumped into tens of millions of American homes through Christian television and radio stations, as well as reinforced through the curriculum in Christian schools. The movement’s yearning for apocalyptic violence and its assault on dispassionate, intellectual inquiry are laying the foundation for a new, frightening America.’

    Hedges also describes this political religious movement as ‘unethical Christianity’.

  11. Phil Pryor

    There are some wise comments in a few points, but the core is religious superstition. Religious philosophy is useful, flexible, applicable, relevant, educational, open to discussion permanently. Superstition has led to foul dogma, ritual, code, conformity, self centred righteousness, in crowd triumphalism and exclusive elitism, political control and narrow conservatism. Catholic lay members became the backbone of fascism, Ratbag right wing (usually USA sourced) frantic and loud gospel goats are among the worst for domineering political and social attitude. With perverts and crooks among their ranks, like the Bakkers and Swaggart, they are never to be embraced and trusted. There is peace and dignity in following some of the known principles of well known figures in history, Gautama, Mohammed, Jesus, Confucius, but also Voltaire, Plato, many good workers and saints. There is not a fingerprint, autograph, photo, confession, affidavit, police record, DNA sample, nothing, of any of the mythical people behind most religions. To believe in an Abbott, Joyce, Morrison type is to cripple and suspend reality and decency, and for what? Subjection and exploitation? You could not, sensibly, let these aforementioned anuses choose a wine, dinner, necktie, anything, let alone manage and organise your life or mine. The inadequacy, deficiency, absurdity, of modern political life, polluted by religious superstition, is horrible.

  12. Max Gross

    Remember noxious John Howard’s collusion with the notorious Exclusive Brethren? Yeah, that!

  13. Ken

    We didn’t need a bible basher as PM but we’ve got one

  14. Aortic

    I well remember Rupert Murdochs mothers reply when questioned if she believed in an afterlife. She replied that the vast majority of people she had met during her life were mainly forgettable so why should she wish to spend a heavenly eternity with them? I also opine with H L Mencken who said he was going to heaven for the climate and hell for the company.

  15. Zathras

    Howard’s relationship with the Exclusive Brethren was primarily to help them access additional taxpayer funds intended for private schools. As a result the EB channeled some of that money back as a donation to the Liberal Party via a temporary shelf company in Tasmania – typical laundering of taxpayer dollars into their own coffers but it’s not the only example.

    What’s more insidious is the infiltration of groups like Opus Dei into their party and their role in the pre-selection of candidates and ministerial positions.

    It’s no coincidence that at one time all the Sydney North Shore candidates all happened to be Federal Ministers in adjacent seats when a NSW State Minister is a very influential member and power broker of that sect. Abbott gave a member (later convicted of child abuse) a personal reference.

    We are witnessing the inevitable outcome of religious influence in the USA where evangelicals are now getting their political support payback through legislation such as abortion and the removal of womens rights.

    Morrison has conveniently side-stepped a few potentially contentious issues in the past but perhaps not for much longer.
    For example, when he was asked what he thought about Gay Conversion Therapy he said he “didn’t think about it”, but I’m sure he has a strong opinion and it’s just a matter of time before it’s raised as an issue.

  16. Jaquix

    Jack Cade:
    How I miss Christopher Hitchens! I must revisit his books. Sad he went so soon. We could have done with him now!
    How good is YouTube?

  17. Ill fares the land

    Morrison will keep his temper under control as long as he is able to convince himself that Australian “loves” him. Onc e that veneer is scraped away, he could well be a different person. His greatest strength seems to be that he can stage manage himself and act out a role believably. Bob Hawke did some awful things, but by and large he was well liked. Morrison mostly thinks he is liked and has an abiding desperation to be liked, when if you strip away his outer daggy-dad schtick, he is a devious, . Don’t forget that whilst the LNP was sort of embraced in central Queensland, everywhere else Labor was the preferred party, even if only just – a monumental schism if ever there was one. Think about that – despite very an unpopular policy platform and a leader that was never embraced at all, or for most, embraced with a measure of reluctance, and Labor still “won” the city vote. It just mucked up by thinking that it did not need Queensland and that it would win enough seats to form government without trying too hard. The election thus fell into Morrison’s lap, although he did make the call to focus on Queensland and that did outsmart Labor. But it is not possible to say that Australia is behind him. He wants to talk this up in the hope that we all come to believe it, but his ministry still has too many nincompoops for it to be able to provide effective government.

    Let’s be realistic. The country is massively divided; Morrison will reject those who don’t slavishly fall under his cult-like spell and past elections show that where a government that doesn’t deserve a further term gets one, they are slaughtered at the next election when people finally wake up to themselves. Keating and Howard both come to mind – they both won elections no-one thought they could or should win but had good fortune that they were able to exploit. Keating had Hewson’s GST that he couldn’t sell and Howard had the Tampa debacle and Hanson spreading fear about the Asian invasion. Morrison had Shorten, Palmer, a poor Labor campaign and an impossible-to-sell policy platform to boot. Perhaps Albanese will also be unable to sell himself, but Morrison shouldn’t count on that. If Labor gets any of its “lost” blue collar base back from the growing blob of swinging voters, the LNP are in big trouble. On the other hand, if Labor doesn’t learn from its mistakes in 2019, 2022 could serve up the same result,

  18. Jack Russell

    Morrison’s face, at rest, displays his nature. You don’t reach middle age with a face isn’t a roadmap of what you truly are. His artificial bonhomie will take continuous effort for most part of every day in the position he’s placed himself. Perpetual alertness takes olympian emotional stamina. Another three years of deceitful, narcissistic performance art, without blowing a gasket?

    I hope he’s in front of rolling news cameras when he blows …

  19. Kronomex

    Gosh, what a great big effing surprise!

    How long before they start on the abortion issue again? How long before creationism, compulsory attendance of religious lessons in schools,and other religious crap is forced down our throats? How long before Scummo gives the private school sector another couple of billion dollars?

    Time to stop and have a coffee and go read a book or play some WoW.

  20. RosemaryJ36

    What I find concerning is the failure of believers to emphasise the need to behave ethically. When I was growing up, being immoral in a Christian country was usually associated with sexual behaviour. In reality, to behave in an immoral way is, imho, to deliberately hurt or disadvantage others. In Charles Kingsley’s ‘The Water Babies’, Mrs Do as you would be done by and Mrs Be done by as you have done were Tom’s moral mentors and I believe they provide a perfect guide to living ethically without need for gods, heaven or hell. Most of us get at least a taste of heaven at some stage in life, just as we too often create our own hell!

  21. Ben

    Keitha Granville: Yes. Good comment….especially the prosperity gospel. Disgusting.

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