Quiet Please: Politicians are Present

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
3rd July 2009

Tagged: atheism politics secularism

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Should Christian politicians mention religion?  An article in the current Australian Journal of Political Science concludes: “politicians should exercise caution when invoking religion in Australian politics.”

The article expresses a concern that there is a shift in political philosophy from the “liberal consensus” championed by the Harvard philosopher John Rawls (1921-2002) to a “pluralistic model” where religion is allowed in public life.

This shift, it is argued, is a consequence of the attack on the World Towers in 2001 and the resultant “war on terror”.  But it is seen not only in the issues of threatened national security but also in the discussions of the fabric of society.  It has broadened out to become part of public discourse.

The evidence of this shift is seen in the references to “Christ, church, faith, pray, Jesus, Bible, spiritual, God and/or religion” in the speeches of leading politicians.  The writer analysed 2422 speeches and found a marked increase in religious language since 2001.  (It is a remarkable feat that after such reading she was still able to write a coherent article!  Presumably the computer searched and found the religious references.)

This shift is said to be damaging because, basing key elements of the national identity on religion “excludes sections of the population that have different spiritual beliefs and those that have none at all.  In Australia’s pluralistic society a Judeo-Christian national identity fails to embrace citizens who cannot easily, or who (quite reasonably) have no desire to, change their faith.”

The drift of the article is that politicians should leave religion out of public discourse.  But the conclusion is the slightly less censorious imposition of secularist morality: “politicians should exercise caution when invoking religion.”

The real basis for this conclusion is the author’s unfounded belief that “religious arguments are difficult to challenge because their proponent believes in a ‘truth’ that cannot be proven by means other than through faith alone.  In the truest sense, religion requires unquestioning support for divine doctrine.  This is particularly true of evangelical denominations where the adulation of religious feeling over reason is strongly encouraged.”  So the unbeliever, Carmen Lawrence commenting on this article, said: “there is a risk that religious reasoning, not subject to the usual rational challenges, may grow in significance.”  And the National Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote of: “a wider erosion of the traditional view that political decision-making should be based on rational arguments rather than on religious faith or doctrine.”

This incessant contrast of faith and reason displays the unreasonable passion of secularists.  Knowing very little of religious understanding or reasoning they attribute different opinions to their own as “irrational beliefs”.  In the name of multicultural fairness their multiculturalism does not include any culture but their own.  Thus they marginalise, if not completely censor, religious opinions, considerations or reasoning from public discourse.  To them, religion is irrational and irrelevant to public life.  For politicians to even talk of religion is to “preference” people of religious faith (I originally wrote persuasion but secularists would not use such a word as it may imply some activity of the mind).  Even if the politician was speaking the truth that “the Christian and Jewish faiths have played a role in Australian society” there is likelihood of implicitly privileging Christians and Jews.

Amongst other things the secularist understanding of Australia involves:
1 a confusion between secular and secularism – ‘secular’ concerns this world; ‘secularism’ denies any other world. Secular government or education restricts itself to dealing only with this world. Secularist government or education denies and forbids any consideration of other worlds.
2 a confusion between the nation and the government – Australia is more than its government. We have a religious nation with a secular government not a secular nation, nor a secularist government.  That our Government is restricted to secular concerns is not to restrict the nation to being secular let alone restrict the Government or the nation to secularism.
3 an overstatement of the division between church and state – Our constitution is anti-sectarian not pro secularist.  The preamble of the constitution refers to God.  The parliament opens in prayer. For half the life of the nation our National Anthem commenced with the word “God”.  The moral compass and political structure of the society and parliamentary government were derived from a religious viewpoint.
4 an overconfidence that decisions (especially in areas of bio-ethics) can be determined ethically without any reference to religious philosophy.  It is the confidence that atheism is in some way unchallengeably rational, moral and a-religious.  Generally atheists hold to an unproven and irrational confidence in utilitarianism as a basis for social policy.  All the while religious people are reported on the ABC this week to be “healthier, wealthier and wiser”.
5 an imposition of their minority opinion upon the rest of society coming from an arrogant over confidence in the rationality of their own rationality.  One only needs to look at the variety of opinions to recognise that atheists have no monopoly on the truth.  Indeed Carmen Lawrence went so far as to admit that, “As political philosophies have been eroded in favour of a pragmatic market-based materialism, and as the parties look more and more alike, elected representatives are often unable to explain why they make their decisions.”
6 a confidence that a government unanswerable to God exists and will be able to govern justly and fairly for the benefits of all its peoples.  It was the British jurist Lord Denning who said: “without religion there can be no morality: and without morality there can be no law”; and “if religion perishes in the land, truth and justice will also.”

Geoffrey Robinson is no Christian apologist but for those interested in seeing how the forbears of evangelical belief brought rational debate into parliamentary and legal processes I would commend his book: The Tyrannicide Brief: The Story of the Man Who Sent Charles I to the Scaffold.  He, at least, deals with the reality of Christian reasoning rather than the prejudice of today’s atheists who assume that all religion is superstition and to be banished from the public square.