Whether Morrison is “authentic” in his faith is irrelevant to the fact that he is clearly not respecting the division between church and state required by our Constitution, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.
One of the more remarkable reactions to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s speech to the recent convention of Australian Christian Churches (a gathering only of those of the Pentecostal faith, not, as implied by the name, an inter-denominational event) came from the ABC's religion and ethics reporter, Andrew West.
Speaking on Saturday (1 May), West declared that Morrison’s speech revealed him at his most “authentic” and “humble”. He was, West continued, seen to be “humbling himself before God” in an “open emotional and expressive style”.
While it comes as no surprise that the Murdoch press launched an offensive designed to normalise both the Prime Minister and his Pentecostal faith after the speech was leaked, West’s endorsement of the “respect a man of faith” trope was rather more unexpected and disturbing, revealing, as it did, an unwillingness to look further than the superficial.
Surely, for a man of faith to be described as “authentic” and “humble before God” that man would first need to acknowledge the harm he has caused. If the man cannot or will not recognise that harm, he can hardly be described as either humble or authentic. This moral reasoning appears to have entirely bypassed Andrew West as well as every other journalist who accepted Morrison’s religiosity at face value.
The argument that someone should automatically be respected because they are religious ought to have been thoroughly discredited by the multitudes of men of faith who have molested and raped children in their care, And yet, here we are, with our media as recently as last weekend peddling this same old trope.
It is a source of ongoing bafflement to this atheist that we expect children who in their innocence believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy to grow out of it, yet we are called upon to “respect" adults who believe in equally peculiar exteriorities, on the basis of those beliefs alone.
It’s impossible to tell if Morrison is a true Pentecostal believer. What we do know about him is that he is primarily a pragmatist and that his pragmatism is primarily directed towards maintaining his own wellbeing. It’s reasonable to conclude that his devotion to his faith contains elements of self-interest.
Morrison’s choice of faith is interesting in that its tenets are a perfect fit with the neoliberalism he also favours, particularly the Pentecostal affinity with prosperity theology.
Morrison cleverly reduced this ideology to the slogan:
"If you have a go you get a go.”
This can be interpreted in the secular as the rich become rich by merit as well as religiously, as God materially favouring those who distinguish themselves by their worship of him.
Morrison is the first in the global Pentecostal community to have achieved such high office and he has taken other members of the faith with him. The church is part of the Seven Mountains global Christian movement that aims to wield influence in seven areas of society: education, religion, family, business, government/military, arts/entertainment and media. In becoming Prime Minister, Morrison has achieved much for the church and is rewarded in his community with unconditional acceptance and unquestioning adulation that he experiences nowhere else in the public sphere.
His church community appears unphased by or uninterested in Morrison’s ongoing acts of sadism towards those who are powerless and marginalised, whether they are asylum seekers, Centrelink recipients, or most recently, Australian citizens threatened with incarceration if they attempt to escape the ravages of COVID-19 and return home. In this, they seem to be at odds with their Lord Jesus Christ, reputed to have cared deeply for the poor, the outcast and those who suffered.
It is not possible to tell if Morrison is “authentic” in his faith, whatever that means. Does he “really” believe in the Rapture or that he can speak in tongues? Does he “really” believe he can heal with his hands? is he “authentic” in his endorsement of any of the Pentecostal tenets? There is no way of establishing this — and it doesn’t actually matter.
What matters is that the Prime Minister is clearly not respecting the division between church and state required by our Constitution and is using his position to further the beliefs and practices of his cult. Is he doing this because he endorses those beliefs, or because appearing as if he does suits his own purposes? Who knows?
It’s the sad measure of the man that these questions are even asked.
Given Morrison’s well catalogued and extensive ill-treatment of others, it’s unnerving that the media should, with a couple of exceptions, call upon us to respect his professed religious beliefs, simply because he professes them. “By their deeds you shall know them,” observed Matthew the Apostle, a maxim to remember in times such as these when the words and deeds of the powerful have never seemed so alarmingly bifurcated.
It is disheartening that so much of the media does not acknowledge this bifurcation, preferring instead to promulgate the false consciousness that encourages the rise of charlatans to power and keeps them there.
Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.
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