Can religious zealotry ever be compatible with national leadership in a secular democracy? Stephen Williams discusses PM Morrison's "freedom of religion" stance.
IT IS WELL KNOWN that Prime Minister Scott Morrison has a strong Christian faith, as he highlighted in his maiden speech to Parliament in 2008.
It is interesting to note that the Uniting Church has become the first major Christian denomination to offer same-sex marriage, whereas Morrison advocated against the popular change.
According to the 2016 Census, only 1.1 per cent of the Australian population share Morrison’s particular religious views. Pentecostals believe, among other things, in the inerrancy of the Bible and of miracles, such as "speaking in tongues" and "faith healing". I do not know if Morrison shares these extreme views, which most sensible people would describe as not just patently false, but potentially dangerous.
The Prime Minister is, of course, welcome to share his religious views with the Australian public. In fact, I wish he would outline his views in exquisite detail so the Australian people can more easily judge his credibility. Is the Earth about 6,000 years old or about 4.6 billion? Should we not tolerate a witch to live (Exodus 22:18)? Should we engage in genocide, slavery and rape, as Deuteronomy 20 vouchsafes for the followers of Yahweh? Should we take no thought for tomorrow (Matthew 6:34)? Should we sell all our possessions (Matthew 19:21)? Morrison’s views would be most welcome.
But why should a modern person of rational mind place any store in these ancient books, apart from their cultural and historical significance?
While we tolerate religious views in a civilised society – when they do not offend civil laws and human rights – that does not mean that we should remain silent when bad – and even dangerous – ideas are publicly expressed. The religious have learned to mostly cherry-pick the wheat from the chaff in their scriptures (Morrison did this in his maiden speech). This is because secular society pressures the religious to abandon or remain silent on their most absurd views, even when these absurd injunctions are precisely commanded in the scriptures.
Speaking of secular society, Morrison gets this hopelessly wrong in his maiden speech.
"Australia is not a secular country — it is a free country."
Presumably, he confuses the word secular with atheism or lack of religion when, in a political context, it means a separation of church and state. He then says secularism is a "belief system". Really? Even atheism is not a belief system. It is the opposite of a belief system. It is a refusal to believe things without evidence. (See Michael Martin’s book, Atheism: A philosophical justification.)
It was touching to read that Morrison’s wife became pregnant after 14 years of disappointment and one can understand the joy in that longed-for pregnancy. But our empathy is undercut by what follows when he says the pregnancy was a "miracle" gift from God due to his wife’s "faithfulness" and that the birth was on the "seventh of the seventh of the seventh" — as if that was a sign of divine intervention.
No matter that nearly 400,000 babies are born every day, including on the seventh of the seventh of the seventh and, no doubt, including some where the parents struggled to conceive. Moreover, if Morrison knew how the Gregorian calendar came into existence, perhaps he wouldn’t place such store in random dates.
But narcissism is a hallmark of many religious folk, who think that God is focused on them in particular and has singled them out for special reward, while at the same time, He is running the entire universe and letting countless others suffer unimaginable cruelty — including the 40 million or so in modern slavery.
Morrison hopelessly contradicts himself when he says his
" ... personal faith in Jesus Christ is not a political agenda."
Soon after this, he says:
In recent times it has become fashionable to negatively stereotype those who profess their Christian faith in public life as ‘"extreme" and to suggest that such faith has no place in the political debate of this country. This presents a significant challenge for those of us, like my colleague, who seek to follow the example of William Wilberforce or Desmond Tutu, to name just two.
So, do his religious beliefs have a legitimate role in political debate or not?
Morrison then mentions "the immutable truths and principles of the Christian faith". Gee, I wonder what they might be. The Christian faith is one long argument between sects as to what constitutes orthodoxy and heresy, with one position easily becoming the other with the passage of time.
This occurred from the earliest days, with the Apostle Paul (who never met Jesus) arguing that salvation was best achieved through belief in the resurrection rather than following the scripture – in his case, the Torah – while other apostles disagreed. Of course they disagreed! The whole edifice is a fantasy built on sand. (For expert analysis on early Christianity, it is hard to beat Professor Bart Ehrman. He is a former evangelical who believed in the inerrancy of the Bible until he came to study it fully — especially the New Testament in the original Greek.)
Morrison then wants to give us a lesson on the Constitution.
"As U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman said, the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not from religion. I believe the same is true in this country."
Gee, Prime Minister, how about reading the Constitution?
‘The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.’
I think even a high school student of average intelligence could read that and conclude that this section guarantees both freedom from religion and freedom of religion.
I would also encourage Morrison to read AJ Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (2007). Or, if pressed for time, just listen to Jacobs interviewed by Sam Harris. Jacobs is both serious and funny at the same time, showing the absurdity of the Old Testament, as if more proof other than reading (take your pick of the many translations) was actually needed.
All in all, there is prima facie evidence that Morrison – and others like him – are not fit for public office of any kind, let alone the prime ministership.
Stephen Williams is a former Fairfax journalist. He has degrees in Arts, Law and Information Services. He has more-or-less survived a Catholic upbringing.
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