Monday, August 3, 2009

Religion in Australian Politics

There is an opinion piece in today's Australian Financial Review by Geoffrey Barker, visiting fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, about religion in Australian politics. It's behind a fire wall, and much of it relates to specific Australian examples, but some is of general interest and is excerpts are provided below.

It is time Australians paused to consider the possible adverse consequences of unleashing the politics of faith on the essentially secular activity that is democratic politics. They include intolerance, authoritarianism and poisonous social division.

Some religious teachings are doubtless important in informing some political views. But allowing political conflict to be expressed as clashes of secredly ordained beliefs rather than of socially acquired interests is a recipe for non-negotiable disputes that defy the necessary compromises of political life.

A democratic society should respect the faith-based commitments of citizens; it should respect their views of religious leaders on contentious issues like abortion, censorship and social justice. It should also respect the views of non-believers.

What it cannot do is concede that any faith group possesses a monopoly on truth and virtue and allow it to impose its attitudes on the entire society. Politics arises from diversity; to eliminate diversity is to legitimise authoritarianism.

It is not necessary to have religious convictions to be tolerant and compassionate and to observe high standards of moral responsibility. Indeed, so-called humanists (much maligned by religious authoritarians) can reasonably claim to have views grounded in logic and experience rather than in rules revealed by divine intervention.

Tolerance to opposing views, and the willingness to accommodate them, are defining characteristics of democratic politics that are anathema to religious fundamentalists.

[. . .]

Sadly many Australians seem willing to swallow uncritically the religious avowals of politicians. Yet it is hardly cynical to conclude such politicians often use religion opportunistically to advance their political careers.

Moreover, those seriously demanding spiritual virtues have absolutely no appeal to politicians pursuing personal glory and earthly power.

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