02 January 2008

Cease from mental fight?

With this, it's clear that John Roskam wants to write about religion and politics, and wants to be quite swinging and fearless, yet he can't do so without either looking absurdly equivocal or deliberately missing the point.
OVER these Christmas holidays it seems as though religious leaders have been happy to talk about anything other than religion. In Australia, climate change and refugees have featured prominently in church sermons.

Who's trying to drive a wedge between the sacred and the profane now, John? Roskam is implying here that religious leaders are using the pulpit to talk about non-religious, secular issues.

When talking about the family domiciled in a barn using a manger for a cradle, it is entirely germane to talk about refugees. Hospitality to the stranger is a central feature of the Christian message. It should demonstrate that religious belief is not confined to events of two millennia ago, but should be something that the avowedly faithful practice in their everyday lives.

Climate change can be linked to entirely Christian notions about greed and carelessness for the bounty which God has given us.
Tony Blair was right when a few weeks ago, on the eve of his conversion to Catholicism, he said that any British politician who talked about religion ran the risk of being regarded as a "nutter". He drew a comparison with the United States where politicians were not afraid to discuss their faith.

In the US, many avowedly religious politicians are nutters. Show me a wacky or dangerous idea in US politics and I'll show you some tendentious piece of theology used to deflect criticism.

Worse than often-harmless craziness is outright hypocrisy. When US Senator Larry Craig was caught sexually propositioning another man in an airport toilet, he defended himself with a flurry of religiosity. US politicians seem to do this often: it may well help them in troubled times, but it looks like a ruse, a con, and religion is devalued accordingly.

It isn't patriotism that is the last refuge of the scoundrel, it's religion. It isn't that a religious politician might be considered a nutter, but that comments about religion might be a diversionary tactic.
In Australia, there is certainly a chance that a politician who talks about God (or even a god) will be laughed at.

This is an extraordinarily weak construction to build an article on. Does it mean that anybody at all who mocks any expression of religious faith, however disingenuous, takes a dagger to the heart of all religion anywhere? Who does more damage to religious faith: the mocker outside or the fraud within? Is religion in Australia so weak that no criticism can be tolerated?
It's just as possible that anyone who admits that their religion influences the way they vote in parliament will be accused of being a dangerous theocrat intent on introducing the moral majority into Australia.

"there is certainly a chance ... It's just as possible" - oh, please. It's just as possible that a politician who supports official discrimination against gay couples and goes on about Christian families cruises for gay sex, like Larry Craig.

It is not just risible, it is profoundly anti-democratic to use religious faith as a means for a legislator to deny to the populace what the legislator enjoys. It is profoundly anti-democratic to imply that any profession of religious faith must always be free of any criticism at all.
The evidence that a politician who talks about religion faces such a threat is widespread. It is obvious in the treatment of Tony Abbott, tagged by the Canberra press gallery as the "mad monk"

Tony Abbott talks at election time about an "epidemic of abortions" in Australia, yet as Health Minister he has presided over hundreds of them. His criticism that Bernie Banton was not "pure of heart" was an inescapable religious criticism; which is all the more ridiculous when you consider Abbott's lack of purity, and lack of interest in purity, in much of his dealings as a politician. To mock Abbott is not to deride but to respect religious faith.
the ABC has labelled Catholic social groups, such as Opus Dei, as semi-secret organisations.

Opus Dei is a secretive organisation. If you are hypersensitive to an form of criticism I suppose you'll find it somewhere, somehow, particularly if you show the bellicosity that goes against the central message of Christianity and other religions. If your faith is weak then you'll need that opposition to keep you going, to justify a tendency for quick-fire spite rather than to inspire a capacity for the hard work of love.
Morality simply cannot be taken out of politics.

No it can't, and nor is wearing the brand of religious faith the kind of total defence against any criticism for which politicians yearn, and are not entitled.
Any discussion of religion immediately brought with it accusations of how Howard government ministers pandered to the conservatism of the Christian evangelical churches.

In recent years claims such as "God is working for the Liberal Party" and "an extreme form of conservative Christianity now has real influence on our politicians and their policies" became the stock-in-trade of the Liberals' opponents. The problem with these theories is that Howard's critics struggled to provide examples of this supposedly pernicious power.

If the Howard government thought it could get political advantage by adopting certain policies, it is legitimate to criticise them for seeking advantage in this way - and yes, to criticise the religious organisations for allowing themselves to be so used. Who exactly said that "God is working for the Liberal Party"?

Australians are not antipathetic to religion, they are antipathetic to cant. Religious cant is no better than any other form of cant - but not all religion is cant, and this is why it is possible for religion to take its rightful place in the debates of our country. Religion has always been criticised and it should not be surprising or appalling that this should continue. For a politician to invoke religion is not a lightning-rod, but nor is it a free pass.

Criticism: it's part of public debate in this country John, not some aberration to be stamped out with Kulturkrieg.

1 comment:

  1. Thoughtful response to a dreadful column -- Roskam is a true lightweight who insists on taking on topics beyond him. I responded on my blog - link below ("John Roskam: Intellectual Helium").