Religious Freedom, Secular Intolerance

abbott demon IIWhile the Australian legal tradition cannot lay claim to the historical depth of America and England, it too was built on a solid Christian foundation. Christian ideology is infused in both the legal and governmental institutions and customs of Australia. As with America and England, this country possesses remarkable Christian influences – starting with the first English fleet departing for Australia in 1787, when Captain Arthur Phillip was instructed by the British government to enforce a due observance of religion and to take such steps as were necessary for the celebration of public worship.[1]

Regarding the colonisation process the Christian religion played a vital role in originally shaping Australian society. Of course, this does not mean that people from other religions were not welcomed in Australia, nor does it mean that there was any obligation for those living in the land to necessarily belong to the Christian religion, or indeed any religion. This remarkable climate of religious tolerance and open-mindedness was stressed in the very first sermon preached in Australian soil on Sunday, February 3, 1788. On that special occasion, the Rev. Richard Johnson began his sermon with the following remarks:

I do not address you as Churchmen or Dissenters, Roman Catholics or Protestants, as Jews or Gentiles … But I speak to you as mortals and yet immortal… The Gospel … proposes a free and gracious pardon to the guilty, cleansing to the polluted, healing to the sick, happiness to the miserable and even life for the dead.[2]

The Christian belief of the Australian people made its way directly into the preamble of the Commonwealth Constitution: ‘Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth …’.[3] This reference to God received the strongest popular support of any part of the Constitution. As law professor Helen Irving correctly points out, the preamble is that part of the Australian Constitution laying out ‘the hopes and aspirations of the parties involved’.[4] According to Professor Irving:

During the 1897 Convention delegates have been inundated with petitions […] in which the recognition of God in the Constitution was demanded. The petitions, organized nationally […] asked for the recognition of God as the ‘supreme ruler of the universe’; for the declaration of national prayers and national days of thanksgiving and ‘humiliation’. But, the essence of their petition was that the Constitution should include a statement of spiritual—specifically Christian—identity for the new nation.[5]

Remarkably, all the Parliaments of Australia explicitly demanded acknowledging God in the Preamble. In the process of popular consultation, which took place during the constitutional drafting, the legislative assemblies of Western Australia, Tasmania, New South Wales and South Australia, all submitted proposed wordings for the Preamble acknowledging God.[6]  John Quick (one of the drafters of the Constitution) and Robert Garran (who played a significant role in the Australian Federation movement) wrote in their standard commentary on the Constitution:

This appeal to the Deity was inserted in the Constitution at the suggestion of most of the Colonial Legislative Chambers, and in response to numerous and largely signed petitions received from the people of every colony represented in the Federal Convention[…] In justification of the insertion of the words stress was laid on the great demonstration of public opinion in their favour, as expressed in the recommendations of the Legislative bodies and in the petitions presented.[7]

The inclusion of the words ‘humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God’ into the primary source of Australian law and government, exemplifies the nation’s Christian heritage. It may well be argued that the overwhelming public support for a reference to God reflected the view that the validity and success of an Australian Federation depended on the providence of God.

It can, at the very least, be said that Judeo-Christian values were so embedded in Australia so as to necessitate the recognition of God in the nation’s founding document. When considered alongside the development of colonial laws, the adoption of the English common law tradition coupled with the American system of federation, which is deeply embedded in Calvinist theology, it is evident that the foundations of the Australian nation, and its laws, have discernible Christian roots.

As also stated in the Preamble to the Constitution, the Commonwealth of Australia was established under the Crown of the United Kingdom. The Queen is head of the executive but she appoints a Governor General to act as her representative and to exercise her powers on her behalf.[8] The Governor General,[9] who is constitutionally authorised to exercise the executive power as the Queen’s representative,[10] swears allegiance to the monarch under section 42 of the Australian Constitution, binding himself to the principles expressed in the Queen’s oaths of office. These oaths include significant Christian undertakings. At her enthronement Queen Elizabeth II in theory promised to ‘maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel’ and to ‘continue steadfastly as the Defender of Christ’s religion’. The monarch also committed ‘to the utmost of [her] power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel’.

While Christianity is historically enshrined in the law, there are few practical implications to bear in mind. First, it would be unheard of for the Queen to dispose of the Governor-General for a failure to maintain Christian principles in the law; second, it is not conceivable that an act of the Governor-General, or any act of government, would be invalidated because they deviate from Christian theology.

Christian practices still permeate Australia’s public institutions. Religion is still taught in many public schools, and the Bible is still present in every court of the land. Furthermore, prayers are conducted prior to opening proceedings at both state and federal Parliaments. Standing Orders for the House and Senate determine that the Speaker must read a prayer for Parliament, which is followed by the Lord’s Prayer before calling for the first item of business.[11] With all Parliamentary members remaining standing, the Speaker concludes the opening proceedings with this prayer:

Almighty God, we humbly beseech Thee to vouchsafe Thy blessing upon this Parliament. Direct and prosper our deliberations to the advancement of Thy glory, and the true welfare of the people of Australia.

Whatever one might think of all this, and I doubt many Australians actually know such things, it is simply impossible to understand these symbolic gestures without reference to Christianity. Although our lawmakers may not explicitly recognise this, Australia, while pluralistic, still remains a predominantly Christian nation. To be fair, some of our finest politicians, both past and present, have linked their support, or opposition, of laws to their Christian convictions. Relatively recent examples could include former Prime Ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott, not to mention a considerable number of other Australian lawmakers. Thus, the perception that Christianity no longer holds any relevance to Australian law is at best fallacious.

The Threat of Secular Intolerance 

While the role of Christianity in Australia’s history is irrefutable, strangely, the ongoing decline of Christian faith and morality is also irrefutable. Since Australian society is viewed largely as ‘secular’ and ‘multicultural’,[12] Christianity is almost never mentioned, much less promoted, in political and intellectual discourse in this country. When it is mentioned among the nation’s public figures, Christian values and traditions are often critiqued, often brushed aside with contempt. As a result, many Australians are now convinced that there should be no relationship between religious values and their country’s legal-institutional arrangements. Yet this road may lead not just towards a rejection of Christian heritage but also towards the rejection of religious opinion in public discourse, which would be anything but democratic.

Section 116 of the Australian Constitution is generally interpreted by those who deny and denounce the Judeo-Christian roots of the Australian law as evidence that the Constitution should be regarded as an entirely secular document; but, as seen above, nothing could be further to the truth. In reality, the Framers prohibited the establishment of a national church so as to limit the power of central government and to protect and strengthen religion. The enduring role of religion in our laws and customs may be regarded by some as a mere relic of the past, and soon to be overtaken by the rise of secularism and ‘social progress’, but Australia’s Christian heritage is irrefutable. Those who wish to advance ‘secularism’ may opt for being indifferent to the enduring role of religion in our legal system, but they have no right to rewrite history in order to advance their arguments.

Since Australia is largely viewed in our time as secular, the prevailing perception is that Christian morality should have no bearing upon the law. Secularists often argue that an unyielding obedience and attachment to the Christian heritage of the Australian law inhibits its progression and evolution. This sentiment has evolved and is now used by some secularists to deny the Christian foundations of Australian law. The argument follows that a secularist understanding of the law is ‘progressive’, while an understanding of the legal system within a Christian framework might be significant only as a matter of legal history.

Whereas Christian ideology played a central role in the development of the country’s legal system,[13] the religious foundations of our constitutional democracy now appear to be increasingly doubted, suppressed and even denied. As western democracies move away from Christian law and morality towards ‘secularism’, it is worthwhile to consider how significant legal-institutional concepts, including the concept of church-state separation, can be traced back to traditional Christian teachings, in particular Christ’s admonition to ‘render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s’.[14] As the American law professor, Steven Smith, points out:

The commitment to church-state separation and the derivative commitment to freedom of conscience arose in—and acquired their sense and their urgency from—a classical, Christian world view in which the spiritual and temporal were viewed as separate domains within God’s overarching order. In the prevailing modern framework, by contrast, the jurisdictional and religious problem has receded, and has been replaced by a problem of justice: the question is simply how a secular liberal state should treat those subject to its governance. But in that secular framework, the inherited commitments of church-state separation and to free exercise of religion lose their grounding, and their sense; indeed, there seems to be no very powerful reason to regard religion as a special category at all.[15]

But in today’s western societies the concept of an entirely secular public square has achieved significant political support.[16] Broadly speaking, the idea implies that everyone ought to support their positions about law, politics, and public policy on solely non-religious grounds.[17] On these grounds, religious freedom is perceived as being no more than the right of everyone to accept as personal opinions whatever religious beliefs one might choose – or none at all – so that religion can be privatized because the limitation of public debate to ‘neutral’ secular rationales is thought necessary to preserve civil discourse.[18]

Among the more notable recent proponents of some form of this secular view was legal-political philosopher John Rawls.[19] He arbitrarily labelled arguments based on a Christian worldview as ‘religious’ and wrongly argued that they should be precluded from public debate, thereby requiring people of faith to check their general revelatory principles at the door to the public square. Revisited in the words of Rawls, liberal democracy becomes a form of secular society that ‘effectively renders people of faith second-class citizens simply because their own preferred ways of moral reasoning, informed by their love of God, can have no place in the public square’.[20]

Because Rawls insisted that religion is politically divisive, he contended that we should ‘bypass’ religion to dialogue on matters of ‘overlapping consensus’.[21] Allegedly, religion involves primarily metaphysical discussions, so it cannot be resolved by rational discussion since each person’s personal belief is absolute for them. It is argued therefore that to have a civil and reasonable public square religion cannot be part of the political discourse, for religion involves metaphysical beliefs and positions not capable of rational discussion.[22]

This turns the western liberal tradition on its head.[23]  Proponents of the religiously neutral public square believe that it is actually possible to detach citizens from their personal convictions, that their reasoning is capable of being exercised in a religiously neutral manner.[24] For them religious beliefs must be kept to one’s self and their religious devotions done in private so as not to disturb the public square. Religion’s communal aspects must also be kept private or within the four walls of a church.[25] Behind this secularist approach (and its desire for a neutral, secular public square) lays the broad assumption that traditional religious beliefs are fundamentally subjective, divisive and irrational.[26] The assumption being so, radical secularists demand that religion be limited exclusively to the realm of private conviction and citizen’s religious conviction must be completely ‘privatised’, excluded from public debate.[27] In large measure this explains the secularist support for an ‘impregnable’ wall of separation between church and state.[28]

Many Australians are now reticent to talk about religion in public life. They know, no matter how sensibly they present their argument, biblical Christian values are unpopular with the mainstream media. Even Prime Minister John Howard was accused by journalists working for such media outlets of trying to impose his religious convictions. Howard was accused not just of expressly identifying Australian values with traditional Christian values, but of trying to ‘reverse the decline of Christianity’ by assigning government functions to the churches. For example, in a notorious piece in The Age newspaper on February 26, 2005, Dr Muriel Porter endorsed Marion Maddox’s fantastical claim that the Howard government, influenced by conservative Christians, would have come ‘perilously close to endangering many of the personal freedoms most Australians take for granted’.[29]

Such an argument is not just absurdly wrong. It is also highly contemptuous of our values and traditions. It certainly reveals a considerable ignorance of the profound impact of Christian philosophy on the development of the common law, particularly our legal rights and freedoms. Above all, this type of argument constitutes a rather disturbing form of anti-Christian bigotry against people from such religious background. Of course, Howard’s major ‘sin’ was to merely express the undeniable truth that ours is a country that has been heavily influenced by Christian values and traditions. On his personal faith, Howard says this in his insightful auto-biography:

The fundamentals of Christian belief and practice which I learned at the Earlwood Methodist Church have stayed with me to this day, although I would not pretend to be other than an imperfect adherent to them. I now attend a local Anglican church, denominational labels within Christianity meaning nothing to me. Any religious belief requires a large act of faith. To many people, believing in something that cannot be proved is simply a step too far. To me, by contrast, human life seems so complex and hard to explain yet so extraordinary that the existence of God has always seemed to offer a better explanation of its meaning than any other.[30]

These are hardly the words of a religious fundamentalist! In a recent interview, Howard identifies Judaeo-Christian values as the ‘greatest shaper, morally and ethically, of today’s Australia’. He argued that while Australians owe much to such institutions as the United Nations, ‘Australians can trace much of what they value back to the teachings of Christ’. According to him:

The notion that Christian influence and values should be consigned to history books is a nonsense. Australians should be aware that there are some who would drive Christian religion out of the public space. For instance, attempts made by some state governments, especially in Victoria, to make it almost impossible to have religious instruction in state schools–although technically allowed but made practically very difficult – is an offensive manifestation of an anti-religious streak in some sections of government around Australia, and it ought not be taken lightly[…]Those who would preference Jingle Bells but limit Once in Royal David’s City at Christmas in schools, are doing a great disservice to the next generation.[31]

Then there is former Liberal PM Tony Abbott. When Abbott was Minister for Health and Aging, he opposed legalising the abortion drug RU486 apparently on the basis of his Catholic convictions. After being forced to resign as prime minister by his own party members, he is finally able to talk more openly ‘about the debt that the modern world owed to Christianity’. In a recent address to students from his old school, Abbott spoke candidly on how Western democracy rests ‘on an appreciation of the innate dignity of every person; and justice on the imperative to treat others as you’d have them treat you; or to love your neighbour as you love yourself’.[32]

Among MPs serving in the former Abbott cabinet were several who adhere to Protestant denominations. For example, Scott Morrison is a practicing member of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God.[33] Senator Eric Abetz is aligned with the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia. Senator Abetz, an employment minister under Prime Minister Abbott, complained that the mainstream media frequently treats him and other colleagues ‘unfairly’ because of their faith in Jesus Christ, but would never dare speak the same disparaging way about people of other worldviews, religious or otherwise. As Abetz points out:

There is a double standard that you can basically vilify anyone from the Christian side of the tracks but don’t you dare touch anyone else […] If you have a Christian, conservative point-of-view to offer, the media will have this negative sentiment override which will simply be critical of any views that you may seek to express and that has, regrettably, been the case now for many years in the media gallery.[34]

There is little doubt that anti-Christian bigotry contributed to Abbott’s demise as Prime Minister. His Catholic faith, including background as a trainee priest, no doubt contributed to his ousting. He became the easy target of anti-Catholic sentiment. For example, in a piece published in The Saturday Paper (just a few days before his party members removed him), journalist Mike Seccombe claimed that Australia was governed by a ‘religious government’ for no other reason that almost half of Abbott’s frontbench were practicing Catholics.[35]

According to Peter Kurti, coordinator of the Religion & Civil Society Program at the Centre for Independent Studies, the term ‘secular’ can bear many different meanings. But essentially it describes ‘a political outlook which is neutral as to the existence or even relevance of a religious dimension in public affairs, but recognises the importance of religion to citizens’, he says. And yet, as Kurti reminds, ‘a more aggressive form of secularism is hostile to any manifestation or expression of religious belief in the public sphere’.[36] Radical secularism is deeply hostile to any public manifestation of religion, seemingly believing that religion and secularism are irreconcilable opponents. It is clear that such secularism advances a form of anti-religious bigotry. Rather than being restrained from establishing religion, the state is invited to establish unbelief as the only accepted norm of socio-political engagement.

Curiously, the most successful of our politicians was never ashamed to publicly express his religious convictions. Sir Robert Gordon Menzies was Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister. The Presbyterian Menzies conceived Christianity as an incomparable code of moral conduct based on the promotion of love and rejection of (the communist propagation of) envy, materialism and hatred of fellow humans. For Menzies, Christianity was a religion of peace, love and reconciliation, which ‘calls on human beings to love their enemies and to do good to those who misuse them’.[37] As an apologist for Western civilisation, Menzies appreciated Christianity as a religion intimately associated with the classical liberal values of free enterprise, free association, and free expression. Critical to the flourishing of liberal democracy was the Christian ethics of ‘brotherly love’ and mutual responsibility which he regarded deeply admired.[38]

Menzies freely spoke his mind on matters of faith and spirituality. In addition to fully acknowledging its unique spiritual and cultural significance to Western civilisation, he esteemed the Bible, particularly the Authorised Version, as something of a ‘gold standard’ for English literature.[39] On several occasions he publically displayed his belief in ‘the pre-eminent place of the Bible in shaping the historic traditions, values and institutions of the Western world, not least the Judeo-Christian ethic’. In a number of Menzies’s most famous speeches, Furse-Roberts informs:

[P]ublic displays of his religiosity, his Scots Presbyterian faith was real and he did not conceal the fact that his views on politics, culture and ethics were informed by Judeo-Christian precepts. As the speeches in this section reveal, his anti-communism was largely driven by the hostility of the ideology towards religion and Christianity; his warm rapport with Australia’s Jewish community was based upon his profound respect for the Hebrew tradition and its contribution to Western civilisation; and, finally, the sacred text of the Bible for him represented ‘the repository of our faith and inspiration’.[40]   

In this sense, as his biographer David Furse-Roberts points out, ‘the worldview of convictions politicians such as Menzies cannot fully be understood without considering their spiritual principles or religious faith’.[41]  The same can be said in regard to another important politician in the history of our great Commonwealth: Sir Samuel Walker Griffith (1845-1920). He was leading author of the Australian Constitution. He was Premier of Queensland prior to being appointed the nation’s first Chief Justice, in October 1903. His underlying ideas about the judicial power derived from Evangelical Christianity. Griffith was born in Wales, the son of a Congregationalist minister who preached a fundamentalist version of Congregationalist doctrine. His parents left Wales in 1853 via an immigration that was subsidised by two prominent New South Wales Congregationalists, the publisher John Fairfax and the merchant David Jones. As Quadrant‘s Keith Windschuttle points out, ‘[w]hat parents and sponsors had in common was a life-long dedication to the Evangelical Christianity, which the son retained into adulthood’.[42] In colonial New South Wales, ‘the ranks of government officials, clergy and judiciary were stacked with Evangelical adherents and sympathisers […] Samuel Griffith’s father Edward was but one of numerous Evangelical clergy from across the range of Protestant denominations who were enticed to this new religious frontier.[43]

One might discard these historical accounts as a relic of the past. However, even when radical secularists presume to have banished religion altogether from the public square, what they have done is no more than infuse it with their own religious worldview. If, in fact, religiosity and morality are basic human traits, then secularism and amorality are not their opposites. Thus Steven Alan Samson concludes: ‘The rejection of one system of values and beliefs only indicates that it has been replaced by another system considered more acceptable, believable, or valuable’.[44]

The comprehensiveness of religion means that religious neutrality is inescapably a myth. Francis J. Powers once stated that ‘an attitude of indifference or neutrality toward religion, on the part of the state, is theologically and philosophically untenable’.[45] The neutrality principle that leads to the privatisation of religion is only workable if religion could be an isolated component of life.[46] But religion is not an isolated component of life. Religion has broad, holistic implications for the lives of its adherents – as a worldview that shapes the way individuals think and act.

Consequently, it is simply impossible to implement truly a religion-neutral public square. Of course, secularism is also a form of religious belief (together with other belief systems that do not include the existence of God). The U.S. Supreme Court recognized this in footnote in Torcaso v Watkins where a number of ‘religions […] which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God’ were listed, including ‘Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, and Secular Humanism’.[47] According to philosophy professor Brendan Sweetman:

Secular humanism is the view that all reality is physical, consisting of some configuration of matter and energy, and that everything that exists either currently has a scientific explanation or will have a scientific explanation in the future. The universe is regarded as a random occurrence, as is the appearance and nature of life on earth. Thus, secularism is not simply the negative claim that there is no God and that there is no soul; rather, these claims are supposed to follow from its positive theses. Like other worldviews, especially religious ones, secularism contains beliefs about the nature of reality, the nature of the human person and the nature of morality. And many of these beliefs have political implications […] Indeed most of the discussion of religion and politics in recent years, especially in the United States, suffers from a failure to appreciate the significance of the fact that secularism too is a worldview.[48]

Naturally, if religion is defined more narrowly so as to necessarily posit a transcendent deity, then secular humanism is not a religion. But if religion can be defined more broadly, in a way that includes non-theistic worldviews such as Buddhism and Confucianism, then the definition of religion most definitely applies to secular humanism, in particular the manifestation of humanism where its adherents faithfully rely on a set of dogmas that purportedly have a complete answer to society’s problems.

For example, Marxism is not just a scheme of social, economic and political transformation. Marxist is also a form of secular theology. Indeed, in many respects Marxism is no less dogmatic than the traditional religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As a matter of fact, Marxism contains within itself a complete worldview, which includes an explanation of the origins of societies as well as an eschatology concerning the final destiny of humanity. Marxism is based on the unprovable conviction (a genuine opiate of the people?) that history evolves towards a particular end, and that the proletariat (to be guided by a small elite called the ‘vanguard’) acts as the redemptive force of humanity. Marxism is therefore endowed with prophetic dimensions and certainties that are central parts of its message and its appeal.[49]

Marxism works as a ‘socialist credo’ rested on Marx’s belief that the proletariat would act as the redeeming force of humanity. History is therefore interpreted progressively, moving by means of a struggle between the social classes. According to Marx, the final stage of human progress should actually transcend class struggle, when the eschatological consummation of global communism at last would be achieved.[50] ‘This was not a scientific opinion but an ungrounded prophecy. Having arrived at his theory of the proletariat’s historic mission on the basis of philosophical deduction, he later sought empirical evidence for it’.[51] Comparing such ‘eschatology’ with the eschatology of the Book of Revelation, David Koyzis writes:

Much as the scriptures teaches the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ over his enemies and the reign of the righteous over the new earth in the kingdom of God, so also does Marxism promise an eschatological consummation of human history. This does not, of course, mean that there is not a battle to be waged or work to be done. Indeed, there is much of both. But in fighting for the classless society, the proletariat does so fully confident that it is fighting not against history but with it.[52]

In practice, the so-called proletarian dictatorship envisaged by Marx has turned every communist state into ‘a permanent dictatorship of non-workers over manual labourers and peasants’.[53] Marxist-oriented regimes amount to a dictatorship not of the proletariat but over the proletariat and all the other people.[54] In the 20th century alone, such regimes and revolutionary movements killed at least 100 million people. In the former Soviet Union, a country founded on Marxist goals and principles, the victims of assassination by the state approached at least 20 million.[55] Arguably, the demonization of people by Marxism provides an entire justification for their brutal elimination. As Paul Johnson points out:

Christianity was content with a solitary hate-figure to explain evil: Satan. But modern secular faiths needed human devils, and whole categories of them. The enemy, to be plausible, had to be an entire class or race. Marx’s invention of the ‘bourgeoisie’ was the most comprehensive of these hate-theories and it has continued to provide a foundation for all paranoid revolutionary movements, whether fascist-nationalist or Communist-internationalist. Modern theoretical anti-Semitism was a derivative of Marxism, involving a selection (for reasons of national, political or economic convenience) of a particular section of the bourgeoisie as the subject of attack.[56]

Ever since the coming of the Enlightenment, western elites have adhered to a variety of secular faiths, Marxism being just one of them. Dean Sullivan of Chicago Law School was more upfront than most about the implications of secularism when she explained that ‘[t]he correct baseline […] is not unfettered religious liberty, but rather religious liberty insofar as it is consistent with the establishment of the secular public moral order’.[57] Arguably, these elites have privatised all religions except their own, which they have clearly privileged above all others.[58]  The implications of embracing such a secular faith is elucidated by David Burchell as follows:

By and large, Western intellectuals are troubled by the continued presence of Christianity in the world. Frequently they experience it like an allergy, of the type that causes you to scratch, compulsively, without finding relief. IN turn this leads – as British critic Terry Eagleton noted in reviewing Richard Dawkins’ execrable pot-boiler The God Delusion – to a strange paradox. Serious scholars, who ordinarily would not dream of discussing a book without reading it, will carelessly burlesque Christian doctrine because they refuse to contaminate themselves by opening a single Christian text.

Of course, the secular humanists have every right to petition our elected politicians to adopt their personal values and beliefs. However, they have no right and they are actually hypocritical if they deny and castigate people from other religious convictions for doing exactly the same. As for those professing the Christian faith, Christ himself commanded his followers to be the ‘Salt and Light’ of the world. This is called the ‘Great Commission,’ meaning that true believers in Christ have the moral obligation to serve God and all other humans in every sphere of life, including law and politics. The Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith succinctly explained this idea in the following excerpt from a doctrinal note:

The social doctrine of the Church is not an intrusion into the government of individual countries. It is a question of the lay Catholic’s duty to be morally coherent, found within one’s conscience, which is one and indivisible. There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence; on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life,’ with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture. The branch, engrafted to the vine which is Christ, bears its fruit in every sphere of existence and activity. In fact, every area of the faithful’s lives, as different as they are, enters into the plan of God, who desires that these very areas be the ‘places in time’ where the love of Christ is revealed and realised for both the glory of the Father and service of others. Every activity, every situation, every precise responsibility—as, for example, skill and solidarity in work, love and dedication in the family and the education of children, service to society and public life and the promotion of truth in the area of culture—are the occasions ordained by Providence for a ‘continu[ous] exercise of faith, hope and Charity’ … Living and acting in conformity with one’s own conscience on questions of politics is not slavish acceptance of positions alien to politics or some kind of confessionalism, but rather the way in which Christians offer their concrete contribution so that, through political life, society will become more just and more consistent with the dignity of the human person.[59]

Given the sort of vicious attacks politicians tend to suffer from the mainstream media and left-leaning academics, simply for expressing their Christian views, it is no wonder many people in Australia are extremely reticent to talk about religion in public life. And yet, it was Christ himself who said that ‘salt preserves but if salt loses its saltiness it is worthless’ (Luke 14:34). We can only imagine how unjust the world would be if the followers of Jesus Christ had not fulfilled their ‘Great Commission’; if they had privatised their faith and made no impact on the life of their communities. Think, for instance, of the great William Wilberforce (1759-1833), who became the voice of the anti-slavery movement in the British Parliament. Wilberforce was someone who took the Great Commission seriously. As a result he literally changed the world for the better.[60] Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass spoke reverently of him as the great pioneer and father of the anti-slavery movement.[61]

When Wilberforce embraced the Christian faith he had no idea how to reconcile his strong belief in God with his political life. Should he leave politics so as to become more religious? Wilberforce still had to develop a biblical worldview, so he thought about retreating from everything, perhaps joining a monastery or the priesthood. But a visit to the colourful John Newton, the author of the famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, who was then sixty and rector of a church in an area of East London, encouraged Wilberforce to stay in politics. Who knew, Newton argued, whether God had not prepared him ‘for a time such as this?’.

Newton explained to his young friend that God could use him mightily in the world of politics, where Wilberforce was needed more than ever.[62] So Wilberforce decided to take his faith into politics, serving God with his undeniable gifts in the realm of law and politics. ‘God Almighty’, Wilberforce wrote, ‘has set before me two Great Objects: the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners’. The first object is obviously self-evident, but the second means that ‘Great Mandate’ of all faithful Christians to reform morality and culture in general. Wilberforce knew that in order to get the votes he needed to abolish the slave trade he would have to change the hearts and minds of people first. According to his biographer, Eric Metaxas:

Wilberforce wasn’t just ‘religious’ but actually had a personal relationship with God. He seems to have been motivated by love—love of God and the love of his fellow man—more than by a simple sense of right and wrong or justice and injustice. This is probably the single most important factor in what he was able to do.[63]

From a Christian perspective all this seems quite natural because the Bible commands believers to love others as they love themselves. Christians are called to love even their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them (Matthew 5:44). As has been properly said, ‘this universal love command is a critical foundation of our modern understanding of human dignity and human rights’.[64] In Render Unto Caesar the Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles J. Chaput, commented:

For Christians, love is a small word that relentlessly unpacks into a lot of other words: truth, repentance, forgiveness, mercy, charity, courage, justice. These are action words, all of them, including truth, because in accepting Jesus Christ, the Gospel says that we will know the truth, and the truth will make us free (John 8:32)—not comfortable; not respected; but free in the real sense of the word: able to see and do what’s right. This freedom is meant to be used in the service of others. Working for justice is an obligation of Christian freedom.[65]

Final Considerations

In this sense, although radical secularists in Australia have tried to turn the separation of church and state into the separation of beliefs and state, it is a profound mistake to confuse the autonomy exercised by the different churches with the democratic right of individual believers to participate in political life. There is nothing in the Australian Constitution that justifies the suppression of religious discourse in the public sphere. Nor is there anything that could possibly justify the denial of equal rights of free speech for all people, religious or not. By dictating what people can say and treating the most fundamental aspect of their lives exclusively as a private matter, those who view the moral duty of Australian Christians to act in accordance with their religious conscience as something that disqualifies them from political life are basically guilty of promoting an undemocratic form of secular intolerance. Such a form of secular radicalism has never been a natural step towards democratic maturity – quite the opposite.

It has been said that the power of shallow and deceptive philosophies can easily deceive a people without historical memory.[66] Regardless of any merit in objections to Christian influences upon contemporary Australian society, there are indeed no justifications for the denial of Christianity’s historical significance. In these days of political correctness and cultural relativism, it is always important to be reminded of our Judeo-Christian heritage, which still permeates most of the present laws and socio-political institutions of this democratic nation. To state this obvious fact is not to be ‘intolerant’ of other cultures or religious, but to stress an undeniable truth.

Dr Augusto Zimmermann LLB, LLM cum laude, PhD (Mon.) is Director of Post Graduate Research and former Associate Dean (Research) at Murdoch Law School. He is also President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA), Editor-in-Chief of the Western Australian Jurist law journal, Professor of Law (Adjunct) at the University of Notre Dame Australia (Sydney campus), and a former member of the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia (2012-2017). This paper is the second of a series of three papers delivered by Dr Zimmermann at the ‘Religion in the Public Square Colloquium’ held by the ‘Church and Nation Committee’ of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria (Scots’ Church, Melbourne, October 20-21, 2017). The author wishes to thank Heath Harley-Bellemore for his insightful comments and suggestions on a previous version of this conference paper.     



[1] Charles Francis,Why Australia’s Christian Heritage Matters’, News Weekly, March 1 2008 <http://www.newsweekly.com.au/articles/2008mar01a.html>.

[2] Quoted from David Flint, ‘The Six Pillars of Australia: Things We Don’t Tell Our Children’, Quadrant, Volume LX, Number 10, October 2016, p.10.

[3] Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia 1900 (Cth) Preamble. (emphasis added).

[4] Ibid., 196.

[5] Helen Irving, To Constitute a Nation: A Cultural History of Australia’s Constitution (Cambridge University Press, 1999) p 166.

[6] John Quick and Robert Randolph Garran, The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth (Angus & Robertson, 1901) 283–84.

[7] Ibid 287.

[8] See, for example sections 2, 58, 61 and 68 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Section 61 of the Australian Constitution gives the Queen executive power over Australia.

[11] Senate Standing Order 50, House Standing Order 38.

[12] See, for instance, a description of religion’s ‘highly circumscribed’ relevance to culture in Patrick O’Farrell, ‘The Cultural Ambivalence of Australian Religion’, in S.L. Goldberg & F.B. Smith, Australian Cultural History (Cambridge University Press, 1988), 8.

[13] See: Augusto Zimmermann, ‘Constituting a Christian Commonwealth: Christian Foundations of Australia’s Constitutionalism’ (2014) 5 The Western Australian Jurist 123-151.

[14] Luke 20:25 (King James Version)

[15] Steven D. Smith, ‘Discourse in the Dusk: The Twilight of Religious Freedom?’ (2009) 122 Harvard Law Review 1869, 1887.

[16] Paul Horwitz, The Agnostic Age (Oxford University Press, 2011), pp 10-21.

[17] See Stephen L. Carter, The Culture of Disbelief (Anchor Books, 1993), pp 54–55; Michael W. McConnell, ‘Religious Freedom at Crossroads’ (1992) 59 University of Chicago Law Review 115, 122–25.

[18] Gordon J. Spykman, ‘The Principled Pluralist Position’, in Gary Scott Smith (ed.), God and Politics: Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government (Phillipsburg/NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1989), 80.

[19] John Rawls, Political Liberalism (2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2005).

[20] Kenneth J. Collins, Power, Politics and the Fragmentation of Evangelicalism: From the Scopes Trial to the Obama Adminstration (Downers Grove/IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 195.

[21] Rawls, 152.  See also Edward B. Foley, ‘Political Liberalism and Establishment Clause Jurisprudence’ (1993) 43 Case Western Reserve University Law Review 963 (describing the application of Rawls’s philosophy to the American Establishment Clause).

[22] William A. Galston, ‘Public Morality and Religion in the Liberal State’ (1986) PS: Political Science & Politics 807, 816.

[23] Michael Cromartie elaborates: ‘The claim that the faith of American Christians should always be only an intensely private affair between the individual and God would have been surprising news to such diverse persons as John Winthrop, Jonathan Edwards, Abraham Lincoln, the abolitionist of slavery, fifteen generations of the black church, civil rights leaders, and antiwar activists.’ See Michael Cromartie, ‘The Evangelical Kaleidoscope: A Survey of Recent Evangelical Political Engagement’, in David P. Gushee, Christians and Politics Beyond the Culture Wars (Grand Rapids/MI: Baker, 2000), 27.

[24] Carter, 56.

[25] Or any other paradigmatically religious institution (e.g., monastery, synagogue, or mosque).

[26] Richard W. Garnett, ‘Religion, Division, and the First Amendment’ (2006) 94 Georgetown Law Journal 1667.

[27] See Carter, 54–55; See also McConnell, 122–25.

[28] David T. Koyzis, Political Visions and Illusions (IVP Academic, 2003), pp 65–68.

[29] Muriel Porter, ‘Book review of Marion Maddox’s ‘God under Howard’’, The Age, Melbourne, February 26, 2005, at http://www.theage.com.au/news/Reviews/God-under-Howard/2005/02/23/1109046981178.html

[30] John Howard, Lazarus Rising: A Personal and Political Biography (Sydney:NSW: HarperCollins, 2010), p.31.

[31] Bob Ward, ‘Christianity is the Greatest Shaper of Australia, says John Howard’, Eternity News, May 6,  2016.

[32] Tony Abbott, ‘Keeping Reform Alive: Even in the Midst of our Present Discontents’, Quadrant, Volume LX, Number 10, October 2016, p. 20.

[33] Another Christian politician is Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi, who entered the Senate in 2006 and in his first speech spoke about the sacred nature of marriage and sanctity of life. Bernardi promised: ‘I shall be guided by my conscience, my family, my country and my God’. Conversely, the Australian Labor Party appears to have gradually departed from its working-class roots so as to become primarily a party of left-wing intellectuals and academics as well as non-elected public officials. As such, this party alienated most of its original Catholic base of support through policies introduced by successive Labor governments, both at federal and state levels, that are antagonistic to Christian values, including abortion-on-demand, anti-free-speech legislation on religious grounds, and easily available divorce for any reason or no reason whatsoever. And yet, as John Howard put it, ‘Until the 1960s the ALP was the party of choice for the majority of Australian Catholics. Theology played no part in this; it was driven by socioeconomic factors, which Irish Catholics being predominantly of a working-class background … Although the warming of Catholics towards the Liberal Party had begun in the earnest with Menzies’ state aid gesture in 1963, the first Fraser cabinet of 1975 still included only on Catholic, Philip Lynch. Over the coming years the dam would really burst on this old divide. One-half of the final Howard cabinet in 2007 were Catholics’. – Howard, above n…, 31.

[34] Sharri Markson, ‘Godless Left Gets Clear Run as Media Mocks Christian Right: Abetz’, The Australian, October 19, 2015.  Senator Abetz also said: ‘Journalists will have to explain why they [vilify Christian politicians], but it is very clear that if somebody swears their oath on the Koran, this is a wonderful expression of diversity and to be encouraged, whereas if you swear your oath on the Bible then you’re an old fart and not to be taken seriously. Well, excuse me, what’s the difference?’ See also: John Sandeman, ‘Christians Don’t Get a Fair God in the Media, or Why Eric Abetz Gets It Right’, Bible Society, October 19, 2015.

[35] Mike Seccombe, ‘Abbott and the Christian Right’, The Saturday Paper, August 29, 2015, p. 11. Kevin Andrews (Defence Minister), Barnaby Joyce (Agriculture Minister), Andrew Robb (Trade Minister) and Mathias Cormann (Finance Minister) openly expressed their Catholic faith.

[36] Peter Kurti, ‘Secular Prejudice and the Survival of Religious Freedom’, Quadrant, November 2014, p 38.

[37] Robert Menzies, ‘The Communists, Broadcast, Melbourne (2 July 1943)’, in David Furse-Roberts (ed.), Menzies: The Forgotten Speeches (Japarit Press, 2017), p. 75.

[38] David Furse-Roberts (ed.), Menzies: The Forgotten Speeches (Japarit Press, 2017), p. 75.

[39] Ibid. p. 241.

[40] Ibid., p.14.

[41] Ibid., p. 14.

[42] Keith Windschuttle’s The Break-Up of Australia: The Real Agenda Behind Aboriginal Recognition (Sydney/NSW: Quadrant Books, 2016), p 296

[43] Ibid., p. 238

[44] Steven Alan Samson, ‘Faustian Bargains: Entanglements Between Church and State in America’, (2011) 2 The Western Australian Jurist 61, 72.

[45] Francis J. Powers, Religious Liberty and the Police Power of the State (Washington/DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1948), 46.

[46] Galston, above n 184, 819.

[47] Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 495 n. 11 (1961); and compare United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 (1965) (the test for religious belief is whether the belief occupies a place ‘parallel’ to a belief in God).

[48] Brendan Sweetman, Why Politics Needs Religion: The Place of Religious Arguments in the Public Sphere (2006), 17–18.

[49] Martin Krygier, ‘Marxism, Communism, and Narcissism’ (1990) 15(4) Law & Social Inquiry 707, p 712.

[50] David T Koyzis, Political Visions & Illusions, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove/IL, 2003, p 174.

[51] Andrzej Flis, ‘From Marx to Real Socialism: The History of a Utopia’, in M Krygier (ed.), Marxistm and Communism (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994), p 25.

[52] Koyzis, p 172.

[53] Richard Pipes, Communism: A History (Modern Library, 2001), p 15.

[54] Ibid., 39.

[55] See in Stephanie Courtois et al, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, (Cambridge/MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), pp 9–10.

[56] Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties (New York/NY: HarperCollins, 2001), p 117.

[57] Kathleen M. Sullivan, ‘Religion and Liberal Democracy’ (1992) 59 University of Chicago Law Review 195, 198.

[58] See Rex Ahdar & Ian Leigh, ‘Is Establishment Consistent with Religious Freedom?’ (2004) 49 McGill Law Journal 635, 677–80.

[59] ‘On the Participation of Catholics in Political Life’, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, (Vatican City: Catholic Truth Society, 2003), p. 13.

[60] Eric Metaxas, 7 Men and the Secret of their Greatness (Nashville/TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013), p. 33.

[61] Ibid, 31.

[62] Ibid, 43.

[63] Ibid, 53.

[64] John Witte Jr, ‘Introduction’, John Witte, Jr and Frank S Alexander (eds), Christianity and Law: An Introduction (Cambridge/UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 4.

[65] Charles J. Chaput, Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (New York/NY: Image Books, 2008), p.38.

[66] The assertion comes from the Bible and it’s found in Colossians 2:8: ‘See to it that no one takes you captive through shallow and deceptive philosophy, which comes from human thinking and the elementary principles of this world rather than on Christ’.

  • psstevo

    This very succinct presentation of historical truth is most welcome. Augusto Zimmermann rightly details the Judeo-Christian heritage that did not exclude any non-Christian religion, including secular humanism. An evolutionary world-view has been exposed as invalid by numerous and qualified writers, however, anyone who wishes to choose to deny ‘God’s Will’ and substitute their own belief system based on ‘my will and not God’s’ is free to do so without denigrating other belief systems.What is confusing is the the secular humanist (usually from a very leftist viewpoint with little philosophical basis)seems to very comfortable in allowing Islamic beliefs (for example)into the public square, even when the end result of that viewpoint may well result in the secular humanist becoming a victim of that belief.
    Too many individuals advance the concept that there should be no Judeo-Christian basis for morality and desire that they assume a divine mantle in order to prosecute their own version of morality and ethics. Clearly an unworkable option, especially when the Creator has already provided the necessary information to have a workable society.

  • Warty

    I found it uplifting reading this article, feeling as though sated by an excellent meal and a good glass of red. But then a touch of despair, a lingering sense that the overwhelming rapidity and the relentlessness of change over the last five, ten years seems inexorable. It was perhaps because of this that for the first time in my life I joined a minor political party back in May last year.
    The fear is that our extraordinary constitution may soon be regarded as an anachronism before too long, with its solid grounding in Christianity (something not even evident in the American constitution) though we lack anything like the American Creed that still drives that sense of nationalistic fervour so lacking here. Why else have the NFL stadiums emptied across the country when largely black activist players ‘take to the knee’.
    In some respects Menzies reminds me of the American philosopher Russell Kirk, who was also studied and promoted classical liberal values, and who also believed there was such a thing as ‘transcendent moral order’ and that a society that could be brought to understand and adhere to the associated beliefs was a happier, healthier one. Augusto Zimmermann seems to suggest that such a concept is an anathema today’s secular/materialistic world.
    To take a step further on psstevo’s point about progessives being comfortable about allowing Islamic beliefs ‘into the public square’, I’d go so far as to say that, as a belief, Islam might indeed seem so intrinsically alien to our inner city dwellers, that they feel compelled to articulate a false intimation of solidarity in order to be able to continue their insipid spirit of ‘virtue signalling’. To me this seems as philosophically corrupt as the Liberals Trent Zimmermann, Tim Wilson, Christopher Pyne et al colluding with GetUp to undermine their own (conservative) colleagues. No man of principle could do such a thing. I think their actions are symptomatic of some of the forces Abbott had to contend with, and certainly symptomatic of the same forces tearing our society apart.

  • Keith Kennelly

    ‘Anti-Christian bigotry contributed Abbotts demise’

    And Warty telling us the article was up lifting have made me make up my mind to reach the whole article.

    Just so I can point out the swings that show up Jody’s lack of a basis in morality.

    She claims Christian heritage as part of her conservatism yet she hates Australia’s greatest living example who embodies
    Christianity’s and Conservatism’s values… Tony Abbott.

    I’m looking forward to how Jody resolves her disparities.

    • Jody

      You’re obviously obsessed with me and you are not the first male on the internet to be so. Sorry, but I’m taken. One man (an Englishman from France as it happens) pursued me around classical music boards trying to get my attention. He was a drinker who went on late-night rants trying to make me look small, all the while diminishing his own self-respect and being the subject of bans. He even tried it again just recently after 4 years’ silence. Sorry, but I only exchange ideas with intelligent adults on topics that interest me. Internet trolls are not part of my quality world.

      • ian.macdougall

        Well said.

  • Keith Kennelly


    It’s not about you at all.
    For you to think it is, just shows how far up your head is stuck.

    No, Its all about your behaviours and the cockeyed ideas you express and its also about how people with ideas in line with yours have stuffed the Liberal Party and are seemingly intent, unwittingly of course, on destroying the fabric of Westetnism. Unwittingly is probably a bit generous in your case, as when suggested reading, which is given with sage counsel, and may enlighten you, is reject by you, and you blythely remain committed, in a pigheaded way, with positions that have been proven wrong.

    Clear or should I repeat it until it sinks into your fat head.

  • Stephen Due

    There has been a contest between Christians and secularists in Australia from the earliest days of the colonies. The argument presented in this paper seems to me to give undue weight to the influence of Christians on the formation of our legal and political institutions.

    Nevertheless I believe that the creative influence of the large anti-Christian component of Australian society in shaping our laws and institutions has always been negligible. The reason is that secularism is defined largely by what it seeks to exclude, not by what it is able to contribute.

    The intellectual heritage of the secularist, often claimed to be the republicanism of ancient Rome, with which it actually has nothing common, is really the atheistic philosophy of the Enlightenment. The ideas propounded by the great intellectuals of the Enlightenment, however, from John Locke onwards, were saturated throughout with Christian concepts and values. Even the efforts of the atheist J. S. Mill to replace Christianity with a philosophical system of ethics based on his theory of utilitarianism, only worked on the assumption that the resulting “values” would be those already accepted in the society in which Mill was raised – in other words Christian values.

    The sad fact is that secularism, which is defined predominantly by its opposition to Christianity, has nothing to offer the Australian people in its place. The best that secularists seem to be able to do is to quote the Golden Rule back at Christians, or resort to impoverished discourse about “human rights”, which is entirely without any intellectual foundation worth speaking of when separated from Christianity.

    In the meantime, the same secularists, in the name of “progress”, are busy destroying their heritage and ours for a mess of potage. And what they are intent on replacing it with is not something new, but is in reality only a form of anti-Christian paganism that is totally unoriginal and has nothing to recommend it at all.

    In the end the only way secularists can win the argument against Christianity is to make atheism the State ideology, an approach pioneered by the Bolsheviks exactly 100 years ago, and now being implemented in Communist China. On an intellectual level their cause is hopeless, because they cannot provide any basis for a moral worldview. It is astounding, but inevitable, to note that many who have argued in favour of same sex marriage sincerely believe that if the majority want it, that will make it right. In secularism there is no moral law independent of human invention – in other words no morality at all in the traditional sense of the term. It is notable that secularists in public debate frequently make bold pronouncements about moral rights and wrongs, but, if challenged, have not the slightest idea of how to justify what they say.

    • ian.macdougall

      Excuse me Stephen: So your morality and behaviour towards your fellows: ‘man, woman,dog and cat’ depends on there being an-all knowing and omnipresent sky ogre up there, who spent some time previously demanding blood sacrifices until the day he took human form and offered himself to himself in sacrifice: said sacrifice being carried out by the ‘heathen’ soldiers of Imperial Rome. And for what? For the Original Sin!
      Accordingly, I choose as my texts for this sermon Genesis 2: 16-17: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat;
      But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (KJV)

      Some years ago now there was some sort of atheist anti-theological discussion on another site which was turning into a bit of an echo-chamber in my then view. So I (jokingly) intervened in it in the guise of a polytheist.
      Reflecting on that later, I came to the conclusion that the evolution of religions from animism to monotheism involving progressive reduction of spiritual objects of veneration most likely was driven by a desire on the part of the clerics over the ages for increased political power. Thus the glorious blooming of philosophy, included in which is science and rationalism in all fields including the humanities, was the pioneering achievement of the polytheistic Ionian Greeks, including speculative work beginning with Thales of Miletus (c. 624 – c. 546 BC) and the work of the mighty Pythagoras of Samos (c. 570–495 BC), widely credited these days for his work on the mathematical basis of music, as having been the father of experimental science.
      Polytheism also probably involved minimal intellectual and educational influence on the general population on the part of priests, as veneration of the separate gods must have been largely an unceremonious and personal matter for each devotee, there presumably being insufficient economic base to support much of a hierarchy of professional clerics.
      It took a people without a homeland of their own, the gypsies of their time and place, to produce the greatest monotheism of the lot, which in time took over as the main religion of the Roman Empire. That produced an inviting ecological niche for would-be clerics, who then proceeded with their project to stifle all independent competing thought. Tradition credits Moses as the author of Genesis, as well as Exodus, Book of Leviticus, Numbers and most of Book of Deuteronomy, but modern scholars increasingly see them as a product of the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Moses was probably born in the late 14th century BC.

      And think on Exodus 34:13; “But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: (images: Heb. statues)
      14 For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:”

      Here Yahweh through his priests, or far more likely his priests in the guise of Yahweh’s spokesmen, acknowledges the existence of other, competing gods, and acknowledges their presence on the same existential plane as himself: the monotheistic project being still at that stage a work in progress.
      And what was the forbidden fruit? It was the “fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.”

      And who are the people who deal in questions like “what do we mean by ‘good’?” and “what do we mean by ‘evil’?”. They are such horrible types as the Ionian philosophers. So a warning to all: if you walk down their track, you will surely die.
      In other words, the Original Sin pinned on Eve closely followed by Adam was philosophy, included in which is the domain we call science.
      Tradition credits ‘Moses’ as the author of Genesis, as well as Exodus, Book of Leviticus, Numbers and most of Book of Deuteronomy, but modern scholars increasingly see them as a product of the 6th and 5th centuries BC: ie ‘Moses’ as individual or committee was roughly contemporary with the Ionians, and probably aware of their ideas. Jewish philosophy has ever been a handmaiden to Jewish religion, and never reached the heights attained by the Ionians.

      • Stephen Due

        OK well what that tells me – in rather long-winded way – is that you have partly read but not understood the Bible. You will disagree with me, thinking you have read and understood it. But you have missed the point of my comment.
        My point is that you have got nothing to replace it with. Morality in the sense in which e understand it is a claim about right and wrong that transcends any person’s private views. That is what the Bible, as interpreted by Christians (i.e. not as interpreted by you) has to offer. But you cannot offer anything in the same line. You acknowledge no moral authority, so you cannot have a morality as such. You can only have private opinions that carry no weight with anybody else.

        • ian.macdougall

          Are you saying then that Christianity is the only basis for morality? You are on dangerous philosophical ground there if you do.

          Behind this secularist approach (and its desire for a neutral, secular public square) lays the broad assumption that traditional religious beliefs are fundamentally subjective, divisive and irrational….The assumption being so, radical secularists demand that religion be limited exclusively to the realm of private conviction and citizen’s religious conviction must be completely ‘privatised’, excluded from public debate… In large measure this explains the secularist support for an ‘impregnable’ wall of separation between church and state.

          I suggest that liberal democracy is the summit of humanity’s struggle to achieve stability in the realm of political economy. And if you want to see non-separation of church and state in a modern context, then I suggest you take a study tour of Pakistan. Islam is the constitution there. It is officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and similar legal arrangements exist in a number of other countries in that great Islamic arc which stretches from Nigeria to Java.
          We in the west can say ‘been there, done that’; the Christian clerics had their chance to run things their way, and they blew it. Enormous numbers of good people got burned to death at the stake along the way.
          Islamic and Christian believers in Australia are free to quarantine their children away from secular influences they as parents might find threatening, in the hope that the youth will be kept believing and in the Faith. But free, open and rational inquiry exists today in spite of the clerics, not because of them. For their loss of power and influence, they only have their own past behaviour to blame.

  • mburke@pcug.org.au

    Keith and Jody, your little squabbles are getting beyond boring. Can you please at least dial back the ad hominem? Please?

    • Keith Kennelly

      Of course I will DT so long as you pull Jody up when she starts attacking me.

  • pgang

    “…a classical, Christian world view in which the spiritual and temporal were viewed as separate domains within God’s overarching order.”

    Not at all. The separation of the spiritual and the temporal is more of a modernist interpretation, harking dangerously back Gnosticism. ‘Classical’ Christianity has always believed that God is working in and for the temporal (Jesus was/is a temporal man), and that the perceived separation of heaven from the temporal is a result of our own falling out with Him.

    The case for the separation of church and state is greatly over-stretched in these modernist, secular times, particularly when it is based on a heretical separation of God from the physical world. Granted, the Medieval church had placed too much emphasis on the temporal in its efforts to control heaven and earth. But the status of democratic government, separating executive, legal and bureaucratic powers has nothing to do with this false perception of separation of church and state. Until recently, the perception was that church and state were intimately joined, as is heaven and earth. However, things had moved on since Luther’s time and it was recognised that the clergy

    • pgang

      was not a political wing of the executive, and that the church did not need such a contrived influence over the world.

      The problem in recent times has been the liberalisation and subsequent de-legitimisation of the church from within its own management, which has resulted in the church carrying very little respect and influence in our culture.

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