Saturday, May 26, 2007

Secularism, almost...

The trouble with Australians is that the majority of us, in my experience, are a tad apathetic where religion is concerned so we’ve never really had any real burning issues in this area. Well, not to the extent that say, Iraq is experiencing burning issues in this area. But as the “National Day of Thanksgiving” approaches and in response to it, it’s obviously time to examine the subject once again, if for no other reason than I’ve been tagged to do it…:)

The Australian constitution does not and never has formally separated church and state. As far as religion goes, the only thing our constitution guarantees is freedom of and/or from religion which is nothing like the same thing. The section that people (like those that edit Wikipedia and for instance) sometimes confuse as a formal separation is section 116 and it reads thusly:

116: 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.

As you can see, there’s plenty of room to move in that section. It seems that what it does is prevent the Commonwealth from meddling in church affairs, but there’s really nothing in it to prevent the church, any church, from meddling in the Commonwealth’s affairs. So what we have here is a separation of state and church, not the other way around.

The last statement – and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth – may be seen by some to mean that a lack of belief is perfectly acceptable in any person taking office, and they’d be right. But it also means that it is perfectly acceptable for anyone who is a Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, etc, fundamentalist or otherwise, to take a public office as well, if elected. No religious test is the key phrase here. So, the Commonwealth cannot tell me what religion to practice, nor can it prohibit me from practicing any religion I choose and that religion cannot be a barrier to me were I to seek a public office or trust, where I can peddle my beliefs (as Tony Abbot and others are want to do) to my hearts content. That almost makes a degree of interaction inevitable, if not desirable.

Consequently, our parliament has a limited amount of religious representation in The Christian Democratic Party and Family First, and our more mainstream politicians (Labor and Liberal members) seem to spout forth their religious rhetoric whenever the chance presents itself. Of course, Tony Abbot will call it a “moral” stance, but because he keeps talking about God and the fact that he’s catholic, it’s obvious that morals have nothing to do with it, he’s taking a Christian stance.

Fred Nile of the Christian Democratic Party tells us that Australia is a Christian nation. Many, including our current Prime Minister would disagree with him, but unfortunately, he’s right. His reason for believing it though, is mostly because he thinks 70% of Australians are Christians and in that I think he’s very wrong. Simple math catches the mainstream churches in yet another lie here, because if you were baptised a catholic for instance, don’t believe in God or attend church but have never formally been excommunicated, then as far as the Roman Catholic church is concerned, you are a Roman Catholic. It’s an easy ploy to use to help boost your numbers and it seems to work well enough. But what makes Australia a Christian nation really has nothing at all to do with how many people worship Christ.

Fred also likes to think we have a Christian constitution and Christian law but I really don’t know where he gets that from. Perhaps he’s never actually read it, I don’t know. Our constitution, as I’ve already mentioned, makes the point of being adamant to the exclusion of no religion or lack of it and our law is based in common (and at times uncommon) sense. Just because “thou shall not kill” makes sense (as Ingersoll said, people object to being murdered) doesn’t mean we use it because it was one of the commandments.

There is one thing that Fred doesn’t mention though, which I find quite astounding, and that is that via the auspices of legislation, the good people of this nation are forced to take public holidays on Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas day. These particular days are days of observance in the Christian calendar and the Christian calendar only, and they are holidays for no other reason than they are days of Christian observance which to my mind is in direct contravention of section 116.

Remember this bit? or for imposing any religious observance. Our constitution expressly forbids the Commonwealth from imposing any religious observance, yet here we are with three days of distinctly Christian observance, enshrined in legislation. It’s a travesty and no mistake…


beepbeepitsme said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
beepbeepitsme said...

Interesting. I didn't think to bring up the bits about religious holidays.

Secular intent would suggest that there should be no specific religious holidays designated. Or at least that there be many other religions included as well.

In reality, they have ceased to be a holiday for many australians as many work through those religious holidays.

Religious holidays seem to be a relic of our cutural history, rather than a government prescribed requirement to worship or to have religious belief.

But while they are there, we will always hear the bleatings from the religious that this is a "christian nation" or some such blah.

Plonka said...

In reality, they have ceased to be a holiday for many australians as many work through those religious holidays.

You're right of course, but I still get penalty rates...:)

But as you say, as long as they are there, people like Fred Nile (the Bruce Ruxton of religion, as my wife called him the other day) will always have a reason to say we live in a Christian country.

Dikkii said...

I'm not sure if it would be considered democratic to disallow religion to poke it's head into politics.

On the other hand S.116 is pretty explicit that if they did, they can't attempt to influence the law in a religious direction.

Fred Nile is a shocker. But you have raised an interesting point about how many people identify as Christian.

I'm sure that, even though back in the day I didn't identify as being particularly religious, I probably would have answered "Uniting Church" to the census question, just because it was my family background.

That's despite the fact that back in the day I would have been what I now know to be an apatheist.

Plonka said...

Dikki: We've been thinking about trying to get my wife excommunicated so we can frame the certificate and hang it along with her baptism and confirmation certificates...:)

Me, I was an Anglican up until I thought about it...:)

The Rev. Jenner J. Hull said...

Hell, in the US, we've got a pretty cut-and-dried "establishment clause," as well as an explicit definition from one of our founding fathers, Jefferson, saying that the intent was to create "a wall of separation" betwixt church and state, and our fundie politicos STILL manage to weasel their faith into every facet of our government.

And, wow... You guys have a Christian Democratic Party? Are they popular?

I'd say "That's scary" but, well... Our ridiculous two-party system and "secular" government are nothing but people falling over themselves to seem more faithful than the next jackass.

Plonka said...

Rev: I wish we had the same. We are becoming more and more "Americanised" as time goes by (thanks mostly to our current and very sycophantic Prime Minister, Mr. Howard) so the lack of similar clauses makes me nervous. But as you say, they STILL manage to weasel their faith in somehow...

And, wow... You guys have a Christian Democratic Party? Are they popular?

Unfortunately yes, but fortunately no. That Fred Nile dude I mentioned? He's their leader and he's a total nutjob. He even manages to make most xtians cringe with the rhetoric he spouts...:)

Dikkii said...

Re excommunication - I think it would be exceedingly cool to have an excommunication certificate.

I don't think that the Uniting Church excommunicates people, though.

My wife was brought up catholic, but I think that she'd be afraid of upsetting her Mum if she got one.

Dikkii said...

I should add that as my parents never got me baptised/confirmed etc, I don't think I would qualify as a member of the Uniting Church.

Let alone be excommunicated, if they did that.

Plonka said...

Dikkii: I don't think the Anglican church does either. You either are one, or your not...

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