In his maiden speech to Parliament in 2008, Scott Morrison declared “growing up in a Christian home, I made a commitment to my faith at an early age, my personal faith in Jesus Christ is not a political agenda”.
“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.
“Australia is not a secular country – it is a free country. This is a nation where you have the freedom to follow any belief system you choose. Secularism is just one. It has no greater claim than any other on our society.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is an evangelical Christian.
Those of us with long memories may equate evangelicalism with the American Billy Graham and his ‘Crusades’ to Australia in the 1960s, channelling the word of God to packed stadiums. Less well known was his deep homophobia and closet anti-Semitism – attributes now espoused by his son and daughter, religious entrepreneurs who have inherited the family bigotry business – but I digress.
Morrison is a devotee of the Horizon Church in the Sutherland Shire, a venue for rousing sermons, speaking in tongues, and divine healing.
Horizon Church teaches the Prosperity Gospel, a doctrine that equates devotion to the Christian faith to the rewards of material wealth and good health. Be not a person of faith (or more specially, the right type of faith) and poverty and disadvantage is your own doing.
That this goes against one of the most basic tenets of Christianity – being on the side of the suffering and underprivileged – seems obvious. Examine the Doctrinal Basis of his church more closely, and more disconnections between the faith and the material world become apparent.
The Horizon Church doctrine includes the bible being the complete revelation and very word of an infallible god, God created man in his own image but men who transgress are depraved and without spirit. Salvation from this transgression is only via atonement, divine healing is made possible by the resurrection, and purity must be achieved in readiness for the imminent return of the lord in material form.
And whilst Morrison says his faith is not a political agenda, the question needs to be asked how he reconciles the teachings of his church against the imperative to apply reason and free enquiry to the functions of government. If he suffers any cognitive dissonance when contemplating behaviours or situations which conflict with church doctrine (e.g. the earth was created by God 6000 years ago versus human induced climate change) does he eliminate the dissonance by siding with the church or science?
How does he reconcile the systemic cruelty to asylum seekers, reductions in social welfare, and strident opposition to the Banking & Finance Royal Commission against the ‘love, justice, care’ ethos professed by Horizon Church senior pastor Brad Bonhomme?
In November 2016 the Federal Government initiated an inquiry into ‘The Status of the Human Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief’. Led by former Liberal Party minister Philip Ruddock, the report received submissions from thousands of faith groups, secular bodies and legal experts.
The National Council of Churches of Australia told the enquiry that people of faith are concerned about a growing level of intolerance in the community. A cynic like me might suggest some religious faiths may like to voice some heartfelt apologies for their intolerance and violence towards those of other faiths and the secular before declaring victim status for themselves. But again, I digress.
The final report of the enquiry was delivered to Prime Minister Turnbull on May 18 this year, and the report has still not been released to the public.
When recently asked about the delay in releasing the report, Morrison avoided committing to a date, instead announcing he wants to protect religious rights which (in an echo to his maiden speech) he declared will be under attack in the future. In a further example of cognitive dissonance, he said he won’t be a ‘culture warrior’, gave no specific examples of the threat to oppression of the religious, but intimated legislation and regulation will be needed to protect religious freedom.
Eminent former High Court Justice Michael Kirby said the delay in releasing the report is grounds for suspicion about what the government’s plans for religious freedoms are. And I agree. Will it include more public money for religious schools or chaplaincy in public schools, or laws allowing religious-based health and aged care providers (which receive government subsidies) to discriminate based on gender and sexuality?
In the modern material world, where we should be emancipating from religion, we appear to be steered in the other direction by those who believe their predilection to faith gives them equal if not more power in the public square.
Morrison is wrong when he said secularism is a belief system. It is the separation of matters of state from the disciples of revealed truth – resulting in religion being a private matter, and reason and governing a public matter.
If he can’t grasp this basic concept, Morrison convicts himself of favouring one of the two masters he claims to serve.
By his own admission, Greg Smart was born 40 years old and is in training to be a cranky old man. He spends his time avoiding commercial television and bad coffee.