Politicians find religion a cross to bear

January 2, 2008

An opinion piece in today’s Age offers the hypothesis that politicians avoid openly avowing religious affiliations or beliefs for fear of being labeled a “nutter” or a theocrat.

In Australia, there is certainly a chance that a politician who talks about God (or even a god) will be laughed at. An explanation about why religious leaders in this country are more comfortable debating politics than religion might be their fear that the phenomenon described by Blair will eventually extend beyond politicians to include themselves.

It’s an interesting contrast, that people generally prefer their politicians to be in some way religious (and thus moral), but don’t necessarily want to hear the details.

In this country, a politician speaking about religion also faces the risk of something worse than being thought a nutter. 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.

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”, to the way the ABC has labelled Catholic social groups, such as Opus Dei, as semi-secret organisations.

In all fairness, Tony Abbott has proven quite capable of making himself look a fool without even mentioning his faith.

There are a number of contradictions in the way that religion and politics is treated in Australia. The first is the inability of much of the media to appreciate that a secular viewpoint carries as many moral assumptions as does one determined on religious grounds.
The debate about stem cell research, for instance, is often presented as though one side is arguing a moral position and the other side isn’t. This is not true. In fact, the arguments from both sides of the debate are founded in ethical and moral considerations.

It is impossible for anyone, regardless of their religious beliefs, not to approach policy questions without some moral framework. Morality simply cannot be taken out of politics.

I’m not quite sure just what point he is trying to make here. That both a secular and religious viewpoint having moral considerations means what precisely? Is he presupposing that morality is irrational or the exclusive provenance of religion and thus somehow undermines the secular-itious-y goodness of a viewpoint?

Separation of church and state does not mean, and was never intended to mean, that anyone with religious convictions was disqualified from participating in politics.

Quite true, but I’m not entirely sure who is suggesting that? I personally couldn’t care less if a politician believes in gods or in Smurfs, I simply expect that governmental policies should be based on reasoned logical argument and evidence, and not purely on dogma or faith. Being religious doesn’t necessarily lead to breaking this precept, any more that a lack of belief in a supernatural god prevents one from ascribing to different kinds of dogma.

Judge the action, not the person.

5 Responses to “Politicians find religion a cross to bear”


  1. […] SNance wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptAn explanation about why religious leaders in this country are more comfortable debating politics than religion might be their fear that the phenomenon described by Blair will eventually extend beyond politicians to include themselves. … […]

  2. Kieran Says:

    “Quite true, but I’m not entirely sure who is suggesting that?”

    I know I’ve mentioned her before, and I don’t want to be seen to be picking on the poor lass; but Lyn Allison’s efforts to wipe out all “religious” thinking from politicians is one example that the author could be thinking about. Granted an author should never assume what a reader does/doesn’t know, but it was worth mentioning.

    But all in all – good post!!


  3. If only we had this in the US….


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