Laïcité: church and state

Let me start by saying I went to state schools throughout my education. I’ve attended church not much more than a dozen times in my life. Most of my religious education comes from quizzing friends who did attend private schools, questions often instigated by some cultural reference like Jesus Christ Superstar. Oh, and there was that time I read a book of Bible stories as a kid. I suppose religion intrigues me, but not enough that I’ve made any kind of active decision regarding it. If I ever think about it (which I tend not to) I’d say I’m agnostic (not atheist because I don’t actively not believe in a god) and if really pushed possibly Anglican by inheritance.

All this is supposed to be a way of saying while I personally am not religious, I respect those who are. Any brand. But what makes me angry is when those who are then try and push their religion and, by extension, morals onto everyone else. Especially when it seems those morals just aren’t up to where the modern world is. Times have changed an awful lot since religious rules were written some 2000 or 3000 years ago. My understanding (and as explained above, this may be terribly ignorant) is that much of the “rules” at the base of faiths were supposed to help people survive in a desert. Now I know that because of human belief in tradition, there is no way anyone is going to rewrite the rules. And some of them are quite good — generally I’m also against murder, stealing, lying, cheating on your partner and that sort of thing (that’s all I can think of off the top of my head). But really, what’s wrong with letting gay people get married? At least they want to get married, and isn’t that an institution that’s supposedly dying out?

While Australia is nowhere near the US in terms of religion’s pervasiveness in politics, it worries me that faith appear to be mattering more here. What, the Prime Minister is atheist? Shock horror! We cannot let this stand! That appeared to be the attitude of many (according to the media I read anyway) upon Julia Gillard being questioned about her faith (I thought initially she too had claimed to be agnostic, actually). Probably it didn’t help that her opponent, Tony Abbott, is a true Catholic, even having begun training to be a priest at one stage.

The increased importance of religion to politics here shows through the powerful lobbying whenever any political issue comes up that encroaches on religious (read: Christian, in this country) morals. Like the aforementioned issue of same sex marriage. Like the legalisation of RU486. Like the perennial suggestion of the hard right that governments legislate what women can wear. Generally I like to think that Australians are pretty easy going and open minded. Maybe they’re not, maybe that’s just my educated, city upbringing showing through. But I often suspect that our general relaxed attitudes and ambivalence towards politics (you know, apart from the political junkies like myself) means that many people have no strong opinions one way or the other on these kinds of issues. So why should we let religious lobbying rather than modern common sense rule?

I wonder if the increased focus on religion in Australia’s politics is related to decreased church attendance — the possibility of religious (or any) power diminishing makes those who hold it desperate to grasp onto what remains. If that’s the case, I can only hope that it won’t get too much worse before things get better. Family First and Fred Nile are bad enough. I can only imagine what would happen to our country if a Christine O’Donnell got elected. God help us all then.

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