16 June, 2014

Relax; this is not a Christian government

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me
 - Matthew 25:40

In the lead-up to the last election campaign – which is to say, ever since before the 2010 election campaign – a common criticism of Tony Abbott and much of his front bench centred around the fact that they are apparently devout Christians and many are specifically Catholic. In the rich seam of things to be critical of the Abbott cabinet for, it’s a fairly minor detail. It was, and is, cited most by the kinds of people who get an instant hate-boner at the mention of anything resembling faith. The fear was that they would not be able to separate their religion from how they manage government. I think we can safely say now that the government has absolutely no problem keeping their Christianity out of how they conduct the affairs of the nation.

Before going any further, it’s only fair to state where I’m coming from and my credentials for saying this. I’m a Catholic too. “Lapsed,” is probably too strong a word, but suffice to say our parish priest (who is a lovely person, you’d like him) might recognise my face from the funerals I’ve attended this year but wouldn’t remember my name. I was brought up Catholic and still identify as Catholic. This is why I say with confidence that the policies expressed by Tony Abbott in opposition bore no resemblance to anything I was ever taught, and in government, even less so.

Government policy should never be based on religious doctrine but I honestly wouldn’t mind if the government were a bit more Christian. By that, I mean Christian in deed, not in dogma. Some of the most Christian people I know are atheists, and that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with reciting The Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of parliamentary sittings. I have more of a problem with the way members, especially those who believe, ignore their vow to be humble, to advance the true welfare of the people of Australia, and to forgive those who trespass against us, immediately after they dutifully say Amen.

There are many examples of how this government doesn’t remotely reflect any genuine Christian principles but for reasons of space and time, I will limit this piece to three, which will eventually bring us up to last week.

Firstly, and most obviously, there is the way we treat asylum seekers.
The last time Tony Abbott appeared on Q and A, which was months before the 2010 election, he was asked in as many words, What would Jesus do when it came to asylum seekers? Mr Abbott’s now famous response was, “Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. I mean, Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.”

To anyone with the slightest hint of Christian training, this response is clearly the rambling of an idiot clutching at straws. Matthew 25:40, and the preceding verses if you care to look them up, clearly tell us that whatever we do for our fellow people, however lowly they may be in any way, we do for Christ. Therefore, it makes no difference if they are “genuine” refugees or indeed “queue jumpers.” If you’re a Christian, then what you do to them, you do to Jesus – Himself, a refugee. Would Mr Abbott or his fellow Christian, immigration minister Scott Morrison lock Jesus up on Manus Island? They probably wouldn’t if they knew it was Him, but if you follow Christian teachings, then they already have.

My next example is the view of many in the government that penalty rates be abolished. The reasoning behind this suggestion is that we have a 24/7 economy now and paying people extra on weekends is a relic of a bygone age. It’s a fair argument to make if you want to look at it that way. But I distinctly remember being told that same-sex marriage would go against Australia’s Judeo-Christian (whatever that means) heritage.

The Bible has a lot more to say about the Sabbath than it does about who can and can’t marry. The fourth Commandment is: Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. The only part of the Bible to make a slight reference to homosexuality also forbids the wearing of dissimilar fibres. That would count out anyone who has ever worn a silk tie with a cotton shirt and wool blend suit – in other words, probably everyone who has ever sat in parliament. Even non-religious MPs on both sides of politics have cited this vague notion of a Judeo-Christian heritage as an argument against marriage equality. I believe this is mostly a way of trying to intellectualise the fact that they don’t like poofters, or want to be liked by people who don’t like poofters.

Secular society has adopted the idea of an institutionalised day of rest, to spend with loved-ones, far more than it has adopted any specific form of marriage, “traditional” or otherwise. Yet, when it comes to additional compensation for giving up this day of rest, those who claim to have Christian values turn around and say, “Bugger the Sabbath, stop living in the past. A day’s work is a day’s work and you should be grateful to have it.” Am I the only one who finds these positions somewhat contradictory?

Of course, there’s always some cognitive dissonance in politics and this is already plenty for the government to be able to say it is developing policy for its constituents (whoever they may be) ahead of their own professed faith.

For me, the final straw came with Treasurer Joe Hockey’s address to The Sydney Institute last week. Firstly, responding to criticism that the budget is unfair to the poor with a speech to a right wing think tank funded by business interests probably says it all about who you’re really governing for.

On the issue of fairness, Mr Hockey said:
This year the Australian government will spend on average over $6,000 on welfare for every man, woman and child in the country. Given that only around 45 per cent of the population pays income tax, the average taxpayer must pay more than twice this amount in tax to fund welfare expenditure.

In other words the average working Australian, be they a cleaner, a plumber or a teacher, is working over one month full time each year just to pay for the welfare of another Australian.

Is this fair?
It’s clear from his tone that Mr Hockey thinks it isn’t. And that’s fair enough, in isolation.

Some Christian denominations, although not Catholicism specifically, encourage people to donate 10% of their income to charity. Others actually require it. This government, however, not only resents making a less than 8.5% contribution to those less fortunate, it thinks you should too.

It’s clear there was never any risk of this government embedding any kind of Christianity into its agenda. The only kind of theocracy they are moving towards is a kind of right-wing social Darwinism beloved of those who never got over their Ayn Rand phase.

Mr Hockey, if you and your cabinet colleagues begrudge less than ten percent of your work going to help those who need it, that’s your prerogative, and you are entitled to argue your case by any and all means available to you. 
But please stop calling yourselves Christians.

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