Monday 12 October 2009

Faith & Politics: Our rights and responsibilities

In an article titled 'The voluble and the Word: amen to that' (Sydney Morning Herald, 10-11 October, 2009) Damien Murphy wrings his hands at the increasing influence of Christians in politics. He frames his article with the question "Is politics becoming more entwined with Christianity while Australian society becomes more and more secular?" He points to the Prime Minister's public professions of faith (and that of others) as if this may be a troubling development:

"No politician has ever spoken so frankly or linked his [i.e. the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd] beliefs to political policy. His open and sincere religiosity even provided an ethical public persona that enabled him to battle John Howard for the hearts and minds of Christians and eventually lead the ALP out of the political wilderness. Rudd is now joined by political contemporaries like Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott in overtly embracing religiosity as a shorthand way of proving credentials and displaying the sort of principles to which they aspire."

What place does faith have in politics?

At various points in the article Murphy makes it clear that he is of the view that Rudd, Abbot and Hockey have made use of their faith for reasons of political popularity. I've heard comments of this type before about politicians who dare to mention their faith. I have no idea whether any of them (including the Prime Minister) have been open about their faith simply for political gain, but surely what is at issue here is whether one's faith is relevant to one's politics, which Murphy appears to question. Indeed, he questions whether faith, as a basis for one's values and as a shaper of actions and concerns, is as relevant as it once was. He continues to imply in his article that this rush of 'religiosity' (as he describes it) is somehow disconnected to the needs of our secular society:
...Australia is an increasingly secular society. Although 64 per cent say they are Christian, fewer than one in 10 attends weekly church. Compared with many countries, Australia has invested little energy in public debate about the place of religion in a secular society. In some, such as the US and France, protecting religious freedom means rigorously policing the boundary between church and state.
He continues with his thesis that religion is somehow less relevant than it once was for public debates about Australia's political policies.

Curiously perhaps, Australian politicians have 'got religion' while more and more people around the country are letting go......In the 1996 census, 71 per cent of Australians said they were Christians. By 2006 Christians were down to 64 per cent. The number of Australians who professed no religion soared to almost 19 per cent.

Interestingly, a recent piece of research by McCrindle research for the 'Jesus All About life' campaign (here) shows that a majority of Sydney people (51%) believe Jesus was a real figure, that he had miraculous powers, and that he was the son of God.

The views of Kevin Rudd

It might also surprise Damien Murphy to find that Prime Minister Rudd would agree with him that religiosity and moral arguments have little place in politics. In a lecture given at New College (the home of CASE) on the 26th October 2005, 'A consideration of the relationship between Church and State' the then member of the Opposition offered 5 models that can be used to link faith and politics. He rejected (almost disdainfully) the first three that encourage voters to offer support to the Christian politician simply because the politician has a faith position, supports a narrow set of values, or stands for the family. He rejected a fourth that he saw as deficient because this model had a limited application of faith on values and stops short of making stands on what he sees as critical policy areas like foreign affairs, Indigenous issues, industrial relations etc. Instead he argues that:

"....the Gospel is both a spiritual Gospel and a social Gospel. And if it is a social Gospel then it is in part a political Gospel because politics is a means by which society chooses to exercise its collective power. In other words the Gospel is as much about decisions I make about my life as it is about how I act in society and how in turn I should act, and react, in relation to the exercise of the coordinated power of society through the State. This view derives from the simple principle that the Gospel which tells human kind that they must be born-again, is the same Gospel that says that at the time of the Great Judgement that Christians will be asked not how pious they have been but instead if they helped feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the lonely. In this respect, the Gospel is an exhortation for social action."

Prime Minister Rudd concluded by making the point that Damien Murphy seems to miss, Christians have a right and in fact a social obligation as citizens to engage in political thought and action. He comments in the same address that while the number of Christians has declined in Australia that they nonetheless have an obligation to be politically involved:

"Whereas a Christian perspective on contemporary policy debates may not, therefore, prevail, it must nonetheless be argued. And if argued it must therefore be heard by those in authority. It should not be rejected contemptuously by secular politicians as if these views are an unwelcome intrusion into the political sphere."
The challenge to Christians to be better citizens

Just as it is relevant for Christians to enter politics, all citizens who call themselves Christians have a responsibility to contribute to better government and justice for all people.

In his book 'The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology' Oliver O'Donovan reminds us that two New Testament phrases sum up the role of government. It is a “minister of God” and it is a “human institution”. That is, it exists to serve the will of God that there should be government and it exists to give order and shape to human society and its affairs.

As Andrew Errington also reminds us in an article in issue #13 of Magazine devoted to the 'Christian and Politics' (Case here) as citizens the right approach to political action is for us to help our representatives of government do their job well and ensure that we have a good government.

The Christian has a responsibility to challenge politicians to ensure they seek justice. This will mean reminding them of God's truth taught in his Word, that ultimately God governs this nation and indeed the entire universe. God's word gives us clear guidance about what is right and wrong, just and unjust, good or evil.

So the right approach for Christian political action is to seek to help our representatives govern well and to help our governments be good governments. This means setting before them the priorities of justice; it means calling them to the truth about the universe revealed in the word of God. We must also remind them that Jesus Christ is the only true King. It is before him that every voter, every citizen and indeed every politician and ruler will one day bow down. There will be a day of judgement, and on that day every one of us will be called "to give an account of every careless word" (Matthew 12:36). Rather than standing in judgement on our politicians' words, motives and actions, we must challenge them and remind them that they have a great responsibility to do good and that one day, like us, they will bow before God (Rom 14:12) and he will judge "the living and the dead" (1 Peter 4:5). We are all known to God who can judge words, motives and hearts. As the book of Hebrews reminds us we are all "naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account".

This responsibility is challenging for the person of any faith. Damien Murphy has it badly wrong when he questions the right of politicians to have faith and apply it to their politics. Every politician who has a faith has a right and responsibility to apply this to their actions, and hopefully this shapes their values. This does not mean that they can hope to enforce their faith on the people, nor to narrowly apply their faith to a limited range of social and moral agendas. If they do this then God himself will judge their actions.


Timaahy said...

If history, and indeed current events, have taught us anything, it's that faith should not have any place in politics!

You only need to consider what would happen if 100% of the American population was in favour of abortion, but George Bush was president. Or if we elected a Muslim prime minister.

Timaahy said...


I really don't know where to begin with this post! There are just so many ideas that are conflicting; and seen through eyes that pre-suppose the truth of Christianity, and the falsity of all competing belief systems.

The most serious conflict in your argument is that you pre-suppose the truth of Christianity. Faith is believing something on insufficient evidence, or sometimes even despite the evidence. Where evidence for a belief falls short, faith bridges the gap. Christians, Muslims, and Jews have all looked at the same evidence, and all three faiths have reached a different conclusion, and each conclusion precludes the truth of the other two. Each religion believes it is true, but it is patently obvious that they can't all be true. This alone should be enough to convince anyone that faith has no place in politics, but if it doesn't, consider this...

How would you expect an Orthdox Jew to act as Prime Minister of Australia? Your post seems to suggest that you would be quite happy for him to ban all work on Sundays (including a prohibition against pushing buttons, and other ridiculous notions of "work"), have all male babies circumcised when they are 8 days old (with the foreskin removed by the mouth of the mohel), and enforce a nationwide ban on bacon and egg rolls. Christmas would be scrapped and replaced with Hannukah, you'd lose your Easter holidays, and Christian schools would have to teach the alternative theory that Jesus was not the messiah.

All this because "every politician who has a faith has a right and responsibility to apply this to their actions". They have a right to apply it to their actions where it affects no one but themselves. They do not have the right to force their faith on others.

This brings me to the other obvious conflict in your argument. On the one hand you say that politicians MUST apply their faith when executing their duties, and always act with the knowledge that they will be judged by God. Yet how are they to do this if not by "[enforcing] their faith on the people" and "narrowly [applying] their faith to a limited range of social and moral agendas"?

Is the alternative to apply their faith to every social and moral agenda? Wouldn't this constitute forcing their faith on the people? How is a Christian politician supposed to fulfil the duties of his faith AND not apply his faith to his duties? Jesus instructed his disciples to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". Isn't a Christian prime minister duty-bound to try and convert everyone to Christianity?

You're not saying that faith has a place in politics; you are saying that YOUR faith has a place in politics. And if you still maintain that all faiths are valid in the law-making process, ask yourself if you would like to live under Sharia law in Iran; or under the Taliban; or in Saudi Arabia, where women aren't allowed to drive; or in Malaysia, where you are caned for drinking alcohol.


Greg T said...

Responding to Timaahy’s comments: are you suggesting, therefore, that no person of professed religious beliefs should be permitted to hold public office? Perhaps I have misunderstood you, but I don’t see how such a scenario could be workable.
I think voters should be able to expect that politicians and election candidates will be clear on what motivates their views and positions on all matters of relevance. For some, this will be religious beliefs; for others it might be political or other ideology; for others still it might be notions of justice and equality; etc etc. As long as such sources of motivation are made clear in advance, I’m not sure how it could work to exclude people whose views are informed, for instance, by faith in Jesus Christ, merely on the basis of that belief.
As for the scenarios you mention, in a functioning democracy (like Australia’s, or, I daresay, America’s), there will be “checks and balances” that will ensure that people with extreme, minority views will have limited access to positions of power. There will always be the occasional Pauline Hanson, but they will not go very far.
Re George Bush’s position on abortion, by the way: a poll conducted in the States earlier this year showed that over 50% of Americans consider themselves “pro life”. I am aware that statistics can be misleading, but America will never be 100% pro abortion – and if it were, someone with Bush’s beliefs and views would never be elected president (an example of what I said earlier about checks and balances).



Timaahy said...

Hi Greg,

Thanks for replying.

I am in no way suggesting that religious people should be excluded from office, merely that their religious views should not override the will of the people (in the George Bush example), or trample on human freedom (in the Muslim prime minister example).
The George Bush example was, of course, hypothetical. I chose George Bush as the example because of his extreme brand of Christianity and his power of veto over US laws. If 100% of a country's population was in favour of a certain issue, the president really has no right to override their wishes, whatever his personal beliefs. Of course not everyone in the US is in favour of abortion. It was merely an example of when a religious person would override the wishes of his constituents in adherence to his own personal religious beliefs.

On current trends (!OpenDocument) it is entirely possible that we will soon have a Christian Prime Minister in a society where Christians are in the minority. So, while the George Bush / abortion scenario is an extreme example, Australia could find itself in a similar situation in the not-too-distant future.

As for the Muslim Prime Minister example… No doubt you would not be happy if 60% if the population converted to Islam overnight, voted in the Australian Sharia Party, and immediately prohibited your wife and daughter from driving (on a good day) or executed them for associating with male non-relatives (on a bad day). Yet this is exactly what you are advocating if you think faith has a place in a parliamentary democracy.

There is of course no reason why a Christian can't defend the nation from attack, protect the environment, build good hospitals and schools, implement world class public transport facilities, and protect the interests of disadvantaged minority groups. Some of these actions may come from Christian principles, but I would suggest that they would not be due to principles that are solely Christian, and this is a very important distinction. In all cases anything "good" that a Christian politician might do could just as easily be done by a secular humanist (incidentally, the humanist’s motivation is more noble, since it would be based on alleviating suffering for its own sake, rather than the threat of eternal punishment). The obvious exceptions are gay marriage (or even homosexuality itself), abortion, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia, all of which would be opposed by Christian politicians BECAUSE they were Christian. But not everyone believes in Christianity, so it is completely unreasonable to enact laws on purely Christian principles.


Timaahy said...

I should add that I think Catholic politicians pose a particular problem. A Catholic Prime Minister, if he stays true to his Catholicism, would have a large number of his beliefs determined by another head of state! This would make a complete mockery of the democratic process.

An article a few days ago rather conveniently highlights the problem (,23599,26194329-421,00.html?from=public_rss). If Tony Abbott was Prime Minister, and used his faith to enact laws, he would have to ban all contraceptives and provide punishment for their use.

Greg T said...

Hi Tim,
Thanks for your response.
I think you might be missing the obvious point that Australia is a secular democracy, with a separation of church and state that is enshrined in our constitution; so the scenario of Australia becoming a Muslim theocracy is simply too far-fetched to be used as a valid argument.
I think maybe you are also confusing the notion of a prime minister (for instance) acting, on the one hand, in accordance with the dictates of his faith, and, on the other, forcing through all kinds of legislation that would be offensive to a heavy majority of his country’s citizens. As I mentioned earlier, there are safeguards against the latter in a democracy such as Australia’s: apart from anything else, it’s just not how our system of government works.
As for someone like Kevin Rudd obeying the dictates of his faith, which, as you rightly point out, involves (among other things!) trying to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), there is more than one way of doing this. It seems to me that Mr Rudd does it every day: by his open declaration that he is a Christian, by his manner of speech, by the example of his behaviour, and by his commitment to the Gospel in various ways - for example his strong sense of social justice. Being – demonstrably - a Christian in public office by no means implies a particular kind of policy agenda, or even a certain side of politics (there are Christians on both). It means above all thinking – and acting – “Christianly”, moment by moment in the course of one’s working life. I submit that it is perfectly possible to do that while fairly and justly representing a diverse group of constituents, and even leading a nation.
Your fear seems to be that leaders with religious views might “override the will of the people”, or “trample on human freedom”. We’ve had an avowedly Christian PM for nearly two years, now. At the risk of being disillusioned, I must ask: do you think he has done either of those things - on the basis of his religious beliefs, at any rate?



funkyd said...

Hi Trevor, I can feel a cliche coming on: "long time reader, first time commenter"...

In response to Greg T,

I think you may be missing a couple of points.

Firstly, the separation of church and state is nowhere near as "enshrined" in the Australian constitution as that of the USA (and look how well that separation it is doing over there).

Secondly, the whole point (correct me if I am wrong, but in its essence at least) that Mr Timaahy was making is that there should be a complete separation of Church and State which is in response to Trevor's statement that "Every politician who has a faith has a right and responsibility to apply this to their actions, and hopefully this shapes their values". Responsibility ???

Again, correct me if I am wrong (Greg, Trevor?) but I can only interpret this last statement as advocating no/little/less separation of church and state (as Timaahy says, as long as that "Church" is "your" kind of church, not one of those other false ones).

How else can one interpret this? Sounds like dangerous sentiments and i would suggest that one should be careful what one wishes for.

Still, good healthy entertaining banter in its best form.



Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Tim & Greg,

I've had a busy day and so have missed you two debating my post. I'm not quite sure where to start in responding to your comments Tim, but Greg's last comment is a pretty good place where he makes a number of comments that I would have made. For example, he rightly points out that "Australia is a secular democracy, with a separation of church and state that is enshrined in our constitution."

But let me make a couple of specific points based on your comments Tim.

1. "The most serious conflict in your argument is that you pre-suppose the truth of Christianity."

It is true that I believe that the Bible is true. I believe for example that Jesus was the Son of God and that eternal salvation comes to those who place their trust in him. I also believe in the teachings of the Bible, you seem to believe in the teachings of secular humanism. We all believe things and hold different worldviews shaped by the things we believe.

2. You also seem to attribute views to me that I neither hold, nor did I suggest them in my post. For example:

a)"You're not saying that faith has a place in politics; you are saying that YOUR faith has a place in politics"

I didn't say nor mean this. My view is that people of all faiths have a right to express their beliefs and be guided by them and to seek to be elected to public office. Their faith is not their qualification, but it is foundational to all they believe and who they are.

b)You suggest that "religious views should not override the will of the people".

I agree with this and so would the Prime Minister (read his talk on the New College website).

3. Like Greg, I also feel that you've missed the main points of my post. My main point is that a person of faith has every right to be represented in parliament and they shouldn't need to hide their faith, nor try to separate it from the their values and actions. I'm happy for people of all faiths and none to be in parliament.

As Oliver O’Donovan (who I quote in the post) suggests, the state “mirrors” the people and the government defends the people’s common good. If the people don’t come first, we have totalitarianism. Instead of supporting our freedom to live, government decides how we shall live. But if the government doesn’t defend the common good, then the people can only fall apart. This of course happened in the Soviet Union. Government is representative of the people; by this O’Donovan does not mean that it is elected, he means that it speaks for the people. Government is representative in all it does in that it speaks and acts for us, as a political community. What the Australian government agrees to and has lawfully ratified, you will have agreed to. And of course, if we don’t like what our politicians say and do, we can vote them out; the advantage of democracy.

But we must never seek to silence any voice in a democracy and we should not expect our leaders to live a lie and to pretend that they do not hold specific worldviews. Even Pauline Hanson had a right to be heard even if many of us disagreed with her.

I hope this helps, thanks Greg and Tim for your comments. As usual, I find your contributions stimulating.


Trevor Cairney said...

Nice to hear from you FunKyd, your comment came in when I was writing mine, so I missed your points. Your questioning of my use of the word responsibility - in "Every politician who has a faith has a right and responsibility to apply this to their actions, and hopefully this shapes their values" - is legitimate. My use of the word is of course meant to be (for the Christian) a responsibility to God. I was not suggesting in any sense that a politician has a responsibility to enforce their faith on others, simply that they should not and cannot separate out their faith as Damien Murphy seems to suggest. I hope the end of my last comment also clarifies what I was arguing.

Thanks for your comment.


Timaahy said...

Part 1/2


Thanks for your reply, but I'm afraid that it is you who have missed several of my points!

I am well aware that we are a secular democracy, with an in-principle separation of church and state. In fact this is exactly my point, and exactly what you are seemingly opposed to. Separation of church and state should mean that faith - of any kind - has absolutely no place in our legislative assemblies. Yet you maintain that our Christian politicians should conduct themselves "Christianly". How can you say we have separation of church and state and at the same advocate a faith-based approach to governing? This is the exact problem! Separation of church and state is impossible if our leaders govern according to the tenets of their faith. I can only conclude from your comments that you are opposed to a separation of church and state.

Yes, the idea of Australia becoming a Muslim theocracy is far-fetched (though not impossible). But in dismissing the example so quickly you have missed the rather obvious point. You can dodge the question all you like, but you would not like to live under an Islamic regime (please correct me if I'm wrong). Yet this regime would be based on a faith just as strong as yours. Therefore you are not advocating a faith based approach to politics; you are advocating a Christian approach to politics.

If you are defending faith (i.e. any faith) in politics, you are by implication defending the honour killing of female rape victims in Islamic countries. And if you are only defending Christian faith in politics, you are pre-supposing the truth of Christianity, which I'm sure doesn't sit well with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, pagans, and atheists.

I am not confusing anything, and you are again dodging the argument by claiming my example is unlikely.

I'm not sure you realise what a proper faith-based approach to politics would entail. A Prime Minister who truly governs by the lights of his Christian faith MUST legislate against false gods (eg Allah, Vishnu), blasphemy, non-observance of the Sabbath, talking back to one's parents, lying (at any time, not just under oath), adultery (both real and desired)and coveting your neighbour's ox - and that's just the Ten Commandments. You can't advocate a faith-based approach to government and not support laws against all of the above.

Timaahy said...

Part 2/2

There are two issues with the "safeguards" you mention. The first is that it is entirely possible that a Christian Prime Minister could set a policy on embryonic stem cell research based on his Christian faith, instruct his party colleagues to vote along the same lines, and for the law to be subsequently passed in the senate. Indeed, I am sure that you would wish for this to happen. The Governor General could also veto a law enacted by parliament, supported by the people, but in conflict with her Christian principles.

The second issue is the United States. In the most powerful democratic nation on earth, we had a president who (a) decided to cut funding to foreign family-planning groups that provided information on abortion (effectively stopping or reducing the supply of condoms to 29 countries, many of which had high rates of HIV); (b) required that one third of AIDS funding provided to Africa be wasted on teaching abstinence; and (c) invaded Iraq to thwart the Biblical characters Gog and Magog. ( This is someone with the power to launch nuclear weapons. In addition to this, Congress banned embryonic stem cell research, although thankfully this has been overturned. So much for safeguards, and so much for rationality in faith-based government.

If you need further proof, it may also interest you to know that oral and anal sex between consenting adults is illegal in 13 US states. Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri “only” ban these activities between same-sex couples, while Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia ban it for everyone. All based on Christian faith.

If you read my comments again, you will see that I also “submit that it is perfectly possible to [govern ‘Christianly’] while fairly and justly representing a diverse group of constituents, and even leading a nation”. My point, which you again seemed to miss, was that if someone was able to do this, it would be because of principles that were not specifically Christian. Mr Rudd, as you say, may be well spoken, set a good example, and have a strong sense of social justice, and these things may be Christian ideals, but they are not exclusively so. Secular humanism values all of these things also. But where faith intrudes, secular humanism and Christianity part ways, and we end up with the things I mentioned in my previous posts – discrimination against homosexuals, and bans on embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, abortion, and contraceptives. And if he followed the Gospels, shouldn’t he take no thought for the morrow, and not bother building hospitals? If Indonesia invaded would you like him to turn the other cheek?

Following on from this, the very reason all these situations are unlikely in Australia is that faith is currently not overtly influencing our law making processes. But this is the very opposite of what you desire. On the one hand you are saying “That’s not an argument because it’s unlikely”, but on the other hand you are advocating the very conditions that would make these situations not just likely, but certain.

So yes, my fear is that leaders with religious views might override the will of the people, or trample on human freedom, because this is exactly what happens in the dozens of countries in the world where faith plays a major part in government, even in countries with “checks and balances”. No, Mr Rudd hasn’t explicitly done these things, but only because his faith is on the periphery of his policies. If his faith played the role you are advocating, he would have no choice but to trample on human freedom – like all faiths, Christianity not only allows it, but requires it.

Thanks again for taking the time to reply.


Timaahy said...


Hopefully my reply to Greg answers many of your questions, but I would like to respond to a couple of your points.

"We all believe things and hold different world views shaped by the things we believe". This is exactly why faith has no place in government! A Christian's faith is VERY different to a Muslim's faith - and neither should legislate based on that faith.

No, you did not explicitly say this, but I had hoped that my subsequent comments alluded to how I reached this conclusion (the last paragraph of my second post in particular). You say that "a person of faith has every right to be represented in parliament [and I agree] and they shouldn't ... separate it from their values and actions [I disagree]". You may be happy for the odd Muslim to be elected, but I doubt you would support a legislated ban on women exposing their ankles. And it is no use to say that this is unlikely to happen in Australia - whether it is likely or not, if you are happy for politicians to enact faith-based laws, you must concede that you are happy for Muslims to impose Sharia law in Australia if a Muslim party was elected.

I am not sure how you can agree with this, so I would be grateful for an additional explanation! Suppose 90% of the Australian population was secular humanist, and parliament passed euthanasia laws. Are you saying you would object to a Christian Governor General vetoing the law?

Like Greg, I feel you've missed the main points of my reply! :-)

You say that you're "happy for people of all faiths and none to be in parliament". But surely the principles of a particular faith are more important than the mere the possession of that faith? Would you welcome Nazis to parliament? (not necessarily a religion but certainly faith-based). Someone who wanted to revive the human sacrifices of the Incas? A 14th century Christian? And if these are too hypothetical... what about a Hindu who wanted to ban beef farming in Australia? Or a Jain who wanted to ban fly spray? Or a Muslim who wanted to ban women from driving?

If you only answer one question from all of my replies, please just answer this. Would you truly be happy for any of these people to be in the Australian parliament - yes or no?

I think you kind of shoot yourself in the foot here. You say that "if the people don’t come first, we have totalitarianism". But you also say in your post that government "exists to serve the will of God". Isn't the Christian view of government therefore totalitarian?

You go on to say that "we must never seek to silence any voice in a democracy and we should not expect our leaders to live a lie and to pretend that they do not hold specific worldviews".

Firstly, we should, and do, seek to silence some voices in Australia. Holocaust deniers and the Ku Klux Klan (incidentally, a Christian organisation, though undoubtedly disavowed by all reasonable Christians) should be silenced, or at least encouraged to change their views.

Secondly, we are in agreement on at least one point - I certainly hope that politicians do not "live a lie" and hide their religious affiliations.


Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Again Tim.

I think you're wandering well away from the path here. A couple of responses:

1. I stand by my statement "a person of faith has every right to be represented in parliament". As it stands there are few people in parliament that share my faith, and yet I accept the representatives that we have been given.

2. When was the last time a governor general vetoed legislation? I'm old enough to have seen one dismiss a democratically elected government, but he wasn't Christian as far as I know.

3. I don't always agree with the views of our politicians and I certainly didn't agree with much that Pauline Hanson (for example) stood for, but I respected the fact that she was democratically elected. If I don't agree with our politicians then as a Christian I should make my views known to them and others.



Timaahy said...


I really don't think I am wandering away from the path. You have said that elected officials have a duty to execute their office in accordance with the tenets of their faith. I have provided arguments to counter this, each of which has been ignored or misinterpreted! Any additional arguments not directly related to the post have been in response to comments by Greg and yourself.

As I have said twice now, I agre with this also.

But I ask again, in light of your statement that you're "happy for people of all faiths and none to be in parliament", would you be happy for a Nazi, an Incan, a 14th century Christian, a Hindu who wanted to ban beef farming in Australia, a Jain who wanted to ban fly spray, or a Muslim who wanted to ban women from driving were elected to office? You say they have a right to be stand for office, and I agree. But we disagre on two key points - I do not agree with their right to legislate based on their faith, and while you seem to be saying that you'd be happy about it, I disagree in the strongest possible way.

Again, you have avoided the question by claiming it is unlikely. But as I said to Greg, it is only unlikely because faith currently has relatively little influence on our politics. If, as you desire, politicians acted at all times in accordance with their faith, the vetoing of some laws by the governor general is inevitable.


Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Tim,

I think this is my last response to these questions. I've already answered your somewhat hypothetical questions in relation to who I'd be happy to see in parliament. But I'll say it again. As someone committed to democracy I would accept the people's decision about the representatives they choose. Would I be happy to have a Nazi representing me? No! Was I happy with Pauline Hansen? No! I won't go through the other examples because it is no more relevant who I'd like to represent me personally than it is for you to share your preferences, that's a choice we make as citizens. I respect your right to make such decisions based on whatever basis. But how I choose will always be influenced by my faith. Whether I like some politicians and their policies, I would still respect the fact that anyone elected is a representative of the people. You may be surprised to hear that I'd be accepting of a Muslim in parliament and in fact would see it as a legitimate reflection of the people in this nation if that's what they choose. Of course, if they promoted radical agendas I would speak out against them. If a Nazi was elected and promoted anti Semitic doctrine I'd speak out. That's how democracy works.

You say we don't agree about the "right to legislate based on their faith". Not so, we do agree! I've NOT said this in my post or comments. I wouldn't see it as appropriate for any person of faith to seek to legislate something based purely on matters of faith. You continue to miss my point that a person's faith is a legitimate part of who they are and it rightly should shape their values and actions. You seem to have very definite views about who should and shouldn't represent us in parliament. In fact, I suspect that you have narrower views than my own.

Another problem that I have with your arguments to this point are that you're strong on what should NOT guide the policies of politicians. But what should guide them? Reason? What is this and how does the atheist decide what is right and wrong? On what basis would you expect politicians to make judgements about right and wrong? How would you vote on a euthanasia bill? And why?

Faith and reason have a relationship Tim. While atheists would want us to believe that there is no such relationship, there is, just as there is and should be a relationship between values and action, and hence faith and actions.

As I've said to you before in some other discussions, you're boxing at shadows once again. Please don't put me in a box that you've labelled 'evangelical Christian' and assume you know how I will respond. Take the time to understand what Christians are saying about the relationship between our faith and our lives. This blog is devoted to trying to communicate what Christians believe. It's very purpose is to give a reason for the faith we have in Christ and to talk about how this influences the way we live as workers, parents, sons, politicians, citizens, leaders, neighbours and so on.

Hope this helps.


Greg T said...

Hi Tim,
Thanks for your comments. I will try to respond to your points in turn (I refer to your last direct response to my last response).
This is a long response to a long comment, so please forgive me if I have not always understood you correctly.
1) To return to a point a made earlier: what, then, are people of faith to do, if they wish to enter politics (or if they come to faith after they have been elected)? You seem to be suggesting that it is simply not appropriate for anyone who holds any religious beliefs whatsoever to run for public office (I am really trying to understand what you are getting at here). If that is your opinion, how could it be workable?
2) Certainly I do advocate a Christian approach to politics (though I am not sure I was specifically doing that in my previous comment). However, the fact that I would not vote for an avowedly Muslim candidate does not mean that I don’t think any should be allowed to stand for election (and obviously not all Muslims support the practice you mention). Once again I think it comes back to the duty of disclosure of the basis of a candidate’s beliefs. If that is clear, the electorate can make an informed decision, based on their own views and beliefs.
3) I’m confused as to why you think that a Christian PM “who truly governs by the lights of his Christian faith” would be duty bound to try to enforce all of the legislation you mention. You seem quite adamant on this point. Can I ask you which scripture passages that view is based on (I’m assuming you understand that such a directive, for a Christian, would have to come from the bible)?
4) You might think that I am avoiding the issue, but I would rather not comment on the US system of government, since my understanding of how it works is very shaky (I have enough trouble understanding our own!). I will therefore restrict my reply to points concerning the Australian system.


Greg T said...

(Continuation of previous comment...)

I’m going to suggest that what you see as “entirely possible” (a Christian PM forcing through a piece of legislation concerning an ethical issue, contrary to the wishes of his party) is in fact extremely unlikely. For a start, the PM can’t, strictly speaking, force anyone in his party to vote in a particular way (and if he did, he would make himself very unpopular within his own party – the people who elected him as leader). Secondly, the PM has the ability to decree a conscience vote (as happened with RU486), which removes the element of compulsion and at least some of the PM’s influence. Thirdly, politicians are elected to parliament on the basis of their views and positions on a variety of issues of relevance to voters, and there will be ample opportunity during an election campaign for the public to interrogate candidates on those views. For a Christian politician to conceal that he was, for instance, strongly opposed to stem cell research, and then to become PM and force through legislation to that effect, contrary to the clear wishes of party and electorate is, for one, fanciful, and further would brand that person as a liar and a hypocrite. I personally don’t think Kevin Rudd, at any rate, deserves such epithets. So while no system of government is foolproof, there are practical safeguards against the kind of danger you mention. The worst case scenario, remember, is that he will be booted out at the next election (isn’t democracy wonderful!), and the new government may well have a mandate to overturn the legislation.
I’d just like to question, at this point, why you think (as it seems to me) that a faith-based method of deciding how to vote on issues (for parliamentarians, that is) is invalid, as against, presumably, a secular-humanist one (I am assuming that is a fair definition of your position – please correct me if I am mistaken). On what basis are you making that judgement? As I think Trevor mentioned earlier, everybody in parliament has views that are based on some kind of belief or ideology. What makes one better than another? It seems that there would need to be some standard which overarches and judges all views and beliefs for such a position to be arguable (which I believe there is, of course – but I suspect you don’t).
5) I think I have already touched on some of these points, so will just look at the last one.
Regarding not building hospitals, or not defending our country against invasion, I think your use of scripture here does violence to the context. The notion of turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) has an essentially individual, rather than corporate (or national) application (as does that whole slab of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5). The notion that governments should not defend their citizens against unprovoked aggression is quite unbiblical. Likewise, the idea of a government not caring for its citizens by not attending to matters of public health runs contrary to the example and instruction of Jesus (see Matthew 10:8, 14:14, 25:36, for instance).
6) I’m not sure that your assertion that Kevin Rudd’s faith “is on the periphery of his policies” is anything more than an assertion: I’m sure Mr Rudd would dispute it, in part by pointing to the ways in which his faith informs his behaviour and decision making on various levels. Likewise that the Christian faith requires “trampling on human freedom”. For one thing, it rather depends on one’s view of freedom. As a non-Christian, you do not recognise what Paul calls “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). Presumably your notions of freedom are based on other authority than the bible. I think I need to ask (I touched on this earlier): what is that authority? Why is your position necessarily truer than what the bible teaches? If you can’t prove, empirically, that secular humanism is truer, more just, more loving, etc, by reference to an authority that has jurisdiction over all human belief and opinion, then isn’t it just, in its own way, another faith position?