The religious nutters who govern us
15 June 2021
TUMBY BAY - Both the Australian and Papua New Guinean constitutions contain sections related to the separation of the state and religion.
Section 116 of the Australian constitution is very explicit. It says:
“The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”
Section 45 of the Papua New Guinean constitution is not so explicit but is interpreted in much the same way.
The sections in both constitutions are consistent with the belief that modern democracies should be secular.
This is consistent with two ideas, that religious belief should not be subject to legal or social sanctions and that religious leaders should not have authority over political decisions.
This is well and good but what happens if the leaders of a state are deeply religious individuals, as is currently the case in both Australia and Papua New Guinea?
Can we be sure that their beliefs do not influence the way they run the state?
Scott Morrison, the prime minister of Australia, is a Pentecostal Christian.
Pentecostalism was established in the United States and gained popularity in the 1970s and 80s because of its doctrine of prosperity theology. Short definition: God wants you to be rich.
In Australia, peak Pentecostalism is represented by the Hillsong Church, of which Morrison is a prominent member.
The longer definition of ‘prosperity theology’ is centred on the teaching of Christian faith as a means to enrich oneself financially and materially through ‘positive confession’ and a contribution to Christian ministries.
Promises of divine healing and prosperity are guaranteed in exchange for financial donations.
Contributing financially to the church is supposed to allow one to avoid the curses of God, the attacks of the Devil and most importantly, poverty.
James Marape, the prime minister of Papua New Guinea, is a Seventh Day Adventist. Adventism also has its origins in the United States and also practises certain fundamentalisms, albeit mixed with a very healthy social conscience.
While nowhere near as nakedly avaricious as the Pentecostalists, Adventists traditionally hold socially conservative attitudes in many areas.
These attitudes are reflected in one of the church’s basic beliefs:
“For the Spirit to recreate in us the character of our Lord we involve ourselves only in those things which will produce Christlike purity, health, and joy in our lives.”
James R Nix, reflecting on growing up in the Adventist Church said:
“Though it seems unbelievable to some, I'm thankful that when I grew up in the church I was taught not to go to the movie theatre, dance, listen to popular music, read novels, wear jewellery, play cards, bowl, play pool, or even be fascinated by professional sports.”
Both Morrison’s and Marape’s religious beliefs are extreme and didactic and it is very difficult to see them not having a major influence on the way they govern their nations.
Morrison’s worship of money has, in the neoliberal tradition, involved pursuing policies of downright cruelty.
His government’s appalling treatment of refugees and welfare recipients can all be traced back to this kind of thinking.
Marape, on the other hand, seems to be on the cusp of not only de-secularising Papua New Guinea but also pursuing strict and decidedly retrograde social and moral codes.
In Morrison’s Australia, if you are not making money or rich already you are next to worthless.
In Marape’s Papua New Guinea there will be no more singing and dancing but it’s okay to have a casino because that makes money.
In the real world, of course, people take the beliefs and antics of their leaders with a grain of salt.
Nevertheless, one has to wonder how they live with their fantasies and hypocrisies and how much of it rubs off in the way they govern.
Thanks for the link Bernard. Over the past weekend I discovered the 'Breaking The Silence' (BtS) webpage.
Wikipedia describes it as “an Israeli Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) established in 2004 by veterans of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
"It is intended to give serving and discharged Israeli personnel and reservists a means to confidentially recount their experiences in the Occupied Territories.
"Collections of such accounts have been published in order to educate the Israeli public about conditions in these areas.”
There are critics of BtS worried about the anonymous reports but even minded sceptics have agreed that some or many appear accurate reports by previous soldiers of the Israeli Army.
Many of them describe the daily lives ordinary families and their treatment that have become the norm in their unhappy land.
Posted by: Arthur Williams | 17 June 2021 at 09:33 PM
My dear Bernard - Tongue in cheek methinks.
I remarked 45 years ago to James Seeto in his Toniva trade store, "I see you have acquired the latest upmarket NCR Jewish piano."
He was still laughing minutes later with the tears pouring from his eyes. 'Twas the first time he had come across that expression.
Not inappropriate today either methinks and not limited to race or gender.
Posted by: William Dunlop | 17 June 2021 at 12:05 PM
Dear Arthur, the following link provides access to an interesting article on Truthout:
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 17 June 2021 at 09:59 AM
In response to Arthur's comments about Israeli, it is not anti-Semitic to be highly critical of Israel's policies in relation to the expansion of Jewish settlements onto what was formerly Palestinian land.
I made no reference in my comments upon religious nutters to the Jewish faith simply because it did not occur to me at the time, not because of a fear of being labelled anti-Semitic.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, the Jewish claim to Israel is based upon the notion that God granted that land to the Jewish people, as related in the Old Testament of the Bible and, presumably, in the Torah. Regrettably, the title deeds to the land appear to have been lost or perhaps God didn't feel any pressing necessity to provide them.
The ultra-orthodox Jews, who have significant influence within Israel, exhibit all of the characteristics of religious fanatics elsewhere including a dogmatic insistence on their special relationship with God and the revealed truth of their beliefs, together with ritual behaviours designed to constantly reinforce the basic tenets of their faith. In short, they are the same as any other religious nutter.
That said, even many Israelis who are not ultra-orthodox clearly believe that the State of Israel is indeed the "promised land" given over to them in perpetuity by God.
This sort of belief system is invulnerable to rationality, logic, reason or even readily observable facts, which is why such systems are the source of so much grief in the world.
It is hard to see how such beliefs can be reconciled with the demands of the Palestinian people whose ancestors have lived on the same piece of land for at least the last 2000 years or so.
This apparently insoluble problem lies at the heart of the endless conflict, grief and suffering that we have seen play out on our TV screens year after year.
It is not that solutions are impossible in reality, merely that neither side is willing to accept those solutions. So the conflict goes on, an endless cycle of pointless suffering fuelled by a combination of theological rat baggery and a long history of mutual hatred and distrust.
In 66CE the Roman General Vespasian, together with his son Titus, both of whom would become Emperors, sought to permanently solve the problem of perennial revolts by the Judeans by a ruthless process of dispossession and extermination.
It was Titus who razed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and, so many think, seized the fabled Ark of the Covenant.
Those Judeans who survived the war were either dispersed through the Jewish diaspora or enslaved and taken to Rome where many died whilst building Vespasian's gift to the Roman people which we now call the Colosseum.
Vespasian's "solution" to the problem lasted for around 1900 years yet the Jewish people never lost faith that, one day, God would allow them to return to their "promised land".
Such potent religious mythology has merely been reinforced by a succession of wars during the 20th century in which, against the odds, Israel has emerged both triumphant and even stronger for the experience.
Given this background, you can see why this intractable problem has defied all attempts at resolution.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 16 June 2021 at 12:09 PM
Religion is man-made, Christianity is God-made. I am so grateful to know that Papa God loves me beyond comprehension.
Posted by: Gideon Endo | 16 June 2021 at 11:23 AM
It is the so-called pastors of the Pentecostal churches who are getting rich at the expense of their members. I stopped my company payroll being used to collect tithes and transferring hard earned Kina to the bank accounts of churches. Here were low paid plantation workers being conned into handing over 10% of their hard earned wages so that the pastor would pray for them and promise everlasting life. Some pastors even asked to see payslips to make sure they were getting the correct tithe. After stopping the payroll deductions the pastors would come and complain to me that the Bible calls for tithing. My response was that the workers children had a right to food and an education first. If there were any coins left in their pocket on Sunday they were welcome to put it in the collection bowl. The SDA church in PNG also promotes tithing and tries to use payrolls to collect what they consider to be owed to God.
Posted by: Graham King | 16 June 2021 at 09:08 AM
I note the anti-religious writers here have all failed to mention perhaps one of the most religiously dominated nations on the planet that last month has been showing us the terrible results of its alleged democratic activities in the occupation of Palestine.
I cannot think of any other democratic nation that has been using tanks, jet bombers, heavy artillery, armed drones and missiles on some of the inhabitants of its country who live in one of the most densely populated areas on Earth.
I refer to Israel which since July17 2018 passed a law naming it 'A Jewish and democratic state.'
Guess PNG Attitude posters fear the gagging mechanism of the Anti-Semitic law, which ironically doesn't apply to their Semitic Arab neighbours who also have Father Abraham as their co-ancestor.
Or even one of the '5-Eyes nations' President Eisenhower made in the Allegiance pledge on July 30 1956 "Under God"
Chwarae Teg – Fair play mates.
Posted by: Arthur Williams | 16 June 2021 at 12:56 AM
The current Australian PM would think you are paying him a compliment.
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 15 June 2021 at 06:30 PM
Religion, by its very nature, requires that the faithful accept supernatural explanations for events in the material world in which we all live.
Consequently, religion frequently is irrational, anti-intellectual and anti-scientific. In its more extreme forms it offers sociological and political ideas like those of the Pentecostal movement that are disguised as religious insights, hence the notion that becoming wealthy is a sign of God's favour.
Religion has historically served as a sort of petri dish in which all sorts of truly mad and dangerous ideas have grown.
Some of these ideas are merely supposedly heretical distortions of the prevailing orthodoxy such as Adventism or Mormonism or the Jehovah's Witnesses. Others, such as the grotesque distortions of Islamic belief of organisations such as Al Qaeda or Islamic State or the Taliban, can generate deeply dangerous, cruel and profoundly antidemocratic ideas about how the world should be governed.
In short, religion can be and often is a fountainhead for truly pernicious ideas about how the world can be made to better conform to a particular conception of God's will.
The historic efforts of organisations like the Catholic Inquisition and its Protestant equivalents are a case in point. Huge numbers of people were terrorised, dispossessed or murdered in the name of imposing a particular version of Christianity.
More recently, it has been Islam that has been beset by radicalised believers aiming to overturn the current world order and replace it with their version of a Godly ruling regime.
Also, India is now beset by Hindu extremism, aided and abetted by their current government. This does not bode well for the internal stability of the world's largest democracy and a rising power too.
The extent to which a politician's religious beliefs impact upon how they do their job can range from negligible to profound.
Where Prime Ministers Morrison and Marape fit on this spectrum is hard to gauge, although the latter seems more overtly influenced by his beliefs.
As Phil rightly points out, Australia and PNG, like most democratic societies, have constitutional arrangements that reflect secular ideas about how a nation state should be governed.
Still, this does not stop the religious trying to pursue their own agenda by, for example, amending the constitution to make PNG an overtly Christian state.
In Australia, the religious are arguing for unnecessary and superfluous legislative "protections" for religious organisations, the practical effect of which is to enable them to engage in highly discriminatory behaviours. The extent to which Prime Minister Morrison supports such legislation is unknown but there is a reasonable suspicion that he is predisposed to do so by his religious beliefs.
The last few decades have seen a resurgence in extremist beliefs and conspiracy theories in many forms, no doubt greatly facilitated by the internet and social media.
These beliefs almost invariably encourage paranoid suspicion of governments, science and authority generally; the identification of specific groups, real or imagined, as the source of immediate threat to those who "know the truth" and, very often, bizarre and irrational explanations for things like the current pandemic.
With so many people living in a fantasy world of their own creation, there is a grave risk that serious mistakes will be made due to their distorted understanding of the world.
Our leaders therefore need more than ever to be guided by rationality, logic, science, compassion and empathy, together with a healthy dose of tolerance and pragmatism.
Being guided by supernatural or otherwise irrational beliefs has, historically speaking, been a recipe for disaster.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 15 June 2021 at 09:50 AM
It is true that SDA's are socially and politically conservative, although a lot of moderation of their world-view has taken place since the 1970s when several theological disputes rocked the church.
They generally do not get involved in politics believing in the separation of church and state.
They have also been prominent in the development of mission stations in the remotest parts of PNG since WW2 especially with the work of Len Barnard and Adventist Aviation.
Growing up an SDA I was fascinated to learn that my own grandfather had taken on the Australian government during the war years - and won a small victory. He was AFJ Kranz and in the early war years was Principal of the church's West Australian Missionary College at Carmel in the hills east of Perth.
Young men could undertake the first years of their Ministerial training there (as did my father) but the WA Government at the time ruled that they should be conscripted for military service despite being conscientious objectors, as the college programme required them to work on the farm and grounds for so many hours a week to enable the college to be self-sufficient.
The WA Government said that this made them agricultural workers not students. therefore they should be called-up.
This incensed my grandfather who mounted a campaign against this and travelled all the way to Canberra and secured a meeting with the Federal Education Minister.
The political minister sat down and listened to the Church minister - and agreed with him, overturning the WA Government's decision! Incidentally despite being conscientious objectors many SDA's did serve in the forces as medical orderlies, nurses and doctors - including my Uncle who was a medic at Buna and Gona.
He experienced things he never wanted to talk about again.
Posted by: Peter Kranz | 15 June 2021 at 08:29 AM