State based religion an ‘appalling mistake’
21 August 2021
ADELAIDE –The notion that Papua New Guinea should declare itself a Christian state is an appalling mistake.
It is both irrelevant and a specious argument that 70% of those consulted supported the proposed change, given that almost all of them will have been Christians.
I doubt that adherents of Islam, Bahá’í or Buddhism, let alone Animists or Atheists, would have the same view but they are few and the Christians are many.
History shows unequivocally that the Western world was riven by religious disputation and violence for centuries.
The casualties of religious conflict number in the millions. The 30 Years War (1618-1648) alone cost at least eight million lives.
It makes no sense at all to create a situation where one religion amongst many is singled out to be constitutionally recognised.
Regardless of Constitutional Law Reform Commission's intent, this step would instantly delegitimise other faiths, making them of lesser status and significance and, by implication, unpatriotic or incorrect.
Similarly, inserting God into the Constitution is no more sensible than inserting the Tooth Fairy. There is exactly the same evidence for the existence of both, that is, none whatsoever.
Christianity, whatever its supposed virtues and whatever the good works done in its name, is a religion that arose in the Middle East starting life as an heretical sect of Judaism.
Quite why it should be embedded in PNG's Constitution, or that of any other country for that matter, is quite beyond me.
Nothing good can come of this move. At best, no harm will be done and life will go on as before.
More likely, it will become the justification to preference Christianity above all other faiths, especially when it comes time to hand out government largesse.
There is also every reason to believe it will lead to attempts to change the law in other ways on the grounds these laws may conflict with various conceptions of Christian theology.
There is a long history of Christian activists seeking to interfere with the sexual, reproductive and intellectual rights of people.
These include the outright banning of films or books that are deemed to be theologically offensive, the persecution of minorities (especially gay and lesbian people and Jews) and trenchant opposition to things like birth control and assisted dying legislation.
At worst, this change will become a justification for religious fanatics who believe that Christianity should be the only religion allowed in PNG and demand that adherents other faiths be compelled to follow the 'true way’.
History suggests that this is not a fanciful idea.
Religions of all kinds have bred countless generations of rigid, intolerant and fanatical followers who are more than willing to inflict their version of a religiously virtuous life upon others.
What is currently going on in Afghanistan is merely one example, there are numerous others.
Even the United States is greatly afflicted by religious fundamentalism.
As I am an atheist, people might suppose I would take this view, but that doesn't make me wrong.
History offers little comfort that the things I’ve mentioned cannot or will not occur in our supposedly more enlightened age.
My guess is that Christianity will continue to be the dominant religion in PNG far into the future, thus rendering the proposed amendment to the Constitution unnecessary.
Askance? Phil, the word "appalling" comes to mind and then more.
"[The] country that oppresses its own people is now giving [Russian] monsters weapons for mass murders in the heart of Europe."
Professor Julius Sumner Miller would have asked, "Why is it so?"
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 18 October 2022 at 07:58 AM
No doubt, as put by prime minister Marape, "churches have assisted the country in terms of development".
Of course the PNG government also provides services to people by funding endeavours through the churches.
Be that as it may, and better that it is clearly made known and in full detail.
A step likely not within that ambit of service delivery, appears in report, 'PM pledges K200,000 for pastors conference'.
Oh, maybe that pledge is to be cash from Mr Marape's own bank account?
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 09 September 2021 at 08:08 PM
And one wonders what will happen in the courts.
At the present time witnesses at a court hearing may swear on the Christian bible or the holy book of their chosen religion.
Non-believers may choose to affirm as to their evidence.
What happens to this choice if Papua New Guinea becomes a Christian nation constitutionally?
Posted by: Ross Wilkinson | 22 August 2021 at 08:35 PM
The recent report from the Constitutional Law Reform Commission recommending that the constitution be changed to officially make Papua New Guinea a Christian country has many intriguing possibilities.
The most extreme is the possibility that it is the first step towards creating a theocracy such as exists in places like Iran, Saudi Arabia and now Afghanistan.
That seems pretty far-fetched but stranger things have happened.
After being abolished in 1970 the death penalty was revised in the Criminal Code in 1991 and then had its scope extended to include aggravated rape and robbery in 2013.
Just recently the Supreme Court opened the way for its practical application by overturning the national court’s temporary stay of executions for all people sentenced to death.
Apart from anything else this has decidedly biblical overtones. ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ from Leviticus (24:19-21) springs to mind.
You might say that Papua New Guinea is a parliamentary democracy and something like a theocracy, which works best in a one party state, could never happen.
But isn’t Papua New Guinea already a one party state?
Just think about the flux that occurs after each election with the myriad parties jockeying for a place in the government.
Some of these so-called parties only have one or two members and they are all very happy to chop and change depending upon which way the wind blows.
The way they behave is less like political parties vying for supremacy and more like individual members within a single party vying for position. That is, they behave like they are in a one party state.
People might look askance at Islamic theocracies in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia but Christian theocracies were once quite common. The present day Vatican is a theocracy.
Declaring Papua New Guinea a constitutional Christian country heavily suggests that its government will be subject to divine guidance as interpreted not only by the churches but by government members and officials.
While the Vatican, with its ruling elite of unelected cardinals, is a relatively benign theocracy somewhere like Saudi Arabia is far from benign.
In Saudi Arabia religious minorities cannot practice their religion. Non-Muslim propagation is banned, and conversion from Islam to another religion is regarded as apostasy and is punishable by death.
Papua New Guinea would never go that far but it is interesting to speculate how far it would go if the Constitutional Law Reform Commission’s report is accepted and the constitution is amended.
There are many countries with state religions. England is one of them with the queen being the head of the Church of England. The United Kingdom, however, does not have a state religion.
There are only a handful of countries that are constitutionally Christian. Most recently Samoa became one in 2017. Article 1 of the Samoan Constitution states that “Samoa is a Christian nation founded of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”.
That’s probably what the Constitutional Law Reform Commission is working towards.
Ironically though, and despite what are no doubt good intentions, the commission may have overlooked the geopolitical ramifications of its recommendations.
Overt Christian countries, just like overt Muslim countries, are generally regarded as politically retrograde or backward.
It is entirely possible, therefore, that making Papua New Guinea officially a Christian country will damage its reputation on the international stage.
Just look at the bad press it got when it accepted a 404-year-old King James Bible donated by an American missionary
Instead of defining the country as an exemplar of political and moral integrity it is more likely to define it as a naïve and gullible nation all set up for all sorts of exploitation by a whole new cabal of carpetbaggers.
And the last thing Papua New Guinea needs is more exploitation.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 22 August 2021 at 04:07 PM
Here is Kenneth Copeland executing judgement on Covid-19:
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 21 August 2021 at 04:55 PM
Good comment Chips.
Even by 1776 the USA was already host to Christians of many different persuasions, some of whom regarded the rest with undisguised fear and loathing.
No doubt the founders realised that if they built God or Christianity into the constitution there would inevitably be conflict over which particular version of Christianity represented the 'truth, the way and the light'.
They would have known all about the appalling history of religious wars in Europe too, so ensuring that Congress could not be used to try to advantage one belief system against another made perfect sense.
At best, they were only partially successful because one of the key sources of division in the USA is a person's religious affiliation (or lack of it).
Modern US Evangelicals and Episcopalians all too often harbour very reactionary and intolerant social views about the world and this frequently plays out in debates of everything from the finer points of theology through to things like sexuality and abortion.
Conservative politics in the US is profoundly influenced by the religious right, just as the so-called progressive side of US politics is increasingly dominated by the educated 'woke' elites.
The traditional left-right political divide seems to be morphing into dogmatic 'tribalism' which is something quite different to that you and I grew up with and religious beliefs are certainly playing a significant role in this process.
PNG is heading off down an unpredictable and potential divisive path by deciding to call itself a Christian nation. It has enough sources of division already without adding yet another one.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 21 August 2021 at 03:36 PM
Interestingly, the founding fathers of the United States took the opposite view, and fifteen years after their Declaration of Independence adopted in 1779 the First Amendment to their Constitution which states:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Posted by: Chips Mackellar | 21 August 2021 at 11:34 AM