Australian Thought Police Muster

Image depicting SecularismShould governments ever seek to enshrine religious beliefs in National legislation?

My simple and initial answer would always be No… It might have been something that was accepted during the Spanish Inquisition or, as some constituent part of any abhorrent ethnic cleansing process but really? As a 21st Century ethos, surely not?

Imagine and envisage Orwell walking along his Road to Wigan Pier  but, this time around; the path being followed by our George actually crosses a previously unknown and so-far unrecognised dystopian landscape. A place where the gates of every Animal Farm is adorned with those ominous 1984. numerals. A little too melodramatic? Perhaps not? But my guess is that many Australians could already be lining-up, ready to pay their Homage to Catalonia?

Back in November 2017, the Australian Government tasked an ‘Expert Panel’ with looking at so-called ‘Religious Freedom‘ to decide; whether (or not) Australian law adequately protects the human rights to freedom of religion. To say that Australians have seen this process as somewhat controversial would be a woefully inadequate understatement. But, does Australia (our any Nation for that matter) actually need to make more laws to (apparently) protect people’s ‘religious beliefs’ (see Guardian ‘Full Story’ analysis)?

Some people appear to think so however; many others vehemently disagree with the process. There is an understandable perception that suggests; creating ever more laws around religion serves to embolden extreme and “puritan” or “fundamentalist” viewpoints, in some individuals and organisations. But it’s not simply about the current proposals (as amended) but also, the likelihood of the probable pervasive outcomes for Australian society. And possibly further afield, should other governments decide to adopt similar tactics.

The government’s explanatory memo outlines how the bill’s far-reaching effects will change public life dramatically – in medical services, schools, offices and hospitals (The Guardian)

Isaiah Crowl, a ‘Christian friend’ and self-styled ‘Prophet-In-Training’ wrote in his blog to outline that well-known maxim…

Politics and religion: You don’t discuss them at the dinner table. Be careful of what you say and whom you say it to. Politics and religion don’t mix. So, please keep them separate. There’s a reason for the separation of church and state… Politics + Religion = Recipe For Disaster! (Read more)

But, despite (mostly) agreeing with that overall concept, if only to mitigate against any ensuing but connected vitriolic ‘debate’ which sadly, is so often expected these days; I do have a tendency to question people’s beliefs. Mostly to try and understand then but also, with a view to educating myself. It’s always good to understand what makes a person tick, but especially when their dogmatic religious beliefs are being evangelically shoved in my face.

Amended religious freedom bill ‘deeply flawed’ says Law Council: The nation’s peak legal body has condemned the Morrison government’s revised religious discrimination bill, declaring it remains “a deeply flawed piece of legislation” that puts freedom of religious expression ahead of other human rights. (The Australian)

Regular visitors to my blog will have seen some of my previous posts about the impacts of religious belief in and on our society. Some examples of my past thoughts are shown below;

Many wars throughout our turbulent world history, can find at least some of their roots in religion and religious doctrine. Elements of elitism and intolerance also play their part or, overt self-interest and commercial interests tend to underpin that warfare so no thank you, you can stick your religion where the sun don’t shine!

All that said, I’m not anti-religion. Neither would I seek to prevent (or control) anyone’s right to follow any particular spiritual pathway. Believing in what they wish to believe is a persons enshrined human right; to follow the tenets of any religion or spiritual teaching of their choosing. That is, quiet correctly, one of our fundamental human rights. Which is something that I would always vociferously defend.

From a personal perspective, I advocate and follow a secular path, I’m mostly a Humanist and find the impacts of dogmatic religious doctrine abhorrent. Especially if/when that doctrine gets applied to or entwined within any aspect of public service; such as policing, the criminal justice system, education or, clinical process and health-care provision. Many of those public services are already adversely impacted by a stinking quagmire of self-serving political doctrine and under-funding, they really don’t need any additional dogma. But hey, that’s a whole different story for a different day but one that I often cover.

Public services that are intended for the whole community, especially those funded by public money, should be provided in a secular context, open to all, without discriminating against anyone on grounds of religion/belief – either the people who are served or employed. (National Secular Society)

So far, I’m not alone in this premise and thankfully I might add. But, the ideology of secularism is also an area of increasing academic research. Those often heated and ongoing debates, on the impacts of religion and politics, rumble on Ad infinitum. Comparative research has highlighted the many variable and complex factors and issues, where “secularism both influences and is influenced by politics” (read more).

Explained simplistically, secularism seeks to limit the influence of religion in public and private life (see here). But secularism can also refer to conditions at a societal level (public secularism) or, at the individual level (private secularism). In addition, it [secularism] can also take the form of simply an absence of religion within a society or individual (passive secularism) or, it include an affirmative acceptance of secular ideals (active secularism).

  • In Western Europe, the long-standing practice of established and/or preferred religions has led to a lack of vitality in the religious marketplace, resulting in high levels of private secularism.
  • In Russia and other Eastern European nations, the end of communism and political motivations are leading to both decreasing public and private secularism.
  • In the Middle East, secularisation throughout the 20th century seems to have led to a fundamentalist backlash.
  • Similarly, in the United States, the increasing association between religion and political conservatism seems to be driving increasing levels of private secularism.
  • Together, these lessons suggest that both political factors and local context are key to understanding the relationship between secularism and politics.

I’m not sure that it would ever be possible to totally separate politics and belief, or remove them from public entities, in their entirety however; these are constant and core flows within most human minds. But, an individual (or group) belief system should never dictate the beliefs of others (usually a minority) or even, present any barriers or negative impacts for access to public services. The problematic area here is, those clearly defined levels of balance, between providing; fully inconclusive services and ones that are delivered from the perspective of bigotry.

Religion, Secularism and Politics: It is indisputable that religion is an important element of the political culture and an important factor in the political system, which is all due to the fact that the political tradition is inseparable from the cultural and religious aspects. (Read more)

Now back to commenting on the impacts of the proposed Australian Freedom of Religion Bill. Ryan McGlaughlin, the Executive Director of SMART Recovery Australia said in a recent blog;

People deserve to have their beliefs protected, but never at the cost of the wellbeing of our community. In a proudly multicultural, multi-faith and pluralistic secular society such as ours, one that benefits from our differences, it is vital that we embrace, protect and include those people who are most vulnerable to hate and exclusion. (Ryan McGlaughlin)

Can it ever be right to “prioritises the right to religious belief over any other legal rights” like health-care? Seeking to dilute or dissolve any fundamental human-rights; “destabilises pluralistic, democratic beliefs and prioritises religious rights over the obligations of health professionals?”

Secular Health-care: The generally secular nature of our health services is what allows them to serve people of all faiths and none equally, and to welcome people of all faiths and none into the noble endeavour of healthcare. Secularism should be a professional standard, so that patient care not religious concerns always comes first. (National Secular Society)

In answer to my original question on health-care (above), the simple answer has to be a resounding NO and I totally agree with McGlaughlin’s observations in that; Hippocrates would be turning in his grave if he ever heard any health-care professional announce; I won’t be treating you because I fundamentally disagree with your beliefs or lifestyle choices!

But some Australians are worried about the ‘demise’ of their religion(s), in a world that is increasingly made up of secular societies. The core of a lecture during the [Australian] 2019 Freedom for Faith conference, delivered by Dr Rory Shiner, a Pastor from the Gospel Coalition of Australia asked… –  What Happens After The Last Christian?: Australia, Secularisation and God.

As Christians, our concern is not only to see the religious freedom of Christians protected. Australia is becoming more pluralised and secular in its beliefs. Freedom of religion must necessarily include people with very different beliefs. It provides the means by which people with diverse and deeply held beliefs are able to live together well. (Freedom For Faith)

I can understand some of Shiner’s views and concerns, at least in part. But I suspect that he, as with some other devote followers of (any) religion, is wholly uncomfortable about there being less people believing in what he believes in. Especially when they think that life is, or should (must) be governed and guided by their particular brand of tenets and beliefs.

It’s as if they [the church] see secularism as some nefarious and malicious contractor, overtly tasked with demolishing everything they value and hold dear. Some powerful force, designed to successfully deconstruct the foundations of every thing they value, all racing to consign their brands of faith to oblivion… clearly that would create and build anxiety, in any follower. Which is undoubtedly why Freedom For Faith have also challenged the proposed government legislation (see here).

But is all this anxiety, from either side of the debate, actually warranted, or helpful? Is the [Australian] ‘house’ of worship, or any other Nation’s prominent belief system for that matter, really suffering from irreparable and crumbling terminal decline?

According to Theos, a prominent apparently renowned religious think-tank, which serves to “stimulate the debate about the place of religion in society” have suggested that; “Religion isn’t going away” any time soon. They make this assumption by citing the Pew Forum, a self-styled “nonpartisan fact tank” who’s research has apparently revealed – “84% of the world is religious” – but also, they have predicted that this figure will actually “rise to 90% by 2050.” That may be so and the ‘followers; will have new friends.

Theos also believe that; “faith, and Christianity in particular, is a force for good in society.” Which is something that I can (perhaps surprisingly) agree with, at least in part. Just don’t try to enforce your beliefs on me, please!

Those who believe – that ‘religion is inherently good’ – aren’t necessarily that deluded. In general, this assumption is both worthy and mostly correct. After all; many mainstream religious teachings have their foundations (and tenets) based in social inclusion, a process designed for the benefit of all humanity, thankfully.

But, those ‘humanist’ traits also have a tendency to suffer from distortion and dilution, once humans get involved with the process. The problematic nature of many religions (for me) generally emerge from inherent and dogmatic group-think, or some sense of hierarchical self-importance and entitlement. More silo-thinking that has a tendency to breed, promote and (perversely) advocate intolerance, despite the words that are (too easily) espoused by many practitioners and followers.

Again, as with politics, perhaps we should expect this? After all, to paraphrase Orwell… we are all equal, just some are more equal than others. As Aesop succinctly fabled; with politics we have a tendency to… “hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.”

Politicians also have no leisure, because they are always aiming at something beyond political life itself, power and glory, or happiness. (Aristotle)

Once humans get their teeth into interpreting tenets of religion, in fundamentalist terms, the elements of ‘extremist’ following can and do emerge. This always spills over into politics. Your particular group becomes way more important or ‘valuable’ than any other group. The ones that are inhabited by ‘others’ outside of your tribe. This thinking creates those people who surmise; those who don’t think the same way that I do are dangerous and need to be controlled… another sad reflection of that basic human tribalism, which is ever-present within the constructs of our humanity.

But, as Winston Churchill once said; “If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law” and again, remembering Orwell once more; “if thought corrupts language [in our society], then language can also corrupt thought” so, should legislation ever be applied to our thoughts and importantly, our daily life process, and if so, to what end?

Australia has always been proud (in the past) to wear their renowned cloak of liberalism and, as Aristotle proclaimed; “of all the varieties of virtues, liberalism is the most beloved” so, I’m bemused and surprised by this seemingly new but (in my opinion) unwarranted legal stance from the Australians. But again, it’s something that perhaps we should partly expect. These Orwellian (political) interventions are increasingly becoming the bedrock of many national regimes across the supposedly free western world.

Wouldn’t it be far more appropriate if Governments (and Church governing bodies) were more able to exercise that modicum of inward reflection; delivering the tools for tolerance about differing and diverse views and beliefs? Rather than simply attempting to curtail anything which fails to match current or prominent populism. Isn’t that also the ethic which is supposedly at the heart of most religions? But no, the politicians constantly beaver away furiously, endeavouring to create ever-more controlling laws. Trying to enforce the acceptance (and sometimes the adoption) of belief systems on others. Beliefs which  an increasing number of people are (possibly) no longer interested in? In reality, this type of thought process and any subsequent implementation is totally and truly dystopian. Our George must be turning in his grave!

But, this whole process simply serves to embolden the already existing bigotry of many people, those who are often hell-bent on shutting-down any alternate opinion. This (so far) vitriolic verbal pugilism, currently played out perpetually within numerous social-media timelines across the world, serves to evidence society’s increasingly intolerant nature. We strive shut down the opinions of any individual who is perceived to form part of any ‘opposing’ religious or political faction.

The creation of ever more legislation, that (apparently) favours any particular demographic over another, or is detrimental to the purpose and belief of others (big or small), only serves to compound and inflate protectionism and anger. If there was just one thing we were all precious about, it would probably be our belief systems. Is it really any wonder that people get hit under their dog-collar and angry when governments try to intervene or impose?

Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. – political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. (George Orwell)

I’ve never been able to understand why;  any society, including their politicians and religious leaders, simply can’t accept and celebrate our inherent personal and group differences? After all, they mostly vociferously announce that they do!. Could it be those ugly elements of self-interest and self-promotion coming to the fore, again with monotonous regularity as part of or our increasingly populist and self-centred society?

The rise of populism has been one of the biggest political developments of recent years and there is no sign of it going away any time soon. Populist movements and leaders have changed the face of politics in Europe and beyond. Many of them have done so by using the language and symbolism of Christianity and Christendom. (www.theosthinktank.co.uk)

But, Is God a populist? The people at Theos might suggest (at least in part) that he/she/it could well be. But most people are often passionate about their chosen belief system.

Understandably, they hold the tenets and structure of their particular belief close to their heart (at least for now), which is why so many will fight to protect the stuff they believe in. But, I see absolutely no sense in creating and promoting additional division that will probably further intolerance, by enshrining the abhorrent process in law.  Any legislation that is created around belief structures is destined to be both incendiary and explosive. Look at any sectarian conflict throughout our social history.

The current growth and prominence of so-called wokeism within our society, which I wrote about recently (see here); delivers many overt displays of [apparent] liberalism and that’s going so well, isn’t it? But liberalism is only applicable or appropriate if/when the thoughts and actions displayed belong to those of the liberal-elite. That’s always assuming that your particular brand of liberalism matches the self-promoting and self-interested brand of liberal viewpoints and thinking expressed by your peers and others who aspire to that lofty status, apparently?

Liberal: a power worshipper without power. – If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. (George Orwell)

The unexpected and perverse outcomes from all these Governmental policies and legal interventions, like those proposed in the Australian Religious Freedom Bill, are so often (mostly) derived from a stance of ‘Wokedom‘ – the perspective that dictates we all disguise our words under something which don’t always necessarily reflect true intention?.

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. (George Orwell)

It’s all likely to end in tears and ultimately; our society will probably sleep-walk ever further towards increasing social oblivion?

Currently and unfortunately; I remain sadly unconvinced about the overall ‘worth’ of this wokeism, and so many of those ‘digital influencers’ and political ‘leaders’ who inhabit the warm layers of our modern sociopolitical refuse heap!

Compassion, is born of understanding, tolerance and acceptance of diversity, but it’s becoming increasingly hard to find, and mostly missing from today’s modern world. Not least amongst those who constantly purport to display such behaviours… only in words it would seem.

That’s are pretty poor situation when it relates to our politicians but that’s something we have come to expect. But, when those types of thinking and traits are displayed in any health-care professional, that’s a whole different ball-game. It’s disgusting, inappropriate, unacceptable and ultimately; people who think in that way deserve to be struck off. They are not fit to call themselves ‘professional’ let alone deliver care!

It is sad that our society is becoming increasingly bereft of those erstwhile common and laudable traits, which were once displayed by many. Altruistic individuals who possessed empathy. People with the inherent desires and purpose that allowed them to put the needs of others before their own. Will we ever witness such nirvana again, always assuming it actually existed in the first place?

I have to say, I’m increasingly grateful for the humanists elements that thankfully exist within our society… at least for now!

References:

  1. Castle, J., & Schoettmer, P. (2019, January 25). Secularism and Politics. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Retrieved 22 Jan. 2020, from https://oxfordre.com/politics/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.001.0001/acrefore-9780190228637-e-663
  2. Kadriu, F., & Kadri, L. (2019). RELIGION, SECULARISM AND POLITICAL SYSTEM – STATE. Knowledge International Journal, 30(5), 1301 – 1306. Retrieved from https://ikm.mk/ojs/index.php/KIJ/article/view/932
  3. The National Secular Society UKwww.secularism.org.uk
  4. Humanists UKwww.humanism.org.uk

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