Sunday, 14 October 2012

Mocking God? When religion and poltics don't mix

I have always thought that religion has a duty to interfere with politics: to critique policies, to challenge unfair legislation and to keep governing bodies honest. I particularly associate Christianity and Jesus’ teaching with this idea, in that I believe Jesus challenged the oppressive social, religious and political structures of his day and stuck up for the least of our world.

I now find myself wondering about the mix of religion and politics. Not that I have changed my mind, but with the lunatic right wing Christianity in America seeking to influence more and more government policy and to impose their world view on others, I am wondering how one differentiates “good” interference in government from “bad”.
If I believe that abortion is morally and religiously wrong, for example, do I have a right to impose this on other women who hold a different world view? I would have said no, but then I am not a right wing, conservative fundamentalist.

I have been prompted into this line of thought due to events up here in National Party heartland over the last week. Our local member’s wife has found herself in the spotlight thanks to a number of interesting tweets she has recently made.
Mrs 72% is usually fairly quiet in the media, apart from some ‘what is like to be the State member’s wife and what do you do in your spare time’ type of interviews. From reading these, I know she attends a Pentecostal church, raises her five children, and has an online fashion business as a hobby. She supports her husband in his important work. She also until recently had a Twitter account. And recently, she was pretty busy with her Twitter account.

Mr 72% is currently the Deputy Premier of NSW and the Trade Minister. When not kissing babies and attending 90 year old ladies’ birthday parties, presumably he attempts to help govern NSW and woo overseas business.

This last enterprise would appear to have been compromised by his wife’s recent tweets, where she questioned US first lady Michelle Obama's religious beliefs due to Mrs Obama's membership of a US political group for women.

"How does Michelle Obama, who is a member of Emily's List, say God Bless and mean it...," tweeted Mrs 72%.

Having looked up Emily’s List, the answer for Mrs Obama probably is because she supports equality for women, which is the group’s fundamental aim. As part of this aim, they believe in reproductive freedom for women. I assume this is Mrs 72%’s problem, as this would probably include abortion. No room for true religious belief here then.

So asking God to bless people is fine, unless of course, you are a feminist, or believe in equality of the sexes, or you perhaps are a deviant atheist, or just one of those despicable people who worship the wrong god.

This last idea was also the subject of some of Mrs 72%’s tweets, during the Moslem demonstrations in Sydney last September over the silly movie about Islam released in the US.

The divisive retweets by Cathy Stoner included: ''A MESSAGE TO ALL MUSLIMS THAT THREATEN AUSSIES?! If you don't like our freedom/democracy GO BACK TO WHERE U CAME FROM!!!!''

Another stated: ''Muslims can have 4 wives, stoning, beheading, genital mutilation, honour killings all in the name of Allah? Yep, religion of peace, I get it.''
Another message on her Twitter feed declared the ''Multiculturalism experiment is dead". Another stated: "Six boats this weekend … Needs no comment."

It would appear that God mostly loves those who are Christian, white Australians and possibly bigots, just like Mrs 72%. No room for inclusiveness, acceptance or even tolerance here. Forget welcoming the stranger in case you fail to entertain angels. Understanding and compassion and forgiveness appear to be missing in action. Could this be why Western Christianity is in decline?

Mrs 72% has also taken aim at the local Independent Federal Member, Rob Oakeshott, claiming he ''abused the trust of…constituents'' by choosing not to vote against the then speaker Peter Slipper on the floor of Parliament. Mr Oakeshott and the independent MP Tony Windsor persuaded Mr Slipper to quit in return for their vote against the Opposition’s motion to dump him, allowing him to resign and retain some dignity. I for one, would describe this as a compassionate response to an untenable situation.

It is hard to know how this constitutes his abuse of trust of his constituents. As an independent, Mr Oakeshott has shown on many occasions that he does not operate by political allegiances. Surely it is rather Mrs 72% that has the political and ideological allegiances. Mr Oakeshott presumably should have voted with the Liberal/National Party, demonstrating the same allegiances as she has.

But as he did not phone each and every constituent to canvass the opinion of all, including herself, perhaps it is inevitable that Mrs 72% went on to accuse him of mocking God.

"You were put there for a reason. God will not be mocked," she tweeted.

Mmmmm. I am not sure I am following this. How does the support of Mr Slipper to resign with dignity mock God? Did not Jesus tell us to love our enemies, forgive 70 times 7, and offer love and compassion to all? So how is compassion for Slipper and his predicament, yet coupled with the desire to have the right outcome achieved, mocking God?

A very surprised Mr Oakeshott responded: "This is a surprise tweet, and very unexpected. Trolls maybe, but partners of deputy premiers?? You accuse me of mocking God???"

“Wife. Not partner” was the response. OK. At least we have established, then, that unlike the Prime Minister (according to Tony Abbott), this is an honest woman.

So far so good, but problematically, we come to Rob Oakeshott's reported response:
"When people associated with high office in Australia and the trade and investment portfolios in NSW, start trolling the first lady of the United States, the debate in Australia has gone off the page,'' Mr Oakeshott said. "I don't know whether she truly believes that god doesn't like Michelle Obama or me but I look forward to her explanation."

Note that ungodly reference here to a lower case god. It's 'God' to Mrs 72%, but it's 'god' to Mr Oakeshott. A Freudian slip, surely, and no mere typo. This tweet clearly establishes him as pagan. Never mind his claim that the debate has gone off the page, or the implied difficulties this might cause her husband. Rob Oakeshott is clearly godless, and she will be suspicious of him from now on. He is obviously a corrupt vassal in an evil empire that does not represent her or her world view accurately. The corollary to this is that she believes that hers is a world view that everyone should share.

Not unsurprisingly, Mr 72% has defended his wife's right to speak her mind. She is, after all, a constituent of Mr Oakeshott.

"My wife is an individual entitled to her own opinion,'' he said.

"Like a lot of people in Mr Oakeshott's electorate, she obviously feels betrayed by him and his support of the Federal Labor/Green government and its disastrous policies, including the carbon tax."

Right. So the carbon tax is at the bottom of this tirade from his wife. Of course. Everything that goes wrong in this country is blamed, by the Opposition, on the carbon tax. How though, the carbon tax extends to America’s First Lady is more complex, and harder to tease out. Does he suspect Obama of wanting one too?

But then Mr 72% goes on to say: "I am a public figure and will defend what I say and do, but she will not be commenting."

Damn right she won’t. Her Twitter account has been deleted. And I am sure that it will stay that way. No more potential diplomatic stresses for her husband. From now on, he will do the talking. Mrs 72%, you have put women’s rights – including your own - back 100 years. Thanks a lot.

I wonder if she sees the irony of criticising the First Lady, a woman who would have championed her right to have a point of view, a point of view that publicly at least, will in all probability no longer be expressed.

I wonder if she sees the irony in worshipping a saviour that championed the oppressed, the sinners, the tax collectors and the unforgiveable, and who freely forgave those who acted in an unrighteous manner. Or who was himself a refugee in another country that practiced a different religion.

Perhaps, Mrs 72%, it is time to really read that bible of yours, to put aside the political ideology and to recognise what Jesus stood for, and the people whom he championed. It wasn’t the rich, or the people in power, but those who were down trodden and oppressed by the purity and harshness of the right wing religion of the day. It was the sick, the sinners and the racial outcasts like Samaritans that Jesus’ upheld.

Surely as Christians, we mock God if we aspire to any less oursleves.


  1. Elizabeth and John,

    Love the humour and the insight. Totally get where you are coming from - except in one area: the tricky area of abortion.

    Do you mind if I ask a couple of quiet direct questions?

    If you actually saw somebody sucking the brains out of a baby, would you still want to defend their right to do chose to do so?

    If Jesus is the one who would stand with the powerless, when the decision is being made as to whether a baby's life is terminated or not, just who is the one without the power?

    1. John, I think this is a very complex social and personal issue that has become overladen with a lot of unhelpful rhetoric. If I saw someone sucking the brains out of a baby, then of course I would object. If you ask me if a mother who really does not want a pregnancy or a child, or who is a child, or who has been raped seeks an abortion within 12 weeks of pregnancy, I would say this is a much darker area to decide whose morals should take precedence. Often mothers who decide to terminate a pregnancy are very powerless in the society they move in. Lacking the means to even support themselves, they find they are condemned by a society who has failed them for not going full term wiht an unwanted pregnancy. Having said that, I do not think abortion should function as contraception either. I guess it also boils down to whether one believes that the handful of cells that constitute a foetus can be called a baby.

    2. Like I said it is a very tricky area. We are dealing with two different sorts of powerlessness and both really demand to be addressed.

      I hope you were't offended by my questions, but sometimes we can get a clearer picture of our actual "moral position" (as it were) when we examine our "gut reaction" to what we see. When we see whales being slaughtered or cows being beaten, we recoil in revulsion and instantly know that "this is wrong". It makes us passionate about the issue and motivates us to action.

      I don't see a problem with that. When Jesus saw what was happening in the temple he was full of "zeal for his Father's house" He made a whip ... and well you know the rest of the story.

      But I think you are absolutely right, the real issue here is: is this handful of cells a human being?

      if my grandaughter comes to me and says: "Grandad can I kill this?" I would want to know what the "this" is before I would say "go ahead".

      Certainly all the scientific evidence would say that it is. But the problem is that science isn't the only thing we use to determine what is human.

      But the instant we start compiling a list as to what constitutes being human we get ourselves into very difficult moral/ethical waters. What's on the list? Who makes up the list? Who can change the list?

      As a Christian, ultimately I come down on the side of Pro-Life because I believe Jesus is pro-life and stands with the powerless. But I do not believe or require others to believe what I believe in order for them to come to similar postion.

      Simply put the logic goes: If the unborn is growing, it must be alive. And if it has human parents, it must be human. And living humans, or human beings like you and I, are valuable aren’t they? From conception, all that’s added to the unborn is a proper environment and adequate nutrition. But those are the same things all of us need.

      But that is just one part of the issue. If the issue of the powerless of the mother is not also addressed at the same time, then yes, it becomes another form of oppression.

      As I see it these are the twin challenges of this issue.

  2. *right to chose

  3. This blog has really got me thinking - especially your central concerns about the way religion and politics mix. There are lots of issues raised but I want to question the one about "imposing your worldview".

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think this is the issue. When Christians participate in politics to seek to change the law they do not necessarily ask people to accept their beliefs / worldview, but they are asking them to conform to moral principles. So perhaps the real question here is: "Do Christians have a right to impose their morality on others." This is also probably the way the challenge is typically issued to Christians.

    There are two separate, but related, implications to this challenge. The first is that it’s wrong to impose any moral rules on society. The second is that it’s wrong for Christians to impose their morality.

    The first is a popular myth that really needs to be debunked. Laws impose moral standards on society. If fact you wouldn't want it otherwise. If a law has no moral backing it is the raw use of political power to get what someone wants - that's tyranny.

    Not all morality should be legislated, but as a general principle: laws flow from morality. For example we believe it is morally wrong to take the life of an innocent human being, so we legislate against murder. It is the moral rule that legitimizes the law’s power to limit freedom.

    Therefore, all laws should reflect a moral viewpoint. The only question is whose morals will be legislated and which viewpoint will be advanced?

    This brings us to the other part of this challenge: that it’s wrong for Christians (or any religious people for that matter) to impose their morality (i.e. their views on abortion or homosexuality to pick on some hot topics) on society. Because their policies are motivated by religion, they shouldn’t be allowed to inform the political process.

    But why are only Christians (right wing or otherwise) the ones limited from imposing their moral views? Why can’t we restrict other people? You could argue that homosexuals want to impose their moral standards on society. Let’s make them keep their private beliefs out of the public square. Does that sound fair? It doesn’t because our country endows all citizens with the privilege to participate in the political process. No one is excluded, not even right wing Christians or homosexuals.

    What I think is at the heart of your objections are not really issues about Christians and their involvement in politics, but the manner of this involvement in ways that sometimes contradict what is the central message of their faith.

    Christians (right wing or otherwise) have the right, as well as any citizen, to impose their morals on society. To try to limit their role in public policy is an illegitimate attempt to silence dissent. It’s a group’s way of saying, “Just go away,” while at the same time imposing their own moral vision on society.

    Worth a thought.

  4. While I agree with you generally, I don't think that I can totally agree that Christian morality is somehow separate and differentiated form one's world view. I agree that right wing Christians have a right to criticise the politics of the day and the resutant policies. The problem comes when one group insists that everyone who does not agree with them is wrong. When Chrisitans ask others to accept their point of view, often it has little to do with morals and everything to do with their political world view or ideology. For example, I don't think many Southern Baptists vote Democrat.Their religion reinforces their worldview and vice versa. I don't think Mrs 72% should have said Rob Oakeshott was mocking God. This was a clearly based on something other than morals and probably on her political worldview.

  5. Of course our worldview informs our morality. In fact I would go so far as to say that worldviews are the ultimate "battleground" of ideas.

    But I don't see any problem with people having strong views and believing people who have opposing views are wrong. After all you, believe her views are wrong don't you?

    Where the problem comes, I believe, is when Christians (or any person with a religious worldview) believes that when others have an different political view to theirs then they must be evil. When the stakes are raised to that level, political persuasion easly becomes brute force. Civil persuasion becomes religious bullying. Indeed a type of tyranny.