This Kind Of Religion Has No Place In Modern Civilisation
This week, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, told supporters of marriage equality to leave the church.
It can't, he said, bow to “the constant pressure to change [its] doctrine in order to satisfy the lusts and pleasures of the world”.
Now I’m no religious scholar, but from the sidelines, kicking dissenting voices out of the tent in advance of next year’s General Synod on the question of same-sex marriage doesn’t seem like much of a Christ-like manoeuvre (although I admit Davies’ other morsel of advice, “if people wish to change the doctrine of our church, they should start a new church” is very Protestant).
There’s a growing divide in Australia between the religious and the secular, and it’s a real problem when these philosophical throwbacks, whose beliefs are out of step with the broader spread of society, start throwing their metaphysical weight around by urging self-expulsion for different opinions.
Labor (and Catholic) senator Deborah O’Neill has called it “tribal fundamentalism”, and it has been on the rise down under for a while now. Even people with no opinion on Israel Folau’s opinions opine on what he copped for his opinions regarding gay people and whether they’ll be going to hell. The general consensus seems to be that footballers can believe what they want, as long as we don’t have to hear about it thanks.
Now, I’m not interested in snarkily dismantling the faith of people who want to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, or share stories about there only being one set of footsteps during hard times. Not for me is the fedora-based atheism that memorises discrepancies in the Good Book as debating points, or shaking lapsed Sunday Schoolers out of their hazy, kneejerk faith in a higher power. I’m not here to scoff that whales don’t even have throats big enough to swallow a full-grown man or sneer at homophobes who neck prawns like they’re going extinct (look it up).
But I think it’s fair enough to ask people who claim to love Jesus to act like it.
When Davies, the shepherd of one of our most powerful churches, warms up his crook for a swipe against the flock, as though this is Inquisition-era Spain instead of 21st-century Australia, well, that's a time to take up spiritual arms. There’s a little-known song, "Ain’t No Christian, But I Believe In Jesus", that includes this line: “When he was going to high school Jesus hung with the smokers surely just as much as he hung around the geeks.”
Not so Davies, I suspect, who obviously advocates an us-versus-them approach to these things. The conversation around faith in Australia hasn’t quite regressed to the stage where we’re back to rioting in Hyde Park on St Patrick’s Day, but if the Anglican church wants to pull up the drawbridge and declare this is as far as it goes, while society continues to evolve outside the ramparts, it risks becoming the Antipodean equivalent of the Amish, stuck in an antiquated past with little relevance to the ongoing conversation.
But you know, at least Davies is speaking in his role as a church leader, and giving his flock the opportunity to opt out if they have a different opinion to him on the way things should be run within that organisation. It’s a different story when it comes to the specific brand of Christianity that’s driving our current Federal Government. That “general consensus” on Folau and co doesn’t extend to the current denizens of the big chair, who have spent a significant amount of their time and our money on an 'religious freedom' bill that would protect people from being sacked for expressing controversial religious views in a private capacity.
Which… doesn’t seem to be the most pressing problem facing our nation at the minute, does it? It doesn’t even seem to be the most pressing problem facing our rugby team.
“I pray for that rain everywhere else around the country,” Scott Morrison said late last year. “And I do pray for that rain. And I’d encourage others who believe in the power of prayer to pray for that rain and to pray for our farmers. Please do that.”
When the Prime Minister advocates calling upon the Lord as public policy for dealing with drought, it makes me wish he had chosen the deism of America’s founding fathers instead of opting for that nation’s latter-day evangelism model of faith. Surely “God helps those who help themselves” is a stronger basis for governance than “Let’s ask the Creator to solve climate change while we sing loudly at massive plasma screens in a high-tech arena that looks fairly expensive just saying”.
When Scott Morrison says he cried over the fate of tiny asylum seekers, I think “Jesus wept... but then, you know, he raised Lazarus from the dead. As in, he actually took action beyond the shedding of a few impotent tears. He used the power in his hands to literally reverse someone’s fate.”
Surely there’s a parable in that somewhere.