As the followers of Christ across the globe celebrate the death and resurrection of their Saviour over the Easter holiday, it might be appropriate for us to reflect on the role of Christianity (and Christians) in Australia’s society.
While the role of Christianity in Australia’s history is irrefutable, strangely, the ongoing decline of Christian morality is also irrefutable. Since our society is viewed largely as “secular” and “multicultural,” Christianity is, for the most part, never mentioned much less promoted in political and intellectual discourse.
When it is mentioned among the nation’s public figures, Christian values and traditions are often critiqued, ridiculed, and brushed aside with contempt. As a result, many Australians are now convinced that there should be no relationship between Christian values and the nation’s legal-institutional arrangements.
Peter Kurti is director of the Culture, Prosperity and Civil Society program at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney. He is also an ordained minister of the Anglican Church.
In his book “Sacred & Profane: Faith and Belief in a Secular Society,” he argues that the present move by the intellectual elites and political establishment to defend self-identifying “victim” groups has produced an undesirable confrontation between existing groups, each of which tend to deny it has any obligation to other groups.
This is not about celebrating “diversity” but separating citizens along the lines of gender, religion, ethnicity, and so forth. It does so by treating society as a collection of separate groups that are dependent upon government-managed responses to diversity.
In this context, the idea of “rights” has been weaponised and anti-discrimination laws are increasingly used to stifle expression of opinion, rather than simply challenge bad behaviour. This mounting intolerance poses a threat to individual freedom and the rule of law.
For example, Kurti writes that when same-sex marriage activists urge “removal of anti-discrimination exemptions from religious groups committed to a traditional form of marriage, they effectively seek to impose their views and beliefs on those with whom they disagree.”
It is now often argued that an unyielding attachment to Christian values inhibits society’s progression and evolution. This sentiment has evolved and is presently used to deny the participation of Christians in public life.
Perhaps Australians should carefully consider what they might be losing as a society by abandoning their Christian values and traditions. There is an inevitable consequence in embracing the new understanding of human nature, and turning away from Christianity.
Oxford scholar Sir Larry Siedentop explains that our own understanding of the individual in Western democracies, with all that this implies for fundamental rights and human dignity, proceeds directly from Christianity. He writes:
The fundamental relationship between the individual and his or her God provides the crucial test, in Christianity, of what really matters. It is, by definition, a test which applies to all equally. Hence, the deep individualism of Christianity was simply the reverse side of its universalism.
Greg Sheridan, a leading Australian journalist, soberly predicts that “the eclipse of Christianity will be like the eclipse of the sun. Darkness will be the result.”
When Christianity is entirely eradicated from our society and culture, it will be simply impossible to ignore the fact that without belief in God, there is no final human accountability.
“Life is just what you can get away with, and the ultimate price to pay,” Sheridan argues.
Indeed, as Dostoyevsky famously stated in The Brothers Karamazov, “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.”
In our society, there are those who find any religious argument behind a policy unacceptable. There are indeed many individuals in politics, the mainstream media, and academic circles who simply cannot accept, let alone tolerate, that a politician, or indeed any public figure, should be influenced by Christian values.
The regular displays of animosity towards Christianity can be found in major political parties and are not isolated instances of a broader, leftist bigotry.
In fact, voices that are highly critical of Christianity and suspicious of any Christian influence in politics are becoming increasingly more influential in the so-called conservative side of politics.
Take, for instance, what has just happened in Western Australia.
Soon after suffering its worst-ever election wipe-out and losing its opposition status, one of the two remaining Liberals left in the state parliament, David Honey, had the audacity to blame “the Christian Right for his party’s loss.”
Instead of taking responsibility for a “crazy” green-left policy that not even the Greens Party would embrace, this new leader of the WA Liberals reportedly put all the blame on the Christian element of the party that upholds more conservative views.
By placing the blame on the small Christian influence in the state Liberal Party, their new leader was simply trying to distract the general public from his own gross incompetence as a shadow minister for industrial development.
After all, what sort of shadow minister holding such an important portfolio in the nation’s largest resource state rams through a policy to shut down all state-owned coal-fired power plants by 2025 and reach net zero emissions by 2030?
Of course, this attempt to purge Christians from the Liberal Party is nothing less than a modern-day witch hunt. Surely, the electoral landslide the WA Liberals suffered has absolutely nothing to do with a minority of Christians in their party.
To the contrary, their decimation in the last election was primarily caused by the “progressive” leadership of a supposedly conservative party that embraced disastrous leftist policies and was led by an untested 33-year-old, green-left politician—Zak Kirkup—who passionately supports the LGTQI+ agenda, assisted suicide, and extreme climate action.
The founding father of the Liberal Party would be appalled to see what the WA Liberals have become. As our country’s longest-serving prime minister, Sir Robert Menzies saw Christianity as a “higher code of moral conduct” based on the timely values of unconditional love, and rejection of extreme leftist ideologies entwined with envy, materialism, and hatred of human beings.
As prime minister from 1939 to 1941, and again from 1949 to 1966, Menzies regarded authentic liberalism as inevitably associated with the Christian ethics of “brotherly love” and personal responsibility, which he regarded as being “critical to the flourishing” of liberal democracy.
According to his main biographer, David Furse-Roberts, the worldview of the convictions of politicians such as Menzies “cannot fully be understood without considering their spiritual principles or religious faith.” In a number of Menzies’s public speeches, his Scots Presbyterian faith was “real and he did not conceal the fact that his views on politics, culture, and ethics were informed by Judeo-Christian precepts.”
Furse-Roberts also explains that Menzies’ anti-communism beliefs was largely driven by the “hostility of the ideology towards religion and Christianity; his warm rapport with Australia’s Jewish community was based upon his profound respect for the Hebrew tradition and its contribution to Western civilisation; and, finally, the sacred text of the Bible for him represented ‘the repository of our faith and inspiration.’”
In “The Bible in Australia: A Cultural History” (this book won, inter alia, the 2019 Prime Minister’s Australian History Prize), award-winning writer Dr. Meredith Lake writes the following about Menzies:
The prime minister himself imagined a Christian Australia—a nation in which “we ought to read” the Bible. Menzies believed that “this great and immortal book” was the proper focus of households and the root of true citizenship. It could bind a nation together, providing a point of unity even for those who disagreed on the finer points of theology.
In Menzies’s view, the Bible was “the repository of our faith and our inspiration.” He thought the Bible was superior to what passed by political discourse, for instance, and recommended the Authorised Version to anyone who wanted to understand English at its finest. Altogether, for Menzies, the Bible was a religious and cultural treasure–the text that defined the Australian people.
Given the sort of vicious attacks Australians can suffer for simply expressing their religious views, it is no wonder so many are reticent to talk about their Christian faith in public life.
However, as Christ himself instructed his followers, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Luke 14:34 NIV).”
Christ also commanded his believers to be the “Salt and Light” of the world. This is part of the “Great Commission,” meaning that every follower of Christ has the moral duty to serve God and other humans in every sphere of life, including politics.
We can only imagine how much more unjust this world would be if Christians had not fulfilled their “‘Great Commission,” if they had privatised their faith and made no impact on the life of their communities.
Think, for instance, of people like William Wilberforce (1759-1833), the English parliamentarian who became the voice of the anti-slavery movement in the British Parliament. Wilberforce was someone who took the Great Commission seriously, and as a result of this belief, he literally changed the world for the better. Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass spoke reverently of him as the great pioneer and father of the anti-slavery movement.
When Wilberforce became a follower of Jesus Christ, he had no idea how to reconcile his newfound faith with his political life. Should he leave politics in order to become more religious? Wilberforce thought about retreating from everything and perhaps join a monastery or the priesthood. But a visit to the great John Newton, the author of the famous hymn “Amazing Grace,” who was then 60, and rector of a church in an area of East London, encouraged Wilberforce to stay in politics.
“Who knows?” Newton said to him, “Whether God has not prepared you for a time such as this?”
Newton believed that God would use his young friend mightily in politics, where Wilberforce was needed more than ever. And so it happened, that Wilberforce took his faith very seriously, serving his Lord with his undeniable gifts in the realm of law and politics.
“God Almighty,” Wilberforce wrote, “Has set before me two Great Objects: the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners.” The first object is self-evident but the second relates to Christ’s “Great Mandate”; that Christians must reform morality and culture in general. It reveals how Wilberforce became aware that, in order to get the votes that he needed to abolish the slave trade, he would have to first change the hearts and minds of people.
By seeking to marginalise or silence Christians who take their faith seriously, modern western elites are basically rejecting the cultural traditions of their own liberal-democratic societies.
According to former Australian High Court Judge Dyson Heydon, these ruling elites are “rejecting a large part of the entire life and history of the nation—because Christianity is so integrated with the national life and history that to annihilate it is to destroy that national life, which can live only in memory.”
Justice Heydon also explained (pdf) that among the elites is a “hostility to religion which has not been seen in the West since the worst excesses of the French Revolution.”
As a constitutional law professor, allow me to affirm that there is nothing in the Australian Constitution that justifies the suppression of religious discourse in the public sphere. Nor is there anything that can possibly justify the denial of equal rights of freedom of political communication for everyone, religious or not.
By dictating what some people can say and by treating the most essential aspect of their lives as a private matter, those who view the moral duty of Christians to act in line with their conscience—as something that disqualifies them from political life—are guilty of an undemocratic form of anti-religious bigotry.
This form of secular extremism has no place in a free and democratic society.
Dr. Augusto Zimmermann is professor and head of law at Sheridan Institute of Higher Education in Perth. He is also president of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association, a former law reform commissioner in Western Australia, and author of “Christian Foundations of the Common Law–Volume III: Australia’”(2018), published by Connor Court.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.