Club Politique by Che Tibby

Idol gags

This week we'll forgo the comedic pretences and talk about something close to everyone's heart, the big fulla. But, before I even begin to begin let me say that I have absolutely no problem with Christianity. None. Nada. Zip. So before you go linking this blog to, think again. Me and the big fulla? Kosher (or halal).

But I do want to talk about religion and politics. Since the Federal election here there have been increasing calls from various pundits to have religion taken a little more seriously in the democratic process. And, if you want to be both pragmatic and liberal about it you kind of have to say, fair enough. Just because you're an atheist and some other people are Christian you can't ignore their opinions.

Though this doesn't mean that if a groups opinions are bigoted or excessive they shouldn't deserve the same treatment as any other extremist group, be they Islamic fundamentalists or white supremacists.

Maybe the trouble for political parties is the ubiquitous nature of Christianity in our societies. I'm always confused by pundits who try and hell-raise about the problem of Islamic governance, when the country they live in is a 'Christendom democracy'. Lets look at New Zealand or Australia. The major holidays? Christian. The major religion? 'Christianity' as a general ideology. And the mythology and culture of Christianity is widely understood, even if the great majority of individuals don't know it.
Let me ask you who Indra is? What about Shiva? You probably don't know who they are, or if you do you might naturally attribute them to 'Hinduism'. But if I mention Joseph, Judas or Mary there's a fair chance you're going to recognise the names, although maybe you can't tell the full New Testament stories. In other words, whether you’re practising or not, you’re Christian.

Even when willing to recognise that socially New Zealand is a Christian country, there's often an under-appreciation that much of the country's systems of law and overall moral code is informed by the same religious background. The kinds of things New Zealanders find morally repugnant, like murder and theft, are right there in the Bible and have remained in our legal codes for generations.
What really gets my goat though is the recourse to the Bible as a system for the exclusive and continuing interpretation of modern societies. Sure, there's a lot of wisdom in the Book, but I still find myself wondering how relevant it is in an absolute sense.

Lets very briefly go back to the mention of Islamic governance. In most Islamic countries their system of laws is based on the Qur'an and its peculiar morality. Now, essentially this makes it exactly the same as Christian countries. It's just a different system of moral codes. If you have a problem with their moral codes you might want to speak up, but doing so is unlikely to change their practices. And considering that Islamic fundamentalist demands for Christian democracies to change the way they do things is met with sneers and derision, it is probably fair that Islamic countries thumb their nose at us.
The real problem with Islamic governance is an issue of relative morality. Westerners often see Islamic morality as offensive or inferior, in much the same way as the Civilising Mission needed to bring Christianity to 'the savages'. Westerners also have a problem if Islam is seen to be applied as an absolute moral or legal code, as it was in Afghanistan.

In contrast to this type of absolute governance, what I personally see contemporary Christian political groups doing is trying to have a greater say in the morality of their own nation. And considering that this is often the very reason for being of Christian groups, defending the boundaries of acceptable morality, wouldn't condemning them for doing so be a little bizarre?

I think the trick is to know when to tell Christians to 'back off'. Sure, as with any other politically active group in a democracy Christians are completely entitled to their opinions and practices. The secularisation of the state several hundred years ago wasn't done to exclude Christians, it was done to make sure that more than one type of opinion was able to be heard. And this is the key point.
While Christianity may have a legitimate place in an obviously Christian nation like Australia or New Zealand, this doesn't mean that it or its followers get to have a monopoly on things like morality, even if it has a democratic majority. After all, wouldn't that give us a fundamentalist state?

The fact of the matter is that morality in Western democracies has changed a great deal in past few centuries, and not always for the worse. So while my old Good News Bible may say "if a man commits adultery with the wife of a fellow Israelite, both he and the woman shall be put to death" (Leviticus 20:10), that doesn't mean that if the wife did the dirty on me I'd buy a shotgun. Angry words? Yes. Ka-boom? No.

The impression I've been given is that all this politicisation of Christianity is occurring because they feel that they've been left out of the ongoing changes in our morality, and that the diversification of the state and politics has swung too far away from Christian morality and values. And this seems especially the case in the US, if documentaries like 'With God On Our Side' are any indication.

As I've said, Christianity in politics isn't necessarily a bad thing, but Christians themselves need to know when what they're demanding is outside the limits of acceptable democratic behaviour. Sure, oppose homosexuality, abortion and shagging, but your belief that these things are wrong doesn't automatically mean they are, or that they should be to everybody.
This is the clincher. There's a great little article on Troppo Armadillo about there being two types of belief. 'Distal' belief, which states, "I believe monkeys can go to heaven". And 'testable' belief, which states, "I believe monkeys can live in the forest". The key difference being that you can go to a forest and actually see a monkey. Which I think may coincidentally be monkey-heaven. But like I said, no gags.

The truly great thing about democracy is that it's an idea based on arguing things out. If you just believe something non-testable to be true, and can't or won't consider any alternative position, then you're ability to participate in the democratic process will be constrained by other members of your own society. In other words, democratic participation has to be reasonable.
Christians should never be condemned for participating in democracy and bringing their essentially conservative beliefs with them, but if they are unreasonable about what they demand (and after all, politics is all about competing demands), then they will find themselves marginalized in the same way as extreme right-wingers.

So sure, bang on about the decline of civilisation and the appalling morality of our promiscuous modern society. But be prepared to be told to sit down and chill out if you get out of hand. After all, people like me prefer our civilisation a little warped, and there's heaps of us.