Religion is increasingly being associated with bigotry and intolerance, yet proposed law changes discriminate against believers
The last census in Australia indicates that, while Christianity is still the answer most people give when asked about their religion, it is in sharp decline, and ‘no religion’ is a close second.
Almost 44% of the respondents said they were Christian in 2021, and almost 39% said they were not religious. Looking at the trend – these numbers were 61% and 22%, respectively, a mere decade earlier – it is clear that Christians are on their way to becoming a minority.
This trend of Australia’s weakening Christian heritage is further exacerbated by existing and proposed anti-religious legislation aimed at radically changing the fabric of our society. The latest such proposals, worked out by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), seek to eliminate the exemptions to the country’s discrimination laws which allow religious schools to expel students, fire teachers, and turn down applicants based on their sexuality, relationship status, and pregnancy. In other words, it allows a religious school to be able to hire and admit people who adhere to its religion’s values.
It could be argued that this is social engineering legislation that undermines the protection of religious freedom, and if Australia is to maintain a harmonious society, it would benefit from having less such interference. But the work and beliefs of Christians continue to be challenged. Surely, this must have sapped the confidence of the faithful in the ability of their church to oppose the legislative agenda.
Peter Kurti is director of the Culture, Prosperity and Civil Society program at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney. He is an ordained minister of the Anglican Church. In his book ‘Sacred & Profane: Faith and Belief in a Secular Society’, he comments that the present move by the ruling classes to defend self-identifying ‘victim’ groups has produced an undesirable confrontation between existing social groups, each of which tend to deny it has any obligation to the other groups.
This is not really about celebrating ‘diversity’ but separating people 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 sense, the idea of ‘rights’ has been weaponised and anti-discrimination laws are increasingly used to stifle expression of personal opinion, rather than simply challenge bad behaviour. This mounting intolerance poses a threat to individual freedom and the rule of law. For example, when same-sex marriage activists urge the 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 said in Australia that an unyielding attachment to Christian values and traditions inhibits society’s progression and evolution. This sentiment has evolved and is now used to deny the participation of Christians in public life. In our society, there are those who find a religious argument behind any policy they deem unacceptable. There are indeed many such characters in Australian politics, the mainstream media, and academic circles who simply cannot accept, let alone tolerate, that any politician, or indeed any public figure, should be influenced by Christian morality.
Perhaps Australians should carefully consider what they might be losing as a society by abandoning their Christian values and traditions. It is now an appropriate time for an accounting of the tangible human and social benefits of religion and the recognition of the potential disadvantages to Australia becoming a less religious society, given the growing number of Australians saying they have no religious belief.
Greg Sheridan, a leading Australian journalist, soberly predicts “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.
Rodney Stark is one of the world’s leading authorities on the sociology of religion. For many years, this Pulitzer Prize nominee was a sociology professor at the University of Washington. In an attempt to rise above the din of the ‘culture wars’ and to focus exclusively on the facts, Stark, in his book ‘America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists’, carefully measured the overall effects of religious belief on a society.
Compared with less religious and irreligious people, Stark concluded that religious people:
- are much less likely to commit crimes at all ages;
- are far more likely to contribute even to secular charities, to volunteer their time to socially beneficial programs, and to be active in civic affairs;
- enjoy superior mental health – they are happier, less neurotic, and far less likely to commit suicide;
- enjoy superior physical health, having an average life expectancy more than seven years longer than that of the irreligious;
- express a higher degree of satisfaction with their marriage and are substantially less likely to abuse their spouses and children;
- perform better on standardised achievement tests and are far less likely to have dropped out of school, which is especially true for ethnic minorities;
- are far less subject to being on unemployment benefits or welfare.
Australians should, therefore, carefully consider how much they might be losing as a society by becoming less religious. Values come to us trailing their historical past. When we attempt to cut all links to that past, we risk cutting the lifelines on which those values essentially depend.
However, the regular displays of animosity towards committed Christians can be found in major political parties and are not isolated instances of a broader, anti-religious bigotry. In fact, voices that are highly critical of Christianity and suspicious of any Christian influence in Australian politics are becoming increasingly more influential and bigoted, even in the so-called conservative side of politics.
For example, many members of the Liberal Party, the so-called ‘conservative’ party in Australia, strongly believe that their views are routinely disregarded, and even ridiculed by the Party, in the pursuit of nebulous and untested notions of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusiveness’.
The Moira Deeming affair in Victoria, which involved her expulsion from the Liberal Party for attending a pro-life and pro-women rally, as well as the rejection of membership applications of people with perceived Christian views in South Australia, surely have driven scores of former and once-committed members of the Liberal Party out of the party as a result of their more truly conservative views.
By dictating what people can say and by treating the most essential aspect of the lives of religious people as an entirely private matter, those who view the moral duty of believers to act in line with their conscience as something that disqualifies them from political life, are actually guilty of an undemocratic form of anti-religious bigotry, a sentiment that is quite prevalent in Australian society.
There is nothing in the Australian Constitution that can possibly justify the suppression of religious discourse in the public sphere. It may be counterproductive to present an overtly religious discourse in a neopagan society such as Australia’s, but there is nothing that can possibly justify the denial of equal rights of freedom of political communication for everyone, religious or not.
My message to the world, I hope, is very clear: Discrimination on grounds of religion of the kind that I have witnessed in Australia is – using the language of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion and Belief, adopted by the UN General Assembly on November 25, 1981) an “an affront to human dignity.” It is totally incompatible with international human rights standards which protect religious belief and religious practice.
October 25, 2023 at 04:37AM