Fairfax Contributor, Matt Holden, has asked the question,
“since when has Christianity been so concerned about religious freedom?”
With a skilful display of not letting truth get in the way, he has answered,
“Not ever, really, is the short answer.”
The question is not, have forms of Christianity ever led to the diminishment of peoples’ religious freedoms, for history gives us such examples. However, history give many more examples where Christianity provides the philosophic undergirding for a genuine pluralist society. Holden cites the campaign against the Bendigo Mosque in 2016, asking, where were the Christians then? The truth is, there were Christians in Bendigo doing the very thing Holden claims was not happening. Perhaps he should be asking, why did the media not report it? More recently, when Waverley Council in Sydney refused the building of a Synagogue in Bondi, Christian groups were vocal in calling for the Council to change their position.
In a recent article for the Gospel Coalition, Dr Russell Moore (President of Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention), wrote,
“when we say—as Baptists and many other Christians always have—that freedom of religion applies to all people, Christian or not, we are not suggesting that there are many paths to God, or that truth claims are relative. We are fighting for the opposite. We are saying religion should be free from state control because we believe every person must give an account before the Judgment Seat of Christ.”
Have Christians always done this well? No, but more often they have, and the reality is, the social pluralism we enjoy in this country relies upon a Christian worldview. It is not irreligion that brought religious pluralism to our shores, but the Christian view that we ought to love our neighbours, and that authentic belief in God comes about through persuasion not coercion. This is another unfortunate mistake made by Holden. It seems as though he has swallowed the now popular myth that Christians are forcing their views onto society and that evangelism amounts to bullying. The reality is very different. By definition, Christianity is a conversion religion. No one is born Christian, but people become convinced by the claims of Jesus Christ; that he is true and good. Christianity is a persuasion religion, speaking and articulating and convincing others of what the Bible says.
Holden gives himself away when he insists, “‘the best guarantee of religious freedom is keeping religion out of politics”. In other words, he doesn’t want religious Australians having the freedom to present their point of view. As it is, we enjoy one of the safest and most stable society’s in the world, where people of faith and none are free to express their beliefs, and to persuade others of their opinion. Holden says, those days must end.
“This sudden defence of religious freedom by churches and religious lobby groups just doesn’t wash.”
I’m not sure how Holden would define ‘sudden’, but 116 years ago, in 1901, the framers of the Australian constitution used Judeo-Christian principles to establish a secular nation. By secular they did not mean banning religious thought from politics and public discourse. true secularism means the freedom to speak regardless of ones religious affiliation, or lack thereof. Indeed, this understanding of religious freedom can be traced back to the Bible and to the teaching of Jesus Christ.
The issue is, certain elements of the community don’t like what Christian have to say on about marriage and other social issues, but instead of engaging reasonably with argument, folk like Matt Holden are aiming to shut down those who disagree. Whether he is aware or not, Holden is not proposing secularism, but State imposed atheism; it is anti-pluralism. If the only permitted discourse must void of language deferring to God and religion, then what we have is exclusive and intolerant atheism.
We know how anti-religious world views have had a shot at taking charge of nations, and they have produced for the world Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and North Korea. I’m fairly sure that this is not the kind of country most Australians are wanting to become.
Last year the Victorian Government attempted to pass legislation that would have taken freedom from religious organisations in hiring staff. It was, as Dr Michael Bird explained at the time, an example of Secularized Erastianism, a philosophy which asserts that the State shapes and controls religious belief and practice. Is this the direction Australia wants to head?
Finally, despite various politicians and social commentators insisting that same-sex marriage has nothing to do with freedom of religion, they are dedicating an awful lots of words to argue how opponents of same-sex marriage are all haters and need to silenced. Two weeks ago another Fairfax Columnist, Aubrey Perry, argued that the debate on marriage has everything to do with religion, by which she meant, let’s use marriage as a weapon to remove religion from public life altogether.
Pluralism in Australian will only continue so long as those in authority allow alternative views to be expressed publicly, without fear of litigation or threats of violence. To the surprise of many, the global movement in the early 21st Century is not away from religion to irreligion or from faith to reason, but away from philosophical pluralism to both religious and secular authoritarianism. We are a long way from where things could lead, but we are no longer standing from the sideline and pontificating the possibilities. As Sherlock Holmes would say, ‘the game is afoot’. This should concern all Australians, not because pluralism is god, and not because we are moral and spiritual relativists, but because we believe a healthy society requires its citizens to argue and persuade, and to allow others to make up their minds.
In accordance with s 6(5) of the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Act 2017, this communication was authorised by Murray Campbell , of Melbourne, Victoria.