Mocking prayer or turning to prayer?

The Prime Minister of Australia prayed for the nation and asked other Australians to join him.  There was a rare muted response by some of the usual religious critics, quite possibly due to an awareness that this is not the time to knock our national leaders or God for that matter. But as predictable as a toddler throwing their late afternoon tantrum, other secularists couldn’t control their outrage at Scott Morrison.

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Arguments against the Prime Minister praying in public are varied, from the ridiculous to the illogical and to the popular but erroneous.

For example, one of the first complaints I saw on social media took aim at  Scott Morrison for using the Prime Minister’s office and Government time to broadcast this prayer. Seriously? Give the man a break. He’s probably working 100 hours a week at the moment, sleeping little, and barely seeing his own family. Are we really going to take issue with him for taking a few minutes to pray?

One complaint, that might at first seem to carry some weight, is the perceived undermining of cultural pluralism. For example, Jane Caro tweeted,

“Praying is fine, dedicating Australia – a secular, pluralistic democracy – to his god is not. It’s not his country to dedicate to anyone, and 30% of us have no faith & many that do – worship a different god from his. That was my issue.”

The problem with Caro’s argument is that it falls flat no matter what the Prime Minister believes. If he was a Hindu and prayed to one of the thousands of Hindu gods, he would be out of sync with the majority of Australians. If the PM was an atheist and in principle refused to prayer, he would be out of step with the many millions of Australians who are praying during this crisis.

The Prime Minister praying for our nation doesn’t undermine our pluralism,  it is a shining example of it. Unlike Communist States where religion is banned and unlike religious totalitarian States like Iran, our political representatives have the freedom to speak of their deep-seated beliefs about God and the world. We can agree or disagree. We can support them or not. We are free to join with them or not. 

Jane Caro is known for wanting to remove religion from the public square altogether. She is okay with religion being practised in private but not in public. This, however, is neither secularism or pluralism, it is, as a friend suggested last night, fundamentalism. This is the state of play in countries like North Korea and China. Do we really want Australia following their lead?

A truly secular society can never be a religion-free zone. That is a fictitious position that can only exist in the theoretical world and is posited by persons who are themselves reacting against set religious thinking (usually Christian theism). Classic secularism (of which Australia is an example) is designed to provide a civil public life which encourages the discussion of life’s big questions without control by any single ideologue. Secularism provides a framework for social pluralism, and pluralism shouldn’t drive religion underground but encourage honest adherence.

But what about s.116? This section of the Constitution has been floated as a directive against the Prime Minister’s action. For example, this tweet,

“s.116 of the constitution states we have no official religion. Previous PMs have been more sensitive to our diverse polis. Using the PM’s office to dedicate the nation to his particular denominational god is poor form.”

What does s.116 say?

‘The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.’’

This clause does not preclude people of faith from holding public office or force them to keep their convictions at home while they work. S.116 explains that Australia will not be governed by any single religion, as though Australia should become an agency of the Anglican or Roman Catholic Church. It should be noted that the framers of the Australian constitution used Judeo-Christian principles to establish our secular nation. By secular they did not mean banning religious thought from politics and public discourse. Let’s not pretend that atheism equals moral and philosophical neutrality or superiority. Some of the most extreme and inhumane regimes in the world today are those controlled by atheistic political systems.

True secularism means the freedom to speak regardless of one’s religious affiliation or lack thereof. What would violate the Constitution are demands that politicians keep their religious beliefs away from the public square.

As Australians begins a third week of self-isolating, we have already learned that Governments are unsure what to do. Plans are changing almost daily. Medical experts are offering the best advice they can, while still not knowing how COVID-19 will play out in coming days and months. Economists are grappling with the short term survival requirements and theorising about the long term damage that will be made to the economy. It is natural and necessary for us to lift our eyes and to inquire of God and to ask God for his grace and mercy. I for one am thankful that such a God exists and that through Jesus we are invited to call upon him in times of need.

“Hear my prayer, Lord;

    let my cry for help come to you.

Do not hide your face from me

    when I am in distress.

Turn your ear to me;

    when I call, answer me quickly.”

(Psalm 102:1-2)

9 thoughts on “Mocking prayer or turning to prayer?

  1. As reported in The Guardian Scott Morrison was participating in an on-line prayer group that had convened to pray for him in his PM office. I haven’t read the “prayer critics” and I’m not particularly interested in doing so – I would have advised the PM to participate but do it quietly lest be violated by his “public relations Christian friends in social media re-configuring what I’m happy to assume was a well intentioned response (didn’t he use his PM clout to advise them to be praying for all Australians) into a violation of Matthew 6:5-6. I guess there is an issue as to whether he was praying with his PM’s hat on … but at this time, we are being tested to develop wise forbearance, patience and also appropriate silence …. on a scale that has us going back and very diligently reading the Sermon on the Mount again for our own deliverance from all kinds of pitfalls.

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    • Corrections – sorry somehow this was posted in a new way I haven’t mastered yet.
      Should read “lest he be violated”
      “praying for all Australians?)”
      Keep up the good work Murray!

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  2. Corrections – sorry somehow this was posted in a new way I haven’t mastered yet.
    Should read “lest he be violated”
    “praying for all Australians?)”
    Keep up the good work Murray!

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  3. I am going to be very honest. When I found out that our Prime Minister was a Christian I was sincerely encouraged. I had prayed and prayed and prayed for about 7 years for that. To me…that was a big answer to prayer. Do I want more of this in the public eye. Yes. And I have told him so. Do I agree with everything He does? No. Do I pray for him daily. Yes. It’s time this country acknowledged God publicly. God needs to get more glory. We need to change some bad Australian laws. We need to align Australian law with God’s will for our Nation at this point in time. God bless the Scott Morrison family.

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    • It was Bob Hawke the made the statement that Australia was not a Christian nation some years ago I believe, maybe tat has something to do with the state of our country now, just thinking!

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      • What Bob Hawke may have meant by this needs to be kept in mind. He may well have been angling for a particular kind of Christian vote by saying this … that a PM or even a Parliament may say something like this does NOT AT ALL mean that reality is adjusted to fit in with the Commonwealth Parliament’s assumption. It is not within the judgment of our Government to define Australia in such terms pro or con. On the otherhand Jane Caro is simply in her ongoing criticising of the preamble to our 9th July 1900 Act to Constitute the Commonwealth of Australia “humbly relying upon the blessing of Almighty God”…

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  4. What a wonderful prime minister australia Thank God you’ve got a praying prime minister God bless him May the light of God shine on him

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  5. Prayer is for every moment of our lives, not just for times of suffering or joy. Prayer is really a place, a place where one meets God in a genuine conversation.
    Prayer is a spiritual communication between man and God. Prayer is a two-way relationship in which man is able to talk to God but also listen to Him. Many would thing if this is true. It is very true when you present yourself in righteousness and in holiness to God. I do not just speak some garbage for many spirit filled Christians are able to experience this. Prayer to God is like a child’s conversation with his father. It is natural for a child to ask his father for the things he needs. Mr Morrison is doing just this for his critics and as for all those Christians who are praying for him.
    Bible is a spoken word of God ;
    Psalm 91:15 King James Version (KJV)
    15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.
    Isaiah 65:24 King James Version (KJV)
    24 And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
    Matthew 7:7 King James Version (KJV)
    7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
    The Scriptures tell us that we are to pray for one another and also assure us that God hears and answers prayer.
    When you receive Christ into your heart, you become a child of God and have the privilege of talking to Him in prayer at any time about anything. The Christian life is a personal relationship with God through His son Lord Jesus Christ. And best of all, it is a relationship that will last for all eternity.
    So do not mock the PM but support him in prayer.

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