Big thanks to commenter catchmeup for correcting me – the protests against a mosque referred to in this article were in fact based in Bendigo, not Ballarat. Apologies for besmirching the wrong town!
Alright, I admit it; this topic is kinda of petty of me. But every time we have any sort of debate about religion, multiculturalism, culture or particularly Islam in this country, someone always, ALWAYS trots out one particular argument: ‘Australia is a Christian Nation‘. Time to address that particular elephant in the room.
In the wake of the debate about the building of a mosque in Bendigo, which saw hundreds of people on both sides mobilize for and against the idea, this was a rallying cry heard far and wide by those opposing the mosque. ‘Australia is a Christian nation and anyone who comes to this nation needs to respect that’ – on the face of it, a fairly persuasive demand.
Back at the Federation of Australia into the great nation it is today, over 96% of citizens identified as some flavour of Christian. Even in these dark times of godlessness and greed, over 61% of Australians still consider themselves followers of the great socialist in the sky.
In case that wasn’t clear.
Considering these overwhelming statistics, isn’t it entirely accurate to say that Australia, or any nation where Christians were both the founders and/or the majority, is a Christian nation? I mean sure, Australia doesn’t have an official religion, but those number don’t lie; ever since Australia has been in existence the vast majority of its citizens have been Christian, lived their lives in Christian ways and since a nation without people is just a bunch of dirt, that means that both practically and in spirit Australia is Christian. Right?
My arse it does.
Before we get into the dirty end of this article, it’s worth discussing exactly why any of this matters. So what if people think our country is founded on a religion? Hell, so what if it is founded on a religion? What’s the big deal about the separation of church and state anyway and why should we care?
Well in a word: authority. See non-religious governments like democracies base their power on the consent of the governed – individual citizens like you and me who vote for what they want. Even if those democracies become corrupt then the government at least has to pay the will of the people lip service at least, and that’s an edge we can use to take the power back again. Even in other human systems like straight-up monarchies or dictatorships where the power is invested in one dude, there are still ways of keeping the powers that be in check. Dictators don’t rule alone after all, so there is usually a massive group of cronies who could be influenced, and when you get right down to it you don’t become Dictator unless you want to use that power for something – find a way to match what you want with what the dictator wants and you have a way of grabbing power. And hell, if all else fails? You can always try to shoot the bastard.
But when your country endorses a religion and/or bases its values on a higher power then where does authority ultimately lay? With the omnipotent creator of the universe, that’s where. And good luck trying to sway his/her/it’s opinions buddy, because A. god is right by definition, and B. how the hell are you meant to get in contact with the elusive bugger? Skype him? Hope to run into him on the bus? (90’s reference anyone? No?)
Oh but that’s ok, you don’t need to talk to God directly because he had the foresight to put all the rules in a book for you, the interpretation of which he apparently entrusted to a small group of dudes in special hats. Can’t see that power being abused any time soon. I mean it’s not like the text in books can be changed or anything, or the lessons interpreted in just the right way to make that group in funny hats absurdly rich and powerful? And thank goodness too, otherwise you might get that group meddling in how individual people live their lives based on outdated or baseless ideals, using their divine status to accumulate huge amounts of power and influence, thinking themselves above their own laws, or even doing stuff that directly defies those laws like starting wars.
Thank goodness nothing like that has ever happened, multiple times throughout human history with horrific results!
Ok so fine, religion is a pretty terrible basis for a government and separating church and state is the only way to make sure ‘divine authority’ doesn’t get abused. But those that declare Australia a Christian nation rarely want to take things that far; they just want the laws of the land to reflect that this nation is Christian and should adhere to those values. Enough with bending to the wishes of other faiths, letting them flood in here and impose their way of life on us! Australia is a Christian nation and if they want to live here then they should respect those values!
Except that it isn’t. By any accurate standard, Australia is not a Christian nation, has never been a Christian nation, and if it knows what’s good for it, never will be a Christian nation.
Break this down with me for a second: for a nation to reasonably be considered religious, it’s not enough for us to just say that we are. I can say I’m a 9-foot tall astronaut from Ghana and it doesn’t mean a damn thing unless I am any of those things. Nope, to be a Christian or a follower of any set of ideals, then you must – bear with me now – actually follow those ideas. And the fact that only 15% of Australians attend a church even monthly speaks volumes.
But going to church isn’t what Christianity is really about, is it! No, that would be following the teaching and rules of one Jesus H. Christ, and as those who argue that ‘Australia is a Christian state’ claim, all of our laws and ideals are based on those teachings. Right?
I dunno, depends on how you react me slapping you upside the head really.
“But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” – Matthew 5:39 (King James version)
‘Turn your cheek. Now the other one. And the other one. And the other one…’
That is a direct teaching from Jesus which I guarantee that you completely refuse to follow, and which furthermore, the laws of our country absolutely contradict. Ever heard of the criminal law against assault? Because if not then you best be glad that the government has, because meekly letting people slap you around is a great way to get yourself a concussion, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a society where people get what they want based on who’s a bigger bastard.
And how about that famous teaching in Matthew 19:24 – “And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”. How would you say that stacks up against, say, Capitalism? Or gambling? Or your plasma screen TV? Or the $650,000 mortgages we have on average in Australia? And right next door to a developing nation where the median annual salary is AUS $1,750 as well, tsk tsk! If we really are all Christians then we are royally screwed!
And isn’t it a good thing that Jesus’ sacrifice means the rules of the Old Testament don’t apply anymore, because let me tell you mate – we would have been in so much trouble. Shellfish? Tattoos? Cloth of mixed fibre? Remembering the Sabbath Day (which I’m pretty sure did not include getting plastered), Coveting (ie. desiring) our neighbours property? Christ, I did all of that this week, not to mention taking THE LORD’s name in vain, whatever the hell that means.
Man, look at the tatts on these guys. On par with homosexuals, according to Leviticus.
Ok so we’ve strayed. But go back to 1901 and things would be different, wouldn’t they? Because at their core our governments and laws are founded on Christian principles!
Except no they fucking well aren’t. As any high school history student could tell you Habeas Corpus or ‘innocent until proven guilty’ was invented in medieval England 1700 years after the Big J kicked the bucket, democracy is a pagan Ancient Greek invention predating Christianity by over 500 years, and the mere concept of ‘Law’ has existed for so much longer that we’ve just estimated its creation at ‘3000 years before Christ’ and given up.
But even that is all somewhat misleading, because the values and structures our society is built on in Australia have virtually nothing to do with ancient history, religious or otherwise. Modern governments and social values are precisely that – modern. Advanced and constantly developing theories on how best to run a nation, based on vast volumes of research. These modern ideas and values may indeed be based on the ideas and values that came before them, but that doesn’t mean we should still be using those old ideas! That would be like insisting that all modern pilots wear giant goggles and grow pencil moustaches in respect of the ancient aviators that founded flying.
‘I say old chaps, this is your pilot speaking. We’ll be cruising at 40 kph and expect to arrive at our destination in 14 weeks. Tally-ho!’
The rally cry that Australia is a Christian nation is one of those infuriating arguments that is both highly persuasive and appears to be backed by the figures. But take even the briefest of second to critically analyze the claim and the entire idea falls apart. To re-cap:
- Less than 15% of Australians attend a church even once a month
- Virtually every Australian outright rejects at least two of Christ’s more explicit teachings
- Our government and laws are based on ideas that predate Christ by centuries and have nothing whatsoever to do with his teachings
- And to cap it all off, history shows us that trying to run a nation that is based on Christian ideals will inevitably end in horrifying corruption.
Stripped of its justifications, we can see the claim that Australia is a Christian nation for what it really is; an appeal to xenophobia. ‘Who are these strangers coming in here with their ways that are different to mine! I don’t like it and I want them to go away so that I feel better.’
This is not to dismiss concerns some may have about Islamic cultures and how these might lead to negative outcomes here, as they do in many other parts of the world. But you’ll notice that this is a criticism of an idea, not of a group of specific people who, let’s face it, neither we nor the Bendigo mosque protesters know a damn thing about. Do these specific people who want to build a mosque hold radical views? Are they security threats? Will they aggressively spread toxic ideals throughout our communities? The protesters don’t know and they don’t give a damn, because that’s not really what they’re protesting about – they’re protesting against things that scare them because they don’t understand them.
All things considered, I would suggest this is a pretty shitty basis to develop an opinion on, let alone public policy.