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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

the religious right « Previous | |Next »
January 22, 2005

The Christian Fundamentalists say that our nation is premised on Judeo-Christianity and that Australia's political system must maintain that heritage. We should not kiss it goodbye or hurl it into the dusbin of history. Judeo-Christianity is the mythos of our society as it provides people with a context that enables them to make sense of our day-to-day lives.

Soon we will begin to hear the line that maintaining the Judeo-Christianity heritage was the intent of the Founding Fathers of the Constitution. Theology underpins the constitution.

This fundamentalist co-mingling of Judeo-Christianity and government--you can see it with biopolitics and the regulation of the body----undermines the liberal wall of separation between state and church.

What then is the agenda of this political movement. A suggestion from the US:

The religious right is fundamentalism's political arm. It seeks objectives that are depicted in fundamentalist literature as being derived from, or consonant with, biblical prescriptions, and prophecies. Statements of these objectives vary considerably, but the principal goals are constant and prominent: a fundamentalist theocracy -- that is, a government operated according to fundamentalist readings of the Bible; an economy of capitalism, more or less unrestrained; a foreign policy based on nationalism and chauvinism reinforced by militarism; a social organization in which women would be subordinate to men and would focus their lives on reproduction; a system of education that would discourage analytical thinking in all realms except the purely technical ones; a system of science that would serve only to support commerce and to generate sophistic demonstrations that facts of nature conform to biblical narratives; and theocratic suppression of cultural, intellectual, ethical, or sexual departures from the prescriptions of biblical authorities.

I find that understanding of the religious right persuasive, even though it is very American orientated. Does fundamentalism have roots in Australia? Is it more than a US import? Should we be concerned about fundamentalism in Australia? How do conservatives understand the relationship between reason and revelation?

I reckon that fundamentalism does have roots in Australia and that we should be concerned about fundamentalism in Australia? Here is an argument.

Fundamentalism is a response to the threat of both the logos of secular modernism and secular modernism. This logos is a scientific approach to knowledge, a rejection of myth-based thinking, an expectation of ongoing technological progress, and an ever-growing capitalist economy. Liberal modernism is constituted by a market-based, capitalist economy that places a high value on individualism, materialism, and pluralism. It assumes the individual's right to choose, whether in the marketplace of goods and services, opinion or religion.

The argument is that mythos is the language of meaning and, if a secular liberal culture in modernity leaves no place for mythos, then we rightly fear a devastating loss of cultural cohesiveness and unity. This reason for the sacralization of life in Australia can be seen in the institution of a biopolitics that seeks to administer and control life and the parallel establishment of a "bioethics" that renders the protection of bare life its privileged object.

Hence the passion-informed religios fundamentalism is more than social conservatives and "power puritans" adopting a faith-based politics of different politicians. The biopolitics of the sanctity of life, which initially appeared to stop euthanasia and stem cell research and to roll back the reproductive rights of womenis broadening out to regulate everyday life (pornography, marriage, homosexuality etc).

It is a form a conservatism, which views society as an organic whole within which individuals have assigned roles and responsibilities. This conservatism s concerned with the "collective moral fabric" and it sees government as having "the right to establish norms for the conduct of social life."

Fundamentalism, which is a puritanical version of conservatism, gives the state and religion a strong role in legislating or dictating matters of morality about desiring bodies. It's biopolitics is a mode of governance, as it holds that individuals cannot be left to go their own way, but need elite guidance and control over issues such as death, sex and violence in the mass media, gambling, drug use, prostitution, etc.

So religion plays a strong role in governance.

The classic instrument of governance is censorship, which is used to set politically legitimate boundaries or limits to individual rights and liberties, and to give Christian churches the prominent role in providing moral direction and regulation of desiring bodies.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:42 PM | | Comments (12) | TrackBacks (2)

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference the religious right:

» Costello The Lawgiver from Immanuel Rant
Over at Gary Sauer-Thompsonís blog there is an excellent and thought provoking piece on fundamentalism and Australia. In the (quite interesting and informative) comments I asked Gary who the Australian [Read More]

» moral politics from
In this post on the religious right over at public opinion it was argued by some that the family and censorship politics fundamentalist religions (eg. the Family First party) is imported and not a homegrown product. I'm not convinced by this argument a... [Read More]




who from the Australian religous right has been saying that the nation is premised on on Judeo-Christianity? To me this is the religous right importing the arguments direct from the US without considering that Australia is a far different country.

US style arguments won't work in Australia as we don't have the same entrenched religosity and puritain foundations. While it is worthwhile to be vigilant against fundamentalists of all creeds I just don't see it being of something for concern in Australia at this stage.


I heard Costello say that the nation is premised on Judeo-Christianity when he went acourting the evangelical Catch The Fire Ministries' and the singing and swaying pentecostal Christians at Sydney's Hillsong church, which is a corporate style fundamentalism.

Costello's message was a faith based politics, a return to Christian values in a time of moral decay, and that the Ten Commandments "are the foundation of our law and our society".

John Howard has said we are predominantly a society instructed by the Judeo-Christian ethic" whilst our Governor-General, Major General Michael Jeffrey,says that Australia has a "Christian heritage" and "faith in God has been an important establishing and unifying principle for our nation".

To put in Nietzschean terms our highest values, are rooted in the Christian faith. The "moral decay" in our society (evidenced by drug taking, divorce and violent music) can only be resisted by those who adhere to the Christian faith.

These are not US style arguments. They are Australian ones.

Though section 116 of the Constitution says that religion is not the business of Australia's government, the above senior political figures have legitimated the mingling religion and politics and entred into a political alliance with Family First.

Despite my extreme annoyance at these pillocks I don't believe they represent a threat in OZ. There may be a bit of spillover - some cultural collateral damage if you will from the US - but Australian bullshit antennae always seem to reject too much of a salesman, and these guys sell and smell like Amway.

I'm not so sure.There has been a long history of the biopolitics of conservatism in the form of puritanism and censorship in Australia.

So it has deep historical Australian roots and does not smell and feel like Amway at all.

That fundamentalism is returning from its hsitoprical repression in the 1960s-1980s. It is coupled with a new discourse about family values, moral decay and nihilism targeted at liberalism on the one hand; and on the other, the view that the true enemy of the Anglo-American Coalition of the Willing is not terrorism per se, but militant Islam that resists the hegemony of the liberal-capitalist world order.

What we are witnessing is the political formation of a fundamentalist religious passion legitimized not by its immanent truth-claim, but the way it allows us to express out innermost and darkest feelings, attitudes and beliefs.

Thanks Gary. Some interesting things said by Costello that I want to go away and research a bit. If I didn't know any better he is espousing the exact same line fundies use in the US.

I can make a stab the appeal to the Judao-Christian heritage by the Howard Government.

My understanding it is that this appeal to the Judao-Christian heritage and values is that it is their way of dealing with the social fallout from the neo-liberal reforms and the negative impact of globalization on Australia.

The political class managed and administered the economc reforms that opened Australia to the global market okay, but they made a real mess of managing the social consequences. Hence One Nation.

Things have moved on. Christianity is being pressed into action to hold things together and so keep the Howard Government in power.

I found a piece by Costello over at Online Opinion ( that argues the Ten Commandments are the basis of our laws and society. The same argument is often made in the United States. It is not a strong argument. If the Ten Commandments were to be applied we would live in a repressive theocracy. Also such prohibitions as though shalt not kill/steal are common in societies all over the world.

I agree that our laws were originally founded upon judeo-christian foundations.

I would like to think we're more evolved than that now.

But our law courts now accept aboriginal customary law (unless thats been overturned while i wasn't looking). That in a way is religious fundamentalism too.

This is not an accurate example but an arbitrary one that makes the point.

Defendant stole something from the indigenous tribe. By their law, they can now spear the defendent in the leg.

Something to that effect.

Personally I would prefer it if our foundation were based on deontology, teleology and Kant's categorical imperative.

The Right can't represent that Conservative view otherwise they would have to force women back into the kitchen and there is no way the public would buy that.

The Costello article you linked to can be read as a reference back to Athens and Jerusalem. Costello says:

"Our society was founded by British colonists. And the single most decisive feature that determined the way it developed was the Judeo-Christian-Western tradition. As a society, we are who we are, because of that heritage.
I am not sure this is well understood in Australia today. It may be that a majority of Australians no longer believes the orthodox Christian faith. But whether they believe it or not, the society they share is one founded on that faith and one that draws on the Judeo-Christian tradition.
The foundation of that tradition is, of course, The Ten Commandments. How many Australians today could recite them? Perhaps very few. But they are the foundation of our law and our society, whether we know them or not."

I interpret Costello's understanding of Western to mean secular liberalism.

What Costello is saying is pretty clear. The Australian constitution is underwritten by the Judeo-Christian tradition, as is the rule of law. The foundation of constitutional liberalism is theological.It is the work of the hand of God, for God handed Moses the ten commandments.

Costello stands for Athens and Jerusalem not Athens or Jerusalem as do the fundamentalists.For Costello faith based institutions like charities plug the holes created by the free market.

For this conservatism Nietzsche is the nasty one as he is the modern philosopher most at odds with their tradition; and the one most responsible for the charcater of twentieth-century culture--relativism, godlessness, nihilism, and the breakdown of family values. Hence the conservative talk about cultural catastrophe and the disastrous (postmodern)trend away from studying the great works of these two traditions in the modern (liberal)university.

I take exception to Costello's argument that the foundation of tradition and in turn law and society is the Ten Commandments. Apart from thou shalt not steal/kill, the others have no influence on the law. I'm no ejumacated legal scholar but the foundation of law in our society is English Common Law.

That is not to dismiss the influence of judeo-christianity but I focusing on one narrow aspect of Costello's argument. The philosophical arguments for the basis of Costello's views are interesting and I tend to agree with them. I question though whether Costello had actually considered his views on such a level or more shallow motives were/are at work. For me Costello is just parroting the conservative lines from the US.

Alas, I cannot take this Athens and Jerusalem issue much further. I've reached the limit of my understanding. The Ten Commandments refer to moral vaules. What of our political values?

I presume that Costello would say that the Founding principles in our political life means recovering a limited and accountable government that respects private property, promotes stable family life and maintains a strong defense.

Are those political principles underpinned by religion? If so how? My guess is that Costello has dumped utilitarianism and embraced rights. If these rights are given a theological backing in a land of free individuals, then they become natural rights as distinct from the rights being a gift from government.

That is a very American approach and Costello would have a hard job finding enough in our Constitution to support the natural right argument.

I agree with Irant's original comment that religious fundamentalism will not fly in Australia, there is just not the broad base of religious affiliation. Also with Vee, lets hear it for the Kantian cataegorical imperative.

There is more than a grain of sense in the Judeo-Christian heritage, after all it is the claim to care for the weak that attracted so many fine people to Marxism only to be let down by the defects of the movement.