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

living in a liberal world « Previous | |Next »
March 23, 2011

I'm starting to find the conservative's emphasis on the Judeo-Christian heritage (whatever that means) and the central significance of the bible for understanding the history of the West rather tedious. Sure the bible is an important literary text--just like Plato's dialogues or Shakespeare --and you do need to know about the history of Christianity to understand how religion has been crucially important in shaping the history of the West.

However, we no longer live in a Christian world. We live in a secular world of liberal democracy, our ethics are secular (ie; utilitarianism is our public ethics), God is not a foundation stone of the Australian constitution, and our cultural framework is that of Enlightenment, which displaced Christianity; and religion has become a matter or private conscience. Christianity is no longer the cornerstone of our liberal civilisation.

As Chris Berg says in West's history not complete without reference to Christianity at the ABC's Unleashed:

While liberal democracy was conceived in a Christian framework, one obviously need not be Christian to be part of liberal democracy.That’s the whole point. Liberalism as practised in the 21st century is wholly secular and wholly pluralistic - we don’t need to rely on theology to justify universal suffrage or individual freedom.And, of course, understanding the importance of Christianity in the development of Western thought does not mean we are required to design policy according to conservative Christian values.

The purpose of public education is to educate Australians to be liberal citizens who can think for themselves, not for Australians to become Christians. If the latter is the education they desire, then they go to an independent Christian school. Even then, the schools, if funded by the state, should not teach a Christian fundamentalism that replaces evolutionary theory in schools with ‘intelligent design’ explanations for biology.

Oh, I know, Christianity is being used as a weapon in the cultural wars by conservatives to bash the modern left and postmodernism, and that this is part of the conservative backlash to 1968. However, the western liberal democratic tradition was born from a divorce of church and state. The separation of church and state is what the conservatives want to roll back.

The pressure is from the fundamentalist religious right to restore christian values to the centre of Australian politics or who insist that God must be restored to the centre of Australian political life. What this minority is seeking to overturn is the principle of the separation of church and state which has been interpreted in Australia in terms of state neutrality--ie. governments should not favour one church over another.

Though the Christian fundamentalists want a Christian society as opposed to a secular state based on state neutrality the Christian right is very much a minority voice. So their attempts to strong-arm the Australian political system in order to install Christian values is going to been as not the way to go. Australia’s traditions are of religious pluralism, in which political and cultural institutions have tried to encourage acceptance of difference.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:17 AM | | Comments (13)


Australia now has a post-Christian culture

Quadrant is also very much into this project. It has featured articles on this topic in all of its recent issues, most of which have been so dim-witted as to be painful.

Of course none of these righteous dudes can even seem to begin to understand that they themselves, and the world-view that they promote via their rantings and the company that they keep, are proof of the paucity of their arguments. Or how christian-ism is now little more than a very sick joke.

And of the essentially totalitarian motive/drive of their project altogether, all in the name of freedom.

PS: I would argue that this totalitarian tendency (in the name of freedom) is very much evident in right-wing blogs, websites and magazines, particularly in the USA.

Especially those of right-wing "catholics".Only we possess the "truth" and the current papa pope is "gods" chosen man to rescue the West from the morass of secularism and relativism.

The completely vile American Spectator is obviously the worst example in the USA. I would argue that Standpoint Magazine in the UK is also very much a part of this meme.

an example is Bill Muehlenberg in Destroying the Foundations of the West who says:

The Judeo-Christian worldview was essential for the rise of the West. Without it the world would be a radically different place today. Most of the features that we now enjoy about the West - such as freedom, democracy, limited government, education and the universities, the rule of law, the rise of progress and science, human rights and separation of church and state – would largely be absent or greatly diminished if it were not for the rise of Christianity.

According to him Western civilization was built by Christianity.Christianity was the major stream compared to Athens (Greek philosophy) and the Enlightenment, which was an extension and development of certain religious values.

He adds that the West appears to be hell-bent on denying, eradicating or undermining the Christian foundations through irrational hatred of atheists seeking to eradicate the faith from the public arena.

If Christianity goes, then the whole of our culture goes is the argument.

What's so unique about these "Christian values" the tories are so keen on? I suspect it's more about holding on to "traditional" values in a dynamic modern world. I suspect it's not so much about these "values" being uniquely righteous, as the values being a touchstone for the mythical good-old-days.

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
~G K Chesterton

Gee what a floating signifier is "Christianity".
The xtian lobby in this country is as about representative of Australia and Christianity, as Al Quaeda is to Muslims or a billion people living from Indonesia to Senegal.
Yet in a historical and cultural context "Christianity" is so intimately involved in processes involving the last two millenia that we wonder if it is not part of the actual human individuation process or some thing that points to it or involving adaptation over time.
Interesting Gary has cited that grizzled old cultural warrior, Bill Muehlenberg. He sees the other side of the coin to mine, but his and mine together maybe provide a new synthesis as two poles within or between which is provided a "mean" and subsequent understanding.
Watching the pitiful antic at
Canberra, the anxieties and insecurities the issue brings to the fore were nakedly apparent with the forlorn "legion of the lost" assembled in almost comic order before Abbott and Joyce, straight out of central for a seventeenth century village movie with Tyrone Power.

some argue that religion is dying--the secularization thesis. It was argued that modern science was the prime cause of religious decline through secularisation. As modern society advances it will become increasingly secular, and religion will become increasingly hollow.

The emergence of new religious groups--evanglicals/Pentecostalism --- counters the forces of secularisation. These group’s revivalist emphasize experientialism, the supernatural and healing, appeal to past biblical models for the church and ministry.

Religion in Australia, is not in a state of general decline but it is weakening. Individual religiosity is being radically transformed.


Who knows?

It is both philosophically incoherent and phenomenologically inaccurate to posit Australia as a secular scrubbed free of religion and committed to a neutral and rational public discourse.

Many Australians continue to identify themselves in terms of their religious identities and to answer questions about meaning and value in terms of their religion.

Maybe we need to reject the Enlightenment conception of universal reason and the idea that religion is a discourse that should be subject to special rules restricting its expression?

Maybe we need to revise the secular thesis and accept that it is reasonable to be religious as opposed to the hard line view that aims to restrict the free airing of religoius commitments.

The Christians--conservative Catholic and the Australian Christian Lobby-- are fairly active in NSW elections.

I thought Sue's point a good one. Abbott and a weird Libs NSW right, in a state where the electorate is also burdened with another party dominated by its right faction, the ALP.
It's inevitable that there are going to "rubs". The thing in Queensland with the young couple in strife for procuring RU 486 is a portentuous example and a great shame for many people for many reasons. Just part of the process.
I actually agree that it is more productive to see the effect Gillard has created employed for a bit of healthy philosophical discussion.
Ps, I wonder if Christianity is the Hellenestic off shoot of the next pulse of philosophical break out, similar to the one circa 5-400 BC. It is a forlorn offspring of judaism and hellenist cosmopolitanism in the micro globalisation of the Mediterraenean from 300 BC even through to today.
For the first time a genuine sense of history rather than teleology was involved and kicked off the lateral thinking that was kept live by the caliphates and sutanates until its marriage with gothic culture from about 1200 AD, imported by scholars from Cordoba and further afield particularly after about 1260 AD, where war smashed the previously dominant arab caliphates.
It's to do with ideas, not race. But we seem to be slipping back into a defensive mindset as "the demographic" changes.
Yet the bones of a good education is still there.
Let's hope social studies, civics and history and some basic understanding of social science and arts subjects now reserved for uni, are introduced earlier in school careers.
Also, people have not fully understand that in a post industrial era education is ongoing, you don't quit school young and retire from the job you started with when young any more.

The Church isn't always on the side of truth... Cardinal Pell is NOT my friend.

"I regret when a discussion of these things is not based on scientific fact,...I spend a lot of time studying this stuff."

I reckon George should pull his head in.

Sue, thanks for the link.

I must say that I still see the "culture wars" as a stalking-horse for a basic, old-fashioned Cold War agenda. Cardinal Pell and the rest of them are "fighting Socialism".