Why Rudd should let the Brethren slide

Prior to the Federal election, PM in waiting Kevin Rudd stated that the Exclusive Brethren were an “extremist cult” and called for investigation of their affairs by a number of government bodies. This was in response to allegations that the Brethren have a

disproportionately high taxpayer funding of Brethren schools, dishonest political campaigning, their charitable status in relation to rate and tax exemptions, and their well-known intimidatory tactics during traumatic Family Court cases

Which is fair enough. If you like a particular religion then by all means, support it how you see fit. Just don’t ask me to through my taxes. Religions should go it alone. There is no reason in a secular society for religions to received government largess.

However, Rudd’s calls for investigation of the Brethren has mellowed and the PM has

rejected the pleas of former members of the Exclusive Brethren for a broad-ranging inquiry into the sect, saying such an investigation would “unreasonably interfere” with their right “to practise their faith freely and openly”.

Now, on first thought, I was outraged but thinking a little more I offer the contention that Rudd got it right. While Australia does not have a constitution that explicitly states the church and state must be separated, going after the Brethren with governmental powers could be seen as an attack on religious freedom. And this is the correct view. The Brethren, no matter how despicable of a cult they are, should have their religious freedom. Rudd, by asking for any wrong doing by the Brethren to be directed to the police or other authorities, has made the right decision.

It seems that if there are instances of electoral and financial improprieties on behalf of the Brethren then they should be dealt with by the proper authorities. The federal government’s role should not be to show favour to the Brethren by allowing them access to the corridors of power nor target them as part of a (though understandable to be honest) campaign against them.

Elsewhere: North Coast Voices give their view.


Commonsense on preachers and politics

Via a comment at LP, I stumbled onto an excellent article by Katha Pollitt on the need for presidential candidates to have crazy, preaching guys as their spiritual advisor (part of Obama’s sin is that he chose a black crazy preacher guy, not the usual white bread crazy preacher guy).

The on the money quote is:

But here’s the larger point: If we kept religion out of the election campaign, we could just debate the issues, like rational people.

This echoes a comment by The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart who went after the media for their obsession with Wright. Granted, Wright is his own worst enemy at times (and Obama’s) but surely there are more important issues facing the United States?

The need to pander to a collective superstition, of which whose leading practitioners seem to embody all that is wrong with religion, is a sad sign for the democratic process.

Maybe US citizens may see more of such alarmingly effective policy measures as praying for petrol prices to fall. Via Pharyngula.

The myth of Rudd’s religious right swinging voters

Welcome to A Freethinker from Oz.

My first post isn’t about atheism per se but a look a column by ex-Liberal big wig Micheal Baume in today’s AFR. It is worth examining for the claim that the Australian Prime Minster, Kevin Rudd, carried the 2007 election due to votes from religious conservatives. As an atheist I am interested in religious trends in society and consider such trends very important to understand and engage with.

Alas Baume’s article is not online but he takes a cue from Christoper Pearson in the Australian a few months ago. Pearson’s thesis is that the Rudd government is now beholden to the interests of the religious conservatives that carried him to power.

While Rudd makes no secret of his religious beliefs and there is a conservative streak, Rudd’s religiosity is also marked by a strong concern for social justice after one of his heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Christian Rudd is a far cry from the Exclusive Bretheren types favoured by the Howard government.

The mistake of Pearson, and compounded by Baume, is to assume that the theological leanings of the evangelicals and Pentecostals that Rudd captured were the usual traditional conservative leanings with an over emphasis on sexual mores.

John Black (whose work Pearson and Baume both quote) and John Cleary in this interview point out that yes, Rudd did capture a good proportion of evangelical vote. However, Cleary argues that this theology of this voting block was not the traditional conservative concerns:

If you move around evangelical churches, particularly even to say places like Hillsong, the Pentecostal churches, they are deliberately widening their social agenda to say Yes, we care about the environment. Yes, we care about helping people in Third World poverty. You’ve seen the whole Wilberforce campaign last year with the anti-slavery movement driving itself out of evangelical and Pentecostal churches.

It is an interesting thesis and not without merit. One problem in regards to the influence of religion on politics in Australia is that we take our cues from what we see happen in the US. There is a tendency to forget that Australian needs to frame the arguments in our own terms, not through the prism of the US battles.

Also, it destroys Pearson and Baume’s contention that Rudd is under the thrall of the religious right. Rudd, by correctly capturing the movement towards a left leaning theology had no such concerns.

Note that I not condoning Rudd’s religiosity. There are aspects of Rudd that concern me as an atheist. However discussion is best served by placing the politics of religion in Australia in their proper context.