More than a year ago I asked in Crikey why can’t we cope with Christianity in politics:

Sixty eight per cent of Australians call themselves Christians, according to the last census. Sixty eight per cent of 20 million people is a lot…

US political commentators claim “values voters” were behind the re-election of George W Bush. Dismissing all these people as fundamentalists or evangelicals is wrong. Their Australian counterparts mightn’t even believe in God – but instead send their kids to church schools because they believe the teaching and discipline are better…

These sorts of people don’t care much for gay rights. They don’t hate gays. What they do hate, however, are politicians who tell them that they’re rednecks. The politicians are noticing. It’s time the rest of us did.

Tony Abbott is a bright bloke. It’s why so much is made of the moments when he decides to hit the heights of hyperbole.

Last night he had an important message. Launching a book on the Catholic poet and political James McAuley, Abbott defended the right of politicians with religious conviction to have a voice in ethical debates :

“It is the argument that counts, not the fact that the church is putting it,” he said:

It’s no accident that the chief features of the modern polity — freedom under the law, welfare systems for people struggling to cope, impartial public administration and so on — all developed first and most fully in societies under strong Christian influence. The West’s modern version of human rights is almost inconceivable without the insights of Erasmus, Thomas More and the other Catholic humanists.

Those concerned about religion in politics should also pose the alternative question: what might a polity without any Christian inspiration look like? This is not to say that explicitly Christian values should dominate public life, let alone that the best politicians are self-consciously Christian. Political debate should turn on human values, not religious teaching. It’s just that, in this sense at least, the keep-religion-out-of-politics brigade and the church are in furious agreement…

Rather than worry obsessively about the “religious Right”, commentators may more often pause to consider whether business ethics, family life or personal motivation is likely to be improved in a society with less Christian consciousness. They should ponder the loss of Kevin Rudd and Tim Costello, as well as that of Brian Harradine and George Pell, before seeking to exclude religious believers from our public space.

Abbott talking about a fundamental of democracy – a fundamental that all too often now seems missing from public discourse even as we are told to be tolerant of wiccans and those weak minds who hand their cash over to new age practitioners.

Phillip Adams is talking religion and politics today, too. Interestingly, he has a very similar message:

While all for the separation of church and state, I’ve never opposed people of faith using their beliefs as a basis for their political activities. How could they not?

Adams says we can’t leave religion to the right. He points to Kevin Rudd – and jokes “Jesuits and nuns are about all that’s left of the Left in Australia”.

But it’s not even a matter of left and right. It’s a matter of the beliefs that inspire 68 per cent of the Australian population – beliefs, as Abbott says, have shaped our laws and institutions. Which makes it a matter of democracy.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW