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religious freedom review

What’s behind the crackpot push to formalise the exclusion of kids defining themselves as gay, trans and such, from private schools? A public report, kept secret for months, its principal finding that marriage equality creates no problem of religious discrimination, its most controversial recommendation slowly leaked. As numerous commentators have observed, this is culture wars played out ineptly.

The Catholic schools have said they don’t want the power per se; most private schools have informal ways of excluding students they don’t want. So, who would want the particular and demonstrative power to exclude a teenager, or even pre-teen on the basis of what they declare themselves to be? The happy-clappies of course.

For the last 20 years, evangelical-run Christian schools have been growing like topsy in the ‘burbs. Since the Howard government changed the funding rules, small Christian colleges have been easy to establish, and the market is substantial. They cater to parents who can’t afford larger “public”-private schools, and who want the more traditional curriculum and discipline that Endeavour Jeebus Praise Be College offers.

They have also been helped in this by postmodernist dipsticks who wrecked the state school curriculum, leaving the way open for the right to identify themselves with the teaching of history, maths and grammar.  

But therein lies the problem. Most of the parents aren’t Christian themselves; as with the public-private schools, they “borrow” the sense of purpose and ethics that Christianity offers, to create bourgeois subjects, focused on the job, the Beamer and the McMansion, while somehow believing that the universe intended this for you. Our PM Shocko is the patron saint of such people.

But 20 years on from the creation of such schools, the world has changed. Teens and pre-teens are different — more self-defining, assertive, identitarian. Furthermore, progressive states have put in place policies, for better and worse, that help manufacture fixed identities from what would have once been a selfhood less in need of definition — and thus, less able to be policed.

Now, both conservatives and a section of progressives have come to a weird agreement about the fixed nature of the “gay” teen or tween. They’re both singing “Born This Way”, the annoying clapping coming from you-know-who.

A Catholic world isn’t disturbed by having gay boys and girls around. Quite the contrary. Without gay men who didn’t particularly want to be gay, the priesthood would die. If Catholic schools stopped teaching gay boys, what remains of our Christian-classical high culture would die. But the happy-clappies are anti-culture. They are selling not the God of mystery and faith, but a portable Jesus, with all the answers to life pre-loaded.

At its worst it’s a chauvinist, God feeding, postmodern narcissism; the God who wouldn’t stop the Holocaust, but has a plan for your progression to having two car dealerships, strong on reward, less so on mercy — a sort of combination of Yahweh and Dr Phil.

Such a God is one of conformism, continence and abnegation, and that’s what the school sells to the middle classes — the guarantee that their kids will be as focused and repressed as they are. One kid doing the “Wire hangers! Wire hangers!” scene from Mommie Dearest in the playground at lunch — possibly my references need updating — can throw the whole process into chaos.

Such schools want the power to police, and the Liberal Party is happy to give it to them. For, as the clappies grow in number, shambling out of the Seven Hills — actually, many of them are decent people, who do charity and community building — they have begun to crowd out the ranks of the Liberal Party.

As civic liberalism has died as an ideology, to be replaced by rat-bandit greed, a great void has formed in bourgeois life. Clappy Jesus fits the hole exactly, its concrete prescriptions — God loves the flag, the anthem, and mid-period Phil Collins — anchoring lives lived in the emptiness of a market-ruled world.

Those most insistent that such a rigid belief holds together perfectly with free market politics — ageing never-wases such as Alex Hawke, for example — become all the more determined to hold the line as it becomes clear that progressivism is becoming the general belief system of ever-greater sections of the population. Some think that if they hold the line long enough, the culture will turn around. Others believe that they are fighting to preserve a corner of the society that forever believes that Jesus believes in lower taxes and stopping the boats (on foot, if necessary).

Hence, the new stage of the culture wars, as represented by this bizarre eruption of a proposal that many, many Australians — far beyond the progressive class — would find noxious. There’s nothing strategic or considered about it, save for its role in internal Liberal Party warfare. It is territorial defence, and it will go like this for some time.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

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