There was a joke in my family that I was more pre-Council of Trent than post-Vatican II. You don’t have to be a Catholic to get it (but it helps). Hence, I am not a fan of the Pentecostals — unlike Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.
Their emotional style of worship whipped up by frantically fervent preaching just isn’t my style. I belong to an older tradition, shared by several former prime ministers and, we are told, the current President of the United States.
Lately Morrison has been criticised for remarks he has made about the relationship of his faith to his view of modern, impersonal culture and even his prime ministership. That he believes social media could be a tool of the devil is no surprise. Anyone looking at social media lately can see that. Even the outrageous comedian Sacha Baron Cohen made the pertinent remark: “Imagine what Goebbels could have done with Face Book!”
What really seems to irk the inhabitants of left-wing echo chambers like Crikey and The Guardian is that Morrison does not divorce his concept of the prime ministership from his faith in God. He speaks openly of doing “God’s work”.
Now some people might regard this as an awful lot of presumption. Doing “God’s work” is a pretty big call — but on a more terrestrial level it is a worry to those who are not religious that the prime minister might base his political decisions solely on the teachings of his religion.
That is one interpretation of Morrison’s remarks.
However, the other, more plausible, interpretation is simply that Morrison sees the prime ministership as more than a job. It is his vocation. All Christians, no matter what tradition they belong to, have one overwhelming duty: to know, love and serve God — and as prime minister he has to do that as much as he would if he were still working as a marketing executive.
However, how far does this influence policy?
Most Australians, judging by the comments and responses to his remarks, have no problem with someone who is a good person and a believing Christian as prime minister.
But living in a very secular country, Australians might be more sceptical of someone who tries to impose religious views, even subtly, on the rest of society.
Tony Abbott, as both health minister and prime minister, was constantly being accused of this in relation to abortion even though he didn’t, nor could he, do anything about it. His opposition to abortion and gay marriage just gave the anti-Abbott brigade ammunition to attack him on everything from his “attitude to women” (even though a lot of women are against abortion) or being “homophobic” because he was against gay marriage (even though the postal vote was his idea).
However, as for imposing his Christian views, Morrison has actually done the opposite.
He was also against gay marriage, but unlike Abbott, he did not campaign against it. He voted against it, but he actually used his religion as an excuse to withdraw from public opposition. He claimed that it would be an imposition of his religious views to campaign against it.
Of course, one didn’t have to have a particularly religious view of marriage to vote against gay marriage. Many who opposed it were worried about downgrading the unique legal compact between the only people whose sexual relationship can of itself conceive children.
For Morrison, putting his lack of activism against legalising gay marriage down to his religion was a clever move which kept him in with the libertarian wing of the party. Unlike others who could not support it because of their conscientious objection, he could say it was a “private” religious matter. Naturally, the Left hasn’t criticised him for that manoeuvre.
As for criticism of Morrison’s statements by Anthony Albanese, the leader of the Opposition, as possibly breaching the church/state divide — that is hyperbolic nonsense. The division of church and state refers to the imposition of religion on the state.
By criticizing Morrison in this way, Albanese has exposed the aridly secularist credo of the Left which rather than pluralism, wants to expunge religion from the public square, although it is the primary impetus for most people the world over. What is more, Morrison’s Pentecostal brand is actually the fastest growing type of religion in Australia and in the world. To the dismay of conservatives, it has even crept into the Catholic liturgy.
The ploy of, on the one hand, publishing your religious affiliation and on the other, withdrawing from publicly supporting something that is fundamentally anathema, is a clever ploy and almost all politicians have to do something like this to pursue and then stay in office.
At least Morrison has not supported something his conscience will not allow him to support. Many politicians in their quest to get high office and stay there will sell out fundamental tenets of their religion.
One who has managed to “gain the world” but might find in the not-too-distant future that it wasn’t worth it, is US President Joe Biden, who has been photographed going to Mass and meeting the Pope etc. Biden has managed to wriggle out of both publicly supporting abortion and pledging to expand it, by claiming that he cannot impose his “religious views” on the rest of society.
It is true that the Catholic Church in the United States and across the world has been the main bulwark against legal abortion, but opposition to abortion is not necessarily religious. Biden’s convoluted reasoning ignores the views of those of other religions or no religion who simply think that abortion (killing an unwanted human being) is a fundamental denial of human rights.
But also misinterprets his own religion. He has been taken to task on this by the Catholic Church in the US and has once been denied communion. He cannot parade his religion on the one hand and ignore a fundamental tenet of Church doctrine by actively promoting an immoral act on the other.
It would be a different situation if he had not pledged to expand federal laws and funding for abortion. In that case the passive do-nothing approach of Morrison and Abbott would be understandable. But Biden threw in his lot with the increasingly Green Left Democrats and is determined to pursue that agenda despite his rosary rattling.
By that light, Australia’s Pentecostal PM doesn’t come off too badly.