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Values, belief, politics

Well, the religious theme continues on Webdiary. Craig Schwarze organised this article by Greg Clarke, from New College - I might say a very concise, coherent statement of a Christian view of Church and State.

by Greg Clarke

I will be reminding them [Muslim leaders], as I remind all Australians, our common values as Australians transcend any other allegiances or commitments, and I will be talking in practical ways about how these goals might be achieved.

John Howard, reported on SMH website in PM set for radical talks with Muslims, 22nd August 2005.

The Australian Prime Minister made this extraordinary comment in August last year in the week of a summit with Australian Islamic leaders to discuss the problem of religious extremism.

I cannot think of many religious believers who would agree with it.

In fact, many would regard it as the ultimate act of blasphemy to suggest that there is a higher allegiance than one’s God. I don’t know how much import to place on the Prime Minister’s remark, which was in the midst of a radio interview, but at the very least it demonstrated the difficulties that today’s secular, and often pluralistic and multicultural states, have with religion.

If the Prime Minister was claiming that there is a kind of natural law which all human beings, by the very nature of the universe, understand and respect, then I can go a fair way down that path with him.

Yes, there are many shared values, morals, and a common conscience. Most religions, cultures and societies agree on many of these things. In his famous essay on the subject, C.S. Lewis claimed that it would be “the abolition of man” (we would say ‘humanity’) to deny this.

However, beyond that it is remarkable how different and distinctive can be the various religions. Christians believe Jesus was the son of God, who died on a cross for our sins and was raised to new life by God as Lord of the Universe. Muslims do not believe this. Muslims believe that Muhammad is Allah’s last prophet; Christians do not. Jews believe in a God who speaks; Buddhists do not. Hindus believe in karma; Christians believe in grace.

We are at a point in Australia where we are wrestling with such issues. How can religions which teach quite obviously different beliefs and approaches to life, both individually and socially, coexist? Is there a kind of secularism where religions have a place, or are they always going to be in conflict with the secular state?

To my mind, one point is clear for the Christian. He or she cannot agree with the Prime Minister’s comment that there is an allegiance that transcends commitment to Christ.

The Bible teaches that Jesus, the Son of God, is the one through whom the world exists, for whom it exists, and by whom it continues. The fullness of God dwelt in him and he is responsible for making peace between God and all things on heaven and earth, through his sacrificial death. He is the human hope for the life to come, because he rose from the grave and is empowered to give that same eternal life to anyone who will believe in him and walk in the Christian way. (I get all this from the Bible, Colossians 1:15-20).

These are no small claims. One’s allegiance to Christ rides above everything—above nation, above community, above family.

But at the same time, allegiance to Christ gives the Christian a whole range of opportunities and responsibilities in nation, community and family.

So, if Christ is Lord of all, how then should a Christian live in the world?

How does faith in Christ work itself out in the polis, in politics?

In my view, there are three stances you might take on this issue:

1. Try to run the place

2. Try to leave the place

3. Try to persuade the place.

The first view is, in my opinion, the stance of many Christian political parties. The reconstructionists in America are here. ‘One nation under God.’ Ideally, they would run the state. They would have power to legislate, and would do so according to Scripture. They would attempt to put into law the Christian way of life. There are some groups among Australian Christian communities who seek this outcome.

I don’t believe Christians are called to this position. It seems to deny the separation of church and state which I see in Scripture.

The second view is, in my opinion, also unbiblical. It is the separationist view, where the church is an alien community with nothing in common with the state. The church looks inward, not outward, and is only concerned to obey God itself, not to bring about godliness in the world.

Many church groups throughout history have reached this point, especially when the ‘world’ or state or polis has seemed particularly sin-ridden and to be involved in it a compromise of the Christian walk.

Stanley Hauerwas, an eminent American ethicist, recently argued that in a human future he believes will be bleak, Christians should be known as "those peculiar people who don't kill their babies [through abortion] or their old people [through euthanasia]."

As attracted as I sometimes am to this view, again it doesn’t pull together the nature of the church in the Bible well enough to convince me.

The third view is that the church and polis are distinct, but in a very particular way. Jesus Christ is the actual ruler of the world, post-resurrection. Therefore, the Church is the greater ‘nation’, and its Christian duty is to tell the state what to do—to restrain it from the evil it is inclined to, and to give it moral guidance.

But it will NOT do this by trying to wrest control. Instead it will “speak truth to power”, as the Quakers put it. In particular, the church will play a role in humbling the state, precisely in reminding it that what the Prime Minister said on the radio last year just won’t wash with Christians, or any genuine religious believer.

We look forward to pursuing the commonality that is the Prime Minister’s goal, but it can’t happen by transcending religious beliefs. For believers, there is nowhere higher.


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Feelings and ethics?

So if you are alluding to the development of a life-long moral thought system that tempers our behaviour, which could be referred to as a "conscience" then feelings have no play in that development at all.

Gosh Roger, I don't think I could disagree with you more strongly. What, are you from the planet Vulcan or something? ("Captain, human behaviour is highly illogical.")

Most people I know base their actions and ethics on how they "feel". An act makes them feel good, they do it. Something makes them feel bad, they avoid it.

I know of very few people who have sat down and figured out an ethical system logically from first principals.

Vulcanism Is To Be Highly Valued

Craig, I can't help but feel, oops, I mean, I can't help but think that you have misunderstood.

My Merriam Webster defines 'feelings' under 7 categories, TOUCH, SENSITIVITY, SENSE, SENTIMENT, PRESENTMENT, ATMOSPHERE and RESPONSE. We often use 'feel' when we actually mean 'think'.

Your explanatory example compounds the problem by equating gratification or a lack of it with having a conscience. The essential thrust to formulating an ethical response to any of life's conundrums is to work from first principles. If you do not then you will end up with some woolly-headed ideas and more than likely wrong-headed ones to boot.

The very first problem with your way of looking at feelings, as an arbitrator of moral values, is that it assumes that the average individual is capable and 'good'. This is plainly not the case, as life attests. For example, was the population of Nazi Germany 'good' during Hitler's years?

I am curious to know how you think that conscience develops. What are the processes?

European Muslim leader's perspective:

From the Financial Times:

"European countries are paying the price for their "miscalculations" on Islam, which have come back to haunt them in the crisis over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, according to the most influential leader of France's Muslim community, the biggest on the continent.

Dalil Boubakeur says Europe's mistakes include supporting extremist Islamic groups in Iran and Afghanistan during the cold war; encouraging multicultural systems that let radical Islamic groups flourish; and fostering a "hypocritical secularity" that allows discrimination against Muslims.

"There is no formula for co-existence between Islam and Europe," says Mr Boubakeur. "All idyllic, unrealistic visions of laissez-faire permissiveness are no good. All overly authoritarian visions are no good either. Islam in the west is a real political problem."

Speaking to the Financial Times in his cramped office behind the intricately decorated marble, tile and plaster walls of the Paris mosque, where he took over as rector from his father in 1992, he says Europe faces a tough choice.

"Where do we want to go? To multiculturalism, separating Muslims from westerners?

"I say no. Neither should we reduce Muslims through a forced integration to be just like westerners. That is impossible."

The UK, in particular, has made a "serious error" in "encouraging and accepting" multiculturalism. "The London bombings last year were a brutal wake-up call," he claims."

Rather pessimistic, n'est ce pas?

Love and laugh

Roger writes “A couple of years ago I wrote in a WD forum that the most useless citizen that a country could have is a true Christian. A true Christian would not plan for tomorrow , would have no savings, would own no property, because it was all given away, and would not consume material goods.”

What would you call an Australian citizen who did all the above and did not claim to be a Christian? I suppose they could also be classified as “useless”, though one would expect all citizens are consumers in one way or another. We all have to eat and we all (most) have to have a roof over our heads.

I do agree that Christian beliefs and Christian behaviour are quite often contradictory and to be honest I do find it hard to find a fair dinkum “Christian”; do they exist?

Your post brought to mind a conversion I had just last night with son number 2 and my wife. My son was talking about status symbols, keeping up with the Joneses, envy and pride. I mentioned to him that I was not generally like that, and he replied; “Yeh, I know that, but you’re not normal” My wife cracked up and while laughing reminded us that my mother also said same about me. I was flattered, as my Mum meant it in a loving and understanding way, so did my son.

Yours truly is not a Christian. However, by your definition I could well be classified as “useless” but I would rather be labelled as “not normal”.

Being “not normal” is freedom; sadly many Christians seek their security in money and possessions (many to end up slaves) and simply do not understand that Jesus was trying to teach them all about freedom. Freedom from fear, the freedom to be honest and trustworthy. Maybe they should try it sometimes, you don’t even have to believe in God, or Jesus for that matter.

Some of the most financially dishonest people I have met call themselves Christians, some even go to church every Sunday only to rape and pillage on Monday.

As far as Australian values go then why not discuss English values, Chinese values, Indian values, African values or Aboriginal values. Australians do not have a monopoly on nouns, but those dammed nouns can be quite a problem when we try to define them.

Of course, our pollies can also have a field day and fuck with our minds using these nouns for whatever their purpose. Don’t be fooled, just love your neighbour, laugh a lot and fear not.

In the Poorhouse Now

Phil, that is a very interesting perspective. Yes, I understand that one could be a non-contributor without the religious trappings.

I am sure that JWH would have some problems with your not normalness. The Howardites of this world believe in debt and consumerism. If you can't get with the program, you are just not contributing to Australian society.

Defining Values

I think the biggest problem with talking about “values” is defining them. Many of them only apply broadly to Australians until you get to the fine print. At that point people diverge sharply.

For example, John Howard and I can both say we believe in giving people a “fair go”, to use a particularly nebulous Australian “value”. But what does that mean? I might think it’s particularly unfair for an employer to be able to force a new employee onto an individual contract, denying him or her access to a collective enterprise bargaining agreement. Howard, clearly, does not. Do we both still believe in a fair go?

Howard says Australians value human rights. Again, what does that mean? I might think it’s shameful that Australia locks up asylum seekers for years at a time, essentially for not having a visa, before accepting them as refugees. A fairly solid argument can be made that we infringe human rights by doing so. Phillip Ruddock, like many Australians, thinks it’s perfectly acceptable policy, even for children. Yet Ruddock, like me, claims to care about human rights (and you know he does care because he wears an Amnesty International badge!).

Howard would claim that Australians, like him, value democracy. Sounds fine, but I would argue that Howard has wilfully debased democracy in Australia through his contempt for Government accountability and transparency.

And what the hell is “mateship”? Did Australians invent the notion that a person might try to protect, and do good things for, the people they care about? I suspect, then, that even suicide bombers believe in “mateship”.

It’s all a matter of definition, isn’t it?

Surely all this ambiguity is a strong argument for a Bill of Rights, which would define to some extent whatever we think our fundamental values are. Sure, there’s still room for a lot of ambiguity, but without it what do we have as a reference? John Howard’s press conferences? The Bible?

I think Tony Phillips hit the nail on the head when he said the key question is: who is defining Australian values? If John Howard is defining Australian values, then I’m happy to call myself un-Australian.

In the context of the comments, the meaning is clear.

In Costello's comments he said that anyone who wishes to impose sharia law on Australia should not be here, as their values are clearly incompatible with Australian values. In this context, by the latter he clearly means the post-Enlightenment, liberal, secular values of the West. Gender equality, tolerance of other beliefs and sexual orientations, freedom of speech, etc. are obviously values that are not recognised (indeed, quite the opposite) in sharia law, where gays must be executed, women who have premarital sex must be executed, a rapist can only be convicted if four reliable male Muslim witnesses testify that they saw the rape taking place, etc.

I assume Costello was merely amplifying Howard's message in this regard.

Separation of church and state as a form of extremism

In times of big government the fanatical approach to separation of church and state is wont to become a business in itself. We have plenty of people who scream of the injustices perpetrated by governments and their members who fail to satisfactorily divorce governing from their personal beliefs.

I am inclined to believe that there are common values and beliefs that are common to all societies. Some of these are moral beliefs and values that can be considered religious. Some might even be bold enough to consider these values and beliefs as the truth. Whenever religious and state issues come in conflict I would likely prejudge that government was the overbearing, oppressive force that was growing unchecked. The trouble is that in Australia many of us have never seen any different and too readily accept government interference in too many things.

Australian Values?

If John Howard's "Australian values", are those which he has brought into his leadership and his government policy, then there is approximately half of the nation (non coalition supporters) that are very unAustralian.

Howard does not speak for me as an Australian, nor can I, as an atheist, relate to the sickening "Christian Australian" that is becoming so prevalent in our Parliament nowadays. In fact, the values espoused by Howard and Co. seem to be more American fundamentalist Christian than Australian.

Horse Manure And Other Ordure

Deb, I am not an atheist and nor am I an agnostic and I am not a Christian. I do, however, see the value of the example of the historical Jesus. As an example of selfless service his life was an inspiration. The problem remains that very few people want to live the life, as reported in the NT, that Jesus did.

A couple of years ago I wrote in a WD forum that the most useless citizen that a country could have is a true Christian. A true Christian would not plan for tomorrow , would have no savings, would own no property, because it was all given away, and would not consume material goods. In fact, our true Christian would have absolutely no interest in anything that our consumer-driven Australian society has to offer. If you must have Christians then let them see no conflict between a life in Christ and a life in the suburbs with all the trappings of middling wealth.

The best example of a Christian who is also a bona fide member of our great Australian society is a person who attends Hillsong. This "gee whiz" version of a spiritual life believes that if you are poor then the problem is you and your relationship with God.

It is into this horse-****, masquerading as a religion, that our dapper Christian Treasurer stepped. After all, those nice people represent approximately 20,000 votes. Now that is a truly pragmatic approach and it befits both sides of the political spectrum. After all, whoring after votes is an honourable pastime.

Hi Roger,

Hi Roger, yes, after going through the questioning of religion years ago, as most young adults do. I found that I am one of the non believers. I think that all that we have is self, that some people need to feel that there is a higher being overseeing their life and saving them from undue thinking and reasoning. I believe that I should work on being the best person that I can be. I have similar views to Richard Dawkins and feel that teaching religion to young children is a form of child abuse and brainwashing.

Having said that, being good and humanitarian people, we hold some of the "christian" values that followers of the story of christ feel belong only to them. You don't need to be a christian to be a good person and, in fact, many of the “best” and avowed christians are people that hold views which are judgemental, racist, superior etc. I cannot agree with Howard and Costello's policies, I feel that they are morally bereft.

I agree with you, and feel that, for many christians, their God is really the almighty dollar. Hillsong is the best example. John Howard is owned by big business interests and, in my opinion, sold his christian soul to those interests long ago. Australian values? We don't see any of those in Howard's policies or even his public statements.

Faith Of Our Fathers

Deb, thanks for your comments. St. Paul writes that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. In spite of that unequivocal statement, children are invariably indoctrinated by their parents in "the faith". That may not necessarily be wrong, if the object was to teach children basic moral lessons and other life skills. However, it rarely stops at that point.

What it does do, is deny children the opportunity to make up their own minds about their religious beliefs, as they approach adulthood, because they are already trapped within the philosophical framework of their childhood. Rediscovering the reasons why you might believe or disbelieve is often a painful experience when so much theological underpinning is set in concrete.

Family values too

Hi again Roger. Indoctrination or brainwashing of children into religious belief is not necessary to teach moral and life lessons - just being a humanitarian and showing respect and consideration for all others is enough, no religious instruction required.

Faith is the one to struggle with, and I think that types of family play a role in the way that people think, often for all of their lives. For example, a traditional family structure does not always encourage free and questioning thinking on behalf of the children. The children get used to being told what to think, what is right and wrong (as viewed by the parents), and how to think. If the family is strict, children are not allowed to have a different opinion from the parents, they live a life of obedience through guilt and fear, and some have great conflict in later years. Children who have not had the chance to develop free and reasoned thinking continue that closed mindedness into adulthood.

On faith, I give Richard Dawkins again:

The patient typically finds himself impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous: a conviction that doesn't seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling and convincing. We doctors refer to such a belief as 'faith.'

If you have a faith, it is statistically overwhelmingly likely that it is the same faith as your parents and grandparents had. No doubt soaring cathedrals, stirring music, moving stories and parables, help a bit. But by far the most important variable determining your religion is the accident of birth. The convictions that you so passionately believe would have been a completely different, and largely contradictory, set of convictions, if only you had happened to be born in a different place. Epidemiology, not evidence.

Speaking truth to power

The "third view" is very much in the tradition of activist theologians like Martin Luther King, and commentators like Elie Wiesel, whose religious faith informs what he sees as his duty to bear witness.

I actually have no problem with politicians whose religious faith informs their values. As long as they're not trying to impose their religious beliefs on others.

If a politician like Tony Abbott thinks abortion is wrong, OK, I respect that. If he really thinks it ought to be illegal, for whatever reason, then let's see him openly and explicitly try to make it illegal. It wouldn't work, as his little stunt with RU-486 showed.

It's silly for Howard and Costello to go on about "Australian values". Even if we all agreed what those values are, they can't be legislated (though they can inform and underpin legislation). As a dual US-Australian citizen, even I felt put off by Costello's remarks about multiple passport holders. I can only imagine how offended Australian Muslims must feel to be singled out as they have been. That was stupid, unnecessary, and uncalled-for.

As far as Sheikh Muhammad's rantings are concerned, rape is already illegal, and excuses like "she was wearing tight jeans" or "the Sheik made me do it" don't hold up in court. Politicians have a right (maybe even a duty) to denounce the kind of nonsense Sheikh Muhammad spews, but not to tar all Muslims with the same brush (even subtly).

Motives Relevant?

"You could have asked me sooner, even though I have made some personal revelations in other forums recently."

Roger, the reason I refrained from asking is that your motives should not be relevant. I want to do you the courtesy of engaging your arguments on their merit, rather than trying to perform a Freudian analysis of them.

Thoughts in response

Thanks to all for making comments. I wrote as a theorist on politics and religion, trying to stand back, but I am a Christian so some of my comments will have reflected that.

For example, I am not at all sure that a devout Shi'ite Muslim would go with my option 3 as the most consistent expression of faith. I understand that Islam must move into the centre of the polis in order to have obeyed the prophet's words.

I tried to state early in the article that the Prime Minister's comments were "off the cuff", and therefore may not fairly be interpreted as carrying too much weight. However, they do reveal a problem for religious believers living in a secular state. There will be times when civil disobedience may be required in order to maintain integrity.

If ever a time comes when it is legislated that it is necessary to euthanase the terminally ill or retarded over, say age 90, Christians for one will have to break the law in order to honour their God. Or if it ever becomes illegal to hold a public religious meeting, as it was in mid-twentieth century China, then Christians (and I assume plenty of other religious believers) will be filling the gaols. Others may be able to think of more immediate examples of the power struggle between religion and the state.


Clarification Requested

Greg Clarke, thank you for your valuable contribution. I was immediately drawn to your last sentence "Others may be able to think of more immediate examples of the power struggle between religion and the state".

Questions immediately spring to mind. How do we get from Christ dying on a cross (tree) to a "power struggle between religion and the state"? What development of theology seduced a quest for personal salvation to turn into a battle for secular influence and power? What need has Christ, the Son of God, Supreme Creator of all that exists, of earthly power? If this is the correct path for all Christians to follow, why would not have Christ raised the army that his contemporaries so desperately wished for?

I consider the readily accepted assumption that the church and state have to engage in a contest as one of the great perversions of Christian theology and a denial that Christ's sacrifice is sufficient to transform all mankind.

If our society became brutish, all Christians would still be called to continue the example of selfless service that Christ gave. But before we came to that point, we would need to examine the reasons why our society would fall into such a sorry state. The questions that follow from the last statement are: Why is the example of a Christian life, as lived by millions of Christians, insufficient to influence society for the better? Does the promise of eternal life have too weak a claim to be heard? What eternal purpose has God revealed through Christ if those who follow the path are too lukewarm to make a difference?

At Face Value

However, all of our musings are based on assumptions that are so intertwined within the things that you say, from your faith, or others may say, including myself, from either faith or study, that I am more interested in having those assumptions laid bare so that we can see what each other's motivations and rationales are, instead of talking across one another.

Strangely enough, I've been moving in the opposite direction on forums like this. I've been trying to take people's words at face value, rather than trying to analyse their "real" motives. I feel the latter is disrespectful.

For example, I've been sorely tempted to say "Roger, you're just bitter because of your bad experience with the church." But does that progress the debate at all? Instead, I've tried to engage only with the points you raise. Play the ball and not the man, and all that.

Regarding Greg's piece, I thought he was pretty open about his purpose and his own position. If you follow the supplied link back to New College, you can read more about Greg and the organisation he directs, CASE.

What Is A Real Motive


You could have asked me sooner, even though I have made some personal revelations in other forums recently.

You are not correct when you say that I am "bitter because of your bad experience with the church". Perhaps you have misunderstood. I had some of the most wonderful experiences of my life while being a practising Catholic, a member of Catholic Charismatic Renewal, a musical director at my parish, a parish counsellor, a counsellor with Marriage Encounter, a member of the Redemptorist Lay Community, a Youth leader.

I would not renege or deny or, to use one of the PM's favourite words, resile from any of those experiences because they were cherished and of inestimable value formatively. As I have said on numerous occasions, I have no quarrel with a personal religion. My statements are meant to query, dispute and reveal the hypocrisy of organised religion and its cosy relationship with established power and privilege. Where we have been at odds has been with your defence of organisations and their leaders and the institutionalised perversion of theology.

I see that Greg is a professional Christian apologist and I am glad to have his input on many issues. It would seem that Dr. Greg Clarke needs no defenders.

Seeds of change: serendipity and social movements,

The Kenneth Myer Lecture 2005 entitled The seeds of change: serendipity and social movements was delivered by Tim Costello and broadcast on Radio National’s Big Ideas program.

This lecture is the best I have heard on values, belief and politics. It is a pity we have Peter rather than Tim as potentially our next PM. Tim seems to be a man with real vision.

a tentative comment

A few of the comments seem to have circled around Islam's relationship with Greg's 3 "options".

 Whatever the case, it is increasingly obvious that it reinforces the observation that Christianity and Islam are palpably different, and not (as some secularists frequently imply) essentially the same, be it in 'access to God' or psychological delusion. If one is true, the other cannot be, or, if they are both wrong, they are very different in their error.

So the question is, is a genuine religious pluralism - that includes atheism (which is also a belief) - actually possible? And if so, which belief system is the more attractive?

Christians and the state

Thanks for this, Craig S.

I question whether, in using the word "transcend", the PM meant that Australians owed their primary/highest loyalties to "common values", thus requiring a relegation of religious commitment to a lesser place. Many people of faith would disagree with that, but it is possible he just meant that our common values allow us to overcome religious differences and enable us to live together.

I am one who believes my highest, or perhaps deepest, loyalties are to God, but I believe in a God who values people equally and who also values individual autonomy. My faith tells me that I should genuinely respect others with their beliefs and in their own circumstances, and I value our democracy and religious tolerance because of that.

I believe (and I'm sorry if WD is getting sick of "I believe" statements from me) ... I believe I have a duty to try to influence the "state" in that, as well as doing what I can to live peaceably, justly and sustainably, I must promote peace, justice and sustainability around me. I agree that sometimes that means "speaking truth to power". But I think Christians must also remember that it is a servant king we serve ourselves and, in following Him, we must also be humble. Other people's freedom is God-given, in my view, so I have the right to express my views to others and even attempt to persuade them but ultimately I should never interfere with their freedom. Where there are views which conflict, we must let democratic processes take their course and live under the rules chosen by the majority. We can work to change laws we think are unjust but that will have to be by convincing the majority not "wresting control". Which is probably what View 3 is espousing. Just be sure it is done humbly and respectfully.

Howard "our common values as

Howard: "our common values as Australians transcend any other allegiances or commitments" ???!!

Well, the importance of the dog whistle is more important that actually making sense. What would it mean if we were to treat the above as an actual claim? Does he mean we somehow owe our highest duty to Australian values, whatever the hell they are. Or, more importantly, to whatever somebody says they are? And who is that somebody, that's the real political question.

Does he mean we owe our highest allegiance to our national identity and/or the Australian state? He's in for a shock in that case, I don't know any adult immature or stupid enough to sign up to that one.

So we are left with the dog whistle - "be sure and know I won't be letting any of these Muslims get out of line. They have to knuckle under to our values. (and you know who we are and its not them)"

We have, of course, seen this kind of thing before in our history, most notably with Roman Catholics, whose presumed loyalty to the Pope and to Ireland was seen as a threat to secular law and Australian Protestants' allegiance to Australia and the higher allegiance of King and Empire.

I've no objection to defending aspects of our liberal democracy (Howard actually spends more time destroying it) against theological totalitarians, but spare me the dog whistling and stereotyping from this nasty divisive little man.

That said, Greg's article is a thoughtful piece in many other important ways. While the division between church and state has historically been resolved via settling on "the right to persuade", problems do still arise. When people of strong belief hold office, for example the complexities around Tony Abbott's recent position on abortion, or when people of belief form parties or lobby groups to champion the enforcement of scriptural law by secular law. Unless one lives in a uniformly religious society it is likely that values and beliefs expressed in religious rules will collide with law of the state.

But this is just part of an ongoing problem that liberal democracies and their citizens have to negotiate, striking balances between majority rule and minority rights. In the case of religion debate has increasingly been settled in favour of liberal secularism. Broadly, individuals are free to offend the gods but limited in their offences to other citizens. Thus there is no place for laws on homosexuality or forbidding divorce, or requiring marriage etc. (oops I forgot, Howard has slipped some fundamentalism in here around who has the right to get married)

Abortion remains tricky because the debate on when human life begins remains fraught, with metaphysical soul versus viable body being the main point of contention. Of course, my offending someone's god does arguably offend them, but the argument tends to be, let God not Caeser work out the penalty for that offence.

Tony, I'd like to hear something specific.

You ask rhetorically, what the hell are Australian values? OK, perhaps I can gain some insight into your opinion on this if you respond to my question posted below about Sheik Muhammad. So in your opinion, in the quoted passages, does he express values compatible with Australian values? If yes, what are they? If not, why not?

I am, you are, we are ...

Mike Lyvers, again with the desire for definitions already? The key political point is not what the values are but who is defining them. Re Australian identity, the psychological attractiveness of the symbol, Australia, is brought into play to produce a sympathy with the speaker and the values s/he is identifying as Australian. The right of some speakers to define the values and who they apply to is the game being played. At bottom I would defy John Howard any special right to define "Australian values" and urge others to do the same.


The whole notion of there being such a thing as Australian values is highly problematic. Australian values are values held by Australians, amorphous and in flux, at best perhaps having a centre, albeit one that shifts over time. Snapshots (definitions) of "Australian values" remain hampered by an inability to either capture their movement over time, and being confined within the limits of the perspective they were taken in.


Is Sheik Muhammad, or an applauding member of his audience, an Australian citizen? If so, his values are Australian values as much as mine or yours are. Australian values are a constantly moot point. Not many Australian citizens are likely to agree with the Sheik (more likely to fall about laughing, I would think), many of those disagreeing may be Muslims, some who do agree with him may not even be from the Middle East! The values of Australia continually emerge and evolve out of an on-going dialogue, he and you and I can all make contributions.


If the Sheik wants to change the rules of the dialogue so that he has a privileged position in defining social values that will cause an argument, but it will not be because the rules of open dialogue are uniquely "Australian". For that matter, the PM is the one who likes to think he can occupy a privileged position on what Australia's values are and who they apply to. Perhaps it's an Australian trait that some Aussies fall for this rhetorical parlour trick. But I think it may be a more universal trait than that.

I see.

So Ivan Milat's values are "Australian values" simply because he is an Australian citizen. Such sophistry does not become you, Tony.

I think at the very least that the notion that women deserve to be raped if they do not wear the hijab is patently offensive to Australian values.

"Australian values" are bunk

We'll have to agree to disagree. You want to valorise something called Australianness and ground values you hold dear in their Australianness. That is, the claim that this set of values is worthwhile (and therefore that some can be excluded for not holding them) is based on the values being "Australian". For me that is a grounding of extremely limited worth.

I think:

(a) “Australian” is a problematic notion, finding its expression across time and in different contexts across the country, and overall resulting from a sum of actions by a large population of actors. At any given time other identities may seem more relevant as source of values to me or have a claim on my allegiance. Our lives are continual negotiations of this play of identities and web of interactions.

(b) the notion and emotive power of "Australianness" is just being used as a political weapon by the PM. It’s a continual pattern of his to create a notion of us and them related through fear and mark himself as both the chooser of who is in and who is out, and as the champion who can protect us and banish the fear. This is a corrupt game that should be exposed, not played.

(c) Ivan Milat is Australian, therefore his values are as "Australian" as anyone else’s. Within the sum of values of people in Australia his would appear to be deviant and render him marginal. However, he lives in, and is part of, Australia, yes?

(d) The notion that rape can be justified is repugnant not because it is or isn't "Australian" (Australians haven't raped and then claimed it was provoked?). It is repugnant because it offends against notions of human rights and/or natural law. These values are grounded philosophically, not in an emotive and pre-modern trope of identity. They claim their legitimacy through force of argument, not appeal to emotions of group identity.

(e) there are many on the right (eg Mussolini), and some on the left (eg Sorel) who would argue that grounding values in philosophy is of no use to a polity, since the general mass of the population is not capable of understanding, nor interested, in such matters. Better to have the masses brought into the fold of right thinking and acting by means of emotive appeals to nationalism or religion. Thus, since most Australians have only a dim, at best, idea of what the principles of liberal democracy are, or how they are grounded, better to just wrap them up for mass consumption in "Australian values". Unfortunately, this leaves the packaged content, liberalism, open to being dismissed or re-interpreted when it clashes with ignorance and prejudice. A re-interpretation that Howard, and now "Pauline" Costello, seem happy to do for their own short term political interests.

Personally I prefer not to live in a polity of mob politics and demagogues. A polity based on manipulation and deceit. But then they are my values (and since I have three citizenships you can pick which nationality you want those values to belong to).

OK, so there are no values of any culture then.

That appears to be your argument - that western cultural values have changed over the course of history, therefore there can be no such thing as western values. That would apply to any other culture's values as well, as long as they have changed over time in any way. So in your view there is no such thing as cultural values at all!

Needless to say, your position is absurd in the extreme. Western values today include values such as freedom of speech and expression, women's rights, gay rights, freedom of religion, and so forth. These can be contrasted sharply with Islamic values in some respects, an obvious truth which I suspect most Muslims would acknowledge.

uses and abuses of "cultural values"

Mike, it's a good point you make and I thank you for making me reflect further. I think we are speaking at cross purposes. My point is closer to saying that values grounded in culture are grounded in sand. Not that grounding them in philosophy makes them concrete, as post-modernists are quick to point out.

But the justification for the values, the worldview of the culture if you like, must come from something other than the culture, otherwise we get a circular argument. "This is our culture and our values make it a good culture, and our values are good because they are the values of a good culture." And then in the political context, "whereas their culture is not our culture and therefore a different culture and perhaps not a good culture etc."

Thus I think that "cultural values" is not such a useful term for discussion in the current political context.

If one uses culture as a descriptive term for a series of behaviours of interaction that repeat then cultures do exist. But the metaphor is solid and liquid: cultures over short periods are more or less solid but over a longer period may be more liquid. And at a certain point it becomes misleading not to recognise the culture has changed into something else. But I'm sure you appreciate this.

Thus, I take it, your concern that at a certain point the demands of Islamic culture will collide with demands of Australian culture such that they will force a break/change in one or the other. Certainly some radical Islamic statements cannot be translated into action, let alone law, without a fundamental shift that Australian society cannot accommodate without changing into something that we might no longer recognise as Australian.

But, apart from the fact that Islamic culture is also a liquid and diverse thing that has highly soft edges (here may be another point where we disagree), the issue is about values and principles being put forward by different groups in the Australian community under historically given rules of engagement.

I'm happy to have the issue of clashing values being seen for what it is, and to have the argument over which should be dominant. I object to the effects of trying to do this within a framework of "Australian" versus "Islamic" values or an assumption that the clash is a zero sum game for either culture. I think it's happening in this manner for political reasons and constitutes bad faith. It may also actually provoke polarisation and even violence. But then the PM would have even more political reason to continue the process wouldn’t he?

To summarize my position:

Can values be described as part of a culture? Yes.

Can we as moderns justify values simply by reference to culture? No.

Should we argue for our values and reserve the right to argue against and reject those espousing other values? Yes.

Should we turn the argument about values into some sort of argument about (essentialised) cultures? I say no. But are you saying yes?

(And isn't it good to have something like Webdiary to argue this out in? I couldn't see our conversation happening in the mainstream press!)

Thanks for the clarification, Tony.

I do understand your last post and agree that one's culture alone cannot be a reasonable justification for one's values. Those values, as you pointed out, must be based in what you broadly term "philosophy," ideally an unbiased assessment of what is best, based on reason and compassion rather than trivial cultural identity.

My point was that post-Enlightenment Western values are better than the alternatives I know of, especially the Islamic variety. Western values should be recognized and defended when threatened. Thus I was disappointed at the cowardly response of most of the Australian and American media to the challenges posed recently by those Muslims who demanded that any material they consider blasphemous in their religious culture must not be published in Western countries. But that's another issue.

Law of the Land

Roger, I can't help but feel you are arguing for the sake of it. But I'll bite...

"I think your starting premise, that a throwaway statement by Howard is a definitive comment as to the relationship between an individual's beliefs and their duties as a citizen, is questionable."

Greg never said it was a "definitive comment". That is your phrase. All he said was "Here's what the PM said. I don't think many religious people would agree."

"However, as the Prime Minister of Australia, he actually said what is indisputably correct."

Wouldn't that make it a "definitive comment"?

"... the first duty of all citizens is to the state."

Our faith teaches submission to the governing authorities except where this conflicts with the law of God.

"Laws of the land are not promulgated with the proviso that conscientious objections can render them inactive."

That is true. That doesn't exclude conscientious objection, though. I'm sure there are instances where your conscience would find itself in conflict with the "law of the land" as well. These situations are not restricted to Christians. I think very few people would regard the law as right simply because it is the law. In fact, we are agreed that there are "good laws" and "bad laws". We all judge the law of the land according to our ideological presuppositions.

Hypothetical. You are a German soldier in 1943. You are assigned to Auschwitz and told to assist with the gassings. According to the "law of the land" you have no choice - you will be shot if you disobey. I'm sure you see my point - it is not just a problem for Christians.

"Much of what you say is traditional Christian apologetics with the unspoken assumption that this is the way of Australian life."

I did not read that in his piece at all. He was asking "how should the church interact with the state" and gave an opinion. From what phrases did you derive the "unspoken assumption"?

"In setting up your three views, you ignore other possible views such as that religious life is a delusion of no relevance to individual or state."

That is just a cheap back-hander. I may as well comment that your anti-religious essay ignored the possibility that you are completely wrong and religion is valid and important.


Craig, if I did not know better, I would think that you are being cynical. My opening comment to Greg was actually about his (mis)interpretation of the PM's comments and was badly phrased. As my second paragraph clearly states, I believe a direct question to Howard would get a different response than his off-hand interview comment.

I then go on to say, that, perhaps inadvertently, the PM is actually correct. Not to put too fine a point on it, I don't believe that John Howard deliberately made a statement where he advocated the order of precedence of citizen's duties that Greg is taking issue with. It just came out that way. So we are debating a hypothetical point. It is a good discussion to have but its origins do not lie with a "definitive comment" made by the Prime Minister.

You also misunderstand me if you take from what I have written that I personally do not believe that there may be a case to make for answering to a higher power. As it happens, I do believe that such a case can be made when relying on a Christian, Buddhist or other religious philosophy. However, all of our musings are based on assumptions that are so intertwined within the things that you say, from your faith, or others may say, including myself, from either faith or study, that I am more interested in having those assumptions laid bare so that we can see what each other's motivations and rationales are, instead of talking across one another.

If Greg is not a Christian apologist who is taking an ownership position with some issues related to Christian ethics but is instead a high-minded agnostic ethicist, then I will withdraw my comment with apologies. I'm sure that Greg can enlighten us. His (not so) "unspoken assumptions" arise directly from the fact that he was motivated enough by what he saw as being wrong that he actual submitted a forum piece for discussion. If he had made no such assumptions, the piece would not have been written, as the law of inertia reigns supreme in most.

As to your last paragraph, what exactly is a "cheap backhander"? From my own point of view, I place a high premium on the things that I want to say. And as to my being wrong, isn't that the reason why we are having an ongoing discussion in the "All's Not Well In The Garden Of Eden" forum, so that we can arrive at those sorts of conclusions, after some debate? Being open-minded can lead to some surprising results, either way (unless one of us is God).

Church and State

There is one concept that must transcend religious belief: the separation of church and state, and its necessary corollary, the rule of law. Fundamental human rights turn on this, including freedom of religion and the freedom to reject religion, freedom of conscience, freedom from discrimination, unfettered and universal access to the political and judicial processes, and freedom of speech.

Perhaps it is this that the Prime Minister had in mind when he made his comments.

As Greg Clarke has expressed it, this is a concept that is embraced by his religious beliefs. It is a part of his religious beliefs. Therefore this critically important principle is moot. No issue arises.

But what about those whose religious beliefs do not include the separation of church and state, indeed are hostile to the very idea? Those whose beliefs are that the state is merely an instrument to enforce their religious beliefs? Or should be. Those whose religious beliefs call to them to capture or destroy any state that is aloof from the central tenets of their religion, as they see it, and therefore an unbearable profanity and depravity? To capture and destroy by any means possible. Including violence.

It is at that point that I part company with Greg Clarke's position. It is at that point that his analysis throws up its fatal contradiction.

Criminality is defined by the rule of law and the rule of law must be universal and the product of a system that confines religious belief to the unfettered conscience of the individual. A criminal act is just as criminal whether it is motivated by greed, lust, or religious belief. And that is a value that must transcend any other allegiance or commitment.

There can be no other way.


Geoff Pahoff: "There is one concept that must transcend religious belief: the separation of church and state, and its necessary corollary, the rule of law."

Well said.

So, what's the problem exactly?

When Howard said "our common values as Australians transcend any other allegiances or commitments", perhaps he was speaking of values common to all religions, or at least a transcending tolerance of others' opinions and beliefs. Such a notion would also include non-believers and doubters.

It doesn't strike me as un-Christian, say, to think that non-believers have virtues and rights which can be appreciated by everyone regardless of creed. Acknowledging that could be a "common value" transcending any particular doctrinal belief of individual religions.

The idea that this or that religion's adherents are supremely virtuous would lend itself to ignoring the rights of others. And even if this or that religion's adherents were supremely virtuous, it might be better they pretended not to be.

The Philosopher PM?

Greg, you volunteer some interesting perspectives.

I think your starting premise, that a throwaway statement by Howard, is a definitive comment as to the relationship between an individual's beliefs and their duties as a citizen, is questionable.

I don't believe that there is such an issue because a direct question to the PM would get the direct answer that he believes that a commitment to actions guided by conscience and faith are notionally supreme, with a whole list of qualifiers attached, replete with uhms and ahs.

The PM is prone to saying whatever suits the audience he is trying to influence. It would surprise me that he gave the philosophical implications of his statement a single thought.

However, as the Prime Minister of Australia, he actually said what is indisputably correct. Australia is a secular state and the first duty of all citizens is to the state. A long tradition of religious freedom has allowed those who wish to live a life inspired by a particular religious belief to make the erroneous legal assumption that there is a higher duty.

Laws of the land are not promulgated with the proviso that conscientious objections can render them inactive. In a court of law, a judge may give much personal credence to the defence of acting in accordance a higher power but, in the end, the same judge is bound to uphold the law of the land not the law of the defendant's personal Law Giver.

Much of what you say is traditional Christian apologetics with the unspoken assumption that this is the way of Australian life. In setting up your three views, you ignore other possible views such as that religious life is a delusion of no relevance to individual or state.

Are Sheik Muhammad's values compatible with Oz?

Are Sheik Muhammad's values compatible with Oz? And consider those of his followers. Pamela Bone writing in The Age:

"'Every minute in the world a woman is raped, and she has no one to blame but herself, for she has displayed her beauty to the whole world," Sheikh Feiz Muhammad told a packed public meeting in the Bankstown Town Hall last month. "Strapless, backless, sleeveless - they are nothing but satanical. Mini-skirts, tight jeans - all this to tease men and to appeal to (their) carnal nature."

There was pressure on Muslim women to unveil, the sheikh said, and this was because "they want you to be available for their gross, disgusting, filthy abomination! They want you to be a sex symbol!" The woman who wore the hijab was hiding her beauty from the eyes of "lustful, hungry wolves," he said.

Sheikh Feiz Muhammad teaches at the Global Islamic Youth Centre in Liverpool, NSW. His long, ranting speech, damning and ridiculing Western culture (if you allow your wife to watch the "devil" of daytime television, he advised men, you will come home from work and find she is being "negative" towards you) was greeted with "frequent applause."

Not just a muslim thing

Mike Lyvers, that sort of attitude is not restricted to fanatic Muslims. It was not so long ago that rape cases in court spent an inordinate amount of time on the dress sense of the victim.

This is a US link, but Christian hardliners in Australia still come out with something similar on a regular basis.

The preacher claimed that there is nothing about a miniskirt that would suggest to the man on the street that the wearer's body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. He said that the Spirit-indwelt body should be adorned in modest apparel (I Tim. 2:9-10). Furthermore, he had secured some statistics from somewhere that prove that there is a vital relationship between miniskirts and the increase of rape in America. I began to feel as though I was abetting the crime wave.

I believe that statements like that show more about the lack of control of the speaker than that of the women's complicity. Are they admitting that all men, including themselves, are just rutting beasts? I would hope that that sort of mindset never becomes an Australian value.

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