Saturday, December 02, 2006

The politics of religion

I recently got big time pissed off with the only really credible candidate for opposition leader in Australia. There isn’t a challenge, yet, against the personable loser currently holding that position; Kim Beazley. But Kimmo is well aware that he has a powerful competitor in spokesman for AWB corruption, Kevin Rudd.

As things stand Rudd has been given the nod for a leadership challenge, in fact Kimmo has opened a full leadership vote for Monday. It is not before time, but is refreshing as neither side has done the numbers, it is not a major hatchet job which is unusual in these situations..

But how Rudd pissed me off was by making a call for ‘Christians’ to get more involved in the country’s politics.

Sorry Kev, we’ve already seen how that little piece of tactics al la Rove works, or doesn’t work. But forget the US, you are talking about Australia, a different animal entirely.

The union based Labor Party has a problem coming into next year’s federal election: Opinion polls might suggest people are worried about the potential impact of new workplace laws, yet few are affected while employment and living standards remain buoyant, threatened only by interest rates.

No doubt Rudd is looking for some kind of circuit breaker, a way around the economic paradigm. But as Rove has now demonstrated, the religious vote is problematic, even in the essentially religious US; and Australia has a far more laid back attitude to religion.

According to a recent study: “Nearly 2 per cent of Australians, more than declared themselves to be Lutherans, Baptists or Muslims, took the time to write in a "spiritual" response to the 2001 census.”

Of course the country has a Pentecostal movement, synonymous with the US evangelical movement, and there have been attempts to mobilize these churches politically. But to a great extent that shift simply alienates party’s that go that route from the voters.

We can see that happening in NSW where the state branch of the Liberal Party is destined to remain in the wilderness while it is dominated by the Christian Right.

According to the study, Australians continue to seek explanations that are grounded in more than the material and transient world. Australians are open to the spiritual, but less willing to tolerate patriarchal and patronising religious leaders and oppressive religious structures.

Most Australian’s I’ve raised the issue with, since I’ve been back here, will distinguish between spirituality and religiosity. They believe in some form of creator God, but often reject the limitations various churches of faiths put on that God.

More importantly, most Australians clearly reject the notion that the church should have any role in the country’s politics. The US imperative of the politician as a church going believer holds no sway here, and is more likely to have a negative impact; that is to say it would probably be seen as a cynical and irrelevant exercise.

I expect this is and will increasingly be the case in the US. As the Christian Right leadership continue to show their ‘feet of clay’, their involvement in the ‘perversions’ they rail against, people will wake up to the emptiness of their position.

And still we come back to those economics being pre-eminent. Kevin Rudd might yet succeed in bringing a refreshingly vital element to the Labor leadership, but he would be well advised to leave the spirituality or religiosity as a personal and not political prerogative..

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