Faith and ideas

Don Arthur has had an interesting series of posts on religion and politics, including reference to Rocco Buttiglione, a candidate for the EU commission who has come under fire for his anti-gay views, which reflect his Catholic religious faith.

As I’ve said previously, I have no problem with people taking political stands based on their religious views. As far as I can see, almost no-one consistently objects to this. Most people who complain about mixing religion and politics do so only when they don’t like the religious views being expressed. Here for example is Gerard Henderson on Archbishop Peter Carnley, saying

on-elected religious leaders appear all too anxious to get involved with that which pertains to Caesar. It’s a pity, really. For the evidence suggests that clerical types perform at their best in the sacristy.

A couple of years later, he’s busy defending Pell and Jensen, and saying criticism of them is “a new form of sectarianism”. Henderson complains that there are leftwingers who welcome Carnley’s comments but expect conservative Christians to remain silent – this is about as fine a case of the pot calling the kettle black as I’ve ever seen.

But my main point in this post is a simple one. If you can’t take the heat, keep out of the kitchen. In modern pluralist societies, we have a general agreement that everyone has a right to their own religious views. Discrimination on grounds of religious faith is unlawful and even vigorous criticism of religious beliefs is generally considered distasteful. But a lot of religious people seem to expect the same convention to be extended into the political sphere, and to have their views treated with deference because they are religiously based. Consider this,

The Avvenire newspaper of the Roman Catholic Bishops Conference complained that the decision of the European Rights Commission to rule Buttiglione unfit for public office ‘because of what he thinks’ is ‘a sad sign for civilisation – not for religion.’

‘They have discriminated against a person on the basis of his faith and his ideas,’ the paper said.

This would be funny, if it weren’t put forward seriously. If we’re not supposed to discriminate between candidates for public office on the basis of their ideas, what should we do – choose them by lot?

29 thoughts on “Faith and ideas

  1. Very cogent, John. It strikes me that one of the reasons these issues arise is that religious leaders are allowed a public platform is the first place. Members of their respective flocks may invite Jensen and Pell to advise them on anything they like, but as fas as the rest of us are concerned, they speak with no authority whatever. The ABC and the serious newspapers don’t ask astrologers and phrenologists to pronounce on social or ethical questions, so why ask bishops, whose only qualification is an intimate knowledge of religious texts and theological doctrines? Of course the media need to cater to every interest if they can, but that’s what religion supplements and programs are for.

  2. I think Hendo might say that his attack on Carnley was justified because an archbishop has no special expertise in matters of international politics. On the other hand, Pell and Jensen have to be accorded the right to be outspoken about what people can and can’t do with their naughty bits, etc, because their religious traditions deal directly with those issues.

    I remember Hugh Morgan maintaining some years ago that greenies are just millenarians who would be better off believing in God and worrying about their salvation, than worrying about the fate of the planet. Sort of an evangelical, demotic version of Hendo. Instead of telling the divine poobahs to stick to their patch of private morality and keep out of politics, Morgan was telling all and sundry who didn’t agree with Western Mining they were spiritually frustrated.
    The man really cared…

  3. There are many ways to attack the credibility or legitimacy of one’s political opponent.
    If you speak out as a religious type you will get the same treatment as a pop singer or a sportsperson at the hands of your attackers. You will be quickly invited to return to your knitting.
    Religion is a special case however it is true. Large and long-lived followings make the leaders of the non-reality based community especially threatening and thus required to be dealt with decisively.
    Political rhetoric is usually hypocritical. That is its main form.

  4. Although religious persons have no special empirical knowledge, they are experts in the application of moral principles to practical affairs. They are also usually especially sensitive to moral sentiments.
    It is a pity that religious doctrines seem to be at odds with bio-medical progress. Otherwise one would be more sympathetic to religious points of view.

  5. Thank you, John for pointing out the obvious. I had forgotten Henderson critism of Carney in 2002.

  6. I’ve never been a Hendo fan, but does anyone else get the impression that a few extra kangaroos have been let loose in his top paddock lately?

  7. I think one significant difficulty with some protagonists of faith-based politics is their tendency to argue as if their position is self-evidently right purely by dint of being derived from their faith, and does not need to be argued for and defended on the basis of evidence and reasoning on which believers in the faith, believers in other faiths and non-believers can in theory come to agreement. This mindset is often accompanied by the view that nobody of good will and good sense could possibly hold a differing view, or legitimately be guided by such views in making policy. The result is a lack of democratic civility in such people.

    As an example, people of certain religious denominations believe that human personhood and moral considerability begins at the moment of conception, and therefore that destruction of the conceptus/embryo/foetus entails the killing of a human person, and should be prohibited by law. They are entitled to this belief. However, the problem arises when some such people:

    (a) refuse to accept that people of good will and good sense could either hold a different opinion about the moral status of the conceptus/embryo/foetus, or (if they hold a similar view) nonetheless believe that there are other morally weighty considerations which should also bear on the laws relating to abortion, etc.;

    (b) as a consequence, refuse to accept the legitimacy of parliamentary or popular majority decisions to liberalise or repeal abortion laws, etc.

    One example of this phenomenon was the response by the leader of the WA Right to Life Association, Richard Egan, to the 1998 WA Parliament’s decision to liberalise the abortion laws, which was along the lines of “no parliament has the right to legislate to permit murder”.

    Finally, the reason why the Christian right comes in for more stick on this point than other religions or the Christian left is context-specific. In contemporary Australia we don’t have significant religious organisations and their political offshoots campaigning, on faith-based grounds, for laws to prohibit lending money at interest or owning significant personal wealth (both of which can be justified on Christian grounds), or laws to prohibit eating pork and prawns, eating meat on Friday, eating meat at all, etc. (At least, if such groups are out there, they are currently negligible.) We do have such groups campaigning on such grounds for bans on same-sex marriage, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, etc., and they do have significant political and policy influence. They accordingly attract a commensurate level of interest and criticism from others.

  8. In his 1982 book ‘Mr Santamaria and the Bishops’ Henderson accuses Santamaria of hypocrisy for opposing the left-wing economic statements of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace whilst earlier supporting (and often writing) the earlier corporatist/distributivist manifestos of the bishops. Some religious leaders are entitled to claim an expertise on moral philosophy even if I think their views are wrong, what I object to is that they are frequently seen as the only experts.

  9. What Geoff Robinson says. We should be careful with religion-based moral pronouncements, since most of them are based on beliefs about a highly dubious afterlife. Moral pronouncements based on political or social foundations in the here and now seem more human, somehow.

  10. I understand that Mr Buttiglione simply said that homosexulaty is a sin. IF this is the case then all he was doing is simply expressing a view that any christian who reads the bible would automatically agree to.

  11. “I understand that Mr Buttiglione simply said that homosexulaty is a sin. IF this is the case then all he was doing is simply expressing a view that any christian who reads the bible would automatically agree to.”

    In that case they would also have to automatically agree that eating pork and prawns is a sin, that the pelican is an abomination, that the rich should give away all their assets to the poor, that women who wear ankle bracelets should have their wimples and crisping pins confiscated, that witches should not be permitted to live, and that men who have suffered genital mutilation should not be permitted to attend church.

  12. I am forever perplexed when people think of Leviticus when a christian says the bible says homosexuality is a sin. Try the first chapter of Romans and then chapter 6 of 1 Corinthians.

    the reasons for the strict policy in Leviticus was twofold.

    The Israelites were supposed to be a holy priesthood leading other nations to God. This was part of this leagacy.
    most of the strict requirements were in direct contrast to other Nations in the area. As it was the Israelites wanted to imitate their ‘highly cultural’ neighbours than remain faithful to God. No difference to what happens today with many ‘christians’.

  13. Yep, Homer, you can get out of some of the more ridiculous things by saying the OT law doesn’t apply to gentiles (though to think that the OT is divinely inspired at all requires a very dark view of divinity – if I was god I reckon I’d want to sue for libel). But there are more than enough absurdities and self-contradictions in the NT (eg the strictures against wealth and family) to require very selective observance to live in a modern society.

    Why not be charitable and treat Paul’s homophobia as we do his misogyny, his power worship and his strictures against witches and wizards – ie another of his absurdities we politely ignore as no longer relevant?

    Actually I think self-contradictory fables of a failed rebel on the barbaric periphery of the Roman empire, assembled many years after the event by a variety of players with dubious motives, and recording events (slaughter of first borns, earthquakes, sky blotted out at midday, etc)which appear nowhere in (for instance) Livy’s comprehensive catalogue of such marvels, is a most unlikely way for god to explain what she wants from us (presumably grovelling sycophancy). But then that’s just me.

  14. Actually Paul was very much a reformist of his day. compare the role of women in the church and with the Jews.

    Actually ALL sexual activity outside of marraige is sinful

  15. dd,

    I’m pretty sure God is a guy. He was on The Simpsons, and that’s gotta be a lot more authoritative than some old book. Particularly one that’s gone through a couple of dodgy editions and translations.

    Amazing, isn’t it? Because some bloke from a desert backwater says “God” told him homosexuality is evil, it becomes a universal truth. For all we know, Paul might have been a self-loathing repressed homosexual.

    It’s all Sky God mumbo jumbo.

  16. Getting back to the original comment by Buttiglione, surely it is for those who believe he is wrong to show that. Given that the outcry is merely from secularists I doubt if they read the Bible.
    Thus it is rather strange they are outraged about the remark. Since Adultery and fornication are equally sinful would they be as outraged if he proclaimed this as well?

  17. Paul 2
    Which is curious for Hugh Morgan because I remember one of his arguments against land rights was some kind of manifest Christian destiny to the tune of Onward Christian Miners

  18. Actually Paul was very much a reformist of his day. compare the role of women in the church and with the Jews.

    Now that’s a real coincidence – I have a Moslem acquaintance who argued to me once that Mohammed liberated woman by insisting they had souls, and it was therefore haram for men to kill their wives except where he (or rather the archangel Gabriel who dictated the Koran) specified. He argued, correctly, that sharia treats women better than the tribal law it replaced.

    It seems to me that, like that argument, the argument that Paul was not especially misogynistic or homophobic for his time is:

    a) totally irrelevant to whether his attitudes should bind us now; and

    b) probably untrue anyway – there were plenty of Romans with more enlightened approaches.

    As for Mohammed, his first wife was quite powerful (she made his early career). Fortunately for him, though, after her death when she was no longer able to disagree Gabriel told him it was halal for him to be simultaneously wed to several docile young virgins.

  19. DD you are being stirrer.

    firstly the N/T is not just Paul but god breathed so it is God’s word.

    If there was homophobia then surely the sinful acts would be purely those done by homosexuals. Porniea refers to all sexual acts outside of marriage. Heterosexuals are inthe clear majority here my friend.

    As for the misogynistic attitudes you are confusing different roles with equal roles. They are different things. Granted it is not easy for a worldy pagan to appreciate the difference.

    This of course is getting off the original topic and unlike most cases I am not at fault!

  20. “Thus it is rather strange they are outraged about the remark. Since Adultery and fornication are equally sinful would they be as outraged if he proclaimed this as well?”

    No. He would be laughed at. Nobody is stoning adulterers or shunning fornicators; people are, however, quite content to bash the shit out of homosexuals, then show up at their funerals gloating that they’ve gone to hell. I trust you understand the difference?

    “If there was homophobia then surely the sinful acts would be purely those done by homosexuals. Porniea refers to all sexual acts outside of marriage. Heterosexuals are inthe clear majority here my friend.”

    Paul’s problem with homosexuality was that it was sex outside marriage? But, Homer! Gays can’t marry, because homosexuality is a sin! They just can’t win, can they?

  21. Mark,

    I am unaware of people stoning homosexuals in the Western world.
    My reading of the history of the antiquities is that their were more stonings of people for doctrinal reasons than of sexual adventures.

    It is true Homosexuals can’t marry however neither can adulterers and there are many more of those.

  22. Homer, why should St Paul’s (or, if you insist, God’s) negative views about homosexuals be given more credence than the following remark about the Jews?

    “the Jews. . . killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and persecuted us severely. They are displeasing to God and are opposed to all people. . .”

  23. Homer, my point is that St Paul and the other apostles make various remarks and offer various exhortations in their epistles which are not taken seriously these days by anyone (except the most extreme fundamentalist sectarians) as a guide to personal conduct or public policy. The passage in 1 Thessalonians in which St Paul collectively denigrates the Jews is simply the most egregious example.

    Others include “wives, be submissive to your husbands” and “slaves, obey your masters”. Then there is St James’ condemnation of his fellow Christians for treating shabbily dressed people less favourably than well-dressed people, accompanied by the comment that “is it not the rich that oppress you?”. Whilst I endorse St James’ sentiments, they don’t seem to loom large as a guide to action or attitudes at the present time amongst professing Christians.

    Therefore I return to the question: what is it about St Paul’s condemnation of homosexuals which warrants the status of a lasting Christian moral precept rather than an antique context-specific hang-up?

  24. Actually you will not be surprised that I disagree with al you say. I guess that makes me a
    most extreme fundamentalist sectarian but so be it.
    wives are to submissive to their husbands as Jesus was to God. Husbands are to serve their wives as Jesus served the church.

    Paul like Peter in Acts merely sys that the Jews were responsible for the killing of Jesus. Remember they were God’s chosen people. I don’t see this as a denigration as Paul was one of them and indeed wanted all of them to be saved.

    slaves obeying their masters is simply worshipping god at work or better known these days as the Ptotestant work ethic.

    condemnation of homosexuals is the same for all people who have sex outside of marriage.
    Can men be married to men or women to women. No this is another subject but take into account a few things. Only a man and a woman can be one flesh . This is more than sex. woman was made for man as well.That is why we have husband and wife.

  25. “Actually you will not be surprised that I disagree with al you say. I guess that makes me a
    most extreme fundamentalist sectarian but so be it.”

    Paul and Mark – Homer’s comments above show that he hides his homophobia behind religion. Paul, you were spot on when you pointed out how these fundamentalists will use scripture as literally as they can when it suits their particular world view, then ignore the stuff that doesn’t quite work.

    Having read Homer’s stuff in the past, you just gotta laugh that such a smart brain is wasted by the straight jacket of a really old book that just gets more and more absurd the harder they try and defend it.

    Peace etc.

  26. smart brain? You obviously haven’t read my comments.

    I would like to say how much I appreciate how ‘tolerant’ people in the blogosphere are intolerant of ideas they don’t like.

  27. i want to know that according to our faith can we marry our first cousin. In pakistan priests are against it.

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