The conviction of child abuser, Cardinal George Pell goes to the heart of the Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s insistence on measures to protect ‘freedom of religion’. On 13 December last year he said he would not only introduce new legislation to that effect but would appoint a ‘Freedom of Religion Commissioner’ to support and oversee it. And he promised to introduce it before the election.
Mr Morrison, as is well known, is an active member of the evangelical Pentecostal religion, a branch of Christianity that his more conventional brethren regard as somewhat extreme. They practice ‘talking in tongues’ in which spontaneous gibberish is said to be a divine gift or ‘the language of angels’.
In the same interview he said, ‘If you support a multicultural Australia, you’ll be a supporter of religious freedoms. You’ll understand that religious faith is synonymous with so many different ethnic cultures in Australia.’
It was, of course, a false dichotomy, an ad-man’s sleight-of-hand. Culture and religion are not the same. And it doesn’t follow that support for multiculturalism means that religious doctrine supersedes the common law of Australia.
Certainly, Morrison’s conservative predecessors took a very different view towards the First Australians. They were unremitting in supplanting the sophisticated spiritual beliefs of the Aboriginal people with their somewhat bizarre doctrine that a god sent his ‘son’ to earth to be sacrificed by the ancient Romans. Why? Because, as Cardinal Pell taught, we are all victims of the original sin when Eve tempted Adam to eat of the fruit of knowledge.
Yep, it’s been passed down to everyone, even those unlucky choir boys who Pell caught swigging the altar wine as he returned so uplifted from that first service as Archbishop that he couldn’t contain himself. They were ‘sinners’ and they paid the price.
Then there’s the Muslim extremists to whom Christian America is the instrument of the Devil who has invaded their lands and insulted their Prophet. Have they not followed the spiritual teaching of their Imams in taking up arms against the ‘Great Satan’? Do we really want to protect their religious freedom?
What of the Church of Scientology that entraps people in the bizarre science fiction of L. Ron Hubbard’s wild imaginings? Do we honestly want to protect their freedom from taxation to weave their web of nonsense?
What of the Hindu whose doctrines support and sanctify the concept of perpetual ‘class’ among its adherents with Brahmins at the top and Untouchables at the bottom forever and all the human injustice that goes with it. Is that the Australian way to be policed by the Freedom of Religion Commissioner?
Truth is, as a post 1788 nation we still haven’t found our feet. We’re like the pre-adolescent, buffeted on all sides by differing assertions of what’s the best way to approach adulthood. But we do know that evidence-based learning is important, and that some of the best and brightest among us are the explorers in all branches of knowledge. And every day they come up with some new discovery designed improve our lot or to save us from extinction as the climate changes.
They are our pathfinders and the best way we can support them is with the kind of legislation Scott Morrison suggests, but with one word changed.
Freedom from religion perhaps.
Robert Macklin has carved out a unique place among Australia’s literary biographers and historians. He has won numerous literary prizes including the 2009 Blake Dawson award for business literature with Peter Thompson for their classic THE BIG FELLA – the Rise and Rise of BHP Billiton.His Kevin Rudd: The Biography was shortlisted for the ACT Book of the Year; and he has won three Critics Circle Awards for his military biographies and histories. He has completed a lecture tour of three Chinese universities based on his works and is presently writing a history of Australia/China relations over the last 200 years.Queensland born, he has been a journalist at the highest level, a confidant and biographer of two Australian prime ministers; a documentary filmmaker in 32 countries of Asia and the Pacific; and is also political columnist and commentator in the nation’s capital. He presently divides his writing time on fiction, non-fiction and screenplays between Canberra and Tuross Head on the NSW South Coast.