Last week the New South Wales state government announced the easing of restrictions for pubs, clubs, restaurants, museums and libraries so that up to 50 people could be hosted at any given time from the first of June. It took, however, a full week and lobbying from Church leaders and citizens of faith for them to extend those same changes to places of worship, thus revealing, on a generous interpretation, a deep religious illiteracy among the state’s leadership. Granted, once citizens lobbied the government adjustments were made fairly quickly, but the initial oversight is the primary concern here: religious worship was deemed not as important as having a drink at the pub. As vital as the latter is, anyone who practices a faith could see the glaring disparity of treatment between the two, so why did a Coalition government not see it? Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk was far more sympathetic in her new coronavirus restrictions released this morning.
Nobody likes a double standard and that is exactly what this was until the Berejiklian Government realised their mistake — thanks to the lobbying of Church leaders and members of the public — and fixed it. But like all mistakes, there are consequences even after they have been rectified and in this case, it is that citizens of faith saw that some of their parliamentary representatives seriously misunderstand and undervalue the role of religious practice.
But there is a deeper reason for the religious illiteracy demonstrated by some of our parliamentary representatives and that is that we as a society are, by and large, religiously illiterate. For a long time, we have been told to “keep religion out of it.” The social mindset is that religiously informed views pollute clarity of thought and accessibility of argument, and so should be kept inside homes and churches. If you hold a view and you’re also a person of faith, your faith had better not be the reason you hold that view. Especially if it is at odds with the status quo.
This approach is gravely problematic. It leads to a lack of authentic faith-informed discourse and asks people of faith to divest themselves of their most important decision-making tools and their understanding of their identity. It holds no esteem for religious wisdom or the unique contributions that faith-practice can offer public life. It starts from the premise that religion is not only non-essential, but it is also a hindrance. Consequently, religious citizens who are unused to discussing topics which could include their religious wisdom are ill-equipped to do so even if they wanted to, and their fellow citizens are ill-equipped to listen and exchange ideas with mutual respect.
And that, I think, gets a little at why there was a double standard for pubs and churches. You don’t know what you don’t know, and after decades of religious folk being told to keep their religion to themselves, the government didn’t think it was that important. After all, you can do that at home, right?
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.