Features Australia

The identity bigots

On ScoMo’s religious beliefs

8 May 2021

9:00 AM

8 May 2021

9:00 AM

The PC police at the Guardian, Crikey, Sydney Morning Herald, the ABC et al., smelt blood after Scott Morrison’s address to the national conference of the Australian Christian Churches (ACC). Our Pentecostal PM revealed himself to be a narrow-minded fundamentalist covertly practising ‘the laying on of hands’ when comforting victims of natural disasters.

Sarah Martin, the Guardian’s chief political correspondent, fumed that Morrison had referred to abuse on social media as the work of ‘the evil one’. Martin cited political historian Judith Brett to corroborate her view that Australians are ‘pretty secular’ and ‘wary’ of religion in politics: ‘…Morrison’s religious beliefs stood out in the same way that Tony Abbott’s Catholicism was out of step with the view of most Australians’.

Kevin Rudd, in a sectarian diatribe published by the Guardian, went even further. Pentecostalism’s emphasis on ‘partisan interpretation of biblical passages’ was ‘disturbing for democracy’. The denomination’s ‘health and wealth gospel’ and the claims of some of its leaders to ‘communicate directly with God’ present ‘problems’ for our system of government. Morrison now needed to be ‘transparent’ to the voters about ‘the precise impact of his Pentecostal theology on Australian public policy and politics’.

Rudd contrasted the ‘absolute faith’ of Morrison’s Christianity with his own more liberal and rational interpretation of the God of the New Testament. Jesus as a champion of the poor, Rudd asserted, was a more appropriate fit for modern Australia than Morrison’s literalism. Naturally, PC Rudd would never say anything of the sort about non-Christian religions such as Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism.

Morrison’s ACC address was not a call for Pentecostals to take back the country. Even Crikey’s Bernard Keane agreed that Morrison had not spoken at the ACC conference as ‘a glib proponent of the Pentacostalist doctrine of prosperity’. The purpose of Morrison’s speech, conceded Keane, was something entirely different – ‘to link his concept of community with morality and individualism’.

This was borne out a few days later when Morrison made essentially the same argument, only this time to the United Israel Appeal dinner in Sydney. Clearly, the prime ministerial theme for the week was something more inclusive than the Pentecostal faith and financial fidelity to its offices.

That said, Keane lambasts Morrison for conflating Friedrich Hayek’s notion of ‘unique individuality’ with Oliver Sacks’ ‘communitarian framework’. Which are we, Keane demands to know, ‘unique, free individuals or community members obligated to one another to provide support’? We are both, Morrison would – and did – contend, because of the morality that informs us, a morality that is hopefully possessed by ‘Christians from all denominations, the Eastern Orthodox faiths, Maronites, Catholics, Anglicans, and then of course Judaism, Hinduism, Muslims.’ Hardly a case of Pentacostalist supremacism.

The non-believers amongst the population might argue that the morality of (say) the Golden Rule is available to people of no religious faith. This is perfectly true although peripheral to Morrison’s leitmotif that religious faith can serve as a conduit between our inimitable individuality and wider humanity. People with a religious faith – or, I would add, no religious faith – may find their ultimate identity in their humanity rather than the other way around.

The same, however, is not to be said for the identity politics of PC orthodoxy. As Morrison asserted: ‘You are more than your gender, you are more than your race, you are more than your sexuality, you are more than your ethnicity, you are more than your religion, your language, your group’.

We only have to consider the fallacy underlying antisemitism, to take one example, before realising Morrison is right. A person who happens to be Jewish cannot be judged, in any any fair or reasonable way, by a prescribed set of criteria. As the PM said, ‘Throughout history, we’ve seen what happens when people are defined solely by the group they belong to, or an attribute they have, or an identity they possess. The Jewish community understands that better than any in the world’.

What, we might ask, is the reason for liberals-cum-progressives adopting the illiberal dogma of identity politics? In an earlier revolutionary age, maintained philosopher Roger Scruton, the Jacobins fervently promoted liberté and égalité without appreciating the conflicting nature of the two concepts, and so ended up with Robespierre’s ‘despotism of liberty’. Today, extrapolating from Scruton, we are witnessing a ‘despotism of identity’ where the identity of the individual, which has defined Western liberalism until recently, is eclipsed by the identity of the group.

A discussion about the ‘despotism of identity’ could start with the illiberal and straight-out mean reaction to our PM’s keynote speech at the ACC national conference. Morrison’s membership of the Pentacostalist community, which constitutes about one per cent of the Australian population, puts him in the wrong identity group. It therefore suggests to our liberals-cum-progressives that something of an Evangelical conspiracy is afoot in Canberra, that Morrison’s religious faith somehow connects him to an international millenialist plot, makes him un-Australian and constitutes a threat to our democracy. Social worker and former Pentecostal ‘insider’ Josie McSkimming offered this additional insight for Crikey: ‘He’s saying, unless you’re a Christian, have your faith in Christ, you’re being used by the evil one. That’s his world-view’.

That is not what Morrison was saying at the ACC conference and even more obviously not what he was saying at the United Israel Appeal dinner. For the purveyor of identity politics, however, the PM’s worldview is necessarily defined by his membership of the Horizon Church, and the Horizon Church is almost a byword for any number of PC infelicities.

The paradox, surely, is that the liberality and tolerance of our Pentecostal PM’s declared political philosophy – ‘you are more than your religion’ – is greater than that of his supposedly broad-minded critics. Perhaps that’s the point Scott Morrison was trying to make all along. Who, today, are the real bigots in our midst?

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