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  • Writer's pictureCarrick Ryan

Why I don't want a religious Prime Minister

American physicist Steven Weinberg wrote “In the ordinary moral universe... The good will do the best they can. The worst will do the worst they can. But if you want to make good people do wicked things, you’ll need religion”.

This statement encapsulates my concern at having any person holding strong and sincere religious convictions as the leader of the Australian people.

This should not be misconstrued as bigotry or the result of any sinister contempt for those belonging to any faith. This is not an aspiration to exclude or alienate a demographic. It is entirely due to the incapacity of a deeply religious person to choose and evolve their morality.

As biologist Richard Dawkins illustrates in great depth throughout his work, humanity’s morality has been a constantly evolving standard. It is obvious that history’s great progressive thinkers held beliefs that would be considered abhorrent by today's accepted norms. Mahatma Ghandi’s views on Africans were nothing short of racist, celebrated abolitionist William Wilberforce felt that women should stay out of politics, and even more recently the once acclaimed feminist Germaine Greer has found herself fall from “progressive” to “regressive” on many questions of gender within just a few decades.

The point is, we as a society are perpetually moving our moral goal posts and many of us within that society have been able to witness that change within themselves. I have undoubtedly changed my views on various emotive subjects once provided with sufficient evidence or life experience that it left my conscience no other choice.

I have that freedom, my morality is mine. I can certainly listen to the morality of others and study the accepted morality of the society I find myself in. However what I determine to be ethically right or wrong will be a decision based upon evidence and reason.

Those who subscribe to any faith that proclaims a revealed truth surrender this capacity. The religious person is not able to conclude whether abortion is right or wrong based on the evidence before them, the answer has been provided to them before they even had the thought to consider it. The problem is, their answer lies within a bronze age text that fails to even clearly condemn slavery, rape or war.

To be a leader of a nation one must have the capacity to feel and understand the morality of the society they govern. Within 15 years, the Australian public's opinion in support of same sex marriage changed drastically from 34% in 2004 to 61% in 2017. Yet our Parliament was plagued by men (yes it was almost all men) who were captive to their immutable and unmalleable morality bestowed upon them by their faith. No matter how good these people may have been, no matter how little prejudice they actually held in their heart, their religion afforded them no quarter to reach their own moral standing in a national discussion in which a nation, as one, asked their own consciences where they stood. It became apparent at that moment that these men were over represented in our representative democracy.

Scott Morrison might be a good man, I don’t know much about him (most Australians don’t). But it is pertinent to note that Scott Morrison was one of those men who campaigned to vote “no” on marriage equality, placing him at odds with almost two thirds of Australians. It is also important to note that he then followed former Prime Minister (and ex-trainee Priest) Tony Abbott in walking out of Parliament for the historic vote. He has vowed to legislate to ensure “religious freedom”, a term many see purely as a euphemism for protecting the right of religious institutions to continue to discriminate on gender and sexuality grounds. He also reversed his predecessor’s education funding policy to provide an additional $4.6billion to Catholic Schools.

All this in a time when Australia as a nation is becoming increasingly unreligious. Almost a third of the nation stated in the census they had no faith at all and the church’s own generous estimates claim that only 7% of Australians actually regularly attend Church.

The truth is a lot of Australian "Christians" have a rather fluid relationship with their faith. They adopt certain moral leanings from it but ultimately utilise their own morality on issues they care deeply about such as sexuality and feminism. For most of our previous Prime Ministers, this has been a level of religiosity they have shared with their constituents.

Scott Morrison however, like Tony Abbott before him, is proud of his religious inspired morality and is keen to advertise it as proof of moral fortitude. But voters should remember that a religious morality is by its definition one that is impervious to public will.

It is a sad irony to say, but the fact that Morrison appears untroubled by an apparently un-Christian immigration policy offers some hope that he does hold the capacity to overrule his religious beliefs for political convenience, however the more cynical side of me suspects he merely formed a manner to justify his actions within his religious paradigms. Would he do the same in defence of the LGBT community, or for women wanting to maintain control over their bodies, or of anyone wishing to progress social values on a litany of progressive social issues that run contrary to the teachings of his Church? Or will he be hamstrung by the morality that was set in stone by a distant Middle Eastern tribe over 2,000 years ago?

I fully support the right of any Australian to believe and practice their religion. But I warn strongly against allowing a person who has not chosen their own morality to lead our nation into the future. I do not seek to attack Scott Morrison for his religious beliefs, but I do consider it prudent for the Australian people to question how his deeply personal and entrenched beliefs may affect them. A Prime Minister must clarify, were the will of the Australian people to clash with his religious convictions would he place the will of his God second? Or does he truly believe that God knows best?

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