September 3, 2017

The Day The Age Newspaper Agreed With Tony Abbott

It’s rare for the left leaning Fairfax Media in Australia to agree with former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, on anything, but finally they do.  And it’s refreshingly honest.

For while the former PM has been pilloried for his “alarmist” stance in promoting the “No” campaign in the same sex marriage debate, a proponent of same sex marriage has backed up Abbott’s claim that there’s so much more to it than marriage equality. So much more.

Within this article in The Age newspaper this morning, Aubrey Perry made this statement:

So, how will you be voting in the upcoming mail-in survey? Are you for or against religious influence in our government policymaking? But the survey (if approved by the High Court) is about legalising same-sex marriage, you say? I say, it’s about much more. 

Note those words at the end “I say, it’s about much more.”

To which Tony Abbott would utter a hearty “Amen.”

I must say as I read the article I really enjoyed its level of honesty.  The article makes no bones about the fact that this is not merely a single issue, but one which will open a doorway to a brave new future for Australia, a secular Australia not tied to old religious dogmas and the preferential treatment that comes with it.

Now I am not saying at this point whether or not that’s a good or bad thing, I’m just saying it’s a thing.  Yet I’ve lost count of the number of both secular and religious proponents of same sex marriage who somehow believe it is a discrete matter, sealed off from any other political, social or economic consideration.  How that can be true for one definition of marriage, when it has plainly not been true of the current one all of these years, escapes me.  There’s a level of dishonesty to their argument that smacks of desperation.  At least Perry is cold eyed and clear on this in an almost scientific way.

Perry goes on to make this point:

This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure. They say good things come in small packages.

And if it’s not a Trojan Horse, then Perry is confident it can be a Pandora’s Box at least:

This little ballot box could deliver the kind of good that changes the course of a nation and moves us toward a government free from religious influence and discrimination, able to offer freedom of equality to all, and not just to those who love and pray according to the popular religion of the day.

Now none of this is to make any moral comment on whether same sex marriage is right or wrong.  As a traditional Christian with a non-revisionist view of the Bible, I view marriage as a God-ordained covenant uniting female and male, who are themselves made in God’s image.  Not a shocking viewpoint about marriage.  Well not up until about three years ago in Australia anyway.

And neither is it to say I fear the future  for those such as I who hold to such a view. God has kept his people through many torturous matters through many cultural changes down the centuries.  This is no exception.  Many have, are, and will continue to, fall away from the faith once delivered to the saints because they love the praise of humans rather than the praise that comes from God.  I firmly believe the sexual revolution is just another opportunity to demonstrate this.

But at least we’re in honest and open territory with articles such as Perry’s.  The key issue, of course, is what we understand as “good” – something Perry states as the goal that such legislation could open up.

For that’s the major issue at stake – vastly divergent understandings of what “the good” is. We have no common understanding of that in our culture now, so the Yes and No campaigns float past each other, firing shots across the bows, but never having a common mind on anything.  The idea of the common good has been fractured for some time, hence this already toxic campaign has not fractured anything, just revealed that the cracks are already there.

Perry points out the costs to government in keeping the current system afloat:

when you look at the $31 billion that our government gives annually to religious institutions, institutions that are exempt from anti-discrimination laws.

Though of course that does not take into consideration the vast cost it would be for the government to educate every low to moderate fee paying religious school student in the land.  Nor the fact that 35 of the top 37 charities in Australia that cover the Government’s shameful lack of welfare spending, are religious based, and have religious exemptions that allow them to operate.

So what you could see, in a deep irony, is people voting “Yes” for same sex marriage, with the full knowledge that that Christian school with an open-intake that they send their kids to “for the values” suddenly either becomes unaffordable to them (they’d have to stump up an extra 65% to cover State and Federal funding), or it would drastically reduce the number of activities, staff, quality of program available.  Note to those people who are both Yes voters and have children in Christian education: Get your kids through the private Christian system as soon as possible, or start finding that extra income now. Please don’t hear that as saying that you should sacrifice your principles for pragmatics. Part of our Christian witness is that we should never do that, so I’m not about to ask you to do that either.  Holding dear to one’s principles costs – and that cost can be emotional, social or financial-, but is vital to do in this increasingly pragmatic age in which everything is reduced to the bottom line.

Now that may be no problem for the leafy suburbs where the state schools run like free private colleges anyway, but for those out in our outer suburbs where the state schools are failing badly (and it’s not simply to do with funding), then that suddenly doesn’t look so much fun.  Love may be love after all, but school ain’t just school!

Leaving aside the pragmatics of these issues, and the self interest, the wider question is what kind of secularism are we going to get if Perry is right?  It certainly appears that we won’t have a generously pluralistic society, but a hard, brittle secular one.  It won’t be a secular society which can cope with deep differences or alternate ethical communities, much less fund them.

And it’s not just about schools, as Perry points out:

And this is how we end up with faith-based care providers who freely discriminate against homosexuals on the sole basis that religious doctrine is more important than fair and equal treatment of all people. Or, in Victoria, how we get doctors who can refuse to perform an abortion if abortion is against their religious beliefs. And this is how the issue of legalising same-sex marriage has become so complicated.

In short, Perry’s hope is not simply that same sex marriage is available for the 1.7 per cent of our population that currently live in same sex partnerships, or the rising percentage of those who wish to marry in the future, but that specific roles in the public sphere be tightened up to ensure ethical differences are not permitted.  I wonder if Perry realises there is a growing movement of secular humanists opposed to abortion also, on very non-religious grounds such as Secular Pro Life.

The church and religious institutions don’t need funding to survive.  It may be nice, and it may enable the fruit of the gospel to go wider, e.g, school parents who are not believers, but who benefit from a belief system that teaches their kids.  It just will mean that the future of an education system not build on a hard secular stance that pushes a strong cultural agenda antithetical to the gospel, will not be bricks and mortar.  I’m not saying Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, gets everything right, but home schooling may start to look attractive at that point.  It will certainly sort out those schools and institutions that are willing to roll over on their foundational ethical frameworks for the sake of money and credibility.

So all in all, Perry’s response, and others like it, are a refreshingly honest approach to this debate.  It’s worth quoting him and worth asking people what sort of society they wish to live in, because as it stands at the moment, it all feels very zero sum game.

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