Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott recently gave a speech in which he sought to defend the place of faith in the political arena. An edited version of his speech was reprinted in the Australian (August 24, 2006). In the article he reminds us that religion has a legitimate role to play in public life in Australia.
The media, argues Abbott, tends to be critical of religion, and suspicious of those who profess faith in the public square. But they should not be. Australia is a very religious country, and we should expect to see religious concerns reflected in political discourse and decision making.
Moreover, the mainstream media is dominated by those of the secular left: “It’s true that there are now effective conservative voices in the Australian media, such as Piers Akerman, Andrew Bolt, Christopher Pearson, Janet Albrechtsen and Miranda Devine, with people such as Alan Jones on radio. That hasn’t altered the dynamic of the newsroom and, if anything, has intensified the ‘give no quarter’ attitude of the Left-liberal media mainstream.”
The media, Abbott rightly notes, is especially incensed with the new bogeyman, the religious right. “A media staple since the 2004 election has been the rise of the so-called religious Right. This motif testifies to the historical amnesia and cultural impoverishment of most younger journalists, in whose minds views that would have been orthodox a generation ago now seem odd or evidence of religious brainwashing.”
While leftists and secularists receive no mandatory adjectival introduction, those of the religious right certainly do: “I’m not aware of a single position from any politician to whom this tag is applied advocated on the basis of scripture or an appeal to religious authority. Every position has been argued on the basis of human values, not religious teaching. Yet it is now rare for stories about particular politicians on particular topics not to be embellished with gratuitous adjectives such as ‘devout Catholic’.”
Abbott is indeed a Catholic, and does not hide that fact. But should this disqualify him from public office? “For what it’s worth, I find the ‘Captain Catholic’ tag uncomfortable because I’m no less prone to the deadly sins than anyone else. I just take the church and its teaching seriously in a way that was almost universal scarcely a generation back.”
He continues, “What’s at work here is not just journalists’ lack of understanding of the Christian culture that underpins our society, including its pluralism and separation of church and state, but their reluctance to extend a fair go to what’s unfashionable.”
Quite right. And this is seen by the hypocrisy of the media when it comes to various issues. Abbott hits the nail on the head concerning this duplicity: “It’s worth noting that when Bruce Baird, Steven Fielding and Barnaby Joyce invoked their Christian consciences to oppose the Government’s immigration bill, there were no calls to keep religion out of politics. Media outrage is confined to expressions of the church’s moral teaching, not its social gospel in what is, at the very least, a chronically politically correct double standard.”
Exactly. I end by noting that the Dalai Lama will again be coming to visit Australia shortly. Undoubtedly he will be speaking to many politicians during his stay. I do not expect to hear the mainstream media demanding that he not talk to our government officials, for fear of infecting politics with religion. No, the visitor from the East is quite alright. It is just those pesky Christians that need to be kept clear from the ears of our politicians.