Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, coalition poster boys for religious politicians, recently reassured us of both their Christian faith, and their lack of perfection in spite of that faith. A cynic might interpret this qualifier as a prescient effort by both men to cover their bottoms, in the event of being accused of being un-Christian in their attitudes towards, well, any number of current topics.
Of course, nobody is perfect. Much is made by religions of the imperfect human state. One must strive for perfection and not expect to attain it, they tell us, for to be perfect is to be divine.
A cursory look at the tenets on which the Christian faith is based would have even the most willing believers wonder at the disconnect between theory and practice that is so frequently apparent in the actions of some Christian politicians. This isn’t confined to that religion: the actions of political adherents of many religions have a similar disconnect between their walk and their talk.
This disconnect has a very long history. Religion in general does not have a great reputation for walking its talk. Over the centuries cruel, murderous and genocidal events have been undertaken in the belief that God is on the right side in the slaughter. This continues to be a justification for horrific events around the globe.
So it makes a scary kind of sense that Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott say yes, they’re Christians but don’t expect them not to make mistakes, and those mistakes may oftentimes contradict the golden rule, the Sermon on the Mount, and even the teachings of Bonhoeffer. But that’s all right, because Joe, Tony and Kev aren’t perfect and the world has endured a lengthy precedent of religious imperfection in its leaders, and the bloodstained consequences. We have to make allowances for the fact that they’re all still riding on their spiritual training wheels.
Hockey makes much in his speech to the Sydney Institute (“In Defence of God”, November 9 2009) of compassion, and the need for us to love our neighbour as ourselves. “Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you,” Joe advises us, quoting Mohammed. “Or as the great Jewish rabbi Hillel put it,” he continues, “‘that which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow’. For me,” he goes on, “this is the essential message of all faiths - that we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves”.
I suppose the question here must be who does Joe Hockey consider to be our neighbour? Does he take “neighbour” to mean only those with whom we can identify ethnically, economically and socially? Or are we neighbours to the entire human race? If we are not, then what is Joe’s selection process? Ah, but wait. He’s answered my question:
“I argue this because, at its core, faith teaches us to respect others - to recognise the value of every human and to act accordingly.”
There it is, straight from the horse’s mouth. Joe Hockey’s personal declaration of universal human rights.
A universal human reaction to, say, indefinite mandatory imprisonment in the Woomera Detention Centre, would be that it was a hateful and hurtful experience, particularly if the children were there, suffering with you. Many people might sew up their lips in protest. None of us can know with any certainty how we’d react in extraordinary circumstances. Joe himself may rather have gone on a hunger strike than get caught up in the Pacific Solution engineered by his prime minister - without any objections from Joe - who must have put his universal human rights convictions on the back burner at the time.
Presumably Joe (or Tony for that matter, and certainly Kevin) would not enjoy being stuck on any leaking boat, looking for asylum after having fled political torment or even religious persecution, in his home country. Perhaps he would feel upset that he was not being treated in a neighbourly manner by the liberal democracy to which he had turned for sanctuary. The same liberal democracy whose traditions, Joe says, give us “the understanding that comes from believing in the essential worth of every other human being”.
There it is again. Another declaration of belief in essential and individual human worth, and universal human rights.
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