Are we ready to stand up to Religion?

According to a recent survey by McCrindle Research, 48% of Australians do not believe in God and only 15% attend church at least once per month. These statistics are in line with previous surveys showing a strong trend towards atheism yet our political leaders continue to defer to Religion. Both major parties continue to give Religion more weight and respect than it deserves. Once again, the major political parties are out of touch.

The recent no jab, no pay policy change is an example of this. Having dismissed the right to object on conscientious grounds, both parties have clearly stated they support retaining the exemption for a strongly held religious belief. Other than a few letters to the editor, the silence has been deafening. No major political figures have come out and questioned the absurdity of this exception. There are millions of Australian secularists who see no difference between a conscientious objection and a religious objection.

There seems to be a notion among our political leaders that criticising religion is not kosher (excuse the pun). For some reason, religion is above scrutiny. Religious leaders are aware of this and take advantage to enter debates which they have no right to be in.

Take for example a recent report on ABC radio (Radio National, Religion and Ethics Report, 8/4/15) where The Uniting Church’s Dr Mark Zirnsak was interviewed in relation to the Senate inquiry into tax dodging by multinational companies. How can a Church which is exempt from paying tax (simply because it is a church) be a stakeholder in such a discussion? We are amazed at the gall of the Uniting Church for presuming it can tell other people about paying tax when it has never paid one cent itself.

There is no shortage of chutzpah among religious leaders. Take for example the recent statements in Queensland by Catholic priest Fr Paul Kelly and Anglican Archbishop Dr Phillip Aspinall where both men pronounced their support for the scrapping of the Gay Panic defence. Their stance on this issue is admirable but we should remember it is still the case that neither man will marry a gay couple. Neither man is an expert on the law and nor have they the power to change our criminal code. The one area where they do operate and can show genuine support for the gay community is the subject of marriage and in that area they sadly discriminate against gay couples. We all know this. We all see the hypocrisy but both men managed to spin their gay support rhetoric without criticism.

So religious leaders and commentators have managed to enter debates and give opinions on topics where they have no special skills, experiences or insights. It would be like a celibate priest giving marriage or contraceptive advice. Oh wait, they already do.

The fact that religious leaders and commentators have spread their wings and made pronouncements on areas beyond their core function is not surprising. All organisations look to expand their sphere of influence. Good luck to them. We are not saying they should be locked out of the debate but we are saying we should not give them any special favours. Let’s look at their arguments and see if they have anything worthwhile to say but let’s not give any special weight to their opinions just because they are clergy. And if they have a conflict of interest or are being hypocritical then we should point that out just as we would with any other social commentator.