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Sunday, 25 May 2014

Catholic Schoolboys Rule: Neo-Conservatism and the Sociopathy of the Religious Right « The Australian Independent Media Network

Catholic Schoolboys Rule: Neo-Conservatism and the Sociopathy of the Religious Right « The Australian Independent Media Network

Catholic Schoolboys Rule: Neo-Conservatism and the Sociopathy of the Religious Right

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Is this country being run by
right-wing Christian fundamentalists? And if so, are they representative
of the wider society? These are some of the issues examined by Sean

“Sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission”. – Tony Abbott, 2010

In September 2013 Australia elected its 44th Parliament.
Led by a former seminarian and composed largely of fellow
Jesuit-educated Catholics, it is fair to say that today’s Cabinet
represents an extreme right-wing Christian world view which is not
particularly representative of the beliefs and values of the broader
culture. This may go some way towards explaining some of the more
bizarre policy measures thus far introduced. From a military led attack
on asylum seekers to a scorched earth environmental policy, from mass
public service sackings to jobs for the boys, from pre-election promises
of no cuts to a budget blueprint for an American styled two-tiered
society with restricted access to healthcare and education, this is
clearly not a government that anyone voted for, which leads me to ponder
some unusual questions, the answers to which may be stranger still:

Why are the religious so right-wing? How did we come to have a small
group of socially conservative Catholics making decisions which affect
all our lives? Why do these people who call themselves Christians seem
so morally bankrupt?

What is unique about this Cabinet is that at least half of its
members profess to be devout Catholics. Historically this seems to be
quite a recent phenomenon. It is interesting that Labor candidates tend
to come more from the secular end of the gene pool, at least in the last
50 odd years of Australian politics. Why is this so? Wealth and
privilege no doubt play a part. Certainly the history of the Jesuit
order in Australia, private education and the old school tie all have a
story to tell in the downfall of egalitarianism, about which could be
written volumes. For the purposes of this inquiry, however, I’ll narrow
the terms of reference and spare you the history lesson.

That Catholics in particular tend to be social conservatives is no
surprise. But in an age when even the Holy Father himself seems to lean a
little to the left, one really has to ask, on what celestial plane does
the idea of a loving compassionate Christ converge with a government
whose sole agenda seems to be the conscious and deliberate persecution
of the sick, the weak, the poor and the dispossessed?

It was in the early 16th century that Martin Luther, a
German monk, nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg church,
an act which marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, and was
ultimately responsible for the separation of church and state which has
since become a cornerstone of secular society. And yet in 2014, on the
other side of the world in a former colony established under British
rule, we find the machinery of state in the hands of a group of right
wing religious extremists who see fit to decide on who can marry whom,
and who withdraw foreign aid in countries where it might be used for
family planning. All of this fits neatly into the paradigm of an extreme
right-wing Christian world view, and from this assertion one might draw
a number of reasonable, if unsavoury conclusions.

One of this government’s earliest moves in office was to officially
side with the U.S. position that Israeli occupied territories in
Palestine are not illegal, in the face of overwhelming dissent from 158
other U.N. countries. While this could certainly be seen as cosying up
to one of our traditional allies, there may be more to this decision
than meets the eye.

It is worth noting that the UNHCR was originally founded without the
wider global mandate under which it currently operates. At the end of
WWII, the overwhelming social issue was the displacement of European
Jews after the holocaust. Yet while Australia remains a signatory to the
1951 Refugee Convention, we now find ourselves facing a global epidemic
of displaced peoples of an altogether different (though intrinsically
the same) faith, due almost exclusively to U.S. war mongering the middle

Although the spectre of terrorism still casts a long shadow over the
western world, could it be that perhaps the real reason for our
mistreatment of refugees is more one of religious discrimination than
simple xenophobia? Am I drawing too long a bow here? Or is there another
reason that we seem to be much more sympathetic to Judaism than to

Another of this government’s opening moves, which took most of us by
surprise, was, for the first time since the creation of the portfolio in
1931, not to appoint a science minister. It would seem that science is
as much an affront to God now as it was in the 16th century,
which may also go some way to explaining Abbott’s denialist position on
climate change. Once again, religious ideology trumps all. (No doubt
Abbott would also like us to believe that the Jesuits had no part in
introducing Newton to calculus).

This is a dangerous government; dangerous largely because their
political ideology would seem to spring from the same well as their
religious beliefs. That they lied and cheated their way into office may
be the subject for another debate, but what is abundantly clear is this:
with policies and practices that sit in stark contrast to their
espoused Christian values, this government is waging war on the very
morality from which our society is woven. It’s been observed that the
disproportionate survival rate of Australian prisoners of war compared
to our French and British allies was largely due to the fact that the
Aussies, even in their most desperate hour, refused to turn on each
other. Yet somehow it seems the fairness and egalitarianism which would
seem to be encoded in our DNA are not even in the Coalition’s

I admit to both a strange apprehension and a morbid fascination with
this government. On the surface they appear as a lying scheming steaming
cesspool of corruption and guile. But to label them as cruel, conceited
and contrived lacks explanatory power. There is a greater evil which
lurks beneath the facade of mere conservatism, the nature of which may
prove to be more innate than contrived.

A case in point is the Royal Commission into Institutional Child
Sexual Abuse, an inquisition which would certainly not have come about
under this government’s watch. Aside from the obvious social taboo of
paedophilia, there are all manner of brazen contradictions here, but
most paradoxical of all is this: how does one begin to explain how the
most heinous of crimes could have taken place under the auspices of
God’s representatives on earth?

I would suggest that this is the logical conclusion of a religion
which first and foremost demands we be disgusted by our own sexuality,
and is not so much a dysfunction as a malady – a natural consequence of a
profoundly unnatural education. That is to say it is religious belief
itself which ultimately undermines the individual’s capacity to
determine right from wrong. In the words of Randy Walker: “You don’t
need religion to have morals. If you can’t determine right from wrong,
then you lack empathy, not religion”.

This keen distinction is most befitting of our current government.
Their inhumane attacks upon the weak, the poor and the disadvantaged
belie all of our collective ideas of what is acceptable in civil
society. That such cruelties are perpetrated by those who would claim
the moral high ground is absurd, yet wholly unsurprising.

At the core of this contradiction lies a rational human mind, asked
to believe in a god which is all seeing and all knowing, yet which can
neither be seen nor known, thus requiring an act of faith. What faith
demands is more than a willing suspension of disbelief; it is, in the
words of H. L. Mencken, an illogical belief in the occurrence of the

Clearly reason and faith are entirely irreconcilable concepts.
According to our best scientific evidence homo sapiens has probably
lived on earth for about 250 000 years. From fossil records we can
speculate on the history of our planet and its many inhabitants. We can
look at the sky through giant telescopes and see an infinite number of
planets and stars, the light from which has taken millions of years to
reach us. In contrast Christian scholars would have us believe that the
earth was created in six days and is only 6000 years old.

Similarly morality and religion are fundamentally incompatible. This
is a necessary truth, since religion denies us moral agency. In fact if
we are to believe Christianity, it is moral agency itself which is
original sin. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou
shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt
surely die”. – Genesis 2:17

There are of course a great many aspects of Christian faith which are
at odds with what most of us would consider ethical. As has been
observed by Christopher Hitchens, the very notion of atonement for sin –
whether by animal sacrifice in the old testament or by the sacrifice of
gods own son in the new, the outrageous proposition that one can be
absolved of blame by the punishment of another is not only primitive and
barbaric, but a grievous assault on morality. Christianity rests upon a
core belief that we were born into original sin and that only the
sacrifice of Christ can absolve us, effectively taking away personal
responsibility – responsibility upon which all morality depends. I
submit that anyone who finds it reasonable to accept the sacrifice of
another person to justify their own sin is wholly without conscience.
And yet it is on this very principle that the religious base their moral
impunity. They are indeed a privileged class.

All of this puts the case firmly that religion is not only
irrational, but fundamentally immoral, and must therefore lead to a
profound state of cognitive dissonance. But my intention is not to
refute design and intervention as incompatible with reason; this case
has already been made. My argument is that anyone who believes such in
utter nonsense is fundamentally broken and morally flawed. I posit from
this that what is primarily wrong with our government is not that they
are malicious, greedy and cruel (although this seems certainly the
case), nor that they are fanatical ideologues (a mere symptom of a much
deeper ailment), rather that these are people who have quite literally
lost their grip on reality.

The same cognitive dissonance that allows a person to hold, for
example, the belief that man was made from a handful of soil by a divine
celestial being, that the earth was created in six days, and
subsequently destroyed by a great flood, but that two of every species
survived by climbing aboard a giant wooden boat; to defy basic common
sense, to deny the evidence of their senses and basic reasoning, to
believe something contrary to what they must surely know to be true –
all of this speaks to a permanent state of disbelief.

The same I believe can be said for the political ideology of the
right. Take the simplest example: Capitalism as an economic model
demands constant growth. How can such a model be applied to a closed
system with finite resources? Answer: It cannot. Trying to explain to
Abbott or Hockey that neo-liberalism taken to its logical end means that
capital must ultimately consume itself is like trying to argue natural
selection to a creationist. No matter how strong your case, no matter
how certain your facts, no matter how infallible your logic, you will
never win. Political ideology is not a science; it is an article of
faith. It is not to be examined, but affirmed, its practice perfunctory
and its purpose aesthetic.

And yet out of this empirical vacuum is reflected a religious and
ideological certainty so grotesque as to threaten all that is decent and
good in humanity; a moral absolutism which is the product of a mind
unable to think for itself; whose cognitive processes are trained to
accept a predetermined outcome and ignore all evidence to the contrary.

All of which goes a long way to explaining the conservative response
to the certain and catastrophic risk of climate change: Nothing. Take these words from Abbott’s speech to the Australian Forest Products Association:

“When I look out tonight at an audience of people who
work with timber, who work in forests, I don’t see people who are
environmental bandits, I see people who are the ultimate

Meanwhile the CSIRO have been de-funded to the tune of $100m while
$250m has been provided for a school chaplaincy program. Mining
companies continue to receive billions in diesel rebates while the rest
of us are slugged with an increasing fuel levy. Key environmental
protections are labelled as ‘green tape’ begging the question that they
should be cut, the clean energy industry has been abandoned wholesale,
Tasmania’s old growth forests are once again under attack and plans are
afoot to dump dredge spoil into the Great Barrier Reef, and it goes, but
don’t worry, it’s all part of God’s plan.

Perhaps for them, but what about the rest of us? Those of us who
engage directly with our world, rather than through a fiction, who
understand the concept of action and consequence, who realise and take
responsibility for our actions, tend to see the world much differently.
We acknowledge our responsibility; to each other, to our ecology, and to
future generations. Most fundamentally of all, we know right from
wrong, good from bad and false from true. Why? Not because we are told
so in a 2000 year old book, but because empathy is a fundamental part of
human nature. Of course there are better, more sensible, more
sustainable ways we could be doing things; Better ways of doing
economics, better ways of living together, and better ways of governing.

Alas all the well founded argument in the world will not convince a
conservative that conservation is a good idea. A mind that is closed to
the evidence of its own senses will not be convinced by anything short
of a damascene epiphany. Sadly I doubt this is on the cards for Tony

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