Holy Rollers and Jumpers come out,
And they roll and they jump and they shout;
‘Give your money to Jesus,’ they say,
‘You will eat on that glorious day’.
You will eat, by and by,
In that glorious land in the sky;
Hope and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.
—A verse and chorus from “Pie in the sky when you die”.
From the IWW song book, c. 1930s
At first glance it would seem that almost overnight we have found ourselves in the same political predicament as that in which the US became well and truly ensnared as the influence of the salvation-for-money preachers grew and grew. However, the net was cast long before that.
When in the 1890s Australia’s Constitution was being drafted, the churches began a campaign of petitions calling for prayers to be made part of the daily ritual of parliament, though they were not always used in the various colonial parliaments.
The adherence to the custom waxed and waned until the election of the Coalition government under John Howard in 1996, from which time the influence of extremist Christian doctrine seems to have increased. Visits to Hillsong – the largest, wealthiest and noisiest Pentecostal church in Australasia – by both Liberal treasurer Peter Costello and Labor leader Kevin Rudd during the 2007 election campaign suggest that both major parties were already feeling the need to pander to the Pentecostal movement. The rise to prime ministership of Scott Morrison, a practicing Pentecostal who has publicly professed his faith on more than one occasion including in the People’s Parliament, reinforces this view.
Now everyone is entitled to their faith and the practice thereof, no matter how bizarre it may appear to non-believers, there’s no arguing that. But when that faith impinges on human rights and the law of the land, then serious questions must be asked. And Australian law often sides with human rights over religious or quasi-religious practice.
In 2018, a Victorian court ruled that the mother of a teenage girl could not refuse permission to allow blood transfusions for her pregnant daughter on the grounds that the procedure was forbidden by their religious cult, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many years before, a West Australian court had ruled in favour of a child whose Witness parents had forbidden it to receive the procedure that would save its life. And very few people of any faith would defend the right to mutilate young girls’ genitals on religious grounds; indeed, there are those who question the legitimacy of circumcision of male children as a religious practice.
However, we may soon find ourselves having to defend our long-cherished humanist approach. Recent court rulings in the USA have demonstrated the influence the noisy, cash-heavy minority of Fundamentalist and other related Christian sects – or cults, the distinction is blurred – can bring to bear on State legislatures in that country. Their Australian equivalent, their roots and philosophies largely in the US and with a fellow-traveller in the Prime Minister’s office, will soon find their voices.
Already, in what appears to be a rush to salvation for the sake of a seat in Parliament and good standing among the Christian extremists in the People’s House, the Deputy Prime Minister has assured farmers he prays for rain every day and exhorted us all to pray more often. Not to be outdone and with no apparent sense of the ironic, his predecessor has suddenly leaped to the defence of the righteous.
Referring to Israel Folau’s recent sacking by the NRL, Barnaby Joyce was quoted in The Age of May 29th as saying: “Your own views on who god is, where god is or whether there’s a god should remain your own personal views and not part of any contractual obligation.”
That is largely true, but the key word here is “personal”. Surely an employer has the right to insist an employee – or contractor – refrain from language or behaviour that might bring the organisation or business into disrepute? A reasonable adult might argue that you’d have to believe in hell – or a vengeful god for that matter – for Folau’s words to have any effect. But that argument doesn’t wash if you’re a vulnerable youngster.
On the surface, this might appear all froth and bubble, but it is far more sinister. We now have at our head a Prime Minister who, by his own affirmation, is a practicing Pentecostal, a believer in miracles, one whose tenets of faith include the belief that prosperity is a gift of the Pentecostal god and those who fail to prosper do so because that god has shunned them, and so are by definition ungodly.
As a Pentecostal, our new Prime Minister believes that he was chosen as such because it was divine will that he lead the nation. He also believes that drought and climate change are the result of his deity’s displeasure and therefore must be endured.
For a committed Pentecostal, the results of human inaction on the climate crisis are of no consequence; it is all part of the god’s plan and The true believer waits for the day when all will be swept away in preparation for the second coming and none but they will be saved. Protestant, Catholic, Muslim – no matter; all but Pentecostals will perish. And while they await “The Rapture”, the PM and other true believers in the Party and community will be showered with wealth and happiness, oblivious to the torments endured by the ungodly.
At the risk of being thought a cynic, perhaps Morrison may not really believe all this, perhaps he is just using the pretence of “faith” to further his worldly ambitions; after all, Christianity has long been honoured more in the breach than in the observance. And that, in some quarters, might be seen as even worse – religious fervour replaced by opportunistic hypocrisy on a grand scale.
Conversely, perhaps he dreams of a day when the Pentecostals rule the world, revelling in the prosperity of righteousness while the ungodly Opposition (and many in his own Party), the unsaved aged and infirm, the sinning disadvantaged and despairing writhe in the torments of the damned.
Of course, I may be misjudging the man. He may genuinely be “burning” to see us all saved – whether we want it or not – though I seriously doubt it, and even that breaches the convention governing separation of Church and State.
Whichever it may be, Morrison needs to let the country know. He is supposed to be governing for the majority, not some blessed elite.