Unbelief 2016

Writing the previous post prompted me to consider what had changed since 2008 for belief and unbelief in Australia.

  • Public opinion of the honesty and ethics of ministers of religion has continued to decline to the lowest level in 20 years. The ongoing horror stories of child abuse within religious institutions has taken its toll on trust.
  • I will probably need to read this book.
  • The landscape of belief becomes more fractured – with young people especially less interested in institutional religions.

Overall, every day conflict between different belief groups seems to be low – we do not live in a society riven by sectarian conflict. But we do live in a country with a lot of public noise about an issue that seems to have become a focus for the conflict between identities – marriage equality. The level of vitriol and passion that this topic generates is immense – and confusing. I say confusing because it is not that big of a deal*. Some comments:

  • It seems to have become an identity marker. If you are a progressive individual then you support gay marriage. If you are a religious conservative then you oppose it.
  • Nevertheless, the public seem to have changed their opinion on it from “mainly against” to “mainly for” in the space of a decade.
  • This issue has become highly politicised with the internal wrangling and electoral manoeuvring of both parties pushing it out far longer than it need be.
  • Marriage has always been an important symbol. A symbol for the couple in front of their family and community. A symbol of the connection between the family and the state. It sits at the centre of many things.
  • The focus of religious conservatives in Australia on gay issues (especially any recognition by the state that homosexuality is an acceptable or normal activity) is bewildering to an outsider. The three headline issues for the Australian Christian Lobby (which seems to have emerged as the voice of conservative Christianity in the last few years) are 1. Ending the Safe Schools anti-LGBTI bulling education initiative 2. Preventing from ADF personnel from marching in the Mardi Gras parade in uniform and 3. ISIS persecuting Christians. This obsession is not shared by potential allies – as David Marr’s recent essay on Pauline Hanson makes clear, One Nation voters couldn’t give a stuff about this. To be honest, I just don’t get it. Yes, I get that Scripture condemns same sex acts but why this one above all the other many things that Scripture condemns?

*If gay people can marry then it has no impact on the marriages of those who disapprove. Their marriages are at far greater risk from financial difficulty, neglect and infidelity. Likewise, all states and territories recognise de facto unions – which offer many, if not all, of the benefits of marriage. And critiques of marriage equality don’t just come from conservatives.

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