It is strange that Australia has an inquiry into the need to protect religious freedom and religious expression. We will see what the report is like when it is handed down by Philip Ruddock.
I say “strange” because I thought there would never be a need for it in Australia. This freedom has existed for many years as it is part of our inheritance from Great Britain and guaranteed in our laws.
This is obviously no longer the case, otherwise it would not be necessary. Things socially are ever so different to the 50s and 60s, even the 70s. The younger generation, say from the 80s, have little understanding how it has changed.
When we say “religious freedom” we are in reality meaning Christian freedoms. Christianity was brought to our national shores in 1788 and to Tasmania in 1803. Britain of course, has been home to Christianity for 1300 years, longer elsewhere in Europe. It has been a part of our culture and heritage.
It was Alfred the Great who codified much from the Old Testament into English law and down the ages we have inherited The Magna Carter, the 1689 Bill of Rights, English Common Law, trial by Jury and Habeas Corpus all resulting from a country with a Christian background. In Australia we have our own Constitution, which states in its beginning paragraph “relying on the blessings of Almighty God”. This part was added by the insistence of the Churches of the day, excluding the Seventh Day Adventist Church which took the view that if such a wording was added it would force Sunday worship upon them rather than Saturday. This obviously did not happened
Whereas “almighty…God” was neutral in its emphasis it was clearly to mean at the time, the God of Christians.
Down through the centuries it has influence dramatically our ethics, morality, modesty, principles,art and consciousness. There is no denying there are faults; any Institutions developed by imperfect man will fail to some degree. Over all it worked very well with many leading charitable organisations and acts emanating from Christian belief, not just here in Australia, but world-wide and many examples can be cited.
Australia since settlement has not been a strong church-going community, unlike say the United States. Even in the hey-day attendance percentage-wise would not have been more than fifty percent of the population. Yet, the influence was there and people though nominally Christian did respect its Institutions and certainly used it for Sunday School, Christenings, Confirmations, Weddings and funerals. During WWI ninety per cent of our soldiers declared themselves Christian.
Today by recent statistics only about fifty per cent of the population now give the title “Christian”.
In the 50s it was all so different and it was just taken as the norm that what was will continue. I remember all too clearly when on Christmas Day, all radio stations (and later in the early days of television) played religious music as they did at Easter. Sundays was indeed a day of rest, with most businesses, sports and entertainment taking a break. It was a day for church, going on picnics, visiting or being visited. Today of course Sunday is very different, our roads are full of traffic, sport is the new religion, shops are open and while our communication has expanded technologically, we communicate less with each other including families.
All what was has gone and I really do not think for the better. Society must believe in something and that “something” will determine how we view things and our attitude to situations. It appears that we are still searching for Christianity’s replacement. There is no such thing as a vacuum as people crave for something. To some it appears to be socialism, environmentalism, militant atheism, science and even hedonism – whatever.
To some extent the fault does lie with the Churches themselves. It is apparent such institutions have not fulfilled many people’s spiritual requirements. One naturally has to refer to the appalling publicity which many, particularly of the established mainstream churches, have been subject to. This has disillusioned many of faith. Herein lays the problem, because people have placed their faith on man-made institutions and church leaders, rather than the faith itself. Yet that is an easy statement to make. It must be very difficult for those ‘good’ and ‘sincere’ members of the cloth who are now under unfair suspicion.
We do live in a post Christian where the religion and Christians can be subject to criticism, attacks, mockery and even abuse which would not be allowed if the target was another religion or of a particular ethnic group.
I am yet to be convinced we are a better and happier society without Christianity. We seem to have more problems than a one armed fan dancer. Australia now is divided sometimes aggressively and it seems permanently on race, religion, culture, gender and sexuality. We are beset with numerous and it seems unsolvable social problems. All this has developed and coincided with the demise of the Church’s influence.