One of the main objectives of my candidacy for this election is to promote the concept of secularism. I used to think that the word was generally well known and understood, but in the various discussions I’ve had recently it has become apparent that this is not the case. Given how important I think the secular state is for fair and effective governance, I find this lack of awareness alarming.
Wikipedia gives two broad senses of secularism in that it:
- asserts the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, and the right to freedom from governmental imposition of religion upon the people within a state that is neutral on matters of belief.
- refers to the view that human activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be based on evidence and fact unbiased by religious influence.
The first point relates directly to the conceptual seperation of church and state, a political philosophy codified in the constitutions of many of the world’s democracies. The second to the notion of public reason.
In Australia, the pertitent part of our constitution with regards to the separation of church and state is Section 116 which states:
The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
Section 116 may read in a familiar manner to many as it is based on wording from the First Ammendment of the United States Constitution. It is weaker in practice however, and Australian courts generally interpret it narrowly. The establishment clause is taken to simply mean that the Federal Government may not declare any religion to be the official religion of the nation. The maintenance of a government that operates independently from the influence of any particular religion is dependent on the promotion of secular values in the community at large, and the representation of these values in the parliament. This is what I intend to effect because I sense that these values are in peril.
Now what exactly would I stand against? Consider the following recent announcements by the Labor Party, and whether they truly reflect the way a secular society should conduct itself:
- The $222 million expansion to the Howard Government’s ill-conceived National School Chaplaincy Program which seeks to place a proponent of religious beliefs into all our schools. Many of these chaplains are dealing with social and psychological issues for which they are not qualified. Harm is being inflicted on Australian children as a result. This funding is on top of the $165 million dollars already spent since its inception.
- The provision of $1.5 million for the celebration of Mary MacKillop’s canonisation by the Catholic Church, a religious organisation that can hardly be considered as being strapped for cash.
- That they will not repeal the 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act; an ammendment which codifed a narrow, discriminatory definition of marriage in line with the notion of the religious institution.
- That they will forge ahead with their planned mandatory ISP internet filter at the behest of various religious pressure groups.
On the other side of the House is the prospect of a Tony Abbott led coalition government. Mr. Abbott’s track record needs no reiteration but as a small sample:
- He wants a study of the bible to be compulsory, imposing a single faith on all of our students.
- He wants a return to at-fault divorce, presumably an initiative to decrease net happiness.
- He is opposed to embryonic stem cell research, perhaps because he doesn’t think the job of our medical researchers is hard enough already.
Given his background, his close associations with individuals such as B. A. Santamaria and Cardinal Pell, and his stance on many ethical issues, Prime Minister Abbott would likely be the worst defender of secular values in recent history.
Neither of the major parties seem to want to stand for secular values. There are candidates at this election who will.
Given the nature of secularism, people are often concerned that the movement intends to destroy religious practice and beliefs and trample on the right of the religious freedom which is also protected by our constitution. These concerns are raised by both the religious and irreligious. Let me assert that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Secularism is the only way to guarantee freedom of religion in a country that supports communities of multiple faiths and those of no faith.
I am a Humanist, and as such I strongly support the IHEU’s minimum statement of Humanism which, amongst other things, affirms that
human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. Whilst I do not personally accept supernatural views of reality, I accept the rights of others to hold them. I understand that the questions of existence and the nature of life are amongst the most important and difficult we consider. I would never deny anyone the right to draw strength and purpose from their personal beliefs.
I am also an atheist. I do not believe in the god of Abraham. This motivates me about as much as my lack of faith in the gods of Olympus or the Invisible Pink Unicorn. What does motivate me is the fair treatment of all people in our society and the advancement of individual liberty. Individual liberty must always be considered within the context of the common good, but we are still getting it wrong, and I feel that in many of these respects that the ideology of the political religious right is having a major impact in maintaining the injustice. I can’t abide it; all it takes is a little empathy to understand the unjust nature of many of these issues.
Having said that, there is one aspect of my atheism that does shape my outlook on life strongly: I do not believe in an afterlife. I believe that we all only have one shot at existence, and I want to help people fulfil their potential in this single life as much as I am able. The clock is ticking. Many of the reforms that are being actively opposed at the moment will eventually come to fruition simply through generational changes in thinking and acceptance. However, such changes still require people to actively agitate for them; and for the many who are suffering right at this moment, sooner is so much better than later.
At this election, please consider voting for a candidate other than those from the two major parties. Neither deserve your vote. If a secular society is one you think is worth defending, then I would ask you all to consider myself, your local Secular Party candidate or a Secular Party senate candidate when casting your ballot.
Authorised by John Goldbaum, 7 Rockwall Crescent, Potts Point NSW 2001.