The public’s view of religion and politics

Today the Fairfax broadsheets turn from the religious beliefs of Australians to how they see the relationship between religion and politics.

Their Nielsen poll had however been scooped by Pollytics blog, which reported during the week that most Australians think that religion and politics should be separate

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Even among religious believers, 80% agree with the proposition that religion and politics should be separate. But religion appeared more popular when the 2007 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes asked about whether politicians should follow Christian values in making decisions. Even among those with no religion, 10% thought politicians should follow Christian values, along with nearly 40% of people with a religion.

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From this it might follow that Christian politicians would be popular as the most likely politicians to follow Christian values. But Nielsen finds that even among believers a candidate being promoted as a Christian will turn off nearly as many voters as it turns on.

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(Apologies for the spelling errors in the two Nielsen tables, but I can’t change them.)

Perhaps the ambiguity in the term ‘Christian values’ helps explain these apparently discrepant results. Christian churches promote values that are not that far from values promoted in other religions and secular philosophies. And there is an important distinction between politicians following general values (eg charity, honesty) and imposing Christian practices.

Overall I think the polls confirm the view that a politician running as the representative of a particular church isn’t likely to get very far. However, with nearly 60% of voters either supportive of or neither agreeing or disagreeing with the idea that politicians should follow Christian values, and 86% either supportive or indifferent to a candidate being promoted as a Christian, the electorate does not seem to share the religious phobias of some commentators on religion and politics.

13 Responses to “The public’s view of religion and politics

  • 1
    Hinton Lowe
    December 26th, 2009 15:09

    One difficulty in judging Tony Abbott’s credentials is to know what ‘values’ he espouses. He preaches compassion for the ‘less fortunae’, at least at Christmas time (!). At the same time, he is advocating returning to the Howard Government’s policy of punitive deterrence of refugee escapes from hopeless and dangerous circumstances to seek asylum in Australia. It is incredible that he does so without knowledge of the dreadful harm caused to individual refugees by their imprisonment in ‘detention centres’ and the indignities they suffered; as well as the evident perpetration of offences against UN sanctioned human rights, including those established by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which our nation is a signatory.

    Is he to be identified as a ‘Christian’ candidate for Prime Minister – or a representative and apologist of the radical right social agenda of the Roman Catholic Church?

  • 2
    HD
    December 26th, 2009 15:39

    Hinton, the social agenda of the Catholic church is hardly ‘radical’, unless you think that conservatism is radical. It’s not, so maybe you should choose your hyperbole more carefully.

    I think you’re contradicting yourself by attacking Abbott and the Catholic church anyway, because correct me if I am wrong, but some of the strongest critics of Howard’s border protection policy were religious organisations, and the Catholic church can be more red than Santa if it thinks the State is looking out for it. Hardly ‘radical right’.

  • 3
    Local sites 27/12 « catallaxy files
    December 26th, 2009 21:12

    […] Norton on religion and politics. Even among religious believers, 80% agree with the proposition that religion and politics should […]

  • 4
    Alphonse
    December 27th, 2009 09:14

    “And there is an important distinction between politicians following general values (eg charity, honesty) and imposing Christian practices.”

    Well put. On this basis, Abbott’s political values are not to be confused with general values practised by (among others) true Christians, many Roman Catholics included.

  • 5
    Jack Strocchi
    December 30th, 2009 04:14

    Andrew Norton said:

    However, with nearly 60% of voters either supportive of or neither agreeing or disagreeing with the idea that politicians should follow Christian values, and 86% either supportive or indifferent to a candidate being promoted as a Christian, the electorate does not seem to share the religious phobias of some commentators on religion and politics.

    Hooray, that wasn’t so hard to admit after all, was it? Ive been pointing this out for the better part of the decade. Yet drawing this obvious conclusion has been fought tooth and nail by most cultural elites. Talk about pulling teeth!

    We know why the elites are at least notionally irreligious – they have been to uni and are now official smart arses. Those in the upper-class who are irreligious but can redeem their sins through therapy, rehab and generous trust funds. But members of the under-class who go irreligious have no such luxurious safety net.

    The more interesting question is why are the middle-class populus are more sympathetic to traditional religion. Most obviously they have expensive investments to consider in kids education and home mortgage. The value of this intellectual and residential capital is sensitive to changes in cultural capital.

    Any intellectual doctrine and institutional practice that keeps demonic males on a short leash will tend to assist the accumulation of cultural capital. My guess is that nominal subscription and paying lip service religion reinforces civil tendencies in society. (A moderate form of feminism does the same thing.)

    Its way past time that liberal social scientists started to take religion seriously instead of treating it as some embarrassing hangover from the medieval period. Group selection is making a come-back in evolutionary theory and the PRC is proving the power of corporal instittutions in geo-political practice.

  • 6
    Andrew Norton
    December 30th, 2009 05:27

    Jack – While I am personally an atheist, I have long argued against your ‘cultural elites’ for more tolerance and less worry about religion.

  • 7
    Son of the Ratpack
    December 30th, 2009 06:56

    As long as the religious keep their views to themselves, few people have a problem with them. It’s when they start imposing their values into others that the problems arise. Since for the most part the religious political lobbies are all talk and no action, they don’t really threaten anybody, and most people are happy to ignore them. But if they actually became influential, they would ignite the mother of all backlashes. The smart ones among them know this and know how far they can push, which is very little. It’s a nice detente which works well.

  • 8
    JC.
    December 30th, 2009 08:56

    What’s really more offensive though, Cardinal Pell making a comment against abortion or Clive Hamilton writing a public letter to kids telling them to despise their parents if they work in industries that cause emissions?

  • 9
    Son of the Ratpack
    December 30th, 2009 09:33

    “to despise their parents if they work in industries that cause emissions?”

    The porn industry?

    Seriously, there is no defending Hamilton, but unlike Pell at least he doesn’t claim the authority of God.

  • 10
    JC.
    December 30th, 2009 14:00

    Ratpack:

    You’re kidding right? You find Pell more offensive than Hamilton?

  • 11
    Son of the Ratpack
    December 30th, 2009 14:45

    JC, on average I find Pell to be more offensive but Hamilton’s open letter to the kiddies was more offensive than anything Pell has said, that I know about. The ABC should not have published it and I can well imagine that Mark Scott will get a good grilling over it at the next Senate Estimates. I can further imagine that somebody at the ABC has already got a good kicking from senior management.

  • 12
    Jack Strocchi
    January 1st, 2010 10:54

    Andrew [email protected]#6

    Jack – While I am personally an atheist, I have long argued against your ‘cultural elites’ for more tolerance and less worry about religion.

    “Tolerance of religion” is simply a wish-washy code word for cultural elites condescending ignorance about which side of the anthropological bread their ideological butter is on.

    The post-modern liberal project is incoherent. Po-mo liberal hostility to traditional foundations (such as religious churches and racial clans) undermines the anthropological foundations of the modernist liberal social contract.

    Liberalism is an ideological philosophy that requires a certain ethic, basically the constitutional philosophy of English bourgeoisie. It assumes a community of like-minded rational self-interested individuals who nonetheless have an instinctive disposition to honour their word and respect property.

    But these liberal dispositions did not simply appear out of thin air. They evolved over a long period of time, selected on the basis of the communities preferred religious (“God”), regent (“King”) and racial (“Country/Family”) identity.

    In the Occident these institutions evolved over a long period of time to facilitate both the institutionalism that enabled groups to get big things done and the individualism that fostered creative progress. Ultimately arriving at Protestantism, the perfect synthesis between individualism and institutionalism.

    Modernist liberalism is a philosophy which has a constitutional bias towards individual autonomy over institutional authority. So the institutional authorities that cultural individual authority are often taken for granted.

    Post-modernist liberalism is a project that assumes the anthropological equality and plasticity of the state’s ethnic constituents. All breeding communities are assumed to be isomorphic in the distribution of their aptitudes and attitudes. And all attitudes and aptitudes are assumed to be sociologically constructed not biologically conserved.

    Post-modernism takes liberalism’s ignorant complacency over to a whole new level, with a direct attack on the communal bases for social cohesion: family, church and state. Most obvious in the positions taken by radical feminists, atheists and multiculturalists.

    Conservatism is not the enemy of liberalism. It is its complement. Group selection requires some degree of inter-group corporal altruism to balance intra-group liberal egotism.

    This is plainly obvious in the great fiscal and financial problems besetting the state, which seem to spring from giving too much freedom to excessively differentiated classes and clans. eg welfare state overload and wealthfare state bubbles.

    Darwin had the group selection basis for sexual selection figured out over 150 years ago, this was after he cribbed the individualist basis for natural selection from Malthus.

    Why are post-modern liberals so hostile to their institutional foundations? One can only assume the Great Liberal Death Wish strikes again.

  • 13
    caf
    January 12th, 2010 12:32

    All breeding communities are assumed to be isomorphic in the distribution of their aptitudes and attitudes. And all attitudes and aptitudes are assumed to be sociologically constructed not biologically conserved.

    That’s because there’s not an ounce of evidence to the contrary.

    Don’t confuse your comforting old stereotypes for some kind of basic biological truth.