Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Atheism in politics (Letter 6)

Written only recently. Expect this to be a kickoff for a larger piece.

Aristotle wrote: “A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious... they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.”

Observing the coverage of Julia Gillard’s atheism, one might observe the converse: that leaders who do not profess a devotion to religion are seen as open to attack from those who see themselves as more god-fearing. An array of snide references and dismissive appraisals work to undermine her authority – a technique which, in our nominally secular country, is actually more effective than open attacks based on religious affiliation.

Over the past thirty years, we have moved away from religion being part of policy discussions. A candidate’s personal religion – or lack thereof – is a far less important part of their character than it was in past generations. I suggest that it is important that we continue this course, taking our lessons from the political developments of the last thirty years and continue our process of keeping religion out of policy discussions. What we should not do is take our cue from the United States, where atheism is really the last viable target of bigotry.

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