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Dogmas change but habits remain

By Mark Christensen - posted Friday, 31 May 2013


Several centuries ago in darkened squalor, many of our Western European ancestors found the courage to brazenly question the political authority of a vast Christian establishment, its incessant moralising and the efficacy of its heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all doctrine.

Stick to these rules and rituals and you'll be saved a place in heaven beside the holy father. Yeah, right, as if he'd make it that easy!

The Reformation and Enlightenment were bold and heroic movements that rightly celebrated humanist ideals, the right of conscience and private judgements on big issues as well as small. As Immanuel Kant agued at the time, it was a hard-earned opportunity to finally grow up, a chance for the common man to free himself from an undignified reliance upon the received orthodoxy of an entrenched elite.

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So, how does Australia rate in terms of maturity? Have we repaid the blood-soaked debt of our revolutionary forbearers and those who subsequently fought in combat to protect the cause? Are we, huddled here today in material comfort and political stability, honouring the true character of reason and democracy?

Science and technology has certainly all-but vanquished religious dogma as a political force, driving its lies and manipulations from the public sphere. Ecclesiastic views carry the same weight as any other. And a good thing.

But what has emerged in its stead? And is it poised to realise our time-honoured, ennobling convictions? And if not, why not?

Other than a bounty of materialism, you'd be hard pressed arguing modern democratic culture is the champion of self-determining individuals. More than anything, the state is principally seen as a maker of rules and imposer of punishments, a complex bureaucracy of centralised bribes and threats designed to make for a safer, secure, all round better society.

Take a hot topic like gambling in sport.

Put aside for a moment whether you think it right or not, and ponder the intellectual paradigm within which social and economic issues are examined and acted upon.

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Elected representatives, having already made priest-like promises, are automatically expected to solve our problems by crafting new laws and regulations. True, a matter such as gambling is now considered objectively using science and reason, rather than the revealed truth of the Bible. And the debate is significantly more open, robust and transparent thanks to democratic procedures and a free press.

But when we boil it all down, how different is the ultimate intent of the state from that of the institutions it bested? Is our culture most concerned with personal freedom or the collective desire to control?

Peter FitzSimons, who has been instrumental in bringing pressureto bear on the government, free-to-air TV and Tom Waterhouse, is typical in presuming the essential purpose of democracy is to impose the will of the majority, and by doing so redeem humanity.

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About the Author

Mark is a social and political commentator, with a background in economics. He also has an abiding interest in philosophy and theology, and is trying to write a book on the nature of reality. He blogs here.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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