Members of the right-wing faction of the federal parliamentary Liberal Party - the ideological warriors who orchestrated Tony Abbott’s installation as Opposition Leader - are reportedly still angry. Although the hated Malcolm Turnbull is gone, and the “liberal” wing of the party has been weak for the best part of two decades, they now have a new enemy in their sights.
According to a recent article in The Australian newspaper (Glenn Milne, “Resentment simmers as party races to the right”, February 8, 2010), those now under the gun are members of a so-called “progressive conservative” grouping. It is said to comprise a number of avowedly Christian members.
They have earned the ire of their hard-right colleagues, Milne claimed, for “us[ing] their genuinely held Christian beliefs to showcase their self-proclaimed social conservatism”. Social issues aside, they stand accused of being “arbitrary in policy terms and held together by the glue of self-preferment”.
Sneered one (unnamed) critic, quoted by Milne: "The progressive conservatives dress themselves up in a cloak of Christianity to claim conservative status but are entirely flexible when it comes to applying [or not] any principle to policy decision."
It is more than a little ironic that at least one of Tony Abbott’s loudest cheerleaders holds Christianity in such evident contempt.
Abbott himself has been pilloried for his deeply-held Catholic beliefs by numerous commentators on the secular Left. Much of that criticism has been ignorant and unfair, as has a lot of the petty invective directed at Anglican Kevin Rudd for his regular churchgoing, and occasional allusions to his personal faith. Indeed, Rudd has copped flak from both the Right and the Left. (Sadly, in Rudd’s case, some of it has come from the Religious Right, which should know better.)
The truth is that Christianity and politics are strange bedfellows. The tenets of Christianity do not neatly conform to any party-political agenda, and, throughout the 20th century, very few electorally successful politicians in the West couched their message explicitly in Christian terms. In the first decade of the 21st century, nothing has changed.
Why is it so?
First and foremost, the “Christian” position on political issues is neither wholly left-wing nor wholly right-wing. Although in some instances the Christian way admits of a left-wing or right-wing emphasis, it is always nuanced. Unsurprisingly, this angers ideologues of all stripes - even those who profess to be Christians themselves.
My own view is that, in respect of the “Big Four” political issues - war and peace, the just distribution of wealth, human rights, the environment - orthodox Christian teaching supports a generally “left-wing” policy prescription. Conversely, in respect of a raft of vitally important social phenomena - sexual mores, marriage, drug-use, gambling, pornography, sanctity of life questions, to mention just a few - the Christian position is decidedly conservative.
On yet other issues, such as crime and punishment and censorship, Christian teaching is impossible to categorise in worldly terms.
Further, even the apparently clear-cut issues have a Christian twist. For instance, the Bible unquestionably takes the side of the poor over the rich, and posits charity as one of the greatest human virtues. But it also encourages thrift, self-reliance and obedience to (secular) law.
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