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Who cares if Abbott and Hockey are Catholic?

31 Comments
Andrew Hamilton |  28 May 2014

Tony Abbott greets Archbishop Mark ColeridgeMuch has been made of the religious faith and schooling of government ministers and the relationship between these things and government policy. To my mind the topic is a trivial indulgence that diverts attention from more important questions.

Talk about politicians' faith focuses attention on the people who make decisions and not on the people affected by their decisions. To conclude that they are influenced by their faith or are unfaithful to it may give satisfaction to the person who makes the judgment, but it does nothing for those affected by unfair policies.

Nor is this kind of judgment one that Christians may make if they wish to be consistent. At the heart of Christian faith is the conviction that we all sinners saved by Christ, and so are no better than anyone else. It follows that the proper business of Christians is to refrain from judging others. It is to try to win them. Like everyone else, they are called to judge policies by their effect on human beings, especially the most vulnerable.

By these standards the Budget was problematic. Certainly it attempted to address longer term challenges of matching revenue to proper expenditure. But it penalised the most vulnerable members of society while leaving untouched subsidies to the more affluent. It also weakened the regulatory bodies necessary to protect the longer term good of society, particularly those to do with the environment and fairness.

It will make Australian society harsher. It was rightly on the nose with Australians. The fault did not lie in the Government's failure to sell it but in the noisomeness of what was on offer.

The interesting question is why people would advocate and introduce such harmful, self-destructive policies. The framers of the Budget certainly did not lack courage. When people are surprised at the rejection of their ideas they have normally been guided by ideas so self-evident to them that they believe others will need only to hear them in order to be persuaded.

The assumption underlying the Budget, one shared by both major political parties, is that the primary responsibility of the government is to promote economic growth. This is understood implicitly to be identical with the good of society.

It is also axiomatic that economic growth is best achieved by individuals competing for economic advancement with as little regulation and taxation as possible. This implies that social goods, such as education and health care, should be largely left to the market. In this view of society, those who do not compete economically are failing in their responsibilities and should be treated with rigour. It is echoed in Arthur Hugh Clough's couplet:

Thou shalt not kill but needst not strive
Officiously to keep alive.

This is a rigorous world in which the only morality owned by government is that of the market. Most people want more of government than this and expect more of their leaders. And they are unconvinced that competition, which naturally produces a less equal society, will lead to a more harmonious one. So it is natural that a budget enshrining these ideas will be rejected.

Still, such ideas can be conscientiously held. They are certainly held by many people with different religious and philosophical beliefs, many of whom will argue for the compatibility of their convictions with this view of society just as many Catholics argue that their faith is compatible with their conviction that same sex marriage should be legalised. It would be wrong to describe them as hypocrites and would also distract from what matters.

The central question at issue is about the value we place on human beings, and so of the claims they may rightly make on one another in society.

This is primarily a human question, and so secondarily a religious question. The ideology underpinning the Budget and the understanding of the role of government is that human beings have value measured to the contribution they make to economic growth, and that successful competitors should be rewarded while the unproductive are to be disciplined or disregarded. It enshrines the sense of entitlement of the affluent.

Others argue that human beings have a value independent of their economic productivity, and that this is expressed in their relationships, of which economic relationships are only one set. The role of government then is to strengthen the relationships that bind people together, and to ensure that the economy is ordered to the common good.

The challenge the Budget presents to its critics is to commend a richer view of economic growth and to keep before public attention the faces of those demeaned by it.


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

 



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"It enshrines the sense of entitlement of the affluent". We seem to be seeing a lot of that lately whether it is O'Farrell forgetting a bottle of wine or Sinodinos getting paid $200,000 to do very little or any work. I think the question you should be asking is "Are these men Christians or just nominal Catholics?"

john 28 May 2014

Is our current systems of governances moral? Because if the are not moral, you can not discuses the relative eficacy or usefulness of it. Like, our current system is no good, but, “oh .. it’s the best system we've got... and we need it to build roads and things... bla bla bla”... if you get something out of an immoral behaviour that doesn’t change it's moral status. This is an immoral government because it penalises - the poorest in our society. So discussing the relevant benefits of government or democracy is irrelevant without out first establishing its moral states, which of course in this case it is immoral..So yes, like everyone else, ( Abbott and his mates) are called to judge policies ( based on morality) by their effect on human beings, especially the most vulnerable...

Annoying Orange 28 May 2014

I agree Andrew, I even heard one politician state, recently, that his religion does not affect his political decisionss .Makes one wonder , what is the point of religion?

David 29 May 2014

Fr Hamilton it is objectively erroneous for "many Catholics [to] argue that their faith is compatible with their conviction that same sex marriage should be legalised" The Magisterium has spoken:

Father John George 29 May 2014

Thanks for a thoughtful article Andrew. However I am rather taken aback by your remark that it is a 'trivial indulgence'.to question their religious beliefs compared to their govt policies. It seems to me that central to Jesus' gospel and Catholic Social teaching is 'good news for the poor'. Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey's policies on many issues fail miserably. So as David said what is the point of religion if it doesn't point out the discrepancy between stated beliefs and practice. I agree that we're all sinners!

Margaret 29 May 2014

It's clear enough that gospel values are not influential in current federal government policies. Jesus observed: "By their fruits you will know them."

Brian Gleeson 29 May 2014

earn or learn- why not? work or work for your payment- why not? many of those on DSP are transferees from TAC or WORKCOVER 3 years after their injuries. So its now back to the STATE GOVERNMENT. Share the load - whats wrong with that? Those less fortunate are cyclical and hereditary in many cases. I suggest we talk about family life, marriage counselling, even abortion and euthanasia because our standards have fallen so badly all we want is the government to pay. Enough is enough

PHIL 29 May 2014

''Others argue that human beings have a value independent of their economic productivity, and that this is expressed in their relationships, of which economic relationships are only one set. The role of government then is to strengthen the relationships that bind people together, and to ensure that the economy is ordered to the common good." Well put. It's a good thing that past sectarianism is so far weakened that there are so many people of the Catholic faith in Cabinet. But I wish they paid more attention to your framing of priorities.

Robert F Smith 29 May 2014

One ought never to judge another human being...quite so. The fact that Abbott and Hockey and others are Catholics is quite irrelevant to the issue of this budget and the general philosophy which underpins it. The undernial fact is that almost every measure in the budget flies in the face of Catholic social teachings. Every encyclical from the last 100 years and the recent exhortation of Pope Francis condemns every social and industrial initiative of the government. Now is it proposed to take one further step and seize workers homes for going on strike...There appears no limit to the lengths the government will go to cement into place what the Popes have called the "structures of sin" in our society.

Jim Macken 29 May 2014

Taking Action on Debt the head of the independent Parliamentary Budget Office confirmed the importance of immediate action to deal with debt and deficit -. Mr Phil Bowen, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, said without action Australia’s debt will grow at one of the fastest rates in the developed world. He said: “It is time to start coming out [of debt and deficit], otherwise the longer you leave it the more exposed you become and the harder it is to wind it back.” Australia is currently paying $1 billion a month in interest on debt; Australia would have the fastest growth in spending of 17 countries profiled by the IMF; Australia would have the third fastest growth in net debt of 17 countries profiled by the IMF; and As a result, without action, Australia’s gross debt would rise to $667 billion, with an interest bill of nearly $3 billion a month. The Budget takes action to tackle the record debt and deficit It will free up money, currently spent on interest, to provide improved services, better infrastructure and lower taxes to build a strong, prosperous economy and a safe, secure Australia. < bind people ensure economy ordered to common good.

Placid Pete 29 May 2014

I am more than a little surprised by this piece. During the years of South African apartheid we often heard: "Keep politics (and religion) out of sport". Are you suggesting we have no right to expect from those who claim to be Catholics (or Anglicans or Humanists) some consistency with the principles they allegedly espouse. I most certainly do not accept this as a 'trivial indulgence'. Frank Brennan, after hoping that Jesuit schools would help pupils take away an intelligent and acute reading of their faith, observed that in the case of Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Peter McGauran, Richard Alston and Christopher Pyne - 'it didn't seem to work there'. Would it be unreasonable to expect treatment of asylum seekers other than the disgraceful, inhumane, un-Christian degradation to which they are currently subjected? Fortunately we have had in history such people as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Helder Camara, Camilo Torres and many others who actually believed that religious conviction demanded obligations.

John Nicholson 29 May 2014

a sop to the Catholic Church. Pollies moral when it suits, Catholic apologists; you demean yourself, Andrew.

folkie 29 May 2014

Andrew wrote: "This is primarily a human question, and so secondarily a religious question. The ideology underpinning the Budget and the understanding of the role of government is that human beings have value measured to the contribution they make to economic growth, and that successful competitors should be rewarded while the unproductive are to be disciplined or disregarded. It enshrines the sense of entitlement of the affluent". Wow - now we have 'core' religious questions and 'non-core' religious questions. Please consider the word you used there - disregarded - because in my view there is no way that a Christian faith can be squared with disregarding people. That's what we're doing to refugees, for example, about which you have written. And yes, the Church does have to bear some responsibility for the actions of Tony Abbott and his ilk because these people claim to be members of the clan and have Christian values. The Church needs to make very clear that the policies pushed in the budget are not in any way derived from Christian belief. If I remember correctly it was during the debate about stem cell technologies that the Catholic archbishop of Perth attempted to influence the way politicians voted on the legislation - so on some issues the Church is very willing to make a fuss about what the Church believes Christianity teaches, but on other issues, well, not so much.

Russell 29 May 2014

You can no more ignore the place of Catholicism (or more generally, Christianity) in Australian politics than you can of Islam in Iranian politics. Abbott states clearly that his religion influences his whole life. The influence Catholicism and a Jesuit education has had on Tony Abbott is in stark contrast to that of Frank Brennan. I have no doubt it influences their interpretation of what is the common good. Unfortunately, it is the interpretation of Abbott, Hockey and Pyne that matters to Australian battlers.

Anna 29 May 2014

Thank you for teasing out these issues so clearly. In our world can a successful politician put humanity before economic 'values?

Ann Troup 29 May 2014

One of the most disturbing things about Tony Abbott is his inability to make coherent sentences or pursue a logical argument in public discourse. It would be unfair to see his Jesuit teachers as cause for this pitiful incompetence in a Prime Minister and argues for nature as well as nurture in his human development. One has the awful feeling he spent more time at Oxford boxing than debating, with results that are unavoidable to see on the evening news.

CLOSE READING 29 May 2014

It is a pity you don't have an opinion column in a national newspaper, Andrew, because, as a Jesuit priest, you would bring some important insights to national discussion on religious matters and politics. You are actually dealing with the moral side of things, which is the function of the Church and not taking part in partisan politics: Jesus would've understood this. He was very concerned about what are now called social justice issues but did not involve himself in partisan politics: hence his comment on the respective realms of God and Caesar.

Edward Fido 29 May 2014

Andrew writes: 'The interesting question is why people would advocate and introduce such harmful, self-destructive policies'. Frankly I am not surprised by Tony Abbot and Joe Hockey's budget, it smacks of authoritarianism that is (most possibly) a hangover from their school days. The government would have known the type of budget it intended shortly after after taking office: that it would be necessary (from its point of view) to bring down a budget that contained unpalatable measures. Yet it maintained the fiction of no broken promises right up until budget night. Hardly Christian especially as it maintains the broader untruth that all Australians would be a "part of the heavy lifting". Tell that to the men and woman on welfare, pensioners and students! The Government's attempt to sell the budget- and it changes daily - is a problem of its own making: it lied to the electorate. Mr Abbott and Hockey will not be trusted again, except of course from those earning the big bucks. Oh, by the way Fr. George, the Magisterium is not infallible, thank God, and I agree with Andrew.

Jeff Kevin 29 May 2014

Good points Close Reading. Personally I have yet to see evidence of the knowledge Abbott supposedly had to be awarded the Rhodes. Something about it smells!! One of the most disturbing things about Tony Abbott is his inability to make coherent sentences or pursue a logical argument in public discourse. It would be unfair to see his Jesuit teachers as cause for this pitiful incompetence in a Prime Minister and argues for nature as well as nurture in his human development. One has the awful feeling he spent more time at Oxford boxing than debating, with results that are unavoidable to see on the evening news.

Name 29 May 2014

Andrew, the embarrassing fact is that Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Mathias Cormann and Barnaby Joyce are all on the front bench of the most punitive federal government in our history and all are happy to identify as Catholics. As one of my non-Catholic friends said, 'I'd like to sit in the back pews of any of the masses they go to, listen to what they are hearing, and wonder how they interpret it.' The same could be said of their schooling.

Ellen 29 May 2014

FATHER JOHN GEORGE: Even the pope doesn't keep bashing people over the head with the Magisterium the way you do sometimes. Do you think divorce should also be made illegal and de facto realtionships?

AURELIUS 29 May 2014

Well yes. BUT we have Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Andrew Robb, Christopher Pyne, and Kevin Andrews (apologies to anyone I missed) believing or pretending to believe that: 1. the Rudd government response to the GFC was irresponsible 2. Australia has a deficit/debt crisis 3. the deficit levy is a commensurate contribution by the wealthy to our national belt tightening 4. it is OK to treat asylum seeker children of God as vermin 5. etc. etc. etc. Something has gone off the rails.

Jim Jones 30 May 2014

Thank you for the rich variety of the postings. A few notes to clarify my argument. 1. My central point is to say that when we evaluate a government's polices, we should not focus on the personalities of those in government but on the effects of the policies on people. That is what matters. 2. Discussion of whether people are real Catholics, for better or worse, will not help change their minds about harmful policies. Certainly, being called a hypocrite or cafeteria catholic has never encouraged me to self-reflection and change. Maybe others find it helpful. 3. Catholics certainly ought ask whether particular policies, like those embodied in the budget, are consistent with the Catholic vision of the world and moral principles. That is part of living out their faith. And they should criticise policies that diverge from those principles. 4. Catholic moral principles are not true because they are Catholic but because they say something essential about what it means for human beings and society to flourish. Christ and the Church teach them because they are humanly right; they are not right because the Church or Christ teaches them. 4. So in public discussion it is better to criticise bad policy on the grounds that it demeans and does not enhance the dignity of people and groups of people in society, rather than on the grounds of its lack of consistency with Catholic principles. The latter defect follows from the former.

andy hamilton 30 May 2014

Father Hamilton SJ All things are good as created by God,the originator of trustworthy humanism[Gen1:31]. But the obfuscated mind of man, due to Original Sin, needs the light of Christ, and His Mystical Body[RCC] to ascertain the integrity of political policy, rather than e.g. secular humanist reconnoitres or atheist utilitarian Gallup polls.

Father John George 30 May 2014

I'm afraid Fr Hamilton your added glossary adds nothing of substance to your original statement. Of course, we must examine the effects of shameful policies on those afflicted by such policies. However, an integral element of a democratic society is those who legislate are held to account. They are held to account on the basis of their government, their accreditation, their qualifications, their undertakings and their claims to principle. They are subject to judgement as you, rightly pointed out, we all are. Your assessment of the rights of citizens' political judgement is, I believe, seriously at fault.

John Nicholson 30 May 2014

I am a little confused . Surely Catholics are Christian and Jesus once said 'anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple'. I take that to mean that it may cost you to follow me , to live by my teachings (ethics)but that's your lot. Surely a faith that doesn't impact on all areas of life is of little real value either to me or society in general. Let's abandon that Jesus faith and do our own expedient thing.

David 31 May 2014

I agree with Anna!

Annabel 01 June 2014

This argument should seriously looked at in a global context - how first world politics/economical policies directly contribute to poverty in developing countries. Australia's poor are still relatively well-off - but spare a thought for those living on a pittance, where children still suffer from malnutrition and people still die from treatable diseases like HIV and malaria.

AURELIUS 01 June 2014

Andrew has drawn a real and valid distinction between our reaction to policies which we deem inhumane, and our judgement of the moral status of the people who drew up the policies. One's faith is a personal engagement with the divine, and that can vary among Christians; on that we ought not judge. If policy does not fit with espoused principles, it could be simply that politicians are living in a rich environment, and simply don't know what it is like to be poor.This charge could be equally made of Cardinals, Bishops, some priests and many Catholics. Maybe voters gave more credit to some Catholic and Christian politicians' promises because of their faith. But lies are lies, without invoking religion in the process.

Peter M 02 June 2014

PHOTO CAPTION: ARCHBISHOP COLERIDGE TO ABBOTT: "Tony, why are you ignoring Catholic teaching in the way Australia treats asylum seekers?" ABBOTT: Well, Archbishop Mark - it's all nice in theory, but I did promise I would stop the boats - and we all know it's also against church teaching to tell lies."

AURELIUS 04 June 2014

Whether they are Christians or catholics their beliefs influence their political stance. They have shown less humanity, more cruelty and lack of compassion than any politicians I have known of in my 70 years and I was in Britain during the thatcher years!

Liz 28 June 2014

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