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Bob Carr's 'overlap of cultures' and the Victorian bishops on gay marriage

  • 02 April 2012

In his maiden speech last month, Australia's new foreign minister Bob Carr articulated his vision for people of different cultures living together. Rather than multiculturalism, he spoke of the 'overlap of cultures', a phrase first used by King Abdullah of Jordan at a Davos conference in 2004.

'That notion of an overlap of cultures, I think, is inspiring, especially compared to the alternative notion of monochrome monoliths destroying one another's statuary, smashing one another's grave sites and burning one another's books.'

He went on to invite the Senate to 'dwell' on some of the 'marvellous cultures of tolerance' in the world's history. His primary example was medieval Andalusia in southern Spain, where Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together and the Muslim ruler appointed a Jewish scholar as his foreign minister.

Last week Bishop Pat Power referred to Carr's historical examples of tolerance in an opinion article in the Canberra Times. The article was based on a paper Bishop Power gave at an International Conference on Jerusalem, convened by the United Arab League and held in Doha at the end of February. 

His context was the perceived need for federal parliamentarians to understand the injustices being suffered by the Palestinian people at the hands of Israel. He writes: 'I tire of seeing our parliamentarians of all political persuasions unquestioningly supporting Israel's usurping of fundamental Palestinian rights.'

The overlap of cultures Carr refers to shows itself in a lack of tolerance for particular practices linked to religious belief such as the wearing of the burqa. Another current and pressing example is the push to change the legal definition of marriage to a form that is incompatible with the teaching of certain religious authorities.

Victoria's six Catholic bishops have just issued a pastoral letter insisting that parliamentarians respect the Catholic doctrine that 'the natural institution of marriage [is] a union between a man and a woman'. 

The bishops should be entitled to expect that the Australian Government will not legislate to 'smash' the sacrament and religious institution of marriage. In the past, civil authorities have generally respected other elements of Catholic faith such as the seal of the confessional, even though it encroaches upon transparency and other values normally regarded as non-negotiable in a secular democratic society.

Of course it goes without saying that Christians in a secular society cannot expect non-believers to live according to the teachings of their Christian religious faith. This is despite the fact that many of our