Democratic rights, social values, the Christian Right
A report to the Central Committee Executive of the CPA, February 4-5, 2006.
by Anna Pha
Thirty years ago anyone proposing some of the extreme changes that are taking place now would not have been taken seriously. Many past gains are being rolled back and anti-democratic, repressive measures are being introduced. Fundamental principles that underlie the responsibilities of the state for such things as social security, the relationship between state and church, public ownership of basic utilities, attitudes towards women and multiculturalism, and the legal system itself are being turned on their head.
These developments are not confined to Australia. They are evident in the USA under a Republican government and in Britain under New Labour. They did not come out of thin air nor did they arise because of a few individuals such as John Howard, Tony Blair or George W Bush. They have involved years of secretive work on organisational, political, and ideological questions.
Wealthy patrons have invested hundreds of millions of dollars on a long-term, step-by-step strategy and the evolution of sophisticated tactics. Institutions, academics, newspapers and media personalities have been funded along with secret organisations, all pushing a similar agenda.
During the 1960s and ‘70s many progressive gains were won. The Family Court with no-fault divorce, free public tertiary education, Medibank (forerunner to Medicare), women’s rights, wide acceptance of multiculturalism, legal abortion, acceptance of de facto relationships and, more recently, gay rights are examples. None of these were accepted by the hard Christian Right.
In addition there was the military defeat of the US and Australian forces in Vietnam, an oil crisis and a period of rampant inflation in the 1970s. The “godless”, socialist Soviet Union and East Europe put a break on war and offered workers paid maternity leave, heavily subsidised child care, cheap housing and public transport, as well as free, universal public education and health services. Imperialism was running into serious difficulties.
The progressive changes implemented reflected a deep and profound ideological movement in the direction of society away from capitalist greed and individualism and towards collective values that serve the interests of the majority of people.
Back in the early 1980s the extreme Christian Right decided to set about reversing these social gains and returning to the past — to the 1950s and before regarding morality, to the 19th Century master-servant relationship in the workplace, and back even further to the crusades of the 10th and 11th Centuries to Christianise the world.
In George W Bush they saw their chance to gain control of the presidency in America. Howard in Australia may not share all of their theological outlook but his religious values and extreme conservatism suits them. Some were quite open about their religious views, but others such as Tony Blair have hidden their religious convictions.
The Christian Right agenda
We have explained economic rationalist policies (deregulation and privatisation, “free trade”, cuts to welfare, etc.), the attacks on women’s rights, fostering racism, the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan and so on, in terms of the drive for global domination by transnational corporations and imperialist governments which serve their interests. Valid as this is, it is only part of the picture.
When proponents of welfare cuts claimed that poverty was not caused by lack of income but by the behaviour or morality of those who are poor, I for one have treated such arguments as spin, used to justify unpopular, unacceptable policies.
Take for example the following: “Women who start a family at a young age with no partner to support them are much more likely to end up depending on welfare than women who delay parenthood until they are married (or at least, until they are living with somebody who is not going to abandon them and their child). These are all choices people make …Nobody is forced to have a baby without a committed partner…”1 Tell that to the battered mother whose husband or partner shoots through! The author of that quote is Peter Saunders from the Centre for Independent Studies.
The same author argues that making benefits more generous would increase hardship, that shortage of money does not cause poverty, and that poverty is a choice one makes.
Such arguments are being used to cut welfare benefits. In some Aboriginal communities welfare payments and basic infrastructure are being made conditional on behavioural changes rather than considered to be basic rights.
In analysing changes in Australia, the US and the UK, (where the majority of religious persons are Christian) we may have under-estimated the role played by Christian fundamentalism. Our governments are quick to point the finger at Islamic fundamentalism, but how different is Christian fundamentalism to Muslim, Jewish or Hindu fundamentalism? Their agenda in many respects coincides with the interests of the transnational corporations and the TNCs are prepared to make use of fundamentalism as an ideological weapon for their own purposes.
While the various strands of fundamentalism differ on specific issues, they share a great deal in common:
- religion is central to their thinking;
- fundamentalism has little tolerance for people who are different and do not adhere to their values;
- they aim to remove government from its role and responsibility for the welfare, health, and education of society — instead they promote
- church and private philanthropy;
- they oppose multiculturalism;
- are inherently racist;
- hold conservative social values on the role of women, IVF, birth control, abortion, sex, marriage, the family, homosexuality & other issues;
- they are rabidly anti-union;
- advocate “free market” economics;
- support governments administering a strong hand on “law and order”;
- call for military budgets to be boosted and never hesitate to go to war;
- have a hatred and fear of communism.
Achieving such dramatic and fundamental ideological, economic, political and social changes was not going to be easy following the advances made in the 1960s and ‘70s. Hence they embarked on a long-term, step-by-step strategy to achieve their goals.
Getting the message out
In America these extreme right religious forces formed a number of so-called “independent think-tanks” for this purpose and some existing ones also took up the baton. They include the American Enterprise Institute, the Olin Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Hoover Institution, Coors Institute, the Heritage Foundation, Centre for Security Policy, Project for the New American Century, American Compass, and Bradley Foundation. Wealthy individuals mostly finance them with some help from government. Many of their members hold key advisory executive positions in the current Bush administration.
In Australia, there are similar extreme right-wing institutions and organisations, often with close ties to their American or British counterparts. There is the Council for Economic Development of Australia, Centre for Independent Studies, the Sydney Institute, Institute of Public Affairs, the H R Nicholls Society, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), the Tasman Institute, the Galatians Group and a host of others. A recently formed “think-tank” is the Kokoda Foundation which is very interested in promoting military armament.
Some receive finances from government and all have strong connections with senior government, military, intelligence or police officials, according to their areas of expertise. They have strong connections with the corporate sector. Areas include defence, economic questions, infrastructure, social policy or whatever. Much of the work they do was once done by government departments (since downsized), but is now contracted out to them by the Government.
In the US, wealthy individuals such as Richard Mellon Scaife and the Rev. Sung Myung Moon keep many of these institutions afloat. Many of the Bush administration’s closest advisers and key personnel are or have been members of or recipients of largesse from these organisations. They include Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Tom DeLay and, of course, George W Bush. They all have large private corporate interests, many of them in oil or military armaments.
Some of these individuals, their corporations and the various “independent think-tanks” have their own universities or colleges and fund chairs or departments at universities. They provide scholarships for students and academics to carry out research and assist with policy development and marketing.
The various institutes and foundations have their areas of specialisation, with many of them overlapping. Most hide their religious underpinnings, while a few defend their policies on theological grounds. Organisations such as the Heritage Foundation devote about half of their budget to marketing and propaganda work.
The public receive their propaganda from many fronts — radio, television, newspapers, some churches — all with a consistent theme.
When the same message comes from academics, is taught at colleges, spouted by politicians and pervades the airwaves, TV sets and websites, it can become very convincing. Surely all these people can’t be wrong! The public know nothing of the strong behind-the-scenes networks between these forces. Extreme right Christian preachers such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, the Reverend Moon and a host of other televangelists and radio broadcasters work closely with leading political figures and the institutes. Murdoch’s Weekly Standard and the Washington Post are two of the most rabid newspapers.
Networks and Prayer Groups
The Christian Right have permeated every area of society — whether it be through judges, teachers, politicians or whatever. They are well connected by networks and prayer groups. They provide each other with the contacts and support they need to get into positions of power.
The Christian Coalition in the US, led by televangelist Pat Robertson, is a tight-knit group of Christian fundamentalists linking politicians, radio announcers, TV personalities, foundations, etc. The Moral Majority, led by Pastor Jerry Falwell, is another powerful and influential voice. Falwell and Robertson (the man who called on the US to assassinate Venezuelan President Chávez) are close friends of Bush.
The Fellowship, also known as the Family, operates behind the scenes, bringing together Christian leaders from all over the US. It claims to be “invisible”. It holds intimate prayer breakfasts of politicians and business people and funds National Prayer Breakfasts which draw in thousands of people, many of whom do not realise who they are connected with.
This sort of organisation is being emulated in Australia — again not always in the open. The cross-party prayer breakfasts arranged by the Lyons Forum at Parliament House in Canberra are well known and on issues such as euthanasia, have proven very influential. The Lyons Forum was behind the resurrection of John Howard as Liberal Party leader in 1995. Other prayer groups around Australia are not so open.
A divine mission
Tom DeLay, former Majority Leader in the US House of Representatives and now (rather ironically) awaiting trial on money laundering charges, believes that “only Christianity offers a way to live in response to the realities that we find in this world”. He claims to be entrusted by God with a divine mission — to promote a biblical view in American politics. And the approach of DeLay, Bush, Ashcroft and others is that if you are not with “us” or part of “us”, then you are against “us”. There is no middle ground.
John Ashcroft, who Bush appointed Attorney General, is a member of the Assembly of God church which is linked to the Family First movement in Australia. When Pat Robertson launched his campaign in the last US elections, Ashcroft said: “we should legislate morality”. They believe that “Christ’s Kingdom is not a democracy”. Democracy is “a manifestation of ungodly pride”, because people rather than God are in charge.
The Promised Land
The entire staff of the White House takes part in daily Bible study groups. Some subscribe to the predictions of the 19th Century pastor, John Darby who believed that the last days of the world would be signalled by certain events: a new political and economic order, war, return of the Jews to the land promised to Abraham, rapture (true believers join Christ in the air), tribulation (marking the arrival of the Anti-Christ), the battle of Armageddon and then the second return of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. This could be dismissed as the ravings of a religious crank except that one of Darby’s followers is Michael Geerson who directs the group writing Bush’s speeches!
Dominionists and Reconstructionists
Dominionism says that God’s law is higher than mere human laws so human law should emulate God’s law. God’s law is revealed in the Bible and so human law should be based on the Bible. Is this any different to the Sharia law concepts of Islamic fundamentalists?
Dominionists seek to restrain the power of courts both through legislative assaults on “judicial activism” and by stacking the judiciary with sympathetic judges. Witness George Bush’s recent appointments to the US Supreme Court.
Dominionism comes in a number of forms, the most radical of which is called Reconstructionism. This involves Mosaic law, that is the law handed down by God through Moses as found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.
The role of the state is to be limited to those laws that existed under Moses. It is not merely about taking control but ultimately eliminating violators of their conservative values. This explains the emphasis on law and order, on military preparations and war itself and on an obsession with sameness. One is either with “us” or against others who are “them”.
God is the sovereign source of law, liberty or government. Human well-being is up to God, not the state, and in the US and increasingly so in Australia, control is passing to those seeking to build a society based on the Bible. The rich have been looked on favourably by God, the poor are poor because they have not pleased God — hence morality and behaviour are seen as causes of poverty.
Ray Evans of Western Mining Corporation fame, reflects the ideas of the Reconstructionists. He is associated with the Galatians Group and also Mont Pelerin as well as the H R Nicholls Society. Evans told a Galatians’ audience to fix their gaze on the High Court and remind the judges that their jobs depend on the dominance of Christian orthodoxy over rival belief systems: “Pray, Your Honours, remember this — no Christianity; no Western civilisation; no rule of law; no democracy; no High Court.” In other words, Christianity is the underlying basis of Western civilisation and it is the responsibility of judges to maintain the true faith in their decisions and work.
Evans’ thoughts line up with other parts of the Reconstructionist program as well. He supports abolishing minimum wages and the regulation of labour. He would like to abolish or drastically reduce government welfare to have it replaced by “private and local charity” with “family as the primary answer to the problems of misfortune, tragedy or indigenes”. Those words could have come out of the mouth of George Bush who appointed Justice Antonin Scalia to the highest court in the USA. (Scalia is alleged to be a member of Opus Dei, a clandestine personal prelature of the Catholic Church, which has gained considerable power in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Its predilection to glorify pain and wear barbed wire chain was outlined in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinici Code.)
The policies of Christian fundamentalists coincide in a number of areas (e.g. privatisation, deregulation) with the demands and interests of the transnational corporations as the state withdraws responsibility and leaves it to individuals and individual corporations but retains a powerful role in “law and order”, repressing workers and waging war.
Just as Lenin remarked: “As philosophy finds its material weapon in the proletariat, so the proletariat finds its intellectual weapons in philosophy”, so one could say today that the capitalist ruling class finds its intellectual (but not only) weapon in religion and, increasingly, religious fundamentalism.
Hillsong, which has taken off in Australia, is linked to the Catch the Fire Ministries, Assemblies of God in America. It has a member in the Senate and has just had a second member elected to the upper house of the South Australian Parliament. They preach the prosperity gospel where wealth is interpreted as a sign of God’s favour and poverty comes from one’s behaviour. The absence of wealth means that you have not pleased God.
The spiritual home for a number of fundamentalists is to be found in the Lyons Forum which was the driving force behind Howard’s campaign to win the leadership of the Liberal Party. The battle between “wets” and “dries” saw the extreme right gain control of the Parliamentary Liberal Party and the rise of the likes of Ruddock, Costello, Alston, Kevin Andrews, Jock Cameron, the Kemp brothers, and others.
Christian fundamentalism has penetrated the Labor Party as well, with the extreme right gaining a tight grip over the parliamentary party. The Queensland Labor MP Andrew McNamara exemplifies the fundamentalist approach. He says that the idea of multiculturalism is divisive because it suggests that people do not have to accept “our” values. He said: “we need to understand that the Australian culture of tolerance, freedom of religion and equality before the law and democracy, that culture is not divisible. That is our national culture and it can accommodate all manner of diversity but anyone who isn’t accepting that culture is attacking it.”
McNamara is not the only Labor Party member who has ultra-Christian Right values and joins Coalition members in the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship. This Fellowship was formed by Labor’s Gill Dulthry and the Liberals’ Merv Lee. It meets on Wednesday mornings during sitting weeks, for breakfast and a speaker. It has an estimated membership of around 60 at present. It also hosts an annual church service for the opening of Parliament. The Government actually recognises the Fellowship as an integral part of Parliament and is taking over the cost of printing the orders of service and invitation cards.
The Parliamentary Christian Fellowship is bi-partisan and its breakfasts have been addressed by Governor-General Major-General Michael Jeffery who talked about his faith. There have been Bible readings from Prime Minister John Howard and Simon Crean when he was the Leader of the Opposition. Prayers have come from the Liberal Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews. Jock Cameron, who is the central figure in the international network of prayer meetings, is also a visitor to these meetings. The Editor-in-Chief of the Sydney Morning Herald Mark Scott is another.
There are direct links between the Lyons Forum and Hillsong through such people as Alan Cadman. They all preach the prosperity gospel, that wealth and worldly success are signs of God’s favour. This view is not something that mainstream churches look upon with pleasure. If this were to be true, Jesus must have been a spectacular failure for he did not acquire a great deal of wealth and prosperity in any material sense.
Pastor of the Orange Baptist Church Reverend Robert Griffith who attended a prayer breakfast in 2001 representing the National Board of Christian Parent-Controlled Schools commented, “God’s agenda is far greater than I ever dreamed. He is calling His people into leadership positions right across our nation… He is raising up men and women into leadership in government… I sense the Lord saying very clearly, ‘this is my house [Parliament] and I will be worshipped here too, every day — do you believe me?’… God wants to saturate and permeate every human institution we can.”
The fundamentalists do not support the court system and wish to end no-fault divorce. Their social attitudes are conservative on such issues as abortion, IVF, euthanasia and other rights of women. They have a policy of zero tolerance towards drug users and seek to entrench religious agencies into every area of society.
As the book God Under Howard by Marion Maddox2 states, “Peter Costello told an Anglicare lunch that the welfare state could never supplant charities because such agencies ‘bring an extra dimension to their work to the extent they are staffed by people of strong religious or moral conviction’ and, consequently, their work ‘enriches the giver as well as the receiver’.”
To Costello the cutting back of government services is not placing a burden on the poor but making space for charity to move in and for recipients of charity to modify their behaviour and morality in line with that of the Christian Right.
Communist Party perspective
The majority of people in Australia do not share the racist, anti-women, socially and economically conservative agendas of the fundamentalists. Divisions have emerged within the ranks of the ruling class, in the military, in the Liberal and National Parties and in business circles as more moderate forces reject or feel ill at ease with the policies being pushed.
Howard has developed considerable skill in getting around these differences, although he failed to get his way on the abortion drug RU486. He uses such methods as the “dog whistle” whereby he conveys religious beliefs which are picked up by those who share his values but are not heard by the rest of the community. (A dog whistle has a high pitch above the range of the human ear, but can be heard by dogs over long distances.) Terms such as “focus on family”, “family values”, “marriage” convey a particular agenda to the Christian Right. Howard’s other techniques include blatant untruths when stating his position on certain issues. He knows when to become “invisible” and when to bask in the glory. He is skilled at implying, without overtly stating his position, with language such as “them” and “us” where the “them” might be single mothers, Muslims, refugees or some other group being denigrated or demonised.
What does all of this mean for the work of the CPA?
It is imperative that we further study the role of the religious right in today’s politics. A massive ideological war has been waged for the past twenty years against working-class ideas and interests. The individual is being pushed in place of the collective; private in the place of public; self-provision and user pays in the place of government responsibility and free or subsidised health and welfare services; class struggle is denounced as outdated and trade unions as irrelevant or “third parties”.
The Religious Right has become an important additional factor that has not been given much attention. It includes such forces as the Pentacostals, Evangelists, Hillsong, Opus Dei and Mormons. Such fundamentalist forces have always been around, their existence is not new. What is new is their ascendancy in Australia, Britain and the USA where they wield considerable influence and power. Forces we might once have scoffed at as “crazies” or “lunatic fringe” are no longer sitting on the fringe but are in the courts, government and elsewhere. To a large degree their policies are being phased in bit by bit.
If the IR and the other legislation, such as for welfare benefits, has a similar effect to that which was enacted in New Zealand, then we are looking at millions of people becoming even more insecure and desperate as wages plummet, prices rise and benefits are slashed. There has already been a considerable erosion of democratic rights, workplace rights, job security and real wages for the majority of workers as a result of earlier “reforms” and two decades of economic rationalist policies.
As conditions continue to worsen, as is most likely in the near future, people will be looking for something else. Already many workers are angry and disillusioned with the ALP right-wing leadership. Where will they turn to find a secure future?
In the 1930s the choice for many in Europe was between fascism and communism. That is the choice again today, but the fascism being offered now is much different to the Nazi blackshirts of that period. It comes from the Christian fundamentalists who hold the seemingly contradictory beliefs in accumulating private profits and Armageddon.
Our own analyses and propaganda and work in mass organisations could benefit by giving more attention to the role now being played by Christian fundamentalism. We often hear of other forms of fundamentalism — Hindu in India, Muslim in Afghanistan or Iraq, Jewish in Israel — but not about the influence of its Christian variety, yet it directly affects us.
We have an important role, to expose the fallacies in their arguments, to defend basic democratic rights, secular education, the public sector, the responsibilities of the state for society’s well being, multiculturalism, the many freedoms we still enjoy and the legal statutes that our court systems are based on, regardless of how imperfect they might be. We have a responsibility to argue for our dialectical materialist philosophy.
The majority of people are still on our side in regard to these important issues.
There is a need to look more closely at the interface of religion and politics, religion and class, religion and economics and the role that religion is now playing in society where the barriers between religion and state are being blurred.
And of course, communists have an alternative to offer, one that could create genuine security and peace while improving the lives of people — and hopefully still be in time to save the planet from an Armageddon that some in power believe in and have the weapons to bring about.