- The Guardian
- Issue #2019
Are we really a “judeo-christian” society? Does our society really “empower” us? Well it depends on who you ask in this fortnight’s edition of Weasel Words!
Ours is a “Judeo-Christian” civilisation, right? This term sounds purely historical. There were Jews. Then there were also Christians, whose religion derives from Judaism. There are churches all over the place in Australia and there are also synagogues. The most irreligious of us know about things like the ten commandments, Passover, and the golden rule: so “Judeo-Christian” is just an accurate description of how we got to where we are now, isn’t it?
Not quite. “Judeo-Christian” is a relatively recent description, a Cold War one that US president Ike Eisenhower supported in 1952. As historian Richard J Evans says, “Judeo-Christian” was a way of stressing differences from the threat of “atheist communism,” as well as allowing Catholic dictatorships in Spain and Portugal into the “Western Civilisation” club despite their horrendous records as far as democracy (more of a pre-Christian Ancient Greek thing) and human rights (a bit French Revolutionary) were concerned.
None of this is to say that Judaism and Christianity aren’t important to our history – they are! But the “Judeo-Christian” label for civilisation can often be a way to sneak bigotry towards other faiths and peoples into how we look at our civilisation. For example, the term is really popular with Tony Abbott and the extremely racist Hungarian PM Viktor Orban.
As long as we’re talking about regular people and not Australian government security/intelligence agencies, giving someone more power than they had before seems like a step in the right direction. The CPA works tirelessly to empower working people through education and organisation, and I really like that.
Empowerment became a bit of a buzzword in the 1970s and 1980s due to the feminism of that era stressing things women could do to reclaim power taken away from them by a sexist society. Like a lot of good feminist ideas, empowerment has been reclaimed by heartless bureaucracies as a way of making callousness seem liberating. Bureaucracies do that not because planning things is bad, or because the public servants who run them are bad people, but because of the neoliberal pressure to save money instead of spending it on vulnerable people who need help. What sounds better – “we’re leaving you without information or support” or “we’re empowering you to make your own decisions”? Just ask anyone who’s been forced to turn up to a JobNetwork agency for a timewasting “course,” or anyone who’s trying to navigate the NDIS how empowered they feel.