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63% of us identify as either an atheist or non-religious. If that’s the case, how did we elect an openly devout leader?
How does one of the most secular nations on earth vote for and elect a leader who wears his faith so brazenly upon his person? We rank 8th, with 63% of Australians marking themselves as either “not a religious person” or “atheist”, according to the worldwide Gallup poll of 2017 on irreligiosity.
The separation of church and state was a concept created around the time of the reformation and the industrial revolution. The concept was created in the face of an overwhelmingly powerful Catholic church, and no doubt informed the world over by religious institutions within their states.
The idea was, in the face of a rise of early democracies within monarchical systems, to keep the religious institutions from having the kind of power the Catholic church had for much of the medieval and dark ages. It was an attempt to keep decision making within the institutions that were designed specifically for decision making—i.e., representatives, or lords, etc—some more democratic than others, obviously.
But this idea was created upon an extremely religious society, a Europe that was devoutly Christian—whatever their particular sect was, they were absolutely a Christian society. The idea of the separation was to create a balanced system where the church was still ever-present to guide Christians, but not involved in the government directly as it had been.
But something unexpected happened. Society became, starting marginally with the enlightenment, irreligious. As religion started to lose sway, over the course of the 20th century, the assumption that all the citizens were religious regardless was no longer a given.
This meant that religion had been separated from the mainline governmental structure, and now the people themselves were becoming irreligious. Of course, this was a slow process, but it seems like it’s really been hitting its stride, as irreligiousness has absolutely exploded in the past few decades. That same Gallop poll shows an increase of 5% in just two years within Australia.
So what happens to the swathe of people who are still Christian, who grew up in what seemed to be a Christian state? It surely has seemed for the past few decades that the world is growing increasingly anti-Christian.
The separation of church and state was a concept created around the time of the industrial revolution… How does one of the most secular nations on earth elect a leader who wears his faith so brazenly?
You can see the same dynamic happening in the United States, though they are still about 61% religious; the world is slowly turning upon the institutions of Christianity, in all its forms.
What you see, in Australia and the West as a whole, is an attraction to Christian candidates by the most homogeneously Christian areas, as these areas are the most susceptible to concern that their entire community is at risk by this irreligiousness. You need only look at places like Western Australia and Queensland, bastions of conservatism, and their voting numbers for their openly Christian liberal candidate. The more the number of Christians shrink, the more they feel they need to cling to leadership that stands in the open. There is a well documented and strong desire across the west from Christian groups to want to move back the clock, to when society was more religious as a whole, and Christianity was the culture of the country itself.
There’s a great deal of sadness and fear from the fact that it has shrunk to a minority, and every generation that passes is significantly less religious than the last.
So when a shrinking society sees a leader who stands by his religious convictions, they will vote as if their lives depend on it, getting others to do likewise. The question is, for just how long this will be a meaningful act, with dwindling numbers?
Of course, religiosity isn’t the main reason Scott Morrison was reelected; it was a plethora of reasons, including an immense smear campaign of the opposition, focus on the economy in the age of globalised uncertainty and the ever-present threat of immediate bankruptcy should Labor appear in Canberra. Moreover, Labor didn’t do much to oppose this immense fear campaign, so were simply displaced.
But for how a religious leader can be the head of a democratic state that is significantly irreligious, the answer is that he needs to be more than just that. The religious will come out in droves to support him, but he also needs to appeal to the irreligious. By scaring everyone enough about Labor and promising everyone jobs, he also hit enough other points to secure his campaign.
Not all religious people will vote Liberal, but their open support of a dwindling ideology means they will almost always get the Lion’s share.