Saturday, March 9, 2013

Debate it may not be, but event considers religion and politics

'Can we untangle religion and politics?' is the headline question at the Ideas at the House event - Church and State, Sydney Opera House, March 24.

The event is framed as 'AC Grayling discusses Church and State' in a 'fiery panel debate' but it's unclear if there are equal sides represented or perhaps it is an issue were there are no clear cut sides. The tone of the website publicity leans towards a negative view of church influence on state and politics and the make-up of the panel seems to settle the issue.

Anthony Grayling MA, DPhil (Oxon) FRSL, FRSA, an outstanding academic and writer, is currently Master of the New College of the Humanities, and a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford.

But in the context of this 'debate' his appointments to various humanist and secularist societies are of special note. As the headliner for this event, clearly an agenda is set.

The second panelist highlighted is Sean Faircloth, no less than Director of Strategy and Policy at the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, US and the author of Attack of the Theocrats: How the Religious Right Harms Us All And What We Can Do About It.

The first Australian to appear is Father Frank Brennan, a Jesuit priest, an adjunct fellow in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the ANU, professor of law in the Institute of Legal Studies at the Australian Catholic University, and professor of human rights and social justice at the University of Notre Dame Australia.

Father Brennan will represent a component of Christian or church views and is entirely capable of matching it with his fellow panelists.

The choice of the final panelist seems to leave Brennan alone at the event in at least putting forward some points supporting the role of church and religion in society.  Pru Goward is well known as an ABC broadcaster, former Executive Director of the Office of the Status of Women and current NSW Minister for Family and Community Services.

She is seen as more of a Conservative, but from a secular perspective, as far as we aware.

Not that we should assume that Christians all advocate for an entanglement of religion and politics or church and state, in an institutional sense. Most, hopefully, would want government to be fair and equitable for all, regardless of religion.

However they may consider the historic Judeo-Christian basis for our society and the unique place of Christian social justice deserve special recognition (or simply the recognition it deserves) and, to some extent, protection. And they may also consider that seeking to vote for candidates and parties that carry some alignment with their personal and deeply held values and views about life is not a sin.

To this end, perhaps if the organisers were interested in balance they may have appointed Goward a kind of moderator and added another eminent Christian thinker such as World Vision's Tim Costello, CPX's John Dickson or Dr Justine Toh, to name a few.

Church & State will be held at the Sydney Opera House, Sunday March 24 at 4pm with standard tickets starting at $35. More information here ACV.

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