Imagine politics without Christians: Abbott tells critics

Critics should "ponder the loss of Kevin Rudd and Tim Costello, as well as Brian Harradine and George Pell, before seeking to exclude religious believers from our public space," Health Minister Tony Abbott said yesterday in a spirited defence of Christianity's place in politics.

"Deep down, I suspect that the nervousness towards religion-in-politics is about the concept of truth as much as religion," he said at the re-issue of a biography of Catholic intellectual, poet and founder of Quadrant magazine, James McAuley.

"People could respectfully reject, for instance, the 'Catholic position' on human cloning, but tend to react with furious indignation ... when the ethical objection to human cloning ... is presented as a truth binding on all, not just on Catholics."

Mr Abbott said Catholics in politics had been encouraged to promote Catholic social teaching "not because it was religious but because it was right," according to an Age report.

"It is the argument that counts, not the fact that the church is putting it," he told the gathering at the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne.

Mr Abbott, a Catholic accused of using his position to sway public opinion in the debate over therapeutic cloning to create human embryos for stem cell harvesting, said critics failed to notice "the centrality of religious inspiration to our most cherished secular values."

"It's no accident that the chief features of the modern polity - freedom under the law, welfare systems for people struggling to cope, impartial public administration and so on - all developed first and most fully in societies under strong Christian influence," he said.

"The West's modern version of human rights is almost inconceivable without the insights of Erasmus, Thomas More and the other Catholic humanists.

Mr Abbott also noted that many of the leading thinkers of the European Enlightenment of the 18th century were "personally devout."

"It can hardly be a coincidence that the values of the Enlightenment took root in Christian countries. After all, it was not Jean-Jacques Rousseau but Jesus who first proclaimed: 'Love your neighbour as you love yourself.'"

Mr Abbott was relaunching "The Heart of James McAuley", by Peter Coleman who examines McAuley's development from an anarchistic youth till his Catholic conversion of later years.

The biography also considers his relations with BA Santamaria and other figures of the period, his involvement with the Industrial Groups, the ALP and the DLP as well as in the founding of Quadrant magazine.

Critics fail to see the light: Abbott (Sydney Morning Herald, 29/8/06)
Cut & paste: The folly of purging religious believers from public life (The Australian, 29/8/06)
Peter Coleman Book Launch, with Tony Staley and Tony Abbott (Institute of Public Affairs, Media Release)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Tony Abbott MHR
Kevin Rudd MHR
Institute of Public Affairs
James McAuley (Australian Dictionary of Biography (Online Edition)
Erasmus (Wikipedia)
Thomas More (Wikipedia)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Wikipedia)
The Age of Enlightenment (Wikipedia)

29 Aug 2006