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The Machiavellian leaking of “fake news” out of the Ruddock review of religious freedom during the Wentworth by-election and the emotionally charged reaction raises yet again the issue of how 25 million people are going to live together with their deepest ideological and religious beliefs in the vastly different Australia we now live in.  In short, the question is how we are now going to respect diversity and still promote liberty while maintaining the harmony that has been so much the hallmark of our national life.  We must face up to the urgency of the problem: we are atomising and fracturing in the context of the rise of powerful ferment over beliefs and ideologies across the globe.

Far from this being “the end of history” or an age of secularism, we are witnessing a global resurgence of religion and ideology.  We are also living through a clash of Western traditions within our own civilisation, between liberal traditionalism and cultural Marxism, both of which emerged out of the Enlightenment.  Add to this the emergence of social media, which was supposed to create a virtual global public square, but in the process has also created virtual global tribes, and we a have vast new machinery for transforming civil disagreement into civil hate.  These forces are potentially so destabilising that they may threaten our governability.

If we beneficiaries of liberal democracy and human rights better understood our history we wouldn’t be so reserved about affirming religious freedom.  History teaches that the long arc of Christian influence on society has proven to be hugely beneficial.  No doubt it is easy to find serious moral blemishes in Christian history, but it was also out of Christianity’s capacity for reform that the solutions evolved.  Perez Zagorin in his classic book How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West shows that religious freedom, the beginning of liberalism, largely emerged from Christian tradition in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The great myth is that all of our most cherished values came out of some secular Enlightenment.  On the contrary, notions of human dignity and equality arose in the Judeo-Christian tradition hundreds of years before the Enlightenment; and, in any case, for the most part the Enlightenment was not secular.  The great Enlightenment document affirming human rights, equality, and liberty, Thomas Jefferson’s 1776 Declaration of Independence, based these ideals on the notion that “all men are created equal” and are “endowed by their Creator” with these rights.  To this day secularists have not found a better foundation.

The anti-slavery movement, perhaps the greatest human rights achievement of all time, drank deeply at the well of Christianity, with the strong religiosity of African-Americans to this day testifying to a collective awareness of Christianity’s emancipatory potential.  The early feminist movement was also made up of many individual Christian women, including the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which was the major agent behind women getting the vote in South Australia in 1894.  Evangelicals were at the front of 19th-century movements to improve the conditions in factories: Catholic social thought influenced Justice Henry Higgins in the Harvester judgment of 1907, which introduced a minimum “living” wage in Australia.

None of this is even to mention the huge social utility of religion in Australia today, particularly in the founding of charities and levels of charitable giving, as outlined in Greg Sheridan’s brilliant God is Good For You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times.  Society benefits from religion, even if not all individuals know it, and thus it is at our collective loss if we hinder religion’s efforts to maintain strong institutions and have a public influence.  But strong religious institutions are made up of strongly religious individuals, that is, individuals who honour the principles of the institution in thought and deed.

For this reason as long as we recognise the importance of allowing religious institutions, churches, schools, charities, to exist we must allow them to discriminate in their membership, lest our commitment to freedom of religion and association is just an empty gong.  It cannot be doubted that individuals can be hurt by the exercise of the rights of religion and conscience, just as people can be hurt by other rights such as freedom of speech, association, we all exercise the right to exclude individuals from our circle of friends, and even free trade.  The best way to address this is within the paradigm of liberal freedoms themselves.

In a liberal democracy, if a clash of interests can be resolved without limiting anybody’s freedoms then it should be the preferred way.  In the case of religious schools in a highly developed country like Australia, most people have the option of more than just one school to work or study in.  Furthermore, as the Ruddock review recommends, schools can develop strategies for making their doctrinal and moral expectations clear from the beginning in a sensitive way, seeking to avoid any unnecessary hurt.  Interestingly, this reflects the diversity of political parties in our system as a vital part of the machinery of our freedom.

Politicians argue that voters should have choice, and we as voters embrace choice every time we decide whom to vote for.  The rhetoric of an often aggressive secularism which seeks to drive religion out of the public square fails to grasp that secularism is merely one voice in the pluralist crowd.  Contemporary secularists need to accept that while Australia is not as religious as it was a generation ago, it is not the secularist nation they would like.  If secularists rejoice that the 2016 census reported that 30 per cent of Australians register “no religion” they must also acknowledge that around 50 per cent of Australians identified as Christian, with continued immigration coming from countries that are less secular than Australia.

Thus, calls for the withdrawal of public funding for religious schools that discriminate are seriously flawed.  Such calls covertly define the Australian “public” as secular, as though the religious parents who send their children to religious schools aren’t themselves members of the same public that contributes the funds from which Australian schools are supported.  Once we acknowledge that the Australian public remains to a significant degree a religious public, as the 2016 census indicated, then religious schools have as much right to public funding as non-religious schools.

Sir Robert Menzies said that “democracy is more than a machine; it is a spirit. It is based upon the Christian conception that there is in every human soul a spark of the divine.”  For Menzies, democracy could work only if we remember that “with all their inequalities of mind and body, the souls of men stand equal in the sight of God”.  In the ridiculing and mocking of the Christian God and his expulsion from the public square, we have also lost the compelling narrative that Menzies so plainly understood for respecting one another that arises from the Christian insistence on loving your neighbour as yourself, even when that neighbour is your enemy.

In the all-too-common circumstances when we find we profoundly and genuinely disagree, we now resort to such levels of hate speech that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are faced with a civic crisis.  The aggressive secularists who insist on burning down what remains of our cultural house have proved totally unable to point the way to a better dwelling.  The 20th century showed us just how hideous secular utopianism can be.  Modern Australia could surely use an infusion of some things traditionally Christian, for example Christianity’s emphasis on humility.

When you replace humility with a culture of narcissism and self-righteousness, those with whom we disagree become wicked in our minds.  But as Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”  We are also seeing how superficial progressives’ commitment to multiculturalism actually is, for the cultural integrity of religious schools, Christian or otherwise, seems to have no moral force when it comes to the diversity movement.

In fact, the demands of diversity are a new form of assimilation.  Dare to disagree on cultural grounds with the reigning orthodoxy on gender politics and you’ll immediately find yourself branded a lesser Australian.  Much as I dislike the racial and sexual discrimination architecture in this country, it appears that an overarching religious discrimination act may be the only way to secure as a positive right an acceptable degree of religious freedom in contemporary Australia.  It would need to be very carefully thought through and drafted in order to properly enshrine religious freedom, associational rights, and freedom of conscience as human rights.

Ironically, this is necessary to bring us into line with the very international obligations so beloved of today’s social activists.  We are fortunate that in Australia there is indication of a decent majority that values freedom of conscience and religious liberty.  The submissions in favour of religious liberty and freedom of conscience to the Ruddock review into religious freedom were overwhelming and, according to polls conducted during the 2017 same-sex marriage debate, a very large majority of Australians are in favour of the protection of religious liberty.

I don’t hear anyone arguing for an extension of religious liberty; rather, it has become patently obvious that effective measures are now needed to simply preserve the freedoms we’ve taken for granted and exercised for so long in laissez-faire Australia.  That is because our society is now plainly infused with activists who are determined to use every tool available to enforce their views on others, no matter the cost.  And as a result, our cherished social harmony really is now at risk.

Source: John Anderson, former deputy prime minister of Australia and leader of the National Party from 1999 to 2005.

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What do Metallica’s James Hetfield, a church pastor and a group of college students have in common?  They’re part of an unlikely alliance raising awareness of the damage pornography is doing. After the death of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, pornography made its way out of the shadows and into the spotlight.  Public response was divided: some saw Hef as a champion of sexual liberation, while others slammed the mogul for destroying lives.  It’s rare that someone’s death divides society so dramatically, but when it comes to the founder of a multi-million-dollar pornography empire it’s no surprise.

Which is why I was shocked when I found the middle ground taken by a church pastor.  And not just any pastor.  It was Craig Gross, the founder of anti-porn movement XXXchurch.  Gross’s entire career is based around the concept that “Jesus Loves Porn Stars”, and he has spoken to countless people in the sex industry about the dangers of pornography and how to overcome addiction.  If anyone was going to glory in this hit to the Playboy Empire, I would expect it to be him.  Gross had taken his own tour of the Playboy mansion years ago and had heard from an inside source that Hef kept a copy of Rick Warren’s faith-based book The Purpose Driven Life beside his bed.

It gave him the congenial respect to post this in response to Hefner’s death: “I don’t know if Hef is looking down on us right now or not, but my faith is just big enough to hold on to the hope that this brilliant mind who started at Esquire and went on to build an empire was smart enough to pick up that Christian book on his shelf and possibly could have found his true purpose.”  Gross’s choice to reach out to those affected by Hugh Hefner’s death rather than dispense morality-based judgment is the calling card of a new generation of anti-porn crusaders.  And while crusaders may sound like strong language, it’s appropriate.

Because this fact-based movement, which listens to people’s stories, observes how porn changes the brain, damages relationships and harms children, believes they are fighting what could be the most damaging drug of our times: pornography.  As in the magazines you used to sneak out of your parents room as a kid.  Except now porn isn’t just in print: it’s online.  And technology has exacerbated porn to the point where it is more efficient, violent, cheaper and more accessible than ever before.  This means young people are increasingly accessing porn, the median age they first see it is 11, and boys aged between 14–17 years are the most frequent under-age consumers of porn.

But porn isn’t just damaging the lives of children, it’s also impacting adults.  In 2006, a study found that 82% of 18–49-year-olds looked at pornographic magazines, 84% viewed pornographic films, and 34% viewed pornography online.  Experts anticipate this has risen in the last decade.  “As porn becomes more violent and degrading, so do the real-life requests of boys and men,” Michelle Brock told Relevant Magazine, reflecting on what she learnt after creating the anti-porn documentary Over 18.  One mum in tears, told us her 14-year-old daughter had been asked by several guys in her class for naked pictures of herself which would then get traded between boys during recess.”

Filmmaker Justin Hunt heard about even more tragic behaviour in children when he was making his film Addicted to Porn: Chasing the Cardboard Butterfly.  Narrated by Metallica front man James Hetfield, the cultural significance of the film is almost unprecedented.  “[Porn is] getting down to very, very young kids and it’s poisoning the roots of community and of family and of society,” Justin tells Warcry.  “We’re not just talking about what the actual act of doing or watching pornography is doing, but how it ripples out.  With technology, a lack of public education, more porn as they get older, then they get into relationships and they expect it to be like that and it’s not.

Then the family falls apart, and it all goes back to way back to when they were looking at porn as kids.”  Addicted to Porn documents the thoughts of experts famously for and against porn, and how porn is perceived by people across the globe.  Notably, it also delves into a heart-wrenching case study of a mother whose marriage to her sweetheart fell apart due to his life-altering addiction to pornographic content.  “She began to explain to me the depth of her husband’s addiction, he wanted to poke his eyes out, because when he looked at her, she felt the projection of all these naked women on her,” Justin shares.

This is a human issue. You don’t have to have a certain set of beliefs to acknowledge that you can’t be pro-porn.  “Previously I couldn’t fathom that would be a reason someone would get divorced, it just became very apparent that this was doing damage, and someone needed to step up and do something about it.”  Pastors, musicians and directors aren’t the only ones stepping into the ring to take on porn, young people around the world have also taken on the fight.  Fight the New Drug, a non-profit, non-religious movement started by a group of college kids in 2009, uses science, facts and personal accounts to educate people about the harmful effects of pornography.

They are adamantly “pro-love and pro-healthy sex” which is why the facts they share are so compelling.  “We want to educate as many people as possible so that they can have a real shot of finding love before porn impacts their lives,” the organisation told Warcry.  “Pornography can rewire reward pathways in the brain and become addictive, contribute to a variety of mental and emotional disorders like depression and anxiety, can warp one’s sexual template and inhibit the ability or desire to connect with a real partner.”  Fight the New Drug aren’t afraid to highlight the connection between porn, human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

In fact, they regularly feature blogs about previous porn stars in an effort to destroy the facade that porn is just harmless fun.  “This is a human issue.  You don’t have to have a certain set of beliefs to acknowledge that you can’t be pro-porn,” they say.  “You don’t have to be a woman to recognise that porn is more often than not incredibly degrading and violent against women.  You don’t have to be a man to struggle with pornography.  You don’t have to be any particular race, religion, gender, sexual orientation to care about what the multi-billion-dollar porn industry is doing to our culture.”

Few topics are as polarising as pornography, but wherever you sit, consider this your invitation to learn more.  Because when it comes to the facts, the truth is that temporal pleasure is creating a lifetime of pain for countless people.  To learn more, visit Addicted to Porn: Chasing the Cardboard Butterfly is available now on iTunes.

Source: Warcry (USA)

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