Recently Australian Federal Parliamentarian Joe Hockey, 44, the former Federal Minister for Human Services and then later for Employment and Workplace Relations in John Howard’s government and currently the Shadow Treasurer in the Federal Parliament, gave a speech entitled In Defence of God. While it never occurred to me that the Creator of the Universe needed ‘defending,’ I was keen to read what Mr. Hockey had to say, especially since his family comes from Palestine, just like mine.
I tried in vain to locate the complete text. But an extract of it was enough to get me blogging. According to Michelle Grattan’s article Hockey goes to the defence of religious faith http://www.theage.com.au/national/hockey-goes-to-the-defence-of-religious-faith-20091108-i3ip.html, Mr Hockey says:
A number of fast-growing evangelical Christian churches in Australia take a literalist approach to the scriptures. While most leaders of the older churches … have moved away from such a position … there is still an alienating literalism that pervades many faiths …
One of the reasons why Christian faith has declined in the Western world is because of the reliance placed on a literal reading of the testaments by church leaders. (Literal interpretations reject the scientific theory of evolution in favour of creationism.)
By encouraging literalist analysis of the Bible, many churches have inadvertently invited people to question the validity of a faith that seems to be based on questionable facts or outdated prescription,'' he says.
And while debate rages about such matters, the true message of the scriptures - of compassion, justice, equality, dignity, forgiveness, charity and respect for other people - inevitably takes a back seat.
Mr. Hockey clearly professes a religious faith, like Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Both men seem to be nervous of ‘literal Christians.’ As Labor’s foreign affairs spokesman in 2006, Mr. Rudd said:
My concern is that in recent years we've only been hearing one set of Christian views on politics -- and that has been an overwhelmingly conservative one.
This is an important and timely topic ... so let’s go.
1. What does it mean to be a ‘literal Christian?’
2. Are ‘literal Christians’ responsible for the alleged ‘decline of Christianity’ in the West?
First, the remarkable thing is that Mr. Hockey, who has Palestinian/Middle East roots, has made a (not so) subtle attack on those who take the Bible literally. Why remarkable? Because in the Middle East, observant believers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all take their holy books literally, though in various degrees. Mr. Hockey was born in Australia and belongs to the Roman Catholic Church; however, he seems to be more compliant with the new civil religion called ‘tolerance.’
Second, what is a ‘literal Christian.’ Such individuals could also be termed ‘conservative,’ ‘Bible-believing,’ and ‘born again.’ They take literally and seriously what the Bible says, within reason. Now the Scripture does have symbols, allegories, and figurative language, but often these are apparent (e.g. Jesus says ‘I am the door’) and there is often a powerful spiritual principle behind it. So the literal Christian takes literally those many passages that are straight-forward and seeks the clear meaning of those passages that are symbolic.
Unbelievers, liberal Christians, and those who worship at the ‘temple of tolerance,’ have strong objections to the supernatural aspects of the Bible, in particular, three things:
2. The Flood of Noah;
3. Jonah in the belly of the whale.
They dismiss these events out-of-hand as mythology and attack those who take them literally.
Literal Christians tend to take a conservative view of traditional morality. They believe that sex is for marriage and marriage reserved for heterosexual couples only. Abortion is viewed as murder and homosexual behavior (‘same-sex erotic acts’) as sin. Despite the fact that this has been the normal, standard mindset for millennia, the non-literalists see abortion and gay rights as the new emancipation proclamation and literal Christians as roadblocks in the way of human progress. In the UK and Europe, ‘literal Christians’ are being subject to scorn, ridicule, and discrimination by liberal churches and unbelievers. Unless something happens, this tidal wave of intolerance is coming our way.