February 26th 2005


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: NATIONAL AFFAIRS: The WMC takeover - losing our last mining giant

EDITORIAL: A challenge to the biotech corporations?

SCHOOLS: The battle for our children's minds

SPECIAL FEATURE: 1.5 million dead Armenians (but don't tell the EU)

ECONOMICS: Australia's plight in dire need of a remedy

SUGAR INDUSTRY: Anger at stalled sugar package

ENERGY: Ethanol needed for new fuel, engine standards

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Conspiracy against public health / Half a loaf is better than one / Palm oil - a New Class aphrodisiac

IRAQ: Shi'ite win in Iraq elections vindicates US role

CHINA-TAIWAN RELATIONS: China's anti-secession law raises tension

CHINA: Beijing's ban on sex-selective abortion

POPULATION: Why Australia must decentralise to new states now

OPINION: The tsunami of bias

The Holocaust Industry (letter)

Communist killings (letter)

Putin a second Stolypin? (letter)

The Left and the Iraq War (letter)

Misinformation about WW2 bombing (letter)

No reaction to Dutch infanticide (letter)

Link queried (letter)

Sure-fire recipe for disaster (letter)

BOOKS: DAWKINS' GOD: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life, by Alister McGrath

BOOKS: GOD UNDER HOWARD: The Rise of the Religious Right in Australian Politics

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BOOKS:
GOD UNDER HOWARD: The Rise of the Religious Right in Australian Politics


by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, February 26, 2005
Debunking a conspiracy theory

GOD UNDER HOWARD: The Rise of the Religious Right in Australian Politics
By Marion Maddox


Allen & Unwin
Paperback RRP: $29.95

One would not be too cynical in suggesting that this book is quite similar to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code: both can be viewed as works of fiction masquerading as non-fiction. As with Brown, Maddox finds plenty of sinister conspiracies, shadowy networks of evil, and religious bogeymen.

Her volume, a look at the rule of John Howard and the supposed sway of the religious right on his tenure, is in fact a combination of partisan politics, investigative journalism, contemporary historiography, conspiracy theory and left-wing tirades.

Warning lights

Of course, the warning lights should be flashing by a quick look at the blurbs of approval on the book's back cover. One disgruntled and failed Liberal leader, one homosexual and one lesbian make up the cheer squad.

John Hewson likes the book, partly because he gets a good run between its covers.

David Marr, the atheist and polemicist for the left, is also delighted with the book, as is radical Uniting Church minister, Dorothy McRae-McMahon. That pretty much sets the stage for where this volume is coming from.

Maddox is an Australian expatriate living in Wellington where she teaches religious studies at Victoria University.

Her left-of-centre bias becomes apparent rather quickly. Early on, she speaks of Howard as "an increasingly notorious liar". The book's purpose is described in these terms: "This book explores Howard's spiritual assault on Australian values". Elsewhere she speaks of "his corrosion of Australia's soul". Howard's God, we are told, "undermines democratic traditions while justifying hatreds: vilification of homosexuals, punishing the unemployed, cruel border protection and illegal war."

Moreover, Howard champions an "Us" against "Them" mentality. "Howard's 'Us' has excluded same-sex couples, mothers in the paid workforce, single parents, step parents, stay-at-home fathers, feminists, migrants, Aborigines, churches, Muslims, other non-Christians, unions, ABC listeners, the tertiary-educated and more."

And again, "In God's name, old-fashioned religion has become a cloak for new-fashioned repression and inequality." Such quotes could be cited at length. What purports to be a work of serious contemporary history and social analysis turns out to be the bitter screed of a Howard-hater.

Maddox spends a lot of time discussing the American scene. That is because Maddox believes all the worst of American conservative religion is being imported here, directly or indirectly.

She notes, with evident concern, that we recently celebrated a National Day of Thanksgiving here, "modelled on the American Thanksgiving". And she records another frightening development when Michael Ferguson, newly elected to Parliament, told a national TV audience, "I love the Lord."

She of course is treading on slippery ground here. Not only are there many differences between the American scene and the Australian scene, but there are many social, political and religious cross-currents at work here.

Maddox tends to confuse these, perhaps deliberately. A major howler in this regard is when she in effect lumps Christian Reconstructionism together with the Prosperity Gospel. The former of course arises out of the Calvinistic worldview that seeks to put Christ's lordship over all. The latter is part of the Health and Wealth gospel, something born in Pentecostal circles in America, and arising out of arcane New Thought teachings of a century earlier.

But this confusion serves her purposes. She notes, for example, that Prayer Breakfasts originated in America, and were then imported here. This is yet another proof of the horrible influence of American religion on Australian life.

She finds threats everywhere. She can speak ominously of the Peter Costello visit to the Hillsong congregation in Sydney, and draw all kinds of sinister warnings from that. Yes, the pastor there did once write a book on prosperity teaching, but has since backed away from it to some extent. Even Peter's brother, Rev. Tim Costello, an early critic of the Hillsong pastor, has noted this change. But for Maddox, this is another example of ambitious politicians jumping into bed with the enemy.

Not only is the thesis of this book far-fetched, but its material is quite selective. If she is concerned about mischievous religious bodies and conspiracy theories so much, she might have included what could well be called the original and most influential religious body in Australian history, the Movement led by Bob Santamaria. Yet this gets no mention at all. Instead, much of the discussion centres on the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship, the National Prayer Breakfasts, and the former Lyons Forum.

According to Maddox, the religious right is a nefarious, organised and monolithic threat that must be guarded against. But is it? Hardly, from where I am sitting.

And do Christians of the right have some influence in the public arena and in public affairs? Of course. But so do religious lefties, secularists and atheists. If Maddox wished to chronicle the machinations of the secular humanists, and their political and social agenda, one might be more sympathetic to this volume. Indeed, there would be much more material available for an exposé of that order.




























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