Well, the serial unveiling of Scott Morrison continues apace and is about the most interesting thing happening in Australian politics at the moment. The Liberal happy warrior is like a Roman soldier-Christian at the moment, his armour stripped away, piece by piece, to reveal a naked torso for the arrows of martyrdom. They thud into him at every press conference. Ever since he revealed that he had prayed for an end to the drought, the game has been on.
ScoMo and his handlers had hoped they could turn him into Howard II, the suburban dag, after five years of the Mad Monk and Flash Daddy Warbucks Turnbull.
Alas, he’s now like the chaplain brought in for compulsory RE who must endure 2000 years of theological questioning from teenage smart arses: “if God can do anything why the Holocaust/cancer/can’t I get with Stacey?” etc etc. Morrison could be opening the new Bruce J Tingwell Drainage Hub in Dubbo and someone is still going to ask him if he prayed for better municipal waste management.
Were he your standard cultural Christian atheist — i.e. an Anglican — Morrison could just brush it off. He could say, well, that’s below God’s pay grade, etc, and it would end. But ScoMo is the real deal: a genuine evangelical Christian who, it seems, will not prevaricate on his faith. So he tells us of the children he has imprisoned yet prays for, the rains he prays for, he claims his Pastor would know if there were terrorists in the midst of his flock.
This can’t be a deliberate strategy, can it? Australian suburban dagginess and religion don’t mix. Howard never mentioned God that I can recall, and even when he talked about Western civilisation, etc, it was usually in British terms, not on the Judeo-Christian thing. The school chaplains program was as cultural as it was religious. The Liberal claque that shoved ScoMo into the job must be tearing their hair out at how this is going. Trying to sound like one of us, Morrison has the air of some hip priest in a blue skivvy, about to get out the guitar for “Morning Has Broken”.
This is a source of buttock-clenching embarrassment for most Australians, just about the most functionally irreligious people on Earth. Sure, quite a lot of people are walking around with a theology of sorts in their head — some mix of Deism, poster prints of “Desiderata”, some borrowed Aboriginal animism, and the residual narcissism that seeks a universal force that won’t stop the Holocaust, but will wipe that angry voicemail you left for Troy — but that’s not religion, with its commitment, its boundedness, its specificity.
ScoMo’s got that capacity, what is called in Arabic, islam, submission. The inconvenience of having to bear witness to it at a newly opened jam factory staffed by rehabilitated ice addicts (“prime minister, did God create jam?”) worries him not at all. He is a servant of a higher power. I actually admire him for that. He’s got fidelity to something at least.
Furthermore, he is a servant of a higher power who has very specific character. The Christianity of the Gospels, the testing challenge to absolute struggle of Matthew 25:35-40 is absent here. No one who followed that could be the minister Morrison has been. That Christianity is represented in our country by people like Rod Bower. Its political expression is anarchism.
But Christianity has a dual character. Its other side is not the movement of love against death, but a conformism to power represented by a known god. This is a product of Christianity’s fusion with the official Roman religion of Mithraism in the fourth century CE, and its adoption as the compulsory imperial faith by Theodosius. In that move, the “this-sidedness” of Christianity became uppermost.
The following of an Essenic communist barefoot rabbi, who set faith as an unending challenge, and God as unknowable in this world, became a religion that gave transcendental meaning to imperial purpose, and absolution for its sins. Throughout the religion’s history, this cycle has been repeated. The evangelical Christianity Morrison follows began as fire-breathing dissent in the 19th century, co-parented socialism and American progressivism. When the culture wars began in the 1960s, it crossed to the other side. In the process its loving, fighting God became a new Jahweh, absolving of state violence, whose ethical prescriptions could be read off like a manifesto.
Therein lies the contradiction that has turned Morrison’s faith into a problem for those trying to sell him. Because now, post Godspell (have you listened to this recently? The songs are great!), post Da Vinci Code, post Gosford Anglican church, most of us identify Christianity with its radical gospel version. Imperial Christianity, the mainstay of our religious culture from 1788 to Menzies is now the alien, hypocritical belief system we turn away from.
Morrison sees no contradiction in having a silver boat-idol on his desk saying “I stopped these” and worshipping a man who walked on water to save people in boats — no contradiction in praying for the children whose souls he is helping destroy.
We see it plainly, and it turns our stomachs. We see it across all classes and social groups. The only people who can’t see it is the rightariat: the Dan Brown theme park that is The Australian, the blinkered Americophiles at the Tele, Alex Hawke’s Seven Hills happy clappies, Eric Abetz’s Tasmanian Salivating Army, the Spring Street Liberal Tabernacle of Utah Saints, and the chino ‘n’ pearls think tank Sunday schools, who delude themselves into thinking they represent a God-fearing low taxing silent majority out there somewhere.
God knows, maybe the whole ScoMo #prayernation thing is deliberate. Maybe it’s that delusional. But I suspect not. I reckon for every point Morrison gets from a sculled beer, he loses two for praying for better cattle tick control in northern New South Wales.* I reckon it’s driving his Newspoll further south.
Keep praying, St Sebastian ScoMo! All the way to 58-42! Post-election, you can gather your dozen followers ’round you once more.
*rural tick control was the subject of Henry Bolte’s maiden speech.
Guy Rundle is Correspondent at Large for Crikey