Someone at the Door

Freedom of religion, or to be without religion, is basic to equality and peaceful interaction in a modern nation.

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Never mind that. Take me to your leaders. Leaders? We don’t have them in this country. What about A, B and C? Aren’t they good enough? They are actually closer to public entertainers than national leaders. The words most associated with leadership in Australia are “turmoil”, “crisis” and “tin ear” – and jokes on Twitter. I could go on, but I dare not. Why not? Free speech in this country, isn’t there? I don’t have their endless resources to defend what I say. And I am too old to be pepper sprayed. Well, your vote is free. Freedom doesn’t come into it if you don’t get what you voted for, if voters are misled and misinformed. What value is choice if leaders promise one thing and do another? You’re sounding like a victim. That’s what you get called in Australia if you complain about anything. Do you like the Australian anthem and the flag? Only I am doing a survey. The words were originally about Australia’s sons, not “Australians all”. It is a terrible dirge and some of the sentiments are lies… particularly about boundless plains to share. We are not sharing much in Oz these days. We lock up little children, you know, for no other reasons than they hoped we’d “share”. The flag is fine for a British colony, but we are not any more. We’ve still got the queen. Bless her, but she, too, thinks we ought to be standing on our own feet. She’s that kind of woman. You make it sound as though Australians are pretty wet. Not really. They just don’t have leaders. That’s where I came in. See yourself out. Oh, just checking. Did you stand and sing the anthem on Australia Day as we were told to do? I will set the dog on you. ***** Sooner or later Australia will have to have a measured conversation about secularism, leading to declaring itself a secular nation and strengthening the Constitution in this matter. And/or drawing up a Bill of Rights. Our best hope of that was Julia Gillard, whom I credit with foreknowledge about the way things will go pretty soon if we don’t. Freedom of religion, or to be without religion, is basic to equality and peaceful interaction in a modern nation. And it means removing the props and perks that benefit the religious over the non-religious and one religion over another. We kept the lid on religious differences rather well in our early years of multiculturalism, but we can no longer depend on it. It doesn’t have to degenerate into a debate about clothing and religious jewellery as it has in France. But probably it will, unless we keep our eye on a bigger picture. We should accommodate religion as we accommodate other differences: respect without favours and fears. But of course, no one should be asked to dress a certain way for fear of offending other people’s religion. A general standard of decency is all we can safely hope for. Otherwise we get in a hell of a bind. Many people of the third age can remember the mess beach inspectors got us into in my youth: beach inspectors with tape measures bailing up young women in early versions of bikinis. It was obscene, but terribly hard to stop once it got going. It is nice to think that modern ways and the freedom that we have now are too entrenched to be dismissed, but that is far too optimistic and unsafe. We need to strengthen the Australian Constitution and/or introduce a Bill of Rights to maintain the safety of secularism. It is unlikely under the present government, which appears to me too childish and self indulgent to be trusted with Constitutional matters. If it cannot handle a Human Rights Commission report without descending into paranoia, it is in no fit state to talk about our Constitution. But future governments of whatever stripe may not be so intellectually muddled and should see the benefits of preventing our lives being controlled by spiritual beliefs, serious or whacky. If you get an invitation asking you to cover up lest you offend, or to wear anything except for health and safety, it is merely a symptom of inroads into our freedom, and you should scream, “Secular nation NOW”. And before you bring it up: specifying tie, black tie, formal, casual, fancy, etc is innocuous and nothing to do with the case. ***** What a game changer old age is! How wrong people are when they think new ideas and adaptation belong to the young and that old people are past them. Who lives through most change may well understand change best. But I didn’t think that 40 or so years ago. Then I rebelled against the idea that old people should have a place in all deliberations. Is this the reason that old age seems to have fallen off the political agenda? It seems a long time since I heard any ideas coming from politicians about how our society might value the increasing numbers of old people remaining stubbornly alive, reading, writing, thinking, working and offering their wisdom. Nothing positive, anyway. Governments are fond of saying society is receiving a “wake-up call” be it about climate change or longevity – and then promptly falling asleep.

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