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After the vote: How should we then live?


Last weekend we elected a Government with a Liberal National Party majority and we have Tony Abbott as our Prime Minister for the next three years. No matter which party you voted for you probably have some concerns about the coming years. Most of the people I have talked to during this election campaign have talked in terms of voting for the least worst party and about feeling let down by all the players.

In Tony Abbott’s acceptance speech he said:

So my friends, in a week or so, the Governor-General will swear in a new government. A government that says what it means and means what it says. A government of no surprises and no excuses. A government that understands the limits of power as well as its potential. And a government that accepts that it will be judged more by its deeds than by its mere words. In three years’ time, the carbon tax will be gone. The boats will be stopped. The budget will be on track for a believable surplus. And the roads of the 21st century will finally be well under way.

In part, my concerns lie with what will now be put forward as our foreign policy: removing $4.5 billion dollars from foreign aid (as the Baptist Social Services Department points out this equates to 45,000 lives lost) and a ‘stop the boats’ campaign that underlies a response to asylum seekers that is seriously lacking in human rights. This is referred to proudly by Tony Abbott in his acceptance speech as one of the KPI’s of his good governance over the next three years.

He will also see that the “roads of the 21st Century will finally be well under way”. Some commentators have pointed out that this will be paid for in part by the $4.5 billion saving in foreign aid. I am concerned about a commitment to building roads before means of public transport. I have lived in Los Angeles, a city dedicated to the almighty rule of the automobile, and my lungs are still suffering! We lived in the foothills of the majestic 7000 foot San Gabriel mountain range which we could see so clearly in the morning but which were gone in the afternoon due to the smog.

I am glad to hear that Mr Abbott understands both the limits and the potential of power. Power can be grossly abused but it can also be used honourably to ensure the well-being of our nation and to empower the powerless. I hope and pray that this will be the case over the next three years. I personally have my doubts on some of that. As my nine-year-old granddaughter told me yesterday, “I don’t like it that Tony Abbott won because that means all the poor people won’t get anything” (I wonder where she gets this stuff from…. must be her grandmother!). There will be great rejoicing if she is proved wrong.

One of the other KPI’s that Tony Abbott is putting out there is the abolishing of the carbon tax. The LNP Coalition government will move to their direct action plan for reducing carbon emissions. It is good that environmental concerns are still being expressed and that carbon pollution is being taken seriously by all major parties. There is disagreement about the ways and means to address the problems (see Byron Smith’s helpful articles on this) but there’s agreement that it needs to be addressed. However I question how deep the commitment goes when there is no ‘tax stick’ to apply to the major polluters and when one of the KPI’s sitting alongside this one is 21st century road infrastructure.

And finally there’s the Prime Minister elect’s promise that in three years’ time, under his leadership, the national budget will be on track (whatever that means) for a believable surplus. There has been much debate between economists about the value of a budget in surplus, with the majority opinion being that it’s not as big a deal as the campaigns have made it out to be (see for example Ross Gittins). However, the real questions on the budget and wealth creation are how the money is made and how the money will be spent.

In the Bible passage of Psalm 122 the Israelites are told to pray for the wealth, the prosperity, of their land. But far from being a prosperity doctrine it is actually a poverty and justice policy, for God’s intention was that the land of Israel would be prosperous so it could be generous. Robert Linthicum in his book ‘City of God, City of Satan’ states the following in relation to Psalm 122:

A city can be a wise steward of its wealth, equitably distributing its resources, eliminating its poverty, and building for the ‘common wealth’ of that City. Or its wealth can be used to build great monetary empires for a few of the most acquisitive, grasping individuals and organizations while exploiting the poor for every last farthing…It is precisely because money is so important to the building of a godly city that God commands us to pray for the way our city uses its wealth (p150).

Oh that this might be the case in Australia in three years’ time!

So, here we are. Some of us are probably feeling more concerned than others but the question, “How should we then live?” is a relevant reflection for all responsible citizens of our wonderful country.

How Should We Then Live is the title of a Book by Francis Schaeffer written in 1976 which had a far reaching impact in the latter part of the 1970’s. The book is basically a review of Western civilization, taking us on a journey from ancient Rome through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, and Modern science, philosophy, and the arts.

Schaeffer came to the conclusion that Western society was in trouble and that the real question for concerned citizens is, in the light of this history, how should we then live? The process and the question are still relevant today. After an analysis of how things really are, and how we managed to get here, we need to ask that question: how do I live in the light of my understanding of the times?

The answers are complex and diverse and will have different emphases for us as involved individuals. It would be good to have groups of people intelligently and respectfully talking about those answers across the nation. Let me leave you with one final thought. A couple of Facebook entries I have seen have suggested now would be a good time to leave town. Psalm 120 is written with the same desire in mind. In commenting on that Psalm in his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson says:

As long as we think the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another scientific breakthrough might save the environment or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety into a life of tranquillity, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith. A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace.

What is that life of faith and the world of grace that Peterson refers to? Such a journey involves an everyday life of ‘eyes wide open’, looking for understanding of the times and wisdom to know how best to apply truth. Sometimes that will involve affirmation because there will be times when the Government gets it right and it will also involve challenge and advocacy because there will be times when the Government will need to hear loud and clear an alternative voice. May we be discerning and wise citizens as we go about our daily life, seeking personal and social transformation along the way.

Food for thought.

Dr David R Wilson, Director of Sophia Think Tank

Image by Sarmu used under a CC licence.