Allow your faith to shape your vote for the common good


We go to an election in increasingly dark days; we are watching Putin’s slaughter in Ukraine, the potential militarisation of the Pacific on our doorstep after the Solomon Islands signed a deal with China and the ravages of climate change seen in fires and floods seemingly unchecked.

It seems foolish to ignore these big existential issues and think about a “self-interest” election. But that is what we have. And premised on borrowing from future generations for spending now and locking in massive inter-generational debt to throw electoral dollars at our self-interest or ‘what’s in it for me?’ Both sides are effectively promising no extra taxation so forget serious spending on climate change or increasing Australian Aid whose deep cuts in the Abbott 2014 budget abetted the failure in the Pacific and opened the door for China.

There is no doubt that democracy is faltering.

Does my vote matter and is democracy failing? Considering that US research and advocacy group Freedom House estimates that less than 20 per cent of the world’s population lives under a full democracy, there is no doubt that democracy is faltering.

But we have been here before. Until December 1941 with  Pearl Harbor and the entry of the US into World War II, Britain was on her knees despite support from a few small democracies such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Remember that the rest of Europe was fascist, the Soviet Union was Communist while colonies were under Imperial rule. Remember what was done after democracy was secured?  Massive postwar spending on reconstruction and the reinvigoration of democracy was all accompanied by increased taxation, particularly on the rich, to offer universal services to honour those who fought for and saved democracy. Political leadership levelled with us about the need for joint sacrifice and shared equity to rebuild the democratic contract.

In 1944, writing in darker days than now, American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr penned a book called The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. In it, Niebuhr wrote: “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary”.

God’s power alone is incorruptible and all human power corrupts over time.

I think democracy is worth saving. But Niebuhr pointed out the ambivalent nature of human governance. Democracy is necessary as a check on hubris. Governments of whatever colour that are in power too long become arrogant and grow in their inclination to injustice. I think as Children of the Light – as Christians like to see ourselves – need to be swinging voters. Lifelong partisanship for one political side, whatever the times and whatever the policies, is unworthy of our calling. God’s power alone is incorruptible and all human power corrupts over time. And, yes, that is also why I am in favour of a federal ICAC. Democracy certainly does not always give us the best leader or government but it is a bloodless way to remove non-performing governments. Bloodless because the archaic hint behind a democratic majority is to remember that we are the bigger force so we settle this with votes, not violence.

There is another consideration for the Children of Light. British author Jonathan Sacks in his book Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times opens by writing: “A free society is a moral achievement … Societal freedom cannot be sustained by market economics and liberal democratic politics alone. It needs a third element: morality, a concern for the welfare of others … a willingness to ask not just what is good for me but what is good for all of us together. It is about Us, not Me.”

Rabbi Sacks believes we have lost our way in democracies because of the dominance of self-interest over the common good. We have lost morality. In nature, we see the will to power and dominance of the strong rather than care of the weak and vulnerable, so it takes faith and morality to shape those concerns. The selfish gene of evolutionary materialistic nature cannot produce selfless individuals. That takes faith formation to override nature and a moral emphasis on serving the other not ourselves. But without the morality taught by faith that all carry the image of God, we descend into competitive selfishness and lose the common good and a free society.

“It needs … a willingness to ask not just what is good for me but what is good for all of us together.” – Jonathan Sacks

We may come to different political conclusions about the common good, but I am proud that Christians united to force the government’s hand in accepting 16,500 additional Afghan refugees announced in the Budget. I am proud that Christian leaders have called for the abolition of TPVs (temporary protection visas) that serve no public purpose but to demonise refugees here and make their life hell. I am proud of Christians asking about creation care and sacrifices needed to protect and save the environment by limiting more fossil fuels being pumped into the atmosphere.

The strong will always find a way to justify their tax havens and rant about why they should not be penalised for owning multiple homes with existing tax concessions, but if we are to give young Australians a stake in this housing market we will have to revisit capital gains tax and negative gearing. And why is Australia almost alone in Western democracies in not having a wealth or inheritance tax? Neither of the main parties dares to suggest this, but the common good (and repayment of our massive debt) must be funded from somewhere.

So may I say to the Children of Light – please cast your vote as influenced by your faith. Do not do the reverse. Do not allow your vote simply to be cast by your preset political wiring. Allow your faith to shape your vote – don’t allow your politics to shape your faith.