Monthly Archives: October 2021

Building Bridges with Liberal Christians – Can Civil Communication Help Us Save the World Together?

Pastor Sharad Yadav of the Bread and Wine Church Community in Oregon recently wrote the following Facebook post about the benefits of joining a church. His post was shared by one of my friends, a liberal Christian from Australia. After checking Pastor Yadav’s profile and church website, I noted that his religious views seem to be, similarly, liberal – he is not one of those purse-lipped fundamentalists with whom I so often butt heads. Yet the post really troubled me.

Discussing the pastor’s post, my friend and I were dismayed that we interpreted his thoughts entirely differently – my friend, positively, me negatively. I promised to explain my reaction, so I thought it was best to do it here. I wanted to be fair (this is a discussion, not a take-down) so I contacted Pastor Yadav and he has graciously agreed to me publishing both his post and my critique. I’ve promised him a right of reply if he wishes.

Pastor Yadav writes:

As I try to remember why the hell I do this for a living, here is a handful of reasons, dear friends, to consider joining a church:

1. To join a church is to commit to a social circle you do not get to choose and can therefore show you whether your spirituality is bullshit or not.

2. Joining a church is a way of practicing – among a small group of people over a significant period of time – what you’d like the world to be like

3. To join a church is to live in rebellion against the neoliberal and capitalist forces which are brainwashing you into making your consumer desire the center of the world, reducing all your experiences of the world (including all the people in it) to instruments and resources.

4. Joining a church is to organize your life around a time to confess your limitations, culpability and imperfections together with other people so that you can get used to receiving divine forgiveness and hope in response to your honesty.

5. To join a church is to resist all traditional loyalties to state, party, culture, family or affinity in an act of loyalty to a group that transcends all natural categories.

6. Joining a church organizes your financial priorities around supporting an inclusive community for vulnerable people . . . that you actually have to live with.

7. To join a church is to cultivate an environment unlike your home, work or play where your life is not measured according to any other purpose or goal than to discover and enjoy your own humanity.

8. Joining a church is a way of maintaining healthy skepticism about human knowledge and capacities in the language of divine mystery.

9. To join a church is to cultivate an imagination for how your unique talents and creative potential can be offered on purpose for love instead of money.

10. Joining a church is a life lesson in how to deal with assholes without retaliating, dehumanizing or running away (in the desperate hope of not becoming an asshole).

I have enormous respect for my Christian friend. We agree on most things. But, while he drew inspiration from Pastor Yadav’s words, I had to admit that I read most of it with this look on my face:

And I wasn’t the only one. Responding to my friend’s post, other Christians, including a priest, suggested it also gave them a touch of the heebie-jeebies. It seems my friend and others of us in his ‘circle’ understood Pastor Yadav’s post in entirely different ways – leaving us all a bit puzzled.

What follows is an attempt to explain my discomfort. My intention is not to attack Pastor Yadav, but to show how what you write is only one part of the communication equation. How the reader interprets what you’ve written can elicit quite different meanings, and, hopefully, open up new insights and useful channels of communication.

The list starts well – I don’t have any issues with the first two points:

1. To join a church is to commit to a social circle you do not get to choose and can therefore show you whether your spirituality is bullshit or not.

2. Joining a church is a way of practicing – among a small group of people over a significant period of time – what you’d like the world to be like.

Despite my reputation, I’m not anti-religion. I understand that many people find comfort and community in religion. I appreciate that, for some people, the church provides a vessel, a captain and fellow crew members who are intent on sailing forth to change the world in positive ways. I see great common cause between us atheists and liberal Christians. I’ve always tried to work with the leaders and members of these churches, not against them. (If you agree, please follow the Twitter account for A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia)@APCVA.)

Speaking bluntly, I don’t think fundamentalist Christianity can be successfully opposed by atheists alone. It will take mainstream, liberal churches, networking together (with our support) to mount a convincing, alternative Christian narrative to the heresy of American right-wing evangelicals and the Australian Christian Lobby.

Lots of people seek community and, for many, a church is a safe, welcoming place. Not all churches, to be sure. But, I know there are some service clubs and sporting clubs, not to mention atheist groups, that are far more dysfunctional and toxic than many churches. I’ve been in some! Let’s not assume that every church is the same. If people want to join a healthy church with a view to making the world a better place for everyone, then I’m completely on board with that project.

I don’t want to lull Pastor Yadav into a false sense of security, but I’m absolutely in favour of point three.

To join a church is to live in rebellion against the neoliberal and capitalist forces which are brainwashing you into making your consumer desire the center of the world, reducing all your experiences of the world (including all the people in it) to instruments and resources.

I too, live in rebellion against the neoliberal and capitalist forces that seem to value profit above people. We live in a world in which people – even friendships – have become commodified; the multi-level marketing schemes so prevalent in fundamentalist churches is a case in point. The prosperity gospel simply puts a Jesus mask on free-market capitalism.

But, fighting back against neoliberalism doesn’t give you a free pass to mine church members for money, nor to exploit workers for their labour. I’ll say more about this when I address points 6 and 8.

So, a provisional high five on point three, Pastor Yadav! Sadly, it’s pretty much downhill from here.

Now, we come to point 4 and my nose starts twitching.

Joining a church is to organize your life around a time to confess your limitations, culpability and imperfections together with other people so that you can get used to receiving divine forgiveness and hope in response to your honesty.

I think there’s a real danger in inviting people into a community and encouraging them to focus on their “limitations, culpability and imperfections.” I am confident that Pastor Yadav didn’t mean it this way, but, too often, focusing on people’s vulnerabilities is a way of breaking them down; making them malleable to adopt beliefs that aren’t necessarily true, and to act in ways that aren’t necessarily good for them.

Choosing a religion (or choosing no religion) is a bit like choosing a spouse. You really don’t want to be doing it when you feel bad about yourself. You especially don’t want to be choosing a spouse who likes to focus on your faults and puts themselves forward as the one who can ‘fix’ you. There’s a huge power disparity in this kind of relationship and, even if the spouse (or church) is well-meaning, I think the temptation to exploit the power dynamic is often too great.

Instead, why not build community based on people’s strengths? Build a community of titans, not lambs. If someone does come into the community feeling unworthy, don’t respond by confirming their low opinion of themselves; focus instead on their strengths, their talents, and their inherent value. Build them up to their strongest and then see if what you have to “sell” will add value to their lives. Let them choose from a position of strength, not vulnerability.

Because I’m a relatively high profile atheist, people who have decided to leave their church occasionally contact me for guidance. My response is always, “This is your journey. Feel free to explore your options. Please don’t think atheist communities are going to be any better/nicer than Christian ones – we’re all just humans. Go at your own pace – and you can go back if you want. I’m here to support you, not deconvert you.”

In contrast, some churches (I’m not suggesting Pastor Yadav’s church here) prey on the vulnerable. They pro-actively zero in on the lost, the broken, the lonely, and the vulnerable and gather them tightly into their fold. It might seem like they’re offering redemption, but, too often, what is offered is love-bombing, brainwashing, then financial and spiritual exploitation.

How much better, stronger, and more principled is the church that says, “No, you’re not weak, you’re strong. You’re not unworthy, you’re terrific – with us or without us. Your value does not depend on your membership. If we can help you on your journey towards confidence and self-love, we’re here to support you, but not to convert you. Decide what you believe when you are whole, not now while you’re in pain.”

You need an army to change the world and, surely, it’s better to build an army with enthusiastic recruits, not bedraggled conscripts who have nowhere else to go.

My objections to Pastor Yadav’s fifth point are similar:

To join a church is to resist all traditional loyalties to state, party, culture, family or affinity in an act of loyalty to a group that transcends all natural categories.

There are often very good reasons to resist loyalties to state, party, culture or family. Nationalism is destroying America. Blind loyalty is never a good thing. And I’m a firm believer that there are often branches of the family tree that should be joyously excised with a chainsaw. What frightens me, is when institutions encourage their members to forego loyalties that aren’t necessarily unhealthy and prioritise group loyalty instead.

When you join a church, you should be adding to your social network; you should be building bridges, not burning them. Joining a church shouldn’t be like boarding the Minnow and setting off for Gilligan’s Island.

To me, encouraging followers to abandon loyalties outside the church and suggesting that the church is the only institution to which they should be loyal reeks of “abusive relationship.” (I’m not saying Pastor Yadav is doing this, only that this is what I read into it, and why I found it triggering.)

If the church is to have real value – for individuals and for society – it should be just one of the social institutions to which its members are loyal – and, of course, that loyalty should never be blind.

By point 6, I’m grimacing so hard you can see my gums.

Joining a church organizes your financial priorities around supporting an inclusive community for vulnerable people . . . that you actually have to live with.

OK. I understand that churches have expenses too, and it’s only fair that the people who derive benefits from them should help to finance them. Helping the poor is a noble calling; but we should talk about how liberal churches using their numbers, power and influence to lobby governments and corporations for systemic change, will do far more for the poor than handouts.

Nevertheless, it’s nice if people who have surplus funds can contributed to causes or individuals who will benefit from their largesse. But the way in which people organise their “financial priorities” should never be something the church tries to influence or direct. Membership of a church should never, ever, involve its members (who may, themselves, be vulnerable) feeling obligated or pressured (even subtly) into making financial contributions.

I’m going to let point 7 slide and go straight to point 8.

Joining a church is a way of maintaining healthy skepticism about human knowledge and capacities in the language of divine mystery”.

As a card-carrying skeptic I get really twitchy when people talk about being skeptical about “human knowledge.” Sure, humans get things wrong – all the time. But we also have brilliant systems – like scientific method, and peer review – to ensure that, on the important things, we’re more often right than wrong.

Human knowledge isn’t static and that makes people who like the certainty of religion very uncomfortable. Yes! What we know about the world changes according to new discoveries and changing circumstances. But, just because what we know changes, doesn’t mean that what we know is wrong. For example, Charles Darwin was right about evolution but wrong about some things concerning evolution. What we’ve learned since 1859 is that while Darwin got some of the detail wrong, his general hypothesis was still right.

If point 7 is telling us that, when the Bible or your own intuition (or “common-sense”) is at odds with the consensus of human knowledge, you should “go with your gut”, then it’s sending a really dangerous message. Neither the Bible or “your gut” is a reliable replacement for knowledge accrued through academic or scientific discipline. This is the kind of wrong-thinking that has Christians claiming that Jesus is their vaccine and that their natural immunity will save them from COVID.

Skepticism is a good thing, but the extent to which one is skeptical must be measured by the level of certainty expressed by people who are experts in the field, and a scrupulously honest assessment about how your expertise compares to theirs. Believing in God doesn’t make you (or even Jesus) an epidemiologist and no church should be suggesting that it does.

In comparison with the other points, point 8 only makes me squirm slightly:

To join a church is to cultivate an imagination for how your unique talents and creative potential can be offered on purpose for love instead of money.

Volunteering can certainly help vulnerable individuals and groups in the community and it can be personally rewarding. But, too often, it’s taken for granted that people with valuable skills and knowledge should provide their services for free. Women and people with disabilities, in particular, are frequently asked to “volunteer” their services, even when men around them are being paid.

Similar to my point about financial support, nobody should ever feel obliged to volunteer. These days, churches are businesses – often wealthy ones – and pastors (generally) don’t work as volunteers. Why? Because (generally) they have mortgages to pay and families to feed. Congregation members, similarly, need to pay the bills. Time spent volunteering may take away from time spent doing paid work. It isn’t a sin to prioritise paying your utility bills or your kids’ school fees over saving the world!

Many churches have accumulated their wealth by exploiting their congregations for volunteer labour. Hillsong is a case in point. I’m as committed as the next person to making the world a better place, but I don’t (generally) volunteer my services as a researcher. I work with people who lobby professionally and they pay me a fair (but not exorbitant) sum to assist. I know from personal experience that it’s possible to “save the world” and pay the bills at the same time.

If churches need human labour to do their work, they should (generally) be offering some kind of payment – in cash or in kind – with no expectation that people should work for free in order to buy their way into heaven.

Finally, point 10:

Joining a church is a life lesson in how to deal with assholes without retaliating, dehumanizing or running away (in the desperate hope of not becoming an asshole).

OK. Now I’m back to the full lips-turned-inside-out grimace. It’s really, really dangerous to tell people they have to learn to live with assholes without retaliating or running away. I realise Pastor Yadav is probably thinking of eccentric members of his congregation whose behaviour elicits Angela Merkel level eye-rolls. But, when we start telling women, in particular, that it’s a good thing to learn to live with an asshole, we end up with dead women.

Not all assholes are harmless. I’d venture to say that most aren’t. Assholes tend to be either psychologically or physically abusive, or both. We should be running away from the assholes in our lives at great speed. We should be encouraging and supporting legal retaliation where appropriate. And, while I’m generally opposed to dehumanising anyone, it’s a fact that some of the worst assholes (I’m talking narcissists and psychopaths here) are really just empty human shells who walk like aliens among us.

I think it’s incredibly healthy – often life-saving – to recognise that some people just aren’t functionally human. This was a hard and painful lesson for me. But, understanding this brutal fact is crucial for processing how and why you, or someone you love, has been abused. And running away – ceasing all contact if at all possible – is absolutely the best method for dealing with such people in a way that doesn’t compromise your own humanity.

When someone writes the kind of list composed by Pastor Yadav, what they meant, and what someone reads into it may be two very different things. I’ve obviously read the pastor’s post in a way he didn’t mean for it to be interpreted. I’m very grateful that he has allowed me to voice my contrarian thoughts. My Christian friend clearly wasn’t triggered by the pastor’s words in the same way that I was. It’s really important to understand that I haven’t written this as a criticism of Pastor Yadav, or my friend, but with a desire to explore how meaning is created in the space between writer and reader.

In my (admittedly atheist) view, when the church is envisaged as an institution that is an island or a refuge, it is burning bridges, not building them. You can’t change the world from a desert island. Strong people don’t live in conclaves.

It seems to me that, effective, liberal, world-changing churches emerge when they exist as a part of a wider, diverse network of individuals and institutions who are trying to make the world better – even if, sometimes, they look at the world (or Facebook posts) very differently. I want to be a part of that kind of network.

Chrys Stevenson

Comments on this blog are moderated. You’re welcome to comment on the issues discussed in this post, but if there are any comments which personally attack Pastor Yadav will not be approved. This is a discussion, not an inquisition.

Faith and Power

Melbourne emergency doctor, Stephen Parnis, has become something of a social media celebrity during the COVID-19, pandemic. Tweeting about his direct experience with COVID patients and encouraging people to get vaccinated, Dr Parnis has emerged as the embodiment of the heroic medicos and nurses whose work deserves greater respect and recognition. I don’t want to take any of that away from him.

People aren’t either all “good” or all “bad”. It’s quite possible to be “heroic” in one aspect of your life or profession, and just plain wrong in others. And, when you’ve been raised on a social media pedestal, I assume it comes as a bit of a shock when a single, ill-considered tweet knocks you off your perch.

This week, Dr Parnis, symbolic hero of the pandemic, was told he was just plain wrong about the subject of faith and power – and spat the dummy. I doubt what follows will cause him to reflect on why his critics were right, and he was wrong, but I’m going to write it anyway.

Here’s what happened.

In the wake of Dominic Perrottet replacing Gladys Berejiklian as NSW Premier, Dr Parnis vented his frustration that people were making an issue of Perrottet’s devout Catholicism. Responding to an ABC article which referred to Perrottet as a “conservative Catholic”, Parnis tweeted:

“I can’t believe we’re back here. Assess any MP on their politics & policies, rather than in their religious beliefs.”

Mega-researcher, Ronni Salt was quick to respond:

Oh for god’s sake. Stop it. Just stop this male focused, privileged garbage I am so sick of men who’ve never had their bodies and their lives smashed and governed by organised religion – I’m so sick of their privileged take on this You’re not the one whose liberty is affected.

How fucking dare you. How dare you sit up there on your privileged hill of male superiority and tell women not to discuss powerful men’s religion. How. Fucking. Dare. You. Powerful religious men use their religion to undermine the rights of women every day. Just shut up.

Instead of trying to understand why his tweet had elicited such an impassioned response, Parnis dug in. He called Salt’s criticism an “ad hominem” attack and referred to the tsunami of responses (mainly from women) that supported her comments as “poison”. Then, in a fit of pique, he announced his (temporary) departure from Twitter, tweeting:

“Time to leave this cesspit behind for a while.”

The inference, of course, is that the people (mainly women) who criticised him were sewer-dwellers, swimming in shit and flinging it indiscriminately at the nice, educated, white male doctor. The doctor who, until then, had been basking in the (not entirely undeserved) adoration of a grateful public.

What counted to Dr Parnis was that he was offended and aggrieved. He did not give one moment’s thought to the women who were offended and aggrieved by him. They didn’t count. They were the denizens of the cesspit – literally covered in shit. Parnis, believed he was right, and he had no interest whatsoever in listening to anything that challenged his view.

It’s a stance I’ve become very familiar with. As a professional freelance researcher, I’ve closely examined the arguments of those who oppose abortion, voluntary assisted dying, school chaplaincy, and marriage equality. I recognised the arrogance, the sense of entitlement to due deference, and I recognised the source.

Parnis, no doubt, was also upset by my contribution to the discussion.

“Why didn’t you disclose the fact you were arguing as a fellow committed Catholic? Why don’t you disclose this when you’re arguing against VAD [voluntary assisted dying]? It *matters* because, truth is, no matter what safeguards were in place nor how effective you’d still oppose it because of your faith.”

Before Dr Parnis became a Twitter hero, I knew him as a passionate advocate against voluntary assisted dying. And, because I know that most people who oppose VAD do so for religious reasons, I had done some research.

Dr Parnis works at St Vincent’s hospital, a Catholic institution devoted to bringing “God’s love to those in need through the healing ministry of Jesus.

In 2018, Dr Parnis and his associate, Dr Natasha Michael, delivered the Rerum Novarum Oration at the Australian Catholic University. The Oration was called, “Widening the Door of Hope, A Response to the Victorian Assisted Dying Legislation”.

A “cradle Catholic”, Dr Parnis was educated by Jesuits. He remains an active supporter of his alma-mater, even sitting on the school’s Foundation Board. He is also active in his local Catholic church.

I had to go looking for that information. When Dr Parnis appears in the newspapers, on radio, or in parliamentary briefings and rails against voluntary assisted dying, he relies on his credibility as a doctor, never disclosing that the fundamental reason for his opposition is his deep, Catholic faith. Just so, when he suggested that Premier Perrottet should not be judged on his religious beliefs, he failed to disclose that he was speaking as a fellow Catholic and political activist. People who only knew him as “hero doctor” were entitled to know that.

Parnis would undoubtedly argue that, regardless of his faith, his arguments about voluntary assisted dying rely on evidence that it poses a danger to vulnerable groups. He would argue that his Catholicism is irrelevant precisely because he never brings his religion into it; he’s not quoting the Bible in his arguments. Similarly, he suggests that Perrottet’s faith is a private matter; that it’s insulting to suggest the new Premier’s beliefs would compromise his ability to work in the best interests of the people of NSW.

I’ve looked at the kind of evidence Dr Parnis presents in his arguments against VAD. They’re similar to those I’ve addressed from Catholic Dr Megan Best – and they’re demonstrably wrong. They’ve been debunked time and again by government and judicial inquiries – and yet, like Dr Best, he continues to make them. I’ve searched for the origins of this propaganda – it emanates principally from Catholic sources, although you have to dig a bit to find that out.

What if – what IF – the premier of the state did the same thing? What if a political leader similarly used propaganda instead of expert evidence to make decisions because the propaganda aligned with his religious beliefs? What if a premier rejected women’s concerns in the same arrogant way that Dr Parnis did on Twitter this week? What if a premier’s religious world-view is impenetrable – nothing that contradicts the doctrine of the church can be entertained.

To his credit, Mr Perrottet has at least been honest in confessing that his Catholic beliefs influence his politics. And he’s shown it in his actions: he is well-known for opposing the decriminalisation of abortion during a debate in the NSW Parliament in 2019. (As someone wrote: This doesn’t mean you’re stopping abortions – just safe ones.) It’s also said that Mr Perrottet doesn’t believe in contraception (six kids testifies to that!), nor, according to Sam Dastyari, does he believe in masturbation (although one hopes he won’t seek to legislate against it or there’ll be a mass exodus to Queensland.)

Seriously, though, the question about whether someone’s position is genuinely based on credible research is answered by the following hypothetical question.

“If all your objections were proven to be baseless, would you change your position on this issue?”

I’ve said previously that if Dr Parnis and his colleagues were right – if voluntary assisted dying genuinely posed a real threat to vulnerable groups – I would change my position. And I have investigated, without bias, just about every argument emanating from the legislation’s religious opponents. I don’t “pooh-pooh” their claims – I go to source documents to try to try to verify them.

I can guarantee that regardless of the evidence, regardless of the safeguards, regardless of the content of the Bill, Dr Parnis would not change his position on VAD; and neither would Premier Perrottet change his position on issues relating to women’s reproductive rights.

And herein lies the problem. If a person with the power to fundamentally affect people’s lives and freedoms – let’s say, a physician or a politician – holds such intransigent views about some issues that they will not give countenance to any evidence that challenges their views and will not, under any circumstances, change their views on the basis of credible evidence, are they fit to hold a position of power?

Contrary to what Dr Parnis says, when it comes to power, faith matters, and it should be disclosed. Arguments rooted in moral convictions are rarely arguments based on an honest and rational assessment of evidence.

When Dr Parnis argues against voluntary assisted dying it’s as important to know that he is a devout Catholic, as it is to know the person insisting that climate change is a myth earns millions from coal mining, or the guy telling you that vaping is healthy, works for a tobacco company. Catholicism is a “vested interest.”

The fact that the Premier of NSW is a devout Catholic (although NOT Opus Dei, as has been widely rumoured) is genuinely cause for alarm for women who fear that legislative decisions about their lives and their bodies will not be made on the basis of credible evidence but on the basis of Catholic doctrine. Dr Parnis is so blind to his own bias, that he simply can’t imagine that we find men like him and Mr Perrottet terrifying – absolutely terrifying. These are privileged and powerful white men who hold their religious beliefs above all else – even if it is at the expense or our freedom, our autonomy, our welfare, or our own firmly held convictions. It is a deeply patriarchal view – father knows best – and every woman recognises the curdling fear in her stomach when she encounters it.

People like Premier Perrottet and Dr Parnis rely on their professional status to add credibility to their arguments. If you read or listen to Dr Parnis on VAD, you’re encouraged to think, “Well, he’s a doctor – he would know!” And, in the case of a politician, “Well, they have all the research at their fingertips – they should know!” They exploit the power and privilege of their positions to convince you that they’re right.

Let me show you how this works – and why disclosure matters.

In 2017, in the heat of the debate over marriage equality, an opinion piece, published widely in Fairfax newspapers, argued against gay marriage. The power of this piece was that it was by an author who asserted they were “liberal’ and “not religious.”

At this stage of the debate, the arguments advanced by the “Vote No” campaign were crumbling under the weight of serious, expert evidence. Arguments from the religious right were becoming hysterical and, frankly laughable: if this law was passed, children would be raised to be gay, polygamy was sure to follow, and people would be in a rush to marry their corgis. It was increasingly apparent that, hidden in the centre of this house of cards, was the only real argument against marriage equality – religious homophobia.

It was important for the “No” team not to be seen as religious bigots, so articles like this were, literally, a “god-send.”

“I am a thirty year old woman of liberal upbringing and no particular religious affiliation,” the author insisted.

But, I smelled a rat – or, perhaps, a church mouse? Who was this person who appeared out of nowhere claiming to have no religious basis for her argument against marriage equality? A little (okay, a lot!) of digging revealed she:

  • was raised by two devoutly religious parents who held positions in a conservative church, 
  • attended at least one ministry trip with her father as an adult, and
  • lived in a domestic partnership with the former leader of the Church of Scientology in Australia.

None of this information was disclosed in her article.

Like the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz, the power of this piece was in the illusion. Its impact depended on what you didn’t know about the author. But, when I tore back the curtain, it was just another person, steeped in religious bigotry, with a deck full of trick cards. When the truth about the author is revealed, the sincerity and credibility of the article is compromised and it loses its power.

Here’s another example.

In July 2020, New Zealand journalist, Caralise Trayes, published an investigative book on voluntary assisted dying. The blurb from her book makes her sound lovely, ordinary, likeable, and trustworthy.

“Trayes is a full-time mum and part-time freelance writer from Hibiscus Coast, Auckland.”

Trayes describes herself and her motive in undertaking this investigation as follows:

“I’ve worked as a journalist for nearly 10 years with Fairfax Media, so I applied the journalistic approach in this hunt for truth.”

In her “hunt for the truth,” this intrepid journalist interviewed 20 people – 17 of whom opposed voluntary assisted dying. Her conclusion? Legalizing VAD in New Zealand was a very dangerous step.

In dozens of newspaper and media interviews, Ms Trayes represented herself as an unbiased investigative reporter, driven only by her quest to uncover “the truth.” In none of those interviews did she reveal that:

  • she was an active member of a fundamentalist, charismatic Pentecostal church
  • that her sister and brother-in-law are pastors of the church, and
  • that in 2018, her church had vowed to “make an impact” on the VAD debate in New Zealand.

Ms Trayes book provided a powerful argument against voluntary assisted dying – until you discovered what the author had failed to disclose about herself. That is not an ad hominem attack. It is clear that the result of Ms Trayes’ “investigation” was a foregone conclusion. The fact that she had to hide that from her readers suggests she was well aware that the power of her argument depended entirely upon her deceit-by-omission.

Caralise Trayes leading worship

So this is why, Dr Parnis’ and Mr Perrottet’s religious convictions are relevant to any issues of public importance on which their church holds firm, doctrinal positions.

In Matthew 17:20, Jesus says:

“… truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Religious zealots believe in their hearts that if only they produce sufficient propaganda, they can move the mountains of evidence that their religious positions are wrong, harmful, unfair and unfounded in fact. They kid themselves that they are doing the right thing. But they are not honest brokers. That doesn’t mean that Christians, or people of other faiths, can’t be great politicians or doctors or judges etc. But it does require that they are able to separate what they might (or might not) choose for themselves, from what mainstream evidence suggests best serves the people whose welfare defends on them.

I’m reminded of creation scientist, Kurt Wise, who holds a PhD in palaeontology from Harvard University. Better than most, Wise knows the overwhelming weight of scientific research supports evolution and discredits the creationists’ view. Yet Wise wrote:

“As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.”

If you’re a Prime Minister, a Premier, a palliative care physician or even that heroic Twitter MD, and you hold this kind of mindset on any issue relating to public health and welfare, I think your faith disqualifies you from holding a position of power.

If we’re to have faith in those in power, we have to be sure they aren’t using their power to force their faith upon us.

Chrys Stevenson