Saturday, May 19, 2007

Another wonderful week of Howard sookery

The Howard Government is dominated by:

(a) Sooks
(b) Control freaks
(c) Theocrats
(d) All of the above

The correct answer, of course, is (d), judging by the Government's reaction to negative portrayals of its industrial relations policies on television this week, and by the news that its "citizenship test" will require aspiring citizens to affirm the notion that Australian values are based on the Judeo-Christian tradition.

As I noted briefly in an earlier post, the conservative side of politics has been screaming hysterically about "bias" at the ABC all week, in response to the station's screening of Bastard Boys, a dramatisation of the 1998 Australian waterfront dispute. Later, Howard chimed in, pronouncing the miniseries "One of the most lopsided pieces of political propaganda I've seen on the national broadcaster in years." What he wouldn't have seen coming was the scene in this week's episode of McLeod's Daughters, in which a character is fired and then immediately offered reinstatement on a workplace agreement with lower pay. This prompted several government ministers to condemn the show, claiming that the scenario would be illegal under the Industrial-Relations-Legislation-Formerly-Known-As-Workchoices laws, although the scene is apparently based on an actual event involving an employee at a BP service station in Adelaide. In any case, the Government is evidently coming to the realisation that Howard's battlers just aren't embracing the thought of signing away their hard-earned rights and entitlements in the workplace with the enthusiasm one might normally expect. (I know, we're all scratching our heads on that one, Johnny.)

But it is the knee-jerk nature of the Government's response to both programmes that is disturbing, and fits a pattern of control-freakery that has been a hallmark of Howard's tenure from its beginning, as books like the excellent Silencing Dissent clearly demonstrate.

What is even more disturbing is the new "citizenship test" and its flagrant flouting of the principle of the separation of church and state (very much an Aussie tradition, arguably) in the following question:

15. Australia's values are based on the ...

a. Teachings of the Koran

b. The Judaeo-Christian tradition

c. Catholicism

d. Secularism

As EvilWombatQueen points out in her fisking of the citizenship test, there is a disconnect between this question and the previous one asking examinees to identify Australian values:
Now, remember that the previous question actually stated the main Australian values. Remember them boys and girls? Men and women are equal. 'A fair go'. Mateship. Now, which option listed above can genuinely say it believes all of those things? If you said d, Secularism, you are right! However, sadly, you are also wrong. According to the government the answer is b, the Judeo-Christian tradition.
She's right: according to Kevin Andrews, immigrants must acknowledge that Australia's values--which include the equality of the sexes, fairness and mateship--are based on the Judeo-Christian tradition. Well let's explore this notion by looking at the track record of the Judeo-Christian tradition regarding just one of these values--that men and women are equal.
  • In the Old Testament, women's inferiority to men is axiomatic, and manifests itself in a variety of ways: Eve's submission to Adam, the polygamy of David and Solomon (among many others), the original "handmaid's tale" (Abraham, Sarah and Hagar), Lot's offering of his daughters to the crowd besieging his house in Sodom, concubinage, the treatment of women as property in the Ten Commandments, mandatory pre-marital virginity for women (on pain of death by stoning), the requirement of women rape victims to marry their rapists, etc.
  • Jesus' attitude to women was very different, of course. But his views didn't seem to have caught on. (Perhaps Nietzsche was right: "In truth, there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.") By the time we get to Paul, women are again being told to submit to their husbands and their inferiority to men is reaffirmed.
  • The church fathers were unanimous in their disparagement of women. Augustine remarked, "I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children." Martin Luther suggested, "Let them die in childbirth, that's why they are there."
  • Another great moment in the history of Christianity's treatment of women was the lynching of Hypatia in 415 CE. She was guilty of the terrible sin of being a pagan and a woman teacher of mathematics and philosophy. The good Christians of Alexandria dragged her into the church, tore her flesh from her bones with oyster shells, and burned her. This episode was but a precursor to the long and grand Judeo-Christian tradition of witch-burning.
Yes, yes, I know. It's not like that anymore--Bill Heffernan's "barren" comments aside . That's not the point. If equality between the sexes is indeed an Australian value, it is not a product of the Judeo-Christian tradition--it is a significant departure from it. Every advance women have made towards being treated as equals has been resisted by defenders of the Judeo-Christian tradition--the same kind of people who today resist moves to grant gays and lesbians equality with heterosexuals under the law. It is logically contradictory, therefore, to hold that sexual equality is an Australian value and at the same time hold that Australian values are based on the Judeo-Christian tradition. Any citizenship test which requires aspiring citizens to believe these two impossible things before breakfast is not only privileging one religious tradition unconstitutionally: it is also perpetuating unreason.

UPDATE: See Ninglun and Legal Eagle for more commentary on the citizenship test.