A Christian Society?

This week a lot of things have come up which have really challenged the way I look at our society. There’s no doubt that in Australia we really have it good. Our constitution is based on a democratic model and I think it’s fair to say does have a Christian basis. So, as our country becomes more secular, the question arises, how will the moral basis of our society change with it? and how will this affect our laws?

The discussions have become more prominent in recent months with the homosexual marriage debate. I suspect whichever side of the argument you stand, there is no question that this debate will define for our country – are our laws based on a Christian moral basis (note I’m not trying to argue that we are a Christian country, simply that our constitution is based on Christian principles) or are we redefining our country to be based on a secular moral basis. I don’t really want to get into this particular debate here, it’s more that I suspect it is an example of movement away from overtly Christian principles.

An argument that came up in one of my classes this week is that in moving to a completely secular society, there is no reason that our moral basis will continue to stay as it is today. For example, in a survival of the fittest mentality, murder is completely permissible, because the weak, or vulnerable hold the fit back. Maybe it won’t be called murder, perhaps we will find another name to justify it. However the fact will remain that there is no moral basis to prevent the killing of the weak. From a biblical perspective, God has created all people in his own image, He loves each person in creation, therefore Christians will value life, and a Christian ethic will place value on everyone’s life and therefore not seek to end it.

This whole debate was made real for me after hearing about this after birth abortion debate. If you haven’t heard about it, basically there was an article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics last week which argues that because abortion is permissible, after birth abortion (ie the killing of newborns) should also be permissible. I don’t agree with abortion, but even if I did, how horrifying that we can argue that the most vulnerable in our society should be killed because it might be inconvenient or difficult for us to care for them.

“However, …  if economical, social or psychological circumstances change such that taking care of the offspring becomes an unbearable burden on someone, then people should be given the chance of not being forced to do something they cannot afford.”

Not only does this disgust me, but I wonder if it reveals where our society, as we adopt a secular worldview is heading.

As Christian’s, Christ called us to be counter-cultural. To be aliens in this world and not adapt to the standards of this world. We can stand up for the rights of newborns, and do so in a way that doesn’t involve death threats.

Then I read this article and remembered that the changing society we live in might just give us some great opportunities for sharing the name of Jesus.

This is a daunting challenge, but nevertheless it is a challenge that God has allowed us to face.

Note: The photo is me with my niece mid last year, what a precious life she is.

About Gillian

  • Tom Bland

    Hey Gill

    Thanks for this post — such debates are always very thought-provoking!

    I’m interested in what leads you to the view that our constitution is founded on Christian principles. On it’s face, it’s pretty neutral (the reference in the preamble to Almighty God is perhaps balanced by the free-exercise/establishment clause in s 116). Otherwise than that, I think many would argue that the constitution represents a rather minimalist manifestation of (secular) classical liberal democratic principles.

    What do you think?

    Cheers

    Tom

  • Gillian

    Hi Tom, Thanks for your comment. I saw that you found the facebook discussion via Chris’ wall so I’m guessing you might already have a good answer to your question.
    You would of course know the constitution much better than me, but I think my point is more that it comes out of a Christendom worldview that sees biblical principles (probably more the moral rules rather than the grace stuff) as a basis for “civilised” society rather than it being overtly Christian.
    I hope that makes sense
    Gill

  • Merilyn Clark

    Certainly our legal system has been very influenced by the Judeo-Christian ethics. I once taught an Indian lawyer who had recently come to Australia and had been accepted to practice law. Although she was a practising Hindu she came to a Christian college to study the Scriptures in particular and theology because she said she need to be able to set our legal system into its Judeo-Christ context in order to function effectively in Australia. I was deeply moved by her discernment.
    I sometime worry about countries that claim to be Christian as so much of the behaviour that ones sees stands opposed to what I understand or see as Christian. I think Christianity needs to be countercultural or at least be prepared to be critical of actions and policies that stand contrary to Jesus’s teachings. Jesus spoke so strongly against injustice and failure to care for the marginalised. At the heart of Jesus message was love: love for God, love for neighbour, love for ourselves. It also seems to me that if we really love God then we must truly love God’s creation too.

  • Tom

    Hey Gill, Merilyn

    I think you’ve both made some interesting observations. Certainly, as the Westminster parliamentary system was born in the cradle of Christendom, plenty of our legal principles have their roots in Judeo-Christian ethics.

    My own view, though, is that Christians should be hesitant to stake too great a claim on our laws and political institutions. I think it’s perhaps more accurate to describe the history of our political and legal institutions as derived from somewhat of a ‘melting pot’ of influences.

    For instance, the idea of democracy was born in ancient Athens and made great in Rome. The ideas of civic society and free speech were inspired by Romans such as Cicero, who in turn inspired the (overtly secular) French revolutionaries who spread Enlightenment ideas of liberty and equality for all. More directly, the Australian Constitution is a hybrid of the British parliamentary system and the American Constitution, whose founding fathers sought to escape the clutches of Christendom in order to establish a free (and non-religious) state.

    Christianity and Christian principles have doubtless made immensely valuable contributions to our society and our constitution. I would caution, however, against overstating them. While many democratic principles are consistent with Biblical values, most were not, in fact, brought about by the Church, but rather through a combination of influences with Christianity playing a part.

    All just food for thought!