Saturday, October 01, 2011

Conservative catholic or modern secular?

There is an article in my newspaper, Do we really want a leader trapped in a bygone era? (01/10/2011) that is an edited extract from new book Tony Abbott: a man's man by Susan Mitchell.

It is important to remind ourselves that Tony Abbott is a 53-year-old former trainee Catholic priest, a former right-wing student activist, a former Liberal Party staffer, and an MP parachuted by John Howard into a safe Liberal seat. From an early age, he was mentored and trained by older men to become the man he is today - a product of a bygone era. Most of his ideas have been formed by men in all-male institutions or mostly male environments.

Can we believe in his political separation between church and state when Abbott boasted that eight Catholics in the Howard cabinet had overturned the Northern Territory's euthanasia law, buried gay marriage, stopped the ACT heroin safe injecting-rooms trial, and tried to reduce abortion numbers through pregnancy-support counselling that was openly anti-abortion?

When asked about the problem of businesses paying women an average 16 per cent less than they pay men in the same job, Abbott admitted that he was unaware that there was still a problem. When asked how he would get more women into politics, he said he did not have a solution.

Even though he is married with three daughters, he freely admits he has been mostly absent from the housework and child-rearing. Is it any wonder that he has no understanding of what Australian women, more than 50 per cent of the population, expect or need from a potential prime minister of their country?

The social and historic changes of the 1960s and 1970s have become firmly fixed in the social fabric of the nation - particularly those changes that affect the lives of women. What Abbott never understood, and still fails to understand today, is that a belief in a woman's right to make choices about her own body, and the belief that everyone has the right to equality despite their gender and sexuality, are not merely ''fashionable'' causes.

These rights are enshrined in legislation, and have been since the 1970s. They will not change, like the length of women's skirts do. To dismiss them alienates him from the women, and many men, who fought so hard in the past and are still fighting to achieve equality and fairness in and out of the workplace.

Women no longer accept that they are not entitled to the same opportunities as men, just as gays are refusing to be treated as second-class citizens, the elderly are agitating for the right to voluntary euthanasia, the young are demanding the development of stem-cell research, and eminent scientists throughout the world are certain that governments have to accept the reality of climate change and take immediate action to reduce carbon pollution or face the tragic consequences.

Abbott, a man of drive, cunning, ambition, and incorrigible determination, is now in a position where he could be leading our country come an election. But what if all his values and beliefs are more suited to the leadership of a conservative, Catholic institution than a modern, secular democracy? What if his attitudes to women are outdated and out of step with what they believe to be true about themselves and their own lives? What if the Australian people want a leader who embraces the future and is not trapped in the past?
The Saturday Age, 01/10/2011

I have long been concerned that Tony Abbott may one day become our Prime Minister. However, even though I personally agree with Susan Mitchell over the statements in this extract, what struck a chord with me was the question regarding a conservative Catholic religion and a modern secular democracy.

Recently I blogged about looking for a primary school for my son. I want to send my children to a local primary school, and we have the choice of either a Catholic or two government primary schools. Ultimately we have decided to enrol him (and later my daughter), in our local government primary school. However, I didn't find this was an easy choice, in fact it almost felt like going against the grain. Allow me to explain.

I have been raised a Catholic. Thirteen years of catholic (all girls) education, a grandmother who is very pious and took it upon herself to teach me the catechism and my husband also had a similar education to mine (although his was all boys) and was an altar boy in his teenage years. Both of us have turned away from the Catholic church, even though, eleven years ago, we were married in one. In fact it's the same church that I received the sacraments (communion and confirmation) and that my husband had served as an altar boy. I don't regret that at all, I have very fond memories of this beautiful bluestone church and it can even be described as a part of me. My son and daughter have been christened at this same church.

This is why, when choosing a school I found it hard to choose something other than catholic. This is why, when reading today Mitchell's words about today's society being modern secular I think my husband and I represent this new society. I had to ask myself, what sort of education do I want my children to have? I certainly don't want it to be dogmatic, one that includes missals and bibles. I want them to question what is around them. I want them to experience things and later on add value to society. I'm not saying that if you're Catholic you can't do all these things, but for me, the church just seems removed. I'm not getting anything out of it. To go to church would be a chore.

But I don't think I'm any less spiritual because of it.

Weighing up both schools, the government primary just seemed to offer more. During our meeting with the school principal, she said that the children at the school seem to be very socially aware, fair-minded, and I liked this. The school seemed to represent a modern secular society, and maybe this is why we chose it, because it meant finally taking that deep breath and actually admitting that this is what our family is. I was brought up as a conservative catholic, but as an adult, I am anything but.

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