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    Religion & politics

    Dear Gerard Henderson,

    In your article this week you told two leading Anglican figures – the Primate of Australia and the Governor General – to butt out of politics, if I may summarise your advice rather crudely.

    It’s what others say too, that clergy should stick to religion and leave politics to others – i.e. cobblers should stick to their lasts, and everyone should leave to Caesar that which is Caesar’s.

    Maybe your problem this week was with two particular Anglicans, but I suspect you had the clergy and religion as a whole in mind.

    You certainly know that not all religions are socially activist, but the religions that make you uneasy are probably the monotheistic faiths, and you would rather they stick to their prayers, pulpits, pews and parishes, and leave issues of public policy to others, presumably politicians (God help us!) and journalists (Heaven forfend!).

    Your point is clearly that people should not venture out of their area of expertise, but politicians do it all the time, and so do journalists, talk-back radio hosts and others whose understanding and knowledge of crucial issues so often seems like the emperor’s new clothes.

    But you focussed on religion, so I will too.

    You implied that cobblers should stick to their lasts and clergy should stick to religion.

    The problem is that when clergy address public policy issues what they are doing is actually religion.

    “Religion should keep out of politics”, you say – but the Bible says, “Rulers over men shall be righteous, those that rule in the fear of God” (II Sam 23:3).

    “Religion should keep out of economics” – but the Bible speaks of the rich not oppressing the poor, and of having just weights and measures.

    “Religion should keep out of medicine” – but the Bible is adamant about the value of every human life, the duty to preserve life and the obligation to bring healing.

    “Religion should keep out of international affairs” – but the Bible envisions nation not lifting up sword against nation, and all the people coming as one to the mountain of the Lord.

    Whatever the area of human concern, religion cannot abdicate; it has to be involved.

    You can put up notices in public parks, “Keep off the grass”, but you cannot tell religion to keep off the arena of history.

    It is uncomfortable to be bothered by a religious gadfly, but that’s what the prophets of Israel were, and that’s the social role of religion.

    Not out of proselytising motives, out of a mission to conquer every soul and build up religious numbers, but because religion is dedicated to a just, quality society.

    True, there are representatives of religion who are not well acquainted with some of the crucial areas of public policy, but nor are the politicians or the journalists or anyone else.

    If that’s an argument for anything, it’s an argument for effective ongoing education in civics, culture and world affairs.

    But it’s not an argument for muzzling the voice of the citizen, even if the citizen happens to be a religious believer, spokesman, representation or leader.

    Dear Gerard Henderson, thanks for telling me to keep off the grass.

    Thanks for your earnest advice to the Anglicans and all the other Christians, Jews and Muslims.

    But I am afraid society would be the poorer if we listened to you on this particular subject.

    The above is the text of an address delivered by Rabbi Raymond Apple at the Great Synagogue, Sydney, on 26 October 2002.

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