The past year has been one of growing intolerance towards people of faith, with one of the loudest recent examples being TV personality Andrew Denton’s attacks over voluntary assisted dying (VAD). Churches, hospitals and aged care facilities should not be allowed to run their affairs in ways that reflect their beliefs, if you agree with the line being pushed by Denton.
Having succeeded in getting voluntary assisted dying laws onto the statute book of every state, he has repeatedly attacked the Catholic Church for refusing to abandon its doctrinal position on the practice. While no Catholic who opted for VAD would be denied a church funeral, the church has recently indicated that a VAD user could be denied end-of-life Last Rites.
Denton denounced this as “devoid of Christian mercy” while not appearing to realise that deliberately killing another person is an act equally devoid of mercy. Of course, this is yet another example of the refusal of secular, progressive activists to accept that not all Australians see the world the way they do.
However, church teaching about the sanctity of life remains in direct conflict with the fashionable practice of VAD. It’s not only about clergy speaking out from the pulpit. Faith-based hospitals and aged care facilities, operating in accordance with religious tenets, also want to protect people from the lethal dose. Yet that is unacceptable to VAD advocates such as Denton. The intolerant will not tolerate difference.
Despite efforts to marginalise religious points of view, the 2021 census showed that only 39 per cent of Australians now claim to have no religious allegiance at all. In time, this number will go up. For now, however, while it is true that religious allegiance is declining in Australia, 52 per cent of Australians still say that religion remains an important part of their identity.
But what is also declining in Australia is respect for difference. Not only do secular activists have a poor grasp of theology; they also have a poor grasp of the Enlightenment concept of tolerance. For tolerance requires that we put up with what we don’t like and with the opinions of those with whom we don’t agree. Yet too often, an opinion will only be tolerated if it’s deemed the correct one.
Why not leave the Catholic Church to order its affairs according to its doctrines? And why not allow Australian Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Jains – even Jedis – to live by the tenets of their respective faiths? We need to recover the true meaning of ‘tolerance’ and resolve to accept that practising tolerance is often neither easy nor comfortable. But tolerance is the only basis for a truly free and open society.
Let 2023 be the year when we recommit not only to practising tolerance of others but also to ceasing denunciation of those with whom we disagree. Happy New Year!
Peter Kurti is Director of the Culture, Prosperity & Civil Society program at the Centre for Independent Studies, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia.