This is part 2 of a 3 part interview I did with John Anderson, a former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. John is also a devout Evangelical Christian, and I caught up with him last year to discuss the challenges facing Christians in a post-Christian West. (You can read part 1 of the interview here).
1) The Importance of Freedom of Conscience
Akos Balogh (AB): You mentioned freedom of conscience. Why do you think freedom of conscience is so important?
John Anderson (JA):
Because – along with freedom of speech – there’s a very real clash here (recognised by non-Christians like Tim Wilson) between who can speak freely, and who in the future may not be able to.
AB: I’m very encouraged to hear people like Tim Wilson taking that stand.
Now some might say that since Jesus didn’t have freedom of conscience, the early church didn’t, then why should we modern Christians worry about it? How would you respond?
Paul’s first letter to Timothy [1 Tim 2:1-3]: pray that we’ll be quietly governed, for our God is a God of order and of justice and of mercy. Our society has benefited hugely from that deep and profound belief that all individuals are worthy of respect, that they all have dignity, and should have a right to put their ideas on the table.
And in a very practical sense, you don’t get best policy outcomes from a second class debate. You get them from an honest debate: an honest public debate where all ideas can be put on the table. Where the ideas are discussed, not their proposers vilified.
2) Politicians, Wider Culture, and Debate
AB: Now you’ve operated at the highest levels of politics in Australia. Do you see politics as reflecting this culture of not being able to say certain things?
Yes, very much so.
AB: Do you think politicians have led this culture of vilification, or is it more of a reflection of the wider populace?
I don’t think politicians have led this culture of vilification. I know that everybody says politicians don’t set a good example – and that may be true to some extent – but in reality, I think the licence to hate in particular has happened elsewhere, and I think a lot of it frankly comes from the media. I’m sorry to say that, but I do. I think in particular the shock jocks in Sydney have helped create a licence for emotional ‘hatchet-job’ approaches to debate, rather than reason and evidence-based discussion.
But I can throw a little more light on this issue. I’ve read powerful research that shows that Australians are very worried about the way politicians argue with one another, but when they stop and think about it, they’ll realise ‘Are we really all that better? We can’t even agree within our local street on how to manage the nature strip without having World War III’.
AB: As the saying goes, if you point the finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at us.
3) The Lie at the Heart of Modern Culture
It’s the logical outcome of a value system that says it’s all about me. And that’s our value system. We tell our kids that they’re the centre of the universe. Moral relativism says that what’s good for them is good for them. What’s true for them is true for them. It’s a logical absurdity, when you stop and think about it.
But it’s the lie that is at the heart of modern culture. That’s a perverted offshoot of a much more profound concept that says: ‘yes, I have worth and dignity. But I have it only because every human being has it – because of God.’
AB: You’ve raised some important challenges. Is there anything else that you would include in the challenges that Christians may be facing in the near future?
4) Is Persecution coming to Australia?
Well the practical outcomes of what we’ve talked about may well be profound. It may impact on our right to teach Christian beliefs and values to our children in our schools, and potentially in our home.
Now I’m not overly pessimistic about that, because I think while there are Christians in public life, and there are many in Australia: the NSW Police Commissioner [since departed], the most respected police commissioner in the country; the governor of NSW; the Premier of NSW [since departed]; many members of the Federal and Queensland Parliament, then Christians are unlikely to face serious persecution.
Now the culture wars are far from over. But we have to understand the issues, and we need to learn how to address them in ways that are research based, evidence based, and winsome.
5) Speaking Up for the Sake of Others
AB: And so if we can put forth these arguments into the public square, then there’ll be people who will agree, and see the sense in them?
I suspect there’s quite a chunk of the Australian population out there who feel somewhat voiceless in the face of this relentless attack on everything they hold dear, from the intelligentsia and from the media. And I think one of our great tasks is to try and reach out to them more, to give them more of a voice. As Eric Metaxas says: each time you speak up, you create an environment where others feel able to speak up.
AB: So Christians can give people the permission and freedom to speak up.
(This interview will be continued next week in a third and final installment. Topics covered include: Trump, Islam, and the future of the West.)