Dear Australians #2.5: God’s Authority

One of the aim’s of the Religious Discrimination Bill was to give religious organisations the capacity to operate under the guidelines of what they perceive to be God’s authority, as opposed to earthly authorities, like Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

In the early hours of 10 February, 2022, last minute changes the bill saw the insertion of clauses that would prevent institutions like schools being able to discriminate against staff and students who are homosexual. Nonetheless, these alterations were rejected in the Senate because the bill still did not address transgender issues, thus the government was concerned transgender staff and students may still be vilified.

Some church groups also rejected the changes because it meant they were not getting what they wanted – the right to discriminate against staff and students on the grounds of gender identity, sexual orientation, and marital status. They argue religions should be allowed to uphold their beliefs, traditions, and values, even if these are prejudicial, because God’s authority should be higher than government mandated laws.

God’s authority in America allows discrimination …

If the Religious Discrimination Bill were to go ahead, one only needs to look at American to see the type of discrimination that could arise. For instance, Hillsong demoted a choir director when it became known they were openly gay. The director’s skills and expertise in leading a choir were never in question, rather, it was a case of not wanted to be seen as supporting LGBTQ+. This is the same Pentecostal church Scott Morrison has affiliations with, which begs questioning the possibility that the Morrison government wants the same sort of discrimination to be legal in Australia?

Hillsong is a form of Christianity that claims to love everyone, but if you’re homosexual then you’re not entitled to have positions of responsibility. Perhaps, Brian Houston (who just happens to be a close friend of Morrison) doesn’t know of the history of Castrati!?

Castrati, Transgenderism Approved by God’s Authority

Castrati were singers who had their testes and/or scrotum removed before puberty so they produced less testosterone and, in turn, maintained the capacity to sing high notes as adults. The procedure was usually not of the boys choosing, rather poor parents did it in exchange for money and to profit off their child’s gifted singing abilities. The procedures were approved of by the Catholic Church, an institution established on the premise that it is a mediator of God’s authority.

The trend began in the 1500s to enable choirs the flexibility of singing songs with a full range of harmonies. The mutation of boys anatomy was deemed an appropriate solution to fulfil the “need” of producing heavenly melodies. Castrati were “necessary” because women were banned from church choirs. Further, the procedure could be justified using Matthew 19:12 – a Castrato was an eunuch made for the sake of the kingdom of the heavens.

Castrati were popular throughout Europe and highly valued in Vatican choirs. As effeminate men, many adjusted their identity to suit their circumstances, which in some cases involved homosexual relationships. If they could still achieve erections, they could be sort after by affluent women who wanted an affair with a hairless lover who could not impregnate them.

Castrations were made illegal in Italy in 1861, but the practice was not banned by Papal rule till 1903. Italian doctors are reported to have continued making castrati for the Sistine Chapel choir until 1870.

The last Castrato, Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922), followed the centuries old tradition of being the director of the Sistine Chapel choir. It is unclear if Moreschi’s castration was done purely to preserve his vocal range or if it was done to cure an inguinal hernia. Either way, the transgender-like procedure he went through was never viewed as being a threat to the morality of Christendom. He was nicknamed the “Angel of Rome” and recordings of his work are now on YouTube.

Religious Freedom or Religious Abuse?

Christianity’s history of supporting transgender-like procedures on religious grounds – Castrati and eunuchs – is a poignant backdrop for considering modern issues of gender identity and sexual orientation in modern churches. Essentially, when the purpose of altering a male’s anatomy to make them more like a woman suited their needs, Christianity approved transgenderism. Moreover, effeminate men were glorified for their feminine singing skills and any homosexual behaviours were largely ignored. Fast forward to today, and Christians can be discriminated against for exercising their free will to be transgender and/or homosexual.

When governments banned castrations, were they discriminating against religious traditions? Or were they putting the welfare of individuals above cruel religious practices?

So too, if governments prevent religions from being able to discriminate on the grounds of gender identity, are religious faiths being discriminated against? Or are the freedoms of individuals being protected from cruel religious practices?

Freedom of religion that leads to religious abuse was a prime consideration that lead to the development of human rights. Why have a bill that overrides this aim?

Castrati is not the same as homosexuality …

The common tread between Christians historically supporting Castrati choir directors and contemporary Christians discriminating against homosexual choir directors is that both situations represent practices that are supposedly supported by God’s authority. Discerning what is God’s authority ultimately comes down to which version of the Bible one reads and how it is interpreted. Idiosyncratic issues of what is “God’s authority” regarding gender identity and sexual orientation is nuanced by historical and cultural contexts.

It could be argued that Pentecostalism formed as a reaction against the practices of other Christian denominations and their practices, like Catholic Castrati, who supposedly misinterpreted God’s authority. Then again, it could be argued that churches who accept LGBTQ+ Christians are a reaction against other Christians, like Pentecostalism, because they have misinterpreted God’s authority … the circular arguments are endless. Not all denominations of Christianity are equal, and even within specific churches, Christian attitudes can vary.

So, if the Bible is the official document that defines God’s authority, why are there so many variations? … Dear Australians #2.6: the Bible’s authority …

This blog is part of a series that I hope will encourage deep, thoughtful, respectful discussions about issues relating to the Religious Discrimination bill. If you’d like to be kept up to date, subscribe to receive notifications of new posts by email.

PREVIOUS BLOGS IN THIS SERIES

Dear Australians #2.4: Jesus and Women

Dear Australians #2.3: Let’s Talk About Sex …

Dear Australians #2.2: Australia and Human Rights

Dear Australians #2.1: We Need to Have a Heart to Heart Conversations About the Religious Discrimination Bill. I’ll Start …

References

Davis, E. (2020). What was a castrato? And what did they sound like? Amp.classicfm.com. https://amp.classicfm.com/discover-music/what-is-a-castrato/

Perrottet, T. (2007). Why Castrati Made Better Lovers. The Smart Set. https://www.thesmartset.com/article0806070116/

Skuse, A. (2021). The Instrumental Body: Castrati. In http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Cambridge University Press. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK571299/

Feature image: Public Domain

Dear Australians #2.1: We Need to Have a Heart to Heart Conversations About the Religious Discrimination Bill. I’ll Start …

Dear Australians,

I’m sure many of you are as relieved as I am that the Religious Discrimination Bill (also known as the Bigot Bill) was not passed, thus preventing religious groups from being given the right discriminate against . However, what some people appear to have missed is that the bill was always about much more than giving bigots the right to legally judge, humiliate, and vilify others due to their sexual identity and orientation. Behind the smokescreen of celebrating sexual liberations, the nuances of religious abuse and coercive practices remain unaddressed.

As a therapist, I advocate the practice of not letting issues hide under the metaphorical carpet. While the Religious Discrimination Bill has been shelved indefinitely, the whole saga brought up a few things we best discuss now before things boil over again. Let’s take this opportunity to reflect and have a heart to heart about what has taken place. I’ll start. I’ve got quite a bit to say so I recommend you make yourself a cuppa …

In response to my first letter to Australians, Dear Australians, We Need Coercive Control Laws Not a Religious Discrimination Bill, I received the feedback from someone who said: “I didn’t even know Australia already had freedom of religion laws”. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this. From police officers to common citizens, there is a lack of understanding of current legalisations relating to religious practices which, once understood, provide insights into deceptive government behaviour that should raise everyone’s eyebrows. Three key points are:

  1. The Religious Discrimination bill was an attempt to undermine the Australian constitution.
  2. Historical events in Australia and Biblical times are not well known or understood.
  3. Freedom of Religion cannot be discussed without also considering religious abuse.

As with many complex issues, in order to appreciate how factors interrelate, examining history explains a lot about how we came to current circumstances. I’ll start with Australian history and why we are a secular nation.

Penal Colony and Church Act

Australia began as a penal colony with convicts being sent from the United Kingdom. At the time of the first fleet, 1788, the dominate religion in England was Protestant Christianity, Church of England. The supreme governor was their monarch, King George III. (The current Supreme Governor of the Church of England is Queen Elizabeth II).

Convicts sent to Australia in 1788 were expected to attend weekly outdoor Church services. The first church building established in Sydney Cove, 1793, was Anglican (another way of saying Church of England). The chapel was burnt down in six years later. The arson attack is believed to have been done by disgruntled convicts who objected to being forced to attend; this many have been inspired by atheistic beliefs or devotion to an alternative form of Christianity.

Most of the convicts were Anglican, however, one tenth were Irish Catholics, with smaller percentages of other faiths, like nonconformist Protestants. Angst between Christian denominations began in Europe during the reformation era (c.1517-1648).

When King Henry VIII founded the Church of England in 1534 many Catholics fled to Ireland, thus preceding English/Irish conflicts were often Anglican/Catholic tensions. A cycle of revolts and tensions persisted between English Protestants and Irish Catholics for many centuries.

In 1798, when a major conflict broke out in Ireland, Catholic rebels were transported to New South Wales.

In 1804, Catholics in New South Wales attempted to overthrow British rule. Consequently, Catholics priests were forbidden from practicing clerical rites in Australia for 16 years.

To help ease religious tensions, in 1836 Governor Bourke introduced the first Church Act. This provided subsidies for land and the building of chapels to Anglican, Catholic, and Presbyterian denominations equally. Members of the Anglican Church objected to the Act because they believed the Church of England should have more distinction over other Christians.

Overall, the Church Act successfully brought about a sense of peace, which was further enhanced with later amendments that made provisions for Jewish, Methodist, and Baptist communities. Despite government support for all religions, segregation took place with Catholic-only or Presbyterian-only workplaces. “No Catholics/Jews/Protestants/Other need apply” was not an uncommon on employment ads. Social expectations of marrying within one’s faith remained the norm. Name calling and derogatory remarks about other’s beliefs was commonplace, even amongst children who were echoing their parents prejudices.

Australia Constitution 1901

As Australia moved towards forming a constitution, the men in Commonwealth government roles had varying Christian heritages. Through a conscious awareness of how conflicts can arise from any one religion dominating others, like what occurred in Europe and Australia’s early colonial days, section 116 of Australia’s constitution stated:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

According to Australia’s first census in 1911, 96% percent of Australians considered themselves to be Christian. Thus, it can be assumed that section 116 was aimed at ensuring no “Christian” religion was to be imposed. I highly doubt there was foresight to perceive the great diversity of religion that Australia would have in 2022, nonetheless, its intention come to fruition, mostly.

The high number of Christians in Australia’s early days did not include First Nations people. Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders were viewed as being more like animals than people, let alone communities who deserved to have the right to freely exercise their religion. It was not until 1971 that First Nation People were indiscriminately counted in an Australian census.

Between 1860 and 1870 landowners could acquire indigenous workers then force them to work on sugar fields, as pearl divers, on cattle and sheep properties, and other hard laborious positions. If paid, it was only a fraction of what white workers received; some reports claiming indigenous Australians received 3% of Europeans earnings. (Reminder: Scott Morrison has a very narrow view of slavery looks like.)

Mistreatment of indigenous Australians was commonplace and long standing. All the way up to the 1960s, countless Australian aboriginals were taken from their families and incarcerated. Many were forced to live in (Christian) missions or on reserves with freedoms to move around cities and towns only allowed if they had an exemption certificate. These were dubbed “dog tags” and in order to get one, individuals had to promise to give up their culture, language, family, and religious beliefs.

The secular basis of the Australian constitution was not specifically designed to be tolerant of Eastern faiths like Hinduism, Buddhism, or Sikhism, either. From the time of the gold rush onwards, Asians, particularly Chinese, were the target of racial discrimination. From additional taxes being placed upon them if they wanted a gold mining license, to the first Immigration Restriction Act and Regulations of 1861, racism towards “heathens” prevailed.

The government’s white’s only polices, banning immigration from all non-European countries, came into effect in 1901, the same time as the constitution.

As for those who wanted to follow traditional beliefs, like Celtics, or other paganism, section 116 wasn’t designed for them either. The Christian assumption that such practices were demonic prevailed, as evidenced by state laws that forbade witchcraft, sorcery, and fortune telling. In 2005, Victoria became the last state to remove laws prohibiting paganism and occult-based beliefs and practices.

Christianity has a long history of non-tolerance towards alternative belief systems in a variety of contexts. It’s an attitude that supposes indigenous Australians, Asians, pagans, or anyone other than a Christian, have inferior religious beliefs, therefore they don’t really matter. (As I’ve discussed before, Christian supremacy has significant links to Aristotelian philosophy.) Colonialist Australia inevitably inherited some of its attributes of superiority from its English roots, but our constitution is secular, so perhaps our hearts were in the place and we just need to do a bit of reflection?

Australia’s move away from bigotry and hatred has occurred in steps, baby steps … alongside our progression has been an increased global awareness of human rights … stay tuned for the next blog – Dear Australians #2.2: Australia and Human Rights.

Over the coming days I will be publishing more letters to Australians that I hope will encourage deep, thoughtful, respectful discussions about issues relating to the Religious Discrimination bill. If you’d like to be kept up to date, subscribe to receive notifications of new posts by email.

References

Korff, J. (2021, March 29). Creative Spirits: Australia has a history of Aboriginal slavery. Creative Spirits. https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/history/australia-has-a-history-of-aboriginal-slavery#was-there-ever-aboriginal-slavery-in-australia

National Museum of Australia – Bourke Church Act. (n.d.). http://Www.nma.gov.au. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/bourke-church-act

Places of worship | Religion, church and missions in Australia. (2016, May 17). State Library of NSW. https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/stories/religion-church-and-missions-australia/places-worship