While I was in Canberra attending the Opening of Australia’s newly elected Parliament in the last week of July, I was invited to coffee with the Rationalist Society. They were making calls on MP’s and Senators advocating that Parliament should permanently drop the historic tradition of beginning each day of debate with a prayer.
When they invited me to join them for coffee, my first thought was that the issue was trivia, but I had 30 minutes to spare and decided it could be interesting to find out why they chose to spend time, money & energy making an issue of this.
I found that they are rational people who try to live by exercising rational thoughts and rejecting all aspects of the impact of spirituality in doing so.
They believe that Parliament is a place where legislation is to be debated in a rational manner and must devote its time to doing exactly that. Praying for guidance from a God has nothing to do with it and no Parliamentarian should ever use his or her personal religion to influence the Parliament.
So, they hold the firm view that prayer to a Christian God, or any other God, has no place in any Parliament, especially as the most recent Census shows that less than 50% of Australians identify with any religion and, therefore, would certainly approve the removal of prayers from the daily agenda.
They also believe that the Christian prayer discriminates against Muslim and Jewish Parliamentarians, as well Indigenous ones who have their own heritage of spirituality. There are also several atheist and agnostic MP’s.
Above all, the records show that only a small number of MP’s and Senators ever attend the saying of the prayer which is recited in a boring tone without conviction. Just enough are there to ensure a legal quorum is present. While the prayer is being said, those present can be seen reading and answering their emails and texts.
It really is a farce.
The Rationalists say it should be replaced with 5 minutes of meditation when members reflect on their conscience and personal responsibility to the voters of their electorates in the matters to be debated that day.
I note that the Rationalists have achieved some success. The newly elected President of the Senate has publicly supported them. At another level of government the Wagga Wagga Council, by a vote of 5 to 3, scrapped the prayer at the opening of Council meetings and replaced it with a time of reflection when all Councilors are required to be present.
May I raise another matter which is similar?
We should remove the practice whereby those being sworn into Parliament are asked to ‘take a holy book in your right hand and swear etc’. This usually means a Bible or Quran. What they should be holding is a copy of the Constitution of Australia. However, I was in the Gallery and noted that about a quarter of the Parliamentarians refused to hold anything, but the ceremony went ahead anyway.
(I would have objected on the grounds that I am left-handed).
However, the issue that really aggravated me was the requirement that they swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth, not the People of Australia. This is an absolute disgrace.
Be this as it may, my great hope is that one day our Constitution will state that no one can nominate to be elected to Parliament unless they have a proven record of voluntary service to the community, no known violation of gender equality & have successfully completed a course of study that has embraced a full understanding of democracy, the constitution and how government and parliament actually perform their work. This will raise the quality of Parliament by 1000%.
So it was that at the end of a pleasant coffee chat, I wished the Rational Society well, but said that I want, at age 90 & growing in frailty, to concentrate on 3 personal passions – railways, longevity & Uluru.
Plus writing books about physical and social nation building.
You can buy them on my website
It is actually a rational thing to do.
A long term working partner of Jesus of Nazareth in striving to create a better world.