secularism in Australia

I’ve been thinking a bit about secularism in Australia recently.

Lots of factors feed into this. But the spark that’s ignited the powder keg came when I stumbled across this report called ‘Making Multiculturalism Work’, published by UK think tank, Theos (who address issues at the intersection of faith and public life).

I haven’t had time to read it in detail yet. But it looks fascinating.

One of its key findings concerns how the application of a kind of ‘progressive values’ means test might hinder cooperation between different groups:

“In fostering … common action, the report argues, we should abandon any ‘progressive tests’, in which groups are required to show that they are sufficiently politically progressive in order to merit a ‘place at the table’. Instead we should use ‘relational tests’, in which organisations must be willing to work with people from different backgrounds and perspectives.”

What this suggests to me is that those groups with ‘thicker’ — ie. more substantial and value-laden — visions of society and what makes for the common good, may have more chance of successfully collaborating across their differences than those with a ‘thinner’ — more formal, minimal and (supposedly) value-neutral — vision.

I’m sure there’s plenty of research to be done about the extent to which something similar is true in the Australian context. (And I’m probably not the person to do it.)

But it’s definitely made me wonder about how we evaluate those groups that would usually be looked at askance — treated with suspicion and possibly even marginalised because of the fear that they may impose their ‘narrow’ and ‘partisan’ values on others.

I obviously have my own stream of historically orthodox Christianity in mind. But such a description could equally well be applied to many other religious, ideological or cultural groups — from Muslims to Marxists and Macedonians.

Ultimately, I’m wondering whether such groups, each harbouring their own distinctive vision of society and the common good, could actually be the most fruitful potential contributors to a tolerant and inclusive secular Australia?

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