Our PMs and their faith, since 1945

On February 11, 2015 3:49 PM, "Stephen Williamson" wrote:

Subject:Our PMs and their faith, since 1945

Hi all

Some of you may enjoy this. :-)

It’s the religious beliefs of Australia's prime ministers since WW2 using an article by John Warhurst in November 2010.

http://www.eurekastreet.com.au /article.aspx?aeid=24159

 

Robert Menzies PM 1939-1941 and again PM for 16 continuous years, 1949-1966

Robert Menzies took his Scots Presbyterian roots seriously.

His father James, though not by first choice a Methodist has been called 'a dedicated and highly emotional Methodist lay preacher'. Growing up in Jeparit in country Victoria, where there was no Presbyterian church, Menzies lived in a largely Methodist world. Yet he maintained Presbyterian roots through his grandmother and from the time of his secondary school education in Melbourne attended a Presbyterian church. His wife Pattie was Presbyterian too and they married in a Presbyterian church. For the rest of his life he described himself as just 'a simple Presbyterian'.

His most famous statement of his values, 'The Forgotten People' radio address, included a religious element. One of his themes in this address, though not the most important one, was spirituality.

"If human homes are to fulfil their destiny then we must have frugality and savings for education and prayers. We have homes spiritual. This is a notion which finds its simplest and most moving expression in 'The Cotter's Saturday Night' of Burns. Human nature is at its greatest when it combines dependence upon God with independence of man."

Robert Menzies was followed by Harold Holt (described as an agnostic, but who drowned while PM, accidentally), then John McEwen, John Gorton, William McMahon with nominal beliefs and pretty low visibility. Then Gough, a real shakeup.

 

Gough Whitlam 1972 - 1975

Whitlam, too, was raised in a staunch Presbyterian household.

Whitlam made an intellectual departure as a school-boy. He said, in typical fashion, that he had no working relationship with God, but 'an intense interest in the Judaeo-Christian religion'.

After he entered Parliament in 1953 the Labor Party was mired in the Labor Split that led to the emergence of the Democratic Labor Party. He had plenty of opportunity to reflect on the divisive interaction of religious beliefs and politics. He, like other Labor figures of his generation and even later, was disinclined to court trouble by speaking about his religious beliefs in public. This attitude was shared by many ordinary Australians and became part of entrenched Australian cultural attitudes.

At Canberra Grammar School Whitlam won the divinity prize but it was held back by the headmaster because of his evident lack of faith. Although he once described himself as a fellow-traveller with Christianity he told his biographer Laurie Oakes that after attending St Paul's university college he only went to church once more and that was to be married.

Graham Freudenberg, Whitlam's biographer, famously concluded that 'the state aid to church schools' controversy was ended in favour of the Catholic Church by two men – Menzies, the self-proclaimed 'simple Presbyterian' and Whitlam, the exemplar of the humanist heresy'.

 

Malcolm Fraser PM 1975 - 1983

Fraser was notably from the Western Districts in Victoria establishment. His grandfather, Senator Simon Fraser was a Scots Presbyterian too. But Fraser himself, following his marriage to his wife Tamie, appears to have become an Anglican. He stressed the importance of the link to him between religion and public service: 'If I did not have that attitude to belief I would not have wanted to go into politics'.

 

Bob Hawke PM 1983 - 1991

Bob Hawke's father was actually a Congregational minister.
And Hawke gave the most extended explanation of his loss of Christian faith, which occurred during and after travelling as a young man in India as a member of a Christian delegation to the World Conference of Christian Youth. But he also wrote that "the basic Christian principles of brotherhood and compassion…would stay with me for the rest of my life…to guide me in my future career".

So, though 'a child of the Manse', he made his agnosticism more public than Whitlam, reflecting his much more open character. Later, in 1988, as he recalled in his later autobiography, he made a remarkable outburst against the rationality of Christian beliefs in the course of defending Aboriginal spiritual beliefs.

 

Paul Keating PM 1991 - 1996

Keating on the other hand is best regarded as a cultural or tribal Catholic. According to one biographer, Edna Carew, 'The Keating family illustrates the traditional pattern of Irish-Catholic life in Australia'. He is a typical member of the post-Labor Party Split NSW 'Catholic Right'. His father Matt had been a member of the anti-communist ALP Industrial Groups, and probably of the Catholic Social Studies Movement too.

According to another biographer, Michael Gordon, he 'attended Mass irregularly but was faithful to the tenets of the church'. Keating was not a practising Catholic. He exemplifies Irish-Catholicism in its Labor links. Bankstown, Sydney, where Keating grew up, was once known as Irishtown. Paul Kelly (chief editor at "The Australian") emphatically, however, describes Keating as a Catholic. He quotes Keating's chief of staff, Don Russell, as saying that 'he was always the Catholic boy driven to do good'.

In his own words Keating describes the link between faith and politics in terms of community tensions and perceived discrimination against Catholics. In relation to his experience of sectarianism he recalled: 'I resented it. You wouldn't have those doors closed against you if you weren't a tyke' (i.e. a mongrel).

Keating has said that: 'Catholicism gives you this view that we are born equally and we die equally, and that no one of us is intrinsically worth more than another'.

 

John Howard PM 1996-2007

An observant Christian, Howard had no truck with denominational differences: "The fundamentals of Christian belief and practice which I learned at the Earlwood Methodist Church have stayed with me to this day, though I would not pretend to be other than an imperfect adherent to them. I now attend a local Anglican church, denominational differences within Christianity meaning nothing to me".

Anglicanism is in fact the denomination of his wife. He attended Canterbury Boys High School rather than an Anglican private school. He held an official post in his Methodist church youth group. In 1975 Howard described himself as a 'communicant member of the Methodist church'. Later he said that Methodism had instilled in him 'a sensitivity to social justice.. a sort of social justice streak'.

He led a Cabinet renowned for its Christian identification. Yet he himself was uncomfortable being called a Christian leader in public and when introduced as such he emphasised that he respected "fully the secular nature of our society". He remains a monthly regular church-goer in his retirement from public life.

 

Kevin Rudd PM 2007-2010 (then for 3 months June-September 2013)

Rudd has been described as 'the most sincerely "Christian" Prime Minister Australia has had for a very long time', and as having identified himself more strongly as being a "practising Christian" than any PM since WW2. Rudd and Tony Abbott, the current leader of the Opposition (in 2010) have both been described as 'the two most overtly religious party leaders Australia has seen'. The ingredients are fascinating and the mass media has increasingly taken an interest.

His father died when he was young. Rudd had a Catholic upbringing through his mother's faith, and attended first a Catholic school and then Nambour High School. He became an Anglican about the time he married Therese Rein in Canberra. Rudd attends church weekly. From the time of the 2004 election aftermath he began a political campaign to strenuously encourage the electorate to recognise and reward the Christian ethos within the Labor Party.

The Presbyterian Scot, Keir Hardie, (an early Labour MP elected to Parliament in the UK in 1892) was a Christian socialist, he commonly points out.

Yes, also, quite a rebel :-).

 

Julia Gillard PM 2010-2013

Julia Gillard's parents were Baptists.

Gillard stands out because she has described herself not as an agnostic but as an atheist, perhaps the first prime minister to do so. Her position attracted particular attention not just because of this step but also because she followed Howard and Rudd and her election opponent was Abbott.

And in social policy, she is a contrary test case showing that atheists and believers often hold similar views on controversial issues like opposition to gay marriage. Either that or she exemplifies the fact that the wider bureaucratic, political and electoral context of policy-making is more important than the personal views of any prime minister.

** End of article