The Theology of Scott Morrison
"Senator Chandler said the purpose of the bill was to clarify that offering sports for athletes born biologically female was legal under the Sex Discrimination Act." (Sydney Morning Herald. More text quoted below[i])
Theologically, what dog is the Prime Minister whistling up when he supports this bill which singles out trans people yet again?
The world’s oldest religion is the religion of the scapegoat. It is the religion where human beings “solve” violence between them by ganging up on one individual who is then killed. The death of the scapegoat creates unity, the murder is all against one, after all, and for a while the violence ceases. It is thought that not only did this practice enable early humans to survive their all against all violence, but the refinement of the practice, and careful repetition, created the first religions. As the theologian James Alison wrote, “We didn't invent sacrifice, sacrifice invented us.” Concilium 2013(4)
One of the first great advances in religion was the ritual sacrifice of animals instead of the sacrifice of humans. Put bluntly, it doesn’t create as much blow-back!
Nonetheless, humans are still sacrificed. We know that a Prime Minister can create at least a temporary peace and unity by sacrificing a cabinet minister or two to calm a scandal. Of course even that is a problem, because he can’t actually kill them, so they can pay him back later!
The key problem, of course, is that nothing is solved. The scapegoating of the cabinet minister does nothing to correct the things which have gone wrong or been done badly. (Although sometimes that minister may have been part of the problem, and their removal will help with cleaning up the mess.)
One of the most vulnerable groups liable to sacrifice by human crowds are the leadership. Indeed, although they seem to hold the power, they make an ideal scapegoat. They are just like us, but they are just a little bit different by virtue of their visibility, and their separation from us. And sitting up there on top of the heap they are very vulnerable, because of that visibility. I mean, if you help get rid of them, or even engineer their demise, you might get a shot at the top spot!
So what political leaders do, and what makes them successful and gives them longevity, especially if they’ve got not much actual leadership substance to offer‒if they are all about the optics[ii]‒what they do is seek to manipulate the crowd choosing the scapegoat. They direct the wrath of the crowd away from themselves onto someone relatively powerless, who is usually completely or mostly innocent.
The crowd is us. The Prime Minister doesn’t normally want to lose cabinet ministers. So rather than choose a cabinet minister for us to focus on, the Prime Minister will first of all aim for someone else and encourage us to blame them for all our troubles. That would be the refugees, the unemployed people, and, of course, people like us who are just a bit different. Such as… gay and lesbian people. But now that it turns out gay and lesbian folk are not so bad—we all know some of them, after all, you need someone else to point the crowd towards. Especially if you’ve been on holiday during the worst bush fires for years, and if you’ve stuffed up the Covid response, and played favourites with the state premiers, and didn’t order the right vaccines, and then, after all that, decided RATs didn’t matter. And don't forget the Aged Care system, which the inadequacies of your party’s allegedly superior financial management of the country, has impoverished and made even more vulnerable to Covid. When people add all this up, and when the opposition leader does his own blame game and reminds them, the mob will come for you, even if only to vote you out.
So who can you choose? Well, that would be the trans kids, right[iii]? Amp it all up by bleating, “Think of the children!” as one of my friends said a few days ago—and toss in something about religious discrimination, by which you mean the ability for the religious to discriminate. But that still wasn’t an adequate diversion and scapegoat, even though many of insecure religious folk of the PM’s ilk no doubt thought it was wonderful. The country wasn’t having it, and neither were some very brave Liberal politicians. Even the revenge attacks on them have not gained much traction! (Not that payback won’t come.)
So let’s try again. I know! We need to save women’s sport! Let’s get rid of the nasty trans folk in there. Women’s sport can’t possibly manage this on its own, can it? It needs the Prime Minster, that great ally of Australian women, to save it.
And of course the so-called Christian mob are right behind him with their leather-bound pitchforks.
And this particular whistling up of the scapegoat still has the children in view, as Anna Brown has said: Senator Chandler’s bill will “allow discrimination against trans children under the age of 12 years for the first time.[iv]”
So there we have it. Australian politics in the gutter, as it has been for so long.
But... as the salvation story proceeds, the Christian Bible consistently and increasingly, takes the side of the scapegoats. This was the thing which surprised Rene Girard[v] when he first read the scriptures. In all the violence, despite all the conflicting theologies within the Bible, even right back at the beginning, with Abel and Cain, God says the victim, the scapegoat, is innocent: "Where is your brother, Abel? … your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground![vi]" This insight into the innocence of the victims grows and deepens right through to the passion narratives which are presented as classic scapegoat scenarios. There, Jesus who is the image of God—if you have seen me you have seen the Father[vii]—Jesus allows himself to be mobbed and scapegoated, and literally killed, to show us what we are doing to each other. And when he comes back, instead of seeking revenge, he says, Do not be afraid, and peace be with you[viii].
We might notice, in passing, that Jesus says in Matthew 25 that the place to see him is in the poor, and the sick and the imprisoned... when you help them, you have helped me… And when your reject them you have rejected me.[ix] (Matt 25)
What this means is that when the PM seeks to scapegoat the trans kids to feather his own financial nest, and keep a job, he is not being Christian. And when the ra-ra crowd of so called Christians cheer him on, they are not being Christian. They are being the antithesis of Christian. They are aligning themselves with, and actively partaking of, and actively evangelising for, the oldest, least Christian religion, of human development. They are the ur-heretics of our time, who by their actions comprehensively reject the Christ who comes to them.
The author of Hebrews 6 says
4For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt. 7Ground that drinks up the rain falling on it repeatedly, and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and on the verge of being cursed; its end is to be burned over.
I don't believe the author had fully understood how much God enables us to repent. But of one thing I am rather more certain: When we persecute trans kids, and especially when we do it in the name of Christ, as the Prime Minister and others of the Government do, then “on [our] own [we] are crucifying again the Son of God, and are holding him up to contempt.”
To my colleagues and family in the Faith: I admire many of you who for 30 years or more, have sought to be faithful in holding the church to a particular view of what is correct about human sexuality. But have you noticed that again and again, that the whole church has said that it thinks you do not have the mind of the spirit? Could it be that perhaps you are wrong?
It is time to stop. People literally die from the scapegoating and hostility and exclusion and illness we thrust upon them when we tell them the God who made them in the image of God does not love them. Who is the sinner here, Prime Minister?
Andrew Prior (Feb 2022)
[i] “Women’s sport exists to provide separate competition for females, in acknowledgement that males have numerous physical advantages over females in the sporting arena,” she said while introducing the bill.
“When the bill comes to a vote, Parliamentarians will have a simple question to answer: Do you agree that women and girls have the right to play single-sex sport?”
While campaigning alongside Senator Chandler in Tasmania on Tuesday, Mr Morrison said: “I support it, I think it is a terrific bill and I’ve given her great encouragement.”
In his first public comments on Chandler’s private member’s bill, Mr Morrison said: “Claire is a champion for women’s sport and I think she has been right to raise these issues in the way that she has.”
Anna Brown, chief executive of the LGBTQ+ rights group Equality Australia, said Senator Chandler’s bill was “not just unnecessary, it’s cruel and divisive”.
“In offering his public support for this Bill, the Prime Minister is once again making the lives of trans and gender diverse kids the subject of political and media debate”, Ms Brown said “This is completely unacceptable, particularly when this group of people already experience disproportionate levels of discrimination, marginalisation and social isolation.”
Ms Brown said the Sex Discrimination Act already allows for discrimination on the grounds of sex, gender identity or intersex status by excluding people from competing in sport where strength, stamina and physique are relevant.
She said she was alarmed that Senator Chandler’s bill would allow discrimination against trans children under the age of 12 years for the first time. https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/morrison-backs-bill-excluding-female-trans-athletes-from-women-s-sport-20220222-p59yp1.html
[ii] Even the Murdoch Press can see this: “And that goes to the core concern people have about Scott Morrison: that he’s chronically disingenuous, even by the low standards of a politician; that he’s all about optics and politics, rather than substance.” https://www.news.com.au/national/politics/grace-tame-fights-for-substance-as-scott-morrison-focuses-on-optics-in-wild-week-of-politics/news-story/ed02793f407ba81f4688da49ebce8e6f
[iv] Senator Chandler’s bill [will] allow discrimination against trans children under the age of 12 years for the first time. https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/morrison-backs-bill-excluding-female-trans-athletes-from-women-s-sport-20220222-p59yp1.html
Note: Since publishing this, I discover that Peter FitzSimons has written in SMH about how confected the whole issue of trans women is sport is. https://www.smh.com.au/sport/confected-outrage-over-trans-people-in-sport-is-headed-for-implosion-20220223-p59z0a.html
[v] For a really good introduction to Girard, for whom James Alison is a major interpreter, it is worth reading S. Mark Heim's Saved from Sacrifice, which gives a wonderful and liberating re-reading of the meaning of the crucifixion. It is available on kindle.
[vi] Genesis 4:9-10
[viii] Matthew 28:5,10, Mark 6:50, Luke 24:26, John 20:19, John 20:21
[ix] Matthew 25:31-46
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