JEWISH satirist, author and documentarian John Safran injected tongue-in-cheek humor and pointed ideas into a six-member Vivid Sydney panel discussion in the NSW Parliament on Tuesday titled “Do Politics and Religion Mix?”, moderated by the executive director of the Center for Ethics, Dr. Simon Longstaff.
Asked what he thinks about the appropriate boundaries between bringing an individual’s belief into parliamentary debate and its potential influence on public policy, Safran observed how “religion can add color debate, and on some level I think it’s kind of cool that there are going to be disagreements – they keep your brain alive”.
“But you’re also going to have religious people who are just going to bend the system, so I think it comes down to a matter of degrees.”
When given a hypothesis, that a society decides to enact a law that infringes on your freedom, for the explicit reason that it is in accordance with the commandments of God, would it be appropriate if a majority of people in a democracy was looking for that, Safran joked “as a writer and documentary filmmaker, I think that would be great, because I could get so much material out of it!”
“And what kind of law are you proposing…like, no kosher bagels allowed?”
Longstaff quickly replied – before Safran could continue his witty spiel – “something more serious, where it has a real impact on people’s lives.”
Safran replied: “Okay, I would say I would go against it.
“But another thing that it touches on that’s interesting, and might answer that in a different way, is [although] the history of white Australia is steeped in Christianity, it [the society] has been sort of secular, compared to white American history,” Safran said.
“If there are any challenges to religion in America, it comes from the white American tradition on Christianity, so it’s like you’re [seen as] dispute that.
“Whereas in Australia – just to give an example – after the First World War, when they built the War Memorial in Melbourne, it was like it had to be a religious building, with crucifixes?
“And it was like, no, we’re going to make this absolutely important building secular.
“And I say that because in 2022, if people were suddenly going to make this pivot and really be publicly religious with all of this, I think that would just seem very strange.”
Safran also observed that “religious people – not all of them of course – often work backwards [on an issue]”.
“So if they wanted more streetcars, they’d say, ‘Look, Jesus would have wanted more streetcars’ – and by the craziest of coincidences, Jesus still has the same opinions as them!”
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