What do we mean when we say ‘to act politically’?

Recently, our Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, was reported to say that she is not a ‘feminist’. I was rather taken aback by this on hearing it, but on reflection, I think that the statement may well be true. Julie Bishop is not a feminist unless she acts politically in respect of women and/or gender, in society.

Do you act politically? There is an easy test. To act politically is to think and speak in ways which proscribe behaviour in respect to a particular thing or event. The test is this. If you find yourself using words such as ‘should’, ‘ought’, ‘need to’ you are saying how others should behave. You are proscribing behaviour.

‘Women should have equal pay for equal work’ and ‘children should be seen and not heard’ are political statements. Political statements may also be stated in the negative such as, ‘Children should not be in detention’, ‘The poor should not have to bear the burden of taxation’. These are both political statements that proscribe what should or ought to be done by others, be they individuals, government, institutions or public servants. ‘Public servants ought to be able to criticise government’ is a political statement rather dear to my heart.

In this sense, it is true to say that religions act politically, in so far as they exhort others to behave in a particular way.

The Ten Commandments are political statements. ‘Thou shalt not have any other god before me’ is a rather comprehensive one. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, are political entities in so far as they all exhort us to behave in particular ways. They tell us what we ‘ought’ to do.

‘Well. There’s nothing wrong with that!’ I hear you say and I agree wholeheartedly. There is nothing wrong; in fact, much good comes, with acting politically. ‘Love thy neighbour’ is a powerful proscription for behaviour that is at the heart of Christianity, and further, at the heart of our rule of law.

The problem arises with the concept of ‘religion’, for there, the proscriptions are not seen as the function or creation of men and women in society, but are revered as commands of our imagined and constructed deity, thus according the political statement a status of self-evident truth beyond the realm of human’s imagining and creation, and furthermore, and more importantly, beyond human criticism.

Political activists and religions are accorded a significantly different status in society. We are permitted to criticise the former, but not the latter. We may abuse the former, but not the latter. Religious organisations are accorded tax-free status, while political organisations are not, thus ensuring the survival of the former, and the precarious existence of the latter. Religious organisations are seen as ‘good’ while political organisations are seen as ‘trouble-making’ and ‘subversive’. Anyone who speaks politically is likely to be seen as suspicious and having an agenda that is not transparent. It is dangerous to speak politically, even in a domestic situation.

Why does any of this matter, if indeed it does? We can see the danger in the juxtaposition of two ‘religious’ statements: ‘Thou shalt not kill’ and ‘Behead all infidels’. Both statements, in the guise of religious statements, are in fact political statements in that they exhort us to behave in certain ways. They tell us what we ‘ought’ to do. They are political statements, albeit in the guise of religion.

Am I acting politically as I write this? Yes. I am acting politically because I say that we ‘ought’ to recognise that although we speak of religion AND politics, religion, in fact, IS politics, and we ‘ought’ to recognise this in order to create a better world.









About lalegale

Legal and psychological advocate for freedom of political communication.
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