Section 116 of the Constitution of Australia enshrines the principle of religious pluralism.
116. The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
The clause may be assumed to make us a nation of easy going pagans, however the opening sentence of the preamble gives the clause a context in which we might understand it.
Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established:
It is clear that whilst not wishing to impose a particular style – type – brand of religion, the understanding was largely theistic, though without compulsion.
The situation One hundred and fifteen years later is a little changed. Australia is not the biggest church going nation on the planet. Most people have some kind of coherent moral philosophy, and may well understand themselves to be non-worshipping theists, whilst there is a section of our community that engages in formal attendance at a worship or some kind during the month. Being a professing atheist is not a barrier to holding high office in the land (which is possibly different to the USA).
The pluralism that we aspire to embrace in contemporary Australia is one where all are free to be religious or not, and it has no impact on opportunity or esteem. Effectively we are religiously ambivalent as a nation, though each is free to take whatever position they choose. We are in that sense a tolerant society.
Any of us is free to exercise the religious position and views and even to encourage such views among others, though in Australia religion is purely voluntary and optional.
This is different to ideals being promoted in the IS controlled sections of Iraq. There is evidence that the arabic letter ‘N’ has been painted on the houses of Christians, who are then given a choice of death or conversion to Islam.
Such methods of evangelisation are ineffective, as was demonstrated by the Spanish Inquisition, and the purging of the Anabaptists in the United Kingdom.
This, of course is a mark of a religiously intolerant society. We need to ask ourselves if a religiously tolerant society can tolerate a religiously intolerant society or sector of our own society.
Now, as it happens, I do not believe that the vast bulk of Muslims embrace the means being employed in Iraq and Syria by the ISIS adherents. I think a large number of Australians would be somewhat comforted is the leaders of Islamic communities could be heard speaking on this issue. I have no doubt that for them that takes some courage, and it seems some have declared it a Holy War or Jihad. Of course in reality there is nothing holy about war.
That the church has done dreadful things in history, does not make it correct, or acceptable, or even a valid choice. The world we live in today is much smaller. Our interdependence is much greater.
Sadly we have seen in Australia is recent weeks a number of incidents, on the one hand from hothead Islamic extremist followers, and from hot head anti Islamic protagonists. This does nothing good for anyone. The truth is it takes two sides to make peace. Whilst it does alarm me that leaders of the Islamic Community ore loath to speak, it would seem, it also seems sad to me that the Christians leaders have been loath to speak for Christians being persecuted and martyred in Iraq. By and large it seems the Church wants it to be a political issue, not a religious issue.
The prerequisite for peace is justice. The difficulty happens when there are competing claims for justice.
Clearly there is a lot of history that many of us (myself included) do not understand. There are clearly different groups among Muslims, and one hear of Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and that seems to be something like the divide between Catholics and Protestants in the Irish conflict.
There is no resolution until we recognize the value of the other person, and their right to exist.
The Islamic State has not put forward a justice claim as far as I can tell. They have seemingly engaged in an unreasonable approach to Christians – perhaps especially Kurdish Christians – have had their rights outrageously denied.