Over at the ABC, Jennifer Wilson – the lady who anti-porn anti-abortion former Harradine adviser Melinda Tankard-Reist reportedly threatened to sue for continuing to speculate about her private beliefs – has had published at the ABC an article purporting to investigate “When it is ethical to disclose your religion”.
When Tankard Reist seeks to influence public morality and public policy, then it is entirely reasonable for her audience to ask if her position is influenced by her religion. Ethically, she is required honestly to answer this question.
And then she inadvertently exposes the big assumption that prompts this fallacy:
Her audience is not required to sit meekly by and unquestioningly accept a social order designed according to Christian morality…
No, they’re not. Of course they’re not. Who said they were? When did Tankard-Reist rely on her religious beliefs to order her audience “to sit meekly by and unquestioningly accept” what she said? When did her audience “sit meekly by and unquestioningly accept” what she said because of her faith, whatever that may be?
Why does knowing Tankard-Reist’s private theological thinking alter the validity of her publicly-expressed arguments? If Tankard-Reist’s only input on the debate is her words, and her words are flawed – which I agree with Wilson they are – then why does it matter what else she believes?
Why is an attack – sorry, “questioning” – about MTR’s private religious beliefs even necessary?
Now, I’d agree with Wilson if MTR was campaigning for public office. Because the thing about public office is that once you’re elected, you have a vote in parliament on every issue that comes before it. Even ones you haven’t previously discussed. And you’re also not legally bound, for that matter, by what you said you’d do earlier – you can change your mind and there’s nothing voters can do until the next election. And of course every “conscience votes” is decided on MPs’ private views on subjects outside the party platform.
So obviously a politician’s private beliefs ARE a relevant consideration for voters, and a legitimate subject of debate. Because they are asking to be elected for a period of time as a person who will exercise their judgment on anything that comes before them. As a voter, I’d want to know if my local ALP candidate is a card-carrying religious fundamentalist who will use her vote to oppose marriage equality, for example. And I think I’d be entitled to know that.
In contrast, MTR is not – so far as I know – running for office. She’s just arguing about things. Her ability to influence us is limited to those public words. And surely those arguments – flimsy as they are – can be much more persuasively dealt with on their merits.
Digging into her private religious beliefs just makes you look creepy and builds sympathy for her – sympathy she doesn’t deserve.