A View From Afar, with Shelley Segal

Author Emily Dietle

My focus is on state-church separation & social issues. I'm an avid reader, and feel that one of our most valuable tools is the free movement of information and ideas. | @emilyhasbooks

According to statistics, the vast majority who frequent this blog are from within the United States. Often, we Americans can become so steeped in our own media and local paradigms, that it becomes challenging to see a clear image of ourselves as a nation. In this blog series, you will be offered a ‘view from afar’ by atheists abroad, with their take on our politics and religious culture. Read the full series: Martin S. PribbleShelley SegalSylvia BroeckxTylzenRory Fenton, and Roger Ivan Hart.

The fourth article in this series comes from Australian singer-songwriter Shelley Segal. Currently, this talented songstress is touring her latest release ‘An Atheist Album.’ I had the pleasure of meeting Shelley in Washington DC earlier this year, after she graced the stage of Reason Rally. Frankly, no matter the combination of words written, any introduction I write for this brilliant woman will not do her justice.

“For an atheist, she’s got a hell of a lot of soul”

I have been on tour in the US for most of this year and have found it interesting being here during the lead-up to the presidential election. If I compare the way that religion is treated in politics in the US, with the religious political climate in my home country of Australia, some noteworthy differences seem apparent to me.Religion and religious language are referred to and used a lot more in US politics than in Australia. Politicians, on both sides, declare their religiosity often and regularly mention god in public addresses.  What surprised me the most this year was seeing attendees holding hands with their heads bowed solemnly in prayer at the Democratic National Convention.Our current Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is an atheist. This is rarely discussed and hasn’t been a major issue for her. (Here is a video of Gillard on a popular TV show ‘QandA’ discussing her atheism: http://bit.ly/SE6UbS ) This is in stark contrast to the seven American states who have provisions making it illegal for an atheist to hold office. (See: Unelectable Atheists) While still somewhat divisive, religion in Australian culture and politics doesn’t seem to me to be as contentious an issue as it is here in the US.What we do have in common are influential and outspoken religious lobby groups. Not long ago I would have said they weren’t as openly discriminatory in Australia as they are in the US. However, this little gem from Jim Wallace, head of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) recently reminded me otherwise. (See: Wallace Claims Smoking Is Healthier Than Gay Marriage)These lobby groups have a powerful sway in Australia, with Parliament recently rejecting a bill for marriage equality and the labour government continuing to fund to a program that puts religious chaplains in public schools. One point of difference; I don’t believe Australian politicians are pressured to pander to these groups as publicly. After Jim Wallace’s above comment, Prime Minister Gillard withdrew as speaker for an ACL conference.I feel, an a non-believer that the political religious climate is a lot more exclusionary and hostile to non-believers in the US than at home. I hope that this will change, as the non-religious demographic grows, especially in a country with such an enviable constitutional separation of church and state.For further information on Australian politics and religion, here is an article from John Warhurst: (Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University and a columnist with The Canberra Times. This is the text of a talk he gave at the St Thomas More Forum, Canberra, on 10 November 2010) http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=24159

Shelley Segal: Website | Facebook | Twitter @shelleysegal