Dogma down under II

The more one looks at the literature put out by Australia's upstart Family First Party, the less adequate our treatment of the party thus far appears. Go to the website and read the FFP's positions and the reasoning behind them. The party is having to defend itself against charges that it is the political arm of the Assemblies of God church. A vote for Family First, opponents warn, is a vote for fundamentalist Protestantism.

In a country with church attendance as low as Australia's (somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 percent of Australians bother to go every week) such charges are likely to either cut into the FFP's vote totals in this election or damage the party's ability to grow down the line. Family First replies by saying that there's nothing about its platform that is particularly sectarian. Sure, Assemblies of God parishioners make up a good chunk of its base, but the goals of the party are shared by a lot of non-AOG Australians, say Family First flacks.

But after reading through the party's literature, I believe them. That is, the assumptions and the type of reasoning on display don't strike me as having originated in Assemblies of God seminaries or pulpits. Rather, the point of view seemed both more familiar and older. A few commentators have called the party's thinking on the role of government "nuanced," but that's putting it too vaguely. If there was enough time before the election, I'd urge enterprising Australian reporters to look into the influence of Catholic social thought on Family First.

The party's announced positions on individual issues (against pornography, drugs, more gambling, etc.) are important but the party represents itself as the advocate of a particular philosophical approach that goes beyond the normal divisions of left and right. Against the individualism espoused by everyone from John Locke to, well, me, Family First argues that the family, as the basic building block of society, should be elevated in law to have greater standing than the rights of individuals. This sounds an awful lot like the position of lay Catholic theologian Mark Shea, to pick a name out of the hat. Note that when Shea argues that the family is of paramount importance and should be so treated, he's speaking from within an old and well-developed tradition.

Family First's approach to the size and reach of government is based on the idea of "subsidiarity" -- that governance should be done at the smallest possible level: first the family, then the local community, etc. Again, this is straight out of Catholic social teaching. It's possible that the party just stumbled upon these positions but I doubt it. Assuming the FFP doesn't implode Saturday, I'd encourage Australian religion writers to get to it.

[A footnote: Also, the party's logo resembles the pope's hat.]

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