|Men of god(s): Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott|
I'm arguing that private faith, while an important Enlightenment achievement, is rarely as private as it seems--particularly with politicians and other public figures. A sample:
Private faith is not the end of conflict - tensions remain within and between religions, and between religious and secular citizens. Toleration simply means that no party or citizen is given formal control over anyone's consciousness. It does not protect believers from debate and ridicule, particularly when they have a conscience vote in parliament, or a column or microphone.
But faith is by no means powerless, because it is never wholly private. It works on the public as conscience, education and association. It works on basic ideas like justice, truth, personhood, nature, sexuality and the use of force. It forms and informs values. "The Gospel is both a spiritual Gospel and a social Gospel," wrote a more 'muscular' Christian Kevin Rudd in his 2006 essay for The Monthly, "and if it is a social Gospel then it is in part a political Gospel." Losing presidential candidate Mitt Romney was a good Mormon when he proudly declared, regarding his governorship, "I vetoed any bill that was in favour of choice." The point is not that every believer is a violent radical or progressive dissenter, but that faith is supposed to influence how believers think, feel and act.
That this influence is, ultimately, above 'mere' human reason and feeling is a concern. It can take very human biases and preferences, and smuggle them into an invisible metaphysical world. Faith becomes a grand game of 'keepings off'. But I've already discussed this in detail.
The important point for now is this: when we're told that a public figure's faith is private or personal, this is a prompt for more questions, rather than a final answer.