Random musings

Should we vote for an athiest?

One of the interesting questions arising from Julia Gillard’s public statement that she does not believe in God is whether or not this will or should make any difference to the Christian vote.  I suspect that it will make a difference but am of the opinion that it should not.  Let me explain myself.

Religious values operate in a different sphere to economic and political values.  My religious values tell me that Jesus is my saviour, that the triune God loves the whole world, and that i am called to love God and neighbour.  There is no doubt that these values influence my economic and political priorities.  They remind me that all people are equal (including non-Australians), that God cares for the poor, oppressed and the outcast, that the earth and her creatures are important etc.  None of this, however, means that i would make a good political leader or economic manager. Indeed, the historic failures of Chrisendom prove the point.  The problems are many, but i will just name two:

  • we cannot presume that a Christian – just because they claim the label Christian – will act in a loving and unselfish manner, any more then we could presume that a non-believer is not altruistic and concerned for neighbor.
  • We cannot presume that a Christian – just because they are Christian – will know which economic policy (or mix of policies) will be best served to help the poor, just as we cannot presume that an athiest is incapable of implementing laws that facilitate justice

Some have argued that we should vote for Christian leaders, not because they will make better economic or political decisions but, rather, because they will make better ‘moral’ choices – better decisions about issues of abortion or gay marriage etc.  This, however, is to forget that economic and political policies are vital to national morality, since these go to the heart of what it means to live in grace and justice.  More significantly, many of the things we label ‘moral’ are not in fact what government is about.  This, indeed, was the problem of Chrisendom – the effort to legislate morality ends up in legalism and oppression.  Personal morality, including the choice of who we have sex with, is not the responsibility of government, and we miss the point of the gospel when we think it is.  Of course issues such as abortion are not merely personal, but speak to justice for the unborn.  But in Australia, at least, laws on abortion are largely settled, and neither political party is likely to change them.

All of this to say that, while i certainly appreciated the fact that Kevin Rudd was Christian, my decision about who to vote for will not be swayed by Julia’s atheism – a position that at least she was honest enough to own up to.  The real issues upon which we should determine our vote are those of economic management and political justice, especially for the poor and the refugee.  Sadly, on these issues, it seems that Australian politics is in a race to the bottom (but that discussion for another time).

About Author

Shane is an ethicist and theologian, Honorary Associate for the Centre of Disability Research and Policy, the University of Sydney, and Assistant Director, Policy, at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation against People with Disability. Shane is proudly disabled, and an occasional blogger on


  • Wayne Field
    July 1, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    I’m concerned about JG’s Atheism only in that I am concerned about her salvation. It will not sway my vote. What will sway my vote is the fact that she chooses to remain unmarried whilst living with her partner. This lack of commitment to community at its most basic level leaves me with significant doubts about Gillard’s commitment to the wider community.

  • Matt Anslow
    July 2, 2010 at 9:39 am

    I agree overall with what you have said, and I certainly don’t believe that whether or not a politician claims to be Christian should influence one’s vote. But I would want to ask whether or not the idea of religious values operating in a different sphere to political or economic values is valid. Isn’t this a bit too dualistic? Indeed, your own political views (especially regarding the poor, for example) are inseparably attached to your “religious” perspective (of, say, God’s concern for the poor). While your religious values don’t necessitate you voting for a Christian, they do seem to push you to vote for the person who most cares about the marginalised/environment etc. (by the way, I am in total agreement with this conviction). Hope that makes sense.


  • Shane Clifton
    July 2, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Not necessarily Matt. In working out what is best for the poor, i need to think through economic policy. For various reasons, for example, I am not in favour of ‘big’ government – and do not necessarily believe that the best way to help the poor is to increase taxes and bureaucracy. Likewise, you and i might share a very similar Christian faith, but have very different attitudes towards the way in which globalization helps or hinders the poor. I might, for example, be opposed to barriers to trade and you might be for restricting the reach of multi-national corporations – and we can hold these very different economic conclusions (which will frame the party we might vote for) precisely because we care for the poor.

    • Matt Anslow
      July 2, 2010 at 4:00 pm

      I totally agree that there are a multitude of different perspectives in each distinctive zone (religious, political, economic etc.), though my point is more that even though your religious perspective may differ to mine, it none-the-less impacts on your political perspective and economic perspective (and vice versa) personally. It’s not so much that OUR perspectives in any one area are necessarily the same, but that YOUR perspectives in those distinct zones are all inseparably linked.

      For example, to work out what’s best for the poor indeed you will need to think through economic policy, though your original concern for the poor is related to a religious perspective, hence they are linked.

  • Deborah Taggart
    July 2, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    well put, Shane – I’ll send it to a couple of ministry friends for their consideration, too!

    Nice to see the blogging lives on 🙂

  • john mathai
    July 5, 2010 at 6:46 am

    I have to agree that christian does not always equal good at what you do. However I feel a christian leader in a position of authority has the power to influence fiscal and political views and this could be a turning point for the nation. A leader who does not believe in God influences the nation to also reject God in subtle ways. Only 10% of the nation will think for themselves. The other 90% tend to follow. This is true in all groups and this is why we need moral leadership of the highest kind. I believe God fearing leaders will be good for this nation as 70% of the population believe in God. In the end if we believe that God appoints leaders for a certain time then we should pray for them.


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