“You are more than the things that others try to identify you by in this age of identity politics. You are more than your gender, your race, your ethnicity, your religion, your language group, your age.”
These were the words of Australian PM Scott Morrison at a recent fundraising address. Speaking at the United Israel Appeal Dinner in Randwick, NSW, Morrison weighed into controversial waters in what may be one of his defining speeches as Australia’s Prime Minister.
That such words can be considered controversial today is itself an indictment on the cultural malaise of the West. Until recently, the great majority of Westerners agreed with the iconic words of Martin Luther King, Jr. — that true progress and civility means judging people by the content of their character, not fixed and unchosen attributes like skin colour.
But in this “age of identity politics”, as he dubbed it, ScoMo is among the many who have noted an increasing abandonment of this Western liberal value. Postmodern identitarianism — or ‘wokeness’, as many now colloquially call it — is “the growing tendency to commodify human beings through identity politics,” according to Morrison. He filled out this definition further in his address:
When we reduce ourselves to a collection of attributes, or divide ourselves, even worse, on this basis, we can lose sight of who we actually are as individual human beings — in all our complexity, in all our wholeness and in all our wonder.
In making these remarks, Morrison had his Jewish audience specifically in mind:
Throughout history, we’ve seen what happens when people are defined solely by the group they belong to, or an attribute they have, or an identity they possess. The Jewish community understands that better than any in the world.
It must be acknowledged that, for many, so much of today’s “identity politics” stems from a sincere desire to see historic injustices addressed, and once-marginalised communities flourish. This explains why it isn’t just secular, postmodern or Marxist ideologues — but Christians too — who have been seduced by the brave new creed of identity politics.
But in truth, this creed is not new at all, nor is it virtuous. With its increasing demonisation of anyone with traditional sexual values, European heritage, ‘XY’ chromosomes, or a biblically-informed Christian faith, it has more in common with far-right identitarianism and the frightful regimes of last century, than the liberal democracies you and I grew up in.
Scott Morrison was not afraid to say so. But his speech was not, for the most part, a critique of identity politics. Rather, it was an affirmation of the Western values that are worth preserving:
At the heart of our Judeo-Christian heritage are two words: human dignity. Everything else flows from this… If you see the dignity and worth of another person, another human being, the beating heart in front of you, you’re less likely to disrespect them, insult or show contempt or hatred for them, or seek to cancel them, as is becoming the fashion these days.
Outlining the indispensable role of Judeo-Christian teachings, Morrison went on:
True faith and religion is about confronting your own frailties. It’s about understanding your own and our humanity. The result of that is a humble heart, not a pious or judgemental one…
Human dignity is foundational to our freedom. It restrains government, it restrains our own actions and our own behaviour because we act for others and not ourselves, as you indeed do here this evening. That is the essence of morality…
Liberty is not borne of the state but rests with the individual, for whom morality must be a personal responsibility.
Scott Morrison’s speech should be of particular interest to fellow Christians — people who are convinced that “there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11), and who practice the biblical injunction to “regard no one according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16), since we all bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).
Doubtless, Morrison will have his critics on both sides of the aisle. A good case can be made that the Prime Minister has already conceded too much ground to identity politics by failing to abolish Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act or the oft-weaponised Human Rights Commission; by failing to oppose the tireless publicly-funded identitarianism of the ABC; or by failing to put forward a bill to protect religious freedom.
Others will denounce Morrison’s speech as a series of partisan pot-shots in the inglorious ‘culture wars’. To the latter, I recommend watching his speech in full before criticising what you have not heard.
In truth, most of what ScoMo said was a collection of obvious truisms we all agreed upon five minutes ago. If we can’t continue to agree on them, we have much more serious problems than a PM whose opinions we dislike.