Since 70 per cent of Australians still profess belief in the Christian God, it is important we crystallise how their belief system shapes Christian views of the polity. Broadly there are two traditions: a privatised Christianity which holds that personal faith is all sufficient and that beyond questions of personal morality there are no particularly Christian demands on the public polity and politics of the country.
The other is a Christian social justice tradition that says that personal faith is incomplete unless translated into concrete action on behalf of the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed both through individual effort and the collective agency of society through the state.
In his column (November 8), Tony Abbott argues: "Why is deregulating the labour market (a process which the ALP began) 'market fundamentalism' but deregulating the financial market not ? Rudd is trying to invest with theological significance what is, at most, only a difference of degree."
The fundamental difference is that an unrestrained labour market is about the commodification of human beings whereas the financial market is not. It is the intrinsic dignity of human beings that commands the centre-ground of Christian, and in particular Catholic, social teaching. That is why there is a litany of papal encyclicals ( Rerum Novarum, Laborem Exercens, Centesimus Annus) that seek to protect human beings from exploitation in the workplace. That is also why the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has criticised Work Choices.
The Liberal Party has been taken over by a bunch of Hayekian market fundamentalists as demonstrated by the systematic culling of small "l" Liberals or old-fashioned Fraserian conservatives with a social conscience from their ranks. It happened in Victoria in the 1990s. It is happening now in NSW. Let's not be misty-eyed about Friedrich Hayek: he taught (and modern Liberals believe) that there is no such thing as social justice and that the only dignity to be delivered to human beings is through their emancipation by free markets untrammelled by the state. Bob Menzies and B.A. Santamaria would be turning in their graves at the sight of what has happened to the centre-right of Australian politics as under John Howard it has moved to the extreme on industrial relations.
The ultimate internal contradiction of today's centre-right is the tension between the libertarian, market fundamentalists on the one hand and the religious conservatives on the other. Here the touchstone is the family and family values.
Hayek offers no answer to the destructive impact of rampant, unconstrained capitalism, consumerism and materialism on the family reinforced by the new industrial relations laws and the new spread of working hours that make it harder for families to be together, play together, pray together and, therefore, stay together.
Abbott also questions what the centre-left credibly has to say about global climate change. Quite a lot, actually. Social justice Christians, together with many evangelicals, will point to the biblical injunction to be proper stewards of God's creation, as well as leaving the planet for those who come after us in a state not worse than we received it. As for social democrats, in the robust, market-based tradition of Adam Smith, the environment is properly conceived as a public good, not a private market. That is also how we primarily see education, health and social capital. The robust protection of public goods in Smith's order is essential for the robust functioning of private markets.
Gerard Henderson ("With religion back in the rihg, both sides are circling", November 7) points to differing perspectives on Christian social conscience between inner metropolitan and outer suburban Australia. I don't see it that way.
What I see is a growing discontent, country and city, with an official Liberal ideology which is devoid of fairness, devoid of compassion, and increasingly, therefore, devoid of soul. There is a thirst for a bigger and broader vision for our nation's future: one that harnesses the dynamism of markets but one that never loses sight of the fact that markets are made for human beings, rather than human beings for markets.
This is the difference between Hayek's market fundamentalists and social democrats. Social democrats embrace the discipline of markets tempered by the demands of human decency. And this is where we find common ground between secular social democracy and the social justice tradition of the Christian church.
Kevin Rudd is a federal ALP member of Parliament.