He was so passionate, so intense. He had a conspicuous religious fervour. The man was on fire; he was preaching. His pulpit was a small lectern in Tasmania’s Legislative Council. The topic of his sermon was his “End-of-Life Choices Bill.”
Last week as I watched Mike Gaffney present his bill, at first it merely seemed to me that he was preaching. But reflecting on it further, I came to realize he was a genuine master of the homiletical arts. And Gaffney was using his homiletical gifts in service of his religion.
Tasmania (our home for the last 5 years) has held the line when it comes to state-sanctioned suicide. Australia’s smallest state has faced several attempts to introduce legislation which would allow it, but so far each time those efforts have been in vain. There’s great concern that this time will be different. There definitely seems to be a strong degree of public support for it.
Reading or hearing those expressions of support, you often come across the idea that opposition to state-sanctioned suicide comes from religious people, whereas non-religious people (like Mike Gaffney) support it. It gets framed as a religion versus no-religion debate, often with a few “separation of church and state” sentiments sprinkled on. But is that really what’s happening here?
It’s all going to depend on how you understand “religion.” If you understand “religion” to refer to belonging to an organized church (or synagogue, mosque, temple, etc.), the debate could be framed in these terms. Specifically, most opponents of state-sanctioned suicide belong to Christian churches, whereas many supporters don’t.
However, most dictionaries will tell you that “religion” has a broader frame of reference. For example, it can refer to sincerely held beliefs about what’s ultimate in life. From a Christian perspective, whatever is ultimate in your life functions as a god, even if you don’t refer to it as a deity. If it’s ultimate and functions like a god in your life, then regardless of what you call it, it’s a god to you. And you’re a religious person.
He’d probably disagree with me, but Mike Gaffney is a religious person. He’s devout in his commitment to an ultimate belief. His ultimate belief appears to be personal autonomy. It’s the right to individual self-determination. Nothing is above that. This is the root religious belief driving so many cultural trends: transgenderism/LGBTQ, abortion, and state-sanctioned suicide. This belief says that the individual is ultimate – the individual is essentially an autonomous god. So if “god” says he is now a she, no one may question “god.” If “god” chooses death for the child in the womb, no one may question “god.” When “god” says that life is too much and “god” wants to “die with dignity,” then no one should question what “god” says. Gods are always ultimate in authority and power.
It’s no wonder then that, given a pulpit, devotees of this religion can be such powerful, passionate preachers. They’re on fire for their religion and will do everything in their power to spread it. I was going to write “evangelize,” but that would give the impression that this religion of individual autonomy has good news on offer. It doesn’t. There’s no good news in a religion promoting death. Christians have a religion of life – a gospel which proclaims a Saviour who is the resurrection and the life. We have a gospel which leads us to protect and honour life. So why aren’t we just as, if not more, zealous than Mike Gaffney?