Kevin Rudd, who has just experienced political resurrection, professes his strong faith in the supernatural variety in a book on the religious beliefs of Australian prime minister, launched today.
Rudd draws some of his conviction that Jesus Christ rose from the dead from his close personal study of Luke’s gospel and his deep confidence in the Evangelist’s reliability.
In an interview last November, Rudd told author Roy Williams that he had “just embarked on a project to study Luke’s Gospel in its original Greek, so as better to understand the nuances”. He was apparently getting help from an expert at the Australian National University.
Williams - a Christian writer and the son of well-known journalist Evan Williams, who worked for Gough Whitlam - probed Rudd’s theology for In God They Trust? The Religious Beliefs of Australia’s Prime Ministers 1901-2013.
Rudd said his view of the resurrection came partly from his own personal experience of a living God and partly from the mind of an historian.
“Whatever you say about this minor sect of Judaism as it was then, something explosive happened then demonstrably by virtue of it uniquely becoming a wildfire across the known world within, really, a generation”, Rudd said. “And it is difficult to conclude that all that was simply based on a flight of fancy”.
He said he was a “keen student of Luke and I read Luke a lot … his Greek is certainly better than everyone else’s who was in the New Testament. …
"And if you look at the first four verses of the first chapter of Luke, what you find is him using the expression that many accounts have been written but because I have been following these events from the beginning and because I have dealt with many of the eyewitnesses, and because the time has come to lay down a systematic and orderly account of those things. And he uses a quite defined Greek term to [say] that.”
Rudd said that it was arrogant for people in the 21st century “to assume that this guy [Luke] is simply going to be some first century supernaturalist. Remember the prevailing Greco-Roman order was not necessarily a deist or even a theist order. The orthodoxy is some form of pantheism: Greek or Roman”.
Rudd told Williams that he had all three volumes of Anglican bishop N.T. Wright’s magnum opus: The New Testament and the People of God; Jesus and the Victory of God; and The Resurrection of the Son of God.
“The Resurrection tome is a very good tome”, he said.
Rudd described the “whole Jesus revolution” as in many respects being “about the radical proposition of putting others first and yourself last. Not making yourself public but having yourself as a private human being who acts correctly but, like with the widow’s mite, is not wishing to be seen with a great flourish of grandeur and glory”. This was entirely revolutionary within the western tradition at the time, he said.
Williams argues that in 2007 Rudd brought to Labor hundreds of thousands of voters previous estranged on religious grounds.
“In my view, one of the key reasons for Labor’s electoral decline since June 2010 has been the re-alienation of this important demographic, especially in Rudd’s home state of Queensland”, Williams argues, writing just before Rudd won back the leadership.
Williams concludes that of 23 prime ministers (excluding four stopgap PMs) seven have been unbelievers. These include two lifelong agnostics (Edmund Barton and Harold Holt), as well as Chris Watson, Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Julia Gillard. He describes Malcolm Fraser as “a more complicated study” but says that on the basis of his 2010 memoirs he must be classed as agnostic.
He labels 12 “sincere believers” - Alfred Deakin (a Deist rather than a Christian), Andrew Fisher, Joseph Cook, Billy Hughes, Jim Scullin, Joe Lyons, Ben Chifley, Robert Menzies, Billy McMahon, Paul Keating, John Howard and Rudd.
His four “trickiest cases” are George Reid, Stanley Melbourne Bruce, John Curtin and John Gorton. He believes Reid and Curtin were “late converts” and “on balance” he’s inclined to think each of Bruce and Gorton “would have called himself a Christian in his twilight years”.
If the four stopgap PMs are added in - Earle Page, Arthur Fadden, Frank Forde and John McEwen - the score for believers is 20 out of 27.