It’s common for current Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Governor Glenn Stevens (pictured right) to appear on television and radio around the time when the RBA announces coming interest rates. Stevens’ media engagements were different this time around, however. He made an appearance on television revealing his fondness for James Bond films and Jazz music. He also addressed an Easter breakfast for the Wesley Church in Sydney declaring his Christian faith and how he views his governorship as a vocation in God’s service.
What is going on here?
We’ve come to expect that politicians will milk their faith, rarely missing an opportunity to give a doorstop address after a Sunday service. But why would Glenn Stevens find it necessary to publicly profess his Christianity when acting in his capacity as the RBA Governor? Albeit a public role, the RBA governorship is not an elected position. There’s no need for Stevens to show the voting public that he’s a man of God and a good Christian.
The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) speculates that Stevens’ public declarations of faith could be part of a concerted attempt to humanise the body that controls how much our money costs. Interest rate rises put greater pressure on people in debt. One can understand why the RBA is keen to let these people know that a fairly unassuming chap lies behind larger mortgage repayments. But it would be a safe bet that when deciding if rates go up, down or remain unchanged Stevens consults the employment rate, the national accounts and global financial markets over the New Testament. And besides, what about the non-Christian borrowers? Would Australian Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus be put at ease by knowing that Stevens is doing the Christian God’s work? Probably not. So far the SMH hypothesis doesn’t add up.
Then there’s the Atheists. Stevens is certainly not trying to cosy up to them. In his address to the Wesley Church he said, ‘Despite claims to the contrary, there is a God; this is worth checking out’ … ‘It changes everything’. There is little doubt that this statement contains the following three claims: (1) God exists; (2) The existence of God is significant; and, (3) Atheists are wrong to claim that God does not exist. For a man who usually plays down the significance of his opinions to the point of false humility (maybe hoping that ‘he who humbles himself will be exalted’ (Luke 14:11)), this statement about God’s existence is quite strongly worded.
God exists, his existence is significant, and atheists have false beliefs. Sorry, what do these things have to do with the price of money in Australia? Not much. I certainly don’t know why Stevens thinks they’re relevant to his role as RBA Governor. Some Australians may rest easier knowing that not only is Stevens a trained economist but he’s a good Christian to boot. I suppose that setting interest rates is as close as a human can get to omnipotence. Maybe Stevens is trying to put a human face on this Godly role, a bit like Jesus — the human son of a nebulous but omnipotent God. But is humanising the RBA really worth clouding, on the one hand, the separation between a person’s public and private lives and, on the other hand, the separation between a secular job and the religious beliefs of the person who fills it? Why blend private belief with public role? Stevens’ personal beliefs are just that, personal. Isn’t the only important test whether or not he does the job well?