A close up view of praying hands.

Photo: Uwe Bumann

When I was younger, I was very confused about what a "culture war" was. Did it mean throwing sonnets and oil paintings at people? A book club meeting that gets out of hand?

These days, with all the benefit of an arts degree behind me, I know that a "culture war" actually consists of left-wingers and right-wingers arguing about stuff. And getting really outraged in the process.

Here in Australia, we begin 2014 with the nation's culture once more on a war footing. Christopher Pyne's recently announced review of the school curriculum and associated statements about restoring balance of the Judeo-Christian variety have resulted in some furious bugle tooting.

Last weekend, curriculista Kevin Donnelly made the case for more religion in Australia's "very secular" curriculum. "When you look at parliaments around Australia, they all begin with the Lord's Prayer. If you look at our constitution, the preamble is about God," he told the ABC.

"You can't airbrush that from history - it has to be recognised."

The following Tuesday, acting Greens leader Richard Di Natale held a news conference from the verdant surrounds of the Senate courtyard, where among commentary about the audit commission and curriculum review, he mentioned he would like to get rid of the Lord's Prayer in Parliament.

Since 1901, both houses have begun sitting days with prayers, which are read by the Speaker and President. Di Natale reasons that not only is this an affront to church-state separation, it is a whopping anachronism.

The lapsed Catholic made the point that "modern" Australia is made up of people with many differing ideas about religion.

"We're here to represent people of all faiths. People who don't have a strong religious faith,'' he said.

Australia is certainly a very different religious place today than when the Lord's Prayer was bolted into parliamentary procedure.

In 1911, for example, 96 per cent of the country identified as Christian. By the 2011 census, 61.1 per cent of Australians described themselves as Christian, with 7.2 per cent as non-Christian and 22.3 per cent as "no religion".

And yet, despite statistics like this, support for - or even entertainment of - Di Natale's proposal has not been particularly forthcoming.

A (non-scientific) Fairfax Media poll of 5447 respondents saw 67 per cent in favour of keeping the prayer right where it is. Although some online commenters praised Di Natale's "commonsense", others made cracks about the Greens wanting to chant and hold candles instead.

Over on Twitter, the senator was called a "commie bastard".

Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss firmly said the government had "no plans" to change the Lord's Prayer, while government Senate leader Eric Abetz argued the Greens' "refusal to acknowledge their country's own heritage and rich traditions and beliefs is as sad as it is divisive". DLP senator John Madigan weighed in to say it was ironic that a man whose last name translates to "of Christmas" was leading the charge to banish parliamentary prayers. "I am sure Senator Di Natale would be unwilling to change his name to the more politically correct 'winter solstice'," Madigan said. (Di Natale briefly changed his Twitter handle to "SenatorDiSolstice" on Wednesday.)

Over on the Labor side of the House, public support for the idea has also been difficult to find. Frontbencher Mark Dreyfus, who is Jewish, proffered that he would like to see a multi-faith model, rather than a holus-bolus ditching of the Lord's Prayer.

And when I talked to other Labor MPs who identify as "no religion" they either declined to speak on the record or declined to back a banning. For one thing, the debate would be too divisive among opposition MPs. For another, constituents are not raising the issue (indeed, one wonders how many voters are even aware of parliamentary praying).

One MP also explained that the prayers are a useful time to think about the day ahead and check out who is in the chamber.

If this seems strange - or out of step - federal parliamentarians are actually a religious lot. When Tony Abbott's ministry was sworn in in September only Marise Payne and Simon Birmingham made a (secular) affirmation, as opposed to swearing the (religious) oath. On the first day of the new parliament, 79 per cent of all lower house MPs swore the oath, with 21 per cent making the affirmation.

You might think politicians are a godless lot, but they would beg to disagree.

Di Natale is seriously undeterred by all this. When the Parliament comes back from summer holidays next month, he plans to bring the prayer ban before the Senate's procedure committee. And he will ask his colleague, Adam Bandt, to do the same in the lower house.

But while the culture warring will no doubt continue, the Lord's Prayer is set to survive the battle.

Judith Ireland is a Fairfax Media journalist.