Dawson Centre Colloquium, 29 and 30 June, 2018
A World without Christianity
On Friday and Saturday 29 and 30 June 2018 the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies will host its fourth annual colloquium in Hobart, Tasmania. The Dawson Colloquium is a conversation, not a multi-stream conference. There are no keynote speeches, as all are considered important to the flow of ideas; speakers are encouraged to attend all papers. The colloquium will conclude with a panel discussion.
What would a Post-Christian world look like if John Lennon’s atheistic hope were to become a reality?
Imagine there’s no heaven –
It’s easy if you try;
No hell below us,
Above us only sky.
Imagine all the people living for today.
Imagine there’s no countries,
It isn’t hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for,
And no religion too.
Imagine all the people living life in peace.
You may say I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.
Is it easy to imagine? Is religion a hindrance to peace – or quite the opposite? Would our world be a better place stripped of all religion, but particularly of Christianity? Would we be the poorer or the richer for that? What, if anything, would or could take Christianity’s place? What is the case for retaining and recognising religion as a vital asset, part of our social capital? Do we, after all, have any choice in the matter?
The following papers have been promised:
Fragile Flame: the uniqueness and vulnerability of Scientific and Technological civilization
Hal GP Colebatch has five degrees including Masters and Doctorate, in Politics, Jurisprudence and Law. He has won the WA Premier’s prize for poetry for The Light River and the Prime Minister’ Prize for History for his book Australia’s Secret War, which has now gone into seven editions and which was chosen as a book of the year by the Spectator Australia. His book Blair’s Britain was also chosen as a Book of the Year by the Spectator UK. . He was awarded the only Australian Centenary Medal for Writing, Law, Poetry and Political Commentary. He has written about 25 books on a wide range of subjects from poetry to biography, science-fiction, general fiction, speleology, law and literary criticism and innumerable short pieces, including, frequently, in The Spectator Australia and Quadrant. He is married to Alexandra (32 years) and they have two children.
History in a Post-Christian World
The ancient Europeans were writing history long before the arrival of Christianity – Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius, Cicero, Caesar, Sallust and Tacitus being just a few of the major pagan historians working in the Greek and Roman worlds – but the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity after Constantine profoundly changed the way that Europeans thought about the connection between the past and the future. The merging of Graeco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian historical traditions in the later Classical Age, under the influence of Christian writers such as Eusebius, Origen and St Augustine, established a universal providential framework to understand the unfolding history of humanity. This Christian historical tradition held sway throughout the medieval and early modern periods until the secularism of the early twentieth century began to challenge the old determinist notions of historical movement. Many new and secular, and some of them decidedly anti-Christian, ways of interpreting the past have been tried in the last hundred years, but the universalist worldview of the Christian historical tradition still remains attractive to many scholars who reject post-modernist and post-historical models of the modern world. What will happen to the way we interpret the history of humanity as the twenty-first century unfolds? Will attacks on Christianity bring an end to a Christian way of thinking about the past? What will the new history of the post-Christian future look like?
Peter Cunich is an historian of early modern Europe with a research focus on the dissolution of the monasteries and state finance in sixteenth-century England, but he also writes on the history of higher education, nineteenth and twentieth-century missionary activity in East Asia, and the history of the Catholic church in Australia. For the last twenty-five years he has taught the philosophy of history to undergraduate and postgraduate classes at the University of Hong Kong.
God in the Twilight
As religion fades from prominence, are we headed for John Lennon’s utopian fantasy in which he imagined away all the things that divide us? To the contrary, this paper argues that Australian society is becoming more fragmented. Atheism, environmentalism, populism or a misplaced trust in science, can provide only shallow and conflicting concepts of virtue and cannot fill that ‘God-shaped space’ in our hearts to guide us on how we should live. Without the Christian belief that every person has equal and infinite worth, life becomes a contest between competing interest-groups all seeking to assert newly manufactured ‘rights’. Have Christians been too complacent in assuming that the community will continue to share our values, if not our beliefs; beliefs about which all too many are now ignorant if not downright mistaken? Perhaps we need to be more willing to display, without self-righteousness, the difference which marked out the early Christians within their own communities.
Eric Lockett began his working life as an electrician, then became a forest scientist and spent more than three decades in native forest research. He was elected as a non-aligned delegate to the 1998 Constitutional Convention and subsequently contested upper house seats as an independent candidate at both state and national level. Coming from a Christian family, he has always had an interest in the role of morality and ethics in society. This led to six years’ service on a Human Research Ethics Committee reviewing social science research projects. He also served a term on the national Gene Technology Ethics and Community Consultative Committee. For nineteen years he was the Public Questions Officer for Tasmanian Baptists, which involved researching issues of social and moral concern, informing the churches, and advocating a Christian perspective to policy makers through over forty submissions. He has presented several papers to conferences on ethics and law.
How Christianity has made Sense of Human Suffering
In the mid 1850s, renowned French Preacher Adolphe Monod lay dying of liver cancer: an acutely painful death before the advent of modern pain relief.
For the final twenty-five weeks of his life, friends and family gathered around his bedside on Sundays to hear him preach. The sermons were mainly concerned with suffering, and were recorded and published in 1856 under the title Les Adieux d’Adolphe Monod à ses amis, a work which became a minor devotional classic.
I have produced a fresh translation of Monod’s work, entitled Christian Suffering. An analysis of the work shows that Monod affirms the classical Christian understanding of human suffering: that suffering is alien to God’s creation, and is the consequence of human sin; that Christian suffering proves solidarity with the suffering Christ; that the suffering of persecution witnesses to the truth of the gospel; and that God uses suffering to sanctify the Christian.
Monod, however, makes an important additional contribution to this classical understanding, by showing that the Christian’s suffering can bring substantive benefits to the sufferer’s companions.
In all, the Christian conception of human suffering, as reinforced and expanded by Monod, offers great hope to world that has failed to find any real purpose or comfort in the face of pain.
Campbell Markham has been a minister for twenty years, and serves today at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Hobart. He is married to Amanda-Sue and they have four grownup children. Campbell has commenced doctoral research this year. He is translating and analysing the letters of Marie Durand, a French Christian woman imprisoned for her faith for 38 years under the reign of Louis XIV.
Clothed with the Sun: Christianity and the Liberation of Women
Christianity liberated everyone, but it liberated women in measurable and practical ways. This paper celebrates the enormous contribution of Christianity to the status of women; the deeper magic of God’s salvific plan that has been at work in the world since the Redemption. It also addresses some of the historical and cultural distortions of Christianity that have sought to restrict women’s full claim to Christ, and some of the current challenges we face – which actually turn out to be the same old challenge that it’s always been: sexual expression.
Philippa Martyr graduated from the University of Western Australia in 1994 with a PhD in the history of medicine. She taught for six years in what was then the Tasmanian School of Nursing in Launceston, Tasmania, before moving to the UK in 2001 to become a Visiting Scholar at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine (then based at the University of East Anglia, Norwich). Dr Martyr then returned to Australia at the end of 2007, and spent the next nine years working for the WA Health Department as a researcher, project officer and clinical planner in mental health services. Dr Martyr writes, publishes and speaks on a range of subjects, including her academic research specialities, religious issues, politics, higher education, film, literature, Australian historiography, and popular culture and psychology. She also publishes poetry, and very occasionally short fiction. Her work has appeared in (among other places): Quadrant, AD2000, the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, First Things, Australasian Psychiatry, centre-right libertarian blog Catallxyfiles.com, and Metascience.
Any room for priests, monks and nuns in an atheistic world?
Dom Pius Noonan
This paper approaches the question of religion in an atheistic world from the specific point of view of those who make it their profession to serve God and speak of Him to the world, and in particular the clergy and the religious orders. It seeks to demonstrate two points:
a world devoid of religion (if such is at all possible), would become quickly intolerant of those who profess religion;
even if religious persons were tolerated as strange fossils in a brave new atheistic world, they themselves could hardly put up with such tolerance.
The paper concludes with an exhortation addressed to all those who believe in God, that their voices may not fall silent under the deadly guise of an illusory peaceful coexistence. To quote Jordan Peterson: “When you have something to say, silence is a lie”.
Dom Pius Mary Noonan is a native of Louisville, KY, USA. He spent 32 years at the Abbey of Saint Joseph de Clairval in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, France. Professed as a Benedictine monk in 1986, he completed the course of formation for the priesthood within the abbey of Flavigny between 1986 and 1994, at which he subsequently taught Latin, History of Philosophy and Moral Theology. Between 2010 and 2012, he earned his licentiate in Thomistic studies with the Institut Saint Thomas d’Aquin under the Dominican Fathers of the Province of Toulouse, with a thesis on The Role of Prudence in the Judgment of Conscience. Between 2012-2015, he prepared his doctorate with the same Institute and defended his thesis: The Final Option in Death: Reality or Myth. Critique of a contemporary theological hypothesis, written under the supervision of Fr Serge-Thomas Bonino, OP, present day Secretary-General for the International Theological Commission. The doctoral thesis was published in 2016 by Editions Téqui, France. In February 2017, he founded Notre Dame Priory, a Benedictine monastery in Tasmania, of which he is at present the Prior. He also conducts a number of retreats in Australia and in other English-speaking countries.
The Why and How of Defeating Cultural Marxism
This paper will argue that there is nothing natural or inevitable about the secular trend. Rather it is only the result of a well thought-out and strategic campaign to deconstruct civilisation in order to create a new organism. Choice exists for those who understand the nature of existential conflict. It analyses the underlying cause of social decay and numerous anti-social agendas in current Western Society. It explains the unholy alliance between the radical left and Islam. It sets out the Marxist strategies used to bring Western civilisation to a state of ‘demoralisation’ then identifies the flaws in cultural Marxism and how they can be exploited. The paper further argues that cultural Marxism is an existential threat, and outlines a practical set of intergenerational strategies to defeat it.
Erik Peacock has a Bachelor of Arts (geography/law) and a Graduate Certificate with Honours in Environmental Studies from the University of Tasmania. He has undertaken public policy studies at Masters level (Flinders) and is currently studying towards a Graduate Certificate in Ministry. Erik is a married father of three and has worked for 20 years in public service largely in policy roles. This included a year in the Department of Premier and Cabinet policy unit. He was an environmental activist with the Wilderness Society from approximately 1992 to 2000 and a trainer in non-violent direct action. In 1996/97 he represented Australian youth in Indonesia as part of the Australia Indonesia Youth Exchange Program which is run by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The program took place in the province of Ambon which was subsequently overrun by Jihadist forces. Since then Erik has studied social movements and geopolitics informally, and lobbied on defence issues with Australia’s only independent defence think tank Air Power Australia. Erik has maintained an active involvement in Christian community for over 30 years. He most recently campaigned for the ‘No’ side in the postal ballot. He is a writer, blogger, and author of an on-line training course in civics (www.3ptraining.com.au). He defected from the Greens over their stance on abortion and same sex marriage.
‘Imagine there’s a heaven’ – The Plight of the Post-Secular
The condition of present-day Western culture is commonly described as ‘post-Christian’, but it might more accurately be designated ‘post-secular’. The process of de-Christianisation has now intensified, and while ideologies of various kinds have proved powerful, they have failed to provide a sustainable replacement for Christianity. The cultural triumph of a secularist worldview and value system has opened up a spiritual and cultural void characterised increasingly by dysfunction and despair. The people of the West are now, in the words of the 19th century philosopher Ernest Renan, ‘living on the perfume of an empty vase’. What will happen as the ‘perfume’ continues to evaporate? This paper will look at the results of secularist disillusion and the plight of the ‘post-secular’. It will explore the prospects of a culture whose capacity for belief in religious substitutes is rapidly fading, and whose future will turn on whether it can confront the void of religious unbelief – and false belief. To vary the words of the John Lennon song, can it ‘imagine there’s a heaven’? Can it come to believe that there are ultimate truths and ideals worth living for – and dying for?
Karl Schmude has combined a long career in universities with freelance writing and speaking, both in Australia and overseas. He served for 16 years as University Librarian at the University of New England in Armidale NSW. In the year 2000, he became a co-founder of Campion College, an independent institution of Catholic inspiration, which opened in Sydney in 2006 and offers a comprehensive undergraduate degree in the Liberal Arts. Karl has published extensively on subjects associated with religion and culture – particularly literature, history, and education. His feature articles and book reviews have appeared in various newspapers and journals, not only in Australia but in the United States, Canada, South America, and England. Karl is President of the Australian Chesterton Society, editor of its quarterly newsletter, The Defendant, and organiser of the Chesterton conferences held annually at Campion College. He serves as a member of the Editorial Board of the international journal, The Chesterton Review, and is the author of a short biography of Chesterton, as well as other works on Catholic figures and subjects. Last year his contribution to Catholic intellectual life was acknowledged by a papal knighthood. He and his wife Virginia live in Armidale on the New England Tablelands of New South Wales. They have four sons and 14 grandchildren.
Evangelisation in a world dominated by the Immanent Frame
Charles Taylor coined the term ‘Immanent Frame’ is his book A Secular Age (2007), to describe the current state of Western Society in which it is now possible to think about the material world without reference to any transcendent power. Postmodern Man has developed a form of spiritual and intellectual astigmatism that prevents him from being able to comprehend or even attempt to consider anything with a transcendent or vertical dimension. There are many implications for religion to thrive or even survive in a world in which the elites subscribe to the ‘Immanent Frame’ world view. Traditional approaches to promoting the Christian message are struggling to make an impact. Alternative approaches will be explored that involve changing the optics of the way in which the Christian message is presented and delivered.
Ben Smith has been the Director of the Office of Life, Marriage and Family at the Archdiocese of Hobart since July 2017. Since June 2016 he has also been the Marriage Education Project Coordinator for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. Prior to this he was the Director of the Life, Marriage and Family Office in the Diocese of Parramatta from June 2014 to June 2017. In these roles he has been actively engaged in ethical debates concerning hot-button issues such as euthanasia and same-sex marriage. Before he worked for the Church he worked in a variety of engineering, business development and management positions in the Corporate, Government and Higher Education sectors since 1997. He has tertiary qualifications in Applied Physics, Management and Theology.
Why are conservative values so difficult to present in mainstream media?
Building on a Solid Foundation: Christian Foundations of the Rule of Law in the West
An underlying theme in legal theory is that the rule of law provides at least part of the solution to the problem of political tyranny. As an ideal of legality, the rule of law is a product of particular values, convictions, customs and traditions so that some societies may not be able to realise it. In western societies, the rule of law was developed over centuries under the dominating influence of Christianity. And yet, as noted by the late Harold Berman of Harvard Law School, ‘the Western belief in the autonomy and supremacy of law – historically based, as it is, on the dialectic of the church and state – can hardly serve as the principal foundation of legality in a world that is only partly Christian.’ Indeed, according to the late English jurist O. Hood Phillips, ‘historically, the phrase [‘rule of law’] was used with reference to a [Christian] belief in the existence of law possessing higher authority — whether divine or natural — than that of the law promulgated by human rulers which imposed limits on their power’. In my presentation I will endeavour to explain why it is positively not safe to assume that the rule of law will survive in western societies under the current post-Christian environment, especially when these societies deliberately neglect the Christian faith in favour of secular philosophies which do not recognise an ultimate, transcendental source of fundamental rights and freedoms, nor objective standards of justice and morality that both ordinary citizens and the public authorities have to respect. The remarkable shift in paradigm from a Christian society to a post-Christian society also explains why the high esteem the greatest (Christian) jurists in our western legal history once held have almost completely disappeared, along with their jurisprudential contributions which often are not even properly taught in our law schools.
Augusto Zimmermann LLB, LLM cum laude, PhD (Monash) is Professor of Law at Sheridan College in Western Australia. He is also Professor of Law (Adjunct) at the University of Notre Dame Australia (Sydney campus), President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA), Editor-in-Chief of the Western Australian Jurist law journal, and an Elected Fellow at the International Academy for the Study of the Jurisprudence of the Family (IASJF). Dr Zimmermann is also a former Associate Dean for Research at Murdoch University and a former member of the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia (2012-2017).
Not Yet Erased: Christianity as an Overlooked Minority
Many contemporary trends appear to be oriented towards a world without Christianity, or at least a public square in which the vestiges of Christian faith have been cast aside. An anti-Christian prejudice can be felt in mainstream news reports, popular editorials, as well as in the messages and conversations on social media, not to mention at the school gate or in the shopping centre coffee shop. Not all of it is really hatred, but much of it is ignorant, and Christian communities have largely resisted meeting the challenge that is now present among all their members. In 2017 much of that changed, largely because of the dramatic changes in public policy on the topics of marriage, end of life care, Catholic school funding, and the sudden realization that religious freedom is no longer a conceptual battle but a political one. In this strange moment of time, Christianity is not yet erased, but has begun the hard task of re-imagining itself as a minority, at least insofar as its political strength is manifest in Australia. This paper explores the significance of Christianity now being a minority and what this means for our engagement in matters of social and ethical controversy. Inverting the meaning of John Lennon’s call to ‘imagine’ a different future, we might now be called to re-imagine our role in a present moment of fast change and dramatic cultural upheaval.
Nigel Zimmermann supports the Church in Australia through his role as Associate Director, Church Policy, at Australian Catholic University (ACU). Nigel grew up in Brisbane in an evangelical Christian community, and was received into the Catholic Church in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he completed his PhD in theology. He holds a degree in Journalism and Masters Degrees in theology (Brisbane College of Theology) and bioethics and medical law (St Mary’s University Twickenham). He taught theology at the University of Notre Dame Australia and worked in the Archdiocese of Sydney and the Diocese of Broken Bay, before joining ACU as a Senior Policy Advisor. He has written on contemporary topics facing theology and the Church, and serves on the Executive Committee for the Plenary Council 2020. Nigel is author of Levinas and Theology (2013), Facing the Other: John Paul II, Levinas, and the Body (2015), and The Great Grace: Receiving Vatican II Today (editor, 2015).