LUKE STREHER (CRADIO) REPORTS ON THE 2018 COLLOQUIUM
Colloquium explores world increasingly hostile to Christianity
The fourth annual Dawson Centre Colloquium attracted more than 60 people when it was held in South Hobart last month.
From Friday, June 29 to Saturday, June 30, thirteen national and international presenters explored the theme ‘A World without Christianity’.
Over the two days, presenters spoke on topics such as ‘How Christianity has made Sense of Human Suffering’, ‘History in a Post-Christian World’ and ‘Christianity and the Liberation of Women’.
Speakers included Hobart Presbyterian pastor Campbell Markham, Fr Pius Mary Noonan OSB of Rhyndaston’s Notre Dame Priory and Professor Margaret Somerville of the University of Notre Dame Australia.
On the Friday night, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott addressed the Colloquium dinner and reflected on the decline of Christian knowledge in Australian society.
Mr Abbott said that Christians, including himself, must admit fault in failing to speak up in Australian public life. In giving reasons for this silence, he cited shame at the Church’s scandals in recent decades, a lack of faith in Jesus Christ, worship of “false gods” such as “money, position and fame” and an overemphasis on prudence at the expense of courage.
“All too often on the grounds of prudence we fail to say what needs to be said because if we say it we might lose this position, or if we say it we might be discredited with this audience,” Mr Abbott said.
Attendee Peter Imlach of Lindisfarne said that there had been a participatory feeling at the Colloquium, and noted that the attendees engaged well throughout the two days.
“You could tell that they all wanted to listen, and they positively took part,” Mr Imlach said.
Director of The Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies Dr David Daintree believes the community nature of the Colloquium was a positive aspect of the event.
Referencing the Colloquium’s single-stream schedule, he said that one of the Colloquium’s strengths has been “bringing people who are not necessarily like-minded together and making them listen to each other”.
Pay online now.
The full fee is $200, which includes the Friday night dinner.
We can offer a concessional rate of $150 for students and unwaged people.
No application form is required, but please be sure to include your full name(s) in the reference area
ALTERNATIVE WAYS TO REGISTER
1. Electronic Funds Transfer –
REF. Catholic Development Fund (Christopher Dawson Centre)
and email email@example.com to confirm.
2. Post a cheque to PO Box 68, Colebrook, Tas 7027.
The cheque should be made out to the Christopher Dawson Centre.
For further information about the work of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies email the Dr David Daintree –
Or write to the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies
PO Box 68, Colebrook, Tasmania 7027
THE COLLOQUIUM PROGRAMME
FRIDAY 29 JUNE
1445 1. Mr Hal Colebatch
Fragile Flame: the uniqueness and vulnerability of Scientific and Technological civilization
1530 2. The Rev Campbell Markham
How Christianity has made Sense of Human Suffering
1630 3. Mr Karl Schmude
‘Imagine there’s a heaven’ – The Plight of the Post-Secular
1715 4. Dr Nigel Zimmermann
Not Yet Erased: Christianity as an Overlooked Minority
1800 Pre-dinner Drinks – Asten Common Room
1830 Conference Dinner – Dining Hall
Welcome: Dr David Daintree
Guest Speaker: the Hon Tony Abbott MP
SATURDAY 30 JUNE
0830 5. Mr Erik Peacock
The Why and How of Defeating Cultural Marxism
0915 6. Prof Margaret Somerville
Why Are Conservative Values so difficult to present in Mainstream Media?
1015 7. Mr Ben Smith
Evangelisation in a world dominated by the Immanent Frame
1100 8. Dr Peter Cunich
History in a Post-Christian World
1200 Lunch – Dining Hall
1300 9. Dr Philippa Martyr
Clothed with the Sun: Christianity and the Liberation of Women
1345 10. Mr Eric Lockett
God in the Twilight
1400 11. Prof Augusto Zimmermann
Building on a Solid Foundation: Christian Foundations of the Rule of Law in the West
1445 12. Dom Pius Noonan
Any room for priests, monks and nuns in an atheistic world?
ABSTRACTS AND SPEAKERS’ BIOGRAPHIES
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
History shows that a society devoid of religion inevitably becomes intolerant of those who practice religion. But it also shows that when religion is sidelined, or used to serve the ideology of the day, truly religious persons can never tolerate such a situation. If they have a living faith, they must react. This being so, what does the growing number of self-professed atheists mean for those who make it their profession to dedicate their entire lives to God in the monastic life?
It means that they must, first, deepen their own relationship with God and, second, share their message with the world in ways consonant with their monastic charism. There needs to be a veritable culture of religious vocations in a world that turns its back on God. The more people live as if there were no God, the more those who dedicate their lives to him should go forward in the offering of themselves, at whatever cost, for the furthering of his Kingdom on earth.
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?
Recently I Received An Invitation To Address “What You Are Seeing In Public Opinion: What Is The Typology Of The Simplification Processes In Public Square Debates About Values That Create Cliches And Reduce The Moral And Ethical Debate To Categories In Which It Is Very Difficult To Get A Dialogue And Where Should We Go From There In Order To Get A Real Dialogue And To Propose The Ideas Related To Positive Values? … What Is The Nature Of This Simplification Process That [Bioethics] Issues Suffer When They Are Discussed In The Public Arena?”
Here’s My Response:
First, Bioethics Issues Are Complex, Often Involve Factual Uncertainty, And Have Broad And Long-Term Potential Consequences For Individuals, Institutions And Society. Simplification Is A Strategy Used By So-Called “Progressive Values” Advocates To Promote Acceptance Of Their Values. It Results From Excluding Consideration Of Complexity, Uncertainty And Potentiality In The Values Disputes Focused On Bioethics Issues. We Need To Understand The 2018 Societal Values Zeitgeist – The “Youthquake” And “Progressive Values” Agenda Which Young People Espouse – And How It Differs From A Traditional Societal Values Zeitgeist, If We Are To Effectively Communicate With Young People So As To Cause Them To Reconsider Their Values. Words Are Weapons In The Values Battles. We Must Identify How They Are Being Used In The Presentation Of Ethical Issues In The Media And Ethical Decision Making And, When That Use Leads To Unethical Situations, Offer Alternatives. We Must Also Identify The Causes Of Biased Media Coverage Of Ethics Issues, Including The Phenomenon Of “Post-Truth”, And Work To Eliminate Them. Most Importantly, We Must Not Lose Hope, But Generate It; We Must Give People The Words They Need To Express What They Believe; We Must Engender Courage, Through Our Being “Not Afraid”; And We Must Try To Open People’s Minds To “Amazement, Wonder And Awe”, As Those Experiences Are The Most Likely To Result In Ethical Societal Values Decisions.
Margaret Somerville, AM, FRSC, DCL is Professor of Bioethics at the University of Notre Dame Australia and Emerita Samuel Gale Professor of Law, Emerita Professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Emerita Founding Director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University in Montreal, where she taught from 1978 to 2016 and was the first woman in Canada appointed to a named chair in law. Prof Somerville was born in Adelaide, South Australia, and educated at Mercedes College, Springfield. She graduated in Pharmacy at the University of Adelaide in 1963, holds a Bachelor of Law degree with first class honours and the University Medal from the University of Sydney in 1973, and a DCL from McGill University in 1978. Her archive is held at the McGill University Archives. Professor Somerville is the recipient of many honours and awards including eight honorary doctorates and was the first recipient of the UNESCO Avicenna Prize for Ethics in Science awarded by an international jury. She has an extensive national and international publishing and speaking record and is a frequent commentator in all forms of media. In November 2006 she gave the five annual Massey Lectures on CBC Radio in Canada. An expanded version of the lectures was published in Canada, Australia, and the United States in book form as The Ethical Imagination: Journeys of the Human Spirit. Her most recent book is Bird on an Ethics Wire: Battles about Values in the Culture Wars (MQUP 2015).
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).
Papers presented to the Dawson Centre to mark the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, 31 October 2017
1. The Revd Campbell Markham:
Who was Martin Luther?
1) Luther was a Miner’s Son
Martin Luther was born in 1483 in Eisleben, Germany, into a Roman Catholic Family. His father, Hans, a prosperous mine owner, wanted him to be a lawyer. In this way Martin would have been able to care for his parents in their later years.
Aged 22 Luther completed his undergraduate studies, and was on his way to commence his legal studies when he was caught in a thunderstorm. In fear he cried out, “St Anne, save me, I will become a monk!”
Saint Anne was the patron saint of miners.
2) Luther was an Augustinian Monk and Priest
In 1505 Luther entered the monastery of the Augustinian Hermits in Erfurt. This was a so-called “Observant” order of Augustinians, an order that wanted to get back to the rigors of the original program. At the same time the hermits could serve the community as parish priests, and in hospitals, schools, and universities.
Luther hoped to find peace for his soul in Monastic life.
In his 24th year, Luther was ordained a priest and celebrated his first Mass. His Father attended this great occasion with a procession of twenty horsemen, and gave a very generous gift to the monastery. Afterwards he expressed his deep disappointment in Luther’s decision to forsake law for the cloth. Luther argued that he was only obeying God. Hans pointed out that God commanded children to honour their parents. This weighed heavily on Luther’s conscience into his old age.
His first Mass plunged Luther into turmoil. To be standing as priest in the presence of God, and handling, as he thought at the time, the real presence of Christ, terrified Luther. He used the German word anfechtung to describe his feelings, a word that refers to an inner maelstrom, despair, and distress.
In an effort to find salvation and peace, Luther threw himself into the monastic program. Apparently he fasted, prayed, and abstained from sleep, far more than required. Later he said: “If any monk could be saved by monkishness, it was me!”
He confessed his sins until he wore his confessors out. Johann von Staupitz, the Vicar General of Luther’s order, said in exasperation: “If you expect Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive—parricide, blasphemy, adultery—instead of all these peccadilloes!” and at another time her urged Luther, “Just love God!” “Love God?” Luther replied, “Sometimes I hate him!”
He couldn’t find peace. He knew that he hadn’t earned salvation.
In 1510, aged 27, Luther visited Rome as part of a delegation to the pope. The renaissance was in full bloom, and Michelangelo was at the time on his back painting his frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Although failed to gain a papal audience, he did climb on his knees the twenty-eight steps of the Scala Sancta, as an act of penitence for his dead grandfathers.
Overall, he was shocked by the visible immorality, crass commercialism, and religious cynicism of the “Holy City.” All too often he heard priests making mocking fun of the saints and rituals of the church.
Luther was especially shocked by the sale of Indulgences, which we will return to in a moment.
3) Luther was an Academic
Luther’s extraordinary intellectual abilities were being noticed. In 1508, in his 25th year, Luther was sent to Wittenberg, in the eastern part of Germany, to teach ethics at the university, newly founded in 1502. In 1511 he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Theology, and was made Professor of Biblical Exegesis, a position that he retained until his death 35 years later.
In 1515 he was made a vicar in his order, and put in charge of eleven Augustinian monasteries. (And so he came to have a much wider influence.) From 1512-19 he undertook an intensive study of the Psalms, Romans, and Galatians.
Theologically, Luther had trained to be a Nominalist, a position that allowed a person a limited but definite role in their justification. Luther’s exegetical work led him to a new position: where he saw that the righteousness of God was not something infused into the Christian, but imputed to the Christian. A Christian is justified by faith not by religious ritual or good works, but only on the basis of the imputed merits of Christ. Human works or religious observance brings nothing to salvation, for “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ… because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
Important parallels have been noted between Luther’s doctrines and Augustine’s writings against Pelagius. In any case, Luther found the peace he was looking for in this doctrine. Years later, in a letter to his associate Melanchthon, he wrote, “God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”
In other words, don’t think that your works or piety can contribute in the least to salvation.
4) Luther was a Protestor
Rediscovery of Justification by Faith made Luther angry about Indulgences. The doctrine of the Indulgences is often caricatured, but its basis is quite sophisticated, and presupposes these three dogmas:
1) That divine justice demands that sin be penalised even after the sinner is reconciled to God by penitence and absolution.
2) That there is available a treasury of merits that can be accessed by any Christian, that has been accumulated not only Bible Christ, but also by the Saints and Mary.
3) That the Church has the right to administer these merits: in consideration of prayers or other good works.
Sophisticated or not, this had however been turned into a crass commercial transaction: “You pay the church money, the church will shorten your time in purgatory.” The notorious Johann Tetzel, one of the more prominent priest-pedlars of indulgences, even came up with this jingle (the translation apparently captures the original doggerel): “As soon as a coin in coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”
The Indulgences enraged Luther for two reasons. Firstly he found it to be thoroughly anti-scriptural and opposed to the doctrine of justification by faith. Secondly, as a patriotic German, he hated the way the German poor were being fleeced of their savings to pay for building projects in Italy.
On the 31st October 1517, aged 33, Luther posted his immortal 95 Theses, or questions, primarily about the Indulgences. Here are six of them:
27 They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
28 It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased.
32 Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
35 They who teach that contrition is not necessary on the part of those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessional privileges preach unchristian doctrine.
36 Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
37 Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.
These theses were quickly copied and spread, and exploded in Europe like a theological bomb. Luther followed this up, in 1520, with three treatises:
1) To the Christian nobility of the German Nation concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate.
This was a critique of the secular-sacred distinction, and argued for the priesthood of all believers. Any Christians may challenge the pope on the interpretation of Scripture, and any Christian has the right to call for the church to reform.
2) The Babylonian Captivity of the Church
This criticised the withholding of wine to the laity, opposed the doctrine of transubstantiation, and argued for two sacraments only: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
3) The Freedom of the Christian
This, one of Luther’s most attractive writings, argued that the Christian is freed by their justification from the bondage of religious ritual and works for salvation. The book centred around these paradoxical aphorisms:
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
In 1520 the Pope Leo X issued his bull Exsurge Domine, “Rise up O Lord!” Rise up to smite Luther! Luther was given sixty days to recant. He responded by burning the bull in a public square in Wittenberg.
5) Luther was a Fugitive
Luther was therefore called to be tried at the Diet of Worms in 1521, a great gathering of the religious and secular governing authorities of the Holy Roman Empire, presided over by Emperor Charles V himself.
Travelling to Worms was very dangerous for Luther, but Charles promised safe passage.
And so Luther appeared, a solitary monk in his simple cassock, before the imposing governmental and ecclesiastical might of western Europe.
The prosecutor confronted Luther with his books, 25 of them were laid out on a table. Luther was commanded to recant. He begged leave for 24 hours to give his answer. He Prayed. He consulted with close friends. A large crowd gathered, and his reply was classic:
Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships: I ask you to observe that my books are not all of the same kind.
There are some in which I have dealt with piety in faith and morals with such simplicity and so agreeably with the Gospels that my adversaries themselves are compelled to admit them useful, harmless, and clearly worth reading by a Christian. Even the Bull, harsh and cruel though it is, makes some of my books harmless, although it condemns them also, by a judgment downright monstrous. If I should begin to recant here, what, I beseech you, would I be doing but condemning that truth which is admitted by friends and foes alike?
The second kind consists in those writings levelled against the papacy and the doctrine of the papists, as against those who by their wicked doctrines and precedents have laid waste Christendom by doing harm to the souls and the bodies of men. No one can either deny or conceal this, for universal experience and world-wide grievances are witnesses to the fact that through the Pope’s laws and through man-made teachings the consciences of the faithful have been most pitifully ensnared, troubled, and racked in torment, and also that their goods and possessions have been devoured by unbelievable tyranny. If then I recant these, the only effect will be to add strength to such tyranny, to open not the windows but the main doors to such blasphemy.
The third kind consists of those books which I have written against private individuals; against those who have exerted themselves in defence of the Roman tyranny and to the overthrow of that piety which I have taught. I confess that I have been more harsh against them than befits my religious vows and my profession. For I do not make myself out to be any kind of saint. But it is not in my power to recant them, because that recantation would give that tyranny and blasphemy an occasion to lord it over those whom I defend and to rage against God’s people more violently than ever.
And so, through the mercy of God, I ask Your Imperial Majesty, and Your Illustrious Lordships, or anyone of any degree, to defeat my books by the writings of the Prophets or by the Gospels; for I shall be most ready, if I be better instructed, to recant any error, and I shall be the first in casting my writings into the fire.
The prosecutor retorted: “Tell us plainly: are you prepared to recant, or not?” Luther responded:
Since your Lordships demand a simple answer, Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convinced of error by the testimony of Scripture or by manifest reasoning, since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves, I stand convinced by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against conscience is neither wise nor safe.
Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.
What was the response of the council?
We forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favour Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.
6) Luther was a Bible Translator
Charles kept his promise and allowed Luther to leave Worms, but on the way to Wittenberg he was kidnapped by armed men. In fact they were friends, and they took Luther to the Wartburg castle. There he grew a beard and lived disguised as a knight, “Junker Jorg,” Sir George.
There in the Wartburg Luther translated the New Testament into German. (He translated the Old Testament some years later.) His conviction that every Christian must believe and live according to Holy Scripture drove him to do this. By doing so, not only did he place the whole Bible in the hands of every German, he also gave a book that came to unify the diverse dialects of the Germanic peoples into one national language.
Of his translating work Luther wrote: “The Holy Scriptures are a vast and mighty forest, but there is not a single tree in it that I have not shaken with my own hand.”
And of the Scriptures he said:
Oh how great and glorious a thing it is to have the Word of God in front of you! With it we can always feel joyful and secure; we need never be in want of consolation, for we see before us, in all its brightness, the pure and right way. He who loses sight of the Word of God, falls into despair; the voice of heaven no longer sustains him; he follows only the disorderly tendency of his heart, and of world vanity, which lead him on to his destruction.
7) Luther was a Family Man
In 1523, in his forty-first year, Luther helped twelve nuns escape from a Cistercian Convent, smuggled out in herring barrels. Luther arranged marriages for eleven, leaving only Katharina von Bora.
Writing to a friend in 1524, Luther had said, “I shall never take a wife, as I feel at present. Not that I am insensible to my flesh or sex (for I am neither wood nor stone); but my mind is averse to wedlock because I daily expect the death of a heretic.”
Luther however married Katie. It was a happy marriage, and they had six children together.
“My Katie is in all things so obliging and pleasing to me that I would not exchange my poverty for all the riches of Croesus.”
Luther died in 1546 in Eisleben, the city of his birth, at the age of 62.
A final thought
I finish by observing the notable fact that a Protestant Pastor is delivering a lecture on Martin Luther on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation under the auspices of a Roman Catholic society: the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies, dedicated to advancing Catholic tradition.
Truly, one of the greatest delights of my nine years in Hobart is the friendship that I have come to enjoy with so many Roman Catholics, not least with Dr Daintree, Director of the Dawson Centre, Alex Sidhu, and Archbishop Julian Porteous.
(I am especially pleased that the Archbishop and I are friends, not least because of the remote possibility we may one day have to share a jail cell.)
Indeed, the friendship that my wife Amanda-Sue and I enjoy with the Catholic Church was formed while standing together against the drive of unjust and immoral laws, such as the legalisation of abortion, prostitution, and medical killing; and the redefinition of marriage.
From this perspective, it isn’t strange that I speak under at a Catholic Church event this evening, for we are brothers in arms.
We live an age, however, where principled disagreement and reasoned argument has become a lost art. We live at a time when friends are not supposed to disagree with each other; where disagreement is now almost always equated with disrespect, and even enmity.
It is tempting, while breathing this atmosphere, to sustain our friendship by pretending that our differences are not real or important – or even to make light of them.
I respect the convictions of my Catholic friends too much for this. I respect your convictions too much to pretend that we do not sharply disagree on some very important doctrines.
Nor would you respect me if I pretended that what we believe is all basically the same, and that our differences don’t really matter.
Let us deny the great lie of our age, that disagreement means disrespect and even hatred.
Instead, in the name of truth, and out of deep regard for the hard-won convictions that we hold, let us openly acknowledge that many of the doctrines that were contended 500 years ago are doctrines that we continue to contend today.
For example, our authority is different. The Roman Catholic looks to the Authority of Scripture, the Popes, and the Traditions of the Church; whereas the Protestant looks to Scripture Alone.
And our conviction about our justification before God also differs. The Protestant believes that we are justified by faith alone, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2020, teaches that Justification is “granted through baptism.”
And we differ in our understanding of the nature of justification. The Catholic Catechism teaches that justification is indistinct from the inward ethical transformation of the Christian; whereas the Protestant believes that justification is the Christian’s objective legal status of “not-guilty,” a status that must inevitably lead to renovation, but yet is distinct from it.
Let us respect each other enough to acknowledge that we cannot both be right about these core doctrines, and that these differences are far from trivial.
If the Australian Church is going to survive the onslaught of radical subjectivism, then we must never, by buying into the relativism of our age, paper over our differences.
This would sever us from our own roots, from our own deepest theological convictions.
Instead, we must go back to our roots, with a genuine willingness to be transformed by the truth, and to ask: “How do we differ?” “Why do we hold a different view?” “What reasons have led to this difference?”
If we are going to be Roman Catholic, then let us be convinced Roman Catholics. If we are going to be Protestant, then let us be convinced Protestants. Let us never lazily drift on a calm pool of subjectivism.
When it comes to Martin Luther, I believe that this is something we can all agree on: that it is good to fearlessly question, to examine, to dig deep, and to come to sincerely and deeply held convictions.
May we all come to that place, where, like Luther and many others in the Church through the centuries, we can say:
Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.
2. Peirce Baehr:
The Bible and Culture
“Christians suppressed all science, music, books and art for centuries. They have never created anything.”
That was almost the first thing a fiery young Italian and his partner told my over dinner a few years ago.
As you may know, we run a ministry called Pilgrim Hill. We’re grateful to God, we’ve gotten to feed and share the Gospel with folks from over 45 countries, at weekly dinners, with up to 80 guests a night.
Most of our guests are young and ignorant or apathetic: they know little or nothing about the Bible and its story, and they don’t care. Sometimes they’re a bit feistier: they care a lot, but they still know nothing. Our first year, we had this fiery young Italian couple. They earned the nickname “the angry Italian atheist.” They came to their first Pilgrim Dinner in January and stuck around for four months, completely changing perspective by the time they left.
Yet almost the first thing they said to us: “Christians suppressed all science, music, books and art for centuries. They have never created anything.”
Let your jaws drop. You’d think, living in Italy, they’d give credit for Vivaldi, or da Vinci, or Dante; frescos and mosaics; church architecture, etc. But no: their narrative “Christians suppress, Christians don’t create.”
I’m sure you’ve heard it before. “Christians produce nothing, suppress learning, start crusades, burn witches, and worse.” For many people, that’s all they know about Christians. Which means the only thing most people know is a complete lie.
Tonight, we get to shine a light at the Truth. Rather than destroying culture, we’ll see that Christianity does the very reverse. Indeed, as I aim to show you tonight, the truths of the Bible are the source and life blood of any good we see in culture at all.
To demonstrate this, we’ll be looking at the Bible and Culture. It’s one of my favourite topics, there are so many things worth saying, we could be here for days. But to fit the time, and keep things short:
first I’m going to define our primary terms,
then I’ll apply the topic in three ways,
so that you may see and be encouraged by how profoundly the Bible has and must shape culture. I’m praying that my words would be edifying to you whether you’ve heard this sort of message a thousand times or never heard it before at all.
Let’s start with our terms.
What is the Bible? Physically it’s a collection of 66 books written over a 1500and year period, consisting of two primary divisions (Old and New Testaments) and containing a huge variety of genres, including: poetry, narrative, prophecy, letters, and more. This physical artefact is the Bible.
But the Bible is far more than a physical artefact. As Christians, we know the Bible to be: the inspired words of God himself; a book created by God for the edification of his people. And we are edified by the Bible’s content. It’s the content of this Bible that makes the Bible so unique. Despite multiple human writers, the Bible tells a comprehensive, unified story. A story we call the Gospel. So what is the story…
What is the Gospel?
Sounds like the easy one, but too often, Christians don’t define it. How you define the Gospel makes a huge difference. We need to define the Gospel to know we’re heading in the right direction.
On the surface, you probably all know that the Greek word for Gospel is εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion), which means good news. But did you know that the English word Gospel come from old English Good Spell. Yes, like magic spell. But, at that time, spell meant story. [Think of the German word spiel]. The Gospel is the Good Story. But what is this Good Story about? If you been around the traps, you know that ‘Gospel’ is often shorthand for Jesus death on the cross to pay for our sins, so that we who trust in him can have eternal life. This is true. And it is an unfathomably Good Story. Indeed, it’s the centre point of history, and each of our stories.
But it’s not the whole Gospel. If we stopped there, our Gospel would be too small. When the Bible uses the word Gospel, it includes much more. For example, in Mark 1:1 we read “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” Mark says he’s giving us the beginning of the Gospel in his book. What is Mark’s Gospel? It’s the story of Jesus — the whole story, including: his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection; his ascent, rule, return and judgment; and his eternal reign. Mark’s Gospel is the beginning of the whole story about Jesus.
And that’s also what the other Gospels are: Matthew, Luke, and John. [That’s why we call them Gospels]. They are stories about Jesus. The story of Jesus is the Gospel. But, that’s still not all the Bible uses the word Gospel for.
Do you know what Jesus himself most often says the Gospel is about? When Jesus says “the Gospel of…” in the Gospels, he almost always ends with “…the Kingdom”. That is, the Kingdom of God. The content of our Good Story is also the Kingdom of God. Which makes more sense if you know the most frequent title for Jesus in the New Testament is Lord. [Not Saviour or Messiah, but Lord]. The title comes up over 600 times. We’ve got a Kingdom and a Lord.
With this lens, looking over Bible, it’s easy to see the Gospel is the story of God’s Kingdom coming under its Lord, Jesus. The Gospel is the whole epic narrative of God’s work on earth to bring His Kingdom through Jesus: an epic epically dwarfing all others, Tolkien included, which involves everything that was, is and will be; covering the entire story of history from Creation through Consummation; spanning the entire Bible, but centred on our Lord, Jesus, the hero and his redemptive, God-glorifying work of mercy, through his incarnation, death, resurrection, rule and return.
What is the Bible?
It’s the God-inspired account of this Greatest-of-all stories. The Bible is the God-given book whose content is the Gospel.
So what is Culture?
I’ve got three answers, intimately related.
The theologian Henry Van Til (nephew to Cornelius) was partly right when he said: “Culture is religion externalised.” Culture is what our beliefs or worldviews look like when live them out: what they look like in the things we do, the stuff we make, the clothes we wear, our art, science, music, etc. Put this way, I like to say, culture is fruit. It’s the fruit of what a group of people believe. It’s the fruit of their worldview. We’ll come back to that idea in minute, so hold that thought: culture = fruit.
I said Van Til’s famous quote was partly right. Here’s why it was only partly right. In talking about culture as fruit – we’re seeing it as a unified thing: a mass noun, like sand, or water; something we treat like one thing, though made up of many. But, we can also talk about cultures, a diversified thing, like: Japanese culture, Australian culture, American culture.
Sometimes we can get squeamish about cultural diversity as a PC code word, but we shouldn’t. Our God loves a diverse, full creation, even more than the tolerance crowd.
Consider that our God made more than 1.7 million different species, including: the peacock, the baboon, the giraffe (all seven species of them), the cockroach, the cherry tree, the moustached guenon; the Mantis shrimp, a critter 10cm long with the most complex eyes of any animal on earth — where we have 3 types of colour cones in our eyes, they have AT LEAST 16 different types of cones — who knows what that critter sees; the lowly caterpillar, which becomes complete mush before turning into a butterfly; or the jelly fish, that basically turns into a plant for half its lifecycle, reproducing both sexually and asexually. God is comfortable with diversity – he designed it.
This is true not only of animals, plants, but of cultural diversity too. Revelation 5:9 says, in a hymn of praise to Jesus: “by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Revelation 21:23-26 adds, at end of time, about the great city — the new Jerusalem: “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because God’s glory illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Each day its gates will never close because it will never be night there. 26 They will bring the glory and honour of the nations into it.”
Here’s where things get interesting.
Two cultures, like two people can produce right fruit and look different. Take a look at your neighbour: one of you is taller; one thinner; one of you is a better dancer. Does that stop either of you worshipping God in the right way? Of course not! Remember the different parts of Christ’s body in 1 Cor 12? God ordained some to be eyes, some hands; some preachers, some in admin. See, your difference doesn’t stop you worshipping God the right way. Rather, our differences exist exactly so we can most fully worship God together, each in the way God designed for his glory. It’s part of His Good Story.
So too with cultures. God designed the diversity of cultures. He clearly doesn’t expect all cultures to be eye or hand. He designed each culture to fully worship God in specific ways:
Japanese culture to worship Him in a Japanese way; Australian culture in an Australian way; and the same with American culture.
Remember Revelation. God wants all the glory and honour of all nations in the new city. So the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or worse “you must be me.” God has so designed cultures to differ for his ultimate glory telling a story through it.
In this sense, culture is more than religion externalised, more than fruit. It’s more like the use of word ‘culture’ in biology. Think of a bacteria colony, petri dish and all: an organic society, designed and grown by God, and there are a huge diversity of them. Within the bounds of true Biblical unity, this diversity is a very good thing. So culture can mean not only fruit, but also the diversity of human societies, designed by God for his glory.
Which brings us to our third and deepest meaning: culture as worship. Did you know, the word culture comes from the Latin colere, meaning to tend, dwell, worship. That Latin word gave us all our English words starting C – U – L – T, like: cultivate, cultured, and cult. In English, “cult” is a bad word, but in many languages it isn’t. It just means ‘worship’. This combined meaning — tend, dwell, worship — fits beautifully the Christian story.
Remember, the first command of God to us in Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”
Often called cultural mandate, our first command involves tending and dwelling. In obeying this command, like any command, we are worshiping God. The cultural mandate was man’s first call to worship and we’re still called to worship God through culture: the command is ongoing, God never revoked it, it still applies to us.
Culture is a form of our worship.
Everything we do to take dominion: being fruitful, multiplying, filling the earth, and subduing/ruling it, including our art, our science, our literature, our music, our fashions. All of these aspects of culture are forms of worship. Culture is worship.
I have no time to go further, but Luke Jankovic wrote an excellent piece a few years back, which I highly recommend you read. Run a Duckduckgo search for “Worship culture Jankovic” (you could also use those other, evil-doing search engines, but I’ll leave that to your conscience).
What is culture?
You can parse the word three ways:
The fruit of our beliefs
The diversity of our societies
The expression of our worship.
All three definitions help us understand our topic: the Bible and culture.
Now that we’ve defined the Bible, its subject the Gospel, and Culture, how does the Bible relate to culture?
Our commitment and love of God’s Good Story should shape all three meanings of culture:
Affecting the fruit of our beliefs: objects, ideas, outward manifestations of our culture.
Protecting the diversity of our societies: making it possible for us distinguish sin from legitimate difference.
Driving our worship: shaping the ways we dedicate our lives to God.
We’ll look at each of these in turn.
Having the Bible shape culture affects the quality of our fruit. Jesus said, “A tree is known by its fruit.” (Lk 6:43) Like you can know person by fruit, you can know a worldview by cultural fruit. So let’s take gander at the fruit of a few worldviews.
Did you know that the 20th century was the bloodiest century in human history? And Atheism was a huge cause. Not counting the carnage of both World Wars, over 281,000,000 people were killed by atheist rulers — people committed to Communism, National Socialism, and other atheist political philosophies, like: Stalin, Lenin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao, and Tito — names synonymous with evil who show the fruit of the atheist worldview, where man can be as God, because in a godless universe, might makes right.
As a point of comparison, consider the greatest wrong Christians are often blamed for: the Crusades. By the most generous estimate, counting deaths on both sides, perhaps a million people died in the Crusades. Many scholars put the number much lower. Remember, the Crusades were a series of wars, lasting over 200 years. And contra popular media, plenty of academics admit there were just reasons for the Crusades.
Regardless, it’s a helpful comparison. A 200 year Catholic-Muslim conflict killed less than 1 million people. But 20th atheist leaders alone killed nearly 300,000,000 people. Again, not counting the World Wars themselves, or the many, many other horrendous dehumanising evils perpetrated by these atheist on their own and other peoples. Atheism when it rules a culture has produced some of the rottenest fruit in history. But secularism and her twin, therapeutic deism, are little better. Since abortion became ‘legal’, in US alone, over 58,000,000 people — unborn humans — have been killed. Often gruesomely killed, torn limb from limb, in D & E abortions, feeling what must be excruciating trauma as they died. These deaths are fruit of philosophies that say unborn humans do not matter, they can be sacrificed to things like: time, convenience, preference; my wants, my wishes, my choices. Bear in mind, when we say the 20th century was the bloodiest in human history, we’re not even counting these deaths.
The 20th century has produced a lot of extremely rotten fruit. Almost all directly a result of atheist and secular worldviews that say: “humans are just machines” or “humans are just monkeys”; “there is no ultimate right and wrong, so I can make up what I think is right and wrong”; “I can do whatever I like: I can murder millions to get what I want or I can murder one, unborn inside me, for the same reason.”
These worldviews are responsible for making the 20th century so bloody. But the 20th century is not alone in producing bad fruit. The cultures of the ancient world also grew rotten fruit. One example: did you know, in Ancient Rome, the father had almost absolute power over his house? For almost any reason, he could have his wife put to death, or his servant, or any baby born in his house, including the babies of his servants. A Roman father could order their death based on his own preferences — whatever he liked. This was fruit of a pagan worldview that said power mattered most. It produced this and much other rotten fruit. But again, it was not alone. Other religions have also produced bad fruit Hinduism created a caste system that kept millions in abject poverty. If the poor are there by the faults of a past life, why care for them? They deserve it. [We have actually had guests at our Pilgrim Dinners say as much.] In Islam, at least 20% of Muslims believe Jihad means physical warfare, based on a legitimate possible reading of their sacred texts. One Muslim scholar boasts that Islam has killed over 120,000,000 people in 1400 years of Islamic Jihad. He boasts about it because he thinks it a good thing — he thinks it is a boast-worthy fruit of Islam.
What we believe effects the fruit we produce. When we believe false things – real evil results. It matters what we believe.
So what happens when you start with the Bible? Start with truth?
We know the Bible says none of us as individuals is righteous (Romans 3:10). We all produce bad fruit. We naturally do evil because of the evil in our hearts. In the same way, we can see no human culture is righteous: not in the ancient world, not under Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or any other religion, and very obviously not under atheism. Our lives and history are clear that humans produce bad fruit.
But through the Bible God has given us a way out – a way that brings good fruit. See, despite being God’s enemies and producing bad fruit, Jesus, by becoming man to save and set us right in His Kingdom, makes it possible for us to produce good fruit. And he shows us what good fruit looks like. For one most obvious thing, he showed us how very much humans and human cultures matter to him. That’s why — not because of anything we’ve done, but because God first loved us — Christians living God’s way started the world’s first hospitals, hostels, orphanages, and charities to care for people rejected by non-Christian cultures — to save the lives of those babies that Roman fathers threw out.
It’s also why Christians are responsible for our modern system of human rights. I’m not a big fan of the modern language of rights, but the concept behind them, of caring for the weak whileacknowledging weakness, is thoroughly Christian. The rights of women, babies, the elderly; the poor, blind, and disabled; prisoners, slaves, and factory workers come from long centuries of Christian reform. Look it up, you will find it so. Through history, the key names and movements in these fields we Christians.
Human rights didn’t develop out of Ancient empires, Hinduism or Islam, Atheism or Communism. They did not because they could not. Those beliefs can’t produce that fruit. In real history, human rights came out of Christian cultures. In fact, in 1948, when the UN put forward the Declaration of Human Rights, Islamic countries stood against it. They refused to sign it because knew it was Christian. Human Rights and Hospitals are the fruit of the Bible. The fruit of God’s love for us.
If we serve a God whose love is so deep he would die to save us when we were his enemies — when all we produced was evil fruit — that’s going to change the kind of fruit we produce — how we treat others.
There are many other examples I could share, of fruit from the Bible, like: universities, the scientific method, even Harmonic music, which are only possible as fruits of the Bible: things that did not and could not exist as the fruit of other beliefs. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to go into more detail, but if you are interested to know more, read “The Book that Made Your World” by a scholar from India named Vishal Mangalwadi. He shows all these things and more are only possible as a fruit of the Bible.
If we want this kind of good fruit in our cultures, the Bible must be shaping culture.
Secondly, if we to want protect godly diversity – the Bible must shape our cultures. Godly diversity is really about two things: diversity and unity at same time. Though we are made diverse as individuals and cultures, we must be united in the truth, one in purpose in serving God. Cultural diversity is not some false ecumenicism, or skin deep multiculturalism. It does not sacrifice God’s good news for false peace. It calls out sin as sin, and demands repentance. It has hard edges that cannot be violated. Yet it also isn’t communism, turning men into cogs and gears, and leaving a cultural grey.
Let me illustrate.
Two opposite human sins work against godly diversity:
The sin of unity at all costs.
The sin of diversity at all costs.
We see both errors everywhere the Bible isn’t shaping cultures.
For example, some beliefs say unity at all costs — unity must dominate. There are so many examples of this in history, like Communism, Islam, even secular pop culture. These beliefs say one culture should dominate everything, there should be only one culture. These beliefs actively stomp out diversity. They create an ugly sameness, a dull cultural grey. Think of the ugly architecture communism left everywhere it went. Or Islam. As one former Muslim, now a Christian, Lamin Sanneh puts it: everywhere Islam goes it tries to recreate 7th century Arabia. The more seriously islamic an area becomes, the more like 7th century Arabia. At a basic level, you get a dull cultural sameness.
But it gets worse.
When one culture must dominate, we see race hatreds, class warfare, religious hatred, etc, leading to horrors like: enforced poverty, slavery, and genocide. We’ve seen it under Communism and in the daily horrors of ISIS. But such things don’t just happen out there. We also see them right here in the first world, in our popular culture, which values young independent adults above all else — which says they should be dominant. This leads to ugly cultural grey, people of all ages trying to look and act like young independent adults: five year old beauty queens, 75 year old beauty queens; 70 year olds with nose jobs, new cars, new wives.
But it also leads to much worse horrors like assisted suicide of the aged and disabled, because they don’t fit the dominant cultural ideal, they just get in the way. Or abortion of the unborn because they don’t fit the dominant cultural ideal, they just get in the way.
Beliefs like Communism, Islam and even secular popular culture say one culture should dominate, so hey destroy God given diversity, making an ugly, grey cultural sameness, and perpetrating horrors, leading to death. It’s Grim. But the opposite problem is just as grim.
Some beliefs say diversity at all costs — diversity must dominate. These beliefs come under names like equality, tolerance, relativism, and multiculturalism. They say “no culture, no group is better than any other”, “all cultures must be equal”. These beliefs actively stamp out unity and truth. The big problem is that they force us to pretend a lie, that everything is OK. Fully believed, they rob us of the ability to show love. If every culture must be equal, we can not judge — we cannot say: “the caste system in India is harmful” or “Abortion is wrong.” We must pretend everything is ok.
This is profoundly unloving. When horrible beliefs harming millions of people can’t be judged and get a free pass, we are showing the opposite of love. We are condemning people to death. Or when a friend chooses sin — a life in darkness, acting against God’s good law — and we treat that sin as an acceptable life choice, we are not showing love. Rather the opposite: we are condemning our friend to death.
True love, wants what is best for the other. Which means, it doesn’t tolerate sin and wrong. It cares enough to speak out against brokenness to seek to see it resolved.
The godly solution is neither unity without diversity nor diversity without unity. Both ways lead to death. Yet without Bible, every human culture falls for one of these.
To get out of the trap, we need the Bible to shape our cultures. Through the truths of the Bible, God has given us a way out. He’s shown us how both unity and diversity matter to him, and fit together. Indeed, only through the Bible can they. God showed us diversity matters in the incarnation, He became a human being in a specific culture. The God of universe, creator of everything, took on a specific human culture, came to us at our level, and reached out to us, for love of us. Ever since, when Christians have spread the Gospel, they’ve cared about local cultures. From St Paul to Hudson Taylor, from St Patrick to Steve Saint, Christians have intentionally copied the incarnation by enculturating the Gospel to bring good news to the full diversity of cultures. Did you know the Bible is the first book in almost every written language? Almost every national literature started with the Bible or part of it — with the hard work of Christians putting God’s word in local languages. This is true for thousands of languages and has been going on for thousands of years, from long before Cyril and Methodius, to countless numbers of missionaries with groups like Wycliffe Bible Translators today. Men and women who have given their lives, like Christ, to bring the Gospel to people through translation.
You know, it doesn’t have to be that way — the Christian belief in the incarnation and Biblical translation has its opposite in a religion like Islam. The Quran is never meant to be translated. Do you want to be a good Muslim? You need to learn to recite the Quran in 7th century Arabic. Worship of Allah is never incarnational, never localised. There is only one form of worship intended for everyone, everywhere. All good Muslims are meant to worship in exactly the same way. You can see the difference in Africa. Northern Africa: the more Islamic, the more same.
Southern Africa: Christian diversity.
As an example – you may not know it, but care for diverse cultures through Bible translation made a profound different in African and Middle Eastern history. See, when Islam spread across the world in the six + seven hundreds, it destroyed Christian cultures everywhere it settled — wiped them out. But every culture that had a Bible translation when Islam came — every culture except one — still has a Christian church today. Because Christian translators took seriously Gods love for local cultures, those cultures were able to resist Islam; those cultures could be Bible shaped themselves. The Biblical incarnational love, of godly diversity, matters. Christians living biblically have valued and built up local cultures all over the world. Just as God incarnated himself for love of same. But diversity cannot stand alone.
The Bible also emphatically shows unity matters. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to God except through him (Jn 14:6). There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, by which we must be saved (Ac 4:12). There is one body and one Spirit —just as you were called to one hope at your calling— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Eph 4:4-5). The Bible is clear, unity in the truth is essential for all cultures.
So how do these two things fit together – unity and diversity? In the deepest truth of Biblical reality: that God is Trinity. He is both truth and love, perfection and personality, unity and diversity, forever and always within himself. This fundamental truth makes three things possible that are impossible as the fruit of human worldviews and religions.
First, our God is able to create and love a diversity of cultures. Worldviews like Atheism and Islam cannot account for our diversity).
Second, He can do this despite our profound sin and brokenness. Tolerance and relativism cannot account for our sin.
Third, He is able to redeem us out of our sin and brokenness — to change what is broken in our cultures and make us whole. The non-Christian world cannot do this. Such a task would make the anthropologist short-circuit: “How could you change a culture?!” Or an atheist superman laugh: “Just crush the under-evolved thing!” Or the tolerance crowd cry foul. For them, it is literally meaningless to love the sinner and hate the sin: they have no category for sin separate from sinner.
You need godly diversity, grounded in unity, shaped by the Trinity to have these things. The Bible alone can make way for true diversity and unity.
So far, we’ve seen having a Bible shaped culture affects the quality of our fruit and protects true unity and diversity.
Changing gears, finally, I want to show that if culture is worship, we also need the Bible to shape culture by driving our worship Campbell has been speaking to us tonight about Martin Luther. One way that Luther continues to challenge us as both protestants and Catholics is to value non-religious vocations. There’s a temptation that we, the church, protestant and Catholic, have frequently succumbed to and which has its roots in ancient pagan gnosticism, which says that the body is bad and the spirit is good. Fully fledged, it can turn into mono-physitism, which denies the full humanity of Christ. Now this is a massive subject and I can’t do justice to it tonight. But I want to give this warning:
If the Bible doesn’t shape our worship, other beliefs will. The ancient cults are ready to step in when the Bible is removed from its proper place of driving/shaping our worship. Over and over again — feeling the pull of gnostic dualism — we’ve created a two-tiered holiness system where those who work in religious vocations are more holy, more valuable than those who do the everyday work of tending and dwelling (remember the latin source of our word culture). To say, “that over there — that prayer, preaching, fasting, studying, contemplation — that is worship, but this over here — this caring, teaching, building, cooking, birthing, working — is just normal life.” And if you think I’m talking about Catholics right now, think again. I’ve said the same things many times to Protestants.
We need to be aware of this dualistic pull, especially when the world gets dark around us. If the spirit is better than the body, and everything around us is going wrong, we’re prone to push everyone into religious vocations. We adopt a “ship’s on fire” mindset and we throw the cultural cargo overboard. In our effort to be more pragmatic than God, we ditch the things we think are extraneous. And then our Italian atheist couple might as well be right. But if Christ will reign until every enemy is under his feet (1 Co 15:25), the ship may be here a long time. If history teaches us anything, it’s that God is an incrementalist.
A wise man named Christopher Dawson once said, “The Christian church lives in the light of eternity and can afford to be patient.” Putting the worship of God first lets us play the long game. It lets us live in the light of eternity. It lets the Bible shape our culture by driving our worship, our whole-of-life worship to our creator God. Rather than being pragmatic about how to shape our worship, we need to trust God in His perfect timing, be patient, and build for the future. Build a culture as an act of worship, a Bible-shaped culture with institutions that glorify God, and prepare the next generation to continue to serve in the Gospel story.
For this is what we are called to do in the Cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28. It’s an essential part of our worship. The promising medical student, the artist, the mother, the children — they aren’t distractions. They, their work, and our work with them are essential in the worship of God. They are part of the body, along with preachers, teachers, and evangelists. They are essential for a Bible-shaped culture
By leaving out the cultural mandate from the Gospel story, this provides the perfect conditions for the local church to burn out and the next generation to be wiped away by whatever cults are popular among the unchurched — something that has happened many times in history. See for example the books of Judges or Kings.
As an aside, when we’re tempted to think the ‘ship’s on fire’ in our evangelism, a temptation with many dangerous consequences, we need to remember that God alone is in charge of the hearts of people. He is in control. We awesomely get to be a part of God’s rescue story, but it’s not about us: it’s His story, and He’s winning (1 Co 15:25). So we are not on fire. We don’t ever need to be anxious in our worship. We just need to be obedient. Which again proves, we need the whole Bible shaping culture to drive our worship.
To close up, I’ll recap.
The Bible tells the story of the Gospel, which is the greatest of all good stories, the epic God is telling through all history. It’s the story of God’s Kingdom coming under the Lord, Jesus to bring the world into right worship of Him again for all eternity. Culture is the fruit of what a group believes, or the diversity of societies God has lovingly created, or a form of worship, based on God’s first commandment to us.
How does the Bible relate to culture? Our love and commitment to this Good Story God is telling:
affects the fruit we produce — what we do and make as a culture;
protects the godly diversity God created = making it possible for us to enjoy difference
drives our worship = directing the ways we live our lives for God
It almost would have been better to ask the question the other way round: how doesn’t the Bible shape culture? To produce fruit at all, to worship at all, to live in any kind of diversity, every culture already starts from the Bible — the Good Story — whether it likes it or not. No culture, even a sinful, broken one, is possible without starting there.
Even ignorant and anti-Christian cultures can’t escape the Good Story: anything they do, like it or not, is part of that story — possible only because of that story. As Scripture puts it
“For from God and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory
forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)
So to those Italian atheists, who said:
“Christians suppressed all science, music, books and art for centuries. They have never created anything”
They are certainly wrong, historically speaking. But they are also wrong, fundamentally about the Bible. Because without the truths of the Bible — without the true facts of the Good Story we’re in — nothing would’ve been created: none of the science, music, books and art that has ever been. The only reason we have culture at all, is because of the Good Story of the Bible.
Speech to the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies Hobart
– Gerard Henderson –
Monday 22 May 2017
“The Media, the Royal Commission & Freedom of Religion”.
It’s great to be in Hobart where I lived for a year in 1972, teaching at the University of Tasmania. I value my associates from that time – particularly James McAuley (1917-76), Brian Harradine (1935-2014), Wayne Williams (who is here tonight), Archbishop Guilford Young (1916-88) and my colleague Dr Peter Boyce. Jim McAuley, Guilford Young (1916-1988) and Brian Harradine all feature prominently in my biography of the late Bob Santamaria – Santamaria: A Most Unusual Man which was published in 2015.
I also remember my friend Professor Harry Gelber who died recently. He addressed The Sydney Institute on a number of occasions and, I understand, attended functions at the Christopher Dawson Centre. It’s also good to catch up with Sister Majella Kelly who I knew during the four years that Anne and I spent in Launceston in the late 1970s.
My research in the early 1970s on Catholics and politics in Australia led me to what remained of the Central Catholic Library in Melbourne, which had been established by the Irish-born Jesuit Fr William Hackett. The Central Catholic Library was frequented in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s by the men – and they were all men – who established the Campion Society in Melbourne. It was there that Bob Santamaria met his future wife Helen Power who worked at the library.
B.A. Santamaria was a pragmatic person. Contrary to what some have claimed, I never believed that he was much influenced by the views of the English distributists such as G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc – but others in the Campion Society, like Frank Maher and Denys Jackson, were. Nor do I believe that Santamaria spent much time reading the historical and cultural studies written by such English Catholic intellectuals as Christopher Hollis, Fr. C.C. Martindale S.J. and Christopher Dawson. But, again, others did.
It was at the Central Catholic Library four decades ago that I read Christopher Dawson’s 1935 book Religion and the Modern State. Unlike Belloc, Dawson was a convert. He presented what Joseph Pearce referred to in Literary Converts (HarperCollins, 1999) as the belief that “only the Roman Catholic Church held the true faith in an unbroken tradition from the Apostles” in a more nuanced – and, indeed, more plausible – manner than Belloc.
I was very pleased to accept the invitation to address the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies. As a lover of history, I’m impressed that Dr Julian Porteous saw fit to support the creation of the Christopher Dawson Centre in the Tasmanian capital and I support the work being done by Dr David Daintree. I’m also here because I am an admirer of the Archbishop of Hobart as a person who thinks deeply and is prepared to promulgate and defend his views – the same can be said of Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP in Sydney.
Archbishop Porteous had the courage to distribute and defend the pastoral letter of the Australian Hierarchy titled Don’t Mess with Marriage – despite the attempt, which ultimately failed, to silence him. I believe that Dr Porteous has the same right in a democratic society to stand up for what was, until very recently, the traditional view of marriage as a union between a man and a woman – as Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has to advocate same-sex marriage.
Moreover, I condemn the physical attack on Mr Joyce in Perth a couple of weeks ago with precisely the same force as I condemn the recent attempt by radicals to prevent the Australian Christian Lobby holding a meeting in Melbourne by means of intimidation and real force.
I note that Qantas, a publicly listed company, has declared that the man who attacked its chief executive officer will never be allowed to fly on Qantas again. It remains to be seen whether Qantas will adopt a similar position concerning anyone who attacks or threatens a member of the ACL who happens to be a Qantas customer.
So a sense of history and a regard for intellectual courage brought me to Hobart tonight. Before addressing the topic “The Media, the Royal Commission and Freedom of Religion”, I should clarify my position and put aside some myths.
I was baptised a Catholic and educated at Catholic schools. I have admiration for the Christian religion in general and Catholicism in particular. However, I am not a practising Catholic – having converted to agnosticism some decades ago. Moreover, I am not close to Cardinal George Pell – a man I happen to admire. The fact is that I have had only one person-to-person meeting with George Pell in my life. However, like many others, he has been a welcome speaker at The Sydney Institute and attended some of our functions when he was in Sydney.
I also make the point that this speech reflects my personal views only – The Sydney Institute is a forum for debate and discussion and does not take stances on matters of church or state.
And now for something completely serious. The Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in its valuable work has confirmed what was already known – albeit in more shocking detail than many would have expected – the extent of historical pedophilia in the Catholic Church.
When Prime Minister Julia Gillard set up the Royal Commission in November 2012, George Pell, (the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney) said that he supported the decision on the understanding that the Catholic Church was not, as he termed it, the only cab-on-the-rank.
I happened to be on the ABC TV Insiders couch soon after the Royal Commission was announced. I was asked for my reaction and replied that I supported the Prime Minister’s decision but drew attention to the fact that sexual assaults would have been occurring the previous night within Indigenous communities and no one was likely to have done anything about it. Warren Mundine, among other Aboriginal leaders, has condemned the lack of action to stop real-time pedophilia within his people’s communities.
The libertarian Bettina Arndt (who was brought up in an atheist family) made a not dissimilar point when interviewed on The Bolt Report late last month. Asked about the fact that (now) French president Emmanuel Macron is married to a woman 25 years his senior whom he met when he was 15 years and she was his teacher, Ms Arndt had this to say:
It’s total hypocrisy. We jump up and down in the Royal Commission about abuse of people in institutions. We don’t give a stuff about the major risk for children which is, you know, children in single parent families being abused by boyfriends passing in and out of those families… There are a whole lot of areas [of sexual child abuse] we don’t discuss because they are not politically correct. Obviously, we’re trying to get the Catholic Church [and] attack churches. This area’s rife with hypocrisy.
George Pell was correct. The Royal Commission’s findings have revealed that in the period from 1950 until 2010 child sexual abuse was rife within Australian – and other – societies. There was child sexual abuse within religious, secular and government institutions alike. The Catholic Church was not the only cab-on-the- rank.
It should be remembered that, not so long ago, pedophilia in general and pederasty in particular was somewhat fashionable in intellectual circles.
Remember Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita which celebrated the relationship between a middle-aged male and a 12 year old nymphet? There was scant criticism when the novel and the first film version of Nabokov’s work was released.
Remember the ridicule that was piled upon morals campaigner Mary Whitehouse in the 1960s and 1970s? In November 2012, the British historian Dominic Sandbrook reviewed Ben Thompson’s edited collection Ban This Filth!: Mary Whitehouse and the Battle to Keep Britain Innocent (Faber and Faber, 2012) in The Sunday Times. Sandbrook wondered if Mrs Whitehouse was “quite as cranky as she looked at the time”. He quoted from a letter Mary Whitehouse wrote to the BBC objecting to the 1973 song Do You Want To Touch Me (oh Yeah) on the BBC show Crackerjack – which contained the lyrics:
Every growing boy needs a little joy,Beggin’ on my knees, baby, if you pleaseEvery growing boy needs a little toy,I’m a natural man doin’ all I can,Every Friday night, I got to get my share,I’m waiting so long, oh
Mary Whitehouse was ridiculed at the time. But the singer/songwriter was none other than Gary Glitter – who, in time, became a convicted pedophile.
In Australia, the ABC still will not redress – or even report – the fact that in July 1975 its chairman Professor Richard Downing declared that Australians should “understand” the urges of pederasts and said that “in general, men will sleep with young boys”. Professor Downing, speaking in his official capacity as ABC chairman, was defending an ABC Radio program which was presented by self-confessed pedophile Richard Neville. Neville interviewed three pederasts in the ABC’s Sydney studio who spoke about their assaults on young boys. The ABC did not report the matter to NSW Police at the time and has never adopted a duty of care with respect to the pederasts’ victims – who, if alive, would be around 50 years of age today.
An ABC journalist would not accept a Catholic or Anglican bishop refusing to accept responsibility for events in his diocese four decades ago. But the current ABC chairman Justin Milne has advised me that “there is nothing to be gained by revisiting the matter”. An unpleasant double standard, to be sure – especially in view of the ABC’s support for Louise Milligan’s enquiries concerning events of 40 years ago.
In its wisdom, the Royal Commission decided not to conduct hearings into institutional responses by the Australian media to instances of child sexual abuse. This despite the evident offending against children at the BBC, of which the case of the late Jimmy Savile is the most notorious example. The Royal Commission also did not hold hearings with respect to Islamic institutions or government schools.
While the Royal Commission chose not to conduct hearings into the ABC on Islamic institutions or government schools, it focused overwhelmingly on the Catholic Church in general and Cardinal George Pell in particular.
This was lapped up by sections of the Australian media – particularly the ABC, Fairfax Media (mainly The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald), The Saturday Paper, The Guardian Australia, Channel 9’s 60 Minutes, Channel 10’s The Project and Sky News’ Paul Murray Live and Hinch Live (the latter program is no longer extant).
While all these media outlets employ objective journalists, it is true that some contain a high proportion of alienated ex-Catholics along with Catholics who disagree with the social conservatism of George Pell. Then there are the secular atheists, many of a sneering disposition, who resent believers – particularly those of Christian disposition.
In short, sections of the media have used the Royal Commission’s obsession with Catholicism to run campaigns against the Catholic Church.
In what the Royal Commission called its “wrap” of its public hearings, three weeks were devoted to the Catholic Church. This was roughly the same amount of time devoted to all other institutions – religious, secular and government combined.
Writing in her Catholic Talk blog in February 2017, Monica Doumit quoted Royal Commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan AM as stating that around 40 per cent of all complaints received by the Royal Commission related to Catholic institutions. During the second half of the 20th Century, Catholics amounted to between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of the Australian population. What’s more, the Catholic Church ran many more schools, orphanages, hospitals and the like than other religious or secular institutions – judged on a per capita basis.
The figures presented by Counsel Assisting Gail Furness SC on 6 February 2017, the first day of the Catholic “wrap”, were truly shocking. The raw statistics were provided by the Catholic Church and interpreted by the Royal Commission. Ms Furness commenced her comments as follows:
Now, in terms of the results, between January 1950 and February 2015, 4,444 people alleged incidents of child sexual abuse made to 93 Catholic Church authorities. These claims related to over 1,000 separate institutions.
78 per cent of the claims were lodged by males and 90 per cent of the alleged perpetrators were male. Clearly, these were overwhelmingly crimes of men against boys – a fact that the Royal Commission has tended to avoid. This matter is well dealt with by Dr Philippa Martyr in her article in the April 2017 issue of Quadrant – the magazine founded by Jim McAuley.
Ms Furness went on to state that, within the time period 1950 to 2010, “7 per cent of priests were alleged perpetrators”. Not surprisingly, this statement led to widespread reporting that 7 per cent of the Catholic priests are pedophiles – and did huge reputational damage to current Catholic priests. Responding after Gail Furness’ address, the Truth, Justice and Healing Commission’s chief executive Francis Sullivan accepted what became the media’s interpretation. Mr Sullivan told the Royal Commission that “the data tells us that over six decades from 1950 to 2010, some 1265 Catholic priests were the subject of a child abuse claim”.
This was a true statement. But was it an accurate assessment of the contemporary church? No. Surprising it was the non-Catholic Gail Furness who provided a reassessment before the Royal Commission on Wednesday 16 February 2017. This is what she said:
Between January 1950 and February 2015, 4,445 people alleged incidents of child sexual abuse in 4,765 claims. The vast majority of claims alleged abuse that started in the period 1950 to 1989 inclusive. The largest proportion of first alleged incidents of child sexual abuse, 29 per cent, occurred in the 1970s. (Emphasis added).
In other words, what Ms Furness eventually addressed – and what Mr Sullivan consistently overlooked – is that pedophilia in the Catholic Church is essentially an historical crime. Repugnant? – yes. Important? – yes. But contemporary? – overwhelmingly, no.
This reflects the fact that the Catholic Church was the first institution in Australia to set up a procedure to handle child sex abuse cases. The reference is to the Melbourne Response set up by (then) Archbishop Pell in Melbourne in 1996 and Towards Healing set up by the other archdioceses and all the dioceses in 1997.
This fact is not known within large sections of the media. For example, on the ABC TV New Year’s Eve coverage, film reviewer David Stratton had this to say about the film Spotlight:
This is a true story of investigative journalism in the great tradition of All the President’s Men. From their base at the prestigious Boston Globe newspaper, a handful of dedicated journalists pursue the horrific story of the abuses of pedophile priests, facing opposition every step of the way but leading the world in the exposure of these crimes. [Emphasis added]
This is hopelessly wrong. The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” reporting – which inspired the film – took place in 2002, some six years after the Melbourne Response was set up in co-operation with Victoria Police.
But you would never know this if you only listened to Francis Sullivan. In a major speech at the Villa Maria Parish in Sydney’s Hunter’s Hill on 10 March 2017, Mr Sullivan never once mentioned the action which the Catholic Church took in Australia to tackle child sexual abuse close to two decades before the establishment of the Royal Commission. It is reasonable to criticise the processes of both the Melbourne Response and Towards Healing – but it is incomplete to ignore their existence.
Francis Sullivan’s speech contained nothing but criticism of the Catholic Church. As Geraldine Doogue – hardly a conservative Catholic in the tradition of Cardinal Pell – told The Weekend Australian Magazine’s Greg Bearup, who wrote a profile on Sullivan which was published on 6-7 May 2017:
The church in Australia is the greatest supplier of social welfare outside the government…I think Francis has decided that he can’t say anything good. It’s a tactic in my opinion. I applaud it [what he’s trying to achieve with respect to the Royal Commission] but I don’t think it’s the whole story of the Catholic Church.
The media focus of the Royal Commission’s coverage of Catholics has led to a distortion of the sad universality of a terrible crime.
While spending 15 days on the Catholic “wrap”, the Royal Commission spent a mere half a day on its Uniting Church “wrap” – hearing only three witnesses in the process. Here’s a quote from Counsel Assisting Angus Stewart SC’s introduction concerning the Uniting Church “wrap”.
In the 40 years since the Church’s inauguration, there have been 2,504 incidents or allegations of child sexual abuse that have been reported as having occurred at an institution or place of worship of the Uniting Church.
That’s 2,504 incidents or allegations in the period between 1977, when the Uniting Church was formed, and 2017. This compares with 4,445 claims with respect to the Catholic Church between 1950 and 2015. And the Catholic Church is five times larger than the Uniting Church. Moreover, the Royal Commission did not include allegations in the period 1950 to 1977 with respect to the Presbyterian, Congregational and Methodist communities which folded into the Uniting Church in 1977. This would take the number of allegations beyond 2,504, especially since it seems that child sexual abuse was at its worst in the 1960s and 1970s.
Evidence presented to the Royal Commission suggests that no real action was taken with respect to a nest of pedophile teachers at the Uniting Church’s Knox Grammar School in Sydney until a group of old boys went to NSW Police in 2009 – over a decade after the establishment of the Melbourne Response.
On the Royal Commission’s own figures, a child was safer in a Catholic institution than a Uniting Church institution any time after 1950. Yet you would not get an idea of this reality by following the reportage of the Royal Commission on the ABC, in Fairfax Media, The Saturday Paper, The Guardian Australia, 60 Minutes, The Project or Paul Murray Live. Allegations against the Jehovah Witness religion, on a per capita basis, are dramatically higher than for either the Catholic or the Uniting churches.
This is not a matter of nit-picking. The Royal Commission has used instances of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church to enquire into genuine matters of freedom of religion that pertain to Catholicism – apparently with the support of Francis Sullivan. No other institution has been the subject of such scrutiny.
Justice McClellan and his colleagues believe that the Royal Commission is entitled to look into such teachings and practices with respect to the Catholic Church as canon law, clericalism, celibacy, the confessional, psycho-sexual development, seminary training, the Vatican, church history and lay leadership.
The justification for all this is that sexual child abuse is exceptional in the Catholic Church. However, this theory falls to pieces once it is realised that child sexual abuse, person to person, was probably greater in the Uniting Church – an institution which has married clergy, no compulsory celibacy, no sacrament of confession, female ministers and in recent times has supported same-sex marriage.
The Royal Commission has not merely focused attention on the Catholic Church’s teachings. It has also interfered with the media. Following one of my columns in The Weekend Australian, the Royal Commission’s chief executive officer Philip Reed wrote to me asserting that I was wrong to claim that Cardinal Pell had been subjected to a greater enquiry than anyone else. This was true – but Mr Reed went into denial when his error was pointed out. I understand Mr Reed made a similar complaint to Andrew Bolt. Philip Reed refuses to answer the question as to whether he approached any other media figures in an attempt to influence their comments on the Royal Commission or correct their alleged or real errors.The Royal Commission’s focus on Cardinal Pell has made it possible for the media to do likewise. I pointed out to the ABC’s managing director and editor-in-chief Michelle Guthrie that the public broadcaster had highlighted serious allegations made against the cardinal before the Royal Commission but had all but ignored the fact that Gail Furness (who is regarded by many as hostile to Pell) subsequently submitted to Justice McClellan that many of these allegations were without substance. Despite my documentation of all these instances – Ms Guthrie flicked the matter to her offsider Alan Sunderland who threw the switch to denial.
I have just read ABC journalist Louise Milligan’s latest hatchet job on Cardinal Pell titled Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell (MUP, 2017). The only new allegations consist of people’s recollections of conversations which allegedly took place three decades or more ago. One involves a person who, though located in a room next door to the one George Pell was in, can relate an overheard conversation of Cardinal Pell three decades ago with such accuracy that Ms Milligan believes it warrants being reported in direct speech. This is unprofessional journalism. I covered some of these matters in my column in The Weekend Australian on 20 May 2017.
It seems that the ABC fails to train journalists that you cannot believe what anyone says simply because you want to. Some people have bad memories, some exaggerate, while others have clear “recollections” of events which never happened. Memory is very fallible thing as Justice McClellan himself wrote in an article published in the Australian Law Journal in 2006.
Among other comments, Justice McClellan warned about the ability of a person to implant a false memory in the mind of another, said that false memories of trauma are possible and reflected that, in reality, our memories are unstable and malleable and that – even without external influences – memory will fade over time. He also acknowledged that memories may be altered by post-event factors.
Reporters like Louise Milligan would be well advised to read Justice McClellan’s 2006 article along with Daniel L. Schacter’s The Seven Sins of Memory before believing what they want to believe.
The sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, other churches plus secular and government institutions was shocking. Truly shocking. But recent statistics from the Archdiocese of Sydney indicate that there were about zero such crimes over the past two decades. I understand there were very few offenders in the Archdiocese of Hobart throughout the period examined by the Royal Commission.
The problem is that the Royal Commission may use a crime within the Catholic Church, which reached its height in the 1970s, to recommend clamping down on religious practices today. This would be an unhealthy development in a democracy – for both religious and social reasons – since it would establish a dangerous precedent.
The Christian tradition today faces two fundamental challenges. From militant Islamists who want to kill Christians and place the so-called Islamic State’s black flag on the Vatican. And from intolerant atheists who hold believers in contempt, particularly those of the Christian tradition, and wish to restrict their freedom of expression and action.
In his introduction to Christopher Dawson’s The Gods of Revolution, Arnold Toynbee wrote that for Dawson “the destiny of Western Civilisation is bound up with Christianity” and that “if Western civilisation were to become irretrievably ‘post Christian’, its prospects… would be dark”.
It’s good to see that the Christopher Dawson Centre today speaks out as an opponent of the dark in what was once called Hobart Town.
The Benedictine Contribution to Western Christianity
Fr Pius Mary Noonan, OSB
Hobart, 5 April 2017
First of all, I am no historian. So, when Dr Daintree was so kind as to ask me to deliver this lecture, after giving it some thought, I suggested having a look at the Benedictine contribution specifically from the inside. Many historians have documented with meticulous detail what has happened in the west under the influence of sons and daughters of the Patriarch of western monasticism. I could not possibly add to that. What I think I can do however, is point out some of the reasons for which it happened: the spiritual genius of the man who left such an indelible mark, not only on his own order and on the western Church, but even on the whole world.
I propose to have a look at several texts of the Rule which, in my opinion, have contributed not a little to shaping our culture. I would divide them into three categories which present our holy Father St Benedict as:
a man of prayer
a man of work
St Benedict the man of prayer
Quite a few people, when mention is made of monks, think almost spontaneously of what they produce: wine, beer, liqueur, olive oil, cheese, etc. But, as you probably are aware, the Benedictine motto is “Ora et labora — pray and work” in that order. A monk is first and foremost a man of prayer. What then are the key aspects of Benedict’s life of prayer that have helped shape civilisation in the west?
Let’s mention first of all a few phrases of the Rule that are foundational for any serious life in the divini schola servitii, the school of divine service, as St Benedict calls the monastery. Benedict, whose only desire, according to St Gregory the Great, was to please God (soli Deo placere cupiens), tells his monks that they must prefer nothing to the love of Christ (nihil amori Christi praeponere). Such desire for God and love for Christ gives direction to the monk’s life, orients it continually towards our final goal. It also gives shape to the practical way prayer is offered in Benedictine communities. Even though St Benedict did not invent the 8-fold prayer of the divine office (Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline), his legislation in the Rule did set the standard for all subsequent legislation in religious orders up until the 20th century. Alongside other spiritual masters, his insistence that the entire psalter be recited each week left an indelible mark on ecclesiastical legislation, even for the secular clergy.
It is not possible to overly stress this point when one considers the role of the liturgy in the Church. If it is true, as Vatican II said so powerfully that “the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church’s entire life”, and if the various hours of the Divine Office are like the rays of that Eucharistic sun which shines over the life of the Church, it can only be the case that Benedictine monasteries have contributed not a little throughout the centuries to giving form to the Church in its most sublime aspect: a city built on a mountain gathered around its Lord in prayer, receiving from Him the light which it then radiates over the rest of the world. The centrality of the Divine Office throughout the day, with the apparent loss of time it involves, is the most important manifestation of the otium sanctum, the “holy idleness” so dear to our fathers and fundamental not only to monastic life, but to any life in the spirit. Whereas our modern technological era makes it more and more difficult for the mind to rest in thoughtful appreciation of reality, our ancestors knew how to “stop and smell the flowers”, to make leisure time in which one could pray and meditate, all indications of a healthy society in which the supreme value is not material production but spiritual progress, not doing but being.
The focus on the Sacred Liturgy in the Benedictine Tradition goes hand in hand with lectio divina. This “reading of divine or spiritual things” includes first and foremost the Holy Scriptures themselves but also all that it has inspired such as the commentaries by the Fathers of the Church as well as everything that prepares the mind to understand it and profit from its lessons. St Benedict reserved several hours a day for this activity, more in winter than in summer. He clearly wanted his monks to be well-read, well-instructed, well-armed to practice their profession of singing the praises of God. In prescribing this attentiveness to the content of Divine Revelation, he was also equipping his monks to become experts in the ways of God, to teach others, to preach the Gospel. It is no surprise if the Benedictine Tradition very quickly gave rise to exceptionally gifted monk preachers, apostles and missionaries.
St Benedict the man of work
The other half of the Benedictine motto is “labora”. St Benedict specifies that “Idleness is an enemy of the soul; and hence at stated hours the brethren ought to occupy themselves in the labour of their hands” (Rule, ch. 48). He goes on to prescribe just how much time is to be devoted to this labour according to the diverse seasons of the year.
Thanks to manual work, the monk conforms himself to the example of the Fathers, the Apostles, Saint Joseph the Worker, nay Christ himself, obeying the common law and preaching the dignity of humble work by which man is associated with the work of the Creator. He finds therein the sure and excellent way of self-denial and humbly takes part in helping the monastery provide for its needs and those of the poor. Manual work also teaches the monk solidarity with all the working sectors of people and makes him personally experience what it means to slog to earn a living.
It is easy to see how such an ethos of work has contributed to building up Western civilisation and to this day inspires solidarity among various classes of people. Perhaps this is one of the aspects of the monk’s life which favoured in a special way the implantation of monastic communities in missionary countries: the monks, being men of work, not only gave the good example of making a living for themselves, but also taught the people of other countries the skills they had developed in Europe.
The value of manual labour, not only for providing for one’s own needs, but also for giving peace to the soul, is admirably exemplified by a touching incident in the life of St Benedict recounted by St Gregory. “At certain Goth,” he writes “poor of spirit, that left the world, was received by the man of God; whom on a day he commanded to take a scythe, and to cleanse a certain plot of ground from briers, for the making of a garden, which ground was by the side of a lake. The Goth as he was there labouring, by chance the head of the scythe slipped off, and fell into the water, which was so deep, that there was no hope ever to get it again. The poor Goth, in great fear, ran unto Maurus and told him what he had lost, confessing his own fault and negligence: Maurus forthwith went to the servant of God, giving him to understand thereof, who came straightways to the lake: and took the handle out of the Goth’s hand, and put it into the water, and the iron head by and by ascended from the bottom, and entered again into the handle of the scythe, which he delivered to the Goth, saying: “Behold here is thy scythe again, work on, and be sad no more.” Labora, et noli contristari.
“Work on, and be sad no more”. A profound thought lies behind this expression. Work, and be sad no more. There is here an entire ethic of work as a remedy to sadness and all it can lead to. Is it not significant that, along with an increase in “leisure” in our modern world, we see also an increase in sadness, depression, and suicide? “Work on, and be sad no more”, says St Benedict. If you want to avoid sadness, find yourself some healthy form of work adapted to your capacities, and work on. Seek to reach your potential by ardent work. Such a philosophy of work, inspired by the Gospel and implemented by monks throughout the centuries, is one our world is in dire need of. Instead of finding fulfilment by the development of talents in and through work, our present day world seems hell-bent on avoiding work as much as possible. To make the most money with the least effort and have the longest weekends and holidays seems to many the ideal, and yet, how terribly depressed our contemporaries are as they go feverishly about their daily affairs, eyes glued on their mobile phones, or ears squeezed between a set of headphones, ever in search of some new distraction to dissipate the boredom, and totally unconscious of the neighbour at their side. St Benedict is there to repeat again and again: “Work, and be sad no more”. Man was created in a garden, one he was commissioned to cultivate, and so it is that man must busy himself in tranquility with healthy work if he wishes to be happy.
I might share here an incident that struck me profoundly, and which will illustrate the correlation between the “ora” and the “labora” of the Benedictine Tradition. At the abbey of Flavigny in France many years ago I welcomed an American couple who had never visited a monastery. After a bit of conversation, I offered to show them the audio-visual presentation of the community which consisted at the time of photo slides and a commentary by one of the monks, interspersed with Gregorian chant. When it was over, the lady looked at me and said: “When I came here, I was thinking: ‘These monks must really spend all their time in idleness; no wonder they get nothing done. But now, I’m wondering how you actually do everything you do!”. What she meant was that it is rather astounding how much work monks actually get done, even though they sacrifice long hours each day to activities which seem an idle waste of time, namely silent prayer, chanting psalms, reading the Bible. Well, that’s precisely why they are so effective. Spending time with God in liturgical prayer, sacrificing time to listen in silence to His Word, knowing how to “lose time” reading really good and wholesome books that nourish the mind and heart, such activities actually sharpen the acuity of the soul, and give it redoubled capacity for work. It also places things in their proper perspective, and allows the heart to be fully conscious of priorities. In the world, so much time is wasted on futilities. But the monk has no time for futilities. Every minute of his day is put to good use. Labora, et noli contristari.
A presentation of monastic work would not be complete however without making mention of intellectual and pastoral work. As mentioned above, the Rule provides for a few hours a day of lectio divina. That study of divine things inevitably led the monks to becoming scholars and missionaries. Think only of St Augustine of Canterbury, the apostle of England who was sent there by another great Benedictine, none other than St Gregory the Great himself. Think of St Boniface the apostle of Germany, of Venerable Bede, St Anselm of Canterbury, Hildebrand (St Gregory VII), initiator of what came to be known as the Gregorian reform, the first five Abbots of Cluny (Odo, Odilo, Maiolus, Hughes, Peter the Venerable) Rabanus Maurus, John of Glastonbury, Jean Mabillon, Blessed Columba Marmion, Blessed Alphonsus Schuster. Here in Australia, one cannot fail to mention men like Bede Polding, William Bernard Ullathorne, Rosendo Salvado, all Benedictine monks who became missionary bishops and found no contradiction between their life of praise learned in the cloister, and the mission to souls which was destined to give rise to other “schools of the divine service”. It is no secret that Archbishop Polding’s dream was to make of Australia one big Benedictine diocese.
We cannot fail to mention as well the legions of monks who have assisted the Church throughout the centuries by their expertise in all the sacred disciplines. Suffice to mention that, at the beginning of the 20th century, when St Pius X wanted to have a new revised edition of St Jerome’s vulgate, he entrusted this work to the Benedictines of the abbey of St Jerome in Rome. The reputation of quality work achieved in the silence of the cloister was well earned by generations of monks and nuns. For we must not omit to mention some of the illustrious women, Benedictine nuns, have illustrated the Church by their learning: to the names of Gertrude, Mechtildis, Hildegard, we should add those of modern nuns who left an indelible mark on monastic spirituality in recent times, such as Mother Cécile Bruyère, first abbess of Solesmes, or Mother Marie Cronier, foundress of Dourgnes in France. The spiritual, moral, intellectual, pastoral impetus given by St Benedict has carried through to our own day.
St Benedict the Legislator
St Benedict is not ordinarily conceived of as a political figure. And yet, I think it worthwhile to say a few words about the mode of government which is given form in the Rule and which has prevailed in Benedictine monasteries throughout the centuries. Benedict makes the abbot responsible for everything, everything that goes right and everything that goes wrong. Consider such phrases as this: “Let the Abbot be ever mindful that at the dreadful judgment of God an account will have to be given both of his own teaching and of the obedience of his disciples. And let him know that to the fault of the shepherd shall be imputed any lack of profit which the father of the household may find in his sheep” (ch. 2); “the Abbot ought always to remember what he is, and what he is called, and to know that to whom more is committed, from him more is required; and he must consider how difficult and arduous a task he hath undertaken, of ruling souls and adapting himself to many dispositions” (ch. 2); “the Abbot is bound to use the greatest care, and to strive with all possible prudence and zeal, not to lose any one of the sheep committed to him. He must know that he hath undertaken the charge of weakly souls, and not a tyranny over the strong” (ch. 27). It is not without trepidation that a man would take upon himself such imposing duties that will have everlasting consequences.
Let’s pause for a moment. By placing the abbot before his eternal destiny, St Benedict places things in their proper perspective, just as the Lord Himself did in the parable of the talents. Upon his return, the master of the household shows no mercy to the evildoers, to the shepherds who had no care for the flock entrusted to them. Such a teaching has a profound and lasting effect on anyone in authority who truly takes to heart what is said here. The reminder that in the end one must give an account to an eternal, non-corruptible Judge who has power to open the gates of heaven or condemn to hell was a timely one that shaped not only monasteries but also the solid European governments of the middle ages. Admirable figures such as King St Louis IX who prayed his Hours each day in the midst of his administration of the kingdom or Emperor St Henry II, a Benedictine Oblate, were the logical, sublime products of this evangelical truth. It was only when eternal realities were ignored that princes became tyrants. I might add that the very same considerations are perhaps what is lacking most in our modern governments. Our lawmaking bodies no longer have the conviction that they are but servants of an eternal law expressed in nature and therefore given by God. They no longer believe that they are accountable to the Supreme Being who will judge, reward or condemn. Modern political leaders would do well to take to heart St Benedict’s stern remonstrances to the abbot.
But if St Benedict makes the abbot responsible for everything, this does not mean he considers him to have direct and infallible inspiration at every step. Such a concept of authority has never been a Catholic one, in which even the divine right of popes and kings was never considered to be absolute, but always subordinate to the higher authority of Christ. Indeed, St Benedict stresses also that the abbot must take counsel. Immediately after the chapter on the abbot’s role (ch. 2), chapter 3 evokes the way in which the abbot must call the brethren to council every time there is an important question that needs to be treated and decided. Interestingly, whereas for the ordinary, everyday decisions, the abbot is encouraged to take counsel only of the seniors, that is, the elder monks who are experienced, when there is some more important issue at hand, the abbot is to convoke the entire community, even the youngest members. Here we see the common sense of the legislator perfected by the insight of the saint: “all should be called to council, because it is often to the younger that the Lord revealeth what is best.” In chapter 63, on the order to be kept in community, the patriarch gives us a deeper insight into why he insists on taking advice even from the juniors: “in no place whatsoever let age decide the order, or be prejudicial to it; for Samuel and Daniel, when but children, judged the elders”. This magnanimous appeal to all the members of the community concludes with a double admonition: “let the brethren give their advice with all subjection and humility, and not presume stubbornly to defend their own opinion; but rather let the matter rest with the Abbot’s discretion, that all may submit to whatever he shall judge to be best. Yet, even as it becometh disciples to obey their master, so doth it behove him to order all things prudently and with justice.” In other words, all are invited to express their opinion, but always with humility. But in the end, it is the abbot who must make the decision, and he will answer to God for it.
This form of government is one that has proved itself as solid and has survived the centuries. Even our democratic age has a lot to learn here in terms of the way in which one expresses one’s opinions, the way in which one listens to the opinions of others, and the way in which the ultimate decision lies with one man who will answer to God.
On 1 April 2005, just one day before the death of John Paul II, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, upon receiving the St. Benedict Award for the promotion of life and the family in Europe, pronounced what has come to be known as the “Subiaco Address”. In this discourse, Ratzinger, after seeking to draw the lessons from the crisis Europe now finds itself in, concluded that today, what we need are “men who, through an enlightened and lived faith, render God credible in this world”. After evoking a fact that we are all acutely and painfully aware of, namely, the negative testimony of Christians who speak about God and live against him, thus darkening God’s image and opening the door to disbelief, he added: “To understand true humanity, we need men who have their gaze directed to God. We need men whose intellects are enlightened by the light of God, and whose hearts God opens, so that their intellects can speak to the intellects of others, and so that their hearts are able to open up to the hearts of others. Only through men who have been touched by God, can God come near to men. We need men like Benedict of Norcia, who at a time of dissipation and decadence, plunged into the most profound solitude, succeeding, after all the purifications he had to suffer, to ascend again to the light, to return and to found Montecasino, the city on the mountain that, with so many ruins, gathered together the forces from which a new world was formed. In this way Benedict, like Abraham, became the father of many nations. The recommendations to his monks presented at the end of his Rule are guidelines that show us also the way that leads on high, beyond the crisis and the ruins”. And to conclude by quoting the Rule, ch. 72, this chapter which is as it were the final testament of St Benedict:
“As there is an evil zeal of bitterness, which separates from God, and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal, which keeps us from vice, and leads to God and to life everlasting. Let monks, therefore, exert this zeal with most fervent love; that is, “let them give precedence to one another”. Let them most patiently endure one another’s infirmities, whether of body or of mind. Let them vie with one another in obedience. Let no one follow what he thinks good for himself, but rather what seems good for another. Let them cherish fraternal charity with chaste love, fear God, love their Abbot with sincere and humble affection, and prefer nothing whatever to Christ. And may He bring us all alike to life everlasting.”
Dr Cunich (University of Hong Kong History Department) gave a public lecture at Parliament House, Hobart, on Thursday 17 November.This is the full text of his paper:
‘When Civilisations Meet: What East Asia wants from the West’
It is both an honour and a pleasure to be here in Hobart to share some of my thoughts on the relationship between Asia and the West in the early twenty-first century. It is not often that an early modern historian such as myself, whose academic interests are firmly anchored in the history of Europe in the sixteenth century, is given an opportunity to muse about the part of the world that he has called home for the last twenty-five years. But my intellectual engagement with East Asia goes back even further than that, for when I was at school in the 1970s, the curriculum was being transformed as Australia become aware of the need to engage more wholeheartedly with the countries to our north, and their ‘teeming millions’. In my last two years of secondary school, the history and geography curriculums in particular gave me an opportunity to learn about Asia for the first time. While our geography classes tended to focus on Southeast Asia and the former British colonies of Malaysia, the history course, although still dominated by the West and the two world wars (as I believe it still is to this day), had several units of study on East Asia. I learned about the Meiji Restoration in the mid-nineteenth century and the modernisation of Japan, all with a view to explaining the horrors of the Japanese aggression in the Pacific War. I also learned about the much slower opening of China to Western influence, the revolutionary activities of Dr Sun Yat-sen, the reluctance of the Qing dynasty in general and the Empress Dowager Cixi in particular to embrace change, and the eventual civil war which proved such a disaster for the most populous country in the world. Little did I realize when I was sitting at my desk all those years ago in intellectually isolated country NSW, that I would one day be teaching at Sun Yat Sen’s own university, the institution that he acknowledged as the ‘birthplace’ of his revolutionary ideas, or that I would be writing about him and his place in the evolution of modern China in my recent history of the University. So in some ways I feel that this talk is a particularly welcome opportunity to bring my own personal engagement with East Asia into some perspective as I begin to prepare for a retirement back in the familiar embrace of the West.I am also glad to be giving this talk under the aegis of the Christopher Dawson Centre. While Dawson is, of course, best known for his work on the cultural history of Western civilisation and the role of Christianity in the long development of the West, he also had a keen interest in the impact of Western civilisation on the rest of the world – and especially Asia. He made some preliminary observations in 1952 when he devoted a whole chapter to ‘Asia and Europe’ in his book titled Understanding Europe. In 1955 he published The Mongol Mission, a selection of the written accounts of Catholic missionaries who were sent by the medieval popes to the Mongol emperors of China in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Dawson brought these musings up-to-date in 1956 when he published two influential articles in the Tablet on the impact of the West in contemporary Asia, released as a pamphlet in 1957 under the title of The Revolt in Asia. Dawson was fascinated by the paradoxical role of Western nationalism in this Asian revolt, a movement that was rallying Asian peoples against the political, economic and cultural influence of the West, but at the same time was removing the age-old barriers that had prevented communication between East and West, ‘doing all in its power to diffuse Western education, Western science and Western political ideologies’. In the third and final phase of the ‘world revolution’ in Asia, Dawson asserted that ‘the internal transformation of oriental society by the spread of Western education and the rise of nationalist movements … represented at the same time a revolt against the West and the acceptance by the East of Western culture and political ideology’. It seems to me that Dawson’s interpretation of the Asian Revolt is as relevant to us today as it was in the 1950s. Here we are sixty years after Dawson wrote The Revolt in Asia, and Asia appears to be revolting yet again.David, you asked me to speak ‘on any aspect of the history and influence of Western Civilisation, with particular emphasis perhaps on your own experiences in Asia’. I have taken you at your word and plan to give a very personal interpretation of where East Asia finds itself at present with respect to its relationship with the culture of the West. I am not a specialist in this field; in fact, when one of my colleagues heard about this talk he said, ‘But you have no expertise in that area!’ While that is true – I am not an expert on Asian history, politics, economics, society or culture – I have nevertheless lived in East Asia for nearly twenty-five years and have experienced some remarkable times of rapid change. I have also travelled widely throughout the region; this has given me an opportunity to watch the transformations that have been taking place in Asia over the last quarter of a century, especially in China. My own university attracts speakers from all over the world who regularly lecture us on Asia; moreover, I have learned a lot while simply listening to my students from different parts of East Asia as they discuss their aspirations, fears and hopes for the future. I am also an inveterate newspaper clipper, so I have trawled through my collection of news clippings from the last few years in bringing my thoughts on the present situation in Asia into focus for this talk. So what I lack in expertise, I hope I will make up for in basic experience.But first, let me define the geopolitical area that I have described as ‘East Asia’ in the title of this talk. It is that region which used to be known as ‘The Orient’ until such terms became taboo in the academic world because of political correctness. But even in the old days, ‘The Orient’ was a difficult term to pin down: it referred more to a set of cultural norms that were placed in opposition to the dominant Western belief systems than an actual place on the map. My definition of modern East Asia is based on a geographical and political understanding of a globalised world which has chopped the globe up into ‘regions’. It has always struck me as curious that, in an age of so-called ‘globalisation’, we still need ‘regions’ to understand how the world works, but this is, of course, linked to the way in which we try to understand the economic and political functioning of a global system that is far to difficult intellectually to swallow in one gulp. To me, then, East Asia consists of five major states bordering on the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan, and perhaps one other developing nation which was for centuries associated with Chinese overlordship. These modern-day nation-states are:China, with a population of 1.357 billion in 2013, and the Chinese satellites of Taiwan (23 millions), Hong Kong (7 millions) and Macau (600,000)Japan, with a population of 127 millionsThe Philippines, with a population of 98 millionsSouth Korea, with a population of 50 millions, andNorth Korea, with a population of 25 millions (we think!)The final state that I would want to include in this list is Vietnam (population 90 millions) because I think that in many ways it is more integrated with the East Asia nations than it is with the Southeast Asian countries further south, both economically and culturally. Together, these six countries have a population of 1.778 billion people (25% of the world’s population) and are home to some of the most dynamic and fastest growing economies in the world – even Japan, which is now economically stagnant, was for a time in the second half of the twentieth century a similar economic dynamo, but it is worth remembering that Japan still the third-largest economy in the world in terms of GDP. It is self-evident that this area is one that is of enormous importance for the future of the world, especially in an economic sense. China and Japan are the second and third largest economies in the world by GDP ($11.4 trillion and $4.7 trillion), and South Korea is fast catching up to the other countries in the top 10 ($1.4 trillion, currently in eleventh place). Everyone predicts that China will be the largest world economy by 2021, even though it is notoriously difficult to know exactly what China’s current GDP is. With economic power comes political and cultural clout, so the whole world is watching East Asia as it moves forward to becoming the centre of the world economy in the next few years. Within the next decade, we are told, China will once again be the Middle Kingdom of old, albeit a Communist kingdom! There is, of course, a problem with using nation-states as the basis for an interpretation of East Asia’s place in the world today. In doing so we leave out a very significant part of the East Asian land mass – the Russian Far East, a huge area stretching from Lake Baikal to the Sea of Okhotsk. The problem is that this area has never really been included in the Western notion of the ‘Far East’ because its connections are largely with Russia and always have been. While it may be geographically East Asian, it certainly does not fit in economically or culturally. I have also left out Mongolia because, even though it is closely linked to China especially in sharing its very long southern border, it has no access to the Sea of Japan and is not generally thought of as part of East Asia – it is more normally spoken of as a Central Asian state. The other problem with taking the modern nation-state as the basis for an evaluation of East-West relationships is that we might be tempted to consider only the formal national policies as being valid measures of a people’s engagement with the outside world. I have rejected this approach, as you will see, because in many East Asian states today there is a marked and growing dichotomy between what the state says and what the people actually think.I would like to start this analysis by telling you what I found in East Asia when I first visited in the late-1980s. While it was already possible to visit China at that time, my only incursion into the sleeping giant of Asia was a brief hour-long walk over the border from the Portuguese enclave of Macau into the ‘special economic zone’ of Zhuhai to the north of the Gongbei gate. What I found there was extraordinary: a long narrow street brightly lit with fluorescent lights and lined with shops selling every type of modern consumer goods and appliances – I had not expected this in Communist China – but only a few yards on either side of the street the traditional China was still evident in all its faded and grimy dullness. The point at which we turned back was the local market, where we saw all manner of animals for sale in cages. As we watched the haggling going on we saw a pangolin being removed from its cage and being killed by clubbing its head against the pavement. This ghastly introduction to so-called ‘modern’ China will always be engraved in my memory.Back in Macau, I was amazed not by the Chinese-ness of the place, but by the feeling that I had seen it all before. Macau was, in many respects, a Baroque European city, with tree-lined civic squares, neo-classical public buildings and dozens of beautiful churches, all reflecting the cultural aspirations of seventeenth and eighteenth-century Europe. Most of the signs were in Portuguese, and the whole place closed down for the Mediterranean fiesta in the middle of the day. I found this both quaint and rather confronting. I had not expected Macau to be caught in such a time warp because Hong Kong had by that time lost most of its colonial charm and its public places had given way to the sorts of concrete and steel skyscrapers that you see in any other modern city. I have been going back to Macau every year since I arrived in Hong Kong to teach in 1993 because for me it is the perfect teaching resource for any course in early-modern European history. Not only does it have the architecture and the ambiance of a Mediterranean city, it was also the place where Europe’s modern engagement with East Asia began. It was Macau that St Francis Xavier used as a forward base for his missionary activities in Japan in the mid-sixteenth century; Macau then became the headquarters for the Jesuit missionary encounter with China, led by Matteo Ricci and a succession of priest-scholars who were among the few Westerners ever allowed to gain access to the imperial capital of Peking and even the Emperor himself.It was through this acquaintance with Macau and its history that I came to understand that contact and cultural interchange between China and the civilisation of the West stretched back over many centuries, from the diplomatic and trade contacts between the Roman Empire and China in the first century BC, to the great Nestorian migration of the Tang dynasty in the seventh or eighth centuries AD, and the European emissaries sent by the medieval popes to the Mongol emperors in the thirteenth century. The relics of the early Christian settlers in China can still be seen in Xian, even though the Chinese authorities like to play down the significance of the fact that Christianity was a well-established religion in the cosmopolitan court of the Tang emperors more than seven hundred years before the Portuguese reached south China in the sixteenth century. But there is even earlier evidence of contact between China and the West in the red-haired and big-nosed Westerners who settled in the Tarim basin of present-day Xinjiang nearly 4,000 years ago. Our historical gaze regarding the contact between China and the West tends to be directed by historians of the modern world towards the attempts by European imperialists in the nineteenth century to ‘open’ China to Western trade, but how many people realise that the Chinese economy, the largest in the world at the time, had been sucking the majority of European silver hewn from the mines in Mexico and Brazil out of the international system for three hundred years between the mid-sixteenth and the mid-nineteenth centuries. The ‘unequal treaties’ of the nineteenth century therefore represented an attempt by the Europeans to take control of a long-standing globalised economy that had for centuries been largely controlled by the Chinese, despite Western notions that they were in control. At the same time, the Philippines had been colonised by the Spanish from the middle of the sixteenth century and integrated into their global empire and, like the Portuguese in Macau, was used as a bridge to China. I have started with this long historical aside because it is important for us to understand that the so-called ‘dominance’ of the West in Asia is a relatively recent phenomenon. The ‘modernisation’, or perhaps we should say the ‘Westernisation’ of Japan and China beginning with the Meiji restoration in the 1860s is therefore considered by many Asian scholars to be an aberration in the longer span of the world’s history. Consequently, they also have a rather different take on the current resurgence of Asian economies than we do in the West. What we can be certain of, however, is that the two dominant East Asian civlisations of the nineteenth century had a lot of catching up to do when they came face-to-face with the technologically superior Christian civilisation of the West. Japan was, of course, an early adopter of all things Western, even if she did retain the essential elements of traditional Japanese culture. For the Chinese it was a rather different path to modernisation, with Sun Yat-sen’s early attempts at bringing modern Western nationalism and democracy to China eventually descending into the chaos of a decade-long civil war and the ultimate victory of communism in 1949, at a time when the West was itself divided between democratic and communist blocs. By 1949, however, China had experienced one hundred years of intensive cultural interchange with the West, especially through missionaries who had come primarily to convert pagans, but in the process also brought with them Western education, Western medical advances, and a whole new system of ethics that was willingly adopted by many in the burgeoning urban middle classes. Western missionary activity also made significant inroads in Vietnam, Japan, and especially Korea after 1945; today, around 30% of the population of South Korea are Christian.In the years that followed communist victory in China, the Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese all revolted against both the imperialism of the West and Western values in general. As Christopher Dawson realised with such insight in the 1950s, the century-long presence of the West in Asia was leading to a revolt against Western political dominance, but paradoxically that revolt used the very same cultural and ideological tools of the dominant Western civilisation. In each part of East Asia this revolt was slightly different – anti-colonial in Vietnam, anti-imperial in China, and a programme aimed at beating the Westerners at their own economic game in Japan – and for that reason it led to different results in different parts of East Asia. In Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, there were stunning economic gains through full participation with the global economy from the 1950s. China, Vietnam and North Korea closed their doors to outside influence and aimed at self-sufficiency through a series of disastrous economic policies that blighted people’s lives and left their economies out-of-step with worldwide trends. Even their own cultural history was annihilated in an iconoclastic cataclysm that left millions dead and national treasures destroyed. The Philippines just muddled on, relying on Western aid and military support for its corrupt government and lackluster economy. When China opened itself to renewed economic engagement with the West from the late 1970s under Deng Xiaoping’s policy of ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’, a new age of economic development was ushered in which led to startling GDP growth of up to 10% per annum. China’s ‘economic miracle’ rapidly caught up with the rest of East Asia and has ultimately dragged Vietnam into the modern globalised economy through Mainland and Taiwanese investment schemes. This story of engagement between East Asia and the West obviously did not have an even impact across the region. The Vietnamese did not reach out to the West until after the 1991 Paris Agreements, and the Kim dynasty in Pyongyang has always seen the West (but more particularly the United States) as its enemy. More recently, Rodrigo Duterte has upset his country’s international relations by moving closer to China and rejecting Western concerns about extrajudicial killings as part of his war on drugs. His belligerent rhetoric towards Western nations and the Catholic Church (calling the bishops of the Philippines collectively ‘sons of whores’) has proven popular in a country that has always proudly boasted of being Asia’s only Christian nation, with 86% of the population being Catholic. In Japan, it has been pointed out that the current economic policy, popularly known as Abenomics, represents a rejection of Western fiscal and monetary norms. While Shinzo Abe’s ‘three arrows’ have fallen far short of their target in reviving Japan’s flagging economy, the policy has nevertheless allowed Japan to position herself more favourably in regional geopolitics and begin to dilute some of the pacifist provisions imposed by the West after the Second World War. Abenomoics is seen by many as a means of reasserting Japan’s place in the world, unrestrained by Western influence and more closely allied with her old enemy China. Some commentators have recently argued that all East Asia really wants from the West is respect. Perhaps these anti-Western measures are simply part of a continuing campaign by East Asian powers to demonstrate that they deserve a respected place among the old Western nations in the twenty-first century?Unfortunately, all of these developments seem to indicate the gradual closing of doors that were previously open to Western influences of various kinds, but it is in China that opposition to the key elements of Western civilisation has recently been most startling. The confrontational actions of the Chinese government under the presidency of Xi Jinping since 2013 have sent a chilling warning to those of his comrades who would wish to continue accommodating prevalent Western cultural norms within China. While Xi’s determination to exercise control over the minds of the Chinese and rid the country of harmful Western ideas have been likened to a ‘Maostalgia’ for the good old days of the Cultural Revolution when Mao Zedong was prepared to do anything to crush opposition to the regime, the current programme of de-Westernisation in China has not been as brutal as that of the 1960s. Nevertheless, worrying signs of an all-out war against Western ideas and beliefs have been growing over the last four years. In July 2012, the General Office of the Communist Party of China issued a confidential internal document warning against the infiltration of seven dangerous Western values that are representative of the ‘liberal ways of thinking’ by which the West attempts to subvert other cultures and polities. This warning was widely circulated within the Communist Party in 2013, becoming known as the notorious ‘Document Number 9’, whose implementation led to a sudden crackdown against human rights lawyers, media outlets, academics and various other independent thinkers and artists. The document announced that ‘disseminating thought on the cultural front [is] the most important political task’ of the Party, especially the need to proclaim that ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics and the Chinese dream are the main theme of our age’. Party members were encouraged to ‘expand and strengthen positive propaganda’, and ‘strengthen the management of ideological fronts’ because ‘we must clearly see the ideological situation as a complicated, intense struggle’. The seven areas of concern to the central party machine were listed as:Promoting Western Constitutional Democracy as an attempt to undermine the current leadership and the socialism with Chinese characteristics system of governance;Promoting ‘Universal Western Values’ in an attempt to weaken the theoretical foundations of the party’s leadership;Promoting Civil Society in an attempt to dismantle the ruling party’s social foundation;Promotion of Neoliberalism (unrestrained economic liberalisation) in the guise of Globalisation by Western powers in an attempt to change China’s Basic Economic System;Promoting the West’s Idea of Journalism (‘freedom of the press’), thereby challenging China’s principle that the media and publishing system should be subject to Party discipline;Promoting Historical Nihilism in the guise of ‘reassessing history’ in an attempt to distort Party history and the history of New China; andQuestioning the Reform and Opening of China Policy in a way that deviates from the dogma of Socialism with Chinese characteristics.Party members were enjoined to guard against failures in the so-called ‘ideological sphere’ being promoted by ‘Western anti-China forces’ in their ‘attempt at carrying out Westernisation’. Protection and strengthening of the ‘ideological sphere’ was to be achieved through:Strengthening leadership in the ideological sphere: key leaders must react swiftly and effectively and preemptively resolve all problems in the ideological sphere;Guiding party members to distinguish between true and false theories: resist ‘false tides of thoughts … uphold strict and clear discipline’; ‘We must not permit the dissemination of opinions that oppose the Party’s theory or political line’;Unwavering adherence to the principle of the Party’s control of the media: in political matters the media must be ‘of one heart and mind with the Party’; andConscientiously strengthening management of the ideological battlefield: the management of propaganda ‘on the cultural front’ must be reinforced and absolutely no opportunity or outlet must be allowed ‘for incorrect thinking or viewpoints to spread’.The ‘conscientious strengthening of the ideological battlefield’ that has been attempted through the implementation of Document Number 9 since 2013 has taken various forms, but chief amongst them are (1) a crackdown on media outlets selling Western books, (2) tightening of control over publications entering China (including the kidnapping and detention of five publishers and booksellers from Hong Kong), (3) monitoring of textbooks used in schools and universities to ensure that Western ideologies are not taught in the Chinese education system, (4) close surveillance of academics in universities to ensure that ‘further advances in Marxism’ are made in the social sciences and philosophy, (5) tightened control over news media, (6) greater supervision of the internet in China and the blocking of ideologically unsound content, (7) a clampdown on political activists promoting democracy or Western liberal principles (including in Hong Kong where students involved in the Umbrella Movement of late 2014 have been arrested and convicted for their political activities), (8) the targeting of artists who use political satire in their work, (9) making it more difficult for Western expatriates to enter and stay in China for work, and (10) implementing tighter controls over Christian churches whose religious practices the Party has long perceived as an ‘existential threat to its rule’. In all these areas, the Chinese government has attempted to enforce its control over the minds of its citizens in order to rid China of politically destabilising Western ideas. How successful have they been? In answering this question I would like to start by making an obvious point of which the Chinese government is itself fully aware. People do not always believe what they are told to believe or do what their governments tell them to do, even within a totalitarian state such as the People’s Republic of China. While it is clear that the Chinese government wishes to restrict the continuing impact of Western ideas through repressive measures, it seems to me unlikely that they will achieve these aims given the existing penetration of Western ways of thinking throughout China, but particularly in the cities. In assessing why I think China and the other countries of East Asia will continue to be influenced by the West, whether they want it or not, I am going to be focusing on the agency of individual people as a conduit for these ideas to spread. In my experience, people within a state such as China actually continue to do whatever they think is right or most expedient for themselves, despite what the government tells them. In exploring the continuing relevance of Western civilisation to East Asian peoples I am going to use the analytical categories that David employed in his book, Soul of the West. These seem to me to be a good starting point for understanding why it is impossible in the modern world for Western civilization NOT to continue to have an impact on East Asia, with the one possible exception of North Korea. David’s first category in analyzing the ‘primary structural components of our complex [Western] culture’ is language. While he focused on Latin as the ‘principal vehicle of Western civilisation’ in the past, I think in the modern world most people would agree with me that English is now the universal language of Western ideas. This is something which is readily recognised by people in East Asia. People living in Hong Kong or the Philippines have a valuable cultural advantage in the modern globalised economy because they possess higher levels of competence in the use of the English language. Other East Asian nations understand this and have been pursuing national programmes of English language instruction for many years. In China, English is the most popular foreign language (having long overtaken the previous favourite, Russian), but there are a number of other languages that are also thought to have practical value in today’s world, especially French, German and Spanish (all European languages), which are considered to be the most important means of communication (apart from English) that people use for international business transactions. Places on foreign language programmes in Chinese universities are highly sought after, and the same is true in Japan and South Korea. You will no doubt be surprised to learn that Latin is also flourishing at China’s top university, Beida in Beijing, where an American Benedictine monk has been teaching Latin to large classes for several years after running a similarly successful programme at a Catholic university in Taiwan for more than a decade. Almost everyone in East Asia seems to want to learn a Western language. The importance of this development for cultural interchange is obvious: in order to acquire a foreign language these days, students do not just learn grammar and vocabulary, they also read Western texts, many of which are drawn from the great canon of our Western civilisation. It is therefore difficult, if not impossible, to learn a Western language in Asia without being exposed to Western ideas.This brings us to David’s second category: literature. David made the point that ‘echoes [of the Bible] are everywhere’ in Western literature, from the early church fathers through to Dante, Shakespeare and most of the modern authors before the twentieth-first century. What we do not realise in the West is that so much of our literary canon has been translated into the vernacular languages of East Asia. I am not sure how Shakespeare’s plays would sound in Chinese, or whether Petrarch’s sonnets still have a noticeable rhyming scheme when translated into Japanese, but the extraordinary truth is that so much of the West’s great literature is being published and circulates relatively freely within East Asian nations. While most of this literature is perhaps known only by the intellectual elite, we should remember the old Jesuit maxim about what you teach a boy when he is young – some of the future leaders of China are already deeply imbued with Western literature, and this literature has been consumed within the seemingly closed intellectual borders of China, not in courses taken in Western universities. But it is not just the Chinese intelligentsia who are frequently exposed to Western texts. One of my favourite statistics is the fact that the world’s largest publisher of Bibles is located in Nanjing: the Amity publishing company printed 13.22 million Bibles in more than 100 languages in 2014. Established in 1987, Amity had printed more than 130 million Bibles by the beginning of 2015, 60 % of which were distributed within China. When a communist country such as China allows the Western civilisation’s Sacred Scripture to be printed and distributed so widely within its borders, it is surely impossible for Western ideas not to have some impact on an increasingly large percentage of the population who can now read. The same is true in Taiwan and Korea where active evangelisation of the non-Christian population has been in progress for many years. In the field of law, philosophy and government, East Asia is similarly exposed to a whole range of Western ideas. Half of my East Asian nations are democracies (Japan, Taiwan and South Korea), while the other half are ‘communist republics’ (China, North Korea and Vietnam). Only Japan retains its ancient imperial monarchy, although these days that is stripped of its old powers. The point that I want to make here is that both representative democracy and communist totalitarianism are Western inventions, and even though China may insist that her political system is ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, the basic political philosophy is a nineteenth-century Western notion. Even within present-day China there are two small islands of executive-led representative government which are closer to Western democracy than Chinese communism – Hong Kong and Macau. Although tiny by comparison with the enormity of the Chinese state, both places represent a serious threat to the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party through repeated demands for a more representative and responsible system of government. Beijing realises the threat that is implicit in such calls, and is reacting by trying to suppress the democracy movement in Hong Kong. Despite attempts to restrict news media and the internet, many Mainlanders (Chinese Mainlanders) are fully aware of the battle that is taking place in Hong Kong. I am told by my students that one of the reasons that some Chinese people want to visit Hong Kong is so that they can see the local democratic movement in action, especially at the key annual events such as the June 4 Vigil in Victoria Park to commemorate the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. While resistance to Western democracy will no doubt continue for a long time as communist regimes in China, Vietnam and North Korea attempt to retain political control of their countries, an awareness of democratic principles cannot be easily purged from the collective memory, especially in China which had nearly fifty years of democratic government in the first half of the twentieth century. North Korea may, of course, be a slightly harder nut to crack! We must also remember that the reach of Western law in both its common (British) and civil (European) manifestations has been so extended beyond their home jurisdictions in the last half century that Western legal norms are now considered to be the guiding principles of international trade, business and finance. With the possible exception of North Korea, all the East Asian nations are now major players in the world economy and all have surrendered to the need for contracts to be negotiated and adjudicated according to Western norms. Major international law firms (mostly American, British and Australian) are present throughout East Asia, as are the world’s largest accountancy firms, which also operate under Western principles. Tens of thousands of East Asians are being trained in Western legal and accounting standards so that they can take part in the global boom in trade and finance. Once released, these principles will be difficult to restrain. And as David says, these principles are based on the fundamental Christian notion that ‘each human being has absolute value’. To uphold Western ideas of ‘the intrinsic value of every individual’ goes completely against the traditional Asian belief in ‘the total subordination of the individual to the sacred traditions that have been handed down from antiquity’, yet East Asian nations, particularly China as the emerging economic superpower of the twenty-first century, know that they must play by the legal and accounting rules that govern international trade and finance. In this way, notions of basic human rights have been creeping into China for decades, a trend that has not gone unnoticed by the Communist Party. Whether China will be able to maintain its international presence economically and not eventually embrace the wider ramifications of using Western legal codes is yet to be seen. Another major factor in bringing Western influence to East Asia has always been education. Initially it was the foreign missionaries who brought Western learning to the orient, but now such learning is fully embraced by the state, even when it is carefully controlled, as is the case in China and Vietnam. It is simply not possible for modern professionals to function in the global economy without a comprehensive Westernised education. This is fully recognised by all East Asian nations, even North Korea. You will be well aware that millions of Chinese have been educated outside China over the last thirty years in every field of academic endeavour, some of them at my own university in Hong Kong and very large numbers here in Australia. Not all of these graduates return to China, but those who do return take with them not just a theoretical knowledge of how the Western system works, but an intimate acquaintance with daily life and how it reflects the intellectual foundations upon which the Western academy is founded. There are many senior people in China who choose to tow the party line, but who nevertheless hope for a better future when Western principles become more acceptable to the masses and the Party. There are already some important cultural areas in which it is clear that Western ideas dominate. Whenever I visit a Chinese city I am absolutely amazed at the extent to which the built urban environment that has suddenly arisen over the last twenty years is an almost exact copy of what we have in the urbanised West. You might expect to discover in China, or Japan or South Korea architecture in an established vernacular style, but you would be wrong. Most of the large public, commercial and residential buildings that are being constructed with such alarming speed in these countries today are recognisable to the Westerner as neo-classical in style. It is as if someone had taken all the architectural conventions of the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries in Europe and applied them religiously to the new urban landscapes of East Asia in the early twenty-first century. You will also hear Western music played everywhere in East Asia; not just the pop tunes that are churned out by the modern Western music industry, but also the great music from the classics of the Western repertoire. Colin Thubron was surprised in the mid-1980s when he heard ‘The Blue Danube’ being broadcast over the tannoy in a public park near Beijing. Many Western visitors to China have had similar experiences of cultural dissonance in China; just a few weeks ago I took an Australian friend across the border to Zhuhai and we heard ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ being played in a shopping centre! Moreover, the Chinese have long had some of the best Western orchestras in Asia, and many Chinese children learn a Western musical instrument. Many of you will also be aware of the Suzuki method of violin education, pioneered by the Japanese musician Shinichi Suzuki. I could say more about Western music in East Asia and also Western art in general, but my time is running short. Suffice it say that western art, music and architecture have penetrated deep into the East Asian psyche and will be difficult to evict. There are many other areas that I could have quoted to show you that Western civilisation is alive and well in East Asia. Mass tourism to the West from Japan, China and South Korea over the last forty years has brought tens of millions of East Asians into direct contact with the wonders of Western art, architecture and culture in cities across Europe. Modern consumer culture has placed a high premium on Western goods that reflect and refract Western culture to an eager East Asian market. Western sport has slowly become another prism through which East Asians learn something of Western values of co-operation and teamwork. Just consider the baseball-mad Japanese and the soccer-crazy Chinese, or the way in which Rugby has been spreading its tentacles throughout Asia. This is surprising because East Asians were always considered to be disinterested in sport and not very good at it. We might also want to consider the national priority that is placed on being selected to host the Olympic Games: China desperately wanted to host the 2008 Olympics to showcase its role in the modern world, and Japan did everything it could to secure the 2020 Games in Tokyo. People cannot play and watch Western sport without being influenced by it. I would also perhaps want to talk more about the new ‘Belt and Road’ policy of China, a scheme which seeks to connect China indirectly via Central Asia to Europe through a new twenty-first-century Silk Road. This will be a permanent and powerful artery for the transfer not just of trade goods and resources, but also of people and ideas. I agree with David that, ‘Ideas are the most powerful things in the world’, and for this reason I believe that the great tradition of Western civilisation will become more visible to East Asia as the years go by. When Dawson wrote The Revolt in Asia in the mid-1950s, he suggested that ‘the oriental world is being transformed before our eyes’ and that the influence of Western civilisation was ‘seeping in by a hundred channels and nothing can prevent its ultimate triumph’. While I think it would do us well to be cautious about the Western triumphalism of Dawson’s rhetoric, I find the metaphor of Western civilisation ‘seeping’ into the cultures of East Asia to be very convincing. As I have tried to argue this evening, Western culture IS seeping into East Asia, and has been for centuries. I do not think that this process is reversible – when even the brutal totalitarian machinery of communist China has failed to arrest the spread of Western ideas and beliefs in the People’s Republic, it seems unlikely that any other political or intellectual system will be able to prevent this seepage in the modern globalised world of the internet and the relatively free flow of information. There will always be gaps and fissures in any system of mind control, and into these crevices will seep ideas and beliefs, especially ideas and beliefs that are already partially known or even familiar. So I believe that the ‘great tradition’ of the civilisation of the West will continue to meet and mingle with the even older traditions of the East. And while some of East Asia will continue to embrace the gifts of Western civilisation, even those nations that are currently resisting its influence will ultimately be engaged and changed by it. Like Dawson, then, I believe that this process is unstoppable. Once the genie is out of its bottle, it cannot be squeezed back in.
 Christopher Dawson, Understanding Europe (London & New York: Sheed and Ward, 1952). Christopher Dawson, Mission to Asia, originally published as The Mongol Mission in 1955 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980). Christopher Dawson, The Revolt in Asia (London & New York: Sheed and Ward, 1957). Ibid., p. 35. While different institutions have their own means of calculating GDP, China and Japan come second and third in ranking tables of the IMF estimates for 2016, World Bank calculations of 2015, and the United Nations list for 2014. Prableen Bajpai, ‘The World’s Top 10 Economies’, Investopedia (18 July 2016), http://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/022415/worlds-top-10-economies.asp, retrieved 9 November 2016. Tom Holland, ‘The hidden agenda behind Japan’s Abenomics’, This Week in Asia (12 September 2016). Niall Ferguson, ‘In the grip of a new cultural revolution’, South China Morning Post (26 May 2016). Its full title is ‘A Communique on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere’, see https://www.chinafile.com/document-9-chinafile-translation, retrieved 27 May 2016. See also Chris Buckley, ‘China Takes Aim at Western Ideas’, The New York Times (19 August 2013), and The Washington Post editorial, ‘China’s pathetic crackdown on civil society’ (22 April 2015). Raquel Carvalho, ‘Official booksellers to be missing from Guangzhou event’, Sunday Morning Post (23 October 2016). Mandy Zuo, ‘Warning to private schools in Shanghai’, South China Morning Post (27 October 2016). Cary Huang, ‘Academics must remake Marxism for 21st century: Xi’, South China Morning Post (18 May 2016). Julia Hollingsworth, ‘Good old days may be over for expats in China’, Sunday Morning Post (23 October 2016). Mimi Lau, ‘The New Commandments’, South China Moring Post (24 October 2016). David Daintree, Soul of the West: Christianity and the Great Tradition (Ballarat: Connor Court, 2015) Ibid., p. 29. Ibid., p. 33. Cang Wei, ‘Spreading the Word: China’s Bible Industry’, The Daily Telegraph (21 April 2015). Daintee, Soul of the West, p. 45. Dawson, Revolt of Asia, p. 32. Colin Thubron, Behind the Wall, originally published in 1987 (London: Folio Society, 2016), p. 13. Jun Mai, ‘China lays down plan to dominate World Cup’, South China Morning Post (12 April 2016); Nazvi Careem & Chan Kin-wa, ‘Ambitious plan to grow rugby in China’, South China Morning Post (11 April 2016). Daintree, Soul of the West, p. 70. Dawson, Revolt in Asia, p. 39.
Full Text of Prof Jeff Malpas’s address to the Centre on 25 August.
“Good Government Starts Today”: On the Death of the Public, the Triumph of Private Interest, and the Loss of the Good
The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufacture, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public…The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it – Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.“Good government starts today”, declared the then Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbot, after surviving a potential leadership challenge in February of 2015. The question is, what sort of government does the Prime Minister think is good? It seems unlikely that the conception of good government he was referring to was the same as the famous portrayal of good government in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the 14th century. There good government is seen as based on the promotion of the common good for which “it is indispensable that our rulers should be lovers of justice”. Lorenzetti contrasts good government with bad, and of the city characterised by bad government, we are told that “because each seeks only his own good, in this city Justice is subjected to tyranny”. [Insert image 1: Ambrogio Lorenzetti, ‘Allegory of Good Government’ (1338-40), Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, Italy]. I will come back to Lorenzetti in a moment, since in spite of the distance between Siena and Canberra, in both time and space, Lorenzetti has something to say about good government that remains true today. To return to Tony Abbot, however, it would seem, on the face of it, that the short answer to the question as to his own conception of good government was essentially that it was a government in which he remained Prime Minister. Viewed more broadly, and looking to the actual practice of government under Abbot, as well as under other administrations both Liberal and Labor, good government in contemporary Australia would seem, in contrast to 14th century Siena, to be taken as defined by a relatively narrow of set of considerations, almost all of them, with the exception of electoral success, economic – and almost all of them also short-term (this seems not have changed under Abbott’s successor, Turnbull). Moreover, in taking the economic as their over-riding principle, they do indeed seem, in the terms of Lorenzetti’s portrayal, to subject Justice to Tyranny, since what typically underpins the economic in its contemporary form is the assumption that “each seeks his own good”, rather than the good of all.Such a narrow orientation seems to have become typical of governments across the English-speaking world from Australia to Canada, and, in addition, often infects governmental and policy discussion at international levels. It is a focus that takes the economic to be the primary concern of public discourse and the primary consideration in the determination of the public good. It might be objected, however, that even though contemporary public debate is indeed often focussed around matters economic, this is not to say that the public and the economic have therefore been conflated or the one reduced to the other. The realm of public discourse includes other topics than the economic as its focus, while the public remains distinct from the economic as a realm of debate and discourse that is apart from the realm of commercial transaction, monetary exchange, and financial management. Although such an objection may appear to be correct, what it overlooks is the way in which the realm of the public is now indeed structured in a way that takes economic considerations as primary, and in which the economic and the commercial themselves enter into and often determine the very character and context of public discourse and decision-making. The so-called ‘business-model’ now determines almost everything from art to health. Not only does the economic provide the terms in which public activity is almost invariably framed and by which it is assessed, but increasingly our public engagement with others takes place in economic and commercial spaces, by means of electronic communication and information systems that are commercially owned and operated, and often itself has the character of a form of an economic or commercial transaction. The realm of the public – or indeed the ‘civic’ – does indeed seem to have become almost identical with the realm of the economic.It is worth reflecting for a moment on the starkness of the contrast here betweenthis conception of good government and that which we find in Lorenzetti. ‘The Allegory of Good and Bad Government’ does not neglect the economic – economic activity, in this case,buying and selling, is clearly portrayed in the fresco among the ‘Effects of Good Government’ – but it is secondary to Justice, as well as the other virtues, and secondary also to Wisdom, to which Justice herself attends [insert image 2: Ambrogio Lorenzetti, ‘Allegory of Good Government – Effects of Good Government in the City’, (1338-40), Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, Italy.]. Economic success is indeed one of the effects and not a cause (whether effective or constitutive) of good government, and neither can economic success be said to be a principle of good government or that which rules over it. One might argue that the ideal of good government that arose in Siena was one dependent on Siena’s own rise to prosperity, but the ideas of good government portrayed in Lorenzetti’s fresco are nevertheless not peculiar to Siena alone, reflecting ideas prevalent in much pre-humanist and humanist thinking, and in the Latin traditions on which Lorenzetti seems to draw as well as the Greek.What characterises the conception of good government, and so also rules the domain of public life in Lorenzetti’s portrayal, is virtue. The economic is itself subject to virtue, and is indeed made possible by it. Lorenzetti’s account is not peculiar to the pre-modern, but can also be seen as present in modern conceptions of good government. Most significantly, it is clearly present in the work of Adam Smith whose Theory of Moral Sentiments should properly be regarded as the essential preliminary to The Wealth of Nations. Indeed, not only does Smith contest the idea, popularised by de Mandeville, that the pursuit of private interest is sufficient for the advancement of the public good, but he also argues for the need for the activities of the marketplace to be constrained by considerations of morality if the public good is to be preserved (moreover Smith, as the lines at the head of this essay suggest, warns strongly against allowing business interests to lead governmental policy). The contemporary dominance of the economic is not something endorsed by Smith any more than by Lorenzetti (and Smith’s thinking is itself heavily influenced by the Stoic conceptions that are also present in Lorenzetti). In this respect, both Smith and Lorenzetti offer important counters to the contemporary mode of ‘economistic’ thought and governmental practice.Yet although the contemporary situation is one in which the public, and so too the political, seems to have been engulfed by the economic, the economic nevertheless appears as an anomalous category to be associated with the public. The economic, that which pertains to the oikos (to use the original Greek term from which ‘economy’ comes), is a category that originally belonged with the domestic and the familial. That the term might indeed encompass the public is indicative of a shift in the understanding of the economic and the public, but also of the increasingly problematic character of the traditional distinctions between the domestic and the civic, between private and public, between the ‘social’ and the ‘political’. The idea that the public good – that which is the concern of ‘good’ government – might be first and foremost an economic good, further reinforces the breakdown that appears here.The understanding of the public good as an economic good, and of that good as determinative of public and governmental decision-making, typically leads to the transformation of the public good into a set of private interests, and government comes to be oriented to the fostering of those interests, while public discourse becomes a domain in which differing private interests compete for the right to be viewed as the means by which the public good is to be furthered. Contemporary liberal political theory has reinforced this tendency towards an economistic form of government though its refusal to recognise any ‘metaphysical’ or properly moral underpinning to the political – its refusal, for instance, to recognise the pre-eminence that is given in Lorenzetti’s portrayal, to Justice, to Wisdom, and the virtues that flow from them – instead treating the political as essentially a realm for the negotiation of private interest and preference. The liberal model is thus itself already predisposed towards ‘economism’ and so also stands, so I would argue, in a problematic relation to the very idea of the public as distinct from the economic. It does so precisely because it can no longer provide any articulation of the public good, or indeed, of the good as such, that stands apart from private interest. What the public might itself be thus also become uncertain – the public becomes merely an agglomeration of the private.One could view the process that I have begun to sketch here as one in which the idea of the public (along with the notion of the economic, and perhaps even of the political and the moral) has simply changed, but I would suggest that it is better viewed in terms of the death of the public. There is no longer any clear sense to be attached to the idea of a public domain – or a public good – that goes beyond private interest. In the brief discussion that follows I want to explore some of what is at issue here, and especially the way in which the rise of a privileged economic discourse contributes to this death of the public, not only through the triumph of private interest that is associated with it, but also through the transformation it brings in the very idea of the ‘good’ – whether in association with the notion of the public, in association with ideas of government, or, in more general terms, as it might refer to the ‘good’ that is the focus for ethical discourse and around which a properly human life might be said to be oriented. Moreover, inasmuch as I would talk of the ‘death’ of the public, so the seeming ‘transformation’ of the good that occurs with the rise of economism actually amounts to a loss of the good – though part of the way this occurs is precisely through a shift in language that obscures the very fact that it is a loss.Talk of the ‘death’ of the public is immediately suggestive of Richard Sennett’s famous work from the 1970s, The Fall of Public Man. Sennett’s book does not focus on the economic in quite the way I have sketched here (although the economic is certainly not absent from his discussion), but Sennett does argue for a problematic tension between private and public as that emerges in modern, and especially contemporary culture. For Sennett, what occurs with the rise of modernity is a turn away from the public towards the private, not construed in terms of a shift from private good to public interest, but rather in terms of a shift from the outward engagement with others to an inward engagement with the self – although it turns out to be an engagement that cannot be satisfied.There is much in Sennett’s argument with which I would agree, except that, when read against the background of contemporary ‘economism’, it seems that the turn to the private that Sennett identifies should actually be understood as a turn towards a self that is now almost entirely constituted and shaped by the primarily economic context in which contemporary modernity situates it. I would argue that part of what is problematic about the contemporary world, and part of what underpins Sennett’s own analysis, is an emptying out that has occurred, not only in relation to public space and its forms – an emptying out that is tied to the turn ‘inwards’ – but also in relation to the private. Moreover, this has occurred precisely through the reshaping of human life through economic forms and their associated structures – forms and structures that are focussed around interest and preference, but also around interest and preference as these are taken up within the frame of the economic and the commercial, as they appear within systems of consumption and production, as they are amenable to surveillance and manipulation, as they operate to drive systems of authority and power.The rise of social media is an important example of this. Media platforms like Facebook and Twitter ostensibly offer new forms of social engagement – apparently allowing the opening up of new forms of intimacy and new possibilities for the articulation of the self. They also have a prominent role in contemporary forms of public and political engagement – even politicians tweet and every politician has a Facebook page. Yet Facebook and Twitter are first and foremost commercial systems that sit within a framework of production and consumption, but in which consumption, in this case consumption of the service Facebook and Twitter offer, is itself immediately productive and in multiple ways. Facebook users themselves generate the content that Facebook users also consume; while Facebook users also generate the content – the informational content and the access to a consumer marketplace – that Facebook sells to its commercial customers, and the same is analogously true for Twitter. Not only have the consumers of Facebook and Twitter become the unpaid producers of what it is that Facebook and Twitter sell (the collapse of consumption into production that is evident here being a characteristic feature of late capitalism), but the consumption and production that occurs here, as well as the seeming transformation of social engagement into itself a form of commercial exchange based around the accumulation of ‘followers’, and binary expressions of preference in terms of ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’, also depends upon and exemplifies the peculiar collapsing of the private into a form of public discourse, and of public discourse into the realm of the private.This collapse occurs in several ways. One of the factors that drives it as well as being in turn driven by it is the tendency towards individualisation. On the one hand this leads to increased focus on individuals as they stand apart from more complex forms of social relationality, instead reducing them simply to subjects, and so as the focus for systems of production, consumption, surveillance and control. This sort of individualisation, because it involves a reduction down to a form of empty individuality, is itself compatible with forms of mass socialisation, and is a key element in contemporary systems of individual disempowerment and impoverishment. On the one hand, the tendency towards individualisation also leads to the concentration of power, authority, and attention in specific individuals – hence the contemporary cult of celebrity, the over-valuation of ‘leadership’ and excessive individual reward for those in ‘leadership’ roles, the increasing tendency towards top-down systems of management and decision-making, and the rise of arbitrary, narcissistic, and sociopathic behaviours on the part of those in positions of power and authority.In contemporary discourse, individualisation and economism seem to go together, and they certainly reinforce one another – especially given the economist presumption of an essentially market-oriented model of social interaction as occurring among individual ‘consumers’. In a world of individual subjects, the very idea of any form of public good becomes opaque – if it remains, it seems it can only be as something constituted out of individual preferences and concerns, in which case public good seems to become nothing more than a multiplicity of private goods. This does indeed look to be what has occurred across much of the contemporary English-speaking world (it is less common outside it): what was previously understood as a genuine public good, such as education, is now increasingly construed as a private good, and access to it determined accordingly as something that could be privately funded – or if publicly funded then on an individual basis. Almost all of those goods that were previously provided by the State have been transformed or are in the process of being transformed in this way. The transformation of public good into private interests also leads to the privatisation of the means by which public goods were previously made available. Not only do public goods become private, then, but the realm of what was public activity is transformed into a domain of private entrepreneurship. Indeed, even worse than that, the public realm itself becomes a domain for commercial exploitation by private interests. Thus public administration is increasingly infiltrated and driven by private commercial interests, most notably, especially in contemporary Australia, by the interests of the big accounting and audit forms who even get to define the ethical standards under which they will themselves operate. Indeed, the peculiar situation now exists in which those firms essentially set the constraints – often given regulatory as well as ethical force – on how public administration should itself operate at the same time as those firms also stand to benefit directly from the constraints they impose. One particularly striking example of this, affecting both the private and public sectors, is the imposition of the International Accounting Standards – formulated by the same firms who directly benefit from the implementation of those very standards.The conversion of public good into private interest also leads to the effective identification of the public good, inasmuch as that notion still retains any content, with certain particular private interests, namely those corporate interests who command the greatest influence within government through the sheer weight of lobbyists employed, through personal influence, or through the personal and professional connections that link politicians and political parties to the business and commercial sphere, often linking them directly to corporations and their CEOs. The ‘governing class’ thus becomes almost indistinguishable from the ‘business class’. It should be no surprise that the dominance of economic discourse is accompanied by the increasing dominance of the most powerful economic interests. Indeed, when economism prevails, there is an inevitable tendency – reflecting the tendency for concentration and centralisation identified by Marx as a feature of capitalism itself – towards the dominance of particular sectional economic interests and groups over others that reflects the economic dominance of those same interests and groups. Economic dominance thus brings discursive dominance, and that in turn institutionalises, in the very discourse, underlying forms of economic power and inequality. This is one reason why contemporary economism is so starkly opposed to any genuine concept of the democratic, and perhaps also partly explains why anti-democratic measures are so readily embraced by economistically-inclined governments.The predominance of economic and business interests in contemporary public discourse is underpinned by the economistic prejudice towards what might be termed economistic universalism or foundationalism: the idea that economic interests are the bedrock on which any and every other interest is founded. The satisfaction of economic considerations is thus taken to be the absolute precondition for the satisfaction of any and every other consideration. On the face of it this may seem such a common-sensical idea as to be beyond challenge. But it only appears so because of the prior dominance of an unquestioned economistic prejudice – a prejudice that, never acknowledging itself as a prejudice, presents itself as somehow neutral between interests, or as promoting an interest that belongs to all, at the same time as it implicitly promotes an identification of certain particular economic interests as privileged over others.In many cases, the prioritization of the economic is presented in a fashion that make sit looks as it were merely the discourse to which other discourses must attend if they are to have any chance of satisfying their goals, but which is neutral with respect to those interests. The economic thus pretends not to differentiate between goods, but to be that which allows other goods to be realised. In this way the focus on the economic converges with a ‘liberal’ political sensibility that refrains from any adjudication of the nature of the good, but instead supposedly aims merely at an impartial negotiation between competing claims and conceptions. Yet at the same time, any and every economic decision or judgment, and the political decisions with which they are implicated, involves the differentiation between interests and the realisation of some interests over others. Thus although the Greek oikos does not name that which is valuable, but rather concerns the management of the domain in which that which is valuable resides, the manner in which such management operates is itself expressive of a commitment to the value of that which it aims to preserve and protect. The idea of economic discourse or indeed of liberal political discourse – as somehow evaluatively neutral is thus doubly problematic in that it obscures the inevitable evaluative partiality that it supposedly abjures – allowing the promotion of sectional interest under the banner of sectional impartiality. The realm of the economic can only function on the basis of decisions about what is valued, and yet those questions are kept outside of the realm of public discussion by the very prioritization of the economic as such.Of course, sometimes, the prioritization of the economic is presented in terms of the prioritization, not merely of what facilitates value, but of that which is indeed valuable in itself, and equally valuable to us all, namely, economic prosperity and success. Here the supposed ‘neutrality’ of the economic resides in the supposed universality of the value enshrined within it. Once again, however, this obscures the way in which the idea of economic prosperity or success is often itself geared to very particular measures of such prosperity or success, and, in addition, also involves a fundamental misconstrual of the nature of value and of the economic. To refer again to the Greek notion of oikos, even though this domain is predicated on valuation, oikos does not name anything that is in itself a value (unless it be a secondary value). To take an analogy from business, profitability, here the analogue to economic success, is not itself a good or value in its own right such that business can take the maximisation of profitability alone as its guiding principle. Profitability becomes a partial measure of the effectiveness of business management (and so might be construed as a secondary value) given an already determined set of decisions about the nature and orientation of the business in question. This is reflected in the fact that those business that are oriented only to the maximisation of profit are businesses that typically lack coherence, lack effective organisational and managerial integrity, and typically also lack longevity (there ought to be an important lesson here for those contemporary public institutions, for instance, universities, that have taken economic considerations as pre-eminent in driving the operation of those institutions – on the basis of what can learn from the business sector, the future of such institutions is likely to be a grim one).A characteristic feature of the contemporary dominance of the economic is that it is a dominance not mitigated or constrained by any countervailing interest or group – and this is largely because no other interest is recognised as an interest that is not already an economic interest. A useful illustration of the dominance of the economic, although a very specific one, can be seen in the climate change debate in which scientific views have routinely been discounted on the grounds, in part, that scientists have what is essentially an economic interest in promoting climate change as a result of the research grants to which they gain access as a result of the acceptance of climate change as a scientific orthodoxy. Outside of the scientific community, scientific opinion tends only to be given significant weight in contemporary discussions where it is itself translatable into an economic interest that connects with the dominant economic interest. On this basis, there is indeed no interest that is not an economic interest or convertible into such; no interest that, if set against economic interests, is not challengeable through being reducible to an economic interest (or that can be treated as such). Those interests that cannot be reduced to the economic in this way, for instance, the interests of some green or environmental groups, are thus characterised as irrational or fanatical – even as standing against normal society –– a characterization that can be seen to follow almost inevitably from the dominance of the economic, the assumption of economic interest as the only rational interest, and so the automatic exclusion from rational discourse of any discourse that is not predicated on the primacy of economic interest.The situation here is made more complex by the fact that even though what has occurred, and is still occurring, is indeed the transformation of public goods into private interests, and the effective death of genuinely public discourse (the latter being perhaps best defined as discourse that takes the public good as its primary focus), still the language of public life retains much of the language of the public good, though it now effectively functions to disguise the very transformation and loss of the public that is also underway. Since the way the notion of the public figures here is generally in tension with the fact that it is actually private interest that is dominant, we can say that part of what also occurs is a transformation in the language of public discourse – a transformation that can be characterised as a ‘subversion’ of the good. That is, the language of the good, and not only of the public good, but of the good as such, and so of a host of normative concepts including ideas of justice, excellence, virtue and so forth, has itself become a language that now functions to support and sustain modes of discourse, types of behaviour, and forms of social, political, and institutional structure, that would ordinarily be taken to run counter to those ideas. The good thus becomes attached to that which is actually an emptied-out conception of the good.This is not merely an emptying out of ethical language that reduces it to some form of neutrality, but more than that, a subversion of that language – a transformation of it into that to which it would ordinarily stand opposed. Something like this was already described by George Orwell in 1984. His description of elements of ‘Newspeak’, and more specifically his account of the various ministries that make up the governmental apparatus of the state of Oceania under the leadership of ‘Big Brother’: the ministry of love, which uses torture as a means of subjugation, the ministry of truth, which propagates lies, the ministry of plenty, which manages rationing, and the ministry of peace, whose responsibility is war. Significantly, the ministries’ names are not ironic – within the social and political order of Big Brother, each minister is seen as aiming at bringing about that which is given in its name, it is just that the meaning of those names, love, truth, plenty, peace, become strangely different from what we might ordinarily imagine – language is indeed subverted, put in the service of that which ought to be considered contrary to it. The good is thus put in the service of evil – in the service of that which stands again any conception of humanity. In Orwell’s account it is not private interest that has taken over, not any notion of the public good either, even though the latter notion is indeed used to justify the existing political order. Nevertheless, the state of affairs Orwell describes is not so far removed from that of the present, not only in its emptied out and subverted normativity, but in its removal from any sense of human value by which it could be limited or constrained. The world of Orwell’s 1984 is thus different from the present world, and yet in many respects not so far away from it either – in neither case is there any value outside of the value already prescribed, any value other than that of the ‘good’ as determined by the existing political order or of the existing economic system.Like the political totalitarianism described by Orwell, contemporary economism recognises nothing that constrains or limits it – economic discourse is that which encompasses all rational discourse (so in many circles the ‘market’ is taken, somewhat counter-intuitively, to be the epitome of rationality) and may even be said to be taken as identical with rational discourse. The refusal of limit is perhaps the most problematic aspect of contemporary economism and the public discourse that it constitutes. Not only does it mean that contemporary economism has to be itself counted as a form of discourse that is ‘totalitarian’ in character, but it also means that it lacks any capacity to engage in genuine self-critique, may even be said to refuse such critique, and so is blinded to its own shortcomings and failures. Moreover, in its refusal to recognise its own partiality, it also limits the capacity for public discourse to function in a genuinely democratic fashion (which can itself be seen as part of its ‘totalitarian’ or ‘authoritarian’ tendency), limits the capacity for dissension and debate, and vitiates the possibility of genuine public engagement on critical issues. The dominance of the economic does not just entail the death of the public and the triumph of private interest, but it also brings with it the effective disabling and shutting down of public discourse, and so even of the possibility that the question of the public good might emerge as a subject for discursive public engagement.The question of good government ceases to be a question if good government is already assumed to be completely determined within an economic frame. Indeed, that assumption essentially sets the question of the good to one side – in many cases, explicitly taking it to be a matter that is itself secondary to the economic. In this way the economic comes to take priority even over the political (which is effectively subsumed into the economic) and over the ethical – the economic itself takes priority even over the good. Part of what is lost in the dominance of the economic is even the sense of what the good consists in and its binding character. The good cannot be set aside because of pragmatic considerations that seem to lead in a contrary direction, and in the absence of any ethical deliberation – any deliberation in regard to the good – there can be no adequate estimation of how even pragmatic considerations should be weighed, assessed, or even determined. Indeed, it is at this point that the extent to which the loss of the good has occurred, and the absolute dominance of the economic, becomes even more clearly evident. All too often, the attempt to reintroduce notions concerning the good or the ethical into existing public discourse, such as it is, take the form of attempts to show that ethical considerations, and considerations relating to the good, ought to be taken account of because of their economic relevance – because, for instance, ethical investment portfolios actually turn out, so it is sometimes said, to have historically performed better financially, or because unethical business practices do indeed undermine long-term business viability, or because a society that is actively engaged with questions of the good is also likely to be a society given to more creative and vibrant economic activity. In all such cases, the attempt to re-found a mode of public discourse through re-founding the idea and relevance of the good in its supposed economic virtue is not only deeply confused, but is itself destructive of the very attempt that it enacts – effectively serving only to reaffirm the very economic framework that it seeks to contest.We cannot reclaim a sense of the public unless we also reclaim the idea of the good, even if as a contested notion, on which the public is itself founded and from which it draws it real vibrancy and viability. Reclaiming the public thus means reclaiming a genuine public discourse that already recognises the good as standing before any idea of the economic. It will not help us in that task of reclamation if we constantly give in to the discourse of the economic by trying to reinterpret the good in terms of the economic. The reclamation of the public will only begin in a reclamation and reassertion of the idea of the good. It is precisely with such a reclamation that good government has the possibility of beginning anew. Without it, the only government that remains is bad government. The latter begins when Justice, which we can also understand here as identical with the idea of the good, is removed from her pre-eminent position, and is instead bound by tyranny. The Tyrant himself sits in company with Cruelty, Deceit, Fraud, Fury, Division, and War, and is ruled by Avarice, Pride, and Vainglory. [insert image 3: Ambrogio Lorenzetti, ‘Allegory of Bad Government’, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena] Not only does contemporary public discourse, including the discourse of contemporary politics, seems to lack many of the virtues identified by Lorenzetti, but it also seems all too easy to find in it exemplifications of the vices that Lorenzetti associates with bad government. Perhaps one has to take Tony Abbot’s confident assertion about the new beginning of good government as itself an example of the subversion of the good, and the inversion that inevitably accompanies it.Notes and References The Wealth of Nations edited by A. Skinner (New York: Penguin Books, 1980), p.359). The “dealers” referred to here are those who “live by profit”, namely, “the merchants and master manufacturers” He finally succumbed – being ousted by Malcolm Turnbull – some seven months later in September 2015. The images included in the text are each from the series of frescos together known as ‘The Allegory of Good and Bad Government’ painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti between 1338 and 1339. The frescoes are located in the Sala dei Nove (Salon of Nine, which is actually the Council Room) in the Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall) in Siena, Italy. The first shows Justice (Justicia) with Wisdom (Sapientia) placed above and Harmony (Concordia) below, from ‘The Allegory of Good Government’, the second shows ‘The Effects of Good Government in the City’, and the third shows ‘The Effects of Bad Government in the City’. Images of the frescos are readily available online. Quentin Skinner, ‘Ambrogio Lorenzetti: The Artist as Political Philosopher’, Proceedings of theBritish Academy, 72 (1986), p. 15 [1-56]. Antagonism towards the demands of the ‘economic’ can be seen to be present throughout almost all of the philosophical tradition prior to the twentieth century. This is not merely indicative of the philosopher’s suspicion of the merchant (although this certainly runs deep – it is part of what underpins Plato’s scorn for the Sophists who turn the teaching of wisdom into a commercial transaction), but of a deeper concern for the priority of the ethical over the merely prudential or pragmatic. One might even say that what is at stake here is the very possibility of the ethical and also the philosophical as distinct from the prudential and pragmatic. The contemporary attack on the critical disciplines, including philosophy, that make up the Humanities, is thus directly related to the assertion of the dominance of the economic. The use of ‘Big Brother’ as the name of a reality TV show has changed some of the connotations that might now attach to the name. Indeed, the use of the name for that show seems to have only a tenuous connection with Orwell’s original use – primarily in terms of the idea of continuous surveillance – although the way the show can itself be seen to fit into a larger system of corporatized entertainment that itself seems to reinforce problematic forms of social interaction may be thought to represent one respect in which the show does indeed connect quite directly with aspects of Orwell’s vision in ways presumably not intended by the producers of the show itself.
CDC HOSTS TOP CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHER JOHN HALDANE Eminent Scottish philosopher and Vatican advisor, Professor John Haldane was in Hobart recently as a guest of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies.Centre Director, Dr David Daintree said it was an honour to host one of the world’s leading Catholic philosophers.“It was a huge privilege to have him visit us in Hobart,” he said.St Mary’s Cathedral Centre was close to capacity on Friday 15 April for Prof Haldane’s address on the topic Is Civilisation under Threat?Throughout his presentation Prof Haldane pointed to social changes that have increasingly lead to the sexualisation of children as one of the central anti-civilising factors.“When people look at histories of civilisations they, and not only religious writers, have been interested in a feature in some of the later stages of civilisation, which is the movement of sexuality outside of the context of fairly strong social structures,” Prof Haldane said.“I do think that we are in a very interesting state of affairs of cultural development in which there is something quasi-pathological going on,” he continued, “in the disconnection of sexual interest from anything that one could see as serving the interests of family or community as well as the interest of the individuals themselves.”He described the current culture as suffering from what he called “sexual schizophrenia.”“What is interesting is that in the very culture that is denunciatory of paedophilia there is also an explosion of the barely legal pornography,” Dr Haldane said. “It’s a genre of pornography that is growing very, very rapidly.”Dr Haldane went on to speak about the threat of terrorism as an anti-civilising force in the world, especially for Western Countries in Europe, such as Britain, France, Holland and Belgium where terror attacks have occurred.He also gave insight into the Islamic State’s (IS) barbaric two-fold terror strategy.“Transgressive behaviour breaks down the norms of practice,” he said. “Then the idea is that you degrade the culture to such a degree that you then step in as the saviour of that culture.”He also mentioned that within this strategy IS co-opts children in their barbarous beheadings and ritualised executions.“I do think that the sexualisation of children on the one hand and this kind of barbarism on the other both represent profoundly counter-civilising influences,” Prof Haldane said in his concluding remarks. “I think there is a serious threat to civilisation and I think Western Societies are not well placed to meet those threats, partly because they are themselves engaged in the degradation of the human, but also partly because as Yeats says they have lost all conviction.”During his time in Australia Prof Haldane has also appeared on the ABC’s Q&A and Compass programs.“His recent television appearances reveal him as a man of sensitivity and tact in difficult situations, but with a towering intellect,” Dr Daintree said.
See alsohttp://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/26/conservatives-love-to-hate-political-correctness-but-the-left-should-rail-against-it-tooand http://www.abc.net.au/religion/
Professor Benno Zuiddam’s address on 7 April is now available at http://www.bennozuiddam.com/The%20Shadows%20of%201516,%20Zuiddam.mp3.
DR KEVIN DONNELLY 5 NOVEMBERDr Kevin Donnelly is one of Australia’s leading education commentators and authors. He is currently Executive Director of the Education Standards Institute and Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University. He was co–author of the Review of the Australian Curriculum.Topic: The Place of Religion in a Secular Curriculum.Thursday 5 November at 5.00 pm in Law Lecture Theatre 2, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania Sandy BayDr Donnelly taught English and Humanities for 18 years in Victorian government and non-government secondary schools. He has also been a member of state and national curriculum bodies, including: the Victorian Education Department’s Post Primary English Committee and Post Primary Taskforce, the Year 12 English Panel of Examiners, the Victorian Board of Studies and the federally funded Discovering Democracy Programme and inquiry into the Australian Certificate of Education. Dr Donnelly has written extensively on contemporary developments in education for Australia’s print media and is the author of Why our schools are failing, Dumbing Down, Australia’s Education Revolution and Educating your child: it’s not Rocket Science.
Gala Musical ConcertSt Mary’s Cathedral Centre(corner of Patrick and Harrington Streets, Hobart)2.00 pm Sunday 31 MayBid the season farewell with autumnal tones selected from Bach and Beethoven, Debussy and Ravel, as well as some contemporary compositionsThe Programme
6-7.30 pm on Tuesday 12 MayFORUM: Religious tolerance in an age of extremesProfessor Fred Woods and Professor Neville Rochow SC A public forum on religious freedom and respect for minorities and how they enhance social cohesion and economic performanceTuesday 12 May, 6 -7.30 PMLaw Lecture Theatre 2, Law Building, University of Tasmania
We live today in what some claim to be one of the most religiously intolerant periods in history. Not only are some religious minorities believed to be fomenters of disharmony in other countries but, in our society, they are seen to mix only with their peers, wear distinctly un-Australian clothing and live together in ethnic ghettoes into which no-one else is allowed to enter.