Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Orstrayian Test

Of all the ludicrous attempts at defining a national identity, former PM John Howard's authorship of some of the questions in the citizenship test would have to rank fairly high.

I however, think the man has been misjudged. I think he was a visionary - he saw from the start that the nation must inevitably accept wave after wave of immigration if it was to survive and he saw the need for a unifying force to bind the new Australians together.

The Cult of the Don.

Yup, that man, who was by repute an "arsehole" - a nasty little stock trader from South Australia was to become the new idol of a national religion that was, at its core, the epitome of John Howard's "Vision for Australia".

Howard wasn't writing questions to keep people out - he must have been coldly aware that five of the biggest groups seeking to land on our shores already knew very well who Don Bradman was - he just wanted to make sure they understood how high the Don must be placed in the national esteem.

After all it is not as if the English, South Africans, New Zealanders, Indians and Pakistanis have never seen a game of cricket - its just that their idea of who is a cricket hero needs a little adjustment before they'll really fit in to Australian society.

Sadly for Howard, although he may have been able to bowl a googlie in the last term, the electorate were all too aware that Howard, like Don Bradman had a limited game, played it then sat back and traded on the success that was as narrow in its scope as it was emphatic in effect.

Frankly the sooner the Bradman question, and some of the other pathetic attempts to deter African and European migrants and dealt with, the happier I'll be.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Unintended consequences

Policy changes in government can sometimes communicate a more general message to the community.

Australia has just emerged from 11 years of conservative government and the policies enacted by that government have had a broader impact than intended.

Take for example the policy towards refugees. It was touted as a way of protecting the country and all statements to the contrary it also communicated an attitude of ‘we don’t care’ and if even we did actually care, it has been interpreted by some Australians as meaning just that.

Other areas of social justice have also been ‘harder’ – the approach towards the unemployed and the ‘tough love’ strategies in dealing with indigenous issues are some examples of where policy, with probably good intent, and even with good interventions in some cases can be misinterpreted.

I work with people with disabilities – probably the easiest group to defend in terms of justifiable need and yet there has been a hardening towards funding for the disability sector that parallels the situation in other sectors. This has occurred even while the rhetoric has been directly contradictory to the funding situation.

Everyone agrees that funding should be increased, that people with disabilities should be included and that families and carers should be supported – this is bipartisan politically and yet. . .

Australia has been conditioned not to care. 11 years of being told to put ourselves first and that security is the most important national priority has resulted in behavioural change at the social, cultural and political levels and acculturated a nation that no longer has the capacity to care.

The greatest task facing this nation today is to restore compassion as a central core of policy, practice and belief.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Future for Christianity in Australia (Synchroblog)

My mate Hamo let me know about this synchroblog and mentioned I might be interested - he's right! Normally I blog here: at Cafe Grendel, but I kind of like to keep it mostly about coffee - or food, or with at least some coffee kind of context. This post however is so radically outside I thought it better placed here - after all having only used this one once or twice it could use a good dust off.

You may well ask why an atheist bothers to concern himself with the future of Christianity at all - perhaps some might think I should be working my hardest to see that religious belief has no future. I however believe that is folly and my personal consideration has always been that people are entitled to their faith and for many life would be poorer without it.

In that context then, what does an atheist see as the future of Christianity in Australia, and why would I consider Christianity important in Australia's future.

Primarily I am a culturally Christian atheist - that is the culture and beliefs of Christians are not significantly different from my own and I would fit quite comfortably within most Australian churches but for the simple fact that I do not believe in the existence of God.

This has not always been the case - for nearly 30 years I did believe in God - and was very active in a Christian community - I won't go into the reason for my lack of faith here, but generally I consider that most of the core teachings of Christ are relevant and beneficial to humanity.

Australia will continue to be largely 'culturally Christian' but it will also continue to drift to less formal expressions of faith as the various church structures and strictures fail the relevency test for the common Australian.

The challenge for the church (broadest sense) is to make itself continually relevent - but without betraying the truths that are at the core of the belief of Christianity.

I think that the church needs to revisit the way that society's moral demands have changed it - and vice versa and look closely at some of the issues that have resulted from moral positions that result in outcomes that cause harm and hurt to Australians.

I'm not suggesting the church should allow what it considers 'immoral behaviour' to be acceptable - this would abandon some core beliefs, I am however suggesting that the church in Australia appears to lack compassion and has abandoned any pretense of the missionary approach which were the origin on the church and the reason it grew and thrived. That is a rather general statement and there are some excellent examples of missionary church approaches even here in Perth with the Peace Tree crew in Lockridge and the various emerging church groups in the suburbs.

Bigger in this case, is certainly not better. The greatest dangers to Christianity is Australia is from the most conservative elements of the churches who in thinking to defend their faith are isolating their faith. By building walls and guard towers and defending these with arrows of malignancy, they have managed to place themselves in a position where they believe they are under siege.

Sadly for them, it wasn't really an attacking army just a very large crowd wandering along the road outside their castle walls - they'll have all passed by soon and the castle will be left to defend the wasteland.

The second threat is from those who run corporate churches - the corporate model was not the vision of Christ - and if there is a kingdom of God then the corporate model certainly has no place within it. Historically the merchant class was always distrusted by the aristocracy.

Sadly the corporate approach works - as a business. They have a great product, cool marketing and well known brand and are full of loyal customers who bought the sales pitch and enjoy the show. They also enjoy the feeling of belonging to a large and significant group because that makes them feel significant too. The bit that makes me angry was that these people were already significant but because no one had ever told them this there are now grateful to the first group who ever did.

Pauline Hanson managed much the same thing with ultra conservative Australians in the late 1990s.

The corporate approach however does not meet my earlier criteria of the church needing to remain true to the core beliefs of Christianity - there has been too much traded in in order to make the package more attractive.

Australia has a long history (both good and bad) of the church as a central player in Australian life. This will continue - and change will continue. Australians who hold a genuine faith are actively discussing how they can serve. It's kind of refreshing to hear that word used in the proper Christian context from time to time but it is all too rare.

I'd like to see more discussion from Christians that objectively seeks opportunities to improve life for their fellow Australians rather than increase attendance at services. Do the first and I think the second will follow.

Christ taught love. Repeatedly. From our far neighbour the United States of America we see the ultimate betrayal of this teaching by the Westboro 'Baptist Church' who use only the language of hate. I fear that those churches who have isolated themselves in their fortresses risk the same sin.

Christ taught love. Repeatedly. The church must live this if it is to live at all.

This post is part of the Christianity In Australia synchroblog which a number of Australian Christians are participating in to celebrate Australia Day. For more on Christianity in Australia see: