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Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether a vision or idea is simply a thought bubble that has prematurely escaped, or whether it was intended as a genuine contribution to debate. Christopher Pyne’s ‘vision’ for Australia as one of the world’s great weapons exporters is surely in that category. It is such a bizarre, alien and frankly such a loathsome idea that it must surely have just slipped out while he was not paying much attention.
Global arms sales now top 1$ trillion. While there has been an economic down turn in many of the indicators of human well being, there is no down turn in the industry of death. The market for death remains amongst the most resilient contributor to global ‘economic growth’. Weapons have one purpose, to maim or kill. It is in the interest of arms dealers for conflict or the threat of conflict to escalate. Little distinction is or can be made between friend and foe. Western weapons have been used in civil wars, genocides, terrorist activities and the like. The Congo has been one of the world’s most devastating civil wars in recent history. Several reports have shown the US was a major contributor of armaments to various parties involved in this deadly conflict, a conflict which caused death and destruction to more than one million civilians. Once developed and sold the manufacturer has no control over where or how the weapons are used, nor does he probably want to know.
Given conflict or the potential for conflict is likely to increase in coming decades, as shortages of water and food escalate, inequity grows and the effects of climate change force migration, it is inevitable that there will be a great demand for sophisticated weaponry, and that arms dealers will only have one consideration – selling to whoever has the money to buy.
Worse, the West has a long history of propping up corrupt and unpopular governments through the provision of armaments for the protection and exploitation of perceived Western self interests.
It is hard to imagine how low Australia’s moral standing might continue to slide. The level of Australia’s overseas aid as a percentage of GDP is approximately half the standard set for developed countries. It is pathetically mean. The Pyne thought bubble must be put in this context. He would have us further contribute to the world’s pain and distress by increasing the potential for armed combat. Apparently it is not enough that we do not wish to contribute to the alleviation of poverty and disadvantage, no, we will consider adding to it through the provision of resources for armed conflict – for our own profit. A very high percentage of all manufactured armaments are sold to developing countries. For every dollar spent on armaments in one of these countries there is one less dollar available for the development of agriculture, improving education and health care, or simply building the structures of a stable civil society. Indeed many of these countries become financially beholden as a result of the arms sales, meaning that payment of interest to the West takes precedence over basic services for their people.
Armament manufacturers have made great profit for themselves and their share holders through the devastating conflicts in the Middle East. Military ties between the US and Saudi Arabia are well known and yet Saudi Arabia is not called to account for the contribution (moral and military) that it has given to Sunni inspired terrorism in the Middle East and throughout the world. War was waged against Iraq and Afghanistan following 9/11 notwithstanding the majority of the hijackers were Saudi.
I fully realise Christopher Pyne wants more jobs in South Australia, but why not develop factories that manufacture high tech services that improve the lives of others and thus reduce the likelihood of conflict?
Finally, we clearly do have a revenue issue. Why not collect revenue for our gas exports that is at least equivalent to that being made by other cointries far less capable of maximising the benefit of their resources.
Christopher I realise your portfolio is “defence procurement”, surely the very best opportunity Australia has to defend itself is by investing in the wellbeing of other nations. Surely our greatest mistake would be to engage with others simply out of our own interest; developing arms for our own profit and contributing to the industry of conflict?
Warning this blog is probably only of interest to those interested in the politics of the Anglican Church!!
On the 30 June 2017 the Revd Canon Andy Lines was ordained a ‘missionary, bishop to the UK and Europe at an assembly of the ‘Anglican Church of North America’. This Church and its assembly has arisen in protest against what its adherents understand to be a rejection of scripture, or worse, a rejection of the teaching of Christ, by those who support the ordination of women, the ordination of candidates with a homosexual orientation and finally those who support same sex marriage. This action took place despite the fact the Church of England has made its own provisions to care for those who for conscience sake are disturbed by these matters and yet wish to remain within the family of the Church. Apparently what triggered this move by the breakaway Church of North America and its supporters was a recent decision by the Scottish Episcopal Church to support same sex marriage.
Five hundred years ago Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church in protest against the claim of the Roman Church that salvation for ordinary men and women was only possible through the sacerdotal mechanisms of the Church. It was only the Church, so it was claimed, that could save the faithful from the flames of eternal damnation.
Martin Luther took his stand on two pillars, sola fidei and sola scriptura (faith alone and scripture alone). The Church had controlled, at a whim, the lives and destiny (and pockets) of the people of Europe. Luther lit a fire which came to be known as the Reformation, the Western Church would never again be unified and the inheritors of the Reformation came to understand that salvation was a matter of their life of faith, and scripture their authority.
Fast forward to the present era. Where and for what reason should Christians take a stand and as a consequence cause further division in the Church? That nothing can be taught as necessary for salvation that cannot be proved from scripture is the first of the fundamental declarations of the Anglican Church. Because the Anglican Church is both Catholic and Reformed the fundamental declaration also declares that the Church must be episcopally led in a manner that is culturally sensitive to the place in which it serves. This has been taken to mean that the style, authority and decisions of that local or Diocesan Church should be respected by the whole Church even while others disagree, as long as the fundamentals are adhered to.
Are those who support same sex union departing from the fundamentals? Clearly this group of Churches under the umbrella of what is known as GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference) thinks so – passionately. Indeed so passionately that this is the issue over which they would cause a break in the Church. Why choose to stand on this issue and not on a multitude of others? Why make this issue a badge of faith?
There is no question that scripture has quite a bit to say about personal morality, but it does so in the context of what I might call an overarching biblical ethic. This ethic is fundamentally concerned with relationships, relationship first of all with God, secondly with others and thirdly with the whole created order. Scripture does not understand humans to be independent or autonomous; it understands us all to be interdependent, needing to live in fellowship and harmony with the creator and the whole of creation.
Scripture is therefore strident in its condemnation of actions taken for personal gain which impact negatively on others. A modern word for this is abuse. Abuse of any kind is abhorred in scripture. In our time various forms of fundamentalism or extremism are abuse. They corral folk into artificial constructs which diminish life and cause division. Self-serving leadership, secular or spiritual, is abuse. A capitalist system that enables the wealthy to acquire more wealth and the poor to be neglected is abuse. Political systems which prioritise the need to win over policy which serves common good, is abuse. Those whose influence causes enmity and strife are guilty of abuse. Those who hold onto power for its sake rather than being jealous to serve are guilty of abuse. Sexual gratification at the expense of others, most tragically at the expense of children is shocking abuse. Abuse is a matter of injustice. Inequity is the fruit of injustice. These matters are played out in the public square of human life where so often the Church is cowered into silence for fear of upsetting those with political influence. Abuse, injustice, alienation, exclusion are expressions of harm about which the Church of Jesus Christ cannot afford to be silent if it is true to him. Here the Church should take a stand, but most often does not.
Personal morality is also a matter which scripture takes seriously. It does so because the biblical narrative assumes that intimacy is fundamental to humans made in the image of God. “It is not good for man to live alone”. Scripture is concerned that this intimacy dignifies honours and blesses. Scripture assumes intimacy will be between a man and a woman and that it will be lifelong. When the bible makes reference to homosexual acts the assumption is that these acts are being performed by heterosexuals for perverted reasons of gratification and for this reason are condemned. Understanding that some people’s gender orientation is ambiguous while a few are born with an inability for intimacy with a person of the opposite gender is relatively new.
How the Church should respond in a caring and life giving manner within this situation and in the wider community is one issue, how it should care for people within its own community and particularly its leadership, is another.
I can see that a range of responses could be considered legitimate based on the primary biblical injunction of ‘love of neighbour’. Understanding who our neighbour to be is an evolving responsibility in every generation and within every culture. Few if any families with a homosexual member would do any less than support the happiness and wellbeing of this person.
As I have said in a previous blog, Marriage the Law and the Church I am now convinced the State should make its own decisions about those who are eligible for marriage and should make its own provision for licence and register. This would free the Church to respond appropriately with Gospel imperatives within its own cultural context.
Same sex unions within a loving and committed relationship may or may not be considered morally acceptable within a Christian context, depending on whether the starting point is safeguarding intimacy and care for all, or whether the starting point is particular biblical verse(s) and their interpretation. But what is clear is that a secure and enduring relationship of intimacy which is life giving for the people concerned cannot be described as abusive. To deny this possibility should itself be considered abusive.
It is therefore very difficult to be sympathetic to those within the Church who make a judgement resulting in severance on the basis of personal intimacy that may have about it all the hallmarks of sacrificial love. Worse, taking a stand on this issue while being mute on local, national, and international situations of manipulation and abuse is utterly hypocritical.
As a Bishop in the Anglican Church I have accepted that although Dioceses and Provinces may live out of different theological priorities, nevertheless we can enjoy trust and fellowship through our instruments of unity.
Those Bishops (two from Australia) who attended the ordaining of Andy Lines as a bishop against the wishes and without the invitation of the Archbishops of York and Canterbury have crossed a boundary of fellowship and have made their stand on a matter of personal morality, not on a matter of abuse. They have done so knowing that those who have supported same-sex unions also do so in obedience to their understanding of the primacy of scripture; and its unequivocal mandate to safeguard love based and enduring intimacy for all.
The battle currently being waged within the Australian Government between those on the right who prefer to be called conservative and those less on the right who prefer to be called liberals is tedious, but its eventual outcome will have a profound effect on Australian life if this side of politics remains in government. For Christians the struggle is particularly acute. Those who prefer to be called conservative most frequently, and publicly, align as Christian. Are the conservatives or the liberals more or less likely to address issues faced by 21st century Australia and are the conservatives or the liberals more or less likely to mirror Christian values? I want to address this question by looking at three issues central to Australian political and media life.
1. Inequality. The growing level of inequality in Australia and throughout the Western world is at the heart of political disquiet everywhere. Our inequality is demonstrated in a variety of ways but especially through:
· house ownership vs. house rental
· needs based educational funding
· escalating privatisation which too often favours shareholder profit at the expense of services to customers (cf banks and energy providers).
· pressure placed upon the poor through tightening of pension eligibility while the wealthy (private and corporate) avoid tax payment through family trusts and various schemes for tax avoidance or minimalisation.
So far it appears that those on the political right favour policies which increase inequity. It is a no-go area for conservatives to deal with the causation of escalating house prices through negative gearing etc, thus favouring investors over home occupiers. Gonski2 passed, but attempts to make school funding more equitable were resisted by the right. The right would privatise everything, maximising benefit to shareholder investment at the expense of services. The language of ‘entitlement’ from the right has been used to demean ‘Struggle Street’, while the benefits and entitlements of those in power are lauded. If a fundamental characteristic of Christianity is solidarity with the disadvantaged, it is very difficult to gain a glimpse of this from amongst those who espouse conservatism.
2. Energy Revolution There can be no doubt that the world is at the beginning of an energy revolution of the same magnitude as the industrial revolution, or the digital revolution. The revolution’s trigger might well be the challenge of climate change, but the driver is now the darling of the right - the market. The revolution is about the capacity of ordinary people to generate and access their own energy independent of a national or international supplier. This is a revolution of empowerment and it will contribute to the softening of what has become ‘neo-liberal capitalism’. Now and increasingly into the future ordinary citizens will access their own energy or will cooperate with neighbours to do so. This revolution will be of special benefit to the world’s poor and will contribute to a reversal of inequity. Poverty is not simply lack of wealth, poverty is dependence created through lack of opportunity. Dependence is demeaning. Full independence is a mirage. Interdependence expresses the life of a harmonious and contented humanity. The political right appears to be doing all in its power to delay this revolution. Delay is all that is possible, the change will not be driven by idealism or ideology, but by the market. The revolution is unstoppable. The more ‘conservative’ a politician appears to be, the more likely they are to oppose this empowerment and try to protect large companies whose future now clearly has a use by bar code.
3. An inclusive, harmonious civil society There is no going back. It is now more than 50 years since the White Australia policy was correctly abandoned and Australia opened up as a cosmopolitan, multicultural, multiethnic, multifaith society. All indications show that those who have chosen to make Australia home are almost always highly motivated, productive, flexible and imaginative. In short, they are almost always exactly the people that a country would love to embrace. It is also clear that problems arise if and when the country to which they have come, keen to make a contribution, implicitly or explicitly does not embrace them. That they come with their own ethnic, faith and cultural traditions should be assumed. It should also be assumed that these traditions will enhance the quality of Australian life. It appears again that it is those on the right of the political spectrum who would encourage a negative perception of those who do not conform to a European view of Australia
Writing as a Christian leader who has just read that the 2016 census shows a dramatic drop in Christian adherence, it is not at all helpful to bemoan the rise in numbers of other faith adherence. The Christian community deserves to be in decline if adherence to this faith inherently favours inequity, opposes empowerment, and fails to be honoured because its values and virtues do not build an inclusive civil society. It deserves to be in decline if it seeks defensively to hold on to historical but quickly disappearing status or privilege. As a Christian I unequivocally believe Christian values and virtues are infectiously attractive, as perhaps globally demonstrated by the popularity of Pope Francis. In Australia popular Christianity is not known for its deep humility, its desire for solidarity with the poor, its longing for the transformation of society. It is better known for private piety and the imposition of what it perceives to be a superior personal morality. Through Tony Abbott and Cori Bernardi Christianity is aligned with the conservative right, the idealism that by implication would have Australia less demonstrative of the world of the Sermon on the Mount.
In 1959 Quinton Hogg, chair of the British Conservative Party described Conservatism as: “not so much a philosophy as an attitude, a constant force performing a timeless function in the development of a free society and corresponding to a deep and permanent requirement in human nature itself”.
Political conservatism has its origins in the 16th and 17th centuries with Christian leaders such as Richard Hooker. These divines deemed economics to be subordinate to a conservative social ethic and capitalism subordinate to social tradition.
Tony Abbott and Cori Bernardi cannot be in a true conservative tradition if their belief in the rights of the individual blinds them to the reality that humans need to live in a ‘free and harmonious society’. Nor can they have any real understanding of freedom if the rights of the individual are prioritised over the demands of a truly free and equitable society. Rights are always conditional, the 21st century places conditions on the whole of humanity to rise above national let alone private aspirations to a level of global cooperation for common good that might undergird humanity’s otherwise tenuous tenure on planet earth.
The blog, Capitalism, anti-Semitism and the Judaeo/Christian Ethic (5 May) received more comments of indignant disapproval than any other that I have written. Interestingly none of the disapproving comments refer to its theological rationale.
What I said was that a religion that claims to be monotheistic cannot, because of its monotheism, conceive of outsiders, it must potentially treat all people as children of the same God, and must practice universal and redemptive care and justice. The Old Testament prophets who had come to a monotheistic position considered the imperative of justice and righteousness to be a higher priority than ‘religious practice’. If I were to rewrite that blog I would strengthen it, not water it down. The derisory comments I received in the ‘Spectator’ either illustrate how ignorant the extreme right wing of Australian politics has become of traditional Judaeo/Christian belief and practice and the central place given to righteousness and justice; or it illustrates how owned (or cowered) it has become as a media outlet by the Israeli lobby; or it illustrates the political right’s refusal to walk even a single day in the shoes of the oppressed. Whichever explanation you choose, criticising Israel for its oppression of Palestinians is not Anti-Semitic, but the reverse, it is a plea for Israel to return to the ethical base inherent to Judaism. To describe the current Palestine/Israel situation as apartheid is an invitation to those who find this offensive to provide another word to accurately describe what prevails in the Occupied Territories on a daily basis.
I want now to reflect on the unspeakably appalling terror events that have occurred recently in Afghanistan, Iraq, Manchester, London, Melbourne and Tehran in the light of monotheistic religion.
Islam shares roots with Judaism and Christianity. Its monotheism is audibly announced through the first ‘Pillar’ Shahada (faith) and ethically required in the third, Zakᾱt (charity). For a Muslim, life is a journey of submission: submission to God and to a charitable response to fellow human beings. Both submission to God and charitable submission to fellow human beings is practiced in ‘jihad’, a life time struggle to live a better life. If jihad is seconded to defend, even encourage, violence towards others; I submit subversion of the term must be challenged and corrected by Islamic leaders. While military jihad is justified as a defensive strategy, perhaps in the same way that Christians might argue for a ‘just war’, in practice this perverted interpretation of jihad kills far more civilians than military opponents and entrenches violence’s, inevitable and vicious cycle. More often than not victims are fellow Muslims. This is no way to further the struggle to lead a better life.
Islam’s monotheism gives it the right to believe that all humans can potentially be Muslim, but this right travels with the obligation to treat all human beings equally with dignity and honour as children of God. The former right is annulled if the latter is not in place. This is also the case with Christianity, the right to be a universal faith carries the obligation everywhere and in every age of universal human care and justice.
Therefore in light of these unspeakable and ongoing acts of terror, in the name of Islam, what is to be done?
1. As hard as it might be, Islamic leaders must name the perpetrators for what they are, apostates, infidels; for engaging in these atrocities they abandon any right to be named amongst those who are submissive to the one true God. This message must be clear and unequivocal. I realise the difficulty. In the West we assume the hierarchies that we see in Christianity with Pope, Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops to be transferable to Islam. Sunni Islam (majority Islam) is organisationally flatter. Here in is strength, but also great weakness, even danger, for it seems almost anyone can put up their shingle as an Imam. A Christian minister or priest who stirs enmity, who preaches division should be (will be) stood down. So should any Imam who abuses the privilege of religious freedom in this country. Such freedom carries civic and social responsibility.
2. The West must be far more honest and discerning about the manner in which it condones injustice, perceived or otherwise, for injustice is a radicalising catalyst. It needs to be said that the West has a very long history of interference in the Arab world out of blatant self interest, not out of Arab well being. In recent history the Iraq war was ill-conceived and has done untold damage. Unless the actions of the West are transparently conducted in the interests of those whose lives are being disrupted, the problem of terror must be expected as a consequence. More than that, if those whose lives have been detrimentally disrupted are not aided on a path to recovery, on their terms, then these consequences remain. The oppression of Palestinians, even though a very small part of Middle Eastern injustice, is nevertheless a significant source of radicalisation within Palestine, throughout the Arab world and beyond.
3. The West’s hypocrisy in terms of its chosen friends and enemies must come to an end. The home base for 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers was Saudi Arabia – the US ally. Wahhabism, a puritanical form of Islam ideologically underpins ISIS. This ideology perpetrates violence against others ‘less pure’, and against their ancient sites. This ideology is linked to the house of Saud, although since 9/11 and to retain the US as an ally against Iran, the links are less overt. Nevertheless Saudi Arabia should be called to account. Terrorism (including ISIS) is perpetrated by people who claim to be adherents of Sunni Islam and Saudi Arabia its financial backer.
4. Iran, the sworn enemy of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US is neither Arab nor Sunni. The people are Persian and adherents of the minority branch of Islam, Shia. Shia Islam is focussed on what it believes to be its divinely sanctioned religious leadership. The Ayatollahs thus have considerable power in what might genuinely be referred to as a theocracy, but they are equally more open to demonization from the West than their secular counterparts might be in Saudi Arabia. Iran is no less a target of ISIS terrorism than the West as seen yesterday in their parliament. Why is the US so implacably against Iran? The answer is multilayered. What should however be clear is that Iran exercising its place as a responsible international partner makes for a much more peaceful world than such a large proud and powerful nation being ostracised to the edges.
Terrorism in its many forms must not become the new normal. Its source is not monotheism, for monotheism’s counterpoint is equality and justice for all humanity. Banishing terror to the periphery will require effort on the part of everyone.
It will require leadership from western leaders who should condemn terror but not demonise Islam. The undisciplined rightwing of Australian politics pours oil on the fire.
It will require leadership from Islamic leadership everywhere to denounce perpetrators as apostate.
It will require a new world order in which alliances are made out of global and regional best interest, not national (often hypocritical) best interest, for national best interest exercised by the strong will inevitably mean injustice for the weak and a perpetuation of the cycle.
It will require effort from ordinary citizens to reach out beyond difference so that inclusion and respect becomes the mark of each community.
We left the previous blog in the context of the Anthropocene and what it means to be human facing a Defiant Earth with the question: “is grace too optimistic”?
Pentecost (4 June), together with Easter and Christmas, is one of the three great Christian festivals. As we enter its season we are provided with a fruitful context to further puzzle over this question. Why? Because Pentecost celebrates the Spirit, whom scripture tells us is the architect of creation.
We know Pentecost gains its name from the Greek, Пεντηκοστή ήμέρά – the fiftieth day (after Easter). We also know it coincides with the festival of Shavout, the feast of Weeks, (this is why the disciples were gathered in Jerusalem), a harvest festival which celebrates the Torah. We know that Pentecost celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, commonly understood as the birth of the Church.
Its account describes Pentecost as an extraordinary burst of transformative energy on dispirited disciples, who spoke of wind and fire to explain their experience. I want to go behind these well know verities to explore our, and the planet’s, relationship with Spirit. The creedal summary of the Spirit’s activity is ‘the Lord and Giver of Life’; if you like, Spirit is creation’s ‘life force’. Just as water always flows down hill and while we can build dams and even pump it uphill, we cannot abrogate this fundamental principle; so too the ‘giver of life’ will always be the giver of life regardless of the fickle nature of human choices and action. Herein lies abundant grace, beyond human capacity to deny, control, or deserve. Pentecost celebrates an extraordinary outpouring of energy, energy that empowers giftedness. However, it is one thing to say we cannot abrogate the life giving grace of the Spirit, but it is quite another to assume the wind of that Spirit will always, or automatically, or even occasionally, fill our sails. In the Anthropocene more than any other age we need it to.
We first encounter the Spirit in the second verse of the Bible: “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters”. This is the scriptural explanation of how what we call existence came into being. Questions we might like to ask did not occur to the biblical writers. For example how the world was made, was it ex nihilo” cannot be deduced from scripture; the only thing that matters is that God is the initiator. The second time we meet the Spirit is in chapter 2:7 when breath from God makes the human a living being. Existence is one thing, life is another. The Spirit imbues life. But how does that happen, how do we experience its happening? I would like you to encounter three clues.
The late John Vincent Taylor, one time Bishop of Winchester, picks up my first clue in his brilliant book about the Spirit, the Go Between God. His argument infers that entities, be they human or nonhuman, are not primary realities. This is a gob smacking thing to say. The primary reality is the movement between them. Let’s take that in! The life of the human (you and me), is experienced (positive and negative) in a variety of relationships. Genesis 2 provides an extensive roll call of those relationships: plant life, animal life, other human beings, and the earth itself. Entities (you and I) have value in relation to something or someone else. A cool evening breeze has value for the one fortunate enough to be walking in it. The forest has value to those creatures who reside within it. Plants make love to insects through their flowers. All who have crossed my path have contributed to who I am. Our image of God has not kept pace. Our anthropomorphic mind pictures God as a glorified human entity, almost always male: while in truth we know God as spirit, the unifying, life giving force that lives and breathes in and between all things. Presumably this is what John means when he says “God is love”. (1 Jn. 4:8) Also what Paul means when, having told us of the gifts that emanate from Spirit’s energy he goes on to say “I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels but have not love I am a noisy gong or a clanging bell...”. (1 Cor. 12:31-13:1)
Christians understand God as movement we call Trinity; that divine eternal dance of Father Son and Spirit, into which destiny calls us. To be at one with God is to be at one with all that belongs to God. There is a wonderful word for this: περιχορησις (perichoresis) literally meaning to dance around. As we celebrate Pentecost in the age of the Anthropocene and the rise of a ‘defiant earth’ our life will always be greater when we focus on the relationships that are primary to our existence, beginning with the earth itself. Our life will always be less if we focus upon ourselves with the right to carve out our own space regardless of the impact that carving has on everything around.
My second clue is to be found in what is called the Wisdom Literature. We are familiar with Proverbs, Psalms and Job, less familiar with material in the Apocrypha. This literature insists that Spirit and wisdom are synonymous. Indeed wisdom literature asserts that wisdom is the beginning of creation, pre-existing everything else. There is a passage in the Wisdom of Solomon I particularly love:
Wisdom is more mobile than any motion, because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. She is breath and power of God a pure emanation of the glory of the almighty...although she is but one she can do all things and while remaining in herself she renews all things. In every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God and prophets; for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom. (Wis. 7:22-28)
In the age of the anthropocene we are deluged with data. Data is the lowest value coin in the currency of knowing. Yet data seeps out of every ubiquitous medium. Most of it passes by without contributing to useful information. Useful information, when digested and reflected upon can add to the quantum of shared knowledge. But more precious even than knowledge is wisdom, that virtue which enables a life to be well lived. No wonder spirit and wisdom are aligned, for they are mirror image agents of being truly alive. How blessed is the wise person, even more blessed it is to be in the company of wisdom. The antonym of wisdom is probably ‘folly’. Human traits that contribute to the anthropocene are folly. They are folly not simply because of their catastrophic consequences for the future; they are folly because they detract from what should be (could have been) a much more meaningful life in the present. A life in which the price of everything is calculated, but the value of nothing is known, is a life of profound folly.
My third clue is the connection between Jesus and the Spirit. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that the Spirit that fell on the disciples is the same Spirit that was in Jesus. Just as Jesus and the Father are one, so Jesus and the Spirit are one. Jesus proclaimed that his going would enable the Spirit’s presence. The Spirit, life, is first about relationship, second about wisdom and third about presence. The spirit enables the presence of God, the presence of Jesus. Presence is about company. Conservationists desire to keep in perpetuity what is known to have irreplaceable value. The Conservation Foundation is not a subversive Greenie conspiracy, but an old fashioned ideal that each generation should at the very least hand to the next an undiminished legacy, preferably one that is enhanced. To do that we must be aware of and value the company we keep.
Indeed I like to say, ‘we are the company we keep’ for the company we keep, the presence we honour, becomes the life we lead. Unfortunately we increasingly keep the company Kardashians - I am not even sure who they are, except I understand they represent the glitzy meaninglessness of fame and fortune.
In the Anthropocene, as in every age, vulnerability and transience is life’s experience. It does not become more secure through walls, isolation, hoarding or putting ‘America first’. Life’s grace and gift is experienced in the opposite direction. It is experienced through the multitude of relationships that define us. It is experienced in the love and embracing of wisdom. It is experienced by living fully in the company we keep.
Come Holy Spirit
Let’s name the Trump decision to pull out of the Paris agreement on Climate Change for what it is, a war on the planet, including a war on the American people.
If there were no mitigating circumstances, and there are as we will see in a moment, this decision would have been as serious as a decision to initiate a nuclear confrontation with a foreign power. The difference between the two is the frog in the pot of boiling water. We can have opinions about almost everything, but an opinion and a fact are two entirely different matters. As the Chief Scientist said to Senator Malcolm Roberts this week, in response to his question, “shouldn’t scientists keep an open mind”, “yes but not to the extent that their brains leaks out”. Because of Trump’s obsession with ‘a deal’ which means a profit, sadly (often) carved out of disadvantage for someone else, he has a price for everything, but value for nothing. The gradual warming of the planet since the commencement of the Industrial Revolution and the escalation of the rate of warming since the late 20th century is a fact. That dire consequences flow from continuing escalation in warming is a fact. That future generations depend upon moral decisions made in the present, for the choices will not be available to them in future years is fact.
It is also fact that big business understands this reality and company executive after company executive has advised Trump not to do what he has done. Only Trump would have the Machiavellian imagination to say that climate change is a Chinese conspiracy, a bizarre change from a conspiracy concocted by scientists to perpetuate a funding base.
In light of this most appalling and irresponsible announcement how can there be mitigating circumstances?
· Global business future lies with renewables because as renewable technology improves almost by the month, and its use becomes ubiquitous, renewable energy will increasingly replace fossil fuels as an investment choice.
· Large States like California are world leaders in renewable energy and the decision of POTUS will have no impact upon them.
· American companies will now be locked out of discussions with serious economic implications for them. They will presumably make their pain known to the president.
· Trump’s decision will not restore coal mining jobs. Even if coal mines that have closed were to be reopened they can only operate at a profit and profit means minimum labour and maximum automation.
· This announcement will make little tangible difference in the short term. It is highly likely that the more scandalous his presidency becomes the more likely it is that he will be a one term president and that as he has reversed his predecessor’s decision, so his can be reversed. This will be particularly the case if, as is likely, the decision will in fact harm America’s economy.
The situation is serious, but were we expecting anything different? Trump is making America less and less relevant to the goal of a fair and sustainable world. It would thus be foolish of Australia to place the same value on its alliances as it has in the past, a new world order is emerging, a world order that under Trump America is being reduced to a bit player rather than holding the lead role.
Clive Hamilton’s latest book, Defiant Earth, the Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene, is a real challenge. He goes beyond science’s shocking revelation that we humans have set in motion irreversible change to planet earth; to ask what does it mean to be human in this profoundly changed situation. He even ventures into biblical reflection in saying, “Future historians of the cosmos will identify the century after World WarII and particularly the decades from 1990s when we knew what we were doing as the time of the Fall”. (p 126)
The Anthropocene is the term popularised in the year 2000 by the Nobel Prize winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen to describe the end of the Holocene, the last 100,000+ years of climate stability in which humans have flourished, and the commencement of a period of great volatility caused by the activity of one species – humans. Clive graphically describes the situation by saying “human history and geological history have collided”. There is a rupture. It is no longer appropriate to speak of ‘mother earth’ gently enfolding its human children, but rather to speak of earth systems fighting back. The more powerful humans become the more powerful the forces of nature become in response.
Clive is as critical of bland superficial responses as he is of those who deny the situation – the deniers. If policy and budgeting is any guide, the Australian government and of course the Queensland government must be in this category. While one can understand the raw politics of trying to shore up some seats in central Queensland, to do so by supporting the proposed Adani mine with so much at stake and even to consider ‘giving the coal away’ with a holiday from royalty revenue is as reprehensible as it is incomprehensible.
So what of a theological response? First, I agree with Clive in his preference for Irenaeus over Augustine in understanding “the Fall” as an ongoing, evolutionary understanding of the human predicament rather than a moment in pre-history when perfection turned sour. The first 11 chapters of the Bible do not describe moments of early time but illuminate our understanding of all time. Clive argues that while it might be fashionable to see humans as one amongst many species with a strikingly large percentage of shared DNA, the reality is that we humans are very different; we are the only species to wilfully and ubiquitously choose behaviour we know to be destructive.
To be human in this situation therefore demands informed lament, not about what is happening to us beyond our control, but about what we have done and wilfully continue to do, despite knowing the consequences of our actions. Lament is not wallowing in self pity but a first step in reorientation. Even if we have set earths systems on a new and unpredictable path that does not mean stoic resignation, it does mean rising to a different standard, a standard which takes us beyond our consumer driven identity to a more intelligent and knowing place in this vast universe. It takes us, as Clive says, into a new ethic.
I believe Clive is right to identify ‘freedom’ as an appropriate place to begin an ethical and theological exploration of the human condition in this post Holocene, post Enlightenment period we have now entered. The Enlightenment and outcomes flowing from the Industrial Revolution have cemented into western consciousness the idea that freedom resides with the individual and protecting individual rights is sacrosanct. The French philosopher Paul Ricoeur railed against this proposition when he said: “if freedom means the right of the individual to do whatever they like, then I have to conclude that freedom is the root of all evil”.
Clive suggests that rather than residing with the individual, freedom resides in what we might call the natural order. He does not say what he means by this, but let me have a shot at it. Rather than being frustrated or even embarrassed by the primeval stories of creation in the light of modern science, I am continually drawn back to them. The first creation story is the narrative of space creation. Light and darkness are separated. Land and water are separated. The water that is above (blessing and order) is separated from the water that is below (chaos). The three living spaces then team with life: the greater the space, the greater the freedom, the greater the freedom the greater the fecundity. On the other hand accumulation of rubbish, inappropriate human expansion, species extinction, violence, covetousness, greed and the like are all denials of space; in turn they are denials of life. Life requires freedom; space is the real custodian of freedom. En masse we humans have developed the capacity to reverse creation’s order.
The post modern world denies us the option of a meta narrative. Everyone has the right to state their own truth, to carve their own destiny. But is the post-modern world a confidence trick? The Anthropocene draws us back to a period before the Enlightenment, back to a meta story for while what we do as individuals remains important it is what we have done and do on mass that has brought us to this place. The Anthropocene demands a meta narrative to undergird an ethic for this age. While we insist on the right of the individual or its logical progression, the rights of the individual nation, we will never be able to respond to our current predicament, for our predicament stretches beyond the individual and beyond the individual nation..
I want to suggest that the human vocation, the knowing, cognitive vocation, the ethical vocation, indeed the theological vocation, is to understand ourselves as keepers of the space in which freedom resides. This is a very different concept to the prevailing metaphor of steward. This vocation will require characteristics which are not commonly lauded. Primarily we must understand we live within limits, boundaries; for without this understanding we will continue to fill all available space until freedom which undergirds life will be completely lost. It is right that we should be aspirational beings, but if we are to live in a world where freedom abounds, less must often be more. The great irony is that submitting to boundaries is not slavery but its opposite, the embracing of freedom, for freedom, which boundaries protect, resides beyond ourselves. This century, more than any other, humans have to learn the appropriateness of place and not live beyond it. To illustrate the situation from another perspective, there are many definitions for beauty, but one that I like best is that beauty resides in the appropriate. We are in danger of living in an age of increasing ugliness.
The Noah narrative is a continuation of the creation narrative. It speaks of human activity becoming so influential that it effects a change to earths patterns, creation is put into reverse, the waters cease to be separated, indeed there is no distinction between land and water, space is gone, freedom is gone, life is locked in an ark (coffin). It is hard to conceive a story more appropriate for our age.
At the conclusion of the 40 days creation normalises and the spaces return. The passage concludes with the covenant between God and all living, signed with the bow in the sky. Into these spaces life tentatively steps out in freedom. In the anthropocene predicament, this covenant might sound too optimistic, for is God really going to intervene to prevent the consequences of our actions which are becoming so disturbingly apparent? If the passage were to have a literal interpretation the 40 days might be more like 400,000 years or much longer, when earth systems return to a life giving balance and earth continues without the human.
This is perhaps where the struggle to do theology in the age of the anthropocene hits the wall. Is grace too optimistic? Is a Christian commitment to life that overcomes death, of light that banishes darkness far too hopeful? Is the Christian doctrine of Salvation literally consigned to pie in the sky when we die? I would like to write much more about this and especially write a biblical eschatology that makes sense of the anthropocene. . My immediate answer is no, certainly not. The Giver of space, the bestower of freedom will always call humans, those creatures uniquely dignified with the ‘knowledge of good and evil’, to be keepers of it, and in the keeping of it discover it for themselves – ‘thy kingdom come, on earth, as it is in heaven’.
There are many aspects to marriage. The State quite rightly has an interest from a legal perspective. Legality includes determining eligibility, ensuring proper and free consent, making provision for property title, taxation, welfare benefits, and the rights and responsibilities that relate to children. The State provides legal security through licence, legally in force until death or divorce. The State records termination through death, divorce or nullity. Marriage celebrants (ministers of religion and civil celebrants) act on behalf of the state in formalising the legal marriage agreement between the parties. It is of course in the interest of the State that marriages are stable and contribute to a harmonious and peaceful civil society.
Unsurprisingly Australia followed the English pattern in authorising registered ministers of religion to act on its behalf: those so registered need to follow the authorised rite of their denomination or religious identity in the formalising of the marriage. More lately authorised civil celebrants have multiplied as the need for a marriage celebration outside a religious building has increased. Often these civil celebrants use a rite with quasi religious overtones “for better or worse, for richer or poorer” etc.
For many, perhaps most, marriage is of course more than a legal contract, it is a covenant of love between two people in which commitment is made to serve honour and respect one another, indeed to fulfil the life of the other. Religious conviction undergirds marriage with various levels of covenantal love and commitment. I am committed to a lifelong union. I believe the covenant is made with divine sanction and therefore is a union of grace. The arrival of children and grandchildren deepen the union and extend the layers of responsibility and accountability.
Marriage as I understand it is a commitment between a man and a woman.
But do the legal requirements of marriage by the state and the covenantal or sacramental expression of the couples love need to be formally linked? I do not think they can any longer; indeed the linking of them is causing unnecessary hurt and division in Australian society.
It has been my conviction for some time that the legal requirements of the state for the registering of a marriage should now be separated from the covenantal expression of love for each other, expressed either through a secular ceremony or a religious one. Marriage celebrants, be they ministers of religion or civil celebrants, should no longer do the work of the State. The work of the State should be done formally at a state sanctioned place of registry according to the requirements of law.
This would then free up couples to celebrate their covenantal love for one another as they choose. This would allow religious ceremonies to take on very specific meaning and would be prepared accordingly.
This week Senator Penny Wong has re-entered the marriage debate seemingly suggesting that people of religious conviction should not impact the lives of others through opposition to same-sex union. Being a Christian herself, this is an interesting position to hold. Everyone is entitled to contribute to the debate. It is my contention that Penny’s position can only be taken seriously if the separation I am suggesting takes place. The state has the right, indeed the obligation to enact laws which further the lives of the majority of its citizens. Given polls suggest the majority favour ‘marriage equality’ then this legal provision should be provided to all.
‘Marriage’ would then have different layers of meaning as a great many words or concepts do in every language. Marriage would mean a legal contract entered into according to the legislated provisions of the parliament. It would also have another meaning all together expressed through the religious or secular ceremony of choice. The latter would normally be the ceremony into which considerable investment is made and to which family and friends gather. The former would be a formality according to law. The latter would be open to the institution (or person) responsible to agree or decline to agree to participate in the intended union. The sacramental celebration of the couple’s love could (probably should) be accompanied with a jointly signed certificate which celebrates the intention of the ceremony. It may also become normal for this union to be reinforced through celebrations every seven or ten years.
The marriage debate has met an unfortunate impasse. Overcoming this impasse will not heal the rift that already exists. Whatever decision is made, some will feel vindicated and others aggrieved.
Separating the legal requirement of the State from the covenantal expression of love seems to me to overcome this impasse.
On 12 May I accepted an invitation to be one of the speakers at a forum on “Social Justice: Israel/Palestine” held at the Wheeler Centre Melbourne. On reflection it is one invitation I should not have accepted.
Since the night I have been seeking to confirm its sponsor. I have been told it was Dialogue4Peace. So far I have unsuccessfully tried to find any information about the group, its members, or its purpose. Why didn’t I do due diligence before the evening? Good question, with a fine sounding name I assumed ‘dialogue’ and ‘peace’.
Why angst after the event? Because it was an event the like of which I cannot recall experiencing in now more than 50 years of public life. Neither ‘dialogue’ nor ‘peace’ was on the agenda that night. At least it gave me a momentary glimpse into the world Palestinians suffer 24/7.
There was no dialogue, just raw confrontation. Material left on the seats for the audience to pick up was spiteful, and presented a generic picture of Palestinians as terrorists, devoid of morality and the cause of the ongoing conflict. I and the Palestinian speaker Yousef Alreemawi, provided information about APAN and copies of the Kairos statement, a theological and social justice statement signed by leaders of the Middle East Council of Churches.
The opening speech at the forum was an unrelenting attack on me, presumably because I speak in defence of Palestinian rights as President of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network. The second speaker in support of Israel’s position was a Coptic Christian. I totally understand the depth of anguish she feels as a result of the atrocities meted out to Coptic Church membership in Egypt from extreme elements claiming to be Islamic. As a fellow Christian I identify with the anguish, but what has that to do with Palestinians? It is also important to remember that following these atrocities grassroots Egyptian Muslims came to the aid, defence and support of their Coptic fellow citizens.
The assertion at the heart of the presentation exonerating Israel and blaming the Palestinians was that this is essentially a religious conflict and more specifically a religious conflict being waged by extreme elements of Islam. It of course suits Israel for this assertion to be made because it allows Israel to justify (to itself and its friends) its military incursions and its oppression of Palestinians on the basis that it is joining the free world in a global fight against Islamic terrorism. It would have been good if the forum could have debated this out. But it was not to be. Fortunately this terrible misrepresentation of truth has not been swallowed by most in the international community although of course it is peddled as truth in America and Australia. Regular polls indicate that the majority of Australians have not swallowed it either, although it appears to suit many of our political elite to run this line.
Does injustice provide a seedbed for extremism – yes it does. Is a convenient flag of identity for extremism a religious flag – yes it is. Do the extremists live out the values of the religious flag they carry – no they don’t. Should a civilian population be corporately punished for the acts of violence of a few – no of course they should not. But shamefully this is what is happening to the Palestinian people through a denial of their basic human rights.
Should the injustices which provide the seedbed for extremism be addressed – yes of course they should, but rather than being addressed they are being exacerbated. To their absolute credit the Palestinian civilian population has disavowed violent resistance and are focussed on non-violent resistance. The current hunger strike is one form of this resistance, BDS is another.
The facts of the matter are that this is not a religious conflict. It is a conflict that has intensified as the power and domination of Israel has grown. This domination increasingly denies Palestinians the right to exist. (Ironic that Israel insists exclusively on the opposite). The international community is clear about Israel’s borders, (the 1967 borders) 78% of historic Palestine. But Netanyahu and his government clearly covet the remaining 22% which the Palestinians since the Oslo Accord have remarkably been prepared to accept as a Two-State solution. However every day more and more of this 22% disappears as more illegal settlements are constructed and Israeli roads and infrastructure alienate more and more land. For centuries Arabs and Jews lived side by side. 20th and 21st century migration has changed all of that. Palestinians are now corralled into smaller and smaller enclaves without proper access to basic resources while newly-arrived Israeli immigrants from anywhere in the world are afforded a first world standard of living on land which has been confiscated from Palestinians.
It is said that the majority of Israelis are not religious (although their leadership and supporters rely on religious history to undergird claims on land). The majority of Palestinians are Muslim and a minority Christian, but the identity that forms and nourishes them is that they are Palestinian.
The presentations on Thursday night in support of Israel discouraged moderation, they encouraged extreme and distorted views of reality out of fear, and I am sorry to say, out of hate. The question which concluded the forum was “what advice do you have for Trump and others who claim to be looking for a solution to this conflict”. My answer was that I would ask Netanyahu whether he wants common ground. If common ground is not wanted it will never exist.
It is my experience that Palestinians long for peace, for the opportunity to live their lives as others do. The majority of Palestinians would, in my view, be prepared to live with any solution as long as it was a genuine democracy with equal rights for everyone. Surely this is not too much to ask?
Netanyahu on the other hand rules out, either a One-State or a Two-State solution, presumably meaning he would like all Palestinians to leave or be corralled into disconnected Bantustans.
In the forum those defending Israel were aggrieved at the use of the term apartheid to describe the current situation. It was said that anyone who had lived in South Africa during the Apartheid era would not use this language of Israel. It was pointed out that before his death this was exactly how Mandela described the Palestinian plight and it is how Desmond Tutu continues to describe it.
This is not a religious conflict, it is a conflict of human rights, a conflict of social justice, the moral argument is with the Palestinians, it is little wonder that those who support Israel fall back on invective in the absence of any moral argument.
We are used to hearing that Judaeo/Christian influence has shaped Western society, but what exactly does that mean? Like all ideas expressed in words it can mean whatever the listener wants it to mean, both positive and negative. However, it is usually understood to mean that this tradition has somehow shaped and undergirding national values. Well, what values? Both sides of Australian politics as well as the growing myriad of independents stake their claims on the basis that they, more than their opponents, exemplify ‘values’ that are truly Australian.
So what of Judaeo Christian values? The touchstone can be found in the Old Testament prophets and the tradition that surrounded them. It was the prophets who forged the idea of monotheism within what was a polytheistic world and with it the necessary concomitant that all human beings are equal, have equal rights, share the same destiny under the one God. As this became the prism through which human life was to be understood then justice and how it should be both administered judicially under God and more importantly accepted as a way of living by the people became the overriding concern of the prophetic tradition. Matters of religious expression, cultural identity and ownership or sovereignty of land were secondary to this first principle. “The context of the Old Testament concern is not the nation, although Zionism distorts it into that, but the God of justice who, divinely representing justice for everyone and every nation, is called the universal God”. (Paul Tillich)
Justice is honed in the New Testament through the application of the principle of grace. That is to say, justice is not simply a matter of right and wrong alone, it is a matter of equity and fairness, of raising up the weak, of releasing the captives and setting the down trodden free. Justice undergirds harmony, equity and peace without which the world is condemned to violent competition and suffering.
With this in mind it is difficult to understand those Australian policy makers who claim to be in the Judaeo/Christian tradition and yet enslave the poor through monetary and fiscal policy that favours the rich. It is also very difficult to understand those who claim to stand in that tradition but who continue policies that have seen refugees caught in a time warp, seemingly without end, on Manus and Nauru. As my ecclesiastical patron, Bishop John Stoward Moyes of Armidale argued, “it is impossible to claim Judaeo/Christian values if you are a communist who accepts the right of the state to make its people subservient. Equally it is impossible to claim these values, or indeed claim to be a Christian, if you are a capitalist who believes in a market that enables a few to benefit from the resources of the many while the many languish in layers of disadvantage”.
If a nation is to have the right to claim Judaeo/Christian values as its foundation, it must find a path which embraces both space for individual aspiration and a society transformed by social justice.
Let me also take this reflection into the heart of the modern State of Israel, presumably an inheritor of the ‘Israels’ that have preceded it. Universal justice appears to have become an unwelcome stranger in the land of Israel. Zionism’s compulsive identification with land, has replaced justice as its core value. The having, holding and conquering of land has seemingly become the arbiter of nationhood, the ideal which must not be questioned, to do so is to be a ‘self hating Jew’ or anti-Semite.
The modern State of Israel is secular. Those who believe in what might be understood as religious Judaism may well be the minority. However, the claim to land has a religious history and the manner in which this is articulated relies on that history for its validation. The West, by this I mean Australia and the US make certain claims about Israel that identify it with values which we are purported to share.
· Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Hang on, no it is not. First of all, on who’s definition of democracy? Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are afforded no rights while Arabs in Israel have differing and reduced rights to their Jewish counter parts.
· Israel is the only country in the Middle East that enables freedom of religion. Well, no. Israel claims to be a Jewish State. By definition the statement excludes those who are not Jews. The idea of Jerusalem as an historical centre for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike is being constantly eroded. “Jerusalem is being Judaised” as the Christian leaders in Jerusalem explained to me. On the other hand, Palestinian leadership has consistently pleaded with me to ensure that the Christian population of Palestine is not further reduced through lack of support from the West.
· Israel is the only country in the Middle East that lives by the rule of law. Well, no, it does not. Palestinian children as young as primary school are incarcerated in Israeli gaols because they resist the occupation. The occupying force protects the illegal settlers and not the Palestinian civil population. Essential services are provided to the illegal settlers and restricted or denied the Palestinians.
My strong critique of the State of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians is based upon what I understand to be Judaeo/Christian values. As such, rather than this critique being anti-Semitic, I believe it to be supportive of the essential value upon which the culture of Judaism is founded – the practice of universal justice. It is Zionism, the placing of land in the position of ultimate concern, above human well being, above fairness and justice, which is the truly anti-Semitic narrative.
The Judaeo/Christian ethic then is founded on the principle of universal justice: justice that exceeds simple right and wrong, a justice which seeks to restore the balances of personal national and global disadvantage, justice that has its goal in shalom, the harmony of a mutually shared life to which all aspire and in which all might flourish.