in service of the
The more religious interests seek to protect the prejudicial and ridiculous, the quicker Australian religious identity will slip into a quaint niche minority.
Australia is a reasonably harmonious multi-cultural, multifaith society. We have not always been this way. We began as a white supremacist society heaping terrible prejudice and suffering on an ancient culture and its people, with consequences that remain unresolved. This was done out of arrogance, wilful ignorance and all too often abetted by religious small mindedness .
It is true that our inclusiveness has nurtured a culture of political correctness that lessens our capacity to celebrate difference. Signs that encourage the public to choose the bathroom that best suits their understanding of gender, and discouragement of language and symbol that define seasons such as Christmas are examples. But misplaced pc aside, what discrimination do people of faith need to be protected from?
It is useful to start with a distinction between faith and religion. They are not the same. Religion is a framework in which faith is nurtured. Religion is not the real thing – faith is. I am a Christian and a cradle Anglican. I am profoundly grateful for my Anglican home which has nourished me for nearly eight decades. I am the first to recognise that this home has strong cultural affinities, grounding me in literary, liturgical and historical roots that provide a deep sense of identity. If you like, Anglicanism is my ancestral home. But it also links me into a Christian community which is inclusive of other cultural identities, be they Ethiopian Coptic, Greek Orthodox, Arminian Catholic, or Scottish Presbyterianism.
Like all other human institutions, all religions are fallible. Terrible errors and mistakes have been and continue to be made. Charlatans abound. All human beings are flawed, the flaws of some are more obvious, or made more public than is the case with others.
Almost all religions rely upon sacred writings to ground their authority. For Christians this authority is the Bible, for Jews it is the Talmud and for Muslims, the Koran. These texts, not to mention Hindu, Buddhist and Confucian writings, hold some common themes as well as irreconcilable differences. To impose values from one or more of these texts on those outside that adherence, should be unthinkable – unless it can be shown that those values have become foundational to common human identity. An example might be the ten commandments, the last six of which have long been accepted as a necessary moral framework. Another would be “do unto other as you have them do to you” (Mtt 7:12), a variation of which is seen to be particularly Australian. Jewish sabbatical requirements, Islamic requirements of dress and eating, or a Christian understanding that a tenth of all income should be charitably given away cannot be imposed.
Great religious leaders have the capacity to speak to common humanity. Pope Francis and Archbishop Tutu have this capacity as does the Dalai Lama. Popes in the immediate past have lacked this capacity. When these men, or those of far less wisdom, speak to an issue specifically out of their distinctive tradition, then authority beyond the boundary of that tradition disappears. Difference arises because text offers difference in interpretation. It is not just that Protestants might read scripture differently to Catholics, it is that members of the same religious group can and do read text differently to each other. It does not help when some protest that text is infallible and therefore there is no room for interpretation. Spoken word, let alone written word, is open to interpretation. Some biblical texts stand in direct literal contradiction to others. The best way of checking meaning within the Bible is to read a specific text in the context of all other texts.
Religious freedom cannot mean a person has the right to quote religious text as if it is authoritative for the general public, especially when it is disputed by the speaker’s own adherents. This is plain nonsense. In relation to the Folau case, Mr Folau, was not even properly quoting text, he was reciting his version of a text. Religious freedom should not allow an adherent of any religion to speak or act in a prejudicial manner towards another Australian who enjoys protection under Australian law and custom Any text that implies or justifies discrimination against the LGBTQI is in this category.
Those promoting religious freedom protection look as if they are wishing to preserve perceived rights of discrimination in publicly funded institutions. (Within their own walls there is no restriction on saying or doing whatever they wish). These demands are in direct conflict with the obligation of the state to ensure that public monies are expended in a context where the rights of citizens according to Australian law and custom are upheld. An institution which refuses to enrol or admit a member of the LGBTQI community should cease all public funding. Similarly, an institution which provides health care and refuses treatment that would otherwise be available under law, should not be registered as a publicly funded institution. I would go further and say that an institution that teaches nonsense, like a short history of the world, or that children should not be vaccinated, or that there is an alternative to climate science, should be deregistered on the basis that these teachings are dangerously detrimental for all humanity.
Religious freedom must not entrench freedom to discriminate.
On the other hand, faith, that personal kernel and inspiration of life is not capable of being discriminated against. There are more than ample examples of those who have been imprisoned for their faith, suffered persecution for their faith, who have found strength even an enlargement of their spirit through such persecution. Nothing in Australian law or custom discriminates against my faith. I can worship where I choose. I can assemble as I please. As long as it is not defamatory, I can argue and write as my conscience directs. I can protest. I can march.
As I wander in God’s natural cathedral, the created order, there is no imposition that can restrict my sense of awe and wonder. If I want to stand on a soapbox in the city mall and express my voice, I can. Most important of all, nothing can restrict my personal times of prayer reading and thought. As faith grows stronger with years, but confidence in religious institutions declines, I see nothing that needs protecting, indeed, I can only see discriminatory protection of religious institutions being ultimately detrimental to their longevity. Religious institutions should rely on God’s grace and their own integrity as the only necessary protection.
Morrison Government you are a disgrace
NSW is alight, and it is still not the right time to talk about Climate Change!!!!!
What message of commitment did we have to give the world community in Madrid? - nothing.
Yesterday you said Australia is reducing its emission year on year. Your own department’s graphics shows this to be untrue. Asserting untruth does not make it true. How is it possible to believe anything you say?
This morning Margaret and I followed RFS advice and evacuated our home at Long Beach in the face of a large fire which will not be extinguished unless it rains. I am finding this emotionally such a challenge. Shouldn’t we stay and fight? At least should we not have stayed alongside neighbours? Most have left but some have stayed. For days we have watched the water bombers fill from the Bay, the air is constantly full of smoke and as I type all the fire sirens are going.
Let me tell you some stories.
One (widow) is staying because her husband built her the house and she wants to defend it.
Another neighbour, an Italian migrant, is choosing to remain. He left Italy because of the disgraceful leadership of Berlusconi. He is surrounded by trees under which nestles his beloved aviary. He will not leave his birds. He has contempt for Berlusconi but his contempt for Morrison is palpable. How is it possible, he asks, that Australia could elect as leader one who must surely know the scientific reality of climate change as well as absorb observable data, but still chooses to pacify his self-serving denialist supporters.
Margaret coordinates volunteers at the recovery station. (Our evacuation was in part to enable her to do this). When I arrived yesterday afternoon, I was almost knocked over by a woman leaving in tears and deep distress. She had apparently offered assistance to a woman who believed her home to be lost, but was unprepared for health and safety rules required of her in doing so. So often rules stop us from more flexibly meeting the needs of people in distress. I was so proud of Margaret for standing up for the woman. I can hardly blame Morrison for this, but what kind of country have we become that bureaucracy wins over compassion. I can blame Morrison for this principle in relation to medivac.
Yes, we are a country of droughts bushfires and flooding rains, but what is happening to us must almost shock scientists who may now feel their predictions are proving to have been on the conservative side.
Over recent years I have been sending messages of support to friends in various parts of Australia when faced with unprecedented climatic conditions. In 2003 we lived in Canberra and I became joint chair of the recovery appeal following the devastating fires. Observing the plight of others, you think you know what it might feel like, but until you are forced out of your own home, you do not really know. What must it be like for the hundreds of thousands world-wide for whom this is a reality, either because of natural disaster, or because of inhumanity?
As a Christian should I be more charitable to Morrison and his government, - less angry. No I do not think so.
Jesus was angry when he entered the temple and was confronted with the money changers, for they were misleading and diminishing the people. Our government is a motely group of money changers. They appear more interested in supporting financial enterprise, no matter its morality, business dealings no matter their environmental impact, trade no matter human rights violations, or budget considerations regardless of social outcomes: that is why it is a disgrace. To add insult to injury the department of environment has now been absorbed into the department of agriculture. If this is too harsh, Morrison, or one of your ministers, give me evidence worthy of an apology from me.
Government continues to insist its major responsibility is to keep Australians safe. Hey, wake up - climate change is our greatest existential threat. It is a far greater threat than terrorism. It is a social threat, it is a grave economic threat and yes, it is an environmental threat. How about you deviate a fraction of the cost of one of your never never submarines to fight a real threat?
We are appropriately lambasted at international forums for our apparent indifference. Morrison you are a disgrace for claiming we are doing much – in the context of our ability and size we’re not, and because we are perceived not to be, we have absolutely no influence in encouraging others to be more responsible.
If the evidence were not in. If we were too poor and therefore could not choose. If action meant putting thousands of Australian jobs at risk. If the task were beyond us for any reason. -------- Then I would understand.
But none are true.
We are in a better position to act than almost any other country in the world
Our not acting, and the world not acting will impact our continent more than any other
The long-term effect of not acting is economic idiocy.
All of this is a disgrace and an indignity inflicted upon all Australians
If my house burns Mr Morrison, you most certainly will be on the end of another blog, Nero developed an unenviable reputation for fiddling while Rome burnt. ‘Fiddling while Rome burns’ does not mean being literally responsible for today’s fires, it is an idiom for referring to a person(s) in power who is prepared to do anything other than what is important.
Peace on Earth, Good will towards all:
Tale of Two Jerusalem Prizes
The holy city’s name focuses the universal longing for peace: the hope, indeed the expectation that diversity and difference do not need to issue in animosity, injustice and violence, but in mutuality, enrichment from the other’s difference. It is associated with blessing from Melchizedek the mysterious the King of Salem to Abraham, ancestor, founder and prophet shared by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The city is sacred to all three.
Last week there were two seemingly similar but very different prizes awarded, each with ‘Jerusalem’ in their name - the ‘Jerusalem Prize’ awarded by the Zionist Federation of Australia to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and the ‘Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize’ awarded by Australians For Palestine and the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network to journalist, author and film-maker Antony Loewenstein.
Which of these two prizes most honours Jerusalem and all that it stands for?
The first prize, awarded by the Zionist coalition, sadly projects an exclusive, intolerant Jerusalem. It rewards Australia’s support for the steady advance of the Zionist enterprise - the creation and expansion of Israel as an exclusive Jewish theocratic state. It rewards moves that have undermined the achievement of peace and made the overcoming of generational suspicion animosity and violence so much harder.
The latter prize honours one who has kept the dream of peace alive, one who has fearlessly advocated for the rights of Palestinians to live where they have always lived, and to be treated with civility and equality. This advocacy has not been against Israel but for a future in which Palestinian and Israeli find commonality through mutual flourishing.
The current oppression meted out to Palestinians flows over to Israelis for they too are diminished by acts of inhumanity. Peace restores dignity to oppressed and oppressor alike. The absence of peace is too high a price for Palestinians to pay, but it is also too high a price for Israelis to choose. Palestinians continue to pay a price for the creation of Israel that history cannot now reverse. But despite the pain endured by so many for so long, the Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize keeps alive a vision of Jerusalem the unifier, Jerusalem the tolerant.
Israelis and Palestinians are both let down by inept and inadequate political leadership and by international failure to insist that Israel abide by international law. There’s little consensus on what justice would look like for the millions of Palestinians in refugee camps or blockaded in the Gaza Strip. Our Prime Minister is a politician who knows there are always at least two sides to a story, but in aligning himself with the World Zionist Organisation he is choosing one side, and sadly for a Christian, keeping the bird of peace firmly shut in the dovecote.
From its origins Christianity transferred universal hopes for peace from a place (Jerusalem) to a person (Christ). For a Christian, Shalom-Salem-Peace is a notion that is inclusive, without boundary. The Prime Minister must surely find any moves to exclusivity in this most international of cities utterly contradictory; not least because exclusivity makes victims of those excluded.
The Prime Minister’s assertion in his acceptance speech that “Israel is a beacon of democracy” is sadly without foundation. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was recently indicted for corruption including exchanging favours with Israeli media outlets. He has not stood down. Israeli Basic Law enacted in 2018 stipulates that "the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people" thus relegating Palestinians to inferior status. We don’t call a system democratic when citizens’ rights depend on their religion or race, nor when that State occupies another people denying them rights freedom and autonomy.
Two prizes have been offered almost simultaneously under what appears to be the same name (tellingly one omits the word peace). One prize was given to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and one to the Australian Jewish journalist and writer Antony Loewenstein. One recipient has honoured and comforted the powerful, the other has advocated the rights of those the powerful have down trodden. The latter is the one who honours Jerusalem, Salem, the city of peace. Bravo Mr Loewenstein!
Catastrophic Deficit of Leadership
Democracy in the western world is in deep crisis over a catastrophic leadership deficit. Reform requires policies that necessitate change. It is easy to elicit fear in the prospect of change. Good policy is either never presented, or is struck down at an election because whichever party is in opposition presses the fear button and wins the popular vote. Binary politics has become the death of democracy.
The deficit is most obvious in energy and climate policy (now is not the time to talk about climate change -Morrison), but is far from restricted to this arena. Political policy making lags so far behind the need for reform, it has become almost irrelevant to the big issues faced by contemporary society. In a previous age three estates, the Church, the Nobility and the Commons competed for their interests to be heard and preferably safeguarded. Media the fourth estate, has the task of making events and trends known.
What might those three estates be today? The commons, or civil society, must surely be the first estate, may I suggest, business and the business community the second, and government the third. In a democracy the ‘commons’ or the interest of the public should prevail. But is this the case? Notwithstanding the claim made by politicians that their first duty is to listen to the electorate, clearly this duty has limits. As noted in a previous blog, the voice of ordinary people, especially whistle blowers, is treated with suspicion, even animosity. As major issues continue to suffer from a policy vacuum this voice will not be shut down and will increasingly take to the streets, as recently observed with the student climate strike. Increasingly businesses will adopt moral or ethical positions on significant issues, as has recently been the case in relation to climate and gender equality. Politicians are ignorantly wrong in thinking they have the right to tell business to stay with money making and ignore deeper moral and ethical issues. It is probable that these two estates will increasingly work in partnership together. The interest of business must be aligned with the interest of the public. Government does all in its power to stop this growing partnership, for it perceives it to be trespassing on its own territory. While politics lacks the capacity, or the will, to fulfil its responsibilities, this collaboration will grow stronger.
Those who aspire to serve through a political calling almost always start altruistically in service of the common good, but inevitably find themselves serving the party and ideology with which they identify. Those who watched the recent ABC series Total Control would have been struck by the mirror that it held up to present practice and in particular would have some sympathy for the plight in which Ken Wyatt the minister for Indigenous Affairs finds himself, torn between the voice of his own people and the government’s refusal to listen to words that do not fit their world view.
Let’s have look at some of the most glaring deficits.
No one is under any illusion that even if Australia moved immediately to zero emissions, this action would, on its own, make the slightest difference to climatic change already the frightening experience of many. We are part of a global community in which greenhouse gases recognise no national boundary. That is not the point. So what is the point?
Economic and social policy:
Democracy will continue to be devoid of leadership while:
The Trump Administration
At best, the Trump administration is a somewhat mesmerising soap opera with seemingly endless sequels, but at worst it is a very dangerous regime undoing the very frameworks upon which international accord and trust depend.
Mutual trust and respect take a long time to build and can be instantly undone. We all know this at a personal level. At a national and international level, we may not notice frameworks being unwound until it is too late. Central to accord and goodwill is unequivocal commitment to international law. To rely upon international law, even demand its compliance from others, when it suits, and ignore it when it does not suit, has led to catastrophe and last century to two world wars.
Today, from the mouth of secretary of State Pompeo the Trump administration has declared Israeli Settlements in the Palestinian Territories are not in breach of the law.
The following is a statement on this matter from the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network of which I am president:
The Trump administration’s announcement - that they do not regard settlements as inconsistent with international law - disregards the entire international legal framework for a just solution for Israel and Palestine. This is another attempt by Trump to re-write the rulebook.
Israel’s settlement building has the explicit aim of undermining the establishment of a Palestinian State, it is activity which has elicited world condemnation since the 1960s. Settlements are a clear breach of the Fourth Geneva Conventions which prohibits the transference of civilian population into an Occupied area. This legal situation has been confirmed by the International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. In 2016 the UN Security Council stated settlements are a “flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders”.
This is the third time the Trump administration has sought to demolish the UN framework for a just solution – their move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv disregards international consensus that Jerusalem is a final status issue recognising the national capital claims of both Palestine and Israel; and their announcement about the Golan Heights ignores it is Occupied Syrian Territory. The US is giving Israel a green light to continue to be an expansionist State.
Given our Prime Minister has acknowledged that “settlements undermine peace – and contribute to the stalemate we now see" (ref), we call on the Government to reconfirm Australia’s opposition to the Israel’s settlements.
Australia must be clear and principled in our commitment to international law. Israel cannot continue to seize Palestinian land. Israel cannot keep pushing Palestinians into smaller enclaves. Israel cannot continue a military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in perpetuity. And the Trump administration can't unilaterally re-write international law.
Australia must make a very clear choice and publicly condemn the Pompeo statement. In our region, particularly in the face of growing Chinese influence, we depend upon clear observance of international law. It is outrageous of a foreign power (America) to declare that the indigenous people of Palestine can suddenly be made homeless, that they are dispensable. If they are, then potentially all people are dispensable if they get in the way of national imperialistic or colonising ambitions. In Australia we have still to deal with the consequences of making the Aboriginal people dispensable. We cannot and must not join America in doing the same thing to the Palestinians.
Now is the time for Australia to tread an independent path, neither pro-America, nor pro-China.
A word from an Extinction Rebellionist
I am an environmental activist. Why? On 5 November 2019 more than 11,000 scientists from more than 150 countries, including our own CSIRO declared a climate emergency in the face of which the Australian government continues to irresponsibly fail in their duty to enact policies that would enable Australia and Australians to join and perhaps lead the rest of the world to a sustainable future. Our government is riddled with members who continue to insist that the science is flawed, a position consistent with those who insist the earth is flat. As an environmental activist, the Prime Minister has labelled me an opinionated, selfish, self-indulgent, apocalyptic anarchist, indeed, an economic vandal who must be stopped from pressuring companies to change course from a 20th century, steam-engine, economic model. Ironically It is the government who are the economic (quite apart from environmental) vandals, for not incentivising businesses to adopt new, sustainable, and rapidly expanding technologies. This blindness will condemn Australia to a minor place in the future economies of the world.
The government has made me an activist through its dereliction of duty. I could not face my own conscience or the faces of my grandchildren if I were not. I recommend all members of parliament play the Prime Minister’s Queensland speech on shutting down environmental activism a few times in their parliamentary suites and ask if this is the kind of oratory one would reasonably expect from a leader of a party which espouses free speech and encourages full participation in the democratic process? It sounds more like a speech that one might expect from the President of Russia, China or Turkey. I will not be stopped from being an activist by governmental threat and legislation.
Environmental activists are not unemployed anarchists, bludging on the welfare system as Peter Dutton is wont to depict us. They are people like me. I am not a dole bludger. I was a fulltime participant in the work force from the age of 15 to the age of 68. Since retirement I have been, more or less, a fulltime volunteer in various community related activities. I am proud of the role I have played in securing a ‘climate emergency’ resolution through local government and for ensuring that environmental ethics are an integral part of the business plan of one of Australia’s largest companies through their shareholder meeting. I am thrilled to have played a small part in ensuring that my Church, in many countries of the world, has disinvested from any company involved with coal mining.
I am very glad to walk amongst members of extinction rebellion. I do not wish to cause others inconvenience, but I do wish to draw the urgency of our situation to as many as possible.
The Prime Minister has said more than once that all Australians must be subject to the law. How could one not agree ... except for the reality that this government continues to intimidate citizens by passing laws that restrict freedom and participation in the democratic process, if that participation does not suit the holders of power. Perhaps the Prime Minister was whistling in the wind in his Queensland speech, throwing a piece of red meat to locked on popularist supporters. Or does he really intend to pass laws to make my environmental activism an offence? If the latter, then he will have to cope with the consequences of civil disobedience from myself and thousands of others.
The speech of the Prime Minister is the most recent in a string of restrictions on transparency and freedom which has led the New York Times to label Australia ‘the world’s most secretive democracy’. What has brought us to this point? It is remarkable that all the major outlets of Australia’s ‘fourth estate’ have put aside their differences and combined in a campaign to make the public aware of legislation that is preventing transparency in the press and denying the people’s right to know.
Most major investigations into public scandals in recent times have occurred because of the courage of whistle blowers and the journalists whom whistle blowers have trusted to make their information known. There would not have been enquiries and Royal Commissions into institutional child sex abuse, the banking industry, aged care, disability care, the racing industry, and much more if it were not for whistle blowers and investigative journalists – especially in the ABC. Despite their protestation to the contrary, government has been bought kicking and screaming to authorising these enquiries.
But what is happening to whistle blowers? Rather than being protected and thanked for their courage, they are being vilified. The most outstanding example is the case of Witness K and lawyer Bernard Colleary. It is almost incomprehensible that Australia could have spied on the fledgling government of East Timor and equally incomprehensible that we could have stolen 5 billion dollars in oil and gas revenue from them. As if this is not enough, it is beyond comprehension and an indictment on all Australians that rather than being embarrassed, penitent and apologetic, we are pursuing the whistle-blowers with all the legal armament at government’s disposal. What on earth are we thinking? What kind of people have we become that we would punish those who lift the lid on reprehensible behaviour, rather than hold to account those responsible for the behaviour?
The treatment of scientists by the government is the same. In their own way they are whistle blowers, informing politicians, industry, and the public about behaviour that needs to change. They are not apocalyptic alarmists. People who call others pejorative names should be very careful, for how often is it true that name callers are describing themselves. Those who deny the track we are walking on is too close to the cliff, when there are clearly other choices, are the ones behaving apocalyptically
Prime Minister, I would love to know what you and people like Eric Abetz, Peter Dutton, and Craig Kelly read to give you comfort in your assumption that you know better than scientists. The reality is that you are the ones who are undermining Australia’s economy. New technologies will bring Australia its future prosperity. Farmers who can no longer reliably grow cops or graze cattle could house extensive solar farms, the energy from which could power hydrogen extraction sold to Japan China etc. This is but one small example. The insurance industry has told us that unrestrained climate change will make insurance unaffordable to many, to use another example.
I am nearly old enough to sit back, put on my slippers and read the paper. But while the political class utterly fails its responsibility to secure a future for generations to come, you will continue to push me out onto the streets in the company of other rebellionists, old and young, left and right. Prime Minister, please wake up to the reality that standing for justice is not a ‘leftie’ thing, it should be what we all do. Similarly, wanting to conserve the natural order is the duty of all, everyone on their watch must ensure that those who follow are not diminished.
In his speech at last week’s Sydney synod, Archbishop Glenn Davies made it clear he wished those who support the blessing of same sex marriage unions to leave the Church because ‘you cannot bless sin’. Subsequently he attempted to clarify his statement which had caused enormous anguish and resentment by saying he intended the message only for Bishops who did so. I am not sure where this leaves me, from his perspective. While my faith compels me to be an environmental activist, I am not an LGBTQI activist although I absolutely support the notion that all who are committed to the principles of Christian marriage, i.e. fidelity, mutual love and respect, and life-long union deserve the blessing of God. The reason I am not an activist in this cause is because those outside the Church have long since moved on. They are sick and tired of a debate which increasingly appears to be an unhealthy obsession, or perhaps paranoia, for a group of Christians who are rightly or wrongly thought to be ‘fundamentalists’. I say to the Archbishop, please find something else to talk about. Your obsession and that of those around you is making an absolute nonsense of the good news of Jesus.
With considerable sadness I say to the Archbishop, you are the one who has left, please come back. You are trying to make the test of faithful fidelity to Jesus a single, and I would claim, secondary issue. In the past those who did this set up their own Churches or sects. A protestant professor of theology of another denomination whom I deeply respect said of the Anglican Church in Sydney: “it is not a Protestant Church it has become a Puritan Church”. I asked him what he meant by this. His reply: “A protestant Church is one that reads the bible in context and is committed to reform that it might be a constant agent for God’s grace in Jesus’ name. A puritan church on the other hand is a confessional church that chooses immutable doctrine to define its membership, without context”. The Anglican Church has never been a confessional Church. Archbishop, the doctrines necessary for salvation were decided at the fourth and fifth century ecumenical councils, it is not up to you to slip another couple in, in the 21st century. Has it occurred to you that as the Diocese of Sydney continues to internally breed its leadership and agents of authority, you reduce your gene pool and risk re-enforcing and strengthening mutant doctrinal genes?
Let me say from where my sources of Anglican episcopal inspiration have come. First, I have been greatly influenced by the early 20th century writings of Charles Gore of Oxford and William Temple of Canterbury. Then, in my lifetime there have been four. George Bell of Chichester, diocesan in the years of my infancy and youth, the friend of Bonhoeffer and burr in the saddle of Churchill. John Moyes of Armidale, the bishop who sent me to theological college, an evangelical socialist, political activist, supporter of unions, and patron of a broad and liberal education. William Burgmann of Canberra, the ‘troublesome priest’ whom it was my destiny to follow from Armidale to St John’s Morpeth and then to Canberra. And finally Desmond Tutu, the rainbow coloured lover of Ubuntu, Nobel Peace Laureate and promoter of Truth and Reconciliation, a favourite visitor to our home. If I have gone astray might I say with humility, I keep extraordinary company.
You will probably find this annoying, but let me tell you a bit about the bible.
Scripture has a lot to say about all manner of singular issues, but it always demands that these issues are understood within a universal context. A bit like Archbishop Tutu’s love of Ubuntu – the understanding that while every single life is individual and distinct, it is caught up in and only properly understood in the context of all other lives that have intersected with it. In scripture there are two universal covenants and two particular covenants. The two universal covenants are the Noah covenant with all living that emerged from the ark and the new covenant made with all humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Both those covenants affirm the total and unequivocal commitment of God for all living. The two particular covenants, the Abrahamic and Davidic, can only be understood against the background of the universal. God never does a deal with a select few to the exclusion of others. God calls that we might be a blessing to others.
The universal covenants of unconditional love reflect the first creation narrative in which humans, male and female are created in the image of God of the dust of the earth. All of us, in all our rich diversity, have the same value as children of God and we all have the same fundamental needs. Our needs are not simply for food and shelter, an even greater need is for meaning, intimacy and belonging. As a Christian I would say this need for intimacy includes, but goes beyond, human intimacy; “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him”. It is not possible to be fully human and live in isolation.
The biblical imperative for intimacy in its expressive fullness is that two people are unconditionally committed to one another in the way that God in Jesus is committed to those who seek him. Because God’s commitment is without end, so marriage is to be enduring. It is to the exclusion of others; and like the particular covenants of scripture , it is a calling to be blessed and to bless: blessing to each other, and from each other, a blessing to the wider community of which the two are part.
I acknowledge that many marriages lapse, divorce occurs, and that remarriage should receive the full blessing of the Church. However it seems to me that if a serious break from the Christian concept of marriage is to be highlighted, this is where it occurred. Godly, enduring, same-sex unions are far more reflective of scriptural mandate than short term, often abusive heterosexual unions.
I do not even begin to understand the challenges and difficulties faced by individual members of the LGBTQI community. I am not blessed, as many are, with a member of this community within my own family. However, I have been profoundly blessed through invitation into the homes of many same sex couples. What I have found to be common is deep love for each other as well as empathy and compassion for the wider community, especially the vulnerable. Most live full and selfless lives because of the security and intimacy afforded at home. Now, why would the Church not want to bless such commitment and why would the Church not be extraordinarily grateful that so many choose to be part of its fellowship, despite the ignorance of those who purport to know better than they of the way God’s grace is to be channelled in their lives.
It is probable that sexual orientation is chosen by some. However for the vast majority, heterosexual and homosexual, sexual orientation and gender identity is not chosen, it is a given. For any such people to be told that the union to which they are drawn is verboten, haram, forbidden, is to commit many to a life of disjunction and perhaps of antisocial behaviour.
Archbishop, the society of which you are part has moved on. You clearly regret this, but if you persist with this as your dominant narrative you may be pleasing your rusted on membership, but you are alienating not simply your brothers and sisters in the Church who find your position to be an abuse of the voice of scripture, but this noise is making the Christian Gospel a source of pity to the average Australian.
Why do I say you are abusing the voice of scripture? Because when scripture addresses the human condition, it is almost always addressing the misuse of power, the neglect of care for the vulnerable, the corrosive nature of wealth acquisition and the need for human aspiration to always be tempered by the needs of the wider community (including the whole created order) to which the person belongs. The only noise the rest of us ever hear from the Diocese of Sydney (and the Australian Christian Lobby for that matter) is noise about sex and gender.
Archbishop come back to the rich Anglican heritage of which you and I are heirs, accept with thanksgiving its diversity and make your contribution. May we be blessed by each other’s difference and, may this rich tapestry enrich the world which God loves.
Great and unmatched Wisdom
Trump’s claim to be the custodian of “great and unmatched wisdom” must rank, even for him, as one of his most bizarre utterances. One would normally consider a person making such a claim to be totally devoid of self-awareness at best, and at worst, seriously out of touch with reality. The term madness is usually used of one suffering from a serious mental illness and therefore should not be used pejoratively. It means being unable to process experiences and data in a rational and balanced manner because of illness. In normal circumstances such a person should be worthy of considerable empathy and deserving of expert treatment. However, if such a person holds a position of extraordinary power, as Trump does, and is capable of inflicting untold damage on others, what is required is more than empathy, it requires that person being removed from their position of power. In the last few hours more than one hundred brave Kurdish soldiers have apparently lost their lives as a result of Trump’s betrayal. The US did not defeat ISIS. The heavy lifting was done by the Kurds and for them to be betrayed is unconscionable. This is but one, perhaps the most recent, example of harm being done as a result of grievous misuse of power
The search for wisdom is the Holy Grail of life. While traditionally the elderly are expected to be wise, others appear wise ‘beyond their years’.
According to scripture wisdom existed before creation began. As it emerged, the world became imbued with ‘pre-existing wisdom’. It is through wisdom that order triumphs over chaos, equally it is in the absence or ignoring of wisdom that chaos re-emerges, as graphically portrayed in the Noah narrative. Happy are those who find wisdom…she is more precious than jewels and nothing you desire can compare with her…Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace…the Lord by wisdom founded the earth…(Prov: 3. 11-19). Wisdom is the breath or wind of life. Wisdom is the capacity to understand, to make sense of, to be positioned appropriately in the ebb and flow of life. It is to know what company to keep. It is to appreciate the right time for holding and the right time for releasing. The reason why Jesus said: it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (Mtt 19:24) is because the desire for power and riches almost always makes the attaining of wisdom impossible. How often powerful leaders appear to be far wiser when they have left the seat of office!
I would like to speak of wisdom which receives little attention in the creation narrative. According to Gen. 1: 1- 2:4 in the process of creation three entities were afforded sovereignty – the sun, the moon and humanity.
The sun is given sovereignty as “the greater light to rule the day”. The sun has sovereignty over all that is visible. Literally, the sun is the energy that makes living possible. Harnessing the sun’s energy for agriculture, power generation, and industry has been at the heart of civilization making for thousands of years. In the ancient past this harvesting was largely indirect, using natural phenomena such as wind and tides, indirect products of the sun’s energy. In more recent times the harvesting has been historical, through the wholescale use of fossil fuels.
Today, we know the sovereignty of this ‘greater light’ must be exercised in a contemporary fashion. For reasons we all understand we can no longer use the stored energy of the sun in fossil fuels without causing untold damage. We know this, we have the technological power to do something about it, but shamefully we lack the political will.
The moon is given sovereignty as the ‘lesser light to rule the night’. Its sovereignty is over what is unseen yet equally vital – rhythms and balances, times, tides and seasons. These rhythms can be ignored, but they cannot be abrogated. We observe them in the various seasons of life as well as the seasons of the year. There is very good reason to believe that Sabbath had its origins in celebrations associated with the new moon. Modern day liturgical sabbath is a million miles away from sabbath as expressed in the creation narrative. Sabbath is the cyclical celebration of creation and it provides rhythms that balance life’s journey so that triumph and tragedy are both kept in place and neither allowed to rule. Resting, enough, forgiveness, restitution, jubilee, hospitality, inclusiveness, equity, are all expressions of the sovereignty of this lesser light.
The sense of brokenness, alienation, loneliness and melancholy that many now feel, is an outward manifestation that these essential rhythms have been lost. 24/7 in all its manifestations is inconsistent with the sovereignty of this lesser light and is therefore unsustainable both in the short term in individual lives, and in the long term as far as our civilisation is concerned.
Humanity is the third entity to be given sovereignty. Ours is expressed in terms of dominion over the fish… the birds…the animals… What this sovereignty looks like in practice unfolds in the rest of scripture. Rather than making all living thing subject to our need, as some are wont to interpret, scripture makes it clear that we have a role as steward, shepherd, friend, carer etc. Ours is the responsibility of ensuring that harmony, balance, diversity in all its fulness is maintained.
In other words the sovereignty of humans can only be meaningfully delivered in light of the sovereignty of the first two entities, the sun and moon.
Herein lies great wisdom which clearly has escaped the purview of Donald Trump, Boris Johnston and Scott Morrison, despite at least the former and the latter claiming a Christin heritage.
Wisdom and the search for it is the human vocation. Science can inform contemporary parameters for the search, especially sciences of the body and mind. Wealth and ambition are mostly, but not always, a total distraction. There will be many pitfalls along the way, but to stay on the right path it is necessary to “live justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God”(Micah 6:8).
The Eaten and Satiated
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about the theology of eating in anticipation of Mr Morrison’s State banquet in Washington. Eating is more than an intake of calories. Humans are social beings, eating is a means of securing friendship, an expression of shared values, perhaps even commitment to a joint strategy. No one leaves a table of significance without carrying something of the character and expectations of the host into the future. This reality was re-enforced by the images of closeness which both parties clearly wished to convey following the dinner. Those who break bread together in a meaningful manner are bound to each other. In this meal it was not simply Morrison and Trump sitting together, it was the US and Australia with legs firmly under the same table. So how have we fared?
In a word, not very well.
We did not have long to wait to make a preliminary judgement on this question. Mr Morrison’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly, focussing on environmental responsibility and climate change, breathtakingly stretched credulity. Apparently, we are concerned that plastics will soon outweigh fish in the sea. Concerned, are we? What national policy do we have on this matter, or what effective international lobbying have we undertaken? Ask the average Australian and they will be able to articulate the policy! Apparently, we are also concerned about sustainable fishing practice. Well, what national policy do we have to prevent over-fishing? In recent times governments in Australia have reduced marine parks, not extended them. What about the Barrier Reef? We would rather welcome coal carriers through the reef than protect it. And then there is the small matter of emissions. Apparently, we are more than pulling our weight and will meet our obligations in a canter. The facts of the matter are we are not. Emissions are increasing and we have no viable energy policy to address the matter. Our weak 2020 obligations may notionally be met through a trick of auditing that counts credits from an earlier target, achieved through a climate tax that the current government abolished. If we have a policy Mr Morrison, or Mr Taylor, you need to explain what it is. We know there is no policy because the government is internally riven and appeases a significant and very vocal minority of climate deniers. It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister is so critical of those who point this out, as if, like claims from Trump and Johnston, it is treason to call one’s government to account.
Again we did not have long to wait. In his New York speech, Mr Morrison blamed the media for what he perceives to be an erroneous perception that his government is not meeting its responsibilities.
Without being as overt, are we to face an Australian version of ‘fake’, or bias, when government experiences negative reporting of its policies? The incessant attack on the ABC appears to give us grounds for this fear. Any government must be held to account. Our government is guaranteed a free pass from Sky and News Limited, do they expect a free pass from all outlets?
The consistent mantra of the government is that they will reduce the cost of energy. In their hundreds of thousands, Australians have indicated how they intend to reduce energy cost – generate their own. We are told the grid is not fit for this purpose – what is the government going to do about it? Increasingly more and more home solar systems will have the capacity to service neighbours through battery stored excess. If the government is genuinely concerned to reduce the cost of energy where is government policy to enable this phenomenon to accelerate?
Concern over oil security will be a constant into the future. It makes sense to quickly expand the number of electrically powered vehicles. It is argued that Australian distances make this problematic. That is true. But it is also true that most Australians live in built-up areas, travelling relatively modest distances every day. Where is the policy to increase the number of electrically powered vehicles? Where is the policy for multiplication of recharge facilities? Not only does it make sense to make Australia less dependent upon oil, it also makes sense for an increasing number of Australians to fuel their vehicles from battery stored surplus energy at home. No matter how Messrs Taylor and Morrison paper over the fact, currently we have no energy policy, just political spin.
While self-interest in some measure is an unavoidable component of politics at any level, the overriding goal of the political process must be service of public good. Trump publicly eschews global best interest in favour of short-term national interest and worse, personal best interest. When he speaks of ‘patriots’ he means ‘nationalists’. A true patriot is a citizen of the planet. The strengths and weaknesses of a global world are now shared by all. Commitment to an environmentally stable world must be the highest priority of all governments. A primary ingredient in this commitment must be the alleviation of global poverty. The poorest have no choices. Australia must not follow Trump in the futile pursuit of national self-interest as if this can be obtained at the expense of global best interest.
As I prepare to post this blog news has emerged that the Prime Minister agreed to assist Trump in fending off the Mueller inquiry through a telephone conversation in early September. The PM has absolutely no business in interfering with another nation’s legal proceedings, and absolutely no business developing an “I’ll scratch your back if you will scratch my back” form of friendship with the American president.
It may prove to be very difficult to have sat at table as best friend with a president who faces impeachment without some of the acrimony sticking to one’s clothing. The best way of ensuring this risk is minimised is for the Government to move away from its romance with partisan politics and concentrate on policy which might serve common good in Australia and beyond its shores.
Zionism the ugly truth
Alex Ryvchin’s article “Zionism and the big lie. How Soviet anti-Semitism shaped contemporary anti-Zionism”, published through the ABC’s “Religion and Ethics” site, is too cute by half. Of course the strong critique of current Israel (which likes to call itself a Zionist State) has a history, but it is primarily fuelled by the reality that contemporary policies of the State of Israel cruelly subjugate the Palestinian people. That Israel considers non-Jews to be less than full citizens was entrenched in the 2018 Nation State law, which amongst other things permits Mr Ryvchin and other Australian Jews the right to settle in the Palestinian territories as citizens at the expense of Palestinians who have lived there for centuries, many of whom languish till this day in refugee camps within walking distance of their ancestral homes.
As we know, selective quotations from statistics, or history, can prove anything the writer wishes to prove. For example, to ‘prove’ that the use of ‘Palestine’ is illegitimate Mr Ryvchin says territory known as the “land of Israel” was renamed Palestine following the suppression of the second Jewish rebellion in 135 CE.
I could quote different moments of history:
My selective quotes from history are as legitimate as those of Mr Ryvchin, but in the end, they are no more helpful than his to solve the present impasse.
There is an inescapable reason why Zionism cannot shake off the criticism Mr Ryvchin resents. Whatever else is true of Zionism, it will never escape its great moral flaw – that in creating a homeland for the Jewish people, Zionists assumed a form of terra nullius over Palestine and a pretence that the Palestinians who had lived there for millennia had no right to remain. It need not have been so. For post war Zionism, it has never been enough for Israel to coexist on equal terms with the Palestinians – despite Jew, Muslims and Christians having done so in the region since time immemorial. This is the enduring shame of contemporary Zionist Israel. Mr Ryvchin has no answer for this, which is why he distracts and obfuscates with his trip down Soviet memory lane.
History tells us, and present reality confirms, that those in power will do all they can to legitimise their narrative and diminish the narrative of others. For centuries Christendom was the world power. Nations that were part of Christendom found it very convenient to scapegoat others for ills that the powers themselves failed to address. Shamefully the Jewish community suffered what is rightly called anti-Semitism throughout the whole period of Christendom, climaxing in the horrors of the holocaust. Anti-Semitism was of course not consistent, at times the Jewish community was embraced, at other times it was shamelessly expelled as it was from England in 1290 CE (to be restored under Cromwell) and from the Iberian Peninsula in the fifteenth century.
The challenge facing those in power today is the same as it always has been, to hold leadership through inclusivity, virtue and service of common good, not through self-service, fear, mistruth and oppression. Currently Netanyahu has chosen to hold power externally through military might, and internally through corrupt practices that could soon have him before the Israeli courts.
The facts of the matter are that the State of Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu is an oppressive regime towards those who are not Jews. At the most recent election the chief combatants vied with one another to promise the most grievous outcome for Palestinians. Netanyahu himself promised that he would annex the Jordan valley, Palestine’s breadbasket. How dare he. How dare Mr Ryvchin and others infer anti-Semitism to those, who criticise this most grievous and illegal action. In June the US promised $50 billion of other people’s money (those ‘others’ yet to be identified) to Palestine and Palestinians if they will accept the loss of any claim they might have for autonomy. How outrageous. If Palestinians were not prevented by Israel from developing their economy, and their land, like the citizens of any other country, they would not need anyone’s charity.
Behind Mr Ryvchin’s article is implicit support for the current attempt by those in power in Israel and the US to delegitimise the very existence of Palestine and Palestinians. Sadly the preferred option of those in Israeli politics is for Palestinians to cease to exist. The escalating attempts to undermine the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugee in the Near East (UNRWA) and relief organisations generally is geared towards removing the legitimate claims of Palestinian refugees. Children born in refugee camps are no less refugees than their parents and grandparents who were forced by aggressive circumstance to leave their homes – they are certainly not citizens of a refugee camp.
A well know Jewish intellectual, Noam Chomsky, once wrote; “The Zionist dream is to construct a state which is as Jewish as England is English and France is French. At the same time, this state is to be a democracy on the Western model. These goals are incompatible. Citizens of France, no matter their ethnic origin, are French, but citizens of the Jewish state are not equal if they are non-Jews, either by ethnic or religious origin or simply by choice … To the extent that Israel is a Jewish State it cannot be a democratic state.”
Palestinians are Palestinians and always will be. They are not Lebanese, or Syrian, or Jordanian, or Egyptian, they are Palestinian who in large numbers have been forced away from their homeland.
Some years ago I was invited to speak at a symposium in Canberra on the topic, “does humanity have a future”? Most speakers, both scientists and philosophers, were pessimistic, largely on the grounds that although human beings understand what strategies, both environmental and societal, are necessary for survival, their view was that narrow self-interest has historically always prevailed over common good.
An essential societal condition for survival is mutual respect and dignity. The narrative that now prevails from the leaders of both the US and Israel appears to be that dignity belongs to winners, to the strong. Losers or the weak do not deserve dignity being shown to them. A humanitarian view of dignity is that every human being deserves respect and dignity because they are members of the human race.
To be a Palestinian in the Occupied West Bank, or Gaza Strip, or in a refugee camp, is to suffer without dignity. It is not dignified to be without water for washing, drinking or cooking, while Jewish settlers on the hill above are watering their lawn and filling their swimming pools. It is not dignified to be herded like cattle, to be terrorised at check points and to have a demolition order over your house, or not being able to provide for your family. It is not dignified to be called a terrorist simply because you object to your house being demolished, your orchard destroyed or your wife giving birth at a check point because you are not permitted to get to hospital.
Worse, it is not dignified to be a citizen of a country which imposes such cruelty on others. Rather than smearing critics of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians and accusing them of harbouring anti-Jewish views, this criticism should be a wake-up call to the Jewish people in Israel and elsewhere who support Israel’s policies, to drink deeply from their traditional wells of virtue, of care for neighbour, and desire for shalom which can only happen when the stranger is embraced as a friend, and motivations of life are based in love not fear.
Over two millennia, Jewish people have often punched above their weight in many fields that have contributed to human advancement, but the Zionist project manifested in the current State of Israel is a dark period in Jewish history.
Let us hope that amongst the younger generation there are some who have the strength to imagine differently. To imagine that lives are enhanced through engagement and reciprocity and that as Banksy famously portrayed through his art, that even a little girl with a balloon can scale a wall.