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The Great Human Dilemma
Why is it that, capable as we are of extraordinary greatness, our species is better known for acts of unspeakable depravity?
In the last few weeks some of you will have read press articles or heard radio interviews from my sister Val and her extraordinary life in Ethiopia amongst the Afar people, and more particularly of her current situation caught in the crossfire of a brutal civil war.
A couple of days ago she emailed me as follows:
Here things have sunk to an all-time low with the ferocity of fighting, destruction of community, property, and casualties. We are trying desperately to turn things around for the community – it is totally all absorbing. News came this morning that the TPLF fighting headquarters in a district called 'Adda'ar had been smashed. If this is true, this is a breakthrough as there are over 32,000 displaced people now in their 18th day without food - very, very drastic. If we can find a way through, we will reach them [with food].
The insanity of all this is, I guess, as old as humanity. Fighting is [what humans do]. I cannot begin to understand the thinking of the invading army. They are smashing everything in their path, otherwise they burn it. They climb on top of Afar dome-shape houses [deboitas], totally smashing them. They split the 'aloyta' Afar bed with knives. This is so awful for the women who own them - some form of desecration.
Val had previously reported that her medical centres and schools had been pillaged, food ransacked, and people left absolutely destitute.
Well, God will pull the Afar through and meanwhile, we try what is possible to inject normality into life such as under the tree education, rather than doing nothing.
The Ethiopian situation is one of excruciating irony. The prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, forged a peace deal with Eritrea in 2019 and won the 2019 Nobel peace prize.
During the week I watched The People’s Patriarch on u-tube. (I strongly commend it). Michael Sabbah, a Palestinian Arab Christian was appointed Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1987 by John Paul ll. He now lives in retirement on the West Bank. Sitting on the Mount of Olives and looking down on the ancient city he despairs. He says the West, led by the US, is prepared to sacrifice all Palestinians including all Palestinian Christians in its uncritical support of Israel and its apartheid led government. He says the city has lost any claim to the title ‘Holy’. He says this title can only be reclaimed if love once more prevails. Love across the Abrahamic faiths and love from oppressor to oppressed. In the meantime, he says Palestinians have only two choices. Either submit, accepting their downtrodden state, or resist.
This week, the Christian calendar, celebrated the last Sunday of the current Christian year – the festival of Christ the King.
The (bible) readings for the day address this terrible dilemma. We are social beings, we belong together, we need to get on with one another. Our measure of success or failure depends, amongst other things, on how we are led. Who is king amongst us?
The first reading (from Daniel) reflects the terrifying leadership of past and (then)present civilisations – Babylonians – Persians and Greeks, under whom the Israelites and other subject peoples suffered terribly. All these powers, who at the time considered themselves invincible, had their moment in the sun and faded. The writer reflects that above them was/is an authority they have neither known or respected. This authority is not based in ambition, exertion of power, jealousy, or rivalry, but in tenderness and care of creator for creation. The title given to this authority was the title Jesus chose for himself ‘Son of Man’.
The Gospel reading for the day was the well-known encounter between Jesus and Pilate. Pilate wanted to know if Jesus considered himself a rival to Roman authority - ‘King of the Jews’. Jesus responded that his authority was of a very different kind to that of Pilate. He had come into the world to witness to ‘truth’. Pilate famously asked: “What is truth”. (In the end despite strong objections from Jewish leadership, Pilate directed that the inscription on the cross read “Jesus Christ the King of the Jews”).
The truth, which Jesus came as witness, is that kingship (governing) cannot be about power, ambition, control. It can only be about service, love and care, and if necessary, about diminishing, that greater good might flourish. We are taught that whatever we may think about God, this is the nature of the divine, and the true but lost nature of humanity.
Australian political sophistication permits verbal warfare but eschews open violence (although watching the recent protests in Melbourne you might well ask how sophisticated we are).
What has become all too clear is that national leadership is no more than a game. It is not about the best policy on anything, be it taxation, climate change, national security, the pandemic, transparency, or anything else. It is all about the next election. It is not about anything else.
In national leadership truth has become a casualty in the ambition for power retention. What is said is couched to placate a section of the community government relies upon to be kept in office.
The good news is that the truth about which Jesus came as witness is alive and well in the lives of countless ordinary women and men, many people of deep faith, but by no means exclusively so. Let us hope and pray that some of these men and women will feel called and have the resources to stand for high office. Political parties appear not to have space for them, but they can stand as independents.
It is only when leadership of this character predominates in Australian domestic politics that we will be the nation we could be and become a leader rather than a laggard in international affairs.
Choice not Mandate – Prime ministerial drivel.
Prime Minister Morrison has declared he will deliver net zero carbon emissions by 2050 the ‘Australian Way’ through ‘choice not mandates’, underwritten by ‘can-do capitalism’. - What a load of marketing drivel.
“Can-do capitalism” has long been the problem, not the solution. Capitalism insists on the removal of limits. Living in a carbon neutral world is about living with limits. Paradoxically, understanding and living with appropriate limits is about more, not less, it is about true freedom.
Governing is about regulating limits, budgets direct money there, but not here. Why is it so hard for the Morrison government to govern in relation to climate change? It is strange that the Morrison government, festooned as it is with self-described Christians, fails to act on one of Christianity’s most fundamental precepts - to live a disciplined life within clear boundaries. ‘What you give away you keep: what you hold onto you lose’. It reminds one of GK Chesterton’s brilliant quotes: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
Choice is a gift exercised by the wealthy and privileged. Its absence defines what it means to be poor. In the capitalist world choice is about product and profit. In a civilised world choice is about equity and fairness - ethics.
Can-do capitalism avoids paying for the pollution inherent in production. Can-do capitalism hides its profits in the Cayman Islands. Can-do capitalism uses is wealth to extract grants and permissions that enable further wealth accumulation, even when it is clear the permission granted is harmful to the environment, and the lives of others. Can-do capitalism has enabled the top 5 – 10% to grow extraordinarily wealthy (even in a pandemic or global recession) while the rest stagnate. Can-do capitalism benefits from tax provisions and exemptions which by implication place an unfair tax burden on salaried workers. Can-do capitalism seeks ways to minimise wages and maximise profits. Can-do capitalism is inspired by the doctrine of the individual and repudiates the doctrine of the common good.
In face of the covid pandemic the existential threat to health was considered so great that for a time the overriding priority normally given to the right of the individual in Australian political life was overridden by a perceived greater need to serve the common good. Remarkably, both sides of the political spectrum, accepted scientific advice, and for a while at least, governed and regulated for the common good, despite minority protests and screams to the contrary. Notwithstanding mistakes and hiccups, Australia has fared better than most countries and Morrison will be banking what he hopes will be credit for this achievement, as he approaches the forthcoming election.
Why is it that the same dedication and commitment to science and common good cannot be given to the challenge of climate change, which, in the sweep of history, will be shown to be existentially more dangerous than the pandemic?
What Morrison apparently lacks the wit to understand is that it was the mandated restrictions that provided Australians with the opportunity and choice of living relatively free lives compared with the rest of the world. It was the mandating of these provisions and their general acceptance across the breadth of civil life, that saved the health system, the economy, and future lives. The overwhelming majority of Australians opted to make the ethical choice of abiding by the mandated restrictions. A small minority chose non-ethically, causing further restriction and anxiety on many.
Mr Morrison comes from the world of marketing where ‘choice’ is understood in terms of comparing one product with another. It is not a word that carries ethical value, unless perhaps your choice is based on a product being ‘fair trade’, Australian made, or similar category. I suspect only a tiny minority of decisions in Mr Morison’s marketing background carry any ethical value.
But in the challenge of global warming this is far from the case. Indeed, it could be argued the opposite is true. As Glasgow has demonstrably shown, it is only if all players accept that this challenge is a universal moral obligation, that headway will be made. We are morally obliged because everyone must pull their weight. We are morally obliged because we are a wealthy and privileged nation. We are morally obliged because per head of population we are heavy emitters. We are morally obliged because we are deciding for future generations in a matter over which they have no say. We are morally obliged because our neighbours are sinking
From government to business, farming to banking, large corporations to individuals we have a moral obligation to do whatever we can to reduce emissions and restrict global warming. This statement is no longer contestable
For the wealthy there will be ample choice to act ethically. The only inhibitor will be where the wealthy position themselves on the scale of moral maturity. On the bottom of that scale choices will be motivated solely by self-interest. Higher up the scale, choices will be motivated by a desire to make the world a better place.
However, making choices that include care of the environment will be almost beyond reach for the poorest third of Australians without assistance. In my visits to some of the poorest places on earth, I noted that providing a meal often meant denuding the landscape – a terrible and painful dilemma.
The capacity of middle Australia, and the poorest in the community, to make ethical choices must be enhanced through government regulation. Government has plenty of levers at its disposal. It can and should require a minimum standard of vehicular emissions. It can and should immediately cease all fossil fuel subsidies. It can and should legislate the highest standard of insulation in public housing and private rentals. It can and should lower taxes and import tariffs on electric vehicles. Etc.
It is not a matter of demanding that people buy a certain vehicle, live in a certain home, or travel in a certain manner. But it is a matter of making ethical choices accessible to the majority and unethical choices more expensive.
The slogan which the Morrison government is apparently taking to the next election is not about choice as the slogan would have us believe. Their actions, rather than their words, indicate they have no intention of making ethical choices within reach of most people as we face the daunting task of avoiding a much-reduced future for the planet, and all life on it.
The Queen nails it at Glasgow: Morrison does not
“For more than seventy years, I have been lucky to meet and to know many of the world’s great leaders. And I have perhaps come to understand a little about what made them special,” the Queen said. “It has sometimes been observed that what leaders do for their people today is government and politics. But what they do for the people of tomorrow – that is statesmanship.
The Queen made it clear that the magnitude and urgency of the climate challenge eclipses all other challenges.
There are people of statesmanlike calibre at Glasgow, they include David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, and Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Highly respected statesmen like leaders such as the Queen and Pope Francis have delivered messages of substance to the conference. Leaders of industry such as our own Andrew Forrest, present at the conference, are contributing to the future in a courageously statesman like manner through significant investment.
However, it is tragic that the adage: “cometh the hour cometh the man/woman”, with few exceptions, does not apply to the political class. It most certainly does not apply to Australia’s political class at a national level.
This is the speech I would have expected to hear from our Prime Minister:
My fellow Australians:
In the course of human history there have been moments when the actions or inactions of present generations have shaped the future for all succeeding generations. This is such a moment. Stay as we are, and future generations will not experience the freedoms and qualities of life we and recent generations have taken for granted. Unchecked release of fossil fuels in the form of carbon dioxide and methane gas, will trap more heat causing hitherto unexperienced change to the environment, and severe damage to human health, biodiversity, and a viable global economy.
I do not wish in any way to minimise the depth and extent of the challenge that lies ahead. We must and will play our part with the rest of the world community. However, I want also to say there is no need to feel foreboding. Indeed, foreboding will only nurture paralysis. We can and will transition from one economic system to another and in the process enjoy an improving natural environment and discover human values that simply exceed the contemporary ubiquitous desire for accumulated material wealth.
Here in Australia, we face a wicked short-term problem. We are currently one of the globe’s greatest miners and exporters of fossil fuels in the form of coal and gas. We cannot stop this mining immediately, but it must be brought to an end. Many countries rely on us for energy. Exporting fossil fuel has become a significant part of our economy. The industry employs thousands of workers who must be transitioned to other employment. I wish however to make the following clear. No new fossil fuel licenses will be granted, and no new coal or gas fired generators will be built. The government will not be investing any money in fossil fuel carbon sequestration schemes which, even if technically possible – which is exceedingly doubtful,-- will never be able to compete economically without subsidy. As a matter of urgency, the government will incentivise the development of green hydrogen, both as an exported energy, but also for the upscaling of Australia’s lagging or disappearing industries. We will not support the production of blue hydrogen at scale. The government will support private industry investment which will transition iron ore exports to domestic steel production, thus greatly enhancing our economic future. The government will prioritise these industries in areas currently given over to coal mining. By 2030 we expect many of these new industries to be in production, thus enabling the closure of many existing coal mines and the transitioning of their employees to new and sustainable employment.
My government will support schemes that enable the less affluent sector of our community, including residents of social housing to either generate and store their own solar energy or become part of a local mini-grid. Owners of rental properties will have a three-year lead time before the provision of solar energy generation will be mandatory, the capital cost being offset through current negative gearing provisions. My government will insist the national grid is significantly upgraded to meet the needs of decentralised 21st century power generation.
My government will do all within its power to make ownership of electric vehicles possible for the majority of the population before the end of the decade. The commonwealth vehicle fleet will be transitioned from fossil fuel to electrification as soon as possible. This will necessitate working with the states and local government to ensure an adequate spread of re-charging stations. It is my hope that by the end of this decade the majority of Australians will not only own an electric powered vehicle, but that they will have the capacity to charge it from solar generation at home. All fossil fuel subsidies will be phased out in the term of the next government.
Australia has a vast agricultural capacity and as we know our farmers are some of the most efficient and productive in the world. It is sadly the case that climate change with extreme weather events and droughts is already severely impacting lives and livelihoods. This threat will accelerate into the future. With some urgency, my government will work with the farming community in the development of technologies which reduce emissions. At the same time, we wish to expand agricultural sequestration and in the process increase soil productivity. We will work with farmers to increase vegetation, especially trees. We will work with the states in assisting all primary producers in the annual measuring of emission reductions either through sequestration or through technological adaptation.
Some essential industries are high emitters. My government will work specifically with industries such as concrete manufacture and aluminium smelting on technologies which will assist their adoption of new methods.
We will work with the States to significantly extend parks for the protection of biodiversity. We will also work with the States to increase green areas, walkways, and bike paths that are accessible to all Australian residents within walking distance of their home.
I am confident that if we all work together, share ideas and resources, and remove political ideology and grandstanding from debate and conversation it will be within our grasp to reach a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030.
My fellow Australians, the opportunities are as vast as the challenge is daunting. We cannot afford to fail. To delay is to fail. It is an exciting time, made so by the focus every one of us needs to give, ensuring we all play our part. It is correctly said, we contribute a small fraction of global emissions, but it is also true that per head of population we emit more than most. It is crucial we encourage others by the example we set. We have more to gain than most from the transition ahead, equally we have far more to lose than most if as a global community we fail.
My pledge to you all is that on my watch political grandstanding and wedging will cease. This is a challenge to all humanity to rise to our better selves and so become the stewards of our grandchildren’ future on the only home we all share – planet earth.
Israel, the Bi-Polar State
Israel continues its policy of extinguishment in relation to Palestinian rights. They are to have none. The logical next step is to punish them if they complain about this.
On Friday, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz signed an order declaring six civil society organizations in the West Bank as terrorist organizations.
Some of these groups operate as human rights organizations: Addameer offers legal support to prisoners and collects data on arrests and administrative detentions, and actively works to end torture and violations of prisoners' rights. Al-Haq documents the violations of Palestinians' rights in the West Bank, monitors the killings of children and the wellbeing of arrested children in Israel.
The NGOs also include a women's rights organization and an agricultural Labor association.
The six groups are Addameer, Al-Haq, Bisan Center, Defence for Children International Palestine, the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.
A joint statement by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called the decision "appalling and unjust. This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations," the joint statement read.
The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates "unequivocally condemned" Gantz's decision.
"This fallacious and libellous slander is a strategic assault on Palestinian civil society and the Palestinian people’s fundamental right to oppose Israel’s illegal occupation and expose its continuing crimes," a statement by the ministry said.
The ministry also warned "of possible serious consequences from this unprecedented assault and holds Israel fully responsible for the safety of the organizations’ staff." Naming innocent people as terrorists automatically puts them and their families in danger. Given the Israeli defence force’s predilection for violence against the innocent, this proclamation gives them carte blanche clearance for such violence without consequence.
This announcement is outrageous and requires swift condemnation from the international community not least from the US and Australia.
Are we likely to hear it? I am fearful that we are more likely to hear it from the Biden administration than from the Morrison government.
In the last few days, the Morrison government has further eroded any remaining trust one might have that it will work to uphold human rights and international law anywhere, but particularly in Israel/Palestine.
First, it has indicated it wishes to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Antisemitism does not need any further definition, like all forms of racism, it needs to be addressed and called out wherever and whenever it raises its head. But criticism of Israel’s appalling treatment of Palestinians is not antisemitism. Even the authors of the IHRA definition have said they did not intend its use as the political weapon it has now become. The definition is being used to squash criticism of Israel. The use of the definition, particularly in universities, will shut down honest research and freedom of speech and further intimidate fair minded journalism
Second, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, chaired by James Pattison, has recommended the government consider listing Hamas in its entirety as a terrorist organisation. Currently only the military wing is so defined.
In 2006 Hamas won Elections that the United States and its allies pushed for. The elections were supervised by former President Jimmy Carter’s “Carter Center” as well as the United States Congressional Research Service (CRS). In their report they state "The election was overseen by 17,268 domestic observers, complemented by 900 credentialed international monitors. ... The Bush Administration accepted the outcome of the Palestinian legislative elections and praised the PA for holding free and fair elections. ... The conduct of the election was widely considered to be free and fair." Israel, the United States, Australia, and others never acknowledged or accepted the democratic will of the Palestinian people.
Hamas was never given an opportunity to govern, no opportunity to engage with their occupiers, the US or others, rather, Israel and its allies sought to isolate and punish Hamas and the Palestinian people for having the audacity to elect someone they did not like.
Hamas now governs the Gaza Strip and some 2 million people. The United Nations stated that Gaza would be “uninhabitable” by 2020. It is now entering its 15th year of a cruel and barbaric air, land, and sea blockade.
Through the blockade, Israel controls the Gaza strip and its people. If the joint committee listing becomes a reality, it will potentially define several million people, by default, as terrorists. The people of Gaza are amongst the poorest and most oppressed in the world. Unemployment, especially amongst the young is high. Necessities of life, including potable water, are in very short supply.
The international community has a responsibility to assist Palestinians in the formation of a unity government which will have the confidence of its people and build the framework of a sustainable and ultimately prosperous civil society. Israel does all it can to oppose and undermine such an outcome. This listing will destroy any possibility of Australia being seen as an honest broker and further condemns Palestinians, in association with Hamas, to the futility of hurling rocks from inside their Israeli made prison. It is short sighted. It is a step in the wrong direction and cements hostility.
The Nationals and their dangerous search for relevance
Every deputy covets their moment in the sun. This can usually be arranged without harm. In the case of Mr Joyce little appears to come without harm. The Prime Minister has taken the extraordinary step of inviting Mr Joyce rather than the parliament to determine Australia’s economic and environmental journey and future within the global community. Now I know Mr Joyce continually says this is not about him but about the party room. But the fact of the matter is, he is the leader. He ousted a leader who would have signed on, it is all about him, he has made it about him, this is the reason he became ‘leader’.
Given movement to a post carbon world is now inevitable the question every National Party member should be asking is, “how can I ensure that my constituents are assisted in the transition of their businesses so that they gain maximum advantage from this new economy”.
This is a very different question to the one currently being asked, even boasted about, by Mr Joyce. Namely what is the highest price that can be leveraged for agreeing to sign on? How far can the taxpayer be screwed for projects of dubious value, but which shore up National Party relevance n fossil fuel dependent electorates. In other contexts, a most unpleasant word with criminal consequences would be used to describe such activity.
I woke on Monday morning 18 October to hear the National Party needs more time to consider the PM’s plan for net zero carbon emissions and wondered whether I should laugh, cry, or be very angry. In fact, I felt despair, not only, but primarily, for the planet, but also for the absence of national leadership and the prospect of a dismal future for Australian democracy.
What kind of country do we live in where it is possible for a mere handful of people to decide the most important policy direction this country is likely to take, not simply this year, or even this decade, but without much exaggeration, in our lifetime? In a democracy one would assume decisions that affect everyone would be made by the majority. Mr Joyce apparently thinks they should be held captive to a tiny minority.
It is clear a substantial majority of the Liberal members of parliament support the proposed 2050 net zero target and by implication a strong 2030 commitment, for the one will not be achieved without the other. It is known that within the Labour Party an overwhelming majority exists for decisive climate change action. From the Greens this commitment is a given. Many (most) of the independents gained office because of a stronger environmental commitment, and within the National Party itself support for stronger commitment can probably be found in half its membership.
So, how is it even remotely possible for a handful of people, probably in single figures, to hold so much sway? Barnaby Joyce has the temerity to say the Nationals will not be held to ransom. Who does he think is being held to ransom here? Mr Joyce’s party gains about 5% of the national vote and even within that vote there are many who support stronger environmental action.
I assume regional Australia means anywhere outside capital cities. I live in regional Australia on the South Coast of NSW. The Eurobodalla Shire Council, (not known to be left leaning) has signed up to the 2050 target and is on track for a substantial reduction by 2030. Mr Joyce does not represent regional Australia, but a very small section of regional Australia dependent up on the fossil fuel industry.
What is involved in Coalition Party shenanigans has little to do with the environment, or regional Australia, or agriculture, or jobs, or least of all, integrity. It has everything to do with internal political party machinations. The coalition rules with a knife edge majority. In present circumstance it will be fighting to hold power, let alone increase its majority. It needs every seat it can muster. A fracture in the coalition could be disastrous for Morrison, as much as I am sure he would love to rid himself of the maverick Mr Joyce.
There is a way forward. Mr Morrison could put his plan for net zero emissions to the parliament. It would be passed with an overwhelming majority even though many would like it to have gone much further. The Australian population would not forgive failure of the good that is possible on the altar of a utopia which is not politically deliverable. Democracy would be greatly enhanced if votes were made as conscience rather than party dictates. It should be normal for legislation proposed by independents to be given impartial and fair consideration. Neither of these options is currently tenable.
Let me bell the cat. Members of the National Party who are opposed to climate action are not seeking to protect regional Australia, they are seeking to save face having for decades backed a horse that is now running last. Backing the same tired horse is to condemn constituents to a sidelined passive existence while the rest of the world moves on. From agriculture to the Business Council of Australia, there is no section within Australian civil society that is not committed to a post carbon world.
Please, please members of the political class face the irrefutable fact that unfettered climate warming will have catastrophic consequence for future generations. Had we acted as we should, and could, at least 20 years ago, Australia would already be on track as a post carbon world leading economy with a much stronger industrial base and the capacity to adequately compensate those whose lives are most affected by the change. The longer this is left, the harder and more expensive this will be. No action or inadequate action will hit agriculture very hard, the very constituents the Nationals claim to represent. But of equal seriousness the vast opportunities a post carbon economy offers, especially in regional Australia, will be denied those who could benefit most.
What is the meaning of Australian democracy when a minor party, populated at its own confession by extreme right-wing ideologists, can decide Australia’s position on arguably the most important policy issue of our time?
There is only one question to be faced. Do we agree that increased global warming is an existential threat, not simply to the natural world, but to the economy, to biodiversity, to national security, to global justice and to the wellbeing of future generations?
Scientists, economists, farmers, the insurance industry, the business world, the young and two thirds of the population agree this is the situation we face.
This being the case, it is not a question of whether we should sign up to zero net emissions within a globally agreed time frame, we should and must, but in our circumstance, what are the steps we need to take to do so in the fastest and most equitable fashion.
Resistance to action is coming from what can only be described as the ignorant, the self-interested, and either the insane or the morally corrupt. The last description appear cruelly pejorative. But it is the only way I can think of to describe the ideology of leaders who deny the urgency of our situation. An insane person is one who insists fiction to be reality and reality to be fiction. Those who resist immediate action on global warming either believe their fiction to be reality or they put forward a position they do not really believe but do so to protect self-interest.
One right-wing conservative party member has this week described those who push for zero emissions as ‘Marxists’. It is apparently the case that if one is to act in the interest of society as a whole, one is a communist. The arrogant ignorance of this man is breathtaking. It is said that the foundations of western civilisation are a combination of Greek thought, from whom we derive the democratic ideal, and Christianity. Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and Jesus taught that freedom resides in behaviours that enhance wellbeing through connectedness to God, others and the world in which we live. ‘Freedom’ to do whatever the individual wishes is no freedom at all, it is to miss the goal of being fully human.
The National Party vote comprises approximately 5% of the population. It would be bad enough if the party held the nation to ransom with these figures. But it is worse than that. It is obvious the party comprises those whose main interest is agriculture and those whose main interest is mining. Those whose interest is agriculture can see the benefits to them of action on climate change, not simply because extreme weather events are an existential threat to the industry but because soil sequestration has huge economic and productive benefits. It is therefore the case that Australia’s position on climate responsibility is being held to ransom by a mere handful of thuggish behaviourists from the likes of Christiansen and Canavan.
As Peter Hartcher has said, the recent advancement of AUKUS and the Quad in response to China’s ambitions is on its own a forlorn enterprise if equal commitment is not invested in the strengthening of Australian democracy at home. Many things need to be done that are currently resisted. Greater transparency, the establishment of a federal anti-corruption watchdog with teeth, abandonment of a culture of political winning to be replaced by bipartisan dialogue, resumption of accountability by ministers in the Westminster tradition and protection rather than harassment of whistle blowers: these would all be good starting points.
We know that for Australia to flourish in a post carbon economy major change needs to occur. Whether we like it or not the globe will embrace a post carbon economy, so why are we so stupidly putting off transformations which are necessary and will inevitably cost more the longer we leave them?
The net gains for life in a post carbon world are enormous, socially, economically and of course environmentally.
We have heard this week we are to invest $100B+ in submarines which might arrive in the 2040’s, which by then might be totally inadequate for the task of national security, and which bind us into a ‘forever’ alliance with powers whose best is almost certainly behind them. The post carbon economy task is more immediate and urgent, clearly, we could find the money for it if only we had the wit to enact some decent policies.
Australia has been punished by a lazy and derelict political class who have been doing all they can to shore up their political best interest rather than developing and delivering policies which could by now have Australia economically as well as environmentally in front of the pack in the world we know is not simply coming sometime in the future, but which has already arrived.
Churches and Vaccination Exemptions
It is disappointing that the leaders of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches in Sydney have foreshadowed they will seek exemptions to enable non vaccinated people to attend worship in their churches when, with ongoing safety measures, current restrictions are lifted. It would have been much more responsible to have advised the health minister they will do all in their power to ensure all who attend worship are vaccinated and that those not vaccinated will be pastorally cared for in an appropriately sensitive manner.
Of course, it is laudable that Church leaders wish access to their worship centres be open to all, but the request for exemptions for those who have had the opportunity to be vaccinated but choose otherwise, is not laudable. An exception should be those who have a medical reason why in their case vaccination is not possible. We are led to believe that while there are genuine cases, the number is quite small.
It should be the responsibility of Church leaders to do all they can to encourage members of their flock to be vaccinated. From a Christian perspective the reasons why are clear. First, we should take all reasonable measures to live healthy lives and avoid behaviours that mitigate against healthy wellbeing. There can be no reasonable argument that refusing to be vaccinated safeguards health. More importantly, from a Christian perspective we should do all that is reasonably possible to protect and safeguard others. It is quite clear that being vaccinated is to act responsibly in the interest and wellbeing of others.
The argument that religious communities are somehow exempt from regulations lawfully imposed by secular authorities on the whole community, is simply not plausible, unless it can be argued that what is proposed is morally wrong. Acting for the safety of the community is not morally wrong. From the first century onwards, Church leadership has been clear that the Christian community should comply with the requirements of secular authority in all things lawful and honest.
I am aware that both archbishops had earlier flagged they could not whole heartedly support the AstraZenica vaccine on grounds that historically it owes its origin to a foetus. While I do not support the argument, I respect the point being made. I do not support the argument for two reasons, first the link is historical and not dependent on the harvesting of contemporary foetus and second because I see no difference between harvesting life-giving material from a foetus or harvesting an organ from a deceased person. If the foetus was the result of an abortion, then the argument might have some force.
Notwithstanding all of the above, Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines manufactured in the lab and the majority of the population will have access to these vaccines as the supply becomes abundant before the end of the year.
It is singularly unfortunate that the most common reason given for refusing vaccination is that it is ‘against my religion’. We are aware that, emanating for the US, considerable material has become available on social media that has influenced the less well informed to resist vaccination on some spurious religious grounds. Apparently, this has become the most common reason given for vaccination hesitancy amongst the indigenous community. The decision of the Archbishops to seek an exemption unfortunately carries weight amongst the less well informed who need little encouragement to act on notions that carry no credibility.
That one Roman Catholic Bishop has flagged he will seek an exemption for unvaccinated priests to exercise ministry in aged care facilities is beyond irresponsible. Clergy exercise leadership, if only for members of their flock. They should be assisting the community to safely move into greater experiences of freedom. We know that vaccination is the pathway for greater liberty.
In these pandemic times it is the responsibility of all who exercise leadership to encourage behaviours that are consistent, behaviours that carry the same share of burden and the same opportunity for freedom.
The GAFCON obsession
GAFCON (Global Anglican futures conference) has stated its intention to establish a non-geographical diocese in Australia to serve Anglicans who can neither accept people of homosexual orientation in positions of leadership in the Church, nor countenance the blessing of same sex couples who have been married in a civil union.
They assert their position is premised on submission to biblical authority.
Let me also assert that I am committed to the authority of scripture and that my commitment to God in Christ, who has embraced humanity that humanity might embrace God, is absolute.
Truth is enhanced through exploration and engagement; truth is diminished through claims of certitude, refined as infallible dogma. Defining dogma based on self-appointed criteria places disciples of this dogma in a parasitical position in relation to the broader more generous Church which graces us all with the capacity to engage one another in Christ’s name. It is extraordinary that leaders of GAFCON who seek division in the Church are at the same time holding leadership positions as bishops within the Church.
It was a privilege to meet Morris West in the latter years of his life. In his final book ‘A view from the Ridge’ he writes: “when I was a young Jesuit postulant I was certain of many things, now I am old I am certain of only this one thing: ‘Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so’ ”. Now that I too am ancient, I echo these words and pray that GAFCON members might also grow in faith beyond self-appointed criteria of certainty and its self-righteous cocooning.
On face value I could be a member of GAFCON because I consider myself an orthodox Anglican. But I will never seek to be a member of GAFCON
There are many other issues of far greater significance and seriousness which are an existential threat to the fullness of life that Jesus promised.
Members of GAFCON, the standard you have set for judging submission to scripture and devotion to Christ is seriously flawed. Progress as you intend, and you deny us who remain the richness and diversity of your company, while condemning yourselves to a severely diminished expression of the glorious Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
A restored vision of Church
For centuries institutions provided security, identity, and continuity. Their very existence gave confidence that the contemporary world would continue to build on the foundations of the past. Each generation could expect to live much as their parents had done.
This is not contemporary reality. Institutions have been found wanting. Some have suffered public ignominy. Institutional Church is in serious decline throughout the Western world. Many would say the worst is yet to come. Here in my local community people are almost universally respectful of my faith and the way of life Margaret and I strive to live our lives, but have less than benign thoughts about ‘church’. Children of committed Christian families find it difficult to relate to their parents’ ecclesial experience.
In the past it was more than appropriate for institutional life to give flesh to the incarnate and eternal activity of God. Music, architecture, liturgy, ministries, works of charity, centres of thought, annual rhythms, pilgrimages, were expansive frameworks in and through which people could explore and grow into eternal truths. This is the world I have known and cherished.
With the demise of institutions over the last three decades and the rise of multi-faceted networks this is no longer the case for most people. Parishes that in the 1960’s 70’s and 80’s enjoyed congregations in their hundreds now experience much smaller gatherings, and much older, despite the overall population on a geographical basis being significantly larger.
Should institutional Church as it has been known in Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, the Orthodox and mainstream Protestant churches simply run up the white flag? No, because the universality of Christ can never be fully expressed solely through local expressions of Church that lack accountability to global and historical Christianity. The faith is not simply about personal piety, it is also about public engagement
So, what is to be done, what are we to do?
The longing for spiritual nurture and insight has not shrunk. Sceptics such as Dawkins and Hitchins argue that religion is a form of escape. I dare to argue the opposite, Christianity as I have known it is engagement in the totality of life. This is hardly surprising given the heart of Christian faith is belief in, and commitment to Jesus, the incarnate word of God who embraces and enables life itself.
So, where might the Spirit be leading us?
As is often the case, what otherwise might be thought a calamity - covid 19 – gives us a clue. During this calamity people everywhere have become aware of opposite realities which carry almost equal importance. On the one hand we have all come to know the importance of home, family, intimacy, and connectedness with those who are most important to us. Many of us have found blessing in the capacity to ‘work from home’. On the other hand, we are also aware of our irrepressible need for connectedness without limit, of belonging to and being fulfilled in the universality of life. I have become increasingly convinced that the Church of the future must come more thoroughly to grips with these two realities and hold them in healthy balance.
Since March last year Margaret and I have been running Church at our home to assist the local Parish in the context of the covid pandemic. Some of those coming have not previously been regular members of any Church. What people find attractive is a mixture of a less formalised liturgy, thoughtful teaching in which they participate, fellowship at a personal level and the joy of a shared meal. We have emphasized we are part of and accountable to the wider Church.
I have become convinced that clergy should act with oversight; legitimizing and authorizing a multitude of small gatherings in and through which a wide circle of people might be nurtured and fed. In the early Church bishops grew out of presbyters, it is time for presbyters to retake roles of intentional oversight. These groups could be as diverse as imagination and need suggest. Some will be based in meditation and contemplation, other through bible study, some through a focus on social justice and charity, some through a shared digital experience, others through arts-based activities, some through concern for and enjoyment of the natural order others through ministries of education and health, some through ethnic or cultural identity.
Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York, urges the Church of England to establish at least 10,000 locally based and lay led ‘churches’ before 2030. There has been push back from Parish based leadership. This is short sighted. A move such as this could refresh ‘parishes’.
People in these groups may not be regular attenders of Sunday worship, but they should be gathered on significant occasions. It will be the duty of the ‘parish/diocese’ to provide universal experiences and linkages. Some of this can and should be provided digitally, but there must also be common shared experiences.
The purpose of Church is not to provide a chaplaincy service to a congregation of pious believers disconnected from the mainstream life of the wider community. It is to feed nourish and empower those who in Christ’s name are committed to the transformation of society. Richard Rohr puts it this way: “We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on the same path. We made Jesus into a religion instead of a journey toward God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of ‘belonging’ and ‘believing’ instead of a religion of transformation”.
Because institutional churches have largely failed to provide spiritual nurture and intimacy to many who seek it, this need has been met through many experiences of Church which Dawkins and Hitchins could legitimately describe as escapes from reality. Some offer false certainties in a world better understood through nuance, paradox, and complexity. Dangerously extreme examples of this were seen by those carrying signs bearing Jesus’ name in the assault on Capitol Hill following Biden’s election and on banners carried by those engaged in protests against covid restrictions here in Australia.
We should not be witnessing the death of conventional parish and diocesan life, but it’s opening up in new ways of serving the world which God in Jesus loves. Church membership or Christian discipleship should not be calculated on the basis of Sunday church attendance alone, but on the basis of engagement and connectedness with the multifaceted life that is modern society.
The choice that lies ahead is either to pull up the doona and keep the façade intact for as long as possible or throw off the bed cover and embrace a more exciting and engaging expression of Church. It is not a matter of being shaped by the dominant culture of our time but recognizing its influence and engaging differently with it.
The IPCC Report and the Book of Revelation
An interpretive connection between the latest IPCC report and the book of Revelation, otherwise known as the Apocalypse, is painfully and dramatically obvious. However, focus on ‘apocalypse’ encourages a doomsday mentality and is counterproductive; other insights from this book help us to better understand the human dilemma and therefore the way forward.
I would like to look below the surface to a connection which is not as obvious, yet is quite revelatory. But first a little background.
This last book of the New Testament, and last to be accepted in the biblical canon, is well known to conspiracy theorists and end of the world fanatics. It is probably written at the end of the 1st century AD to seven churches in Asia minor struggling with a debilitating dilemma. Jesus has died and risen with the promise of a new creation, and yet the world as they experience it remains violently and painfully the same. Wherein does hope lie? What are they to make of the violent life they are experiencing? Why not conform to the dominant Roman culture and avoid attention. They have been sorely tempted to “lose their first love” and drift away from a life in the imitation of Christ to be seduced into conformity with the prevailing culture.
The writer, John, implores them to stand firm in their faith. He contrasts commitment to the ‘Lamb’ – Jesus, who because of his suffering death and resurrection has true authority – and the consequences of the alternative - sovereignty based on power, wealth, greed, self-interest which is fake or illusionary. The Lamb’s authority is counter intuitive. Jesus does not have sovereign right because of power, prestige or wealth, but because he has embraced temporal reality even death, and carried it with him into the world of eternal grace.
In a world which does not recognise grace as sovereign, where self-interested ambition reigns, the consequences are horrendous, most dramatically portrayed by the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Every generation since the writing of this book has experienced realities as awful as those described in the book. In the last 100+ years we have experienced two global pandemics and many less universal, but equally dreadful. We have experienced two world wars, several minor wars, and ethnic cleansing on all continents. Our present covid pandemic has been described by the ABC’s Dr Norman Swan as a political pandemic, because the hubris of Presidents Xi, Putin and Trump and other world leaders such as Johnston and Bolsonaro has made the spread inevitable when is should have been avoidable. Every generation over two millennia have suffered events symbolically portrayed in this book.
The book swings between two opposing and contrasting communities – that of the Lamb and his followers, and that of the beast or the anti -Christ and his followers who bear its mark. The mark or seal of the lamb is the cross; a seal that is impressed upon followers of Jesus at their baptism. But what is the meaning of the mark of the beast, the distinguishing feature of followers of anti-Christ?
Margaret Barker, the eminent biblical scholar and linguist (who sadly passed away in April this year) postulates the mark of the beast is usuary, covetousness, greed, of putting economic goals above goals of common good. Indeed, chapter 13 of the book of Revelation which contains reference to the ‘mark of the beast’ continues with reference to faltering trade and collapsing markets as does chapter 18. Is the whore spoken of in the book the seductiveness of material gain? If Barker is right, then the anti-Christ is not communism, or Trump, or the Pope, but something far closer to home, the seduction of personal wealth and gain over harmony and connectedness with neighbour, creation, and God. In a nutshell, this is an apt description of what ‘anti-Christ’ might mean in any generation.
For the book to be included in the canon of scripture, its interpretation must be relevant to succeeding generations, not simply to those who received it in the first or second century AD. Now, let us cut to the chase. It is not hard to apply this insight to the great and threatening challenge of our time – climate change. Those who oppose action on climate change, most notably the conservative side of Australian politics, have consistently done so based on their economic theory. We can’t afford it they shout! As if we can afford not to!! In our context it could be said neo-liberal economic theory and practice has become the anti-Christ of our age because it sets short term material gain above long-term harmony, equity and sustainability. Many of its devotees hang out in Christian congregations!! Some hang out both in Christian congregations and in the halls of Australian parliaments.
The response of the Australian government to the IPCC report has been predictably appalling. Shane Warne must be proud of the spin that emanates especially from the Prime Minister. Unless you are comatose, it is simply implausible to ignore science and the imminent threat we face. Mr Morrison is spinning ill-conceived nonsense to claim Australia and Australians are already pulling our weight. It is manifestly untrue. It is also untrue to assert that technology, on its own will get us out of the diabolical predicament we are in. First and foremost, what is required is resolve, from the Prime Minister down. Because the ‘fish rots from the head’ resolve from the Prime Minister is not irrelevant. Setting targets focuses resolve.
The Apocalypse or the Revelation of John is prophetic, not in that it foretells the future but in that it has the capacity to reveal truth. The need for truth about the times in which we live has never been more urgent. Spin, the tool of choice of the Prime Minister, is severely damaging because the days are short. We do not have much time to avoid a catastrophe for our children.
The great irony is that the crisis presents opportunity as well as challenge. Why not emphasise opportunities rather than challenges? Indeed, opportunities for the many are so abundant, it makes the crime of protecting the self-interest of a few far more reprehensible.