CALL US EMERITI


At the risk of overdoing the ecclesiastical content of Argus over the last few days, I must say that the decision that Pope Benedict XVI after he retires tonight will be called Pope Emeritus is a mistake. Emeritus implies that you still are in some way what you were, something that the holders of offices of absolute authority cannot be. They are unique and are either what they are or they are not. King Edward VIII could have been called King Emeritus but of course nobody suggested it. Emeritus is fine for retired professors still pottering around the campus but there can be only one Pope. With a Pope Emeritus - still clad in papal white, moreover - there could be the illusion of two; and if the new one is not quite as, let us say, traditionalist as Benedict, well let's not enquire where that could lead. Benedict XVI should revert to the title of Cardinal or Archbishop Ratzinger, put on his decent black and stay out of the limelight.

That said, I'm taking a few days off, which I suppose entitles me to call myself, at least for the present, a blog-writer emeritus.

28 February 2013

YET ANOTHER POTENTIAL HEAVENLY HOME


Here we go again with another fine and historic church for sale, this time in the country. Holy Trinity, Taradale, in central Victoria, is not on the scale of the splendid Melbourne town church of St Alban's, Armadale, which I wrote about when it was threatened in October last year, but is of considerable quality and in a position of such prominence that the usual result of a church sale - turning it into "Divine Pizzas" or someone's house - will amount to a very public announcement that Christianity, or at least its Anglican branch, has shut up shop in that part of the world.

Holy Trinity is certainly a highly visible church. Anyone driving along the Calder Highway or taking the train cannot fail to notice it. It sits atop a steep little hill like a coronet on a dowager's head. Its most notable feature is a sham belfry with a traceried window that gives the church the appearance of a Georgian Gothick chapel in the park of an eighteenth-century country house - an Irish country house I have for some reason always imagined.

This attractive little building with its pretty buttressed and stuccoed exterior was completed in 1859 to a design by architect and surveyor Thomas Turner. It has well-made internal fittings, some good stained glass and, unusually for a small church, a gallery at the west end.

Taradale is a tiny township, and like most small country communities has declined in population in the last fifty years, though this has to some extent been offset by weekend residents. Until five years ago, when it closed, Holy Trinity had a service once a month and a small congregation. The front of the building has now become unsafe and is screened off, though only "some" restoration is said to be needed, which ought not to be financially prohibitive even for the present owners.

Most church sales in Australia are of Anglican or Uniting churches, these being the two denominations declining most steeply in numbers. History and demography have decreed that these are also the denominations with some of the architecturally best churches. But if the people who live around it won't go to their local Anglican or Uniting church, then being the finest architecture in the world is not enough to keep the building open and in repair. So many churches are now ill attended that one understands that sales will be inevitable.

But there ought to be sales and sales. An indifferent 1960s brick church that looks the same as a community hall of the era will be no loss if turned to some other use or pulled down. But the sale and subsequent conversion of a fine and historic church - a building that is obviously a church - for a purpose alien to the architecture and nature of the building is invariably a disaster. Fittings are destroyed or disappear, interiors are mutilated, the outside is disfigured with extra windows and skylights and, if the conversion is to a commercial purpose, unsuitable signs, sometimes in neon, are clapped onto the facade.

Holy Trinity falls decisively into the category of fine and prominent churches that should not be sold, unless for a purpose in sympathy with the building such as use by another denomination (the fortunate fate of St Alban's). If no other denomination is forthcoming what else can be done?  In the case of Holy Trinity the best answer is nothing. The Anglican Church is asking only $260,000 for the building and its 0.8 hectares of land on two titles. At that price it's hardly worth selling. Holy Trinity should be kept. It could be used for occasional services in connection with local anniversaries or commemorations of historical events. It could be used for concerts, or art exhibitions. It would be ideal for weddings, especially if part of the site were sold and the money used for a building suitable for receptions. Holy Trinity could then be promoted as a wedding church. Why should secular celebrants corner a market that could give new life to many an attractive yet under-used church? With a little imagination and pastoral sensitivity churches such as Holy Trinity have the potential to offer brides and grooms a better alternative to the banality of so many civil wedding ceremonies.

Church authorities have often justified the sale of redundant churches on the grounds that the Church has more pressing tasks than to be a custodian of historic buildings. But historic buildings are a trust. Previous generations of churchgoers paid for them and kept on paying to keep them going and the Church has no right to abandon them and cash in on the proceeds.

Those previous generations also realised that a fine church has a missionary function. Its existence is a statement that the church is there, in the community, even for non-attenders. That statement is made to everyone who sees it, so that the outside of the building is doing its job even when the inside is sparsely attended.

28 February 2013

BREAKING THE FAUSTIAN BARGAIN


If Julia and the Greens have really fallen out, and their bust-up is not just a piece of pre-electoral window-dressing, then I believe voters should start thinking of supporting her again.

The very worst aspects of Julia Gillard's government have been those forced on her by the Greens party. To take one example: Julia has been castigated as a liar for saying she would never introduce a carbon tax. I think it probable that she meant what she said, but was suborned by the Greens - and of course her own ambition to stay in power, but what politician is not obsessively ambitious for power? - into breaking her word.

If Julia had had the chance to govern in her own right - something she ought to have been courageous enough to call an election about ages ago - I suspect she would have made a much better job of it.

The Greens are the heirs of every interfering busybody, Roundhead, Fascist, wowser and envy-soaked crank who has ever tried to push other people around. They have been nothing but a millstone around Julia's neck. She was as foolish as Faust to make a bargain with them. She shortsightedly calculated that their support would keep her in office but she didn't calculate that an alliance with the Greens would cost her the support of large numbers of traditional Labor voters who regard the Greens as dangerous nutcases. The independents she lured to her side are bad enough, and come September will no doubt be given the bum's rush by their electorates, but the Greens are toxic. Without them Julia Gillard might have some hope of winning Labor's lost legions back, though her government's image is now so bad that it is probably too late to do that in time to win the next election - assuming that she's still around to fight it and hasn't been defenestrated by the smarmy Rudd, the getting rid of whom was one of the better acts of her earlier career.

The sheer awfulness of the present government has, according to all the opinion polls (for whatever that's worth), given the Coalition parties a huge pre-electoral advantage over Labor. Tony Abbott seems a potentially good leader. But in a sense it's not him you're voting for. If the choice is a Labor Party that has come to its senses and the party of big business, the banks and the likes of Michael Kroger, I know where my vote would go.

27 February 2013

NOT QUITE RIGHTED


"Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the righting of 'an ancient wrong'" reads the headline on the front page of February's Melbourne Anglican, a publication that can be relied on to take the liberal-progressivist line on everything. And what is this "ancient wrong"? Why, none other that until twenty years ago the Anglican Church did not ordain women. And whom can we blame for this appalling outrage? God? Christ? Archbishop Cranmer? Centuries of anonymous "patriarchy"? All the above, one imagines. 

What colossal, breathtaking arrogance. What an insolent assumption of superior wisdom. To dismiss as a wrong what not only Anglicans but Christians of all kinds universally believed and practised for nearly two thousand years (and the majority of Christians still do: how insulting can you get?); as a wrong moreover that could only be put right by a pushy gaggle of late twentieth-century Anglican women taking their cue from a secular feminist agenda, must surely set a record for blinkered self-obsession. Self-delusion too. These women who self-righteously claim to have corrected the prejudice of history are mostly middle-aged and over and would not in their younger days even have guessed that there was a wrong to be righted. The idea of ordination would not have entered the antechambers of their mind. Their clerical ambitions would have gone no further than wanting to marry a good-looking curate.

But then in the 1980s along came the "Christian" feminists trailing in the wake of the secular feminist pioneers and these middle-class suburban Anglican women discovered not only that they too were feminists but that they had been shockingly discriminated against since the time of the Apostles. Perhaps they picked up a book by Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza or Rosemary Radford Ruether or another of the eminently unreadable ladies churning out feminist propaganda from the tenured shelter of some American divinity school. Perhaps they went on a course of female spirituality where it was pointed out to them how disgracefully they and their sex had been treated. Perhaps a friend became a feminist and they didn't want to be left behind or thought unintellectual. Whatever, the perpetual feminist aspiration to be "the same" as men flowered in the confused and propagandised terrain of their frustrations. No longer was it enough to be mothers, or to serve the poor and homeless as nuns or to teach little children the simple truths of Christianity in Sunday schools. That was the kind of thing scheming males wanted women to do to keep them in subjection. For these women "empowered" by feminism, the new goal was the "right" to fulfil the vocations they now announced they had. Their campaign, conducted on Gramscian principles with stridency and the support of the secular media, proved too strong to be resisted by wishy-washy male church leaders desperate not to seem "sexist", and the ordination of women on the same terms as men duly became, in the words of the female preacher at this "celebration" of their triumph in Melbourne's St Paul's Cathedral, "the new normal" of Anglican ministry.

Some people detect in this the hand of Providence. They see the introduction of priestesses (who, paradoxically, though feminists do not like the noun feminised) as a matter of natural justice and its secular derivation as evidence of the Holy Spirit "working through contemporary modes of thought". If so, the Holy Spirit is saying different things in different places, for this is a purely Western view. It is only in the shrinking Anglican context in Australia, or Britain and the United States, that female ordination campaigners managed to browbeat or persuade their co-religionists into accepting this "new normal". The hierarchies in the countries where Anglicanism is growing and thriving won't have a bar of it. Shameful as the Melbourne Anglican no doubt considers it, in those places the ancient wrong remains resolutely unrighted.

26 February 2013

CAVEAT EMPTOR


Readers planning to travel to Fiji, as lots of Australians do, might profit by the following advice: catch your plane.

Air Pacific, one of two carriers on the Melbourne-Nadi route, has for some time had departures on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday at 11.25pm. The time has now been put back to five minutes past midnight. A booking made for an end-of-weekend evening departure yesterday - Sunday - at 00.05 was intended by the passenger to be for the service that used to leave at 11.25 and is now rescheduled to five minutes past midnight on Monday morning. On the point of leaving for the airport, the passenger opened his e-mails to print his ticket and discovered that the flight on which he was booked had left twenty-four hours earlier, at 00.05 on Sunday morning. Absolutely correct in timing and terminology on the airline's part, but perhaps a little misleading. A foolish error by the passenger, but the kind of mistake that is not hard to make.

In consternation, the passenger rang Air Pacific. This passenger travels often to Fiji and is equipped with all the frequent flyer and other "customer loyalty" mumbo-jumbo so beloved of airlines. Even so, the Air Pacific operator could scarcely wait to point out that the passenger had "forfeited" the ticket by not taking the earlier flight. All the airline's blather about being a "valued customer" cut no ice when it might actually have come in handy. Would the airline credit the cost of the ticket - in what passes for Air Pacific's "business class" so a not inconsiderable sum (though hardly justified by the somewhat spartan accommodation compared to the same class on other airlines)  - to the cost of a rebooked ticket for Sunday evening/Monday morning? Not on your sweet life, as my father used to say. The customer would have to buy another ticket and pay another full fare. This cost around $825, slightly dearer than the cost of the original ticket, which had been prudently booked ahead.

The passenger bit the bullet, gave his credit-card number and other details and waited for the ticket to be e-mailed. Instead of a ticket another e-mail arrived announcing that the ticket could not be bought at the quoted rate and that the cost would instead be more than $1500. The "customer service operator" handling the earlier booking had "made a mistake", it was explained.

Demanding a higher price after a sale has been contracted is called gazumping. This used to be a speciality of the less reputable class of estate agent. It seems it has now been taken up by an international airline, on airline moreover of which some 40 per cent is owned by Qantas, our own proud national carrier.

Air Pacific is about to be "rebranded" Fiji Airlines. But don't be fooled. It will still be good old gazumping Air Pacific.

And the passenger? He booked a ticket on another airline for this morning and told Air Pacific what they could do with their $1500 ticket. He will not be flying with them again if he can avoid it and is recommending this course of action to his friends, his colleagues and staff - and to readers of Argus.

25 February 2013

MYSTERIOUS WAYS


I have so far refrained from comment on the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, preferring to leave that to the Gadarene rush of experts. But there is one observation to make that I have not seen made elsewhere. Why did the Pope allow himself to be elected at the age of 78? He must have known it wouldn't be many years before age caught up with him and he'd either die or have to retire, or like his predecessor do neither and get too old and sick to be an effective ruler.

Could it have been that Benedict saw himself as the only man for the job at that point in the history of the Church? That a relatively few years of him as Pope would be better than none? Everyone now knows that he had an agenda - a "vision" - that he had begun to pursue as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Did he fear that a Pope other than himself might not continue it? Not that it was an ignoble agenda - quite the opposite: the herculean task of trying to put the Church back on an even keel after half a century of destructive distraction in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Is it fanciful to suppose that the then Cardinal Ratzinger thought other papal candidates might not give this policy the priority he would give it, as indeed Pope John Paul II had not done?

God moves in a mysterious way and noble ends are not always pursued by the noblest of methods. For all his virtues there is something about Benedict XVI that suggests the wily old schemer. As dean of the College of Cardinals since 2002 did he somehow work the Vatican system, perhaps with the help of our own dear Cardinal Pell, reputedly no slouch as a numbers man, to ensure his own election?

Even if this is a gross calumny and Benedict's election was the unalloyed inspiration of the Holy Spirit there is another aspect to the matter. There was much talk in the latter years of John Paul II about the likelihood and desirability of a Pope from the Third World. One of the cardinals thought most likely to succeed John Paul was the Nigerian Cardinal Arinze. If he had been elected we would still have a Pope. (He is eighty now, but though only two years older than Benedict was, is too old to succeed this time.)

Yet a Third World Pope is more desirable than ever, and for reasons that have nothing to do with modish notions of racial "justice". The world is not Europe, and a worldwide Church could do with a non-European perspective at the top for a change. But a non-European Pope is also needed for the sake of Europe. Europe is a continent in decline and the Church there is in even swifter decline. Imaginative as is Benedict's strategy of restoring Catholic identity through liturgical recovery, more direct, popular methods are needed as well. Any revival of Catholicism in Europe is likely to owe at least something to "reverse evangelisation", that is, to old-fashioned missionary activity, with the missionaries coming from places once considered mission fields where the Church is now strong and growing. Africa is one such place, and an African Pope would understand this and, with luck, do something about it. Eight years ago that Pope could have been Cardinal Arinze. Did the election of Pope Benedict deprive the Church in Europe of a man who could have got the ball rolling again?

If so, there is another candidate waiting in the wings, the young (in papal terms - he is 54) Ghanaian cardinal Peter Turkson. Though the political machines of the Vatican are even now grinding away, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility, as it never is at papal elections, that the Italians will try to snatch back the papacy for themselves, if I were a cardinal, even an Italian one, I'd want to give Turkson a try.

18 February 2013

AN ILLUSTRIOUS TITLE


The Burchett Hill Bugle is by its own admission "one of the four most illustrious newspapers in the world", the others being the Guardian, the New York Times and the Bugle's own sister daily, the Sydney Morning Sneer. Founded in 1852 in the heady days of the gold rush as the anti-government scandal sheet The Port Phillip Colony Scuttlebutt and Gossiper, the Bugle became respectable in the starchy 1880s. Its reputation as the nation's pre-eminent journal of record dates from its acquisition by the Fairyflax family in 1914 and the inspired appointment of legendary editor Arthur Mange, whose first editorial, "Believe The Bugle: There Will Be No War", is still spoken of with awe in the newspaper world.

"Mange believed firmly in C. P. Scott's dictum, 'Comment is free but facts are sacred', says the current editor, Adrian Finkelstein, who, like so many of his staff, cut his journalistic teeth at Manning Clark University as a campaigning reporter on the student union paper Shoutdown. "We have held faithfully to that principle, although adapted appropriately to our own times. Scott's idea of 'facts' was one that no serious journalist today accepts, when postmodernism has taught us that there are as many versions of the same 'fact' as there are narratives in which to relate them. But we still strive in the Bugle to give space to all facts that have a legitimate claim to be reported and are not the product of reactionary propaganda."

As for comment, Finkelstein has recruited or inherited a first-rate editorial staff, all of whom give their opinions freely and at length in the Bugle's news pages. Controversy is never allowed to stand in the way of truth. Chief political correspondent Annabel Harridan, for example, recently wrote a fearless critique of the Prime Minister in which she concluded that "it would be a tragedy for the country if Julia Gillard were not re-elected", given that "in ability and vision she towers head and shoulders over such lesser holders of her office as Curtin, Chifley and Hawke." This received a telephonic screech of protest from the subject of the comparison, excoriating correspondent and editor for "publishing arrant misogyny" in making "past male prime ministers the benchmark". Unabashed, Ms Harridan wrote a revised assessment the following day likening the Prime Minister to Margaret Thatcher - blue-pencilled before publication by Finkelstein as "as insulting as comparing her to Gina Rinehart" - and then a third piece in which she compared Ms Gillard, very much to her advantage, as "a Queen Victoria, straddling the events of her century" and likening her "wise consort" to Prince Albert for good measure. This was allowed, principally because Finkelstein, whose education has been entirely in "relevant" topics in the media studies course at Manning Clark, had never heard of the royal personages.

As befits a serious newspaper engaging with contemporary priorities, the most senior reporting post on the Bugle is that of the environment correspondent. Jake Fry, the anti-logging protester who when not chaining himself to trees fills this role, shows a fair-minded commitment to his job that would put many a more experienced journalist to shame. Far from condemning or mocking "denialists" of anthropogenic climate change he does not allow that such people or the views they hold exist. His extensive reports, usually covering pages one, two and three, are filled with the proceedings of publicly subsidised scientific conferences at which "peer-reviewed experts", serenely undisturbed by any disagreement other than to the extent of the cataclysm, outbid each other in projections of the apocalyptic doom about to be unleashed in retaliation for mankind's cruelty to the environment. Rational and courteous, Fry responded to an open letter addressed to him by visiting "sceptic" Lord Monckton last year by sticking pins all over it, cutting it into tiny pieces, returning the shreds to the envelope with some of the contents of his "partner's" cat's tray and reconsigning the whole to the sender with the additional superscription "Crap deserves crap, so-called 'Lord' Smartfart" scrawled over the address on the envelope.

High costs are always a problem on a daily paper but Finkelstein is doing something about them. He has just signed a breakthrough deal to reduce expenses in one of the areas where they are heaviest by "outsourcing" foreign news to the media unit at Burchett Hill's central mosque, which is happy to provide the service for free. Readers' complaints that of the few recognisable English words in the copy supplied, "Israel", "pig", "infidel" and "Satan" account for about ninety per cent, have been rejected by the editor as "vexatious". As a further cost-cutting measure, three leader writers have been made redundant and replaced by Imam Ibn al Choppa-hedoff Poofa, chief functionary at the mosque and now unpaid daily "guest editorialist" on the Bugle and religion correspondent. A "Sharia News" with details of public denunciations ("virtual stonings" as Imam al Choppa-hedoff describes them) has been added to the Bugle's special sections on business, television, cars etc. In the "Eating Out" supplement the reviews are never of any but Halal restaurants.

To expand editorial content without further unnecessary expense the Bugle has entered a syndication agreement with Melbourne publication The Monthly at discounted rates, thanks to the generosity of the latter's owner, speculative builder Morry Schonkhauser. The Monthly will supply a series of incisive "think pieces", the first of which, "Why Robert Manne is right about everything" by Robert Manne, appears in the Bugle this week.

Literary editor Sophie Haitch, brought to the Bugle from another respected Melbourne magazine, Meanjin, casts her net widely. She has made it a rule that only books by Aboriginal lady authors are to be reviewed (a new "Australian Classics" edition of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by Henry Handel Richardson was banned from review as the work of a "dead white male"). Published female Aboriginal writers are not over-abundant and Haitch has extended her range of acceptable authors by conferring, in the spirit of the Bromberg judgment, "attributive" Aboriginality on various prominent litterateuses, among them Helen Garner and, retrospectively, Dymphna Cusack and Maie Casey. One female writer who pointed out that her ancestry was entirely Irish was accused by Haitch of "hate speech", on the grounds that to deny the "honour" of being considered Aboriginal was "offensive and hurtful" to people who prided themselves on being genuinely of that race.

Perhaps the most admired contributor to the Bugle is not a journalist but an artist - Doodlig, the paper's cartoonist. Finkelstein regards him as "sublimely gifted, a genius who transforms the strokes of his pen into philosophy." Doodlig's distinctively minimalist drawings, all jots and squiggles - so that it is not always immediately clear what they are about - have won him many fans for what Finkelstein calls his "uniquely whimsical view of the world". In one celebrated example of his unique whimsy, Doodlig likened Australia in the Howard years to Auschwitz ("both begin with Aus, you see," says Finkelstein), with John Howard depicted as a dwarfish swastika-bedecked commandant in jackboots, grinning evilly beside a couple of squiggles labelled "Bath House" into which he was kicking a group of figures in chains marked "Dissent". This cartoon - "vintage Doodlig" - is the editor's personal favourite and hangs on the wall of his office.

This then is a quick tour d'horizon of the kind of journalistic excellence readers have come to expect from The Burchett Hill Bugle. But - take heed. It is also an alarm call, given that business interests judged by the editor to be "unsympathetic" to the paper's editorial freedom have begun to make inroads into the company's shareholding. "It would be intolerable," declares Burchett Hill's mayor, Greens Party Councillor Les Rhiannon, who himself contributes a regular column to the Bugle, "Around the People's Municipality" - full of sound advice on dobbing in neighbours who aren't recycling their rubbish correctly and how to destroy the share value of "anti-environmental" industries - "if elements of the fascist far right were able to trample on democracy and seize control of this iconic national asset." Councillor Rhiannon has set up a "fighting fund" to buy Fairyflax shares for the Greens Party and thus "keep the Bugle's authoritarian, I mean authoritative, voice loud and clear in the public square as a beacon of free comment and editorial integrity."

18 February 2013

There are other news stories from Burchett Hill in Argus here ("Municipal News"), here ("A Feast of Reason"), here ("On the Street Where You Eat"), here ("The One Day of the Year"), here ("The Glorious First of May"), here ("Support for the Arts"), here ("How May I Not Help You?"), here ("Our Very Own Olympics"), here ("Marriage Reform in Action"), here ("A School Story"), here ("A Voice in the World"), here ("A Blow Against Misogyny") and here ("Let Justice be Done").

THEY JUST DON'T GET IT, DO THEY?


Here are the words of African-American student and convicted murderer Nkosi Thandiwe, an "anthropology major" at the University of West Georgia, in his trial in Atlanta for shooting dead a white woman and injuring two others:

"I was trying to prove a point that Europeans had colonised the world, and as a result of that, we see a lot of evil today."

His beliefs about white evil, he explained, and his hatred of whites, had been acquired in the course of his anthropology studies.

Well, we know all about gun violence supposedly provoked by television or video games or, in America, according to the liberal media, by the availability of the guns themselves, but by anthropology? Yet it is sadly so, and ought not to be surprising.

Europeans ... colonised the world, and as a result of that, we see a lot of evil today. For succinctness and accuracy that summary of what is actually taught in anthropology, history and no doubt other courses in Western universities could not be bettered. It is the fundamental assumption on which the world view of a generation of students is being formed. It is not confined to universities. We saw it here, as we do each year, on Australia Day, a "national day of shame" according to the Melbourne Age, delivering its annual exhortation to a collective mea culpa:

... the day that marked the theft of a land (terra nullius), the day that marked the theft and abduction of a people, of a culture, the day that initiated the pathways to the Stolen Children and, to our ultimate shame, the deaths in custody. It is a day that stands as a reminder of massacres ...

The academic staff at the University of West Georgia who used Nkosi Thandiwe as a tabula rasa on which to imprint their views are no doubt high-minded Obama-voting liberals who pride themselves on their open-mindedness and intelligence. Presumably then they are intelligent enough to see that they are the problem they inveigh against in their courses. Their ancestors caused all the trouble, but it is they themselves, accepting as they do the theory of guilt by descent as manifested in sundry apologies for the past, who must now be held responsible in their own eyes for stealing someone else's country - in their case the United States, but it applies throughout the former colonial world, wherever nations have evolved from white settlement. It certainly applies here, as the Age article makes clear in its reference to theft.

The expiation of theft necessarily implies restitution. If someone is illegally occupying your house it's natural to want them out. It's no help if they stay on inside in possession saying how shocking it all is that the legal owner is deprived of his property while continuing to deprive him of it.

That would seem to be obvious, but the hand-wringers in education and the media just don't get it.

Why does not just one university lecturer specialising in the history of colonial and imperial exploitation - there are plenty of them here, including New Zealanders who have colonised Australian university departments - set an example by taking the restitution option? Why does he not gather up his librarian/philosophy-tutor wife, withdraw their two kids from their high-achieving inner-suburban high school, hand the keys of their recently refurbished Glebe or North Fitzroy terrace with its twin studies, "kids' space", Provencal kitchen and wine cellar to a needy Aboriginal family - not of their acquaintance because they wouldn't know any, but selected for them by "indigenous affairs" bureaucrats - and shake the stolen dust of this country from his invader-descended feet?  It wouldn't matter where they all went. The important thing is that they clear out. Go home. It might be difficult to work out where "home" is, and even more so to get a visa to settle there, particularly in one of the more likely countries of their forebears' provenance - England, Scotland, Ireland or anywhere else in Europe, or Asia come to that - but that would afford a valuable insight into what it is really like to be dispossessed instead of just lecturing about it. And surely the joy in their high-minded hearts that they had liberated themselves from the taint of connivance in the continuing occupation of someone else's country, that they had helped just that little bit to undo the harm of past centuries, would be compensation enough for the inconvenience of living out of a suitcase. Perhaps they could go further in expiating their guilt and offer themselves into slavery in the Middle East or Africa. Their reward would be first-hand experience of genuine subjugation, as distinct from the alleged subjugation that the contemporary historical imagination accuses the white races of imposing on Aborigines, African-Americans etc., lecture-room denunciations of which have stoked the anger of who knows how many students.

Such was in essence the solution recommended a few years ago by a Melbourne clergyman, Canon Peter Adam, who announced that the only thing to do if we were ever to right the wrong of European invasion was for us descendants of the invaders to repatriate ourselves to wherever our wicked forebears came from (though the canon's own presence in the departure lounge has not so far been noted).

Why will this not happen? Why is there not a rush to the airport? One reason is that the guilt professed by the bien-pensant is phoney and a fad. It's an academic fashion of highly ideological origin - you could loosely define it as "Thus spake Derrida; so said Said" - and it fills a void that was once occupied by pride in Western achievements. We now affect to despise those achievements and to feel ashamed that part of the price of them was colonial expansion. Teaching younger generations that the nation most of them were born in is an illegitimate and exploitative construct is one way of feeling less guilty. It helps that you can persuade yourself that by simply drawing attention to past sins you are doing your bit to atone for them.

We may be certain, though, that no pedlars of white guilt in education or the media will decide that full atonement can only be made through restitution and that they are therefore required by justice and their own logic to remove themselves from a country in which they have no right to be. Such people may have lost faith in the achievements of our society but they have not lost their taste for the material comforts those achievements confer.

And amid the manufactured guilt, perhaps a pang of guilt that was, by contrast, sincerely felt would not go amiss - guilt that if your lecture-room theories have inspired your students to exact vengeance for the evil committed by "Europeans" you personally might have helped deprive an innocent descendant of those Europeans, possibly a distant relative of your own, of her life.

11 February 2013

THE TWO FACES OF MARRIAGE


With an election looming the same-sex marriage debate is off the agenda in Australia for some time, but sooner or later it will be back. Tedious as that will be, its return will at least draw attention to a hitherto little remarked phenomenon: that the concept of marriage in our society has already undergone a change. There are now two views of marriage abroad in the community. The traditional view that marriage is the foundation stone of a family is giving way to a new view in which the focus is exclusively on the couple getting married and their "commitment" to each other.

It is this new view that is so adaptable to the idea of same-sex marriage. In the days when everyone took the traditional view same-sex marriage would have seemed an absurdity.

The notion that marriage is a necessary preliminary to child-rearing has been undermined by the willingness of many prospective parents to do without it. They regard marriage as dispensable. Thousands of children are now born outside marriage (34 per cent of all births in Australia in 2010, the latest year for which I could get figures) and carry no stigma of illegitimacy as they would have done in the past. The ecclesiastical and other protests that marriage means family reflect the view of only part of the community, and almost certainly a diminishing part at that. In an increasing majority are not only those couples who choose to procreate without marriage but people in favour of same-sex marriage, at least if the evidence from England, where the "gay marriage" proposal, initiated by a Conservative (!) government, was approved this week by 400 votes to 175 in the House of Commons, is anything to go by. It has been suggested there that opposition to same-sex marriage is mainly felt by older people, and if so will decline as the crusty intolerant fuddy-duddies die off.

Marriage in the traditional manner involves responsibility to other people, even if they are not yet born. It used also to be argued that it involved a duty to society, not only to perpetuate the species but to bring up younger generations in stability and continuity of values. You don't hear much about that any more, possibly because no one has much confidence in the future; not so much apres nous le deluge as let's not think about it. But the "family" concept of marriage is further undermined from within by the fact that couples who for age or other reasons are unable to procreate have always been able to get married. In the days before same-sex marriage was thought of this did not seem an anomaly. They married for companionship, or as a declaration of their love. It seems an anomaly now, when same-sex marriage-campaigners quite legitimately ask, if infertile couples can get married for companionship or for recognition of their relationship why can't anybody?

The new view of marriage has coincided with the greater social acceptability and visibility of gay relationships. It follows that if marriage is seen as a statement of "commitment" in love, something concerning only the couple, with children an optional extra, fair-minded people, especially those who are likely to have a gay couple or two among their friends, will see no reason why identicality of sex should be allowed to impede those couples from publicly expressing their commitment too. Of course, once you accept that, there is no longer any reason why such commitments should be limited to two participants; that figure having been determined by the mechanics of procreation, in this regard an irrelevance. That three or more contractants, all lovingly committed to each other, or to one among them, might be included in the marriage, or a non-human "partner", follows equally logically, but point that out and you'll be accused of alarmism and "homophobia". (Yet how strange it would be if a reconsideration of the nature of marriage initiated to further "gay rights" should lead to the establishment of common cause with proponents of polygamy, most notably of course our Islamic co-citizens, not hitherto noted for their sympathy for homosexuals.)

The near-eclipse of the conventional notion of marriage does not mean that the truth about marriage has changed; semantically and etymologically it is a nonsense to speak of marriage between two persons of the same sex, except metaphorically in which case it can be applied to all sorts of other things like heaven and hell and Venice and the sea. Marriage in the primary sense is between a husband (by definition male, from Old English husbonda, master of a house) and wife (female, from Old English wif, a woman), not two husbands or two wives or two undifferentiated "partners". But etymology carries no legislative weight. If public perception of the nature of marriage has changed the law probably will too.

If that happens the Christian Church would be wise to emphasise the sacramental nature of marriage, as something available to its adherents who accept the traditional Christian teaching on marriage, and withdraw from acting as a delegate of the state in conducting wedding ceremonies. To continue to do so would imply not only acceptance of the new state-imposed definition of marriage but would lay the Church open, as a registered marriage "provider", to claims of discrimination if it turned away gays and lesbians who would like a pretty Gothic background and the joyful sound of the organ on their wedding day. Resigning their function as a state marriage agency would cost the churches wedding fees but not much else. Churches are losing ground in the marriage market anyway, with more than 60 per cent of Australian weddings conducted by civil celebrants (frequently in ceremonies of a toe-curlingly meretricious sentimentality unachievable within the liturgical confines of a church wedding).

With the Church no longer acting for the state, Christians would have to go through two marriage ceremonies, as they already do in some European countries. There is no reason why the church ceremony could not be a valuable witness to Christian faith and to Christian teaching about marriage, something no one is going to hear about from anywhere else in the community. This witness would keep the Christian doctrine of marriage alive, until the day comes, as it inevitably must, when the pendulum swings the other way, and our society, dangerously diminished in numbers in a world in which hostile beliefs and practices are on the rise, a society which even now in some places is well on the way to aborting and contraceiving itself into a minority on its own Western territory, tires of sterile marriages between people of the same sex and reverts to the traditional view as necessary to its own survival.

7 February 2013