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Weblog Archive 

 

April 20 - April 26, 2002

 

Friday 26th April, 2002

 

Mel Gibson—Enthusiastic Catholic

Mel Gibson is back in Australia to promote We Were Soldiers. He bothered The Age interviewer Jim Schembri by discussing….God.

 

An enthusiastic Catholic, Gibson burns up minutes of our strictly scheduled interview to discuss his relationship with the Big Guy.

 

"I'm still trying to figure it out, and it's not about being perfect at all, because I'm far from it," he says. "It's all about making steps forward. I think the most lamentable thing about the whole religion that I choose to follow is Vatican II. I think they screwed it in the 1960s when they changed everything."

 

Our time's up, but he's not finished.

 

"And now - my God! - all this trouble about the molestations. That's just so disappointing, but it still doesn't shake me. I'm not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Anyone who's a child molester is reprehensible, and that's an indictment of the clergy, but they're not all like that. There are good men there, I know there are. Just because there's corruption in the institution doesn't mean the institution itself, as it was meant to be, is corrupt as a concept."

 

-posted 7:10pm

 

 

Catholic and Enjoying It

Mark Shea has a new blog. He’s a writer with plenty to say and a punchy turn of phrase that makes him a natural blogger. Go there, check his output and be amazed that he’s only been online for two days.

 

-posted 5:05pm

 

 

Church of Equal Opportunity

It used to be only country vicars who were thought to write letters of this kind, in The Age

 

I am dismayed that Epicure chose to publish a full-page review of a "girlie bar with food". I would remind the owners of the venue that employing women for their appearance rather than their skill and knowledge as waiting staff may in fact constitute unlawful discrimination on the basis of physical appearance. Were a less attractive but suitably qualified woman refused employment by the restaurant she may well be entitled to lodge a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission. And what of the women already employed there? Would they still have a job should they gain weight or become pregnant?

 

I would also remind businessmen that taking a female client or associate to such an establishment is not only in questionable taste, but may in fact open them up to complaints of sexual harassment. Equally, excluding women colleagues from work-related lunches because they might find the venue uncomfortable or offensive could be seen as sexual discrimination.
Dr Diane Sisely, chief executive, Equal Opportunity Commission Victoria

 

Damned (sexual harassment) if you take women to the restaurant, damned (sexual discrimination) if you don’t.

 

Contemporary theology isn’t getting any easier.

 

 

Children of God

Should Japanese and German nationals be allowed to join future Anzac Day marches? It’s unlikely, judging by the reaction in the media. According to Bruce Ruxton, outgoing state president of the Returned Services League (speaking in a radio interview), Japanese and Germans “are all God’s children, but they weren’t during World War II”.

 

-posted 11:55am

 

 

Thursday 25th April, 2002

 

Anzac Day—An Apology

Please ignore my Anzac Day Reflections post (below), where I noted a surge in the numbers of young people wishing to commemorate the sacrifice of Aussie soldiers at Gallipoli in 1915, and commented:

 

It is possible to be profoundly optimistic about the youth of this country and about the future for Australia.

 

The Australian this morning sets me straight on the true nature of the thousands of young Aussies who travel to Turkey each year for the Anzac Day memorial services:

 

"A lot of them say 'I have done Oktoberfest in Germany, and run with the bulls in Spain, now I have to do the dawn ceremony (at Anzac Cove)," said Andrea Pardoe, a young Perth accountant now working at the VB Bar in Eceabat, the town closest to Anzac Cove….Indeed, the war stories being told last night in the rowdier of the bars which have sprung up to serve the Australian tourists seemed to be more about last year's beer-drinking feats in Munich rather than any 1915 heroics at Gallipoli. "We came to have a good time – it's not a bloody funeral," shouted Scott, one of three mates from Perth who declined to give The Australian their full names as they tossed down the beers in the noisy Boomerang Bar.

 

I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote my earlier post. I’d gotten up early to listen to the Dawn Service on the radio. The sound of steady rainfall on the metal roof of my study had set off feelings of nostalgia. The bugle, the hymns, the sounds of old soldiers marching—they’d all made me emotional. I was tired.

 

I’m sorry.

 

It won’t happen again.

 

 

No Lunch

Shares in Australia’s largest private hospital operator have plummeted. The reason: elite doctors have been taking their business elsewhere because the hospitals stopped serving them hot breakfasts during surgery. Commented one medical man:

 

If you take away the doctors' hot breakfasts in theatre…they will take away your lunch.

 

-posted 1:45pm

 

 

Anzac Day Reflections

It’s Anzac Day. It commemorates the enormous sacrifice of Aussie and Kiwi soldiers at Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915. You could call it one of Australia’s holiest days. Even Crown Casino is forced to close, from 4am to midday. (Otherwise this only happens on Christmas Day and Good Friday.)

 

I’ve been listening to the Dawn Service, on Radio 774, from Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. Despite pouring rain, thousands are attending, many of them young. They are paying tribute to 100,000 Australian soldiers who have been killed in a century of wars. Speakers at the service keep praising the elite Australian soldiers now in Afghanistan, with special mention of Sgt Andrew Russell, who died there two months ago.

 

It seems there have been record attendances at many of the services early this morning throughout Australia. Another 20,000—including the Governor General and the Deputy Prime Minister—are expected at a dawn service at Gallipoli itself, in a few hours.

 

Why the sudden upsurge in recent years of attendees at Anzac Day memorial services? Why are young people so prominent? Clearly in our post-modern secular society there is a spiritual vacuum, particularly among the young. People are reaching out for something that transcends their lives. In the sacrifice made by the Aussie soldiers, today’s youth recognise virtues that a previous generation (my generation, the anti-war crowd) had derided. They want to celebrate heroes, not plastic celebrities.

 

It is possible to be profoundly optimistic about the youth of this country and about the future for Australia.

 

-posted 8:10am

 

 

Wednesday 24th April, 2002

 

Bloggers Are (Generally) Very Nice People

As a novice blogger I sent off “new kid on the blog” begging emails to lots of other bloggers, wondering if they might see their way to giving me a brief mention. What a lovely response!

 

I got a number of “welcome aboard” emails. Tim Blair, the patron saint of Aussie bloggers, gave me a great plug which resulted in a big increase in hits to my website. Tim is so generous that he has actually advertised on his site for Aussie bloggers to contact him, so he can give them a plug.

 

Dodgeblog sent a kind email and gave me a nice plug, and then, having checked my site, added an update:

 

He is an evangelical/happy clappy Christian, something he failed to mention in his email to me. That'll learn me to post a link just for being asked! Proceed at your own risk, you have been warned. Me, I am listening to some Therion to help me get over following the link, going to read some Cthulhu as well. I wonder if in your face evangelicals ever realised how many Christians (lapsed) they turn off by their obnoxious tactics?

 

Sorry.

 

“Plug-friendly” Illuminated Donkey gave a particularly generous mention. Blithering Idiot offered a friendly plug and added a permanent link. Turkeyblog quoted a couple of my posts, as did Tres Producers. Other plugs came from theConnexion.net, Fool’s Folly, Tall Skinny Kiwi (I used to be one of those; now I’m a balding, heavy Aussie), Mark Byron, Sursum Corda and Urban Onramps. Mere Madness and News for Christians have linked to my site.

 

Thanks heaps to all these and to any others I may have missed.

 

-posted 7:00pm

 

 

Gambling Addiction

The Victorian state Government received more than $1 billion last year in gambling taxes, a fifth of the total tax take. Just nine years ago, soon after poker machines were first introduced to the state, the figure was $90 million. In an editorial this morning the Herald Sun called on the Government to “desperately seek treatment for its gambling addiction”.

 

 

Traditional Family Values

Aussie actress Nicole Kidman tells the Australian Women’s Weekly (which is actually a monthly—when it switched from weekly circulation the publishers decided that Australian Women’s Monthly wouldn't sell) that during her marriage to Tom Cruise “her former husband’s career had always come first”.

 

“When I was married and living in LA, I was married; that was my commitment. Primarily, I was a wife and a mother," she said.

 

 

Perplexed About God

The “Religion Bookline” newsletter of Publishers Weekly (the newsletter is not available online, but email subscriptions are free) recommends the just-published God: A Guide for the Perplexed by Oxford University theologian Keith Ward.

 

No stranger to informed public debate on profound and controversial subjects, Ward offers a book that is witty and accessible, prodigiously erudite…and loaded with heavy ammunition to defend the existence of God. The author of 10 other books of theology, he cites and deftly arranges 3,000 years of arguments for, about and occasionally against God, drawn mostly but not exclusively from the Western tradition. This guide begs for comparison with fellow Briton Karen Armstrong's A History of God. Ward's is primarily Christian rather than Abrahamic in scope, but it is equally accessible and solidly learned.

 

-posted 12:55pm 

 

 

Tuesday 23rd April, 2002

 

“An Ineffably Pious Person Who Mistakes This World for a Penitentiary and Himself for a Warder”

An American reader of Saturday’s “The Religion Report” post (scroll down) asks the meaning of wowserish.

 

 

Short-Sighted

A medical conference in Sydney has heard that youngsters who read too much are at risk of premature short-sightedness.

 

The affliction, myopia, in young children is soaring and those who read too early and often are at risk.

 

Electronics companies are offering their support. So are Japanese researchers. Initial results are impressive.

 

 

UnChristian

In The Australian this morning, columnist D.D. McNicoll writes (not available online):

 

Various friends who claim much closer links to both the Catholic Church and the Almighty than I’m ever likely to get keep assuring me that the Pope—despite suffering great pain from his crook knee and having uncontrollable shakes most of the time—is otherwise in remarkably good health and mentally is sharp as a tack. I’m more than happy to believe them; but, every time I see the poor old perisher on television, I can’t help but think it is about time the Church of Rome changed its rules and allowed modern popes to enter into quiet and honourable retirement….Making someone stay in a very demanding job until they fall off the twig hardly seems like the most Christian way of handling things.

 

 

The Truth About Children

Some basic truths from Angela Shanahan, following last week’s court decision that a single woman has a right to fertility treatment to enable her to have a baby.

 

The truth is that children are not your property, your toy or a pet. They can give one great satisfaction and joy; they sometimes also require unrequited love, sweat and tears. They are not an extension of their mother or father, conceived simply as an object for their parent's emotional fulfilment, but individual human beings whose life is a gift to their parents, ideally a product of their mutual love. In short, a child is not your right.

 

 

Laureate

When they decide to establish the Nobel Prize for Journalistic Commonsense they probably won’t award it to Mark Steyn, because Nobel Prize winners are determined in Sweden and Norway. But they should.

 

 

Who Watches the Ethics of the Ethics Committees?

A chilling warning from Michael Cook, editor of Australasian Bioethics Information:

 

The role of ethics committees seems to be to approve everything that won't land you in jail. Instead of philosophers discussing life, the universe and everything, they are rubber-stamping bureaucrats who ensure that names are spelled correctly, boxes are filled in and the project is approved….It raises the suspicion that the principal ethic of ethics committees is to approve whatever employers want. What if this includes - as it soon will - sex selection, hybrid man-animals, or designer children?

 

Similar concerns are raised by Richard John Neuhaus in “The Best Bioethicists That Money Can Buy” in the March 2002 issue of First Things.

 

-posted 10:45am

 

 

Monday 22nd April, 2002

 

Spiritual Warfare

Australian Christians fret over Harry Potter. Meanwhile, nasty events are occurring outside their sheltered worlds.

 

In Ambon, in Indonesia’s Moluccan islands, Muslims have been fighting Christians. The Laskar Jihad movement sent thousands of fighters from Java, and Christians have established their own militia. A peace treaty was signed in February, but already new violence has occurred. This is one of several flashpoints around Indonesia that have the potential to spill over into a major conflagration.

 

Don Greenlees has been reporting for The Australian from Ambon. In the long tradition of Aussie journalists in South-East Asia, his reports are excellent. Here’s Saturday’s intro:

 

For at least three generations, probably more, the women in Ernawati Christin Mustamu's family have been changing their religion.

 

Her grandmother was a Muslim who became Christian, her mother a Christian who became Muslim, and Ernawati herself a Muslim who became Christian. It all had to do with finding the right husband, and religion wasn't a barrier.

 

Says Ernawati of her conversion to her husband's faith: "In Ambon, it is quite normal . . . I feel more secure knowing that my children will have a clear religion."

 

This easy mixing of the religions in her extended family was typical in Indonesia's eastern islands of Maluku until January 19, 1999. On that day, as Muslims celebrated the end of Ramadan, racial and sectarian riots erupted in Ambon, wrecking the relative harmony of the seaside capital.

 

I recall when I was a journalist in Tokyo. Too many reporters jetted in from abroad and compiled their articles from the clippings library at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. But there was a small number—such as Aussies Hamish McDonald and Richard McGregor—who went out and talked to people and got the real story. This morning’s report from Don Greenlees is chilling:

 

Armed with a bow and arrow or a machete, Godlif Rahael has joined many battles against his enemies in the past three years….

 

Godlif, a Christian who left school in the seventh grade, is a member of an 80-strong child militia calling itself "The Children of the Church that God Loves". The gang of young high school boys has regularly pitted itself against Muslim fighters in a sectarian war that has cleaved the eastern islands of Maluku in Indonesia.

 

These smooth-skinned youths, who go to war in T-shirts bearing labels such as "American Basic", have murdered and maimed, and burned houses and mosques, in the name of a conflict they barely understand.

 

Religious warfare of the most basic and brutal kind, on our own doorstep. What are Australian Christians doing about it?

 

-posted 12:55pm

 

 

Saturday 20th April, 2002

 

The Religion Report

If you’re planning to buy this morning’s Weekend Australian for the magazine article (not available online) on Sydney’s Archbishop George Pell I can spare you the trouble with this précis:

 

Pell is an “archconservative” and a “figure of authority” who is “determined to hold the hard line”. Just about everything he says and does publicly is “a Band-Aid applied to an artery”.  When it comes to morality he “tells the same story over and over”. Meanwhile, the church “has been haemorrhaging since the mid-1960s”, the morale of the priesthood is “shattered” and the clergy’s “thwarted need for human warmth” is a “source of ongoing pain”.

 

And, er, that’s about all. Well, maybe not quite all. The article takes up three pages, and touches on things like Pell’s “thoughtful homilies” and his liberalism on social justice issues, but by and large it’s full of the same stuff that’s been written so many times before.

 

Only towards the end does the writer, Luke Slattery, touch on Pell’s fascination with the “more sensuous, more rambunctious style of faith” of southern Europe (as compared to the dour Irish tradition which has shaped Australian Catholicism). Pell “detects a model for the church’s evolution in Australia.”

 

But then the article quickly moves on. At the archdiocese headquarters “the air is dank”. And on. “The dominant colour is brown.” And on. “The cathedral, too, is gloomy.” And swiftly reaches its pre-ordained conclusion. “Archbishop Pell stands statue still, while the world turns.”

 

I know little about Pell. Perhaps inside the hard-man exterior there really is nothing more waiting to emerge than a hard-man interior.

 

But there’s a fascinating story waiting to be written on any local Catholic moves towards earthy Italian-style sensuality and rambunctiousness. There are many, many other lively stories to be written too, on other bubbling trends in religion and spirituality that are set to touch our culture over coming decades. Yet most of the media in Australia remain determined to conform to ageing pictures of the church as authoritarian, wowserish and out-of-touch.

 

Is it any wonder newspaper circulations are in decline?

 

And bloggers on the rise?

 

 

Balls

A Saturday morning spent managing my kids’ tennis team and I’m confronted with the latest official poster designed to promote the sport in Australia:

 

21st Century Aussie Balls

 

Bring It On!

 

In the centre of the poster a large photo portrays three local stars:

 

bullet

one star who probably retired at the beginning of the century;

 

bullet

one star whose injuries have kept him from playing much this century;

 

bullet

one star who has been locked in mortal combat with the local media for most of this century.

 

Perhaps the 22nd century will be more favourable. Bring it on!

 

-posted 5:40pm