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
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."
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.
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
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.
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
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
It is possible to be profoundly optimistic about the youth of this country
and about the future for Australia.
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:
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
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.
It won’t happen again.
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
If you take away the doctors' hot breakfasts in theatre…they will take away
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
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
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
It is possible to be profoundly optimistic
about the youth of this country and about the future for Australia.
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
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
Tall Skinny Kiwi (I used to be one of those; now I’m a balding, heavy
Sursum Corda and
Mere Madness and
News for Christians have linked to my site.
Thanks heaps to all these and to any others
I may have missed.
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
“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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Who Watches the Ethics of the Ethics Committees?
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
Monday 22nd April, 2002
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
For at least three
generations, probably more, the women in Ernawati Christin Mustamu's family
have been changing their religion.
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
Religious warfare of the most basic and
brutal kind, on our own doorstep. What are Australian Christians doing about
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
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
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
I know little about Pell. Perhaps inside the
hard-man exterior there really is nothing more waiting to emerge than a
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
And bloggers on the rise?
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: