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Weblog Archive 


May 20 - May 22, 2002



Wednesday 22nd May, 2002


Can Anyone Help...?

I have received an email from a lady whose husband died two weeks ago (I presume she contacted me because I'm listed in the latest Internet for Christians newsletter). She asks if I know "a grief website and/or newsletter, from a Christian perspective". I don't. Can anyone help?


-posted 7:25pm



Papua New Guinea AIDS Crisis

On May 16 I posted a report (scroll down) on findings that Papua New Guinea faces an Africa-style AIDS crisis, despite allegedly being one of the most Christian countries on earth. Hoping to initiate some discussion, I asked what on earth was going on.

Roy Jacobsen has some interesting comments. And so does Ted Esler. Check them both out.

-posted 11:40am


Crikey, He’s A Christian

There’s a kind of unspoken rule about life in Australia that no-one really minds if you’re a Christian, so long as you don’t talk about it too much. The media here always enjoy lampooning Americans like President Bush who speak so publicly of their faith. The result is that Christians here are usually quick to tell the world – if challenged – that their religion is a private matter, and not especially relevant in their job or their dealings with the world.


Now a well-known television reporter seems to have broken the rule, by discussing the impact of his faith on his work, in an interview (not yet available online) with The Catholic Leader in Brisbane.


He’s quickly been outed, by a Brisbane journalist, who has contacted Stephen Mayne of the Crikey website. Here’s what the journalist wrote, according to this morning’s Crikey newsletter (available only to subscribers; click here to subscribe):


Hi, I thought you might be interested in a feature in The Catholic Leader, the Brisbane archdiocese's newspaper. There is a lengthy feature on Channel 10's Paul Bongiorno written by Fr Michael McGirr.

(You probably knew this already but Bongiorno was a Catholic priest from 1970 - 1974.)

How does his faith impact on his reporting?

"I'd like to say that I bring a Christian humanist perspective to what I report, no matter what it is. I think that's important. You only have to read the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World which came out of Vatican II to see how deeply that approach runs in the Church's veins. Or even Vatican II's decree on the media. They urge us to look openly at any issue and find what is good in it and what is true."

And further on: "I still see the Church has a tremendous capacity to exert influence for fundamental values. I often see that in my job."

You might be able to make something of it.

Name Withheld


Crikey! A former Catholic priest who finds his faith still has an impact on his work! (Note the unspoken assumption that this needs to be exposed.) Will Crikey make something of it? I doubt it, but stay tuned.



Starving in Australia

They’re among Australia’s poorest people. The kids are malnourished and hungry. The adults spend all day gambling. Australia’s shame, our Aboriginal health crisis, continues.


-posted 11:10am



Tuesday 21st May, 2002


Evangelical Internationalists – Reshaping the World

A broad new trend is beginning to reshape American foreign policy, according to Nicholas Kristof in today’s New York Times: America's evangelicals have become the newest internationalists.


In fact, with their emphasis on mission, evangelicals have always been internationalists. For many decades Sunday School kids have learned how their pennies can save lives – in this world and for the next – for the poorest of the poor around the world.


What is claimed to be new is that American evangelicals are no longer simply giving pennies. Now they’re pressuring their government to initiate policies in support of, say, international religious freedom, and against sex slavery, and to give more money for, say, AIDS relief in Africa. Actually, I imagine they’ve been doing this for a while. What’s new, possibly, is that with an evangelical-friendly administration in power they’re realising some success.


The article seems confused when it suggests that evangelicals have switched to internationalism because they found their culture-war policies divided people. That doesn’t make sense. It seems equally silly to suggest that a measure of increasing evangelical influence is the sale of the “Left Behind” novels at a United Nations newsstand. Those books are huge best-sellers. That’s what newsstands do – they sell best-sellers.


But it’s nice to read the following:


Evangelicals are among the most generous donors….The 15 biggest Christian charities monitored by collect more than $3 billion a year. Even small evangelical funds are booming; World Relief, with 9,000 employees, says its $40 million budget has doubled in four years.


I've lost my cynicism about evangelical groups partly because I've seen them at work abroad. Earlier this year, for example, I visited the Philippine island of Basilan, home base of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group. Aid groups have mostly pulled out because of killings and kidnappings, but I found one still busy providing food and medicine even in the most dangerous areas. It's the Christian Children's Fund.


I had various reasons for starting this website. Certainly one of those reasons was to highlight areas around the world where Christians are sometimes suffering, such as in Indonesia and North Korea and China. Others are doing the same. It seems part of a movement of God.


And now the New York Times has written favourably about evangelicals.


God is at work.


-posted 2:50pm



Gullible Journalists Abandon the Yuk-Factor

Once again lazy journalists are failing to carry out their responsibilities in the stem cell debate. Angela Shanahan reports:


Beguiled by a passion for heart-wrenching stories, members of the media have become gullible spokesmen for the people set to make the money, replacing in the public mind the yuk-factor attached to destroying embryos with the bedazzling prospect of Superman walking, or some mite cured of diabetes.


[Senator] Boswell put it like this [in a recent speech]: "Imagine debating a bill that could make a select group millionaires but not identifying who those people might be or ascertaining whether it is just that they so profit. Imagine if the potential millionaires were the primary source of information on the issue and no one knew of their vested interest."



Internet for Christians

Thank you to the Internet for Christians newsletter for featuring this site in their May 20 edition. The newsletter also, as usual, contains links to a ton of other online Christian resources.



Esler Fried

Ted Esler’s Esler Fried weblog (still don’t quite get the significance of that name) is one of the most interesting of the rush of new Christian blogs, and not just because Ted is so complimentary about me. Right now he’s engaged in a stimulating analysis of the book A New Kind of Christian, and I can see the makings here of an Andrew Sullivan-style online book club for Christians, with interaction between blogger, writer and readers. But it would need quite a critical mass of reader support to make it work.


Ted says I need to add a comments function to my site. I must say that I never read the comments section of other bloggers’ sites, and never send in comments to them, either. If I want to say something I send the blogger an email. But I guess it’s something to consider.



Rainbow Warriors

In 1998 and 1999 members of the Rainbow Sash gay rights movement invited the media to watch Catholic Archbishop Dr George Pell refuse them communion in Melbourne. Dr Pell has now moved, and last Sunday movement members invited the media to watch him refusing them communion in Sydney.



Family Squabbles

They don’t have Anglicans in Sydney. They have Sydney Anglicans. They’re a breed apart, stalwarts, preservers of the faith, or at least that’s how it sometimes appears to anyone outside that city who takes an interest in these things.


The Tablet in Britain has taken an interest, and is disturbed that the “hardline” Anglican archbishop of the city, Dr Peter Jensen, is not alone:


The Anglican evangelicals of Sydney are in a category of their own. The city’s archbishop sees himself as upholding the true Puritan tradition. And he has now found something of an ally in his Catholic counterpart….


Hardline churchmen are two a penny. This is not the first example of the curious, and curiously distasteful, resemblance between extreme evangelicals and traditionalist Catholics. There is a striking affinity between the two camps in their hatred of liberalism, and their unyielding and often self-gratifying definition of the kind of doctrines that exclude and divide. But do they have to use history as an excuse?


Dr Jensen says that he suspects that, as a child, he belonged to perhaps the only family in Australia that used to argue about the relative merits of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. His father would defend the royalist view against the more parliamentarian sympathies of his two sons. History like this does indeed lend itself well to family squabbles, and there are squabbles now within the larger families of Sydney’s two respective Churches.


-posted 12:05pm



Monday 20th May, 2002


Not Trusting God Much, Either

More thoughts on why Australia seems immune to the “European virus” of extremist ideologies and political assassination, from Sydney Morning Herald commentator Paul Sheehan:


The curse of dogma has touched Australia only lightly and thus the curse of political instability has passed us by. We have never been afflicted with the extremes of corporatism or communism or any of the isms in between. We don't trust God much, either. Australia's place as one of the world's most durable, stable, prosperous and open democracies has been built by the victory of pragmatism over ideology.


It’s worth repeating my comment of two weeks ago, when commentator Gerard Henderson expressed similar sentiments.


I wrote:


My wife and I often bemoan the weakness of Sunday worship in this country—the lack of passion or real joy, the utterly sensible approach to it all. And then we look at countries where people do get passionate about their religion—Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East—and we have to think that Australia really is the Lucky Country.



Happy, Useful, Meaning, Life

The Dalai Lama spoke in Melbourne last night to a packed tennis arena. The Age was there:


There certainly was something vaguely ironic about the Dalai Lama's theme, Happiness in a Material World. Money does not necessarily buy happiness, but it did get you some Dalai merchandise yesterday. Dalai Lama Tour 2002 T-shirt? $25, thanks. Coffee mug? That'll be $20. Fleecy beanie? Also $20. Feeling more benevolent towards Buddhism? Take the fleecy vest for $50, and help cover the costs of the tour.


The Dalai Lama attracted the most stratified cross-section of the Melbourne population since the post-September 11 memorial service. Dreadlocks lined up next to expensive overcoats and robed adherents of the spiritual contingent mingled easily with seculars in slacks and cardigans.


Meanwhile, the material world was functioning well, if the vendors' queues were any indication. It was an entirely multicultural experience to watch people lining up for cappuccinos as they waited to greet a wise old man from Tibet.


From Australia, the Dalai Lama heads to New Zealand, where the organising committee is selling for NZ$30 a T-shirt with the religious slogan, “Happy, Useful, Meaning, Life”.


-posted 9:20am