My first Best Read of 2007 today is the current issue of Meanjin, that venerable Oz Lit magazine: “ON FAITH: Vol. 65, no. 4, 2006”. You may review the contents there and read some extracts.
It’s taken us a bit by surprise. We who felt so secure in the belief that our predecessors had bequeathed us a secular state with thoroughly secular institutions, free from the burdens of religious bigotry, find ourselves more surprised than anything else by the appearance of religious bigots trying to blow us up or, perhaps even scarier, seemingly directing our country’s foreign policy from afar. Why us? So what if we use Sunday mornings for the gardening and spend Sunday afternoons around the barbeque? That’s not hurting anyone, is it? But secular Australians have learnt what thoughtful religious adherents have always known: that there are few things more dangerous than belief.
There can be little doubt that ‘secularism’ was one element of modernity. The transcendent was demystified, domesticated and marketed as a commodity. Belief, if you were gullible enough to believe anything beyond what supposedly met the eye, became a matter of private opinion: indefensible private opinion. But now we are told on all sides that modernity—the modern era—is a thing of the past. Could this possibly mean that we live in a world that is also in some sense ‘post-secular’?
This is the question a number of contributors to this issue attempt to explore, explicitly or implicitly. Their answers vary: from the vehement ‘no’ to the unqualified ‘of course we do’, or ‘well actually, we never lived in a secular world anyway—we just kidded ourselves we did’. Other contributors grapple with the experience of belief, either through personal confrontation or immersion in a community of believers. These experiences are diverse, but they have this in common: they testify to the pervasiveness of belief, and its surprising reappearance in the public forum…
You will probably find more of interest, and greater quality of writing and thought, than you would on my hypothetical 200,000 blogs, even including this one. Yes, there are excellent blogs, but something still has to be said for publication that is actually edited… Sadly, this blog quite possibly reaches more people (around 15,000 a quarter at the moment) than Meanjin does, though I hope my plug helps to correct that. (According to Young People and Media, Meanjin has a circulation of 2,500 copies. Of course much of that is in libraries.)
Another journal that is better than 200,000 blogs is Griffith Review. One could add The Monthly and its associate Quarterly Essay. I am not inclined to include Quadrant, as it would be too easy to find 200,000 blogs more worth reading… 😉
The second Best Read is the small book by Louis Nowra which I recently referred to. Now I have read it.
Put your preconceptions on hold and really read Bad Dreaming (Pluto 2007). Do not be content with the extract in The Australian. I think it is a very important contribution.
Right-wingers who have used the book to thump left-wingers have totally missed the point. Left-wingers who ignore the book because right-wingers have exploited it also miss the point. Nowra’s account of the effects of European settlement on Indigenous Australians sits quite comfortably with a so-called “Black Armband” view of history. He does rightly point to the deleterious effects of a too soft “noble savage” or New Age reading of the realities out there, however; he also concedes much that is good. It is a wise book. Become wise yourselves and bury your politics, or shove them you-know-where, as you read it.