Floating Life 4/06 ~ 11/07

an archive

Archive for the ‘Faith and philosophy’ Category

Is Australia a Christian country?

Jim Belshaw has an interesting post on this, to which I wrote an off-the-cuff response for the sake of discussion, and Jim has replied. My answer, basically, is “No”. Except in a very broad cultural sense. One could also ask the question in the past tense, as Jim has, and one would get very many answers, as indeed Jim points out. Obviously Australia is more a Christian culture than it is a Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Muslim, or Jewish one, yet all those are, and in all cases long have been, living traditions within Australian culture, not to mention what remains of Indigenous spirituality.

Much better heads than mine have asked the question; it disturbs me nonetheless when people like the current Prime Minister make assumptions about our being a Christian country. My argument would be that we are very much a non-religious country in very important respects, even more deeply than the fact there is not and cannot be an established religion. I would even argue that secularism has been a critical ingredient both intellectually and practically, a point I made — or tried to make — in my comment on Jim’s blog. (Didn’t Manning Clark devote a lifetime and many pages to constructing a long epic poem of a history on this theme? At least he thought it mattered, which made him a rather odd “Marxist”.)

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Written by Neil

November 21, 2007 at 12:48 am

Two passing thoughts

1. Small joys of blogging: right now someone in Kathmandu is reading Friday Australian poem #11: “Because” by James McAuley. Everyone should…

2. On tonight’s Compass I found myself most drawn to Inga Clendinnen, historian and atheist, and least to Jim Wallace.

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Written by Neil

November 18, 2007 at 10:34 pm

What is really surprising is that this is obvious…

One of the top posts on WordPress today is Let’s get this straight: America is not a Christian Nation. Read it. It really shouldn’t be news. The people who have a problem, who are flying in the face of the historical facts, are those who claim the US is a Christian nation, in any but a very general sense. See also It’s a free country, not a Christian nation by Ed Buchner, and John Meacham:

The only acknowledgment of God in the original Constitution is a utilitarian one: the document is dated “in the year of our Lord 1787.” Even the religion clause of the First Amendment is framed dryly and without reference to any particular faith. The Connecticut ratifying convention debated rewriting the preamble to take note of God’s authority, but the effort failed…
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Written by Neil

November 17, 2007 at 4:26 pm

The literary genre of Acts. 1: Ancient Prologues

While this is on a “rationalist” blog, it is also excellent Biblical scholarship which fundamentalists really need to take seriously — indeed anyone interested in history or theology.
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Written by Neil

November 14, 2007 at 10:38 am

Welcome to our nightmare

 Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital (Australia May 2007; USA Canada October 2007):   orpheus_covers

I’ve always been intensely interested in examining ordinary human beings, people without political agendas, who are suddenly caught up in the fist of history and crisis. If someone happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, what happens to their lives from that point onwards? How do they negotiate life, history, politics thereafter?

I suppose I can trace the birth of this intense interest to something that happened to me when we were living in a village in South India in 1977. I was with my two young children in an exceedingly ramshackle taxi heading from the village to the city market in Trivandrum. It was a time of political upheaval in India. Riots broke out, and suddenly our taxi was surrounded by a mob waving the banners of the Communist Party of South India. The taxi could not move forward. Our taxi driver was very frightened and was trembling violently. The rioters were drumming on the taxi roof and windows. The children and I were in the back seat and I felt that weird and absolute calm which is actually shock. I had an arm around each child and can still vividly remember the two dominant thoughts in my head: 1) I must make the children feel safe with me and 2) No one will ever know what happened to us. In fact, the tense situation only lasted a few minutes and then the crowd let the taxi move slowly forward. Since then, I’ve been aware of how suddenly and how randomly political events of which one is only dimly aware can disrupt a life.

This has to be in my top three best reads of 2007! Read the rest of this entry »

“Compass” last night

ssuniting Last night’s Compass on the Uniting Church in Australia was obviously of interest to me. A transcript is now available. Next week, I notice, the topic is the coming election.

A week before Australians go to the polls Compass throws the spotlight on values, by talking to the country’s religious leaders and a leading philosophical thinker. What values would they like to see guiding voters at the polling booths on Saturday? What do they believe are the key moral and ethical issues underpinning this election? In previous election specials Geraldine Doogue interviewed our political leaders about their beliefs and values. This time she’s invited our religious leaders (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) and a leading secular voice to air their views on what should shape voters’ choices in the 2007 federal election. Our interviewees are: Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson; Jewish Rabbi David Freedman; Australian Christian Lobby Jim Wallace; Anthropologist, historian/ethicist Inga Clendinnen; Muslim Imam Afroz Ali; and, Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen.

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Written by Neil

November 12, 2007 at 10:23 am