As we approach Easter, it is appropriate to recall that as an historical fact, Australia has been built on six pillars. Four were interrelated and came with Captain Philip – the rule of law, the English language, our Judeo-Christian heritage and our oldest institution, the Crown. Then came responsible self government under the Westminster system, a gift from our imperial mistress, and not as some claim untruthfully, the result of the Eureka Stockade. The sixth was all our own work, approved and aided by the British: Federation.
The commemoration after Australia Day of the first Christian service in this land on 3 February 1788,recalls the importance of our Judeo Christian heritage. It permeates our law, our language, our institutions and our Federation. (This is not to say that Australians and immigrants to Australia must belong to a particular denomination or religion or indeed to any religion. It is to stress an historical fact.)
The core of our Judeo-Christian culture is the Bible. It sets the context of, and it permeates and enriches, all the other pillars of our nation. The common law is based on Christian ethics. The canon of our language is to be found not only in Shakespeare but also in the King James Bible and in the Book of Common Prayer. Our Sovereign, anointed and set apart at the Coronation, regards herself as accountable to the Almighty. As The Queen said in her Christmas Broadcast on 25 December 2000:
"For me the teachings of Christ, and my own personal accountability before God, provide a framework in which I try to lead my life."
It should be remembered that Her Majesty affirmed this without ministerial advice – that is it was very much a personal statement. The first Christian clergyman in Australia, the Reverend Richard Johnson, iwhose picture appears avove,gave the first Christian sermon given in this land. In it he saluted the colonists in a wonderfully ecumenical spirit of love and tolerance. He said:
"I do not address you as Churchmen or Dissenters, Roman Catholics or Protestants, as Jews or Gentiles … But I speak to you as mortals and yet immortal .The gospel … proposes a free and gracious pardon to the guilty, cleansing to the polluted, healing to the sick, happiness to the miserable and even life for the dead."
Edmund Burke argued: "We know, and what is better, we believe inwardly that religion is the basis of civil society." This view was taken up during the drafting of our Constitution. At the Federal Convention in Adelaide, in 1897, a delegate, Mr. P. M. Glynn, proposed that the Preamble to the Constitution Act recognize the "invisible hand of Providence “. More petitions were received supporting his proposal than any other. So we find that provision in the Preamble which summarizes briefly and succinctly the pith and substance of that great act of unity, that the people of each of the States.. “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown … and under the Constitution hereby established".
The proposition that our society is based on Judeo-Christian culture is today ignored by many in our cultural institutions, the media, the universities and the arts. It goes against the cultural relativism of this age, the theory that all cultures are of equal value. While traditionalists argue that the core of Western society remains Christian, others would seek to retain our civilization, while removing religion from its public life. Michael A Casey, the secretary to His Eminence , Cardinal Pell, argues in his book, “Meaninglessness,”(Freedom Publishing, Melbourne 2001) that the various surrogates for faith, including reason, history and nature, have each in their turn become unbelievable. The consequence, he says, is that life is meaningless. He says that the banishment of religion is a dangerous exercise, for without it the whole cultural and moral edifice of the nation and indeed mankind inevitably collapses.
It is one thing to argue that modern Australia should be secular, excising even daily prayers in parliament. It is another to deny the central role that religion has had in the construction of our country, its laws and institutions. There is no need to rewrite hisory or to rely on myths to advance the argument that religion should now be removed from our public life. One such myth appeared in the opinion columns of The Australian recently. This was that leading countries do not promote religion. This is factually incorrect. So I sent the editor this letter:
“Sir, The claim by Pamela Bone ( Opinion 9/1) that the world’s most peaceful, prosperous and healthy countries do not promote religion does not stand up to scrutiny. Of the top 20 in the cited UN Human Development Index, at least seven have an established or specially recognized church and almost all provide some legal or even constitutional recognition and promotion of religion. None of the top 20 promotes atheism as the USSR did. France now disdains any promotion of religion, but the churches are usually owned by the state or the communes. The current exaggerated separation of church and state in the US was not intended by her Founding Fathers, and was only achieved by relatively recent judicial activism which may be reversed as new judges are appointed. Yours etc.”
I think I demonstrated that a core argument in the opinion piece was flawed. Apparently the letters editor did not – it was not published. The myth was allowed to remain there, unchallenged.
There is clearly a difference between establishing a secular state, including a strongly secular state as modern France is, and one which in the place of religion aggressively promotes an alternative atheistic ideology. Those regimes which, since the French Revolution, have sought to remove the religious beliefs of the people and then substitute a State atheistic ideology have not advanced human happiness. The litany is not attractive- first the Jacobins in France, who instituted a cult of religion and enthroned a woman, some said a prostitute, as the Goddess of Reason in Notre Dame, and who then imposed a bloodthirsty Reign of Terror, the Marxist experiments in Soviet Russia, Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, and that of Nazism in Germany. They all eventually destroyed themselves – but only after they had slaughtered millions and millions of innocents.
In the meantime, in recent years, there has been a trend not to offer prayers to the Sovereign in the churches, even where the liturgy invites this and especially, when the occasion warrants it. A year or so ago, at a service on The Queen’s Accession at a church in the heart of Sydney, the preacher inexplicably announced that he was a republican. How was the congregation expected to react – drag him from the pulpit? At another accession service, the only mention of The Queen was in the intercessions where a prayer was pointedly offered to The Queen as Head of the Commonwealth. The clear implication was that Her Majesty might happen to be Queen of Australia, but we won’t mention that in this holy place.
It is pleasing to know that not all churches follow this trend. In 2005, in this column, we recorded the pledge of loyalty to the Throne offered by the Diocesan Conference of the Russian Orthodox Church.
A reader writes to inform us that His Grace, the Most Reverend Archbishop Hilarion, blesses the commemoration of the Queen when the civil authorities are to be mentioned in the Divine Liturgy in these words:
"For this land, our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth the Second of
Australia, and all her Royal Household, Her parliaments, and all
those in civil authority under Her, and the armed forces, let us pray
to the Lord."
And for the Great entrance, the following is used:-
"Our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth the Second of Australia, and all
her Royal Household, Her parliaments, and all those in civil
authority under Her, and the armed forces,may the Lord God remember
in His kingdom, always, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen."
Perhaps the other churches could take note whenever the state prayers are offered. Or have some churches become centres to advance constitutional change ?