Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt is renowned as the woman who defeated David Irving in court after he sued her for describing him as a Holocaust denier. Her portrayal by Rachel Weisz in the film Denial (2016) ensured that Lipstadt and her landmark victory achieved even wider celebrity.

Thousands of books have been written on the history of anti-Semitism, and Lipstadt has not set out to write another. Alarmed that people continue to demonise Jews and regard them as responsible for evil, she directs her attention to its contemporary resurgence. For Lipstadt, anti-Semitism ‘is not the hatred of people who happen to be Jews. It is hatred of them because they are Jews’. The existence of anti-Semitism, which has never made sense and never will, is a threat not just to Jews but to all those who value an inclusive, democratic, and multicultural society. Indeed, when expressions of contempt for one group become normative, it is virtually inevitable that similar hatred will be directed at other groups.

Antisemitism: Here and now addresses questions that people began asking after the white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. Is today’s anti-Semitism different from earlier manifestations? Where is it coming from: the right or the left? Is it all about Israel? Are we seeing anti-Semitism where it’s not, or refusing to see it where it clearly is?

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  • Custom Article Title Ilana Snyder reviews Antisemitism: Here and now by Deborah Lipstadt
  • Contents Category Religion
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    Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt is renowned as the woman who defeated David Irving in court after he sued her for describing him as a Holocaust denier. Her portrayal by Rachel Weisz in the film Denial (2016) ensured that Lipstadt and her landmark victory achieved even wider celebrity ...

  • Book Title Antisemitism: Here and now
  • Book Author Deborah Lipstadt
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Scribe, $32.99 pb, 287 pp, 9781925322675
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The link between fundamentalist religion, violence, and madness is well established. The conviction of absolute truth becomes especially toxic when believers are convinced that the end of the world is nigh. This is exacerbated in times of major socio-economic change and political instability, such as during the Protestant Reformation.

Paul Ham’s New Jerusalem vividly illustrates this. It tells the bizarre story of the most radical of the Reformation’s reformers, the Anabaptist sect that seized the city of Münster between 1534 and 1535. What started as a peaceful apocalyptic movement transmuted into a religious monstrosity. Much more than a heretical sect, they ‘stoked civil unrest’ and were, as Ham says, ‘a deeply subversive political and economic movement’, which helps explain the ferocious vengeance that was afterwards wreaked upon them.

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  • Custom Article Title Paul Collins reviews New Jerusalem by Paul Ham
  • Contents Category Religion
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    The link between fundamentalist religion, violence, and madness is well established. The conviction of absolute truth becomes especially toxic when believers are convinced that the end of the world is nigh. This is exacerbated in times of major socio-economic change and political instability, such as during the Protestant Reformation ...

  • Book Title New Jerusalem
  • Book Author Paul Ham
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio William Heinemann, $45 hb, 375 pp, 9780143781332

Almost from the day Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis in 2013, he began denouncing fake devotees, whited sepulchres, and hypocrites at the Vatican. His targets, as Frédéric Martel makes clear, are the high-ranking clergy who vehemently condemn homosexuality while themselves often living the most lurid form of it, with rent boys, prostitutes, and sex parties. ‘Behind rigidity,’ Francis says, ‘something always lies hidden; in many cases, a double life.’

This, Martel claims, is disquietingly common, with some eighty per cent of the College of Cardinals gay and most of them sexually active. The two popes most obsessed with crusading against homosexuality, John Paul II (1978–2005) and Benedict XVI (2005–13), were the most surrounded by prelates leading a homosexual double life. ‘Reality goes beyond fiction,’ a friar tells the author. For example, Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, one of the Vatican’s highest-ranked clerics, went around the world preaching so belligerently against gays that he was nicknamed ‘Coitus Interruptus’, but in the same cities he was cruising gay bars and picking up rent boys.

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  • Custom Article Title Barney Zwartz reviews In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, homosexuality, hypocrisy by Frédéric Martel
  • Contents Category Religion
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    Almost from the day Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis in 2013, he began denouncing fake devotees, whited sepulchres, and hypocrites at the Vatican. His targets, as Frédéric Martel makes clear, are the high-ranking clergy who vehemently condemn homosexuality while themselves often ...

  • Book Title In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, homosexuality, hypocrisy
  • Book Author Frédéric Martel
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Bloomsbury, $34.99 pb, 570 pp, 9781472966247

Mythology, Manning Clark regularly assured us, was our ‘great comforter’ because it explained creation, evil, and our place in the world. According to Clark, three ‘mythologies’ were dominant in the formation of non-Indigenous Australia: Protestantism, Catholicism, and the Enlightenment.

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  • Custom Article Title Paul Collins reviews 'The Fountain of Public Prosperity: Evangelical Christians in Australian History 1740–1914' by Stuart Piggin and Robert D. Linder
  • Contents Category Religion
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    Mythology, Manning Clark regularly assured us, was our ‘great comforter’ because it explained creation, evil, and our place in the world. According to Clark, three ‘mythologies’ were dominant in the formation of non-Indigenous Australia: Protestantism, Catholicism, and the Enlightenment ...

  • Book Title The Fountain of Public Prosperity
  • Book Author Stuart Piggin and Robert D. Linder
  • Book Subtitle Evangelical Christians in Australian History 1740–1914
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Monash University Publishing, $49.95 hb, 688 pp, 9781925523461

The role of religion in public life in Australia has become a prominent issue again as a consequence of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. Significant opposition to the passage of marriage equality in 2017 was due to the mobilisation of many faiths and denominations. The centrality of religion in the marriage equality debate is best demonstrated by the title of the legislation amending the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) to permit same-sex marriage – the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 (Cth). Although religious and other objections to marriage equality did not prevail, the interests of religion were protected. Before marriage equality became law, the Turnbull government established an expert panel, chaired by Philip Ruddock, to conduct a review of the adequacy of legal protections of religious freedom in Australia. After receiving more than 15,000 submissions and conducting private hearings, the expert panel gave its report to the government in mid-May 2018. What it recommends, and whether its recommendations are acted upon, are as yet unknown.

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  • Custom Article Title David Rolph reviews 'Religious Freedom and the Australian Constitution: Origins and future' by Luke Beck
  • Contents Category Politics
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    The role of religion in public life in Australia has become a prominent issue again as a consequence of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. Significant opposition to the passage of marriage equality in 2017 was due to the mobilisation of many faiths and denominations. The centrality of religion in the marriage equality debate is best demonstrated by the title of the legislation amending the ...

  • Book Title Religious Freedom and the Australian Constitution
  • Book Author Luke Beck
  • Book Subtitle Origins and future
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Routledge, $242 hb, 288 pp, 9781138555785

The Bible in Australia is an unpretentious title for a remarkable book, and yet it is accurate enough. The Bible has been an ever-present aspect of life in Australia for 230 years, but no one has ever thought through its profound importance before. By starting her argument in a place both strange and obvious, Meredith Lake comes up with startling possibilities, and they keep surfacing all the way through the volume.

Just sixty years ago, in 1958, Russel Ward published his equally important text, The Australian Legend. No account of the Australian collective character and experience has, I believe, remained so long in print, and none has been so thoroughly influential in explaining Australians to themselves. The Australian Legend was always a more accessible book than, say, Manning Clark’s History of Australia, though the latter was designed to be read as a legend in itself. Australians, said Ward (and Clark more or less agreed), are, and always have been, sceptical about ‘religion and of intellectual and cultural pursuits generally’. The Bible in Australia turns this long-held understanding inside out. In fact, Lake makes a good case for thinking that the Bible, as an amalgam of stories, has had a power like Ward’s legend, and a similar nation-forming impact.

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  • Custom Article Title Alan Atkinson reviews 'The Bible in Australia: A cultural history' by Meredith Lake
  • Contents Category Religion
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    The Bible in Australia is an unpretentious title for a remarkable book, and yet it is accurate enough. The Bible has been an ever-present aspect of life in Australia for 230 years, but no one has ever thought through its profound importance before. By starting her argument in a place both strange and obvious, Meredith ...

  • Book Title The Bible in Australia
  • Book Author Meredith Lake
  • Book Subtitle A cultural history
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio NewSouth, $39.99 pb, 439 pp, 9781742235714

Like it or lump it, Catholicism is enormously influential in Australia. This is true even just in terms of raw statistics. The Catholic Church is the largest religious body in the country, with 22.6% of the population self-reporting as Catholic in the 2016 Census. It is also Australia’s largest non-government employer, with around 230,000 people working for the church (ACCIR, 2017). This figure excludes voluntary organisations such as the St Vincent de Paul Society with 20,736 members and 41,152 volunteers (SVP, 2016). However, despite the popular stereotype, Australian Catholicism is not a monolith controlled from Rome. It is a vast amalgam of semi-independent entities – dioceses, parishes, missions, religious orders, lay organisations – all with varying degrees of autonomy.

Almost uniquely in the world, Australian governments fund around seventy per cent of the church’s work, its ‘ministry’ or ‘mission’ in theological jargon. Only dioceses and parishes are self-funded. What justifies this vast enterprise that governments, theoretically, could run themselves? The Catholic claim is that, inspired by the Gospel, the church is offering an alternative to state-run, secular institutions. But what specifically is this alternative? And what does it imply for the separation of church and state in a pluralist democracy like Australia?

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  • Custom Article Title ABR RAFT Fellowship: 'God and Caesar in Australia' by Paul Collins
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    Like it or lump it, Catholicism is enormously influential in Australia. This is true even just in terms of raw statistics. The Catholic Church is the largest religious body in the country, with 22.6% of the population self-reporting as Catholic in the 2016 Census. It is also Australia’s largest non-government employer ...

In December 2015, Israel’s Ministry of Education banned Dorit Rabinyan’s prize-winning novel All the Rivers from the high school curriculum on the grounds that the story of a romance between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man ‘threatens separate identity and promotes intermarriage’. Far-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett backed the decision, claiming that the book not only encourages assimilation but also compares the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to Hamas. All the attention made the book a bestseller, but Rabinyan became a target on social media, where she was cursed and threatened. She was spat on in the street.

All the Rivers, now available in English, is a suspenseful, engaging, painful story. It chronicles the relationship in New York between Liat, a translator student from Tel Aviv, the secular capital of Israel, and Hilmi, a Hebron-born painter from Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians. When Liat first meets Hilmi, voices are already active in her head: ‘What do you think you’re doing? You’re playing with fire ... What do you need this for?’ Liat experiences simultaneously both attraction and fear. She wants to surrender herself to Hilmi, but she is afraid of falling in love with a Palestinian.

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  • Custom Article Title Ilana Snyder reviews 'All The Rivers' by Dorit Rabinyan, translated by Jessica Cohen
  • Contents Category Israel
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    In December 2015, Israel’s Ministry of Education banned Dorit Rabinyan’s prize-winning novel All the Rivers from the high school curriculum on the grounds that the story of a romance between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man ‘threatens separate identity and promotes intermarriage’. Far-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett backed the decision ...

  • Book Title All The Rivers
  • Book Author Dorit Rabinyan, translated by Jessica Cohen
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Serpent’s Tail, $24.99 pb, 288 pp, 9781781257647

Australia’s politicians may be too mired in power skirmishes to notice that 31 October 2017 marked the five-hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther’s trumpet blast of the Reformation: the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses, his ‘Disputation on the Power of Indulgences’, on the bulletin board of a castle church in the provincial university town of Wittenberg. Pity. Even self-serving men might learn, from one of history’s most brusquely eloquent and determined figures, how to bring about change while remaining steadfast – and shrewd – in the face of hydra-headed opposition and mortal risk.

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  • Custom Article Title Morag Fraser reviews 'Martin Luther: Rebel in an age of upheaval' by Heinz Schilling, translated by Rona Johnston
  • Contents Category Religion
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    Australia’s politicians may be too mired in power skirmishes to notice that 31 October 2017 marked the five-hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther’s trumpet blast of the Reformation: the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses, his ‘Disputation on the Power of Indulgences’, on the bulletin board of a castle church in the ...

  • Book Title Martin Luther
  • Book Author Heinz Schilling, translated by Rona Johnston
  • Book Subtitle Rebel in an age of upheaval
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Oxford University Press, $61.95 hb, 613 pp, 9780198722816

George Pell is the most polarising religious leader Australia has had in recent decades, certainly since Daniel Mannix – perhaps since Samuel Marsden. For most of his career he has been loathed or adored for his sternly inflexible defence of a Catholic orthodoxy predating the second Vatican Council, his robust and sometimes courageous interaction with opponents inside and outside the church, his relentless determination to crush dissent and doubt, often felt as bullying by those responsible to him, and his fierce ambition.

Enjoying the good fortune (or political wisdom) to be a traditionalist and clerical authoritarian under two like-minded popes in John Paul II (1978–2005) and Benedict XVI (2005–13), with whose theology and ecclesiology he was strongly aligned, Pell was promoted rapidly. He was given his highest Vatican post under Pope Francis, who enlisted him to reform the Vatican’s murky finances and help tackle an obstructive Curia. Amusingly, when Francis was elected in 2013 and took everyone by surprise by repudiating the privileges of office and encouraging prelates to live more simply, Pell (whose wine cellar is rumoured to be remarkable) was swift to tell a journalist in Rome that, unlike the Jesuit Francis, he had not taken vows of poverty.

One might feel that Louise Milligan has rather prejudged Pell’s trajectory in her subtitle, ‘The Rise and Fall of George Pell’, as he still formally has a strategic role at the Vatican, but his reputation in Australia has been trashed irretrievably. Milligan, an ABC journalist who broke important allegations against Pell, followed the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in detail and had unparalleled access to survivors of abuse by Catholic clergy, mounts a strong case for the prosecution. And it is a prosecution: though she works hard to be fair, she is guiding us to a verdict.

Milligan starts with Pell the highly gifted schoolboy and footballer who was fast-tracked for senior roles, and quickly emerged as a fine administrator, wheeler- dealer, and problem fixer. She describes in considerable detail his time in the then paedophile cesspit of Ballarat: how could Pell not have known what was going on? As one of the survivors says, such an ambitious man who was so critical in running the diocese would surely have made sure he was always in the loop.

Much of the book recycles material already well known, particularly the cardinal’s testimony to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry and the Royal Commission, but it is well told and important in building to the key allegations that are the reason for her writing.

Cardinal Pell farewell ceremony AOCardinal Pell's Farewell Mass, St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, 2014 (photograph by Giovanni Portelli, Flickr)

Because the case is now before the courts – where Cardinal Pell, through his barrister, has announced he will deny each charge – no more can be said of this. At time of writing, the charges have not been made public, so we cannot know whether they relate to the alleged victims whom Milligan has interviewed.

Rumours of some of Milligan’s claims were floating around survivor circles many years ago, but she has tracked them down exhaustively. What are we to make of all this? The cardinal himself has conceded to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry and the Royal Commission that his treatment of abuse-survivors often put perceived Catholic Church interests first. But he has always denied in vehement language that he himself is an abuser.

Pell’s supporters claim he has been victim of a media witch-hunt and of knee-jerk Catholic-bashing, and sometimes surely that is so, but such is not the case with Milligan.

In any event, Pell has hardly been defenceless. Milligan notes his predilection for legal letters, ‘inevitably followed by outraged columns or poisonous tweets from his supporters’. In my twelve years as religion editor for The Age, I can vouch for all of this.

But leaving aside the ever-ready and active church solicitors and the huge resources at his disposal, Pell has always had a stalwart media supporter at The Australian. Its columnists have nearly always bought the Pell line uncritically, even when it defied the facts, such as Pell’s oft-expressed claim that Justice Alec Southwell’s 2002 investigation into alleged abuse in 1961 ‘completely exonerated’ him, when in fact the verdict was closer to the Scottish ‘not proven’. Southwell found both the alleged victim and alleged abuser truthful, and that the complaint could not be established. They parrot Pell’s line that he was the first bishop anywhere to introduce protocols for victims of abuse (the Melbourne Response, heavily criticised by the Royal Commission), ignoring the manifestly mixed motives about protecting church coffers and the fact that his unilateral action undermined the national response that had been in preparation for three years and was about to be launched.

The Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt has been just as staunch, apart from one highly entertaining lapse when he criticised Pell’s evidence from Rome to the Royal Commission last year about paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale that ‘it’s a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me’. But Bolt recanted the very next day: apparently, for the first time in forty years, he had ‘surrendered to the mob’ and ‘for one giddy day, I felt the joy of being a David Marr or a Robert Manne, praised for the fury of my sanctimonious denunciation of a man I had reduced to the crudest caricature’. Ah, the power of self-delusion: in fact there is no better exponent of injured sanctimony in Australia than Andrew Bolt, or one with a wider platform to expound it. Bolt is the ultimate culture warrior, and sometimes it seems Pell has been caught up unwittingly in the culture wars as a chosen symbol for both sides. But it is hard to have much sympathy here when the cardinal has been such an aggressive combatant himself over the years, especially before the abuse scandal weakened the moral authority of the Catholic Church.

George Pell 550George Pell (Conecta Abogados via Flickr)

Nor can one have any sympathy for the way the church ‘strenuously’ defended cases that went to court, denying admissions they had previously made, and often spending larger sums than compensation would have cost. Milligan colourfully notes the church’s insurer ran out of patience in the notorious Ellis case. The insurer ‘was not so much upset about what Pell’s people were doing to Ellis, but about the hundreds of thousands of dollars they were shovelling off a cliff. Standing at the bottom of that cliff, catching the cash as it fell, were Corrs Chambers Westgarth (Pell’s solicitors) and the pricy barristers they had taken on to fight the case’.

Cardinal Pell is going to have his day in court, which he welcomes. He probably won’t relish the sort of media frenzy he endured at the first hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court in July, the sight of which surely induced sympathy in more hearts than just mine But it must be in the best interests of the survivors, of the cardinal, of the Roman Catholic Church, and of wider Australian society that this saga is finally laid to rest.

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  • Custom Article Title Barney Zwartz reviews 'Cardinal: The rise and fall of George Pell' by Louise Milligan
  • Contents Category Religion
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    George Pell is the most polarising religious leader Australia has had in recent decades, certainly since Daniel Mannix – perhaps since Samuel Marsden. For most of his career he has been loathed or adored for his sternly inflexible defence of a Catholic orthodoxy predating the second Vatican Council, his robust and sometimes ...

  • Book Title Cardinal
  • Book Author Louise Milligan
  • Book Subtitle The rise and fall of George Pell
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Melbourne University Press, $34.99 pb, 393 pp, 9780522871340
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