Shortly before the federal elections of October 2004, Treasurer Peter Costello delivered an address entitled ‘The Moral Decay of Australia’ to 16,000 members of the Assemblies of God at the Sydney Hillsong Church. For his main theme, Costello invoked ‘the Judeo-Christian-Western tradition’, the core of which, according to him, was the Ten Commandments. He lamented that few people could recite the Commandments today, despite the fact that ‘they are the foundation of our law and our society’. He listed the legacy of that tradition as the rule of law, respect for life, respect for others and private property rights. ‘Tolerance under the law,’ he added, is also, ‘a great part of this tradition.’... (read more)
Paul Collins reviews 'A Twentieth-Century Crusade: The Vatican’s battle to remake Christian Europe' by Giuliana Chamedes
The papacy’s role in international affairs is often underestimated. A recent example is Pope Francis’s participation in the 2015 negotiations leading to a détente between Cuba and the United States. It helped, of course, that Barack Obama was president and that Raúl Castro had replaced his brother Fidel in Havana; but it was Francis, building on the work of his predecessors who had maintained continuous relations with the Castro regime, who brought the two sides together, and who persuaded the United States to drop its sanctions against Cuba.... (read more)
Hugh Chilton reviews 'Attending to the National Soul: Evangelical Christians in Australian history 1914–2014' by Stuart Piggin and Robert D. Linder
Eighty-one per cent of American evangelicals are said to have voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election and, with little variation, plan to do so again in November 2020. That number sparked four years of intense debate and a slew of books, signalling the latest chapter in a fascination with evangelicals and politics dating back to at least 1976 when Newsweek proclaimed the ‘Year of the Evangelical’ upon Jimmy Carter’s election. Whatever one wonders about just who counts as an ‘evangelical’ and what might be said about the broader movement in the age of hyper-partisanship, it has certainly been a boom time for histories of evangelicalism in the United States.... (read more)
‘Dear God. Save us from those who would believe in you.’ Not long after the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11 last year, those words were sprayed on a wall in New York. Knowing what provoked them, I sense fear of religion in them. Their wit does not dilute the fear, nor does it render its expression less unsettling. To the contrary, it makes the fear more poignant and its justification more evident.
Enough people have been murdered and tortured over the centuries in the name of religion for anyone to have good reason to fear it. Is it, therefore, yet another example of the hyperbole that overwhelmed common sense and sober judgment after September 11 to sense something new in the fear expressed in that graffiti? In part, I think it is. But the thought that makes the fear seem relatively (rather than absolutely) novel is this: perhaps the horrors of religion are not corruptions of religion, but inseparable from it. To put it less strongly, but strongly enough: though there is much in religion that condemns evils committed in its name, none of it has the authority to show that fanatics who murder and torture and dispossess people of their lands necessarily practise false religion or that they believe in false gods. At best (this thought continues), religion is a mixed bag of treasures and horrors.... (read more)
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 ...... (read more)
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 ...... (read more)
Barney Zwartz reviews In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, homosexuality, hypocrisy by Frédéric Martel
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 ...... (read more)
Paul Collins reviews 'The Fountain of Public Prosperity: Evangelical Christians in Australian History 1740–1914' by Stuart Piggin and Robert D. Linder
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 ...... (read more)
David Rolph reviews 'Religious Freedom and the Australian Constitution: Origins and future' by Luke Beck
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 ...
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 ...... (read more)