MAGAZINE NO. 155 [August 2022]
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Friedrich Nietzsche, by Edvard Munch, 1906, oil on canvas,
201 x 160 cm, held in the collection of the Thiel Gallery, Sweden.
Funding of the colour cover for this (printed) issue has been generously donated by an Eremos member.
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
NIETZSCHE’S LIFE PRAXIS: UNDERGOING,
OVERCOMING – BECOMING by Nikolai Blaskow 5
ART AND MERCY by Toni Hassan 13
A TALE OF TWO EASTERS by Noel Giblett 21
‘WE HAVE IN US A MARVELOUS MIXTURE OF
BOTH WELL-BEING AND WOE’ by Philip Carter 24
JORIE RYAN’S ‘A DAISY IN A JAR’
reviewed by Frances MacKay 31
HAVING A HOME BASE by Kate Scholl 34
FOUR MEMORIES OF EREMOS
by Linda Turton, Margaret Fountain, Rita Glennon
and Jean Sietzama-Dickson 36
There has been a great deal of noise about the findings of the 2021 Australian Bureau of Statistics census that Australians are a less religious lot than they were five years ago. While Christianity remains the most common religion in Australia, with 43.9% of Australians identifying as Christian, the number is down from 52.1% in 2016, which is in turn down from 61.1% in 2011. Conversely, the number of people identifying as having no religion is 38.9%, up from 30.1% in 2016 and 22.3% in 2011. It seems inevitable that, in years to come, ‘no religion’ will surpass Christianity as the most common position for most Australians.
So what are those of us who have traditionally identified as Christian to make of this? Are we destined to become a cultural anachronism, a novelty in an increasingly rational, scientific age? What do we have to offer, now that we can no longer assume a position of dominance in Australian society?
There has been a lot of comment on social media and in the media in general suggesting this loss of faith in faith is largely the result of the church ‘not keeping up with the times’, demonstrated by various conservative churches’ response to such things as female ordination and marriage equality. The donation of $1m by the Sydney Anglican Church to the ‘no’ campaign in 2017’s postal survey on same sex marriage, for instance, has been cited as symptomatic of the church’s pious, out-of-touch refusal to adapt to the modern age. On the other hand, these conservative churches assert that their job is not to be popular, but to hold strong on God’s truth, as it’s outlined in the Bible.
I think both positions are somewhat facile. It’s incontestable that it’s not the church’s job to be popular, but to proclaim the truth. Jesus himself talked of shaking the dust from one’s feet if certain towns don’t want to hear that truth. There’s nothing more galling than the suggestion we must be ‘relevant’, that we must ‘adapt’ to society. At risk of invoking Godwin’s principle, many German Christians in the 1930’s adapted to the rise of Naziism by assenting to it, to their subsequent shame. As soon as the church takes up a popular position to ‘stay in touch’, the consensus will change and we’ll be out of touch again. It’s a constant process of whittling away at the God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Conversely, the church can’t use its dwindling popularity as evidence that it necessarily upholds the truth. To me, the Sydney Anglican church’s stance on such things as the position of women in society and homosexuality is wrong because it’s always been wrong, because nothing in the Bible supports it. Those who point to a few cherry-picked verses – largely from St Paul – to support their beliefs seem to forget that just over a hundred years ago Christians were also using St Paul to support slavery, that fifty years ago in South Africa the Dutch Reformed Church was using Genesis to support segregation.
The Bible isn’t a book of rules. It’s a collection of stories, letters, poems, aphorisms and historical writing by many people over an enormous period of time, reflecting its various contexts just as much as any book. We should look for the principles that bind it all together, not lose ourselves in the detail, the minutiae. While contexts change, those principles are timeless; they’re encapsulated in parables Jesus told, such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. We forget that Jesus was a storyteller, perhaps because he knew that stories are what we live by, not hard and fast dogma.
So where does that leave us?
To me, it leaves us in a better position than we’ve been in for quite some time. When a religion becomes standard practice, it runs the risk of sharing a bed with dangerous strangers. The sooner Christianity frees itself from manipulation by the state and ‘public opinion’ the better.
I’ll go out on a limb here and use education as an example. As a retired teacher, I find it hard to see how rich, independent schools can claim to be Christian while catering for only the moneyed elite in society. Spare me the platitudes about ordinary, hardworking parents who scrimp and save $40,000 a year to send their kids to a school that can afford to pay its principal about $700,00 a year, build them plunge pools in residences provided by the school and send this principal and his wife to the other side of the world to watch a rowing race on a Business Class flight. I wonder what a homeless teacher in 1st century Palestine would have to say about such a school’s claim to be ‘Christian’.
No, the census figures suggest that we’re becoming what Christians in the first century were – outsiders. We can no longer assume everyone thinks as we do, so we have to think about what we think. This may become costly, and, if we really believe the claims of that wandering vagrant we say we follow, isn’t that a good thing?
I’ve left myself little to say about the contents of this issue of EREMOS, but just a couple of things: Dr Nikolai Blasko, in considering the life of a man many Christians have come to see as the architect of modern breakdown of faith, suggests that we may like to look at the life and writings of Friedrich Nietzsche with different eyes; Toni Hassan suggests that God is revealed in the process of creativity in exciting and surprising ways if we open ourselves to really seeing.
There are other wonderful insights in this issue. Happy reading!