Monthly Archives: August 2006

Utopian Apocalyptic and Real: a Decalogue for peace in the Middle East

I recently read in one of Terry Pratchett’s novels the saying that it is easy to see things that aren’t real; the tricky thing is to see the things that are really real.

In an essay entitled “For a Definitive Peace Settlement in the Middle East: Toward a Middle East Union”, Fr Samir Khalil Samir SJ outlines of vision that is utopian, apocalyptic, and yet perhaps the only real chance of peace for the Middle East.

He begins with the most amazing statement:

“Everyone lost. Praise be to God!”

The fact that no one “won the war”, was a good thing in Fr Samir’s eyes, because it ” allowed millions of people to see that violence is useless, and that this area will not be pacified by means of war.”

While on the one hand, he says that “a perfect solution” to the situation in the Middle East “does not exist”, and that “it is necessary to seek and pursue the least imperfect of solutions possible”, the 10 point solution he outlines is nothing short of the utopian vision that puts one in mind of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech.

And why not? If the descendants of black slaves can live as equal citizens in the United States, and if the ancient enemies, France and Germany can live in the one European Union, why could not “the wolf be a guest of the lamb and the leopard lie down with the kid” (Is 11:6)?

Fr Samir, like Terry Pratchett, believes that sometimes we have to be able to see the real things that (as far as common sense is concerned) “aren’t there”, if we are to achieve the reality that we seek. Or to put it as he does: “Realism consists in having a utopian vision in order to be able to realise it.”

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More Evangelisation 101 (for those not doing the Rocket Science stream)

I read a review today by Philip Hughes in the Christian Research Association magazine Pointers (June 2006) of a book called Predicting the Religion: Christian, Secular and Alternative of Futures.

In his review, Hughes reports that one of the authors (Rob Hirst) gives for reasons why some young people continue to attend church (despite the general trend):

A. Their parents generally considered church attendance to be essential.
B. The young people were immersed in the church at an early age.
C. The young people attended church on a voluntary basis.
D. The young people had positive church attending role models who espouse traditional religious beliefs, requiring the commitment to the church.

How many times do I have to say it? It ain’t rocket science.

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Jesus is out of his box!

Anyone who has visited the ground floor of the Cardinal Knox Centre in recent times would have noticed a large statue of the Sacred Heart in a glass box. It was not the best place to put him, but I understand that the Historical Commission was looking for a good home for him and that was the only free spot that could be found.

I have taken to arriving at work in the morning and tossing a cheery “‘morning Jesus” in his direction.

What what a surprise to come to work earlier in the week and discover that Jesus is out of his box! What’s more, it appears he has been ousted by nothing less than a didgeridoo!!

Was this a cunning plot in the never-ending battle between indigenous art and Catholic kitsch?

No, it turns out the didgeridoo is the one that was used in the 1973 Eucharistic Congress indigenous liturgy. Because it is fragile, and the fibreglass Jesus isn’t, the didgeridoo was placed in the box and Jesus was let out for a breath of fresh air. In short, Jesus is big enough to look after himself.

All well and good, but you never know what some joker is going to come along and do in the meantime…

[Reader: You naughty boy!
Schütz: Please sir, Peter Plustwick made me do it!]

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GenY Catholicism: "C+" on the old scale or "E" on the new Vic Education Dept report card?

Here is my “report card” for the Catholic Church on the basis of the results of the Spirituality of Generation Y survey and report.

“In February and March 2005, a national telephone survey was conducted with the assistance of the Social Research Centre. Respondents from all Australian States and Territories were selected randomly using both listed and unlisted telephone numbers, and 1619 completed survey interviews were conducted.”

Almost half of the 13-27 year old Christians in the sample group were Catholic (17.9% as compared to 22.6% non-Catholic Christians). This may be compared to other statistics that has about 27% of Australians registering themselves as Catholic on the census, and NCLS figures that suggest that on any given Sunday there are more Catholics in church than all the other types of Christian added together (about 750,000).

The Survey returned much lower figures than the Census for allegiance to the Uniting Church (about a third), Anglicans (about a half), and Catholics (about three quarters), but higher figures for “Other Christian” and much higher for “No religion”. This seems to substantiate for me a theory I have held for some time, namely the phenomenon of the “cultural Christian”. Individuals belonging to the mainline churches (Catholic, Anglican, Uniting) are much more likely to identify themselves “officially” with these religions (eg. for purposes of Births, Deaths, Marriages and Census forms) even when they no longer actively participate in the life of these communities, than are those who belong to the category of “other Christian”. For instance, a Catholic who does not go to Mass still calls himself a Catholic, but a Baptist who never goes to Church calls himself a “no religion”. Hence the higher “non-participation” rate of mainline Christian denominations.

So what about specific beliefs? I am interested in Gen Y “Catholics” here, compared to the rest of the mob.

25% of Catholics (43% of Anglicans!) compared to 9% of “Other Christians” declared their “belief in God” to be “unsure”—although 90% of those “unsure” still said they believed in an “higher being”, so perhaps that begs the question of what they think the word “god” means.

61% of Catholics (43% again of Anglicans) compared to 74% of “other Christians” related to God “as a person”. Of these 33% related to God in a “close” or “very close” way (27% percent for Anglicans, and 55% for other Christians). Mind you, Catholics were the absolute lowest of any believers except the “no religion” category” when it came to describing their relationship with God as “very close” (only 9%).

Again, Catholics scored the highest for “OK to pick and chose beliefs” (75%–looks like Gen Y has caught Cafeteria Catholicism from their baby boomer parents…) and the lowest (except for “no-religion”) in the “Only one religion is true” category (10%–what a change from pre-Vatican II!). Again, among the Christians, they scored the highest on the “morals are relative” scale (56%). All a bit worrying really. What have our priests and school teachers been telling them, I wonder…

They are more certain that Jesus is God and that he rose from the dead (55%) than the Anglicans (45%) but less certain than “other Christians” (71%). The same pattern is repeated for miracles (59% compared to 46% and 75%), angels (54% compared to 42% and 69%) and demons (least popular despite Buffy: 39% compared to 31% and 55%). However, Catholics are actually more likely to believe in life after death than any other Christian (68% compared to 45% and 66%)—put it down to Mary and the Saints, I guess.

34% of Catholics said they attended church “once a month or more” (compared to 19% Anglicans and 55% other Christian), all Christians equally said they found church to be generally “welcoming” (over 80%), but at the same time about a quarter of Catholics and Anglicans found church “boring” (compared to only 15% “other Christian”).

With regard to private prayer, more Catholics said they prayed privately “once a month or every few weeks” than any other religious group (36%), but were the lowest on daily prayer (21%). Still, 36% said they prayed with their families which was up there with “other Christian” and “other religion” at 36% (Anglicans only scored 17%), which says something about the family and communal nature of Catholicism at least.

Catholics were close to “other Christians” and “other religion” when it came to wearing religious symbols (43% compared to 50%; the Anglicans were more reserved at 14%), but when it came to listening to religious music and attending religious groups, the “other Christian” category equalled the Catholics and Anglicans put together (around 50% compared to 25% respectively).

Finally, the pattern of the Catholics falling somewhere between the Anglicans (lowest) and “other Christian” (highest) was born out in the categories of religious experience: Spiritual worship (12%, 26% and 56%), Answer to prayer (26%, 32%, 59%), Miracle from God (18%, 20%, 40%) and the final parting shot at “personal commitment to God” (34% Anglican, 44% Catholic, 62% “Other Christian”).

So, if this were a traditional school report card, I guess we would probably get a “C+” for being about middle of the road when it came to our success in passing on the faith to this new generation. However, I suspect that if the report card was one of the new fangled Victorian Education Department type, we would be somewhere around an “E” as in “well below the standard expected at the time of reporting”. What say you?

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"Keep your Rosaries off my Refugees"?

Very much worth reading is Dennis Shanahan’s peace in the August 18 edition of The Australian: ‘Heads I win, tails you lose’.

He writes about the way that a number of Conservative MPs declared that they would vote against the refugee and immigration bill for religious reasons and thus ensured that it never saw the light of day.

And he notes that there has not even been a squeak about this invasion of religious principles into politics from the Greens or the Democrats. He writes:

There’s something missing, something that is illogical and contrary to the prevailing political mood and a golden thread that joins this act of conscience with others on a range of moral issues: Where are the attacks on all these people for acting on religious beliefs? Where is Australian Greens senator Kerry Nettle’s sectarian T-shirt mocking Joyce’s Catholicism and urging him to keep his “rosaries off our refugees”? Why isn’t Australian Democrats leader Lyn Allison deploring Fielding’s links with “Hillsongy types”? Was this not a conspiracy between the churches and proselytisers of the US Bible Belt and our home-grown bible bashers?

By now we have all seen (and possibly filled in) the Democrat’s silly questionnaire of the separation of church and state.

Shanahan comments:

The Democrats’ confused campaign to rightly maintain a separation of church and state is being misdirected against the equal right of individuals to hold religious beliefs and use them in exercising their parliamentary duty.

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Indians, Swedes, and Americans …

I recently came across reference to Peter Berger’s aphorism that, if India is the most religious nation in the world and Sweden the least religious, then the United States of America is a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes.

Apparently under the current regime, there is some questioning of the truth of the aphorism, but it’s still funny, and I thought it was worth blogging.

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Ecumenical Martyrs "keep plugging away"…

John Allen, in his latest edition of All Things Catholic, has this to say:

“Christianity is supposed to provide an “optic” for reading the world that is different from purely human logic. If that’s true, one would expect Christians to make choices that defy conventional wisdom. Traditionally, this has been the role of the martyrs. Less dramatically, however, one can also see it in ecumenists who are still committed to the vision of full, structural unity within the divided Christian family. Despite a fairly persuasive case for futility, ecumenists keep plugging away.”

Yep, that’s us, the martyrs of 21st Century ecumenism…

Later in the column, he reports that Fr Ron Roberson suggests the Catholic-Orthodox Joint International Commission ought to get along better now that Greek Orthodox Archbishop Stylianos of Australia is no longer at the helm. Hmm. It would be both tactless and a risk to my employment to agree with Fr Roberson, but others involved in dialogue with the Orthodox in Australia might just do so.

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