You've found Father McKenzie. But are you really looking for Eleanor Rigby?

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Uniting Church and the Australian Democrats

From: Anonymous contributor

Date: Wednesday, 23 August 1995 12:36 pm

Subject: The Uniting Church and the Democrats

I found the following on a file amidst many notes I'd been writing and thought that it might be of some interest to all peoples of sincere faith who belong to the great living world religions, as well as to those (male and female, Jew and Gentile) who are interested in thinking theologically.

Under no circumstances should this be construed as an attack on the Uniting Church, although by all means view it as a sideswipe against the insufferable Chippocrats.

"Uncanny similarities between the Australian Democrats and the Uniting Church in Australia"

In Britain, the Church of England used to be nicknamed (in the old days before various trendy vicars took up attacking Mrs Thatcher) "the Conservative Party at prayer". If you cast a similar look around the Australian politico-ecclesiastical landscape, you might call the Australian Democrats "the Uniting Church when not at prayer".

Here in Queensland, both the Democrat Senators (Cheryl Kernot and John Woodley) are Uniting Church members; indeed, Woodley is no mere backbencher (or back-pew-er) but a frontbencher, an ordained clergyperson. I'm not sure about the situation in other States, though I did once see a letter by Karin Sowada in the St Matthias Briefing, so she might be a Sydney Anglican; however, her letter was critical of the Briefing's criticisms of Hugh Mackay so then again she might not.

The social position of the Uniting Church is similar to the Democrats': liberal/ permissive on the vexed issues (abortion, homosexuality) where the larger, more "entrenched" parties fear or refuse to tread. The epistemological method of the two organisations is also similar. Both work on a participatory, democratic system, with proliferating synods, assemblies, committees, elections and ballots. Contrast their older rivals, with more top-down systems (bishops in the Anglican and Catholic churches; Richo and Crichton-Browne in the Labor and Liberal Parties).

However, such open and democratic mechanisms are in danger of commanding little authority; both the Democrats and the Uniting Church have a very "soft" constituency of support, of members and supporters who easily drift away to other rival groups on the Left or Right of the political or theological spectrum. (Eg, a late 1980s survey showed that something like 25% of nominal Uniting Church members attended churches of other denominations more regularly).

Their ideology, and the history of their founding, were similar. Both saw the "old battles of the past" as destructive and outmoded. 16th-century disputes between Catholicism and Calvinism, between theological liberalism and theological conservatism, were as much of a drag as the tired old battles between capital and labour, free enterprise and socialism. If only right-thinking people would sit down together around a table and re-consider all these issues through afresh, all would work itself out.

Both groups have begun at one end of the spectrum but moved steadily to the other end. The Democrats were formed by disillusioned ex-Liberals, refugees from the Right wing of politics, but in later years they have positioned themselves to the Left even of the ALP. Likewise, the Uniting Church was formed by former Methodists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians - descendants of the Calvinists, Separatists, Non-Conformists and Puritans who rejected the Elizabethan settlement and found the state church too Romanist - but its current generation has positioned itself at the extreme ecumenical end of the spectrum. The heirs of Wesley and Calvin are now more liberal and universalist (and more amenable to dialogue and cooperation with the Church of Rome, the old foe) than the average Anglican or Lutheran.

Both groups contain a surprisingly wide array of opinions. The Democrats' members range from radical greenie socialists like Richard Jones to conservative bank-bashers and CIR supporters like Paul MacLean. Similarly, the Uniting Church theological spectrum ranges from extreme liberals who'd be happy praying to Sophia as the feminine hypostasis of the Divine wisdom, to crusty old evangelicals who'd be happy delivering three-hour sermons denouncing popery every Sunday.

The Democrats have not specified precisely how they would forge a third way that would satisfy the adherents of both socialism and capitalism, of both left and right. Likewise, I've not yet heard the Uniting Church explain how their official church doctrine reconciles Calvinist predestination with Wesleyan works-plus-free-will.

There are some areas where both groups have "moved faster" than their "dinosaur-like, entrenched" larger rivals. Just as the Democrats were the first Australian political party to have female leaders, the Uniting Church (preceded by the three churches that formed it) were the first Australian churches to ordain women to their clergy. The Democrats are the only party to vote against uranium mining; likewise, the Uniting Church is the only church (other than Eastern Orthodox) to remove the Filioque from its version of the Apostles' Creed, so that now the Holy Spirit proceeds "from the Father" alone and not "from the Father and the Son".

Papa Ratsi

Bishop of South Sydney Robert Forsyth told AAP that Pope Benedict XVI would “seek and defend the Christian truth”.

He says he respects the Pope’s belief that other Christian churches have “defects”.

“What else would you expect a Roman Catholic to say?” Bishop Forsyth said.

“I happen to think the same about his church.”

“But I respect the simple straightforwardness of this. That’s the kind of teaching of God we need and I’m delighted to hear it.

“This concept of no wavering from what God has given us (I support), even though we might disagree about some of the detail.”

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Habeunt Papam

... not Papem, which is incorrect Latin, but would rectify the incongruity of the world's oldest males-only office being grammatically feminine in Latin. [*]

That the "German Shepherd" has taken the name Benedict XVI, after succeeding John Paul, will do nothing to help certain (unnamed) of my friends to tell the Catholic CHurch apart from the Australian Labor Party.

[*] This is because Papa (Pope) is a Latinised/ Italianised form of the Greek Pappas. In Greek, nouns ending in -as are masculine in gender, but in Italian (which has almost no words ending in consonants) this gets trimmed to an -a ending, which is why Andrea Bocelli has the same first name as Andrea Dworkin.

Monday, April 18, 2005

David Tacey Watch (#2)

Well the folks over at Urban Seed certainly have connections!

See the pictures not only of Tim Costello and brother Peter at Tim's 50th birthday bash, but also, who should be caught lurking on the sidelines? None other than David Tacey!

Bring me my chariot of fire

The Boston Globe follows up on The Onion's scoop...

"Pope John Paul II, Longtime Owner Of Popemobile, Dead At 84"
VATICAN CITY—Pope John Paul II, who owned the Popemobile for more than a quarter of a century, passed away last Saturday. "The Popemobile was known the world over," said Peter Egan, a writer for Road & Track. "A fine example of European craftsmanship, the hand-built, 4.3 litre, V-8 powered, pearl-gray vehicle was exceptionally well-loved, even more so after the bulletproof bubble was added in 1981 to safeguard its passengers against assassination attempts. During the time he owned the Popemobile, John Paul II visited more than 120 countries. He loved the open road." The specially altered Mercedes-Benz ML-series off-road vehicle has been maintained by papal staff since the pope fell ill in August 2004. The pope's will is expected to grant its use to either the next pope or John Paul II's young cousin Zbigniew. -- The Onion, Vol 41 No 15 (13 April 2005)

Sofia Celeste, "John Paul's driving machines fine-tuned: Papal garage holds formidable fleet", Boston Globe (18 April 2005)

Pope vs Charles and Camilla / Is David Tacey really Kenneth Branagh?

This is a late post, and already commented on previously by Tom, but I recalled hearing this remark from Peter Jensen, and it came to mind again when i was at a conference on the weekend listening to David Tacey:

ALISON CALDWELL: Do you think the nature of royalty, British royalty, is changing?

PETER JENSEN: Well, it seems to have… well the answer is yes and no. Any knowledge of history will show that the royal family has had its ups and downs. But the royal family itself seems to reflect very well the sort of change of culture that has occurred in Australia as well as Britain between a strongly and sincerely held Christian faith as you can see in our present Queen, who's much admired, and admired by me nonetheless, and the sort of difficulties which her children have experienced in their lives of relational breakdown and so forth.

This is part of our culture in the last 30 or 40 years and it is to do with our relationship with Christianity. A recent book's been published called The Death of Christian Britain, and it's widely acknowledged that from the 1960s onwards there's been a very considerable turn against Christ in British culture.

(actually, looking at the David Tacey images through google, I couldn't help notice that he bears a more than passing resemblance to Kenneth Branagh, in both the bearded and non-bearded forms)

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Chosen Ones: The Politics of Salvation in the Anglican Church.

"....One commentator in the book describes the Sydney Diocese as having embarked on ‘an imperial mission to fashion Australian Anglicanism in its own image’...."

Perhaps if this scenario as described in such alarmist tones by the journalist concerned was scripted like a scene from a Star Wars movie, say Return of the Jedi, we might see an exchange a little something like this. Imagine a visit by Phillip Jensen, Dean of St Andrews Cathedral, to a local Sydney congregation...

LOCAL CLERIC: Lord Jensen, this is an unexpected pleasure. We're honored by your presence.

LORD JENSEN: You may dispense with the pleasantries, Reverend. I'm here to put you back on schedule.

LOCAL CLERIC: I assure you, Lord Jensen, my evangelicals are proseltysing as fast as they can.

LORD JENSEN: Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.

LOCAL CLERIC: I tell you, this Sydney Anglicanism will be operational as planned.

LORD JENSEN: The Archbishop does not share your optimistic appraisal of the situation.

LOCAL CLERIC: But he asks the impossible. I need more evangelicals.

LORD JENSEN: Then perhaps you can tell him when he arrives.

LOCAL CLERIC: (aghast): The Archbishop's coming here?

LORD JENSEN: That is correct, Reverend. And he is most displeased with your apparent lack of progress.

LOCAL CLERIC: We shall double our efforts.

LORD JENSEN: I hope so, Reverend, for your sake. The Archbishop is not as forgiving as I am.

The First iPod

Note: May have to log in to read.

From the NY Times:

The president also has an eclectic mix of songs downloaded into his iPod from Mark McKinnon, a biking buddy and his chief media strategist during the 2004 campaign. Among them are "Circle Back" by John Hiatt, "(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care" by Joni Mitchell and "My Sharona," the 1979 song by the Knack that Joe Levy, a deputy managing editor at Rolling Stone in charge of
music coverage, cheerfully branded "suggestive if not outright filthy" in an interview last week.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Demonising youth of today tonight

From The Age:

The result was commercial prime-time current affairs television at its worst: a potent mix of voyeurism and exploitation that was light on news value but committed to presenting the most negative stereotypes of young people possible.

Like an abusive parent, Today Tonight placed the young people in a situation where they were doomed to failure and then punished them for failing.

The hypocritical reporting style adopted by these shows often exploits young people's commercial value while almost simultaneously condemning its consequences. In early March, Today Tonight covered Nikki Webster's photo shoot for men's magazine FHM. The week before, it crusaded against the sexualisation and commercial exploitation of girls in music videos and fashion.

Good reading. See the full article Demonising youth of today tonight for the rest.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Hillsong is the Liberal Coalition at prayer

From an ABC AM transcipt entitled:
"Panel discusses Christianity, multiculturalism in Australia"

Well, not multiculturalism, really. A nod to Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism maybe. But mainly concentrating on Australian understanding of and practice at Easter.

Did you hear the one about the the Anglican, the Uniting Churchman and the Sociology Professor? Read the article for more. It's an interesting discussion in and of itself.

Note the following quote about Hillsong:

DAVID MILLIKEN: That sort of money [$40 million] gives you a lot of power, and it’s interesting that John Howard and Peter Costello, they see that as their church. John Howard was there at the opening of the church. Hillsong is the Liberal Coalition at prayer, because Hillsong is a type of theological representation of the underlying economic rationalist views of the Howard Government.
Emphasis mine. Sounds kinda familiar? Tom, whatever happened to The UCA and the Australian Democrats?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Sola opera?

... According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, only three of the previous 264 [Popes] are called "great," the first being Leo I (440-61 AD), who stomped out the Pelagian heresy. Personally, I happen to think Pelagius was a heck of a guy, a sort of proto-Protestant, although it's hard to say for sure, since Leo and the rest of the Catholic infrastructure destroyed anything that might reflect favorably on Pelagius, who was allegedly British and fat...

- Jay Bryant, "Thoughts about John Paul the Great and other religious leaders", (7 April 2005)


Pelagius, a proto-Protestant? Well, I suppose at a stretch you could say that he, Luther and Calvin did all agree that "salvation is by [one of the following: (a) faith, (b) works] alone", and all disputed the Catholic position that it's by the two in combination.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Linking the dots

For The New Republic to criticise Pope John Paul II as "too absolutist" is a dog-bites-man story. But it becomes a man-bites-dog story when this charge is levelled by Damon Linker. Damon was formerly editor of First Things, a journal of conservative Judaeo-Christianity that in November 1996 hosted a symposium ("The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics") to debate whether Roe v Wade and other excursions in pro-abortion judicial activism had absolved conservative Judaeo-Christians of their allegiance to the US Constitution.

UPDATE: Thanks to Douglas LeBlanc at GetReligion for linking to this, and for doing some further investigative digging. Mea culpa for not realising that Damon wasn't at First Things during its Harper's Ferry period; I did check that particular issue of FT to see who was editor then, but couldn't find what I was after. If DL's stint at FT postdated the much-publicised symposium, that makes it curiouser and curiouser that he would later work at that magazine.

It seems surprising, too, that a Catholic would both (a) be conservative enough to work at FT, but also (b) be liberal enough to consider JPII "too absolutist". Now, one can easily imagine a conservative Protestant admiring the Pope, writing for FT, but still considering the Pope's theology "too absolutist" in certain respects: on married clergy, for example, or contraception, or just war theory. (On the other hand, the Pope could equally accuse conservative Protestants of being "too absolutist" about, say, drinking of alcohol, or gambling, or use of images in worship).

King Henry II, King Henry VIII, and Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV Spin In Their Respective Royal Graves...

... as the world sees who's really boss:

LONDON - Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles will be married in a civil ceremony at 12:30 pm (7:30 am EDT) Saturday, his office announced Tuesday. The wedding was postponed a day to allow Charles to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II. [...]

-- "Charles, Camilla reschedule wedding for Saturday", The Associated Press (5 April 2005)

The media have quoted duelling reasons for the postponement: "mark of respect" is the official reason, followed by "so C'n'C can themselves attend the papal funeral in Rome", but others whisper that C-1 and C-2 realised that in a direct, head-to-head timetable clash most of their A-List of dignitaries would be otherwise engaged.

"The Papacy: Putting A Spoke In British Royals' Re-Marriage Plans Since 1529"

UPDATE: Great minds think alike.

Further news: Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg better watch out. The stars this week are not favourable to the mortality of Europe's heads of micro-states.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Even the demons believe, and tremble

Speaking of Mark Shea, I should clarify that when I disagreed with him that Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings is a "deeply Catholic film", I was not merely saying "any good film with a Christian message of some sort must necessarily be Evangelical". Rather, some good films (and other sagas) are particularly Catholic in their theology, others are more Evangelical (and a lot, of course, are anti-both). I was musing on this recently when I got to see Hellboy at last, on DVD. And Hellboy really is a deeply Catholic film, in three ways:

(1) The good guys use particular physical objects (most notably a crucifix) to battle evil supernatural beings. Divine (or, at any rate, Lawful Good) power is depicted as being especially present in some things and not others. Hellboy explains how his gun, the "Samaritan", is loaded with (literally) magic bullets: "these babies. Made 'em myself. Holy water, clover leaf, silver shavings, white oak... the works." At another point, Hellboy's mentor mentions that "In 1938, [Hitler] acquired the spear of Longinus, which pierced the side of Christ. He who holds it becomes invincible." You don't see this, by contrast, in Frank E Peretti's fiction, which is also about angels battling demons. Peretti, a Pentecostal, depicts spiritual and physical warfare as basically exclusive alternatives, and Protestants would largely agree.[*] To an Evangelical, any supernatural power inherent in a relic -- granting, arguendo, that there's any there at all -- would come from its association with God or His angels and saints, and therefore cannot be appropriated and used by the bad guys for evil purposes.

I wrote this comment at Mark's blog last June (but unfortunately did not save a hyperlink to the Haloscan page):

Re [someone's question] “why is it [always] a Black [Catholic] Mass and not a Black [Evangelical worship] Service?” Generally speaking, Protestants do not regard God’s power as confined to physical objects. Therefore there’s nothing to desecrate with any supernatural effect. You can threaten, upset and anger people by burning down their church, but you can’t capture God’s power and make it your own by stealing the communion wafers or the wine/ grape juice. Protestants often get accused of "idolatry" towards the Bible, but even if someone steals or destroys your big black-leather-bound family heirloom KJV (with Words Of Christ In Red), you just buy another one from Word Bookshop. Whereas if someone steals the thigh bone of St Morticius from the reliquary, you can’t simply replace it with any old other bone from the graveyard – it has to be that particular object to have the same effect bringing you closer to God.

... I think that this is a strong factor in a lot of evangelical – well, you could call it “caution”/ “wariness”/ “fear”/ “revulsion” (choose your term) towards the Catholic/ Orthodox tendency to regard the Divine is especially present in particular places (icons, shrines, the Eucharist). If God is especially present in the Ark of the Covenant, then you “lose God” to some extent if the Philistines capture it. If God is especially present in the Eucharistic bread, then you "lose God" if Satanists steal and profane it; they don’t just bring condemnation on themselves. The Prot fear, I suspect, is that taken to extremes this undermines God’s sovereignty and you end up with some kind of "Open Theism".

As a rule, to Protestants, Jesus is safely glorified in heaven and cannot be “grasped”, so to speak, by anyone here on earth. To Catholics, I think, this makes God remote and uninvolved, and culminates in either hyper-Calvinism if God intervenes on earth, or Deism/ Unitarianism if He doesn’t.

I do not say that the above proves either side is right... [but] this fear/ wariness/ caution (call it what you will) explains a lot of the difference over this issue.

(2) The plot of Hellboy places great emphasis on freedom of individual choice. Nobody is predestined unto damnation -- not even a horned, red-skinned demon brought into this world by Indy-Jones-style Nazis opening a forbidden porthole through some occult rite. Hellboy's human sidekick reminds him, at the moment of temptation, "Your father gave you that choice". Literally, he's referring to the human scientist/ occultist who adopted the baby demon, but his words bear also the sensus plenior of referring to God. Some would say that this is outright Pelagianism -- but I do not think so. It can be interpreted in the Catholic sense: you have freedom of choice only because of the grace of God. At the end, Agent John Myers muses on this further: "What makes a man a man? A friend of mine once asked. It's the choices he makes. Not how he starts things, but how he finishes them." This echoes Dumbledore's words to Harry Potter in The Prisoner of Azkaban: "It is not our abilities that show what we truly are... it is our choices."

Of course, Protestants would agree up to a point about human freedom -- human responsibility is a more accurate description of the Evangelical view -- but to see human nature as (relatively) equally balanced between good and evil is much more the Catholic position. Both sides agree that original sin tilts the billiard table of the conscience in the "sinful" direction, but for Catholics it's a dictionary under two table legs whereas for Prots the table is propped up at a ninety-degree slant.

(3) Hellboy also emphasises discipline and obedience to one's spiritual "parent". Hellboy chafes at the discipline his "Father" imposes, but we, the audience, know that Professor Bruttenholm's restrictions are objectively necessary to stop Hellboy endangering himself and those around him. Contrast other films where the lesson the hero[ine] must learn is not to trust some seemingly benevolent authority figure, but instead to think for oneself (I prophesy that Star Wars Ep III: The Sith Have Serious Issues will emphasise this with Anakin falling under the sway of the seemingly noble and paternal Palpatine).

This confirms, by a third witness, my earlier observation that Catholic comic-book superheroes (eg, Nightcrawler and DareDevil respectively) "tend to be tormented by guilt -- as you would too, if you either looked like a devil or dressed like one."

[*] But then compare this passage from Perelandra (Voyage to Venus), by the Anglican CS Lewis:

"...It stood to reason that a struggle with the Devil meant a spiritual struggle ... the notion of a physical combat was only fit for a savage. If only it were as simple as that..."

But then, of course, Dr Ransom realises that punching out the possessed don is precisely what he's meant to do.

Failure to Grasp the Concept - II

Although Mark Shea has resumed blogging due to recent events, he hasn't (yet) picked up this headline which appeared on the Google News page about 30 seconds ago:

Donna Cassata (AP), "Poll: New pope should change some policies", Minneapolis Star Tribune (5 April 2005)

"68.3 'Approve Or Strongly Approve' Release of Barabbas - Morgan Gallup Reveals"

The Kiss of Terry Sweetman is Death

Who'd want to get on the wrong side of Terry Sweetman? The fearless coulumnist from the Sunday Mail who likes to get it off his chest pulled no punches when discussing the effective euthanasia of Terri Schiavo, especially when dispensing with the views of those who opposed it.
While identifying that opinions are divided on the issue, and that her parents and siblings disagreed, his caricature of their perspective is disquieting.

Part of his introduction is to express his unhappiness if he was in a physically vegetative state but still mentally sound:

What if I was lying there in pain and my family interpreted my every
facial tic as a sign of animation and pleasure? If that is Christian
kindness, count me out.

He then launches a full frontal assault on all things "Christian":

"...only those hostage to blind religious dogma could have refused to accept that Terri's mind was dead and that her body was a helpless shell"

Although there are many other parties involved (the President of The United States, the US Congress for example), Sweetman continues his pursuit of Christians, implicit in the next phrase:

"...the right to make that sort of decision [a husband authorising the decision to terminate his wife's life] is under challenge from third parties and busybodies."

Yes, like the President. And Congress. And the Supreme Court. But these are not the targets of Sweetman.

He goes on:

"The intrusion of religion in politics and secular affairs and the exaggerated influence of Bible-bangers and fundamentalist happy clappers, is a pointer to where we are heading. "

Let's not let anything like democrcy intrude and have any of those fundamentalist bible-banging happy-clappers have a vote and an influence, shall we?

Sweetman again:

"In a Schiavo-like situation, any understanding either of us might come to
with carers could be challenged by self-appointed ethicists. "

Like politicians, judges, courts, and God forbid, journalists.

More Sweetman, this time, the attempted knockout blow:

"Knee-bending, psalm-singing and politically motivated stickybeaks and grandstanders can mind their own business.

We don't need them in life and we don't want them in death."

Perhaps Terry Sweetman has better legal advice than Sam Newman, who on live TV fired off his opinions about homosexuals, and was subsequently censored.

Even John Laws has been muzzled following similar complaints about homosexual vilification.

In my view such comments by Sweetman constitute religious vilification according to the Anti-Discrimination Commision.

Or perhaps acomplaint to the Press Council would close down such worrying expositions.

Time to do some homework.

More popular than George Bush

As any Google search will quickly reveal, contrary to John Lennon's assertions, Jesus is more popular than The Beatles (31,200,000 versus 2,920,000 and counting).

Now we know that Pope John Paul II in death is more newsworthy than George W. Bush is in life, according to The Global Language Monitor:

Major news media around the world devoted 10 times as many stories to Pope John Paul II's death as they did to the re-election of US President George W Bush, according to an analysis.
The Global Language Monitor, which scans the internet for the use of specific words or phrases using Roman characters, found 35,000 new stories on the Pope in the 24 hours after his death on Saturday.

That compares with about 3,500 new stories on Bush within a day of his re-election and 1,000 new stories on former President Ronald Reagan within a day of his death last year.
Yet the Google ranking of George W. Bush easily outranks John Paul II (12,400,000 to 4,560,000). Go figure.