Monday, September 07, 2009

COMMENT: Just how un-Western is Christianity? And just how Christian is Australia?

I’m writing an article about Eastern Christianity. Actually, it’s an article about just how un-Western Christianity really is. I’m not writing about theology because I’m no theologian. I’ve written about these themes in various places over the years, and I hope this article will bring all that stuff together and take it a little further.

Interestingly, the article is for a Catholic website! I’m hoping the following notes will help clear my head about these issues a little.

[01] Muslims who are on the receiving end of allegedly Christian prejudice, who are often lectured to about how the West is the way it is because it has a distinctly Christian heritage, need to understand the reality of just how un-Western Christianity today is.

[02] The message also needs to get through to Christians who swallow this Christianity=West equation. Hopefully the spread of understanding of the true nature of Christianity will have a number of effects.

[03] It will help Muslims understand just how much they have culturally in common with Christians. It will also give Muslims an opportunity to remind allegedly Christian bigots just how ignorant and misplaced their bigotry is.

[04] It’s not enough to just be reminding ourselves at interfaith conferences just how similar our beliefs are. We also need to be talking about culture, politics, music, art, civilisation and much more.

[05] During the Howard era, religion frequently became the subject of cultural wars which rarely had anything to do with theology or dogma. So often we heard about the so-called “Judeo-Christian ethic”. Even today, former ministers of the Howard government like Tony Abbott talk about how ours is a nation built on the New Testament. On a recent episode of ABC TV’s Q&A program filmed at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, Abbott remarked:

I think everyone who has grown up in a western country is profoundly shaped and formed by the New Testament, because this is the core document of our civilisation.

He went onto say that he gave up reading the Koran after 70 pages as it was:

… it struck me as the old testament on steroids …

So we can forget about the “Judeo” bit. It’s just Christian Australia, the land of the Holy Spirit.

[06] Peter Costello used to often refer to the Judeo-Christian tradition as some kind of cultural wedge.

On May 29, 2004, Treasurer Peter Costello addressed a crowd of Pentecostal Christians at Scots Church in Melbourne.

Costello provided his audience with a lesson in Australia’s colonial history. “If the Arab traders that brought Islam to Australia, had … settled or spread their faith among the Indigenous population, our country today would be vastly different. Our laws, our institutions, our economy would be vastly different.

“But that did not happen. Our society was founded by British colonists. And the single most decisive feature that determined the way it developed was the Judeo-Christian-Western tradition. As a society, we are who we are because of that tradition … one founded on that faith and one that draws on the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Of course, all this talk about “Judeo-Christian heritage” is all a joke when you consider, as I wrote back in 2007, that:

… Judeo-Christian culture wasn’t exactly alive and well in England. Both colonists and convicts would have been aware of the passing of the Jew Bill through the English Parliament in 1753, allowing Jews to be naturalised by application to Parliament. Mr Costello’s ideological ancestors, the Tories, opposed the Bill, claiming it involved an “abandonment of Christianity”. Conservative protesters burnt effigies of Jews and carried placards reading “No Jews, no wooden shoes”.

Jews were forbidden from attending university and practising law in England until the mid 19th century. One can only imagine the prejudice the 750-odd First Fleet Jewish convicts faced from English jailors brought up in such an anti-Semitic environment.

More to come.

Words © 2009 Irfan Ysuuf

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