A Weak Church & An Ignorant Secularism? Print
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 12 July 2008 09:47
Fr. Anthony alerted me to this long and challenging editorial in today's The Australian (the national newspaper).

Test of Spirit by Paul Kelly shed a light on the debates within Australia over religion in the public square for this American. Kelly begins:

"Beyond the squabbles over security, transport inconvenience and taxpayer-funded support, the Australian traditions of utility and pragmatism have been on display. World Youth Day next week will be a grand event, to many an inspiring event where religion will briefly dominate the public square. Yet its preparations have been marked by a community irritation that signifies a rising hostility and fatalistic indifference in Australian attitudes towards organised religion."

On Benedict's press in Australia:

"The truth of his Australian reception is that his speeches are unread; his messages are unreported by the media; the meaning of his trip beyond rail union and traffic woes is seemingly lost. This is a commentary upon both the church and our society. It may reveal the deadly embrace of a weak church and an ignorant secularism that reinforce each other."

Benedict comes to speak to the modern Australia and youth of the world. The questions are how he speaks, what he says and how the Australian mind, Catholic, Christian and non-believer, comprehends and responds. The Pope will arrive for this joyous occasion with a sense of suffering. He said in his July 2005 meeting with local priests at Aosta, Italy, that "the so-called 'great' churches seem to be dying" and that "this is true particularly in Australia, also in Europe but not so much in the US". He will be assessed by his capacity to address the manifest problems of the Catholic Church in Australia dominated by lack of vocations and disillusion of the young.


Australia is about 65 per cent Christian. But it is a long time since Australian society saw Christianity celebrated in so spectacular a moment, with the city's landmarks for recreation and commerce given over to worship of God.

This is an affirmation of the true and mature secular state. Yet it is resisted by many who seek a radical change in the status quo. They represent an aggressive "new secularism", a philosophy much discussed by Benedict, that aspires to deny religion by shrinking it to a strictly private affair. In terms of governance, such advocates want not a traditional secular state to enshrine religious freedom, but the creation of atheism as the de facto established religion to drive real religion from the public domain.

This constitutes one of the most radical and intolerant projects in Australian political history.

"Its essence was captured by Australian Anglican bishop Tom Frame in last year's Acton Lecture: "There is no doubt that there is an increase in number and prominence of those who want religion banished from the public square on the grounds that theistic beliefs are intellectually vacuous, morally bankrupt, politically dangerous and socially divisive." Influenced by writers such as Richard Dawkins, highly popular in this country, "they do not support religious toleration because they believe that religious convictions are the cause of much serious and enduring harm in the world, not unlike racism and sexism, both of which have been the focus of legislative prohibition in many jurisdictions.

Kelly sums it up:

"This is not a serious movement offering intellectual argument but old-fashioned prejudice disguised because it comes from the educated."

Do read the whole essay. Kelly discusses Pope Benedict's concern about the crisis of western culture at great length.

In the US, as the Pew Survey showed, even atheists and agnostics can be remarkably religious. The category of Americans that seems to come closest to the Australian spirit is that of "secular unaffiliated". These were the US adults who told Pew surveyers that religion was not important. They are 6.3% of our population: about 14.2 million adults.

In the US as a whole, they are swamped in a sea of believers although you can easily find secular unaffiliated pockets in the urban areas of the coasts, universities, etc. But the Christians of Australia are not nearly as numerous and vocal.

As Kelly put it:

The Australian situation " may reveal the deadly embrace of a weak church and an ignorant secularism that reinforce each other."