Monday, 26 January 2009
Australia Day: the case for some patriotism in the cause of life
Today is Australia Day, our national day, and I thought it might be a good chance to talk about tactics in the culture wars ahead, and our a rediscovery of a true patriotism could aid our cause.
Australians are ambivalent when it comes to patriotism
While American Catholics at times seem to confuse the proper order of fealty, often putting country before catholicism (witness voting for Obama despite his appalling record on life issues, already being put into practice through Executive decrees), Australians are rarely given to over the top displays of patriotism - except of course when it comes to sport (oy, oy, oy!).
The problem is that Australians don't put their catholicism first either - rather, in the main, they find it hard to articulate just what they do support.
In fact on one recent Australia Day I was subjected to a sermon from a senior Adelaide cleric arguing, if I understood him correctly, that patriotism, particularly when manifested in things like requiring immigrants to accept the country as they find it rather than converting it to their taste (including to their religion and its legal structures in the form of Sharia law) was a very bad thing - the last refuge of the scoundrel and all that.
But in fact of course, the Church's teaching is that patriotism - a reasonable esteem and love of country, together with a willingness to sacrifice him or herself to its welfare if necessary - is a virtue and a duty.
It is perhaps unsurprising that Australians struggle on this front. Australia Day itself, after all, is the anniversary of the arrival of the convict First Fleet in Sydney, bringing many of our ancestors, guilty in most cases of what seem today the most trivial of crimes, committed out of desperation, in chains under a brutal regime. Australia's first British colony was founded not on noble ideas, but, those in the other (non-convict) Australian colonies claimed, out of the 'cesspit of England'...
Moreover, the name of the day itself is actually the product of religious sectarianism: Irish Catholic leaders first used it to rechristen 'Empire Day' (the birthday of Queen Victoria), engendering stout protests from protestants at the time (hmm, another good reason for patriotism!).
And aboriginals have, from the 1930s onward, treated it as a public day of mourning, a day when their country was seized from them.
They created a country...
Yet despite Australia's unpromising beginnings, earlier generations found no difficulty lauding Australia's great achievements in creating a great nation out of such diverse elements.
Within twenty years of that landing, celebration of that anniversary, and the creation of the new colony had started.
The heroism of our troops at Gallipoli and many subsequent wars both helped define how we were different from our British forebears and attested to the fact that we had something worth defending.
The nation building that followed World War II, aided by the huge influx of European, and subsequently Asian, migrants helped make Australia the dynamic, powerful and cosmopolitan country it is today.
Australians enjoy a country that is amazingly diverse geographically; that has extraordinary resources, both physical and human. Despite our whinges, most Australians enjoy a wonderful lifestyle that would be the envy of our predecessors.
So why aren't we as proud of it as we should be?
Of course there are challenges, new and old, we have to face up to.
But nothing - beyond the rejection of God and embrace of secularism - that really explains why Australia, like many Western countries, seems to have rather lost its commitment to preserving its distinctiveness in recent decades.
We seem to see-saw endlessly between extreme multiculturalism on the one hand and bursts of xenophobia and racism on the other.
Our obsession with our sporting teams performance seems to me to be an example of the death throws of our attachment to our country - a shallow commitment showing itself as an 'our country right or wrong' mentality that encourages bad behaviour rather than excellent role models.
Similarly, increasingly, the individual adult's 'right' to indulge themselves - treating children as if they were a commodity to be chosen like a consumer good without a right to life, known biological parents, or a mother and father for example - is being accorded a higher priority than the common good of the nation.
It is true that we are not yet as far gone as some countries - there is still some pride in our national institutions and history for example, 'history wars' not withstanding.
But like many Western countries, an increasing number of young people have been brainwashed into thinking that more children means more global warming - instead of realising that, even if one accepts the hypothesis of global warming, it is our greedy, consumerist culture, not demographics that is the problem.
And not realising that the failure to have children means the death of the good aspects of our culture as we know it. Like many Western countries we face a demographic winter that in our case can seemingly be counteracted only by continued high levels of immigration, which in turn fuels the forces of change in our culture almost inexorably given the unwillingness of successive governments to insist on our character as a Christian nation.
Patriotism as a force for a culture of life
All of which points to the need to reclaim a sound and balanced patriotism, resting on the foundation of duty to God first, as a means of converting Australia.
So far the traditionalist movement has focused on recovering the universal culture of the Church - a tradition of Gregorian chant, beautiful vestments, ritual and so forth. That is obviously a critical underpinning. Of course we need the liturgy to remind us that above all, our purpose is to worship God, and look forward to the next life.
But to create a genuine Catholic culture, something that can stand up and counter the assaults of secularism, we also need to reinforce the Church's teaching and that universal culture with that of our nation's culture. And that means understanding it, treasuring it, and shaping it through our faith to be a bulwark against the culture of death.
And that has to be a key challenge for us all in the next few years ahead I think.