Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Getting ready for the debate on same sex 'marriage'

Given that a private member's bill to allow same sex 'marriage' looks inevitable in the life of this Parliament (however short that may be!), and moves to allow same sex adoptions at the State/Territory level, we really need to start getting our arguments ready and organising now.

Getting the arguments out

Where, for example, are the organisations supporting a child's right to know who their biological parents are, to grow up with a mother and father, and so forth?  We do occasionally hear noises in the context of IVF and so forth, but there is much more that can be done.

And where are the organisations arguing not from the point of view of protecting marriage, but also from the perspective of keeping out the nanny state - not all relationships are regulated by the State and nor should they be!  The rationale for State recognition of and regulation of marriage is not about making people feel good about themselves, but about protecting the interests of those who sacrifice their earning capacity in the interests of their partners, parents and children, and the protection of children.

The new morality

And on this subject, Russell Shaw has a useful article up on Inside Catholic, arguing that the push for legalization of same sex 'marriage' reflects not the collapse of morality, but the emergence of a new paradigm based around the idea of 'fairness'.  He points out that:

"This new morality is a form of libertarianism (people have a right to do as they please) whose fundamental principle is a simplistic idea of fairness (if you can do it, so can I)... the conviction that fairness is the all-but-exclusive norm of morality, and fairness means giving everybody what he or she wants -- especially if it's something that somebody else already has.

A federal district judge in San Francisco has recently ruled that California's Proposition 8, defining legal marriage in that state as a relationship between a man and a woman, violates the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. Proposition 8, adopted by California voters two years ago after the state supreme court had legalized same-sex marriage, clashes with "the state's interest in equality," said Judge Vaughn Walker. In other words, it isn't fair."

How do we counter the fairness argument?

Shaw points to the difficulties of making the argument in defence of marriage:

"Since the rules of engagement in a pluralistic secular democracy don't permit one to say simply that gay sex is a sin which the law shouldn't encourage, the best argument against legalizing same-sex marriage is the harm done to traditional marriage.

No-fault divorce provides a precedent here. Changing the meaning of marriage to accommodate libertarian morality -- which essentially is what happened in this case -- contributed to the weakening of traditional marriage visible in statistics of recent decades...no society can afford to be permissive about something as fundamental as marriage and family..". 

Same sex marriage, he argues will give this a further push along.  But will the weight of evidence on the effects of the decline in the rate of marriages and increase in divorce cut the ice in the fairness paradigm? 

Not much evidence of it at the moment in Australia: indeed, the last round of amendments to child support arrangements in Australia (under the Howard Government) went in the opposite direction, aiming to reduce the financial responsibilities of men towards their children, take less account of the good of the children (in favour of presumption for shared custody), and make it easier for them to have second families.

Shaw provides the parable of a tennis game:

"Two men wearing tennis whites walk out on the court. Opening a folding table and chairs, they sit down and start to play chess. An attendant rushes up and says, "Sorry, gentlemen, this place is for tennis. You can't do that here." Looking up with a scowl, one of the men snaps, "This is how we play tennis. We have a right."

This is a parable of same-sex marriage and the controversy that accompanies it. On one side: Whatever else it is, it just isn't marriage. On the other: To us it's marriage, and we have a right."

The best counter to the fairness argument is surely to point out the unfair impacts of this move.  But it will be a hard battle, requiring well-researched evidence and arguments, mobilisation of people with stories and much more. 

Get ready.

Still waiting for government....

The negotiations to determine who will form the next Federal Government of Australia continue to drag on:
  • Andrew Wilkie is proving as dangerous as predicted with a wishlist a mile long including a conscience vote on same sex 'marriage';
  • more than a few of the Liberals are proving themselves to be the crazies they appear with heavy-handed attempts to lobby the Independents;
  • the Green's attempt to obtain a Cabinet position under Labor appears, thankfully, to have been rejected (the story that the Tas Greens staged a Cabinet walk-out was drowned out by the fact that they waited until the day after the Federal election!) ;
  • disputes about the conventions continue, but read Antony Green's useful analysis on this subject.
Meanwhile, attention has been distracted from some important happenings at the State level.  In NSW, legislation on same sex adoptions is currently up for consideration.  MP Clover Moore has moved an amendment to exempt the Church agencies, which makes it a slight improvement on the UK version.  But this is a fight that needs to be tackled hard now.


Monday, 30 August 2010

Towards a Catholic Green agenda....solar power?

In my view the train has left the station in terms of the global warming denialist agenda, and Catholics need to focus on agitating for family-friendly carbon policies.  It's a view supported by a story today about an exit poll showing that a third of those who voted green in key marginal seats would have voted for Labor had an emissions trading scheme gone ahead.

So what can we do?  Well one option is to support and expand schemes that promote use of feedback into the grid electricity generation schemes based on solar panels.  And there was an intriguing story on this over the weekend on the unexpectedly successful NSW scheme.

Energy efficiency vs alternative power generation schemes

Hardline Greens driving an anti-population agenda tend to be committed more in theory than in practice to alternative power generation - windpower after all interferes with those parrots, and solar power potentially allows households to continue consuming at current rates rather than being forced to reduce consumption (and family size).

And those with a vested interest in the industry seem more preoccupied with promoting Australian R&D and manufacture of solar panels (a whole other issue) than actual carbon reduction. Indeed, prices of solar panels apparently fell 25% in 2008 - due to cheap chinese manufacture.  So what is more important - Australian industry development, or continuing the push to reduce costs and make solar energy more viable and less costly to the rest of the economy?

That's probably why only two of Australia's States and Territories (NSW and ACT) have even vaguely reasonably designed feed-in to the grid schemes (and I'm not suggesting that either of them is perfect!), and even those schemes are strictly limited to households.

Yet solar electricity generation from your rooftop has enormous potential in Australia - though it is still very costly at the moment, it has advantages: global warming aside, a lot of power is typically lost in the transmission process, and in the longer term there is potential to reduce the need for all those power lines and sub-stations.

Australia lags behind...

A study by Access Economics a couple of years back showed that Australia is lagging way behind several other countries in supporting solar electricity generation.  The unexpectedly good result from the NSW scheme is a step in the right direction.  It will be unfortunate though if the high take up is used as an excuse to cut the price.

Instead we should be lobbying for the other States to switch their payback systems to pay for gross rather than net generation, and set a price for feed-in that encourages homeowners and others to go down this route.

Economics of renewable energy

Renewables are not the complete answer of course - direct household electicity use accounts for only about 17% of energy use in Australia (and 25% of home electicity use is for water heating).

And it is true of course that at the moment solar and other forms of renewable energy remain expensive, and subsidies for them have to be paid for elsewhere, potentially costing jobs. 

But it is also true all new technologies go through a typical cost curve: very high costs initially, which reduce rapidly with scale and competition.  Giving this industry a push along has a potentially high payoff environmentally.

And you have to start somewhere.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Congrega nos....

I was treated to the English version of this classic Marty Haugen number at Mass today, and was preparing to do a rant...But then I found Fr Z had just posted this video, so I decided to laugh instead.  Enjoy!

Not entirely sure how to go about persuading the parish choir to adopt the Latin version (by Peter Mottola) - note to the Cooes: I'm not serious! - but here it is anyway for your entertainment:

Hoc in loco lux lucens nova
Tenebrae nunc evanescuntur
Vide nostrorum metus somniaque
Lati tibi hoc aprico die.

Congrega nos, perditi et relicti
Congrega nos, caeci claudique
Voca nos et exsuscitabimur
Nomen sonatus tunc oriemur.

Juvenes quorum vitae occultae
Et senes qui quaeritamus te
Cantabamur per cunctam historiam
Et luci mundi vocati sumus.

Congrega nos, divites superbi
Congrega nos, qui contumaces
Da nobis cor humile miteque
Ut carmen audacter ingrediamur.

Hic vinum accepimus et aquam
Hic accepimus panem vitae
Vocabis filios filiasque
Vocati denuo sal terrae esse.

Dona vinum miserationis
Dona nobis panem quod es tu
Nutri bene et doce nos facere
Vitas sanctas atque corda vera.

Neque domi nec aliquo caelo
Spatium lucis longe annuae
Hoc in loco, lux radiens nova
Hodie regnum, nunc jam dies.

Congrega nos, et tene in saeculum
Congrega nos, et tui nos fac
Congrega nos, omne nationem
Ignis amoris in visceribus.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Politics and the laity

There are two important speeches from overseas bishops recently (and wouldn't it be nice to see some similar engagement on this issue by our own bishops other, that is, than Cardinal Pell), that are well worth a read, on the obligation of the laity to play an active part in politics. 

And that's timely in the Australian context, since Catholics need to get ready for the new power of the Greens (particularly once they take control of the Senate next year) whatever the outcome of the current negotiations, and the prospect of another election sooner rather than later (regardless of whatever deals can be made with independents).

Laypeople needed to engage on the secular, not religious content

The first speech of note comes from the president of the Chilean Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Alejandro Goic, who suggested that:

“It is urgent that we have specialized organizations in the diocese run by well-formed laypeople in order to generate dialogue between the faith and the culture and to defend the human dignity of men and women.” 

CNA reports that the bishop went on to say that believers exercise the greatest influence in the media not through programs of religious content but as Christian journalists. Bishop Goic noted that Catholics have a enormous presence in volunteer work for the poor and needy, but that their presence in unions is minimal. "Believers who are gifted organizers should be on the forefront of issues related to jobs and the dignity of workers", he said.

Politics is an important duty for the laity

The second important speech was by Bishop Chaput, whose starting point is that:

"Politics is the arena where the struggle between truth and lies, justice and injustice, takes place. No country's political life can be honest -- and no government can serve the needs of its people -- unless it welcomes the deepest convictions of its citizens into public debate.

In any nation, but especially in a nation of Catholics, Catholic people have a duty to bring their Catholic beliefs to bear on every social, economic and political problem facing their country. That's not just a privilege. It's not just a right. It's a demand of the Gospel."

Role of bishops

Bishop Chaput has some useful comments to make on the proper role of bishops vs the laity:

"My job as a bishop is to be a good pastor - in other words, a good shepherd and guide for the people of my local Church. The word "pastor" means "shepherd" in Latin, and it comes from the Latin verb pascere, which means "to feed." My proper work is to teach the faith, preach the Gospel, encourage and console my people, correct them when needed, and govern the internal life of the Church with love and justice.

There may be many times when a bishop or group of bishops needs to speak out publicly about the moral consequences of a public issue. But the main form of Catholic leadership in wider society - in the nation's political, economic and social life - needs to be done by the Catholic lay faithful. The key word of course is faithful. We need to form Catholic lay leaders who know and love the teachings of the Church, and then embody those teachings in their private lives and their public service. But once those lay leaders exist, the clergy cannot and should not interfere with the leadership that rightly belongs, by baptism, to their vocation as lay apostles."

He also notes that:

"In May this year, speaking to a pastoral convention of the Diocese of Rome, Benedict XVI made a comment that many people overlooked. But I think his words have exactly the spirit that needs to guide this conference.

He said that the Church needs "a change in mindset, particularly concerning laypeople. They must no longer be viewed as 'collaborators' of the clergy, but truly recognized as 'co-responsible' for the Church's being and action, thereby fostering the consolidation of a mature and committed laity."

Christians are in the world, but not of the world. We belong to God, and our home is heaven. But we're here for a reason: to change the world, for the sake of the world, in the name of Jesus Christ. That work belongs to each of us. Nobody will do it for us. And the idea that we can somehow accomplish that work without engaging -- in a hands-on way -- the laws, the structures, the public policies, the habits of mind and the root causes that sustain injustice in our countries, is a delusion.

...Priests and bishops cannot do the work of laypeople. That's not what Christ called us to do. It's not what the Church formed us to do...Every Christian life, and every choice in every Christian life, matter eternally. Laypeople, not clergy, have the task of evangelizing the secular world, and only you can do it as God intended."

Church vs state

Also of interest given the conflicting views on this subject are Bishop Chaput's comments on the role of Church vs State:

"...Beginning in the New Testament and continuing right through documents of the Second Vatican Council, Christians have always believed that civil authority has a rightful degree of autonomy separate from sacred authority. Even in countries where historically the Church and state had close ties, secular rulers were never fully subordinated to religious leadership. This is one of the deepest and most important differences between Christian and Muslim political thought, even today.

As philosopher Rémi Brague writes in The Law of God: The Philosophical History of An Idea, the two world religions with a "political" dimension did not acquire it in the same way. Christianity gained ground in the ancient world against the political power of the Roman Empire, which had persecuted Christians for almost three centuries before itself adopting the Christian religion. Islam, after a brief period of trials, triumphed during the lifetime of its founder. It then conquered, by warfare, the right to operate in peace, and even the right to dictate conditions of survival to the adepts of other religions "of the Book." In modern terms we might say that Christianity conquered the state through civil society; Islam, to the contrary, conquered civil society through the state (emphasis in original).  In fact, Brague notes that, "from the start, Christianity set itself outside the political domain, and its founding texts bear witness to a distrust of things political."

In Christian thought, believers owe civil rulers their respect and obedience in all things that do not gravely violate the moral law. When Jesus told the Pharisees and Herodians to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (see Mt 22:15-21), he was acknowledging that Caesar does have rights. Of course, he was also saying that Caesar is not a god, and Caesar has no rights over those things which belong to God.

To put it in modern terms: The state is not god. It's not immortal. It's not infallible. It's not even synonymous with civil society, which is vastly larger, richer and more diverse in its human relationships than any political party or government bureaucracy can ever be. Ultimately, everything important about human life belongs not to Caesar, but to God: our intellect, our talents, our free will; the people we love; the beauty and goodness in the world; our soul, our moral integrity, our hope for eternal life. These are the things that matter. These are the things worth fighting for. And none of them comes from the state.

As a result, the key virtue modern political leaders need to learn, and Catholic citizens need to help them learn by demanding it, is modesty - modesty of appetite, and modesty in the exercise of power. The sovereignty of states is a good principle. But every state is subject to higher and binding truths. These truths are embodied not just in Christianity and Judaism, but also in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - which enshrines the right of every human being to freedom of belief; freedom of religious practice; freedom of religious teaching and public expression; freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom to receive and impart information and ideas through any media; and the right to take an active part in the government of one's own country (see Articles 18-21). Any state that interferes with these basic rights undermines its own legitimacy."

Politics should be the expression of Christian love
Bishop Chaput points out that "We were made by God to receive love ourselves, and to show love to others. That's why we're here. That's our purpose. And it has very practical consequences -- including the political kind. For a Christian, love is not simply an emotion. Real love is an act of the will; a sustained choice that proves itself not just by what we say or feel, but by what we do for the good of others.

Since God created all human persons and guarantees their dignity by his Fatherhood, we have family duties to one another. That applies especially within the Church, but it extends to the whole world. This means our faith has social as well as personal implications. And those social implications include the civil dimension of our shared life; in other words, the content of our politics."

Feast of St Augustine of Hippo

Friday, 27 August 2010

The theological development of the concept of full, conscious and active participation

No, I'm not talking about the election (although the current debacle is perhaps an indictment on our failure to actively participate...), but the old hoary of what active participation in the liturgy means.

External activity doesn't equal active participation

We all know that the view that active engagement in the Mass means lots of external activity is alive and well.

On a yahoo discussion group intended to support the use of the Benedictine Diurnal recently, someone went so far as to claim that using the Latin (unless one could translate every words as you went, rather refer than simply refer to the side by side translation provided!) was dangerous to one's spiritual life.  And the Canberra Archdiocese has recently pointed to a program for parish renewal that includes 'dynamic, involving worship'.  I'm pretty sure that is code for 'children's liturgies' and the like, and more of those wonderful 70s hymn numbers, not use of Latin and chant.

So it is nice to see a good article on the development of the theology underlying the concept of  'active participation' by Michael Foley up on Inside Catholic.  Here is an extract from the article, but do go and read the whole thing:

The development of the concept of active participation

"Pope St. Pius X first coined the expression partecipazione attiva in his 1903 motu proprio Tra le Sollecitudini as part of his goal to restore Gregorian chant to the mainstream of the Church (according to the musically sensitive pontiff, chant is marvelously ordered "to the understanding of the faithful" by the way it "clothes" the text with suitable melodies). Pope Pius XI extended this principle in his 1928 apostolic constitution Divini Cultus to the verbal responses of the congregation as well. The faithful should not be, he tells us, "merely detached and silent spectators, but filled with a deep sense of the beauty of the Liturgy."

Note the wording carefully: Pius XI contrasts being "detached and silent" not with loudness or some other externally quantifiable sign, but with being filled with the liturgy's splendor. The opposite of liturgical inactivity is not, as some might expect, the external activity of voice or movement, but the internal wonder born of experiencing beauty; and if the externals are to be encouraged, it is for the sake of vivifying the internal....

Pope Pius XII's encyclical Mediator Dei (1947) articulates a similar understanding. Pius XII commends "active and individual participation" through which "the members of the Mystical Body . . . become daily more like to their divine Head". He too warns the faithful not to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice "in an inert and negligent fashion, giving way to distractions and day-dreaming, but with . . . earnestness and concentration". Note again the emphasis on mental presence.

But Pius XII was also aware of unsavory trends in the Liturgical Movement at the time, and so he warns against a forced external uniformity in participation and even recommends other prayers and "exercises of piety" (such as the rosary) for those who do not benefit from audibly responding or singing. Implicit in Pius' flexibility is again the ultimate goal of ruminating on, and thus entering into, the deeper mysteries of the Divine, which he holds superior to what Francis Cardinal Arinze would later refer to in "Active Participation in the Sacred Liturgy" as an "over-regimentation" of external actions bereft of contemplative activity.

Moreover, Pius XII's encyclical is the first to give us the full Latin term for active participation: actuosa participatio. Again, note the wording: When translating the Italian partecipazione attiva into Latin, the normative language of the universal Church, the pope could have chosen activa as the adjective -- but he did not. He speaks instead of actuosa participatio, which is better translated into English as "actual participation" (and here I must express my profound gratitude to Dr. Daniel Van Slyke for this insight). This phrase more clearly mirrors the profile of ideal liturgical participation as outlined by the supreme pontiffs than "active participation," which can give the impression that the focus is on mere outer activity. In his essay "Active Participation and Pastoral Adaptation," Alcuin Reid is quite right to describe true "active participation," even that which involves complete bodily or vocal activity, as "essentially contemplative."

Therefore, when the Second Vatican Council speaks of "fully conscious and active [actuosa] participation" in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, it is not inventing a new idea but simply reaffirming the teaching of the popes. Indeed, adding the word "conscious" more directly highlights the centrality of deliberate, alert, and engaged attention, or what the ancients called contemplation. True, Vatican II wanted to see the congregation involved in the responses and singing, but it did so for the sake of this internal, actual participation, not as an end unto itself. Vatican II did not abolish papal teaching on actual participation; it presupposed them."

And on other things...
And finally, a brief roundup of a  few items worth reading or watching on things monastic for your Friday and weekend entertainment:
  • video of life at Clear Creek Monastery in the US;
  • a video on Fontgombault, Clear Creek's motherhouse;
  • ordinations at the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkeuz;
  • the splendidly grand building plans of the Carmelite monks of Wyoming.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Andrew Wilkie, ethics of government and the caretaker conventions

Andrew Wilkie, MP-presumptive for the Seat of Denison, like all of the Independents who could decide the outcome of the Federal election, is a curious figure on the Australian political scene. 

He is not someone a Catholic could reasonably have voted for given his anti-life views, but I have to say I do have a certain empathy and admiration for his campaign for better ethics in government.  And nothing illustrates the nature of the problem more than Mr Abbott's refusal of the self-proclaimed 'gang of four' independents' request for to see a Treasury costing of the Liberal-National party election commitments.

Lies, damned lies and politicians

Life issues aside, I'm not really much of a Wilkie fan per se. 

While I share his outrage at the Howard Government's regular breaches of ethical behaviour (he blew the whistle in relation to the justifications for the Iraq war), and bear some personal scars from one of their other notable exercises in disinformation, I regard the way he by-passed proper process in his whistleblowing efforts, going straight to the media rather than through proper channels to voice his concerns, as unethical behaviour for a public servant.  It was certainly contrary to law and he was lucky to avoid prosecution. 

Others have made the case that going outside proper processes gets better results at a much reduced personal cost (see the enlightening article by Brian Martin of the University of Wollongong).  Maybe there is something in this, but the ends do not justify the means.

So there is, in my view, a certain irony to his championing of ethics in government.

Nonetheless, I do strongly support the push on from him and the other independents to engender a little more openness in Government, and attention to substance rather than point scoring.

The costings

And in this light, it is hard to see any rationale for Tony Abbott's refusal to allow Treasury costings of his party's policies to be done and released to the MPs who will need to guarantee supply for the next three years if we are to have stable government.

The main reason for Mr Abbott's concern is surely that his claims of a lower budget deficit than Labor will be blown out of the water when the more rigorous tests of Treasury (as opposed to a paid for costing by a private accountancy firm) are applied.  There are good reasons for his concern, particularly given he may wish to continue to train on those claims if we end up going back to the polls sooner rather than later.  But can such a position be justified ethically?

Public servants just don't understand!

Mr Abbott has come up with a number of arguments to support his position.  The first is that Finance officials (since they, not Treasury actually do most of the costing work) will find it hard to understand Coalition policies. 

Hmm, yes well.  It is true that many of the policies released were nothing more than sketch outlines presumably to be fleshed out later. 

But if they have been costed by someone, it would be a simple matter to provide the details of the costing assumptions made to the Department of Finance, and make appropriate staffers available for the provision of additional information as needed.

After all, if Mr Abbott ends up forming the Government, those public servants are going to have to understand the policy in order to implement it and..oh, by the way, that includes costing it for inclusion in the Budget.

The leaks

Mr Abbott's second argument goes to the leaks relating to earlier costings. 

There is something deeply hypocritical abut the Coalition's outrage on Treasury leaks - leaks are good it seems, when it is a Godwin Grech undermining the elected Government behind its back if said Government is Labor, but bad when it is the Coalition that is leaked against.

All the same, there is a legitimate question here - if, as the media claims, the leak actually came from the Treasurer's Office one could reasonably ask why the material got there in the first place.  Under the caretaker conventions, surely public service assessments of Opposition policy should have been kept within Finance/Treasury until publicly released by the Secretary in accordance with the Charter of Budget Honesty?  And if the leak was from somewhere below, then it should be exposed.

Still, the fact that this information might be leaked doesn't seem to me to be a strong argument in the current circumstances.  After all, under the Coalition's own Charter of Budget Honesty, the costings are supposed to be made public, preferably before we actually vote on them!

One could reasonably argue that the failure to actually put this material before the public was one of the reasons neither party got a clear endorsement.

The nature of the incoming Government brief

Mr Abbott's other concern is about the release of the incoming Government briefings prepared by the public service for incoming Ministers.

Preparing such briefs (with different versions for each possible colour of Government) is one of the main preoccupations of bureaucrats during the election period. 

In the main, the bulk of these briefs actually tend to be fairly bland documents (unless the Department head concerned is particularly 'courageous' in the Yes Minister sense).  You don't win friends and influence people by dumping on a new Government's election promises.  At this stage of the cycle, the main preoccupation of most departments is starting to build a good working relationship with their new Minister; besides, few would be unaware of the possibility of another night of the long knives lopping off Departmental Secretary heads such as occurred when the Howard Government was first elected (though I suppose it is possible that Mr Abbott fears that some, such as Ken Henry might have decided that when death is inevitable, go out in style...).

Instead, they rely mainly on public statements, and focus primarily on things like implementation processes and timetables.  All pretty harmless, and probably not a problem to have in the public domain.

Nonetheless, incoming government briefs do inevitably flag potential problems with announced commitments, costings and the like, and neither party would be keen to see this material become widely disseminated. 

Nor would public servants - I rather imagine that a lot of quick review and if necessary sanatisation is currently keeping more than a few public servants occupied at the moment.  And that more closely guarded separate slim folder raising the more problematic issues facing an incoming Government is being given another hard hard look...

But what about the caretaker conventions?

All the same, maintaining the caretaker conventions in itself I think does not stand up as a rationale for keeping this material secret.  The conventions are just that - rules that have no legislative or constitutional backing, and that are in practice regularly stretched, ignored or changed (for example by the Charter of Budget Honesty).

I would actually have thought that the decision to allow senior public servants to brief the Independents privately (agreed to by both sides) is potentially far more dangerous than releasing incoming government briefs and costings.  The issue is that there should not be any suggestion of public servants being invited to assess the relative policy merits of the two parties.  That's what elections are for. 

It is why each side normally only gets to see the incoming government brief on its own policies.

Presumably, Mr Abbot and Ms Gillard are relying on public servants to know their proper bounds.  That may be an overly optimistic assumption given the politicisation of the public service that is the legacy of the last few decades.

***For those interested in learning more about the nature of incoming government briefs, Crikey have posted a useful exposition from a line Department perspective. 

Ahh traditionalists...and how wide is your maniple?

One of my most particular beefs with the traditionalist movement is the tendency to beat up practitioners of the Ordinary Form for liturgical abuses while happily engaging in their own forms of 'creativity'.
So I always enjoy posts by others highlighting this problem, and there is a nice one today on this issue from Fr Raven.  He points to a post on another blog with which, like Father, I don't fully agree (in particular Patricius' argument that we can't call the 1962 books traditional is untenable in my view; approval by proper authority trumps age and traditions do develop).  But the essential message from Patricius, that we've become overly focused on liturgical validity, at the cost of attention to the actual approved rubrics and ars celebrandi, is I think a good one.

Do go and read both posts.

Odysseus' palace and the value of oral history

The Sydney Morning Herald reports today on an archaeologist who claims to have found Odysseus' palace on the Island of Ithaca.  The claim is of course being disputed, firstly by those who regard Homer's entire story as a myth, and secondly by those who claim that the modern Ithiki is not the Ithaca of Odysseus and prefer to support alternative sites as the hero's home.

I imagine it will take some time before the dust settles on this one and objective assessments can be made, but my instinct is to give the claim the benefit of the doubt.  Why?  Because though many contemporary historians prefer to dismiss the value of oral history, Christianity and the Church actually depend on it: things handed down after all is the literal meaning of tradition. 

History wars

Over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries competing approaches to the practice of history have developed.  One of the most destructive directions of nineteenth and twentieth century historical method was the insistence of some on what they saw as the 'scientific method': what happened had to be documented, and not in story form, but in charters, letters and legislation.  the presumption becmae that if it wasn't adequately documented, then it didn't happen.  Nor were eyewitness accounts regarded as in any way useful or potentially reliable: instead, disproportionate attention was devoted to decontructing texts (including the Bible) to reach back to their speculated origins, creating elaborate fantasy texts such as a presumed precursor text to the synoptic Gospels.

In the Church the results of this approach have often been ideologically driven, and have had disastrous results.  In relation to Scripture it has been used to justify a 'demythologising' of the text including a disdain for the miraculous, and a disregard for certain uncomfortable passages on the grounds that they were later additions.  These methods were the basis for justifying the jettisoning of many saints cults from the universal calendar on the grounds that they were inadequately documented. Theologians such as Yves Congar constructed an entire history and theology of the laity by selective reliance on (and jettisoning of) texts using this approach.  And this method has been used to promote a hermeneutic of discontinuity that has undermined the viability of many religious orders, including the Benedictine.  And one could go on.

So it's always nice when yet another archaeological or other discovery contributes to debunking this school of history, whether in the Church or more broadly, hence my glee at the Odysseus palace report (regardless of whether it proves accurate).

Oral history is real history

Because the reality is that the other nineteenth and twentieth century direction, of increasing interest in folk and other oral traditions, very creative use of less used documentary and non-documentary sources, as well as use of archaeological and anthropological approaches to gain a greater understanding of history continues to yield fascinating and plausible results. 

The fightback on Scriptural methods is being championed by the Pope, with the second volume of his Jesus of Nazareth series now due out next Lent.  The case of St Philomena perhaps best illustrates the problematic nature of many decisions on saints cults taken in the 1960s and beyond.  In the sphere of lay engagement, writers such as Eamonn Duffy have done much to recover a sense of the vibrancy of the Church in periods such as late medieval England, and the genuine commitment of the laity to catholicism around the time of the Henrician suppression of the Church.  The problematic nature of the reforms of religious orders are slowly being rectified with the growth of the traditional orders.

But of course on all these fronts there is a long way to go. 

But every little bit helps.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Who is ready for Government?

As the parties manoeuvre to persuade the oddball assortment of independents and minor parties to support them in forming a government, with ever more implausible claims (Mr Abbott turns into Mr Nice Guy!), there is an interesting piece in today's Australian from Scott Prasser of ACU that nicely articulates I think some of the reasons why the Coalition did not clearly get over the line.

I'm not entirely convinced by its arguments - many of them apply equally to Labor. But still worth a read.  Herewith some extracts relating to political skills and policy (or the lack thereof).

Why didn't Labor get thumped harder?

"...Tony Abbott ran a better campaign than Labor expected. Indeed, it underestimated him and the Coalition -- up to a point. And that point is that once again the non-Labor parties, despite such fortuitous circumstances as a government that was largely incompetent in program delivery and that had poleaxed its leader so publicly, were still unable to capitalise on the shambles and convince the electorate that they were ready for government.  This occurs too often on the non-Labor side of politics to be described simply as bad luck....

How could a government that has made as many policy mistakes as the Rudd-Gillard administrations secure swings to it in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, and hold on to marginal seats such as Lindsay and Robertson in NSW?

Political skills and policy nous
Something must be lacking in the non-Labor side. It is a mixture of political skills, policy deficiencies and lack of skilled personnel.

The opposition never really nailed the Rudd government. Until Rudd fell, largely through his own miscalculations, there were few ministerial scalps. The Coalition lacked the forensic, probing and investigative skills to expose government failures.

Gillard's stumbles mid-campaign were largely caused by leaks from within the ALP rather than aggressive opposition tactics.

Then there were the Coalition's policy shortfalls.. We had a taste of this before the election with the Hockey-Robb debacle at the National Press Club over policy costings. We all asked: is this opposition fit to govern? This remained an undercurrent throughout the campaign. It was an important issue at this election, as voters were being asked to throw out a first-term government.

The opposition poured out the policies, but many were rushed, half-baked and at best just outlines. The launch of the Coalition's response to the government's National Broadband Network highlighted these deficiencies. It was hesitant, hard to understand and lacked conviction; although there was a viable alternative view, it was never properly articulated. Coalition spokesman Tony Smith looked and sounded painfully ill at ease, not helped by the hovering Andrew Robb.

The problem was made worse by Abbott's inept performance on ABC1's The 7.30 Report, where his basic knowledge about modern technology and communications was found lacking.

During the campaign, the opposition again stumbled over policy costings and never managed to provide all the details. Neither did Labor in opposition, but weren't the Coalition parties supposed to be better economic managers?

And if the economy was so important, why didn't Abbott take up the PM's challenge and debate this issue? No wonder the government wasn't far behind the Coalition on economic management.

In Westminster democracies, the opposition is not there just to oppose: it is also meant to propose solutions. Despite having been out of office only for a short time, the Coalition failed to give voters confidence that it was not just ready to take office but also capable of leading the nation.

The core of the Coalition's policies was about stopping things: the waste, the taxes and the boats. Knowing what an opposition is against and pinpointing government failings helps an electorate decide, but as Abbott acknowledged earlier this year, "it's not a recipe for effective government".

The opposition's campaign launch left out important parts of the policy recipe, raising concern about an Abbott government's agenda.

...This election signified a revival in the fortunes of the non-Labor side of politics. For this it deserves congratulations. But it has not got over the line yet. More renovation is needed if the non-Labor cause is going to sustain itself in the battles ahead at state and federal levels."

The message for  Labor?

Of course much of this critique could equally apply to Labor - its campaign clearly demonstrated a lack of political skills, and one of the most consistent criticisms of the Rudd and Gillard Governments has been the lack of a good policy narrative.  So there are some messages for both sides, I think...

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

And the Greens won...

After a short break to ponder the horrors of the bad behaviour on all sides (most especially including some claiming to be campaigning in support of catholic values) this election brought out, I'm back...

And don't we live interesting times.  There is no clear outcome from the Australian Federal election, with counting in some key seats running very close and unlikely to be finalized for some weeks.

At the moment, the most likely scenario seems to be a worst case one: a Labor minority Government with the support of a Green Independent and one or more of the independents in the Lower House and the Greens holding the balance of power in the Senate.  That's worst case in my view because it could force Labor to make concessions in areas the Greens care about.

Indeed, whatever the outcome, we should be starting to argue the case now in a much more serious way on gay marriage, because it seems inevitable that there will be a serious push on this subject from the Greens in the coming Parliament.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Understanding how abortion plays out in Australia's election land

So here is my prediction for Australia's Federal election this Saturday. 

When the hard analysis is done, whoever wins, my prediction is that the campaign against Emily's List and other pro-abortion candidates will be shown to have had exactly the opposite of the intended effect.

I'd love to be proved wrong on this.  But I don't think I will be, and I think it is time to start the conversation about why things have reached this point.

Abbott on abortion last night

Someone actually tackled Tony Abbott on abortion last night at the Bronchos Club forum, and eventually elicited the response that 'Federal intervention on abortion was not his policy'. 

That's not surprising for two reasons: first it reflects the assessment being made by all parties that opposition to abortion is more of a vote loser than a vote winner.  That's why something like Emily's List can even exist, why candidates are so coy about stating their actual views on life issues.

Secondly, it is unclear just how strong Mr Abbott's position on the issue actually is, given past statements that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare" (a position that frankly doesn't seem a million miles away from that of Ms Gillard whose 'pro-choice' position is rationalised on the basis that unless abortion is legal "Women without money would be left without that choice or in the hands of backyard abortion providers").

In fairness, Mr Abbott did actually take some action as Health Minister to attempt to persuade women not to abort.  Whether his Government if he were elected PM would do something along the same lines though is unclear - presumably it depends on who ends up being Health Minister.  Certainly there is no stated policy to that effect.

Understanding the psychology of abortion supporters

The Catholic Church's position is simple: abortion is murder and should be opposed as such.

But just because we (few) understand this does not mean that we should automatically condemn all those who support abortion being legal as supporters of murder.  Objectively that is the case.  But subjectively, not always (or even mostly). 

We should not forget the human capacity for self-deception, and the capacity to be deceived by the prevailing cultural constructs. 

It is true of course that people often do instinctively understand that abortion is wrong - that's one of the reasons why vigils in front of abortion clinics and such like measures can have an effect.

But God gives us revelation to supplement and act as a corrective for the operation of reason, to make clear the natural law, because of our consistent ability to get things badly wrong when left to ourselves (especially when helped along by malign influences).

And our society has managed to come up with a variety of rationalisations and ways of seeing abortion as not only not murder, but as something that is perfectly acceptable in the cause of preserving one of our society's touchstones, namely (the illusion of) personal control over one's destiny.

A little psychology

Seriously constructed world views will not be shattered just by calling something what it is - on the contrary, doing so typically leads to attempts to fend off the attack through demonisation of the perceived enemy (ie the persons who threaten to undermine your cosy worldview). 

We need to remember some basic psychology: people do behave in irrational and destructive ways and even believe that they are correct to do so when the culture they are brought up in teaches them that what they are doing is correct.  And the first reaction to any 'cognitive dissonance' that we can induce is to reject the new and contradictory information that is provided, and engage in justification, blame and denial.

I would venture to suggest, for example, that most (but not all) of those supporting Emily's List do not see further liberalizing access to abortion as its primary objective, but rather increasing the proportion of female MPs committed to a feminist agenda (and that may seem a subtle difference, but it is an important one).

So how do we change the game?

There are ways of changing perceptions about abortion. 

Mr Abbott is probably right for example in implicitly arguing that an outright ban is not feasible until we create the environment where abortion is seen for what it is.  There are lessons to be learnt, for example from health protection strategies that have turned around views on things like tobacco use and made it possible to ban smoking from public places indoors and out. 

Shock tactics can be useful: stories from people whose parents were advised to abort them; dissemination of pictures of children in the womb; and so forth.  But it is the intellectual battle, swaying hearts and minds that ultimately has to come into play, and name-calling is counter-productive in this.

We also need to keep in mind that until we tackle the real underlying issue of the proper use of sexuality, we are tackling symptoms not causes.  And putting abortion in the context of the whole web of cultural practices that flow from contraception and the detachment of sex from reproduction is a much harder challenge to tackle. Cases such as that of the current prosecution for murder of the Australian sportwoman who had two abortions, adopted out two children, and allegedly murdered another after birth, though, can help expose the logical inconsistencies of our society's mores. 

Pro-life advocates might also be well advised to focus on the web of supporting policies that are needed as well: making adoption easier and a socially accepted alternative for mothers, for example; and focusing on supporting the economics of large families through housing, childcare and other policies.

Some lessons for the pro-life movement

There is of course a certain horror that we have to face in the idea of tolerating even for a moment the holocaust of abortion once you see it for what it is.  But we need, I think to understand the veil that clouds the minds of our society on this subject, and understand that changing that will not happen overnight just by shouting loudly enough.

The early Christians had to work slowly and gradually to stop horrors such as the exposure of children at the whim of Roman fathers, converting people one by one to Catholicism.  I think we too need to understand that winning the war on abortion really requires winning the war against secularism in general, and requires evangelization on all aspects of our beliefs: understanding the truth on life issues is much easier when we reject relativism in general and understand the fullness of truth.

This will not be a popular post with many in the pro-life movement. 

But I hope it provokes some serious thought.

In particular, I would argue that a little toning down of the shrill rhetoric will help the cause not hinder it.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The case for a catholic culture - Santamaria, Paul Collins and the battle for a real 'New Evangelization'

There is an article on Eureka Street today from Paul Collins attacking the late Bob Santamaria (and by association Tony Abbott) for what he calls 'undemocratic Catholicism', by which he apparently means a catholicism that encompasses all aspects of our lives. 

I won't get into the pros and cons of Mr Santamaria's legacy, I haven't studied that period of recent Australian history sufficiently.  But while I'm normally inclined to ignore Mr Collins' diatribes, he has, I think, identified a crucial, crunch issue on which committed catholics need to stand up and be counted.

Culture vs secularism

From the 1960s onwards a strain of thought has promoted the idea that culture and daily life can be detached from catholicism.  That we can be committed catholics without it impacting on all aspects of our lives, be catholics while essentially subscribing to the secular culture in which we live. 

It is a view that saw the destruction of the catholic infrastructure that supported a high degree of catholic practice amongst believers, and a great deal of evangelization effort, leaving behind the barren wasteland of parishes as we see them today.

The Pope - and many others - has been arguing for the importance of a catholic culture, and the need to rediscover a love of our patrimony. 

The problem though is that one can never really recreate the past - any such attempt inevitably creates something new, however grounded in tradition it is.  And there are lessons we should be learning from the past in order to address the critiques put forward by Collins and others.

So what is the problem with integralism?

According to Mr Collins, "...Santamaria embraced a form of theological integralism which sees everything in the world as tainted unless it is 'integrated' or brought into the orbit of Catholicism. Integralism assumes that the Church has an unchallengeable, complete and accessible body of doctrine that gives guidance in every possible eventuality — social, political, strategic, economic, familial and personal....Catholic action involves influencing and if possible controlling state policy. Thus Catholics are obliged to do all in their power to ensure that all legislation is in keeping with church doctrine."

Collins of course exaggerates - but the essential idea he articulates, that legislation should be in keeping with church doctrine, and that Christianity encompasses the social, economic and more, is surely actually catholic doctrine?

Conservatism, fundamentalism and integralism

The only real problem with what Collins describes as 'integralism', and the underlying reason for his (and other liberal' attack), comes, I think, when one tries to claim that only one particular economic, strategic or social solution is compatible with Church doctrine.

US-style conservatives (including many Australians such as Cardinal Pell) are particularly prone to this kind of narrow thinking. 

It represents a fundamental failure of the imagination in my view.

Catholic policy failure

Take the case of global warming. The extreme Green lobby has successfully managed to define the problem as one of too high a population - despite the fact that on a per capita basis it is Qatar (population 1.7m), followed by an assortment of Arab and affluent Western nations that have the highest emissions on a per capita basis. Instead of redefining that problem as one of the design of economic systems based around materialism and greed, and looking for policy approaches that support continued population growth, the conservative response has been to deny global warming altogether.

The unease in the electorate that has led to both parties back pedalling on action in this area in Australia in recent times I think represents the realization that while something needs to be done, the solutions put forward by the extremists so far are unacceptable, running counter to our most basic instincts. 

In New South Wales for example, we have had tv ads urging us to voluntarily sit watching our tvs while shivering under an extra layer of rugs rather than turning on  the heater in order to save money and the environment; others want to tax us so as to induce the same effect.  I think people would respond much more positively to encouragement to put a solar panel on the roof, or take some other more positive action! 

But the loss of support for Rudd (and Gillard) also reflects the fact that most people are not prepared to take the risk that the scientists are altogether wrong, and simply put their heads in the sand on global warming.

The bottom line though is that in general the Church's social doctrines articulate broad principles.  It doesn't claim to do science.  And it doesn't encompass (beyond principles) an assessment of the particular means of realising those principles.

A lot of the pro-life how to vote rhetoric put forward by catholics in this election fails this same basic test.  What most advances the pro-life cause for example: (arguably empty) rhetorical statements or the absence thereof, or actual policies that are favourable to families?  And which policies actually matter most and will be most effective in encouraging people to have children?  There is scope for debate on this, not one right answer!

We need a new, real catholic culture, but one that accepts that there is room for debate on many social and strategic issues.

And we need to reject Collins' notion that our catholicism is something that only happens when we go to Church or yabber on about social justice, that is somehow separate from our daily lives.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Last week....

A friend noted my focus on things political rather than devotional of late on this blog.

It is not entirely accurate, but this last week of the Federal election campaign is an appropriate time to summarize some of the things I've been saying on our duties as Catholics with respect to "the public square".

Devotional/liturgical vs politics

First it is not entirely true that I've abandoned the devotional and liturgical in my blogging - you can read my liturgical notes based around the Benedictine calendar (which has a high degree of overlap with the EF) on my other blog if you are interested.

Secondly, I'm avoiding certain topics at the moment in the interests of not stirring up my anger at the things I see, hear and read about particularly liturgy-wise.  Though I do have several posts drafted which I'll attempt to tone down and put out in due course (yesterday's addition to the collection starts by commending the Graduale Simplex to those choirs who can no longer cope adequately with the full propers, even on great feasts which you should know backwards.  You know who you are). 

But most importantly, as lay catholics, politics and what is happening in our society is what we should be focusing on.  A strong liturgical and devotional life is important of course.  But its purpose is to help keep us focused on what really matters (getting to heaven), and more immediately, to help us cope with the duties of our state of life, not be a be all and end all in themselves.  And at the moment, for most of us, the duties of our state of life require a certain focus on the political.

1.  Ignore Latham: the duty to vote

So in the light of Mad Mark Latham's call to leave your ballot form blank, it is worth first of all reiterating that you do in fact have a duty to vote.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states (2240) that 'Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to...exercise the right to vote..'

The big problem is, who can you vote for?

2.  Finding a pro-life agenda to vote for

First, it is worth giving your first preference to a minor party if there is a strongly pro-life available.  They may not have any chance of getting elected, but the bigger their vote, the more the major parties will have to pay attention to the pro-life movement.

Secondly, use your preferences, don't leave it to the party to allocate preferences.  In the end, except for a few seats where there is a real chance of an independent getting up, you will probably have to vote eventually for one of the major parties in the Senate and House of Reps. As far as I can see neither of the major parties offer anything even vaguely by way of a pro-life agenda.   Bishop Jarrett's letter for example suggested supporting parties that will provide pro-life pregnancy counselling services - but I can't find any commitment from either party to provide such a service (please point me to it if it exists!).

In an ideal world we would want to see, at the Federal level, commitments such as:
  • provision of good pregnancy support services;
  • removal of abortion and IVF from medicare;
  • opposition to same sex marriage;
  • commitment to strong, well-designed environmental policies that do not penalize large families;
  • prohibition of human cloning and other related experimentation;
  • a strong supporting agenda to promote family well-being across the lifecycle, including cheaper housing, better infrastructure, adequate aged care, etc.
In fact however both parties have in the past done some positive things in these areas (opposition to gay marriage, Labor's greater restrictions on medicare for IVF etc) and some very bad things.  Neither party is likely to allow private member bills to come forward on any of the purely pro-life topics either.

So when it comes to the pro-life agenda, in the Senate, in my view you need firstly to try and ensure that the more dangerous parties (such as the Greens) do not gain greater control of the Senate.

At the reps level, you need to focus on your local candidate for the House of Representatives in case there is a conscience vote, and on supporting candidates who can work within their parties to get good outcomes on issues such as the population debate.  The Australia Votes website provides some helpful information to this end.  Another site with some additional useful information is the Family Life International website, though be careful, this one seems to contain some errors (in particular it gives a tick to Gary Humphries, Senator for the ACT on gay marriage whereas in fact he has voted for it on, in my view completely spurious "Territory rights" grounds) and is overly directive in my view. 
3.  Finding out if your (new) candidate pro-life?

Perhaps the greatest scandal of this and recent elections is the degree of difficulty in finding out whether or not the candidates actually are pro-life or not.  The websites above look at past voting patterns - but very few candidates have actually disclosed their views upfront.

That's a problem in an electorate like my own (Fraser) where the candidates are all new (if anyone can enlighten me on the views of the Liberal candidate I'd be grateful; the views of the Green and Secularist Party candidates are clear, and I think I can infer the views of Labor's Andrew Leigh though I'd be happy to be told I'm wrong about that).

The reason?  They do not think that being labelled pro-life is going to win them any votes; quite the contrary.

And this represents to me the real failure of the pro-life movement in this country, and the reason why I think the rather simplistic approaches and naive readings of the parties urged upon us by some (including the Family Life site) do more harm than good.  But perhaps this is an issue to come back to after the election...

4.  Assess the parties overall

When it comes to your House of Reps vote, you do also need to consider which Party you think would make a better Government overall (particularly if you are lucky enough to live in a marginal seat!).

And that's where issues those broader family support issues and related topics such as economic management, housing, adequate aged care, education and everything else needs to be weighed up.

Who is in government is vitally important when it comes down to issues that will have a direct impact on Australia's culture of death, such as the environment and population debates.  I'm not sure it is clearcut however which party offers the better chance of a positive outcome - that is something you will have to weigh up.

And the competence (and values) of the leaders, potential leaders (lest there be more coups!), and their potential Cabinets (the Rudd era aside, Cabinet Ministers have enormous power to shape policy within their portfolios in our system of Government).

I have to admit, that every time I think I've decided how to vote, one of the contenders (or their offsiders) says something utterly stupid.

Turning back the boats.

Today's gem - Tony Abbott saying I personally will decide which boats to turn back. 

No Mr Abbott, please, leave it to the navy. 

There is no way that a politician in Canberra should ever interfere in military operational decisions happening in real time where the situation could change in seconds. 

And our PM should be focusing on the big issues, the policy directions and operational guidelines, not piddling around about boats.


Thankfully less than a week of this nonsense to go.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Feast of the Assumption

And just as a taster for what I hope is your listening for the day, a little extract from Monteverdi's famous vespers for the feast, from a live performance at the Basilica di San Marco, Venice with the Monteverdi Choir, the London Oratory Junior Choir, and the English Baroque Soloists conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Vigil of the Assumption

Vigils were traditionally days of fasting in preparation for the feasting to follow, an approach worthy of consideration!

The dogma of the Assumption  - that Our Lady was assumed body and soul into heaven - was formally defined nearly fifty years ago, on 1 November 1950, in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus.

The feast itself of course (and its Eastern equivalent, the Dormition of Mary), which attests to the longstanding belief in the dogma, is of very ancient origin indeed.  One of the ancient traditions holds that all of the Apostles were recalled from their various missions to be present for Mary's 'falling asleep' (ie death) at Jerusalem, around the year 49 (around the time of the Council of Jerusalem, chronicled in Acts). Certainly of all the feasts of Our Lady, it is this one that has garnered the most elaborate traditions, Offices and musical works.

Friday, 13 August 2010

And now for something completely different...the Antarctica International Film Festival

Today (in theory at least, the weather forecast looks pretty bad so it might not happen) marks the start for this year of the annual 'Winfly', when US Air Force aircraft fly into McMurdo Base, Antarctica for the first time in several months to drop off fresh food and new people to start gearing up for the annual 'summer'  research season.

I've become intrigued recently at the culture of the Antarctic stations - where the only inhabitants (in theory at least) are generally either scientists or people providing logistics support for science, and those there at the moment, the 'winter-overs', endure months of complete isolation and very little sunlight (photo of the aurora from Australia's David Station, by Nick Roden).

Of course, Antarctica might be the most physically isolated of the world's continents, but no where is completely isolated these days - from the comfort of your home you can shudder at the temperature of many of the Antarctic stations through the wonderful weather underground (which can also bring you your weather forecast in Latin), look at assorted webcams throughout the continent, and of course read the blogs of residents.  Many of the stations offer regular updates on their activities online.

And they are intriguing, because Antarctic residents are perforce a closeknit society, and have developed numerous rituals, and intersperse the long night with numerous (mainly secular) feasts to cope with stresses.

The film festival

And from those one can find out about interesting events such as the annual International Film Festival, which consists of short films made by the staff of each of the stations, and exchanged between them and voted on via the internet. 

There are two categories - open, and films that have to be conceived and made within a 48 hour period, and use set elements decided by previous years winners - this year those were a grumpy, diesel mechanic; a mop; a bottle of mouthwash; the sound of a siren, and the line, “Has anybody seen my chicken?”

This year 21 stations representing 11 nations participated, producing 41 films.

And the winner of the 48 hour category came from Australia's Davis Station, and can be viewed below.

Several of the other films can be found on youtube (personally I loved the French Camembert Man the best...), and give fascinating glimpses of the bases, the scenery, and the people.


As mentioned above, the Antarctic isolation is actually scheduled to come to a temporary end for McMurdo (and nearby NZ Scott base) residents this week (the last flight in was back in February), with the start of the annual 'winfly' arrival of mail, fresh food and newbies to help prepare for the summer season or start research. The last flight in to McMurdo was back in February, and because the sun doesn't officially rise until August 19 later, the USAF pilots will use night vision goggles for several of the flights.  Do keep those flights in your prayers.

For the Australians on the ice, there are still a few months to go before flights or voyages resume...

**Update: Looks like the first flight finally arrived on Sunday August 15.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Sung EF Mass in Newcastle

A group in Newcastle have just formed an organisational committee in support of the Traditional Latin Mass in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese. 

They have had several low Masses recently and last Sunday Fr Terence Mary Naughtin OFM Conv. was the celebrant for their first Missa Cantata (pictured above and below).

They have several more Masses planned and confirmed for the future, so please do join them if you live in the region, and/or pray for their success.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Two useful documents...

I've been alerted to two useful documents you might want to take a look at:
  • the Canberra Declaration (which features a rather better formulated approach to freedom of conscience than that proposed by the ACBC); and
  • Bishop Jarrett's Pastoral letter on the election.

The Jesuit on the Greens

Fr Frank Brennan SJ has a piece in Eureka Street arguing that a conscientious Christian can indeed vote for the Greens...ok this is just a step too far for me.  Let's look at his arguments.

1.  The desirability of the Senate not being controlled by the party in power

Fr Brennan argues that:

"...the Greens are not in the contest for government and they are very unlikely to have much, if any, say in the House of Representatives. Their political purchase after the election will be in the Senate where they will most probably have the balance of power.

Some Christians, myself included, think that it is never a good thing for the government of the day to control the Senate. You just have to look at what happened to the Howard Government in its last term when it controlled the Senate. Hubris set in; the usual rational debate about the limits on Workchoices was abandoned because the Government was assured passage of its overbroad, ideological legislation. When the Government does not control the Senate, it needs to garner support for legislation by putting coherent arguments in order to attract a handful of Senators on the cross benches.

A thoughtful Christian is entitled to consider the workings of the Senate when deciding where to allocate preferences in their voting. A thoughtful Christian could give their first or second party preference to a minor party like the Greens confident that this minor party would hold to account whichever party is in power on contested legislative proposals."
In principle it is a strong argument.  The power of individual Senators (such as Senator Harradine during his long tenure) or minor parties (such as the Democrats) to force the parties to negotiate on legislation, and to review the operation of government through Senate estimates committees is actually one of the strengths of our system over countries such as Canada (where the Senate is appointed) or New Zealand (which lacks an Upper House altogether). 
The question is, would the Greens actually hold the Government to account in a sensible way, or would they use their numbers to impose their own agenda?  Their record over the last three years is not strong.
And overall, history suggests the latter outcome.
2.  Some of their policies are good
Fr Brennan argues that:
"On some policy issues, I daresay the Greens have a more Christian message than the major parties.

Consider their stand on overseas aid, refugees, stewardship of creation and the environment, public housing, human rights protection, and income management."

Yes, let's consider them.  First, a number of these polices (such as the treatment of asylum seekers) are largely under the control of the Executive, not the Parliament - the legal framework is already in place. 

Secondly, it is highly debatable whether the Greens' position is particularly consistent with the Christian message.  It is true that trendy leftists like Brennan oppose income management and support human rights legislation for example.  But in reality income management is producing some positive results in the desperate situation of many Indigenous communities; and many Christians would agree that a human rights act would actually be counter-productive.

Far more dangerous is the Green's so-called commitment to the stewardship of creation and the environment:  because what this actually translates into is, as some of the commenters on Brennan's article point out, is support for policies such as population control and abortion.

And whereas members and Senators from the major parties are generally likely to be kept under control by their leaders' desires to keep the Christian vote on board, there is absolutely nothing to stop, and every incentive for Green Senators to put up private member bills and forcing conscience votes on issues such as euthanasia and same sex marriage.

What motivates the Parties?

The critical difference between the two mainstream parties and the Greens is that both the Liberals and Labor seek primarily to protect the dignity of the individual and the family (albeit with considerable differences on how to go about this), whereas the Greens start from seeking to protect the environment.  One can debate the merits and reality of the two major parties approaches.  But the distinction in kind between them and the Greens is important.

Labor, it is true, has been infiltrated by 'Emily's List' and continues to lend at least notional support to the 1970s feminist agenda.  I would argue that de facto, the Liberals (leader aside) have been influenced in exactly the same way and adopted exactly the same approach (no party after all is committed to removing the Medicare rebate for abortion, and some of the commitments made under Malcolm Turnbull's leadership...).

This is extremely problematic in considering your vote. 

But there are practical political constraints on both the major parties that have in practice limited how far the Emily's list agenda, or other pernicious influences (at least to date) can go, as commitments made in the last several elections have shown. 

The Greens by contrast have a systematic anti-life, anti-family agenda and are fundamentalist zealots on the subject.

No party in this election can be said to be perfect from a Christian perspective.

But some are a lot more dangerous than others, and having disingenuous apologias for the Greens like this being put forth is exceedingly unhelpful.

And for those with a sense of humour...

Now some will be outraged at this piece of satire (so stop reading if you are easily offended), and its certainly not PC, crossing the line in places (though in the main the text is fine, its the choice of illustrations on the website that I find problematic), but I have to admit to chortling my way through the distillation of recent Australian political history offered on the ABC's website by St Paul's Letter to the Electorates.  It opens as follows:

"i) And so it was, after the time of John, that Kevin went out to meet the enemies of his people. For their enemies were numerous and the people were sore afraid. For the money lenders had put their own house asunder and the crops faileth in the field and drought was upon the land.

ii) And the people looked at Kevin with confusion in their hearts and they sayeth each to the other. 'He is only a boy. And surely he will be done, yea, even unto a dinner.'

iii) But Kevin raiseth up his hand and he calmeth his people, saying 'Listeneth thou to me' and he then spoke for some time and he laid out a plan. And the people were greatly relieved and they offered up praises and hosannas saying 'Go Kevin.' For the plan was good. And this was reflected in the polls. For they went nuts.

iv) And Kevin putteth the plan into action. And he said unto Wayne, 'Mate, poureth thee thy money into the marketplace'. And Wayne betook himself into the desert, where he sat alone for a long time, looking at the surplus. For he was wrestling with his soul...

v) And at this time in the land, the Pharisees met and lo, he that was called Brendan was sacrificed and a new leader was anointed. And his name was called Malcolm. And Malcolm sayeth as follows: 'Although I am opposed to Kevin, for he is not top drawer, Kevin is correct on this matter of the ETS.'

vi) And chief among the Pharisees was Nicholas. And Nicholas looked upon Malcolm and liked him not. And Nicholas bideth his time...."

The latest installment (Chapter 5) includes such gems as:

"i) And so it was that the people found themselves in the desert, and were desolate, and they knew not what to do...

...why witnesseth we a presidential campaign, when we have no president?"

ix) "And for the Cth time, where is the ETS?"

x) And there was a rumbling sound and the Earth trembled and there was a celestial light. And there came before the people a man of seraphic appearance, and he was fair of hair and somewhat circular of dial, and the people rubbed their eyes. And the man spoke, and they knew him.

xi) And they said "It is Kevin!" And verily, it was Kevin.

xii) And they said to him "Is what we see before us a resurrection?" And he said "No, it's just the way I'm standing." And they said "Where hast thou been?" And he answered, saying "I was unwell in the viscera" and they said "And was thou shortened again?" And he said "I'll do the jokes thanks. I was shortened once and it will never happen again. What occureth the second time was a cholecystectomy."

xiii) And they said "And will'st thou be working with Julia?" And he said "I'm not sure 'with' is quite the term we're searching for there, but I'm here to help, for the barbarians are at the gate." And they said "Even after she performeth a Kevinectomy?" And he said "The past is another country. They do things differently there."

xiv) And the Earth trembled once more and the people looked up in wonderment, for another familiar figure appeared. For lo, John stood before them at a lecturn, with both arms in the air and Asian motifs in the background...

xvii) And Julia sayeth to herself "Giveth me strength. For there is a plague on my house, like unto locusts, which arrive in their season and darken the air and consume every herb and nourishing thing."

xviii) And then the Oaken one also appeareth, saying Mark was bitter, and disruptive, and should be cast out. And the people said "Like, Hello."

xix) And Anthony had a launch, and spake unto the people, using many adjectives. But he keepeth well away from policies, for this was the danger area.

xx) And the polls indicateth a nip and tuck affair. And there were 12 days and 12 nights to go...."

And at last some actual policy....

Finally, it is worth noting that there are actually a few substantive policies out there now to chew on:
And tonight we get the forum between the two leaders...

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Style vs content

The Treasurer's debate

The latest election event (the ongoing Latham circus, brought to you courtesy of channel 9, aside; what a classic example of media irresponsibility in reporting what should not be given air!) was the Treasurer's debate, which most of the papers seem to think went to Hockey on style, Swan on content.  You can read all about it in The Age.

Australian bishops' conference guidance

Meanwhile, our bishops have issued some guidance on how to tackle the process of deciding your vote:

We are privileged to live in a democracy such as Australia where voting matters. We urge all people to take their vote seriously. We urge them to think carefully about the issues that are relevant in their local area and nationally. We urge them to think about the issues that are not just important for them but for the whole of Australia”.... the Church proposes that politicians, political parties and political campaigns should all be judged against six essential criteria. Those six essential criteria are:

●The right of every person to human dignity;

●The right of every person to adequate food, shelter and protection;

●The right of every person to equality of access to education, health, employment and basic services;

●The right of every person, both present and future generations, to live in a safe, healthy and secure environment;

●The right (and the duty) of every person to contribute to society to the extent that they are able;

●The right of every person to live according to their own beliefs, to the extent that those beliefs do not impact upon the rights of others.

Particular issues that Catholic Church Agencies see as important include:

Health: A Health System that is efficient and accessible for all; properly funded mental health services and an improvement in aged care services.

Social Justice: Human dignity demands that a wealthy country such as Australia must define its priorities so that those who cannot cope in society are helped through government spending by those who can;

Migrants and Refugees: All those seeking to live in Australia should be treated with dignity and in accordance with international law;

Overseas Aid: Increase Australia’s overseas aid to 0.7% of GNI as a step towards recognising Australia’s plenty in the midst of great need;

Women: To protect their dignity, steps must be taken to protect women from all forms of violence; pay equity should be improved and paid parental leave is an important step forward.

Indigenous Australians: Until the most disadvantaged of our Indigenous citizens move beyond 3rd world living conditions, all Australians must feel ashamed and work together to change their conditions.

Disability: People with a disability are entitled to a quality of life equivalent to that of other Australians; serious effort must be made to improve access to services for people with disabilities and their carers.

Environment: The debate about the environment must shift to consideration of the needs of future generations, not just to avoiding present inconveniences.

Education: Schools funding should be available equitably and respect parental choice.

Religious Liberty: In a society with a variety of faiths and non-faiths, we need to be respectful of others.

Human Dignity: The value of human life must be respected at every stage."

Catholicism in Europe

Meanwhile, if you are tired of the election campaign (and who isn't) do go and read the interesting article in the Economist on the resurgence of traditional catholicism in Europe.