Christianity in Australia

Christianity in Australia

Postby Fortigurn » 03 Aug 2008, 20:16

In discussion with my trans-Pacific cousins, the subject of religion has arisen frequently. Critical to these discussions is the little understood and under appreciated but utterly radical difference between the history of Christianity in North America and the history of Christianity in Australia. This post is intended to shed some light on why the average Australian and the average North American have very different views and experiences of Christianity, as well as why Australia is a heavily secularized country whereas North America is heavily Christianized.

If this subject does not interest you, please feel free to leave now. Moderators, this is a historical and sociological commentary prompted by personal discussions. It is not a competition in patriotism (I am not a patriot by any description), and I would appreciate it if you kept the patriots well clear of this thread. Apologies for the length.

The saving grace of Christianity in Australia is that (unlike the US), we weren't founded by a group of fanatical religious zealots, but by a group of convicts and settlers whose Christianity (if any), was pragmatic, non-elitist, anti-authoritarian, anti-institutional sympathetic, and humanitarian. Vive le difference.

Australian Christianity wrote:"Any political candidate who declared God was on his side would be laughed off the podium as an idiot or a wowser (prude, intrusive bluenose)." Robert Hughes


Australian Christianity wrote:'America's urban foundations were laid by English puritans. In other words, those people with the institutional psychology that Jesus challenged. Australia's urban foundations were laid by English Convicts. In other words, the type of rejects that Jesus hung around with.

The difference in urban foundations has in turn shaped the nature of Christian expression in the two countries.'


Australian Christianity wrote:'While most Americans are quite happy with religion being intertwined with the institution, Australians tend to be very suspicious of such a mixing.

For example, when Peter Hollingsworth, an archbishop, was appointed to the position of Australian Governor General, he soon found himself targeted by people who saw it as a merger of politics and religion. These people made it their mission to have him removed from office. Hollingsworth was eventually forced to resign over allegations that he helped cover up paedophile activity.'


Australian Christianity wrote:'Aside from directly targeting religious figures, Australia’s suspicion of Christian institutional psychology is reflected in their scorn for the "wowser." The word "wowser" is a peculiarly Australian insult. Over the years, it has been defined in less than complimentary ways by members of the institutional hierarchy. In 1910, William Holman MLA said:

"A wowser...is a man who, being entirely destitute of the greater virtues, makes up for their lack by a continuous denunciation of little vices."

In 1912, John Scaddan, the premier of Western Australia:

"A wowser is...a person who is more shocked at seeing two inches of underskirt than a mountain of misery."'


In current Australian usage the term 'wowser' is reserved almost exclusively for the religious prude.

Australian Christianity wrote:'The Australian community's suspicion of intertwining religion with the institution has in turn affected how Australian Christians practice. One Christian organisation, The Salvation Army, is held in high regard because it has changed its emphasis from judgement to practical Christianity by rolling up of its sleeves in service of the poor.'


Australian Christianity wrote:'In another act that is would not occur in America, in 2006, numerous churches across Australia displayed the slogan:

"Jesus loves Osama." [Bin Laden]

After the slogan appeared, talkback radio received a few calls from concerned citizens, but otherwise nothing happened. In America, religion is so intertwined with politics that if a Church said that Jesus loves Osama, the Church would have more than just a few concerned citizens on talkback radio to contend with.'


Australian Christianity wrote:'The anti-institution element of Australian Christianity can be traced to the days of the penal colony. Whereas American Christian leaders were firmly on the side of the general population, Australia's Christian leaders were very much against them. Instead of looking at the Convicts as humans to be helped, the Christians looked at them as sinners to be punished. In response, the Convicts returned the hostility.'


Australian Christianity wrote:'The Convict's scorn for religious crusaders did not stem from atheism. Instead, it stemmed from a perceived hypocrisy in the morals crusaders. The Convicts felt that the religious authorities didn't understand the message of the bible. For example, many Convicts had tattooed onto their backs images of crucifixes or angels holding cups of blood. This gave the impression that when they were being flogged, Christ himself was being flogged. Likewise, a Convict wrote that Jesus himself was a criminal, and the first stone should only be thrown by he or she who is free of sin:

"Moreover, was the innocent Saviour of the world a convict, and executed as such! Therefore, O ye, conscious of immaculate purity and ye whose backslidings have never been found out; harbour no feelings of anger and disdain; regard not too sternly the errors and crimes of your less fortunate and more frail mortals."'


Australian Christianity wrote:'It wasn't only Convicts that were critical of the Church. Australia's first saint, Mary McKillop, also had some concerns with the religious institution. Mary was a woman who stood up for what she believed, which brought her into conflict with religious leaders. She took a vow of poverty, which meant she had to beg for money. Catholic Church leaders didn't like begging, but Mary refused to change her ways. The tension escalated into conflict over educational matters. As a result, Mary was excommunicated for insubordination in 1871. (The excommunication placed on her was lifted 6 months later.) In 1883, Mary came into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church establishment by insisting on an equalitarian rather than hierarchical organization. She was then ordered to leave the diocese.'


Australian Christianity wrote:'It is interesting to speculate whether Jesus would prefer to live in America or Australia. The social problems of America would no doubt make Jesus feel that he was more needed there. However, the Australian's love of a wine or two, as well as their healthy suspicion of the institution, means that Jesus would probably see them as more like himself, and feel more at home around them as a result.'
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Re: Christianity in Australia

Postby Dragonbones » 03 Aug 2008, 22:23

The more I hear about Australia, the more I like it. :lol:
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Postby Fortigurn » 04 Aug 2008, 00:08

Thanks DB. I've been searching for that article since our last conversation, and finally found it today. Thought you might like to read some excerpts, and the article itself. As brief as it is, I think it covers the basics very well.

By the way, I found it very interesting that a convict would write like this:

"Moreover, was the innocent Saviour of the world a convict, and executed as such! Therefore, O ye, conscious of immaculate purity and ye whose backslidings have never been found out; harbour no feelings of anger and disdain; regard not too sternly the errors and crimes of your less fortunate and more frail mortals."


That's quite some language for a convict, and quite the intellectual and theological comment. Of course the convicts were not all working class thugs. From such seeds did Australian Christianity grow.
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Postby Tyc00n » 04 Aug 2008, 00:13

A very interesting post Fortigurn. I think Australia's tendency to hold religion with a fair dose of skepticism isn't just restricted to religion.

Any person who raises himself or any ideal too highly is bound to get knocked down and its always been that way back home. Its only the most humble people in the eyes of the public who become enshrined.
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Postby Dragonbones » 04 Aug 2008, 00:19

Wowser. Great word.
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Postby Jaboney » 04 Aug 2008, 00:41

Religion's always shaped by sociology, so it's not surprising to read theology of this sort from a convict.
A refreshing corrective to the holier-than-thou Pharisees who get all the press, but you're selling short a great many, less-public North Americans, Fortigurn. Not to mention lumping together congregations with profoundly deep differences.
:s

btw, do you not see a contradiction in asking 'patriots' to stay out of a thread that draws so deeply upon a blog titled: "Australia: the most Christian country?"
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Postby Fortigurn » 04 Aug 2008, 01:02

Tyc00n wrote:A very interesting post Fortigurn.


Thanks. I think the article makes some excellent points.

I think Australia's tendency to hold religion with a fair dose of skepticism isn't just restricted to religion.

Any person who raises himself or any ideal too highly is bound to get knocked down and its always been that way back home. Its only the most humble people in the eyes of the public who become enshrined.


Yes that's a very good point also. That's part of the anti-authoritarian spirit which has characterized Australia since the convicts were first sent there. By the end of the 19th century it was already recognized as a part of the Australian psyche, and of course during World War I the British officers found Australian soldiers incredibly aggravating to deal with, for that very reason.

But there's another interesting point. Both North America and Australia have a long and influential tradition of anti-authoritarianism. Yet in North American this is typically directed almost completely at the government, manifested as a fear and suspicion of the legislative authority which sometimes erupts into explicitly violent speech and action (even murder). In Australia anti-authoritarianism is directed more generally at any authority figure, and when directed at the government takes the form of larrikinism, a casual disdain and occasional mockery of our political figures. Hate speech and violent action directed against the government simply isn't part of the Australian psyche. We don't assassinate our political figures. We ridicule them.

Why the difference?

Jaboney wrote:Religion's always shaped by sociology, so it's not surprising to read theology of this sort from a convict.


It is when you consider the general education level of the average convict. I agree that religion is always shaped by sociology (that's the point of this thread). What interests me is that such vocabulary, erudition, and deep theological comment was written by a convict.

A refreshing corrective to the holier-than-thou Pharisees who get all the press, but you're selling short a great many, less-public North Americans, Fortigurn.


I'm generalising of course, but I made that clear. I doubt that any here would seriously disagree with the fact that the Christianity in North America was shaped profoundly by the Puritan Fathers, or that it is characterized generally by the sentiments I've described. The Bible Belt and the Fundamentalist movement didn't come out of nowhere.

Not to mention lumping together congregations with profoundly deep differences.


Where they share common values, it's right to group them together as part of a group sharing common values. You can reclassify them according to their differences (theological and otherwise), but it doesn't change the fact of their common theological ground.

btw, do you not see a contradiction in asking 'patriots' to stay out of a thread that draws so deeply upon a blog titled: "Australia: the most Christian country?"


No. The thread does not 'draw so deeply' on a blog titled 'Australia: the most Christian country'. It draws deeply on one particular article from that blog, which contains verifiable historical facts and cites authentic references and contains no overt patriotic comment. If I wanted to introduce a patriotic note I would have quoted from elsewhere in the blog. Or else I would have simply directed people to this site, which explicitly touts patriotic Australian Fundamentalism.

Edit: Actually I'm confused by what you wrote now. I've just doublechecked, and I didn't link to a blog called 'Australia: the most Christian country?'. I linked to a site called 'Convict Creations', which is all about the convict heritage of Australia and its impact on various facets of Australian sociology (of which religion is just one). The page title might be 'Australia: the most Christian country?' (for some reason), but that's not the title of the article, and that's not even the argument of the article.
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Postby Jaboney » 04 Aug 2008, 02:53

Fortigurn wrote:Edit: Actually I'm confused by what you wrote now. I've just doublechecked, and I didn't link to a blog called 'Australia: the most Christian country?'. I linked to a site called 'Convict Creations', which is all about the convict heritage of Australia and its impact on various facets of Australian sociology (of which religion is just one). The page title might be 'Australia: the most Christian country?' (for some reason), but that's not the title of the article, and that's not even the argument of the article.

Here's the header as it appears on my browser. Check the http address.
Image
And I'd have to disagree: the article very much reads as an argument in favour of a particular (subset of a) national tradition. And the more I poke around that site, the more apparent that argument becomes.

Fortigurn wrote:We don't assassinate our political figures. We ridicule them. Why the difference?
That's an interesting question. But again, if you'd like an answer, I suggest that you ask a sociologist, not theologian.

Fortigurn wrote:
Jaboney wrote:Religion's always shaped by sociology, so it's not surprising to read theology of this sort from a convict.


It is when you consider the general education level of the average convict. I agree that religion is always shaped by sociology (that's the point of this thread). What interests me is that such vocabulary, erudition, and deep theological comment was written by a convict.
Maybe. Depends what he was convicted of, I suppose. There are a lot of sharp people in the clink.
Maybe that's what's bugging me... too much respect for averages here. Sorry.

Fortigurn wrote:
A refreshing corrective to the holier-than-thou Pharisees who get all the press, but you're selling short a great many, less-public North Americans, Fortigurn.


I'm generalising of course, but I made that clear. I doubt that any here would seriously disagree with the fact that the Christianity in North America was shaped profoundly by the Puritan Fathers, or that it is characterized generally by the sentiments I've described. The Bible Belt and the Fundamentalist movement didn't come out of nowhere.
Well then, they could join you in being wrong because you've over-generalized. North America is constituted by three countries, each with very different religious communities and histories. In my corner of the Great White North, the Bible Belt is very much an artifact of black-stocking Dutch immigrants. Elsewhere it's Mennonites. Nothing to do with Puritans. The most remarkable recent religious import from south of the border is probably a spin-off of a splinter of a splinter of the Seventh-Day Adventists. They're different societies with different religious landscapes. Heck, even the Canadian and American Lutheran churches have largely split: won't even sing out of the same hymnals.

Fortigurn wrote:
Not to mention lumping together congregations with profoundly deep differences.


Where they share common values, it's right to group them together as part of a group sharing common values. You can reclassify them according to their differences (theological and otherwise), but it doesn't change the fact of their common theological ground.
All Christians share common theological ground. Sadly (?), that doesn't mean much.

If you're really interested in an irreverent strain of Christianity, all the more power to you. I think it's a necessary corrective and I agree with C. S. Lewis that irreverence is a built-in, defining feature of Christianity.
C.S. Lewis wrote:The same divine humility which decreed that God should become a baby at a peasant-woman's breast, and later an arrested field-preacher in the hands of the Roman police, decreed also that He should be preached in a vulgar, prosaic and unliterary tongue. If you can stomach the one, you can stomach the other. The Incarnation is in that sense an irreverent doctrine: Christianity, in that sense, an incurably irreverent religion.
But then, Lewis advocated a healthy dose of irreverence in politics as well, so perhaps this is still simply a question of shared temperament.


Don't misunderstand me; this isn't meant to try to shut you down. The site that you've linked to is very interesting, but you wrote:
Critical to these discussions is the little understood and under appreciated but utterly radical difference between the history of Christianity in North America and the history of Christianity in Australia. This post is intended to shed some light on why the average Australian and the average North American have very different views and experiences of Christianity, as well as why Australia is a heavily secularized country whereas North America is heavily Christianized.
On that basis, getting the history of both right is critical. And the "average North American" assumption alone suggests that you're getting off on the wrong foot.

I'm guessing that Canada is likely about as secular as Australia, and Mexico remains very Catholic, but is perhaps of a very different character than your "average North American" assumes. Ok, fine. Set them aside, and reduce it to "average American". You still face the same problem. I've linked to this speech by an American before but it's worth citing again here. (You'll have to excuse the political character of the source... that's not relevant to this discussion.)
...need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice. That during our founding, it was not the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of this separation; it was the persecuted religious minorities, Baptists like John Leland, who were most concerned that any state-sponsored religion might hinder their ability to practice their faith.

...even if we did have only Christians within our borders, who's Christianity would we teach in the schools? James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage so radical that it's doubtful that our Defense Department would survive its application?

Recognizing the presence of persecuted minorities at the outset, and deep, persistent doctrinal differences even today doesn't do much for an argument against an "average" of any sort.

I'll bow out now. Thanks for the link, I'll check it out further. The religiously-informed nude protest reminded me of a podcast linking Doukhabors in the BC interior to the guy who helped come up with perestroika under Gorbachev; suggests that they inspired him to come up with the policy, actually.
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Re: Christianity in Australia

Postby rousseau » 04 Aug 2008, 04:08

Fortigurn wrote:...little understood and under appreciated but utterly radical difference between the history of Christianity in North America and the history of Christianity in Australia. This post is intended to shed some light on why the average Australian and the average North American have very different views and experiences of Christianity, as well as why Australia is a heavily secularized country whereas North America is heavily Christianized.

You're way off base, here. Canada is very secular. This is something that people who live in both the U.S. and Canada notice right away.

And as for this:

Fortigurn wrote:We don't assassinate our political figures. We ridicule them.

Surely you're not honestly suggesting that Australian political satire can hold a candle to American political satire, are you? That's just crazy talk. It goes without saying that English political satire is the best in the English-speaking world, but American political satire is solidly in second place. The rest of anglophonia doesn't really rate much of a mention, actually.

Indeed, and just to prove my objective bonafides, as a Canadian I honestly admit that Canadian political satire is dull, boring, very, very unfunny and a complete waste of time/paper/air waves/bandwidth/vocal chords etc. Did I mention it isn't funny? It sucks, in other words.
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Re: Christianity in Australia

Postby Fortigurn » 04 Aug 2008, 07:46

rousseau wrote:
Fortigurn wrote:...little understood and under appreciated but utterly radical difference between the history of Christianity in North America and the history of Christianity in Australia. This post is intended to shed some light on why the average Australian and the average North American have very different views and experiences of Christianity, as well as why Australia is a heavily secularized country whereas North America is heavily Christianized.

You're way off base, here. Canada is very secular. This is something that people who live in both the U.S. and Canada notice right away.


I wasn't referring to Canada.

Surely you're not honestly suggesting that Australian political satire can hold a candle to American political satire, are you?


I wasn't comparing satire with satire or arguing which country has the 'best' satire.
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一閃一閃眨眨眼眼眼 氣球飛來飛去的樂園 比太陽還耀眼眼眼眼 鑽石都讓到一邊!
我就是shining shining 大小姐 快大聲喊一遍! 我就是shining shining 大小姐 加滿元氣衝上天!
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