Universality is a key tenet of Christianity which has led to human rights as we know it today, the abolition of slavery, the idea of the individual, feminism, equality before the law, and democratic secular politics. Christianity bequeathed us these great institutions of Western Civilisation. Christianity’s influence is overwhelmingly positive not only for those of faith, but also for those who do not believe in any religion.
In Greg Sheridan’s new book he grounds that legacy in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (3:28): “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”.
It is ironic that the most vocal critics of Western Civilisation who oppose it being studied in universities are those who have benefited the most from the very values it has passed on through time.
Reading a defence of Christianity by Greg Sheridan—whose day job is Foreign Editor for The Australian—was a pleasure. From Sheridan’s writing it is evident that for years he has been troubled by the decline not only of Christianity, but in the way faith is reported, and Christianity and Christian ideas are taught. Sheridan notes politicians are more religious than average Australians, but are reported on by a press gallery much less interested in God.
Following the release of the 2016 Census result, many journalists celebrated “no religion” topping the faith question with 30 per cent. This was closely followed by Catholicism at 23 per cent and Anglican at 13 per cent.
This analysis fails to acknowledge, however, that this result also showed 68 per cent of Australians currently follow a religion or higher power—including 52 per cent who identify with a denomination of Christianity. Anecdotal evidence suggests many non-Christians would prefer their fellow citizens to be followers of any faith, including Christianity, rather than atheists with an ignorance of or an antipathy to religions in general.
Christianity is often seen by the chattering class through the prism of their personal views on social issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage. This approach is hardly an holistic view, and ignores the positive legacy of Christianity in providing the great institutions of Western Civilisation including the rule of law, liberal democracy, the prohibition of slavery, and so on.
In discussions about the church, there is rarely acknowledgement of Christian organisations providing for the most vulnerable in society through the running of hospitals, schools, nursing homes and homelessness services.
A recent series of reports by the Sydney Morning Herald attempted to highlight the wealth of the church, implying they should be taxed more due to their wealth. They estimated the wealth of the Catholic church in Australia to be in the order of $30 billion.
But that figure includes estimates of the land value of priceless assets that would and can never be sold, such as St Mary’s and St Patrick’s Cathedrals and St Vincent’s Hospital.
Even if the Catholic Church liquidated everything and gave it to the government, that sum would fund federal services such as education, health and welfare for just 40 days.
Rarely will a journalist write about the 68 hospitals, the 414 nursing homes, and countless homeless centres nationwide run by the church—or the pivotal service provided by running 1,736 schools where more than 765,000 students are taught.
When Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he is a strong supporter of religious freedom and will do everything possible to protect it, the Canberra Press Gallery almost universally dismisses him as “playing to the base” or a “lurch to the right”. A closer look at the demographics in Australia tells a different story. Sydney is the only capital city where Catholicism is still the top religion, outranking “no religion”. Many marginal seats in Western Sydney have a higher-than-average proportion of religious belief.
The No vote in the same-sex marriage plebiscite was higher than the primary vote of either major party. For either party to simply ignore the 38 per cent of Australians who voted No would be a grave mistake.
RELIGION IS NOT POLITICS
Christianity often gets caught in the crossfire on a particular side of politics. As Sheridan points out in Chapter Three: What did we ever get from Christianity—apart from the idea of the individual, human rights, feminism, liberalism, modernity, social justice and secular politics? Christianity does not adjudicate between conventional policies offered by centre-right and centre-left parties in liberal democracies. Genuinely devoted Christians can agree and disagree on policies, and do.
The media love to analyse the Catholic Church as “left versus right”, “conservative versus progressive”, or “Benedict versus Francis”. This misses the point of Christianity: the teachings of Jesus never had such divisions. The Church is and should be primarily concerned only with “good versus evil” and “right versus wrong”, and the insistence of
the media to see religion only through a political lens shows how little they understand its purpose.
It is easy to be demoralised by the decline of Christianity in Australia. In the space of 50 years, the proportion of Christians across denominations has plummeted from 88 per cent to just 52 per cent.
Sheridan challenges Christian schools to actually teach the foundations of Christianity.
While Christian schools teach students about the church and its faith, Sheridan bemoans that Christian schools do not provide a systematic teaching of the content of Christianity, the history of Christian ideas, and exemplify its ethics.
Not only schools are not teaching the content of our faith and history. For a long time, universities either have not taught the foundations of Western Civilisation, or view the teaching of Western Civilisation in a dim light.
As the IPA’s Foundations of Western Civilisation Program Director Dr Bella d’Abrera found in The Rise of Identity Politics: An Audit of History Teaching in 2017, the substance of Western Civilisation is not being taught at Australian universities. History is viewed through the narrow lens of class, gender and race. Identity politics—the belief an individual must be defined by their identity and treated according to that identity—is inherently incompatible with the universality of the church’s teaching.
Academics and historians are obsessed with the things that divide Australia, rather than what unites us. Is it any wonder why so many decry the history of Western Civilisation with which the history of Christianity is so inextricably bound. As they erect moral hierarchies of victimhood and fight for top spot in what has been called the “Oppression Olympics”, they also jettison older ideas of the equality of man and equality before the law.
More people learning the historical context and content of Christianity would combat the decline of our great institutions of Western Civilisation. Sheridan’s book is an excellent read which presents a compelling and positive case for Christianity at a time it is sorely needed.