‘And when Christianity is more completely eradicated from our consciousness, it will dawn on the culture that without God there is no final accountability. Life is just what you can get away with, and no ultimate price to pay’.
When ‘identity politics’ sees a transfer of power to those who imagine themselves to have been marginalised, when the earth itself is considered a victim and, simultaneously and ironically, an object of worship, it is no exaggeration to suggest we are entering a new age wherein reason must bow to emotion and the old orthodoxies are criminalised. It was this thought, oddly enough, that set me to conjuring memories of long-ago classroom and the great boon of having been introduced as a child to a “dead language”.
I would have been nine, perhaps ten, when ‘GP’ — my teacher Gerald Pennington — began my Latin education. That there was little point in mastering the tongue of ancient Rome, as many said, could hardly have been further than the truth. First, agricolas grabbing their hastas and repairing to the oppidum engendered a far greater understanding of our own language, and also because it was the finest food for the mind I could have hoped for.
The reason I have gone off on what must appear a tangent has everything to do with Greg Sheridan’s recent article in The Australian, ‘Is God dead? The West has much to lose in banishing Christianity’, which made me think of Latin as another of the valuable things we are throwing away. Not that Sheridan is himself troubled by the Almighty’s alleged demise (one guesses he knows this is not the case). Rather, it is that for close on half the population God’s existence, or the lack of, is not part of Australia’s day-to-day considerations. Religion, like Latin, is deemed dead. The effects are far reaching.
Having followed Greg’s columns for a number of years now and read his autobiography, When We Were Young and Foolish, I read this article as no mere intellectual exercise so much as a heartfelt call to reflect on our direction as a society. I may be wrong, but Sheridan strikes me as one of those rather unusual humans who balance great intellect with genuine sentiment. But there was a hint of despair in his words — deep regret that the society in which he grew up has changed irrevocably, in large part because a quintessential aspect of what made us what we were — Christianity — has withered and is now in the West rather feeble.
One wonders if, for example, Brother John Hilet’s letter to the parents of children at Trinity College, Lismore, represents one of the developments contributing to such despair. Apparently the Marist brother felt a sense of “privilege” after being “taken into the confidence” of two girls who now “identify” as male and feel therefore entitled to use the boys toilets and adopt a “gender neutral uniform”. Brother John consulted Bishop Gregory Homeming and received the prelate’s enthusiastic endorsement, apparently blessing the suggestion with official authorisation. The college council also confirmed such support.
Brother John, the school principal, made it quite clear to the ABC that any comments seen as “targeting or bullying these students” would not be tolerated, being ” utterly unacceptable”. All parents would be required to “support these students in any conversation” they might have’ with their own children. Upon reading this I found myself in unusual agreement with Gillian Triggs: yes, there are certain conversations around the kitchen table that should indeed not be uttered, although I will concede this is nothing like what the truth-muddling Shewolf of Political Correctness had in mind.
Colour me not-too-surprised that the particular strain of liberal Catholicism epitomised by Brother John feels itself “privileged” to accommodate the Labor /Greens agenda on gender fluidity, thus casting itself to play a part in re-arranging society by repudiating what have long been tenets of the faith. Tony Abbott, a good Catholic of another stripe, argues that a ‘yes’ vote in the upcoming postal survey will also be a vote for gender fluidity. It is a valid point, one might think, and perhaps best expressed by Mark Latham, who notes that while he supports same-sex marriage he will not vote for it until he has seen the wording of the bill that would make it law.
A law that allows gay couples to marry is one thing; a law that amounts to the appetiser at an inevitable lawyers’ picnic which will see the words parsed, imaginatively interpreted and their meaning expanded is quite another. What does surprise me is that a Catholic school seems to have side-stepped the SSM issue and gone straight to gender fluidity. One wonders what the Vatican would think of such a step. On a practical note, one also wonders what a gender-neutral uniform might look like — kilts, perhaps? — and why pupils who are not that way inclined should be obliged to abandon what, for them, is perfectly normal and entirely natural garb.
As Sheridan asserts, “the loss of faith in God has been accompanied in the West by the collapse in faith in institutions, and indeed in humanity itself”. With the supposedly conservative Coalition deeply divided on the SSM issue, and with Nick Greiner (the Liberal Party president) Christopher Pyne and Simon Birmingham (to mention just a few) saying the SSM question involves a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ and nothing else, how can one maintain any trust in this government, given the refusal of its leading members to acknowledge the issue’s underlying complexity and knock-on consequnces? The official ‘No’ campaign TV advertisement specifically notes that the present debate implicitly involves gender fluidity; also, the likely absence of any chance of voicing opposition to those underlying issues and in the face of likely legal ramifications. There is good reason to fear we are heading towards an Orwellian dystopia where language is controlled and words can be made to mean pretty much anything, anything at all. That no hint of the legislation’s wording, thrust and language has been revealed heightens that concern.
And that brings me back to Latin. In my father’s day, the study of classics was considered part of a well-rounded education. By the time I was old enough to occupy a school desk only a very small minority of my fellow students studied Latin. It is a pity, I think, that such an exacting, precise language has fallen into educational disfavour — much like the belief in God in the broader society, if you will. Were Latin still widely taught the discipline it imposes on sentence construction in English, on meaning and on thought precisely conveyed might have inspired a better appreciation among voters that they are not being fully informed about what they will soon be asked to endorse or reject.
The ‘death of God’, like the death of Latin, has ramification beyond the understanding of the moment. In fifty years to come, some historian may well find a connection between the two. A stretch? Not to me, not to someone who sees faith and language alike being recast according to activists’ need and whim