Religion

A Kind of Addiction

THE prison of addiction needs no bars on the window. The addicted identity sees itself as the true identity so that no threat to supply will be contemplated. A temperance tract will be caricatured no matter how well written.

We fear the unfamiliar if it has been maligned. In A Fortunate Life, Albert Facey described his experience in 1910 of being a fourteen-year-old lost during a cattle muster in the north of Western Australia after a stampede. Having heard stories of their barbarity, he dreaded being captured by the tribal Aborigines he could see in the distance and so hid from them. They were a rescue party.

The usher stands by the exit of a burning theatre and in a steady voice says, “This way, please. You’ll be safe if you listen to me.” The patrons are racing about and screaming in panic. For him to shout would achieve nothing. They should know that in this well-run theatre the usher would be there. A few listen out for him and escape.

I will draw this together.

Vietnam veteran Barry Heard grew up in a rural Victorian town without mains electricity. Televisions could not operate on a twelve-volt system and so there were none. In his autobiography, Well Done Those Men, Heard recounts how he entertained his comrades with quaint stories and letters from home. Returning after two years, the town had acquired 240-volt power. He describes the effect:

I had grown up in a community alive with activity. There was no television. But now, in early 1968 coming home to Swifts Creek after Vietnam, shattered what little partially imagined or real dreams I had of the area. Things like the new TV in the lounge room at home, which had been there a little over six months, was the centre of life in the evening. Any attempt at conversation was greeted with “Shhh!” Further attempts were ignored … The reception was so poor that there was nothing more than a foggy haze with the odd shaky human figure on the screen.

This didn’t deter my family; they remained fixated. Bedtime for the kids became a ritual of orders given from an armchair, normally disobeyed until the offending party was threatened with dire warnings. Bedtime for the older members was determined by the dot that appeared on the TV when there was no longer any transmission. It wasn’t just my parents. This new, mesmerising addiction had hit the entire district, almost overnight once power and reception was available.

After my discharge from the army, the only thing that survived in the Omeo shire was the footy. Sporting bodies were forced to combine with outer-district towns to keep their teams alive, and all other social events seemed to disappear. The TV, the pub, the footy, in that order, was now the new way of life. Now after a footy match in the winter, the players would rush to watch the replay on TV. Whereas before there were yarns, dinnertime stories, socialising, and popping in for a cuppa. They soon became a thing of the past and were replaced with TV shows.

That incidental observation of a returning veteran captures vividly just how we are reeling from the cultural holocaust of television—which is not to condemn it. (The invention of the printing press presumably had a similar effect.) Television is suited to drama and light entertainment. Used well (and I am thinking of the Australian hospital documentary RPA) it can take us to places we could not otherwise go and can inform us on delicate subjects with anonymity. Yet watching television is an undemanding pastime, voracious of the few free hours available each day to engage socially.

Ratings are more easily achieved with the coarse and salacious than with fine quality and genuine wit and so the borders of good taste are always pushed, consistently lowering the tone of public life. The long and unusual work hours required of the industry do not suit those raising children and a bohemian character has developed which affects its content. Malcolm Muggeridge, who worked in television, often commented how adept the medium was at deceit, citing, for example, how refugees had to jump three times from the Berlin Wall before the cameras got it right. We believe what we think we have seen.

Whilst a firestorm destroys, it also shows what is durable.

In that light, the decline of Christian churches in Western societies is obvious but it is their resilience which should be remarked upon. The growth of mass society has shown the strength of Christianity, not its weakness. The church has survived as an authentic community group when almost every other, as Heard observed, has either been destroyed or has been absorbed into the mass fantasy—money, glamour, gonads, gambling, grog. Fad-driven progressivism is its cult expression. (Ever wondered why everyone at the ABC is a progressive?)

Churches do not market well. They can’t afford it and they have nothing to sell. They come across as cheesy. Being part of a church will be painful. You have to get on with people you don’t like. You make no money out of it. On the contrary, it costs a lot to support a minister and maintain the buildings. For all this expense you’ll get a twenty-five-minute sermon each week and that probably won’t say that you ought to be congratulated.

You don’t go for the entertainment. You don’t go for the conversation. You don’t go for the networking opportunities or to meet someone’s expectation. Why go? To worship God. To give thanks and praise to the holy Source of our being who made us, loves us and, through His Son, died for us. You don’t go to receive—but to give. It’s called grace.

It is also a rich experience, over time, to be part of a living community of faith. You can’t condense it, put it in a bottle and stick it on a supermarket shelf. We matter to each other. We love each other. We love God. It’s a committed family that puts up even with my funny ways.

Mass society has not destroyed the church but refined it. Nominal Christianity has declined but the faithful are still there. It is popularly assumed that the mainstream church is destined to decline to extinction across the Western world. That is not true in Sydney where, committed to Scripture, the Anglican Church still grows. Record numbers of clergy are being ordained to the point of oversupply. This doesn’t make the news.

The Second World War came as a desperate threat to civil society, freedom and prosperity. As a nation we prayed for deliverance and in its wake there was such gratitude to God that families sent their children to Sunday schools in unprecedented numbers. But these Baby Boomers, my generation, were seduced by a siren song played loudly on an exciting new medium.

Affluence and decadence ever walk together and the greater wonder is the large number that did not succumb. Being raised in a loving Christian home could be a protection. A cake diet has less appeal for those who have known good bread.

I wrestled with the “scientific” thing—only to conclude the obvious. Despite being critically examined for the last 300 years the New Testament remains the only plausible account for the origin of the Christian church. The forensic search for the “historical Jesus” found no fault lines. The supposed “refutations” never get beyond metaphysics, saying: “It can’t have happened and therefore it didn’t!” At what point don’t we just accept the evidence?

All of the really big questions have been well tested through history so that we can easily identify the durable answers and weed out the fads. Christian scripture carries the patina of those years and so we may confidently draw on it.

As sin addicts, we have a stock of clichés to caricature it, but Scripture remains and, in a clear voice, not shouting, says, “This way, please. You will be safe if you listen to me.” Like young Facey, we have heard the slanders and hide from what would help us.

The Christian path is narrow and steep but not dour. It is a celebration, as befits life—full of music.

One aspect of Christian godliness under challenge is sexual propriety. Yet marriage is secure in a primal logic: We reverence human life as the essence of our being. We therefore properly reverence the act which creates life. We reverence marriage as that which clothes the life-act in its highest dignity.

Some call for a return to Western traditions and, though lacking a personal faith, they quietly hope that a revival of Christianity might aid this. But that is to put the cart before the horse—Man before Maker.

The starting point is God. Christianity is neither a political cause nor a cultural movement. It is a community of those who are faithful to Christ and whose influence quietly pervades private and public life—the highest vision of the human ideal and its highest practical expression.

Kenneth Harkness is a Sydney solicitor.

 

9 comments
  • Jacob Jonker

    No comments as yet. Are they all hung-over still. In Sydney, the Anglican Communion is still growing-Asians perhaps? The thing with Christians in the West is very much bound up with the ongoing development of everything else in the West, and the rest, globalisation, geopolitics, amongst others. Except for the new entrants making up for lost numbers elsewhere, the numbers of true Christians in the old mould in the West appears, anecdotally, to be a game of will the last Christian standing please snuff out the candle. For all the good that Christianity has done us, and is doing still, the above essays reads like a paean or eulogy even.

    In the past, European Christians fought each other, often to a standstill. Religion was politics and politics was religion. It still is, of course, because they are both on the same side of the one coin. Muslims understand this, and Jews, and some other Faiths, but not European Christians. Somehow, western Christians have either become spiritualised or have taken on a sheen of Christianity so diaphanous a to be able to be noticed with special powers only. Apart from Quakers and other sects, cults and minorities, Christians have gone the way of all flesh, religiously speaking. Like their atheist and agnostic counterparts in the West, the material world is only to honoured in the consuming and go-getting, leaving the field of politics, institutional Christian religion, philosophy, psycho-social management in society, economics and pretty much everything else, besides cake-stalls and collecting money for the many hugely rewarded charity bosses and their minions.
    There must be a moral here. The West is at the end of an era. Christians from European stock are due to move on to a more spiritual version of the religious life. Suffering with the suffering of this world will be next, without bothering to reverse, or even trying to be effective in alleviating, the gross mismanagement at all levels of western society. The signs of decay in the West are so overwhelming, it’s no wonder people cannot see it happening. The majority, truly, are in a kind of environment where what is happening is so much part of the narrative they have been mentally and emotionally bathed in since the Seventies that they have lost of sense of discernment and the ability to analyse what is happening. Except for the complaining, resignedly, no one thinks of taking effective action. I know, because I take note every time there is an election. Tweedledumb or tweedledumber, and nary a Christian who would stand up to denounce the constructive lies, and worse, coming from the mouths of politicians, propagandists and the wider commentariat.
    Looking at the CofE, as an institution, I would think Christianity in England is much like the rest in the West-The Roman Catholic Church even more so- utterly corrupted, corrupt and corruptive. All part of the international mafia ruling the roost and extracting ever more tribute from the people, the nation-states’ economies and the wasting socio-political fabric in society. Come the Revelation!

  • Alistair

    It strikes me as being odd that the same people who swear that Aboriginal society collapsed when the link between their spirituality and their religion was broken, cannot see that the same break between our (Western Christian) spirituality and religion will lead to a similar collapse of our society as well.
    Whether you believe in the historicity of the Dreamtime stories, or the historicity of the Christian Gospel, believing in nothing is a fast-track to nothing, and we are well on our way down that slippery slope.
    I am thinking that, if nothing else, Christianity rewarded the “deferment of gratification” which is an essential ingredient of a successful civilization, while our new secular life tends to the pursuit of instant gratification – which is the direct antithesis of civilized life.

  • Peter Sandery

    What a wonderful riposte to Jacob Junker’s secularist diatribe!

  • en passant

    I am with Jacob, yet at my age I have (at most) 2,000 days to inevitable oblivion. I can live and die with that as living for eternity would be my view of hell.
    Almost all religions are inherently evil and run by conmen demanding tribute from simple minds who require the guidance of a man-made sky-dragon. What sort of psychopathic entity sacrifices their own son to a horrible death to save the world. Wasn’t there an alternative an all-powerful thingy could have come up with?

  • whitelaughter

    Strange that this excellent article only showed for me today, rather than when it was written!

    The ‘collapse’ of the Christianity in OZ has been almost exclusively in the Anglican and Uniting churches – the two that jumped on the progressive bandwagon. That an Anglican revival occurred the moment they went back to the Gospel should not be surprising.

    However, that means a lot of Christians who are isolated from The Church because the local ‘churches’ have nothing to do with Christ. Locally my choices are being entrenched yuppie scum churches, or some bread-and-milk happyclappy churches who mean well but, well – the Lutheran Satire “Clint Eastwood Reads Praise Song Lyrics” sums up why I can only take it in small doses:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HB7gPIIQT7Y
    Hopefully moving to somewhere more civilized will let me find somewhere worth going to.

  • whitelaughter

    oh, for an edit option….”are being” is truly cringeworthy. Why a faff around with the looks of Quadrant (which was previously better than it is now), and a removal of the ability to answer specific posts, when instead an edit function could have been added? Was the plan to kill Quadrant?

  • en passant

    whitelaughter,
    I suggested to QoL that an edit function was an easy add-on as my keyboard clearly does not obey my fingers sumtimes.
    Also, it took me while to realise that to post a comment I have to sign-in each and every time. Nowhere were we informed of this imprvement (sic) so I stopped commenting for a while until I axidendally worked it out.

  • Jody

    Alistair; brilliant comment. I’ve worked out why the Left, in particular, despises the christian religion so much; it’s because christianity has its own set of values and it cannot be controlled by the Left. This is precisely why christianity was such a threat in both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. The Left needs to control the ‘values’ and narratives of society so it can decide same. The Left cannot control Christianity. It suits those marxist ideologues (yes, I know, an oxymoron) to watch christianity fail because of the moral depredations of some of the clergy. All the while, it’s now emerging that there was well-known sexual abuse in Qld. and NSW STATE schools (thanks, in part, to Hedley Thomas) and the response to this has been…..sound of crickets.

    If Hypocrisy was a university course the Left would instantly achieve First Class Honours.

  • Peter Sandery

    Could not but agree in spades with your ultimate sentence, Jody.

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