Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Long Shadows: Seeking Common Ground on Aboriginal Rights

The latest edition of Case Magazine considers the rights and wrongs of Aboriginal policy reform in Australia. Talk about the need to understand Indigenous issues is common, but action that makes a difference is harder to find. This has been brought to our attention in varied ways in recent times. Noel Pearson has pointed out in his significant Quarterly Essay, that there has been a litany of promises, tears and disappointments. He quotes the lament of Aboriginal leader and activist Galarrwuy Yunupingu who, when he looks back on ‘a lifetime of effort’ sees ‘that we have not moved very far’ (p11). Pearson and Yunupingu both identity deeply with those who faced the invasion of white explorers; ancient tribes and nations who were slaughtered or had rights and freedom removed. Pearson seeks to challenge us to identify the wrongs and make things right by supporting constitutional recognition of Aboriginal Australians. He also wants us to stand with those who still yearn for true inclusion and the honouring of their ancestors. Pearson is bravely looking for common ground! This should, in Pearson’s plea, recognise four key grievances of Indigenous people: identity, territorial lands, language and culture.

There have been many well-intentioned actions, apologies and programs in the past. But true economic independence for Indigenous Australians, control of their lives and their children’s futures, equality of health and education, and life expectancy have not been achieved. There is a despondency within the Indigenous community, born of failure to progress discussions of a treaty and constitutional recognition. While there have been good intentions with some political leaders, there has not been sufficient progress. Yunupingu goes further to suggest that even when some leaders in the past have talked of failures and regrets, their tears are often for personal failures rather than the injustice faced by Indigenous Australians. The churches have been connected in various ways to the injustices of Indigenous people. Collectively, there is a need by the church to consider its actions, the depth of collective regret, and the responsibility to help right wrongs.

When we conceived this issue of Case, we were determined to include the voice of someone who is living the relationship between Aboriginality and Christianity, with all its complexity. To that end, we have included an interview with Pastor Ray Minniecon, who discusses Aboriginal spirituality and the challenges he faces being both Aboriginal and Christian at this point in Australian history. Ray’s comments reflect the heart of an Indigenous man of Christian faith who cries out for his people, and like Pearson and Yunupingu, wants to see true healing.

Above: Pastor Ray Minniecon
Part of the struggle Aboriginal people face when considering Christianity stems from the chequered history of the interaction of Aborigines and Christianity over the past 200 years. Many of the episodes in this history are appalling, and for these there should be genuine shame. Others involve well-meaning but, with hindsight, deeply misguided attempts to ‘civilise’ or ‘protect’ without concern for the dignity, rights and culture of arguably the world’s oldest people. As well, at times, the church has been unfairly blamed for the action of governments. As Australians, we all share the blame. But there are also many stories of positive action by Christians and churches and significant interactions between Christian missions and Aboriginal people. Dr John Harris is an expert on this history—both the good and the bad—and provides an insightful account of the institutionalisation of Aboriginal children and the role of Christians in this. Looking back further, Dr Peter Carolane writes of Victorian missionary, John Bulmer, who worked to both bring the gospel to the Aborigines of Lake Tyers and advocate for Aboriginal rights from the 1860s to the early 1900s.

Another barrier between Aboriginal people and Christianity, as Pastor Ray Minniecon points out, is the gap between the message of Christianity and the complicity of Western churches in the wrongs Aborigines have suffered, including first and foremost, the dispossession of their land. This is an issue that must be addressed both for the sake of non-indigenous conscience and of removing this stumbling block to the gospel of hope for Aborigines:

Any conversation of this type must begin with genuine apology. Chris Swann helpfully explicates the nature of biblical apology. As well as sorrow and repentance, this includes accepting responsibility for the wrongs done, and repentantly changing behaviour as part of genuine apology. Christians are committed to ‘apologising in such a way as to seek to rebuild and restore the relationships that have been damaged or broken by this wrongdoing’. But in the face of such a complex situation, what can be done? Peter Adam addresses this question in his challenge to hear and act to resolve the Aboriginal cry for justice—a challenge that springs from the Bible, and in which it is fitting that Christians take the lead.

Subscribers to Case should have received the magazine recently. If you'd like to read more on this topic you can obtain a single copy from CASE. You can place an order online HERE.

We hope that you find our contribution to this important issue helpful. It will be confronting! As Peter Adam reminds us, ‘old sins cast long shadows’. But we earnestly pray for deep regret and identification with a people who have faced great wrongs, and the wisdom and courage to respond in appropriate ways.

1. Noel Pearson, ‘A Rightful Place: Race, recognition and a more complete commonwealth’, Quarterly Essay, 55, 2014.

2. Galarrwuy Yunupingu, ‘Tradition, Truth & Tomorrow’, The Monthly, 41, 2008 (pp32-40).

Friday, 10 October 2014

Science & Religion: Myths, errors and new possibilities

One common view of science and religion is that they are in direct competition with each other, offering incompatible explanations for the same phenomena. Hence, conflict between science and religion is seen as inevitable. Projecting this idea back in time, the whole of Western history can be understood as a protracted battle between science and religion. Science seems now to be winning that battle, even though there remain significant pockets of religious resistance.

Above: Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
In recent years, historians of science have attacked this idea of a perennial conflict between science and religion, demonstrating the numerous ways in which, over the course of history, science has been supported by Christian ideas and assumptions. These positive relations came about partly because the boundaries of science and religion were understood quite differently in the past. In the 2014 New College lectures Professor Peter Harrison discussed how these boundaries shifted across the centuries, and the way this offers insights into science-religion relations in the present.

In the first lecture Prof Harrison began by looking at how we have come to understand the world in terms of the distinct categories “science” and “religion”. He explored how we came to separate the domain of material facts from the realm of moral and religious values.

He spent some time unpacking how the use of the Latin word ‘religio’ in pre-modern times, was not the same as the later English translation ‘religion’. Rather than signifying specific beliefs and practices, it was seen as a form of worship. He cited varied sources including Augustine, who described ‘true’ religion as involving a form of inner worship rightly directed at God. Early Christians he stressed saw ‘religio’ as a form of worship not just propositional content to be claimed and accepted.

In the second lecture he outlined how modern science was invented. He argued that for centuries Natural Philosophy like Theology was also seen as an inner quality, not just knowledge and propositions. Aquinas building on Aristotle’s teaching, argued that science too was an inner ‘habit’, an intellectual virtue that was a gift from God.

But while in the pre-modern period Christianity and Natural Philosophy were seen as rival spiritual practices, by the 19th Century we were to see Religion and Science replacing Theology & Natural Philosophy, and the unfolding of a fierce conflict between what were now seen as two incompatible sets of beliefs.

In the final lecture on night three, Professor Harrison considered how the myth of conflict between Science and Religion developed and offered an insight into the narrative of the two contending powers. He also considered the work of New Atheists and their failure to understand how and why faith and reason, or religion and science can be held in relationship to one another.

For my part, this has been an extremely engaging series of three wonderful lectures. If you would like to listen to all three lectures visit the New College website for the lectures and a copy of his powerpoint presentation that you will need while listening to them.

You will find Lectures 1 and 3 on our website as well as the powerpoint presentations for all three lectures HERE

We are unable to provide the second lecture as the audio file has been corrupted.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Exploring the Territories of Science and Religion - 2014 New College Lectures

Have you ever been asked by someone "How can you reconcile your faith in God with what science has proven?" Have you doubted what you believe because of science? Has a child asked a question that challenges your ability to speak about the relationship between science and religion, faith and reason? If so, don't miss the chance to hear Professor Peter Harrison speak on the theme 'Exploring the frontiers of science and religion' this week (9-11 September 2014) at New College at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. If you're not living close then keep an eye out for the talks online after the lectures.


Overview

Some see science and religion as in direct competition with one another, offering incompatible explanations for the same phenomena.  Conflict is seen as inevitable.  Projecting this idea back in time, the whole of Western history can be understood as a protracted battle between science and religion.  Science is now winning the battle, in spite of minor religious resistance. 

But historians of science have demolished this idea of a perennial conflict between science and religion, instead demonstrating how science has been supported by Christian ideas and assumptions. In part, this reflects a different understanding of the boundaries of science and religion.  The 2014 New College Lectures will focus on the changing boundaries of science and religion, and consider how these positive interactions of the past, offer insights into science-religion relations in the present.

Lecture 1: Is Christianity a Religion?  (9th September, 7.30pm)

The first Christians did not consider themselves to be subscribers to a religion in the modern sense, but rather as part of a ‘new race’ or ‘way of life’.  This lecture offers an account of the emergence of the modern idea of religion—understood less in terms of a way of life, and more in terms of explicit beliefs—in the seventeenth century.   This idea of religion plays a key role in modern understandings of the relationship between science and religion.

Lecture 2:  The Invention of Modern Science (10th September, 7.30pm)

Close examination of the history of ‘scientific’ endeavours reveals that the study of nature, up until the nineteenth century, was vitally concerned with moral and religious questions.  Only in the nineteenth century were theology and morality definitively excluded from the sphere of science.  This nineteenth-century invention of modern science fixed the possibilities for future relationships between science and religion.

Above: Image of Chromosones (Wiki Commons)

Lecture 3:  Relating Science and Religion (11th September, 7.30pm)

This final lecture considers the ongoing legacy of these two ideas, ‘religion’ and ‘science’, suggesting that some of the problematic aspects of their present relationship arise out of the history of the ideas themselves.  It asks, in particular, whether the idea ‘religion’ is a helpful one.

Speaker:  Peter Harrison BSc, BA (Hons), PhD (Qld), MA (Yale), MA, DLitt (Oxford), FAHA. 

Peter Harrison was educated at the University of Queensland and Yale University. In 2011 he moved back to Queensland from the University of Oxford where he was the Idreos Professor of Science and Religion. At Oxford he was a member of the Faculties of Theology and History, a Fellow of Harris Manchester College, and Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre where he continues to hold a Senior Research Fellowship. He has published extensively in the area of cultural and intellectual history with a focus on the philosophical, scientific and religious thought of the early modern period. He has been a Visiting Fellow at Oxford, Yale, and Princeton, is a founding member of the International Society for Science and Religion, and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. In 2011 he delivered the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Marriage Reconsidered


I was born in the 1950s and have lived through extraordinary social, cultural and technological change. As a 6 year old there was just one television in my street, a single phone, about four cars and two parent families in every house.  For mothers work was usually 'home duties' (as defined at the time). Our news came from newspapers and radio (the internet was not to arrive for 40 more years). There was increasing cultural diversity, but of course the White Australia Policy ensured that few immigrants were Asian. Nuclear war was a constant threat and there were fears of ‘Reds under the beds’. Religious tensions were mainly between Protestants and Catholics, with daily fights in my school playground.
Much has happened since then, and many would suggest the progress has been good. Technology has changed the way we communicate, religious and racial tolerance is promoted (at least, officially), and immigration patterns have changed dramatically. Marriage and family mores have also changed and with them, the very structure of society. Australians now find normal and acceptable, things that during my childhood would have been unthinkable: de facto relationships, IVF, surrogacy, stay-at-home dads, same-sex relationships, prenuptial agreements, multiple remarriages. Divorce was rare in the the 1950s, seen as a terrible and shameful thing, and was announced in the papers (in full detail). Unwed teenage girls disappeared when pregnant, and the fathers of their children often ended up in prison convicted of ‘carnal knowledge’. Abortion was illegal, and rarely mentioned except in discreet conversations or gossip.
It is hardly surprising that some have called for marriage to be reconsidered. But should it be? Many Australians are clearly doing so. Laws relating to relationships and family have undergone significant changes to keep up with the changes society has made ahead of them. While writing this introduction, there have been calls for changes in surrogacy laws to cope with the most recent challenge: the birth of twins to a surrogate mother. One twin, born with Down syndrome, seems to have been unwanted and the transaction between adults about the two young lives has gone wrong. The latest issue of Case magazine grapples with some of the complexities around this topic as society reconsiders what marriage is and might be, and the many issues that arise as a result.
We haven't been able to cover every aspect of the discussion, but we've tried to cover a number of issues. Social researcher Hugh Mackay helpfully examines changes in attitudes and practices regarding marriage and family. He finds that while marriage was once the only option for those wanting to start a new family, people now prefer more flexible arrangements. Even those who do marry no longer see marriage as an inviolable institution, but something you stay in only as long as it’s working well.  David Phillips extends this by examining the current status of civil unions in Australia and the implications of this legislation for traditional marriage.

Yet another way in which marriage has changed over recent decades relates to increasing globalisation. In 1998, 52% of all marriages in Australia were between people from different birthplace groups (see Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Family Formation: Cultural diversity in marriages’. 4102.0, Australian Social Trends, 2000) and more recent figures show 87% have the same religion (Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Couples in Australia’. 4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2009. Canberra). My co-editor Dani Scarratt looks at one aspect of these changes, the phenomenon of intermarriage, and particularly at the experiences of Christian couples who marry across a cultural divide.
It needs to be asked whether, given these changes, Christians should continue to insist on a biblical view of marriage, for better or worse?  Or should we reconsider whether the traditional requirements for Christian marriage should be adapted to this new social order Australians find themselves in? Tim Adeney and Stuart Heath look at what the Bible says and argue that when it comes to the basic structure of marriage, Christians should stand firm.
The remaining two articles look back to marriage from the past, and project forward to the future of marriage respectively. David Sandifer delves into the oft-mocked Victorian era of ‘prudery’ and innocence to find what drives the stereotype, and asks if we can learn anything from the Victorians about good marriages.
Changing gear, Jenny Kemp takes us into the immensely popular world of young adult dystopian fiction, to find out what such titles as The Hunger Games and Divergent are telling its readers about love, romance and marriage.

Our hope in bringing these varied articles together is that they will provide multiple lenses for reconsidering marriage and help us to understand why most Christians continue to argue for a biblical view of this God-given relationship between a man and a woman.
As always we provide one of the articles free to readers of this blog (HERE). You can subscribe to Case if you would like to receive our quarterly publication, including this latest issue on marriage.
Subscribers to Case should now have this issue. Individuals can subscribe to receive four issues per year (in hard or soft copy) for as little as $20 AUD per annum. Institutions can subscribe for $120 per annum (there is a special rate for schools and churches). You can also purchase single issues online. Explore all the options HERE