As so often, a “yes but” reaction…

Did that annoying trick (to some) of posting yesterday’s lunch on Facebook.

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And a fine $10 roast lamb lunch as one could ever hope for from the lovely Sophia at the Wollongong Hellenic Club. Ex-SBHS student Russell Ward noted: “Nice lunchtime reading!” Indeed.

The book (Lawrence, Bruce (2006) The Qur’an: A Biography) is a delight to read and very informative. It is a salutary reminder that “civilised” readings of the Qur’an are not just possible but have existed for centuries and still exist. This is a very necessary corrective to the crudities both of the more rampant and murderous jihadists and the paranoid rejecters of almost one quarter of the world’s population and their ideas on the other – the latter leading me in the past, based on my actual dealings with actual Muslims as well as on my reading, to oppose what is called, I think more than a bit unsatisfactorily at times, Islamophobia. The latest manifestation of that is recent attention to (in my view) the quite unbalanced Dutch MP Geert Wilders.

Wilders believes Islam is a political ideology, not just a religion, and should be compared with totalitarian belief systems. He has compared the Koran to Fascism and Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He advocates ending immigration by Muslims because the Netherlands was losing its demographic and social stability. For this he was taken to court for hate speech. He won, but the case occupied three years.

Wilders is opposed to what he calls the Islamification of Europe by a combination of demography, immigration and accommodations by multiculturalism that are not reciprocated by Muslims. Two other Dutch political activists who were similarly critical of Islam were subject to numerous assassination attempts. One was murdered, the other fled to America.

Debbie Robinson believes the fear she has encountered in Australia merely confirms her reasons for arranging Wilders’ visit: ”With every refusal I asked why, and was almost always informed that management had concerns about the repercussions. The audience was never the issue. The issue was offending Muslims. Looking at the number of cancellations and refusals it is apparent the Islamic community are not getting their message across about being the religion of peace.”

But.

Yes. BUT…

Revelations are sorted out into chapters and verses, and the causes of each revelation provide context for its content. The number of revelations exceeds 200. They came to the Prophet Muhammad via a divine mediary (the Archangel Gabriel) between 610 and 632 CE. They are now arranged in 114 chapters. All but one begin by invoking God’s Name, then qualify the Name as at once Compassion and Compassionate: "In the Name of God, Full of Compassion, Ever Compassionate". Different people close to the Prophet Muhammad heard these revelations as he uttered them. They remembered the words and repeated them orally. A few wrote them down. In all they total at least 6,219 verses. The contents of the surahs (chapters) and ayat (verses) are informed by the causes of revelation – that is, by events and circumstances that marked the Prophet’s life and the early Muslim community.

Through a complex process, the recitations that had been revealed in verses and chapters became, over time, a book. After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, ‘Ali, his close relative and supporter, worked with others to compile them into a written text. Then 20 years later, during the rule of ‘Uthman, the third Caliph or Successor to Muhammad (after Abu Bakr and ‘Umar but before ‘Ali), all extant versions were arranged into one "standard" version. This version persists substantially unchanged to the present day.

The Qur’an is a book unlike any other: it is an oral book that sounds better spoken than read silently, but it is an oral book that is also a scripture. More evocative in recitation than in writing, the Qur’an is only fully the Qur’an when it is recited. To hear the Qur’an recited is for Muslims unlike anything else. It is to experience the power of divine revelation as a shattering voice from the Unseen. It moves, it glides, it soars, it sings. It is in this world, yet not of it.

That is from an article by Bruce Lawrence summarising the book. Now of course I do not really believe “They came to the Prophet Muhammad via a divine mediary (the Archangel Gabriel) between 610 and 632 CE.”  Yes, Muslims do believe that, and so it appears does Lawrence, who in the book goes on to explain Muhammad as being in a prophetic line  from Adam via Abraham and so on.

Unfortunately both Adam and Abraham exist pretty much on the same plane as Harry Potter and Gollum, as far as I am concerned. And I regard this fairly typical statement by a Muslim apologist of no great distinction in an eBook I have as promulgating historical idiocy and terminal dishonesty.

If there were two books and there was the possibility that one of them were not true without knowing which one, then both of them would be unreliable. Why? Because there is a probability that each of the two books is wrong. These errors can be detected by the healthy human mind and brain.

So, we say to the Christians: do not expect Muslims to prove to you that the Bible (the Old and New Testaments) that you have, has not been changed and is the true Word of God. It is definitely not a Revelation sent from the Lord.

Muslims deny that these Books are an Inspiration from Almighty God.

If one who denies the facts is in doubt about their authenticity, then proof must be brought forward in justification of the fact by the one who claims to be telling the truth. This statement has been made and agreed upon by the wisdom of humankind.

Muslims are not called upon to bring evidence that their Holy Book is true because the Truth and legitimacy of the Holy Quran has yet to be questioned. However, Christians must prove to the Muslims that their Holy Book is true.

As a matter of objective fact the Qur’an is heavily dependent on Jewish and Christian writings and traditions. It even had much the same cast list, and many of the nastier things in the Qur’an echo quite closely the dark side of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. And all these texts buy into accounts of the past that have very problematic connection to anything that may really have been happening in that part of the Ancient “Near” East that God/Allah unaccountably singled out over the heads, it appears, of around two thousand generations already living down here in Australia, not to mention other parts of the world.  In other words, :faith: in all three Abrahamic religions can involve a very large degree of patent nonsense.

And of course much that is good. Lawrence does remind us of that.

Nor am I picking on Islam especially.  A figure much respected in evangelical circles in Sydney, one whose lectures I attended during Evangelical Union meetings at Sydney University in the 1960s, was Canon Broughton Knox of Moore Theological College. Nowadays, sadly, I find his arguments of “propositional revelation” alarmingly and patently circular and little better than the Muslim apologist cited above. For example:

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Sydney Anglicanism still follows suit: see for example articles posted by MatthiasMedia.  I, rather, see much merit in The Bible and Interpretation: Dedicated to delivering the latest news, features, editorials, commentary, archaeological interpretation and excavations relevant to the study of the Bible for the public and biblical scholars. I might add that around the time I was listening to Broughton Knox I had also studied the Ancient Near East in Ancient History I at Sydney Uni and maintained an interest. Later experience teaching Ancient History, especially in an Orthodox Jewish school, augmented that journey.

Now I could offend another group by saying that at least the writings that over some centuries emerged and became in due course the Tanach and the Christian Bible have what antique collectors would call provenance. That is, they are real documents with real histories, much of which scholarship in the past couple of centuries has recovered. The Qur’an is hobbled in that respect by its own very strong exceptionalism, though as Lawrence does demonstrate there has been a very active history of interpretation. The group I could offend are the Mormons whose text, in my view but also objectively, bears no relationship to any history whatsoever, aside from what happened to the believers after the composition of one of the most effective works of fiction in American literature.

Just goes to show there is no accounting for what people will believe.

Anyone seen The Master, by the way? Doing rather well, isn’t it.

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Consider–my world 1952 to 1959. Thoughts on the origins of belief.

Here was my world from 1952 to 1955-6: Vermont Street Sutherland, NSW.

Vermont Street

And here I am in that world, towards the end of the period.

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That is April 1955 and I am in the front yard of 1 Vermont Street with my mother.  I am 11 years old, and newly at Sydney Boys High. I had had a serious illness just three or four months before – pancreatitis – so I may look a touch thin still. All the ribbons are because we are going to the GPS Regatta at Penrith, a big deal in those days and perhaps even more so in my family. I was the first in the family entitled to go as I was in a GPS school – albeit the only state-owned one – as I would later be the first in the family to go to university.

Just three years earlier my sister had died – 61 years ago today. She was cremated and her urn placed in a rose garden at Woronora Cemetery, which she now shares with Grandma and Grandpa Christison, who died in 1959 and 1963 respectively.

And that takes me to the subject of belief, because my sister’s death affected me very profoundly – of course this was just as true for the rest of my family and extended family, but it is of myself I think now as I sit in the last six months of my seventh decade. Read my mother’s account in her own words.

My immediate family were not religious, or perhaps more accurately were not church-goers.

My mother was perhaps best described as a stoic. In her words:

Truly, as Adam Lindsay Gordon wrote in “Ye Wearie Wayfarer”

Question not, but live and labour
Till yon goal be won,
Helping every feeble neighbour,
Seeking help from none;
Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own.”

The poets and Charles Dickens – she acquired a love for both from her father – were the formulae of her faith, rather than The Bible which she rarely read.

Tennyson:

Robert Louis Stevenson:

UNDER the wide and starry sky

  Dig the grave and let me lie:

Glad did I live and gladly die,

  And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
        

Here he lies where he long’d to be;

Home is the sailor, home from the sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.

And my father? Very much impressed by the writings of Colonel Ingersoll, among others. Indeed it was from my father that I first heard the name. But his agnosticism – for such it was – combined with a respect for the ethics of Christianity and for much the churches did, though he, nominally an Anglican, did not really want to have much to do with them. He had seen, it appears, fanaticism in some of his family’s past – though he rarely talked about that or them. He did quote this back at me, though, when after around 1958-9 I became perhaps obnoxiously religious.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent

Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument

About it and about: but evermore

Came out by the same door wherein I went.

With them the seed of wisdom did I sow,

And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow:

And this is all the Harvest that I reap’d —

I came like water, and like water, and like wind I go.

And my Grandfather Christison, though the son of a woman of faith for whom he had enormous love and respect, was also truly an agnostic, at least as far as the institution of the church and the Holy Scriptures were concerned.  He loved his Dickens.

“…while I clean my boots keep a eye upon your mother now and then, and if you see any signs of more flopping, give me a call. For, I tell you," here he addressed his wife once more, "I won’t be gone agin, in this manner. I am as rickety as a hackney-coach, I’m as sleepy as laudanum, my lines is strained to that degree that I shouldn’t know, if it wasn’t for the pain in ’em, which was me and which somebody else, yet I’m none the better for it in pocket; and it’s my suspicion that you’ve been at it from morning to night to prevent me from being the better for it in pocket, and I won’t put up with it, Aggerawayter, and what do you say now!"

Growling, in addition, such phrases as "Ah! yes! You’re religious, too. You wouldn’t put yourself in opposition to the interests of your husband and child, would you? Not you!" and throwing off other sarcastic sparks from the whirling grindstone of his indignation, Mr. Cruncher betook himself to his boot-cleaning and his general preparation for business.

A Tale of Two Cities

On “flopping” he once told me that when you see someone praying you should watch out for the knife in the other hand. He also deconstructed for me, as we might say now, quite a few of the stories in the Bible. I remember particularly that like any sane person in the last few centuries he was more a touch disbelieving about:

And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hastened not to go down about a whole day.

Joshua 10:13

He also thought the Second Coming was taking rather a long time. He and I discussed such things there in Waratah Street West in the later 1950s,

I went to Church/Christian Endeavour/Sunday School probably no more times than can be counted on the fingers between 1950 and 1956. But that changed markedly, especially after 1959.  As I mentioned in the previous “Consider” post my views in the early fifties derived from the books my mother had bought from some passing Seventh Day Adventist colporteur.

What I do remember is that I sought comfort as I grieved for my sister in the years 1952 and 1953 in religious rituals of my own, such as arranging crosses of pebbles in various parts of the garden, something my parents were totally unaware of. And I pondered the images of the next life and the resurrection of the body on those SDA “Uncle Arthur” books.

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I also often had dreams and nightmares about death. In one I recall there was a skeleton by my bed, as vivid as can be.

To be continued.

Consider….

1. You know where you are…

Australia has been inhabited for at least 50,000 years. It was first inhabited by the remote Asian ancestors of the current Australian Aboriginal people. Australia was not discovered by Europeans until the 17th century


1768
Captain James Cook voyage of discovery in the Endeavour


1769
Captain James Cook reached Tahiti on 3 June


1770
Captain James Cook discovers New South Wales and takes possession of the Australian land in the name of Great Britain


1771
Captain James Cook returns to England


1772
13 July: Captain James Cook embarks on the voyage of discovery in the Resolution


1776
12 July: Captain James Cook with the ships HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery look for the Northwest passage but bad weather drives him back to Hawaii


1779
14 February: Captain Cook is killed by natives


1779
Banks suggests founding a convict settlement at Botany Bay.


1783
Plans for the colonization in New South Wales are made in the UK


1788
Foundation of Sydney.


1795
1795-1796: George Bass and Matthew Flinders make voyages in the Tom Thumb


1798
George Bass discovers the Bass Strait and Westernport.


1803
Matthew Flinders circumnavigates Australia.

And so on…

2. Where I now sit there were people living, breathing and walking about 20,000 years ago and more. According to a family tradition I had ancestors among them.

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60,000 years ago:  Age of Lake Mungo 3 human remains (age range between 56,000 and 68,000 years), south-western NSW, 987 km west of Sydney. Footprints discovered at Lake Mungo are believed to be 23,000 years old….

22,000 years ago: Occupation site at Wentworth Falls, NSW.

16,000 years ago: Hearths, stone and bone tools, Shaws Creek near Yarramundi (60 kms north-west from Sydney), NSW. Sea levels begin to rise as ice caps melt. Inland lakes such as Lake Mungo have dried up.

8,000 years ago:  Earliest visible evidence of Aboriginal belief connected with the rainbow Serpent. This becomes the longest continuing belief in the world.

5,000 years ago:  Occupation site, Penrith Lakes (about 50 kms west of Sydney), NSW. Coastline of Australia takes its present form

And so on… Source Australian Aboriginal history timeline.

art-aboriginal-ancient-278

28,000 thousand years old. How many generations of humanity before Abraham is that?

3. All of which makes it very difficult to treat the following with the awe and wonder it may have attracted in the past, or indeed in my own past. How do you reconcile the fact that in light of the above the grand cosmic narrative of the Abrahamic religions looks decidedly less impressive?

4004 B.C.
Creation of Adam and Eve – [Very few accept this “date” as having any connection whatever with anything that really happened in the history of this planet. — NW]


2348 B.C.
Noah’s Flood – [never happened — NW]


1996 to 1690 B.C.
The Biblical Patriarchs lived during this time – from Abraham to Jacob – [totally myth and legend, reflecting certain rather mundane developments in the movements of people and cultures, but having no resemblance to actual history. — NW]


1491 B.C.
The Exodus


1451 B.C.
Joshua leads the children of Israel into the Promised Land


1410 – 1050 B.C.
Time of Israel’s Judges


1050 – 930
First Kings of Israel – King Saul, King David and King Solomon


960 B.C.
Building of the first temple in Jerusalem


930 B.C.
Division of the Kingdom of Israel


930 – 723
The period of the Kings of Israel from Jeroboam I to Hoshea


930 – 586 B.C.
The period of the Kings of Judah from Rehoboam to Zedekiah


840 – 400 B.C.
Period of the Minor Prophets


723 B.C.
The fall of Israel


586 B.C.
Destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple


515 B.C.
Temple at Jerusalem Rebuilt


63 B.C.
The Romans occupy Palestine


37 B.C.
Herod the Great is appointed ruler of Judea by Rome


Jesus was born either before 4 BC (when Herod the Great died) or in 6 AD (when the historical Census of Quirinius was undertaken).

jesus1

My childhood vision of Jesus, from one of the several “Uncle Arthur” books that were my primary source of religious imagery between the ages of 8 and 12. Any resemblance to the person born most likely in Nazareth (rather than Bethlehem) around 4BC is totally unlikely. Of course, symbolically…

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And yet, echoing Justin Erik Halldór Smith:

I know that I am picking and choosing, and that by many standards I’ve failed to meet the requirements of being a Christian. Many, like those with the banners at the sports events, take John 3:16 to contain the core message of the Gospels. I also claim to know what the core message of the Bible is: love and forgiveness (1 John 4:8, 1 Corinthians 13:13, Matthew 5:38), and I claim that there is much extraneous stuff too, which can have little to do with our understanding of the essence of Christianity: the rules concerning marriage, the disregard for animals, the cosmic significance of crucifixion. How do I justify my picking and choosing? Well, who wants me to justify it? The hoarse-voiced goon at the sports match shouting about how Jesus Christ died for my sins? What concern is he of mine?

Those who know me or have read me will probably know that I have often claimed that I am an atheist. I would like to stop doing this, but if I had to justify myself, I would say that it is for fear of being confused with that blowhard with the ‘John 3:16’ banner that I am unforthcoming about what I actually believe. I am infinitely closer, in the condition of my soul, to the people who feel God’s absence– the reasons for this feeling are a profound theological problem, and one might say that it is only smugness that enables people, atheists and dogmatists alike, to avoid grappling with this problem. I am with the people who detect God’s hand, perhaps without even realizing it, where the smug banner-holder sees only sin: in jungle music, dirty jokes, seduction, and swearing. I am with the preacher who puts out a gospel album, then goes to prison on fraud and drug charges for a while, then puts out a hip-grinding soul album, and then another gospel album. I am with the animals, who can’t even read, but can still talk to the saints of divine things. I am sooner an atheist, if what we understand by Christianity is a sort of supernatural monarchism; if we understand by it that God is love, though, then, I say, I am a Christian.

I will be exploring and developing the implications of this post in various ways in the future.

I believe in Charles Dickens’s version of Christmas

It is a fine thing.

a-christmas-carol

Even if irrelevant in various obvious details to a steaming hot summer in 21st century Australia! But people try, as the following picture in Mount Keira Road this morning shows.

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See also When did we start saying ‘Merry Christmas’?

There are references to ‘mery’ Christmas from the 1500s and the carol God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen was first published in 1833. But the two key events which established Merry Christmas as one of the most commonly used expressions in the English language both occurred in 1843.

The first was the publication of a commercially produced Christmas card with slogan ‘Merry Christmas’. Exchanging cards became one of the ‘new traditions’ of Christmas introduced by the Victorians and Merry Christmas was the default message.

But it was the publication of CharlesDickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ on December 17, 1843, which really established ‘Merry Christmas’ as the universal greeting. In this and other respects Dickens can be said to have invented the modern, secular Christmas festival.

The people at Lakemba Mosque have been given the good oil (commonly called a fatwa) by a resident scholar on all this: Don’t. I’ll leave it to Keysar Trad, who looks more reasonable as time goes on, to say the obvious.

A community advocate and Muslim convert, Rebecca Kay, told Fairfax Media: "It’s sad to see the Lebanese Muslim Association, which considers itself the peak body representing Australian Muslims, with comments like these. It goes to show how far they are from representing the community.

"The notion that Muslims wishing other people a merry Christmas will take them out of their faith is outright ridiculous, laughable and borders on the extreme."

Keysar Trad, a former official with the Lebanese Muslim Association, said in his time with the organisation they used to regularly greet people with merry Christmas. "I don’t know what has changed," he said. "But now as a representative of Australia’s peak Muslim body, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, I would like to wish all your readers a merry Christmas and a happy new year."

I am far from sure what purpose was served by the original fatwa, as Muslims quite clearly regard the birth of Jesus differently from Christians. Do they really need to be told that? On the other hand, some appear better able to live in a pluralistic society than others. The ones I have quoted are not a problem and do not have a problem. I do wonder why the Sun-Herald thought the story merited a front page.

Meanwhile the Pope is saying really stupid things about GLBT people.

Pope Benedict has used the beginning of the Christmas period to ramp up his assault on gay marriage, stating that the very foundations of the family were threatened by same sex partnerships.

In his annual Christmas address to Vatican officials – one of the most important speeches of the year – he decried moves to allow same sex couples to marry and indicated that the Vatican would be willing to forge an alliance with those faiths who are also opposed to equal marriage rights…

In the speech, the Pope also denounced what he described as people manipulating their God-given identities to suit their sexual choices – and destroying the very “essence of the human creature” in the process.

“People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being,” he said. “They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned.”

Franco Grillini, a prominent spokesman for Italy’s gay community, called the Pope’s words “great foolishness,” adding: “Where gay marriage has been approved, there has been no consequence on heterosexual marriage.”

This idea — people manipulating their God-given identities to suit their sexual choices – and destroying the very “essence of the human creature” in the process – shows complete failure to understand what it is to actually be GLBT and caps it with a denigration that to me denies the true humanity of GLBT people.  And a Merry Christmas to you too, Benedict!

God save us from all who pretend to believe or sincerely believe that they really really know the mind of God. As I have said quite often in the past ten years and more, one thing I am sure of is that there are NO infallible “authorities” on God, and God has never written a book… Or dictated one…

As a matter of fact, speaking of Christmas…

  1. Interpretive Gymnastics: A look at the problem of Quirinius ‘ census
  2. P. Sulpicius Quirinius
  3. On Herod and Quirinius
  4. The Historical Jesus
  5. Seven Golden Rules for Christian Theologians concerning the Old Testament and Its Relationship to the New Testament
  6. YES! TO CHRISTMAS AND ALL ITS TINSEL…

A quick quote from #4:

“If one wishes to understand the historical Jesus and early Christianity one must understand first century Judaism. During this historic era the Roman occupiers of the land were particularly oppressive and there was much opposition to them particularly in the Galilee.”
(Rabbi Moshe Reiss, PhD.)

Not much is known about the historical Jesus since nothing was written down by him or about him during his lifetime. It is believed that he was born around 4 BCE and died in 30 CE.  He was a Jew, born probably in Nazareth in Galilee and he probably had brothers and sisters. According to scholars such as Rabbi Moshe Reiss, quoted above, it is very likely that “He had a typical Galilean Jewish education including studying the Hebrew Bible, the traditions of the people after the biblical period and he undoubtedly went to synagogue. One can safely assume his family as religious Jews kept the commandments; dietary laws, circumcision, tithing, laws of purity and the pilgrimages to Jerusalem.  Jesus dressed like a Jew, prayed like a Jew, taught and argued in parables like a Jewish Rabbi and was crucified as were many first century Jewish radicals.

And from #5:

Historical criticism has effectively undermined the validity of the great majority of Old Testament citations by the authors of the New Testament; indeed, it is seldom possible even to imagine that Old Testament writers can have had in mind the persons and events that New Testament writers claimed they did. The oft-proposed thesis that this issue cannot be resolved either negatively or positively does not hold. The long and short of it is that New Testament authors have systematically mistaken or distorted the meaning of Old Testament texts in the service of polemical and doctrinal agendas. Matthew’s five citations of prophecy in his nativity account are among the best-known examples of the practice, and perhaps the most comically inapposite. In the interest of honesty and better communication with the public, academic theology needs to demonstrate the same kind and degree of intellectual honesty that long ago led natural science to disavow the Ptolemaic world picture.

Croker Island Exodus

Croker Island Exodus is a documentary to be screened on ABC1 next Tuesday. I think I had heard of the story and in an odd way it intersects with some things in my life – with a place at least – and Jim Belshaw will be pleased to see there is an Armidale connection.

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1941, all white women and children are evacuated from Darwin. Japanese invasion is imminent. On a tiny Methodist mission on Croker Island in the Arafura Sea, the Superintendent and three Cottage mothers are responsible for 95 stolen generation Aboriginal children allocated to their care by the government. The missionaries are given the option of evacuating but how could they leave these children? However food supplies are running dangerously low and no help comes through the long Wet. February 1942, a message by pedal radio, Darwin has been bombed, the missionaries will now have to move the children off the island themselves. So they begin their perilous journey.

Their first destination requires a trek over many miles of open savannah and the harsh beautiful stone country of Arnhem Land. When the old truck becomes bogged, the children help push it to harder ground. They gather armfuls of water lily stalks and climb for berries in the bush plum trees. At night they make camp, using their dwindling supply of flour and yeast to make damper. It will still be many miles walking.

At Oenpelli they expect to stay 3 days but it is weeks before word that they will have to walk another 60 miles to meet government trucks. With help from the traditional Aboriginal men they cross the flooded East Alligator River by dug out canoe. The river is home to saltwater crocodiles but despite falling into the river they make it across safely.

After many days, they meet up with the trucks. But arriving in Pine Creek they find an American army base, no beds just the Butcher’s Paddock on the outskirts of town.

They finally board a cattle train en route to Alice Springs and their destination a Methodist Farm on the outskirts of Sydney. In 44 days these brave women and their young charges travel from Arnhem Land across the continent, a truly heroic and untold journey.

But this is also an epic story of human endurance and resilience.

In 1946 Margaret returned to Croker with the children including Alice, Netta and Jessie who are now in their 80s. They have endured so much in their lives but their friendships forged on Croker remain strong and feisty. These Aboriginal women still call Margaret, now 99 years, ‘sister’. It is their shared stories of love, humour and compassion that are central to this film.

They ended up at Otford, arriving no doubt in a train like this – as I also did in 1959 to attend a camp in the very house where these children stayed!

2734724712_60fcc4d8b3_o

The Armidale connection is through this book, which I have just reserved from Wollongong Library.

bezant

a Reflection of Childhood Memories, 1942- 1946: Children from Otford, New South Wales and Croker Island, Northern Territory.

This wonderful first told tale of a unique childhood spent at Otford Public School with Aboriginal children evacuated from Croker Island during World War II.

Set in a rural setting outside Sydney, the author shares personal memories of an important time in Australian history, and reflects her own sense of cultural awareness at an early age.

Kardoorair Press was established in 1979, primarily as an outlet for poets based on the Northern Tablelands, New England Region of New South Wales or writers with an affiliation with the region.

An online history of Helensburgh, next station on the Illawarra Line towards Sydney, recalls the time of these events.

… During the ‘40s Australia was mainly absorbed with the War effort and post-war reconstruction. Stanwell Park beach was littered with concrete tank traps and coils of barbed wire. The old rail tunnel to Otford was blasted. Some installations were constructed and a small RAAF force settled in to await the attack. Naturally a number of the local men joined the services and the ladies auxiliaries set to for the war effort. Knitting, collecting old aluminium pots and pans became the order of the day. Otford served host to a group of Aboriginal evacuees from Crocker Island north of Australia. The school was enlarged to handle the influx of children. The Helensburgh branch of the Red Cross was reinstituted and set up shop in the Anglican Church Hall. Soon homes and public buildings alike had their windows covered with "black out" paper. Wartime want, rationing and the like, was thrown aside on 19th August 1945. It was "Victory Sunday". Services of thanksgiving were held in all the local churches to celebrate the end of the War.

During the post-war reconstruction a clothing factory was built in Walker Street providing some local employment to the women of the town. The old rail tunnels were used for mushroom production, another useful local employer. On the political scene the Bulli Shire amalgamated with Wollongong in 1947 to form the Greater Wollongong region. It was a controversial move and can still start a good debate…

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That appears to be the whole school…

In one neat package, this terrific doco explores our World War II history, the process of Aboriginal assimilation, the work of 20th-century missionaries, and the extraordinary personal stories of individuals involved. In the early 1940s, a mob of indigenous kids from the Top End were rounded up and sent to a new Methodist mission on Croker Island – off the coast from Darwin – and into the care of a young woman, Margaret Somerville. Not long afterwards, they were ordered to evacuate when the Japanese started bombing Australia’s northernmost city. Unfortunately, no one in authority bothered to do anything more than issue the order, leaving it up to Sister Somerville to almost single-handedly get 95 kids from Croker – via Arnhem Land and the Red Centre – to, eventually, Sydney. It was an incredible journey by boat, canoe, truck, train and foot, and it’s brought to life beautifully by clever re-enactments, as well as archival footage and interviews with survivors. The old aunties who feature are great characters, as is Somerville, whose memoir forms the basis of the program. It’s also a beautifully structured and balanced story that, among other things, gives one of the most nuanced and compelling insights into being ”taken away” we’ve seen on the small screen.

SMH

Sharings

Highly local

The Blue Mile: “Let’s go on a journey investigating the history of the Blue Mile area! The Blue Mile is located along the shore line in Wollongong from Flagstaff Hill to North Beach.”

Local but international

Nick Southall, based in Wollongong, is a thoughtful Marxist. I am an agnostic on this as on many matters. I do commend Global Revolt and the Struggle for Democracy, however.

…the struggles for democracy will be very long. In fact they will take the rest of our days. For, if we want rich and rewarding lives, authentic and loving relationships, decent work and living conditions, sustainable development and environmental protection, these are things we need to create and recreate every day. It is when we stop looking to those who hold power over us for solutions, and start to create those solutions ourselves, that democracy is understood not just as a goal to be struggled for, but as the immanent ability of people to self-organise and govern themselves. However, it remains unclear if recent collaborative struggles can maintain their multiplicity of organisational forms and extend participatory democracy. Questions now facing those in revolt are; can the spaces, times and experimental practices of real democracy be widened and extended? Are new subjectivities, capable of genuine democratic relations, creating the practices, processes, infrastructures or institutions that can sustain and expand a long-term global revolution?

A Muslim on the seal of the confession

Waleed Aly in today’s Herald.

Suppose a paedophile’s desire for forgiveness and absolution is so strong that they are prepared to take the risk and confess anyway. Then what? Canon law prohibits a priest from revealing a confession even under the threat of his own death. Should we expect him to buckle under the threat of a prison sentence? Here it’s essential to understand that any priest who violates the confessional seal faces excommunication.

That might mean nothing to you. You might even see this as the threat that underpins a dangerous fairytale. But you are not the one hearing the confession. What matters is what this means to priests and, in Catholic terms, excommunication is as serious as it gets – far more serious than any prison sentence. This leaves us searching for a very strange creature indeed: someone devoted enough to enter the priesthood, but not devoted enough to care about eternal damnation. And we need lots of them. We’re betting on a team of rogue priests. That doesn’t sound like a plan to me.

You can’t legislate away people’s religious convictions, however much you might want to. And you can’t ignore them simply because you hold them in contempt. What matters here is the stuff outside the confessional box: the lame responses to abuse that seem calculated to protect paedophile priests rather than their victims; the legal manoeuvring to avoid paying compensation; the failure of police to follow through on investigations. These are the things we should be pursuing relentlessly. This should be the focus of our desire for justice. Let’s not dilute that by getting lost on some doctrinal excursion it’s clear we don’t understand.

He should be a Cardinal! Better than the one that is there now in Sydney anyway. I saw the whole Pell press conference on ABC News 24 and was mightily unimpressed.

Richard Ackland on Hardie’s, hypocrisy and Bernie Banton

See Morality question as dust will never settle.

It seemed like exquisite insensitivity for the NSW Court of Appeal to reduce the penalties originally imposed on directors of James Hardie Industries on the day the second episode of Devil’s Dust went to air on ABC TV.

This was a major and engrossing piece of documentary drama, based on the book by ABC journalist Matt Peacock with the delicate title, Killer Company.

We saw the story about how, at first, James Hardie attempted to hide the dangers posed by the mining and manufacture of asbestos then, when its liabilities were dramatically mounting, to spin-off its asbestos subsidiaries into the Medical Research and Compensation Foundation, taking the remainder of the company offshore.

The story was told through the eyes of former Hardie employee Bernie Banton, his wife Karen, the dogged Peacock and Hardie’s PR man.

In the TV drama, the spin doctor is called Adam Bourke, although in real life we know it was Greg Baxter, who later went to work as the corporate affairs person for Rupert Murdoch’s Australian operations.

The identity and character were changed in order to import a dramatic device of having Bourke’s wife struck down with mesothelioma – the result of home improvements in the early days of their marriage.

The idea was to create a sort of tacit, last-minute bonding between the protagonists – although there was drama enough without this flourish.

At the core of the TV and real-life dramas was Hardie’s attempt, in effect, to thwart claimants receiving a fair level of compensation for their asbestos-related diseases…

See my previous post.

Taking Australia’s Temperature

This was a quirky, good-humoured  attempt to reduce the shrillness of the alleged “debate” on global warming by throwing up actual facts about what has really, really happened objectively considered in Australia over the past century. Only an ass could deny what we we were shown, surely. Sadly, rusted on Moncktonites won’t have been watching, or if they did watch are no doubt torturously finding “evidence” to neutralise what we clearly saw.

Dr Karl Braganza
Temperatures around Australia have risen by about a degree. Um, less chills, more fevers. And some regional variation in that as well. So some regions are heating up more than others.
NARRATION
Essentially, what the records show is that global warming isn’t something that’s coming – it’s here in our backyards already. It’s pointless now to ask, ‘Is this climate change or natural variability?’ What we see is one acting on top of the other.
Dr Karl Braganza
So, every parcel of air, every ocean current, every weather system is now about a degree warmer. And when you go through and do the physics, that’s actually a hell of a lot of energy added to the climate system in general.
Dr Jonica Newby
You know, of all the things I learned on this investigation, it was that comment from Karl that really struck me. It was like, ‘Aha! I finally get it.’ There’s one degree of extra heat across the whole planet. That’s just a lot of new energy in our weather system. What happens when you add another degree? And another?
NARRATION
So what WILL happen in the future? Well, I’m obviously going to have to spend some money on a retaining wall. And, like the rest of us, I’ll try to do my bit. But I’ll continue to toast my sunset, pray to my snow gods and get as much joy as I always have out of the parts of Australia I love. I do think I should do so with eyes wide open, though, and not pretend there’s no change to see.

Well, let’s hope so.

PB110083.JPGa

In a similar vein from The Netherlands see Climate Dialogue: Exploring different views on climate change.

Searchings — 1

There really have been so many things I have seen or read in the past few days that deserve to be shared, that have provoked more reflection than I can possibly capture in one blog post or even two. But to begin.

God’s Politics asked Is God a Cosmic Jerk?

That’s how I ask the question, but professional theologians use the term theodicy. It comes from two Greek words: theo, which means “God,” and dike, which means “justice.” Theodicy asks, “If God is good and just, then why is there so much evil in the world?” There are many answers to this question. Some claim that God causes evil. In which case, my question becomes relevant – Is God a Cosmic Jerk?

Let’s first examine the word “evil.” Theologian Joe Jones succinctly defines evil in his book A Grammar of Christian Faith “as the harm to some creature’s good” (280). Jones distinguishes between two categories of evil that harms a creatures good. First, there is moral evil – the harm humans inflict upon one another through violence, injustice, and oppression. The second category is natural evil – the harm caused by cancer, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural events…

The older I get the more unsatisfactory the theologians seem to me, and the more “fundamentalist” they are then even less satisfactory are they likely to be – unless you are better at believing a thousand impossible things before breakfast, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll, than I am these days.

"Alice laughed: "There’s no use trying," she said; "one can’t believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven’t had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Unfortunately the impression one is left with after much fundamentalist apologetics/theology is that God indeed could very well be a Cosmic Jerk!

This especially plagues the bibliolatrists who constitute the more conservative wings of Judaism and Christianity and, alas, far too much of Islam. The unfortunate tradition of Divine Mouthpieces and Pens is as much a curse as a blessing, indeed I suspect more a curse than a blessing. Infallibility and certainty are among the most dangerous and foolish human constructs.

anonymous-source

Take Monday’s poem from Three Quarks Daily.

For insulting the Quran, "’Thousands of people
dragged a Pakistani man … from a police station …
(and)
beat him to death,’ police said Wednesday."

Insulting Books

Is it even possible
to insult a book?

Has it a soul within its leaves
a heart that beats
an eye that winks
a cord running through its spine
descending from a thing that thinks?

Is a book of inky lines
(of characters not themselves sublime)
capable of being hurt or ridiculed
or cheapened by critiques
either of the wise, or fools?

Has it veins between its covers
salty with the blood of lovers?

Is there something in its pages
(even if put there by sages)
that warrants death to critics?

Is it a thing so lame that priestly brothers
(arrogant, imperious, parasitic)
who worship sheaves of ink on paper
must, for its sake, snuff the holy breath
of others?

by Jim Culleny

11/6/12

Go and read the comments that follow it. An excellent series, those daily poems from Three Quarks Daily. Jim is the editor of this feature and most wide-ranging in his selection and very knowledgeable. Even Aussie poets score there at times.

Back in 2008 I read Rich Merritt’s Code of Conduct and discovered his rather occasional blog But Seriously…

I am reading Rich’s Code of Conduct at the moment.

In Code of Conduct, former U.S. Marine Rich Merritt, explores the secret double lives of Don, Eddie, Karl and Patrick, all currently serving as closeted military men. Agent Jay of the Naval Investigative Service struggles with his past as he follows his own personal vendetta against homosexuality. As hope of President Bill Clinton’s promise to relieve the ban on gays in the military flourishes, Jay attempts to ruin the careers of our heroes. Action-packed, this novel kept me on the edge of my seat, while at the same time beautifully illustrating the passion and love that gay servicemen and women can have for each other.

A fast read, Merritt’s novel explores a fascinating section of the LGBTI community through his and others’ experiences in the military. Although the dialogue reads rather unrealistically, the novel was thoroughly enjoyable…

That last criticism is true at times; it is not the world’s greatest novel. Also, I would that it began differently, without quite so much military-speak and boys’ own adventure stuff so early. That aside, this is a passionate novel on several levels. It could have been even better if it had been written for outsiders rather more than it is. It would, I think, make an excellent movie though, so long as it was a movie-maker with the right political as well as artistic nous.

Rich Merritt was unfortunate enough to go to Bob Jones University from which he was expelled. His latest blog post is about his new novel Spiritual Probation.

What is it about?

Nate O’Connor wants to do right. His senior year of college, though, gets off to a rocky start. He’s a student at Bob Johnson University, the flagship institution of higher learning in American fundamentalism, where he and his best friend are placed on spiritual probation after being accused of disloyalty to the school. Their attempt to repair their reputation backfires and when Nate meets two women–one beautiful and smart, the other wise and charming–his entire belief system is uprooted. Nate’s world is further rocked by tragedy and his life will never be the same.

What are people saying about it?

“Setting his tale inside the closed society of a fundamentalist university, Rich Merritt tells a fascinating story that is alternately disturbing and inspiring. Spiritual Probation opened my eyes and touched my heart.
Joe DiPietro, Tony-Award winning playwright of Memphis

“In every decade, a true classic emerges, which demonstrates the strength of the human will to conquer and survive the ills of its society. Merritt has written such a work in this coming-of-age story of courage and conviction in a world that is perceptively lacking in empathy and compassion for the individual spirit and soul. A poignant ‘must read’ for such present times, which is so heavily burdened with the painful effects of emotional bullying and spiritual abuse, so currently at the forefront of daily life.”
Lynda Mandell, M.D., Ph.D., Board Certified Psychiatrist

Over on Goodreads another Bob Jones survivor says:

As an apologetic alumna of Bob Jones University, I truly enjoyed this book. I sympathized with the protagonist and his exit from fundamentalism as he realized how nonsensical most of it was. I cried with Danny’s family as they dealt with his tragedy. I was frustrated, but not surprised, by the reactions of the university. Even though the events of this book occurred before my time at BJ and some of the rules had changed by the time I arrived, much of the culture of the university has stayed the same, and the reactions to those who are outside the university or who disagree with the university are exactly the same. I would recommend this book to anyone who’s dealt with the IFB and wants to dwell in the big questions rather than accepting all words spoken from a pulpit as truth.

See also Dr Camille Lewis.