November 14, 2017

The Hard Work Begins Today

As Australian wake up today, it will be a day in which same sex marriage will – if the polls are right – be all but a parliamentary ratification away in our nation.

And it’s now that the hard work begins

The sky won’t fall in.  But it won’t be full of rainbows either.  People will still love those they wish to love.  Until they don’t.  And at some stage in the future, the first same sex marriage to end in divorce will be recorded in our country.

While there were all sorts of apocalyptic predictions about how the plebiscite would cause all sorts of emotional damage to the LGBT community, in truth the decision to bring it to the Australian public was vindicated by the overall response.

Of course there was nastiness out there – from people on both sides of the divide – but generally it was civil.  And for what it’s worth, it forced a level of interest out of a general public oft-maligned for its apathy to all matters social and ethical.

And the plebiscite flushed everyone out.  No one now believes it’s merely an insignificant change that won’t have ramifications across a wide range of ethical and social matters. We’ve given the issue a good airing and many of the social commentators promoting Yes are no longer saying it’s a simple matter of changing a word’s definition and that the rest of life will continue as normal.  It will tomorrow perhaps, but a trajectory has been set and now we wait to see where it takes us.

Hence the real work begins now.

I’ve lost count of the number of those who voted Yes – both secular and religious – who, when I broached the vexing issue of the protection of religious freedom said airily, “Oh, we can worry about working that out after the vote.”   I humbly beseech you to be true to your word and join in working that out, rather than losing interest and gathering around some new agenda.  See this matter through to its completion.

Of course there have been many that have said that nothing will change.  Clerics won’t be forced to marry those they don’t wish to marry.  Yet  that completely misunderstands the nature of the religious life. To put it bluntly, what’s been most revealing about the plebiscite process is that the leaders of our nation, whether legal, political or cultural, save for some honourable exceptions, have next to no understanding of how religion works or why religious people think like they do.

Last night here in Perth a number of us hosted a pub night Q&A by one of our country’s premier journalists, the foreign editor of The Australian newspaper, Greg Sheridan, a man of crackling intellect, a raconteur’s ability to hold a crowd, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of national and international politics.

I’ve followed Greg’s writing for some time, but in these past months he has written extensively on the eclipse of Christianity in the West and what it means.  As a practicing Catholic born in the fifties, Greg has seen the Christian faith move to the margins of the nation’s thinking.

Greg recounted that after he wrote his last book he was invited to all of the major writing festivals in Australia to promote it.  What struck him was there was not one other Christian writer at any of the festivals, and certainly no body of literature produced by Christian of the ilk of Waugh, Greene and Chesterton.  The Christian faith is a unicorn among our literary giants, especially in Australia (save perhaps for the venerable Catholic poet Les Murray).

And Greg’s is the last generation to receive any level of classical education, an education that constantly peaked out from behind his dry wit, as he referenced writers, thinkers, epochs and trends at will.

Interestingly Greg revealed that he voted Yes in the plebiscite, and outlined his reasons last night, which reiterate what he stated in an opinion piece in The Australian:

The idea of marriage as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman has lost social consensus and is honoured more in the breach than the practice. Therefore it is not reas­on­able for the state to enforce this ideal.

There’s no triumphalism in his vote, merely a gimlet eyed view of how society’s common narrative is breaking down. 

Greg wryly pointed out to the generally young crowd that history has tended to be a lot messier and a lot less predictable than those who accuse the Christian faithful of “being on the wrong side of history” would claim.

Mind you, if the only history you are aware of goes back as far as the original iPhone, you’d be fairly confident you’re on the right side of it, wouldn’t you, particularly with the iPhone X in your hot little hand.

What will we be left with, in terms of public discourse, when the Greg Sheridans of our world are gone, along with their classical educations?  The Project, that’s what, a dismal sneering dross of self-congratulatory drivel dressed up as journalistic opinions in soundbites that, even had they any grit left, are so intellectually insignificant, they merely fill you with vacuous wind and fail to nourish you.

Hence, with the same sex marriage matter pretty much signed and sealed, there’s no sense of what pluralism might look like, little grasp of what it means for a country to foster and encourage alternate ethical communities, and next to no understanding of why religion does not content itself with the private sphere.   And indeed little interest in finding out.  But hey, remember that iPhone X you’re getting for Christmas!

All the talk is, risibly, of bakers and florists, when the more important matters concern how religious schools, for example, that hold to a different sexual ethic (the Bible, the Koran etc), will be free to provide education from a religious perspective that includes orthopraxy as well as orthodoxy among its staff, without the risk of censure or falling foul of anti-discrimination laws.

The inability – or steadfast refusal – of our elites to discuss how our pluralist society can live with its deepest differences, while still permitting the state to both sanction and fund religious entities that aid human flourishing is a sign that rough times lie ahead, whatever the promises made over the coming months to shore up support.  No one has answered that question adequately, not our Prime Minister, and not our Leader of the Opposition.

Donald Horne’s much misunderstood observation that Australia was the lucky country has inured us to the fact that we make our own luck, it doesn’t get made for us and ladled up on a plate.  Luck runs out.  We’re lucky we got this far without having too think to hard or to work too hard on determining what glue is required to keep a society together.  But today we’re going to begin the hard work to find out.

And if, against all predictions and my own sense of what will happen, the No vote commands the larger percentage, then an altogether different, and likely more difficult, work will commence in our country.


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