Hold the Line rally – some closing words and a prayer

December 12, 2021 – Prince Alfred Park, Sydney

You’ll, forgive me for bringing with me the symbol of the cross today I don’t mean to hijack the icon of the church, but the truth is that the church stole this icon from the Roman Empire many centuries ago. Long before this was a symbol of faith, it was a symbol of death.

You’ll remember that the cross was something you got killed with. It was like a noose or a guillotine, except it was something designed to kill people slowly and painfully and publicly.

Jesus was not the only person to be crucified by the Romans. In fact, if you go back a generation before Christ, after the revolt of Spartacus, the survivors of that slave revolution – six thousand of them – were crucified, and their crosses lined the Via Appia in and out of Rome for 100 kilometres.

You couldn’t leave your home. You couldn’t take your children out for a walk. You couldn’t go shopping without seeing the gruesome reminder everywhere of this symbol, which reminded you that the empire was powerful and that you were nothing, that they had the power of life and death over you and you better do what they say, or you will end up here.

Centuries go by and empires come and go, but systems of power and control continue to be re resurrected. None of us have been crucified, as far as i know. Maybe the worst that’s happened to you is you’ve been embarrassed because you can’t go to the pub with your mates or to the movies or to the coffee shop, or maybe you’ve lost your job, or maybe your business has gone bust and you’ve lost your home. It’s a different shovel. It’s the same crap.

What is great is that the church took this symbol of death and turned it into a symbol of hope, because they believed that there are some people who will just not stay crucified. There are some people, no matter how much you humiliate them and torture them and take from them and kill them, they will rise again!

There are some messages that will not be silenced. There are some movements that cannot be stopped. The light continues to shine in the darkness and the darkness is never going to put it out!

To tell you the truth, I didn’t know if we had it in us. I look back at generations past – I know our indigenous sisters and brothers know what it’s like to fight for their land when they lose their sovereignty. I know my parents and grandparents – they fought in great wars to protect our freedoms. I didn’t know whether we’d be up to it, but it turns out, we are.

We have not bent the knee. We have not given in. We have held the line. We might be on the ropes, but we have not yet hit the canvas. We are still fighting, and this is our time, sisters and brothers. This is our time. This is our time, and we are the people we have been waiting for.

This is the time that our children and grandchildren will look back on one day and say “mum and dad, grandpa and grandpa – they held the line. They stood for something. They made a difference. This is our time. We are the people we have been waiting for.

God give us strength. God give us courage. God give us compassion, one for another, and God grant us victory. In the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit. Amen.

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A House Divided

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Who said it?

If you said ‘Abraham Lincoln’, you would be correct, though it was originally said by Jesus (Mark 3:25), referring to an internal conflict going on within an individual person. Lincoln famously took up the phrase in his address to the Illinois Republican State Convention in June of 1858 to refer to his country, which he saw as divided over the issue of slavery. “I believe this government cannot endure”, he continued, “permanently half slave and half free.”

That speech came to mind for me as I thought about our situation here today in Australia. We are a house divided, and I do wonder how much more we can stand.

Of course, the issue for us is not slavery, though listening to the language of our leaders, if you didn’t know better, you could be forgiven for thinking it was:

“We’ve outlined the freedoms that exist for vaccinated people. However, don’t assume that at 80% double-dose vaccination, that unvaccinated people are going to have all those freedoms. I want to make that point very clear.” (New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, September 13, 2021)

Who would have believed a year or so ago that any Australian leader could say something like that about any minority group in Australian society – that those people won’t be allowed the freedoms enjoyed by the majority. It wasn’t a slip of the tongue:

“I want to stress again – for those of you who choose not to be vaccinated, that’s your choice, but don’t expect to do everything that vaccinated people do even when we hit 80%, and I want to make that very clear.” (New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, September 13, 2021)

I am an unvaccinated person.

Even saying that openly, I feel as if I’m confessing to a crime, and perhaps I should be wearing a bell around my neck, which is what they once forced lepers to do so that other people could hear them coming. I think they also had to yell out ‘unclean, unclean’ whenever they came into a public place, just in case people didn’t hear the bell. Perhaps it will come to that for the unvaccinated here too. I hope not.

Either way, as an unvaccinated person I find it hard to hear things like this said by my State Premier – that for the foreseeable future I will continue to be denied freedoms that I had always taken for granted in ths country – freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom of worship.

I spent the first 59 years of my life thinking that these freedoms were somehow God-given and that no political leader, particularly in this country, would every try to take them away from me. I was wrong, and then I assumed that if my freedoms were to be taken away, that it couldn’t be for long, and I was wrong about that too!

It makes me feel a little ill, thinking that Australia is becoming a house divided between those who are (relatively) free and people like me who will be restricted in where we can go, and what we can do, and who we can see, and barred from pubs and clubs and perhaps even from places of worship.

Never did I believe that I’d hear an Australian leader say something like this. Even so, it isn’t those statements from the Premier that upset me the most. It’s this one:

“Well, I certainly hope that all of you are vaccinated. I wouldn’t want to be in a room with a lot of people who aren’t vaccinated.” (New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, September 7, 2021)

Did she really say that?

“I wouldn’t want to be in a room with a lot of people who aren’t vaccinated.”

I guess she did.

Surely, she didn’t mean it the way it sounded, as it sounds like pure prejudice!

If she’d said “I wouldn’t want to be in a room with a lot of Indigenous people” or “I wouldn’t want to be in a room with a lot of Muslim people”, we would immediately be offended, wouldn’t we, as we’d see these as expressions of pure prejudice?

We don’t allow our political leaders to say things like that, so I must assume there’s more to it, even though it is a statement that isolates a specific group of people whom she has said are going to be discriminated against by having freedoms denied to them that the rest of the population are going to enjoy.

I assume she means that she doesn’t want to be in a room with a lot of unvaccinated people in it because those people will put her at risk – at risk of getting the virus!

I assume that’s what she means, except that this doesn’t make a lot of sense since, as a vaccinated person, confident in the efficacy of the vaccine, why would she be worried about being in a room full of people, regardless of their vaccination status? Isn’t she protected, to a significant degree at least, by the vaccine?

Of course, yes, we do know that the vaccinated can still contract the virus, and we know too that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can carry the virus while being asymptomatic, meaning that you wouldn’t know that they had it, but that they can still give it to you!

Given that, I can understand why the Premier (or any number of people) might choose not to enter rooms with lots of people in them (vaccinated or unvaccinated) but the key question here is whether the unvaccinated in the room pose any greater risk to the healthy than the vaccinated, and I’m pretty sure they don’t!

Of course, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the virus, and I am certainly no expert, but I think it’s been well established that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can still get the virus and that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can still carry the virus, and I believe it’s been equally well-established that asymptomatic carriers of the virus (vaccinated and unvaccinated) carry about the same ‘viral load’ if they do have it, meaning that they’re equally capable of infecting others.

Now … I have read that the unvaccinated can carry the virus for longer, which might make people like me more suspect. At the same time though, we are surely less likely to be asymptomatic if we’ve got it, since the virus is likely to hit us unvaccinated people harder, so … let me tell you a story.

Back in the early 1980’s, when the AIDS epidemic was at it’s height, I was working with a church in Kings Cross (Sydney’s red-light district) and we used to have a well-known transvestite guy join us sometimes for our Sunday Eucharist (where we share the bread and wine with each other) and this guy would always make a point of being the first person at the communion rail.

If you don’t know the Anglican system, we share a ‘common cup’, meaning that each person takes a sip of wine from the same cup, one after the other. We wipe the cup with a cloth between communicants but, as you can appreciate, some people do get concerned about the possibility of spreading infection through the sharing of the cup.

As I say, this guy, who was a member of a group known as ‘the sisters of perpetual indulgence’ would make a point of being first at the communion rail, meaning that his lips were going to be on that cup ahead of everybody else. He was making a point. He wasn’t known to be AIDS-positive, but people, understandably, had their fears and, at the time, no one was quite sure how easily the virus could be shared.

So what did we do? We all shared in the Eucharist as per usual and … I’m still here.

Interestingly, when the medical establishment eventually got on top of the AIDS epidemic, they worked out that people putting their lips to a common cup couldn’t possibly spread the virus, whether they were AIDS-positive or not. Ironically though, if our brother had been AIDS-positive, his immunities might have been in a bad way, and he would have been at risk of catching a cold from someone if he hadn’t taken the cup first, and that could have done him a lot of damage, so he was actually doing the right thing by going first because it was actually him who was at risk and not us!

I think we’re in a very similar situation now. As I understand it, I would actually be at greater risk, being in a room with the Premier and other vaccinated people, than she would be, being in a room with me and my unvaccinated mates.

Maybe that was the point of the Premier’s statement – that she doesn’t want to be in a room with a lot of us unvaccinated people because she doesn’t want to put us at risk. If that’s the case, Madam Premier, let me say, ‘thanks, but no thanks’. Please let me look after my health while you focus on looking after my rights and freedoms!

The Premier probably wouldn’t remember, but we have actually been in the same room together, and we shared a meal together, back in the glory days, and I don’t mind risking it again (if it is a risk) as I do believe it’s worth taking just about any risk to prevent this country from becoming further divided.

Let me state my position as plainly as possible: I do want to be in a room full of unvaccinated people. I will also be very happy to be in a room full of vaccinated people, just as I’d love to be in a room full of Indigenous people or a room full of Muslim people. The bottom line is that I’m yearning to be back in a room full of people, but if my freedoms are going to be restricted until I get jabbed, I can wait.

You might wonder why I’m so hesitant about being vaccinated. Just for the record, it’s not primarily a concern about the vaccines, though I do have my questions. The bigger issue for me right now though is this divided country that our politicians are creating, and if we are going to have two tiers in Australian society, with a free majority looking down on a restricted minority, I’m going to stand alongside those at the bottom until the discrimination ends.

It doesn’t have to be this way, Madam Premier. It never had to be this way. There were always other alternatives and there are other alternatives now. Embrace them please!

We need to move beyond this division. We need to become one people again, and we need it to happen now, because a house divided against itself cannot stand.

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Judge not, Madam Premier, and you shall not be judged!

I have no issue with the Premier (or any representative of the state) singling out those of us who break the law, but the civil law and the moral law are not the same thing. One is secular and one is spiritual, and they need to be kept as separate as church and state.

“On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” (Acts 12:21-23)

These little-known verses from the book of Acts recount the rather ignominious demise of Herod Agrippa I. This Herod was the grandson of Herod the Great (so called) who is best remembered for his slaughter of the infant children when Jesus was born (Matthew 2), and nephew of Herod Antipas, who murdered John the Baptist (Luke 9). Evidently, they were all chips off the same rancid block.

Herod was ‘eaten by worms and died’, Luke says, and not the other way around. From a medical point of view, we might assume Herod had acquired some sort of intestinal tape worm, but the point here is not scientific but spiritual. Herod died because he was judged by God, and judged because he committed the most fundamental of all human sins – idolatry. He put himself in the place of God.

Today we live in a proudly secular society where we maintain a strict separation between church and state. I support this separation completely, as history has taught us very clearly that once the church is given executive power, it becomes as corrupt as every other human institution.

Constantine was the beginning of the end, in my view. I suspect that his famous vision where he saw an image of the cross and heard the words “by this conquer” came either from his own imagination or straight from the devil. He took the sacred symbol of the suffering Christ and aligned it with warfare, violence, rape and murder! And when Constantine did conquer all his enemies, the cross became associated with something else – namely, extreme executive power! Political power is not something the church has ever handled well.

Of course, the separation of church and state has two sides to it, and just as I would hate to see the church assume political power, my greater concern today is with the state trying to assume spiritual power! Every time I hear the Premier of New South Wales refer to people doing ‘the wrong thing’ it makes me shudder.

When people knowingly do the wrong thing and pretend they didn’t know, that’s not acceptable. … The vast majority of people are doing the right thing but when a handful don’t it is a setback for all of us.

I have no issue with the Premier (or any representative of the state) singling out those of us who break the law, but the civil law and the moral law are not the same thing. One is secular and one is spiritual, and they need to be kept as separate as church and state.

In truth, neither the premier nor the police force, nor any secular judge, has any right to pass moral judgement on us, and most especially when those breaking the law are doing so for reasons of conscience, and yet the premier goes further. She not only passes moral judgement, but presumes to judge what is in the hearts of these law-breakers:

“It’s really people knowingly having disregard, unfortunately, for their loved ones and also the rest of us in breaching the health orders.”

To presume to pass judgement on people like this is really to put yourself in the place of God! I hope the Premier is eating plenty of coconut. It’s apparently very effective in expelling intestinal worms.

From a Biblical point of view, this question of moral authority goes right back to the beginning. It’s the original issue that is the undoing of Adam and Eve! They eat of the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’, thinking that it will make them like God!

“But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” (Genesis 3:4-5)

Adam and Eve eat of the tree because they think it will give them knowledge, and with knowledge comes power! By attempting to grasp the true knowledge of good and evil, our forefather and foremother are depicted as trying to usurp God’s authority.

Only the Almighty truly understands good and evil. God alone can judge. God alone understands the complexity of the moral universe, and the complexity of the human heart, and so can judge with love, equity, and compassion.

Adam and Eve eat of the fruit and so gain initiation into a far more complex world, but the serpent lied to them. It is not a world they will ever fully understand and so they will never be able to take on the role of moral judge. They will have to learn their proper place in the created order and learn it the hard way.

In truth, the only person I have seen show more presumption than the NSW premier is the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. She went even further than claiming the right to judge her people’s morality and motivations. She proclaimed herself as the single source of truth!

“You can trust us as a source of that information,” she declared. “You can also trust the Director-General of Health and the Ministry of Health. … otherwise dismiss anything else.” “We will continue to be your single source of truth,”

I’m glad that Ms Arden didn’t fall from her podium at that point, clutching her abdomen. Even so, I can’t imagine King Herod sounding any more presumptuous!

Forgive me for singling out these two women here. The irony is that these two were the politicians I had most admired prior to this latest trial.

I was so impressed with how the New Zealand’s Prime Minister handled the terrorist shooting at the Christchurch Mosque in 2019. Along with many others, I thought of her as a model of compassionate leadership.

Similarly, with Ms Berejiklian, I was deeply impressed with her relative restraint and calm over the early lockdowns, particularly in comparison with the Premier of Victoria. I thought of her as the gold standard of Australian leadership. What happened? Did the adulation go to their heads?

The bottom line is that these politicians – our Premiers and Prime Ministers – are not God. They can make up laws and they can arrest and punish us as law-breakers, but they cannot assess our moral characters, they cannot ascertain what motivates us, and they cannot pass judgement on us as human beings. To presume that they can is to risk an unhealthy encounter with the worms!

We must keep a separation between church and state because we must maintain the distinction between law and morality. If we lose that distinction then we lose any basis for criticising the actions of government. If the law-makers can decree what is right and wrong, then no law, no matter how insidious, can be questioned.

Many Germans fell under this sort of delusion a century ago – giving the Nazis the right to decree what was right and what was wrong. The Nuremburg trials ruled that the German people had no excuse – that they should have known better. “I was just following orders” was not adequate, as everyone knows deep down that was is ordered and what is right are often two very different things.

I believe we are in a similar situation to that of the German people in the early 1930’s. I’m not suggesting that we have any dictator like Adolf Hitler waiting in the wings, but the issues we are confronting are identical. Are we willing to take a moral stand against laws that are clearly unethical?

For the last eighteen months we have been dealing with laws that stop us meeting for worship, prevent us from being with those we love when they are in need, and can even forbid us from embracing our children. We have seen the cost of these laws on mental health, on domestic violence, on job loss, business collapse, street violence, depression and suicide. At some point we need to say, “enough is enough”, and I fear that if we don’t say it soon, there will be no path back to Eden-like existence we once took for granted.

As for our politicians, I don’t believe they are willfully trying to usurp the Almighty. Indeed, I suspect that the real intentions of the Premier of New South Wales are made transparently clear every time she expresses public condolences for those who have been killed by the virus.

The Premier reads us a list every day – details of individuals who have died of (or with) COVID in the last twenty-four hours. At time of writing, it’s generally around three or four people each day, and we hear the Premier express her grief over these deaths and extend her condolences to the families.

I have a problem with this. I’m not suggesting that it’s wrong for our leaders to grieve those who die, but why single out those who were COVID positive? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, around 55, 000 people die each year in New South Wales. That’s more than a thousand per week or around 150 per day. If the Premier is genuinely upset over the deaths of the three who died who were COVID positive, what about the 147 who died the same day without any trace of COVID? Aren’t their deaths tragic? Why don’t we grieve them and extend condolences to their families?

The real problem we have with our Premier is not that she cares too much for those dying with COVID or too little for anybody else. The problem is that she, and all her political colleagues, are only focused on one thing – minimising COVID deaths. They aren’t deliberately trivialising all forms of death and destruction that are not directly COVID-related, but all this collateral damage is not their problem. COVID is their problem, and they will take every option that is available to them, including taking on God-like powers if they can, to make their problem go away.

This is the real question then – how did the political establishment become so myopically fixated on only one aspect of this worldwide tragedy? Is the media to blame? Was this tunnel vision driven by the pharmaceutical companies? Is there really some secret cabal of sinister men behind it all? In the end, it doesn’t matter. It is still a total failure in leadership on the part of Australia’s political elite.

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged”, warns Jesus (Matthew 7:1), for indeed, these things have a way of coming back on us. For the moment, non-COVID deaths are not the problem of our political leaders, but as the toll of devastation from the lockdowns rises, it will become their problem and they will be held to account. That is, unless the worms get them first!

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Ashura commemoration in the West

August 17, 2021 – It was my privilege to speak at the conference, “Ashura Commemoration in the West”, organised by the Ashura International Foundation in cooperation with the One Nation Center for Intellectual and Strategic Studies in Iran.

It is my privilege to be asked to participate in this wonderful seminar, held on this auspicious occasion – the day of Ashura, 2021.

I appreciate that I participate in Ashura as an outsider, though I have come to feel over the years that Ashuara and the battle of Karbala and the figure of Imam Husain are points at which the Christian and Islamic communities actually connect in a very profound way.

I appreciate, of course, that these families of faiths were formed centuries apart in different parts of the world, and that the Jewish, Christian and Islamic Scriptures are vastly different in their content and style. Even so, in all three traditions, and in Christianity and Shia Islam in particular, there is an emphasis given to the suffering of the innocent, and I suspect that this is reasonably unique in the history of religions

Immanuel Kant famously suggested that the basic religious intuition that we all intuit is that ‘good should be rewarded and evil punished’. I believe he was correct.

From my limited understanding, this seems to be exactly what Eastern religions, such as  Hinduism and Buddhism, embody in their concept of ‘karma’ – the belief that virtuous actions will always generate positive results (in one form or another) and that there is a direct cause and effect relationship between virtue and reward.

The early wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible attests to an identical link between virtue and reward, as reflected in Psalm 1:

“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” (Pslam 1;1-3)

This sort of straightforward calculation between godliness and prosperity gets critiqued within the Jewish wisdom literature itself (most obviously in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes). Even so, it is not until we reach the Christian Scriptures that we find this whole equation turned on its head – that it is only the devil’s own who prosper in this world and that the righteous must expect to suffer!

Perhaps I am exaggerating the point, and yet the early Christian writers, known as the Apostles, were most explicit in linking genuine religious piety with a life of persecution, and seeing this as an inevitable consequence of their relationship with the persecuted Jesus.

“Rejoice”, the Apostle Peter encourages his sisters and brothers in faith, “in as much as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13)

Similarly, the Apostle Paul says, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29)

These verses give us glimpses of what is at the core of the New Testament – the proclamation of the cross of Jesus which becomes the central symbol of the church and is, in itself, a recognition that God’s chosen representatives do not necessarily get it easy in this life.

As I say, I believe this runs completely contrary to the fundamental religious intuition, as formulated by Immanuel Kant, as it elevates the suffering of the innocent, but this is exactly what I see happening too in Ashura, where the children of Islam celebrate and revere Imam Husain, not despite his suffering but because of his suffering!

You will have to forgive me if my knowledge of Imam Husain and of the Prophet (peace be upon them both) are only partial. As I say, I come to Ashura as an outsider. Even so, what I see my Shia sisters and brothers doing as they meditate on the life of Husain Ibyn Ali is not trying to overlook the horror of his sufferings but to embrace them and recognise in them the profound and disturbing truth that God’s servants in every age do suffer.

The Jews did recognise this and they wrote about it in their later wisdom literature. The church embodied this truth in the central symbol of their faith – the cross. Muslims affirm the same truth every Ashura when they remember the life and the death of the servant of God, Husain Ibyn Ali.

As I say, I do believe that Ashura is a bridging point between our faiths as it affirms what we, as people of faith, recognise, but which most of the world still fails to acknowledge – namely, that being a good person does not necessarily mean you’ll have an easy life.

I think Immanuel Kant was right. I do think that each of us deep down does have that basic religious intuition, that good should be rewarded and evil punished, and it takes the explicit revelation of God to shake us out of that simplistic understanding and to recognise that life almost never works like that.

Too many still believe that if you take up religion you are pretty much guaranteed a quiet and comfy life. Many come to religion with exactly that expectation. They are looking for God to solve all their problems and provide them with an easy path.

The cross of Christ and the battle of Karbala are two stark reminders that virtue and comfort are not so straightforwardly linked. Good people still suffer in this world. Even the greatest of God’s servants can be crucified and killed. Even the best of us can meet the worst of fates.

Christianity and Islam and Judaism all recognise this somber truth, and perhaps we have a role in helping the rest of the world come to terms with this, most especially at this moment in world history. If so, we equally have a role in proclaiming to the rest of the world the other side of this coin – that God’s justice ultimately prevails and that in the end the righteous do receive their reward.

Enshallah, that day will come soon,

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Lockdowns defile what is sacred

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” (Matthew 10:28)

Human beings were created to live in community. Indeed, I don’t believe it is possible to enjoy a full life unless you’re part of a good community – fellow human beings who you can call home.

This doesn’t seem to be the case for all of God’s creatures. Whenever we go away for the weekend, my beloved youngest daughter gets concerned about our pet bunny – how she’s going to cope without our company.

I do think bunny likes have us around. Even so, I don’t think she gets too stressed about being alone either, as even when we’re both at home she generally prefers to sit by herself. I, on the other hand, never like to sit by myself. Indeed, I never like to be too far away from my children, my partner, my friends, my community.

As a person of faith I see our communal nature as a reflection of the divine image within us (Genesis 1:27). “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) is the first judgement made about the human condition in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, before any discussion of right and wrong and sin and death. We were born to live in community and our destiny is the Heavenly community. Why then do we allow our governments to destroy our communities and rob us of our humanity?

As human beings, we connect with one another through our four senses – sight, sound, touch and smell. We’re not always connecting through all four of these senses at the same time, and some are more important than others in different contexts. Even so, I believe that all four senses do need to be engaged in true human community, and what happens when we go into lockdown is that we are immediately robbed of at least two of the four.

Being in lockdown means we can’t touch each other. Yes, for the most part, we are still permitted to touch our sexual partners and our children – our nuclear family (if we have one) – but anyone outside of that tight circle has to be dealt with at an arms length (a 1.5 metre length, to be exact). We cannot touch them. We cannot embrace them. We cannot pat them on the back or put an arm around their shoulders or ruffle their hair, let alone box, wrestle or rumble with them.

I’ve been running a boxing club for more than 30 years and I’ve been using boxing as a form of therapy for young people (and older people) in difficult circumstances. I truly believe that an essential part of the healing that can take place through my sport comes from the physical contact we share with each other. Boxing is a very non-sexual way of embracing someone, and when it is done safely and respectfully, it can be a very healing experience.

Similarly, I spent some years leading weekly wrestling classes in a juvenile detention centre, and I had many powerful times there with young men whose only experience of getting physical with someone had been when they were being abused. Being able to wrestle with these guys in a way that was respectful and safe helped them tap back into the good memories of family and community that they had left behind, and, apparently, my wrestlers were soon the best behaved inmates in the prison!

Physical touch can be a healing force. If you believe what you read in the New Testament, you already know this full well. Healing comes through touching! It worked back then and touch, I believe, still has the power to heal. Conversely, withholding touch, and preventing people from being able to be physical with one another, has the power to kill!

I still remember in my university studies in psychology, reading of the fate of children brought up in orphanages where they weren’t hugged as babies. Early in the 20th century, some of the ‘foundling hospitals’ in the US and UK, where young women would quietly deposit their babies in order to avoid all the difficulties of being an ‘unwed mother’, had infant death rates of close to 100%. As has been said, these babies were left in a little box out the front of the building, but they might as well have been dropped down a garbage shoot!

Similarly terrible statistics came out of the so-called ’child gulags’ of Romania when they were discovered in 1990 after the fall of Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu. Once again, what had destroyed these poor children was not any shortage of food or medicine, but a simple lack of touch and affection.

Human beings need to touch each other. It is a sacred right, and I believe this wisdom is built into the Hebrew word for skin or flesh – ‘basar’. Our ‘basar’ is what makes us human because it allows us to connect with each other through touch. Conversely, we must ask, if we cannot touch each other, can we be fully human?

The lockdown laws vilify human touch. By touching each other we spread disease! If I touch you, I may infect you, and if you go and hug your Grandma, you may kill her! Let’s bang elbows and try to convince each other that’s it’s the same thing, or wave at each other, while keeping a ‘safe distance’ to ensure that we don’t infect one another. This is not human community!

The lockdown laws dehumanise us by preventing us from touching one another. They also force us to cover our faces when we see each other in public, and this likewise breaks down community.

Prior to the virus, my only memories of seeing people wearing facemasks was from the old Samurai movies. The ninja’s would wear masks over their mouths (as indeed they did, historically) and the reason they wore those masks was to prevent the Samurai from forming a human connection with them.

The ninja were assassins, and it’s much easier to assassinate someone you don’t know. The person who has no face has no name and  no personality. They move in the shadows, retaining their anonymity, or at least they would retain their anonymity if they didn’t have to sign in with a QR code everywhere they went.

Yes, Big Brother knows exactly who we are and where we are, even if those standing next to us don’t have a clue! This is precisely the opposite of how things ought to be and, again, this is not just a social and political issue. It’s a fundamentally religious issue.

‘The face’ in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures is seen as a key point of connection in relationships, perhaps reflected most obviously in its metaphorical use, referring to the ‘face of God’.

‘Seeing God’s face’ (Genesis 32:30) is a special privilege that means you really know God, and so the ancient Israelites would pray that God’s face would “shine upon them” (Numbers 6:25). Conversely, we hear the desperate cry of the Psalmist to God, “Hide not Your face from me” (Psalm 27:9) because to hide your face from someone is to break the relationship with them.

Showing someone your face, like telling them your name, is a way of connecting with someone and it implies trust and a level of intimacy. Again this is reflected in the metaphorical use of the term by Saint Paul – “now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

By forcing us to hide our faces from one another, the government again deprives us of something sacred and defiles a fundamental point of human connectivity by associating face-to-face contact, not with intimacy, but with illness!

And so we substitute virtual relationships for real relationships. We can no longer properly see each or touch each other, let alone smell each other! We have been sterilised, ostracised, and virtualised (if that’s a word). In short, we have been dehumanised.

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity”, says King David (Psalm 133:1), reflecting on his community when it was at its best.

I wonder what a psalm about today’s Australia would look like – a country where rabbits roam free while human beings stay locked in their homes. A psalm about happy bunnies would cheer my daughter, but my concern is for her and for all our children. What kind of society are we leaving them?

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There is only one God, and it’s not the Minister for Health

Over the last few weeks, churches around the world have been reacquainting themselves with the ancient stories of David, King of Israel – his triumphs and his failures. These accounts have reminded me of an uncomfortable Biblical truth – that from the perspective of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, there is ultimately only one sin – idolatry. I suspect that the Qur’an shares this perspective.

Idolatry is simply putting someone or something else in God’s place. That may involve setting up a graven image of wood or stone and worshipping it, or it can simply be making yourself the ultimate authority, as King David did when he raped Bathsheba and murdered her husband (2 Samuel 11), acting as if he were answerable to nobody but himself.

“Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned”, says David in Psalm 51, crying out to God for forgiveness. That cry might appear to trivialize David’s crimes against Bathsheba and her husband but, from a Biblical point of view, you can’t separate violence done towards God’s creatures from violence aimed directly at the Almighty.

As I read and listen to the daily news, it seems clear to me that our society has capitulated to a new form of idolatry – the worship of ‘the science’. I listen daily to our media commentators and politicians saying, “listen to the science!”, and, “we do whatever the science tells us to do”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an obvious example of idolatry!

I’m not saying that ‘the science’ is wrong. Indeed, I’m sure we have plenty to learn from ‘the science’. What I am saying is that for us ‘people of the book’, ‘the science’ is not our ultimate authority. On the contrary, “we do whatever the science tells us to do” is the language of idolatry, and it’s high time we toppled this idol.

In truth, there is no single body of knowledge known as ‘the science’. There is actually massive disagreement within the scientific community over everything COVID related. Some scientists tell us that we need to wear face-masks to stop the spread. Others say that face-masks are useless. Some say that lockdowns are the answer. Others say that lockdowns do more harm than good. Some think that the vaccines will solve everything. Others say that the vaccines may kill us all!. This idol is looking very wobbly.

Don’t think I’ve gone all fundamentalist here. I’m not suggesting that we should be anti-science. Even so, I am amazed at the extent to which the church – the self-proclaimed guardian of spiritual truth – has simply bowed the knee to this Baal!

‘The science’ told us that we could no longer meet for prayer and worship, and that we could no longer sing our songs of praise. Our spiritual foremothers and forefathers would have sooner been fed to lions than comply with directives like this and yet we – the twenty-first century people of God – almost universally capitulated, and those that didn’t were either prosecuted or held up for ridicule (or both).

I’m not suggesting that the virus isn’t real and deadly, and I’m not suggesting that science doesn’t have a vital contribution to make in helping us get through this worldwide catastrophe. Having said that, I don’t understand why we ever abandoned what is sacred for the sake of obeying ‘the science’.

Should ‘the science’ really be able to dictate to us whether or not we can embrace those we love? Does ‘the science’ really have authority to tell us that we cannot meet for prayer and worship? Who gave ‘the science’ the right to tell me that I can’t be with those I love when they are dying, and that we can’t meet together to grieve them when they do die? Some things are sacred – beyond the authority of all such earthly powers.

We can agree or disagree on what ‘the science’ says, and on what ‘the science’ has to contribute in helping us to solve our worldwide problems. I remain a religious man, believing that there is only one God with a claim to my ultimate obedience. I will not cast my pearls before the swine and abandon the sacred for the scientific.

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A plea to the Premier

I was reminded by the Hebrew Bible reading we had last Sunday (from 2 Samuel 12) that, in the days of old, God would send prophets to speak to the rulers of the people, to remind them that they are answerable to a higher authority than themselves and, inspired by that, I thought I might try broadcasting a message to the Premier of our state, to remind her that, according to our common faith tradition, political leadership is a spiritual issue, and that a failure to be a ‘good shepherd’ can not only lose you the support of the people, but can put you on a collision course with the Almighty!

I hear in particular from my Lebanese friends, from my Muslim friends, and most especially from my Lebanese Muslim friends that they are feeling targeted in the West and inner-west of Sydney -targeted by harsh lockdowns – and I can understand why they feel that. They are suffering economically, as are many of us, but, more than that, they feel that their humanity is being compromised by harsh rules that don’t make much sense to them (and a lot of which, quite frankly, don’t make a lot of sense to any of us).

My understanding is that the word used for ‘skin’ In the Hebrew Bible – basar – it’s that which makes us human because we can touch one another, and I wonder, if we are not allowed to touch one another, can we be fully human? This is only a small example of the larger problem, but I do wonder to what extent these lockdowns, designed to save human lives, actually destroy the ability to live a truly human life, and I really wonder whether anybody should have the right to tell another human being that they can’t embrace those they love, or that they can’t meet together for prayer and worship, or that they can’t be with their loved ones who are dying, or that they can’t grieve together when those loved ones do die!

Some things are sacred, and while we all recognise that individual freedoms do need to be limited at some point for the sake of the well-being of the broader community, we surely need to draw the line at some point too, and when freedoms are mitigated to the point where businesses and families are destroyed and where domestic violence is increasing and depression is on the rise and suicide looks like the only answer, perhaps it’s time to say ‘enough is enough’?

A couple of weeks ago, a lot of us in Sydney went out to protest. It hadn’t even clicked with me at the time that it was illegal to protest, but I realised subsequently that a lot of people there were fully aware of the fact that they were risking arrest and fines that they couldn’t afford in order to have their voices heard, and I must say, Madam Premier, that I was deeply disappointed by your response. You had the opportunity at that point to say, “I hear what you are saying. I sympathise with your grief. I understand your pain.” Instead, you said “I going to get you”, and you went to war with us, and you arrested us and fined us and you even brought in the army!

And now I hear the whir of army helicopters overhead at night, and I see these images of violence and unrest, and I see videos of women screaming and men being wrestled to the ground, and punches being thrown, and …. It didn’t have to be this way!

You know, I think so much of the problem, not just for you, Madam Premier, but with all of our politicians today is that there’s not a lot of skin in the game.

Not many Roman emperors died quietly in their own beds. Indeed, I believe the last recorded sighting of Constantine XI was of him girding up his loins, with his sons by his side and his broadsword in his hand, crying ‘charge’. If those leaders made hard decisions that threatened the livelihood of their people, they were in the front line, sharing the fate of their people. That just doesn’t happen nowadays. We see our political leaders on full salaries, driving in chauffeur-driven cars, living a long way away from the ‘hotspots’ that they are locking down, and sharing in none of the hardships endured by the rest of us.

Madam Premier, the battle is not lost. I believe that your relationship with your people can still be retrieved, but you’ll need to put some skin in the game. You should, at the very least, come down and walk the streets of the areas you are locking down and talk to the people there, as one human being to another, because we need to be taken seriously.

I’ll be happy to introduce you to some of my Lebanese friends and some of my Muslim friends and some of my Lebanese Muslim friends. In fact, I’ll be happy to introduce you to a whole variety of people who are feeling suffocated and destroyed by the decisions that you are making. Please, I pray you, do something before things deteriorate any further.

May God bless you and give you wisdom.

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We used to think it noble to sacrifice lives to preserve our freedom. Now we sacrifice our freedom to preserve lives

“Perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18)

Once upon a time we would go to war, believing that it was worth sacrificing millions of lives, if necessary, to maintain our freedom. Now we do exactly the opposite. We sacrifice our freedom for the sake of preserving lives.

When I was entering my teens, the Vietnam war was still going. I assumed then that it would go on indefinitely and that when I turned eighteen my name would go into the lottery and I too might be called up. I dreaded the prospect, though, even then, I could understand the rationale of conscription and why my dad supported it so strongly. Our society had been built on democratic principles that enshrined fundamental human freedoms. Those freedoms were under threat from the godless ideology of Communism (or so we had been told) and so it was right and proper that we stand together to defend our country and protect those freedoms, even if it meant that countless numbers of our young men must die, perhaps including me!

Times have changed. I thank God that I did not have to go and fight in Vietnam, and I am now unequivocally opposed to the practice of conscription. That’s because I no longer believe the way our wars are sold to us – as noble causes. The ‘domino principle’ that was used to justify the stand in Vietnam turned out to be vacuous. We had no business being in Vietnam any more than we did in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria. I no longer believe in conscription because I don’t trust the government. Even so, I accept the basic principle, that there are things worth dying for, and that we should be ready to pay a cost to defend our freedoms. So … what happened?

I remember when lockdowns were first announced, I posted a video on Facebook, expressing concern and suggesting that we should think about where we draw the line. If we accept social distancing and stay-at-home orders, is there a point where we draw a line? When we’re no longer allowed to embrace our children – is that where we draw the line?

I posted that in March 2020, and received an immediate call from my bishop, asking me to take it down. He said, “nobody is saying that we can’t embrace our children”, as if I had ventured into the absurd. I took the video down. Within a few weeks of that phone call I watched news footage of a man disembarking his plane in Darwin where his young son ran up to embrace him. Dad stepped back with his hands in the air. Lockdown rules had come into force while he had been in flight and, indeed, the man was forbidden to embrace his child.

Not long after that my position as parish priest was terminated – a position that I’d held for thirty years. At least that meant I could repost my video. Yes, I’ve been able to speak freely ever since, though no doubt many had hoped that by denying me a pulpit, I’d be left preaching into a void.

I have never accepted, and I do not accept now, that what is driving our government’s response to this ‘great pandemic’ is purely a concern for public health. That is largely because the statistics do not justify, and have never justified, the level of totalitarian response we have endured.

Yes, people have died. Indeed, a good friend of mine died from COVID 19. He died in Syria and not in Australia, but I don’t deny for a second that the virus is real and deadly. Even so, there are a lot of things in this world that can kill us, and of course governments should play some role in trying to protect us, but it’s a matter of balance.

The roads can be deadly. People die every day from car accidents but we don’t reduce the national speed limit to 40 km/hour, even though we know full well that this would save more than a thousand lives each year!

We know that by allowing families to build in-ground pools in their backyards that the number of domestic drownings will inevitably increase. We still let them do it.

We know that by banning the sale and consumption of alcohol, as the US did for a full thirteen years (between 1920 and 1933, road deaths would be reduced, domestic violence cases would decrease, and there would be way less brawling on the streets. Even so, not only do we not ban the sale of alcohol, but even in the most serious lockdowns, the sale of alcohol has been considered an essential service!

I simply do not believe that public health was ever the sole and sufficient reason for locking down huge numbers of healthy people, and if it were, surely more weight would have been given to the health cost of the lockdowns.

Lockdowns destroy small businesses and lose people their jobs, which in turn causes stress, poverty, depression and domestic tensions. Moreover, while lockdowns may only be a minor disruption for the well-to-do and the well-healed, for those who are on the edge, lockdowns threaten to push them over the edge.

As I mentioned, I have lost one friend to COVID. Even so, I know of seven who have died through suicide during these lockdowns. One of the boys in my boxing club told me one night of how he had gone to see his dad but got there to find that he had hanged himself.  How do you recover from something like that?

I read that during the Melbourne lockdown, youth suicide rose by 180%. I’m surprised it’s not more.

I haven’t had paid employment myself since I lost my position in the church and I’ve been struggling. Lockdowns are suffocating. The universe no longer seems like a friendly place. Stopping the pain through self-destruction starts to look like a credible way forwards. It is not, of course. It never is. Even so, I have felt the pull from the abyss, and I weep for those for whom that pull has been just too great.

We used to think that freedom was worth dying for. What happened? Well … the narrative changed.

In today’s official narrative we are indeed at war, but the enemy is COVID and we are all standing together to fight against it.

Yes, we will all have to endure some hardship and, inevitably, some will have to sacrifice more than others, but once we have achieved victory over the virus enemy, all these hardships will soon be forgotten. The economy will bounce back, small businesses will thrive again, the government will relinquish all emergency powers, and electronic tracking and surveillance will be gone forever. Those who suicided will all be resurrected. and we won’t even remember what social distancing was as we’ll all be too busy embracing one another in celebration!

Does this sound about right?

The only thing that makes the official narrative look plausible is that the counter-narratives, most of which point to secret cabals plotting the destruction of the human race, look even less plausible. Personally, I don’t accept any of these narratives. Rather, I believe that what is driving the worldwide response to the virus are the same twin forces that drive just about everything else in this world – namely, the lust for power and money, both of which feed on fear.

Fear sells newspapers, fearful populations are easy to control, and, of course, in this extraordinarily litigious culture, both companies and governments are terrified of being sued should they be held responsible for someone’s death because they did not do enough to protect them!

The institutional church works exactly this way. I remember while I was still in seminary hearing a bishop warn us that we (the church) must be careful not to apologise to our Indigenous population lest we be sued like the church in Canada which was then looking like it might soon be insolvent! I said to the bishop then, “but shouldn’t we just do what is right and let the chips fall where they may?” I don’t think I received an answer.

With any large company or government or institution, the bottom line will always be the bottom line, and so the church can’t take the risk of allowing people to worship for the same reason we can’t take the risk of being honest about our history.

We cannot open the way for scores of litigants to come forward and say “my grandma would still be alive if you had only closed the doors of the church”. No! We must do whatever is necessary – close the doors, stop people singing, talking, embracing, deny the faith if we have to … just protect the bottom line!

There are alternate paths out of this mess.

For our leaders, we need them to be guided by love rather than by fear. As the Apostle John said, “perfect love casts out all fear”. (1 John 4:18), If love is too much to ask for, just a basic respect for human dignity will do.

For the rest of us, we need to be willing to take personal responsibility for our own health and leave the government to focus on their real job – protecting our freedoms!

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A critique of American Human Rights

My thanks to Dr Yahya Jahangiri for the kind invitation to speak at this conference, organised by Tehran University in Iran.  I participated  via  the live  stream  on  June  30,  2021American Human Rights

It is a privilege to be invited to speak to you today, and I am always conscious when I engage with my Iranian friends that our countries share the dubious privilege of both having experienced US-initiated regime change in the last generation or so.

In Iran’s case, of course, it was the CIA-initiated overthrow of Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, in 1953. In Australia’s case, it was the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975 – arguably, Australia’s greatest Prime Minister.

Whitlam was formally dismissed by the Australian Governor General on constitutional grounds, but many believe that the Governor General was acting on the instructions of the CIA, and that it was Whitlam’s promise to evict US military bases from the country, along with his opposition to the Vietnam War, that was the real basis for his eviction from office.

We share this common heritage then of having both threatened US global hegemony, and having both paid the price for our presumption of independence. The key difference is that Iran took back its independence in 1979 whereas Australia continues to be a vassal to US interests. The other difference, of course, is that whereas the CIA acted openly in the overthrow of Mosaddegh, in all subsequent regime-change operations, the United States government and their agents have worked in the shadows.

The US regime-change operation that I am actually most familiar with is the current ten year long attempt to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Syria – an operation that most of us only became aware of in 2011, but which Wikileaks cables have revealed was already an explicit part of US foreign policy as early as 2006. I don’t pretend to have any particular expertise in understanding the political and economic factors that helped form that policy. What I am familiar with though is the level of devastation that it has caused. I have had the privilege of travelling to Syria nine times over the last ten years of war in that country and I have seen first-hand the toll that the US regime-change policy has taken on ordinary Syrian people.

I remember when I first arrived in Damascus, early in 2013, when things were at their worst, one of the first Syrian people I met was a woman, dressed in black, tugging on my cassock and trying to show me a photo of a young boy while she pleaded in broken English, “They killed my son, Mohamad! They put a bomb in his pocket and they blew him up! They killed him because we are Shia.”

It soon became apparent that the woman wanted me to help her get her other son out of Homs – something that I had no power to help her with whatsoever. Even so, I wondered then as I wonder now, whether those who sat in comfortable offices in Washington, working on their mission objectives in Syria, had any idea what life looked like on the receiving end of their policy decisions.

Of course, the connection between terrorist groups operating in Syria and their foreign backers has never been openly admitted. They have operated in the shadows. Even so, there is one weapon of foreign policy that the United States government has wielded openly, and it is, I believe, the most damaging weapon of all in terms of the toll it has taken on ordinary Syrian people, and I am talking, of course, about the sanctions.

Sanctions kill people. No one knows that better than the people of Iran, of course, but for the Syrian people the latest round of sanctions imposed by the United States has devastated normal civilian life. You can’t get gas to heat your home during winter because of the sanctions. There is no fuel for your vehicle, so you can’t do your work because of the sanctions. You would like to rebuild your home that was damaged in the fighting but you can’t get the building materials because of the sanctions.

Last time I was in Syria, in 2019, I met a lovely woman who worked with young people who had cancer. She said that all she could really do was to sit with these children as they died as they weren’t able to get them cancer medications. They were only ever able to get expired medications from developing countries. Why? Because of the sanctions.

The great irony of these devastating sanctions is that they have been sold to the American people as a humanitarian policy! The sanctions are part of the “Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act”, named after an individual known as ‘Caesar’ who produced photographs that were allegedly taken of people who had been tortured by the Syrian government, though how these sanctions could ever have been envisaged as a form of ‘civilian protection’ is beyond comprehension.

The photographs of ‘Caesar’ are themselves highly suspect, which only adds to the irony. Of course, the sanctions themselves do make provision for food and medications to be delivered to Syria, as these are technically exempt, but those who design the sanctions know full well that such exempted items will never reach Syria, as the exporting companies cannot take the risk.

The fines imposed on companies that export prohibited goods to sanctioned countries are so great that they can bankrupt an offending company overnight. No board of directors in their right mind will ever block the export of their widgets, but allow the export of food and medicine lest a widget be accidentally included, or lest a competitor allege that they exported a widget, tying them up in court for years.

Those who design these sanctions know how companies operate, and they know that their ‘humanitarian sanctions’ will result in death and devastation for ordinary people. This particular irony mirrors the greater lie proclaimed by successive US administrations, that they are only intervening in the affairs of other countries, such as Syria, out of a concern for the human rights of their people.

This brings us back to the broader issue of why the United States feels it has a unique role to play as global policeman – enforcing democracy and human rights on the rest of the world. We would argue, of course, that this has never been the true intention of US foreign policy but, even so, we must also ask why the United States of America should ever have felt that it had this unique responsibility in world affairs.

There has indeed been a history of rhetoric from US leaders, explicating the unique role they see their country as having in the world. The idea that North America was formed as “A city built on a hill” goes right back to one of the founding fathers – John Winthrop – who took this image from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5 to 7) to depict his new colony in Massachusetts Bay as a model of Christian charity. The phrase was taken up again in writings such as Manly Hall’s “The Secret Destiny of America” (1944) and used unashamedly in speeches by Ronald Reagan and Barak Obama, amongst other American political luminaries.

At one level, this is simply the common language of empire. Julius Caesar would speak of his aim to ‘civilize the Gaul’s’ before engaging in the wanton slaughter of their native people. Rudyard Kipling similarly spoke of the ‘white man’s burden’ to justify the imperialist ambitions of the British Empire. Empires inevitably produce high-sounding propaganda to mask their greed. Even Adolf Hitler framed his bloodlust as an attempt to save the world from his imagined Jewish enemy! What makes the American propaganda especially difficult for me to deal with though, of course, is the way it is so often steeped in the language of the New Testament.

It has been suggested that a perverse strain of Evangelical Christianity has fueled much of the violence of American imperialism. The New Testament does indeed depict the suffering and death of Jesus as a means to the salvation of the world, and this combination of suffering and salvation has given rise to what American theologian, Walter Wink, termed, ‘the myth of redemptive violence’ wherein positive social change is seen as inevitably requiring a degree of violence and suffering.

This is well illustrated in Julia Ward Howe’s great Battle Hymn of the Republic (1862), wherein the struggle for emancipation of African Americans in the American Civil War (1861-1864) is depicted as a holy war, foreshadowed by the cross of Christ – “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free”.

I believe that political leaders will always try to tap into the religious idealism of their people in order to further their own political ends. Conversely though, I believe that genuine religious piety, that begins in the prayers of the people, will inevitably be critical of power, and will always choose the path of peace.

When we look back over the last 100 years, we can see a handful of positive examples of movements for social change where the genuine religious piety was a driving force.

I’m thinking specifically of the Indian Independence movement in the first half of the 20th century and the role of Mahatma Gandhi. I’m thinking of the US Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s and the role of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m thinking of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 and the role Ayatollah Khomeini.

In each of these cases we see, not politicians using religious rhetoric, but religion inspiring political change. Each of these social movements were as peaceful as they were powerful, and their results have been long-lasting. The contrast between these religiously-driven movements for social change and the hollow crusades of successive US administrations, thinly veiled with a veneer of human-rights rhetoric and Biblical imagery, could not be more stark.

As we look at our sisters and brothers in the United States at the moment, we see a country in turmoil, an empire in decline, and a culture where the place of religion is very much in question. The rhetoric of American exceptionalism sounds increasingly hollow as all pretentions to moral superiority are gradually being seen to be without foundation.

My hope and prayer for our brothers and sisters in the United States is that the genuine religious piety of so many people in that land will lead to a peaceful revolution through which their leaders will be held accountable for their human-rights abuses and where, ultimately, we may yet see America become that city built on a hill that she always had the potential to be.

Father Dave, June 30, 2021

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