BOOKS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
'The High Price of Heaven', by David Marr
, March 25, 2000
THE HIGH PRICE OF HEAVEN
by David Marr
Allen & Unwin
Rec. price: $24.95
David Marr maintains his rage
In this book, David Marr, the authorised biographer of Patrick White and unauthorised biographer of Sir Garfield Barwick, has brought together a number of articles and speeches he has given on the subjects of sex and morality, to produce a denunciation of the influence of Christianity in contemporary Australia.
It is an uneven and disconnected look at the influence of the churches on the drug issue, homosexuality and censorship, with particular criticism of the Methodism of John Howard, the alleged puritanism of Senator Brian Harradine, the alleged Catholic bias of the High Court of Australia (which the author discovered in an obscure criminal case, Malcolm Thomas Green v. The Queen), and the malign influence of the churches, particularly the Catholic Church, over public policy in this country.
Strangely enough, Marr refutes his own case by pointing out that on almost every social issue, Christian leaders are to be found on both sides.
Marr's hostility towards religion demands an explanation.
As a boy, he was, he tells us, a devout Anglican: "I read the Bible. I prayed. I shopped myself around Anglican parishes looking for somewhere exciting and convincing to worship." But like many other "baby boomers", David Marr ditched religion at university.
One part of the explanation for this book comes from the fact that he is a homosexual, who clearly found he could not live up to the precepts of Christianity. He writes, "I invested a decade of my life in the pursuit of a profound, sincere, determined and hopeless ambition not to be homosexual. It's an ordinary story with an ordinary ending. Christ failed me. So did alcohol. So did marriage ... Eventually the price of heaven proved too high."Despite all this, there are interesting aspects of this book. For example, he contradicts the universally-held picture that the Sisters of Charity originated the proposed Sydney heroin injecting room at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney.
He makes clear that the "instigator of the St. Vincent's plan" was Dr Alex Wodak, whom he describes as Director of the St Vincent's Hospital Alcohol and Drug Service and President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, a body which supports decriminalisation of drug use, including heroin.
If true, the way in which the Sisters of Charity were presented as the driving force in the campaign for injecting rooms in the Australian media would appear to be the most cynical use of a good cause to promote a worthless one.
An interesting vignette is the revelation that NSW Premier Neville Wran's young wife, Jill Hickson, was a significant influence in the campaign for legalisation of homosexuality in New South Wales in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Another aspect of this is that Mr Wran is alleged to have moved to legalise homosexuality in 1984 partly to "refurbish his civil liberties credentials for the looming battles in defence of his old mate, Lionel Murphy", the ex-Labor Minister and High Court judge then facing charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
In the middle of this rather sad book is a chapter, "Heavenly Wisdom", which seems entirely out of place. It is a moving description of Hagia Sophia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople, now Istanbul, which for the best part of 1000 years, was the greatest Church in Christendom.
It is now a rather dilapidated museum and Marr feelingly deplores the fact that this magnificent building is not used for the purpose for which it was created.
He quotes approvingly the court historian Procopius, who witnessed the opening of the church by the Emperor Justinian on Christmas Day in AD 536: "Overwhelming to those who see it and altogether incredible to those who only hear of it, for it soars to a height to match the sky ... and abounds exceedingly in sunlight and gleaming reflections."
Procopius added, "The mind is lifted up to God and exalted, feeling that He cannot be far away but must love to dwell in this place which He has chosen."
Ironically, the building's creator, Emperor Justinian, a convinced Catholic Christian, would clearly have failed the Marr test.The High Price of Heaven
tells us more about David Marr - his unresolved personal issues and prejudices - than the influence of Christianity in contemporary society.