November 4th 2017

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COVER STORY National Energy Guarantee: lots of smoke, but no coal-fired power

EDITORIAL Popular revolt against the ideology of globalism

CANBERRA OBSERVED Paris still rules in the party room

ENERGY Renewables and gas conspire to push up prices

ENVIRONMENT Climate change did not cause California fires

ELECTRICITY Consumers will wake up only when there are blackouts: economists

ECONOMICS Something new under the sun from China

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Abbott gets brickbats for exposing house of straw

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Australia is far from fulfilling its potential

TECHNOLOGY Aussie scientists 'write' with adult stem cells

75TH ANNIVERSARY NCC: new challenges, kind of new adversaries

MUSIC All around the beat: the essential drummer

CINEMA Happy Death Day: Deja vu with a sharp edge

BOOK REVIEW Traditions under threat fight back

BOOK REVIEW Journey to freedom


ENERGY Coal-fired power needed to restore economic growth

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Traditions under threat fight back

News Weekly, November 4, 2017

DANGEROUS IDEAS: The Dawson Centre Colloquia, 2015 and 2016

Edited by Michael Stokes and David Daintree

Connor Court, Redland Bay
Paperback: 400 pages
Price: AUD$39.95

Reviewed by Brian Coman


In the Hindu worldview, history is seen as cyclical, going through a series of very long “ages” (yugas). In this schema, the present age is the kali yuga – the age of iron.

In such a dark age, the Hindus suppose, we have a general inversion of values. What was once considered good is now considered bad. The traditional moral order is inverted. So much so, in fact, that anyone proposing a return to an earlier moral order is to be regarded as an agent of subversion.

With this little backgrounder, it should come as no real surprise that the general title for this book under review is Dangerous Ideas. In this case, the ideas are predominantly those of traditional Christianity, although there are contributions from both Muslim and Jewish scholars. In the kali yuga, all traditional belief systems are under siege. This book collects together the papers given by 20 scholars at two consecutive symposia hosted by the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies in Tasmania.

The earlier symposium, titled The Religious View of History, is clearly modelled on the ideas of Christopher Dawson (1889–1970), and this is unsurprising given that both colloquia were hosted by the Dawson Centre. The centre was established in 2013, primarily to raise awareness of the Catholic intellectual tradition.

It was Dawson’s great achievement as an historian to set out in great detail the momentous changes in human civilisation brought about by the coming of Christianity. Europe itself, of course, owes its genesis and development to Christianity.

For the West, and for Christianity in general, history is not cyclical but moves towards an end – the Parousia. Indeed, for Christians, the message of Christianity supplies the very basis for an understanding of the historical process. This proposition is borne out in many of the papers given at the 2015 Colloquium.

For this reviewer, the most important papers were those which dealt with what I might call the ‘political” realities of Christianity. To quote Philippa Martyr, one of the contributors to this Colloquium: “It is not the Church’s job to engage with modernity because modernity has something to offer the Church. It is the Church’s job to engage with the World in order to save it”. And so, the Church is neither “liberal” nor “conservative” in our common usage of these terms, but operates at a higher level. This point was made in several of the papers presented, most notably by Alex Sidhu in his presentation on “Christianity and the liberal tradition”.

Put briefly, a true Christian liberty is not the same thing as the liberty espoused by J.S. Mill. As Karl Schmude points out in his paper on “The dangerous ideas of Christopher Dawson”, a true religious liberty includes the liberty to “bind” oneself to particular beliefs. As Schmude says, the tendency today to abolish all permanent bonds and loyalties (in the name of “freedom of the individual”) does not bring about “the social paradise of freedom, but rather the social nightmare of devaluing and trivialising human life and experience”.

And of course, the notion of religious liberty is now under fierce attack. Papers from the second Colloquium dealt specifically with the question of human sexuality and the relentless campaign against the traditional religious views associated with it. Today, this translates chiefly into the campaign against the traditional or religious view of marriage as a binding union between a man and a woman.

Papers here included perspectives from the Jewish faith (Shimon Cowen) and the Islamic faith (Usman Rana). I should also point out that two of the papers from the 2015 Colloquium dealt with this particular topic – Bishop Julian Porteous on “The contribution of the Christian conception of marriage to Western civilisation”, and David van Gend on “A history of Marriage: nature, culture and the present crisis”.

For those who wish to arm themselves with a better understanding of the nature of the present conflict, the papers of this second Colloquium will be of benefit, for they cover social, legal and theological aspects in some detail. I am aware that regular readers of News Weekly have been well supplied with background information on the “marriage debate”, but in Dangerous Ideas they will find a wealth of more detailed information from people who are acknowledged experts in their particular fields.

Since several of the papers presented at the second Colloquium deal with the question of gender identity, it might be useful here to give a general summary, because this particular aspect of human sexuality is at the heart of the current drive to redefine marriage. As both Bishop Porteous and Mark Podesta point out in their respective papers, gender identity and the male-female bond is a biological fact, first and foremost. It is not a question of the churches imposing some radically unnatural law upon society – quite the opposite. It is the opposing views that are simply social constructs. We should not suppose that the push for same-sex (really transgender) marriage will simply grant some form of “natural right” to same-sex couples. It is an artificial construct whose application will simply destroy the notion of marriage that has applied in most cultures and traditions since the earliest historical records.

We might recall that famous exchange between Humpty Dumpty and Alice in Alice Through the Looking Glass: “‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’”This is precisely the question to ask in relation to the word “marriage”.

But much more than the traditional concept of marriage is at stake here. To quote Bishop Porteous, we must be aware of the following outcomes if marriage law is redefined:

a. It will force future children to miss out on either a mother or a father.

b. It will impose radical homosexual education on all of our children.

c. It will intimidate conscientious objectors with the big stick of anti-discrimination law.

d. It will mess with much more than marriage: it will radically deconstruct the bonds of parenting and kinship and the very notion of male and female.

Some years ago now, popular Australian author and commentator Tim Flannery published a book called The Future Eaters. It dealt with what he saw as environmental dangers and implied that our conduct now, in relation to these matters, will determine outcomes for future generations. Missing from Flannery’s account is the much more dangerous business of changing the very grounds upon which we have traditionally posited the nature of the human person.

That our physical environment is important to us is an incontrovertible fact. What is less well understood and championed is the psychological and social environment needed for the flourishing of the human person. These aspects are no less important to future generations and we interfere with them at our peril.

Overall, Dangerous Ideas can be recommended to anyone who wishes to gain a better understanding of the religious view of history with special emphasis on traditional Christianity. The ideas it espouses are especially important at the present time because of their relevance to the question of redefining marriage. More broadly though, this book addresses that most fundamental of all “social” questions – can a fully secular society deliver on its promises in the longer term?

I have a few quibbles with the general presentation of the book. The cover art – Dance by Henri Matisse – does not seem particularly appropriate given the content between the covers. A ring of naked male and female figures might have connoted a “dangerous idea” in Matisse’s time, but hardly so today. In one case, the essay abstract is repeated word for word in the main text and there are inconsistencies in the numbering of references and the way in which they are presented. These matters, though, are merely minor irritations.

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