April 21st 2018


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The deeper causes of Australia's social malaise

GENDER POLITICS Queensland proposes transgender birth certificates

CANBERRA OBSERVED Malcolm at 30 (polls): the cloud on Turnbull's horizon

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal Pell firmly denies sex abuse allegations

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Sydney Archdiocese aims to eliminate slavery in supply chain

RURAL DEVELOPMENT Irrigation along Fitzroy River proposed and opposed

LIFE ISSUES Abortion Rethink Summit: the case for care

VERBATIM WA food, drink producers face shortage of carbon dioxide

HOUSING AFFORDABILITY Land costs: economist Henry George's solution

ELECTRICITY Will Turnbull lose three out of three?

ECONOMICS Trade wars: tariffs unlikely to be fired in anger

SEX AND TEENS How about support for the abstaining majority?

VISUAL ARTS Layers of meaning in Botticelli's La Primavera and The Birth of Venus

MUSIC Is it good?: Or, do we just like the sound it makes?

CINEMA The Death of Stalin: Black comedy of a dark time

BOOK REVIEW Cool head on topic that generates heat

BOOK REVIEW Life's not so bad: from the outside

POETRY

LETTERS

OPINION What a republic would really mean for Australia

Books promotion page

COVER STORY The deeper causes of Australia's social malaise

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, April 21, 2018

The recent controversy over Australian cricketers’ ball tampering in South Africa, the increasing incidence of road rage, “one-punch” attacks, home invasions, online bullying and public vandalism reflect a deepening malaise in Australian culture.

A generation ago, these would have been either rare or even unthinkable, and their causes deserve to be the subject of national reflection.

The usual response to such events is either to say that the answer is more education, or alternatively, that Australians should “be nice” to one another. However appealing these sentiments may be, the education system has been promoting these values for the past 50 years, since it abandoned the Judeo-Christian belief system on which Australian society was founded.

Since the 1960s, all the key influences on popular culture – schools, the media and political parties – have sought to create a new value system in Australia, based on the principle of individual autonomy.

They have been largely successful in moving religion to the periphery of the Australian consciousness; but the result has been the replacement of moral absolutes by a radical individualism, based on the principle that one can do what one likes.

Census

The 2016 Census strikingly confirms these observations. It showed that currently, just half of Australians describe themselves as Christian, and the largest “religion” in Australia now consists of atheists and agnostics.

Those reporting no religion increased noticeably from 19 per cent in 2006 to 30 per cent in 2016. (This does not include the 9 per cent who did not answer the question.)

The largest change was between 2011 (22 per cent) and 2016, when an additional 2.2 million people reported having no religion. In the latest census, 39 per cent of those aged between 18 and 34 said they had no religion. Only 12 per cent of this age range described themselves as Christian.

The decline in belief was reflected in all the major Christian denominations and reflects similar trends in Western Europe.

Other consequences of the change are positively alarming. The current inquiry into religious freedom in Australia by former federal MP Philip Ruddock has received many submissions calling for the removal of existing religious protections in law, and for the removal of any public support for the churches’ work in areas of welfare, health, aged care and education.

Despite the growth of government in recent decades, the churches remain the largest welfare providers in Australia, providing face-to-face contact with millions of people every day. As these services depend largely on the work of volunteers, the decline in religious belief will eventually impact on these services to the most needy and marginalised in our society.

The apparently inexorable decline in religious belief and practice in Australia is already leading to a coarsening of the culture, and is dissolving the invisible “glue” that holds society together: the shared values which embody the principles of care for others and mutual respect.

In our society, these values have been transmitted from one generation to the next by parents who usually share common religiously inspired beliefs.

There has been a substantial rise in environmentalism, the Green religion, reflected in an astonishing acceptance of climate alarmism and the belief that “carbon pollution” is destroying the planet, when every health indicator shows that Australians today have cleaner air and water than at any time in the country’s history, when infant mortality rates are low and life expectancy continues to rise.

Parental influence in our society has been radically weakened by the influence of the secular media as well as social media. Institutional child care has also weakened parental bonds, and some school programs teach transgenderism – you can be whatever gender you feel you are – another example of extreme individual autonomy.

Roy Morgan Research reported in 2017 on a study it conducted of over 3,000 children. It found that children aged six to 13 spend about 23 hours a week watching television or online (including pornography). Most of it was online. This result was similar to an earlier study by the Institute of Family Studies that found that 12-to-13 year olds spent at least three hours a day in front of a screen.

Despite fears that new technologies – tablets, smartphones, the internet, social media and online services – are the cause of the weakening of the social fabric, many of the trends reported above are the end-product of the cultural revolution of the 1960s which embraced sexual, financial and cultural libertarianism, which endorsed the hook-up culture, replaced marriage with cohabitation, and promoted easy divorce.

New technology may have aggravated the problem, but it has not caused it.

Disaffection with the mainstream political parties is a sign of disenchantment with the institutional failure which is at the heart of the cultural crisis.

Peter Westmore is publisher of News Weekly.




























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