A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
27th June 2008
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What kind of nation is Australia?
This is a question that is answered in several ways. It is sometimes answered by describing the way in which people live. Or it is answered in terms of our historical heritage and culture. Or some people answer in terms of what they want Australia to become or think it should be.
Some people do not care because they are more interested in their own lives than the social context in which they live. They unwittingly assume that individual freedom is normal rather than a particular feature of today's society. They are gullibly unaware of how much their freedom relies upon other people. The recent collapse of some loans in America warn us again “that no man is an island” complete unto himself.
We all live in community. Society sets for us boundaries and possibilities. It influences and affects our opinions and behaviour. Even the most rugged individualists are moulded by their social context.
This is not an easy time in history to raise children. Gone are the protections of agreed social constraints. Now every child is on their own—negotiating gambling, alcohol, sexual experimentation, drug-use, powerful cars, depression and suicide—all by themselves, or worse in the company of confused peers.
The pressure on young people to conform to the fashions and behaviour of their peers, or of mass media entertainment, or to school policies is, at times, intense. The teenagers' inexperience in discernment while given unprecedented freedom and independence makes them vulnerable to dreadful mistakes. And yet they have to learn to negotiate the shoals and depths when parents will not be around to make decisions for them.
There is no real point in describing the nation by the political pattern of “a democracy”. For that describes the form of government, not the nation. There is much more to the nation than the present form of government. Furthermore, Australia's “rule of the people” is limited to a choice every few years of which elite will make some decisions for us.
So what kind of nation is Australia? To promote individual freedom our governments have chosen the course of multiculturalism for the past thirty years. It is better than the racism of the White Australia Policy. It is a reasonable way to include the migrants that we have invited to work with us for our common wealth. It enables people to enjoy equality before the law. It is part of the Christian culture of hospitality to sojourners and refugees.
But multiculturalism is a failed and impossible dream. Nobody wants to create a bi-lingual society let alone a multi-lingual nation. No other language than English is ultimately accepted. Everybody has to learn it if they are to function as full members of society.
Rather, multiculturalism is a redefinition of Australian culture to the lowest common denominator: usually commerce and money. It is a method to assimilate migrants slowly. The migrants are made to feel welcome with their culture but their children will be different and their grandchildren will not be able to talk to them.
We have welcomed Muslims into our nation. Now some of them want polygamy legalised. Deep in Australian culture is the Christian taboo on polygamy. Wherever Christianity has travelled it has weaned society off the terrible practice of polygamy.
But if you believe in Islam then four wives are permitted to a man. That is their culture. Is Australia going to be so multicultural as to accept this?
If you believe in the atheistic non-judgemental self-determination of individual freedom then any woman who willingly wants to be wife number two, three or four should be allowed to be so. And if you are sexually amoral and say everybody should be free to do as they please “in the privacy of their own home”—then you can chose to be wife number twenty-four or concubine forty-four if you like. And if you believe in de facto marriages, then polygamy has nothing to do with the state anyway.
Previously, Christians have been able to persuade society that polygamy is bad for women, bad for children, bad for poor men who miss out on the joy of family life, bad for society as a whole, and ultimately bad for the rich men whose souls are corrupted by their power over women.
Muslims argue that polygamy should be permitted because it is already happening and people want it—(but then again that’s the case with child pornography). They express concern that all their wives should be protected not prosecuted by the law. Why, it is asked, do you permit a man to have four divorces but not four wives at the same time? Why argue for homosexual marriage and not polygamous marriage?
It will be interesting to see if atheistic feminists want to argue for the right of women to choose their own marriage arrangements or against the appalling abuse of women that polygamy implicitly and inevitably involves. Maybe they will solve their conflict of interests by mounting a case for polyandry. Now there is a winning argument if ever you have heard one!
Australia is a nation that has inherited a Christian culture. It is therefore a tolerant and open society that tries to limit law and government to matters of fundamental creation ethics—like life, death, marriage and raising children. It is a culture that welcomes others to share in our common wealth and blessings. But our culture is not endlessly flexible. To recreate Australia as a culture-free model of individual amorality is not so much a dream as a nightmare. Some time we have to say “thus far and no further”—for the sake of our children if not our migrants who want to share in our blessings.
Jesus said …“from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:5-9).