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Right is right, even if nobody does it (G.K. Chesterton)
No doubt there are more pressing problems than the threat that the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) represents to our Aussie culture. But it was a hot topic at a recent film awards night, and the occasion made me think about some trends in our Church.
One after another the presenters and recipients of awards spoke passionately about Australian culture, our accent, the need to preserve them, and the great job local films and media do to keep them alive. Put simply, they believe, correctly, that a FTA could expose their industry to the full blast of overseas (read US) competition. They are understandably concerned about their futures.
But so much of our TV and films (and even media award ceremonies) are clones of American productions. In many cases our accent is about all there is to identify us as Australian. Wittingly or otherwise, our home-grown media have often imitated their US counterparts to a point of being all but indistinguishable from them.
Along with this process our fair-dinkum Aussie language has changed significantly, too. You've probably noticed that we are all "guys" now, even the ladies, which is "cool". And we do seem to be eating lots more "cookies" and "candy" of late. At the football we have "bouncedowns", "conversions" and "centreforwards". When scoring "nil" seems to be losing out to "zip", and "A to Z" is becoming "A to Zee".
Channel 9 (60 Minutes) has Americanised the surname Mahoney to Mar-ho-ney, and I recently heard (on the ABC of all places) an attractive female TV presenter referred to as "eye candy".
This is nonsense, of course, somewhat irritating, and in cultural terms, every bit as Australian as the Grand Canyon. The only point worth noting about all this is the self-delusion. Whether they know it or not, those who see themselves as preservers of Australian culture have to a significant extent embraced the culture of Hollywood.
If we apply this process to the Church, it becomes very much more important. We can move gradually from the sacred to the secular, "modernising" our beliefs. This is not about authorised changes, it's about revisionism of the Church's traditional teachings of faith and morals. These questions - abortion, homosexuality, artificial birth control, euthanasia, etc, and the Church's teaching on them, are aired almost daily in print and the electronic media. Mostly the Church is criticised, often ridiculed, and invariably given loads of free advice.
There is clearly a clash of value systems here, and a hostile media is not the slightest bit interested in a fair go. The Church's position is rarely presented as a respectable alternative. It's "an anachronism", it's "plainly out of touch", and "it should modernise its teachings to be acceptable to the 21st century".
We all like to be accepted; but at what cost? Perhaps it's the 21st century attitude that needs reviewing.
Surely it is the intrinsic goodness of things that determines their worth, not their age. The teaching on the above moral issues is maintained because it is true, not because it is old. (It often amuses me, in an age quite interested in antiques, historical buildings and genealogies, that some are so ready to debunk traditional beliefs and teachings).
Our Lord founded an Apostolic Church and commissioned it to preach the gospel to the whole world. His order was to inspire and instruct the world, not to conform to it. The Church has an official teaching authority from Christ Himself; its teaching should be ours, and we should be calm and strong in saying so.
Throughout the centuries the Church has taught eternal truths, and has consistently taught also that it has no power to change them. So it not only will not "modernise" its teachings, it cannot. (And if it could, by the time it had made itself "acceptable to the 21st century" there would be nothing left.
Recently I read in The Sunday Age that Cardinal Pell's beliefs belonged in the 16th Century. In fact, they belong well and truly in the 21st, and there has never been a greater need for them to be taught without compromise, and accepted. But they do belong in the 16th Century, too, and in every other century back to Christ, and forward to us. That is the nature of truth.
Perhaps it is because we are accustomed to democracy, and live in an anti-authoritarian age, that we tend to apply the "if you don't like it, change it" rule to the Church. But God gave us, in Christ, His Way, and a Church to guide us on it. That guidance is good and necessary, even if some people reject it. As G.K. Chesterton wrote: "Right is right, even if nobody does it. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong about it."
If we were to accept the media's endless directives on how the Church should operate, and what it should teach, we would be on a short path to nowhere. To pretend we can accommodate to the world's demands and be true to the call of Christ, brings us back to the issue of self-delusion.
A good Catholic will always be somewhat out of step with the world. Christ was, and plenty of "important" people told Him so. We are in good company.
Fr F.E. Burns PE is a retired priest of the Melbourne Archdiocese.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 17 No 3 (April 2004), p. 20
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