Two stories in the media caught my eye this morning and left me wondering about humanity’s collective sanity, and in both cases the problem was a political and social myth rooted in a thoroughly irrational ideology. It’s pernicious, partisan and – notwithstanding the adherence of archbishops and evangelical Christians to this mirage – thoroughly unChristian and anti-humanist.

What has raised my ire, this Saturday morning (I hear you say)? It’s this desire to look backwards to some myth of a better past that has been expressed in the Trump victory and Archbishop Fisher’s diatribe on the evils of contemporary sexuality to the local Marriage Conference. Both events see a group of the thoroughly indoctrinated indulge in a view of the past that is absolutely at odds with the facts as we know them, pursuing some dream that will see them restored to a dignity and primacy they believe has been stolen from them, but was never more than the plaything of elites.

The first article was in the New Yorker. I can’t claim to be a regular reader but I do get the odd tidbit on the Book of Face, and a piece looking at responses to Trump’s victory in West Virginia. I hesitate to call it a victory, because it is quite clear that Trump has not amassed a popular majority and that his electoral college votes have depended on the poor turnout in the Democrat ‘special interest groups’; and the high turnout among what has been labelled ‘poor rural whites’ but is a far more complex group. Trump appears to have gained a majority in the older ages groups (giving the finger to Gen X, Gen Y and the  grandkids); among non-College educated males, who have borne the brunt of the economic transition; whites, who have lost their social and economic primacy in this new economy; and less-educated women who haven’t read Betty Friedan and see the traditional family, where they reigned, as threatened and who have never seen the workplace as a path to affirmation and power.

As an onlooker, I’m struck by the rear-vision implicit in Trump’s slogan, ‘Make America Great Again’. The implication is clear: the past was golden and need to be restored to the present. No wonder that refugees, Hispanic migrants, gays and the modern world of employment have been ignored, erased or rejected from Trump’s new America: they weren’t there in the sixties and seventies, or at least weren’t permitted to be acknowledged, so they should have no place in the present.

In the New Yorker article, a young Afro-american West-Virginian reflects with wonder on the ecstatic response of his white (vast majority) neighbours. Almost overnight, the civic politeness that restrained the incipient racism of the area dissipates. Racist graffiti has appeared. But for others interviewed in the article, the election seems to promise and end to the ‘softness’ of political correctness, a return to unrestricted coal-mining and full employment, and a re-engagement with Christian values in this most un-secular of secular societies.

This scenario is echoed elsewhere in the media, with a Pearson world history textbook under threat of banning because the students are expected to be brainwashed with learning about the Prophet and the Five Pillars. Repeal of Obamacare promises better health care; rejection of free trade promises a return of manufacturing to the rust belt; America’s security is enhanced by a withdrawal from engagement with the world; the deficit will be fixed by a company tax cut — paradox on paradox, non-sequitur upon downright lie, a vision of the past through Trump TV, the comb-over version of history.

All golden ages are myths, and dangerous ones. The Elizabethan Age is Golden notwithstanding that much of its cultural richness emerged from insecurity, paranoia and war. Spain’s Golden Age was founded in the blood of indigenous peoples and, lest the irony is lost, stolen silver. The French Revolution is less about Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité and more about a lazy susan of despotism and blood, culminating in Napoleon and the death of millions. For all its social and technological triumphs, Victoria ruled a Britain marked by the squalid lives of the working class and the suffering of oppressed peoples throughout the Empire. 

And the United States? It has rejoiced in possibly three golden ages, in my view: the amazing expansion of the Frontier in the late 19th Century; the Roaring Twenties; and the post-war society that ended with Johnson’s acknowledgement of the failure of the Great Society, a world that some Americans remember as an era of full employment, military might, careful social mores and a much simpler view of the world. Small-town American as a symbol of world hegemony: but it wasn’t real and the desire to return to it threatens the future.

It is in the myopia of the myth of a golden age that we find its greatest danger. The blue-collar worker pines for the factory and the mine and forgets that both were conducted with a callous disregard for his occupational health and safety. He remembers his place at the lathe or the coal-face and does not realise that operating equipment in those environments now requires post-high school qualifications and an understanding of basic programming, because it’s all been computerised. Less-educated women pine for family structures that cannot be maintained in the modern economy. Making America great cost a generation of lives, a river of gold, and three decades of waiting for the bomb to drop. And what of those hidden, erased or expunged from the record? Let us not forget the LGBTI community whom Reaganites would not even acknowledge in the depths of the AIDS crisis, the women whose potential contribution to America was largely ignored by the Mad Men of the Fifties and Sixties, the immigrants who came to realise that the Statue of Liberty told a lie; and Black America, who suffered povery, apartheid and death as America failed to live up to its rhetoric. Does anyone who really looks back with a clear view really want to go back to the Cold War FIfties, the Civil Rights conflicts of the Sixties, the Vietnam hangover of the Seventies? Only if you have a piece of Ron Reagan’s Alzheimer’s approach to civil society

The post-Cold War era has seen Imperial America asserting its right to determine the world order, and so it is not too long a bow to suggest that the Gulf Conflicts, the ill-advised adventure in Afghanistan, and the steadily worsening relationships with Russia are all symptoms of the Golden Age Myth, made all the more dangerous by the re-emergence of two other powers with their own equally mythical Golden Ages to motivate them: China and Russia. We are not immune to these false foundation stories either: witness the ANZAC myth, founded on the recasting of a defeat as a victory and proposing as supermen the untrained and poorly led militias who scrambled ashore on April 25, 1915, to fail and fall back after fruitless months of siege.

It all strikes a peculiar chord when I read Archbishop Fisher’s diatribe at the Renaissance of Marriage Conference in Sydney this week. To entitle a conference with the term ‘renaissance’ is to invoke another version of the golden age myth, a fact acknowledged by Fisher with no apparent sense of irony (but then Tony is not what you would call a nimble thinker). In short order we were given the Tony view of the history of sexuality – not from first hand experience, of course! We are, in his eyes, in a Dark Age of Marriage, with that most vital of institutions undermined by the ‘sex-of-demand’ Sixties, the ‘divorce on demand’ Seventies, the ‘children-on-demand’ Eighties, and the ‘wedding-on-demand’ Nineties. Now, says our favourite Prelate, we have gender and sexuality on demand. Hence, 

So buffeted have they been by the series of sexual tides and marital waves that post-moderns are more muddled about the very meaning of marriage than any culture in history, more ambivalent about the desirability of marriage than any society we know of, and less able to embrace and sustain marriages (and marriage-based families) over the long haul than ever before.

Now leaving aside the complete failure to engage with the very nature of a post-modern society, with its actual desire to bend rather than break social institutions in order to express the truth, what an irony it is to see Fisher decry the best evidence that marriage, far from being broken, is highly-regarded — by all sorts who are currently excluded from this vital social institution. It’s because Fisher does not want any marriage: he wants the myth of the Golden Age, his conservative parents 1950s marriage — and for those who do not look like his parents and believe like his parents, he wants them excluded.

The renaissance of Fisher’s marriage is the rear-vision view of a society that restricted divorce even when it created deep unhappiness; that forced professional women from the workplace on marriage, ignoring their legitimate right to participate in the economic and intellectual life of society. It tolerated domestic violence. It forced women into sexual slavery if that was the wish of the husband. It denied both partners access to sound information about reproduction and relationships; and woe betide the failed parent, because the children were adopted out or institutionalised. It was not a society that tolerated unions across religious or racial divides. The role of marriage, in the reality of the Fifties, was to ensure stability and social compliance — an entirely suitably symbol and vehicle for the sort of society that patriarchal bullies like Fisher would like to see recovered and perpetuated.

Let’s destroy Golden Age Myths before they destroy us, as they will surely destroy American over the next four years. The past contains much that is good and true; but it remains another country. Every institution, from the abstract to the constitutional, is only as good as its capacity to grow and accommodate itself to the needs of today and the potential of the future. As a historian, the past informs me, the present engages me; but, like Josiah Bartlet, I am thinking of tomorrow.

See on Scoop.itThe ICT and iPad Pilot

Christopher Bounds‘s insight:

While I was in a distinct minority at the event, it was challenging and inspiring for both sexes! Liza Mundy is worth a listen, Leymah Gbowee challenging at many levels, and the debate was a hoot,zM

See on ideas.sydneyoperahouse.com

See on Scoop.itLearning, Teaching, Leading

To positively influence performance, it’s important to recognise the contribution made by individuals to the team on and off the field. On the field, success in rugby can essentially be divided into two broad scenarios.

Christopher Bounds‘s insight:

I think Link’s article is a profound insight into the role of feedback in learning and skills acquisition. Notice the importance of positive reinforcement and the commitment to development of the player over time. Obviously, Ewan would make a fine educational leader, except for the bit about physical proximilty and French kissing … clearly some work to do on child protection hear!

See on www.smh.com.au

See on Scoop.itLearning, Teaching, Leading

Trainee teachers would be tested for literacy, numeracy and emotional intelligence under a suite of teacher training reforms released by the Federal Government today.Under the plan, the Australian Tertiary……

Christopher Bounds‘s insight:

Let’s think this through: we’re going to demand that trainee teachers meet stringent new requirements without increasing the funding to the two sectors responsible for equipping kids with the skills to aspire to the profession? We’re going to use tests which have not yet been shown to measure the necessary precursors to successful teaching?


Don’t let me here one politician tell me there is research to support this crap. God knows, we need to develop a better profession, but it comes with an investment in the  profession and in the insitituions. This just shifts to costs to young people who might very well make a fabulous contribution. Cruel, unfair and absolutely cynical. 


One guarantee of a lousy policy? Cross-party support…

See on theconversation.edu.au

I have a feeling we are going to following this for a while…

Of course, I am very concerned for those women and men who have served blamelessly and faithfully but will now be looked on with suspicion. However, this is the opportunity to introduce a level of transparency and open-ness that can only help everyone in the Church.

Restoring faith: Child sexual abuse and the Catholic Church – Opinion – ABC Religion & Ethics (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

The admirable Pat Power: such an MSC! This is a truly generous position to take. If only Pat was the Bishop’s spokesman…

Royal Commission a sign of the times for the Church – Eureka Street.

Whatever form the Royal Commission takes, opportunity will be given to those who have suffered abuse to be heard and taken seriously, in such a way that not only will their own individual case be dealt with, but systems can be put in place to afford children greater protection in the future.

I welcome the fact that the Royal Commission’s scope will be wider than the confines of the Catholic Church. The abuse of children is a much wider issue. At the same time, I believe it important that Catholics as a church face up to the particular factors that have contributed to sexual abuse among the ranks of clergy and religious.

The work that has already been done in Australia to address the problem should be acknowledged. Since 1996, the documents Towards Healing, which outlines the principles and procedures in responding to complaints of abuse , and Integrity in Ministry, which provides guidelines for behaviour, and other measures have attempted to provide justice and healing for all involved.

People such as Sister Angela Ryan and Bishops Geoffrey Robinson, William Morris, Peter Connors and Philip Wilson have been at the forefront of such reform.

Most people, including Catholics, would accept that the Church has been overly negative in its teaching on sexuality. Many Church pronouncements have caused me to question how an all-male celibate voice can realistically enunciate such teaching in a manner which is able to be understood by the whole human family.

Unless women and married people are made part of the governance of the Church, there will continue to be a lack of balance and reality in its teaching, especially around sexuality. I include homosexuality in that critique.

These are painful times to be a Catholic, but if we are humble enough to admit that at times we have got it wrong, sometimes horribly wrong, then there is the opportunity to make reparation and to do all we can to ensure the same mistakes are not repeated.

Opening the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago, Pope John XXIII called on those within the Church to ‘read the signs of the times’ so as to bring the light of the Gospel on to every aspect of the life of the Church. My hope is that the Royal Commission can become for the Catholic Church a true instrument of grace and healing.

Is there a future for Christianity? The shape of things to come – Opinion – ABC Religion & Ethics (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

Got to save this for future classes. Great for religion and peace?

The man who coined the term “mere Christianity” also warned against its misapplication and abuse:

  • “I hope no reader will suppose the “mere” Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions-as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.”

Similarly, believers who inhabit the various rooms can enter the hall for the sake of dialogue and mutual support. But they cannot afford to remain there, chatting and cooperating and maybe even throwing up some tents, while their own rooms fall into neglect. A conversation has to reach conclusions in order to actually stand for something; a community has to define itself theologically in order to be able to sustain itself across the generations.


…a renewed Christianity should be oriented toward sanctity and beauty. In every crisis in the Christian past, it has been saints and artists – from Saint Francis down to John Wesley, Dante to Dostoevsky – who resurrected the faith from one of its many deaths. The example of a single extraordinary woman, Mother Teresa, did more for Christian witness in the twentieth century than every theology department and political action committee put together.

I think I would like to read his book!

In my book Bad Religion, I often tried to make a more instrumental case for Christian orthodoxy – defending its exacting moralism as a curb against worldly excess and corruption, praising its paradoxes and mysteries for respecting the complexities of human affairs in ways that more streamlined theologies do not, celebrating the role of its institutions in assimilating immigrants, sustaining families, and forging strong communities. My hope was to persuade even the most sceptical reader that traditional Christian faith might have more to offer than either its flawed defenders or its fashionable enemies would lead one to believe.

But neither religions nor cultures can live on instrumentality alone. To make any difference in our common life, Christianity must be lived – not as a means to social cohesion or national renewal, but as an end unto itself.

Anyone who seeks a more perfect union should begin by seeking the perfection of their own soul. Anyone who would save their country should first look to save themselves. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all of these things will be added to you.”

Next Page »