Mr, Mrs, Dr…Why have titles?

Posted: 19 June 2016

miss-ms-mrs-mrIt is evident that along with the collapse of so many aspects of Western Society from the mid twentieth century onwards, we have witnessed a general casualisation of the way we refer to other people; that is, using their title. Whereas one would always refer to another man or woman as Mr., Mrs., or Miss followed by their surname, these courtesies are now more often than not pushed aside for exclusive first name usage from the introductory meeting. Even those who are entitled to the use of specific religious and academic titles such as Sister, Father or Doctor are more commonly introducing themselves as Susan or Ralph.

Perhaps the last domain where honorific titles are still commonly used is the school classroom. The hands of children are shot up in the air with an accompanying “Sir” or “Miss”. There are however plenty of academics that would like to see the old titles dropped in favour of first names. One of the reasons for this is around the level of disparity between the titles ‘Sir’ and ‘Miss’. It is said that ‘Sir’ began its usage in 16th century England where male teachers of a lower social standing were needing to assert their authority among largely upper class pupils. ‘Miss’ on the other hand is reflective of the late Victorian era when the majority of women teachers were young and unmarried, giving up work once they did marry. The issue of teacher titles then is often spun around the issue of discrimination against women which coincided in the 20th century with the title Ms. as a default term for the address of women without labelling them as single, married or otherwise.

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Mormons, Muslims and Lazy Christians

Posted: 10 April 2016

Bored, overweight man sits on the sofa

Australia’s mostly widely read weekend newspaper recently carried a front page story in which we were informed that a popular Rugby League player would no longer play or train on Sundays so that he could attend his weekly church service. Canterbury Bulldogs star Will Hopoate negotiated the clause into his contract due to what the newspaper called his “staunch devotion to his Mormon faith”. The article went on to quote the 23-year-old who spoke about his desire that Sunday be maintained as a day set apart for rest, worship and charitable work.­ The coverage not only spoke about Hopoate, but carried positive information about the Mormon religion and other high profile Mormon Athletes.

I have no problem with the young man wanting to have a sacrosanct day in his week dedicated to prayer and refection. The world would be a far better place if each one of us, religious or otherwise, also took a day each week to stop and reflect. What I found most interesting in the article though was the obvious novelty seen in what Hopoate was doing. Actually perhaps ‘interesting’ is the wrong word, maybe I should have chosen ‘disappointing’, and for two reasons. First, only two generations ago a newspaper article would have been more likely commenting on the novelty of professional sport actually taking place on a Sunday. Second, it’s disappointing because mainstream Christianity has basically sold out on what were once its core values and that has been left to be picked up by groups such as the Mormons. How many Catholics, Anglicans or Orthodox do you notice standing up for the value of Sunday? How many are instead spending Sunday worshipping at the Cathedral of Saint Westfield or singing the joyful praises of Macy’s?

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A Person’s A Person, No Matter How Small

Posted: 3 March 2016

Clare and LouiseMy wife Jane and I have two little girls, Clare and Louise; Clare turns two this month and Louise is just over six months old. Clare is at a really fun – but albeit all consuming – stage. She loves nothing more than playing outside, and if she is not insisting on being pushed around in her plastic toy car, she is carefully dropping her toys in the wading pool, before picking them out of the water and starting all over again. Louise is beginning to shuffle around on the lounge room floor while learning about the world through studying a range of stuffed animals. Clare will now regularly come and lay down next to Louise on the floor and with an enthusiastic ‘hello’ proceed to take back those stuffed animals which she believes are her own. Everyday our daughters are growing and developing but they really are still just babies. They rely on us for everything, we are their nurturers and their protectors, their friends and their family. Their world is safe and secure because we make it that way for them.

But what if one afternoon in the middle of Clare playing outside I just walked away, leaving her in the backyard by herself with no food, no protection and no shelter. Her smile would fall and the frown would descend into tears, she would cry her eyes out, her nose would run and she would go to the back door yelling ‘mummy’, ‘daddy’, not understanding what had just happened. As night began to fall she would cry and cry, tears streaming down her face. She would be hungry and want her milk. She is not old enough to reason out her situation and create or find shelter in the yard. I really don’t know, or do I want to know, how she would cope. Would she even make it through the night?

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Where Are All The Men?

Posted: 3 March 2016

Man and Woman DatingWhen I am not writing columns I spend my time in an office which works with and for young people. Last year we thought we’d try a new event for young adults which we called ‘Dating & Degustation’. The evening consists of a five course meal in an upmarket hotel but at the start of each course the male participants relocate tables according to a preset list so that each person has the opportunity to have a ‘mini date’ with five different people. While there are many events at which young adults can meet and mingle, we wanted an event that was explicitly pointed towards the goal of good relationships.

We of course had no idea how the event would be received and whether or not we would even achieve the minimum number of forty people to actually book out the hotel restaurant. The risk with dating-type events is that a person who might interiorly be interested has to rather explicitly admit to themselves (and others) that they are interested in (b) meeting someone with whom they could enter into a relationship and (b) one day marrying such a person, and in the 21st century we knew that would be a rather large call. None the less we created the event, started advertising, and to be sure the registrations began to come in. Within a short space of time the twenty female tickets were gone and we began a waiting list of ten, twenty, thirty extra women. However the twenty male tickets were barely moving.

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A Hope Filled Look at New Year’s Resolutions

Posted: 1 February 2016

resolutionsWell we are currently in crunch time for New Year’s Resolutions. The number of you keeping your resolution is shrinking week by week. It was already at 75% just one week into this year, it was at 64% by the end of January, and as low as 46% by the end of June. The statistics are part of a newly released study out of the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology which indicates that while a total of 62% of us actually make resolutions usually or infrequently, only 8% of that number are successful in achieving the goal they had set for themselves at the start of the year. With such a small success rate perhaps it is little wonder that 38% of us don’t even both making a resolution at all.

While it can be easy then to scoff at New Year’s Resolutions and dismiss them as only for those who want to lose weight, make money or find love, the choice of goals are often a part of the problem. One other study of New Year’s Resolutions out of Australia found that of those who failed, 35% admitted it was because the goal was too unrealistic, 33% didn’t keep track of progress, 23% forgot about it and 9% said they made too many resolutions. It’s easy enough to say that we want to lose weight but we probably need to instead consider pledging to cut back on the daily soft drink or the nightly bowl of ice cream. If we want to have more money we’ll probably need to create a workable budget instead of buying a greater number of lottery tickets. Read the rest of this entry »

Are Jesus and Mary Appearing Today?

Posted: 26 July 2015

Virgin Mary Image Appears On Chicago Expressway Underpass

Believers crowd around an alleged apparition of the Virgin Mary located on a wall of an underpass in Chicago, Illinois. 18 April 2005.

The mainstream media in Sydney was recently abuzz at the report of a number of parishioners from a local Catholic church claiming to have witnessed the lips on an icon of the Virgin Mary moving during Mass. The video, which was filmed on a mobile phone camera by a worshipper, has since been seen hundreds of thousands of times and has attracted, understandably, very mixed commentary. The parish priest came out at the time and clearly stated that if anything did occur it was “a personal experience” not to be misunderstood as a public miracle.

This incident of course is not the first time that a miracle or apparition has been alleged to have taken place. Just a few suburbs over from the above mentioned church is a regular suburban house that has supposedly been weeping oil from the walls for close to ten years following the premature death of the resident family’s teenage son. While the family stills lives in the house it has become a virtual shrine adorned with images of Jesus, Mary and the saints; there have even been reports of the oil curing those who make pilgrimage to the house.

Yet topping both of these in the contentious miracle stakes is without a doubt the alleged apparitions which began in 1981, with six children from the small town of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina claiming to see the Virgin Mary, not once or twice, but continuously for the past thirty four years. The messages have been seemingly worthy ones, calling for people to undertake more prayer, fasting and penance. And while the site attracts more than one million visitors a year – putting it just behind the Church-approved apparition sites of Fatima and Lourdes – it seems that after many years of investigation the Vatican is set to reach the conclusion that the apparitions of Medjugorje are inauthentic.

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10 Steps to Beat Pornography

Posted: 12 April 2015

XXX Sign PornographyPornography is a big problem in modern society, actually no; pornography is a huge problem in modern society. Did you know that 10-15% of all search engine requests and 20% of smart phone searches are for pornography? Studies show that 90% of boys and 60% of girls are exposed to pornography before they are 18 years old. In addition 70% of young men and 20% of young women view pornography every week and pornographic sites have more monthly visitors than Twitter and Amazon combined.

While the numbers are high, especially amongst males, it is not true that all men view pornography, and we must not allow ourselves to believe that pornography constitutes normal sexual behavior. However, especially for young men, if any sort of regular pornography use is not dealt with swiftly is risks becoming a debilitating addiction.

The good news is that authentic religious observation and involvement has been shown to contribute in a major way to lessening pornographic use and dependence. The following then, are ten steps to help beat pornography. The steps focus on the spiritual life but some of them will require major changes in one’s practical life, but if we are sincerely determined to regain control of who we called to be as men and women in Christ there is no other way.

1) Commit to go to Mass and receive Holy Communion every day. Holy Communion is food and strength for the journey and if we don’t have it atop our list then we are not serious about the battle. Getting to Mass everyday will almost certainly require earlier mornings or shorter lunch breaks but how much do we want success?

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My Facebook Holiday

Posted: 8 March 2015

700px-Facebook_like_thumbOver the Christmas break I decided to take my real first Facebook holiday since joining the social network site back in 2007. I was sensing the need for an electronic rest and so completely switched off Facebook for one month. I am back on Facebook now but the short absence was invaluable and my approach to it is far more casual than it was before the hiatus.

When one first joins Facebook, their ‘friends’ consist of family and actual friends, and from there, depending on how a person chooses to use the site, they move out in concentric circles ‘friending’ more distant contacts, old school mates, former work colleagues, current and past associates and basically anyone else they cross paths with. British Anthropologist Robin Dunbar has proposed that humans can really only comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships; yet the average number of ‘friends’ a person has on Facebook is 388. Plenty of people, myself included, have more than that which certainly doesn’t mean we are any more likeable or friendly than any other person, it probably just means we use the social media site as more of a networking tool. While I have personally found that the more connections maintained on Facebook the more valuable it becomes, it has also meant that my time tended to become more consumed by the lives of every single person I had ever known.

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Free Speech and the Right to Insult

Posted: 9 January 2015

pen-terror-memorial-mn-Charlie-HebdoLiberté, Égalité, Fraternité – Freedom, Equality, Fraternity. In the attack upon the satirical Parisian magazine Charlie Hebdo, which left ten staff and two police officers dead, it is evident that the somewhat noble motto of the republic of France was utterly disgraced. Disgraced by the gunmen who ended those lives, and disgraced by the magazine staff who used their talents to publish a weekly journal of ridicule and mockery.

Charlie Hebdo is no stranger to controversy. The magazine began in 1960 as Hara-Kiri and soon took on the slogan ‘mean and nasty’ which came directly from an early reader’s complaint letter. The magazine was temporarily banned by the French government in 1961 and 1966. In 1970 the magazine was banned again for mocking the death of former French President Charles de Gaulle, but this time it took on a new name to save itself – Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly). Charlie Hedbo has a relatively low weekly circulation, but is well known for its provocative cartoons, and it was five of those cartoonists who were executed in the killings.

The magazine is extremely left-wing in its opinion and completely anti-institution. It mocks politicians, culture, and authority figures but it has found a special passion for mocking religion – particularly Christianity and Islam. Their cartoons have shown nuns masturbating and popes wearing condoms. They drew the Prophet Muhammad in pornographic poses and saw fit to refer to Muslims as “jerks”. Over the years they have had a range of lawsuits filed against them. In 2011 they created a specifically provocative edition about the Prophet Mohammed and their offices were subsequently firebombed. In 2012 they were asked by the French Police to remain silent while a film against Islam instigated worldwide riots; Charlie Hedbo decided to publish inflammatory cartoons anyway. Last Christmas, Charlie Hedbo created an edition featuring a cartoon of the Virgin Mary, legs wide open, giving birth to Jesus. The editor Stephane Charbonnier, who was also killed in the attack, once stated that his magazine would continue its style “until Islam is just as banal as Catholicism.”

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Is the Catholic Church Obsessed with Sex?

Posted: 7 December 2014

Without a doubt, the articles I write which attract the most feedback (positive or negative) are always those that discuss sexual morality and the Catholic Church. Nothing seems to raise the emotions of people more than knowing that the Catholic Church has an opinion on sex. And while it may seem that issues such as contraception, IVF, masturbation or homosexuality are all different, they really revolve around the one central hinge: the purpose and meaning of human sexuality. To get directly to the point, Christianity (Catholicism in particular) has a definite understanding of what human sexuality is, while the secular world has a vastly different understanding. In addition, this secular understanding has – for a host of reasons – fed into the minds of many Catholic people so that they no longer understand or agree with the Church’s stance on many of the basic moral issues. Instead of anyone actually seeking to understand the Catholic position, the Church is portrayed as having some sick obsession with matters of sex and telling others what they can (but mostly what they cannot) do.

As a case in point, following my last article which criticised the use of contraception by a Protestant aid agency in Papua New Guinea (PNG), I received an email from a dissatisfied reader. This particular lady – a practicing Catholic – was angered by my ‘narrow minded view’ and questioned whether I had ever been to PNG to truly understand the particular hardships endured by those people. I am grateful to this lady for taking the time to write and I am sure her words represent the thoughts of others – but it does demonstrate my point that there is a huge discrepancy in the public arena about the meaning and purpose of sex.

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Does Contraception have a place in Christian Relief Work?

Posted: 17 November 2014

mother and childI was recently invited to tour a new medical ship run by the international Christian relief organisation Youth With a Mission (YWAM). This particular ship, destined for work in Papua New Guinea (PNG), is larger and newer than their current vessel, and it will allow YWAM to increase their medical assistance by 500%, offering healthcare immunisations and training to 1.3 million people, a quarter of the nation’s population. The ship will offer basic but vital services which many of the poorest people of PNG would have little hope of accessing otherwise, such as optical and dental treatment, pregnancy assistance, as well as medications to fight malaria and tuberculosis. There was no doubt in the presentation and ensuing discussion that the work being undertaken was of immense value, truly taking up the most basic Christian tenant to offer help to those in need.

The ship is currently moving up and down the east coast of Australia raising awareness and seeking young people as medical and general volunteers. The reason I was invited aboard was to help them create an awareness of the work amongst young Catholics, especially those who might look to give a few months to volunteering. As the discussions developed I knew there was one question that needed to be asked, and that was their policy on abortion and contraception. While I was relieved to learn that as a Christian organisation they did not carry out abortions, they did distribute the contraceptive pill and the Depo-Provera injection which is designed to prevent pregnancy for three months at a time. Their reasoning for distributing contraceptives was because they operate within the medical policy of the nation in which they serve and contraceptives are part of the ‘health’ strategy of PNG. Their response was not a real surprise and they are certainly not the only Christian relief agency travelling this path (even World Vision is the same). Contraceptives now form a large part of the medical response in developing nations and that is often because it is tied to much needed relief dollars from wealthier nations such as Australia and the USA. Read the rest of this entry »

How Many Catholic Churches Are There?

Posted: 13 October 2014

Eastern Catholic ChurchesIf someone were to ask you how many Catholic Churches there are in the world, what would be your response? Not small ‘c’ churches referring to church buildings, but rather, Church with a capital ‘C’, indicating the grouping of believers who call themselves Catholic. You may very well respond to the question that there is one Catholic Church and to a large extent you would be correct. One can look to the Scriptures to see that the Lord deliberately founded a living Church built on his Apostles in order that his teachings and sacraments would continue down through time. Indeed the word Church comes out of the Greek verb ‘to gather together’, so the Church at its heart is a gathering of people.

While there is one Catholic Church though, that Church is made present in 23 Churches. Yes, that is correct, there are 23 Catholic Churches, and only one of those Churches is the Western, or Latin Church. The other 22 Churches are collectively termed the Eastern Catholic Churches but they are by no means all the same. Some of the Eastern Churches include the Melkite, Maronite, Ukrainian and Coptic Churches. And nor are these Eastern Churches mere annexes of the Latin Church. Each of the 22 Eastern Churches are autonomous and self-governing with their own Patriarch, Major Archbishop or Bishop. While these Churches were born in places such as the Middle East, India and Eastern Europe, they are not primarily cultural groups in the same way as one might be a French Catholic or an Indonesian Catholic (both of whom are still members of the Latin Church). Each of the 22 Eastern Churches preserve unique liturgical, devotional and theological traditions that demonstrate the authentic universality of the Catholic Church. For the most part, the Eastern Catholic Churches choose their own Bishops yet they remain Catholic because they are in full communion with the successor of Peter.  Read the rest of this entry »

Pope Francis Marrying Sinners Is No Surprise

Posted: 28 September 2014

Pope Francis weddingThis month Pope Francis seemed to shock the world by marrying twenty couples in a ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica. Aside from the fact that Popes don’t get the opportunity to preside at weddings all that often, what provided the real shock value was that amongst the couples, some had cohabited, one had a child out of wedlock and another had a previous marriage annulled. Some of the hundreds of headlines read, “Pope’s Marriage Celebrations Hint at Coming Changes for the Church”, “Pope Francis Spent His Sunday Marrying Dirty Cohabiters and Other Sinners”, and “Pope Breaks Taboo by Marrying Cohabiting Couples”.

I realise of course, that editors and news producers love to create a stir, but when you digest the actual reports, it becomes clear that there is real ignorance around what the Catholic Church is actually on about. There was a false assumption by the media that the ceremony was a sign that Francis is about to dismantle the “Vatican rules” about marriage. One report boldly stated that by his actions the Pope had “redefined” Catholic doctrine. Another report felt the need to actually clarify that the Pope didn’t marry any homosexual couples in the ceremony, however hinting that this may be the beginning of some openness towards that. The general theme was that because the Pope married people who the media deemed as sinners, 2000 years of Christian understanding on the nature of marriage and sexuality was somehow up for grabs.

The Pope and the ceremony did not redefine anything, least of all any doctrine. The ceremony certainly included a mix of couples including some very active in their faith and others who in the past were less so. Unlike the media, the Church does not look to people and define them as ‘sinners’, she states what sin is, but never attempts to read the heart of an individual and cast judgement: that is generally left to God. What we saw was the same spectrum of couples that are married in churches every day across the world. The truth is that not every couple who stand before a priest to get married are saints, in fact I guarantee you that none of them are. But that’s the whole point of marriage. The sacrament exists so that couples mutually sanctify one another through their life together. Every married couple should go to their death bed as saints but there is no obligation to be canonisable at the start. Each of the couples who the Pope married were prepared by their local parish priest and were ready and willing to embrace marriage. Read the rest of this entry »

A Stupid Nation Will Reap What It Sows

Posted: 21 September 2014

Ashley-Madison-BillboardI was up later than usual the other night watching a fairly mainstream TV show on a fairly mainstream channel and in the break an ad appeared that initially caught me with its catchy tune. Then I registered the lyrics. The young men in their early 30’s were singing, “I’m looking for someone other than my wife…Ashley Madison’s right”, as they looked through images of equally young women on the computer. For those who may not know, Ashley Madison is an online dating service launched in 2001. The difference to other dating sites is that Ashley Madison targets those who are already married. Their slogan is ‘Life is short. Have an affair’. When the company launched in Australia in 2010 the Advertising Standards Bureau received a host of complaints and the television and billboard ads were subsequently withdrawn. However it is evident that there has not been enough pressure kept up since then, and the ads are back. (If you are one of those people who think a company marketing infidelity is problematic, and have time to let your feelings be known you can visit

That our society seemingly approves marital infidelity and breakdown, goes some way to explain the ridiculous situation that transpired in Australia recently when it was discovered that the World Congress of Families (WCF) was due to hold a regional conference in Melbourne this past August. It all began with a misleading article on the popular but left-sitting website Mamamia accusing the group of just about everything short of war crimes. Whoever wrote the article suffered an apparent inability to separate objective statements about the goodness of traditional marriage and the nuclear family from subjective judgements about individuals who do not hold the same view. Read the rest of this entry »

What Temperament Are You?

Posted: 11 September 2014

PersonalitiesI remember when I was engaged to my now wife Jane, one of the biggest discoveries I had to process was learning that she was an introvert. We were at a social function with people we both knew well and it came up that she would be happy to leave at any time. We hadn’t really been there that long and I would have been happy to whittle away the rest of the afternoon amongst friends, so I found myself being rather surprised at the whole turn of events. Actually surprised doesn’t describe it well enough, I was shocked! After all these were close friends!

Now if I was an introvert myself, I likely would have realised this fact about Jane a lot sooner, but extroverts (or at least this one) seem to be more likely to be completely oblivious to the fact that some people are just not like them. Whereas the extrovert in me was energised by being around family and friends, introverts need to be alone to recharge because socialising wears them out. It’s not that introverts are shy – they can be the life of the party – it’s just that they’ll need some quiet time to recover from that party.

This discovery led me to look further into personality types and I came across the temperaments, which are the aspects of an individual’s personality that are related to behavior and reaction. Our temperament is something we are born with and while it is molded through our choices and experiences, it is never completely erased. While a person is not the sum of their temperament, understanding the temperaments can lend us a vast insight into ourselves and those around us. In understanding the temperaments I came to understand that it wasn’t just that those who were not like me were strange, but rather their strengths and weaknesses were different. Read the rest of this entry »

Anyone can do the house-work; but who is doing the home-work?

Posted: 24 August 2014

Housework men womenDid you know that it is women who do the majority of housework? Even mothers of young children, who are holding down fulltime jobs, seem to spend more time than men with a mop and vacuum in hand. This however is not new information; every few months you can find a news report somewhere highlighting the situation. The most recent Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey (HILDA), shows that in households where men are the main breadwinners, they do 14.5 hours of housework a week, compared to 27.6 hours by women. That may seem understandable, but even when the situation is reversed, and women are the main breadwinners, the data still shows that men are not taking up their fair share of the load. Needless to say, if both the man and woman are in the workforce it seems only right that they contribute to the domestic duties in an equitable matter.

However, these reports about who is doing what chores are only so helpful, and in fact I think that in some respects, they are completely unhelpful. They may be leading us to believe that quantifiable domestic tasks, such as cooking, cleaning and laundry, are the sum work to be done in keeping a household, and by extension a family, in good order.

Of course ‘back in the day’ we know that husbands left the house to work, and wives raised the children and cared for the home. Since women got the vote in Australia in 1902 however, there has been a steady march towards a greater participation of women in the paid workforce, and in the last two generations this has really flowered (which is not in-principle a bad thing). Governments are working harder than ever to ensure than women are getting back into the workforce as soon as possible after having their 1.87 children. Read the rest of this entry »

Incest or Homosexuality: Which is Morally Worse?

Posted: 2 August 2014

all-love-is-equalThe bizarre nature of modern logic was on display once again when an Australian judge recently compared incest to homosexuality. In dealing with a criminal case of incest between siblings, Judge Garry Neilson, said that just as gay sex had once been socially unacceptable, “a jury might find nothing untoward in the advance of a brother towards his sister once she had sexually matured”. The bizarreness I am referring to though, is not on the part of the judge, but rather the response to the comments by politicians and media.

First to clarify; the case that was being tried was against a 58 year old man who was accused of raping his sister in their family home in 1981 when he was 25 and she was 18. The man had already pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting his sister some years earlier when she was only 10 year old. The judge did not allow the prosecution to admit the evidence of the earlier assault, stating that the two events occurred in different contexts, and by the time of the incident in question, when the woman was 18, she had already been in sexual relationships with two men and had a young child. The judge went on to say to the jury, that the “only reason” incest is still a criminal offence is because of the high risk of genetic abnormalities from consanguineous relationships, but, “even that falls away to an extent [because] there is such ease of contraception and ready access to abortion”.

The day after this story reached the media, the State Attorney-General, Brad Hazzard, took the rare step of involving himself in a criminal trial, referring Judge Neilson to the Judicial Commission for review, and moving to prevent the judge from sitting on any further criminal trials until the matter had been investigated. Mr Hazzard was “extremely concerned” and “appalled” at the judge’s comments and made the somewhat definitive statement that, “Incest is completely reprehensible, unacceptable, disgusting and criminal”. Media agencies reported on the judge’s remarks as “ill-informed”, “disgraceful” and an insult to “every gay and lesbian person in Australia”. Perhaps they would be interested to know that consensual incest is already legal in France, Russia, Belgium, Argentina and China, amongst other nations. Read the rest of this entry »

There Are No ‘Gay’ People

Posted: 19 July 2014

Gay StraightThe words ‘hashtag’, ‘selfie’ and ‘tweep’ were among 150 new words added to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary this year; and with selfies being taken by everyone from Barack Obama to Pope Francis to Kim Kardashian, it’s little wonder this word is among those making the list. While the evolution of language has, with technology, become all the more rapid, language remains one of the most vital tools underpinning a society. It is language that shapes reality for the members of a society, allowing us to attach meanings to things. Words convey reality and the better a language is used, the more precisely concepts can be understood. Inversely, the poor use of language can misinform a person or a whole society, about a particular truth.

Enter the word ‘gay’. Originating in 12th century England the original meaning was ‘joyful’ or ‘carefree’. By the end of the 20th century, the word gay became the recommended and preferred term for persons experiencing homosexual feelings. While I am not losing sleep that a word once meaning joy has become the key identifier around homosexual actions, what does concern me greatly is the usage of the word gay in direct reference to a person. “My friend is gay” or “He was born gay” are two of the most common examples. Even in talking to people who consider homosexual actions wrong, (and note that judging objective moral action is always different to the subjective judgment of an individual person), they will still refer to a particular ‘gay’ person as if that term is completely descriptive. In fact, this usage has become so normalised that the nuance is not often understood, so allow me to be more specific.   Read the rest of this entry »

Should I Destroy My Rolf Harris CD?

Posted: 9 July 2014

Rolf HarrisBy now we all know that the Australian-born and British-based entertainer Rolf Harris was convicted on twelve counts of indecent assault against four girls aged as young as seven years old. He was sentenced to just under six years in prison for crimes committed between 1969 and 1986. As soon as the jury reached its verdict public murals of his were being painted over and plaques that had been put up in his honour were taken down. He was stripped of music industry awards and even an honorary doctorate from the University of East London. On the off chance that he is still alive when his sentence is over, there is very little possibility the man would ever be able to redeem his name.

For fifty years Rolf Harris was considered a living treasure of both the United Kingdom and Australia; loved by children and adults alike for his brand of unique music, mastery of the ‘wobble board’ and eclectic mix of paintings, (including a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II to commemorate her 80th birthday). His conviction brought forth a range of reactions from shock to anger to relief, as well as a fresh range of allegations from other women about supposed indiscretions.

My question is though, what do I do with my Best of Rolf Harris CD? Admittedly, I find Jake the Peg rather catchy and still have fond memories of the primary school Christmas concert when we sung Six White Boomers. I have read the news reports of people burning their autographed wobble boards and consigning their Harris paintings to the bin but I am just not sure if this might be an overly hasty response. Not for one moment am I excusing Rolf Harris or attempting to lessen his crimes which are amongst some of the worst possible, but can the good that he has produced in the arts and entertainment still be seen for what it is; good? Read the rest of this entry »

Who is the Human Person?

Posted: 6 July 2014

Kermit the FrogThere is a cartoon image which shows Kermit the frog visiting the doctor. The doctor is examining an x-ray of Kermit which shows that it is actually a human hand animating the frog’s body. In the speech bubble the doctor is seen to say “Have a seat Kermit. What I’m about to tell you may come as a big shock”. All these years Kermit has been busy hosting the Muppet Show, meeting celebrities and avoiding the romantic advances of Miss Piggy, but his understanding of himself was completely wrong, he is no more than a lifeless pile of fabric and foam.

To some extent we are no different to Kermit, we go about life, interacting with the world around us, making our decisions based on certain assumptions that we often don’t even realise we have. Everyone views the world through some sort of lens, we are all a canvas that started being painted upon before we were born. This canvas is influenced by factors which include our family, our friendships and our faith. With the increasing secularisation of society though you may have sensed the push for an a-religious attitude to matters of politics, education and public life in general. The problem with this though is that a non-religious ethic is no more neutral than a religious one. Every view of life is underpinned by a certain philosophy which steers an idea like a captain steers a ship.

In our pluralist society there are almost as many ‘isms’ as there are people, philosophies such as relativism, communism, rationalism or feminism. These are all different ideas about life, thought and action. Not all the ideas in the market place of thought are completely wrong or completely right, most errors stem from a truth that has been pushed too far one way or the other. It would be worthwhile looking briefly at four of the major schools of thought that underpin many current ideas held about the human person – Dualism, Manichaeism, Utilitarianism and Personalism. Read the rest of this entry »

More Sex and Less Happiness

Posted: 21 June 2014

Playboy BunniesIf you want a good insight into the state of a nation’s happiness keep an eye on sex and relationships. While health, education, defence and the economy are the standard priorities of most governments, beneath the surface of those rather generic pursuits are the hearts and desires of actual people, from the greatest to the least. On our business cards we may be teachers, plumbers or lawyers, but in the privacy of our own lives we are individuals who have varying degrees of success relating to other individuals. And my premise is that we are failing – absolutely abysmally – in our priorities and methodologies regarding sex and relationships.

As a first thought, witness the incredible rise of online dating. In Australia, a country with only 22 million people, the two most popular dating websites claim to each have 2 million members; allegedly 51% of the population has either tried online dating or would consider doing so. Alongside this search for love sits the rise of couples moving in together, and this is not necessarily as a pathway to marriage but increasingly with marriage not even considered a possible future reality. Directly corresponding to the rise of cohabitation is the fall of marriage rates, the two lines intersecting sometime in the 1980’s as they headed in their new directions. Perhaps it is little wonder that marriage is taken up less frequently when the example of good marriages continue falling. More than one third of marriages are ending in divorce and the figure rises to sixty per cent for second marriages. After the divorce, floods of individuals head back over to online dating sites to begin again the search for ‘someone special’.

And flowing through all of this is an era and society that has never been so carefree about sex. Any ‘consensual’ sexual action between two or more people is not only tolerated but – as is seen in the case of the vocal gay lobby – it is often applauded. A dating relationship without sex is almost deemed to be no relationship at all. Pornography has become an addiction and is estimated to be a $14 billion per year industry with 25% of all search engine requests being pornographic. Our free sexual appetite though is costing us dearly. Rates of sexually transmitted infections are skyrocketing (and even normalised in government health campaigns), while the use of antidepressants has doubled since the year 2000. Read the rest of this entry »

In Google We Trust

Posted: 12 June 2014

213 GoogleI love Google. I use that little search bar numerous times every day. If I want to know what to cook for dinner, study the history of sandpaper or find out the time in Nigeria the method is always the same…Google. And it is a rare occasion when Google lets me down. Sometimes I have only fragments of information but sure enough, more often than not, Google knows what I am after. There are even times when I know the information I need is written somewhere very close by, but instead I’ll search for the information online. There is no doubt that our ability to find information so quickly on so many popular and obscure topics is one of the primary advantages of life in the 21st century. But just as every cloud has a silver lining, so every silver lining has a cloud.

Google was given its name as a derivative of googol which is the number one followed by a hundred zeros. The mission of Google’s two founders was to organise the seemingly infinite amount of information on the web. And it would seem that they really have succeeded. With over 2 trillion searches made through Google last year it’s clear that the world is keen to get its hands on as much information as it can. And rightly so, for information is a wonderful thing. The word ‘information’ is derived from the Latin stem informare meaning a sort of “formation of the mind”. This etymological meaning helps us to see that information is not only stuff we surround ourselves with, but in a much more profound way it shapes our very thoughts and thus the way we respond to situations. Read the rest of this entry »

Street Preachers – Giving Christianity a Bad Name

Posted: 28 April 2014

Street preachersEvery major city has its street preachers. Standing near train stations and bus stops, in parks and public squares, they hold up signs, handout leaflets and proclaim messages about sin, death, heaven and hell. ‘Sinners deserve hell’; ‘Judgement is coming…seek Jesus now’; ‘God hates the wicked’. Whether purposeful or not, these preachers often come across as angry with a threatening message: repent or burn in hell. Every city may have them, but that does mean they are a positive addition to the tapestry.

I am convinced about one thing in regards this style of evangelist, they give Christianity (and religion in general) a bad name and create an even wider gulf between the non-believer and faith. In fact it’s not only non-believers who are their target; Hindus, Muslims and an assortment of Christians (Catholics, Pentecostals, Mormons) are informed in no uncertain terms that their faith is of the devil. Then of course there are the ‘standard sinners’ under attack as described via their placards; ‘fornicators, thieves, abortionists, liars, drunks, adulterers and sodomites’.

Open-air preaching is certainly nothing new. The great philosophers and sages of the ancient world discussed some of the noblest ideas in the public forum. Jesus of Nazareth spent three years in public ministry with much of that preaching to huge crowds on hillsides and in the market place. The mendicant friars of the middle ages such as the Franciscans and Dominicans were renowned as the wandering preachers of Western Europe. The Protestant Reformation has spurred numerous passionate preachers, with Billy Graham, affectionately known as ‘America’s Pastor’, topping that list. Lastly, one shouldn’t forget Bishop Fulton J. Sheen whose weekly television shows in the 1950s and 60s drew up to 30 million viewers per week earning him the title from Time Magazine as the first ‘televangelist’. Read the rest of this entry »

Abortion, Depression and the Demise of Charlotte Dawson

Posted: 6 April 2014

Charlotte DawsonSadly, Australia recently lost a well-known television personality to suicide. Charlotte Dawson was only 47 years old when she was found dead in her waterside apartment. Being a media personality, the story was given much coverage with an outpouring of grief from people across the entertainment industry. At her memorial service one of her closest friends said farewell to “one of the most beautiful and generous, sharp and witty, sparkling and effervescent, honest and uncompromising people ever put on the planet.”

Unfortunately I learnt more about Charlotte Dawson through death rather than through life. Hers was a life that seemed so full of promise and possibility but in the end it was all too much for one person to bear. Charlotte left her home of New Zealand on the cusp of adulthood and spent ten years modelling in Europe and the USA before relocating to Australia. She worked in the fashion scene and eventually moved over to television making appearances on a range of shows including as a judge on Australia’s Next Top Model. It was the kind of life that fuels the sales of every gossip magazine around the world.

In 2012 Charlotte was admitted to hospital after trying to commit suicide. This incident stemmed from her being the target of a particularly sickening and very public hate campaign waged against her over Twitter. When she did actually succeed in taking her life this year, the mainstream media blamed her death completely on the depression resulting from the social media bullying. However, her battle with depression was nothing new and while the cyber bullying was the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ in 2012, Charlotte herself identified an incident 15 years earlier which she claimed was “my first experience with depression”. Read the rest of this entry »

Religion is Meant to be Used

Posted: 4 March 2014

Chris Ashton RugbyMany years ago I was active in the Legion of Mary, the largest apostolic organisation of lay people in the Catholic Church, with over 3 million members in almost every country of the world. One of the tasks our praesidium (local group) undertook was weekly home visitations assigned by the parish priest. We visited many different people; some were very active in the faith and our visit was a friendly social call, some were new to the parish so we may have been offering particular information or assistance, and others had made contact with the priest because they may have wanted to get their child into the Catholic school.

In visiting this latter category we would often find people who meant well but knew very little about Christianity. Many of them were technically ‘Catholic’ but the last time they entered a church was to make their confirmation when they were twelve years old. As the Legion of Mary is a spiritual group (in comparison to the St Vincent de Paul Society which offers material assistance), we would make all our visits armed with a mix of prayer leaflets, miraculous medals and rosary beads, which we would freely offer to those we visited. Many of our Catholic-but-non-practicing contacts would gladly accept these items. On a number of occasions I recall they would momentarily disappear into another room before bringing forth, with great pride, a venerable box full of brand new medals, rosaries and unused prayer leaflets. In a way that was rather touching they would tour us through this box pointing out each piece and when it was given to them and by whom. These boxes for the most part contained the sum total of their religion, what they knew about faith was inside that box and that was where they would, with enthusiasm, place the new spiritual items we gave to them. Read the rest of this entry »

Dick Smith Foods, Microsoft & Cooperation in Evil

Posted: 19 February 2014

Dick Smith Peanut ButterIn 1999 Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith created Dick Smith Foods to provide Australian owned and produced alternatives to the increasing number of foreign owned products. In a number of cases Dick Smith’s determination to support local growers has seen factories reopened, jobs saved and family security restored. Since it began, Dick Smith Foods has given all its profits – some $5.1 million – to over 350 community based charities including the Salvation Army, the Institute for Deaf and Blind Children and the Royal Flying Doctors Service.

Sharing Dick Smith’s desire to support and sustain Australian farmers, I recently put a post on my Facebook page promoting Dick Smith Foods and encouraging people to buy their products. While I usually enjoy a good debate, I was surprised to see one take place beneath my post, with a number of people commenting that they wouldn’t support Dick Smith Foods because of the man’s enthusiasm for national and international population reduction targets.

Now while I don’t agree with his assessment on the population issue (I actually wrote an article on the myth of overpopulation some months ago), it can sometimes be imprudent to reject the good being done in one instance because of a negative aspect in another. Especially in the case of Dick Smith Foods the profits and ideals of the company have nothing to do directly with issues of population control. It is all good and well to stand up to the immorality of the usual ‘life issues’, abortion, contraception, euthanasia etc., but we shouldn’t do that at the expense of not standing up to the immorality of other justice issues such as the right to have a job, earn a fair wage and feed ones family. If we pray for the life of unborn babies on Sunday but don’t support justice for working adults on Monday are we completely balanced? Read the rest of this entry »

Are You a Gossip?

Posted: 2 February 2014

GossipIf there is one thing human beings like to do it is talk. We talk about ideas, we talk about facts, we talk about ourselves and we talk about others. But arguably, many of us seem most interested in talking about others. Listen to a casual conversation around the office or your favourite pub and it doesn’t take long before it transforms from chit chat to gossip about the personal affairs of others. Gossip is much bigger than that though. The New York Times claimed recently that the celebrity gossip industry tops more than $3 billion per year; covering internationally important news, such as that of Justin Bieber throwing eggs at a neighbour’s house, right through to your everyday celebrity gossip about who is dating/ marrying/ divorcing who.

There is plenty of speculative commentary available claiming that gossip is part of the human condition and that far from being a negative, it can be good for people in that gossip creates group solidarity and shows that people accept one another as they are able to have a laugh at the expense of someone considered an outsider. It is considered valuable currency to know about the inner news of our superiors or when the next transfer, promotion or dismissal is about to take place. All of us have likely gossiped at some time or another, and most of us have probably been the subject of gossip. Of course not every conversation about another person behind their back is severely problematic, but as a society we have far too much interest in observing and commenting on the faults of others (as we perceive them anyway). Read the rest of this entry »

Loneliness…the greatest tragedy of all

Posted: 21 December 2013

man-on-benchEach year, as so many of us wrap gifts, baste the Christmas turkey and look forward to the holiday fun, there is a growing proportion who will neither receive a gift, enjoy a festive meal or have the opportunity to celebrate with loved ones. These people are not only the homeless, the physically and mentally disabled, the widowed and the elderly, but in the Western World they are increasingly people in our own circles, the work colleague, the friendly neighbour, or the migrant family.

A recent survey conducted by Relationships Australia, discovered that up to 15% of the country reported frequently feeling lonely. New research commissioned by Age UK revealed that 450,000 British pensioners aged 65 and over face Christmas alone; 26% did not look forward to the Christmas season and 17% reported that Christmas brought back too many memories of those who had passed away.

Asked many years ago by an American reporter about the poorest country she had ever been too, the renowned nun Mother Teresa of Calcutta responded that while she had indeed been to many poor places the poorest one she encountered was America. Somewhat surprised the reporter reinforced that America was one of the wealthiest nations, but Mother went on to say that the poverty suffered was that of loneliness. Captured more fully in her later writings Mother Teresa explained, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.” Read the rest of this entry »

Why You Need a Wish List…or Two

Posted: 8 December 2013

wishThis year Jane and I will celebrate our first Christmas as husband and wife and so we have been busy arranging our ‘wish lists’ for distribution to each other and our respective families. What I have discovered though is that my version of a wish list and Jane’s version of a wish list are two very different species. The truth is I don’t really have a proper wish list, I simply cobble together a few things at the last moment and pass that on. Jane’s wish list on the other hand is more of an art form that is compiled after much time, and consideration. In fact she has several wish lists depending on the occasion; a Christmas wish list, a birthday wish list, a jewellery wish list and even a song wish list, (and I might add that these lists are fully costed and researched so there are no surprises for the gift buyer).

You may surmise that the gifts listed are likely to be fancy and expensive ones, but on the contrary, they are all reasonable and simple gifts, particular DVD and book titles, chocolate coated almonds and a paper trimmer for craft projects are among them. When I saw this detailed array of lists I was rather amused and one of the first things I said was, ‘Why don’t you just go out and buy these things instead of waiting for someone to give them to you’? It dawned on me soon after that my comment said more about my general outlook than Jane’s lists. I realised that the reason I don’t really have a wish list is because if I had wanted a book or a DVD or a paper trimmer I would just go and buy it at that moment – and I mean at that moment – Jane will tell you how I can have an item searched for and purchased via the ebay app before she’s even finished talking about how much she likes it. Read the rest of this entry »

The Problem with Porn

Posted: 23 November 2013

widenative-408x264You may have already heard the boiling frog story but it goes something like this: if you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will frantically jump out, however, if you place the frog in a pot of lukewarm water that is slowly heated, the frog will not notice the impending danger and allow itself to be boiled to death. Pornography in our modern Western society is somewhat like that pot, it has been heating up over the last few decades and is at such a boiling point that it completely pervades culture. Ironically, while this complete pervasion is more visible – like the frog – we are mostly unaware at the effect it is having upon us.

Considering the problem with pornography one could choose any number of different areas. We could discuss the physical harm that is done to the bodies of ‘actors’ in the porn industry; we could study the neurological effects of pornography on the brain of the person who watches it, or, we could analyse the harmful social effects that come about as a result of engaging in pornography. But let us leave aside all those aspects to consider the way that pornography harms the basic dignity of the human person.

Obviously no one is offended at the sight of a naked cow or chicken. Why? Because a cow is just that, a cow, there is no more to it. But we are persons, human persons, male and female, and we have the capacity to think, to dream and most importantly, to love. In other words we have a spiritual dimension to us, we have a soul. The soul has been identified as part of the human person from Aristotle to Augustine to Aquinas.  In philosophy the soul is referred to as the form of the body.  In fact, when a person dies we refer no longer to John Smith but to the body of John Smith, even our language recognises that the essence of the person is deeper than his or her physical make up. Pornography however does not make this distinction; it looks upon men and women in the same way as we would look upon cows and chickens, as animals with no deeper reality. Read the rest of this entry »

Too Many Photos, Too Few Memories

Posted: 30 October 2013

smartphones at concertIn 2014 it is estimated that 1.5 billion smartphone cameras will take nearly one trillion photos – that’s hundreds of thousands of photos every minute (three thousand in the time it took to read this sentence). Three hundred million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day capturing every poignant, funny, strange, exotic and dull moment, from our latest meal, to the TV show we are watching, to the item of IKEA furniture that we just assembled. Every two minutes mankind collectively takes as many photos as the whole of humanity took in the 1800’s. While the digital camera of the late 1990’s provided a freedom that was never known with film, the smartphone camera has gone even further making every person with a phone in their pocket a photographer and turning every location (from the bathroom to the ballpark) into a backdrop.

So I am just wondering…is there any chance we may be losing perspective when it comes to our photo taking lifestyles? Are we taking photos at the expense of creating genuine memories? At a recent Beyonce concert in Atlanta, as she was sharing the microphone with some of those in the crowd, the singer scolded one fan who was preoccupied recording the show on his smartphone, “Put that damn camera down…see you can’t even sing because you’re too busy taping…I’m right in your face, baby. You gotta seize this moment”. And from the secular to the sacred, when Pope Francis first came out onto the balcony after being elected in March of 2013 the packed St Peter’s Square was literally a sea of tens of thousands of screens facing up to pixilate the historical moment. Read the rest of this entry »

Men and Women…Are Not Equal

Posted: 16 October 2013

Men Women EqualityI am sorry to be the one to raise this issue but I am going to put it straight out there so there is no confusion: men and women are not equal. For two things to be perfectly equal they would need to be the same and it should be self-evident that a man and a woman are not the same. Not only are they different on the physical level but they differ in almost every way they relate to the world around them. Men and women have different communication skills, different uses of emotion and even different perceptions of pain. However just because men and women are different does not mean that one is better than the other, in fact the very existence of humanity depends on these differences. These differences are what we might call complementary and they are part of the richness and design of humanity.

We have a major problem in our modern society though, we want everything to be ‘equal’, at least equal in the way we think it should be equal. Marriage has to be suited to whatever combination certain people desire lest it be discriminatory, faith-based employers are forced into employing those not of, or contrary to, faith, and some workplaces have quotas placed upon them in order to employ equal numbers of men and women. Read the rest of this entry »

Who is going to Hell?

Posted: 11 August 2013

signheavenhellDeath, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. No matter who we are, where we live or what we do, we will get to experience three of these four options, with heaven or hell being the final destination. Interestingly, in any poll that is taken, belief in heaven always rates higher than belief in hell, but I wonder if most people have a slightly skewed understanding of both locations.

I was reading a small devotional book the other day and in the section on eternity it stated that those who have done their best in life will be “rewarded” with heaven, and those who have disregarded God’s laws would be “condemned” to hell. That is of course the most basic way to explain these destinations, the good go to heaven and the bad go to hell. I have no problem with belief in either place, the founder of Christianity spoke at great length about both so to disregard them is to really disregard the faith in general. However, I fear this simplistic way of describing eternity is sticking around far too long in the faiths of those who haven’t been to Sunday School for many years. It also makes belief in eternity seem even less believable to those who profess no faith. Read the rest of this entry »

Catholic or Protestant…Does it Matter?

Posted: 9 July 2013

pope and queenMy wife and I were travelling recently and we found ourselves on a shuttle bus from the airport to the car rental terminal. While sitting in our seat studying the map, a somewhat friendly man decided to spark up a conversation with us. This man, named Doug, was on his way to an evangelical Protestant retreat weekend with several hundred others from across the country. Upon finding out that we were Catholic, Doug shared that he was raised a Catholic and attended Catholic schooling but had some years back found his way into his particular brand of Protestantism. He didn’t seem too concerned by his change in identity. In the few minutes we had left I tried to offer Doug a few reasons to consider again Catholicism and with a smile reminded him that he was still a member of the Catholic family and an empty pew awaited him at any time.

Doug’s story is neither new nor unique, on that trip alone I met another two former Catholics-turned-Protestants. You probably have family or friends in a similar situation, perhaps you are in that situation. A recent US study identified that one in three people raised as Catholic (that is baptised Catholic) no longer identified as such. The figures would not be hugely inaccurate for Australia. Almost half of those who leave the Catholic Church become unaffiliated from any faith and most of the other half become active in a Protestant denomination. Those who leave Catholicism to worship in a Protestant community are by no means lazy Christians; in fact the same study showed that Catholics who became Protestants had a higher weekly church practice rate than those who remained Catholic. Read the rest of this entry »

The Myth of Overpopulation

Posted: 5 June 2013

overpopulation PicAustralia recently welcomed its 23 millionth citizen. Of course we do not know who this person is exactly but they are out there somewhere. The person may have been a new born baby or possibly an immigrant who relocated to call Australia home. The news reports generally seemed to have been positive, or at least neutral, about our growing population numbers, which are still rather small compared to other nations. The same positivity was certainly not present when the global population ticked over to seven billion in early 2012. At that time there were renewed warnings from some quarters that earth could no longer continue with so many humans moving in.

Talk of overpopulation is nothing new. One of the foundational works on the subject was published in 1798 by an English Vicar named Thomas Malthus. Malthus believed that unchecked population growth would lead to a reduced standard of living and he actually advocated the death of poorer members of society so that those of a higher social status would not starve. Malthus predicted that society was about to reach a point where the planet would no longer be able to produce enough food causing worldwide starvation. Although his predictions of a global meltdown never came true, Malthus is still cited as an authoritative reference for those who advocate the forced curbing of population growth. Read the rest of this entry »

Why is the Catholic Church against IVF?

Posted: 5 May 2013

ivf-blueIf you take a quick poll of the next ten strangers you encounter and ask them about the Catholic Church and its attitude towards in vitro fertilization (IVF) you are likely to get two responses: half will not realise the Church has a concern with IVF and the other half will state how ridiculous it is that the Church is concerned about a process that can bring children to couples who are unable to conceive. Actually the Church has more than a concern; the Church has taught since IVF came about, that the process is “gravely immoral”. Not that the Church just made up this teaching when IVF began in the late 1970s, rather it applied its ongoing understanding of sexuality to this particular question. None the less, couples considering IVF as a last hope don’t like being told that their choice is gravely immoral so it’s worth considering just what the real problem is.

IVF presents a host of problems. First, it has no guaranteed success. The success rate of IVF is generally 50% for women under thirty but falls to just 20% for women under 40. Second, IVF costs a lot of money. Each treatment cycle can cost a couple around $3000 (after government assistance) whether there is success or not. Third, IVF has health risks. About 30% of IVF patients experience at least a mild case of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) which causes swollen, painful ovaries. While mild cases can be treated with over-the-counter pain medication a small percentage develop severe OHSS which may require hospitalisation. Fourth, IVF creates a life by destroying others. A usual cycle of IVF produces multiple embryos to assist with the success rate and also to store if a couple wishes to try for more children further down the track. However the truth is these embryos are mostly unused. There are 120,000 embryos sitting in frozen storage in Australia, the majority of which will be eventually destroyed with about 90% of IVF couples choosing to discard them. It is worth remembering that an embryo is no longer just an egg or a sperm, it is a new human life. A couple must ask themselves if the birth of one of their children justifies the deliberate creation and destruction of a few of their other children. Read the rest of this entry »

How Wealthy is the Catholic Church?

Posted: 28 April 2013

Vatican WealthWith the new Pope naming himself after arguably the most renowned beggar who ever lived – Francis of Assisi – some commentators are hoping that the Catholic Church will at last divest itself of the wealth it has been clinging to for thousands of years and begin to preach the authentic Gospel of Christ. These calls though are reminiscent of the Apostle Judas who protested at Mary Magdalene’s use of costly ointment on the feet of Jesus’ which was followed by the Gospel writers’ astute comment, “he did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief”. How many of those who criticise the Church for her alleged wealth are concerned about the poor rather than simply desiring to bring down the influence of Christianity in society? It is not wealth in and of itself that is evil but an inordinate attachment to it. None the less the Church does and should have a preferential option for the poor and Pope Francis has rightly expressed his desire for a Church that is poor and for the poor. So just how wealthy is the Catholic Church?

When people think of the supposed wealth of the Church they most likely picture the grandeur of St Peter’s Basilica and the works of art within the walls of the Vatican. It is wise to recall though that the Church does not consider itself the owners of these items but rather the custodians of them for all humanity. For if the Catholic Church had not safeguarded the great treasures of culture for two thousand years through war and through peace, who do we suppose was going to do it? Something else worth remembering is that many of the pieces that are today regarded as great works of art were originally created as works of devotion, and the only reason they have existed long enough to be considered so valuable, is again because the Catholic Church has watched over them with solicitude across the centuries. Read the rest of this entry »

Is childcare good for children?

Posted: 5 April 2013

N_CHILDCARE-420x0The Australian Federal Government recently announced that it will introduce a package of new measures to provide more flexible and accessible childcare to better meet the needs of what it calls “modern families”. The $11 million trials will include overnight and weekend care for the children of shift workers, extended weekday hours and more out of school hours care to “remove the barriers to workforce participation”. The media release, issued by the Minister for Childcare, was seasoned with references to how the trial responds to the needs of families and helps parents in the “work/family juggle”. The Minister spoke about the way in which the significant growth in women’s workforce participation in recent decades had created extra demand for childcare.

And demand it has created. There are around 6500 childcare centres in Australia offering long day care (from early morning to early evening) and the number of centres is increasing by about 250 centres per year. That of course means the number of clients are on the rise with 1.9 million children in 2011 attending one or more types of childcare, which was just over half of Australian children aged 12 or younger. Read the rest of this entry »

Lent and the Cross

Posted: 5 April 2013


crossWe are rapidly progressing through the season of Lent and if we have been taking the season seriously, the physical and spiritual efforts we have undertaken are probably being felt. This exercising of the spirit is much like exercising the body.  Initially when we start a fitness regime, maybe running or swimming or a particular group sport it can be tough, we cannot go as far as we would like, but as we keep working at it, little by little, our ability becomes greater, the distractions and bothers fall away.  This is the Church’s hope for us, that by now we are starting to grow stronger in virtue, but we must keep the cross before our eyes to remind us of why we are suffering and of whom we suffer with. Everything done in Lent has to be done for Christ and with Christ. One might live on bread and water for forty days but if that suffering is not united with Christ’s suffering then all that has been achieved is most probably significant weight loss.

Each one of us is called during this Lent to wait on the Lord, for our sufferings are not meaningless, but the very opportunities that God allows to unite us to him. Sure, we were not created to suffer but we live in a fallen world and now the only way to overcome our fallenness and be united with the Trinity is through the cross. There is no other method; no pill, no book, no website, no self-help DVD and not even another person. By allowing himself to be hung nailed to a tree Christ wanted to show us that happiness in this life – and salvation in the next – comes through waiting on God.  The cross is the exact opposite of what happened with our first parents in the garden. Read the rest of this entry »

Living for the Weekend

Posted: 26 March 2013

ClockWe all know people – in fact you may be one of those people – who live for the weekend. Every work place has people who function like countdown clocks perennially sharing the news of how much time is left before Friday rolls around. Mondays are the most painful day of the week because it is the longest time until the weekend, on Wednesdays relief is in sight and Friday…the whole day is a bustling excitement awaiting the clock to strike five. It is the weekend that gives such people hope and keeps them focused. Now of course everyone enjoys resting from work, that is natural, but are we really supposed to live our work lives just waiting to be set free like prisoners on weekend release?

For most of us, work will occupy a third of the prime years of our lives, and about a fifth of our entire lifetime will be spent working in some capacity. Work is therefore a fairly dominant part of most lives. The question is, should we understand work as something that merely gets in the way of our real lives, an activity that allows us to survive, or, should we consider work as a more valuable occupation, something that defines who we are and builds us up as people? Read the rest of this entry »

Pope Benedict XVI and the Papacy

Posted: 26 March 2013

pope-wavingAs the Christian world begins the season of lent in preparation for Easter, there could be no greater surprise than the news that Pope Benedict XVI will step down from the Papacy on 28 February. Even though the reasons of deteriorating health are valid for an 85 year old pontiff, having not seen a Papal abdication since Pope Celestine V in 1296, (and even before then they were rare), the decision has met with expected shock.

Pope Benedict is the 264th successor of the Apostle Peter in a line that has seen empires rise and fall and dynasties come and go. No institution is able to claim a more ancient status than the Catholic Church and the papacy. In modern times the Pope is referred to as the head of the Catholic Church, differentiating him from other Christian Churches and communities, but it is wise to recall that for the first thousand years of Christianity there was no other Church besides the Church led by the Pope. The schism of 1054 between the East (Orthodox) and the West (Catholic) was, and remains, a tragic political blunder which will certainly one day be rectified. The remainder of the Christian world goes by the name of ‘Protestant’ deriving most simply from a protest in the Middle Ages against the authority of the Pope. And so through the peaks and troughs of history, the Papacy has remained a constant. Read the rest of this entry »

There is only one morality…is it yours?

Posted: 2 March 2013

Morality2I was having a conversation with someone the other day and the topic turned briefly to politics. In discussing the various political parties I made the comment that while I don’t have any favoured political party, I would vote for a party on the basis of their stance on moral issues e.g. abortion, same-sex ‘marriage’ etc. After all, if a political party doesn’t understand the nature of marriage or respect the value of human life, I don’t really care how wonderful their economic policy might be. The person I was speaking with, who was also a person of the Christian faith, thought that to vote that way might be good for me, but it was not something that could or should be practiced by those who have no faith. This person believed it was better to encourage people to focus on issues we held in common such as the value of education and the importance of good healthcare.

This got me thinking, are moral issues private issues? Are my beliefs in particular key issues of morality dependent on my belief in a Supreme Being and adherence to a religious system? There are plenty of faithful and well meaning people out there who live by a strong moral code and are probably unable to annunciate any reason for their choices apart from their religion. Of course if someone decides to live an upright life because their faith encourages them to do so that is fantastic. However, it seems to me that we really need to be able to give better reason for living a certain way than because ‘God says’. I am not meaning to lessen the importance of God, but in a secular state God does not feature highly, and there is a growing secular movement hinging its success on telling people that certain aspects of morality are specific to religion and therefore not applicable to a large portion of society. If they are correct, if abortion is only a problem for the Pope, and if marriage between a man and a woman is just a venerable tradition, then it is true that believers have no right to encourage their chosen morality upon those who do not share their faith. But what if they are wrong? Read the rest of this entry »

Are you willing to forgive?

Posted: 19 February 2013

As human beings we are an emotionally fragile bunch. That however is not a bad thing. Indeed, it is our emotional state that most readily separates us from the animal kingdom. We perceive love, joy, surprise, anger, sadness and fear, and we can deliver those positive or negative emotions to others in the way we act. These negative emotions when given or received, hurt, and can hurt very deeply. The old school yard response to bullies runs, ’sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me’. It may be a cute rhyme but it’s not true. What affects us most deeply is not the physical insults that come our way but those which offend us on a personal level. To have a trusted friend betray us hurts. To have a sibling insult another sibling hurts. These hurts are very real and they do not easily dissipate.

Society has some plan as to how to deal with physical insults. Courts and prisons are full of people who have caused physical hurt to another in some way. This is not the same with emotional hurt. Sometimes we will be initially unaware that our words and actions (or our response to those words) have offended another. Even those who are most careful may still at some point offend another person. There is no shortage of friendships and families that have broken down because deliberate or indeliberate offence has occurred. These delicate situations are not easy to resolve because all parties may, to some extent, have hurt another by their actions, choices or words. Recall the parable of the Prodigal son who offended his father by taking his inheritance to indulge in a wasted life. In time he returned truly sorry for his actions and his father forgave him but the one person who could not forgive was the older brother who had remained at home always faithful. In the end, by his anger, the older brother became as guilty as the younger. Read the rest of this entry »

Are fireworks a waste of money?

Posted: 28 December 2012

fireworks sydneyAs another year comes to a close we will see the usual back and forth commentary about the cost of fireworks displays in all the major cities of the world to herald in the New Year. The largest display in Australia is put on in and around Sydney Harbour with approximately seven tonnes of fireworks launched. It is estimated that 1.6 million people watch the fireworks at vantage points around the harbour, a further 2.3 million people watch them from their homes across Australia and 1.1 billion people around the world also tune in to see the spectacle (I am curious as to how anyone can actually track this latter figure though). The bill for this thirty minute light show comes in at around $6.5 million which as the Lord Mayor of Sydney points out equates to $4 for every person who gathers around the harbour.

Now of course $6.5 million is a fair bit of money and it could be used to upgrade a hospital, feed the homeless or support our brothers and sisters in developing nations, many of whom are surviving on a dollar a day. On face value, fireworks can seem an unnecessary and even selfish expense, especially when so many of the young people watching them end up drinking themselves silly and have to be pulled out of the gutter by friends or the police in the early hours of the morning. Fireworks do not feed the hungry, cloth the naked or teach the ignorant; they provide no genuine service to the physical needs of any person, (except perhaps towards the livelihoods of those who create them).   Read the rest of this entry »

Have Yourself a Very Adult Christmas

Posted: 24 December 2012

Once again, Christmas is upon us; Santa is out in full force, shopping centres are playing Bing Crosby and the ‘spirit of giving’ is in the air. You may be planning to attend the local Christmas Carols at some point. If it is a religious caroling event, the children may be dressing up as shepherds and angels; if they are the larger ‘commercial’ carols you will be more likely to see the little ones dressed as elves and reindeer. However Christmas is celebrated though, it is well and truly a season that lights up the faces of children everywhere.

From a marketing point of view Christmas is like manna from heaven, the car parks are crowded, the food courts are full and the EFTPOS terminals are running hot. While many families, including my own, go with the ‘Kris Kringle’ method of present giving, (meaning that each adult buys for one other adult in the family), the children always receive individual presents from all the members of the family. Outranking gifts from mum and dad however are the gifts children receive from the jolly man in the red suit. Once based in the historical personage of the gift giving Saint Nicholas, from the early 20th century he has strangely morphed into a man living at the North Pole with a large team of magical elves and flying reindeer.  Read the rest of this entry »

Secular Society Should be Grateful for Confession

Posted: 9 December 2012

So once again we see the inner workings of the Catholic Church being dissected by an audience that has little understanding of, or care for, matters of faith. Interestingly while commentators are usually quick to point out perceived trespassing by the Church into the domain of the State, there doesn’t seem to be quite the same concern about calls for the State to come wandering into the inner sanctum of the Church. With a Royal Commission having being called into the sin of child sexual abuse, the latest target is – somewhat ironically – the very sacrament that exists to forgive sin, confession.

The criticism stems around the thousand-year-old Church law which binds priests to never disclose anything that they learn from penitents during the course of the sacrament. This confidentiality between priest and penitent is the oldest kind of confidential communication that exists. It has been upheld by priests down the ages and around the world regardless of where they may sit on the theological spectrum. It doesn’t take much logic to consider why the seal of confession is essential to the integrity of the sacrament. Without anonymity people would simply not pursue sacramental forgiveness. While some might respond ‘who cares’, the truth is confession has a greater potential for effect on the citizens of a nation than a hundred Royal Commissions. Read the rest of this entry »

Men and Wedding Planning

Posted: 18 November 2012

188 Men women and weddingsI am getting married at the end of the year to a lovely woman named Jane, and so my life in these last five months has involved an inordinate number of decisions around the height of cakes, the thickness of paper and the width of rings. I have also been informed on numerous occasions, by a wide variety of people, that the wedding is Jane’s ‘special day’ and that all major decisions, including what I will be wearing on the day, belong to her. Thankfully Jane has all along seen our wedding as a joint effort but this very common idea, that the wedding is a day for brides, needs some questioning.

While I am certainly pro-marriage I am not so sure that I am pro-wedding. I do not like the way in which the burgeoning wedding industry has taken the ideas of fidelity and self-giving love and associated them with make-up trials, chair covers and expensive cars. Interestingly the rise of the wedding industry and the amount of money spent is almost in direct correlation with the fall in the understanding of the nature and purpose of marriage. Read the rest of this entry »

Modesty. A Sign of Respect for Men and Women.

Posted: 4 November 2012

So there I was at the train station minding my own business when a young lady walked past wearing a pair of tights. At least I think they were tights. It might have been black body paint for all I know, as it looked like she was wearing nothing at all below the waist. I have since been informed by a reliable source that tights are very much in fashion, which would explain why so many women seem to be getting around in them.

Now I am all for fashion, (after all it was in the name of fashion that I sold my maroon microfiber suit on eBay), but I question the appropriateness of an item of clothing that only serves to draw attention to the body and not the person. Regardless of why she was wearing the tights, as that young lady walked down the platform the message she sent was ‘don’t worry about who I am, just have a look at my body’. And that is exactly what an array of men did as they watched her move down the platform. I am certainly not stating that all men’s fashion is worthy of the human person either, but there is no question that women’s clothing that has the most tendency to be provocative. Read the rest of this entry »

Are We All Sexual Perverts?

Posted: 21 October 2012

Recently the Sydney Opera House hosted the Festival of Dangerous Ideas which brings together a host of speakers on a variety of controversial topics. Not one to shy away from controversy I attended a couple of sessions including We are all Sexual Perverts by an American psychologist Jesse Bering, whose basic premise was that each person has within them certain desires that others would find offensive and indeed disgusting. Professing himself to be an active homosexual, Bering believes that while society has become accepting of homosexuality (once called a ‘behaviour’ but now popularly referred to as an ‘orientation’) we should consider why we might be less accepting of the approximately 547 other ‘paraphilias’ ranging from arousal by stuffed animal toys (plushophilia), machines (mechaphilia) or even trees (dendrophilia).

While many of the stranger paraphilias raised laughter amongst the audience, Bering also spent time considering more well known philias such as paedophilia and zoophilia (bestiality), posing the question of how we might respond to someone who had a tendency towards these even though they had never acted upon them. Bering believes that all paraphilias should be accepted and respected because the inclination has nothing to do with whether or not the person has committed some kind of social transgression. Interestingly and correctly Bering did state that without belief in some type of divine creator who had mapped out a design for sexuality who were we to judge a person’s interior sexual desires as more or less worthy than our own. Bering admits that his interest in the whole topic is attributed to his own homosexuality and a childhood lived among “conservative and religious” people which had led him to a sympathy for others who find themselves in minority sexual categories. Read the rest of this entry »

Death. A Part of Life.

Posted: 6 October 2012

It turns out that I am dying. One day, in the not too distant future, I will be dead. It may be tomorrow or it may be in seventy years, but either way, compared with the scope of history, it will be fairly soon. It will happen to me and to you and to everyone we know. In fact from the moment we are born we are on a path towards death. Death is actually happening all around us. As you read this an old man is breathing his last breath in a nursing home and a middle-aged woman is saying goodbye to her family in a hospital. Over 150,000 deaths occur worldwide each day, yet the modern psyche seems less equipped to deal with death than ever before.

For all of history, illness, death and grief have generally taken place in the home within a family context. However, in the Western World in the last century, death and illness have been relocated behind reception desks and security staff into hospitals, nursing homes and palliative care units. People go in and bodies come out. Yet for most of us the closest we will get to that, is sitting in our car next to a windowless mortuary van at the traffic lights. Of course our progress in healthcare and nursing is a wonderful achievement but it has come at a price, that of us seeing death as a somewhat unique anomaly. This compartmentalisation of death in modern society into purpose built institutions away from ‘real life’ has resulted in a general ignorance and even fear of death. Read the rest of this entry »

Same-Sex Marriage…Ending Discrimination?

Posted: 16 September 2012

It is amazing the way that the same-sex marriage debate has taken such a strangle hold on discussion and commentary in Western society. Who would have thought that in the space of just a few years popular opinion could swift to such a degree that to simply hold marriage as the union of a man and a woman could be labeled as intolerant? Yet this is where we are at.

One recent move for a change in legislation has come from Tasmania where a bill to legalise same-sex marriage was introduced into the Parliament with Premier Lara Giddings imploring the members of the House to “open their hearts and minds to remove this last bastion of discrimination”.

Now if there is a buzz word in the same-sex marriage debate it is most definitely ‘discrimination’. In the 21st century it would be better to be accused of anything rather than be found to be discriminatory. Yet we seem to have forgotten what the word actually means and that each of us discriminate every day of our lives. Read the rest of this entry »

The Useless People in Our Lives

Posted: 31 August 2012

I was scrolling through Facebook this week and I saw the following message; “KEEP people in your life that truly love you, motivate you, encourage you, inspire you, enhance you & make you happy. If you have people who do NONE of the above, let them go.” These sort of short inspirational messages are all over the internet and I have posted up a few of them myself. However as I read this one I found myself wondering what I should do with the people in my life who didn’t love me or motivate me or encourage me or inspire me or enhance me or even make me happy. And what if these same people did not motivate or inspire anyone? What if these people were a drain on me, their families and on the whole society?

It is important to surround ourselves with people who are going to encourage and inspire us. After all we become a reflection of the company we keep. If we spend our time with those who live to get drunk and party then we will end up doing the same. If we keep the company of those who strive for higher ideals then we will begin to strive for those same ideals. Read the rest of this entry »

Wedding: Church or Garden?

Posted: 15 August 2012

I was recently speaking to a Catholic woman whose daughter is getting married later this year. I enquired about what church the marriage was to take place in but the mother replied that while the daughter liked the look of the parish church she had opted for a garden wedding so she was able to design more of the ceremony herself. The mother didn’t seem to be aware of any concerns stemming from this decision.

Catholics leaving their parish for a scenic wedding is no longer unique. Until recently even the most distant of Catholics would appear in the parish to be hatched, matched and dispatched, that is, for their baptism, wedding and funeral. But a growing proportion of young couples are marrying ‘outside the Church’ (to use the classical phrase). Some do so because they have such little connection with their faith it makes no sense to them, others dislike the Church for one reason or another and some simply felt an outdoor wedding would be more picturesque. Read the rest of this entry »

Is truth possible?

Posted: 5 August 2012

I was filling in an online form recently and the security question at the end was “2+9=” and I had to type in the answer to submit the page. I found it interesting that this very mainstream form on the website of this very mainstream company was not only telling me that there was objective truth but that they actually knew what it was! If I had tried to type in that 2+9=5 I would have been told I was wrong. No message was going to appear and tell me that while they respected my freedom to believe that 2+9=5 they preferred the response to be eleven. The message would very simply say, ‘Incorrect, try again’.

I found this small incident amusing because for the most part we exist in a ‘truth free’ society where definitive statements are not welcome. Our society does of course acknowledge right and wrong but these are mostly understood to be established by the Parliament and upheld by the police. Something that is ‘right’ today can be declared ‘wrong’ tomorrow by a simple legislative adjustment. People have lost the idea that there is a genuine reality that is bigger than the law. To declare that something is right or wrong is very different to stating that something is true or untrue. Read the rest of this entry »

No food…but plenty of condoms

Posted: 25 July 2012

I opened the newspaper this week to read the headline that Australia will be doubling an aspect of its foreign aid to $50 million to assist the poor women of the world. What a wonderful idea. Perhaps the aid will be going towards vital medication to women in Sub-Saharan Africa; perhaps food and vitamins to women in South Asia; or perhaps it will pay for education and training in more effective farming methods? No. The money will go completely towards ‘family planning’. And not just our $50 million, add to that half a billion dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with a total amount from worldwide governments and the private sector of $2.6 billion. This amount was committed during the recently held family planning summit in London. So that is $2.6 billion for condoms, contraceptive pills and IUDs (small devices placed in the uterus which release a chemical to prevent pregnancy). Add to this an army of frontline health workers to go into these far flung places and educate women about how to best stop having children. This is family planning that has as its aim the destruction of the family.

The money will go to sustain the current contraceptive use by 260 million women in 69 of the world’s poorest nations. It will further ‘help’ another 222 million women who want to use contraception but do not have access to it. I wonder who spoke to these 222 million women? It is no secret that much foreign aid has for years been dependent on women signing up to family planning programs. If you have five hungry children and your next ration pack is dependent on having a device stuck up your uterus, it may not leave a great deal of choice. As we all know a mother will sacrifice everything for her children, and in this case her very dignity as a woman. Too often it is truckloads of contraceptives that make it across war-torn and famine-ridden borders instead of truckloads of food, water and medicines. Read the rest of this entry »

Violence again Women. Australia says…Yes

Posted: 7 July 2012

ProstitutesIn 2004 the Federal Government funded a $20 million campaign with the slogan, ‘Violence against Women. Australia Say No.’ The campaign was to bring awareness of violence occurring behind closed doors. As part of the campaign a TV ad was produced with a selection of men justifying why they assaulted women and the slogan making it clear that such behaviour was not tolerable. More recently a government campaign was launched called ’The Line’ which encouraged young people to consider where they would draw the line regarding issues such as ‘hooking up’ sexually at parties. The message in response to this possible quandary was not to engage sexually with someone unless there was mutual consent.

It may seem on face value that Australia is serious about stamping out abuse but I wonder just how serious we really are. While all these sorts of campaigns are of some value they fall into the interesting category of a secular government trying to teach morality. While a government may make laws to try and enact a particular behaviour they are seemingly unable to plug the illogical and confusing holes that appear in their attempts. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Eat at the Dinner Table?

Posted: 24 June 2012

Where did your family eat dinner last night? In front of the TV? In the car on the way to sport? At McDonalds? At the dinner table? A survey taken a few years ago in the US, Canada and Britain, found that about a quarter of adults with children under the age of 18 ate dinner together at home seven nights a week. Another quarter said they ate together three or fewer nights a week. I am going to surmise that Australian households would not be too far off those figures.

Once upon a time (not that long ago) we know that the situation was different. Each night the dining table would be set with a simple cloth and serviettes, the cutlery and crockery would be laid out and as ‘dinner time’ neared an increasing number of hungry mouths would appear with the question, “what’s for dinner”? Read the rest of this entry »

What is Love?

Posted: 10 June 2012

What is Love? It seems we all want to know. The most searched for ‘L’ term on Google is ‘love’ and the phrase ‘what is love’ continuously ranks at the top of internet search engine requests. We all know the hunger for love.

In 1978 in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, Pope John Paul II wrote, “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”

Although love has become perhaps the most clichéd word on the planet, there remains something within the human person that sets them on this lifetime quest in the pursuit of this thing called love. We identify that love brings a measure of happiness that we need. Read the rest of this entry »

The Scandal of Unfaithful Priests

Posted: 10 June 2012

I had a few ideas in mind for this particular column but on the day I sat down to write it the story broke of a popular Sydney priest who had just announced to his congregation that he had secretly married a woman one year earlier and had since been living a double life. Immediately this priest was across the media in print and radio stating his case and decrying the Church for her laws on clerical celibacy. And as was to be expected the majority of commentary came out in favour of him and against the Church. This priest has always been very diligent in teaching the faith and bestowing the sacraments which makes the story even more disappointing but what is most disappointing is the harm and scandal such a situation does to the Church and to the people of God.

First it must be said that we are all fallen. Each of us has our individual temptations and we often struggle to be faithful to the higher ideals we know we should embrace. Some struggle to moderately use alcohol, others struggle with lust, others struggle with anger. The scandal is not in our struggle and the scandal is not even in our falling into sin. The scandal is when we portray our vices as virtues, try to justify our erroneous judgement and then sell that judgement to others as a truth to be believed. Read the rest of this entry »

Why I Decided Not to Move In With My Girlfriend

Posted: 2 May 2012

I have been going out with my girlfriend for almost three months and thankfully all is going very well. I was filling in a friend on this news the other day and at the end of the conversation the person asked me, with a face of anticipated excitement, “Will you be moving in together”? I was initially surprised by the question as I imagined it was obvious to most people I know where I would stand on such an issue. However I guess that it is no longer ‘obvious’ why a young dating couple would decide not to pack their bags and find a place together. Let me explain then why I have decided not to share a bed with my girlfriend.

Cohabitation prior to marriage is well and truly the most popular path for young couples. Just over 75% of couples now live together prior to marriage and for many of them it is something they slide into rather than necessarily consciously deciding upon. When he or she begins to spend more nights at the other person’s house than their own, eventually it seems natural to stop paying two lots of rent. Read the rest of this entry »

Are Electronic Games Making Us Stupid?

Posted: 9 April 2012

What is the obsession with electronic games? Last week a business woman was standing in front of me on the train physically shaking her mobile phone to ‘mix’ some sort of potion. Just yesterday the man sitting next to me was hitting his screen like a mental patient in a quest to break open coloured balls and release stars. Why are seemingly normal people filling their time with activities that would serve to occupy the intellectual capacity of a four year old?

Now granted, not all electronic games are about mixing potions or breaking open coloured balls. In the most popular mobile phone game Angry Birds – downloaded 50 million times – players use a slingshot to launch birds at pigs with the intent of destroying all the pigs on the playing field. There are games where one can grow and harvest crops, save the world from alien invasion or match up coloured tiles. One friend told me she caught two students in her classroom milking a cow on their iPhones! Read the rest of this entry »

University and Women: A Fair Combination?

Posted: 21 March 2012

A new university year has just begun and thousands of fresh faces are sitting in lecture halls being prepared to one day step into the world and make their mark in their chosen career path. The necessity of the journey through university and into a well paid career is almost an unspoken law. Yet I wonder if we are placing young people, especially young women, into what will one day be a difficult position that compromises their potential for genuine happiness.

From their earliest years children hear the mantra that men and women are equal, and while they are certainly equal in dignity they are not equal in ability. I do not mean that one sex has more ability than the other; I mean that each sex has a different ability, each sex has different strengths. The complementarity of the sexes is the reason that the natural family of father, mother and children is the best model; it is far better to have a loving father and a loving mother than to have two loving mothers or two loving fathers. However preferring to ignore all evidence to the contrary and in the push to describe gender as no more than a social construct, society tells us that men and women must achieve the same level in all things. If men can drive a tractor, women must be able to drive a tractor; if men can run a corporation, women must be able to run a corporation. It seems to focus though on women being able to achieve in traditionally male roles, not the other way around. Read the rest of this entry »

The Stations of the Cross and the Marital Bed

Posted: 11 March 2012

This Lent, as you pray the Stations of the Cross and recall the Passion and Death of the Lord, you might add to your reflections the connection between Christ’s act of love for his bride the Church and the love of a husband and wife. The great spiritual writers have long spoken about the comparison between the Cross and the Marital Bed but in bringing it to mind again we can undergo a renewed appreciation of these two great life-giving realities.

The 10th Station recalls that after the arduous walk to Calvary, Christ is stripped of his garments. It is not often that one finds a Crucifix in which the Saviour is completely naked; we usually leave a conveniently-placed loin cloth to protect our somewhat prudish sensibilities. Let us not be confused though, Our Lord was stripped of all his garments; he hung upon the wood of the cross in the same way that he came into this world, naked. At Christmas we often speak about the humility and simplicity of the baby Jesus, but in this season we would do well to recall the utter humility which was forced upon the man Christ as he lay before his tormentors with nothing between him and them. This nakedness is not only a historical fact though. The first Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and he understood he was naked; his disobedience brought forth death and the feeling that his nakedness was shameful. Christ, the second Adam, would return to the tree once again, but in his nakedness he would bring forth life and redeem mankind from the curse that had been laid upon him through Original Sin. Is it not also in nakedness that a husband and wife continue to this day to overcome the sin of our first parents? Where but in the marital embrace can a man and woman experience that pure and beautiful gaze which Adam and Eve knew every day before the fall? It is in their nakedness that man and woman approach the marital bed to make of themselves a gift in the way that Christ makes himself a gift to his bride. Read the rest of this entry »

Gift Registries: Help or Hindrance

Posted: 26 February 2012

Some good friends of mine were married recently but when the wedding invitation arrived there was something conspicuously absent, that little card advising me of where their preferred gifts could be purchased, or instructions on how I might fund their honeymoon. There was no wedding gift registry.

I was speaking to a friend about this lack of registry and he was rather bothered by the fact that the couple had decided not to specify their gifts. My friend was even more surprised when I said that I do not even usually follow the registry when one is included, he actually thought that was rather rude.

I admit I am not a fan of gift registries; I do not like them, I rarely follow them and I would never use them. In my mind an invitation to a wedding is (or at least should be) an invitation to witness and share in the joy-filled marriage of a particular couple with whom I share some degree of friendship. When a registry card is inserted the invitation has a clause attached which is, “We like gifts, we would like you to bring a gift, and here is a list of gifts you can choose from”. Read the rest of this entry »

How Free is Our Free Will?

Posted: 12 February 2012

What are we to make of ‘free will’ in our lives, the ability to choose our own direction? The classic Catholic response is that human beings are created free because without freedom they could not choose to love God or love others. I was recently talking to a friend who was questioning how real this freedom was. Her point was that while we may say that we have free will, at the end of the day the choice is to love God or go to hell. For example if you ask a child whether they would rather eat chocolate or get stung by a bee, then they would obviously choose the least painful option but can we even call that a choice? I have certainly thought that same thing at times in my own life, but if I am honest they were always times when I did not feel that life was treating me so well and I began to resent ‘having’ to do the right thing lest I break a commandment.

We can fairly easily fall into the trap of being a bit tough on God though and legalistic on the concept of freedom. It is an unfair comparison to think that we either love God or go to hell, and I do not believe it is completely true. Those who are in hell are those who have fundamentally rejected truth, beauty and goodness in their lives. Edith Stein, a Jewish philosopher who converted to Catholicism and was later killed by the Nazis, is quoted as saying, “all who seek truth seek God whether this is clear to them or not”. Inversely she is saying that all who reject truth reject God whether this is clear to them or not. To complain that we are ‘forced’ to choose the right path is akin to complaining that we are ‘forced’ to avoid drinking poison because if we do we will die. And in that sense it is true, we are not completely free as human persons. If I walk out in front of a moving train, I will die. If I pull off my fingernails with a pair of clippers, it will hurt (a lot). Our freedom is certainly limited but to go down the path merely thinking ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’ will only lead to complete frustration and eventual insanity. Read the rest of this entry »

Science vs Religion…Why the Battle?

Posted: 29 January 2012

The other night I was watching a TV documentary on the ‘debate’ between intelligent design and evolution. The program captured the turmoil in 2005 that tore apart the community of Dover, Pennsylvania in a battle over teaching evolution in public schools. A pointless debate if ever I heard one…allow me to explain.

The debate around creation vs evolution did not begin in Dover, Pennsylvania; in part we could trace it back to Rene Descartes, the 17th century French philosopher who is famous for his phrase “I think therefore I am”. Descartes posited that all we could really know was in the mind and his legacy was a split between the physical world and the spiritual world. Prior to this type of thinking, people understood the supernatural to be more real than the physical space they inhabited.

The other split that began just before Descartes was the Protestant Reformation. The reformers who objected to the doctrines and structure of the Catholic Church held as their foundation principle that of sola scriptura – Bible alone. No longer would all of Christianity believe that the bible should be interpreted by the Church (which actually compiled the book) but rather it would become something that could allegedly be perfectly interpreted by anyone who wanted to read it. This individualistic reading of the bible divorced from Sacred Tradition led to a literal fundamentalism among some of the Protestant denominations (and this is where the good people of Dover fit in). Read the rest of this entry »

How well do you know your Family?

Posted: 11 January 2012

Welcome to 2012! Did you have a restful break from work…or did you have a break at all? Did you know that at the end of 2011, Australian workers have stockpiled 129.6 million days of annual leave! It matches the recent conversation I had with a man who admitted that he had not taken annual leave for three years even though he has a young family. His response as to why, was that he liked being at work and would not know what to do otherwise (I guess that if one had not taken a break for that long, one may forget what to do with the time).

This does make me wonder though, why we are not taking breaks. It is good that we like our work but why are we not going home? Could it be that it becomes easier to be at work than to engage with the family?

In our homes and amongst our families we also have work that must be done and it is not mowing the lawn or tidying the house. The real work is the work of building up a community, a place where love is received by each member of the family and a place where each member is able to give love. Read the rest of this entry »

When Other People Let Us Down…

Posted: 27 December 2011

We all know people who have let us down at one time or another. Sometimes it is only in small matters and other times it is in very great matters. In recent years the media has been very vocal about priests and religious in the Church who have let us down. How can it be that those whose lives are dedicated to God fail to live out what they have promised? Should we remain in a Church where even the leaders have failed to lead with honour?

Even when Jesus Christ walked the earth he was often the target of the criticism of the Pharisees. These devout men were sincere believers but they had trouble with those who did not live the law as well as they did. When the Pharisees saw Christ eating with tax collectors and sinners they became angry, but Jesus reminded them, “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mark 2:17). In the 13th century the renowned theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote a Prayer for preparation for Mass which included the words: “I come sick to the doctor of life, unclean to the fountain of mercy, blind to the radiance of eternal light, and poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth”. Read the rest of this entry »

Theology of the Body as it was in the Beginning

Posted: 21 December 2011

People ask a lot of questions of the Catholic Church, especially in regards morality. “What is the problem with sex outside of marriage?” Why is contraception immoral?” “Why does marriage have to be between one man and one woman?” People used to challenge Jesus with similar questions. At one point a group of Pharisees came up to Christ to ask him if divorce was permissible. To their surprise though He did not simply point them to the written law but instead he invited them to consider that “from the beginning God made them male and female” and created a marriage bond that could not be broken. The Pharisees complained that Moses had allowed them to divorce, but even though this had happened, Christ looked deeply at them and said “but from the beginning it was not so.”

Why direct the people to the beginning and not just the written law? Because Christ was directing them to the law written on their hearts. We exist in a fallen world, in a world where we struggle to do what is right, where the body and the spirit battle one another. However, it was not always like that, there was a time when humanity knew what it was to love God, love others and love themselves rightly. This time was before Original Sin entered the world and we read about it in just a few short passages in the book of Genesis. Thirty years ago a young Pope John Paul II began to give a series of addresses that delved back into the beginning so that we would know better the answer to the questions, ‘Who am I’ and ‘What does it mean to be human’. These addresses are known today as the Theology of the Body. Read the rest of this entry »

Winning at the Dating Game

Posted: 27 November 2011

Dating someone is tricky business. It is a bit like playing poker, we do not want to reveal our cards too quickly, yet if we hold onto them for too long the correct moment can pass and the game might be lost. In both dating and poker there is always a risk factor involved. If you never sit down to play a game of poker it is absolutely guaranteed that you will never lose a game of poker, however, it also means you will never win a game of poker. Similarly if you never allow yourself to enter into a relationship with another person it is absolutely guaranteed that you will never be hurt by the other person, but of course it is also guaranteed you will never share in the joys of a relationship.

While there is always the risk of getting hurt in a relationship it is possible to live out a relationship in a way that both minimises the risk of hurt and increases the likelihood of discerning whether or not it is a relationship that might be a keeper. Everything really comes down to prudence, which in modern times has sadly been reduced to being overly cautious. However, prudence is the pivotal virtue which gives us the ability to know what actions are appropriate for us in a particular time and place. Prudence is very much ‘practical wisdom’ for daily living. Read the rest of this entry »

What is the point of suffering?

Posted: 5 November 2011

Anyone out there had any sufferings cross their path lately? Perhaps it’s something transitory like recently losing a job. Perhaps it’s something long term like caring for someone with a disability. Maybe it’s the anxious wait to meet the right person or the heartache of dealing with marriage problems. Then of course there are the sufferings that most of us will never have to encounter such as starvation or a lack of clean drinking water. Suffering is a strange thing, it surrounds us and all of us will meet it in some shape at various points through our lives, yet most people have no idea about how to respond to it.

I recall once being down about something and a friend said to me in all sincerity “just remember that there is always someone worse off than you”. I am sure many of you have given or received similar advice. And at face value the logic is true, I am not living on a dollar-a-day in a third world country; I have a car and a house and people who love me. Surely I would be better to consider the trials of others before getting all worked up about my own sufferings? Read the rest of this entry »

Abortion…And The Pain in Our Society

Posted: 16 October 2011

Abortion is one of those topics that make people really, really uncomfortable. Nothing destroys the conversation at a pleasant weekend barbeque more instantly than talk of the morality of abortion. A couple of incidences recently made me consider about why it might be that the topic is so divisively painful and I thought they were worth sharing.

If you approach a train station on a weekday afternoon, chances are you will have a complimentary copy of the MX newspaper flung into your hands. There are regularly articles in the MX commenting on moral/ethical issues so I often text in a couple of sentences for the feedback pages. A while ago I sent in a comment regarding a story they ran about hundreds of mothers in India giving their baby girls sex change operations to make them males. I questioned which was worse, the goings on in India, or, the 90,000 annual abortions taking place in Australia. The message was published and expectedly attracted a barrage of messages both for and against abortion. To the credit of the newspaper they published messages on both sides for several days and in those days there was a definite progression of thought. Initially there were angry messages that the ‘foetus’ is not a human life, following that there were messages from others outlining how science unequivocally states that the unborn baby is indeed human. And lastly there were messages which stated that even if the unborn baby was ‘human’ it was certainly not a ‘person’. In reading the messages what was evident struck me was the length people would go to justify the notion that abortion could somehow be acceptable. Read the rest of this entry »

Can I employ someone as a doormat?

Posted: 26 September 2011

Have you ever walked through the city and seen those people holding signs advertising something? They can be found on busy street corners or open air shopping malls. Their signs point the way to a restaurant lunch deal, the nearest bottle shop or cheap parking. You might have similarly seen someone outside a pizza shop waving a sign to passing traffic highlighting cheap lunchtime meals.

I have a problem with this; in fact we should all have a problem with this. It is not a problem with advertising; it is a problem with the fact that people are being used simply as sign posts. Sometimes the people are handing out advertising material as well and this lessens (a little) the problem because at least there is interaction with people as part of the job. However to simply strap a sign to a human person and have them stand in one place or even walk around effectively treats them as an object; it is below our dignity as people. Read the rest of this entry »

Consultation did Marriage no good at all

Posted: 25 September 2011

Late last year Greens MP Adam Bandt put a motion into Federal Parliament that politicians seek out the views of their constituents in regards same-sex marriage. That motion was passed and MPs spent this year in “consultation mode” until last month when the period of official consultation ended. The position of Bandt and the Greens party in relation to same-sex marriage is of course well known. The consolation was really designed to create a bit of a smoke screen and advance the cause of same-sex marriage one step further. Besides the fact that numerous MPs disliked the idea of being told by the new kid on the parliamentary block how to do their jobs (as if they never consulted their constituents), in my mind the “consultation” process was a floored one from the beginning.

We live in a democratic nation and while that is a great blessing, it can lead us as citizens in that democracy to believe that our ability to decide on questions of ethics and morality is also a democratic right. If you walk outside now and ask the first ten people you see if the aforementioned consolation process was a good idea (regardless of their position on the issue) you would without a doubt get a very high ‘yes’ rating. If you pushed further about why those people believed it was a good idea you would likely get responses revolving around the ideas of democracy, freedom, listening to all opinions, majority consensus etc. Now that is all good and well if we are deciding on day-to-day matters of regulation and law, but for us to think that we can vote in the meaning of marriage in the same way that we vote in the Prime Minister is a misunderstanding of the “freedom” of true democracy. Read the rest of this entry »

Not a faith of rules but of perfect love

Posted: 25 September 2011

For many of us – myself included – we can say easily and without much thought “I trust in God”, but in reality how many of us really do, and to what extent? There are some beautiful words from Christ in chapter seven of Saint Matthew’s Gospel:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your son asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.”

These are the very words of Christ, the Son of God and God Himself. They should fill us with great hope. If we cannot believe these words deep within our being, then there are no words we can believe. Admittedly, these words are not easy. Yes, they are easy when everything is going as we desire but when life turn sour or when our plans tend to differ from God’s, it is then that we face the temptation to turn and walk our own way. Essentially all sin and all vice is us deciding to walk our own way. It is us not trusting that God’s only desire is to provide for us out of His love. Read the rest of this entry »