AUSTRALIANS are losing faith in each other, in their country’s future and, as a result, in themselves.
Almost every institution we value as a nation is either under threat or fighting back from threats that erode the faith that has underpinned our status as one of the most blessed places on Earth, one we happily call the lucky country.
Our economic and social strength is not what it was.
Overall, we are collectively financially better off than ever but an increased part of the population is locked out of prosperity and caught in a cycle of disadvantage that carries through generations.
But we shouldn’t give up on ourselves, particularly if we can first understand what has happened to undermine that valuable commodity of faith – not only religious faith but faith in those around us.
I’ve spent a year asking the question: Has The Luck Run Out? And the answer I’ve found is: Not yet, but we have to watch it.
And while the failure to deal with crime and misconduct in every religion is at the heart of our loss of faith, it is not the only offender.
We’ve lost faith in political leadership – to the extent where the prime ministership has turned over five times in a decade.
We’ve lost faith in business – to the extent where a royal commissioner has to admonish bank executives paid millions of dollars that their guiding principle should be to obey the law.
We’ve lost faith in trade unions – membership is declining and cases where union leadership is alleged to have corralled members’ funds for luxury lifestyles continue to work their way through the courts.
We’ve lost faith in sport – who would have thought an Australian Test cricket captain would be suspended for cheating?
And that’s before we even think about what’s happened with cheating in tennis, three codes of football and every racing code.
We’ve lost faith in the media – readers, viewers and listeners have turned away from their traditional news sources only to discover the social media they have come to trust abuses their privacy and manipulates the truth.
We’ve lost faith in professions where unprofessional behaviour has devalued the advice that should be trusted.
We’ve lost faith in the value of long-term jobs, seeing more and more evidence of workers being replaced by machines.
Despite billions of dollars in investment, our educational standards are not keeping up with competitive countries elsewhere in the world, our health standards are declining and neither the legal nor health systems can keep up with the rise of powerful and destructive new recreational drugs.
As a nation, we identify with the bush but fewer of us live there.
We value our tolerance but we’re unable to arrest the decline of living standards in Indigenous Australia.
And we’re even less trusting of something as fundamental to our daily life as the weather where seasons are becoming more unpredictable and we can’t get any agreement on how to deal with something of such value to the planet as to how to deal with changing climate.
This all amounts to an indictment on Australia.
Dozens of case studies I’ve looked at over the past year don’t just indict, but convict, us of the accusation that started this journey.
It came from my teenage daughters who used the opportunity of the morning school run to point out the failings of the generations who have been running Australia and leaving me to defend us. The evidence for the defence is poor but not impossible.
Because, despite all those failings, we enjoy relative prosperity.
We have social cohesion that most other countries can only envy.
One of the interviewees for this project was Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, who also found himself wondering why Australians were in this state, but was also frank about the challenges of the institution he leads.
“We should be the most contented land of the lotus eaters on the face of the Earth but we’re not and why is that so? Why are we such an anxious culture and why are we so bored? Somewhere that answer has to fall into the area that I would name as spiritual and it has to be talked about because there has been a fragmentation of the moral consensus that would have prevailed by and large in earlier times,” he said.
And he had serious warnings for how the Catholic Church could respond to its own challenges thrown up by its response to the sex abuse scandals in Australia and around the world.
“We don’t handle disruption well. We’ve struggled with it since the enlightenment, probably earlier – since the reformation,” he said.
“Big institutions have had their day and the Catholic Church is among them.
“The institutions that are powerful and flourishing now tend to be very small, very agile, not these big lumbering institutions – and I mean politically, religiously and commercially.”
The Archbishop describes the need for a Church that eschews size and devolves decision-making.
“The Catholic Church’s strength is its size and scale internationally. It’s also its weakness in the current situation,” he said.
“But we are also capable of being smaller and nimbler and being more centrifugal, not putting our faith in our size and scale or giving the impression we’re a monolith.
“We’ve got to go more local, smaller, more nimble and if we do, we’ll survive. If not, we’ll struggle.” And this is where he sees spirituality mattering.
“There’s no way but to become a church that is more radically and evidently faithful to the gospels,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“That’s an easy thing to say. It has all kinds of implications for what kind of church we are to become – a poor church, a less powerful church, and extroverted church or a missionary church.
“The change is not easily accomplished by organic development and it calls for something more radical and that’s why rightly, some would say we are facing the greatest challenge, perhaps crisis, since the reformation and we didn’t see it coming.”
David Fagan is the author of Has The Luck Run Out?, ($32.95), published by Hachette Australia. This article is based on the book and an interview conducted for it. David is a consultant on communications, digital change and trust, and an adjunct professor in the QUT Business School.