OVER our 200-year history Australians have developed a spirituality of justice and compassion.
This spirituality emphasises finding hope and life within the face of death/defeat (image of the crucified Christ).
When this spirituality is expressed it turns our attention to the underdog, the dispossessed, the needy and the oppressed. Our Australian spiritual identity calls us forth to fight for the impossible dream – justice and equality for all.
Key national personalities and events highlight this spiritual crux – the Anzacs, Ned Kelly, Breaker Morant, Burke and Wills, Caroline Chisholm, Mary MacKillop and Fred Hollows. Through our reverence and memorials of these historical personalities and events we have developed an Australian spirituality that emphasises fighting for a just cause no matter what the cost.
In fact Australians celebrate death/tragedy, when it means upholding the values of justice, freedom and equality.
Our national focus on April 25 (a military defeat) demonstrates forcefully that our Australian spiritual self is closely associated with the image of the crucified Christ ‘no greater love is there than to lay down your life for another’.
Within this spiritual milieu we have also developed the Australian qualities of humility, mateship and a ‘fair go’.
However when one inspects this spirituality against our history there seem to be inherent contradictions and inconsistencies. A quick tour of our history will demonstrate that our perceived spirituality of justice and compassion is more an ideal than a lived experience:
The kidnapping of Kanakas (blackbirding) to work on our sugar plantations (1847-1904).
Our initial treatment of non-Anglo migrants – Chinese (1850s), Greeks and Italians (1950s and 60s), Vietnamese (1970s).
Our fears of a ‘yellow peril’ and Communism despite the 1950 royal commission indicating that the Australian Communist Party was not a national threat to Australian security.
The granting of voting rights to indigenous Australians 66 years after Federation, despite sending the same people to fight in World War I and World War II.
The hypocrisy of our dealings with East Timor and Indonesia from 1975-99.
Our rejection of the existence of the ‘Stolen Generation’, once again despite the findings of a royal commission.
Our support of American foreign policy that does not promote world peace and justice.
Our White Australia Policy (1901-58) that did not allow any non-Anglo migrants into the country, especially Asians and blacks. This policy was not fully reversed until the Whitlam years (1972).
These events indicate quite strongly that Australia, as a nation of people, does not embrace a spirituality of the crucified Christ.
Our decisions, policies and national behaviour demonstrate that we, at times, are a society focused on fear, racism and maintaining the status quo.
The election campaign and the final result (November 2001) paints this picture of fear, racism and maintaining the status quo perfectly.
When we as a nation had the opportunity to stand for justice, peace and equality within our own borders and beyond we gave a resounding no.
So what do we make of our Australian spirituality that is supposedly based on the crucified Christ.
I am convinced that this Australian spiritual identity does exist. We only have to listen to our contemporary national prophets (Malcolm Fraser, Amnesty International, William Deane, Peter Garrett, Veronica Brady, Phillip Adams, and some of our Christian leaders) to know that deep within our nation psyche we have a heart that is committed to justice and compassion.
However, due to our fear of the unknown, our belief in cultural stereotypes and our trust in erroneous populist views, we are at times unable to hear the cry of our spiritual core.
We need to have the bravery to allow the truth of our Australian spiritual character to enter into our hearts of stone. If we wish to celebrate the greatness of the Anzac spirit then that same spirit must be expressed in our dealings with all people. Our sense of justice and compassion must extend to boat people, indigenous Australians, the working poor and the non-working poor.
Our history and our prophets call us forth beyond our current political and cultural responses.
The Catholic Leader is an Australian award-winning Catholic newspaper that has been published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane since 1929. Our journalism seeks to provide a full, accurate and balanced Catholic perspective of local, national and international news while upholding the dignity of the human person.
The Catholic Leader acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Peoples of this country and especially acknowledge the traditional owners on whose lands we live and work throughout the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.