Why Australian Culture Is Fracturing At A Staggering Rate

The Underlying Worldview That's Changing Australia.

Australian society is fracturing.

We’re now in an age with two competing moral views. Secular-progressive morality is pitted against traditional western morality, as represented (in large part) by the Judeo-Christian worldview.

The Australian newspaper’s editor Paul Kelly writes:

For much of its history, Australia, along with other Western nations, was a society that agreed on core values arising from Christian tradition and this was a unifying factor during bitter disputes over class, income and economic organisation.’

He continues:

But as the Christian tradition weakens and the progressive morality rises, our society is divided at its heart, a process that few want to discuss yet which is set to intensify.’

Chances are you’ve felt this rising division. It’s seen in the advance of sexual politics, not least the push for same-sex marriage, and the introduction of gender theory into school classrooms.

This isn’t a completely new development, however. It’s arguably been going on for the last 150 years, since the dawn of the so-called ‘Enlightenment’ (although it’s accelerated in the last decade or so).

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But if we were to go to the ‘source’ of this division – if we were to go upstream far enough to see what’s driving the secular-progressive push for a new morality – what would we find?

According to renowned English theologian Oliver O’Donovan, there are two key beliefs of the modern secular moral worldview:

 

1) Human Beings Determine Reality

We don’t merely interpret it.

We’re Kings who don’t just interpret reality; we make reality. O’Donovan writes:

Behind the…various critiques of modernity…we can detect a theme which recurs persistently. It centres on the notion of the abstract will, exercising choice prior to all reason and order, from [which] springs society, morality and rationality itself.’ [1]

So for example, morality isn’t something out there that presses on us: there is no such morality. Instead, we make it up for ourselves (even if it means saying rape is not wrong). I’ve heard this said many times on university campuses.

Poet William Ernest Henley, captured this god-like view of humanity when he wrote:

I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul’.

But there’s more:

 

2) The World is Completely Malleable

We shape it however we want.

Coupled with this god-like view of our power is a play-doh-like view of reality. O’Donovan continues:

Corresponding to the transcendent will is an inert nature, lacking any given order that could make it good prior to the imposition of human purposes upon it.’ [2]

He sums up:

To put it theologically: the paradigm for the human presence in the world is creation [from nothing], the absolute summoning of reason, order and beauty out of chaos and emptiness.’ [3]

In other words, humanity has replaced God. We’re now the makers. We now determine what’s true, what’s good, and what’s beautiful.

It’s breathtaking in its arrogance. And so unsurprisingly, it clashes with the Christian view of reality:

 

3) Christianity Sees Reality As a Given – As a Gift From God

Which we’re to gladly accept.

The secular view of reality clashes with the Christian view:

[The secular view of reality] does not, of course, honour God’s creative deed, but compete’s with it. Faith in creation means accepting the world downstream of [God’s] Original, justified to us in being, goodness and order. ‘ [4]

Modern secular humanity finds it hard to accept the world as given to us by God. And so we’re tempted by the serpent’s words in Genesis 3:5:

You will be like God, knowing [i.e. determining] good and evil’.

But this view of reality is deeply problematic.

4) What happens when we swallow the secular view of reality?

Answer: Revolution.

Once humanity is in the driver’s seat, then reality – including moral reality – becomes whatever we want it to be.

So for millennia, western (and non-western) cultures thought it was obvious – a ‘given’ – that marriage was between two people of the opposite sex. But if we get to determine reality, then marriage is whatever we want it to be.

You may have thought it obvious that gender is binary – male or female. But if we get to determine reality, then gender is as fluid as Facebook’s 50 different varieties.

You may have thought it obvious that we shouldn’t kill other innocent people. But if we get to determine reality, then what’s wrong with bumping off grandpa once he gets a bit too long in the tooth? Sure, we’ll only do it with his consent – but then why would we need consent in the first place, if we determine right and wrong?

You may have thought it obvious that a free society should allow civil discussion about political issues. But if we get to determine reality, we definitely get to determine political reality – including whether people should be free to talk about contentious political issues.

 

An Inconvenient Reality

And yet, reality has a way of rudely imposing itself on us. Take politics as a case in point.

Many messianic political regimes – from the French Revolution to the Soviets – put themselves in the driver’s seat, and tried to change reality – in their case, human nature – without success. Human beings remained stubbornly, well, human. And such regimes’ collapsed under this reality. Of course, not before they caused significant carnage.

Will the same thing happen to current efforts to remake morality, politics, and human identity in modern Australia?

Time will tell.

Do you agree with the above assessment of Australian society? Please leave a comment below. 

 

 

[1], [2], [3], [4] Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire Of The Nations – Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1996), 274.

 

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7 thoughts on “Why Australian Culture Is Fracturing At A Staggering Rate

  1. The issues you raise are valid. However it is not correct to suggest that Christian morality is being challenged by a ‘secular’ morality. Secular is a characteristic of governments – ie those that deal with everything but religion.

    Christian values are being attacked in reality from the viewpoint of other religions. This point is developed further in ‘Christianity is the Necessary Foundation for Applying Rational Thought in Practice’
    http://cpds.apana.org.au/Teams/Articles/competing_civilizations.htm#24_4_17

    As the latter suggests there are huge advantages for a society in having a ‘secular’ state. Labeling non-Christian worldviews as ‘secular’ implies that they are an intrinsically ‘good thing’. A religion is best regarded as a worldview that is based on un-provable assumptions. This applies as much to non-theistic (eg Atheistic / Humanistic) worldviews as it does to theistic worldviews such as Christianity.

    • Thanks John,

      Yes, it does depend on what you mean by the word ‘secular’. I’m using it to mean a non-formal religion, but you’re absolutely correct to point out that all worldviews have inbuilt faith assumptions, and are therefore ‘religious’.

      However, as I’ll blog about next week, I don’t think governments can be ‘secular’ for this reason: all laws and policies have a ‘religious’ basis – even if the government doesn’t overtly support any particular religion as such.

      Thanks for your comment,

      Akos

  2. Hi Akos,

    Point 1: It is not about replacing God. It is about dealing with the reality of its non-existence.

    Whether you regard it as convenient or inconvenient, if there is no God, we humans have to make the best of things as, for example, our secular legal system attempts to do. It requires constant effort.

    If there is no God, your “moral absolutes” become the human-created rules of a primitive society, run by men, and for men; followed by the ambiguous and frequently intolerant urgings of a certain Jewish agitator.

    Point 2: Moral systems can be evaluated. It is foolish to imply that secular systems claim immunity from criticism.

    Cheers,

    Martin Hadley

    • Hi Martin!

      Thanks for your comment.

      A couple of points in reply:

      1) ‘ if there is no God, we humans have to make the best of things as, for example, our secular legal system attempts to do’

      Who gets to say what ‘the best of things’ is?

      And how do you determine what the ‘best’ is, if there are no fixed eternal moral standards that define the ‘best’?

      2) ‘If there is no God, your “moral absolutes” become human-created rules’

      Absolutely.

      But don’t stop there: *all* laws by definition are nothing more than rules created by people (whoever happens to be in power at the time).

      3) ‘Moral systems can be evaluated. It is foolish to imply that secular systems claim immunity from criticism.’

      Sure. But by what criteria?

      If morality is nothing more than what we make up ourselves, who’s to say that your morality is any better than my morality?

      Cheers,

      Akos

  3. Thanks for your article, Akos, which could be a useful discussion starter. We Australians so much need informed discussion on how we treat those who are different and on the erosion of truth in public life.
    However I want to make 2 points.

    1. Let’s be very careful about the word ‘secular’. For example, I support our public school system which is ‘secular’ in a carefully defined sense yet this morning I will be going to a nearby public school to teach from the Bible under the Special Religious Education program in NSW.

    2. What is meant by the ‘Judeo-Christian worldview’? Is this a helpful term?

    • Hi Steve!

      Thanks for your comment.

      1) I agree we need to be careful about the word secular. It’s one of those slippery words that means different things to different people. As in an earlier comment, I’m using it in the popular way to mean non-religious in a formal sense (i.e. not tied to any formal religion).

      2) I think ‘Judeo-Christian’ worldview is helpful in the sense that it is a distinct way of viewing reality – including moral reality. It has some key tenants, based on Biblical teachings such as people being made in the image of God; being created by God, and accountable to Him; and there being moral absolutes.

      Thanks again,

      Akos