Tag Archives: Eureka St

Children of God (Easter 3, Year B, 22 April 2012)

1 John 3.12-19
Luke 24.36b-48 

I saw a poem in Eureka St magazine during the week called The problem with being an atheist. It was written by an Anglican priest in NSW called Jorie Ryan, and it begins in this way:

The problem with being an atheist
is the lack
of imagination.
no one to talk with
when we were first begun
to share the pain
of dying
the joy of living
to delight in our first words
our singing notes
our pictures on the walls.
The problem with being an atheist
is the lack of gratitude
having no one to thank for being here
nothing to join hands with
and dance the dance of life.

It stands in stark contrast to the way our reading from 1 John 3 starts today:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

Jorie Ryan contends that atheism involves a lack of an ultimate reference for our joys and sorrows, a cosmic home to belong to; John proclaims that we have that ultimate reference and cosmic home, who is the Father who calls us children of God. The Father delights in the words we speak to tell our praise, the songs we sing as we serve others, the pictures we paint with our lives.

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Eureka Street comes of age – Eureka Street

A thoughtful reflection from Andy Hamilton of Eureka St about the ways online publishing influence public conversation.

Eureka Street comes of age – Eureka Street.

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A moment (just!) of ubuntu

I preached a few weeks ago about how the way of ubuntu is starting to speak to me, particularly through the writings and life of Desmond Tutu. Eureka St has a story today about how a young man with no money for a ticket was ‘voted’ onto a bus.

The story is called Vote 1 bus ‘bludger’. I’d like to think of it as a moment of ubuntu, of a fair go.

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Fourth Sunday of Easter (Easter 4) / Anzac Day

The Lamb who was slaughtered

Revelation 7.9-17
John 10.22-30

Every few years, this happens. Anzac Day falls on a Sunday. And I have a task that I sometimes think is pretty well beyond me—that task is to say a word about Jesus Christ and his resurrection life, whilst remembering those who have died in our nation’s wars.

Let me confess. I turned twenty in 1973; some of you will immediately realise what this means. The young men of my generation were being chosen by ballot to be conscripted into the Armed Forces and fight in an unpopular war in Vietnam.

I have rarely been so relieved than when Gough Whitlam came to power on 2 December 1972 and abolished conscription the very next day.

Those who returned from Vietnam often returned to find people didn’t want to know. They were not honoured for being part of our nation’s wars. There may have been all sorts of reasons, including massive popular opposition to sending troops to Vietnam. Many returning soldiers developed post-traumatic stress disorders as a result of the treatment they received on returning to Australia. They were let down by our society.

During the week, I read of a man none of us will have heard of. A man called Harry Hogan. His story is in Eureka St, an online magazine produced by a members of a Jesuit community—in fact, I stay with this community when I’m in Melbourne. Read it! But for now, listen to Harry Hogan’s story:

Harry was 18, a knockabout bush larrikin ready to give just about anything a try. He joined the Second Machine Gun Battalion on 10 February 1915, trained for four months…and set foot on the beach at Gallipoli on 16 August, a few days after the start of the doomed August offensive that was the Allies’ last throw of the dice before their retreat from the peninsula.

For the next four months Harry Hogan, like so many of his fellow soldiers, had an undistinguished, brutalising time, memories of which would stay with him forever. If, in his happy-go-lucky, thoughtless way, he had imagined performing daring, perhaps dramatic deeds, it took no time at all for such notions to founder amid the chaos, the blood, the wounds, the deaths.

Never shirking but always scared stiff, Harry staggered through the months until serious head wounds were added to his more or less constant and worsening state of shock, and he was taken to hospital in Alexandria on 23 December…

Harry recovered after treatment but, still not 19 years of age, he had seen gruesome sights, experienced indescribable horrors and confronted his own crippling fears. He was scarred beyond any treatment that the hospital in Alexandria could give him or even knew about. And this was only the beginning.

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Can we be good without God?

Or, better put, can we live ethical lives without a faith in God? Lots of people do, so the answer is ‘Yes’.

Andy Hamilton looks at the issue in his usual insightful way in today’s Eureka St. The emphases are mine:

Christopher Hitchens does get you thinking. In today’s contributions toEureka Street, my colleague Herman Roborgh wrestles with the relevance of his argument for Islam. Here I would like to take up one of the issues which he often raises: whether ethical thinking needs to include God.

Before discussing the reasons for this assertion, I would like to despatch arguments that are untenable. It has long been argued that if people do not believe in a God who will judge and sentence them to hell for bad actions, they will feel free to act outrageously. The large number of people who believe neither in God nor in hell but act ethically argue against this claim.

The same evidence tells against the claim that individuals will not act or think ethically unless they believe in God. Most theists have friends with no religious belief whose delicacy of conscience and integrity we can only admire. Furthermore, the seriousness with which organisations and people from different backgrounds reflect on the ethical dimensions of research and governance argue that worthwhile ethical reflection does not depend on belief in God.

It would also be unjust to dismiss as worthless any ethical system that does not include reference to God. The slogans used to summarise the central claims of most ethical systems offer a good guide to behaviour. If we regularly sought the greatest good of the greatest number, weighed the consequences of different courses of action, did our duty and asked what would make us truly happy, we would be following substantially reliable ethical guides. The question at issue is how well-grounded are the ethical systems that underlie such good ethical advice.

The argument that ethical thinking needs to include God has partly to do with the need for a firm logical grounding of ethics, and partly comes from reflection on culture. It picks up Nietzche’s insights into the climactic character of the death of God in Western society. He saw the disappearance of God from culture as a given, but he associated it with terror and not equanimity. His world without God was a world for heroes, not for the complacent.

The difference made by including God in ethical thinking can best be seen reflecting on the claim that other people and the world make on me. We can answer that question in two broad ways. One is to say that when we respond to others and to our world, we respond to values that are already given in them. We recognise their value and respond to what we recognise. For theists who see things in this way, God is the source of value in our world, and so gives space for the ethical quest. God also gives continuity in our own human journeys. We have a history of response to value, and not simply a series of disconnected actions.

Without God it is difficult to find space for values that precede our judgment. It is more reasonable to say that individuals choose their own values, and that we make ourselves by the choices we make. We decide to give value to people and the world. This is the second way of dealing with the claim that other people make on me. To an outsider, it has some difficulties. It is hard to see why we should prefer other values when they conflict with our own self interest. It also seems difficult to establish common values except by majority opinion and to impose them except by legislation. Finally, the freedom that is given by the emphasis on individual choice will tend to become a burden if we have no sense of a significant human journey that can give meaning to our choices.

The God whom this argument claims is needed in ethics is not another character within our world. God is seen as the condition of the space necessary for an ethical life to have significance.

What are we to make of this argument? Its strength lies in its description of the character of Christian morality, and its commendation of the space that it offers for depth in recognising value, in finding common moral ground with others, and in allowing a dramatic sense of human life as a moral journey.

But the argument is not conclusive in dismissing the value of ethical frameworks that make no mention of God. It is the first step in a conversation that invites other large views of the ethical life to describe in their own terms how they find the deep human qualities that Christians preserve by grounding ethics in God.

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Budget: still waiting for social inclusion

Yesterday, I drew attention to Eureka St’s take on the Budget, with three principles for it to be good news for the poor. It looks to be a disappointment.

Frank Quinlan, Director of Catholic Social Services Australia, was allowed into the ‘lock-up’ for journos (where no doubt he saw David Koch salivating over his papers). He writes that he looked through the 30 cm-thick papers and the:

…in the ‘Budget Overview’ document, I found the section on social inclusion and my heart sank. I quote it directly:

‘Downturn or not, there will always be people in our society who suffer disadvantage. Through National Partnerships, the government is working to improve the social inclusion of the disadvantaged on a range of fronts, including homelessness, disability services, low socio economic status schools and Indigenous outcomes.’

Later, the detailed document indicated that the government has ‘sought further advice’ from the Social Inclusion Board.

After all that we have heard about the social inclusion agenda, after all we have heard about a new way of working with the community sector, after all the evidence we have presented that the community services sector will face unprecedented demand over the next two years … No comprehensive strategies to lift people out their immediate poverty. No coherent strategy to strengthen and support the community services sector.

While the government is prepared to spend only cautiously on a politically acceptable selection of the people that use our services, and while government is prepared to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into industries as globally uncompetitive as the car industry or as patently unproductive as the banking and finance ‘industry’ or on ventures as speculative and risky as carbon sequestration, we have not been able to convince government to invest directly and strategically in an industry as essential and as effective as the community service sector.

I wrote in response to the first Rudd Labor Budget that we may have turned a corner, towards a fairer Australia and a more sustainable community sector, but that only time would tell. After all the scripted theatre of pre-budget leaks, secure lock-ups and dazzling announcements are stripped away, the 2009–10 Budget seems to indicate that we may well be waiting for a long time yet.

Read the rest here, weep, pray & act.


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Budget day

The federal Budget comes down today, and it’ll be a toughy.

Eureka St’s John Warhurst has a great article in the final hours before the budget is delievered, which has these three principles from a Catholic (and I would say, simply Christian) viewpoint:

  • Catering for the needs and aspirations of all members of the community (the ‘common good’);
  • Ensuring any economic burdens imposed are proportionate to the person’s capacity to pay (distributive justice);
  • Always giving priority to enhancing the lives of the most disadvantaged (preferential option for the poor).

It will be good to see how the Budget stacks up.

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Chickening out from judgement

Andrew Hamilton has another good piece in Eureka St on whether God sends disaster in response to human wrongdoing. It seems to me that this is one of a number of areas in which there is a discussion within scripture, a discussion that consistently tends towards seeing God in a relationship of love towards the whole creation.


On blaming God for swine flu


Danny NalliahIt was reported last week that an American priest had told a Canberra Church that swine flu was God’s punishment for sin. The report seems to have been a beat-up. The reporter’s ‘usually reliable source’ proved to be the usual tendentious and unchecked source.

But stories about preachers who attribute disaster to divine punishment for sin have been in the news lately. And they have a long history.

Danny Nalliah (pictured), of Catch the Fire Ministries, attributed the Victorian bushfires to God withdrawing protection after the passing of abortion laws. In Austria, Gerhard Wagner withdrew after being nominated Auxiliary Bishop of Linz. He had claimed in a newsletter that Hurricane Katrina was a punishment for sexual permissiveness.

This line of preaching has drawn fire since Jesuit missionary Gabriel Malagrida was exiled from Portugal in the 18th century for preaching that the Lisbon earthquake was God’s punishment for sin. Voltaire famously ridiculed the argument.

For Christians the issue is complex. The idea that God might use natural disasters to punish people for general sinfulness or particular sins is repugnant. But at first glance the Scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, do seem to represent God as doing just that. This tension bears reflection.

On examination the Scriptures are more equivocal about attributing disasters to a punishing God than might appear. They certainly represent the popular view that God uses natural events as rewards and punishments for individuals and nations. But in their representation of God they also stand at an angle to this view.

In stories like the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden, the great flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah, God threatens annihilation but relents and spares humanity. When it comes to bargaining, God is a soft touch.

The prophets display the same complexity. They attribute disasters like military defeat to sin and the abandonment of God. But this sin has to do with misrule that crushes and impoverishes ordinary people. The disasters suffered by the nation are not simply inflicted from without but result naturally from a corrupted polity. And within this bleak picture, God is still presented as wanting to restore the people to prosperity and happiness

Two Old Testament books, in particular, subvert the popular nexus between sin, God’s punishment and disaster. In the Book of Job, Job’s comforters press him to acknowledge that his sins caused his calamities. The reader knows that Job is correct in refusing this connection. In the book of Jonah, too, the grumpy prophet finishes up furious that yet again God has chickened out of delivering on threats of destruction.

The New Testament also subverts the popular account of a judicial God. Its central message is that God loves sinners, that in Jesus God joins and dies for sinners. This view certainly insists on the catastrophic character of human sin. But God’s response to it is anything but punitive. Jesus, too, refuses to blame the death of people in a building collapse either on their own sin or that of past generations.

The Scriptures then represent a prevailing view of a God who uses natural and military disasters to sanction bad behaviour. But they also undermine this view by describing God as concerned above all with relationships and as acting more as lover than judge. It is this image of God as lover that should control the way we speak of God’s response to sin and involvement in disasters.

By these criteria it is not only unreasonable but also doubtfully Christian to attribute disasters to sinfulness in general. It is even more questionable to attribute them to particular sins.

The principal difficulty arises from the consistent movement in Scripture to define God in terms of relationship and not in terms of abstract theories of retribution. A God whose abiding disposition is one of love, and whose consistent focus is on the individual person and on their good, could not consider disasters an appropriate recompense for evil doing. Disasters are impersonal and indiscriminate. They kill the innocent whom God loves.

This becomes clear if we imagine a God sending the plague on a nation whose parliament has legalised same sex unions. It would be impossible to believe this God had the personal and special love for the poor, sinners and excluded of the world, as does the God we know in Jesus Christ. For the plague would generally spare the wealthy legislators who were well-nourished, could buy medicines and lived in hygienic surroundings. It would target precisely the poor people for whom Jesus had a special concern and who had no say in the legislation.

Another difficulty in attributing disasters to God’s intention to punish sinners is that it assumes that you know the mind of God. The Old Testament prophets could claim this knowledge. But Christians have no warrant for making such a claim. Dreams and apparitions simply underline the point.

The more precise the knowledge claimed, the less credible becomes the claim. If a meteor struck the Sydney CBD, for example, how would you know whether it was to punish the practice of contraception, the pressure to legalise same sex marriages and abortions, galloping secularism, disregard of the environment, discrimination against asylum seekers, crass consumerism or the greed of banks?

The idea that we might know the mind of a God who sends disasters as punishment for particular sins is sub-Christian and sub-rational.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is the consulting editor for Eureka Street. He also teaches at the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne.

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Yet more on faith — “the turn to the personal”

Today’s Eureka St has an interesting article on Irish poet Seamus Heaney called “Non-believer drawn by the sacred”, which says:

…the language of his Catholic past has found new power now. In the poem ‘Out of This World’, he traces the journey from his childhood immersion in ritual to the present, saying of his mature understanding:

And yet I cannot
disavow words like ‘thanksgiving’ or ‘host’
or ‘communion bread’. They have an undying
tremor and draw, like well water far down.

What to make of Heaney’s spiritual journey? It could easily be seen as a casualty of the so-called secularising effect of the ’60s and ’70s; as a loss of religious faith followed by the emergence of a more syncretistic spirituality.

But such a judgement misses the major transition. Heaney describes a shift from faith understood primarily as external adherence to ritual, to faith or the spiritual quest as having profound personal resonance. Even though he no longer sees himself as a believer, sacred words now ‘have an undying/tremor and draw’. They have the capacity to shake the soul and beckon it forth. (Not that I wouldn’t love Heaney to discover the full joy of Christian faith: I would, if he so discovered it.)

Read the whole thing here.

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The unknown god

I’ve been wrestling for this Sunday with the story of Paul at the Aeropagus in Athens, when he spoke to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers about the ‘unknown god’. (It’s in Acts 17.)

It’s fashionable today to be an atheist, though often a ‘soft-core’ atheist who doesn’t trouble themselves with the more irritating consequences of atheism, like what it really means to live in a universe with no transcendent reference point. And it has been fashionable to talk about the ‘god gene’, which is supposed to be the reason some of us can have experiences of God. (For an overview, see the Wikipedia article.)

That being the case, it was refreshing to read a lovely short story by Adrian Gibb in Eureka St, called Denying the Divine. Here is an excerpt, but do read the rest:


In my world I am one of the Unabled.

Through a scientific imbalance, which I don’t quite understand, I, and about ten percent of my world’s populace, am unable to experience anything beyond normal human intellectual capacity. What does this mean? Well, I cannot see a ghost, for instance, or experience a transcendental moment, or have any kind of spiritual or religious experience. Unless we can be intellectually persuaded through scientific methods that something exists, the Unabled will not, and cannot, believe in it.

For centuries my kind were scorned and looked down upon due to our lack of faith in anything or anyone beyond human parameters. We were thought of as heartless, cold-blooded, and unromantic.

Then some trials were done on all the unbelievers, and it was discovered that when the lobes that normally elicit a supernatural experience were triggered in our brains, no such experience occurred. Our brains simply don’t have the chemical makeup of a believer. We were not to blame, then, for our scepticism and unwillingness to believe. We were simply incapable.

Soon the harassment of our kind stopped, pity took hold, and we were given the mantle of ‘unable’. We were used in positions which could utilise our qualities. We became mediators for international conflicts, lecturers in comparative religion and philosophy at universities, scientists and newspaper editors — any position which required a complete lack of religious baggage or spiritual moral parameters…




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