In 2011, I had the great fortune to visit the holocaust memorial museum in Washington DC. I was shocked again by the reality of the tragedy and injustice of the holocaust. The enduring principle best captured by Edmund Burke is sadly applicable “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. The indifference and inaction of too many people during the holocaust is part of the true tragedy.
For all of us, we need powerful reminders that apathy and indifference are not options for Christians and all men and women of goodwill. In the homily of his inaugural Mass, Pope Francis called us to respond to God as Joseph did, to be a protector of all creation. “Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened.”
During holy week this year, the University of New South Wales’ student newspaper published an article by student journalist Ammy Singh. The headline read “Church Fucks Women” and the front page depicted a crucifix upside being inserted into a part of the female anatomy. The paper was taking aim at ‘Zoe’s Law’ named after an unborn child killed in a motor accident by a driver high on drugs. Zoe’s mother was also badly injured. The law would enable manslaughter charges to be brought against the driver in these circumstances.
The headline and outrageous graphic was something you might expect from an anonymous online troll. But this was the self professed “Voice of the Students” at one of Australia’s largest and most prestigious publicly funded Universities. At first, I was shocked and outraged at this image and headline. What would inspire a journalist or an editor to publish something so grotesque and offensive?
The Truth is that the paper is in line with those who would prefer Christian Churches to stay out of the public debate. Many would like to redefine a faith as purely personal and private and restricted to weekly worship.
Christianity is engaged in some of the most pivotal debates in society. The recognition that all human life is inherently valued is not accepted by some and the vitriolic tone of the UNSW Student newspaper is just one of many examples of this. The recognition of the inherent dignity of human life is not conditional on polls or political winds. Catholics believe it is not earned and that entitlement to dignity is unequivocal and worthy of robust protection.
Those who do not accept this truth encourage us down a darker path. Oxford University’s Richard Dawkins recently tweeted “With respect to those meanings of “human” that are relevant to the morality of abortion, any fetus is less human than an adult pig”. Dawkins and those who support his populist anti-religious movement reject with great ardour our understanding of human dignity. The size of his audiences and the success of his publishing in Australia imply that Dawkins is not alone.
Christians must stay engaged in the public debate, we must talk up, even amidst a Royal Commission that is rightly seeking truth, justice and healing for abuses of the past. We must inform ourselves and inform others with humility, respect, clarity and truth. Australians are always wrestling with great moral issues. We are deciding on whether or not to change our understanding of the healthcare through euthanasia, whether or not the ongoing imprisonment of refugees is acceptable, whether or not an unborn child will continue to have limited rights or value, whether or not we pursue reconciliation with integrity or revert to mistakes of the past, whether or not to redefine marriage, whether or not to act for the poor and those that are vulnerable. The list of critical public issues up for debate is long.
The protector that Pope Francis spoke about in the model of Joseph is you and I. We are living in history and our children will wonder what side we were on. The answer I fear more than any other...‘I just went along with the whatever was decided’.
James van Schie (Catholic Talk - contributor)