There’s something of the Barnaby Joyce
about Cardinal George Pell – an ability to attract attention by riding a hobby
horse off at a tangent.

Personally, I don’t mind Barnaby’s latest
idea of mining our Antarctic territory. And there’s not much wrong with
checking if there’s oil around the Barrier Reef either, but in the general
scale of what a politician might be hoping to achieve, I wouldn’t recommend
anyone pushing either barrow.

Similarly, George Pell is only preaching to
a core of the already converted by publicly belittling the Koran as a crook and
violent book with a sideswipe at those who take global warming seriously for
good measure. Pell has been quietly telling confidants for some years that the
Koran isn’t nice bedtime reading but he went very public about it in a speech
to Catholic business types in Florida in February and this week stuck the speech up on his website.

Inevitably, The SMH has picked it up with
Linda Morris reporting under the headline “Pell
challenges Islam – o ye, of little tolerant faith
“. Pell’s lengthy speech about Islam and Western Democracies pretty much comes
down to the Koran being a violent book (and possibly one big translation
mistake), resulting in a basically intolerant religion. You’d be pretty silly
to take the Koran or the Bible literally. (I just added the bit about the
Bible, George didn’t quite say that.)

But George’s general warning about the
nature of Islam then meandered on to one of his pet themes: falling Western
fertility rates. The Cardinal is right up there with Pete Costello in the
get-breeding stakes. And too much contraception in the West is somehow linked
to pagan global warmingists. Try these
two paragraphs:

Faith ensures a future. As an illustration of the literal truth of this,
consider Russia and Yemen.
Look also at the different birth rates in the red and blue states in the last
presidential election in the U.S.A.
In 1950 Russia,
which suffered one of the most extreme forms of forced secularisation under the
Communists, had about 103 million people. Despite the devastation of wars and
revolution the population was still young and growing. Yemen,
a Muslim country, had only 4.3 million people. By 2000 fertility was in radical
decline in Russia,
but because of past momentum the population stood at 145 million. Yemen
had maintained a fertility rate of 7.6 over the previous 50 years and now had
18.3 million people. Median level United Nations forecasts suggest that even
with fertility rates increasing by 50 per cent in Russia over the next fifty years,
its population will be about 104 million in 2050—a loss of 40 million people.
It will also be an elderly population. The same forecasts suggest that even if
Yemen’s fertility rate falls 50 per cent to 3.35, by 2050 it will be about the
same size as Russia — 102 million — and overwhelmingly young.

The situation of the United States
and Australia
is not as dire as this, although there is no cause for complacency. It is not
just a question of having more children, but of rediscovering reasons to trust
in the future. Some of the hysteric and extreme claims about global warming are
also a symptom of pagan emptiness, of Western fear when confronted by the immense
and basically uncontrollable forces of nature. Belief in a benign God who is
master of the universe has a steadying psychological effect, although it is no
guarantee of Utopia, no guarantee that the continuing climate and geographic
changes will be benign. In the past pagans sacrificed animals and even humans
in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods. Today they demand a
reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

But maybe we’re not meant to take any of it
literally.

Peter Fray

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