See The Weekend Australian’s special World Youth Day edition? Pages of religious propaganda – some from Catholic lesser lights like Pearson and Angela Shanahan, sure, but also from quality writers like Paul Kelly, who is apparently embedded with the Pope, and Mike Steketee.

The glowing coverage continued today, with more from Kelly, Tess Livingstone offering some hagiography  of George Pell and the promise of Caroline “Fight or Flirt Mechanism” Overington live-blogging on the Pope. There’s even a gallery of photos of yesterday’s touchdown, with useful captions to explain which one is Kevin Rudd and which one the Pope, and a nice shot of Pell’s backside greeting his Holiness.

The Weekend Oz also offered an angry editorial about the ABC and Fairfax coverage of the event, complaining about the ABC running the Anthony Jones story (suggesting, along the way, that Jones deserved whatever sacerdotal semen ended up on him), and calling The Sydney Morning Herald “parochial” in its coverage. The alternative, presumably, is that the ABC should have kept silent, and The SMH should, rather than pointing out inconvenient facts like the handout of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to the event, be promoting it uncritically.

Just like The Australian is, as it turns out.

For all its high-minded spiritual rhetoric, The Oz’s attack on the ABC and Fairfax wouldn’t have anything to do with News Ltd being a major sponsor of the event, would it? That fact isn’t disclosed anywhere in The Australian’s glowing coverage and commentary. Or perhaps, like Rex Mottram’s “spiritual rain” in Brideshead Revisited, it was disclosed, but we were too sinful to see it?

Kelly recycles the propaganda from Christians that secularism equates with relativism and immorality. The Oz doesn’t like relativism when it comes with a French philosopher and cultural criticism attached, but found it useful in its campaign against the reality of global warming, where a clear scientific consensus was dismissed in favour of biased research and the rantings of cranks. And millions of Australians might be shocked to learn that their lack of religion makes them incapable of ethical judgements. But if we take Kelly’s argument at face value, let’s consider the alternative to our god-less, amoral way of living: in this case, a system of belief that is authoritarian, that deeply fears and excludes women and seeks to control their bodies, that despises homosexuality, and that is intrinsically anti-science.

And that’s in its relatively tolerant 21st century incarnation.

And isn’t there also an echo of “noble savage” in Christians’ oft-repeated claim – echoed by Kelly – about the growth of religion in Third World countries? That fundamentalism – whether Christian, Islamic or Hindu – is rising in countries with poor educational levels and repression of women (which all three have as central tenets), hardly seems something to boast about. But presumably it is intended to show up us jaded westerners and our existential malaise.

The ABC might be full of latte-sippers and The SMH has long since abandoned its ambition of being a journal of record in favour of lifestyle frippery, but both can still fulfil the basic media functions of quality reportage and analysis. The Australian, despite its pretensions to conservative rigour, offers only reflexive bias, conflicts of interest and intellectual sloth.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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