Grinding out an Easter editorial is perhaps the most tiresome chore for leader writers. What can there possibly be that’s new to say? Every year we’re bowled up the same lame stuff about the challenges and consolations of faith. “Now, more than ever”, “in these troubled times”, “the pressures of modern life”, “this special time of reflection”, “the power of love”, blah blah blah.

There’s no deadline pressure because the task of writing these annual doses of drivel can be tackled well ahead of publication. The content only needs to be timely, not topical. The odds of all those plodding paragraphs suddenly being rendered redundant by the Second Coming are pretty slim. Likewise, the arrival of Armageddon. The end of the world would also be the end of The Word.

Yet, like cows mindlessly milling about waiting to be milked, our newspapers insist on trotting out their lofty Easter editorials, each as banal and formulaic as the next. Roll the cliche-spinning arm over, bung a drippy heading on it and forget about the whole boring ritual until next year. Nobody cares.

Which is why this petulant par in The Weekend Australian’s effort was so surprising:   

“For light relief, in a season that challenges people to lift their thoughts above the prosaic, it would be hard to go past the mundaneness of The Sydney Morning Herald’s Easter editorial. While neglecting to mention Jesus Christ it took as its inspiration American satirist James Thurber’s downbeat assessment that ‘the only progress of any kind he had detected was in the deportment of dogs’. According to the article, that was it: there was nothing more edifying, more monumental or more heroic to mention.”

Say what? Murdoch’s minions taking serious umbrage at their crosstown Fairfax colleagues indulging in a moment of gentle, discursive irreverence? No mention of Jesus Christ! On Good Friday! (When, by the way, The Australian doesn’t publish a paper at all because circulation is low, the advertisers aren’t interested in buying space and Rupert can save a hefty swag on penalty payments.)

At first glance this swipe at the Herald reads like just another outburst of News Corp’s infantile competitive paranoia (as if anyone cares what the Oz leader-writers think of their counterparts at the SMH). But there was an extraordinary amount of other Easter-based material in that edition that sang off the same hymn sheet. The common theme was encapsulated in the editorial’s sub-head: “Christianity is under fire.”

Yes folks, it’s the reverse victimology so deftly explained by Comrade Rundle in a recent Crikey essay. Everywhere, it seems, decent god-fearing conservatives are being unfairly attacked by the inner-city, politically correct, green/left elite. And all these poor, humble citizens have to defend themselves with is the federal government and the Murdoch media.

Exaggeration? Consider this list of items in that one edition of The Weekend Australian:

  • On page 5, an “exclusive” piece from Dennis Shanahan reporting the Archbishop of Hobart’s bizarre complaint about what he imagines is the “corporate bullying of Christians”;
  •  On page 15, around 2000 tedious words from Paul Kelly moaning endlessly about how left/liberal morality is pushing out Christian “values”;
  • On page 18, 12 pars of the aforementioned Hobart Archbishop’s opinion, on which the Shanahan piece was based;
  • On page 20, Gerard Henderson has his weekly bottom-of-the-page bleat, claiming “Christianity is on [under] attack on many fronts”; and
  • On page 21, the Easter leader parrots Hendo’s theme, asserting “Christianity is under fire from Islamists and secularists”.

Sure, it’s Easter, and the News Corp commentariat ranks aren’t short of Christian soldiers, but it is not difficult to discern in all this wordy sludge a distinct note of Abbott/Bernardi populism playing to the white lower-middle class. Unpleasant stuff.

And the editors at Holt Street who aided and abetted this overkill might do well to ponder the statistics of religion in Australia. The proportion of our population who describe themselves as “Christian” (whether practising or not) has been in steady decline since 1954.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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