It’s only taken The Australian 50 years to catch up. “Is God Dead?” asks the headline on the cover story of its Inquirer section this weekend. In 1966, Time magazine used those same words — “Is God Dead?” — as the cover of its famous April 8 edition.
The difference is that while the Time story was a genuine, fact-based feature that made a thoughtful contribution to the debate about the decline of theism, The Australian’s effort is just overblown wordage — a disjointed, illogical display of melancholia penned by Greg Sheridan. He takes two broadsheet pages to tell us we’re all going to hell in a hand basket because Christianity is in retreat. Take out the odd contemporary reference and it reads much like the long-winded sermon/polemics favoured by The Catholic Weekly in the late 1950s.
Along with his old university buddy, Tony Abbott, Sheridan would have us believe his central thesis that we owe our democracy and all of its assumed moral values to Christianity (he actually means Catholic Christianity, but never has the courage to say it). His problem is that the claims he makes to buttress this argument are either laughably apocalyptic or just plain barmy. Let’s ponder a few:
“The eclipse of Christianity will be like the eclipse of the sun. Darkness will be the result.”
“It is nothing short of the reordering of human nature.”
“A culture without God will create different human beings.”
“When our culture has exiled God, there will be radical change to the human personality and all our social institutions and relations.”
I am not making this up. It isn’t satire. Those are verbatim quotes from “The Gospel According to Sheridan”, as published in the Weekend Oz on Saturday — “For The Informed Australian”. The spooky thing is that it could just as easily be a transcript of David Koresh hectoring his Davidian disciples at Waco in 1993. Come to Jesus, or the world as we know it is chopped liver.
What makes this Christian deity a different, better “god” than the gods of the Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists or any other religion is never explained. This is little more than amateur preaching dressed up as journalism. Parsonical piffle. Sheridan parades his religious prejudices as if they were facts. For example:
“Virtually everything we like in our current society and in our political culture, derives from Christianity.”
And does the News Corp staff Gregorian fear to tread down the difficult philosophical furrows that so troubled Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Bonhoeffer before him? Not for a moment!
“Without God, humans beings are no longer unique, universal and special in nature — they are just one more chancy outcrop of the planet and its biosphere.
Then there’s this bizarre zinger that would make even the pious William Wilberforce blush:
“Slaves became souls under the influence of Christianity.”
And so it goes, on and on and on. Opinion with nary a supporting fact in sight. We’ve become accustomed, of late, to Holt Street operating more like an archdiocese than a media hub, but to publish this turgid tripe at such extraordinary length is an offence to the trade.
And of course there is a fundamental, inescapable contradiction that underlies all of this lame theologising.
If, as Cardinal Sheridan believes, it is the all-knowing, all-present and all-powerful Christian god who has given us everything that is good about society, then equally that same god must have also created everything that is bad. Including AIDS, poverty and paedophile priests.
Or maybe those are just “chancy outcrops of the planet and its biosphere”.