Cardinal George Pell isn't reading The Complete Idiot's Guide To Buddhism. Photo: Susan Wright
Thinking of sending besieged Cardinal George Pell a Christmas present? Wondering what on earth to give a man who has everything (a faith set in concrete, an unshakeable conviction that Jesus wants him for a sunbeam, the certain expectation of life after death in an angel-rich resort) but with so few interests and hobbies?
Why not buy him a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Buddhism? For the educated mind (and Pell has had an education of sorts because he has been to Oxford University) it ought to be a very stimulating read, especially for chaps of Pell's and this columnist's age (he is a ripe old 71 and I will be 67 any minute) who can become a little set in our western ways. I am reading my just-purchased copy of it, with great intensity.
The Complete Idiot's series is misnamed, really, because the books aren't pitched at the idiot but only at the ignoramus. An idiot doesn't know that he is an ignoramus but an ignoramus may know that she is one. Perhaps the publishers, Alpha, don't know the difference between an idiot and an ignoramus or perhaps, more probably, they thought the word ignoramus challengingly and buyer-deterringly long to go on a book cover in these dumb times. For, to digress for a moment, and to lend this column to my Inner-Curmudgeon for a minute, even among the semi-educated employees of ABC Radio National no newsreaders and reporters can any longer properly pronounce longish words, and so prune a syllable from them to make them easier.
Wrestling my column back from my Inner-Curmudgeon (how powerful his grip, how long and bony his fingers, how determined, for he is an Only Child, his attempt to keep this column just for himself and not let anyone else play with it!) I press on with my themes of ignorance and Buddhism.
I have never been a Buddhist and probably won't become one now, but have just been reminded by a stimulating fortnight in China (where so many wonderful Buddhist temples somehow survived the bitter atheist horror of the Cultural Revolution and where Buddhists are now free to be believers) of how utterly ignorant I've been of a religion that persuades and delights almost a third of my brothers and sisters on Earth. It won't surprise if, too, the Christian/Roman Catholic blinkers George Pell was born wearing, have left him an ignoramus about Buddhism. The Christmas present of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Buddhism might considerably broaden his mind.
But only if he opened it and read it. One suspects it would just gather dust. The idea that there is anything worth knowing about a non-Christian faith would probably bewilder him.
For as I never tire of saying, the ways in which folk never think and step outside the religion they're born into always puzzles and disappoints those of us who have nimble, querulous minds. There are so many religions and so little time and the man and woman who has no curiosity about the faiths of others is a dullard and a waste of space. For example one notices, at times like this when Australia's Roman Catholics are speaking up about things, how almost all of them have Irish names. They hail, culturally and intellectually, from a place, Ireland, marinated in Roman Catholicism, and so they are Roman Catholics. Australia's Roman Catholic clergy almost all, amusingly, have the sorts of names you'd expect to see in a list of characters in an amusing melodrama set in Ireland or in the inspired TV comedy Father Ted. Look them up online, these clergymen, in the Australian Catholic Directory. Almost every bishop has an Irish name, and, for the Directory gives us a photograph of each, an engagingly Irish face.
Nimble-minded, I would be very uncomfortable to find myself very, very Irish in my origins and very, very Roman Catholic in my faith. That would say to me that I wasn't in search of what's true but am only grazing, unthinkingly, in the only pasture I've ever known.
Meanwhile, on the subject of books to give people for Christmas I will scour the bookshops for The Ignoramus's Guide To Australian History to give, for Christmas, to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and to the National Capital Authority's Gary Rake. It is unimaginable that, had they understood the importance of the one-and-only Sir Henry Parkes to Australia, they would have agreed to re-name the choicest part of Parkes Place after just another foreign monarch. It is, shamefully, Queen Elizabeth Terrace now. Would they have agreed to the renaming if the Place had borne the name of some less significant but more popular Australian that they knew something about? What if, Julia and Gary (and Andrew, for Andrew Leigh MHR played his part in this unpatriotic outrage) it had been Don Bradman Place? Would you have dared take the place away from The Don? We, the people, demand the reinstatement to that place of the name of one of the very greatest Australians there has ever been, a man who was to our nation's shape and style what Bradman was to cricket.