Comment

Easter reminds us there are absolutes

With church leaders making headlines for all the wrong reasons during recent royal commission appearances, it is easy to forget the values that underpin Christianity and the good works many Christians do.

The Easter narrative begins with Christ washing his disciples' feet, goes on to encompass the horror of the crucifixion and culminates with the resurrection.

The origins of Easter

Why does the Easter bunny leave eggs? John Elder and Matt Davidson explore the original Easter, and it's not as Christian as you'd think.

Easter itself is an opportunity to revisit the core values of the faith that has shaped the post-colonial Australian psyche more than any other.

Believers and non-believers alike would be hard pressed not to acknowledge the influence of Christianity on such iconic Australian cultural manifestations as mateship and the fair go. The broadly accepted values of compassion, love and forgiveness are not just Christian values, they are cornerstones of civilised society.

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To acknowledge this does not, in any way, threaten other faiths or persecute non-believers. It is simply the recognition that some of the better aspects of our secular culture have been informed by a great and generous religious tradition of self-sacrifice, tolerance and love that, on occasion, bubbles over into justifiable civil disobedience.

An example of this is the leadership shown by Christian churches earlier this year with their offer of sanctuary to refugees at risk of being shipped back to offshore detention following a High Court decision to uphold the contested legitimacy of government policy.

This, like the ongoing efforts by Pope Francis to redirect the Catholic Church's attention to its core business of compassionately ministering to the downtrodden and the oppressed, was widely acclaimed.

Both initiatives highlight the timeliness, as one widely-circulated Facebook meme also reminds us, of remembering those who use the actions of governments as the yardsticks of their morality do so at their own risk.

The enslavement of Negroes in Europe and America up until the late 19th century, the more recent apartheid regime in South Africa and the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany, were all mandated by the governments of those places at those times.

That these practices were opposed by people of faith and goodwill, including many Christians, is a credit to humanity.

Those brave individuals, like the Canberrans who turned out in support of refugees last Sunday, were concerned at the moral consequences of adopting a Machiavellian social metric driven by ends justifying means and an abstractly Benthamite appeal to the "greatest good of the greatest number".

They had the courage to stand up to the moral relativism favoured by our current crop of lawgivers by saying there are such things as good and evil and that these absolutes transcend sophistry and argument.

This is a message we need to hear more than ever, given the rise and rise of the influence of a never-ending cycle of opinion polls on the political agenda.

The preoccupation, by all the major players, with holding office for the sake of holding office, has shifted the emphasis of government from doing what is just and good to doing what is politically expedient, socially acceptable and is least likely to alienate key interest groups.

This expediency has created a moral vacuum in our current political system, where human rights and compassion too often come second to shrewd politics designed to appeal to the masses. It is this space where the church can, and should, come to the fore to do what it has always done best – provide a moral roadmap that can contribute to a broader social good. 

While it is easy, and often tempting, to make much of the stumbles of believers of all faiths and to subject the miracles and wonders alleged in scriptures such as The Bible and The Koran to the cold rigour of our current knowledge and science, such mockery achieves very little.

Hamlet's remark to Horatio that "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy" holds as true now as it did 400 years ago.

While it is a given that no single faith or group of believers has a monopoly on the "truth" it is also indisputable that the search for meaning will continue as long as humans walk this earth.

Easter reminds us that what is politically clever, is not always the most desirable nor sustainable path.