- The Bible in Australia, by Meredith Lake. NewSouth Books, $32.99.
The separation of the church and the state ought not to be confused with the separation of political thought from its religio-cultural influences.
The former is a fact of societal institutions; the latter, such an opaque and tangled mess that one fairly wonders if the whole exercise operates under false premises. After all, the modern history of the Western world amounts to a great deal of anxious head-turning towards the Bible at each new challenge or suggestion that arose. For a long time before that the development of political theory was the development of Christian thought.
Meredith Lake's The Bible in Australia, the recipient of several state and national awards now in its third edition, represents an effort to trace many threads of Christian thought through Australian history and into the modern secular discourse.
In its 430 or so pages, The Bible in Australia studies a breadth and variety of post-invasion Australian history. The book's first two sections are dedicated to pre-federation - engaging the different treatments and influences of the Bible and Christianity by the early convicts, settlers, and missions.
It considers the role and impact of the Bible in civilian and political life, and most interestingly, in colonial policies, concepts, and thought - including a brief but illuminating exploration of Terra Nullius.
Sections three and four, the more interesting perhaps, engage federation and history thereafter, covering such events as the world wars and their interpretation and absorption into the cultural zeitgeist under the influence of religion, and the expansion of secular thought up to today and into the future.
As is familiar in popular historical non-fiction, The Bible in Australia tends to make its cases through microcosmic anecdotes - drawing on historical accounts of one particular person, family, group, etcetera as emblematic of a broader paradigm. I found this approach generally effective, but somewhat hit or miss.
Like much of this book, one's enjoyment is coloured by having an existing interest in the topic at hand. These narratives are easy to follow and not too involved, though sometimes this feels at the expense of interesting details.
Overall, The Bible in Australia is thoroughly researched, compelling, and contains a wealth of good information and commentary on the subject of Christianity and the history of Australia.
Though it does not always succeed at generating interest where it is not there to begin with, if that interest is there it will be rewarded. Given the breadth of Australiana covered in this book, I'm sure most will find something to learn.