The Rt Revd Dr Richard Condie
Bishop of Tasmania
Tom Holland is an historian famous for his readable histories of the ancient world.
- Rubicon: the last years of the Roman Republic
- Persian Fire: the first world empire, and the battle for the West
- In the Shadow of the Sword: The birth of Islam and the rise of the global Arab empire
In 2019 he published his most recent book called, Dominion: The making of the Western Mind, Or How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. Holland is a scholar. He knows his ancient sources. He translates original languages. And he writes a pretty compelling sentence. He is an atheist, but has written this book about the positive influence of Christianity on western civilisation.
It is an honest account, full of the failings of the church but appreciative of what the Christian faith and teachings have bequeathed to the western world. His extraordinarily well-documented thesis is that the central values and priorities of modern, Western, secular culture have actually come from Christianity. He writes, “To live in a western country is to live in a society still utterly saturated by Christian concepts and assumptions.”
The pre-Christian civilisations of Greece and Rome were brutal places where the marks of everyday life were the survival of the fittest, degrading slavery, women treated as chattels to be used and discarded, violence and power, and scant regard for human life, (especially if it were seen as weak and useless).
But something changed the world since those days. Western Society generally doesn’t think like that any more.
Our values of human rights; the equal dignity of every person; the intrinsic value of the poor and weak, and the necessity of caring and advocating for them; the belief that love is the greatest virtue; that forgiveness is possible; that there are moral absolutes—that some things are good and some things are evil—and particularly that oppression of the powerless was wrong,; all have their origin in one place says Holland. They come from Christianity, and from the teaching of the Bible.
Holland argues that Christianity revolutionised sex and marriage, demanding that men control themselves and prohibiting all forms of rape. He argues that Christianity elevated the dignity of women, and that those who make arguments based on love, equality, tolerance, and compassion are borrowing fundamentally Christian ideas.
In short, he argues that Christianity utterly transformed the world. It is a fascinating read.
And I guess that’s why our reading today from Paul’s letter to the Romans strikes us as good advice not just for religious people, but for all people.
Have a look:
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
These values, that are so much a part of a modern secular western democracy, are a fitting vision for our Parliament as you commence your work today. Who would not want to be governed by women and men who have genuine love, even for each other across the aisle? By those who honestly and righteously hate the moral evils of greed and injustice, of discrimination and violence; and who love the absolute “goods” of love, compassion and care for the vulnerable.
Who wouldn’t want their Politicians to not lag in zeal, to be patient in suffering, to rejoice in hope and to extend hospitality to strangers, especially the refugees in our midst?
Could it be a vision for us, to live the words of the Apostle Paul in v10 to outdo one another with honour?
At times we have excelled at this, haven’t we? The collective community sigh of relief when the whole Parliament came together last year in a united front to beat Coronavirus in Tasmania was a sign that most of us appreciate when you work together to promote the flourishing of the people. We are a little tired—as I’m sure are you—of political point scoring from “the other side”.
When we come together we are stronger – this is a great ideal.
Now, obviously we all fail at that from time to time. In the heat of the moment, our baser motives of self-promotion, our self-importance and pride get in the way. We have all (myself included) been victims of our own weakness of character. Of being loose with the truth to protect ourselves; losing our cool; or letting our frustrations boil over.
And the exact opposite of this ideal becomes the hall mark of our dealings. Rather than love, honour, harmony and service, we see hatred, dishonour, discord and power plays. But before we are too quick to point out the faults of others we are reminded that “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
The Bible is realistic about the human condition. It calls these baser motives what they are – sin. That’s why we Christians often spend time together confessing our sins, dealing with the dross and the mess in our own lives, before God and his infinite grace and mercy
That’s why we started our service today with the Coventry Litany of reconciliation.
We are all too aware of our shortcomings, but that should not stop us from thinking about how we might aspire to work better.
We have some massive challenges in Tasmania that seem to me are going to need something altogether different than the business-as-usual approach if we are going to see them solved.
I don’t have to tell you what they are. We all know about the challenges of health and homelessness; the scourge of domestic and intimate partner violence; of enough economic development to serve our well-being balanced with the care for these precious islands, their forests, rivers and mountains; the social and economic carnage from poker machines in our poorest municipalities; and the alarming rates of youth suicide; and I’m sure I could list many more. We need a new way to tackle these issues.
It is not a particularly profound insight to suggest that we won’t solve these problems by pretending that one party or another has the monopoly on solutions.
We are going to need to bring our best selves: all of our best selves, all of the collective wisdom and energy of all of our minds. Both sides of the Parliament, both houses together, to tackle them.
Could it just be that the ancient wisdom on which our western secular democracy is founded provides us with the radical frame that we need?
Listen again to the next part of our reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome:
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves… 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The creative solutions that we are going to need, if we will make real progress, are going to require us all to work together. In harmony with one another, not being so haughty or proud that we miss the contribution of others. Not claiming to be wiser than we are. Not repaying wrong for wrong, but seeking the noble route. Lliving in peace with each other. Overcoming evil with good.
This vision doesn’t mean we won’t argue our case, or passionately defend our convictions. But it does mean that the solution might just be held by the “other”.
I’ve heard it said so many times that Tasmania has such an advantage over other states in Australia. Our size and connections with each other give us a unique opportunity to work together for better outcomes. Is it just possible that we could do something different here, employing this ancient wisdom, and lead the nation by a new way of doing things, fuelled by those ancient foundations?
The season of Dark Mofo has descended on our capital again. This Festival which has often capitalised on mocking the faith of Christians might this year have inadvertently given us some guidance on the task ahead.
The Curator of the Festival wrote this on the Dark Mofo Website:
When the festival was killed by covid-19 in March 2020, we were left disoriented, confused, and with a sense of loss for a program about to be born. The subsequent isolation of lockdown caused further anguish. We, like the rest of the world, found ourselves in the midst of a long, dark night.
In moments of despair, when all else fails, we journey inward. A journey that is sometimes referred to as ‘the dark night of the soul’. … As covid-19 continues to wreak havoc on the world, we are reminded daily of our vulnerability and helplessness in the face of it all.
St Augustine wrote that Christ went to the cross as a bridegroom to the bride, consummated the marriage, lovingly gave himself up to the torment, and joined himself to her forever. That is to say, he participated in the suffering and sorrows of the world, joyfully.
It is within this context that we present our 2021 festival, and pray it brings a glimmer of light in these uncertain times.
We invite you to come to the cross.
Apart from being further evidence that Tom Holland’s thesis is correct, my esteemed fellow church leaders up here probably couldn’t have said it any better ourselves.
You see the cross of Christ is THE part of the Christian story that has most shaped our world.
The crosses painted above me here by Tasmanian artist Maz Gill-Harper (not to mention the glorious carvings of the crucifix above them) tell that story: the centrality of the cross, the idea of sacrifice – the sacrifice of love, the bearing of pain and torture on behalf of others. That is the centrepiece of the Christian message.
Jesus gave his life on the cross for forgiveness of sins and to show his love.
We celebrate this when we speak of the sacrifice of others. We thank our frontline health workers for it. We celebrate our first responders. We laud it in the ANZACs.
You see it was Jesus, in referring to cross, who said:
Greater love has no one than this:
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends
Maybe Dark Mofo has stumbled on the right message for us after all.
Come to the Cross: to its love and sacrifice.
Perhaps this is the vision for the next parliament of Tasmania?
We, the leaders of faith communities in Tasmania want to say thank you to all of you for the sacrifices that you make to lead us. We know it costs time, effort, public criticism, demands on your families, long hours away from your loved ones. We want to assure you of our counsel and support. We want you to know that we too are striving to live out this vision of love and sacrifice.
But above all we want you to know that we pray for you, that you will be sustained and strengthened and given wisdom beyond your natural ability, to strive to serve for the good of all. These are good ideals founded in the Christian story that continue to shape our world.
May God’s rich blessing rest on the 50th Parliament of this State of Tasmania.