“Christianity has been the glue for what we call modern Australia,” Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP said during the latest installment of Scholarship at the Cathedral on 7 March, at Chapter Hall next to St Mary’s Cathedral.
Addressing the topic, ‘The Godless Country? Christian Australia,’ Archbishop Fisher raised the question of what holds contemporary Australian society together, given the great variety of ethnic backgrounds, religious belief and lack of religious belief.
He said Australia’s “spiritual history and contemporary culture” consists of a combination of pre-Christian, Christian and post-Christian beliefs.
Despite its current fragmented state, Christianity still underpins much of Australia’s culture, he argued.
Beginning with a discussion of Australia’s legal system, Archbishop Fisher said, the very idea of the separation of church and state has its origin in Christianity.
“In this (and so many other) ways, liberal democracies, with their sense of independence and interdependence of Church and State, are in many ways a bi-product of Christianity.”
“But more than this, our Australian legal system, rooted in English common law, assumes a Christian foundation…”
“A full discussion of all the ways Christianity still underpins our legal system would fill a book… If no-one is beyond the law in this country, even our most prominent Christian leaders, it is because of a range of background assumptions about law inherited from Christianity.”
Furthermore, contemporary Australian language is awash with phrases, terms and imagery derived from the Bible, Archbishop Fisher said. Many words and phrases became fixed in our language because of the King James Bible.
“Words as common as adoption, advertise, beautiful, feel, fisherman, glory, horror, housetop, mortgaged, mystery, nurse, scrape and suburbs,” Archbishop Fisher said.
“The scholastic Christian inheritance regarding the place of argument, evidence and dialogue is also still powerful. One way or another, we are still Christian in much of our conversation.”
That Australia’s culture is still influenced by Christianity, Archbishop Fisher said, is evidenced by many treasured ideals, such as giving everyone a “fair go”.
“Without some Christian account, how can we justify the preference for the poor which is the foundational assumption of our welfare system in Australia? Or Aussie values such as ‘the fair go’?”
“If it’s too simple to label Australia a post-Christian or secular country, it is too simple to label it a Christian one also.
That said, Christianity continues to make a ubiquitous and arguably still dominant contribution to the language, institutions, morality and other assumptions of our community.”
No alternative world view to Christianity had been found that “could ensure individual and social cohesion going forward,” Archbishop Fisher said.