It might have been a paradoxical situation: some of Australia’s highest profile Catholics in public life, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a convert, gathered in Sydney this morning for the launch of a book on nothing less than the decline of their faith – Christianity – throughout the western world.
Written by Foreign Editor of The Australian, Greg Sheridan, also a Catholic, the PM launched God is Good For You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times, published by Allen & Unwin.
In his launch the PM raised some interesting questions such as whether Australia has become “less tolerant” towards those with different beliefs.
Many dignitaries and politicians—including former PM John Howard—gathered for the launch of Mr Sheridan’s book, at the NSW Parliament House on 3 August. Also present were Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison and NSW Labor senator Kristina Keneally.
Mr Turnbull described the forced exodus of 100,000 Christians from the city of Mosul in Iraq in recent years, as “an extraordinarily tragic tale,” and questioned whether, despite our rapidly advancing technology, we have become less tolerant of each other.
“Certainly in many parts of the world the answer must be, ‘yes,’” Mr Turnbull said.
While commending Mr Sheridan’s book as “an outstanding piece of work” and “a great read,” the Prime Minister also suggested a topic Mr Sheridan might consider for a future book.
“Why is it that now, in this age when so many people have moved beyond religion… why is it that religion is at the heart of more controversy than ever before?”
“There would be few people better to look into the heart of that problem than you,” he said to Mr Sheridan.
Mr Turnbull also recommended the chapter of the book devoted to the personal faith of Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and his “extraordinary struggle” with Guillian-Barré Syndrome.
Mr Sheridan pointed out that all the politicians he interviewed for the book—including Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, Penny Wong, John Howard and Kristina Keneally—were reluctant to speak about their Christian faith. He said this was due to “a becoming sense of modesty” on their part.
But after eventually convincing them to be interviewed, Mr Sheridan said all of them rewarded him “a thousand times over” with “the richness of their interior lives.”
Mr Sheridan also paid tribute to his “beloved mentor and friend” Fr Patrick O’Neill CSsR, who was in the audience for the launch. Fr O’Neill was head of the Redemptorist seminary that Mr Sheridan attended for one year. He described Fr O’Neill as “a wonderful man and exemplar of the Christian life.”
Editor-in-Chief at The Australian, Paul Whittaker, said Mr Sheridan’s book was timely as it coincides with “passionate debates around the world between Church and State” on issues such as asylum seekers, green politics, religious freedom, same-sex marriage, life and death issues and the funding of Church schools.
Mr Whittaker also said Mr Sheridan’s book demonstrates “the capacity of religion to surprise us” and that the Church is “nothing if not resilient.”