EASTER AND CHRISTMAS EDITORIALS
Chapter 20
 
 
 
EASTER AND CHRISTMAS EDITORIALS
A number of early newspaper editors and publishers, such as those of the Sydney Gazette, Australia's first newspaper, were Christians.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
One of the oldest newspapers in Australia is the Sydney Morning Herald. In 1841 John Fairfax and Charles Kemp purchased, with long term credit, the Sydney Morning Herald, which had been established for a decade, from John Stokes. Fairfax and Kemp did most of the editing, journalism, reporting, as well as the printing, themselves. Another decade later and Kemp sold his share to John Fairfax, and his son, Charles, became a partner. John Fairfax was the senior deacon of the Pitt Street Congregational Church, which he helped establish. A committed Christian, Fairfax was for many years president of the Young Mens Christian Association.
Charles Kemp was one of the colony's leading Anglican laymen. He helped found the Moore Theological College, being a trustee of the estate of Thomas Moore and also was a major fundraiser in the 1860's for the building of St. Andrews Cathedral in Sydney. He acknowledged God's blessing upon his life materially as he had arrived in Sydney in 1831 as a destitute eighteen year old immigrant. Being a person of prayer, he continually chided himself for not finding more time to pray.
Kemp, like Fairfax, was sustained through life with a strong Christian faith. So much so that when he died those who had loved him testified that, "He was a good man, full of faith and the Holy Spirit."
Today the Sydney Morning Herald is owned by Warwick Fairfax, a devout Christian. Easter and Christian editorials focusing on the claims of Christ over Australia, have been the custom of the Sydney Morning Herald for many years. Other major newspapers in other states, as well as Australia's national newspaper The Australian  commenced twenty five years ago, print similar editorials.
Reprinted are the 1989 Easter editorials of the Sydney Morning Herald  and  Australian ,  as well as the 1988 Australian  Christmas editorial.
 
 
 
 
 
A CHRISTIAN SEASON FOR SEARCHING BEYOND SELF
The gradual breakdown of the Christian consensus, the waning importance of religion as a social force and the decline of the institutional strength of the mainstream Christian religion have put Christianity into its weakest position this century, perhaps for several centuries.
Yet  it is an irony of the modern world that in societies under communist rule, and in much of the Third World, religion generally and Christianity in particular have perhaps never been more vibrant. Political repression and poverty appear to have failed to subdue religious faith while affluence and materialism have to a considerable extent succeeded.
But the battle is hardly over, as the feast of Christmas itself attests. Many modern philosophers have asserted, with Nietzsche, that God is dead, and that man, freed from the delusion of God, could move forward to a future as superman.
But instead of superhumanity we have drug abuse, street violence, terrorism, endemic divorce, child abuse, the plague of AIDS... all products of a society cut off from God.
It may be that whatever the truth or falsity of the ultimate religious claims of Christianity that it acted as a key element of the social glue that kept society together.
It has been truly said that when man gives up belief in God he does not believe in nothing, he believes in anything. Increasingly we appear to be hurtling towards a post-Christian future. Yet the challenge for an agnostic society such as ours is how to recover a moral order by which to live.
For unless there are some absolutes, some values beyond mere self, it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain a civilised society. For civilisation inevitably requires some self-sacrifice, and self-sacrifice necessarily implies a value higher than self. How a society that holds no absolute beliefs would respond to the threat of war, which entails the ultimate sacrifice of personal safety in the interests of preserving the nation, is unclear.
Even the most anti-religious among us should acknowledge that the basic and most palatable institutions of our society, derive from a Christian past and Christian concepts. The rule of law, for example, the notion of charity, the concept of inalienable human rights, the limitations of the power of the State, all derive from our Christian past.
Our civilisation, its politics and its art, grew up in the context of Christianity. Even those ideas which in rebellion against Christianity defined themselves by their relationship to Christianity.
Increasingly, however, we are becoming a people cut off from our own past. For this the recent fashions in education, combined with virtual sedation of the intellect by the numbing influence of television programs, must take a major share of the blame.
In one of the most important books of the last decade, The Closing of the American Mind,  Allan Bloom argues that modern education has abandoned the classical texts of Western civilisation for the novel, the trivial and the bizarre. The hyper-specialisation of universities, the loss of academic rigour, the tendency of academics to teach in their areas of research specialisation, the preference for the readily palatable over the substantial, have all contributed to the atomisation of our culture.
Mr. Bloom was writing specifically about America but his arguments apply equally to the Australian scene.
It can be persuasively argued that in former times, when formal education was less widespread, there was in fact a greater degree of cultural litreacy than there is now. Most homes had a family Bible and the Bible is surely the central book of our civilisation. A much higher proportion of people went to Church regularly where they would hear the Bible read out. It was accepted that any formal education must contain a focus on Shakespeare and at least one or two other classics from English literature.
Modern society threatens to produce people who have lost their historical memory, and who therefore cannot understand themselves. Christmas, the first feast of Christianity, and our most profound symbol of hope for the future, is a good time to reflect on the need to recover the great traditions of the past and pass them on to our children.
                                       
 The Weekend Australian, December 24-25 1988
 
 
THE APPEAL OF EASTER
The perennial appeal of Easter comes from the life of its central figure, Jesus of Nazareth. His response to the evil forces around Him challenges the world forever. His courage and goodness, His trust in God, redeem one of the ugliest incidents of history. In the glare of the crucifixion, the true greatness of Jesus is revealed.
The essential spirit and the quality of life of Jesus are very relevant today. There is a crisis of character developing in Australia. Self-seeking, self-indulgent lifestyles, cutting moral corners to make money, crass corruption are all too common in society. The adulation of people whose lives reflect questionable values is frequent. The ideal of service to others, even in the so-called service professions, is in eclipse. Underlying many of the more obvious tensions and difficulties facing Australia is the human factor. It is people, just people, who are the problem. A heightened quality of life and character would transform society.
A Man of principle
The witness and example of Jesus define life as it was meant to be. In His trial and death, all for which He stood is vividly portrayed. Therefore, Easter presents a powerful appeal and an inescapable challenge in the midst of society.
Jesus was a man of principle. Throughout His life, and especially during that final dramatic week in Jerusalem, inner integrity, allegiance to the truth, faithfulness to the principles He had made His own are obvious. At any time in the last week He could have fled for safety. When some Greeks invited Him to their country, the temptation to leave was intense. As He said: "I have power to lay down my life and to take it again." His only compulsion was an inner compulsion. At His trial, a few accommodating words would have saved Him. Rejecting compromise, refusing to run away, He died. In His death He gave the most vivid example of integrity and obedience to principle the world has seen.
Personal integrity, allegiance to principle, require strengthening in our society. When moral standards decline, public action has to be taken. Hence today a whole series of royal commissions, inquiries into corruption and special crime prevention agencies have become necessary. Yet such measures can only be partially effective. There are many decisions taken in secret which are beyond any kind of public scrutiny. If the people's consciences become dulled, if people cannot be trusted when no-one is looking or listening, society is in trouble. The real need today is for the multiplication of people of integrity and principle.
How are such people fashioned? The Easter message and the example of Jesus strengthen the inner life of all who open themselves to their influence. It is impossible to calculate the debt humanity owes to the Christian influences which reach their climax in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Once again, millions of people living through the events of Holy Week will have their lives cleansed, their moral values sharpened and their resolution quickened. For Jesus was supremely the man for others, giving Himself without reserve to all people, but especially the least and the lowest. He went on giving until he had nothing left to give, not even His life. He continued to sow the good seed of truth until on the bare hill of Calvary He sowed Himself. In the intensive light of His standards we all stand condemned. It is one way by which the death of Jesus redeems the world.
Again, Easter speaks acutely to Australia's condition. Australia too often seems a self-centred society. The highest values appear to be self-gratification and self-advancement.  The media are filled with appeals to selfishness. Australians can be generous at times of crisis, but do not show a spirit of steady benefaction. The consequences of a self-centred society are tension and conflict. Sectional selfishness sets group against group, management and unions against each other, class against class.
How can service to others take precedence over the claimant demands of self? From whence come the idealism and the determination to live beyond the natural desires of human nature? An understanding of the attractiveness of service, an exposition of its meaning, a model of selfless living, are all needed. They are found in the teachings of Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, and above all, in the example which shines through the last week of His life.
The power of the life and death of Jesus to bring out the best in human nature has been demonstrated over the centuries. Take out of society today the ministries of mercy motivated and sustained by Christian idealism and power, and the easing of human suffering would almost grind to a halt. Australians know this to be true, hence the desire of the large majority of people for religious and ethical teaching in schools. The Cross of Jesus, as a summation of His life and teachings, goes on transforming human nature and inspiring service to others.
 
Jesus was a man of God. Throughout His life, God was central to all He said and did. The fact of God dominates the Easter story. The final drama begins in the Garden of Gethesmane when Jesus unreservedly bowed His will to God's will. In the trial before Pilate, the charge was blasphemy - a crime against God. The last word uttered on the Cross was an expression of trust in God. It was the power of God which raised Jesus from the dead on the first Easter morning.
The reality of the supernatural as revealed in the Easter story challenges contemporary  Australia. Many of us live without recognition of our dependence on God. In many areas of Australian life, and in the attitude of some of its leaders, God is ignored or rejected. But Easter poses many questions for all who deny the reality of God.
New life is possible
By common consent, Jesus's life is perhaps the noblest in history. There is much criticism of the Church and religion, but few  fail to recognise the greatness of Jesus. Yet His life is grounded in God. In good days and bad, when the sun shone on Him in Galilee and storm clouds lowered over the hill of Calvary, He said steadily, convincingly: I see God. It is impossible to cut belief in God out of His life without leaving an unintelligible, mutilated figure. The fact that a person of the quality of Jesus was absolutely certain of God cannot be dismissed.
Easter claims God exists and that He is revealed supremely in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It declares the universe is not morally neutral or capricious or indifferent. Only as personally and corporately we adjust our ways to God's moral universe can we effectively live. If we have become separated from God the Cross of Jesus shows how through repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation we can come back into a new living relationship with Him. Through the unbelievable, patient love of God, new life is possible for us all. The Easter story says the last word is with God. The Cross, man's creation, is not the end, for God transposed defeat into victory. God brought Jesus from the dead, overthrew the kingdom of darkness and set up the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, Easter spells hope for every one of us personally, for society and for the world. 
                                  
The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday March 24, 1989
 
 
RESURRECTION STILL THE SUPREME SYMBOL OF HOPE
If any evidence were needed of the continuing relevance of religion to life in the 20th century, the Salman Rushdie affair surely provides it.
The British author, himself a Muslim, has offended Muslim sensibilities in his renowned novel The Satanic Verses  in such a way as to provoke condemnation throughout the Muslim world and a death threat from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. The vigour of Islam's response to what it sees as gross blasphemy demonstrates the surge of devoutness which Islam is currently experiencing.
It is not at all clear that Christianity, the majority religion in Australia, is so virile and alive. In fact, it appears to be caught in a debilitating cultural crisis in advanced Western countries such as Australia.
This is a striking contrast with the situation in many of the communist countries, and in much of the Third World, where Christianity has rarely been more vibrant.
The crisis in the West has a number of sources. One is the unprecedented affluence we have achieved over the past 40 years. Man can put off consideration of mortality as his life span increases. Moreover, as he becomes more affluent he tends to feel less dependent on the kindness of God for his continued existence.
Battle against God
Then again there has been, since the enlightenment, a battle waged by much of the intellectual class against belief in God.
The 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed that: "God is dead, but considering the state the species, man, is in there will perhaps be caves for ages yet in which his shadow will be shown." More and more people seem to be coming to agree with Nietzsche's proposition.
Yet it is hardly necessary to be a practising Christian to find that in the experience of rejecting God our society is becoming not more enlightened but more barbarous.
Gerald De Merval expressed the bitter feeling of abandonment that accompanies the "discovery" that God is dead, "... heaven is empty, weep children, for you no longer have a father."
 
Easter, more so even than Christmas, is the great feast of the year in which the unique doctrinal claims of Christianity are laid on the line, to be accepted or rejected.
And here we have another cause of the relative decline, the pallidness and insecurity of organised Christianity in societies such as Australia. There is a failure of ecclesiastical leadership.
Late last year The Australian  published a report about the work of Dr. David Coffey, a senior theologian at the major Australian Catholic seminary for the training of priests at Manly in Sydney.
Dr. Coffey was involved in a controversy concerning his writings on the central event of Easter and of Christian history, the resurrection of Christ.
Dr.  Coffey had written in 1980 that a position which held that "the resurrection is an event not involving in any way the corpse of Jesus... is, or should be, acceptable to Catholic orthodoxy". He had also argued the empty tomb of Christ "had nothing to do with the resurrection as such..."
These views had resulted in complaints being presented to the Vatican. Dr. Coffey was eventually instructed to align his teachings with those of the Catholic Church, which he undertook to do.
Ultimately, eight years after the publication of Dr. Coffey's original article, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Clancy, issued a clarifying statement in which he attempted to set out the Catholic position. He said that "...the physical remains of Jesus, placed in the tomb after his death, were raised in his resurrection. Hence, the empty tomb."
Dr. Coffey agreed to abide by the Church's official ruling. However, after Cardinal Clancy's statement had been made the Australian Catholic Theological Assocation published its own statement generally supporting Dr. Coffey's original position on the resurrection and saying that many theologians held similar views.
These events revealed an extraordinary tardiness, if not actual reluctance, on the part of church authorities in counselling Australian Catholics on an important doctrinal matter, as well as a disturbing degree of continuing dissent by members of the theological association's statements.
Against such a background it is little wonder that the broader society is deeply confused about the relevance and importance of Christianity.
 
 
Weaknesses in Christian leadership are, of course, not confined to Roman Catholics. Increasingly the Christian churches appear to be concerned with ephemeral political and social agenda and less and less with the central defining truths which they have traditionally claimed. The certitude of Christian leaders on economics and politics, where they have no special expertise, increases at the same time as their certitude on theological matters declines.
Inspiration
All this matters profoundly because our culture has grown directly from Judaeo-Christian inspirations. Many of the institutions and concepts which we regard as most important, such as inalienable human rights, the desirability of charity, and the rule of law have directly Christian well-springs.
If as a culture we are losing sight of the traditions and accomplishments which have formed us it is partly because of the lack of leadership in the mainstream Christian churches.
Yet whatever the present travails and failings of Australian Christianity the feast of Easter should remind us that the promise of Christianity is nearest to fruition in its darkest moment.
The death and resurrection of Christ are the triumph of a moral force over evil, of light over darkness. The resurrection remains the supreme symbol of hope which our culture has known, source of the inspiring concept of an existence beyond self.
And for all the stumblings of the modern Christian churches, this most dramatic event in history will once again be celebrated tomorrow in every corner of the world.  That, in itself, is a reason for joy and hope.
                                               
The Weekend Australian, March 25-26 1989 
EASTER FAITH IN AUSTRALIA
Easter 1988 is an opportunity to assess the contribution the Christian faith has made to Australia and to evaluate its place in the life of the nation. It is a time to become aware of what religion has to offer as Australia enters another century of its history.
Christianity came to Australia with the First Fleet. However, in the founding and early life of the penal colony the worship of God was given a low priority. As a result, the Christian Church began its witness under great difficulties. During the 200 years since its beginnings, the Church in Australia has shown painstaking  faithfulness and dedication but has carried on without excitement or high inspiration. Only in the second half of last century was there accelerated advance. At no time has there come a spiritual awakening or revival as has marked the religious life of England and America.
The achievements of the Christian Church are many and significant. This vast land has become dotted with churches. In country areas everywhere, small places of worship stand amid the farms and bearing silent witness to the faith of the people. Today, a church is within reach of almost all the people of Australia.
Creative response
In education, in meeting human needs and on public issues the churches have deeply influenced the life of the people. For 200 years the concern of the churches for the Aborigines is one of the few shafts of light in a dark scene. Christian schools have constantly challenged the assumptions of secular education. The churches have carried on a more extensive ministry of social compassion than in most countries, amid children at risk, among the homeless, the sick and the aged. From the Church have come creative responses to human need, as seen in the work of Caroline Chisholm, the Flying Doctor and Life Line services. If the motivation, the devotion and the volume of caring of Christians were withdrawn, the social services of this country would come near to collapse. From prophetic voices within the churches has been heard a constant call to righteousness, social justice and peace.
 
 
While there has been a decline in Christian allegiance over the past 25 years, most Australians continue to believe in God. Each Sunday over three million people attend public worship. Almost one quarter of children are educated in Christian schools. Beneath the obvious power of governments, the media and the larger institutions of society, a strong influence from Christian homes and churches flows into the mainstream of the nation's life.
One fact is clear, the churches will remain a large and significant part of the nation's life. Whenever in history there has come a period of spiritual recession it has always been followed by a quickening and a renewal. It will no doubt happen again. The Easter story of Resurrection and new beginnings following Crucifixion and defeat is the repeated experience of the Christian Church.
The Easter faith touches the life of the people and of society on many levels. Belief in God, the holding up of the teachings and the lifestyle of Jesus are essential to the future of Australia. A nation, if it is to function adequately and not split apart in a crisis, must have some point where it becomes unified. There must be some level at which differences fall away and there is general agreement about the meaning of life and the purpose of history.
Christian belief has always provided this common meeting place in Australia. Away down beneath the endless political debate and the inevitable differences of a pluralist society, it has held people together. It has provided the framework, the perimeter in which debate and disagreement could operate.
The Easter faith has fashioned the basic convictions of most Australians. It reveals a God whose supreme characteristic is love, who gives dignity and worth to every person, whose face is set against exploitation and oppression and who is on the side of justice, freedom and peace. Nothing would imperil the unity of the nation more than for this common faith to be eroded by agnosticism and humanism until it could no longer hold the people together. Therefore, it is of immense importance that a basic religious faith remains strong and is communicated to each rising generation.
 
Ideal of service
A strong religious faith carries with it a sense of accountability. There are many decisions taken by us all when no-one is looking or listening. The belief that God lives, that He is the owner of all things, that to Him we are ultimately responsible, is a barrier against corruption and the false pretensions of power. People who have no-one to whom they believe they are accountable are more vulnerable to temptation and evil. The Biblical precept is powerful and essential: To me it is a small thing to be judged of men, He who judges me is the Lord.
The Easter story gathers to a climax the concept of self-giving which runs through the whole life of Jesus. He gave Himself in the service of His neighbours until at the end He gave all He had, His life. On the cross He died as He lived, pouring out His life for others.
Australia today needs a massive injection of this ideal of service. Society cannot function pleasantly or effectively if self-interest dominates human relationships and the motive of service is lost. Personal and corporate selfishness is a worrying feature of the contemporary scene, for it can easily lead on to conflict, exploitation, even corruption. Hence, society needs the inspiration of the quality of service seen in Jesus. The nation requires constantly to be confronted by the ideal that abilities, education, and privilege of any kind are entrustments to be used not for self-advancement, but for the common good.
Basis for hope
The crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus provide a solid basis for hope. In the cross of Jesus, evil at its worst and goodness at its best met and, when the struggle was over, though Jesus died, goodness was victorious. Ever since, humanity has been given inspiration and confidence. The Easter story shows that there is a fatal instability about evil which brings about its collapse. It is history's supreme example of the triumph of right. It declares that we, too, can have hope knowing that corruption will be overcome, oppression will give way to freedom and that the future lies not with violence and war, but peace.
Finally, the Easter faith has a very personal message for every Australian. It speaks words of forgiveness, comfort and strength. It provides meaning for living and purpose for dying. In a very personal way, the Christian faith can bring to every life calmness and confidence. From the cross and resurrection of Jesus comes power for daily living. It enables every Australian to face the future without fear, for always there will be available the love and the power of the living God.
 The Sydney Morning Herald, April 1988