Monthly Archives: April 2017

Anzac Shiboleth, Anzac Religion

My family are English with a solid contribution to both World Wars. Others fought in Korea, and in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising. None of them were one whit bothered about public acclamation, remembrance or wreath laying. They eschewed any hero worship or attempt to glorify their role.

The World War 1 diggers I was privileged to know berated me as a child and a teen when I enquired about their exploits, “son you don’t know what it was like, it was a mugs game and l’d rather not talk about it.” As to the question, “Did you march in the parades today?” I usually got the response, “Not into that bullshit son, went to the pub with me mates.” Again there was no glory, no desire for a parade, a day, a wreath. Part of the anger was that it dragged up awful memories, the trauma. Partly it was anger that people who had no idea inserted themselves emotionally into their experience. And politicians who used the day to manipulate and emote in the media to their own ends. Bastards the lot!

They went for adventure, for fun, out of boredom, loyalty, mate-ship. But they never went for the Anzac Religion. Indeed Anzac or Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was only ever the original Mediterranean Expeditionary Force that came to be forged as Anzac in Egypt in 1914. But Anzac Day was, after South Australia started a day in honour of veterans, promulgated as a national day in 1916 in honour of the Anzac force which fought at Gallipoli. When you realise that the Anzac force was part of an Allied force set up to attack the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany, it might make you wonder what on earth we are on about. The Ottoman Empire??

Besides, why not celebrate the second Boer war, Khartoum, Trafalgar, the Viking wars … the possibilities are endless if integrity matters.

The American war of Independence, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, VE Day in Europe, Independence Day in several African nations, that I can understand. Kokoda as an Australian remembrance would hold more value (a point that former PM Paul Keating made in the 90s). What do all these have in common? That they were part of a national need, part of the national defence. But not Anzac, we were not defending our nation, nor were we actually defending England (geographically speaking).

Yes it was horrific, but which war has not been horrific? Yes it was bloody and lives were tragically lost. Napoleon probably lamented too in his day. But Anzac was pointless, not just because it was a mighty cockup, but because it had no point in the first place, not for Australia.

Ironically, the term that is rattled out every Anzac Day, “lest we forget”, is actually a line from a Rudyard Kipling poem ‘Recessional’ which was a quasi liturgical offering against the vain glory of colonial empire, go figure!

Yassmin Abdel-Magied caused a stir last week when she Tweeted and Face Booked a statement referencing Lest We Forget.


Photo: Yassmin Abdel-Magied (not credited).

Abdel-Magied said “LEST WE FORGET (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine)” Difficult to establish any anti Australian content, or any Anzac heresy (for Anzac has indeed become a religion). Abdel-Magied has raised a valid point echoed in several journalism pieces over the week, that we have forgotten the value of what we supposedly value, the freedoms, the rights, the safety, our international obligations. We are shallow when we orgasm over wreath laying but ignore the Anzac prayers for peace, when we fail to protest the concentration camps used to house refugees (and I note that only this week that Pope Francis called the detention camps concentration camps –, and when we fail to value human life which the diggers were apparently defending in the first place.

The irony of the Alt-Reich response is that they bemoan criticism of our treatment of refugees (our continuing racist White Australia Policy) and defend the barbaric actions of the so-called alliance in the Middle East and beyond. Abdel-Magied is right, they have indeed forgotten the meaning of Anzac Day.

I was heartened to see a response to the Alt-Reich in articles like – ‘Remembering fallen war heroes is insincere if it excludes those suffering today’ (Mariam Tokhi in the Guardian, April 27, 2017) or, ‘Over the top reaction to seven words from Yassmin Abdel-Magied’ in the SMH, April 28′ 2017).

The response from her critics has certainly been over the top and when you see the names you smile because it includes, Abbott, Abetz, Dutton, Hanson, News Corp. But when you see the comments from some of the public it curdles the blood. This is not what my old diggers would do or say. This is exactly what they feared – a false emotive, shallow religion of jingoistic nationalism.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term Shibboleth (an Old Testament term) it simply means now ‘test phrase.’ It is used to determine who is in and who is out. It is often a trick question to trip up an opponent. Anzac is our unfortunate shibboleth to entrap migrants, refugees, and those among us who do not hold to the religion of Anzac. And this shibboleth is now being used to attack Abdel-Magied, and those who stand for truly remembering why we fight wars in the first place.

But Anzac as shibboleth, as religion, has also poisoned our national psyche. It is sadly becoming our identity as a nation, that to be Aussie is to be Anzac, is to be militaristically patriotic. I’m not going in that direction, it’s not my religion, and I believe it spells the end of possibility for a positive Australian identity tied to pioneering, harmony, struggling attempts at multiculturism, science, sport, literature, art, in no particular order.

I’m ashamed of the leaders and public who have been so vitriolic in their response to Abdel-Magied, and I’m embarrassed by the pathetic attempts to relive Anzac as if somehow we were there, we understand and know. Bastards the lot.

lets fail the test, let’s not Anzac, let’s find a new identity instead.

Well said Yassmin.

Lest we remember!

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That Smell!

via Daily Prompt: Perfume

I once read that if you change a recipe by one proportion of one ingredient, you have thereby changed the recipe’s integrity and thereby made it your own. The possibilities are endless. which leads me to a small rant on perfume. I have always been amused by the plethora of perfumes in department store foyers. There are the one’s I know about like Chanel, Dior, Ralph Lauren. The newcomers like Opium, Gucci, Boss and others, all stong players.  And not forgetting the popular supermarket lot, who remembers Charlie? And of course there are men’s and women’s perfumes.

But everyone is doing it. Every celebrity has a perfume, David and Victoria Beckam, Beyonce, Pink, Russell Crowe … 1,300 celebrity perfumes was the last count. that’s a lot of minor variation on parfum and fragrance. It’s like, if you’ve done a show or put out a CD there must be a smell for you to market.

Its all alcohol, fixatives, solvents and frgrances. Is it just me, or is it really just mindless marketing?


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Cream Crackered

via Daily Prompt: Knackered

Nothing like a bit of Cockney Rhyming Slang to grab attention. Cream Crackered? Mate I’m knackered! Of course in English parlance it simply refers to “I’m realy tired or exhausted. But in my childhood there were two mortality references. If you were to be knackered it meant emasculation or in the least to be minus ones testes, speaking as a male of course. The other came to light in my early childhood when I asked my mother what on earth ‘knackered’ meant. The measured reply came back “it’s when horses get old or sick and they have to be put down.” Ah, the glue factory!

It seems to me sometimes that this so called great language (and it is, no less) is strung together with code, mind twisters, and parabolic meanings. Is there ever a straight answer might be the question, and do we constantly answer questions with questions? Yes would be the straight answer. But closed questions that only elicit a yes or no answer don’t engage, they’re clinical, and where’s the fun in that? Open questions, riddles, puzzles, metaphor, all the stuff of narrative, poetry etc., are the stuff of our lived lives, playful, living, vivre.

I might be knackered ocassionally, tired, but I’m alive in language and word play.


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via Daily Prompt: Roots

I never know if Aussie vernacular is understood elsewhere. I was, in another life, involved in horticulture, so roots were a fascinating part of plant biology, the whole lungs of life, so a normal foray into roots and life. But when I was growing up ‘root’ meant other things or people.

In Australia the term root, singular and plural, is also an old euphemism for sexual intercourse. He or she is looking for a root, or he or she is a good root. It has fallen from regular use among Gen Y and X, there are less earthy terms for them, more direct. Root is now seen as polite, old school, twee.

If you extend to rooted, then something is completely buggered. As in “the car engine is really rooted mate” means that the engine is dead, stuffed, broken.

Whereas in the UK and the US friends talk about being rooted as in being grounded. And that’s what draws me about the word roots, the idea of place, identity, community. An older generation of family in which I was formed spoke of “setting down roots” by which they meant becoming, self-discovery, participating, growing, becoming known, contributing, all that we can be. It was how they saw individuals as making community by embedding in a place and committing to the people in that place, becoming through place and relationship.

In a step further, roots always takes me to ecology in a broad sense, relationships that are critical for all of nature, we are all part of each other in a very real sense of integral relationship, like a giant jig-saw. Hegel, that provocative philosopher, wrote about Geist, a world spirit, taking the Christian teaching of the Spirit of God, and setting it in the context of a movement of spirit between people, nature and ultimate being. So that, for Hegel, Geist is about how all aspects of life connect body mind and spirit. Now that’s being rooted and grounded, and it is a setting down in relationship that has deep implications for our health, for community and for the world. If we aren’t rooted in the world, teh world will be ‘rooted.’


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Fade to …

via Daily Prompt: Gray

So what will it be, anatomy, tea, or pallor? My primary school uniform was grey shorts and shirt where I attended. Warships coming into Fremantle port were of course grey. Meh.

For me its music. Grey or Gray, holds particular memories. The release in 2011 of Grey October Day by Judy Dyble and Tim Bowness, released in 2011 was a reminder of an era past and the work of a singer long hidden.  The song is moody, haunting,  and speaks of a lost love. But the real connection for me is Fairport Convention and Judy Dyble. She was with Fairport Convention between 1967 and 1968, but was unceremoniously replaced with Sandy Denny in late 68. Denny was a sensation and she overshadowed her predecessor Dyble. Dyble became lost to the public eye after a few years as she immersed herself in her work as a librarian.

Sadly Dyble’s music career faded (not withstanding her work with the forerunner to King Crimson – Giles, Giles and Fripp), though with some forays into the music scene over the decades until she started recording solo in earnest in 2004,  finally receiving acknowledgement for her writing and music. To borrow a saying and the title of the 1980 song by Visage, Dyble faded to grey, but not quite, finding her own way forward and continuing to do so.

Fairport Convention were, along with Denny, Steeleye Span and others, major players in resurrecting folk music in Britain, no small achievement in the heady days of rock n roll. And Dyble has been an important part of that achievement.


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via Daily Prompt: Avid

Latin – avere, to long for. Originally Avid meant “desirous to the point of greed.” Now that’s some longing for, greedy longing, passionate, insatiable. So I’m not an avid gardener, bush walker, or cook, even though I enjoy those, I’m not greedy for them. I’m really greedy for connection, soul connection. Greedy for the heart of things, be they people, nature, or spirit. Greedy for non-harming, love, compassion, conversation, friends. Longing for life in all its richness, despite the many u-turns. Now that I’m avid for. Avere.




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After Virtue – A New Benedict (Pt.3)

My experience of Dreher’s BenOp is that he trying to posit a response to a dystopia as he sees America today. This dystopia is brought about by liberalism, which is rooted in the Enlightenment (1620 – 1789, depending on who you read). But the nub of it is a bemoaning of moral decline, most especially anything LGBTIQ, because this creates an inequality. Dreher cites the Obergefell decision in 2015 where the US Supreme Court voted in favour of the constitutional right for gay marriage as the turning point of the current moral slide.

Dreher periodically quotes MacIntyre in support of his reasoning, but I think he misquotes as MacIntyre is not speaking to the same issues. MacIntyre speaks of a looming dark age, but his argument is against the modern liberal individualist who is morally and ideologically blind. MacIntyre is interested in human agency and the renewal of moral political philosophy. But MacIntyre’s concern is to guide a society to value human life, he speaks of community, economics, politics with a view to developing an interactive community, a mutuality of moral value. When reading MacIntyre it is very clear that he never really left his first passion, Marxism.

MacIntyre doesn’t focus on hot topics nor seeks to speak to micro moral issues, he seeks a broad view of human potential. One of his concerns is the loss of ‘utility’ a teleological principle – if a rule or an act is right it will produce happiness. Utilititarian thought from Mo Tseu, Aristotle, to Bentham and Mill has been a deeply held ethic historically. This is not really ideal for Dreher.

In the BenOp, Dreher claims “This book does not offer a political agenda.” (p. 4). I beg to differ, it is indeed a political agenda, and a very conservative one. Dreher also has a conservative moral agenda. He quotes a situation (in regard to church discipline) whereby a Protestant church excommunicated a couple who divorced and refused church counselling. It sent a chill down my spine. This pining for theocracy with a conservative political agenda is akin to a fundamentalist wonderland or worse, a modern version of old Geneva, and deeply troubling.

Wrapped up in this is that hoary old argument over the sexual revolution as the nail in the coffin for ‘moral’ society. He writes “But if we use sex in a disordered way …” (p. 195) that is, outside of heterosexual marriage, then it is destructive. In support of this he cites single mothers, pornography, infidelity, and abuse, all of which, by the way,  precede the sexual revolution. I also object to his generalisations which create a hollow pastiche, he doesn’t nuance his comments or delve into definitions. Disordered sex as I see it is anything abusive, including sexual assault and child abuse, I don’t see single parenting as either abusive or disordered. Pornography is a loaded descriptor and certainly needs definition, are we including erotica, naturism, Black Lace stories, what? Back to single beds in movies about married couples?

As I was reading BenOp I couldn’t help but be reminded of another book, from 1970, “The Late Great Planet Earth” by Hal Lindsay. It is completely different, and theologically spurious, but the connect for me was the moralising. Lindsay cites the sexual revolution as one of the main proofs of the end of the world.

BenOp is a story of binaries, it offers a black and white vision, it subscribes to dualism, notably secular and sacred.

Professor John Milbank in his recent work “Beyond Secular Order”  claims that there was in fact never a purely secular reality. And Milbank has a word for the would be reactionaries: “To those ‘anti-Constantinian’ Christians who would have preferred that the Church remain a quasi-Montanist nomadic puritanical sect … this is to have a somewhat deficient sense of both mission and common humanity.” (p. 248) Rowan Williams takes up a similar theme in his work “Faith in the Public Square.”

Milbank and Williams take a positive view of Christianity alive in the world today, infusing institution and offering a counter cultural view. Dreher wants to offer something positive but essentially he offers a reductionist view. When he proclaims the need for a very new St. Benedict it is a reactionary claim rather than an action. I think he miss-casts the Benedictines as withdrawing to cloisters, but if you read the Rule it is one of strategic engagement with the world.

Dreher also misses the wonderful engagement of a variety of Christian communities across the world. L’Abri, Iona, Northumbria, Wellspring, The New Parish Collective, Verge, to name a broad range of open community. There are hundreds, all with a guiding Rule of Life or principle. They already serve as a hub for sustainable Christian community as counter culture.

Forming community on the foundation of being against something is not for me, and doesn’t correlate to the original Benedict let alone promise a very new one. The BenOp raises some good questions, but in the main is too conservative and reactionary for my liking. Besides, I don’t agree with his assessment of the world nor his moral agenda. And I’m not waiting for a very new St. Benedict, I’m more interested in applying the principles of Benedict’s Rule, engaging with the world, and living the principle of loving one another, perhaps another form of utility we keep missing. My vision of community would be compassion, empathy, service, justice and inclusion.



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After Virtue – A New Benedict? (Pt.2)

Having now completed Dreher’s ‘The Benedict Option’ (BenOp) I am underwhelmed to say the least. The greatest sadness is that this is not, as I see it, about a new and very different Benedict. MacIntyre was writing as a moral philosopher, and BenOp is at least aligned as a moral treatise. But then what morality?

Dreher is transparent about his religious and political bias, he is a conservative in every way. And it becomes apparent through the book that his agenda is about developing a Christian community to thwart the evils of liberalism. But what liberalism? His morality, his moralism, is about recapturing the ground surrendered to LGBT rights, to end the evil of divorce and abortion. Ah, that liberalism! But not the liberalism, or rather neoliberalism, of the right, that is somehow less evil.

He wants congregations to embrace exile, to turn to forming intentional hubs together in the suburbs, even while suburbs, and to withdraw from the “secular” (I want to return to the issue of false dualism later) world. He states, “We Christians today can create that new culture based on returning in creative ways to that very old one.” (p. 105)  This reminds me of so many attempts to recapture a romantic past. The old one he refers to is the pre 60s, that glorious era of morality, when divorce was difficult to obtain, when abortion was illegal, and when anything LGBT was criminalised.

I had a brief moment here where I recalled Joanne Harris’ novel ‘Chocolat’ where at a particular point the Priest and the Compte attempt to get rid of the “river rats” or gypsies. They institute a campaign to “boycott immorality.” I get that feeling with BenOp. Everything is based on dualism, on binaries, on black and white.

I bought the book because I have been immersed in the Rule of Benedict for many years (and have been an Oblate or non-professed for many years) so I was interested that the BenOp might segue to the Rule in contemporary living. There are occasions where Dreher makes links, and it is then that he seems most engaged. However, for the bulk of the book he is focussed on the decline of Christianity. But what Christianity is he referring to? Dreher is referring to a fortress Christianity, a conservative bastion, that will be a bulwark against the evils of liberalism that are bringing a war on Christians.

When Dreher says, “There is also the danger of Christians falling back into complacency.” he speaks of Christians, but it is clear that he doesn’t speak for all Christians, he is speaking only to and for those Christians who are struggling with the issues of divorce, abortion and LGBT rights. He speaks for those who feel that they have lost something since the sexual revolution of the 60s, and he speaks for those who want to recapture the pre-60s moral agenda, pre 73 Roe vs Wade, and to return to an older pedagogy, a past education methodology.

He opines that Donald Trump is morally compromised (p.79) while yet defending Trump’s win as a victory that might be good for Christians in as much that it will delay the liberal agenda, whereas Hilary Clinton was to be feared because would have accelerated that agenda (I do agree with Dreher that Trump is a symptom of deeper underlying problems). I note that Dreher doesn’t mention Nixon or Bush Jnr. two equally compromised leaders, but he does mention Reagan, fondly, yet offers no acknowledgement of the economic devastation that he, like Thatcher in the U.K., thrust upon his nation without any thought to the long term consequences for the working and middle classes. There is no insight into the moral malaise of the Republican Party other than that they have conceded moral ground to corporate pressure. While the Democrats are suggested as the party that undermines religion.

I get the sense that while Dreher is careful to admit that politics is suspect and not to be relied upon, there is an undercurrent in the book that yearns for theocracy. It is not explicit but rather lurking behind some of his statements.

So what has this book got to do with a new and very different St. Benedict? Pt. 3 …


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After Virtue – a new Benedict? (Pt.1)

Alasdair Macintyre published ‘After Virtue’ (AV) in 1981. Many of us read it around then, but it has come into public view again through Rod Dreher’s ‘The Benedict Option’ in which Dreher takes a comment from the very end of AV where MacIntyre says “We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St. Benedict.” (Alasdair MacIntyre After Virtue p. 163)

The title is a clue for those who know the work of Aristotle, that AV is an attempt to refine an Aristotelian world view, a moral philosophy, and MacIntyre refers to Aristotle throughout, and in particular the ‘Nichomachian Ethics.’ AV is also a work that seeks to refute Nietzsche’s claim that “… morality is only a mask for the will to power …” (Alasdair MacIntyre After Virtue p. 22). MacIntyre’s view is that modern moral and political philosophy falls short and we must therefore renew by studying and enacting virtue.

That last line which refers to Godot, is a swipe at Beckett, as in Beckett’s play ‘Waiting for Godot’, where Godot never shows up, and which is thought to be a criticism of those who wait for an external force to save them, thus a swipe by Beckett at certain forms of Christianity. MacIntyre suggests that we do need an external saviour in the form of a new St. Benedict, someone needs to show up.

When MacIntyre refers to St. Benedict he offers no elucidation save that he is waiting for another very different Benedict. There is no clue as to what this other Benedict will be like, he is not prescriptive, which means he is not seeking to be prophetic, but rather, he is yearning for a saviour. Dreher (interview with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove at Red Letter Christians 2015 claims that MacIntyre is being prophetic, but it is clear that MacIntyre’s language and construction is nothing of the sort, it is simply a hope, a desire, a yearning.

Why is he waiting for another Benedict? According to MacIntyre, while not subscribing to pessimism (because we survived the dark ages), we are on the cusp of a new dark age and we need someone to shine a light. He sees a decline and grieves the loss of moral community, salvation is in a new type of St, Benedict.

Enter Rod Dreher and the ‘Benedict Option.’



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