One of the many things I like about Professor Bunyip is his utter contempt for anything remotely resembling politically correct sentiments. His latest post is a typical example:
The Professor gave up on the disadvantaged some years ago, having finally accepted Jesus’ admonition that “ye have the poor with you always”. If no less an authority than the alleged Messiah comes to that conclusion, what point can there be in a humble Bunyip continuing to hope that the disinterested third parties who redirect our tax dollars to the intoxicated, indolent, and incompetent will ever be able to effect curative outbreaks of sobriety, industry, and intelligence?
I confess that Bunyip’s outburst resonates with many of my own experiences over the years, not only with indigenous Australians, whose history of oppression, dispossession and abuse at the hands of the Balanda (white man) has mostly been supplanted a considerable time ago by self-induced factors including endemic alcoholism, physical and sexual abuse, and poor nutrition and hygeine.
After I first graduated in law way back in the 1970s, I experienced a momentary outbreak of bleeding heart altruism and worked briefly for a NSW government agency dispensing social welfare services to the (mostly) undeserving poor. I soon re-embraced rugged enlightened self-interest when I discovered that welfare families almost invariably had brand new videos, colour TVs and houses full of new-ish furniture courtesy of St Vincent de Paul, Smith Family and Waltons’ open door hire purchase credit policy. They somehow always managed to persuade some government or charitable organisation social worker to approve an emergency cash grant for food when their money ran out towards the end of the pension fortnight, having been consumed by Waltons repayments and copious quantities of drugs and alcohol. Meanwhile I was scraping and saving to pay off and renovate my first house and making do with an old black and white TV and furniture bought at garage sales to save money.
I’m not quite as unsympathetic as the good Professor, however, because I accept that these behavioural characteristics of the chronically poverty-stricken are (as with Aborigines) partially a consequence of a generational cycle of poverty, violence, poor education and so on. It’s much harder for children from a welfare family to break out of the cycle of poverty than for a child of middle class parents (as I was). Nevertheless, the standard bleeding heart left-ish approach towards poverty and disadvantage simply reinforces that cycle, by making excuses for chronically irresponsible choices and shielding people from the consequences of those choices. At the risk of provoking a bilious attack in Professor Bunyip, we badly need a large injection of what Phillip Adams’ mate John Embling calls “tough love”.
What puzzled me about the Bunyip’s outburst on the undeserving poor, however, was his passing sideswipe at Father Frank Brennan SJ as a proponent of “godless Christianity”. I can certainly understand the Professor seeing Father Frank as anything but a political ally: his views are a long way to the left of the Bunyip, and a fair bit to the left of my own on some issues (not least appropriate asylum seeker policies). But why this should lead to a conclusion that Father Frank is “godless” is beyond me. Is godliness confined to those with right wing views? Is opposition to Howard government policies tantamont to ungodliness?
Father Frank is certainly at the liberal end of Catholic belief, but he’s not in any sense a Catholic equivalent of the “modernist” Anglicans among the Yes Prime Minister candidates for the bishopric of Bury St Edmonds. I come of a lapsed Catholic background, but Father Frank was instrumental in my reception back into the Church as a practising Catholic back in the 1980s. He also presided over the remarriage of Jenny and myself within the Church, after we were initially forced to marry in a civil ceremony because the conservative local priest in our hometown of Manly refused to marry us in the Church as a result of our having lived together “in sin” in Darwin for the preceding 12 months. Compassionate, socially-committed priests like Frank Frank Brennan exemplify Christ’s teaching far more faithfully than hateful, rigid conservatives like Cardinal George Pell.
I’ll never forget Father Frank’s classically Jesuitical response when I expressed reservations about re-embracing a Church that still espoused patently repugnant values like blanket opposition to birth control, homosexuality and so on. “Think of the Pope like the High Court,” Father Frank said. “A sort of ultimate court of appeal. You may regard some decisions as misconceived and wrong-headed, but we must have an authoritative structure to preserve the rule of law. And we know that the makeup of the Court will change in time.”
Update – Professor Bunyip posts a typically elegant, if unconvincing, response.