There Can Be Only One Winner

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 28 September 2019.

The last week saw our state parliament pass the renamed Abortion Law Reform Act, after what could only be described as significant public interest and legislative attention. Many amendments were proposed; some were won and some were lost. Once the governor provides assent, the law in NSW will have changed.

Different people will have different opinions on who won this particular stoush. Some will claim victory because abortion has been decriminalised - though if they are more careful with their language, they should say that medically authorised abortion has been decriminalised: the backyard operation remains a crime, thankfully. Others will see a victory in the best of the amendments that were made to the bill.

Tearing UpThe truth, though, is that there are no winners here. There will be children who will never take a breath. There will be children who would never have taken a breath anyway. There will be mothers who grieve a terrible decision; there will be mothers who do not. There will be those who would dearly love to be mothers who will mourn doubly for the child they might have raised. And this will still be a world where sometimes, children are conceived and yet not born in the bloom of full health. The majesty and miracle of new life remains stained by the travesty of sin’s effects on creation.

We do not engage with our world in order to win. Such folly represents an absurd confidence in our works and what power we have to change our world. The victor is only, and ever, Jesus; our hope is that we might reflect him in the lives we live in his world. And that’s next week’s sermon...


Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 14 September 2019.

ArgumentThe wit Sydney Smith was in Edinburgh one day, and happened across two women who were arguing quite passionately with one another across an alley. “Those two women will never agree,” said Smith, “they are arguing from different premises.”

It’s funny but it’s true. So often our most intractable disagreements have nothing to do with the substance of the argument; it is because people have radically different starting points and presuppositions that they can never hope to find a consensus.

Take the example we will see in the news this week, the legislation before the upper house dealing with abortion. Is the foetus a human or not? Does the right to decide lie with the pregnant woman, or the state? Is the issue a medical or a moral one? The two sides disagree so fundamentally that it is hard to imagine a solution.

So what can we do in such situations, as a society? Our Scottish squabblers remind us of what’s obvious: we are arguing with those we live beside. If we cannot hope to agree, we can at least agree on how to live with our differences. And one key to that is to turn down the volume!

When we debate these difficult questions with our neighbours, we need to resist the urge to shout the loudest. Courtesy and clarity are called for. Our goal is to testify to a better life and a greater hope, and we pray for God to open doors past that point. And, of course, we pray.

Catholic (adjective):

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 06 September 2019.

DictionaryThis week I read a sympathetic Australian writer who, in attempting to find another way to say “Protestant”, came up with “non-Catholic Christian”. He wasn’t trying to be funny, or rude. Nor is he uneducated: he is a leading journalist who I think was wanting to be polite while writing from a Roman Catholic perspective.  

It evidences the wholesale confusion about the word ‘catholic’ that is nearly unchallenged across the world. The term is generally thought of as a noun, akin to words like ‘Hindu’, ‘Muslim’ or ‘Buddhist’. A cursory look at the formation of the word, however, tells a different story. It’s an adjective, like frantic, cherubic, optic, and pathetic. And many more words with an -ic suffix.

Now, words do drift in their meaning over the years. It’s a natural process. But it’s also a problem when we retain forms of words for long periods. They can become fossilised - and this has happened with ‘catholic’, which is about two millennia old, and has been hanging around in our creeds all that time.

So what are we affirming when we believe in ‘the holy catholic church’? Catholic is a compound word, comprising kata and holos - ‘according to’ and ‘all, whole’. It’s meant to carry the sense of ‘that which is commonly accepted by everyone’. The creed, then, is talking about how different churches in different cities recognise the existence and legitimacy of all the other churches in other places.

That would make a ‘non-Catholic Christian’ into a schismatic heretic - hardly a compliment! We can’t change the confusion that people have with the term - but we can at least know what it is we say we believe!

A Pro Rogue

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 31 August 2019.

JohnsonBoris Johnson, the newly-installed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has a bit of a reputation for having a reputation - that is, that his roguish knockabout charm is a carefully constructed and maintained public persona. Whether or not that’s true, he’s certainly added a new dimension to how people can speak of him as a rogue in times to come with his recent decision to prorogue the parliament.

Some of his opponents claim that this is a fundamentally undemocratic move; in response, Johnson can argue that he is simply clearing a path for Brexit, as the country voted for, and therefore he is fulfilling the expressed will of the people. Tricky, huh?

Meanwhile, across on the continent, Italian politics has been upended. One ruling coalition torpedoed itself in order to create another one, with the apparent goal being simply the avoidance of an unscheduled election. The representatives wish to fulfil their democratic duty, rather than risk someone else being elected for the task.

You’d think Western society could have worked out how democracy is supposed to operate by now, wouldn’t you? Yet here at home, our politicians will often claim that they are simply following what polls tell them is the will of the people, rather than fulfilling their elected duty to govern wisely.

You know what the problem is, don’t you? Democracy doesn’t work, in the long run. Genesis 3 makes it clear that human beings will only enjoy the good life when we are ruled by God, rather than trying to rule ourselves. In the end, our hope is in the kingdom of God, not the politics of humanity.

If Wishes Were Horses...

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 24 August 2019.

Wishing Well...then without a doubt, our daughter Lucy would be quite happy, and our backyard would be a dustbowl. So perhaps it’s a good thing that they’re not, and we don’t have to resolve the philosophical question of what would happen if one wished not to have a horse.

But, strangely, human beings are very much dedicated to the idea that wishing for things should work. Shakespeare’s Hamlet carps about “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, and he’s hit on it there. “Fortune” offends us because it appears so arbitrary, and we would far rather that events could be better controlled. Then we would not have to fear misfortune striking those whom we love. The good would be the only ones to never fear dying young.

Ask people what they believe about life, the universe, and everything, and you’ll hear over and over “Well, I like to think...” I like to think my team will win the Superbowl, but wishing it so hasn’t helped them so far. The question isn’t what we like, but what is. That our answers consistently make this error demonstrates how persistent we are in wishing our wishes worked.

Why that persistence, in the face of such overwhelming evidence? Because we are still munching on the fruit forbidden in Eden, determined to at some level dictate how our world should work. And because we still fear that God will strike us down, rather than welcome us with open arms. We are prodigals who prefer to imagine that the pigsty will one day turn into a palace rather than the Father be seen to forgive.

The wishing well leaves us in a deep hole, but Jesus offers springs of living water. If only people knew who was offering it to them...

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