In a frank article Deirdre Macken (1) writes that the discussion around Australia Day has exposed how much Australia has changed. “For instance we’re no longer a white and Christian nation. We are off-white, yellow, brown and often red at this time of the year. What’s more, we are mostly non-believers, lifestyle believers or firm believers in something else.” Many Australian icons, traditions, gadgets and good old slang Aussie phrases are gone. Even the traditional Labor / Liberal divide is giving way to “protest votes for wacky alternatives” or we “complain constantly about the party we feel forced to vote for”. It’s almost impossible to find a happy Labor or Liberal voter.
It’s Macken’s conclusion, however, that tells all: “Most importantly, being Australian today means we don’t know what Australia Day stands for. Celebration, invasion, barbecue time, a day off, multicultural shindig or an excuse to look silly wearing a flag? We just don’t know, but that’s OK because we don’t know who we are, even if we are a little clearer who we are not.”
We don’t know who we are? That’s a very sad and damning commentary. Sad because if we don’t know who we are, we are a lost nation; damning because Macken adds “even if we are a little clearer who we are not”; which includes no longer being a Christian nation.
At the same time Macken is saying it as it is, and her conclusion comes as no surprise. A nation that accepts the theory of evolution believes not only that we are here by pure chance, but that there is no rhyme or reason for us to be here, on Australia Day or any other day. Evolution has no explanation where we come from or where we are going, therefore it’s up to us to decide what to do with our lives and give it meaning. The problem is we cannot agree on how we ought to live. So we end up believing anything and everything is OK. Isn’t that where our society is at now? For example, marriage: do it whatever way you like. Lost interest in your spouse? Forget your marriage vows and look for someone else. Not sure about your gender? Don’t worry, we don’t know either. (Unborn) life itself? Preserve or kill it, at your convenience. No wonder there is so much confusion, division, selfishness, anxiety and suicide.
Our culture too is fundamentally changing to accommodate this. Our entertainment and infotainment industries, for example, are based on the idea that we don’t know who we are, and that it does not matter. Consequently it promotes all kinds of things, both good and evil as if the difference does not matter. For each one of us individually it is a tremendous challenge not to be sucked into this maelstrom.
If we don’t know who we are, we no longer understand we are humans created by God. There is no understanding that God watches everything we do. There is little or no notion that God expects us to live ordered lives, according to His standards and for His honour, or to unselfishly promote our neighbour’s true wellbeing. There is no perception of sin, and need for salvation through Jesus Christ. There is denial that one day we will face righteous God and will have to give account for what we’ve done, or not done.
What is the way out of our self-made labyrinth? The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah gives the key: “Thus says the LORD: “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16).
What are these old ways? In his commentary on Luke 1:6 John Calvin helps us to understand. The good way is a devout and righteous life to which God calls us. This requires us to get our life in order as mentioned in Psalm 37:23 (“The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD”). Calvin writes “In ordering our life, therefore, our first study ought to be to approve ourselves to God; and we know that what he chiefly requires is a sincere heart and a pure conscience. Whoever neglects uprightness of heart, and regulates his outward life only by obedience to [God’s] law, neglects this order. For it ought to be remembered that the heart, and not the outward mask of works, is chiefly regarded by God, to whom we are commanded to look. Obedience occupies the second rank; that is, no man must [decide] for himself, at his own pleasure, a new form of righteousness unsupported by the Word of God, but we must allow ourselves to be governed by divine authority.” Calvin adds that only those people are righteous who regulate their life by God’s law. This means “that, to the eye of God, all acts of worship are counterfeit, and the course of human life false and unsettled, so far as they depart from his law.” We are unable to lead a devout and righteous life by our own abilities; only by the grace of God and work of Jesus Christ can we begin to do this.
Deirdre Machen points out that Australia has fundamentally changed, to such an extent that “We don’t know who we are”. But she does not sound an alarm bell to warn us how very serious and worrying this is. She says we’re no longer a Christian nation but she does not link this to the unravelling of our society and the dying of a culture. Our nation, including many who call themselves Christians, needs to do some serious thinking, ask for the old paths and seek true rest for our souls.
(1) Article published on page 2 of the Review in the The Weekend Australian January 20-21, 2018.