Sectarianism in Australia

A new book by the Anglican priest Dr. Benjamin Edwards, WASPS, Tykes and Ecumaniacs, sketches the long history of sectarianism in the Australian cultural scene. A brief survey of 1788 to 1947 notes the deep cleavage in colonial society between the Irish Catholic community and the mainstream British Protestant and Anglican society. This cleavage, as Edwards amply illustrates, lies deep in the memories of many older Australians (ch.1). Edwards also points out that it has been the theme of many novels, films, comedy sketches and television sitcoms, ensuring its enduring place in popular culture (ch.2).

Edwards’ careful analysis of Protestant / Catholic sectarianism largely focusses on New South Wales. While stating that sectarianism is a ‘complex socio-cultural phenomenon’, it is portrayed largely through a theological lens and in terms of conflict between organisations arising from the Reformation (p.52). The issues of power and identity, of national and ethnic identities, play no part in his analysis.

There were a few hints of sectarian attitudes around the Parliament of the World’s Religions. For a few days, a handful of conservative Christians held up a banner outside the conference proclaiming ‘Christ is the only way’. At one point during the conference, there was an angry exchange as one religious group drew attention to its persecution by another in Iran.

As religious divisions continue to threaten world peace in many places around the globe, it was a significant achievement to bring representatives from more than 200 religious groups together for the World Parliament. It demonstrated that, despite the differences in culture and practice, in belief and liturgy, it was possible for people of different religions to talk together and even to observe something of each other’s forms of worship.

As Lester Kurtz, in his book, Gods in the Global Village, concludes, “we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or we shall die together as fools” (p.240).

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 20, No.1, Page 6

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