June 15th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Anthony Albanese: NSW left factional warlord takes charge

EDITORIAL Religious freedom: the political and legislative challenges

CANBERRA OBSERVED Will Bill Shorten emerge from the shadows again?

FEDERAL ELECTION Queensland voted for jobs, life and country

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Keating's 'nutters': Don't blame the messenger

ECONOMICS AND SOCIETY Health policy is not immune from neoliberal infection

HUMAN RIGHTS Canada accepts Asia Bibi and family as refugees

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Families keeping the faith: the Benedict and other options

IDEOLOGY Feminist claims for equality, Part 1: The context

HISTORY OF SCIENCE Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki, Part 3: More on science and ancient cultures

LIFE ISSUES Families, youth boost crowd at WA Rally for Life

MUSIC Muse of delight: The laugh ascending

CINEMA Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion

BOOK REVIEW Pioneering aviator's flights and fancies

BOOK REVIEW Catholic resistance in a forgotten war

BOOK REVIEW AFA patron's long life of public service


NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal Pell's appeal, June 5-6, 2019: An account from the live streaming

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Families keeping the faith: the Benedict and other options

by Allan Carlson

News Weekly, June 15, 2019

Professor Allan C. Carlson delivered this address at the Saturday evening dinner of the National Civic Council’s 2019 Annual National Conference. The Annual Conference was held in Melbourne over the weekend of February 1–3, 2019. Professor Carlson’s address on that same morning appeared in the March 9, 2019, edition of News Weekly. This address points to some of the promising signs of a brighter future for the family in the wake of the breakdown of the ‘Liberal’ concept of the family, as he explained it in the previous paper.

This morning, at the end of my talk (see News Weekly, March 9, 2019, edition), I described how the followers of Jesus of Nazareth introduced within the Roman Empire a radically new sexual and family ethic: one that elevated marriage in social esteem and rested on an equality and complementarity between wife and husband that was unique within the whole of prior human experience; one that focused sexuality exclusively on marital love and the procreation of children; one that protected preborn and infant life from harm; one that carried small communities of virtue through periods of systemic persecution by the pagan state; and one that led to the Christians’ ultimate social and political triumph, as the fruit of their family system – an abundance of children – simply replaced the empty homes of the sterile pagans.

What does this episode mean for us today? One parallel between then and now lies in the cultural setting. I quoted historian Robin Lane Fox, who reported that “accepted sexual practice in the [pagan Roman] Empire had a range and a variety which it has never attained since”.

He wrote that 30 years ago. Since then, it seems likely that accepted sexual practices found in our secularising Western world have in fact equalled those of the old Roman Empire – or perhaps even surpassed them – in “range and variety”.

Moreover, as the pagan Romans fairly quickly turned towards official persecution of Christians, we witness the early rumblings of a similar persecution arising in our time within the misnamed human rights councils of the modern, pagan, liberal states.

This means, I think, that believing Christians must fundamentally reset their minds: push the reset button. The easy Christianity of, say, 1955, is largely gone. Moving smoothly between workplace, tennis or football club, political party, school, and church is no longer possible. The new culture created by self-actualising liberalism marks the end of fashionable Christianity.

Just as 19 centuries ago, active believing Christians must now see themselves and act as counter-cultural. In living a Christian life involving distinctive family and sexual ethics, Christians will once again be a scandal to their pagan neighbours. And to officials of the pagan regime.

This is the message, for example, of Rod Dreher’s 2016 book, The Benedict Option. As he has written: “If we [Christians] are going to survive, we have to return to the roots of our faith, both in thought and in deed. We are going to have to learn habits of heart forgotten by believers in the West. We are going to have to change our lives, and our approach to life, in radical ways. In short, we are going to have to be the Church, without compromise, no matter what it costs.”

Examples of “Benedict Option” acts that Dreher describes include the creation of a new, independent, Christian school or a Christian homeschooling cooperative. More intensively, he stresses the importance of geographic proximity: Christians should seek ways to live near each other, to enable shared worship and mutual aid.

Dreher especially favours the creation and sustenance of new Christian villages. His favourite example is the Tipi Loschi lay Catholic community in Italy. Tipi Loschi translates roughly as “the Usual Suspects”. It began among a group of male friends who were inspired by the example of Pier Giorgio Frassati, a young man noted for his holiness and help for the poor, who died at age 24.

As they married, these men brought their wives and then their children into the group, creating an association of families that now spans several generations. They operate a community school named for G.K. Chesterton, and three cooperatives that serve charitable ends.

Dreher quotes one member, Marco Sermarini: “The possibility to live like this is for everyone. We only have to follow an old way to do things that we have always had, but lost some time ago. The main thing is not to go with the mainstream. Then seek God, and after that, look for others who are also serious about seeking God, and join them.”

A still more intensive model of Christian living within a hostile pagan culture comes from the Bruderhof: German for “Brotherhood”. It is an intentional Christian community of 3,000 souls, found in 23 settlements on four continents, including here in Australia. The Bruderhof is a fellowship of families and singles, Anabaptist in history and theology, who practise radical discipleship in the spirit of the first Christian churches in Jerusalem: namely, members renounce private property and share all things in common.

I have visited a Bruderhof settlement: they also have an abundance of beautiful children. Importantly, and I quote directly here: “Our vocation is a life of service to God, to each other, and to You.” That is, they do not withdraw from the world, but rather reach out to their neighbours in many works of Christian witness, service, and charity.

Still another example of a faith community preparing for the trials that are coming is that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). One of that Church’s distinctive practices is to encourage its members “to prepare for adversity in life by having a basic supply of food and water and some money in savings”. The goal it to have supplies sufficient to sustain a family for an entire year.

This derived from the Mormon experience in 19th-century America, when the Church faced official persecution over the polygamy issue. After that question disappeared, and especially as Mormons entered the mainstream of American culture in the mid-20th century, the practice of self-sufficiency in food and other basic commodities might have seemed antiquated, even paranoid. Given the new, descending pagan darkness, though, this teaching looks prescient, another valuable model for all Christians to consider.

These approaches to protecting Christian families in the hostile post-liberal age are worthy of your attention. In important ways, they also restore vital economic functions to homes; they build true “one flesh” unions with great positive consequences.

There is, however, still another possible model for action. There are other real places and real people who are actively, confidently, and – dare I say – successfully building fresh Christian social and political orders. They are denounced relentlessly by “social liberal” periodicals such as The Wall Street Journal and The Economist, and yet they seem to thrive.

The younger Christian churches in Africa and parts of Asia stand out for the bold confidence they hold in Christian social and sexual standards and in their readiness to write them into the family law of their respective lands. Even in Old Europe, political movements have emerged in recent years with a clear and consistent Christian pro-family agenda, also being pursued with confidence and courage.

The most successful of these, so far, has been the Fidesz Party of Hungary, led by Viktor Orban. In May 2017, he and his colleagues hosted the 11th major World Congress of Families, in Budapest. Prime Minister Orban gave the opening address; several of my colleagues and I had the opportunity to share breakfast with him that day.

[As an aside, I should note that 20 years earlier, in May 1997, an Australian named B.A. Santamaria – founder of the National Civic Council – gave a keynote address to the First World Congress of Families, held that year in Prague, the Czech Republic. That seems significant to me!]

Orban’s personal story is fascinating and richly symbolic. In the early 1990s, he emerged as an aggressive young liberal, in a Hungary freeing itself from Soviet Communist occupation. Within a few years, however, he and his fellow Fidesz Party members saw that the liberalism they had imported from the West was not one of tolerance, harmony, and moral order, but rather the twisted version emerging from the collapse of the liberal family system and the consequent Sexual Revolution of the late 1960s: the liberalism of self-actualisation.

One response was that Viktor Orban turned to God, becoming a committed Christian. His party crafted a Christian family policy, designed to support more and earlier marriages and to raise the nation’s birthrate. With this vision front and centre, Fidesz won smashing electoral victories in 2010, 2014, and again in 2018, including constitutional supermajorities.

The Fidesz Party has since turned Hungary, and the European Union, upside down – to the consternation of the moral radicals in Brussels.

In his 2017 address to the World Congress of Families, Orban referred to Europe’s refugee crisis of 2015. He noted that, while Brussels has looked to immigration as a solution to Europe’s population decline, Hungary has taken a different course: by shaping “a family policy which encourages the birth of children” and secures playgrounds that “echo with the happy cries of children, rather than with the sirens of police cars and ambulances”; and by “renewing ourselves spiritually”. In face of a form of invasion, “Hungary will … protect its families at all costs, regardless of the opposition that may come from Brussels”.

This restoration of “natural fertility” was not just “one” national cause, he said, but rather “the national cause. … And it is also a European cause: not just one European cause among many, but the European cause.”

This is the new language of a social conservatism emerging within pagan post-liberal Europe. A similar transformation has begun in Poland, where the Law and Justice Party is also pursuing a genuine Christian family policy.

More astonishingly, the same thing is happening in Italy. The lead party here is called The League. Matteo Salvini, since May 2018 the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Interior for Italy, has articulated a strong and consistent pro-family message.

Last summer, to choose one small example, he ordered that official Italian birth registration forms be changed so that same-sex couples could no longer both declare themselves as a child’s parent. As he explained: “We will defend the natural family founded on the union of a man and a woman. I will exert all the power possible.”

More concrete, positive measures by Italy’s new populist Government include a wonderful plan, outlined in its new budget proposal, to grant substantial parcels of state-held farmland for 20 years, at no cost, to parents who give birth to a third child between 2019 and 2021. Only formally married couples can apply; no civil unions. Moreover, the Government will also provide up to €200,000 ($A325,000) in a zero-interest loan to such couples who purchased their first home on or near the acquired land.

As an Agrarian myself, in the mode of G.K. Chesterton, I am delighted by this initiative. I suspect that B.A. Santamaria, an Agrarian himself and a grandson of Italy, would be as well.

In this context, Italy is important in another way right now. The Thirteenth World Congress of Families – the same event addressed in the past by Mr Santamaria and Mr Orban, among many others – was held in Verona, Italy, in March. The theme, appropriately, was “The Wind of Change: Europe and the Global Pro-Family Movement”. Our formal patrons include Mr Salvini; Lorenzo Fantana, Italy’s Minister for Family and Disability; Luca Zaia, the Governor of the Veneto region; and Federico Sboarina, the Mayor of Verona – the hometown, you may recall, of Romeo and Juliet!

So, how should people of faith go forward?

I see two mutually reinforcing paths: build communities of faith, such as new Christian villages, resting on close mutual support and function-rich homes; and charge back into electoral politics, unafraid this time to overturn established political conventions, as the Europeans are doing; unafraid to win, as found among the Africans; and unafraid to restore a Judeo-Christian moral and family order.

Do so in joy! For the good news in our situation is that everything is becoming clear now: the threats; the opportunities; and the certainty of victory, once again, of the Way of Life and Light over the Way of Death and Darkness.

The pagan persecutors who loathe infant life, one-flesh marital unions, and childhood innocence are here again, just as they were two thousand years ago. Remember, though, who won that contest … and why.

Dr Allan C. Carlson was the special guest of the National Civic Council at its 2019 National Conference. Dr Carlson has several times served as general secretary of the World Congress of Families. He has written extensively about the underlying causes of population decline, and the effects of taxation and regulation on the size and wellbeing of the family. His latest book is Family Cycles: Strength, Decline, and Renewal in American Domestic Life, 1630–2000 (2016).

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