Right-wing religious fervour rewrites history at Montville ANZAC Day Service
I have just attended my first ANZAC Day Dawn Service. It will be my last.
Pastor Mark Green of Queensland’s Montville Christian Outreach Centre delivered the address. It was the biggest load of right-wing, Christian fundamentalist, dog-whistling, ultra-nationalistic drivel I have ever heard. I am appalled our local RSL allowed the proceedings to be hijacked for such base political purpose.
I come from a military family. My grandfathers both fought in World War I. My father was stationed in Morotai in World War II, and had his mental health destroyed by the experience. Most of my uncles joined up and became alcoholics in the aftermath. My great-grandfather fought in the Sudan war. My brother served in the Australian navy and my cousin in the RAAF. I went to the Dawn Service to mark my pride in them, their service and their sacrifice. Thanks to Pastor Green, I left feeling ashamed to be an Australian.
Pastor Green began with the bald assertion that Australia is a Christian nation – ignoring the fact we were founded as a secular nation, albeit with a largely (nominal) Christian population. As evidence, he spoke of the Spanish navigator, De Queirós. Pastor Green told us (erroneously) that De Queirós declared all of the lands in the Southern Ocean as ‘Esperitu Santu’ – essentially, Holy Lands.
This factoid has clearly been confected to circumvent the discredited claim that De Queirós named Australia the “Southland of the Holy Spirit”.
The fact is, De Queirós mistook an island in the New Hebrides as part of mainland Terra Australis. Accordingly, this Mr Magoo of 17th century seamanship named the island, Australia del Espritu Santu. De Queirós geography was as wildly off-course as Pastor Green’s grasp of Australian history, values and national identity.
Ironically, protestant fundamentalist, Pastor Green, would be horrified if God had actually answered De Queirós prayers. The nomenclature assigned to the island signalled this religious zealot’s intention to convert all the people of Terra Australis to Catholicism. The success of such bold enterprises can be seen in the genocide of the Aztecs and the Incans and are echoed at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse.
Consistent with his church’s proud traditions, it is worth mentioning De Queirós journey into the South Pacific is noted for its “violent history of kidnap and killing and .. internecine strife.”
Gripped by a religious mania, De Queirós was a poor leader whose crew captured, killed, kidnapped, tortured, dismembered and robbed the native populations with whom they came in contact. I hardly think Pastor Green should be lauding De Queirós as the father of Australia’s ‘Christian values’.
Strengthening his argument that Australia is a “Christian nation”, Pastor Green turned to the Reverend Richard Johnson, who arrived in Australia in 1788 as chaplain to the First Fleet. According to Pastor Green, Richard Johnson was the first ashore at Botany Bay and took the opportunity to claim the land for God.
I can find no evidence to support this assertion but, even if it were true, it is meaningless. There is certainly no reference to it in Johnson’s entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. It seems Pastor Green may have Richard Johnson confused with Lieutenant George Johnston. According to his biography, Johnston may have been one of the first ashore at Port Jackson – sent ahead, on the shoulders of a convict, to collect fresh water. But it is not in the nature of fundamentalist Christians to let the truth get in the way of a good story.
A chaplain was added as an afterthought to the First Fleet, only after pressure was exerted by the politically influential Eclectic Society. A rationalist, Captain Arthur Phillip was singularly unimpressed by Reverend Johnson and refused the clergyman’s request to say a blessing at the foundation ceremonies on 26 January 1788. Johnson later wrote he was ‘left to stand under the shade of a tree, and was made to feel that neither God nor I was wanted at the foundation of the new nation’. It’s a rather powerful suggestion there was no intention by our founding fathers, either written or implied, to establish a “Christian nation”. If there were, Phillip would surely have been briefed accordingly.
Following the founding ceremonies on 26 January, Johnson did not get to conduct the country’s first church service (from a table under a tree) until 3 February. Even then, he was directed by Phillip to confine himself to ‘moral subjects’ – a directive he ignored.
Johnson’s influence on the colony was minimal to say the least. He was forced to build a church out of his own money. Services were poorly attended. When attendance was made compulsory the church was burned down.
Some years after he arrived in Australia in 1795, Governor John Hunter observed that, “.. a more wicked, abandon’d, and irreligious set of people have never been brought together in any part of the wo’ld.”
Hardly the “Christian nation” of Pastor Green’s political propaganda.
According to Pastor Green, it is likely the influential prayers of De Queirós and Richard Johnson protected Australia from invasion or from ever having a war fought on our soil. With the breath-taking Eurocentrism typical of the religious right, Pastor Green completely ignored the fact that we were the invaders and that a violent frontier war did, indeed, take place between Anglo-Celtic colonists and the indigenous population; a genocidal war which very nearly obliterated the Aboriginal population.
Pastor Green did not, of course, speak of the role of the Christian church in condoning and abetting the government’s theft of indigenous children; the missions’ refusal to allow children to retain their traditional language, customs and beliefs; or the fact that Aboriginal children were, too often, physically and sexually abused in their care.
No war? One might as well say there was no Gallipoli.
Pastor Green went on to speak of how Australia’s “values” emerged from this fine, “Christian heritage”. Completely ignorant of Australian history, the claim blithely ignores the influence of the Enlightenment philosophers, the Chartists whose ideology fuelled the Eureka Stockade, the Bulletin writers and poets, the Communists and trade unionists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the framers of our Constitution, and indeed, the ANZACS, themselves; groups which were all determinedly secular, and, in some cases downright anti-religious.
Pastor Green’s fiction also erases the contribution of the indigenous population, not to mention the Chinese, the Afghans, and those of other races and religions whose cultures have inevitably influenced ours. Christianity is just one of the many influences on Australian ‘values’. In fact, as I have argued elsewhere, (following political scientist, Hugh Collins), Australia is more accurately described as a Benthamite society given the extraordinary influence of atheist and Enlightenment philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, on our political and public institutions, constitution, national values and culture.
Yet, steadfastly, Pastor Green’s ANZAC Day address focused on the need to fight for the retention of Australia’s “Christian values”. Reading directly from the Australian Christian Lobby’s songbook, Green bewailed the fact that those who stand up for these, supposedly hegemonic, ‘values’ are labeled ‘racists’ and ‘bigots’ – a shameful dog-whistling call to Islamophobes and homophobes.
It is highly debatable whether the ANZACS actually went to war with thoughts of defending Australian ‘freedom’ or whether any of the military campaigns (successful or otherwise) achieved such an aim. It is unlikely the young men who set off to war had such high-minded ambitions. Naively, they thought of adventure and fun and comradeship, a bit of larrikinism and the chance to return home, lauded as heroes.
But we can say, for certain, they did not embark with the aim of clearing the way for an Australian theocracy nor of curtailing the freedoms of their fellow Australians through the imposition of an extremist, fundamentalist form of Christianity which had not even emerged at the time of the two world wars.
My father was a World War II veteran and would have been appalled at the ‘values’ Pastor Green attributes to him. ‘Values’ which call for the denial of the LGBTIQ community’s human right to marry the person they love. ‘Values’ which call for the defunding of an anti-bullying program because it functions to make schools safer for and more accepting of LGBTIQ students. ‘Values’ which seek to restrict women’s reproductive choices. ‘Values’ which seek to deny the terminally ill the right to die with dignity at the time of their own choosing. My father stood for none of these so-called ‘values’ and would have dismissed those who espoused them as “bloody Bible-bashing bastards’.
Pastor Green and his nationalistic, homophobic re-writing of Australian history bears no resemblance to the truth of why this country was founded or the values our diggers fought for. It does no honour to their legacy.
Let us talk about Australian ‘values’. This is a country in which 70 per cent of Australians support marriage equality. It is a country in which 80 per cent of voters support voluntary euthanasia. We live in a country in which 80 per cent of adults support women’s reproductive rights – including the right to a safe and legal abortion. And it is a country in which only 8 per cent of the population bother to haul their arses out of bed on a Sunday to attend church at least once a month. Even of those, only a tiny percentage attend churches which espouse the kinds of narrow-minded, Anglocentric, fundamentalist Christian ’values’ Pastor Green falsely attributes to Australians as a whole.
Let me state this plainly. Australia is not and has never been a Christian nation. Fundamentalist dog-whistling and historical white-washing has no place at an ANZAC Day commemoration. And Pastor Green and the organisers of Montville’s ANZAC Day ceremonies should be appalled and ashamed that an event which should unite Australians of all races and of all religions (and of none) was so outrageously co-opted to advance a nationalistic, right-wing, wildly inaccurate account of our nation’s founding principles.
As I stood in the grey-light of the dawn listening to Pastor Green rattle on about ‘Australian values’ and complain about being branded as a racist for his “Christian” views, I saw beside me a young woman of Indian appearance; her caucasian husband stood beside her, holding their toddler in his arms. They were a ‘typical’ Australian multicultural family. As Pastor Green blithely denied his racism, I saw her wince. I do not know what her family felt about Pastor Green’s address, but I saw them leave immediately after. They did not stay for coffee and rum and ANZAC biscuits.
And neither did I. I was sick to my stomach.(I should mention here that Chrys has a BA and first class honours degree in Australian history, literature and cultural studies: Ed)