Saturday, November 13, 2004

Pompous Prelate Pontificates Preposterously

Yesterday must have been a slow opinion day at Fairfax; it's the only explanation I can think of for the appearance of that silly article by Australia's own prince of the church, George Pell.

As The Age notes, at the end of the article, it is in fact

an edited extract from his address to the annual dinner of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

This gala shindig took place in Grand Rapids, Michigan on October 12th. No doubt Prince George's remarks over the brandy and cigars went down a little better with the assembled members of the institute than they have with Ken Parish and a few others.

While Ken makes some interesting and very salient points in his rebuttal of Pell's fact-neutral, logic-neutral arguments, it seems to me that he's been a little misled by the dislocation of the article from its original time and place. Pell made the speech to a coterie of American god-botherers in the lead up to the US presidential election. His remarks on liberal, or as George prefers secular democracy, would have obvious relevance in that context. Whether they are relevant here is another matter.

As we all know, and have known since 1999, Australia is not a democracy in any way shape or form; it's a constitutional monarchy. Whatever deficiencies there might be in Australian public life, they're not the deficiencies of a “secular democracy”, except coincidentally. And unlike a secular democracy, a constitutional monarchy has, in the persons of the monarch and royal family, a continuing demonstration of “the transcendent dignity of the human person”.

This is why I haven't been moved to a state of decadent panic by Pell's piece. True, Australia has pornography and abortion, marriage breakdowns, IVF and stem cell research – all things which, according to George define secular democracy and disfigure democracy (there's no point arguing with George's position here; by the time he gets to this point in his argument it's become completely reason-neutral and possibly sanity-neutral as well). But in 1999 we decided that for the foreseeable future we were going to stay a constitutional monarchy. So I can't see much point in worrying about the alleged evils of secular democracy until something resembling secular democracy is actually on the cards in this country.

So, if Pell's argument is irrelevant in the Australian context, is it at all relevant to the US? Well, he manages to sound one timely, if inadvertent, warning:

The recrudescence of intolerant religion is not a problem that secular democracy can resolve, but rather a problem that it tends to engender.

Now there's a petard if ever I saw one.

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