Are Australian values based on the ‘Judaeo-Christian tradition’?

Irfan Yusuf points out that it isn’t just the whole idea of a citizenship test that is going to be controversial, it is also the questions and answers – in particular the answers.

Take question 15:

Australia’s values are based on the …

a. Teachings of the Koran

b. The Judaeo-Christian tradition

c. Catholicism

d. Secularism

Apparently ‘b’ is the correct answer if you want to pass the citizenship test. As Irfan says, the ‘Judaeo’ bit is stretching it. Judaism’s direct effect on Australian values is negligible. Only the long-ago influence of Judaism on Christianity (in the particular the Old Testament) can make any intellectual sense of this term; in reality Christianity has been the dominant faith in Australia and in Europe, from which most Australians came.

Ironically, in light of the choice against the Koran this question forces, the term ‘Judaeo-Christian’ was a 20th century effort to be more inclusive towards non-Christian religion rather than a serious description of religious or ‘values’ history.

But which Australian values are based on the ‘Judaeo-Christian tradition’? Not obviously those on offer in question 14:

4. Which of the following are Australian values?

a. Men and women are equal

b. `A fair go’

c. Mateship

d. All of the above

If you want your Australian passport, answer ‘d’. ‘a’ may be officially correct, but if so it is a recent Australian value – and one still not fully accepted by the ‘Judaeo-Christian’ tradition from which Australian values are supposedly derived, as the on-going disputes over the ordination of women show. Indeed, modern Australian values have in part evolved against the Judaeo-Christian tradition, drawing more on the Enlightenment values that have challenged Christianity for more than two centuries. The intellectual heirs to the Enlightenment are still doing mopping up operations against Christian objections to gender equality, homosexuality, and some forms of scientific research.

And while I suppose ‘a fair go’ and ‘mateship’ could be read into some passages of the Bible, I doubt that this is where these notions/sentiments come from. Some version of ‘mateship’ is surely present in every culture, and other countries are more preoccupied with ‘fairness’ than Australia.

Not all the questions raise as many issues as these (though Irfan points out that a couple of the civics questions aren’t as straightforward as they seem). But it does show how hard it is – presuming it is not impossible – to reduce something as complex as ‘Australian values’ to multiple choice questions.

30 Responses to “Are Australian values based on the ‘Judaeo-Christian tradition’?

  • 1
    Damien Eldridge
    May 19th, 2007 11:42

    The pm mentioned the importance of sport to the Australian culture in a news clip that I saw about the citizenship test recently. Does this mean that we would reject upstanding people because they happened to dislike sporting contests?

  • 2
    Damien Eldridge
    May 19th, 2007 11:45

    Or would we reject them only if they didn’t happen to memorise information about Australia’s sporting history. What was the Don’s test batting average at the end of his career? Who won the 1970, 1979 and 1981 VFL premierships and who did they beat in the grand final in each of those years?

  • 3
    Andrew Norton
    May 19th, 2007 13:22

    There is a sport question:

    4. Which is a popular sport in Australia?

    a. Ice hockey

    b. Water polo

    c. Cricket

    d. Table tennis

    I’m not a sports fan, but hard to deny it is an important part of Australian culture.

  • 4
    Sinclair Davidson
    May 19th, 2007 13:25

    Dennis Praeger, at TownHall.com, has written a series of articles on Judeo-Christian values (US spelling) and modern life. Several years ago I wrote him saying that there could be no such thing as Judeo-Christian values. Judaism is based on a belief in a single God, while Christianity has a trinity of Gods (that somehow are one). He wrote back basically saying everyone knows what I (Dennis Praeger) mean. He is right. While scholars may quibble about the gory (and, at times it has been very gory) detail, the basic point remains unchanged. Australia has predominately British institutions that evolved in a particular milieu and would be recognisably described as being “judaeo-Christian”.

    Damien, as you know, baiting lefties is a sport and we should have more migrants who excell at that sport. (And knowing when Collingwood has lost a grandfinal. My question would be, which team cheated in the 1999 semi-final?)

  • 5
    derrida derider
    May 19th, 2007 13:51

    Surely “secularism” is the right answer. After all it’s the religious conservatives themselves (Protestant, Catholic and Muslim) who bemoan modern society as infected by “godless secular humanism”, which they regard as the enemy. I’d be really pissed if I chose (d) and was marked wrong.

    And, yeah, the addition of “Judeo-” is a dishonest attempt at a faux-inclusiveness. It is an attempt to hide the sectarian intolerance of the term’s American originators, who have a strong and not-so-hidden agenda.

  • 6
    Dave Bath
    May 19th, 2007 14:16

    Given the teachings of the Koran include the stories of Abraham, Joseph’s (of Technicolor Dreamcoat fame) and Jesus, the Koran is firmly in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Indeed, theological “archaeology” looks to Islam to find the remnants of early Christianity (untouched by Constantine).

    The term “Judeo-Christian” only promotes intolerance, rather than the correct term “Abrahamist”, which would encourage understanding – if the typical “religious” person actually understood religion.

  • 7
    Bring Back CL's blog
    May 19th, 2007 15:42

    by gingo sinkers you need to read Genesis again. your explanation of the trinity is almost islamic!!

    Australia is by far a secular nation. Aren’t we sooo lucky two ‘christians’ are our party leaders

  • 8
    Sinclair Davidson
    May 19th, 2007 15:50

    Having gone through the existing citizenship test, I can report that the immigration department send you the questions and the answers in advance. Like all test, the individuals taking the test are exposed to the answers and need to learn them.

  • 9
    phil
    May 19th, 2007 15:59

    e) Knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

    or my favourite

    f) I’m all right Jack.

    You know it makes sense.

  • 10
    Geoff Honnor
    May 19th, 2007 20:51

    The Judeo-Christian belief system generated Islam – and Catholicism, obviously – and I doubt that that secularism would be possible without the Enlightenment, itself produced by the same tradition. And DD if you know how we could have got to “Christian” or “Islam” without “Judeo”, I’ll look forward to hearing your exposition.

    It’s pretty straightforward. Isn’t it? Let’s acknowledge that we’re all secular humanists now but, leaving aside our problems with terminologies, the desire not to offend and the horror-inducing possibility of being mistaken for Jerry Falwell or worse – someone connected to the Anglican Archdiocese of Sydney – I’m not sure what the point of contention is.

  • 11
    Russell
    May 19th, 2007 21:32

    Surely question 15 is just looking ahead a little – with an ever increasing proportion of the country’s children being funneled into Christian schools (as applauded by Andrew) Australia may yet become a Christian nation.

  • 12
    Panadawn
    May 20th, 2007 06:17

    Also, Capitalism is a result of the Protestant Ethic, so I actually think Judeo-Christian tradition is the correct answer.

    I am an atheist, but to not acknowledge the advances the Judeo-Christian tradition has given the western world is ignorant, and based only in political correctness.

  • 13
    Spiros
    May 20th, 2007 09:54

    “everyone knows what I (Dennis Praeger) mean.”

    The Judeo-Christian tradition is then reduced to being like pornography. You can’t define it but everyone knows it when they see it.

    Perhaps the not best basis for a citizenship test …

  • 14
    Fred Argy
    May 20th, 2007 11:48

    Thank you Andrew for your brilliant post. It really makes us all think.

  • 15
    Club Troppo » Heritage, mate?
    May 20th, 2007 12:48

    [...] Ken and Nick – not to mention Monday’s Missing Link – by remarking on this story, which has done the rounds of the leading Australian blogs already. Judaeo-Christian heritage? Perhaps [...]

  • 16
    Leon
    May 20th, 2007 13:58

    I think any citizenship test should be based on civics and laws, not broad, vague, contentious and loaded cultural issues. And legally, Australia is secular.

  • 17
    jack strocchi
    May 20th, 2007 16:21

    Andrew Norton posted on Saturday, May 19th, 2007 at 10:54 am

    modern Australian values have in part evolved against the Judaeo-Christian tradition, drawing more on the Enlightenment values that have challenged Christianity for more than two centuries.

    The notion that modern Australian values have “evolved against the Judeao-Christian tradition” is a serious misreading of Australian and Christian history.

    Community is founded on shared values. The founding fathers of the Australian polity were all Christian as were the founders of the trade union movement and most hospitals and schools.

    Christianity got on well enough with the more sensible Enlightenment philosophes for most of the past two hundred years. Especially in Australia which was overwhelmingly Christian until about a generation ago.

    Religious observance started its precipitous decline in the sixties. What brought Christian establishment down was the pill, mass uni education and several forms of consumer capitalism. Plus the usual suspects: pee-cee, po-mo and multi-culti.

    All forms of traditional authority went down hill from that time on. The State, Church and Family have been replaced by fashionable authorities from financial, cultural and political worlds.

    Christianity did not spring into existence ab initio. It is a world-historical synthesis of the Judeaeo-Greco-Romano tradition. There is an obvious compositional fallacy in seperating Christianity from its Judaic, Hellenic and Italic roots.

    Christianity is, in part, a Judaic sect. Also the Roman empire institutionalised Christianity, since it adopted and spred it ie Catholic Church = Holy Roman Empire. Further, the early Church bore the intellectual imprint of the Greeks through the Council of Nicea, St Augustines theology and the Greek translations of the Bible.

    It is also misleading to say that “Enlightenment values that have challenged Christianity for more than two centuries”. The notion that the main civil values of modernity sprang into existence around the time of the French Revolution is a nonsense. To lay all the glories of our civilization at the door of a few secular philosophers playing bit parts in political upheavals is a something of a stretch.

    For sure the Franco-Enlightenement was irreligious, but we know what a mess that made. The Anglo-Enlightenment was far more sympathetic to religious values. But even this overstates the Enlightenment case.

    Modernity has its roots in the revovery of Occidental Christendom from the Dark Ages, through the Carolingian Rennaissance. Obviously the modernising process continued with the Italian Rennaissance, the Reformation and Enlightenment.

    The liturgical, lingual, logical and legal values of classical antiquity gave us the basic intellectual template to judge institutional forms of Enlightened modernity. The guiding principle that links Occidental antiquity to Enlightened modernity is: institutional authority must be accountable to individual autonomies. Think Senatorial bodies, contractual law, blind justice statues etc.

    The modern Enlightenment is mostly a product of the secularisation of these antique values. Cutting off the ecclesiastical head but keeping the sociological body.

    The apologists for the Enlightenment also like to make out that all good things started with the Atlantic revolutions of the late 18th century. The Enlightenment tends to consume itself when it becomes too hostile to religion eg the French and Russian revolutions. It is no accident that is American Revolution, the most successful revolution of modernity, was also the most religiously inspired.

    Andrew Norton says:

    The intellectual heirs to the Enlightenment are still doing mopping up operations against Christian objections to gender equality, homosexuality, and some forms of scientific research.

    This is a classic example of the ideologico-deductive fallacy which bookish people who frequent the low dens of Carlton are prone to make. You should consider the plausible counter-factuals, not to mention basic socio-biology.

    Ethnology conditions “ethic-ology”. Patriarchal, racial and sexual oppression is a product of hominid tribal organization. It predates religious denominational civilization by aeons.

    Sectarian religions usually come up when tribal sentiments are strongest eg the Deep South of the US or the badlands of South West Asia.

    In fact a strong case could be made that broad churches instutionalised greater protection for vulnerable minorities from possibly rapacious Alpha-males. The story of how Christian institutions, over a millenia, civilized the Goths, Vandals and Hun war-lords by making them chivalrous is instructive. That is why the knight-errant Evelyn Waugh insisted that “Catholicism makes me better than I otherwise might be”.

    For sure some minorities (women, coloureds, gays) did not get the best seats in the Christian house. But they tended to get a better look in through Christianity than in other religions. Certainly Christianity, with its female saints and demi-gods, gave more hope to women than any other great religion. That is why women tend to be more devout Christians.

    And while I suppose ‘a fair go’ and ‘mateship’ could be read into some passages of the Bible, I doubt that this is where these notions/sentiments come from. Some version of ‘mateship’ is surely present in every culture, and other countries are more preoccupied with ‘fairness’ than Australia.

    Concepts such as “have a go”, “fair go” and “mateship” are probably insitinctual. But instinctal sentiments require intellectual validation and insitutional carnation to be expressed properly.

    Australia is a cultural province of Anglo-America. Our institutions are a legacy of the Anglo-Enlightenment. Our colloquial ideology is a folk expression of the Franco-Enightenment: libertarian “have a go”, egalitarian “fair go” and communitarian “mateship”.

    Christianity was the communitarian basis for both main ideologies of modernity: capitalism and statism. The notion of the brotherhood of man is obviously foundational to “mateship”.

    It was a powerful engine for those willing to “have a go” at libertarian capitalism. Remember the parable of the talents inspired the Protestant Work Ethic? But it was also a powerful engine for those who believed in the “fair go” from egalitarian statism. Remember the parable of the rich man difficulty in getting into heaven inspired Methodist trade unionists.

    Communitarian nationalism (or globalism maybe one day) is a necessary condition for libertarian capitalism and egalitarian statism. Freedom and fairness cannot exist in a socio-historical vacum.

    Andrew Norton says:

    But it does show how hard it is – presuming it is not impossible – to reduce something as complex as ‘Australian values’ to multiple choice questions.

    I agree. But we wouldnt be in this pickle had a proper immigration policy based on integration been followed in the first place. Instead we have had one based on differentiation (multiculturalism). This is a licence for premodern tribalism which immediately puts us in catch up mode if we want to build a modern civilization.

    The simplest way out of this bind is to just impose high IQ tests on immigrants. They will be smart enought to work out how to integrate themselves to modernity. This is why North East Asians tend to convert to Presbytherianism.

    The post-modern multiculturalists are just to dopey to figure this out, despite being paid a full weeks wage to state the bleeding obvious cultural facts. They should be consigned to the Dustbin of History.

  • 18
    jack strocchi
    May 20th, 2007 18:47

    Sorry about the lengthy response above.

    Shorter Strocchi:

    Christianity has usually been friendly to the Open Society. Why can’t the supporters of the Open Society return the favour?

  • 19
    Jeremy
    May 20th, 2007 20:24

    “What brought Christian establishment down was the pill, mass uni education and several forms of consumer capitalism.”

    Umm … how, exactly?

    I’m interested to hear how people’s faith in the creator of the universe and saviour of mankind from eternal damnation was eroded by Thursday late night shopping.

  • 20
    Russell
    May 20th, 2007 21:31

    “late night shopping” – explains itself: “late night” anything is suspect, shifty, not respectable, anti-family, and one foot on the slippery slope to addictive, debauched, Godless anarchy.

  • 21
    jack strocchi
    May 20th, 2007 22:58

    Jeremy May 20th, 2007 20:24

    I’m interested to hear how people’s faith in the creator of the universe and saviour of mankind from eternal damnation was eroded by Thursday late night shopping.

    People found that they could get what they wanted (gee whiz goods) and not get what they didnt want (extra pregnancies) by material rather than spiritual means. So no need to employ a Deistic Santa or Devilish Scrooge dispensing these blessings and curses from the sky.

  • 22
    Jeremy
    May 21st, 2007 08:56

    ‘People found that they could get what they wanted (gee whiz goods) and not get what they didn’t want (extra pregnancies) by material rather than spiritual means. So no need to employ a Deistic Santa or Devilish Scrooge dispensing these blessings and curses from the sky.’

    And when did this happen, exactly – 1960? Between 1963 and 1966?

    Given the fact that shops selling goods directly to paying consumers had existed side-by-side with thriving churches for centuries, and the phenomenal growth in the Pentacostal churches is happening when hippies like Hugh MacKay and Clive Hamilton are telling us we’re more materialistic than ever, your case isn’t exactly strong, Jack.

    You might also want to incorporate into your theory such phenomena as: Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’; the disillusioning effect of the meaningless mass slaughter in the First and Second World Wars; and growing contact (as a result of imperialism) with non-Christian cultures who had done very well for millenia without ever hearing of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    I’m sure there are more reasons. But ‘consumer capitalism’ ain’t one of them, and including it in your list risks placing you in the ‘Clive Hamilton set’.

  • 23
    Rajat Sood
    May 21st, 2007 09:27

    Sinclair, to ask such a question, you must be an Essendon fan. I would thus respond, “Carlton” (my team, North Melbourne, being the beneficiary). Good to see an Indian first generation migrant can pass your test ;-)

  • 24
    The Bartlett Diaries
    May 21st, 2007 09:59

    Testing Times…

    The federal government has leaked to a newspaper a sample of the questions they are allegedly planning to put on their new citizenship test.
    One of the lesser noticed measures in the Budget was the announcement that an extra $123 million will be spe…

  • 25
    Sinclair Davidson
    May 21st, 2007 10:00

    Well done Rajat – you can stay. :)

  • 26
    purity control at a roll of the dice
    May 21st, 2007 11:16

    [...] Australians will realise that they are supposed to answer (b). Leaving aside the very questionable inclusion of ‘Judaeo’ (let’s be charitable, in accordance with the values of [...]

  • 27
    Club Troppo » Missing Link: YHBT. YHL. HAND.
    May 21st, 2007 19:37

    [...] led by the redoubtable Irfan Yusuf and followed by Legal Eagle, Larvatus Prodeo, Catallaxy, Andrew Norton, Club Troppo, Tim Dunlop and Andrew Bartlett dissected some of the sillier questions. They were [...]

  • 28
    Andrew Bartlett
    May 21st, 2007 20:34

    Regardless of what’s in the test, it’s going to cost $123 million extra to develop and administer – when as far as I know no substantive case has been put forward indicating any problems with the existing system for qualifying for citizenship. A lot to pay for fuzzy, intellectually shoddy symbolism.

    We have record numbers of residency visas being issued (whihc is something I don’t have a problem with), so if we genuinely want to make sure all those new residents integrate better, we could put that money to far better use assisting them when they first arrive, rather than give them a multiple choice test a minimum of 4 years after they’ve got here.

  • 29
    derrida derider
    May 23rd, 2007 12:04

    Shorter [and much better] Strocchi:

    Christianity has usually been friendly to the Open Society. Why can’t the supporters of the Open Society return the favour?

    That’s a peculiar view of religion’s role in modern history – I would have said that organised Christianity was the principal western opponent of an Open Society right up until the mid 20th century, when communism and fascism took over.

    Perhaps you’ve read Hume and his distinction between Enthusiasm and Superstition (he thought the former objectively helpful and the latter objectively harmful to liberty, and like you cited the American revolution as evidence). I wasn’t convinced by him on this and I’m not by you, Jack.

    Where christianity favours an open society, I’ll be ‘friendly’ to it. But as a matter of objective political fact the influence exerted by this disparate collection of superstitions organised to keep people in subjection to self-appointed authority still tends to close, not open up, society.

    On the citizenship test, what Andrew Bartlett says.

  • 30
    Terje Petersen
    May 27th, 2007 10:11

    My vote is for (d). However some other options that would have brightened up (or dumbed down) the debate might have been:-

    * Abrahamic Religious Tradition
    * Aboriginal tradition