A number of years ago a country student studying at a Catholic boarding school, informed his Housemaster that he had decided not to attend Mass as he felt that compulsory attendance at Mass was an imposition on his basic human rights, – writes Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania in Church and Life.

The Housemaster came to me requesting that I speak with the boy. When the boy arrived at my office, I quizzed him as to whether what his Housemaster had told me was indeed completely accurate; the student concurred, and with a smug look on his face, added that this was his final decision, and that nothing would make him change. As Providence would have it, a number of days prior to this meeting, I had come in receipt of a glossy prospectus of another ‘rival’ school. I placed this on the table in front of the student, and calmly asked him to look through the contents of the booklet. I asked him whether he was aware of the existence of this school; he replied that he certainly was. I then calmly added: “James, at this other school, you do not have to attend Mass, nor do you have more than 40 minutes of religious instruction a fortnight. If you would like me to call your parents and advise that you consider attending this school, I will gladly do this, so that you will not have your rights further imposed upon.” The student looked at me stunned, and quizzed: “Are you serious?” I immediately responded. “Of course I am James!” Then I added: “James, the last thing I want you to be, is unhappy. I know that I can fill your place at the school within a day with ten other boys, who have your particular skill set, who would appreciate all that this school has to offer. What will it be James?” James told me that he would stay. To which I replied: “James, when you were enrolled at this school, your parents agreed in your name that although you may not be a practicing Catholic, or perhaps adhere to any religious faith, that you would respect the religious tradition of this school, and that means studying religious instruction, and attending Mass. That is the fundamental contract by which you entered the school. If you choose not to agree to this contract, why make the school’s life, or your life more difficult?” James was an outstanding sportsman, and was thoroughly immersed in this dimension of student life. There was to be no further issue with him for the rest of his time at the school. Essentially what James wanted from the school, were some of its fruits – but without the tap root.

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This vignette about James, is in fact a microcosm of a larger problem in Australian society, one that is beginning to tear at the moral, spiritual and cultural fabric of what we have steadily grown to take for granted – the historical Christian identity of our nation. Rather than saying that there is a shift now toward atheism, I would suggest that there is a shift toward ambivalent hypocrisy; a situation where Australians do not reject the existence of God, but rather do not seek out a relationship with him, or want to know whether he does or does not exist, as there is too much fun going on elsewhere, that they could be having. Let me expand upon this.

I would suggest that there is a shift toward ambivalent hypocrisy; a situation where Australians do not reject the existence of God, but rather do not seek out a relationship with him, or want to know whether he does or does not exist, as there is too much fun going on elsewhere, that they could be having.

Easter is once more upon us, and so that we do not insult the cultural sensitivities of any minority group, we in Australia have steadily diluted the Easter message of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to something that the most religiously ambivalent amongst us can accept; fables about Easter rabbits and chocolate eggs. Many of us will be watching televised sport over the Easter break, gorging on Hot Cross Buns, that were being sold in our supermarkets, a few days after Christmas. Without a single doubt, not one of the sports commentators, will welcome viewers by saying: “Good afternoon, and welcome to the Easter Sunday match, and a special welcome as we celebrate today the Resurrection of Christ.” It is so ironic that if a commentator was to say this – undoubtedly they would risk losing their jobs. Herein lies the level of hypocrisy in Australian society. The vast majority of Australians will be offered and will take Good Friday, Easter Saturday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday off work. In addition there are significant numbers of Australians who will also have Easter Tuesday as a holiday. This said, very few Australians, proportionate to the entire working population, and holiday-takers, will attend any form of religious celebration over Easter; but these people also now speak up, with sheer affront, to determine how and what should occur over the Easter weekend. On the solemn, Good Friday, we hear the vociferous pagan calling for, and being granted: sports, gambling, and drinking, and by so doing perverting the very reason for the day having been granted to them in the first place, so as to respect the religious dimension of the day. Likewise, the majority of Australians will not attend Mass at Christmas, but they take Boxing Day, and have polluted this day by attacking the shops for discounts. If Australia seeks to avoid the moniker of being a nation of ever swelling hypocrisy, then as a people we should not only be honest enough to turn away from the Church, and Christianity, but also not detract from our nation’s productivity, by falsely taking days off work for religious observances that we no longer observe; days such as Christmas and Easter, as well as every weekend, the existence of the latter that we only have because of the religious observance of the Sabbath, traditionally running from dusk on the Saturday to dusk on the Sunday. When will we realise that the majority of holidays we have in our nation, were established as holy-days, and if they are no longer holy, why have them? (cf. Mark 2: 27)

Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania

This article was published in The Church and Life Newspaper, March 2018