Catholic Values and Australian Realities
James Franklin

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Catholic Values and Australian Realities

Binding: Paperback
Publisher: Connor Court Publishing
ISBN: 9780975801543
Price: $29.95
Dimensions: 148mm x 210mm
Pages: 142
An Australian Author

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Australian Catholics have made a unique contribution to the nation. At its centre is a solid grasp of the objectivity of ethics. Persons or societies cannot 'choose their own values', because what is right and wrong is founded in the way things are. In his wide-ranging book on Australian Catholic thought and action, James Franklin, author of the much-praised polemical history of Australian philosophy, Corrupting the Youth, shows how core Catholic values have played out in the issues where Catholics have challenged their host society - in debates on land rights, immigration and values in schools, and in combats with Freemasons, Protestants and Communists.


An intellectual odyssey
By Dr Samuel Gregg
21 May, 2006

Australians are often regarded as somewhat suspicious of intellectuals and more generally the world of ideas.

In many respects, such scepticism is warranted.

If Marx thought that religion was the opiate of the masses, then ideology is surely the drug of the intellectuals.

Given that the elixir of ideology – most especially in various Marxist guises –- contributed to the imprisonment, torture, and death of millions throughout the 20th century, there are good reasons to be wary of intellectuals’ contributions to the currents shaping public and private life.

It is difficult to disagree with the claim that, for some time, the world of ideas in Australia and the West has been dominated by various strands of secularist thought.

The particular contribution of James Franklin’s Catholic Values and Australian Realities (2006) is to underline the extent to which Catholic beliefs and ideas have challenged and occasionally moderated much of the soft-secularist consensus enveloping Australian society.

A mathematics lecturer at the University of NSW, Franklin identifies his book’s purpose as being to move Catholic Australians beyond the caricature of “Irish tribal loyalties, Labour but anti-communist politics, childhoods full of guilt and incense.” (p.1)

To this end, Franklin aspires to reveal the deeper reasoning that generated Catholic conflict with movements ranging from masonry to communism, much of which is traced to, first, a commitment to natural law ethics and, second, an in-principle opposition to anything inspired by atheistic or utilitarian visions of the human person.

In doing so, Franklin brings to our attention a great deal of historical information of interest to many audiences.

The first half of this book deals with events and movements in the life of the Catholic people of Australia.

Thus Franklin examines figures such as Fr Paddy Ryan, MSC, and BA Santamaria, not to mention Catholic involvement in reshaping Australian immigration policy and combating Marxism.

The book’s second half is of a more thematic nature, focusing on questions such as Catholic influence upon education policy in Australia, to the High Court’s 1992 Mabo judgment.

Readers will find that this book sheds genuine light upon facets of Catholic Australian history that have hitherto only been addressed in a peripheral fashion.

Less satisfactory is a certain unevenness that pervades the text, with the historical sections being somewhat weightier than some of its philosophical analysis.

One point that may require further elaboration by Franklin, perhaps in a future book, is the extent to which most contemporary Catholic Australian intellectual life has more-or-less assimilated itself to the secularist zeitgeist that exercises a largely unchallenged hegemony throughout almost all Australian universities and Australian intellectual life more broadly.

Throughout this book, Franklin hints at his awareness of this disturbing trend.

Many would argue that, instead of renewing Catholic intellectual life through reflection upon the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the late John Paul II’s encyclicals, most Catholic Australian intellectuals have invested much of their energy in the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle articulation and popularisation of dissent, with the apparent objective of making Catholicism as inoffensive as possible to the secularist mind.

Certainly there are exceptions to this rule, including such genuinely international figures as the theologian Tracey Rowland, the philosopher Archbishop Eric D’Arcy, the poets Les Murray and Fr Peter Steele, SJ, the bioethicist Bishop Anthony Fisher and the novelist Christopher Koch.

The irony, however, is that the strategy pursued by others of making Catholicism more attractive by dumbing-down its profoundly rich albeit intellectually demanding content and producing pale imitations of whatever happens to be the latest secular

academic fashion has not produced any discernible renaissance in Catholic intellectual life or the Church in Australia.

Instead it has facilitated a number of tragedies, ranging from a generation of Catholic educators who know little-to-nothing about the content of the Catholic Faith, to, as Franklin observes, the less-than-coherent thinking articulated by the now-defunct Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and its associated journal National Outlook.

This is important, not least because, as Franklin notes, Catholic Australians need to understand what they have done in the past if they are to shape Australia in the twenty-first century.

In Franklin’s view, the essence of that past contribution was a firm conviction that moral truth is objective and can be known by humans through their power of reason.

In a culture increasingly steeped in forms of relativism and utilitarianism to which many Catholic Australians have proved just as susceptible as their fellow citizens, it is difficult to imagine a more radical message.

Dr Samuel Gregg is Director of Research at the Acton Institute in the United States.

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This product was added to our catalog on Friday 17 August, 2007.

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