My first connection with the amalgam of religion and politics started at an early age … 1956 … Grade One at St Theresa’s Catholic School. It was late summer, I know because I remember seeing the sharp black shadow of the corner of the tuck-shop building angled across the verandah just outside the class-room door … also I suffered from an incurable blight of my birthday being on the very day school returned after the summer holidays. I have to surmise from my now advanced age and experience that the door was open to let in a cross-breeze as the heat and odour from fifty odd (that’s ‘odd’ as in generic, not psychotic … we weren’t Protestants, you know!) kiddies would be too much for even the most hardened teacher to bear.
She was a small young nun, was our teacher, Sister Mary Francis. I remember that too, because I loved her as I grew older. Well, her face at least … for it was still the days of the habit … but hang on a sec … back to topic!
Late Summer, just before noon (the shadow; remember?), when the Principal; ‘Mother’ Mary Margaret came into the room and said; “Good morning, children” … ”Good Morning–‘Mother’—Marr-grit” (automatic chorus) … and we were soon exhorted to say a Hail-Mary to the Virgin Mary so that communism wouldn’t take over the world … we all had to scramble to kneel in the aisle between desks.
It seems to have worked.
But it never cured my hives, you know; God = mysterious ways. Though I have to wonder; if greed and envy, those two driving forces of rampant capitalism and prime suspects in the list of the seven deadly sins get no mention in “prayers to stop taking over the world” … and communism, a doctrine in its purest intent (just like religion) being a plan for equality of communities on earth, yet gets canned as being “ungodly” … what gives?
This idea that there is a whole population waiting with baited breath for some god-like revelation that will fix the economy, solve climate change, steer the nation to a more moral and ethical path (that’s the end of religion, then!) and make the Liberal Party look like a reincarnation of the “Church of The Sacred Heart Chapel Choir” all singing in tune … well; it just ain’t gonna happen, so put away the banners, the prayer-books and the excuses, there never has been and there never will be divine intervention in Australian things … ask the Indigenous people! … except in your own mind and in your private dreams … best wishes and good luck to you on that!
But now we have these “fanaticised” young men sacrificing their sweet youth and future potential to the dubious reward of a heavenly after-life. Yes, the Mormon Church has a lot to answer for … as, of course do the other Abrahamic religions. I am forced to recall the dangers these impetuous youths place themselves in with the tale from one of my mates in days gone by, when he was having a face to face brawl with his wife in their housing-unit … a screaming, plate-thrower of a brawl! He, typical male, was strategically stationed by the most convenient escape route, she ‘cunning woman’, by the ‘ammunition’, when the door-bell rang … being just there he flung the door open just as the last dulcet tones of “Avon Calling!” faded away, to see two wide-eyed, smartly dressed young men (one with finger still attached to bell-button) standing there … you know them: sharp-pressed white shirt, slim tie, black suit trousers, patent leather shoes so polished you could see your soul or women’s underwear – perhaps both – in the reflection! And high Summer … one studied look up, then down and to the satchel was enough …
“Ge-het f*cked!” was the most insalubrious greeting for these men of god. The door slammed and the young men turned away, but not before being heard to mutter in that distinctive American drawl; ”Well, mahey the lawwd have mershee on His soul!” Dangerous work = the work of god.
However, it is an American thing, surely, this religious-ising of politics in the West; the vacant ecclesiastical stare, the glib reference to god … it’s certainly un-Australian … for all those childhood years of Catholic indoctrination has taught me only two things; a) to never take religion seriously, and b) to always leave the Melbourne Cup sweep kitty in the hands of a nun!
Not to say religion hasn’t penetrated (is that the right word?) into the political life here, it’s just that in Australia, I like to believe it has followed the well-intentioned path of European Christianity via plain, run of the mill bribery and corruption … sort of like Fagan and his child army, god bless ’em … just simple down-to-earth deceit! Why, even when I was an altar boy under old Father Collins (be nice), I could see there was a degree of honest intent in the religious soul. Once, I snuck a look around the door from the altar boys into the priest’s vestry and there he was, with a small glass of the altar wine in hand and he gazing deeply into it, presumably looking for its soul (I’ve seen the same look since, with other men, before tackling a “hair of the dog” on a Sunday morn’ at the local), then softly consecrated it with; “Saint Benedict, bless my soul!” and quaffed it in one gulp, kissed the cross on the surplice and ascended into the fray! It was Pentecost … he must have needed it!
Tho’ surely, I can’t help but feel that if these radicalised young people were given a glimpse, a vision splendid, through the window of sage old age … they might be inclined to pass off all those incandescent actions and violence as nothing more than what seemed “a good idea at the time” and go a different course. Such is the impetuousness of youth, foolishness and impropriety are at their beck and call, and it can only be luck and chance that get some through the passage of youthful intensity, for there must be some truth in the “Boomer’s” cant that fitted the age like a dick-in-a-sock and served a whole generation so well … “Make love, Not war”.
On that note I remember sitting in the Darwin Hotel one balmy ‘70s afternoon with my old-time mining and travelling mate, Bernie Bandler and talking of one childhood associate; Louie Lewrouni, a keen, gangling always opened-mouthed, toothy, spikey-haired lad with coke-bottle glasses.
“I remember us two kids, the day after Guy Fawkes night,” Bernie recounted. “We had found at the park, a sky-rocket that hadn’t been used and we fired it off and kept an eye on where it landed so we could get it back.” … a sip of beer … “It landed behind the Caltex garage there on South Road and we ran like hell to get it … but we couldn’t find it … there was this old canvas hooded car there, a Whippet or Model ‘T’ or something with the big petrol tank behind the open back seat … it had no petrol cap and I said to Louie;‘ Maybe it went in the tank?’ ” … a sip of beer … ”I gave him a box of matches I had (all boys had matches … good scouts!) and he lit one and held it to the opening to look in.” The following result I will leave your knowledge to fill in, save the fact that luckily, the tank had been without cap and empty for such a long time that there was no volatile explosion but a whooshing-rush of heat and flame out of the opening that left Louie, when he looked up at Bernie in shock and surprise with his glasses falling down off his face, “he … he looked like Al Jolson in one of those minstrel shows.” Bernie laughed at the memory … ’til I asked him what in Heaven’s name made him think of doing such a stupid thing. He sipped his beer and commenced to formulate a ‘rollie’ … ”Dunno … seemed like a good idea at the time.”