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The Sins of the Georges

By Kirsten Tona

Note: This article was written before George Pell’s passing. We have kept it in the tense it was written.

There’s a moment in the recording of Cardinal George Pell debating Richard Dawkins on QandA that is one of the most revealing statements Pell has ever made; which says more about him and his worldview than arguably any other example from his long history in public life.

The moment comes at 18:59 minutes into the hour-long video. Cardinal Pell is talking about why God came to the Jewish people, and he says:

“… so for some extraordinary reason, God chose the Jews. They weren’t intellectually the equivalent of the Egyptians … [as you can see from] the fruits of their civilisation. Egypt was the great power, for thousands of years, before Christianity. Persia was a great power. Chaldea. The poor little Jewish people, they were shepherds. They were stuck, they’re still stuck, between these great powers.”

Tony Jones, not one to let slip such an opportunity, immediately pulls Pell up on this and asks him directly whether by this he means that the most famous of all Jewish men, Jesus Christ, was intellectually not up to it. Pell tries to sidle past this excellent point as Dawkins looks on in wry, disdainful, amusement and the half of the audience not in thrall to the Catholic Church cheers.

Leaving aside the blatant and ugly antisemitism of Pell here, the point I am talking about is the way Pell reveals his utter disdain for “the poor, little people” and his admiration for the “great powers”.

For a man like Pell, only other men of great power are of interest. The little people are just that, little. He reveals his identification with power and dismissal of those who lack it again, in his testimony to the child sexual abuse Royal Commission, when he justifies his reason for glossing over the dangerous sexual proclivities of certain priests, moving them from parish to parish when the complaints got too loud, rather than confining them away from children.

“It was a sad story,” he tells the Commission from his comfortable sinecure in Rome, “and of not much interest to me.”

No. George Pell was not interested in those children. George Pell had no interest in the powerless. He was not interested in the abuse or wellbeing of those his church MADE powerless, such as women and children. Only men were of interest to George Pell and of them, only men with power.

Power. It’s the single most seductive force in the human world. We would like that to be not Power but Love, but the truth stares us in the face every time we look at or listen to the dangerous behaviours of the men who crave it, trade in it, and value it above all else. What else is wealth but power? The power to go anywhere, do anything, and have whatever one desires. The power to control world events. The power to control other people.

Why don’t we have a category of
abnormal mental health called
Power Addiction?

It’s the craving for power that motivates so much of capitalism, so much of patriarchy, so much abuse, so much damage. What would this world be like if, instead of allowing this, we called the craving what it is, addiction? What if we had a category of abnormal mental health called Power Addiction? And recognised it in those who would lead us into exploitation and ultimately, as we are all having to face right now, into the strong possibility of human extinction?

It is suicidal, this lust for power. It is homicidal, ecocidal, planet-destroying, and yet we take it for granted that ambitious, power-hungry men (and some women) make all the really important social decisions.

It is suicidal, this lust for power.
It is homicidal, genocidal, ecocidal.

It’s not as if they hide it. Cardinal Pell, one of the highest-ranking religious authorities in the Christian world, thought nothing of publicly denigrating his own religion’s prophet because his culture was not one of the “great powers” of the time. Pell would probably be more comfortable in an old religion that openly worshipped Power.

But in these early years of the 21st century after Jesus, it’s not difficult to more or less ignore the Christian aspects of Christianity, to disregard the things Jesus Christ had to say about the powerless, the weak and the humble.

It is unremarkable to worship the trappings of wealth and power in the Christian churches rather than the lowly man on whom they are based. It’s easy to twist a few words about Abraham in the Old Testament to enforce the revolting notion that the Christian God rewards his favourites with wealth and success and therefore the humble, sick and poor are not only unworthy but actively sinful, as the Pentecostal churches do.

The success of all churches in creating political and social power bases has to do not only with their brilliantly successful tax-avoidance strategies, but also their appeal to the power addict in all of us. They appeal to greed and call it holy. They appeal to hate and call it righteousness. They appeal to fear and call it Hell or Eternal Damnation and tell you that only through them can you avoid this fate – much, much worse than death and by the way, here’s the tithe plate.

In the 21st century after Jesus,
it’s not difficult to ignore
the Christian aspects of Christianity.

When the wonderful sci fi series Firefly was made, it didn’t find favour with Fox executives because, as one was quoted saying (I paraphrase): “it’s just about a bunch of nobodies, we don’t get to see the real powers in that universe.” Star Wars on the other hand, despite its reputation as concerning a scrappy ragtag team of freedom fighters, and its inception in George Lucas’ mind as an allegory on the Vietnam War- with the USA as the Bad Guys – changed as Lucas changed, to feature the wars between the major powers of its universe: the Jedi and the Empire. Both actual bloody protofascists. And if it was personal success and wealth that motivated Lucas’ change of focus, he succeeded. Unlike the brilliant Firefly, the Star Wars films have about 562 sequels and counting. Firefly got one.

The powerless are not of much interest to George Lucas, George Pell, or Fox executives.

But they MUST be of great interest to the rest of us because, as power is condensed in the grasp of fewer and fewer men, and I do mean men, the ranks of the powerless grow. Our interests are aligned and the powerful are the enemy, this becomes increasingly clear all the time. And as to our powerlessness, we do have one great superpower and that is our sheer numbers. If we worked together we could overcome the power of wealth and might, which is why the powerful work so hard to divide us, sowing discord and division, making it harder and harder psychologically for us to agree to disagree on some issues, put them aside, and act in concert from our common interests.

And too many of us assent to this division, refusing to admit that a working-class Trump voter could have had motivations other than racism and stupidity, or that an atheist may have something wise to say about morality and community, or that anti-vaxers have something in common with Anarchists: their innate distrust of authority.

We assent because most of us have similar psychological dysfunctions as the power addicts. We want external answers, ideologies we can follow to create our better world, manifestos which can cover the gaping gaps in our heads and hearts and lead us to the sunlit uplands.

Every ideology or faith is full of
power addicts and arseholes.

But the truth may well be that there is no political, economic or social strategy that will save our world until we discover what causes Arseholery and what causes Power Addiction and how to cure it. Because any and every ideology or faith is full of these, of power addicts and arseholery, and every revolution will end up with the people powerless again under a new set of faces at the top table until we cure the problem at the source.

So what is the source?

I contend that the real problem lies with the way we raise our children.

This is not the sexy answer. This doesn’t involve firepower, secret resistances, or brilliant theoretical analyses.

This is the long slow plod towards the better world through the tried and tested technique of raising kids in such a way that they don’t have a gaping hole in their psychological centre, they’re not full of secret self-loathing, no one of them needs power and control over others to feel okay about themselves.

This is not the sexy answer.
This doesn’t involve gun battles,
secret resistances, or
brilliant theoretical analyses.

And you have to start with birth.

In the West, for a long time (and still too often), we delivered babies by pulling them out of their mothers’ wombs into a shockingly bright and cold world, cutting the cords immediately with sharp scissors, holding them upside down by one leg and whacking them on the bum until they cry. Then we say they’re breathing, all is well, and leave the mother to sacrifice her sleep, her career, and any hope of social respect to the project of maintaining their lives for the next couple of decades, until she’s withered and mad, and they’re so stupefied by school and wage slavery that they’re willing to repeat the process.

Does that seem like the way to raise generations that can solve our terrible problems and bring paradise to earth?

I’d like to talk about how we raise our children more, but this essay is already 1500 words, and nobody has the attention span for that. My own beloved offspring* just said: “make it a Tik-Tok and I”ll read it.” He said he was joking but he wasn’t. I raised an arsehole. Ask me more about how to bring up children…

* he’s not beloved. He just shouted at me to turn my bloody music down AND IT WAS When the Levee Breaks. Arseholes. Arseholes everywhere.

This piece was originally published on Quaerentem and has been reproduced with permission.


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  1. Steve Davis

    A wonderful, wonderful article.

    It’s so good I can even overlook the reference to the ratbag Dawkins.

  2. TwainandHume

    Hear, hear!

  3. Andrew Smith

    Interesting, but one assumes that Pell was platformed, used and/or complicit with Howard et al. in developing an Anglo/Irish & European heritage Australian conservative Christian cohort, that co-opted Catholicism and also tolerated Judaism.

    Apparently post WWII polling in WASP dominated Australia, had majority against both Catholic and Jewish immigration; an old relative (Scottish Catholic heritage) joked that nowadays Catholic or Jewish Australians are now honorary WASPs.

  4. Harry Lime

    Kirsten..simply fucking brilliant…and very moving.There is always hope..the arseholes are on the run,and our kids, our grandchildren will see every necessary change through,because they must…there is no other option.

  5. Kerri

    Let’s face it! One of the Ten Commandments was to “not worship a false idol” jesus made a point of evicting the money lenders from the church and yet today the Catholic faith applauds and embraces both condemned concepts.
    Is there a wealthier faith than Catholicism?
    Is there a faith that more blatantly takes from the poor to give to the rich? (Apart from the AFL)
    Does any other church have such a gaudy display of gold and wealth in all of its holy houses?
    This is what Pell believes in. Superiority. And his own superiority.
    Good riddance.

  6. Anne

    “the real problem lies with the way we raise our children”. Then that’s a case of nurture, something which the future ‘power addict’ has no agency over until later years, if lucky. This nurture theory accords with my obs that each person is a product of their environment. What trips up many critics is assuming they know all about another’s environment. This willful ignorance leads to a culture of blaming rather than understanding.
    I foresee a future where marriage licenses will be replaced by child-rearing licenses, and they won’t be that easy to get. As long as it’s not the UN deciding the rules of upbringing but rather panels of well-rounded individuals it should be okay.

  7. Clakka

    Yeah, here, here!

    Have you been into my diary as I look over my shoulder adding up the score?

    It would be a horror to think that almost by the progression of a design, (manic) parenthood engendered a psychopathy that could be implanted in infants, and onwards in a steady march through generations. Might it be an industrialised breakdown of the ‘tribe’ or ‘broader family’, where the older and perhaps wiser ‘balancing minders’ have been disenfranchised and sent off to wither?

    Lord Owen: what is Hubris Syndrome? (2011)

  8. GL

    A horrible, disgusting and overbearing thug that vile thing named Pell was.

  9. Stephen S

    Said David Pell, George was just following orders from Rome, when he backed the sex criminal Ridsdale, and not Ridsdale’s victims. D’oh, that’s what George did all his life – followed orders from Rome. The victims were just collateral damage.

  10. Paul Smith

    I begin by declaring an interest. I loathed Pell while he lived and I remember him only to denounce his Folau-like presumption to be unmistaken in his certainties, when he disavowed the Second Vatican Council and denigrated Pope Francis. Pell was an arsehole whose legacy will take far too long to wipe away.

    Having said that, I am aware of people who who asserted, before any evidence was put to a court, that Pell was guilty as charged, because they wanted it to be so. I am aware of people who take someone’s words and give them a meaning they could not possibly have had, but they do so because they want other people to repeat the lie and pay no attention to the facts. Remember this? The election was stolen. Hell yeah! The election was stolen.

    From this…
    “… Egypt was the great power… Persia was a great power… The poor little Jewish people, they were shepherds…”

    You excrete this:
    Leaving aside the blatant and ugly antisemitism of Pell here, the point I am talking about is the way Pell reveals his utter disdain for “the poor, little people” and his admiration for the “great powers”.

    What a preposterous distortion of words that were less than wisely chosen. There is nothing in the quoted words that is antisemitic nor does he side with the powerful against the poor. One would have to be predisposed to finding malice where it does not exist to put the construction on those words that you have concocted.

    Do not blame the likes of Pell for the culture wars when the likes of you look for opportunities for cheap shots and fake news.

  11. Steve Davis

    Paul Smith, you might have had an almost reasonable argument, but you ruined it with “You excrete this…” Have you never heard the phrase “Damning with faint praise” ? That’s what the reference to shepherds was about. Did Pell deliberately damn with faint praise? Was the author right to raise it that way ? You’ve not made a case that it was wrong. The passage you quoted was just part of a pattern of opinions which the author argues show that Pell consistently favoured the powerful over the powerless. If you disagree with that assessment, all you need to do is give contrary evidence.

  12. Paul Smith

    Steve Davis, Nothing I said can be interpreted as my disagreeing that Pell favoured the powerful over the powerless. And no, Pell did not damn with faint praise. I did say that his words were less than wisely chosen. The worst that can be said about them is that they were saccharin – the stuff I grew up on in the pre Vatican 2 church. Within Pell’s mindset “they were shepherds” is not a sneer but an accolade. Shepherds, the Anawim, are folk whose human authenticity provided the necessary and sufficient context for the nativity of the incarnation of the logos. “The passage you quoted was just part of a pattern of opinions which the author argues show that Pell consistently favoured the powerful over the powerless.” I’d put it the other way: the author used her prior conviction that Pell favoured the powerful to give his words the meaning she wanted them to have. As for “You excrete this…” in my first paragraph I said Pell was an arsehole. The form of words I used between the two quotes from the article made the point that the author, on the point that I am commenting on, is also being an arsehole.

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