Neil had an interesting post asking whether the US was a Christian country. His answer was no, except in the most general sense.
So I asked myself was Australian a Christian country? I think that the answer has to be yes.
To the evangelical Christians, Australia with its secular and perceived evil ways was clearly not and never has been a Christian country. At official level, a very clear separation between church and state was made early on with the decision not to make the Church of England the official established church. This separation has been maintained to the present day.
Yet beyond this, Australia and Christianity were closely entwined at every level. The great bulk of the population classified themselves as Christian. The first official buildings built in new settlements after police stations and pubs were churches. The rituals of the Christian Church marked every significant event at personal and, to a lesser degree, official level.
Beyond this, the fabric of a culture imported from Europe and especially the British Isles permeated everything from language to history.
Yet in all this we never developed some of the political trappings of Christianity seen in other countries. Christianity was both a personal thing and to a lesser degree an official thing. But it always remained a backdrop to official and political life.
There were, I think, two reasons for this. The first was simply the universality of the Christian faith. The second and perhaps more important was the presence of the great sectarian divide between Roman Catholics and Protestants, a divide that became inextricably mixed in politics. Keep religion out of it was a fairly universal and practical view.
That world has gone, swept away in the changes that became strong during the 1970s tip decade. As it went, so did many of the previous underpinning of Australian society.
This is not an argument about right or wrong, simply an observation on trends as I see them. The thing that interests me now is just what is coming in their place. My answer here is that I simply do not know.
All dominant groups assume that their views are self-evidently right.
If you had told me as a child that my favourite playground equipment would be banned, I would have thought you a very silly adult. If you had told me at university that within twenty years men would no longer be allowed to have exclusively men's clubs but must admit women, I would have regarded this as outrageous discrimination. If you had told me that sporting stars must submit to mandatory drug testing for drugs that had nothing to do with sport, I would have thought this outrageous.
And if you had told me that within my lifetime I would live in a society marked by constant visual surveillance combined with sophisticated computer tracking systems I would have been horrified. After all, this was the intermediate step in so many SF stories towards the establishment of a corrupt, all powerful and controlling authoritarian state.
Part of my point in all this is that none of us can assume that the values we hold dear will survive. They have to be fought for, to be constantly refreshed.
I am out of time. As so often happens, practical domestic realities like the need to cook tea interfere!
Early next morning
I see that Neil has responded with a long and quite interesting post. I don't want to respond to it here in any detail because this will take me into a different line of argument and I want to wrap this post up. However, I will make a couple of points that I think are germane to the argument in this post.
We always see the past through a prism set by current concerns and attitudes. This affects the questions we ask about the past. It can also affect the way we interpret the evidence.
Wearing my historian hat, I see the first as right and proper, although I do get upset from time to time at the way in which whole slabs of our past have been lost from sight.
Still wearing my historian hat, at times I see the second as pernicious and a-historical. To me, a key element in the discipline of history - part of its rigour - lies in the attempt to break through the veil set by the present, recognising that we must always fail.
This, by the way, is not a shot at Neil nor his post. Far from it. Neil is putting forward argument with some supporting material, not attempting to write a definitive historical piece.
Unlike the US, Australia has never been an especially religious society. When I argue that Australia was a Christian country I am talking about the overall frame in which society, including those secularists who railed against religious cant, operated.
Modern secular Australia has put aside that past frame and now struggles to deal with faith based issues. Note the words "faith based". This modern jargon is itself a sign of the change in frame. Past Australian societies would, I think, have struggled to place meaning in the words.
We live at an intensely interesting time. The previous institutional pillars that formed part of the Australian fabric have been discredited. Many in modern secular Australia are a-religious, even anti-religious. Christianity itself has become just another faith, if still the one acknowledged by a majority of Australians, especially older Australians.
Yet when we drop down, we find some interesting trends.
In the Australia of the past with its dominant Christian heritage, there was no such thing as a Christian view. Society could be both secular and Christian, religious and anti-religious. Individual churches were just that, individual churches. Putting things very simplistically, they could be told to butt out.
Things are a little different now at several levels. These are the differences that fascinate me as an observer.
During the election campaign, Mr Howard made a point of attending both Chinese and Korean Christian churches in his electorate. No-one really commented, it was just another campaign move, other than to look at the reactions of some of the attendees. Yet that attendance was a sign of profound change.
The modern secular view of Australian society is, I think, strongest in certain groups - essentially urban, generally educated in Australia or in another Western country, mainly second or more generation Australian. Things change when we move outside these groups.
I am presently working within an ethnically diverse group. The modern secular view is represented in the European segment including, for these purposes, me. Then the group has included at different times two Christians, both Chinese, plus three Muslims from three different ethnic groups.
My point here is two fold.
There is, I think, still an equation in people's minds between Christianity and being in some way European or even Anglo-Celtic when the reality is increasingly different. There is also, I think, a more complicated and implicit assumption that our new migrants will in some way accept, adopt, the secular view. Again, I think that the reality is a little different.
I do not have time to further pursue these issues now and, in any case, this post is becoming far too long. I will continue at a later point.