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sydney alternative media - non-profit community independent trustworthy
Sunday, 20 January 2008
Big Catholic world youth day in Sydney a threat to healthy spirituality?
Mood:  quizzical
Topic: culture

Picture: The Apology scene, episode 4 in the ground breaking 13 hour long Brideshead Revisited TV miniseries of 1981 (Granada Television) of the Evelyn Waugh book of the between the world war years of an aristocratic Catholic family in Britain. Broadcast here around that time.

Dypsomania/homosexuality in an intolerant society or systemic dishonest religious emotional sado-masochism? This is quite a quandary posed in the great Brideshead Revisited tv miniseries. And a useful exploration of why the English have held such an anxiety about the power mongering Roman Catholic church too, justifying quite the extra effort by actors and crew despite industry strikes and remaking of production norms. This was a work of great discipline and loyalty by television people to their craft.

As to the quandary, a close viewing will tell you it's the latter, not the former which explains the implosion of young Lord Sebastian Flight.

If only it were the relatively simple issue of the former the Catholic Church would have far less trouble in its heart.

It may have been young minister Joe Tripodi we saw skipping up the steps of St Peters in Rome in July 2002 taking his confession at the seat of Roman Catholicism, on a very hot summer day in his double breasted suit, flanked on either side. It was the tail end of our world trip away from years of hack political work in NSW.

It may even have been the pitch by very Catholic Joe for World Youth Day in Sydney later this year 15-20 July 2008. At St Mary's Cathedral in the CBD one can see an arch lit like a game show back set just across from Hyde Park, counting down the days, 180 or something to go:

Later this year Big Catholicism is going to get up on its hind legs and make the happy clappers at Hillsong, corporate christianity franchise central who dare not look at a camel too closely, look like a suburban McDonalds outlet. Predictions are of 1 million or more faithful at some $350 per head. A religious tourism bonanza for the local economy. A crushing of the brand of the splinter faiths. A proud flexing of muscular Catholicism by Cardinal George Pell gathering in the converts.


Caligula's 30 metre high obelisk in the middle of St Peters Square which is actually an oval, the seriously big Vatican City walls, and the shining gold memorabilia of ancient popes/saints in the Basilica itself, proves that the old dame does grandeur like no other Christian church might. It's the original and best. It's had 2000 years continuous practice. And they know their business which is to coral superstition and fear of death.

(A bit like micro news blogging here. You really have to be stupid to not get better at it with practice - 12 months now, running at 17,000 page views a month.)

So where is the risk to youth exactly from this hyper event in July? Certainly one ought not lightly disrespect the saintly heroes of Catholicism, like this fellow here, killed by Pinochet's neo Nazi thugs in Chile:

Or these other unrecognised folks referred to in this sharp article. Or recently the role of their church as a refugia for human rights in East Timor.

So where is the harm in an even bigger, perhaps more authentic Hillsong event to be held at Randwick Racecourse? The intensely crafted and subtle Brideshead Revisited carries the cautionary missive: Prosletizing Catholicism can be a fanatically ruthless power game corrosive of balanced healthy relationships at either familial or societal level.

We know this as we know our own 9 siblings and parents of a devout, pious Catholic drunken Irish family and wracked with neuroses. It must have been at 7 or 8 years of age as we took the sacraments of confession, holy communion etc that we also made a profound promise to ourselves to never end up like that. A precocious promise physical health superficially and in the last 3 years we kept the promise as middle age spread threatened - teatotal, totally lapsed, physically fit. But it was also deeper than a child's mind might conceive. To seek happiness, not Church endorsed misery by way of the (Irish) Catholic strictures. My parents taught me by contrary nagging loveless example.

In retrospect we fortified ourselves from the depradations of 'religous duty' so corrosive of human potential, and ironically, spirtual fulfillment. We took up the agnostic religion (!) in Victoria of Australian Rules Football (then known as VFL) and other sport in idolatory:

Brideshead Revisited was also broadcast at a pivotal time in the early 80ies as we prepared for endless years at University courtesy the tail end of Whitlam's free education policy. Not a sandstone but the new spread eagled campus of ANU Canberra, the alma mater of PM Kevin Rudd and now it seems the top uni in the country. Nice to have two degrees from there now.

At 14 we threw off the imperatives of the local priest for a life of independent thinking like we threw off the alter boy's red and white vestments. Not for us the hierarchical blatherings of an anti women, anti ecology institution, in love with its own exclusive history, perversely leading mankind to dangerous climate change not least via excessive population and bogus hierarchical sophistry about contraception. Disgusting arrogance to be sure.

Some writers comfort themselves the doomed Sebastian character in Brideshead Revisited was a fairy such that religious neurosis led him to alcoholism. But the thesis doesn't stack up and the Catholic church can't escape the devastating critique of the book so easily. Catholic Author Waugh also has the father Lord Marchmain who is undoubtedly straight being a drunkard until he runs away (which rings true). Shown above is his martyred wife played by Claire Bloom,  expressing with exquisite clarity the moment of shock recognising the mercurial absconding husband in her own son. History repeating. Both hating her oppressive annexation of their very life force to vicarious service. She only comprehends the sting of cruel disloyalty. Her mission is to prevent the second one escaping like the first.

Anthony Andrews who interprets the part above so effectively gives a commentary as a special extra on the DVD set of Brideshead along with vague ponderings by producer Derek Grainger. Andrews is so very perceptive and enthusiastic, albeit decades later, in his analysis essential to getting to Sebastian's character and this is quite moving in itself for the obvious commitment to his art. The actor tells of knowing two others in real life whose religion led them to drunkeness, one a Jesuit priest no less. He notes the 'terrifyingly manipulative steely' character of the matriarch, married into a rich family and who never stopped seeking more influence. Our gloss would be grieving for her magnificent brothers killed in the war, determined to avoid that searing pain again by keeping those she loves close by calculating willpower till their natural life energy is squeezed out of them. A controlling philosophy she cannot sustain long term because it drives off that which she most seeks to keep. So much for psychological motivations for power mongering. 

Andrews expresses great compassion for his character "at the height of his confusion" given the taboo of mater fear and loathing, shown above breaking down on the step. Just as the immensely bright Charles Ryder character (who sees all) warms to Van Gogh's flowers as early as the 1920ies evoking the real beauty of life, and by contrast sees through the mother's attempt to covertly "suborn" him to her will. Just as she in turn presumably was suborned by her church in time honoured hierarchical fashion, to a life of weary martyrdom in a failed marriage, and the priest had sought to suborn this writer as a child into ongoing service to the alter.

The whole Brideshead story is resplendant with social power-mongering under cover of piety, just as Big Catholicism is in Sydney.

Oppressive mindless religous dogma is surely a sickness of self denial leading to bodily dysfunction (in Lady Marchmain's case cancer, Sebastian's drunkeness, in others gluttony, obesity, exhaustion) through habitual self deception over decades: As if the example of Christ calls for constant suffering by his followers. The gospel says he suffered for us, not that we should suffer as His mimic. Man's conceited pretence at playing God?

Thus the perversion of the gospel takes it's course. We like St Paul here on personal suffering:

 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, enough to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions and hand over my body to be burnt but do not have love, I gain nothing. [bold added]: From St Pauls 1st letter to the Corinthians

We say it's not long suffering masochism that Christ exhorts but honest emotional life leavened with healthy discipline. We submit He didn't want or need a life of misery in symbolic aping of the crucifiction. What a horrendous idea. A real blashemy. Such pain was surely meant to be redundant.

We say the purpose of life is a society based on honesty spontaneous emotions free of calculation. In short a love of truth and innocence. Not the cynical reliance on the ever available confessional to conveniently wipe the slate clean week in week out not least conceited brutal power games because 'we have the superior Catholic brand' and the prosletising end justifies the means. As if such a truly good message in the Gospel needs such machination. No. It's only people's vanity that feels the need.

What these dogmatists don't imagine is that confession may bring God's forgivenes, but mainly allows forgiveness of oneself. If it becomes a cheap moral get out of gaol free card, a convenience, then its healing function is lost. A device to sanitise any vicious power game much as the highly Catholic NSW ALP Right in NSW practice as their daily bread, especially if it is rationalised as gloriffying the church itself. A power game 'cardinal' Gerry Gleeson was reputed to have played not least in the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority:

At the 11th hour, however, an unknown representative of the authority telephoned Rothschild signalling that a surprise late bid was on its way. IN HIS heyday as Wran's favoured mandarin, Gleeson elicited a mixture of fear and respect among both ministers and the public service. Today, just a fortnight before his 76th birthday, Gerald Gleeson still retains a legendary aura. Renowned for his rigorous Catholicism, commanding presence and steely demeanour, he once said he did not seek to get close to people: "I'm not looking for love. I'm looking for respect."

When Gleeson stepped down on June 10, 1988, after nearly 30 years of senior civil service, he spent the Liberal years collecting a swag of directorships on boards at the big end of town. Among them were Capital Investment Holdings, Catholic College of Education Australia, Commonwealth Bank, Grocon Developments, Amalgamated Holdings and briefly, Transfield.

He remains a director of the Australian Catholic University and is still active in the Catholic community.

In 1995, when Labor was returned to power, one of Bob Carr's first acts was to lure the uber-bureaucrat back to Macquarie Street. In the early years, he quietly acted as a significant Mr Fix-It for Carr, brokering several major deals, including the early forestry agreements and fixing the Olympic hotel bed tax issue.

Gleeson chaired the Statutory and Other Officers Remuneration Tribunal, which sets Senior Executive Service pay packets. And as chairman of the Darling Harbour Authority he oversaw the venue's final construction.

Then, in 1998, he began his increasingly controversial reign as chairman of the newly formed Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. With one stroke of the cabinet room pen, great swathes of Sydney became his turf, including the Sydney Cove Authority, City West Development Corporation, Luna Park and even the Australian Technology Park in Redfern.

Since then the crisscrossing of his growing empire and board interests has become grist for the rumour mill.

Said a senior Government source: "Over the years, he has wanted more and more authority and, at one point, even came looking for Olympic Park." Last October, with the Sydney Entertainment Centre management rights tender fresh on everyone's mind, Gleeson sent a memo to the director-general of the Premier's Department, Col Gellatly.

in Going once, going twice by Paola Totaro May 29, 2004 Sydney Morning Herald

Indeed in terms of youth Big Catholicism is just about opposite to this very popular somewhat chaotic yet practical inspiration in youth friendly format:

It's a message youth can enjoy and embrace without travelling any distance at all from all over the world to Sydney for World Youth Day thanks to the beauty and perils of the internet.

And if that's not quite your taste then try this - and why does 'the devil' have the best music anyway?:



Posted by editor at 8:48 AM EADT
Updated: Monday, 21 January 2008 4:11 PM EADT

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