May 7th 2016


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Safe Schools: Sorry, chef, but the entire sex-ed menu's off!

CANBERRA OBSERVED Mild unpopularity of Libs preferable to ALP slogans

EDITORIAL Turnbull's stuttering election gambit

ENERGY Media shows no interest in Shorten's renewables plan

LEGISLATION Viability bill at least a baby step for the babies

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Intifada of the Knife: Israel's unknown war

FAMILY AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE Gender symmetry: women can be as abusive as men

ECONOMICS AND POLITICS Overhauling Australia will require more than a tinker

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Media gush over study only to find same-sex parents more irritable

RESEARCH The scientific objectivity of gender difference (Part One of two parts)

CINEMA Mowgli takes on the lore: The Jungle Book

BOOK REVIEW A sliver of hope

BOOK REVIEW A primer on Western civilisation

BOOK REVIEW Of ships and shots

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BOOK REVIEW
A primer on Western civilisation




News Weekly, May 7, 2016

 

SOUL OF THE WEST: Christianity and the Great Tradition

by David Daintree

(Connor Court, Ballarat, 2015)
Paperback: 90 pages
Price: AUD$22.95

 

Reviewed by Peter Madison

 

Can one really know Western civilisation without understanding the part that Christianity has played in it?

David Daintree answers firmly in the negative: “The West cannot be fully understood without a proper and informed appreciation of its close connection with the Christian religion.” (p1)

As the title, Soul of the West, suggests, Christianity is not one of the many changeable accidents of our civilisation, it was its animating force for centuries upon centuries, and continues to exert its influence notwithstanding the fact that we are now subject to other influences in the post-Christian era.

The author aims to show that, contrary to current opinion, Christianity and the Western tradition which it impelled, have given great gifts to the world. In a few pages, Daintree shows the connection between Christianity and the treasures of our heritage in language, literature, law, philosophy, government, and the arts and science, to name a few.

This book will serve an extremely important purpose in returning balance to the view of our Christian past. Balance is the key word. We hear now so many voices denouncing the failures, real or imagined, of Christians in bygone generations, that an ordinary man could be forgiven for believing that Christianity was only ever a malign influence on our culture.

Not only the likes of new atheists such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, reaching huge audiences, but also countless teachers in schools and universities, promote this way of thinking. We are always reminded of the wars of religion, the persecution of heretics, and the alleged restraint of scientific progress by Christian authorities, and never hear of Christianity’s enormous positive influences.

Soul of the West is one part of the author’s efforts to foster appreciation of the connection between Christianity and the Western tradition. Daintree has had a long career in tertiary education, is an authority on medieval Latin literature, and has been the head of various academic bodies, most recently Campion College in Sydney.

He is now director of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies – indeed in a certain sense Soul of the West is a continuation of Dawson’s work on the connection between Christianity and the West.

So, where can this connection be seen? According to the author, it is evident in literature: “The literary traditions of the Church and of the West have marched together for two thousand years, sometimes so closely intertwined as to be indistinguishable the one from the other. Certain books in the Western tradition are essential to a proper understanding of the world.” (pp32-33)

Colossal figures of Christianity such as St Augustine and Boethius exerted a huge influence on subsequent Western literature. Similarly, the work of Dante Alighieri has had an enduring impact. Interestingly, however, he has been claimed by some not as a Christian writer but as a prototypical secular humanist.

While it is true that Dante placed many clergy and even the odd pope in hell in his epic Inferno, it is nevertheless undeniable that he was a deeply spiritual and Christian man. As Daintree informs us, Dante did after all choose to be buried in full Franciscan habit! And even to opine on whether Dante was Catholic or secularist would require one to know something about Christianity.

The link between Christianity and the West is also evident in law, philosophy and government. The author notes: “It is probably fair to say that the traditional Christian moral basis of the Common Law has become increasingly opaque to modern students of law.” (p43)

In reality, though, Judaeo-Christian morality and Roman law were the original “twin pillars” of European law, and the onus on the ancient Romans to rule the world justly “was interpreted throughout the Christian centuries as applying to themselves as the rightful successors of Rome”. (p42)

More than simply informing our cherished legal institutions, Christianity had a pervasive influence on the ethos of Western society for centuries, an ethos which largely endures today:

“The systematic care of the poor, the relief of prisoners, the establishment of hospitals, schools and universities, the self-sacrificing saintliness of many clergy, active resistance to the bullying of civil authorities, the amelioration and untimely prohibition of slavery and the improvement of the lot of women … all these things have emerged within a society that has been predominantly Christian.” (p43)

Daintree adduces countless examples to illustrate the nexus between Christianity and the West. Perhaps the only objectionable claim he makes is a somewhat tangential remark concerning sport, which he partly blames for the decline in our students’ intellectual curiosity: “The extraordinary modern phenomenon of sport, dating back in its present form no more than a couple of hundred years, modified more recently by astonishing financial inducements paid to successful professional athletes, and grafted onto the equally modern cult of celebrity, has totally redirected the aspirations of most young people in the West … the very best hope of most is to run or swim faster than their peers.” (p69)

It may be true that sport is more alluring to us than our forebears, but is this really stupefying our youth? If anything, our present-day emphasis on sporting excellence and healthy living must be one of the few good influences on young people. It is far more likely that we have junk food, excessive television, the infinite distractions of the internet, and trashy movies, to blame for this problem.

Apart from this, Daintree presents only the most solid and persuasive arguments in support of his contention. Furthermore, the weight of his arguments is equalled by the lightness of his style. While this book deals with serious matters, it is eminently readable. Every idea is expressed in the clearest manner, the author’s wit shines through, and his own ideas are complemented by choice quotations of great thinkers such as Newman, Chesterton and Matthew Arnold.

Soul of the West will prove a pleasurable and rewarding read to those who pick it up. A rebuttal to the false claims of left-wing secularists, it persuasively demonstrates the “marriage” between Christianity and the West. The part played by Christianity in our past has been neither “ancillary” nor “supplementary”, but “essential”.

As the author concludes: “Western civilisation has been Christian in its very essence. Those who would understand the West cannot sift the Christianity out of it, much as some might want to do if it were possible.” (P27)


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