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Posted on 3 Aug 2018 in The Godfather: Peter Corris | 3 comments

The Godfather: Peter Corris on the great indifference

I remember a conversation on ABC radio between Philip Adams and Gore Vidal, both avowed atheists, in which Adams said that whereas America had initially been settled by Puritans, Australia’s first white settlers were criminals. In his honeyed tones Vidal said, ‘You had the best of it.’ He was right. No American overtones and undertones of those religious passions – creationism, right-to-life beliefs, millennarialism – persist in the politics and mores of this country. Secular Australia is characterised by what I see as a great indifference to religion.

Although Irish convicts were nominally Roman Catholics, most were understandably anti-clerical and the Protestants transported were often either altogether ignorant of, or indifferent to, the precepts of Anglican, Methodist or other sects. How could it be otherwise? What had religion ever done for them?

As far as I know there have been no burnings, no torturings, no violently pitched sectarian battles among the Australian working- or under-class. To be sure there have been incidents: I know of a woman, a Methodist, who threw a bucket of water over a young man who ‘turned’ to become a Catholic to marry the woman he wanted; in my own family, as I’ve mentioned before, a Catholic woman kidnapped for a time a cousin of mine in order to have him baptised in her faith. But these are storms in teacups. Serious sectarian debates went on among elites – to do with state aid to church schools and the taxability of religious institutions.

Broadly speaking, in ‘Christian’ Australia, second- and third-generation Catholics observed the ceremonies for birth, marriage and death, while their Protestant counterparts struggled vainly to compel their children to attend Sunday School and then settled for the tepid religious instruction available at state schools with a consequent falling away, not only of faith, but of belief.

Whether this enveloping indifference and turning away will affect other faiths now present in Australia, such as Islam, Hinduism and others remains to be seen. I hope so.

In recent days one item of news has encouraged me in my hope that religion will recede in the minds of people. So far I’ve heard no thanks given to a god of any kind for the rescue of the Thai footballers. Buddhism, I am told, is more a philosophy than a religion and Buddhists do not believe spiritual beings have direct bearings on human affairs. I waited with bated breath while Julie Bishop expounded on the rescue but she made no mention of god. Malcolm Turnbull offered his prayers but I doubt he went on his knees at the foot of his bed.

Contrariwise, I watched American golfer Kevin Na win a tournament. He thanked god. This millionaire professional sportsman appears to think that (as he must imagine things to be) the creator of the universe helped him to sink a few putts.

Former ABC broadcaster Terry Lane, once a Protestant minister or a trainee, I’m not sure which, and later a non-believer, has said that what most Australians wanted was ‘a quiet life’. Long may this prevail; it rules out holding passionately to superstitions not worth arguing and fighting about.


  1. Good one, Peter.

    Your cousin kidnapped by a Catholic women. Baptism. Are you sure or was it something rather more immediate and carnal?

  2. I hate to disagree with you Peter, but ScoMo is but the tip of the creationist right-to-life attitudes of many in the current government (and I read that the rescued boys are off to become Buddhist priests, something their parents promised if they were rescued safely) I do think the majority want a quiet life, but the noise of a few often deafens us.

  3. I think you were the person who first taught me the term “god botherers”. As a once fervent (the child me) Catholic, I still chuckle at the concept because religion did come to be such a “bother” to me and many Catholics of my gen.