Sorry PM, who are we trying to canonise here?
One of the logical difficulties in being an atheist is the body of well-documented cases where individuals have used faith and prayer to defy the odds when science and reason suggested that all hope was truly lost.
Atheism holds that all religion is fantasy and that its adherents have deluded themselves into believing in the existence of an all-powerful being with whom you can communicate via prayer.
On paper it sounds absurd. The only difficulty is – and I write this as a non-believer – it sometimes seems to work. If I were Sophie Delezio’s Dad I would probably regard the fact that this poor little girl had been hit not once but twice by a car as an argument against the existence of an all-powerful, all-loving God. But for the Delezios, whose faith was already strong before these two crashes, their convictions were strengthened by their ordeal.
In addition to the diligence and care of the medical team who rallied on both occasions to save Sophie’s life, the Delezios believe that it was the force of prayer – not just as a family, but through the conviction of other Christians the world over who dropped to their knees or lit a candle – which also kept their daughter alive.
The Delezios also specifically believe that it was Sister Mary Mackillop who watched over Sophie as she lay unconscious in intensive care, and have become the most public champions of her canonisation.
They deserve nothing but respect in their campaign, and should be shielded from the snide cynicism which infects modern expressions of atheist thought, with the likes of Richard Dawkins ridiculing anyone who expresses an adherence to the existence of God.
So put me down as a supporter of Mary Mackillop’s canonisation, on the simple grounds that it would bring such joy to families such as the Delezios.
But put me down as a cynic when it comes to Kevin Rudd’s decision to use his audience with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome this Thursday as a chance to do some very public lobbying on behalf of Sister Mary.
There are certain things you expect from a Prime Minister – an ability to manage the economy, spend taxes wisely, defend our national security, fund schools and hospitals, just to name a few.
Until now I hadn’t thought that buttering up the Pontiff to win His Holiness’s support for our first Aussie Saint was one of them.
The Australian prime ministership has been blessedly free of the kind of religious grand-standing which has muddied the separation of church and state in other countries, none more so than the US, where it’s now obligatory for every would-be president to project or affect an air of holiness and publicly reveal their frequent one-one-one conversations with The Almighty.
The decision by Rudd – who isn’t even a Catholic – to pre-announce his intention to lobby on behalf of Mackillop’s canonisation sounds more like a pitch for the Catholic vote than a sincere representation.
This is because the campaign to have Sister Mary canonised is already well-advanced – indeed, it is the Delezio family which in its own dignified and quiet way has led the push, with little Sophie meeting His Holiness during World Youth Day in Sydney last year.
Rudd as such looks like a Johnny Come Lately on the issue. Given that it now seems a formality that Sister Mary will be canonised, you would hope that his actions are not some 11th-hour exercise in bandwagon-jumping so that, when she does get the nod, the PM can insert himself among those who are celebrating and hope that some of the credit rubs off.
It’s not as if the Pope urgently sought an audience with Kevin Rudd to discuss this and other issues. It was of course the other way around.
The Rudd Government has already been challenged over its highly expensive decision to appoint former National Party Leader and Deputy PM Tim Fischer as Ambassador to The Holy See, a role that was once served by our Ambassador to Dublin, and has not existed as an independent post for almost 40 years.
As Patrick Walters wrote in The Australian last year, the mission will cost well over $1 million a year to run, and comes as the Government cut the budget for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and wound back its diplomatic representation in Europe.
If the Fischer appointment was jobs-for-the-boys stuff aimed at showing Rudd is not only bi-partisan but a friend of the one true faith, then a bit of last-minute grandstanding on behalf of a woman who’s going to be canonised anyway can also be viewed with a degree of cynicism, setting aside that other small point about the separation of church and state.
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