A Succinct Explanation Of The Judeo-Christian Ethic That Australian Society Is Founded On


At times you hear the statement that Australia is founded on the Judeo-Christian Ethic. What does this actually mean? Former Australian Federal Treasurer Peter Costello made a speech back in 2004 at a National Thanksgiving Service about this and I think it’s a succinct explanation of the concept and its importance to our Australian way of life.


“When Jesus told his disciples that they would be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost part of the earth, the known world consisted of the Roman Empire – the Mediterranean and surrounds. No one in the Roman world, no one in the Jewish world, knew of Australia. From the then known world of the Mediterranean, Australia was beyond even the uttermost parts of the earth. And yet the teaching of Jesus came to Australia. It took nearly 18 centuries. And we can pinpoint quite accurately the first time a Christian service was held on Australian soil. The sermon was preached by the Rev. Richard Johnson, Chaplain of the First Fleet. It was preached on Sunday 3 February 1778 under a large tree in Sydney. His text was from Psalm 116 Verse 12: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?” The first Australian Christian service was a thanksgiving service. It was thanksgiving for a safe passage in dangerous sailing ships, on a dangerous mission half-way around the world.

Two hundred and twenty six years later we meet tonight to mark a “National Day of Thanksgiving” for all the benefits rendered to us, in the modern Australia. Of course, the members of the First Fleet were not the first people to come to Australia. The Aboriginal people were here long before that and I am proud to honour descendants of those first Australians. But it was the First Fleet that brought the first chaplain and first knowledge of the Christian faith to Australia. This was the critical and decisive event that shaped our country. If the Arab traders that brought Islam to Indonesia had brought Islam to Australia and settled, or spread their faith, amongst the indigenous population our country today would be vastly different. Our laws, our institutions, our economy would all be vastly different. But that did not happen. Our society was founded by British colonists. And the single most decisive feature that determined the way it developed was the Judeo-Christian-Western tradition.

As a society, we are who we are, because of that heritage.

I am not sure this is well understood in Australia today. It may be that a majority of Australians no longer believes the orthodox Christian faith. But whether they believe it or not, the society they share is one founded on that faith and one that draws on the Judeo-Christian tradition. The foundation of that tradition is, of course, The Ten Commandments. How many Australians today could recite them? Perhaps very few. But they are the foundation of our law and our society, whether we know them or not.

  • The first Commandments: Thou shalt have no other God before me; Thou shalt not make any graven image; Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain; Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy; are the foundation of monotheism.
  • The Commandments: Honour thy father and mother; Thou shalt not commit adultery; are the foundation of marriage and the family.
  • The Commandment: Thou shalt not to kill; is the basis for respect for life.
  • The Commandment: Thou shalt not steal; is the basis for property rights.
  • The Commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour; and Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s property; is the basis of respect for others and their individual rights.

These are the great principles of our society. On them hang all of the laws and institutions that make our society what it is.
When Moses gave the Ten Commandments he initiated the rule of law. From the moment that he laid down these rules it followed that human conduct was to be governed according to rules – rules which were objectively stated, capable of being understood and, if necessary, enforced by the Hebrew judges. Prior to that the people of the ancient world were governed by Rulers rather than rules. The ruler was much more subject to whim and capricious behaviour. Rulers were not subject to independent review or interpretation. The rule of law is the basis for our constitution and justice system.

And so we have the Rule of Law, respect for life, private property rights, respect of others – values that spring from the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Speech from Peter Costello 2004


Ps Peter Pilt

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11 replies

  1. Well said, Peter and Peter

  2. us What a load of bollocks it has nothing to do with a fictitious being or peoples imaginations, common law is based on basic human ethics otherwise we would be stoning women for adultery, killing non believers and all the other archaic bullshit in the bible.The church tells us we must take from the bible the more palatable bullshit and forget the more maniacal preaching’s, it also takes credit for Christmas and Easter both celebrated eons before Christianity but wont take credit for its child molesters and still tries to cover up or refuses to help the victims, example your eminence George Pell has a cold and cant face his accusers or, the death of thousands through poverty and Aids due to its medieval teachings on birth control. No there’s not much to like about the religious teachings of the church and trying to claim that it is solely responsible for what governs peoples attitude is total crap

    • Doug your anger and your bias are screaming at us!

      What are the ‘basic human ethics’ you refer to? I would say that they are little short of barbaric. Have you read the book we all were taught back in our high school days, ‘Lord of the Flies’? In a nutshell, this book clearly articulates basic human ethics and it is the same as exemplified through most primal societies – survival of the fittest!

      Most, if not all, pre evangelised societies were or are in this category. Left to our own human instincts we will lie, cheat, steal, murder…..to get our own way. Even in ‘civilised’ societies this may be the nprm for many. Look again at ‘innocent’ children and you will see this to be the case.
      If you look objectively at what we call civilisation, you will see in most cases that compassion and justice is mainly an outworking of those nations which have had a ‘Christianisation’ at some point in their history.

      I will not argue in defence of George Pell or the church he represents. I am as appalled at child molestation as you or anyone else, but, as a Protestant Christian I do not believe the Catholic church represents Christianity. It is a much flawed institution and cannot be defended on many fronts. Having outmoded and ridiculous restraints on their clergy evidently leads to deviant behaviour. The rules and regulations of this church are man made and do not represent the God of the Bible.

      When we look at Christ we see a person of love and compassion for all. We see a person who lay down His life for others and showed us that we need to do likewise. True followers of Jesus are about giving and not taking; loving not hating and above all forgiving and blessing when we are wronged.

      As a pastor/missionary in South East Asia, that’s what I’m trying to do. Best wishes.

  3. Peter, there is no doubt value in the former treasurers summary. It is a shame, however, that he mentions indigenous people, but doesn’t face up to the fact that the Christian History he describes was complicit in the massacre and long term oppression of indigenous people. I realise that Christianity itself should be framed by attitudes and values that are utterly opposed to that Tragic part of our history – but the facts remain. The Christian heritage of our nation is not without its dark side, and along with celebrating that heritage, we also need to admit It’s failures – and their ongoing implications. only as we do this can will we be able to participate in the reconciliation and healing that steal needs to occur.

    • Shane having lived and worked among traditional Aboriginal people in Central Australia for about six years I can say that without doubt the majority of our dear brothers and sisters out there, bless the day the Christian missionaries came with the truth which set them free from fear, starvation, lack of hygiene,,,,,, and gave them education, housing, medicine, income and many other things. It is only the ignorant white feller, sitting in his ivory tower, who thinks otherwise.
      Let’s get off the white feller and mixed blood city dweller guilt trip and see things as they actually are. Go out and live in the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts and see how much you may be appreciated for giving a helping hand. I never heard one full blooded Aborigine say a disparaging word against the white feller or the church and God (whom most love).
      The atrocities which happened were not by Jesus following Christians but by Darwin believing evolutionists who were persuaded to think that Aborigines were a rung or two lower down the evolutionary ladder. Show me any real Christian who killed Aborigines and I would be amazed. Blessings, Alan

  4. that should have read Judaeo-Christian – not just Christian. And it’s slightly odd that he contrasts the Judaeo-Christian heritage with Islam, and then cites the Ten Commandments – when all three monotheistic religions have these ten Commandments as part of their self understanding.

  5. The 10 commandments are our ground rules for getting along with each other. If individuals want to break those rules, it causes grief and harm to others no matter who does it and who is on the receiving end. No one wants to be stolen from, or murdered of molested. Molestation is across society and the primary cause is selfishness and a complete lack of love and respect for others. Evolved pond scum wouldn’t give a rats about ground rules as there is no reason to do so. Complete anarchy would take over. Thank God we have laws that guide and protect us, based on these 10 commandments. Thanks Peter.


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