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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