Letters to Eureka Street

Freedom of thought

Andrew Hamilton’s ‘Truth, Conscience and Conversations’ (Eureka Street, September 2003) was a pleasure to read. He clarified the issues through helpful distinctions. His approach to the topic was both judicious and sensitive.

The Church viewed as a community of conversation (and that entails respectful listening) reminds us of something important. We cannot be force-fed with the truth nor press-ganged into being free whether it is by individuals, the government, the Church and even, one must say, by God.

That such respect for (or right of?) the human person extends to the divine sphere is captured by Paul VI in a beautiful line in the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Towards the end of Paragraph 29 he talks of the ‘spirit of God, while He (sic) assists the Magisterium in proposing doctrine, illumines internally the hearts of the faithful, inviting them to give their assent’ (emphasis added).

In discussions of truth and conscience and of which has precedence, it is perhaps wholesome to be reminded of the overarching primacy of the courtesy of God towards humankind.

Tom Ryan SM

College of Theology,
University of Notre Dame Australia
Fremantle, WA

Dissenting voice

In his frank and honest article ‘Sunken Diplomacy’, Tony Kevin—a public servant for 30 years—writes ‘Writing and academic opportunities, initially promising, tended to dry up as my policy critique sharpened’ (my emphasis). This is disturbing.

In a democracy, people make decisions based on information supplied to them mostly by the mass media. Unfortunately, the present coalition federal government, which is hell bent to retain power, unscrupulously bends the truth frequently. This forces senior public servants aware of the truth to question their conscience. As Tony found out, any questioning of the government’s insidious policy is done at personal cost.

Spiro Tanti
Firle, SA


I certainly do not wish to diminish the late Edward Said, yet I am deeply troubled by the opening flourish of Anthony Ham’s encomium ‘The “conscious pariah”’ (Eureka Street, November 2003). Like a lot of such writing, this essay daringly declares but does not define.

‘There have been few more significant intellectuals in the 20th century than Edward Said,’ Ham enthuses. What does he understand by ‘significant’, not to mention ‘intellectual’? Ham’s definition seems to be by exclusion, his notion of ideas appears limited to people who are, or ought to be, members of Faculties of Humanities.

The truth, surely, is that ideas exist in all sorts of other places and they can change societies. What, in other words, of science, engineering, architecture or medicine?

Wasn’t Albert Einstein a significant 20th century intellectual? Or Irwin Schrödinger, Robert Oppenheimer, Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck, Niels Bohr? What of the chemists Linue Pauling, Max Perutz and Irwin Chargaff; the immunologist (and essayist) Peter Medawar; the geneticists Jacques Monod and Francis Crick? What of the Burley Griffins, Frank Lloyd Wright, Joern Utzon, Le Corbusier?

All of these people—and many, many others—did immensely significant intellectual work. All of them were—at the very least—just as significant as Edward Said, most of them probably even more so. None of this diminishes Said, of course, but Ham’s partisan and circumscribed enthusiasm diminishes not only many other intellectual giants but the very notion of ‘intellectual’ itself.

John Carmody
Roseville, NSW



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