Church needs to go back to the revolutionary '60s


Book Cover, 'The Language of the Unheard' by John FalzonThe 1960s have become a mythical period for both society at large and the Catholic Church in particular. Two myths have currency. One sees the period as a golden age of freedom from unreasonable restraints, openness to new ideas and a crossing of restrictive boundaries. The other sees them as an age of license, of abandonment of a moral code, and of loss of cohesive identity.

A book by Vinnies chief John Falzon led me to ponder these myths. In its style, The Language of the Unheard is a throwback to the 1960s. It is written in a variety of voices, from analytical to poetic to anecdotal. It is catholic in the range of writers whom it cites, ranging from popes to Latin American activists, to theorists like Fanon and Marx, and especially little known people who have been marginalised.

Most tellingly, its tone is passionate, combining anger and outrage at the way in which people in Australia are maltreated by the state and excluded by the categories of public opinion. It views society from the perspective of those excluded from its benefits. It insists the remedy for this discrimination must be found in their concerted action. It calls for a quite concrete solidarity with the poor that will empower them to organise to receive justice.

This was the stuff of Catholic activist reflection in the 1960s: the affective tone, the search for wisdom in many places, the belief in direct action by those who are marginalised. It seems surprisingly novel today.

Catholic reflection on matters of justice and poverty plays many of the same notes, but in a different key. Its style is more coolly reflective, offering a bird's eye view of the world of which the poor are part. The solidarity that is key to Catholic social thought is grounded in shared human dignity. It binds the wealthiest citizens to the most impoverished and commits the community to ensure the poorest have an honoured place at the table.

The tone of much Catholic reflection is analytic or exhortatory. Although describing starkly the ills of society, in order to redress them it appeals to people's better nature. In Pope Benedict's thought the petrol that drives the engine of social change for the better is not anger but love. The argument is made from reflection on Christian faith, and other sources of wisdom are often seen as rivals rather than as partners in changing the world.

This perspective is in continuity with the long Catholic tradition, but also bears marks of a conscious reaction against some strands of Catholic reflection current in the 1960s. In contrast to the emphasis on local communities and shared struggle, this reflection is located within the Catholic tradition of authoritative teaching.

It perhaps represents a reaction against the use of Marxist categories and language in analysing the world, and it recognises that anger is not always a reliable counsellor, with its capacity to mask selfish agendas as altruism.

The rich panorama of Falzon's book draws attention to the importance of some of the 1960s heritage. Affective solidarity is central within any commitment to social justice. Solidarity can never simply be a guiding principle in society. It must also be expressed in concrete relationships between people that move them to concerted action.

Although as critics of the 1960s insist, affective solidarity can degenerate into ineffectual sentiment, any form of solidarity must be measured by the actual relationships we form with those different from us, and by the ways in which we enable their voices to be heard and encourage their solidarity with one another.

The reflection on liberation that has come out of the Latin American Church movements still has much to contribute to Catholic reflection today.

It is also important to recognise the value of righteous anger, while acknowledging its ambiguity. It is right to be angered by the way we marginalise people in society and treat them subsequently. The emphasis on love in Christian faith can mask a fear of anger and conflict, and even be manipulative when used to discourage change.

The scriptures represent God's love and anger as complementary, not as contradictory, and anger and its management have an important part in any commitment to social justice..

Finally, affective rhetoric has an important place in church language about justice and society. Reasoned argument, denunciation and homiletic have their place. But language that moves people is direct and demotic, full of delicate and brutal images of which the scriptures are full, a torrent of words gurgling with many voices. 


Andrew Hamilton headshotAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, John Falzon, poverty



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Existing comments

There's a saying that 'if you can remember the 60s you weren't there'. That last paragraph is a great summation of your article Andrew. I think in reading scripture a passion (in all its messiness) for the Word is so necessary. It's what fires the love in our hearts - for God and for neighbour. At this time, we should be fired with righteous anger about a whole range of issues - asylum seekers, indigenous Australians and sexual abuse within society (including church) to name a few. I view God's nature as paradoxical - mercy and judgement, grace and discipline, justice and forgiveness, exile and salvation. And they are complementary!

Pam | 22 November 2012  

Palms Australia has been encouraging this approach to Mission and Development for a dozen years now. The volunteers we prepare for cross-cultural engagement are imbued with approaches to achieving solidarity. Your words: "solidarity must be measured by the actual relationships we form with those different from us, and by the ways in which we enable their voices to be heard and encourage their solidarity with one another." are a great summary of what we seek from Palms volunteers.

Roger O'Halloran | 22 November 2012  

The issue is not a return to the 1960's but for catholic grey haired and balding hippie brigades, to grow past the postgonesillier Woodstock stupidities. Such were the idiotic, banal desecrations of the magnificent Novus[yes Novus!] Ordo with circus clowns,accompanied by de rigeur Kumbaya atrocities with"man is lonely by birth" music genre[ever been in obstetric ward packed with doctors,nurses etc everything but channel 9 Time to leave behind the massive dissent from infallible teaching of Humanae Vitaecomment-it is time to move forward in maturity to a year of Faith after the silliness of ecclesial unbridled adolescence of the 60s,and 70s. Recognition ought be given to the never ending global seminar circuits that oiled the whole postgonesillier bandwagon with high iso-octane dissent. Do we really need to return to the retrograde 60s?

father john george | 22 November 2012  

Couldn’t agree more Andrew. Affect plays quite a role in Catholics’ resolution of personal conflicts between life experience and their understandings of church teachings and practices. A great deal of the anger is aroused by a perception that sections of the church hierarchy are unable to comprehend, let alone be moved by any kind of ‘righteous’ emotion. Reflecting recently on Catholics’ stories from my doctoral research I kept asking myself, ‘whatever happened to the Catholic ‘option for the poor’?’

Angela Coco | 22 November 2012  

I totally agree with Andrew and have also sensed the heavy atmosphere of anger pervading society - politically, religiously, socially - where debate has become toxic and cynical, the victim is labelled as the aggressor, and moral dilemmas seem to be argued in reverse - starting with the desired endpoint and every effort made to prove it at the expense of compassion. So let's go back to the radical, revolutionary 60s - radical, 'free love' - but let's remember there are four words in Greek for love - agape, eros, philia and storge - and no moral issue can be discussed maturely without deep understanding of these.

AURELIUS | 22 November 2012  

"the Catholic ‘option for the poor’?". I'm sure there are absolutely no moves from the Vatican to prevent the poor from remaining to chose to take the 'poor option'. Heavens, without so many people chosing to be poor there'd be no continuing role for the Church, would there? No posturing anymore, no chance to talk down to others, no ability to remain aloof and totally irrelevant to the huddled masses and the deserving(ly) poor. Quite right Father John George. Why go back to the 1960s when it's possible to go back to the 1200s, a time of glorious resolve in the Church. But let's never look forward at all, nor take the time to reflect on what might have been learned in more recent years. Let's lift the Vatican carpet and sweep all under it, walking around the untidy elephant sized bump in the middle of the room. Much safer.

janice wallace | 22 November 2012  

Thank you Andrew.The official Catholic church seems to want to protect this solidarity, as an institutionalised dinosaur.Corruption through lack of transparency and cannon law overriding real justice has been the 'way' for keeping the faithful blind for 2 milleniems.The Vatican, as a monarchial state can no longer expect to 'govern' its 'colonies'. Revolution was asked for by Pope John ..and we have to keep actively working at the grass roots, There is a top-down approach that belittles all faith-filled people and is so offensive, especially with clerical abuse,tax and corporate law evasion.We pay with our taxes and charities as we are listen to the Word of God, the real message of Christ, yet the Vatican thinks we are still the uneducated and ignorant. Medieval hierarchies have been long overthrown ..when will the Vatican become the vibrant christian movement it was in the early centuries when women had equality and leadership in all social life.We have not progressed at all, and patriachial -old testament law persists.

catherine | 22 November 2012  

Father George, Yes we do need to return to the 60s, or better still, disregard the clarion call of the neo-con and the tradionalist. The myth of the pre-conciliar Golden Age when God was in ( emphatically)His Heaven, the Pope was in charge and the rest of us prayed, paid and obeyed has been well and truly debunked.

JR | 22 November 2012  

Perhaps the Church needs to go back the really revolutionary 60's. To the 60's A.D., when, (Acts 2:44-47), "The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed" In other words, 'From each according to their ability, to each according to their need." Of course they had great incentive to overcome their natural self-centered desires, because they believed the world was about to end, and they would be judged by their love and concern for others. But their Way generated great love and concern for others, inspiring millions of followers, and lasting for hundreds of years. Our challenge is to emulate similar love and concern, despite realising that it is going to cost us. This was the engine room that launched Christianity, and can correct the mistakes we have witnessed, and put us back on the right Way.

Robert Liddy | 22 November 2012  

Janice Wallace - option for the poor does not mean "poor option" - it means that ultimately - doctrines, dogmas, deeds and morality aside - the poor hold a privileged, unique place in the unfolding of human redemption/salvation, that no rich person can ever achieve. It's God who opts for them - not the church or the hierarchy. . As Gutierrez says: ‘God has a preferential love for the poor not because they are necessarily better than others, morally or religiously, but simply because they are poor and living in an inhuman situation is contrary to God’s will."

AURELIUS | 22 November 2012  

I wish to clarify : Women were treated equally under Roman law and were expected to have their own financial independence.They were also instrumental in establishing the christian church in Rome and in Europe.Augustine put a stop to equality with his fear and demonisation of sexuality, as he struggled with his lust. As long as we have inequality we will have poverty.Perhaps over-population is another example, and if women were valued for all their gifts, grinding poverty,abortion (yes,! ) and abuse would not be so rampant. Fr George, is it right that Bishops still have to swear allegiance to the pope, not to God or the church? Infallibility seems to over shadow everything and we are treated as though we mindless and worthless. Is this not idolatrous? The youth of today are not blindly faithful, but well educated, and will not tolerate ignorance not to mention organised criminals.

Catherine | 22 November 2012  

Aurelius, "there are four words in Greek for love - agape, eros, philia and storge". Interesting, thanks for that. Slightly off topic here, but having just heard the ever evasive Chris 'Ruddock' Bowen blathering on about his sense of compassion in preventing drowning deaths, I just wonder if you'd care to hazard a guess as to which of the four loves this great Christian man (so I heard him proudly boast one Q&A session) might be demonstrating? And would that be true for all those who see concentration camps as the only humane (and obvioulsy final) solution to this matter? I was rather hoping you'd managed to spell the last one, storge', wrong, and it should really read 'stooge', but somehow I doubt it.

janice wallace | 22 November 2012  

JR Myth indeed! In fact early 20th century modernism suppressed, had gone underground. Pius XII tried to cauterise it with "Humani Generis" etc [J23 hoped to lance the boil,by confronting it at Vatican 2 with Deposit of Faith but Lo! too late a deeper metastasis was underway beyond his control-thus his deathbed plea noted by Jean Guitton "stop the Council!"[British Cardinal Heenan noted the Holy Fathers deepening depression as he watched V2 from CCTV].

father john george | 22 November 2012  

Aurelius, "option for the poor does not mean 'poor option'". No, indeed and understood. It is the best option there is for the Church, to have the huddled masses of downtrodden around all the time, isn't it? That's why God requires so many poor folk, the halt, lame and infirm, to keep being just that, because without them, there would be no role for the Christian Church to play, no Mother Terresa options to proudly display. As with the sex abuse scandals. Without that hanging over the Church now, what would they be reflecting on now? How could the faithful feel humbled and shamed in such a wealthy country as ours? To remain vital and relevant, the Church needs poverty, scandals particularly all the abuse to remain constantly on offer to help 'resolve' them all. Let's keep hoping the deserving poor keep choosing their 'poor option' lifestyle because it helps add so much value to those who are not so poor. Not to mention the easy-pickings amongst them for fresh recruits to keep filling the tax free coffers of the Church.

janice wallace | 22 November 2012  

Father George, perhaps John XX111 was only sorry that he was too unwell to attend the sessions... as for lancing the boil, perhaps the metaphorical boil needs a more complex procedure after the ineffectual attempted cautery by PiusX11...of such tales are myths made.

JR | 22 November 2012  

Re:preferential option for the poor, Janice and Aurelius. In my view, there is only one way to understand this term, namely "put the interests of the poor first" (so that they become "unpoor"). If it means anything less, it's a complacent bourgeois conceit. Alas, as the likes of Cardinal Burke with his penchant for cappa magnas and fancy vestments typify, it all too often means praising the poor for their "spiritual virtue" and leaving it at that. The structural inequities that entrench poverty and underclasses are hardly ever addressed. Not while the unemployed and single mothers are demonised for receiving different and vastly more miniscule forms of welfare than those enjoyed by subsidised fat-cats and the otherwise comfortable.

smk | 22 November 2012  

Quite so SMK, that is my point. The machinery of Church power demands the distraction of appearing to be there for some purpose beyond its own existence. Sadly, that is all it's there for, so if the poor were to actually vanish, there would be no jobs left for the careerist clerics to fill. So, they make sure everything is smoke and mirrors, with circus distractions thrown in to keep the blind faithful, blind and faithful. Some call it 'the joke', others call it 'appealing to mug-punters' while others prefer to use the phrase 'pea and thimble trick'. What it lacks is any honesty. No church is making any efforts at all to end poverty. Some send missionaries to waft around digging wells or teaching in schools, but all this is done in the hope of recruits, not for any sense of a shared humanity.

janice wallace | 22 November 2012  

When Jesus * overturned the tables of the moneychangers and poured out their coins * used a whip of cords to drive out the sheep and cattle * overturned the seats of those who sold doves ... who could believe that this was anything other than an expression of passionate anger? Maybe 2000 years later we could begin by "clearing out" our clearly-mistaken, bloodless, passionless and "Christmas-card" style ideas of what it is to be "Christlike". This takes nothing away from love - it just highlights a mode of love-in-action that we are often uncomfortable with and unsure how to handle.

Don | 22 November 2012  

Concern for the poor can see many different ways society is to be rebuilt. A valid Catholic approach is to advocate a free market society (minimal state) with a legal framework that reflects the natural law and subsidiarity. So: free trade, minimum taxes, regulations and government intervention, but abortion and abortifacient contraceptives illegal, marriage between a man and woman only, tax breaks for young marrieds and large families, and for donors to those charities that resonate with natural law principles, and so on. When the state is small and the natural law is observed, community bonds strengthen. I don't remember the sixties much, but I remember the 70s and 80s in the seminary. For all their talk of "dialogue" and "listening", those interested in liberation theology didn't ever seem interested in delving outside their own little coterie of writers - Segundo, Gutierrez, Boff etc. Most hadn't even read Marx, let alone someone who might radically challenge their theoretical framework, like Hayek. It struck me as a passing fad, along with Jung and rebirthing.

HH | 22 November 2012  

Thanks for the review Andrew. Garratt Publishing is very pleased to have published John's book and we are also pleased to announce that we will donate 30% of revenue from sales of the book to the St Vincent de Paul Society.

Tony Biviano | 22 November 2012  

The poor don't choose to be poor - their circumstances are the direct result of human greed and selfishness - and the nastily competitive global economic system the we are the church are part of. There will always be the poor - and if SMK thinks that attitude is conceited and bourgois - then that too is part of our human selfishness. God's still looking from a distance waiting for us to decide when to make them "unpoor" and take them down from the cross. (Jesus was crucified once and for all - and he's already defeated death - so no need for us to crucify anyone else - yet we still do)

AURELIUS | 22 November 2012  

Great stuff,Andrew. It might sound a bit pedantic but I wonder if another concept you are exploring is outrage. Irrespective of the word, what I read from your piece was that in response to the increasing plight of the poor what do we do? Daily I face this dilemma. Write to my local member, have a complaining chat with a simpatico friend, write it the paper or to a site like Eureka Street? What is efficacious? Mostly I find little solidarity with anyone who can make much difference. There are hopeful voices, Common Dreams in the USA, the Occupy movement and so on. But I feel that we are continually outgunned by the capitalist force telling governments how to help their businesses to exploit the poor. As many of your respondents almost dare to suggest the Catholic Church has bankrupted its credibility. You people who have more connection to that church might consider using your solidarity and rage in reforming or calling to account that organization. Start where you have some connection. Eye, there's the rub, would the anger of any of the respondents come at a public rally, as do others committed to change? Jesuit schools are supposed to train leaders but those 'leaders' are well to the right of policies of commutative justice. Would there be sufficient solidarity among your readers to tell those schools they are irrelevant and part of the problem? Don't forget the rebellions in 1960s universities which were far more than hot air.Anger, outrage and solidarity by all means but unless there is just the dope smoking free floating detachment of the sixties it is just words.

Michael D. Breen | 22 November 2012  

"Finally, affective rhetoric has an important place in church language about justice and society. images" &c. A powerful & valid point, Fr H. Now, how ought we, in your opinion, apply all this to the slaughter of the unborn in Australia: surely by many orders our most stark example of social injustice?

HH | 22 November 2012  

Father George are we talking about the same era. I'm a sixties and I so treasure the values that period gave me. Kumbaya helped bring the liturgy alive. I among with mang young people filled churches that preaching messages of love and compassion and hope. I know I came to see us all as creatures of God and I discovered too that God was as well Sophia. I was fortunate during that time to have Peter Quin SJ as my English and religion teacher. We were encourage to examine and question. He brought values and poetry to my adolescent life. Over the years I have become disallusioned and saddened by what has come to pass. Im just grateful there are enough priests who still carry the message that given to me back then

john | 22 November 2012  

jw. It is easy to become disillusioned in this world of greed and power. We need to people of god..continue to help those marginalised.. I hope I could accept help when needed. we are following a person Jesus Christ, and called to trust in him, that evil will not triumph over good. This will only happen if we are graced to join together to fight this inexorable struggle between greed and love. the history of the Catholic Church is chequered, it consists of saints and a lot of sinners, but has probably done more good than most other organisations.

bernie intrina | 22 November 2012  

John your alive Kumbaya is an old creole song from early last century[1922] making you a preconciliar trad hopefully not sedevacantist

father john george | 22 November 2012  

Yes, HH. Perhaps we can try this: run three ads side by side: the first showing a gaunt skeletal villager or a pinched despairing slum-dweller juxtaposed against a board of bank governors with the caption "der Markt macht frei" (only the market can make you free); the second showing the hands of a leering adult reaching out towards a young school-boy, with the caption "contraception will send you to hell"; and the third showing enlarged under the microscope cameras a globule in a womb being abruptly drawn off-screen with the caption "this is the starkest worst form of social injustice". How’s that for affective rhetoric? I suggest, HH, few would agree with your priorities.

smk | 23 November 2012  

SMK, one thing that you might need to remember is that to count as rhetoric, the speech must convey truth. And re. that "globule": I'm committed by my Lord to respecting the natural rights of human beings, no matter their age, shape, size, colour, sex, and so on. "In as much as you did this to the least of my brethren, you did it to me."

HH | 23 November 2012  

Interesting piece, Andrew. I'm wary of angry people though, and I wonder if any of us is qualified to exhibit 'righteous anger'. It feels good to be able to turn our anger on others, which is another reason to be suspicious of angry people. When I think about anger, I'm drawn instead to 'blessed are the meek' and 'the still small voice'. If we aim to be angry, we will miss the way. But if we aim for the meekness and stillness favoured by God, then we will find the right path whatever the circumstances may be.

Zac | 23 November 2012  

Dear HH, the descriptor "globule" went to the question of visual image, not the question of substance (let's not start a whole new thread), but in any case, I notice you did not respond to the substance of my challenge over your challenge to Fr Andrew.

smk | 23 November 2012  

@Zac: It's a good question. Are any of us 'qualified' to exhibit righteous anger? And 'meekness' is an under-rated quality in our world. However, I think that a strong feeling like anger can motivate us to achieve change for the common good. We don't have to go around punching people out (heavens no!), but using those strong feelings constructively. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount calls us to a recognition of our true state. I also think that our diversity, in response to events, is part of God's design.

Pam | 23 November 2012  

SMK, if the 3rd proposed ad conveyed that the "globule" was in fact just as much a human being as you and me, and that he/she was about to experience not just deprivation, but execution, then the caption might work and the ad may well be an exemplary piece of affective rhetoric.

As to the first two ads ... I've answered your challenge: they don't communicate truths, so aren't rhetoric at all, just propaganda. Specifically: 1. Free markets don't cause poverty. Bankers in our highly regulated, taxpayer-guaranteed, fractional reserve system don't epitomise free market activity. The market doesn't "make you free" and I've never seen anyone claim it did. On the contrary: people have to be free in order create a market economy. So the cheap shot link with Auschwitz is bogus. 2. There's no link between affirming Church and natural law teaching on contraception and committing paedophile acts, a gratuitously offensive suggestion and not you at your best, SMK.

HH | 24 November 2012  

Bravo, HH! A reasonable-enough answer to at least two of my suggested presentations. But if the truth be told, you and I may be only in disagreement with the captions, not the images. You don’t agree that the “free” market (as you espouse it) entrenches inequality/poverty or that there is an incongruence and credibility problem between an insistence by church leaders on “Natural Law” morality and their historic concealment of child abuse; and I don’t agree that abortion can be singled out as the “starkest” form of social injustice. We might, in actual fact, however, be in considerable agreement that starving people, child abuse and abortions are all three social and moral evils.

smk | 25 November 2012  

Thanks, SMK. Yes I heartily agree with you on those points.

I understand your point now re. the contraception/sex abuse ad. I agree that many bishops and church leaders have been shamefully pushing the cases under the mat and deserve to be brought to book. But I don't accept the contraception link. The ad is exactly wrong here. The best evidence I've seen points to an escalation of clerical sex abuse in the 1960's and 70's, with a decline commencing in the 80's (though any instance is unacceptable, of course). Now, this was at a time when church leaders were notoriously NOT supporting Catholic teaching on contraception - in fact a large number of theologians were openly dissenting on the teaching and the bishops were almost to a man mute in their response. (Glorious exception: Archbishop Thomas Cahill of Canberra-Goulburn.)Even a number of bishops and bishops' conferences themselves stated or implied that the teaching was not binding. So if anything, an ad should showcase the cowardice in the hierarchy in its refusal to courageously explain and uphold traditional Church teaching in the face of a hostile world, and link THAT to its inactions and cover-ups in the sex abuse area.

HH | 26 November 2012  

Yes HH Archbishop Cahill was outstanding! The Australian Dictionary of Biography noted: "Deliberately unobtrusive in public life, Cahill dealt with such issues as state aid to education, abortion, contraception, and the Vietnam War. Only when he reprimanded four priests who dissented from certain aspects of the Papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae (1968), did he draw a prolonged public reaction. He preferred personal to political action: through courtesy, conviction and conciliation, he resolved many concerns by direct negotiation with government and community leaders." His Grace visited our ACT seminary during the HV crisis. I was the only scholastic who bent and kissed his ring[such was the tension]. The 40 others perfunctorily shook his hand, including Father Rector[who later left the priesthood and married]. His Grace made a point of visiting and dining with the 4 dissenters from HV and their apprehensive religious community-a man of flawless courtesy but unblinking fidelity to magisterium.

father john george | 30 November 2012  

Thanks, Fr John. That's a rather revealing vignette, and a great credit to both His Grace (RIP) and yourself! I think I can imagine the reaction of your fellow scholastics to your observance of the due protocols... You may not be aware, but in one of the supreme and blessed ironies of life, one of the four dissenters whom Archbishop Cahill reprimanded (and had removed from the Archdiocese, I believe) was present at Archbishop's House in the mid-nineteen eighties as part of a small cohort requesting permission (successfully) for the Tridentine Mass! (That latter Archbishop was Francis Carroll, I recall.) I can remember as a lad one particular one sermon of Archbishop Cahill's. It was on... self-mortification! A topic as splendidly unfashionable (even then) as it was pertinent. We really took this guy for granted, didn't we? As you've suggested, he was a prince among bishops. The interview in the Canberra Times in the wake of the Humanae Vitae/MSC dissenters affair shows him in his supreme glory as a pastor, teacher, and shepherd of his flock. Even that secular organ evinced a grudging respect. God rest his soul.

HH | 04 December 2012  

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