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Sharing the journey with agnostics and Qantas


Pope Benedict recently gathered people of many religions and none at Assisi. The shape of the event and the Pope's thoughtful speech attracted much comment (also here). They also raise questions both for church and civil institutions.

Pope John Paul II held the first day of prayer for peace at Assisi in 1986. At it the delegates prayed together for peace, an initiative criticised by the then Cardinal Ratzinger. In convoking this year's meeting for peace, the Pope put his own stamp on it. The participants included some agnostics. There was a period set aside for delegates to reflect or pray in their rooms, but no shared prayer.

Pope Benedict gave the main address. In it he considered the causes of violence. In 1986, much violence was associated with the Cold War. Now it is often associated with religion.

After dealing with and deploring the appeal made to religion to justify violence, the Pope reflects on violence associated with the denial of God. He claims that the denial of God by Nazi or Communist states led also to the denial of humanity.

He then considers the violence that flows from the unbridled pursuit of wealth and power shown, for example, in the trading of drugs. He believes that this reflects a loss of humanity, which flows in turn from the loss of God.

When referring to the loss of God, the Pope distinguishes atheism from agnosticism. He believes that many agnostics search for truth and for peace, a pilgrimage which challenges both the dogmatism of atheism and the tendency of Christians to regard God as a possession. They call for a purification of Christianity. His invitation of agnostics to the Assisi meeting was intended to show that they and Christians are on a shared journey expressed in their commitment to peace and human dignity.

The Pope's speech explains the changes made to the Assisi meeting. It once gathered other religious leaders to pray together for peace. It now gathers both religious and non-religious people of good will to encourage them to work for peace. This goal may seem more modest and restricted, but working together to shape a better world builds deeper relationships and dismisses prejudices more effectively than does a focus on difference of beliefs.

This recasting of the day also enabled the Pope to handle creatively the tension between the understanding that the Catholic Church is the beneficiary of a unique gift from God and its mission to go out to the world outside itself.

He handles the tension by distinguishing between beliefs and people. Questions of faith and of the definition of religion are left to a controlled conversation. But people of good will, religious and other, are to be embraced and cooperated with because they are fellow pilgrims.

This distinction between people and ideas, which underlies the attractive description of agnostics, tempers an intellectual style that often deals in large abstractions like atheism and secularism. They fail to do justice to the complexity of human reality.

But the tension remains. Even those who bear a unique gift for the journey must adapt their behaviour when they share a journey with others. They will share perplexities, get lost occasionally, need to listen to others' wisdom and explore freely the source of their resources, pray together in hard places, and make their own party fit for the journey. The gift that they bear will be for use on the journey, not simply to be kept safe.

Their fellow pilgrims will also expect them to show respect and justice in the relationships within their own group. That is a token of taking the shared journey seriously. For travellers the distinction between ideas and people is fluid.

Those implications of the shared journey have consequences for the life of the Church, as has already been made evident in the saga of Bishop Morris. But they also have consequences for thinking about mundane events.

The reputation of Qantas, for example, is built on the image of a company whose shareholders, management, smiling pilots and attendants and passengers are companions and active participants in ensuring safe travel and one another's welfare.

The recent actions of Qantas presents the more brutal image of a company in which the opinions of management, shareholders and board alone matter. Those who work for it are treated simply as costs. Those who travel with it are treated simply as revenue.

If it is to recover its lost reputation it will need to embody its professions of care in processes that see people as its gift and not as mere costs or revenue. Otherwise why would one want to share a journey with it?

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street. 

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Bill Morris, Qantas, Pope Benedict, Pope John Paul II



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Existing comments

Atheists too share the journey and are very cognisant of the complexity of human reality but do not connect with the idea of God in the overall picture.

Qantas has to deal with the reality of the global nature of business and while one might see their behaviour as brutal the alternative could be extinction...the costs of the demnds of workers could make them not viable in the real world

GAJ | 03 November 2011  

Not even the opinions of all shareholders matter to the Qantas board only the opinions of those who are their cronies.

Carol Quinn | 03 November 2011  

One of the most thoughtful and hopeful statements to come from our Pontiff. May he keep listening to that voice within that draws us to all truth.

Patricia Ryan | 03 November 2011  

Thank you Hamilton we encourage you to continue stirring our thoughts.

As for the popes date with and/or including agnostics, I would say that even Jesus of Nazareth would have endorsed it. Indeed Jesus encouraged parallels who were in pursuit of the truth. See Mark 9:38-40 (...“we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”...“Do not stop him,” Jesus said)

However, I find your Qantas analogy a bit misinformed. The Qantas management decision was within the confines of duty of care. The duty to continue making profits, sustaining employee wages and ferrying travelers under the national logo.
Prior to that decision, the carrier was loosing huge sums of money daily, that would have led to imminent wind up, lose of job and closure of the airline.

Hillan Nzioka | 03 November 2011  

Andrew the first part of your article I can agree but the second part about Qantas, sorry you lost me. For the last few months we have watched, this union of the airline on strike, that union strike, the other union strike. Will they call a sudden strike. etc. Normally I travel a fair bit and with Qantas because in all my travels with various airlines Qantas is the best and reasonably priced, but this year I couldn't but if I was travelling I would have found it difficult to book with them for fear that on the day another section of the airline went on strike and no flights. I had terror that all my family (14 of them) travelling to Melb for sons wedding this weekend would not make it. But last weekends' episode gave me confidence that they would be here.

The problem I believe that is that when Labor is in power, the unions rise up and hold all of us to ransom.

"otherwise why would one want to share a journey with it" because Andrew whether you like it or not it's the face of Australian flying and its our airline and its the best.

Anne Lastman | 03 November 2011  

"Sharing the journey with agnostics and Qantas"

Flights of fancy and/or real or imagined destinations will always occupy the minds of travellers.

What's the difference between the leadership of the Catholic church and the Qantas Board?

The church also offers a ticket to ride but its managerial style does resemble that of Qantas. Isn't it also true that "Those who work for it are treated simply as costs. Those who travel with it are treated simply as revenue (or baggage)?".

Equally, if the church is to recover "...its lost reputation it will need to embody its professions of care in processes that see people as its gift and not as mere costs(read robots) or revenue (read baggage or baggage handlers). Otherwise why would one want to share a journey with it?"

In this comparison, Lufthansa (with its triple crowns insignia) and Qantas are fellow travellers.

Brian Haill - Melbourne | 03 November 2011  

The arbitrary and tenuous reference to QANTAS at the end of your article detracts from its good points. As I read it I could see many of your values and ideas that would help Christians relate to the many good people we meet regularly who fit the agnostic and even atheist labels. Despite the final biassed, irrelevant conclusion you have given me much to think and pray about. Thanks for that.

Grebo | 03 November 2011  

Qantas cruelty toward its employees stems from its seeing them as a human resource of the company..they are not human beings but a mere resource no different to the planes, finances etc...That is why they are under the rule of a "Human Resource Manager". It is a disgraceful title but one that is very revealing.

Jim Macken | 03 November 2011  

Oh my gawd, this is a considerable rewriting of thousands of years of history,"In 1986, much violence was associated with the Cold War. Now it is often associated with religion."

And what, pray tell, was one of the driving forces behind the Western view of 'the other' during this Cold War era?

Why, Heavens above, the religious extremists in the West, particularly those within the USA, but let's not pick on our colonial cousins too much, were very strongly behind every action that drove the world to the brink of a thermonuclear doom.

The Pope airbrushes history when it comes to the very eager Christian support, within Germany but also within Rome, for Fascism and Nazism, as in fact, so many of the English aristocracy were also inclined to regard Hitler and Mussolini as sound men with Good Ideas.

Let me dig through my memories. The Popes view on Franco?

The Vatican support, around the globe, over thousands of years, for rightwing religious bullying and oppression?

As for this, "the Catholic Church is the beneficiary of a unique gift from God and its mission to go out to the world outside itself", now let's be very clear here, God has selected the Jews as His 'chosen people',the only 'unique' gift on offer, not the Pope or any other Roman Catholic.

There was a music hall ditty my grandmother, a RC who married a Jew, used to chant, "How odd, of God, to choose the Jews".

Indeed, but no odder than every other religion kidding themselves that God has uniquely chosen them to save the world.

Harry Wilson | 03 November 2011  

It would help if Australians took the trouble to understand the IR laws, then they might understand how and why unions go on strike during enterprise bargaining periods. It might help if RCs also understood that the Pope supports workers taking industrial action to keep their heads out of the water, even those that are not RCs. That it might disrupt a few people is part of the deal. QANTAS actions show they are poor managers of people, and profit levels might indicate they are also poor managers of capital. As for flying with QANTAS, I have long since given that up as a poorly advised exercise. I now fly with Asian airlines when off to Europe and with whoever is cheapest domestically, generally Virgin, sometimes Jetstar but never QANTAS. The last international flight I had with QANTAS was reminiscent of a day at Cronulla beach, with badly dressed Aussie youf drunk as Lords and behaving almost as badly as the cabin staff, who were all engaged in some lovers-tiff and taking it out on passengers. Royal Brunei is a great alternative, respectful service from all staff and no booze on board for the youf to disgrace themselves with.

Harry Wilson | 03 November 2011  

Thank you for this comment - I only regret the lack of space to really cover the issues. The current Pope (and certainly his predecessor) has a somewhat confined view when discussing violence. I prefer to align my opinion, allegiance with the views of people like the Brazilian Franciscan Leonardo Boff (driven from the priesthood by the Vatican) who called upon fellow believers to fight for the rights of the poor, asserting that the struggle against economic oppression is an essential mission of Christianity. And if I may quote another Latin American, Archbishop Helder Camara: "When people ask me if I think our continent is threatened by violence I feel that the question is looking ahead to the possible, eventual violence of those who are now oppressed, whereas it does not take into account the already existing violence of the oppressors...." I know where I stand and it is not with the Church's hierarchy.

John Nicholson | 03 November 2011  

An ecumenical meeting for peace at which there were no shared prayers? That is the part of this story that I find not only peculiar but worrying. Meetings of this kind should open, continue and close with shared prayer. Why doesn't Benedict wish to pray with his guests?

Desiderius Erasmus | 03 November 2011  

I don’t think we have to look as far as Qantas. We see evil cloaked in the cloth of good Christians doing so much harm. We see evil people pretending to support “refuges” keeping the trade of human beings alive. We see hypocritical priests and charity organisations beating their chests in self righteousness condemning people who wish for fairer and safer ways for people to come to Australia. We see our agnostic or atheistic Prime Minister showing far more humanity towards refugees than many of the so-called refugee advocates. The success of evil in religion is not new and has always been the dark part of religion. We can look back at crusades, colonialisms, inquisitions, hunts, holy wars etc. or look at the present at child abuse, support of people smuggling, support of nihilistic ideals etc. , evil people remain within the church and often in powerful positions. The recent death of a large number of “boat people” on their way to Australia is a direct outcome of policies pushed by the Greens and their supporters, including people in this forum!

Beat Odermatt | 03 November 2011  

The general thrust of your discussion re the dialogue between Christians and agnostics was thought provoking for this post-Catholic with deep concerns for the role of the church hierarchy as expressed by Harry Wilson in this discussion.

However, like other correspondents I believe the reference to QANTAS was gratuitous even though I strongly disagree with the points of view expressed in most of the responses. Maybe a blog devoted to the ethical issues involved in the dispute would be useful.

What I do appreciate is the general tone and thoughtfulness of those who engage in Eureka Street's discussion forums. Articles and blogs in other media are characterised by bile, venom and ad hominem attacks - Eureka Street is challenging but respectful. Thank you.

Tony W | 03 November 2011  

Hmm. Interesting connection.

I don't know if Alan Joyce was raised as an Irish Catholic. Anyone able to answer that?

Mike H | 03 November 2011  

Interesting overview of the Pope's Assisi initiative with a neat segue into current affairs. Commentary on this elicited exquisite confirmation of what many have long suspected. Many Christian theorists who support peace, justice, equity etc. in principle line themselves up with "let them eat cake" conservatism in reality. Hamilton's Qantas example is challenge for theorists, "Do I support greater or lesser income equity?" "Do I support Jesus' preferential option for the poor?", "Do I have a problem with furthering the unfettered power of capitalism?" Like the rich young man, they turn regretfully away to their shareholdings.

Mark from Drouin | 03 November 2011  

In my view the best comment on Andrew's article was Harry Wilson's, and the least informed was Anne Lastman's. (I think Andrew's article was really all about Qantas with the Christian journey as a kind of counter-point.) Put simply, as Harry points out, not only were the unions' industrial actions completely legal under the provisions of the current legislation as they would have been under the previous, but completely understandable since they had a vital issue at stake to negotiate, namely the protection of their jobs. Unless, of course, Ms Lastman would deny workers the right to bargain for their and their families' interests?

The contrast is particularly highlighted by the self-congratulatory and astronomical payrises the Qantas executive paid itself only just before their counter-tactic. There is no question it seems of offshoring and rationalising the shareholders and managers, is there? John Nicholson's reference to Leonardo Boff and others should never make us forget that against the huge resources of large companies like Qantas, workers have only one bargaining tool at their disposal and that is the withdrawal of their labour. It is a contest between a Panzer division and a handful of molotov cocktails. I know who most persuasively can claim the moral ground.

Stephen Kellett | 03 November 2011  

Treating passengers travelling on Qantas as revenue items began some time ago e.g,.when travellers ceased to be referred to as passengers and are now referred to as customers. The former description involves the traveller being not just someone whom pays money for a commodity ( customer) but someone who shares with the crew and airline the experience of travel. Perhaps a small thing , but indicative of an attitude.

Barry O'Keefe | 03 November 2011  

I found Anne Lastman's comment very relevant. Prior to last weekend, the outlook was for more stoppages continuing financial losses and loss of custom indefinitely (one union leader telling people not to fly Qantas this side of Christmas) or cave in to demands which would even further reduce their competitiveness and make likely the demise of the company certainly on an international level (a lousy outcome for Australia). The Government was not helping and did nothing - one exception being Martin Ferguson. I am sure Qantas would have preferred it otherwise but they and Joyce had to bring it to a head and maintain viability. As for Andrew's article, it was fine except for the last few paras which I disagree with.

Bill Frilay | 03 November 2011  

Harry Wilson good for you! Im glad to spread yourself around. As for me I fly Qantas, Australian. As for your union comments? codswollop. If it had been your family affected you might have sung a different tune. Its not a little disruption, for poeple attending weddings, graduations,funerals, business. Its a big disruption and being held to ransom is not my idea of fairness.Its my understanding of ransom/payout As for your carrot "the pope supports etc" not interested. Watch Harry the strikes should start sometime soon. You know why ? Christmas is around the corner and organisations involved with unions will find a reason to strike and you know that that is the history we have.

Anne Lastman | 03 November 2011  

As for Stephen Kellett's comment that the least informed comment is mine...I can live with that. Alan Joyce's act ensured that my extended family could come for my son's wedding. His Aunts/Uncles/cousins could be here. Am I selfish this once Yes...We cant repeat the ceremony and others' ceremonies which cannot be repeated. So God Bless Alan Joyce.

Anne Lastman | 03 November 2011  

A truly Jesuitical argument indeed. Like others, I think it is a big stretch indeed to make any connection between finding common cause between mean women of good will working for peace in the world, and the Qantas case. Just as much a stretch though, in my opinion, are Fr Hamilton's comments on what the Pope's comments mean for ecumenism and dialogue. How for example do we get from no common prayers at Assisi to a conclusion that Catholics must "adapt their behaviour...pray together in hard places..."! If one must use the Holy Father's journey analogy, perhaps we might better think of it as a long march of pilgrims, moving towards the heavenly city. Some are at the front of the group, nearly there. Others are only just starting out. Some keep to the road. Others are wondering all around the countryside, utterly lost. The job of those well advanced is not to compromise, but to help those lost find the map, by sending up a beacon of faith.

Kate Edwards | 03 November 2011  

A long bow has been drawn to place Qantas' industrial problems in a religious context. While similarities can be drawn in their respective fundamentals, the problem that Qantas is facing has been simmering for a considerable time. Its management practice belongs to the dark ages. it is subservient to its shareholders and has a board that is out of touch with contemporary management practice. The idea that its workers should 'feel' a sense of ownership seems anathema to the Qantas management. By the same token, its labour force is also entrenched in ancient work ethics that it is only concern with wage bargaining. Imaginative and visionary management attract high quality work ethics and productivity. In most cases, where industrial disputes are concerned, the accepted Australian practice is confrontational. It's about 'them and us', Australian management seems to think that they 're licensed to beat the workforce to its knees. While the workforce regard management as enemies. In the meantime, with such limited vision, in order to compete on a global scale - against countries with lower standard of living and questionable renumeration of their workforce - Qantas decides to outsource its labour without so much as considering the impact to our national interest. Like the mining industry, Qantas is bent on profit at all cost. These are the ethical values that may find some similarities in the notion of a "shared journey".

Alex Njoo | 03 November 2011  

This is probably just one difference between Bill Frilay and me: when I'm confronted by some personal inconvenience because of legitimate industrial action by workers in their struggle for better terms and conditions, I don't complain as if my convenience trumps all other considerations. It doesn't.

If I were to deny them the right to take action that might cause me inconvenience, then I have no right to expect anyone else to allow me to inconvenience them in a legitimate and important matter. I'm afraid I don't have enough tissues for the crocodile tears of companies that can afford to pay their executive annual salaries of more than significant numbers of their workforce can earn in a whole year. If the company's demise were so imminent or its prospects so fragile, I would have expected some cutbacks and belt tightening(!) on the part of those at the top and shareholders. We all know that that would never happen. Keep things in perspective please, Bill!

Stephen Kellett | 03 November 2011  

A question re airline competition. Which Qantas competitors are government-owned, government-supported, government-managed etc? Do they all have shareholders etc? Are we talking about apples vs oranges etc?

Frank Bremner | 04 November 2011  

Stephen Kellett, yes - the unions have the right to the actions they've taken under the Act. Actions which have had a major impact. But then I understand Qantas' response to this action was also taken under the provisions of the Act. I do not deny the unions’ rights under the Act here. And I trust you would not deny Qantas theirs.

Frank Bremner, I understand neither Etihad nor Emirates pay corporate taxes and staff pay no income tax - effectively a very large subsidy - don't know about others or their ownership.

Bill Frilay | 05 November 2011  

Bill, I don't deny that Qantas could legally ground their airfleet. What I deny is their demonisation of the workers, and attempts to paint itself and its executives as victims or heroes.

Stephen Kellett | 07 November 2011  

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