Christianity is a good fit for PNG
04 January 2020
TUMBY BAY - One of the distinguishing features of human beings is our ability to create myths and stories.
These narratives entertain but also perform a much more important role in setting ethical and behavioural standards.
Some of the greatest mythical inventions appear as religious texts, like the Bible and the Koran, but there are also secular myths that serve the same purpose.
One of the earliest behavioural legends seeded by religion was the Code of Hammurabi laid down in about 1770 BC in ancient Mesopotamia.
The code was purportedly delivered to humanity by the gods Anu, Enlil and Marduk and sought to “make justice prevail in the land, to abolish the wicked and evil, [and] to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak”.
You may not take those gods seriously but the code was certainly something the great majority of people could sign up to.
Secular myths tend to exist as philosophical texts and have been offered to us through the ages by people like Socrates to Australian moral philosopher (now US resident) Professor Peter Singer.
Socrates was a Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Western philosophy. He is credited with being the first moral philosopher of Western ethical traditions.
Peter Singer is an Australian ethical and political philosopher best known for his work in bioethics and his role as one of the intellectual founders of the modern animal rights movement.
Both religious myths and secular myths are essentially human inventions. Their source lies in the human imagination. They are not truths in the same sense that environmental and biological facts are truths.
Nevertheless, whether religious or secular, we humans need to believe in these myths to make sense of our world and decide how to live our lives.
I can’t remember when I abandoned my belief in religious myths in favour of secular myths but I suspect it was around the same time that I lost faith in Father Christmas.
For a long time I pretended to be a believer because, as a young person, I had an overwhelming need to be seen as conforming to the dominant social ethos.
Coward that I am, I didn’t openly profess my atheism until I thought it was safe to do so.
I relate this fact not to demonstrate any personal attribute but to illustrate the power of those myths.
Which brings me to the point I’ve been circling around. Human beings and particularly our collective entities as independent nations need these myths to be successful.
It doesn’t particularly matter which myths a nation chooses, secular or religious, as long as they provide a sound and ethical basis for life. They must be fit for purpose.
Australia began the modern era as a Christian nation but is slowly evolving into a secular one. Papua New Guinea, on the other hand, has clearly opted for Christianity.
This is not surprising given its previous history of animism and the belief that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. Christianity is a logical extension of that belief.
I’ve been critical of the role of religion in Papua New Guinea in the past but I am now coming around to the view that Christianity is a good fit for the nation at its present stage of development.
In this sense I think James Marape has made a wise decision by reiterating Christian principles as a guide to Papua New Guinea’s future.
Christianity, above all the other myths, and as long as people truly believe in it, gives the nation its best chance of success in tackling its manifest problems, be it corruption, lawlessness or inequality.
My thinking on this issue was prompted by reading an excellent book by the historian Yuval Noah Harari called ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’. It was recommended by Paul Oates and I’m glad I bought a copy.
Man is both a rational and ontological being existing for reason and for a purpose who can think beyond his senses using his latent powers and always searching for the truth and find meaning of life.
Myths and creation stories have essence and explain meaning in the horizontal world view of the Melanesian people.
Melanesian philosophy of spiritualism and personalism is centred around myths, symbols and folklore. All myths have religious or spiritual meaning and not so much of secular meaning.
Our knowledge of the world is so mixed up with empirical and non-empirical world views.
Ancient Greek philosophers including Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and others based their philosophy on myths and conquering the world of knowledge.
All knowledge begins with wonder according to Aristotle. Plato based his knowledge on allegory of the cave, this was the metaphor stressing the struggle between good and evil and wisdom.
Aristotle aims for the highest good, beauty and happiness Socrates, is the father of moral philosophy, and he was even burned to death for opposing authorities.
Plato was responsible for starting a school in his garden of academia, where the word academic originate from. In fact the first known university starts from there and was modified by catholic monks in the early Christian era in Europe.
Christianity is the religion that set standards and morally sound dogma that all human beings despite creed, colour, personality or you are an atheist or not have to follow.
We have a natural inclination build in us to follow what is good and what is not. Thou shall not kill or commit adultery was written in our hearts.
In fact morality or ethics was build in us as guiding principles of our lives. We embraced Christianity because it teaches what we already know from myths and creation stories similar to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.
We do good and avoid evil fearing punishment after death, which was the practice from the past. In fact PNG needs Christianity as a guiding principle to develop our nation.
Posted by: Philip Kai Morre | 06 January 2020 at 02:02 AM
Phil, your post is thought-provoking. I need time to prepare a worthy comment/response.
Posted by: Garry Roche | 06 January 2020 at 01:47 AM
Christmas lunch with some of my extended family in the UK was unusual. I was the only non-vegan there.
Later we met again for Xmas evening fun. One of grand-daughters had baked chocolate brownies which I really enjoyed. Then her mum broke the news: "Dad you didn't know it but that cake was made with a 100% vegan recipe!"
Apparently one of the mysterious items was courgettes. Honestly I have believed myself to be a chocoholic for most of my life and even loved nurturing cocoa trees to achieve abundant harvests of the crop.
I mention veganism because in a UK Tribunal reading last week Judge Robin Postle ruled in a short summary judgment that ethical veganism satisfied the tests required for it to be a philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act 2010.
For a belief to be protected, it must meet a series of tests including being worthy of respect in a democratic society, not being incompatible with human dignity, and not conflicting with the fundamental rights of others.
So the crazy post modern world slithers further into absurdities in matters religious.
in a local high school they have apparently been allowing pupils to claim: 'Today I am a banana!' No teacher is allowed under human rights law to dispute the child's belief system even if he or she changes to believing they are apples.
Guess one day soon somebody will claim he or she is 'in love' with the 14 year old girl next door then why shouldn't they be allowed to marry her. Or perhaps I could marry my grand-son or my cat which I really do love so much. Should I start a belief system of Homo-Cattus.
In the oft-called bad old days such beliefs were called cults
If you don't believe me and criticise me I may have to sue for religious discrimination.
St Paul met such silly ideas 2000 years ago: Acts 17:23 in New International Version: "For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship--and this is what I am going to proclaim to you."
Posted by: Arthur Williams | 05 January 2020 at 11:10 PM
I'm glad you liked the book Phil. It's a great pity more people haven't got the opportunity to read it and understand where we have come from and where we might be going?
I particularly liked this author's summing up of the modern generation and where we as a species might be going.
I wonder who will evolve and survive as determined from our current challenges? That is, if we aren't all wiped out in an insane war started by unintelligent leaders who are desperate to remain in power no matter what the cost to the rest of humanity.
Posted by: Paul Oates | 05 January 2020 at 06:44 PM
"One of the distinguishing features of human beings is our ability to create myths and stories.
These narratives entertain but also perform a much more important role in setting ethical and behavioural standards."
This premise is satisfactory insofar as it states the manifest ability of humans and more importantly for groups of human beings coexisting, or rather living together in manageable peace and prosperity, to devise central guiding precepts within which to lead their varied lives.
It is a question of being: how to be.
Specifically regarding Christianity, it apparently matters very little if the society is either modern and secular e.g. Australia or traditional and animistic e.g. PNG, the stories and myths provide sufficiently sound foundational basis for coexisting in harmony, when practiced with wisdom and guidance.
Many have traveled far enough into their belief in such stories and myths to question their faith, e.g. Phil Fitzpatrick and Michael Dom.
Belief in stories and myths is not the same as faith in their function.
Therefore it may be argued that even the secular have a kind of faith.
That they will argue otherwise is to suggest to themselves that they are faithless.
If so then to what standard of being would they hold themselves and others accountable?
The narratives then are not mere entertainment.
The narratives serve a vital function in our understanding of being.
Maybe one day I'll read Sapiens and understand a little more, and question a little better.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 04 January 2020 at 11:02 PM