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Issue #1749      September 21, 2016

Culture & Life

Mother Theresa and Mike Baird

I see the Catholic Church has created yet another saint to add to its enormous collection of accredited miracle workers. The curious idea that certain pious individuals can do the impossible, namely work miracles, dates back to the so-called “dark ages”, a period in European history when learning was under the domination of the Church and ignorance was rife. Science was virtually non-existent and everything – whether natural phenomenon or human condition – was explained as the act of an omniscient and omnipotent God.

Beliefs that were prevalent in the 6th or 7th century are still to be found today among masses of otherwise intelligent, educated people.

In conditions of ignorance, superstition flourishes, so it was hardly surprising that deeply religious monks and nuns venerated artefacts and “relics” and imbued them with magical qualities. These beliefs were in turn fostered among the mass of the people, who looked to the Church for knowledge and guidance. Religious hysteria was never far below the surface, leading to ecstatic reports of encounters with angels, visits from the mother of God and all sorts of assorted other “miracles”.

The Church in the Middle Ages had nothing to gain from disputing a claimed miracle. It tended to reinforce people’s faith and, ipso facto, the Church’s influence. After all, an outfit that could take credit for such powerful magic as miracles was unquestionably a force to reckon with.

However, that was then. In the course of the following millennium, the Church itself underwent a Reformation that saw new variations on Christianity arise, variations that dismissed a belief in miracles and the healing power of relics, etc. Feudalism gave way to capitalism and at the same time, Western civilisation rediscovered – and then greatly developed – science.

Paradoxically, while capitalism readily made use of the products of science, it still found it useful to continue to foster and encourage ignorance and superstition. The Catholic Church eagerly co-operated in this reactionary policy. The result is that beliefs that were prevalent in the 6th or 7th century are still to be found today among masses of otherwise intelligent, educated people.

Look at the crowds that went to Rome to stand in St Peter’s Square to see the latest “saint” proclaimed. And who were they elevating to the exalted status of a “saint”? Mother Teresa, a Catholic nun who believed the poor and destitute are not in that condition because of exploitation by a ruthless ruling class but because it is part of “God’s plan”. She had no interest in lifting the poor out of poverty or in preventing poverty in the first place. Without the poor she would have had no function.

In Mother Teresa’s narrow view, the poor were made poor by God deliberately in order to create an opportunity for people like her to do good works by tending to their needs. The same warped thinking afflicts the Salvation Army which never joins with other church or welfare organisations in campaigning against policies that adversely impact the poor and powerless.

Support for Celtic football club in Scotland grew out of the Irish Catholic working class communities that had fought British colonialism in the occupied north of Ireland and poor Scots whose ancestors had fought the English conquest of Scotland since the time of Rob Roy. Today, Celtic fans also support the Palestinians. At a UEFA Champions League match against Israeli side Hapoel Beer Sheva they flew Palestinian flags to protest the Occupation, an act that outraged the establishment and brought down its censure on the club in the form of adverse media coverage and a fine by UEFA for “displaying an illicit banner”.

Defiant Celtics fans launched a fundraiser under the slogan “Match the fine for Palestine” with proceeds going to Palestinian charities. Their initial goal was £15,000; so far £136,000 has poured in. Well done, Celtic fans!

I see that a couple of opinion polls show that the popularity of the Baird Liberal Party government in NSW has suffered a slide. Gee, I wonder why? Could it be because of the arrogant way Mike Baird rode roughshod over widespread community opposition to his forced amalgamations of local councils. Amalgamating councils struck at the very essence of local government. There was no community pressure for it. There was plenty of pressure for it from property developers, however. Cutting down the number of councils significantly reduces the opportunities for community influence to be brought to bear on development projects.

The advertising campaign (paid for by the NSW public) that the Baird government ran to justify the amalgamations made the preposterous claim that “local government in NSW is broken.” It offered no explanation for this but asserted that the amalgamations would somehow fix it.

Then there was the extremely arrogant way Baird abolished greyhound racing, a poor person’s sport in which some greedy trainers put down aging or unsuccessful dogs and some trainers resorted to using live bait. Baird however chose to punish all trainers – and everyone else in the industry – by taking away their livelihood. I doubt that that worried Baird. The patrons of greyhound racing are seldom drawn from the upper classes so are of no interest to him. And in any case, getting rid of greyhound racing opens up several dog tracks, including Wentworth Park, for redevelopment. And there is nothing Baird likes better than doing good turns for property developers.

To justify his attack on greyhound racing, Baird ran yet another publicly-funded TV ad campaign. In these ads, the killer argument is the punch-line at the end: “No wonder greyhound racing is only legal in eight countries!” The reason it is found in only eight countries is not because of public opprobrium, it is because racing greyhounds is a pastime of the working people of northern England that they took with them to the colonies of the British Empire. You won’t find it in the former colonies of the French, Spanish, Portuguese or Dutch empires.

No one can condone the ill treatment of animals, but Baird’s response punishes the innocent as well as the guilty, which is patently unfair. Baird had a golden opportunity to clean up the sport of greyhound racing but chose to shut it down instead.

I am not the least bit surprised that his popularity has “slipped”. I’ll bet he’s popular with property developers though.

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