The Law Of the Instrument

The Law of the Instrument
By Peter Corney
The Law of the Instrument is an idea that Abraham Kaplan developed back in 1964 in his book “The Conduct of Enquiry.” It is the idea that any discipline too narrowly held or focussed on can tend to limit or restrict ones view of reality. It is based on the old adage that if all you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail!
The principle can apply to many fields of study or endeavour. For example if a commercial business is dominated by salespeople then every problem of growth becomes a sales problem, when in fact it may be a product or service problem. In an organisation dominated by engineers every problem becomes an engineering one when in fact it may be a staff relationship or leadership issue.
It is why some people argue that scientists would be better scientists if they were also artists, poets or philosophers as well. In fact at the University of WA they have a project where artists and scientists work together on particular problems for this very reason. The synergy and co-operation between them widens the possibilities for solutions and new approaches.
In the field of enquiry about questions of meaning, human purpose and values the application of The Law of the Instrument is very relevant. For example if you are a ‘Materialist’, someone who believes that reality consists only of the material or physical, and you reject the possibility of any ‘meta-physic’, anything bigger than or beyond the physical – no spiritual, supernatural or transcendent elements to reality, then you severely limit and narrow the possible answers to questions about meaning, purpose and values. You also limit and impoverish the options and possibilities of what it means to be human. This later outcome is very evident today in some sectors of the growing field of neuroscience and can lead to a reductionist and mechanistic view of human persons and human consciousness and ultimately to a degraded view of human persons. (See the work of Raymond Tallis the UK neuroscientist and ethical humanist “Aping Mankind…” Acumen 2011 )
The Materialist World View is like locking yourself in a well-lit but windowless room, the ultimate captivity to The Law of the Instrument!

Kagawa – the forgotten Christian who reshaped 20th C Japanese society


The forgotten Christian who reshaped 20thC Japanese society
Toyohiko Kagawa was an outstanding Japanese Christian who had a great influence on twentieth century Japan but is now largely forgotten both in his native land and in the West.
He was a social activist on behalf of the poor and the oppressed working class of 1920’s Japan as it began to industrialise. An author and poet, by 1933 he was the most popular author in Japan and his book “A grain of wheat” went through 150 editions. He was very involved in the development of the first trade unions in Japan and also in advocating for a national health scheme, one of the earliest in the world.
He is no longer remembered in Japan partly because he strongly opposed Japans military aggression in the Second World War and attempted to convince the emperor and government to turn away from the aggressive stance of the senior military leaders. After their defeat he campaigned for Japan to formally apologise. This was not received well in Japan.
His story and conversion to Christianity and how his faith shaped his life and service to the poor and Japanese society is a fascinating one.
Christianity first came to Japan with the Portuguese traders in the 16th C., the first missionaries were Jesuits. In the late 16th and early 17th C. converts and missionaries were fiercely persecuted, many were actually put to death by crucifixion and the infant church pushed underground. In 1859 the Protestant missionaries arrived but it was not until 1871 that Japan officially recognised the Christians right to legal recognition. But even then a Japanese person who converted was often ejected from their family. Today the population of Japan is 126 million but only 1% is Christian, in spite of this several Japanese Prime ministers have been Christians.
At the beginning of the 20th C. in Japan God raised up this extraordinary man – Toyohiko Kagawa. His father was a senior official in the Japanese government and a member of the Japanese aristocracy. But he was a philanderer and Kagawa was the result of a relationship with a prostitute. Both his parents died when he was young and he was taken into the care of a wealthy uncle who owned an historic rural estate where he was brought up. The beauty of the countryside made a lasting impression on him; it gave him a love of nature and motivated his later environmental concerns. His uncle’s family history went back to the ancient Samurai nobility. But his time in his uncle’s home was difficult as his paternal grandmother rejected him because of his birth mother.
Eventually he was sent off to a Presbyterian missionary secondary school. High placed Japanese families at this time were eager for their children to learn English. There he was in effect adopted by two missionaries who took him into their home and loved and cared for him. This had a profound effect on the development of his faith in Christ. He had been given a New Testament earlier by an American missionary to whom he had been sent to learn English and was deeply impressed with Jesus. But his faith now flowered and he felt called to Christian ministry. He was a bright student but instead of going to university as his uncle expected he decided to attend the Presbyterian theological College at Kobe. His uncle could not accept this decision; he rejected him and cut off all ties.
While studying theology he became involved in ministry to the poor in the Kobe slums. He eventually went and lived there in a tiny hut identifying completely with the poor. There he started “The Jesus Band of Kobe” for young Christians to work in the slums. At this time there were approximately 10,000 people living in the Kobe slums. This is in the 1920’s at a time when Japan had no social welfare of any kind and farm and factory workers lived and worked in the most appalling conditions. The industrial revolution did not hit Japan till the end of the 19th C and its worst effects were just beginning to impact Japanese society in the early 20th C. There was no organised labour movement and no trade unions and so no one to stand up for the rights of workers and the poor.
Kagawa felt a burning call from God to work for and among these people. He lived in the slums for 15 years. His work was amazingly holistic; he worked as a passionate evangelist, social reformer, labour activist and union organiser. He developed churches, schools, hospitals and co-operatives among factory workers and farmers. The Kobe/Nada Co- operative which he helped start is still in existence and is the largest single Co-op in the world with four million members.
In the 1920’s he was frequently arrested for his involvement with labour activism which was actively discouraged by Japanese political leaders at the time. He became a key figure in the development of the first Japanese Unions and in 1928 organised the “Japanese Federation of Labour.” As a result of his tireless work he became known as the champion of the poor.
But he was not only an organiser he also researched and wrote on the causes of poverty. He became a prolific author and his writing both educated and touched the conscience of the Japanese public. He was also a celebrated poet and his book “A grain of Wheat’ which was published in 1933 was at one stage the most widely read book in Japan. His books sold in their thousands and he became Japans most popular author. He was also an early environmentalist and initiated a very effective tree planting program in Japans rural areas.
In 1923 Tokyo experienced what they still call ‘the great earthquake’ which devastated parts of the city particularly areas where the poor lived. Kagawa was now so respected he was asked by the city officials to take charge of its relief work and later was put in charge of the city’s social services.
His other extraordinary achievement was that he became the first person to advocate for a national health care system for the whole country which was eventually achieved, one of the first in the world.
But as mentioned earlier he was not only a social reformer he was also a passionate evangelist. For eight years from 1926- 1934 he conducted a nationwide evangelistic campaign called the “kingdom of God Movement” speaking to large crowds.
He had studied at Princeton in the US from 1914-1916 and was well known there. Before the outbreak of the Second World War he returned briefly to the US in an attempt to prevent the outbreak of war. As a pacifist he was deeply opposed to Japans militarisation and Imperial plans. He was arrested in Japan in 1940 for making a public apology to China for Japans brutal occupation of that country, an occupation whose memory lingers on with bitterness in China today.
After Japan’s defeat and occupation by the US he became an adviser to the Post War Transition Government. He was a strong advocate for Article 9 in the post war Japanese Constitution that renounces war as a means to settle international disputes. Japan is the only country with such a clause, although it is now a matter of some dispute as Japan re-arms today. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947 and 1948 the Nobel Peace Prize in 1954 and 1955. At his death in 1960 he was awarded Japans second highest award the Order of the Sacred Treasure but his call for a national act of repentance after the war was not received well by the Japanese and was a significant factor in his loss of popularity and marginalisation. But his social reforms live on and still bear fruit in Japan.
There is an interesting connection with Australia and Victoria. The late Fletcher Jones a Christian business man who built the very successful “Fletcher Jones” clothing company was very influenced by Kagawa’s ideas and brought him to Victoria to speak in 1935 at Warnambool where Fletcher had his business. Fletcher also went to Japan in 1936 to study the co-operatives started by Kagawa and this shaped his approach to staff involvement and financial sharing in the company which was very successful and an outstanding model of Christian principles applied to business and labour co-operation.
Kagawa, an outstanding example of Christian servanthood was motivated to achieve these things because he believed that, as he expressed it in one of his poems,
God who dwells in my hand
Knows this secret plan
Of the things he will do for the world
Using my hand!
(From the poem “Discovery”)

This really is repressive!

This really is repressive! By Peter Corney
The Australian reported on the 15/10/15 that the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart has recently been taken to Tasmania’s anti-discrimination commission for distributing a pastoral letter on the doctrine of marriage to the churches members! The complainant also seeks to have all church schools forced to promote LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) awareness, tolerance and behaviour. This is a misguided, repressive use of the law and a suppression of free speech and freedom of religion. (Ed.The case has now been withdrawn [5/5/16] but this still leaves the urgent matter of correcting and refining the legislation.)

Among the many serious concerns this raises about our democratic values, it also highlights the unsatisfactory drafting of our anti-discrimination laws that generally are far too broad and do not have sufficient protection of freedom of speech.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to conduct an intelligent, reasoned, respectful and open public debate on issues of values, morality, ethics and religion without fear of legal action and the resulting suppression of free speech.

Behind this repressive and dangerous atmosphere lies a radical change in the way we understand tolerance and intolerance.

The traditional or liberal view of tolerance is based on the following two key ideas which can be expressed in the following way: (1) it has an egalitarian view of people. Every person is equal and has an equal right to their views and beliefs and a right to express them respectfully. (2) It has an exclusivist view of ideas. Not all ideas, views and beliefs are equally valid or sensible, some are true, some are false, some are just, some are unjust, some are dangerous and some are just plain silly. So while everyone has a right to speak not all views and beliefs are right. This is what we might call ‘principled tolerance.’
The current view of tolerance and intolerance turns this on its head. (1) It has an egalitarian view of ideas and beliefs. All ideas, views and beliefs are equally valid (a relativist view) and therefore should not be critiqued. (2) It has an exclusivisvist view of persons. Only persons with this relativist view about ideas have a right to speak in the public forum. All others with a different understanding about ideas and truth and wish to contest people’s views and critique them, no matter how respectfully, may not speak! If they do they will be branded intolerant and discriminatory and excluded.

There is also another more sinister force at work here. Some lobby groups have worked out this change that has taken place in people’s view of tolerance and intolerance and exploit it very skilfully in the media and public forums to suppress criticism and reasoned argument about the particular ideas they are promoting. Many in the media are easily drawn into this strategy. For a diverse society sensitive to any ethnic, religious or cultural divisions that might create disharmony or public disorder this sensitivity is a very easy but cynical button to press for strategic campaign reasons.

The new view of tolerance and intolerance owes a great deal to Post Modern thinking and its anti- foundationalism and rejection of objective truth which has reinforced the relativist position.
The English philosopher Roger Scruton has a very apt and ironic comment on this trend in contemporary thought; “the very reasoning that sets out to destroy ideas of objective truth and absolute value imposes a political correctness as absolutely binding and a cultural relativism as ‘objectively true’”

In the end all this leads to the death of the contest of ideas and the emergence of our very destructive default position, the contest of power.

Principled Tolerance

Tolerance, as it is being understood and practiced in Western culture today, is in danger of becoming oppressive and undermining its own good intentions.
As Western culture becomes less uniform in its cultural influences and drifts from its historical roots in its Judeo – Christian heritage, the way we understand and practice tolerance of difference in belief, values and life style is crucial to our common good.
My proposition is that true tolerance is only possible if one also holds to other convictions such as truth, goodness and freedom of speech as well as respect for others. What we might call a ‘principled tolerance ‘.
Tolerance can be elevated to the place of supreme virtue so that it obscures or overpowers all other virtues. Without a ‘principled tolerance’ it can easily slip over into any or all of the following negative outcomes:
1. An oppressive political correctness that gradually, through overzealous legislation, creates a raft of social restrictions that diminish our freedoms and stifles the public discussion that is crucial to a healthy democracy and, inadvertently, creates an underlying resentment that is counterproductive to the very aims of the spirit of the legislation. The frequent outbreaks of irreverent and politically incorrect humour are signs of, and blessed reliefs from, this oppressiveness. We so easily forget that laws do not make people good or kind; at best they may only restrain the worst among us. Goodness and kindness come from deeper convictions.
2. The development of a cultural blandness that can lead to indifference about deeper issues of value and questions about the meaning and purpose of human existence and the goal of human flourishing. This is a particular danger in in our prosperous Western societies. Economic hardships have a tendency to inspire deeper questions both politically and spiritually.
3. An intolerant secularism that rejects or seeks to dismiss and marginalises from the public square all religious convictions. Ironically secularism is of course a strongly held conviction in itself and a very narrow and often intolerant one. It is experienced today by people of faith as a kind of ‘hostility creep’ in many areas of life. The most recent being the change to Religious Instruction in Schools in Victoria. Another example is the strange way much current media commentary in Australia works in relation to ‘conviction politics.’ Commentators criticize the blandness and lack of convictions in our politicians and their ‘spin speak’ but as soon as one expresses their religious convictions or personal values strongly in public they are painted as bigoted, and ridiculed as out of step with the ‘assumed majority!’ Only those ‘convictions’ that are listed in the currently acceptable moral lexicon are protected from their derision.
4. A sceptical tolerance: this is when tolerance is driven by a sceptical relativism and anti-foundationalism. “We must tolerate everything because no one knows what the truth is, in fact there is no ultimate truth or objective set of values any way!” This leads our culture to become an empty shell without any deeper purpose than the utilitarian one of keeping social harmony at all cost.
5. Cultural relativism: this is where tolerance is driven by the idea that all cultural practices and beliefs are of equal value and legitimacy and are therefore immune from critique by any other objective standard or set of values. Three examples are sufficient to illustrate the shallowness and inconsistency of this widely held view: The treatment of woman and the abuse of their rights and equality in a number of cultures. The practice of cast inferiority systems endemic in some parts of the Indian sub-continent and other places. Endemic corruption in Asian business and political cultures where business is regularly smoothed by bribery. While corruption in business and politics exists in Australia it is generally seen as unacceptable and destructive of the common good. It is also illegal and you go to jail if you’re caught. We currently have a series of Royal Commissions vigorously investigating corruption. Very few if any Australians would support these three practices indeed most would condemn them. This simply illustrates that most cultural relativists are deeply inconsistent and have their own set of standards by which they judge other cultures. All societies have intolerances to certain practices and ideas like our intolerance of paedophilia, child abuse and violence against woman. Certain “intolerances” are in fact considered virtues. Of course any form of valid critique assumes some objective set of values, some moral convictions. It is at this point that much contemporary thought is hollow, inconsistent and evasive.
The only way to avoid these negative outcomes of a very thin view of tolerance is to hold a “Principled Tolerance”.
(Two excellent books for further reading are “The Intolerance of tolerance” by D A Carson Eerdmans 2012. “The Cube and the Cathedral” by George Weigel Basic Books 2005. This book explains and describes the crisis in the European Union of a spiritually and morally hollowed out culture.)
Peter Corney

Islamic terrorism challenges the West to renew its moral and spiritual vision

by Peter Corney.

Frank Ferudi the English sociologist has made the very insightful point that the efforts of Western countries to stem the flow of young men from Western Islamic communities to fight under the ISIS flag will not be successful until the West renews its own moral and spiritual vision. He writes “Until Western society articulates its own moral vision of a good society, it will struggle to contain the influence that Jihadist political theology exercises over its target audience.” He points out that political arguments about the superiority and virtues of liberal democracy rarely succeed in overcoming the recruiter’s claims that in fact the effect of the Western way of life is actually morally corrosive on young people of Islamic faith. That’s an argument that it’s very easy to find evidence for in the present state of our culture, not only among Islamic young people, but among Western young people in general! As Ferudi puts it “The language of good and evil appears more convincing than arguments based on secular logic and reasoning.” (The Australian July 25/26 2015)

Long before the rise of Islamic terrorism and ISSIS there have been a number of voices in the West calling for a renewal of our moral and spiritual vision. George Weigel’s book “The Cube and the Cathedral” (2005) is an articulate example among many. The social fabric of our culture is under enormous strain as the stability of the family and our experience of community has eroded and substance abuse has escalated. While we have never been so prosperous, never had more people in tertiary education and never had better health care, we now have more dependent children in state care than ever before, a third of our marriages end in divorce and we are experiencing escalating family violence. One woman per week is killed by her partner in Australia today! Our state institutions that are tasked with providing child and family welfare, and the justice system that attempts to administer intervention orders, are all in a constant state of crisis. In 2013 Mark Latham wrote a very insightful essay in the Quarterly (QE 49 2013). He spoke about the rise of an ‘entrenched underclass’ in Australian society who are trapped in a repeating cycle of generational family dysfunction and unemployment, they have lost the skills and habits of healthy family life, without the motivation to take advantage of the many schemes that are available for personal development, rehabilitation, job retraining and education. Fortunately, due to our generous welfare system, they do not live in the physical poverty and hunger of ‘The Great Depression’ years, but they live in a social, psychological and spiritual poverty. He describes them in this way: “….this group has gone feral, leading lives of welfare dependency, substance abuse and street crime.” Political parties of both left and right seem unable to solve this.

The problem with using the virtues of democracy in our arguments is that we have drifted away from many of the values that contributed to shaping it and the idea of a “common good”. These were largely Christian ideas and values; remember Western culture is the product of 2,000 years of Christianity.
For example: out of the Christian belief in our creation in God’s image and the incarnation of Christ we derived the idea of the value of the infinite value of each person and their human rights and individual freedoms. The political expression and evolution of these was a great step forward in our social and political life. (The origins of this process go right back to the struggle in England by the Christian Protestant Dissenters to be free to decide their own religious affiliations and places of assembly. That struggle resulted in “The Act of Toleration“ in 1689, a milestone in the development of human rights. Interestingly those struggles were about both the individual’s right to freedom of belief and the group’s right, in their case the small Christian communities dissenting from the State Church.)
One of our difficulties now is that the right of individual freedom has developed into a hyper individualism where the individual feels there should be no restraints on their right to choose or decide on any particular life style, and no restraint on saying what they think or feel regardless of others feelings. The old Christian idea of personal freedom was that we were made both free and responsible by God, free to overcome our weaknesses and self-interest so we might responsibly accept our duties and serve others – free for service. This is long gone and replaced by the idea that we are free from any restraint on our choices. This idea is daily reinforced by the market and consumerism. When freedom or equality or tolerance is elevated to the place of supreme virtue they tend to overpower all other virtues that could moderate their excesses. Unfortunately our fallen human nature makes excesses inevitable.
If we take the three classic political virtues of “freedom, equality and fraternity (or community)”, which as Charles Taylor has pointed out in his writing on ‘Secularism’, currently seem to be the only ‘moral virtues’ of modern liberal democracy, then clearly this new idea of freedom has overpowered one of its own virtues – ‘fraternity’ or the ‘common good’ of the community. A commitment to the ‘common good’ requires Hobbes’ ‘social contract’ – that citizens must be willing to sacrifice to the community and its governance some freedoms in exchange for the community’s protection of their other freedoms .If our hyper individualism continues on its current trajectory and the erosion of the commitment to ‘the common good’ continues then liberal democracy will become difficult to govern and may in the end founder. It cannot survive without this commitment, nor can it survive without a common moral and spiritual vision, indeed the two are intimately connected. As many of the framers of the American Constitution believed – “Freedom requires virtue and virtue requires faith.”

A common moral and spiritual vision that is informed by ideas and values that transcend our human self-interest is necessary precisely because of human frailty and selfishness. These values have almost always been informed by religious faith. When the discussion is moved into categories of moral corruption, good and evil, as Islamic extremists will do, the possession of a vital moral and spiritual vision for our society is critical. While the strength of secularism is that it can protect us from the excesses and oppression of religious fundamentalists its great weakness is its rejection of any transcendent values. At its best, liberal democracy in the West has enabled us to value and include the contribution of religious faith in the democratic process while at the same time maintaining a separation or healthy distance between Church and State. This is largely due to the historical evolution from established Churches and the influence of Christian values on Western democracy. With the knowledge of this history now a distant memory, or completely unknown for many, we are in danger of losing the valid place for faith in the public square under the pressure of a new secularism suffering from historical amnesia.

As Ferudi explains this state of mind renders us very vulnerable to the sense of moral and spiritual superiority that underlies and is expressed in Islamic fundamentalism and Jihadist terrorism.


By Peter Corney
Western culture is inexorably moving towards a crisis. We are a culture of suspicion and cynicism, empty of any sense of ultimate meaning, a culture that leads to either despair or distraction. We are the philosophical children of Nietzsche and his post structuralist, Post Modern followers.
As Nietzsche prophesied, God is now dead for modern people. Therefore there can be no transcendent values of right and wrong, justice or goodness, no objective truth; the only absolute is the will to power. If this is true then the contest of ideas is over, it’s ultimately futile because there is no final standard to determine what is true or false at the end of the contest and so all that’s left is the contest of power!
Nietzsche said “If you kill God you must also leave the shelter of the Temple.” He meant that to be consistent you must leave Christianity’s values and meaning and make your way alone in the brutal world of the contest of power. The contest of ideas requires a notion of objective truth, with that gone the contest of ideas is a futile delusion. Samuel Becket depicts the futility powerfully in his play ‘Waiting for Godot’ as just the chatter of clowns waiting for someone to arrive and explain it all. But the ‘someone’ never comes because in Beckett’s world view there is no one to come and there is no meaning to explain. Behind our chatter about ideas – the thin veil of illusion – lies the real battle the will to power which eventually leads to the contest of power.
I am not suggesting that everyone out there knows or even cares about the history and influence of ideas in Western culture or would understand or express it in this way, but this is the spiritual place at which our culture has arrived. Of course very few who even do know are prepared to go all the logical way with Nietzsche to the edge of the abyss and stare into the empty darkness of the logic of his ideas that is too bleak for most of us! It’s only in our moments of suffering; physical, psychological or spiritual, that we come to the place of despair. When we have lost our job or failed to find one after months of searching or lost a friend in a car crash or yet another relationship has collapsed by betrayal, stupidity or selfishness, it’s only then that we stair into the abyss of meaninglessness and despair. Most of the time we are into distraction, and all the ingenuity and creativity of popular Western consumerist culture is pumping away to assist us!
Alain de Botton’s “Religion for Atheists” and “Art as Therapy” (and as a substitute for religion), are well-meaning attempts at a popular philosophy of life without God for modern people but in the end they just paper over the crack of despair. They have no radical answer to the real pain of existence without ultimate meaning in the presence of the unrelenting struggle for power. In the end, even though it’s quite sophisticated and elegant writing, it’s just more of Beckett’s ‘chatter’, another addition to the veil of illusion masking the real game – the will to power.
But every now and then the truth breaks out to confront us in disconcerting ways, in contemporary art, film or literature. Richard Flannigan’s recent novel “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” is such a moment. It deservedly won the 2015 Miles Franklin award for Australian literature.
In this powerful novel Flannigan tells the story of allied POW’s building the Burma railway under the brutal cruelty of the Japanese army in WW2. The central character is Dorrigo Evans a POW medical officer and surgeon.
For Evans the brutality of the experience has left him with a sense of total nihilism – the only truth in life is the relentless existence of violence. Flannigan expresses his characters thoughts in these words: “For an instant he thought he grasped the truth of a terrifying world in which no one could escape the horror, in which violence was eternal, the great and only verity, greater than the civilisations it created, greater than any God man worshiped, for it was the only true God. It was as if man existed only to transmit violence to ensure its domain is eternal. For the world did not change, this violence had always existed and would never be eradicated, men would die under the boots and fists and the horror of other men until the end of time, and all human history was the history of violence.”
Violence is so often the accomplice of the will to power whether it is a controlling husband’s abuse of his wife and children or an authoritarian manager bullying his employees or the power of the state oppressing its own people or violating the sovereignty of another state for territorial or material gain. The contest of power is usually settled by violence of one kind or another.
The freedom from the “oppression of absolutes”, that Western Post modernity craves, including any transcendent values, will of course in the end lead to the most terrible oppression of all, the unfettered expression of humanities will to power. The current redefining of personal freedom and the quest for unrestricted choice will tragically in the end see the loss of freedom and the unleashing of the crushing violence of unrestrained power. We see it in the growing dysfunction and fragmentation of the family in Australia and the accompanying escalation of family violence. Ironically the reaction of the state is more regulation. Having undermined transcendent values by the relentless encouragement of secularism all it has left is the blunt instrument of legislation. Laws don’t make good people they merely restrain bad ones, and not all that effectively as many Australian families know. A woman is murdered every week in Australia in an act of family violence.
Within, as well as beyond the West, we are seeing the rise of violent movements seeking to impose by force a totalitarian view of government and religion that marginalises or eliminates all dissenting views. This is a new form of fascism but an old story of the abuse of power.
The first actions of oppressive and totalising regimes, whether secular or religious are always to strip away the people’s rights to openly contest the truth of ideas, to remove the ability to challenge the basis of the regimes claim to power. The regime does this not by engaging in the contest of ideas but by the naked exercise of power.
Western democracy and its liberal values are built on ideas from its Christian heritage but it is now weak and vulnerable because it has lost its memory of these ideas and values and its connection to this foundation. Through prosperity, comfort and overindulgence it is now soft and flabby and without discipline. The jury is still out as to whether it will survive the coming storm that internally is of its own making and externally is bearing down upon it from distant deserts and the people who understand only too well the contest and the use of violent power in the quest for victory and control.
The award winning documentary “The Fog of War” is about the nature of modern war. It is built around Robert Mc Namara’s recollections and reflections. He was the US Secretary for Defence during the Vietnam conflict. At the end of hours of interviews with Mc Namara Errol Morris the film’s director concluded “We are in an endless loop, the characters change but the idiocy remains.” The idiocy is our unwillingness to face our fallen weakness of the will to power and our default position of achieving it by violence. Ironically one of Mc Namara’s conclusions when asked what he had learnt from his experience was “You can’t change human nature!”
The Christians understanding of power comes from the teaching and example of Jesus. It is the radical alternative to fallen humanities understanding of power. It is in fact the complete inversion of worldly power. Jesus said “Love your enemies….do good to those who hate you”, “Blessed are the peace makers”. It is the power of servant hood! He said “The Son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”. He submits to the cross and the brutality and violence of fallen worldly power and absorbs it into himself and bears upon himself the guilt of all who have and will exercise such power and in doing so he defeats it. Christians understand that in that act of submission and self-sacrifice he makes possible our forgiveness with God and a new way to live free of the will to power, to live in love as the servants of others. The Christian also understands that the power of God, which is the power of love, will ultimately rule the world in the transformed and renewed creation that God will one day bring to fruition. So the Christian engages in the contests of power that infect our world from a radically different World View and a radically different approach to conflict and power. Their guiding principles will include: (a) recognition of the presence of the ‘will to power’ in all conflicts, (b) the goal of mutual understanding and benefit for all parties, (c) equality for all participants, (d) truth telling, (e) the aim of forgiveness and reconciliation, (g) the refusal to use violence and illegitimate force as the first option, (h)and the goal of the democratisation of legitimate authority, (i) the belief that people can change through God’s grace and so (j) an attitude of hope.
Sometimes this approach will prevail and bring peace and reconciliation, sometimes not. Then it may mean suffering and the sacrifice of our lives. Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. Paul says “…that we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings…” Nonviolent intervention and rejecting the will to power can be a costly journey, for the will to power and violence combined is a monster without love or pity. But because all people are made in the image of God and in their hearts some of the reflection of God’s nature remains, sometimes when given the chance to see the true alternative to the monster some will choose the alternative, the way of Jesus.

Christian leadership an interview with Peter Corney

INTERVIEWER:Peter what do you think are the essential qualities a Christian leader in ministry needs?
PETER: I believe they need the following things:
1. Conviction – a strong faith in Christ
2. Calling – to the task or role
3. Character – spiritual maturity, moral integrity, a strong sense of servanthood.
4. Mental health – While no one is completely whole leaders need to be reasonably healthy psychologically and emotionally. For example any-one with significant narcissistic tendencies, serious insecurity or lacking in empathy and emotional intelligence should not be encouraged. The pressures of leadership amplify our weaknesses and emotional disabilities and leaders with significant unresolved problems can become toxic for an organisation.
5. Gifts – there are gifts given by God that are clearly very helpful in leadership. EG. Verbal communication skills, ability to teach, personalities that attract people and have real empathy, organisational abilities, ability to take initiative and to think strategically etc. No one will have all these gifts but often gifted leaders have a combination of several. These are usually discerned over time by observation by others of people’s service in the context of their Christian community. Romans 12:6-8 lists leadership among the gifts of the Spirit given to the Church.
6. A solid orthodox theological and biblical education.
7. A willingness to develop competencies – skills in communication, in training others, leading and managing people, skills in managing change and conflict, organising and planning skills, etc. These can be taught through a combination of theory, modelling, practice and evaluated experience by a mentor, preferably one who observes them in action.
8. An ability to read the culture in which they are placed.

INTERVIEWER: Are leaders born or made?
PETER: I think both. But ‘born’ leaders need to be trained and skilled and have instilled into them proper attitudes to the task, such as servanthood and humility to counter our natural fallen nature and tendencies to ego inflation and pride. Someone said ‘Charisma without character usually leads to chaos’. A ‘made’ leader can be just as effective as a ‘born’ one. History tends to support the idea that every now and again God seems to raise up a special leader and ‘anoint’ them, such leaders often have history changing effects. E.g. Moses, Luther, Wesley, St. Francis. Many of these were not completely rounded people; Moses had a temper and was not an outstanding speaker, it seems he may even have had a speech defect. Wesley’s marriage was strained, St. Francis would today be considered to be extreme in some of his ideas and practices. So an effective leader doesn’t have to have to be perfect and have every gift we think is necessary! But there are some common factors that outstanding Godly leaders share:
* Passion and single mindedness for the vision and for God. These characteristics attract others to follow them to share in their vision. The passion rubs off!
* A number of them like Wesley were very capable organisers. Organisational ability enables the leader to create structures in which others can be empowered, mobilised, find a role and explore their own gifts.

INTERVIEWER: Are manager’s leaders and do leaders need to be managers?
PETER: It depends a bit on your definitions! But a manager can be a leader as well as a manager but not all managers are leaders in the capital L sense. But leaders definitely need to know how to manage and how to surround themselves with people with complimentary gifts to themselves.
A good manager may run a system and a task team well but not be a person who naturally thinks about the bigger picture, about strategy, vision and the future. They may not be the kind of person who can convey a passion for the big aim of the enterprise. They may not be a thought leader or major influencer and culture shaper.
The leader usually has to carry more responsibility than a manager, deal with more complexity, give more time and energy and be ultimately accountable for the enterprise its values and vision, success or failure. They have significant ‘power’ and authority. How and why they exercise that power and authority is of course a key issue. Excellent leaders are often transformers of organisations and can impact large groups of people.
The English word ‘lead’ comes from an Anglo Saxon word which means a road or a way or the path of a ship. ‘Managing’ is from the Latin meaning a hand – manus. The idea is handling a sword, a ship, a horse or machine. It tends to be associated with more technical skills like accounting, supervising a manufacturing process, etc.

INTERVIEWER: Are all leaders capable of rising to the same level?
PETER: No I don’t think so. Some people can lead well up to a certain level but the next step up may be beyond their gifts or abilities. But it is not always easy to tell early on if a particular person has the potential to develop further or not and so people need to be given the chance and senior leaders need to take controlled risks with people. By ‘controlled risks’ I mean giving people opportunities but supporting and supervising them closely. We also need to create a climate where all levels of leadership are celebrated and affirmed. Not just the senior leadership.

INTERVIEWER: In your experience what are the common traps or mistakes that leaders can fall into or make?
PETER: I think they fall into two general areas. The first is moral and spiritual; the second is in the skill and experience area. In the moral and spiritual area the things that trip up leaders and often end their careers are (a) sexual misconduct and inappropriate relationships (b) financial misconduct (c) the abuse of power and people (d) neglect of family life (e) personal emotional and psychological wounding that is undealt with (f) plateauing, a failure to keep growing and learning (g) failure to develop personal disciplines early in their ministry, both in spiritual practices and use of time. In the second area of skill and experience some of the most common things are: (a) a failure to learn and practice basic organisational and planning skills. (Creating structures for people to work in is a key responsibility of leaders. It’s like the scaffolding for constructing a building, it enables the ministry to be built.) (b) not understanding the change process and so proceeding clumsily, too rapidly or without sufficient consultation. (c) a failure to understand how to recruit and motivate volunteers and how to build and lead teams (d) not understanding that building relationships of trust and friendship with those you are called to lead is a fundamental key to ministry (e) not being prepared to get in and get your hands dirty with the troops and do the ordinary hack work, like setting up, cleaning up, washing up, working bees, etc., the things that demonstrate a humble servant heart. (Now this does not mean you don’t delegate and organise teams to set up and prepare etc., but you show by your own involvement that you don’t think you’re above this but willing to work with others in the grunt work.) (f) The failure to make a constant priority the selection and training of leaders and key ministry people. (‘Ministry is multiplied by multiplying the ministers’.)

INTERVIEWER: What would you do differently as you look back now on all your years in ministry and leadership?
PETER: That’s a tough one! I hope I would try and pray more and listen to God more. I would put even more energy into training up leaders and lay people for ministry. I’d be more proactive and less reactive with my time and energy. I would try to be more strategic in my thinking and decision making, trying to ask myself regularly “What should we do now that will build a foundation for the future and make future changes easier and future initiatives more fruitful?” Given that the Gospel, and its communication so people will come to Christ, is our primary objective, the effectiveness of that task should always be the measure of our fruitfulness. But there is always a tension between preparation and action. You can be so focussed on quality and teaching and getting the base right that you never reach out. Another strategic question is “What are the current barriers to growth in both peoples maturity and attendance and how can we remove them?”

INTERVIEWER: What did you find most stressful?
PETER: I think striking a constructive balance between competing factors. Coping with the tension created by competing factors is constant in ministry and I don’t think I understood how challenging that is when I first began. In a reasonably healthy and open Christian community there are many tensions, e.g.: between outreach and pastoral care, between differing theological emphasise, between different styles of worship and music, between the particular enthusiasms of one group and those of another, between waiting on God and taking initiative, between different age groups, between stepping out in faith and waiting till you have the money, where to pitch your preaching- teaching the basics to new Christians or deepening the knowledge and faith of more mature members, etc., etc. The other stress is the fact that ministry is like housework in a big family – it never ends!

INTERVIEWER: Do you have any one thing you think is crucial?
PETER: Yes. Keeping a sense of humour and a sense of perspective!!

Understanding Young Adults in 2015


By Peter Corney
If you want to understand what is shaping the needs, anxieties and aspirations of young adults today there are two books that are essential reading. They take you beneath the superficial features to the deep cultural forces that underlie their increasingly unhealthy emotional, relational and spiritual lives.

The first book is Anne Mannes “The Life of I – The new culture of Narcissism”, published by Melbourne University Press 2014. The first part of the book explores Narcissism as a psychological pathology on the continuum from the extremely destructive to the everyday type who regularly creates relational havoc in the workplace and home. The second part explores the social and cultural factors in contemporary Western culture that are creating a very unhealthy self-obsessed society and a generation of narcissistic young adults. The second part is most helpful in analysing the cultural and social factors at work. In fact I would recommend you read the second part first – “Narcissism and society”.

The second book is “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce”. A ground breaking piece of social research that was published in the US in 2000 but sadly barely made a ripple here. It is a longitudinal study (25years) of the children of divorce and how it affects their lives as adults. They now represent well over one third of our general population! Any one working with young adults can assume that at least a third will be affected in some of the ways this research reveals. The authors are Judith S. Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee and it is published by Hyperion NY 2000.
In the early 70’s ‘no fault’ divorce laws began to roll through Western societies, first in the US and then the UK, Australia and Canada. It was argued at the time that children were better off out of unhappy and conflicted marriages and in any case they were very resilient and would cope. This research clearly shows that these arguments were tragically false. The divorce rate quickly rose to about a third or more of all marriages and has stayed there. But the number of children affected is higher because at the same time de facto marriages increased, and these break down at an even higher rate, but they are not recorded in official stat’s.
This research followed the children of divorce over 25 years into adulthood. They revealed remarkably similar and troubling features. Here is a sample: they expressed a fear of commitment and difficulty in committing to relationships, especially in forming permanent ones, and if they did marry, had a higher than average divorce rate. They feared conflict, and were often anxious. They often felt that even though things might be going well at any moment catastrophe might strike. They felt their childhood had been stolen. Reading the results of this research explains a great deal of why young people are showing higher levels of mental health problems than ever before.
It is not hard to see why many Christian young adults have trouble standing out from the crowd and why they choose not to challenge some of the cultural and moral values of their non- Christian friends. The fear of rejection and conflict is emotionally too hard for them.
Discipling these young adults is a longer and harder task than it was in the past and requires a more holistic approach as their need for emotional healing is great, this is where the power of Christian community can also be very helpful.
Joining the dots between the two books especially between part two of Anne Mannes book and the research of the second book could be a useful and interesting discussion to have with some of your friends in ministry, why not set up a discussion!

STOP PRESS: According to the 2009 International Social Survey Program 72% of young people drop out of church in Australia, 57% in UK and 47% in US. A New book by the Barna Research group has just been published trying to analyse the reasons and offer some ways forward – “You Lost Me: Why young adults are leaving the Church……Rethinking Faith” by David Kinnaman.

The Future of Evangelicalism in Australia

(First published in “Ethos”. The magazene of the EA Center for Christianity and Society. Dec. issue 2014)
There is no question that the largest number of Protestant Christians in Australia now attends churches with a conservative theology. They would not all call themselves Evangelical as they comprise a wide range of traditions from Pentecostals to Evangelical Anglicans, but they nevertheless generally subscribe to an orthodox core of Biblical doctrine, are committed to Biblical authority, evangelism and traditional Christian morality. They run the largest churches and the most vigorous Para church organisations, youth and student ministries. So at least on the surface it looks like the future is healthy.
This has come about as a result of several trends since the mid 70’s: (1.) The rapid growth of independent Charismatic and Pentecostal churches through the 70’s and 80’s. (But now tapering off.) (2) The influence of Church Growth ideas emerging out of Fuller Seminary in the 80’s and 90’s on many main stream congregations. (3) The growth of the very large or ‘Mega’ evangelical suburban church among main stream denominations as well as independents. The concentration of resources and breadth of programmes in these churches makes them much more viable and attractive to attenders, especially families with children and teenagers. Almost all of these are conservative in theology. (4) The collapse of attendance among main stream churches promoting a liberal theology. Some of these people have transferred into theologically conservative churches, others have just given up attending. (Also a significant number of disenchanted Roman Catholics have transferred to Protestant churches.) (5) The erosion of influence in oecumenical organisations like the ACC and WCC has been replaced by significant cross denominational initiatives among conservatives. The Lausanne Movement, Leadership training programmes like Arrow Australia, Willow Creek, Praxis and Compass (both originally from N.Z.) and youth programmes like Surrender and various new church planting initiatives have emerged. (6) The growth of new ethno specific immigrant churches that are mostly conservative in theology.
A post denominational mood infuses many of these cross denominational initiatives as a new generation of young evangelical leaders became impatient with the arthritic and uncreative nature of their denominational H Q’s. They are not essentially anti-denominational so much as wanting to move past the frustrations of the institutions that they have grown up with. The jury is still out as to whether these new ventures will survive and prosper in the current Australian culture without reinvented and renewed institutions of some kind. Many of the experimental “missional congregations” have not survived the initial enthusiasm.
Nevertheless in spite of the growth of evangelical / conservative churches the overall trend is still a steady decline in church attendance in Australia. So is the future that healthy? It all depends on whether Evangelical churches, leaders, thinkers and pastors can successfully overcome the following challenges, many of which are not so much organisational as a deeply embedded mindset in the in contemporary Australians.
The Christian Church and Evangelicals in particular face great challenges in the context of contemporary Australian culture. In my view some of the general sociological challenges are as follows: (a) Our cultures prosperity and almost complete capture by consumerism and hedonism. (b) The indifference to organised religion. (c) The aggressive secularism of the media and the professional commentariate. (d) The pressure on people’s time and the frenetic business of family life with both partners committed to careers and hefty mortgages and long daily commuting. People guard their family time carefully now. Apart from kids sport there is also a definite withdrawal into the family castle and an over protectiveness of children. (e) The loss of credibility as a result of the Churches sexual abuse scandals. (f) A majority of the population now have no Christian memory or even rudimentary Christian knowledge. The last bastion of some meagre Christian instruction in the State education system is now under relentless attack. The Melbourne Ages campaign against ACCESS ministry in Victoria and the fight against the federal governments chaplaincy programme are two examples of this. (g) The general trend of most middle class people to avoid any form of serious evaluation of people’s beliefs and their uncritical acceptance of cultural relativism. This means that religious debate or discussion where it does occur in public is very bland and rarely touches on key issues and fundamental differences of faith and belief. The question of truth has been effectively sidelined by Post Modernity’s relentless relativism and cynicism. The popular attitude is that at root all religions are basically the same and exclusive truth claims should be avoided in the interests of social harmony, the fact that all cultures and many religions have negative and in some cases deeply oppressive practices is now a taboo subject. The only exception to open criticism is Christianity! It seems it’s always open season on Christians in a culture that has left behind its past faith. The endless sniping by ill-informed journalists and media panellists is like a petulant adolescent who thinks they have grown up and so can now reject their parent’s beliefs, even though their own values remain parasitic on their past heritage. (h) Generally our culture is shallow, afraid of conflict and will take peace at any price. We are all now the victims of a naïve “oppressive tolerance” and an uncritical inclusivism. The only thing that may shake this mind set is the growing awareness that fundamentalist Islam is a serious threat, not just “over there”, but here in democratic Australia.
In terms of the background atmosphere of influential ideas the following have deeply shaped the general mental landscape and present major challenges. (For the average person they are a bit like the background music in a film, we are only vaguely aware of it and couldn’t name the composer but it sets a tone, an atmosphere that affects the way we respond to the film.) They are as follows:
(1) The Post Enlightenment Narrative. It goes like this: we have now grown up and no longer need the Christian story; in any case the Churches history was one of superstition and ignorance, a child of the so called ‘dark ages’. This is coupled with the idea that modern science has explained all the mysteries that religion used to explain. There is nothing beyond the material – no meta-physic. All our ideas of God can be explained by modern psychology as merely wish fulfilments for a divine benevolent father figure. This mythical, caricatured and inaccurate narrative floats in the background of all modern minds and is played on by popular atheist apologists, reinforced by pop history, and shallow media commentators. This ubiquitous narrative diminishes Christianity’s plausibility for many people and represents a great challenge to Christian educators and those who can influence school and university curriculums. A small emerging Christian liberal Arts college scene as in the US is emerging, mainly out of the Roman Catholic Church, but is yet too small to be a major intellectual counter force. The establishment of the Catholic Universities is another constructive move in re-establishing a credible Christian intellectual influence.
(2) Contemporary Nihilism. In the late 19th C. Nietzsche prophesied “the death of God”. By that he meant that modern people would find it hard to believe in God as they did in the past. It seems his prediction has come true for many contemporary Australians. But he also said that “if you kill God you must leave the shelter of the temple”, by which he meant that you must also leave Christianity’s values and its provision of ultimate meaning and purpose. You must now make up your own meaning and values. You must now make your way alone in a brutal world where, as he also said, in human interactions “the only absolute is the will to power”. Having “left the shelter of the temple” we are now experiencing the full weight of Nietzsche’s prophetic words. Western culture continues to live off the diminishing capital of the values of our Christian past but no longer understands or believes their foundations and so have no way of answering the deepest questions of meaning and purpose, right and wrong, goodness and evil. When the pains of our existence are most acute we have no answers and no comforts and the void of meaningless stares back into our empty souls.
A significant stream of serious contemporary artistic expression reflects this bleak nihilism. A few examples: Wim Delvoyes “Cloaca” or excrement making machine at the MONA gallery in Hobart expresses this sense of modern life as an exercise in banal meaninglessness rubbish. The Cohen brother’s violent nihilistic films like ‘Fargo’ and ‘No country for Old Men’ and Tarantino’s classic ‘Pulp Fiction’ or David Finchers “Fight Club” reflect the same feeling. The writings of the much lauded David Foster Wallace like “Infinite Jest” carry a deep feeling of the sadness and lostness of contemporary culture. Wallace took his own life in 2008 at age 46 years. Tasmanian author Richard Flannigan’s outstanding book “The Narrow Road to the Deep North”, which has just won the 2014 Booker prize for English literature, also echo’s this theme. It has a central character Dorrigo Evans an Australian doctor in a WW2 Japanese POW camp who struggles with the horror of a world in which he feels he cannot escape the inevitability and eternal nature of violence: “For an instant he thought he grasped the truth of a terrifying world in which no one could escape the horror, in which violence was eternal, the great and only verity.” The Burma railway POW camps of 1944 may seem a long way away from today but when Australians read that every week one woman is killed by her partner in an act of family violence they understand, at least emotionally, that Nietzsche was right when he said that once God is dead for a culture then “the only absolute is the will to power”, and as we know, power’s accomplice is usually violence.
There is an even more scary implication of all this. With the death of God the notion of any objective truth beyond us is gone and with it goes the point of any contest of ideas. It is now futile because there is no objective truth by which we may judge what is true. Now of course that doesn’t mean people will stop arguing and debating and putting forward their ideas but in the end it is a pointless exercise. Samuel Becket powerfully depicted this in his 1950’s play “Waiting for Godot” as just the chatter of clowns waiting for someone to arrive and explain it all, but the ‘someone’ never comes, because as Beckett rightly discerned, in a Godless world there is no one to come and there is no meaning to explain. It is significant that Beckets play is still regularly performed to appreciative but sombre audiences. What he felt and saw about Western culture at the end of WW2 was obscured for most by our preoccupation with the post war recovery and then the ‘cold war’, but it has now risen to the surface again as social and relational dysfunction has escalated in the midst of our prosperity. Our wealth and welfare has not provided the meaning and purpose we thought it would nor has it solved our social problems. The same is true about how people feel about the practice of contemporary politics and the health of our democratic institutions, and since the GFC, our financial institutions. There is a widespread feeling of disillusionment and cynicism and that it doesn’t seem to matter much who is in power, over and over again you hear the familiar comments: “it’s just the same old spin and broken promises by leaders without any commanding vision or real integrity”. But worse is the sense of paralysis that seems to have gripped the great Western political experiment that has promised and delivered so much in the past. Post Modern scepticism and cynicism may have killed off a lot of modernity’s Optimistic Humanism but it has been replaced by nothing substantial. The only alternative for most people to despair is distraction – consumerism, entertainment, food, drugs and alcohol, etc. These are some of the various faces of contemporary nihilism and unless Christian evangelists and apologists can speak effectively into them and interpret them for people there will be little response to the Gospel we proclaim. This is the greatest challenge for Gospel centered Evangelicals today.
There are some bright spots: Evangelical scholarship is flourishing and a stream of high quality books comes off the press with excellent Biblical, theological and cultural analysis. The problem is most of this does not filter down to the average Christian or even many of our pastors. It would seem serious reading is out of fashion with Christians! The concern to re connect faith and work or faith and the market place is encouraging. Nevertheless it is disturbing that in Melbourne two of our Evangelical theological colleges, Ridley and now Whitley have severed their connections with Melbourne University. This retreat from the academy at such a critical time in our culture is inexplicable and disturbing.
My last observation is that there is also a discernible discomfort among some evangelicals about continuing to carry the name. This may be because of the way the popular media in their ignorance frequently misuse the label as a short hand for fundamentalist, narrow and unthoughtful Christians. It may also be because of the association in peoples mind with US politics on the extreme right. But in my view neither of these are good reasons to abandon the title. Properly understood it is an accurate description of a set of convictions of those committed to the Evangel of Jesus. In any case any title we adopt will be mangled or misinterpreted by the media for reasons of lack of education, prejudice and bias. Evangelicalism in its historical and traditional sense has stood for the following things:
1. A commitment to the Gospel and its proclamation to the whole world as a priority.
2. An acceptance of the authority of God’s written Word in all matters of faith and conduct.
3. A commitment to the Churches creeds and historic orthodoxy.
4. An enthusiasm for a vital and relevant expression of faith and worship under the power of the Holy Spirit.
5. A desire to apply the principles of the Gospel and the values of the Kingdom of God to every area of life and society with particular attention to the poor and oppressed.
6. A commitment to the development of a disciplined life of personal prayer and Bible study.
I for one am very happy to be described by these convictions.
Peter Corney. Nov. 2014

Review of the Film “Calvary” directed by John Michael McDonagh

This is a challenging but very serious and thoughtful film. It has a great cast and the main character, a Catholic priest, is brilliantly acted by the wonderful Irish actor Brendon Gleeson. It is the second in a trio of independent Irish films by Mc Donagh. The first “The Guard” also set on the west coast of Ireland featured a local policeman also played by Gleeson. It was a comedy but with some dark overtones. Some theatre advertising misleadingly advertises “Calvary” also as a comedy, although not without flashes of humour it is not a comedy! We wait with eager anticipation for the third in the planned trio.

Set once again in a remote seaside village on the west coast of Ireland this film portrays the New Ireland. Made up of disillusioned cynical people who have lost their faith in the Church and many their personal faith also, they are cynical about their country and its leaders. Their lives are relationally dysfunctional and morally adrift. There’s the sad disillusioned financier whose family has deserted him and who wants some redemption from the way he has immorally amassed his fortune from Irelands pre GFC property binge, played with pathetic irony by Dylan Moran of “Black Books” fame. There’s the tired cynical cop, the bitter local doctor who is angry at God for the suffering he has seen and the desperate frustrated women.

The plot centres on the local priest Father James, a faithful, wise and good man. His protagonist is a bitter and angry victim of serial abuse in his child hood by a catholic priest. He wants revenge and has decided that only a good priest will be a sufficient sacrifice. He announces this to Father James in the confessional and so the drama unfolds over seven days. The week becomes a parable of the Stations of the Cross with Father James as the Christ figure as he endures humiliation and doubt but remains courageously to face his would be executioner. A chance encounter with a young woman and fellow believer whose steadfastness in the face of her own recent and tragic loss restores his resolve at a critical point of doubt. This minor cameo role is very significant.

In an unusual twist we find that the priest was married and then widowed before he was ordained. This gives James a depth of experience and compassion. Perhaps another critique of the Catholic Church in its unwillingness to change their position on clergy being able to marry. He has an adult but troubled daughter from his marriage who says that she felt abandoned by both her mother’s death and her father’s new vocation, “I lost two parents!” The dialogue between them as he responds to her pain is beautifully written and profound, illuminated with flashes of grace, love and humour. James comments at one stage that “forgiveness is greatly underrated” – indeed!

The ending is traumatic and there are dark themes to this frank but insightful film. It is critical of the Catholic Church but it is also viscerally honest about the human condition. In my view it is not an anti-Christian film, if anything it is a celebration of the strength and power of the Christian faith when lived out with courage and sincerity. It also raises the old and profound questions about how we find atonement for our sins and stupidity, what is the cost of redemption and where it may be rediscovered by a culture that once understood it but has lost its way.

Review by Peter Corney.

YouTube Trailer: