When Mass had great weight (Part 2)

“Do you realise that you are frightening the s..t out of your fellow Section Heads in the Branch?” asked my new boss. He too was a Roman, but was an outsider, recruited from a university. He nodded when I replied “You know my work.” He then asked “How is it then that you are frightening the s..t from my peer group? When I simply smiled, he said “Tell me “

This is my story. Out of the blue I received an invitation from the head of another department (a man I did not know) to transfer across, with a promise of promotion to the Senior Executive Service as Branch Head. A week after my arrival, the head of management asked me if I would consider a particular task. After examining the job, I agreed. To that, his strange reply was “Don’t be a bloody fool.” That was because I had only 10 weeks to implement necessary structural and operational changes, and to inform all overseas posts about the new policy.

My small team of 3, backed by 3 Division Heads, and assisted where necessary by 3 other agencies, did meet the normally impossible deadline which the Minister had set. The Departmental Head, having expressed his thanks, then asked me to accept the job of Chief Ethnic Affairs for the State of Victoria, based in Melbourne. The task was to implement a new policy of financially assisting the smaller immigrant communities in their settlement. The government would fund the employment of a social worker by each ethnic community. I was to investigate these communities.

My new small team of 3 immigrants made considerable progress, aided by my direct access to the Minister, and my ability to talk freely, on an ethnic to ethnic basis, with community workers and leaders. They liked that.

When the Departmental Head retired without promoting me, I returned home. The new Head, a returned Ambassador, told me that, instead of being promoted, I could head our London Office. Did that office need a Mister Fix-it? Or, was it a sop by a Laborite? I rejected that suggestion. Had I not proven myself – not once, but twice?

In the meantime, No.1 on the promotion list became Branch Head. I, as No.2, was ignored. A few ranked below me were sequentially promoted; and I had to work under them. With one exception, I experienced petty discrimination, and was moved frequently, with a new job each year. It was made clear, with not much subtlety, that I was not one of them. I suspected that I was expected to crack under persistent pressure.

Yet, I was untouchable, indestructible. The Chairman of the National Ethnic Affairs Advisory Council, Emeritus Prof. George Zubrzycki, had already commended me for the depth of my work and my speed of report. A few members of that Council, plus a few other ethnic community leaders in the relevant State, then supported my application for the position of Chairman of the Ethnic Community Council of South Australia and, later, of Western Australia. The pay was the same. For the record, parochialism prevailed in both States; and a new position of Deputy Chairman was then created in each State.

Ironically, because I had been sequentially responsible for all the migrant settlement (or integration) policies, I was able, after retirement, to write (with a prior prod from the spirit realm), about the great value of these policies. Emeritus Prof. George Zubrzycki was a leading supporter of the first 2 of my books. He died soon after. He had also written to me to say that he agreed with all that I had written in ‘Destiny Will Out’ – my first book – except on voluntary euthanasia. No devout Roman Catholic could support that policy of compassion.

In areas of social policy, Mass (even with limited attendance) has strong gravitational pull in Australia. Papal Bull rules! Just look at the controllers in federal Parliament.

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When Mass had great weight (Part 1)

The new Branch Head, with legs crossed and hands steepled, sat in silence for about a minute. His 3 Section Heads waited. He opened his first meeting thus: “I have not attended Mass for a few years; I have been busy with my work.”

In the silence that followed, first one, then another, of his underlings admitted that they too had not attended Mass for some time. The third underling, an Asian immigrant and a Hindu, realising that a certain bonding had just taken place, silently wondered whether he dared ask about the nature of Mass. It was made clear in the following weeks that he was ‘not one of us.’

The bitter sectarian divide, which had both Irish Catholics (‘micks’) and Protestants (‘prods and masons’) complaining about discrimination by the other side for nearly 2 centuries, became mainly dissipated (perhaps somewhat subterranean) when a new government opened the doors of the hitherto White Australian nation to the lighter-coloured East Asians (the much-feared ‘yellow hordes of the North’ of yesteryear). The evidence for the latter intake is available in the Australian Census of 2002.

During the 3 decades of the 1950s to 1970s, the Asian had made a sufficient contribution to the federal public service trade union’s governing body in the national capital to be granted a Meritorious Service Award. Since the members of the governing body were almost totally of a Roman Catholic persuasion, the Asian’s drinking mates in the 1960s and 1970s included 2 Kennedys and 3 O’Briens.

That is, he was fully accepted by his work colleagues and his union’s leaders. However, when he sought to remain in the Senior Executive Service, tribal discrimination struck. In each of 2 departments, for almost a year, he had been on higher duties successfully.
In the first instance, he had been denied through a secret document which contained a terrible lie. He managed to obtain this document only 2 years later, when he had moved to another department – by invitation from its Head.

The second occasion involved an interview for the position he had been acting in with 2 Division Heads, held between 5.15 pm and 6pm. The next morning he discovered that his job had been cancelled by close of business (4.51pm) the previous day, the day of the interview! What bastardry, was his thought.

Further, although he had led a union committee for 7 years (out of 10) on merit protection, he himself experienced more petty discrimination at work in his late 50s. So, he retired prematurely at age 60. As the only coloured employee in that department at the level of Director, he did not wish to damage the department by going public; he also sought to protect his superannuation rights.

Hopefully, although Australia’s immigration and refugee policies favour Christians, Mass may not have the weight it once had.

(Comment: The small gang which made his life difficult was not racist, only tribal. The Hindu’s competence was never challenged. That may have been the trigger for closing ranks against him. Read Part 2.)

Racial vs religious discrimination

I offer personal testimony about these two major categories of discrimination. I experienced racial discrimination in my early years in Australia. That was when the White Australia ethos had seeped into the sphere of public behaviour. The trigger was my skin colour – then a light honey colour. The protection of ‘white space’ was triggered by the sudden appearance in public places of Asian students. “Why don’t you go back home, you black bastard?” was my first experience of this dual trigger for expressions of prejudice.

The discrimination experienced by Asian students was petty: we were the last to be served in the shops; or denied accommodation; there was often a reluctance to serve us, displayed by a gruff voice, and a sour look; people avoided sitting next to us on public transport; some white students would jeer at us on campus; etc. It was all quite puerile and obviously silly.

By discrimination, I refer to an act, not to a displayed attitude or an oral comment reflecting prejudice. The former can cause harm, whereas the latter can be ignored as reflecting an immature soul. In time, when the oldest generation obtained their wings, life became less irritating for us.

Yet, the record will show that I was denied appointment as a psychologist because I was considered to be “too black” (reliably witnessed). I was subsequently denied appointment as an economist with major corporations (as told to me by the Head of Melbourne University’s Graduate Employment Unit) because ‘the Australian worker was not yet ready for a foreign executive, much less a coloured one.’ Was that not racial discrimination?

However, late in my career in the federal public service, I experienced religious discrimination (but no words of prejudice were heard); that is, one would find it very difficult to prove discrimination. The trigger for discrimination in my case was the competition for promotion which I provided.

A singularly overt display of religious bonding (and boorishness) occurred thus. My new branch head opened his first meeting with his section heads by saying that it was a long time since he had attended Mass; but he had been busy at work. My peer group responded, each in turn, by saying that they too had been remiss in attending Mass! I did not dare ask what Mass was. My life was then made very difficult; the slights were overt!

As well, for the next 5 years, I was asked by 3 successive bosses to move out of my job, in favour of the boss’ choice. Then, annually, my work responsibilities were altered substantially. I kept my cool, until age 60, when I took early retirement. Those responsible for my plight were only a handful, but they were influential. To attempt to counter them would have been unwise.

That was 30 years ago. As long as those who belong to the faith now behave in a mature and professional manner, my experience should not be repeated. Religious discrimination is far more insidious and deleterious than ‘racial’ discrimination; utterances reflecting petty prejudice should be ignored.

 

What of institutional religion?

What place is there for the major religions (within the posited framework of an autonomous nested mesh of destinies ranging from the personal to multiple collectives)?

Divested of the detritus of dogma deliberately designed to distinguish each sect or faith from the others, and then to enable a claim of an unwarranted theological superiority, and thereby an exclusive path to heaven, two core beliefs are shared by these religions, except Buddhism. First is a claim of a creator god. The second is that, since humans are the products of this creation, we are bonded to one another.

What a wonderful concept. It is a great pity that it seems to apply only within the boundaries of each religious sect. The others are outsiders, heretics, heathens, etc. and are therefore not going to be ‘saved.’ Thus, in the name of their god, each priesthood is likely to display or even preach prejudice towards those not under its control or influence.

There will, of course, be great exceptions – priests within each religion who are truly ecumenical (accepting related sects within their religion as non-competitive), or who are freethinkers in their tolerance, even accepting other religions as comparable paths to the one God of mankind. I have enjoyed conversing with some of these enlightened exceptions.

What of those who quite impertinently suggested that my soul would remain doomed if I did not convert to their sect? My riposte to such soul gatherers is as follows: ‘When you ascend to the Celestial Abode of the Heavenly Father, you will find yourself shaking hands with Caluthumpians and members of all the other religions.’ Regrettably, some ‘wannabe’ saviours seemed discomfited by such a vision; I have watched a few dash down the road with displeasure after receiving my good news! I wonder how the atheists react on entry to this Abode.

Is it not true that institutional religion has pitted followers of one religion against another, and sect against sect within many religions, butchering fellow humans and defiling them in every way in the name of their faith? Under the pap propagated by their spin-doctors, it is carnivore-eat-carnivore, that is, dog-eat-dog! This situation continues.

The true measure of the quality of a civilisation is the way the least viable of the people are treated. This criterion, in my view, also applies to religions. On this test, the major religions, if not all of them, fail. The life chances, the quality of life, of those at the bottom of the socio-economic pile are generally ignored by their co-religionists in power, in government. It is a great pity that it was the communist nations which provided some uplift to their peasants, lifting them from their squalor. Our only hope is the secular nation, which subordinates saving the soul to filling an empty belly.

Would it not be wonderful if individual humans were able to seek succour from their god or spirits or whatever, without being caught up within an institutional religion with all its divisive binding rules, regulations and practices, as well as its priesthood; that is, without an intermediary? This is not to deny that there are many who derive some peace of mind through their priests. From observation, the two main groups in Australia are the elderly and the newly converted (mainly East Asians). This peace of mind, if associated with sectarian prejudice, may not however be the best ticket for entry to Heaven.

Yet, the real need by the majority of humans to have some hope of alleviating their suffering as they strive merely to exist, to survive, to protect their families (especially their young), cannot be denied. However, how could they accept that their prayers, their entreaties, are in vain; and that they need to work through their personal destinies in each life? Do not the alleged interventions by some kind god, or the claimed miracles brought about by saints, offer (blind) hope? Should the purveyors of this hope, the middlemen, most of whom live well and in security, therefore be tolerated? If so, at what price?

Yet, I will make it clear that I am not denigrating the kindness of most of those I refer to as middlemen. I continue to deal with them. They are worthy of respect. They have chosen to help their church-attending flocks as best they can, but within the closed framework of their dogma, and the well-trodden paths of tradition.

(The above are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’)

 

An octogenarian’s thoughts about religion (Part 3)

Regrettably, there is a core component of religions which can be, and often is, divisive; when there is no reason for it to be so.

Religious beliefs can arise spontaneously in very widely separated regions of the globe. Some of the beliefs evolve into belief systems, aided by the thinkers within each faith community. Some of these thinkers may have been influenced by the traders and travellers with whom they have come into contact. By and large, relevant perceptions and knowledge are transferred between communities by a slow process of cultural diffusion.

It is unexceptional for the priests and other leaders of a religious community to seek to bond more closely their followers through some explanatory claims they have conceived about origins, links with the numinous, and so on. Separated by geographical space, each religious community can go about its business without interference; theological differences with other religious communities do no harm when religious communities are not close to one another.

However, aggression through war and colonialism against other people seem to have engendered a need to denigrate the religious (as well as other cultural features) of those conquered. Aggressive priesthoods and ambitious royalty have also seemingly added fuel to unwarranted religious wars throughout history.

When will those responsible learn that their ambitions or folly mean nothing after their Earthly demise?

The following extract from my first memoir ‘Destiny Will Out’ (Chapter 16) is, I believe, pertinent.

“ All religions have an explanatory component too – which offers us, with varying degrees of clarity, a story about man’s relationship with his Creator, his place in the universe, and the way the universe is (and was and will be). It is in this area that wars between men usually commence. It is in this area that men who seek to rule as much of mankind as possible claim the superiority of their faith – by means contrary to the ethical teachings of their own faith.

Expediency is just, killing in the name of Christ, butchery in the name of Buddha, massacre in the name of Mohammed, horror upon horror in the name of Hinduism, are also just, allegedly to gain favour with God. A God of Love supposedly condones, if he does not want, the slaughter of his Creation by self-chosen preachers of God’s Love. I fear an anthropomorphic God.

We are a blood-thirsty, power-hungry species of animal left to find ourselves by a Creator who merely set up the mechanism and let the details evolve. We cannot blame God for what happens, or what we do. Neither can we justify our actions by blaming God.”

An octogenarian’s thoughts about religion (Part 2)

In Part 1, I made the following claims: That the major religions are equal in their potential; that the Hindu faith is more attractive for me because it is most comprehensive (because it offers a view of mankind’s place in the Cosmos, as well as a cosmology involving cycles of existence each of 3.11 trillion years); and that, and while our prayers may take diverse forms, we all pray for the same reasons.

I now highlight yet another, and most significant, feature of religions. The following extract is from Chapter 16 of ‘Destiny Will Out’, my first memoir.

“All religions guide us in our relationships with fellow humans. This ethical component draws upon a belief in a Creator (and this was not denied by the Buddha) and, as we are all bound to the Creator, we are bonded to one another. In intent, then, the ethical component of all religions of faiths is the same. Those religionists who argue to the contrary may well be placing themselves and their powers over us; I distrust the integrity of such people. This is not to deny the equivalence of the humanist perspective to the core ethics of the spiritually religious.”

Ignoring the reality that the ethical imperative is ignored by greedy individuals, as well as by those who are politically driven (possibly implying that their claimed religious faith is a facade), without an ethical code shared by those of us who believe that we are co-created by God, we may be compared with lesser members of the kingdom of fauna, the animal kingdom.

 

An octogenarian’s thoughts about religion (Part 1)

“When I fell out of the boat taking me to a career and lost my family, my self-respect, and faith in my abilities, I gave away my god (and everybody else’s). Struggling in rough and strange waters, I had time to think.

The first non-textbook I read when I settled down to academic study, strangely enough, was about Abraham (a nostalgic look at a past-life period?). Reading laterally, I then covered the belief systems of some early societies. I read about the nature of religious belief, and about the major religions. I came across a simple and very useful framework for examining religions, which I used some years later when I was on a school board.

When I came to enjoy the bliss of my own family, I recovered my faith in a Creator – logic (yes, logic) took me to this position. Reflecting (perhaps) the experiences of my formative years (and what I was taught) and drawing upon my reading, I realised that all faiths are beneficial and equal; one would have to be brainwashed or an egomaniac to claim that one faith was somehow superior to the others.

While I continue to hold this view, I prefer the Hindu philosophy because it is more comprehensive in its explanatory scope and yet, at its core, quite simple. It took me many years to reach this position.

All religions offer a devotional component. We all pray, in different ways, but for the same reasons. Some of us are a little bit more selfish at times than others. The forms of prayer vary, but their intent is the same. Is one form better, more effective, or better liked than God? If you do not like the way I pray, you probably do not like the way I look.”

(The above is an extract from my first memoir ‘Destiny Will Out’ Chapter 16)