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.”

The British came – and went (Part 3)

As the last British governor of Hong Kong vacated his post, he reportedly uttered regret that the British had not had enough time to introduce democracy to the island. Through 99 years?

Where democracy involves direct governance by the people – as perhaps in ancient India (refer Nehru), pre-Viking Britain (refer the Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences), early Athens (refer Plato), or even early capitalistic Britain (refer any number of historians) – not every male resident would have been so entitled. I hold to my hope that the good of the people had been the ethos underlying judgements in those places; in reality, the perceived benefit to decision-makers may have been the primary motivation.

Representative government of the modern kind, which purports to give every franchised individual a vote in deciding which political party should rule during a definable period, appears fair. Yet, where voting is not compulsory, those who eventually realise the futility of believing that they contribute to governance will not bother to vote.

In Australia, with compulsory voting, the ‘donkey’ vote can prevail. In more recent decades, many who reach voting age (18) are apparently not registering themselves as voters – reportedly without penalty, in the main. Penalties do apply to those who are on the electoral roll but did not vote.

Western democracy in Australia involves choosing a political party, through voting for the candidate nominated by the ‘poobahs’ of the party. There are no known selection criteria for candidates; and no set qualifications in terms of education plus work experience.  Elected representatives must support their party in federal and state parliaments. Voters are not asked about their needs.

Recently, the Pope appears to be the second object of fealty for both major coalitions. Accountability is only through elections, giving voters a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee (refer ‘Alice through the looking glass’).

No accountability procedures seem to apply to local government. There are no perceivable political loyalties; only personal interest. Rate payers, the voters, are not consulted.

Western democracy did appear to be a benefit for former British colonial territories. However, the vote available to every adult, especially in multi-tribal nations, regrettably subjugates minority tribes – even those who had lived within their own lands. I cite Ceylon, where ancient Hindu Tamil lands became subject to control by Buddhist Sinhalese, after Britain left a political heritage of Western democracy. The British colonial authorities, well-known for their divide-and-rule practices, left a legacy there (and everywhere) which makes a mockery of effective democracy.

This situation applies in, say, Africa, where European ‘spheres of interest’ led to boundaries of colonial-created nations cutting across tribal boundaries. In almost every nation so created, minority tribes became subject to domination by the majority tribe. A passing thought: Were former superior colonial Christians of the ‘white race’ then able to argue that the ‘coloured races’ are really unable to rule themselves? (Singapore’s Mabhubani, when Ambassador to the United Nations, wrote a clever sardonic book titled “Can Asians really think?”)

Western democracy needs improvement. The pretence of ‘representative’ government is absurd. The control of a nation by political parties, which govern from election to election, is deplorable. Surely democracy can be modified to be more equitable. Today, control by Vaticanites of Australian politics and human rights (a role reversal – control by a minority tribe) continues.

‘Prods and masons’

When I arrived in Australia 70 years ago, I was surprised by the sectarian war within Christianity. In British Malaya, the diverse ethno-religious communities lived in mutual tolerance and harmony. We did not transfer any antipathies which may have existed in the various tribal territories ‘back home ‘. Within my Jaffna-Tamil community, mostly Hindu, were 3 Christian sects; we were all close friends.

I soon discovered that the discrimination (not just prejudice) claimed by self-defined Irish Catholics was clearly 2-way! Because I am a Hindu, many of my colleagues in a Catholic-dominated federal public service (during late 1950 to late 1980s) spoke openly (albeit casually) and disparagingly about the ‘prods and masons.’ My ‘beering’ mates in that period included 2 Kennedys and 3 O’Briens.

On a few occasions, I challenged complaining Catholic friends as follows: Swear to me on your Good Book or with hand-on-heart that no male member of your extended family had seduced a Protestant girl and, when she became pregnant, married her (after her conversion to Catholicism); and she had then (presumably) produced the requisite number of Irish Roman Catholics sought by her priest.

Was it not strange that none of those I challenged was willing to so swear? But we remained friends. Did any of them wonder if they, or a near-ancestor, had been produced by an ex-‘prod’.

At a fairly recent party, when a fellow-retiree talked about Irish Catholics having faced discrimination by the prods, I asked him for details of the discrimination actually experienced by his paternal grandfather, father and himself – all 3 having been profession men. Being an honest man, he admitted that none of them had been disadvantaged in their respective careers by being Catholic.

However, he did say (in another context) that, because of his second marriage, he experienced discrimination in church by his priest!