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.

 

The ‘motherhood penalty’

Wonder of wonders! A mere male (Matt Wade) wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald of 11 Feb. 2018 about the gender inequality of earnings of the majority of women “who are faced with the lion’s share of childcare responsibilities” (National Bureau of Economic Research). However, the Bureau also stated “Even with ‘perfectly equal pay for equal work’ there would still be large gender inequality in earnings as equal work is not an option for the majority of women …”

Wade also wrote ‘Another reason the motherhood penalty is so entrenched is the enduring potency of the “male bread winner” model, where fathers are the primary breadwinners and mothers the secondary earners or full-time carers. That pattern has been surprisingly resilient.’ He quotes an academic thus. “We are becoming more traditional in our views around childcare and the role of mothers … Australians are still quite conservative in those kinds of views.”

Surprise! Surprise! Unless focused on her career, or in need of more money, would not a mother want/need to be in touch with the baby she produced (almost all by herself)? Would not her baby want/need to be in touch with her as much as possible, as Nature has deemed? Until a child enters childcare facilities at (say) 4 years of age, would not the child want to be near mum (possibly accompanied by then by a sibling or two)?

f motherhood imposes a penalty, why bother to produce a child? No one else (apart from the partner) is involved in such a decision; certainly not the taxpayer.

What seems to have been deficient in writings about parenting, motherhood, and relative responsibilities in the care of children – over many years in Australia – is concern about the psychological needs of babies and children with (full-time) working mothers, and in split or blended families. If there has been objective writing on the needs of little children, why are they not flagged in the media?

Talk of the ‘penalty’ of motherhood is fatuous. Or, is this the new feminism, even as espoused by a mere male?

Inter-cultural transfers of values and practices

Revelation from On-High (Heaven, that is) has apparently been known to occur. However, it surely is a rare event; and may be unreliable (while unverifiable).

The transfer of learning and of new ideas, or new cultural practices and their underlying belief-rationale, occurs through enduring exposure. For example, the diverse peoples of Southeast Asia became acclimatised to Hindu religious practices and their associated belief systems through ongoing contact with Indian traders; later, the latter’s priests (who, unlike Christian priests, do not seek to proselytise and convert) would also have had an impact through the observed display of their rituals.

Emperors and other militarists are, by their very roles and actions, not known to be effective transmitters of durable new cultural practices and associated values. Their ambassadors have a political role, including reporting to head office their observations on their new temporary environment.

Traders move on their own trajectories, unless paid to be spies. Together with settlers from other cultures, they have a pervasive effect on the people they encounter, but without intending to change anything. In this context, I am reminded of Megasthenes, the ambassador to (Indian) Chandrangupta’s Empire from Seleucus, the successor in the Middle East to Alexander the Great. He made some very interesting observations.

Ironically, Alexander reportedly sought to adopt, without success, certain court practices of Persian royalty. Perhaps the priestess in Siwa (Egypt) had confirmed his alleged belief that he had been sired by a god. The adoption by officials of the British East India Company of the traditions of their predecessors, the Mughals, was however so successful that they were criticised by England’s class-riven rulers as ‘going native.’

When a tribe changes religion by fiat, by the ruler’s decision (for example, the Khazars of the Caucasus and the Singhalese of (modern-day) Sri Lanka), would the cultural changes have involved more than a change of religious belief? The conversion by British evangelists of some Indians and Ceylonese did not appear to have altered their behavioural values and practices in the Asian communities I observed; only religious observance was amended.

Naturally, in time, for a variety of reasons, cultural practices will change. My extended family is an excellent exemplar. I recall a visiting academic from Greece in Melbourne in the early 1980s who was criticised for saying that. He had pointed out that Athenian cultural practices had changed over time; and that island culture, which was not the same as Athenian culture, had also changed. Somewhat unwisely, he had wondered (as I understood him) whether one could really talk of Greek culture.

In truth, is any culture uniform across a people? There are classes, castes, and sub-cultures in countries which are familiar to us, eg. Australia, Britain, Japan, Malaysia, India.

Culture is indeed a moveable feast. In modern times, a degree of fusion between hitherto separate cultures can also be expected. What value is there in cultural competition or aggrandisement?

The breakdown of family

The nuclear family is the core unit of society in those new nations carved out by European migrants in territories over the seas previously occupied by indigenous tribes. The latter, like the traditional societies of Asia and Europe (or parts thereof), were composed of kin family units.

These migrants would, in the main, have left established nations in Europe or sundry kingdoms or principalities, for religious, economic or official policy reasons (eg. Britain’s cultural cleansing of those deemed to be criminal, or otherwise undesirable).

The nation, as a territory-related people, is a socio-political construct (or artificially created entity), arising in Europe no more than five centuries ago. Presumably reflecting the schisms within Christianity, tribes of a coherent people, bonded by a shared religious belief, history, territory, language, other cultural traditions, and consanguinity demarcated the defining boundaries (both geographical and tribo-cultural) to ensure separation from non-congruent or competing tribes.

Purely as an aside, at its height, European colonialism extended the reality of nationhood outside Europe by establishing national borders. These boundaries created new nations, irrespective of pre-existing kingdoms or ethnic enclaves, often dividing peoples, just to achieve a balance of power between the European nations. The resultant tribal wars (eg. between India and Pakistan) may, however, have offered economic opportunities to the neo-colonisers of the modern day.

Migrating multitudes mixed people from source countries in the new territories in a manner not evidenced before. Without extended family support, necessary self-sufficiency developed. The subsequent eventual development of ethno-religious conglomerates probably resulted in loosely-knit communities.

However, the American scholar Francis Fukuyama has recently written about the great disruption to US society. Could one wonder whether the killing of the indigenes and the despoliation of their cultures has left some kind of debilitating residue in the national ethos? Be rational, obey the law, and look after your self-interest: these were apparently posited as a guide to a life expressing personal initiative in a land of opportunity.

Whatever the relevance of the above, Fukuyama’s analysis is shadowed by a casual but extended observation of Australian society.

In Australia, where individualism is somewhat leavened by state welfare, the author’s experiences and acute observations over six decades lead him to the following conclusions. The family unit, the fulcrum of society, and the vehicle for the transmission of the youth of the nation to their future, has been fractured. In the absence, or a substantive denial of available extended family, a breakdown of marriage or cohabitation of duration leaves children in a parlous situation. There is no kin back-up available in the main.

Since up to 40% of marriages are reportedly at risk, and since many, many fathers are allegedly denied continuing close relationships, as dictated by nature, with their children, what happens to the psychological needs of the children in broken families? Only recently has there been any admission that the children are adversely affected. Earlier claims that there is no evidence of damage did not seem credible, when one considers nature.

Yet, only the career needs of mothers, and their success in balancing motherhood and work, fill the media reports. The extended periods spent in professional care by babies and little children, the denial of their right to nestle at length in the arms of the mothers and, when older, to ask a million questions about all those interesting things out there, and to talk about all that, is never the subject of interest in the media. Why not?

Fortunately, in low-employment districts, the children are seen to be receiving the entitlements designed by nature.

Then, there is a perceivable diminution of mutual respect, the reported denial by many youngsters of personal responsibility to contribute to the operation of the family unit, the audible spoilt child in the shops, a reported increase in the number of single mothers, and the seemingly escalating exploitation of welfare (especially the disability pension) by able-bodied people.

Fukuyama identifies in his analytical book ‘The Great Disruption’ other evidence of social alienation (but in the USA). He instances mealtimes, now lacking the ‘structured rituals’ of yesteryear, when families ate together, with parents thereby enabled to offer information and counsel to their offspring and, reciprocally, for the latter to talk about matters of relevance to them. This reinforces the bonds of the family. Fukuyama also instances the risks of blending separated part-families, and the deleterious effects of broken homes on school learning.

Essentially, he highlights the imbalance between the wants of adults and the needs of children. Who speaks for the latter?

How could advanced, highly developed nations offering high culture, highly skilled professionals and artisans, and humanistic and ecological-minded people, allow the breakdown of family as described? Who is responsible for strengthening the family unit, and thus ensuring the society as we need it?

Is the ethos of individualism the sole cause of such societal alienation? Or, was there something in the rain? Without strongly-bonded family units, can society survive?

 

Christianising a secular nation?

Thirty percent of Australians stated in the recent Census that they have no religion. The most powerful of the Christian churches in the nation can claim perhaps no more than 20% support. In reality, attendance at all churches is reportedly visibly low, except for a new expression of Christian faith.

Officially, Australia is a secular nation. There is no evidence that the behaviour of church-attending Christians (of whatever provenance) is more responsible than that of others who say that they are also Christians; or that Christians are more socially responsible than those who belong to other religions; or who are atheists and agnostics.

The crucial issue for society is whether ethical conduct is programmed by regular attendance at a place of worship; or through being taught about the religious beliefs of one’s family and community. Or, is it the case that children develop a sound distinction between what is right and what is wrong in conduct and thought, and what is fair and just, through the behaviour of their parents?

And, is there also not an innate sense of equality or fairness displayed by many little children, even through the tantrums of that stage of growth known as the ‘terrible twos’? Where does this undeniably inborn display of what is fair come from? A past-life intimation? Why not? And where do parents and teachers learn about ethical conduct? Surely through the above processes!

In terms of the influence of religion, humans pray to God, or to spirits of one kind or another, for safety, succour, or salvation – instinctively. They learn codes of conduct through socialisation. What we are all taught about the religion of the family or tribe represents the following: a rationale for ethical behaviour; an explanation of what is observed and experienced in society; a guiding light for the journey of Earthly life; and a promise of what death may bring.

Each religion has its own vision, reflecting its historical origins and development. Together they light the various paths of existence. None can claim to be unique or even superior. How could they?

A full belly and material security may result in the negation of a religion, with some attracted to a spirituality which engenders a mutual respect for all human life (as well as all sentient life).

When Australia began to collect needed immigrants from 1948, it allegedly set out to gather Roman Catholics from Europe; and then from the Levant. When the White Australia policy was nominally ended, for about 3 decades the majority of Asians accepted were light-skinned East Asians who were Christian. (Refer Census data 2012). Preference was then seemingly given to Christian refugees and humanitarian entrants. Asylum seekers arriving by air and by boat, family reunion, and (possibly) poor selection led to other entrants.

It is probably the Anglo-Celts who have decided that they do not need religion. State schools enabling Christian lay-persons to inform students about Judeo-Christianity may turn the tide – mainly for the benefit of churches and Bible societies. An important issue is whether government schools in officially secular Australia should involve themselves with divisive, even competitive, religions?

Ideally, state primary schools could offer an education about the nature and role of religion. I recommended this when I was the Chairman of a school board; while my Board and the education authorities accepted my proposal in principle, it was not implemented.

All high schools could teach comparative religion – professionally; that is, without confusing cultural practices with core tenets of each religion. The objective would be to enable our youth to understand that all the major religions share 2 core beliefs; and that differences reflecting theological approaches are not barriers to mutual understanding that diverse paths lead to the one and only God of mankind.

Religious people of all faiths, as well as those of a spiritual mind, are good people; as are those who do not need religion to guide their behaviour.

‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ – Reviews

The full title of this book is ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity: beyond tribalism and towards a new Australian identity.’ The book has two platforms: the relationships between immigrant communities; and the shared search for God (the Universal Creator) by one and all, but along diverse paths.

Implicit in this narrative is the folly of mutual antipathy (through divisive dogma) by institutional religion. It is my considered view that there are only 2 core beliefs within the major religions, irrespective of whether the religions were of desert or forest origins, and that these are shared by most of them. The core beliefs are: that there is a Creator of all that is; and that, as co-created, we humans are bonded to one another. Regrettably dogma, intended to bond adherents, has become instrumental in unwarranted competition between religions. The paths are indeed diverse, but surely lead to the single end-point!

As for inter-ethnic relations, I stress the importance of immigrant communities understanding, if not knowing, other immigrant cultures; and to tolerate differences in the mode and direction of prayer, and the associated tribo-cultural practices. It is, of course, expected that immigrant communities accept the institutions of Australia and its social mores, and not expect the nation they chose to enter to change to suit imported cultures which are incompatible with prevailing mainstreaming culture. Naturally, a national culture will evolve in time.

Inter-cultural marriage, fusion cuisine, teachers guiding successive generations to a shared citizenship, and (as I believe) a natural tendency for humans to reach out to one another, have resulted in a modern cosmopolitan Australia.

The wisdom of the Upanishads and that of a few wise souls is offered in the book as a means of recognising the co-creation of all humanity, viz. the Family of Man, my ideal for mankind.

Reviews

This is a well-written book and recommended for anyone studying comparative religion, sociology, Australian history, civil rights, and ethnic cultures of Australia. It would be appropriate for high school and college students, civil rights and religious leaders, and historians. The author uses a quote from Hippocrates made 2,500 years ago to make his point. There is one common flow, one common breathing. All things are in sympathy.”
Recommended
by Cynthia Collins for the US Review of Books

“This book portraits the author’s skilful narration on relationships between migrant communities and the shared search for God (the universal creator).  I am filled with admiration for the author who pens with so much conviction and confidence. It is partly an octogenarian’s memoir of his youth in Singapore and Malaya (Malaysia) and life then onwards, 6 decades, in Australia.

The book has been cleverly written with much passion and personal experiences and observations. His early confrontations with the white Australian policies and their superiority attitude and how with the coming of the new arrivals into this totally white nation, gradually taking another turn. He writes frankly, with no prejudices, with the ultimate aim of creating an Australian Man !!

In dealing with race and colour issues, he also deals with the aborigines of Australia who were originally stripped off their rights. Their stance is being legally looked into and that is something ongoing.

It is a great read for foreign students, people seeking refuge, historians, religious leaders and travellers abroad and both governmental and non- governmental organizations. Gives an insight and background of present day well organized Australia.

He is emphasizing the need for multicultural understanding and inter-ethnic tolerance in order to foster a sense of unity in a country that started off as an all-white country with one religion, Christianity. Once again, all this with the aim of creating an Australian Man !! Special emphasis is given to the situation of the Aborigines and their plight for their rights which were originally stripped off them.

He strives to achieve an Australian Man and the creation of all humanity by offering and quoting words from wise men and the Upanishads. A recommended read for any newcomer to Australia.

S. den Drijver, The Netherlands.
 

 

 

‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ by Raja Arasa RATNAM

Appraisal

“What a beautiful mind!  Hidden Footprints of Unity is a substantial work from an intelligent and spiritually perceptive man. Arasa has skilfully navigated his way through a vast array of subjects: the ‘strange sensitivity to skin colour by most adult whites … the search for the Divine … the desire by some to peer into the Void … the issues of a divisive tribalism and the imperatives of an evolving new Australian national identity’.  He has produced an eminently readable memoir, uplifting, provocative, and well written. He writes with a light touch on complex issues. His use of pertinent, often amusing, quotes adds a further dimension to his vision of the inter-connectedness of mankind.”

Arasa’s ideal is the Aussie Family of Man, evolving from the recently achieved cultural diversity. There are signs (footprints) that exist, but we must seek in order to find them. This memoir by an Asian immigrant reflects half a century of observation and analysis during an intensively interactive life in a fast-changing Australia.”

Synopsis

A memoir by an Asian immigrant. He offers his observations after more than half a century of an intensively interactive life covering an unusually wide range of activities in Australia.

Deposited by Destiny in a strange mono-cultural, mono-lingual, mono-chromatic nation which displayed contradictory attitudes towards fellow humans (derived from a misguided perception of the significance of skin colour), he has observed and analysed his fellow Australians whilst adapting, in a substantially contributory fashion, to his new home.  This record is not, however, a litany of whinges about the difficulties of life in Australia for a coloured person (especially in the early period) or even a recital of personal achievements and contributions – but some details of his personal experiences naturally provide some relevant ballast. It is neither effusive in gratitude, as might be expected from an imported ‘blackfellow’  who has had, on balance, a good life in a white nation; nor is it  exprobratively critical, although his cultural values are, at their core, somewhat at variance with those currently displayed by some fellow-Australians in key areas of human conduct.

Instead, this record focuses on the realities of life in the two principal areas of human significance: inter-community (especially black/white) relations, and the universal search for the Creator. Commencing with a look at that strange sensitivity to skin colour by most adult whites he has encountered, his narrative moves onto that rather weird competitive urge displayed by mere mortals in their search for the Divine, and then onto that understandable desire by one and all to peer into the Void of the future. Finally, it touches upon the issues of a divisive tribalism, and the imperatives of an evolving new Australian national identity.

Endorsements (pre-publication)

Chapter 4 – ‘Which Way to the Cosmos?’

                “I find the concepts in ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ most appealing, coming as they do from an agile mind which has managed to embrace cultures usually seen as competitive, or even enemies. This book should prove a precious contribution to mutual understanding”.

  • James Murray, SSC, recently retired Religious Affairs Editor, ‘The Australian’

Chapter 5 – ‘Peering into the Void’

              “As for your writing, it takes us out of our norms, our comfort zones, and reminds the reader that what we assume is objective historical reality is often mere permeable ideology, an arbitrary sense of order imposed upon the flux of life”.

              –    Paul Sheehan, Columnist, ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ and renowned author.

Chapter 2 – ‘The power of pigmentation’

              “The value of Chapter 2 lies in its use of personal experience of living in Australia. One is struck by the author’s sincerity and, at times, magnanimity in recounting the lack of tolerance at the hands of colleagues and acquaintances.”

  • Jerzy Zubrzycki, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, ANU

Chapter 6 –  ‘The end of tribalism?’

               “No question is more likely to provoke a quarrel between friends than some aspect of population policy. Are there too many Australians? Are the ones we have the right kind? Raja Ratnam is doubly privileged to reflect on such matters. He was a Malayan Hindu arrival when White Australia prevailed. By the 1980s, he was a senior public servant dealing with high policy.

His comments strike me as contrary and contradictory. He can be as anachronistic in his portrayal of Aussie customs as he is penetrating in his glimpses into how all Australians have managed the personal strains of living in a new place with even newer-comers. He is at his most perplexing when retelling his professional involvement with immigration policies. No one will read through this chapter without crying out “Too right” before having to stop themselves slamming the book shut with a shout of “What rot”.

Yet his retrospect and his prognosis are conveyed in a congenial voice, one that should contribute more to the sense of communal responsibility that he champions. Meanwhile, his neo-Liberalism seems set to demolish what Australia retains of these values.”

               –   Humphrey McQueen,  historian and renowned author.