Good Fences Make Good Neighbours

The Jewish people did not lack for self-proclaimed messiahs seeking to stir trouble against the Roman occupiers. Why is only one of these men remembered today?

The confluence of events that led to the late Roman emperor Constantine becoming baptised a Christian (after killing his wife and son no less) – just at a time convenient for Christianity to fill the vacuum left by the crumbling Roman empire – seems miraculous. A more prosaic explanation, though, is that Christianity had a unique ability to unite divisions. 

Unlike many other Jewish sects, Christianity opened its doors to all. In the words of St Paul: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

But then even from its earliest days, Christianity had an equally unique ability to divide and debate forcefully on arcane matters of theology. Constantine had fought to protect Christians after decades of persecution and he had outlawed crucifixion. He united the Roman Empire and, like all rulers, prized unity above all else. 

The thanks he got from the Christian bishops was a vicious struggle over whether Jesus was wholly divine or just a little bit divine. The Emperor must have felt like banging their heads together like Moe in “The Three Stooges”, but instead he called them to Nicea, where the Nicene Creed was hammered out, under the watchful eye of the Christian Emperor. 

Putting aside the religious messages of our holiday period, and the even more overt commercial ones, this is a message for all Australians from our Judeo-Christian heritage. 

We must unite around those matters that we agree on, and they are legion. We don’t talk about them much but we agree on one vote for one person (regardless of race or gender). We agree on equality before the law. We agree on freedom of speech. We agree on a separation of church and state. 

Because they are not controversial, these matters are rarely discussed but we should reflect on how treasured our social contract actually is. In the sweep of history, there are very few nations as free, as liberal, as hospitable and as prosperous as Australia. 

While we should give thanks for this, we should also realise that good fences make good neighbours. The greatest threat to our unity is the propensity of some to tell others what to do.  Greenies tell farmers not to cut down the trees they own while tweeting from apartment blocks denuded of greenery. A new acronym has formed to capture those that seek to Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything – a BANANA. 

We should let Australians who live in different areas make up their own rules that suit them. The start of the year will see state elections in our most populous and third most populous states: New South Wales and Queensland. Federal politicians should remember that states are their own sovereign governments and the people that select these governments should be free to make their own choices. I have even proposed making more states, or more “fences”, so that we can make even better neighbours. 

After Australia Day the political debate will resume. While people often say that Parliament is too rowdy and we disagree on too much, we should equally celebrate debate as well as unity. You do not make a chain strong by only repairing the strong links. You should focus and repair the weak ones to make the whole strong.

This article was originally published in Queensland Country Life 22 January 2015

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