Yin/Yang beats Either/Or time after time…

05 Sep

I never said my Christianity was orthodox, though I am happy it is acceptable to South Sydney Uniting Church. In fact I am close in spirit, though not in intellectual stature or importance obviously, to the new Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia who is reported as saying he is an “agnostic with a sense of wonder” despite a Jesuit education. Incidentally, it is one of the more encouraging signs of the times, contrasting with the dark side of the Howard era, that  this happened:

ON his first day as the country’s top judge, Robert French set an early precedent by acknowledging the land’s traditional owners at a ceremony that marked a new era for the nation’s highest court.

Chief Justice French, who has helped to shape the nation’s native title law, said his recognition of the Ngunnawal people was “no mere platitude” and reflected an awareness that indigenous history was “becoming, if it has not already become, part of our national history. The history of Australia’s indigenous people dwarfs, in its temporal sweep, the history that gave rise to the constitution under which this court was created,” he said. “A proper perspective reminds all of us who occupy public office … to see ourselves as other Australians see us. This will often be at best with a kind of sceptical respect.”

That’s not political correctness; it is a healthy decency and a proper pride in this country in all its manifestations over time. Seems we’ve had a good appointment there.

architecture1thumb So back to my somewhat Taoist version of Christianity. You do know yin/yang don’t you? M’s pic on the right we called “Yin and Yang” for reasons some will understand. There are so many occasions when Yin/Yang is preferable to the Western insistence on Either/Or. Are you Pro Life or Pro Choice? I would cut out “or”. Are you for socialism or capitalism? I would cut out “or”. I would further say this is not sitting on the fence. It is recognising that the fence is not there. Similarly, at the end of John C Lennox’s often interesting defence of theism God’s Undertaker, Lennox comes up with the classic Either/Or:

Either human intelligence ultimately owes its origin to mindless matter; or there is a Creator.

I would cut out “or”. Further, even if faith makes me lean towards the second it does not make the leap that impels me to accept the Bible as a literal Word of God, because I know from reading it for decades and from studying both history and theology that it is not — and yet there are respects in which I can say it is, or includes words that send me God-ward, and thus I am inspired by those old texts, or some of them. All that will revolt fundamentalists, and other people with tidy minds, but that’s no bad thing. Check the religion section in my links for more resources I do find interesting…

On a dubiously related track: Palin’s pro-life code, loud and clear in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. I refer to Peter Hartcher’s celebration of “the conscience vote.”

… Australian abortion politics exist in a parallel universe. A Tasmanian Liberal, Senator Guy Barnett, is sponsoring a motion that would end Medicare funding for abortions carried out between the 14th and 26th weeks of pregnancy. It is expected to be put to a vote in the next couple of weeks.

This has the potential to ignite a great political conflagration as the pro-life and pro-choice lobbies fire up. Abortion remains one of the most emotionally powerful issues in human affairs. But are the Australian political parties gearing up for a mighty struggle on this?

Not a bit of it. The Labor and Liberal parties have both decided that they will not put a party position on this. Both parties will allow their members a conscience vote. There are to be no party positions; only personal ones.

This is the standard approach in the Australian system to difficult matters of reproductive morality. It is one of the starkest differences between the US and Australian systems. Passions over abortion are stepped down in Australia even as they are stepped up in America, defused here even as they become more highly charged there.

The chief reason is that the parties know that this is an issue that can tear them apart, both of them. For instance, the Liberal leader, Brendan Nelson, and the deputy leader, Julie Bishop, have diametrically opposed positions on another abortion-related measure – whether Australian foreign aid should be made available to countries so that they can provide abortion advice.

Such funding is now banned as a result of a deal between John Howard, who wanted the Senate to agree to the privatisation of Telstra, and the now-retired Tasmanian senator Brian Harradine, who wanted the abortion advice funding cut off. Both got their way. The Rudd Government is reviewing the policy. Nelson wants the ban kept in place; Bishop wants it scrapped.

The party chiefs allow conscience votes in order to avoid bitter division. Does this short-change Australian democracy? In the last parliamentary vote on an abortion issue, members and senators voted in 2006 on whether to retain the health minister’s power of veto over the abortion drug RU-486. In a conscience vote, 65 per cent of members voted to liberalise supply of the drug, and in the Senate 62 per cent supported liberalisation. Interestingly, this is broadly the level of polled community support for legalised abortion on demand.

So we get a broadly representative outcome, but without the bitter divisiveness. In a conversation with the conservative US political philosopher Francis Fukuyama last year, he asked what the Australian political position was on embryonic stem cell research. I told him that it had been approved by the Parliament but on a conscience vote, not on party lines. It was the way Australia handled all such issues. There had been impassioned speeches, but no great partisan clash. There was a long pause before he replied: “It must be nice to live in a country like that.”

It really is nice, at times…


One response to “Yin/Yang beats Either/Or time after time…

  1. AV

    September 6, 2008 at 12:41 am

    Yin/Yang beats Either/Or time after time…

    Hmmm . . .

    So it’s either Yin/Yang or Either/Or? 😉 Many either/or claims are construct false dichotomies, but that doesn’t mean that all either/or claims are false dichotomies, which is what you seem to be suggesting.

    Either human intelligence ultimately owes its origin to mindless matter; or there is a Creator.

    I would cut out “or”.

    Even with my “tidy mind,” I’d be inclined to cut out “or” also, though probably not for the same reason as you would.

    Human intelligence can be a product of evolution and there could (hypothetically) be a Creator of the universe who set the cogs and wheels of nature—evolution, the laws of physics, etc.—in motion, and It could have done so with no foreknowledge or forethought of the appearance of human intelligence somewhere down the track.

    The problem with Lennox’s claim isn’t just that it’s an either/or statement; it’s that it is a false dichotomy.

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