September 2, 2013

Are the aims of the Christopher Dawson Society Revolutionary?

by Daniel Matthys

During the formation of the Dawson Society when the basic documents and aims of the Society were being drawn up and debated, an objection was brought to my notice regarding the Society’s manifesto. The objection was not directed at the contents of the manifesto per se, but at the revolutionary, and therefore anti-Catholic, associations of the word manifesto. This got me thinking. What is especially anti-Catholic about a revolutionary? Why do so many Catholics identify with conservative politics? And can we consider the Dawson Society to be revolutionary in its aims, if not its methods?

Christians in 21st century Australia, especially in the times that we live in, must not think of themselves as conservative agents. The message of the Gospel is a revolutionary message. It should be first, most importantly, revolutionary for the life of a Christian in a personal and profound way. This personal revolution should spill over in the Christian’s life to revolutionise the society about him. What, in 5000 years of recorded history, is more revolutionary than the idea that a human being can have a relationship, a friendship, with an infinite God? Who is a greater revolutionist than Jesus Christ who became an infant child at the annunciation in what C. S. Lewis once described as a “daring raid on enemy territory”?

The Christian ideal that, in the words of G. K. Chesterton has “not been tried and found wanting, but found difficult and left untried”, has never, and will never, be completely realised in any society on earth. In this sense Christianity is always in revolution, forever pointing man upward, man who is too often distracted, too often satisfied by less than what he is made for.

This is not to deride what many people often associate with conservatism, on the contrary; perhaps the best depiction of conservatism in fiction occurs in the work of a Catholic, J. R. R. Tolkien. In Tolkien’s literary works, and their film adaptions, some of the most memorable and pleasing scenes are set in the Shire, home of the hobbits. Hobbits are generally a quiet, comfortable and conservative lot, respectable folk who “never had any adventures or did anything unexpected”. Yet even in the respectable Bilbo Baggins there is a Tookish side which, when prompted by the wizard Gandalf, sees Bilbo running out his door, without even a pocket-handkerchief, to confront a dragon.

In some ways perhaps, contemporary Christians are hobbits at heart, living respectable, conservative and comfortable lives. There is nothing wrong (and a great deal right) with this sort of life but it is significant that by the end of the Lord of the Rings even the respectable hobbits must take up arms in a revolt against the ruffians that have infested the Shire.

Perhaps the time has come for Christians to reject their conservative inclinations. Perhaps it is time to revolt, metaphorically at least, to have our own revolt against the ruffians that have invaded our school, universities and parliaments, so as to bequeath to future generations something that shall be worth conserving. And perhaps manifesto is a fitting title after all for a Society whose aims I always hope are, in the most Christian sense of the word, revolutionary.