Thursday, December 26, 2002


Orrin Judd is one of many Americans who assert their belief that the secret of American success in material and other fields is the very strong hold that Christianity has on Americans. He feels that Christianity is needed to encourage and enforce moral and ethical behaviour and that a civil society would be impossible without the moral habits that Christianity is so good at engendering.

As it happens, the Judd blog is one of my favourites. I log on there frequently and when I do I settle myself down for a careful read of the many interesting and well-informed posts there. I think that the Judd blog is at least twice as deserving of the money that Andrew Sullivan recently raised from his readers. On the importance of Christianity, however, I am going to disagree with the Judd position across the board and I am going to do so by referring to some historical and sociological evidence from outside the United States that Americans generally seem little aware of.

But let me start out by conceding that there is indeed something there to explain. Materially, the American advantage is great. The average Englishman, Frenchman, Canadian, German or Swede has only around two thirds of the spending power of the average American. See the figures on the matter in my post of 13th. And Americans are also around half as likely to be victims of crime.

(Unlike other crimes, the American murder rate is very high but that is almost entirely a matter of blacks murdering blacks. It has little impact on the white population. See my post of 8th. Whites are much safer in America than in many other advanced countries (though nowhere nearly as safe as the Japanese in Japan). Even blacks, however, are much safer and more prosperous in America than they would be in Africa -- in impoverished hellholes of war and crime such as South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Ghana, the Congo etc.)

And I agree with Hayek (1944) that morality and trust in a society are enormously important to its prosperity, not to mention the pleasantness of everyday interpersonal relationships.

But the American advantage is much slighter than the statistics referred to so far might suggest. Countries like Britain, Australia, Canada, Germany and Sweden are still pleasant and prosperous places to live and their small degree of disadvantage to America can easily be accounted for by such simple differences as the less socialized American economy (i.e. government there does less than in other advanced economies) and the much longer prison sentences that Americans inflict for crime (See my post of November 24th).

Australia is a particularly interesting case in point. Americans generally like Australia and see it in many ways as being a version of the USA -- though minus the blacks. The more laid-back Australian lifestyle does lead to poorer standards of consumer service and the fact that there are only 20 million people to pay for a road network covering a country as large as the United States does mean that the roads are generally of a noticeably lower standard but otherwise life in Australia is generally attractive: Rather like a friendlier and less weird version of California.

Yet from its foundation in 1788, Australia has always been a traditionally unholy place with a very low rate of churchgoing. Americans trace their founding fathers to religious fanatics but Australians trace their foundations to convicts. And other major population elements in the white settlement of Australia -- such as goldrush �diggers� and Irish rebels -- did little to alter the culture originating from our convict origins. Only about 3% of modern-day Australians have convict ancestors but the early days formed a culture that has been passed on to others as they arrived -- just as only a small minority of Americans now have primarily English ancestry but English is nonethless the language of America. And Australia�s only national hero to this day is Ned Kelly -- an Irish highway robber who eventually was hanged for his undoubted crimes.

So how come Australia is a civil, prosperous and pleasant place to live? It is because Australians DO have a widely agreed-on moral code -- but it is not a Christian one. It originates from the values of the English working class of yesteryear and can perhaps be conveniently summed up (in its original Australian slang) as the following five �Commandments�:

* Thou shalt not dob in thy mates
* Thou shalt not bung on an act.
* Thou shalt not be a tall poppy
* Thou shalt give everyone a fair go
* Thou shalt be fair dinkum

Translating these into standard English yields APPROXIMATELY the following:

* You must not incriminate your friends to the boss, the police or anyone else. Loyalty to your associates is all-important.

* You must not be ostentatious or pretend to be what you are not.

* You must treat others as your equals. If you are seen as being better than others in anything but sport you will be made to suffer for it.

* You must be fair and permissive in your treatment of others.

* You must not be insincere or dishonest.

From Hammurabi onwards, most moral codes have had much in common and the Australian and Christian moral codes do also have things in common but the Australian moral code is not preached in churches. It is simply traditional and widely heartfelt.

So. Sorry to all you American churchgoers but people CAN be moral and decent without someone either putting the fear of God into them or inspiring them with the love of Christ.

Final note:
When asked at census time most Australians do put down some religion for themselves. Note, however, that in the last census we had over 5% of the population describe themselves as Methodists -- a denomination that does not exist in Australia any more. The Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists combined to form the �Uniting� church a quarter of a century ago. In other words, for the vast majority of Australians, Christianity is a token thing.

Hayek, F.A. (1944) The road to serfdom. London: Routledge
Ray, J.J. (1981) Is the Ned Kelly syndrome dead? Some Australian data on attitudes to shoplifting. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 14, 249-252.



I hope that everyone had as good a Christmas as I did. If so we should maybe spare a thought for what Christmas was like in Zimbabwe.



I always enjoy watching the Queen�s Christmas-day message on TV. She always speaks such good sense. This year I particularly enjoyed the following passage in which she speaks of the huge celebrations of her Jubliee that took place this year in many countries of the world.

The celebrations were joyous occasions, but they also seemed to evoke something more lasting and profound - a sense of belonging and pride in country, town or community; a sense of sharing a common heritage enriched by the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity of our 21st Century society.



Tim Blair, Bernard Slattery, Aaron Oakley and others have been reflecting lately on how they and many other well-known Australian conservatives started out on the Left and for various reasons became fed up with it and moved towards the Right. In the full knowledge that it leaves me open to the accusation that I have no �heart� I am pleased to say that I joined a conservative political party in my teens and have lived to see much of what I have always believed in (such as the folly and brutality of Communism) vindicated by time. In my case, the world has moved in my direction rather than vice versa. The 1970s were arguably the high-water-mark of Leftism but in 1974 I published a largish book in defence of conservatism!

There are many lifelong conservatives like me but few of them bother to talk about it much. Just as it often said that there is no anti-Catholic like an ex-Catholic, so it is that those who are most vocally anti-Left are usually ex-Leftists. I guess that they resent being conned and very commendably try their hardest to save others from the same fate. My motivation is that I have always seen irrationality and dishonesty as highroads to disaster.

Ray, J.J. (1974) Conservatism as heresy. Sydney: ANZ Book Co.


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