OT Scholar Francis I. Andersen on Religious Freedom

The 92-year-old Old Testament scholar Francis I. Andersen, known for his Anchor Bible commentaries, has made a submission to Australia’s Ruddock Panel on religious freedom and it is worth a read as it includes reflections on almost a century of life!

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I am an Australian citizen by birth. I am 92 years old. My wife and I between us have 11 children, with spouses, 28 grand-children, 27 great-grandchildren (and counting). We are nearly all Christians, living and thinking in freedom, and so with many different stances on various matters of world-views and belief system, while living in wonderful love and family harmony. Many of our family have professional qualifications in medicine, various therapies, clergy, education, and other fields, including trades and farming. Some have had high office in the public service and various levels of government. We are educated, literate, and informed. Our rich family life is characterized by tolerance, openness, and freedom to discuss anything and everything that comes up. With numerous university degrees and diplomas, we can all speak for themselves. Some of our ancestors are pioneer migrants, some refugees. Our clan includes some inter-racial marriages. Our mixed blood includes not only England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, but also Denmark and Spain, with a tincture from the First Australians. We are dinkum aussies. Some of our family (three of my brothers) have served in the armed forces, with some paying the supreme sacrifice. My wife’s father was one of the last to be evacuated from Gallipoli.

Our memories of the happy and wholesome nurture and education we received as children in church and school and some in a rural setting where community mores among farming people had a quality of caring and mutual helpfulness, as in harvest time or drought or the depression, were very much influenced by Christian values shared by all denominations. We all said the Lord’s Prayer. We sang “God save the King (or Queen)” at parties (as well as “Auld Lang Syne”), concerts, theatres, school prize givings. It was natural for the armed forces to have Christian chaplains whose collaboration transcended denominational differences. We had numerous hospitals and social services and clubs inspired by humane and Christian values.

Looking back over a lifetime that is approaching the century, we realize with some sad nostalgia how much of this has been lost, and how much is now threatened by the rise of militant secular antireligious attitudes and lobbyists. We have lived through the horror of the anti-Jewish holocaust; we now face the daily barbarism of religious hatred (against Moslems and Christians in particular) in many parts of the world. Australians seem to be uncaring about the fate of Moslems in Myanmar, and of Christians in Moslem countries on a scale not seen since the Middle Ages. A lot of the hostility to the millions of homeless refugees caused by current wars is due to religious and antireligious intolerance. When I was young, we had a racist “White Australia” policy; and we for the most part feel well rid of it. But some of its poison is still in our subconscious, as it is still in the fascist “White America” [WASP] activists. The better side of our “mateship” (which can be cant) is our pride in our multiculturalism, which needs to be more than talk. All Australians are migrants or refugees, beginning with the very first settlers thousands of years ago. We are a microcosm of the globe, and no component of these threatened cultures should be lost. Our ancient roots should keep all our historic legacies alive, enriched even more by influx from other continents, with Hindu and Buddhist temples alongside out churches, mosques, and synagogues. Free-thinkers, agnostics, materialists, and atheists have just as much right to “religious” freedom as do “believers” in traditional religions. They all will contribute to genuine multiculturalism only when their distinctiveness is preserved in its authenticity. What is common to all these “faiths,” “cultures,” and “points of view” is that we are all human, as the Bible says, “God has created all humans of one blood [one DNA] to dwell on the face of the whole earth.”

This ideal cannot be achieved in Australia just be banning “hate talk” or by antidiscrimination laws. Discernment and perceptive discrimination require the recognition, acceptance, affirmation, and celebration, of differences which extend to the uniqueness and value of every individual woman and man, girl and boy, not one of whom should be considered “deviant” or “abnormal.”

Anticipating the future, we are concerned for the effect on our grandchildren of the social pressures that are already prejudicial against all religions. (A Sikh friend of mine was terribly upset when his son was abused by a lout who tried to rip his turban off. Australians are very ignorant about religions. The Sikh tirpan is not a concealed weapon, but a reminder of their basic belief in kirpa, meaning “mercy”, “grace”, “compassion” or “kindness.” The same as Hebrew hesed (חֶסֶד): “He (God) has told you, Adam, what the Good is, and what it is the Lord expects from you – nothing more than to practice justice, to love compassion, and to walk humbly with your God.” הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם מַה־טּוֹב וּמָה־יהוה דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ כִּי אִם־עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת עִם־אֱלֹהֶיךָ׃ (Micah 6:8). That is what religion is all about.

I recently attended the graduation of one of my granddaughters in Medicine at James Cook University, Townsville. The speaker for the occasion was Professor Teatulohi Matainaho, Chairman of the Papua New Guinea Research, Science and Technology Council and Chief Executive Officer of the PNG Research, Science and Technology Secretariat, one of the world’s most distinguished scientists. At the end of his speech, breaking with the protocol of the strictly secular nature of such a ceremony, he ended his presentation by saying that he could not do his work except for his faith in the Heavenly Father, quoting the above words of Micah. A role model for all professionals, and for all public-minded citizens.

When I was Professor or Studies in Religion in the University of Queensland, I was unsuccessful in introducing a subject on “Aboriginal culture” (because there was nobody with academic qualifications). I would have hired an intelligent tribal elder who knew all that was necessary. Nor “Studies in Islam” (even thought our nearest neighbour is the most populous Moslem country in the world. I introduced an option of “Christian-Jewish Relations” taught jointly with a Rabbi. Knowledge is not only power, it is needed for understanding. Everyone has something to share. Respectfully submitted. Professor Francis I, Andersen, Ph.D., D.D.

HT: Freedom for Faith.

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