Monday, 23 June 2014

Ball it up on Good Friday

If you love your footy and you also love either your Christian faith or taking a public holiday on Good Friday, you're in a potential pickle.

The AFL has long debated whether footy should be played on Good Friday, a public holiday based on the Christian tradition of acknowledging  (mourning) Christ's death for all men and women.

Last week, the AFL confirmed that it will fixture games on Good Friday and on Wednesday, Melbourne Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart weighed into the issue with a media statement containing his views on the issue.

I must admit, I have previously argued against footy on Good Friday. However, after much more thought and discussion (particularly with a lawyer friend of mine, Neil De Cruz amongst others), I have humbly changed my mind. I've learnt one thing though, after once thinking it was black and white, it's not. It's quite a complex issue (if you scratch past the surface).

In his media statement, Archbishop Hart provided the following:

“Indeed, we live in a multi-faith society. This diversity needs not simply to be acknowledged, but also positively respected.”
Archbishop Hart is saying that as we are a multi-faith society, non-Christian people need to respect the traditional Christian meaning behind Good Friday. He is essentially saying that due to the respect that needs to be shown to the Christian faith, people of all faiths, or no faith at all, need to adhere to Christian principles (well in this case, the Christian principle of no football on Good Friday).

With all due respect to His Grace, I think this is a problematic precedent to set. If Christians, specifically Catholics, demand that all people adhere to the traditional Christian belief on a certain day, how does it work in reverse? For example, if diversity needs to be "positively respected", do football games go on hold for Orthodox Christian Good Friday (which sometimes falls on a different day to the traditional Western Christian Good Friday)? How about Ramadan and Yom Kippur? The latter falls on the first Saturday of October, which has previously been Grand Final day.

Based on Archbishop Hart's comment, it would appear he is advocating a multi-faith push to exclude certain other days from the football calendar. This is impractical at best. How many "religious" days could crop up where we would need to respect a certain religion and keep its holy days free from football?

If this is not what Archbishop Hart is advocating, and other religions are not allowed to request no football on their holy days, then it wold seem that there is a Christian push for everyone to adhere to Christian beliefs, to the exclusion of all others.

His Grace also provided the following:

"Good Friday is a Holy Day for Christians... It would take away that time and space which is not only needed by Christians but desired by all people to reflect and ponder on key issues about what it means to be human."
Given that Orthodox Christian Good Friday is celebrated on a separate day, I think Archbishop Hart has incorrectly spoken on behalf of all Christians. Additionally, I would argue that not "all people" desire the time and space Good Friday provides. The majority of non-Christian people I know play golf and drink beer on Good Friday. They certainly don't use the day as an opportunity to "reflect and ponder on key issues about what it means to be human."

The counter argument to allowing football on Good Friday is based on this nation's Christian roots. It is a fact that Good Friday is traditionally a day where our nation pauses to reflect on Christ's death. It is also a fact that our nation was founded on Christian principles and belief systems. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the majority of people in this country are still of Christian origin (61.1% from the 2011 Census). Therefore does it follow that we should continue to respect the day for what it is and what it always has been as 61.1% of the population are Christian?

Italy is a country with a rich Christian tradition. In fact, in 2005 almost 90% of the population identified themselves Catholic. During his first Holy Thursday as Pontiff, Pope Francis washed the feet of a Muslim lady at a mass in a Roman jail. Is it right to argue that the Pontiff should not have washed her feet in order to respect the Christian meaning behind Holy Thursday? He has also recently met with leaders of other faiths in an effort to strengthen relationships between multi faiths. Should he require them to follow Christian principles on Christian holy days?

To be fair to Archbishop Hart, I think his media statement, though probably lacking context for the average non-Christian, is to be read in light of this nation's Christian foundations, rather than completely literally.

This being said, I still have a problem with Christians requesting certain days be adhered to by people of all faiths and backgrounds. If we truly are a multi-faithed society, and all faiths need to be respected, to me it makes sense that we allow people of other faiths to live their lives according to their own moral values. After all, a fundamental Christian principle is the concept of free will. 

A good example of this is Fawad Ahmed, the Australian cricketer and apparently devout Muslim. Last year, Ahmed requested that he be allowed to wear the Australian one-day uniform without the team's major sponsor's logo on the front - VB. 

Ahmed didn't request that all of the Australian players not sport the VB logo on their tops, or that the team no longer be sponsored by VB because of his religious belief. He decided to exercise his own religion without imposing it onto those who do not share his faith. 

It is certainly true that non-believers try to have it both ways. They claim that due to the fact not everyone believes in the traditional meaning of Good Friday, Christians have no right to restrict them from doing anything, especially taking part in football. However, they happily take the day off work as a public holiday. Remembering the holiday is based on the traditional Christian belief, this seems highly contradictory.

There is an argument that forcing people to work on Good Friday, in the case the public holiday is stripped, would make it hard for full time employees to get to a religious service on Good Friday. An interesting concept Neil De Cruz came up with is one in which the Federal and State Governments could look at adopting a leave system for employees, whereby on top of their standard leave entitlements, every worker is allowed three "religious" days leave per year. That way, those that wish to celebrate certain days that align to their religious views can do so (e.g. Catholics can take Christmas, Easter and Good Friday off), while people of other faiths or no faith can work these days if they so wish. 

Under this scenario, Good Friday football could go ahead and Christians who object, can step aside from the sport for a week as well as having a day off work to commemorate Christ in the traditional way.

For Christians who are looking to provide witness to their faith, requesting all people adhere to their belief system is not going to cut the mustard. In my opinion, it is a complete turn off to those who are either contemplating the faith, or oppose it already. It is also impractical in many situations. 

Surely a player or coach or administrator who made himself unavailable on Good Friday for religious reasons would provide a greater witness.

Time will tell how this plays out. It is sure to continue to cause widespread debate. In the meantime, go the mighty Dons!

All the best,
Dom Meese

1 comment:

  1. Another brave comment Dom .. thanks so much, but its been clear for decades that the Bishops have mostly failed in their duty to stand up for the Truth and defend the Faith where it really counts, which includes the media.

    There is only one True Faith and society is the poorer if we cannot debate the pro's and con's of any faith which some may hold up as being the "full Truth". Bishops who acquiesce play the 'politically correct' game of lies instead of showing courage and having Faith.

    In my opinion, his statement, “Indeed, we live in a multi-faith society. This diversity needs not simply to be acknowledged, but also positively respected.” is the weasel way of abrogating his responsibilities to shepherd his flock. It purposefully side-steps the real issues. 'Respecting' the falsities of other faiths and not the Truth of Catholicism is the reason the Church has lost its way and become the social club for humanists. Despite all the talk about focusing on Christ, He is held at the outer, picking and choosing which of Christ's words we want to pay attention to; usually the comforting bits about mercy but never anything about sin, judgement or eternal death, let alone warnings about 'the house divided" or about those leading others astray. One wonders, why on earth did Christ warn us about that and 'wolves in sheeps' clothing' etc? Christ has effectively, been moulded into what the world wants and the Church, except for minor but totally significant pockets, has lost its salt - for vinegar.