On April 23, journalist Greg Sheridan spoke at a lunch for the Sydney Catholic Business Network. Sheridan, who is foreign editor at The Australian newspaper, reflected on standing up for God in the public square, the season of madness the West is choosing to live, and why Chinese Premier Xi Jinping should realise that resistance to Jesus is futile …
After decades working as one of the country’s most prominent journalists, Greg Sheridan says he has finally found the world’s biggest scoop – the story of Christianity.
Part of the tale is the “terrible danger” in Western nations – Western Europe, North America and Canada, Australia and New Zealand – rapidly abandoning not only Christian belief, but any claim to transcendent belief.
Sheridan sees signs of hope in places such as China, where he says despite increasing religious persecution, the country is emerging as the next great chapter in the Christian story.
“Journalism is a search for material; and the best material in the world is Christianity.” – Greg Sheridan
The foreign editor at The Australian said that “coming out” as an apologist for God, particularly in 2018 with his book God is Good for You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times was easier than he thought. He is now preparing to launch a follow-up book in August, entitled Christians: The Urgent Case for Jesus in Our World.
“I’ve been a journalist for 40 years and the culture has become progressively more hostile to Christianity and to Catholicism. So, I thought not responding to that was a bit lame, you know, and, if you happen to have a public microphone, it’s a bit of a responsibility,” he said.
“Then of course you’re reluctant to do it because you realise your own life can’t be held up as any kind of Christian example, especially for a journalist. But then you realise again, well, if you leave the discussion only to the morally qualified, it will be a very small discussion.”
The sought-after commentator on international politics was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2016 for distinguished service to print media as a journalist and political commentator on foreign affairs and national security, and to Australia’s bilateral relationships. He sees no contradiction between his role as a secular mainstream journalist and being a Catholic Christian who is trying to follow Christ.
“Journalism is a search for material; and the best material in the world is Christianity,” Sheridan said. “It also is a true story. So, after so many years of doing this, I’ve actually found out what the big story is.
“My remit is to be a cultural commentator, so why would I slice out the thing that I believe to be the most important and the most true from my journalism?”
As foreign editor for The Australian since 1992, Sheridan knows that religion is crucially important across Asia.
“You can’t discuss politics in Indonesia and ignore Islam, you can’t discuss society in Thailand and ignore Buddhism, you can’t be active in the Philippines and ignore the Catholic inheritance of the people,” he said.
“It’s only in the West where we have this odd idea that there’s something strange about religion and that it should be done in private between consenting adults and not be in the public square.”
One consequence of this, Sheridan believes, is that Western culture is “falling apart and going mad”.
“The West developed everything we like in its civic institutions because of Christianity and St Paul’s universalism: that there is neither Jew nor Greek etc, which is the foundation of modern liberalism.
“As modern liberalism now rejects its Christian origins, it goes crazy. It doesn’t know what to believe; there’s no absolute standard that prevents people running around in distressingly smaller circles of identity politics and fanatical devotion to the cause of the day. One day it’s race, next day it’s gender identity, and then something else.
“There’s an element of identity politics which is about justice and everyone is in favour of that, including me.
“But identity politics has become very malignant and is antithetical to Christianity because the great civic innovation of Christianity is its universalism. There’s a magnificent inclusivity in Christianity and in Christ’s message, that we’re all one in Christ Jesus, whereas identity politics puts people at odds with each other, fundamentally and forever, on the basis of things about which they have no choice.
“I think it’s very destructive and it’s a sign of the society kind of going mad, and it ultimately pits all against all.”
“As modern liberalism now rejects its Christian origins, it goes crazy. It doesn’t know what to believe; there’s no absolute standard that prevents people running around in distressingly smaller circles of identity politics and fanatical devotion to the cause of the day. One day it’s race, next day it’s gender identity, and then something else.” – Greg Sheridan
But, while Christianity is in decline in the West, it is flourishing in China. There the increasing crackdowns on religious believers under President Xi Jinping come against a backdrop of an astonishing ability for Christianity to thrive among the Chinese.
Sheridan said that Christians in China today number 70 to 100 million, including around 10 million Catholics, and, while the state is trying hard to suppress faith communities, Christianity is “very tenacious”.
But the rate of growth of the Catholic Church has been much slower, with three million out of the four million Christians in China in 1949 being Catholics.
So, while he was initially sceptical of the Vatican’s controversial deal with China to allow the state a veto in the appointment of bishops – and admires the heroism of many of those belonging to the underground Church – he now has “quite a lot of sympathy” for the decision.
“I’m not saying it is necessarily right,” he added. “But you can’t expect a Catholic community to lead a Catholic life without any priests. I think what the Vatican is trying to do is regularise the Church’s status to the extent that they can consecrate some more bishops and ordain some more priests.”
Meanwhile, the decline in religious belief in the West is significant because, not only are people unable to assert the truth, they are unable even to assert that there is a truth, he said.
“The West is in terrible danger because it is losing any transcendent belief and it is competing with cultures that may have quite primitive beliefs – nationalism and so on – but that are very vigorous,” he said.
“So, the question is whether the West can maintain any coherence after its loss of belief.
“Our culture has had the truth and now is throwing it away. You even see it in the epidemic of domestic violence and the issues we’ve been dealing with over the last few months in Parliament, with sexual abuse and so forth.
“We kind of consciously embrace a neo-pagan identity, getting rid of the monotheistic God, substituting all kinds of false gods and idols and then being surprised that we wind up with pagan results: the assertion of violence and power and so forth.”
Sheridan says, as an Irishman, “the situation is always desperate but never altogether serious”.
“The other thing is that Jesus provides a very powerful assurance to the Church. You are the rock and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
“Also, the situation is very challenging but it’s not as if we’re being thrown to the lions or chucked into jail or anything like that. So, we shouldn’t feel too sorry for ourselves: our situation ought to be a call to activism.
“And history is always contingent: there are no inevitable trends in history, history depends on human agency. The Church has had rougher times than this in the past, and it’s then that the Church has bounced back brilliantly.
“In fact, this is the sort of moment historically when the Church does the most unexpected things. There have been tremendous Christian revivals and reforms in the past, often following moments of low belief and low practice.”
This article first appeared in The Catholic Weekly on May 16, 2021.
Marilyn Rodrigues has been a journalist for The Catholic Weekly since 2000.
Marilyn also blogs about faith, family, work and life at marilynrodrigues.com.