Lesley Howard

Lesley Howard

Citizen Journalist at No Fibs
After shouting at the television for many years Lesley decided participation was the best antidote to cynicism. She has a keen interest in supporting sound environmental social practice, communities and democracy in action. Lesley has a Masters of Science, Applied Statistics.
Lesley Howard
Lesley graduated from the University of Melbourne with dual majors in Statistics and History and Philosophy of Science. The combination of the two fields formed a strong background in objective research, critical appraisal and the analysis of relationships, and in assessment and reporting. With this skill base she has variously consulted for an Australian timber company analysing the unloading of logs in Chinese ports, reported on the role of SMEs in Defence, critically analysed scientific papers, designed and advised on surveys and sampling for various private and government groups, and reviewed and advised on research proposals as a member of the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s MHREC. Lesley has a keen interest in supporting sound environmental social practice, communities and democracy in action. She is currently completing a Masters of Science, Applied Statistics.

Photo: Andrew Meares


By Lesley Howard @adropex

19 January 2014

In Chapter 2 “The First Pillar: Faith” Bernardi presents a strong and considered study of the historical contribution Christianity has made to Australia’s national development and how this heritage is represented in the laws and moral codes of Australian society today. Bernardi proposes that faith is fundamental to a healthy and hopeful society and provides the “common thread through which our laws, our instinct and our social fabric are entwined.” Faith provides us with a set of values, moral guidelines in which we can trust and a framework for decision-making.

Bernardi goes on to discuss how he believes individuals develop faith. Some people develop their faith from the “ethical principles of an organised religion” and others build their faith “around personal integrity, kindness, hard work and the natural law.”  Whether the path is religious or secular the “common thread between these two different approaches is the importance of moral standards.” Fundamental to the individual’s development of moral standards is the transmission of the guiding principles and values from parents to children.

Bernardi moves then to quote an observation made by C. S. Lewis that “the mind has no more power to invent a new value than of imagining a new colour, or, indeed of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.” With the development of space exploration the concept of new suns and new skies are no longer unimaginable and many popular science fiction movies are creative in this respect. It may not be possible to imagine a new colour but does it necessarily follow that new values can not be invented? For example, today in Australian society we value freedom of speech and everybody is afforded that right.This is a right, embodied in our constitution, which was not afforded to all throughout time nor even in relatively recent western history. Consider the traditional western societies during feudal England, the War of the Roses or the Copernican revolution that proposed a sun centred universe rather than the traditional earth centred one, societies in which people were put to death as heretics for speaking against the mores of the day.

Bernardi cites the C. S. Lewis quote then makes a three-point conclusion.

“In other words, moral order has its genesis in God; otherwise, why would we bother trying to lead moral lives and why, indeed, are basic moral standards universal?”

It appears that Bernardi is saying that whilst he acknowledges that there are two acceptable paths to the development of sound moral standards, one religious and one secular, that if we allow man does not have the ability to invent new values both approaches arrive at the same outcome because they derive from the same origin.  Given that Bernardi supports the Creationist view that places man at the beginning of time and that man was made in God’s image, those original values necessarily must originate from God.

In Australia we are fortunate that we do value freedom of speech and the right to follow a religion of choosing. Whilst a lot of commentary is robust, none the less, as a society we are generally respectful of each other’s personal philosophy. Bernardi’s belief as to the origin of all principles and values underpins his entire ongoing thesis and the rest of his book should be read with that in mind.  What should also be kept in mind when reading further is that regardless of the religious viewpoint, Bernardi’s belief that man is incapable of inventing new values is key to his ongoing thesis. It is probably this point that will cause some readers the greatest controversy and is open to debate. Beyond the reference to C. S. Lewis Bernardi does not offer any academic or philosophical sources in support of this key point.

Building on the underlying assumption that God is the originator of the values and principles on which moral standards are developed, Bernardi offers a summary of his position before moving into the specifics of the challenges he sees facing our society.  Australia and the western moral tradition have a historical and cultural Christian heritage that has directed and informed our customs and are codified in our laws. Bernardi ably supports this concept with multiple sources. Further to the historical perspective he draws upon statistics sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the 2011 Census and tells us “nearly two thirds of [Australia’s] citizens identify themselves as Christian” whilst “a little over seven per cent of the total population identify themselves with non-Christian religions.” This, presumably, leaves a little over a quarter of Australia’s citizenry not identifying themselves as religious. Bernardi postulates that the just over one third non Christian citizens, would likely identify with those values, inherited from the Christian tradition, that are codified into our laws and social conventions but does not develop this thought further.

Bernardi honestly expresses his conviction that “by stripping God and religious principles from culture (and politics) we have become a nation which does not know what port it is sailing to.” He begins employing words such as cultural assassins, attack, weapons, war and assault and holds Cultural Marxists responsible for the undermining of western culture by attacking Christianity. In deed “cultural Marxism has been one of the most corrosive influences on society over the last century”.  Bernardi is morally offended by social commentary on marriage, monogamy and family arrangement that questions their traditional structure. He cites Germaine Greer and Hillary Clinton as examples of people whose social commentary undermines traditional principles and goes on to say that there “are even demands (and acceptance in some countries) for same-sex marriage as a ‘right’.”

In a footnote Bernardi declares that Hillary Clinton “once famously put marriage in the same category as slavery in an article about dependency arrangements.” Bernardi does not in fact source this directly from Hillary Clinton’s article.  Instead he refers to an article in the Chicago Tribune (1992) in which the journalist refers to an opinion, expressed by the Republican National Chairman, Richard Bond, about an article in the Harvard Educational Review (1973), authored by the then Hillary Rodham.  Bond’s opinion that Hillary had “likened marriage and the family to slavery” is simply that, an opinion and not a direct quote. It was an opinion expressed by a Republican, in a pre-election speech about the wife of the Democratic presidential candidate.  Whilst Hillary Rodham Clinton moved her political affiliation in 1968 from the ideological conservatism of the Republican Party to the modern liberalism of the Democratic Party, it is unlikely that she would identify herself as a Marxist, cultural or otherwise.

Bernardi moves into a discussion on what he terms “Culture Wars”. Informed by considerable reading and research he raises issues relevant in today’s society such as crime rates, health, isolation, child abuse and the culture of drug and alcohol abuse. He attributes the incidence of these very real concerns and others to the “attack on our moral customs and traditions” by cultural vandals.  The ideologies of pure science and rationality have lead to the desolation and destruction of the previous century because they ‘lacked a conscience that only an appreciation of a higher moral order can provide.”  Undoubtedly, and as previously addressed, society needs confidence and trust in its social structures.  Bernardi does not address why parts of society may have turned from or express dissatisfaction with existing norms other than to say they have and it is destructive.  Bernardi clearly gives a lot of thought and time to the problems he feels society is facing and how to redress them but in his solution he does not consider the possibility of social, economic or other contributing factors that could motivate people to question and wish to change their circumstances. He refers to Nazism and Soviet and Chinese Communism as destructive ideologies but fails to pay any respect, for example, to the debilitating economic environment these political movements sprung from.  Is it that Bernardi believes that most people, perhaps the politically inactive ‘Silent Majority’ he defines in his preface, are not exercising choice but are merely being lead into social decline by the “leftist” cultural vandals? Whatever his ultimate view on the cause of social dissolution his ultimate solution is well defined.

“All this can be redressed with a stronger commitment to the principals espoused by the Christian faith at the very centre of our culture.  The principles which have guided mankind for centuries provide a very clear map of the path we should take.  In fact, they should be entirely uncontroversial for the religious and non-religious alike.”

Bernardi emphasises the last point and restates his thesis that the principle of human dignity exists because God created man in his own image.  Whist he doesn’t restate the concept that man is not capable of inventing new values it is implicit in the statement that non-religious people would not find the original principles controversial. Interestingly, Bernardi does not consider the possibility that religious and non-religious people alike may find the way those principles are put into practice, in certain instances, may be the cause of controversy.

Bernardi tells us to“Know thine enemy!” but “we first need to recognise the genesis of this cultural vandalism in the various communistic movements after the First World War.”  Bernardi cites post-war Marxist theorists, Antonio Gramsci and George Lukacs, and accords to them the view that Christianity and Western traditions had to be destroyed for communism to succeed in the West. Bernardi provides no sources, primary or secondary, with respect to these theorists or for his next assertion.  Bernardi claims that the first target in the Marxist cultural war was the “traditional sexual mores of the West” as evidenced by the introduction of sex education in Soviet Hungary’s public school system. Is the reader left to assume by this reference that Bernardi does not support sex education in Australian schools and that our current sex education policy is a subversive Marxist plot? Apparently however, on the basis if this early “success” in Soviet Hungary the Marxist movement flourished.

Bernardi continues with a referenced discussion about the developing Marxist Frankfurt School philosophy of ‘repressive tolerance’, how it conflicted with conservative thought and how the Frankfurt School denounced conservative values as oppressive.  The reader, at this point may wonder at this digression into political theorizing but eventually Bernardi explains its relevance to his thesis. The ‘repressive tolerance’ of the Frankfurt School prevails in Western societies today and there is no better example of this “than the irrational hysteria attached to the modern green fad of the anthropogenic global warming theory.” Bernardi calls environmentalism militant and a near cultish obsession and dismisses global warming theories as “outlandish claims of celebrity scientists”.  In support of his view he refers to “the fiasco of ‘Climategate,’ when the gross impropriety of scientists who promoted the theory as partial agents in what was obviously a political campaign to fool the public, were shielded by cowardly compliant leftist media.”

“Climategate” was the term coined when more than 1,000 emails between scientists at the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in the UK were hacked, stolen and made public.  It was claimed that these emails showed that the scientists perpetrated a deliberate fraud, were engaged in evidence tampering for the purpose of advancing their theories, and consequently man made global warming was a complete fabrication.  The following bodies subsequently investigated the allegations and all bodies published reports finding no evidence of fraud or scientific misconduct.

House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (UK)

Independent Climate Change Email Review (UK)

International Science Assessment Panel (UK)

Pennsylvania State University (US)

United States Environmental Protection Agency (US)

Department of Commerce (US)

In Bernardi’s view the global warming debate has been a distraction that has diverted thought away from discussions about “the restoration of the true moral responsibilities that have been lost over recent decades.”  He reflects upon the difficulties of but the benefits to society of putting a day aside to share, love, reflect and worship, and then quickly moves to a defence of the sanctity of life against the “creeping culture of death”. In spite of the important social advances that have seen such through such things as the abolition of slavery and the granting of equal civil rights to all, society is in retrograde over such issues as the right to life and the dignity of the individual.  Abortion is a highly sensitive topic and is an extremely personal one.  Bernardi refers to various well-documented legal sources.  Specifically he cites the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 (Vic) and that now laws allow “an unborn child to be killed in utero after 24 weeks, well past the time when life can be sustained outside the womb.” It would seem that Bernardi would have the reader believe that these laws allow any woman to be able to decide to have an abortion at any stage of her pregnancy without condition. In actual fact, to terminate a pregnancy after 24 weeks two doctors must agree that the termination is appropriate. All relevant medical circumstances must be considered by the doctors including the woman’s current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances. Bernardi also states that these laws force doctors to refer patients for abortion even if they have a conscientious objection to the procedure. This is not in fact the case.  Under Victorian law a doctor with is a conscientious objection is only required to refer a woman seeking information about abortion services to a doctor who can provide her with that information.  This is not the same as be forced to refer a patient for an abortion. Bernardi calls the practise of legal medical abortions a “death industry” and makes a subjective evaluation that the number of terminations performed each year is “absolutely horrendous and unacceptable” to him.

Bernardi brings to attention, and quotes from published sources, some extreme views on post-birth abortions and definitions as to what constitutes a person.  He recognises that these are not mainstream views and but fears that if these views are not challenged they will “find a way into mainstream advocacy”.  He puts forward the argument that an increasing disregard for the sanctity of life in uturo will result in the same disregard for people at the end of their lives.  Bernardi refers to the fact that some countries have legislated for state sanctioned suicide but argues that in fact it is not suicide state sanctioned death because the lethal dose of medicine is in some instances administered by a third party often with consent of the patient.  Bernardi does not offer any references or footnotes on this point. However it would seem that Bernardi has confused and mixed the practice of euthanasia and the practice of assisted suicide.  Assisted suicide is when the patient has to administer a medically prescribed lethal dose him or herself. Assisted suicide is legislated in Switzerland.  Euthanasia refers to the practise of intentionally terminating a life for the purpose of relieving pain and suffering.  There are different euthanasia laws in different countries and two different types of euthenasia.  Voluntary euthanasia relies upon the explicit consent of the patient and is legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the US states of Washington and Oregon.  Non-voluntary euthanasia is sometimes referred to as a mercy killing and is conducted without the explicit consent of the patient. Non-voluntary euthanasia is not legal in any country.

Having provided examples to the reader of the negative impacts upon society that have resulted from “the rejection of the Christian Morals that underpin our true human rights” Bernardi returns to his discussion on faith and traditions that embody the “accumulated wisdom and experience of preceding generations” and their value in facilitating the smooth running of society, business and government. A healthy respect for tradition helps us to recognise the experiences of past generations and to avoid repeating their mistakes.  Disregard of our history has lead to “ego-driven temporal satisfaction” where everything is reduced to economic considerations. Participation in local community and service to the community “acts as an effective antidote to both excessive pessimism and hubris.”  Bernardi then moves into a discussion about faith and politics. Fundamentally politics is about people and the common good for all. Laws are made in parliament, by politicians who are also people and reflect the morality of the people.  Morality and the common good are key religious tenets and hence religion is relevant to the political process. Following this is Bernardi’s summarised and modernised interpretation of “an eight point apologia for Christian involvement in the political process” published in 1964 and makes further references to writings supporting the natural place Christianity, and hence faith, has in the political system. At the conclusion of these philosophical discussions Bernardi returns to his principle theme.

“Faith and observance of the religious tradition, without which our civilisation would simply not exist, are under threat.”

Bernardi identifies the greatest threats to faith are those that attack Christianity and states there are two competing political ideologies that are a threat to Western culture: the collective Marxist memorandum and the “dark totalitarian agenda inherent to fundamentalist religion”.  The first is delivered to us through the “green movement” the second in the “guise of the religion of Islam.”

Bernardi’s single but fundamental objection to the “green movement” is that it relegates mankind to just another species amongst all species. It appears that Bernardi cannot reconcile mankind in this context with the principle of Imago Dei in which man is created in God’s image. His argument is that if man is not distinguished from other species then man was not created in the image of God and hence we would not have received the moral values of human dignity and respect. Given that we do profess these values in our society man must therefore  have been created in God’s image and hence this “green zealotry” is a deliberate attempt to undermine the traditional beliefs that have seen the West flourish and to replace them with “a soulless and hostile cultural Marxism hidden under a green skin.”

In conclusion, Bernardi returns to the subject of ‘climate change’ and acknowledges that there is an ongoing debate by scientists and other professionals on this issue. A debate by its nature is a discussion of opposing viewpoints however Bernardi appears to imply the viewpoint proposed by some scientists, that climate change is not an issue, is not included in this debate and that proponents of this viewpoint are “defamed and ridiculed”. Bernardi lists six proponents of the no climate change side of the debate he believes a responsible government should consider and footnotes their works.  Given that the accusations arising from ‘Climategate’ have been thoroughly investigated and not upheld the inclusion of the reference to Christopher Monckton’s ‘Climategat: Caught Green-Handed’ (2009) is unfortunate and diminishes Bernardi’s position. The claim that defamation has occurred is a very strong statement with legal implications and the lack of example or referencing in support of this claim is questionable. And does not further Bernardi’s position.

The second example of an ideology that threatens Western culture is “a totalitarian political agenda in the guise of the religion of Islam”. Bernardi spends a lot of time building a thesis that “Islamic political and religious ideology is incompatible with Western culture” and that it never will be in any of its forms. Whilst Bernardi has previously admitted that he has not read the Quran he has widely referenced many sources in his discussion on Islam. It is not my position to enter into a discussion about the rights or wrong of the tenets of Islam any more is it my position to discuss those of Christianity. Whether or not Bernardi is accurate in what he says or in his referencing of others, at no point does he make it clear why he believes that Islam is a threat to Western culture. The closest Bernardi comes to addressing this relationship is to say, “an argument can certainly be made that Islam is a threat to our faith and our culture because it seeks to dominate and change the founding values of our society” but Bernardi does not make that argument. Simply identifying the differences between Islam and Christianity is not sufficient to establish that Islam is seeking to take over Western society nor that Western society is vulnerable to such a change.

Certainly the terrorist attacks in the past decade have been horrific and designed to kill, maim and destroy Western civilians amongst others. These attacks, and certain actions carried out by Islamic adherents that have contravened the laws of the country in which they occurred, have been prosecuted according to those laws in those countries. So too have the attacks and illegal actions perpetrated by adherents to other ideologies and religions, including Christian ones, if they have contravened the laws of the land. This would tend to support the concept that Western societies are operating consistent with mores embodied within their culture. Is it that Bernardi is confusing the tolerance and respect our society has for the individual’s right to choose their personal philosophy with vulnerability?

Cory’s book: Part 1 of a blow-by-blow fact check series by @adropex

Read more The Conservative Revolution book reviews