I don’t know if you realise how increasingly radical the values of a school like this are in a culture that is increasingly forgetting the Christian heritage out of which such values have sprung. Schools with values that include care, compassion, honesty, trustworthiness, integrity, respect, responsibility, social justice, inclusion.
In our society, apart from the churches themselves, it is schools like this that are the custodians of that disappearing heritage.
The Reverend Dr Chris Mulherin is the Executive Director of ISCAST–Christians in Science. The following talk was presented to staff at Christ Church Grammar in July.
I am an Anglican minister. I am also the director of a think-tank called ISCAST– Christians in Science, which is made up of scientists and others, interested in the relationship between Christianity and science. I am also the parent of a year-twelve boy at a school very like this one in Melbourne.
So, I speak to you today wearing three hats: an Anglican minister speaking in an Anglican school, the father of a boy in a very similar school, and the director of an organisation committed to both the Christian faith, and to the best of learning and science.
Now that brings me to a Latin phrase I came across recently ‘Deus Dux Doctrina Lux’. Does that sound familiar to you? According to the school website your motto translates as ‘God is our leader, learning is our light’ and, interestingly, that’s a motto that could easily be adopted by us at ISCAST.
At ISCAST we are part of a long tradition going back some 1600 years to Augustine, perhaps the greatest of Christian theologians. Christians have long talked of the importance of studying the two books of God; the book of his works, seen in the natural world—the creation—and the book of his word, the Bible. So, your motto, ‘God is our leader, learning is our light’ is a good description of that long Christian tradition of exploring the natural world as best we can.
Let me tell you about two of ISCAST’s distinguished fellows who take God as their leader and who love to learn.
Ken Freeman is a Perth boy. He was originally a mathematician. Have you seen the film The Man who Knew Infinity about the poor, Indian prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan who went to Trinity College Cambridge to work with G. H. Hardy? It’s worth a viewing. Well, Ken spent time at Trinity College, where he studied mathematics in the shadow of giants like Isaac Newton and before him Francis Bacon, one of the founders of modern science and of the Royal Society. Like Ken, Newton and Bacon were deeply religious men.
Ken turned his mathematics to astronomy and has spent most of his life at Mt Stromlo in the ACT. He has won numerous accolades including the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science and, this year, the Companion of the Order of Australia.
Ken’s main claim to fame is that in the 1970s he was one of the first to propose the idea that the universe is largely made up of dark matter. Ken is also a committed Christian (Anglican, in fact), about to publish a book on the harmony of science and his Christian faith.
The other ISCAST fellow I would like to introduce you to is better known than Ken and has also spent a lifetime of dedication to both God as his leader and to learning and science. In fact, he just might be Australia’s next Nobel Prize winner. You may know the name of Graeme Clark who led the team that invented the bionic ear. His dream of decades ago, which he eventually saw fulfilled, was that children born deaf might be able to hear.
Graeme is an example of a man who sees his life in science as one of unassuming Christian service in pursuit of making the world a better place. A man who knows well the words Jesus said about himself that are recorded in the Gospel of Mark: “The son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life.”
Recently I interviewed Graeme for a video that will appear on the ISCAST website and he spoke of the significant influence of his upper years in a school community very much like this one. He even mentioned three staff members by name who played formative roles in his future life as a scientist and as a Christian.
As we think about the significance of people who serve as examples at school, let me tell you about another example of service for the greater good. It’s an example that comes from my son’s school where, ideally at least, every staff member knows that they play their part in a community that builds men for making the world a better place.
Ben and Nigel are not eminent scientists like Ken and Graeme. But Ben and Nigel too are just as much a part of making my son’s school tick. Every morning at 7am when I drop my son for the year-twelve study session, Ben and Nigel are cleaning the dark cold streets of Kew with their blowers. Setting an example to my son of people of integrity … taking pride in their job as part of the school team. On behalf of parents like me, thank you to all the Bens and Nigels present here; you know who you are.
Schools like this stand for something, even if not a hyper-evangelical Bible-thumping Christianity. And I want to encourage you to take that Christian heritage seriously.
Now I know that many of you here today are probably not terribly excited by the Christian faith; I’m not naïve enough to think that working in an Anglican school says a lot about your religious inclinations. But, I do think it says something about you. Schools like this stand for something, even if not a hyper-evangelical Bible-thumping Christianity. And I want to encourage you to take that Christian heritage seriously.
Our society is in trouble. Paul Kelly’s editorial in last week’s Australian captures some of the flavour: it was titled “Blessed be the egoistic individuals”. We live in times of increasing fragmentation, narcissism, and hedonism.
Fragmentation because we are moving increasingly away from the heritage that provided the glue of a united sense of shared values. Narcissism as we drift further from a focus on the common good. And hedonism as we gradually leave behind the ethic of service that challenges our all-too-human tendency to simply serve number one.
And that’s where schools like this come in. Schools with a vision—and I quote yours—a vision to “build good men to make a positive difference in their world.”
I don’t know if you realise how increasingly radical are the values of a school like this in a culture that is increasingly forgetting the Christian heritage out of which such values have sprung. Schools with values that include care, compassion, honesty, trustworthiness, integrity, respect, responsibility, social justice, inclusion.
In our society, apart from the churches themselves, it is schools like this that are the custodians of that disappearing heritage
In our society, apart from the churches themselves, it is schools like this that are the custodians of that disappearing heritage: a heritage that might be summed up as an ethic of service for the common good based on a commitment to the equal dignity of every human being. These things can no longer be taken for granted.
Allow me to finish by being slightly provocative, by taking seriously my calling as an Anglican minister speaking at chapel in an Anglican school.
We should not delude ourselves: the values and the heritage about which I have been speaking have not been recognised by all cultures and are not globally recognised today. Not every culture agrees, for example, that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” to quote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The truth is that the overwhelming source of these values is the tradition that sprang from the life and teaching of a Galilean itinerant preacher called Jesus of Nazareth. As much as we might not like that truth, history is clear: so much of the ethical heritage we take for granted in the West is our Christian heritage.
So, as I finish, if you are one of those people who is not particularly enthused about the core of the Christian message, let me encourage you to think one more time about whether, perhaps, Jesus was not just a wandering Galilean with the gift of the gab. Perhaps he was more; perhaps he was also what his followers claimed about him. Perhaps he was what his present-day followers, like Graeme Clark or Ken Freeman, claim about him. Perhaps this wandering Galilean truly was the way, the truth and the life: sent by God and, in fact, God himself in human form.
May the God that Christians believe in, fill you with enthusiasm and wisdom for the crucial part that you play in “building good men to make a positive difference in their world.”