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Warren A. Pages Published online: 03 Mar Does God Make a Difference? Additional information Acknowledgments We acknowledge and thank Oxford University Press, particularly Cynthia Read and Brian Hughes, for their generous contribution of this excerpt from Warren Nord's book. Prices and offers may vary in store. Most public schools avoid teaching their students about religion, and university students must enroll in religious studies courses in order to learn about it.

Warren Nord shows that these practices are not religiously neutral; in fact, they border on secular indoctrination. Nord uses an examination of textbooks to make a case for the study of religion in schools and universities, and explains how such study came to be neglected. He makes a number of arguments for taking religion seriously in the curriculum: most importantly, that a liberal education and critical thinking require it, as does moral education. There are also civic reasons for taking religion seriously, and constitutional religious neutrality requires it.

What is to be done? Nord proposes a two-part solution to the problem. First, he argues for a required religion course in both high schools and universities. In Pope John Paul II's words, 'Our very contact with nature has a deep restorative power; contemplation of its magnificence imparts peace and serenity,' hold a special significance for such areas as:.

The tropical rainforests of north-east Queensland which, more than any other forests in the world, are a living link with the vast forests that grew many millions of years ago. This area is blessed with ancient giant trees such as the 3,year-old Macintyre Boxwood, living at the time of, and sharing the earth with Jesus himself.

The waters of Shark Bay, Western Australia, which celebrate the habitat of the manta ray, dolphin, shark and endangered dugong. Seagrasses covering over 4, square kilometres sustain the world's most abundant growth of bizarre-shaped ancient algal stromatolites, which represent the oldest forms of life on earth. The Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, the one million hectare forested landscape on a sandstone plateau which is a natural laboratory for studying the evolution of the eucalyptus.

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The Wollemi pine, a species scientists believed to have been extinct for millions of years, a living fossil dating back to the dinosaurs, was discovered only recently in a secluded area. The Kakadu National Park, in the Northern Territory, with its vast wetlands and spectacular escarpments in our tropical north, containing ecosystems that continue to evolve with minimal human disturbance. Aboriginal rock art sites provide an outstanding record of human interaction with the environment over tens of thousands of years. These natural wonders remind us of the words of St Paul, 'Ever since the creation of the world, God's eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been seen through the things God has made.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples occupy a unique place in Australian society as the original owners and custodians of these lands and waters. Indigenous peoples' expression of their culture and view of the world, through art, song, dance, story, ceremony and poetry is becoming increasingly accepted in mainstream culture, as illustrated in these words of Maisie Cavanagh:.

My Mother's land can be dry and harsh. Yet every tree, every cluster of rocks, mountain, waterhole, river, cave is sacred-every feature. The billabongs and the places where the spirits live are all landscapes of the soul. For we as people see these mountains, rivers, trees, animals, wind, as brothers and sisters, and we are part of the one thing. Thinking in these terms pitches you into a different psychology. So we take notice of the call of the black crow, or the laugh of the kookaburra, or the change in the wind.

We pay attention to the willy-wagtail when he comes to visit, or the magpie who sits on the clothes line even here in the hustle and bustle of city life. That is why we enjoy our Aboriginal liturgy in the bush, where we can have a fire, walk through the smoke, sit in a circle and have the earth beneath our feet, and feel the sun and the breeze, and see the clouds in the sky as we celebrate our smoking ceremonial liturgies.

For thousands of years, this culture of yours was free to grow without interference by people from other places. Through your closeness to the land you touched the sacredness of man's relationship with God, for the land was the proof of a power in life greater than yourselves.

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You did not spoil the land, use it up, exhaust it, and then walk away from it. You realised that your land was related to the source of life. The silence of the bush taught you a quietness of soul that put you in touch with another world, the world of God's Spirit. The Pope told the gathering that the Church in Australia would not be fully the Church that Jesus intended it to be until the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had made their contribution to its life, and this contribution had been joyfully received. In the same way, our relationship with the land and all of its people will not be fully healed until the relationship between Indigenous and other Australians is healed.

As long ago as , before the Wik and Mabo decisions, the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference included among the requirements for reconciliation a secure land base for dispossessed Aboriginal communities and a just process for the resolution of conflicting claims to the land and its use, especially between Aborigines, pastoralists and miners. The Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in Melbourne puts it this way:.

To be denied a place is to be deprived of the roots of our spirituality. Restoration of land is restoration of human dignity.


The early European settlers on this continent encountered an environment that they considered to be hostile. As time passed they learned to respect the land, and 'the bush' evoked a romantic love-fear relationship. Still, for most Australians 'the bush' remained alien and as the population rapidly expanded, increasing numbers moved to coastal towns and cities, where now some 88 per cent of the population occupy the edges of the continent.

In our own time, the Australian Conservation Foundation, with the National Farmers Federation, issued a visionary document, examining the ecological footprint since European settlement. It concludes:. Of the four major environmental problems facing the globe in the early 21st century-the state of the oceans, loss of biodiversity, land and water degradation, and greenhouse gas emissions-Australia is worst performed of all developed countries on three of the four.

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  • We have undoubtedly received past economic and social benefits from this environmental abuse. The vast wealth from agriculture and mining has come at the loss of native ecosystems and species, and land and water quality. Our vast coal reserves have produced cheap electricity for industry and households, but have been a major cause of greenhouse emissions.

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    Australian studies are now demonstrating the links between environmental quality and public health. Air pollution from industry, agriculture, construction and road traffic has been linked to increased risk of cardio-respiratory disease, reduced lung function, asthma and respiratory irritation. The national State of the Environment Report, conducted by hundreds of our leading scientists, has concluded that, under present conditions, Australia is not environmentally sustainable. This important document warns that urgent action, through political and economic initiatives at federal and state levels, is necessary to protect our land, water and air.

    Our country owes a great debt to those who have for decades campaigned to protect our unique woodlands, rangelands and forests, and to the men, women and children who quietly go about preserving our biodiversity and protecting our heritage. Reports from the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society warn us, however, that:.

    The Australian native bush is being cleared at well over one hundred times the rate that it is being replanted. In the year , Australia exported seven million tonnes of woodchip from native forests-the majority from Tasmania.

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    Just 10 per cent of Australia's original old growth forests remain. As trees and native vegetation are bulldozed, rural Australians, especially, are becoming increasingly aware of loss of biodiversity, species extinction and destructive salination of the soil. Theologian Wendell Berry comments that, 'The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care of it we can have no life'. The health of our rivers is a national issue. River stress is a major issue in the Murray-Darling Basin, and for all the southeast coastal river systems of Victoria and New South Wales, the agricultural regions of south and central coastal Queensland, the southwest of Western Australia and northern Tasmania.

    We can still preserve the great rivers of the continent's far north, which remain mostly pristine, free and wild. The health of the Murray-Darling Basin epitomises the ecological crisis. This once great waterway now surrenders 80 per cent of its flow for human consumption. Since European settlement between 12 and 15 billion trees have been lost from the Basin. This river system, which is a major artery of Australia's agriculture, is exhausted and dying. Because of water removal for irrigation, the river at times does not have the strength to reach the sea.

    Where the river flows everything will live. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river - because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing. Ezekiel The world's largest living organism, the Great Barrier Reef, is threatened with a slow death due to rising water temperature and toxic sediment run-off from the mainland. This beautiful 2, kilometre necklace of multi-coloured coral reef, which nurtures some 1, species of fish, and is a breeding area for humpback whales and endangered green and loggerhead turtles, is facing extinction.

    In the words of Thomas Berry, 'to wantonly destroy a living species is to silence forever a divine voice'. Although the problem of pollution from motor vehicles is being addressed with increasing energy and success, they are still the single biggest source of air pollution in cities.