John Carroll, an Australian academic, writes concerning ‘the Wreck of Western Culture.’ (See his book Humanism first published 1993.) He argues convincingly about elite society becoming bankrupt of meaning and purpose, largely unable to lead and lost in decadence and cynicism. He offers some hope however in books that follow, notably Ego and Soul, where emphasis is placed upon the power and ability of the middle classes to work and find meaning for themselves in a range of popular things, including TV shows, sport and work.
Commentaries on the Book of Ecclesiastes point out the emptiness of a purely material life. Australia is currently one of the most materially prosperous and secure nations on the earth. It has enjoyed a top five status for a century. This gives us certain strengths but there is a down side. One of the challenges is that people are ‘freed’ to ask the question ‘What’s life all about?’. This is what the writer of Ecclesiastes has in the background of his mind.
Australians, keen to avoid unjust authority or judgement – as they see it – offer interesting options for what happens in the end – or what Christians call eschatology. On one end of the spectrum (those with an openness to the idea of God) is the answer of Universalism – where all people will ultimately be ‘saved’ through good works here on earth, or by the hand of a good and loving God in the next world. At the other end of the spectrum (those who exclude the idea of God) lies Annihilation – where the ending of personal consciousness and the disregard of any threat of judgement sets people free to enjoy this life. As they say, ‘You only get one chance at life.’
Both these views mean people live without the fear of God. Not in the terrifying sense but even in the sobering sense, like that of a child who does not what to disappoint their parent or teacher. Moral corruption abounds even among our leaders. Foolishness abounds too. For indeed, ‘the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom’.