Since the 1970s Australia has experienced two great transformations - cultural cosmopolitanism and economic rationalism, but now another transformation is emerging - spirituality.
Where there is no longer any reliance on the biblical narrative, many Australian academics are attempting to articulate this new spiritual awareness that is part of the current breed of thinking Australians - aptly termed the chatterbox generation. Twenty-first Century DownUnder experiences are being lived in a type of in-between period where a clash of paradigms is inevitable.
Many of the Churches are empty or are in retreat, but there is a new interest in theology, with many Universities now incorporating religion into their programs. Equally many modern authors portray spiritual lives, eg Richard Dessaix in Corfu. Globalisation is a catchword that has theological implications. Betrayed and disgusted, we find out that our sneakers have been made by an itinerant 18 yr old Indonesian girl who makes 13c an hour so that a Western CEO can "earn" his $1 million bonus
To some aggression has become a necessary part of articulating a sense of identity, while to others concerned with the escalating refugee problem, Matthew's picture of Jesus and his family "fleeing" to another country is just a story that seems unconnected with the thousands that are now "destination shopping" to our shores, but who are housed around the Pacific. The majority of our current asylum seekers are Muslims, and unfortunately we have begun to replicate the kind of arguments associated with the so-called new racism of the European extreme right.
A new spirituality is now being sought. Two new Australian books deal with this new spirituality. First to be published was ReEnchantment: the new Australian spirituality by David Tacey; (HarperCollins Publishers 2000; 283 pp; $25.95 softcover ISBN 0-7322-6524-X), followed by The Western Dreaming: the western world is dying for want of a story: by John Carroll (HarperCollins Publishers 2001; 288 pp; $24.95 softcover ISBN 0-7322-6671-8). Both authors teach at La Trobe University, Melbourne.
Tacey argues that the new spirituality involves issues such as re-defining our identity as the biblical concept of imago Dei is outmoded. Each generation must undertake this quest in light of contemporary events, and there must be a dialogue between the new spirituality and "old religion". God made man, but man also made God.
The new Governor General of Australia Dr Peter Hollingworth (formerly Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane) has stated that "there are vast numbers of people who have been through Christian traditions and who have said 'the framework is not enough … to tell the story of my life' ". While regular church attendance is down to seven and twelve percent (perhaps high compared with some countries), secular spirituality is a powerful religious force as Churches are seen to be based on cultures of belief and devotion, not spirituality.
Australians are in search of soul, and culture is to be seen as part of social dreaming - a term that is evocative in Aboriginal (or Koori) circles. Sacredness is the key to environmental awareness, as ecospirituality and environmental integrity can point to spiritual bond with nature. This is not the God of biblical narratives as the New Age is a parody of our spiritual renewal.
Tacey concludes that ultimately, the quest is for a re-enchantment that enables us to overcome our alienation, allowing us, at the beginning of this new century, to build a more harmonious and integrated Australian society.
On the other hand, Carroll's thesis is that we have lost our sense of Dreaming, a term that we usually associate with Aboriginal spirituality. Carroll argues that there is also a "Western Dreaming" originating in the 16th Century as part of a Third Reformation, and the centre of this dreaming is "story".
Carroll identifies some key stories that have been the source of western culture - the hero, soul mate, love, the mother, vocation, fate, the genesis of evil, and the nature of a changed being. In the Emmaus Inn two men suddenly found their inconsequential lives lit up with meaning. The story of Mary Magdalene is one of those moments. In the 1990's we have been witnesses to this story through the story of Diana, Princess of Wales: hers the cardinal story of the second half of the twentieth century. While the modern Diana myth is deep, the primal force driving through it is Magdalene.
Carroll argues that everything now hinges on the nature of being - of I am. There is no 'in the beginning'; it is rather that a moment arrives of being ready now and not in the past, and we are now compelled to evaluate the story in western culture in a new light.