The new Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia, Archbishop Makarios recently addressed a pro-life rally in Sydney. I was surprised by the haste with which the new Primate publicly opposed the current bill in the NSW Parliament seeking to decriminalise abortion.
One of the Archbishop’s concerns – like all pro-lifers – is that abortion could be held up to 22 weeks into pregnancy.
In fact, the bill actually adds more regulation not less, by requiring two doctors to sign an approval for late termination. And only when the mother’s life is in danger, or in the case of severe foetal abnormality. The Queensland Law Reform Commission report on the review of termination of pregnancy reveals only 1 per cent to 3 per cent of abortions are ever carried out at such a late stage.
When the Archbishop visited the Neos Kosmos‘ offices a few weeks ago, it was the first time I had come into such close proximity to high clergy. Being brought up in an anti-clerical, in fact communist, household, I had very limited connection to church and faith. With age, though, I have become more tolerant of religion, at least from a cultural, historic and creative perspective.
I found the Archbishop erudite, funny and engaged. The Archbishop’s opposition to abortion did not surprise me. What got to me was his criticism of liberalism, φιλελευθερισμός. The Archbishop’s right to express his views on abortion is facilitated by liberalism.
The Archbishop also made a passing remark that one may believe ‘some other abstract philosophy’, but being ‘guided by Christ is what matters’. Given Aristotle and Plato were incorporated into Christianity – as well as Judiasm and Islam – I found his statement intellectually dishonest; especially considering he is an intellectual and Greek, and moreover he was speaking to Greek Australian journalists and thinkers. He was not addressing his flock on a Sunday.
It was in Athens, 500BCE, that human beings first became citizens or the polis, the city, or state. Democracy, liberty and freedom of expression and thought are gifts we gave the world and the world still enjoys.
Liberalism in England later saw the gradual incorporation of Common Law and Equity Law. This legal fusion is at the centre of Anglo-liberal democracies be it Australia, Cyprus, US, Canada, India, Jamaica, or South Africa. Our courts recognise equity law when it is better than common law in any particular case, otherwise we revert to common law.
The Church has exhibited great malleability in relation to power over the centuries. They accommodated Greece’s occupation by the Ottomans, and even augmented power in the Ottoman Millet over 400-years. Many historians suggest that the Church did little to foster literacy, human rights, or enlightenment during that occupation.
As the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America states: “During both good and bad periods of the Church’s history, her law has adapted itself constantly to the circumstances of the time, up to the present day.”
Abrahamic faiths – Christian, Muslim, and Jewish – all oppose abortion using a humanist rationale. It is understandable, Greco-Roman society was a cruel one even if politically, culturally, artistically and philosophically very sophisticated.
In Roman law, children were considered the property of the father. “After seeing his newborn children, a father could choose not to accept them, in which case they were ‘exposed’ – literally left outside, to die or to be taken in by a compassionate stranger.” Female infants were the most frequent victims of this practice.
Around 335CE a new world order, Christianity, gave women and children more rights. Women and children were considered to have independent free will. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in some ways are embryonic forms of universal social justice.
However, we are not living in Ancient Israel, Ancient Greece or Rome, the Byzantium, or a medieval Papacy. Abortion is now a human right. And the separation of clerical power and state defines our democracy, not the word of any spiritual entity.
Religious laws impacted on our secular laws and we balance equity and common law. The laws of the land in a democracy are negotiated between citizens, courts and the state.
When the NSW Parliament legislates to decriminalise abortion, it will be up to women to wrestle with their own values in considering their options as citizens or a democratic state. Not too different to Ancient Greece with the great exception women have equal rights to men now.
The Orthodox Church has always been good at giving Caesar what is Caesar’s. Archbishop Makarios is fresh in Australia so, he may wish to give himself some time and reflect on who Caesar is on this occasion.