From the Archbishop

We're better off - but at cost of common good?


By Archbishop Philip Freier

September 4 2016I wonder if you often stop to think about the influences that shape the way you think, your worldview or even what constitutes virtue or vice? Like a fish swimming in the sea we are surrounded by many influences, all of which as a whole come to shape our world and ourselves.

Whether going with the flow or swimming against the tide we have some sense of the complex and competing forces at work. I never met them but I have been told that my great-grandparents lived a very predictable life: an evening meal of corned beef, boiled potatoes and cabbage, sleeping when the sun set and rising each dawn to go through the same routines of toil on their small farm.

No holidays, or travel other than a horse and sulky to distract them from their labours. It sounds like a world so distant from mine as to make me wonder how that great distance has been traversed in only a few generations. By contrast we have in our generation better health, expectations of longer life, greatly reduced infant mortality, and access to travel and entertainments that were undreamed of.

So have we lost anything in the ledger of comparing these different generations? It is, of course, easy to romanticise an earlier era, but I do wonder if our gratitude for what we have has grown at the same rate as our many benefits. Have we become so individually focussed that we have a diminished sense of the community of which we are part and in which most other people who have lived have found their greatest source of meaning? Do we have a willingness to make sacrifices of our own comforts and advantages for the good of others?

At the political level of our nation it does seem that there is little emphasis on the common good, of how we can all succeed better together and how generations to come will thrive as well, or better, than we do. Despite the generally agreed need for government expenses to be brought into balance with income it appears easier to identify the culprits for this state of affairs than to put a proposition of what sacrifices are needed for the good of all to be better ensured.

The precarious state of the House of Representatives and the minority position of the Government in the Senate will only further compound these issues if we allow our discourse on economics to be captured by self-interest or by a preoccupation with politics over policy.

I’m sure that we need to reposition our thinking and the language we use. Christianity has a vast wealth of tradition, teaching and reflection on what makes a good life. The Christian church has a real contribution to make to the world and generation of which we are part. Christians who deeply and richly live their discipleship will always have an impact on the society around them.

Read more from Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Primate of Australia and Archbishop of Melbourne, at