The evolution of belief with authors Roy Williams And James Boyce

“It’s hard to get religion on the agenda in a society like ours,” said Jesuit priest and law professor Frank Brennan, chair of the session entitled The Evolution of Belief at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. “But this session sold out in a week.”

His two guests are Roy Williams, author of Post-God Nation and In God They Trust and James Boyce, author of Born Bad: How Original Sin Made the West.

Williams said his aim for the newly-released Post-God Nation is to put “all religion back on the agenda.”

For Boyce, he hopes that Born Bad reminds people of the importance of memory to our cultural inheritance. “We all carry our Christian inheritance with us, we can’t get rid of it by disbelief,” said Boyce.

The discussion circled around history, memory and morality, occasionally dipping into public schooling and child sexual abuse. It may be hard to get religion on the agenda, but this discussion didn’t hold anything back.

Boyce didn’t go so far as to say that he’d like to see our Christian inheritance excised from our cultural heritage, but he did claim that, “the reality is that people don’t want to go to church anymore.”

“People aren’t going to church, and this should call into question the place of the institutional church,” he said.

However, Boyce argued that, “original sin has become so deeply embedded in our memory, even in secular culture,” says Boyce. “The idea of it is to explain why we all need to be saved. It’s hard to explain why you need salvation without original sin.”

Williams agrees with Boyce that we can’t get rid of our Christian inheritance nor the doctrine of original sin. But even if we could, he wouldn’t want us to.

“Wesley says that mankind left to its own devices is innately selfish and evil. The whole point of the Enlightenment was that human beings were essentially good, that with education and technology the world could be a fantastic place.”

“But,” said Williams, “the history of the 20th century proves that education is obviously not the answer.”

“We all have this idea that there must be more to life. Although we are bad, we’re made in the image of God we have the ability of rising above that.”

“Many young people have a sense of morality that war, racism and sexism are wrong. But we’ve lost the capacity to articulate those concepts in spiritual, religious, and Christian terminology. So we have extremely hollow debate in the pubic square where values have been pushed aside. We’d have a richer and more useful debate if we brought conscience and morality back into it rather than just the nuts and bolts,” said Williams.

“It’s not the practice of religion that is important for morality. It is the existence of God that makes morality.”

The June edition of Eternity Newspaper will feature an extract of Roy Williams’ new book Post God Nation? How Religion Fell Off The Radar in Australia.