'Felix culpa'! Why Easter brings good news once again

The good news for Australian Christians this Easter is that a member of the New South Wales Parliament offered a prostitute $1000 for services inside his office and sent her hundreds of lewd text messages. He actually sexted her during Question Time. We know this because after warning prudish readers about “explicit language and sexual content”, the ABC quoted from them exuberantly and extensively.  

This is not a political reflection, so I shall not name the MP. But the state premier and deputy premier want his head on a platter, even though he is part of their coalition.  

The actions for which he has been pinged extended over weeks in August and September 2019. Mind you, this was a time when the MP should have been hyper-vigilant about sexual escapades. In that year Geoffrey Rush won a defamation case after allegations of sexual abuse. In that year the #MeToo juggernaut steamed ahead. In that year Jeffrey Epstein was arrested for sexually abusing minors and committed suicide. In that year Harvey Weinstein was fighting sexual harassment charges and was never out of the headlines.

There was no doubt about how society would look upon the MP’s extracurricular activities. He could not plead ignorance.

But people are complicated and there is obviously a different side to his character.

While all this was going on, the MP voted against a hotly contested bill decriminalising abortion in the state of New South Wales. He revealed painful details from his own life, especially that he had been adopted after his mother left him with relatives. “Humans are not perfect—I am not and nor is anyone in this place,” he said in his meandering contribution to the debate on August 6. “We should never expect humans to be perfect. It is okay for people to make mistakes and to make decisions they may possibly regret. It is about learning.”

Unhappily, this MP is only the latest man to make headlines. Politicians are running out of words to decry the misbehaviour of their colleagues. What is going to stop this river of sleaze?

Please do not suggest more codes of conduct or more detailed codes of conduct or more vigilance in policing detailed codes of conduct. This MP actually sat on a parliamentary ethical standards committee which conducted a review of the code of conduct for NSW MPs in 2018. The code states that members must "maintain the public trust placed in them by performing their duties with honesty and integrity, respecting the law and the institutions of parliament".

More regulations are not going to be effective.

Which is why this sleazy but all-too-familiar story is good news for Christians, especially at Easter. It shows why Christianity was, is, and always will be necessary.

First, it confronts us with the painful reality of original sin, that deep inside we all have a weak and vicious streak. Anyone who thinks that this MP is exceptionally depraved has not looked deeply into his own conscience. Remember the portrait of Dorian Grey – the terrifyingly corrupt face of the hero in Oscar Wilde’s novel? “There but for the grace of God go I” is a proverb that we should all remember when reading the newspaper.

In fact, G.K. Chesterton, the Christian apologist, said, more or less, that original sin, mankind’s ineradicable tendency to go astray, was the only Christian dogma for which there was empirical proof -- the daily news.

Second, it shows that we cannot heal ourselves. The MP knew that his conduct was immoral and destructive. He still wallowed in it. Sure, self-help gurus and books promise release from addiction and compulsive behaviour. But how many people succeed in escaping from their weaknesses? As the MP told his colleagues, “We should never expect humans to be perfect.” Hypocrisy comes naturally to us.

Third, it prompts us to desire the serene happiness of salvation. Salvation, freedom from our limitations and weaknesses, is what everyone longs for. Greta Thunberg offers it to repentant climate sinners. Black Lives Matter offers it to repentant racists. Cancel culture offers it to homophobes and transphobes. Pornography offers it to sex addicts. A code of conduct offers it to politicians.

And this is what Easter, which we will celebrate on Sunday, is all about. Jesus Christ looked at the reeking mess of humanity, with all of its weakness, depravity, viciousness, selfishness and arrogance, reached down, touched its leprosy, and said “be clean”.

Fourth, Christianity does salvation better than any of them. Has done for centuries. And that’s why, despite its tarnished image at the moment, it has a bright future. It offers humanity a chance to escape from history’s treadmill of evil.

Other paths to salvation will wither and fade. Only the amazing grace that Christianity draws from God has the power to convert people – individually, not collectively.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

As a Catholic, of course, I’m partial to the Catholic vision of sinful humanity. We can always fall; we can always be forgiven. And history shows that people do fall, again and again and again. Over and over and over. But with the help of God and a bit of effort, each of us can eventually overcome our weaknesses.

“Go and sin no more,” he told the woman caught in adultery. And she didn’t.

I’m not making an argument for the truth of Christianity here, still less for the Catholic Church. Perhaps another day. But Christian salvation “works”, provided that – and this is the all-important condition – that Christians walk in the footsteps of Christ. Backsliders and hypocrites are part of the Christian story – remember Judas! Eventually, I venture to predict, people will tire of their sins and gimcrack salvations and turn once again to Christianity.

Proving, as they do so, the truth of the ancient liturgy, which sings in the Easter vigil, O felix culpa, O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious, a Redeemer.


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