If one was to follow the various media, social and traditional, it becomes heavily evident that we live in a post-Christian, post-religious age in the Western world. The rise of secularism, humanism and various manifestations of socialism seem to be the “new faith” being embraced, and we in Australia along with the UK, Canada and the US just marginally behind, are in the midst of this societal change. The 2016 Australian Census figures are but one of the numerous pieces of evidence that Australian is turning its back on traditional Christian faith, and is moving to atheism/ secularism with the zeal of new convert.
Greg Sheridan, the author of this book is a well-respected journalist, with considerable years of experience. Sheridan has written a number of books on Asian politics, and writes regular columns in key Australian newspapers in the area of politics and government. Sheridan’s God is Good for You is a work written in a gentle and easy to read way, giving the reader an opportunity to pause and reflect on what is happening in our Western world, and indeed our own Australia. Sheridan examines the contribution of and shaping of Australia by the Christian faith, and how the Christian traditions are foundational to the legal, moral and social fabric of our society. “If we lose God, we lose something essential of our humanity. (p32)
Sheridan divides his book in to two parts. The first is an examination of the Christian beliefs and how the same have shaped our western culture. The unique manner in which Sheridan undertakes this area is from an Australian point of view, all the while connecting with how those views may look in other English-speaking nations.
Sheridan boldly takes on the rationalists, the postulations of English author Richard Dawkins and others who have entered the space of faith with exceedingly loud voices. He also enters into the shape of various expressions of the Christian faith in Australia with an open and sympathetic approach. Such inquiry is particularly helpful if one is seeking to understand what the Christian church may appear to be like in the next few decades. This first part of Sheridan’s book is a valuable analysis of what has been taking place in our society since the turn of the 20th-century and how Christianity may be expressed in an ever changing Australian social landscape where it is fast becoming the minority view.
In the second part of God is Good for You, Sheridan records expressions of Christian faith by a cross-section of Australians, but weighted heavily by politicians from a variety of positions on the political spectrum. The reader may be surprised by some of the individuals who Sheridan manages to interview, and the candour with which they speak of their faith. In the final chapter Sheridan challenges Christians to become the “Bold Minority” holding onto their faith and traditions. That bold minority, Sheridan postulates may continue to shape our society and be the preserve of the values which are essential to our identity and western civilisation.
There have been numerous books written on the contribution of the Judeo-Christian tradition to western civilisation, God is Good for You examines where we are as Australians in the first quarter of the twenty-first century. Sheridan undertakes to bring his readers into a space to begin and maybe understand that one needs to be very careful before one considers abandoning a faith in God to follow the growing tide of relativism. God is Good for You is not an apologetic for Australian Christianity, but rather an exploration of our family identity and who we are as human beings living in this corner of the world. As I read Sheridan’s book, the theme that became my understanding of his message thorough his pages is that one may change a family’s name, but as to its DNA, it remains constant and provides organic linkages to identity and to whom they are connected. Ultimately it is the ability to understand a nation’s DNA which will provide its people with an essential opportunity to understand who they are, and the benefits of this identity.
One could argue that Sheridan has limited his focus, in an effort to keep afloat tired and antiquated ideals of a religion which serve little purpose beyond its charities and schools. To take such a stance overlooks that which is foundational to its formation. Uproot the foundation and what do you have? A world which avoids offence, where values and beliefs become opinions, and focus on self, displaces the common good.
God is Good for You is essential reading for all those who have some interest in the direction, which our Western society is taking. The book is essential reading for the religious and non-religious alike. Sheridan in his very readable way brings a rich and vast contribution to this discussion. To attempt to enter into the dialogue of post-faith and Christianity in Australia in 2018 and beyond, without having read God is Good for You, would simply be an inexcusable folly.
Reviewed by the Rev’d Charles Vesely, a Uniting Church Minister, based in Queensland, working as a Senior Chaplain in the Australian Army. Charles’ ministry spanning almost two decades, has seen him work in several eastern states of Australia, and overseas on military operations as a chaplain.