What is Holiness in the Modern World?

By Michael Gartland, 23 November 2019
Image: Julia Caesar/Unsplash.


It is an utterly strange, confusing and contradictory world that we find ourselves living in. From the upper echelons of power to the daily mundane, there is very little that is simple or straight forward anymore.

We have supermarkets that are eager to promote how they are now ‘socially conscious’ by pledging to remove plastic bags and other unnecessary packaging, lest the rubbish further contribute to the global pollution epidemic, yet happily providing mass-produced plastic figurines in competing advertising wars.

We have politicians and vocal ideologues who want to instil protections that allow people to freely ‘express’ their religious views that victimize others on social media and then in their very next breath, these same agitators return to their unwavering crusade to ban people from expressing their religious views through their clothing.

We have Christians who perceive a growing narrative that in this country, they are increasingly being shunned to the fringes, or are outright under attack, even as the voters of the nation caused a ‘shock upset’ when it elected the most openly Christian Prime Minister in living memory. I’d much rather this kind of persecution than one that comes at the wrong end of bullets or bombs!

We have an echo chamber that demands that newcomers to this land speak our language, learn our traditions and embrace our culture, all while this echo chamber does all it can to drown out the voices of our first nation’s peoples as they protest the never ending attempts to eradicate their identity and connection to this land.

And the latest flabbergasting set of inconsistencies (at the time of writing at least!) seems to take its cues from all of these examples – a young family of Tamil heritage, that moved to regional Queensland to receive ‘a fair go for having a go’ torn apart and thrown around the country like a ball (this is no exaggeration; the family have been forcibly moved from Biloela to Brisbane to Melbourne to Darwin to Christmas Island and, at times, mother and father were separated from their 2 and 4 year old daughters in separate vans and flights). If only they were the nanny, oops, I mean ‘au pair’ in service of someone rich and powerful!

No doubt between the time of writing and publication a hundred more examples will emerge that I wish I had mentioned!

How do the proudly Christian (immoral) members of our benevolent (malicious) government convince themselves that they are defending the right to life (deporting children into persecution) and then go onto sleep at night? Just looking in horror at the constant stream of examples such as these is enough to keep me awake at night!

Oh, to have lived in a time when I didn’t have to worry about what impact my purchases had on the environment, how much suffering my evening meal caused and systems of oppression my ‘jokes’ perpetuated! No, of course, I am essentially a revolving door of questions such as these; as far as I can tell, it is impossible to “love one another as I have loved you” if you are causing damage to those who live around you, or to the eco-systems that sustain our collective life. I’m starting to see the wisdom in the classic adage – “ignorance is bliss”!

Look, if you dismissed me as nothing more than a voracious over-thinker, perhaps you’d have a point – as you can probably see, once I get carried away by the stream of these thoughts it’s hard to think of anything else. The thing is, though, I’m not alone.

This is an extremely common, increasing trend, and not just among people my age, but even appearing in people 10, 15 years my junior – I have spoken to young people in their earliest teenage years that are asking these same questions. Now, I’m led to believe that struggling with the meaning of life existed before the 1990s; but if teenagers and young adults are searching for answers to these questions and what they find is a society that values dollar signs on a screen over oxygen in the air, a society that chooses the convenience of a closed eye and a turned back on all beings that live in pain, and a society that bases its identity on the fear and hatred of difference, then how could any of them want to get out of bed in the morning and face that abhorrent world?

How could any of them hope for a better tomorrow when everything they see is pointing the other way?

Or why would any of them try to make a difference, when those who do stand up and try to improve the world, are beaten back, booed or are abused by those in power, whether that power be granted from the privilege of political office, dollar signs, religious position, media platforms, or by winning the genetic lottery and being a member of the societal mainstream? (all of which by the way, are inherent affirmations of the society we find ourselves in!)

How can we be surprised in any way that this country has an overwhelming mental health epidemic that affects one in every five people? The next time you’re out with your friends, or about to sit down to dinner with your spouse and three children, look each of them in the eyes and consider this for just a moment: statistics say that one of the people present at the table will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime, and more likely than not, you’ll never even know about it. Literally breathtaking.

I couldn’t say whether or not young people are more or less trusting than they were in the past, but I do believe there is a growing distrust that transcends age, a distrust in the traditional institutions that have governed society. As politicians become increasingly self-serving, and more and more lies and corruption are revealed, are we seeing the death of democracy?

As media corporations increasingly seek to dominate the market and bend reality to their own needs, why would we trust them as news or entertainment sources? Surely we can understand those who have turned their backs on the Church due to monstrous acts perpetrated by its followers and the subsequent attempts to suppress the truth?

As a tidal wave of ideologies, diets, wellbeing tips and everything else that offers the secret to happiness collide with each another, who can be 100% certain they have the secret to live life as best as possible?

Sometimes, it’s easier to flick that switch and just care about nothing, than to care about anything too much. Sometimes, it’s easier to distrust and refuse to participate in a system, than to take part and be left wondering what harm you may be causing.

At this point, let’s quickly acknowledge that, yes, every person thinks their generation is the best one, and that those that came before and after just don’t stack up. They also simultaneously think they had it harder than all the other generations yet somehow wistfully wish they could return to the nostalgia of those glory days. That’s not the point of this article.

Whenever I see any statement or hear any sentence that goes along the lines of “Young people don’t know the meaning of hard work” or “Young people are lazy” or “Young people waste their money on the wrong things” or “Young people are too easily offended” and so on, I’m left bemused. Such a shallow, and arrogant dismissal to a growing tumour in our ‘civilised’ society!

Instead, let’s consider something else that is much more worrying: as each new headline hits our screens, as another day of pretending that all is well passes, as the inner dialogues cause another sleepless night, it becomes just that little bit harder to see the simple goodness of Jesus that pervades every life and gives meaning and joy in our brief time with one another.

And if our young people can’t see the goodness that is inherent in every day, what hope do they have of attaining any sort of holiness? And if we can’t lead our young people towards holiness, what hope do we have?

So, all that is left now is to ask: What can we do? What can I do? What will you do?

Michael Gartland is a Journalist and Digital Media Manager of the Salesian Bulletin, a publication of the Salesians of Don Bosco Australia-Pacific.

Reproduced with permission from the Australian Salesian Bulletin.


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