14 May 2014

ANZAC Day vs. Easter

by Dr Philip Church

This year Easter and ANZAC day were really close together, and I was struck again at the difference in the way the mainstream media dealt with both. They almost completely ignored Easter, but gave wall to wall coverage to ANZAC day.

As far as I have been able to tell, over Easter weekend there was one extra broadcast of Praise Be on Good Friday morning, 7 Sharp had a really interesting and informative segment on the Marsden Cross, and Kim Hill interviewed Francis Spufford, British author of Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense (New York: HarperOne, 2013). In the course of the interview, since it was Easter, Hill asked Spufford if he believed in the literal resurrection of Jesus, which he did, explaining that it made sense to him to recognise that we lived in a world where God was able to, and did, intervene in this world to do such things as raise the dead. Alongside these positive things there was the usual complaining that, since we live in a secular society (as we do), why on earth did the shops have to be closed for two days? One foolish man (Ps 14:1), wrote to the Editor of the NZ Herald, I think on Easter Saturday, proclaiming that as an atheist who did not believe in outdated superstitions, he objected to not being able to shop over the long weekend. I expect he never stopped to think how welcome a couple of days off would have been to the people who have to work in supermarkets and shopping malls when the rest of us are able to have leisure time with our families. But that is another story.

On the other hand on ANZAC day there was wall to wall coverage on radio and television and in the print media. The shops were shut on ANZAC day morning, but I heard not one complaint about that. I watched a few trans-Tasman rugby games, and every one of them started with The Ode (“They shall no grow old … and in the morning we shall remember them), the Last Post and the Reveille, and two minutes silence. And, in contrast to the silence about the thousands of Christians who would have been at worship on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we heard in every new bulletin about the tens and thousands of New Zealanders up and down the country who had been to dawn services to remember the fallen.

But what really struck me this year was the way that in this secular country, religious ritual persists. The media ignores the Christians and their worship, by and large, but then broadcasts lots of Christian content on ANZAC day. I watched the National Remembrance Service held on the forecourt of Parliament Buildings. It began with a Scripture reading (Mic 4:1-4) anticipating the day when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore”; there were prayers and hymns (“Abide with me”) and one of the dignitaries in his speech referred to “no greater love than people should lay down their lives for the friends.” A school choir on the steps of Parliament brazenly sung a song made up of the words of John 3:16.

More interesting still, though, is that all this was engineered by the military. It was the armed forces who were at the forefront doing all this Christian stuff, with the support of the Government and the media. Apparently, Christian ritual and observance is permitted in our secular society as long as the churches are kept out of the public eye and their religious observance relegated to the private sphere. The so-called separation of church and state is alive and well, but Christianity and its symbolism continues to emerge and refuses to be silenced.

I confess that I have never been to a Dawn Service on ANZAC day, and because it is not really a part of my own personal family history I have been happy to claim a holiday to spend time with family and friends. I confess too, to being slightly irked at the way ANZAC day is to the fore so much in the media and Easter mostly ignored. And thirdly, I confess that I have never taken advantage of the great opportunity presented to us to make some Christian capital out of ANZAC day when the rest of society is doing the Christian thing. Is this an opportunity for evangelism that ought not to be passed up?

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