Time, Eternity, and Australia’s Referendum

All our victories and all our setbacks are merely temporary


Faith Politics

Consider the following reflection on the true purpose and goal of human civilization:

“Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). This stunning statement assures us, with crystal clarity, that God’s dwelling place is beyond and outside time. It’s true that Scripture often tries to explain eternity by analogy with time — for example, “one day in thy courts is better than a thousand” (Psalm 84) — but the Church has always understood that sort of language to be merely figurative. What we might call “everlastingness” is not at all the same thing as Eternity.

Eternity is impossible for us to grasp, just as it’s impossible for a person blind from birth to understand sight. The great Christian philosopher Boethius (c. 480 – 524) says that time “imitates” eternity. If you could live an infinite number of days, he argues, you would not be enjoying eternity, for time is merely linear, whereas eternity is incomprehensible to the human mind and therefore inexpressible. He does try to express it, however: he defines eternity as “the total, perfect and simultaneous possession of unbounded life.” By a strange paradox, eternity is simple but time is complex; we who live under the tyranny of time have a fleeting present, a past that’s lost forever, and a future that’s unknown. In eternity we shall have it all at once, in unimaginable ways.

I am much moved by a song by English singer George Ezra, in which he dreams of one day meeting his ideal future partner. She’s out there somewhere waiting to love him — or so he hopes:

Somewhere out there is my girl…
We’ll dance by the light of the moon in the sky
We’ll sail on through forever for a while.

“Forever for a while.” The pathos of that is almost unbearable. It sums up the whole human dilemma:  we want our loves to be eternal, but we know they can’t last.

Our task in the Dawson Centre is to do what we can, little though it be, to defend the good name of Christian Civilization. But we need to remind ourselves that that’s not a worthy end in itself. Civilization is a stabilizing force within a human society, that shapes and directs its moral progress, and both allows and stimulates its creative instincts. Its value lies solely in its fruits. They are the arts and sciences that distinguish mankind from the beasts, and the laws that regulate human behavior, guiding it towards a just and fair distribution of the world’s goods, and inhibiting (as far as such blunt instruments can) our selfish impulses.

But civilizations can also go sour and bring forth bad fruit. We have to maintain constant vigilance to keep our society productive, just, compassionate and truthful. Human nature being what it is, that means we are always at war with our fellows over this or that aspect of personal or national behavior. All our victories are merely temporary — but the great consoling thought is that our setbacks are temporary too! There is to be no peace or lasting resolution this side of eternity.

Some see the rejection of Australia’s proposed Voice referendum as a triumph, but others are heartbroken. I voted no but am deeply sad for those whose hopes were dashed. It is not a time to gloat, but neither is it a time for anger. If we believe in our democratic processes (if we don’t, why did we spend all that money on a referendum?), we must accept the outcome and live with it. It is absurd to accuse the Australian people of racism, for there are few countries on earth that have better assimilated peoples from every continent. Instead let us accept that racial distinction has been excluded from the Constitution. Race should no more be a criterion for bestowing benefits. Let need alone be the criterion.


David Daintree was President of Campion College (Australia’s only Catholic liberal arts college) from 2008 to 2012. In 2013 he founded and is now Director of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Hobart.

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