Sometimes love’s not good enough
OF today’s Christian churches, probably the one secular humanists like the most is the Anglican. The Anglicans seem much more down to earth, supportive of those less well off, willing to take up the fight for women’s rights, samesex couples and the gay, lesbian and transgender communities.
Sure, the Anglicans have debates about these issues, but at least they make them public. They seem to be the most contemporary and pragmatic group to emerge in the 1700 years or so of the West’s domination by the Christian mythology.
However, the percentage of Australians who believe the Christian story continues to decline with each census. Even those who claim a Christian allegiance are increasingly less likely to attend church services.
For some, this ‘‘ awakening’’ of Australians reflects, in part, the progress of archeological, cultural and historical research that is defining the Bible as essentially a book hybridised by well-meaning authors from previous mythologies, built on half-truths, Bronze Age fables and inaccurately referenced historical events.
The author of Love Upside Down, Steven Ogden, is a born-again Anglican, former dean of St Peter’s Cathedral in Adelaide. He seems like a nice chap and is clearly on a mission from his chosen god. This book is the second of a planned trilogy: the first was I Met God in Bermuda: Faith in the 21st Century (2009) and the third, he says, will cover ‘‘ ugliness, beauty and the Spirit’’. All are published by quirky American independent Zero Books, which boasts it is ‘‘ not afraid to publish books . . . that aren’t going to sell in large quantities’’.
Well, Zero is certainly right with Love Upside Down, which reads like one long, contemporary Anglican minister’s sermon: conversational, folksy, romantic, full of personal anecdotes and asides and amateurish pop psychology. It meanders all over the place (perhaps it was dictated?), is occasionally self-deprecating, often selfindulgent, a little old-fashioned and canvasses widely (too often patronisingly) many critical social issues.
The structure, the argument and writing style are unresolved. Ogden often strays into a conversational cul-de-sac of his own making, then waffles around in there trying to define the real meaning of words such as love, spirituality, orthodoxy, communion, vulnerability, belonging, then has to retrace his steps to the original topic. This usually occurs at about the time the reader has concluded that this author is having a conversation with himself.
About one-third of the way through the book comes the critical denouement: all types of love are sacred, spiritual, indissoluble and, you guessed it, a gift from Jesus. And the book’s title? Well, Jesus has contributed to the notion of ‘‘ upside down love’’ by loving and championing those less fortunate. Surprisingly, there’s no mention of Deepak Chopra’s The Path to Love or of the amazing back catalogues of wonderful love songs, chants and cliches from composers such as Burt Bacharach, the Beatles or George Young and Harry Vanda. Sure, what the world needs now is love, you can’t buy it and it is certainly in the air. I’m just not sure that this work contributes much to our understanding of this most elusive and wonderful emotion. Peter Bycroft is a religious historian and adjunct professor in the faculty of arts and social sciences at Queensland’s University of the Sunshine Coast.