What have they got in common?

While all Australians are sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the release of the Ruddock report on freedom of religion, and for information about our Pentecostal PM’s plan to protect freedom of religion, here’s a little quiz for blog readers.

What have the following got in common: Ovid, Erasmus, Copernicus, Montesquieu, Spinoza, David Hume, Sartre, Milton, Lawrence, Zola, Kepler and Gide?

If you guessed that Barry Jones was one of the few Australians to have read all of them and is able to explicate what their entire oeuvre is about you are right. But if you recognise that they were all listed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (otherwise known as just The Index) as works which the Vatican banned because they were seen to cause religious, political and moral controversies, you are not only right but probably not that keen on our PM’s policies.

The wonderful Europeana website – which provides digital access to the immense treasures contained in EU museums, galleries, libraries and other institutions – recently included on its regular blog links to the noteworthy authors who got listed on the Index.

They Europeana blogger didn’t know about the debate in Australia about religious freedom when they posted it although the blog suspects that within the EU the Polish Government might have objected to the post for not providing a compelling argument for why the Index  was a good thing.  If that seems unlikely, by the way,  readers should remember that the same government has passed legislation criminalising activities which suggest Poles had anything to do with the Holocaust.

The Index contains many, many names but the Europeana blog singles out quite a few: Petronius, Luther (a nasty piece of work whose chronic constipation had much to do with his prose style even if constipation cannot absolve him from his attitude to the Peasants’ Revolt nor his virulent anti-Semitism), Grotius, Kepler, Paracelsus, Machiavelli, Descartes, Francis Bacon, Locke, Rousseau (another nasty piece of work who put his many offspring into orphanages and treated Hume very badly when Hume offered him refuge), Kant (our Federal Government has not absorbed his categorical imperative), Boccaccio (Barnaby Joyce might think of him next time he heads for the bush), de la Fontaine (the climate change denialists in the government who like fables could read him even if they miss the lessons within), Defoe, Gide (who would have voted yes and spat in the face of our PM after the marriage plebiscite) and the Encyclopaedists Diderot and d’Alembert who believed that broad knowledge was important – probably more important than NAPLAN results.

And, of course, the great Galileo, for whom the Church’s justification didn’t arrive until the 20th century, long after everybody else knew he was right.

In the case of Galileo we have also had to wait – until the 21st century –for the long lost letter in which he first wrote down his arguments against the church’s doctrine that the Sun orbits the earth. The letter was found by an Italian post-doctoral science historian, Salvatore Ricciardo, in a folder in the Royal Society library where it had been for some 250 years. If you look online at the Nature article by Alison Abbott you can see pictures of three pages of the letter.

The letter is dated 21 December 1613, signed G.G., and as Alison Abbott says “actively engaged in damage control and tried to spread a toned-down version of his claims…. Because the original letter was assumed lost ….it wasn’t clear whether incensed clergymen had doctored the letter to strengthen their case for heresy – something Galileo complained about to friends – or whether Galileo wrote the strong version and then decided to soften his own words.” Handwriting specialists are inclined to the view that original and edits are in Galileo’s hand.

The other fascinating thing about the manuscript is that Galileo not only enlightened the world but also had a very shrewd way of expressing dissent. The original wording in the letter referred to propositions in the Bible as “false if one goes by the literal meaning of the words” but he crossed through the word ‘false’ and replaced it with “looked different from the truth” and changed a reference about Scripture ‘concealing’ the truth to ‘veiling.’

For thousands of years people have yearned for freedom from religion. As the Emperor Julian said to the bishops (at least in the Gore Vidal version of his life): “you are free to persecute each other as much as you like but not the other citizens of my empire.” So when our PM moves for freedom for religion let’s hope he abides by similar sentiments.

And on another subject altogether…..

The former PM’s choice for ABC Chair, Justin Milne, is supposed to be an IT whiz kid having worked with Malcolm Turnbull and Telstra. And yet and yet….

If you think about it he broke some fundamental rules. First, don’t do dumb things; second, don’t leave a digital trail; and third, if you plan to sack someone make sure you control their email records before they leave the building.

Dumb, arrogant – or perhaps both? Malcolm Turnbull might venture forth from his Upper West Side apartment to enlighten us on which of them his friend is guilty.