School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Theses

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    Christ and the Cold War: an exploration of the political activism of the Reverends Frank Hartley, Alfred Dickie and Victor James, 1942-1972
    McArthur, Robert Iain ( 2007)
    This thesis argues that previous accounts have oversimplified the lives of the Reverends Alf Dickie, Frank Hartley and Victor James, three prominent, Melbourne-based peace activists during the Cold War. They have been seen as fellow-travellers or apologists for the communist-dominated peace movement, at the expense of any consideration of why they were drawn to such a role. A central aim is to demonstrate that a personally derived understanding of religious duty dominated the political activism of these three men. It begins by exploring how the early political and economic crises experienced by each individual shaped a conviction that radical, progressive politics were a true expression of faith. It goes on to show that such beliefs were at first unremarkable in post-war Australia. With the onset of the Cold War, however, opinion turned away from such optimism and left the three clergymen isolated and embattled. This thesis shows that the religious foundations for their political activism fostered a notion of prophetic duty, so that the political shift produced obduracy on their part. Their interpretation of duty left them no room for political compromise or negotiation. The ensuing conflict served to confirm a sense of righteousness born of suffering and to entrench further their dogmatic approach to political questions. It is suggested that Dickie, Hartley and James increasingly adopted a Manichaean interpretation, rooted in theology, of both international and domestic politics. This dualism significantly influenced their interpretation of Cold War crises, combatants and actors, and its ramifications are examined. By merging politics and theology, all three men came to ignore uncomfortable political facts. As well as exploring the disadvantages of their politico-theological rigidity, this thesis also acknowledges its benefits. Methodist and Presbyterian Church reactions to the Australian and New Zealand Congress for International Cooperation and Disarmament, held in 1959, are examined and it is demonstrated that by this time the Churches had begun to return to a position of support for the activism of Dickie and Hartley. This change continued into the 1960s, and I show that at the time of Gough Whitlam's 1972 election victory, the political mood of the Churches and society in general returned to meet that of Dickie and Hartley (though not James), which had remained essentially consistent since the end of the Second World War.