Dear Australians #2.4: Jesus and Women

The cultures Christianity emerged from, (Jewish and Greco-Roman, c.30-100CE), were patriarchal and sexist. While women in some spheres could hold positions of power, the mainstream way of life was men had more authority and women were expected to be submissive. Christianity’s saviour, Jesus, overtly and covertly challenged these gender attitudes.

A clear example of Jesus defying culture norms is in the Gospel story Luke 7:36-50. This chapter details a “sinner” woman, usually presumed to be a prostitute, who anoints Jesus feet with oil and begs for “forgiveness”. Pharisees witnessing the event are shocked that Jesus did not shun her as was expected by a Jew.

The narrative does not explicitly state the woman is a sex worker, however, it is broadly recognised that she was. Why? Because she had her hair out. (Disciple Paul confirms values of the period by implying honourable women should cover their hair or have their heads shaved when praying or prophesying; 1 Corinthians 11:1-6).

Christ in the House of Simon, Dieric Bouts, c.1420-1475. Source: Wikipedia Commons

In Biblical times there were three types of prostitutes:

  1. Women who made a living by sleeping with men. The reason why some women engaged in this occupation is as varied as today’s sex workers with the exception that women in antiquity did not have access to social security payments or a vast option of employment opportunities (women rarely studied and they weren’t allowed to do “men’s jobs”, like being a tax collector, fisherwomen, soldier, politician, etc.), therefore, being a prostitute was some women’s only option if they did not have a man (father/son/uncle) to financially support them.
  2. Sacred or temple prostitutes. Being a temple worker had associations with performing fertility rites that may or may not have included sexual acts. Such traditions go back to old Babylonian days and were a feature of some Roman cults. While there is conjecture amongst scholars about the types of activities that took place in temples (especially of women’s roles), there is also clear evidence that in some instances, ritualised sex was performed to praise and/or appease deities that people idolised. Israelites despised these traditions and clearly stated in their law that such behaviour was forbidden (Deuteronomy 23:17).
  3. Any woman who had sex outside of marriage could be labelled a harlot. Under Jewish law an adulteress could be stoned to death (John 8:1-11). Men could be stoned for adultery too, however, this was considered to be a lesser crime; wives were a husband’s possession, therefore, if she voluntarily slept with another man his “goods” were damaged, but since a wife didn’t own her husband she did not have the same reprieve if her husband was unfaithful.

(Side note: in Greco-Roman societies males could also be prostitutes. Their clients were usually other men. To engage in male prostitution in a brothel, as a sex worker or client, was looked down upon but was also considered an unremarkable aspect of daily life.)

Luke 7 does not tell us what type of “sinner” the woman was, nonetheless, the Pharisees would have looked down upon her because Jewish scripture denounced harlotry in all forms.

Jews hatred of prostitution had gross misogynistic overtones, as evidenced in Judges 19 where women (daughters and virgins) are depicted as being disposable objects that can be raped and abused without men needing to feel any guilt for their actions (it can be argued that the story is not literal, nonetheless, the symbolic imagery of women being objects at men’s disposal signifies cultural values). Moreover, there is a strong message of male entitlement to women’s bodies. Personally, Judges 19 reminds of contemporary online forums run by Incels (involuntary celibates), but perhaps that’s just me.

From a realistic viewpoint, assuming the woman in Luke 7:36 was a harlot, by any definition, I can’t imagine her experiences were pleasurable, absent of abuse, or born of her freely making life choices. Rather, the manner in which she is described – rushing into the house and begging for reprieve from Jesus – suggests she was in a desperate state, in other words, traumatised. Nowadays we know a lot more about the impacts of sexual trauma, coercive control, and victim responses of fight, flight, freeze, and fawn compared to 2000+ years ago.

From a contemporary mindset, the Pharisees’ expressions of judgement about the woman’s sexual interactions reflects arrogance and cruelty. Jesus does not address these issues directly, instead he does so indirectly by giving the woman unconditional positive regard and appreciating her endearing qualities as she anoints his feet with oil. Jesus’ compassion confused the Jewish religious leaders.

The story of Jesus’ forgiving the prostitute is juxtaposed with a parable of two people being granted clemency of financial debts, one owes little money, the other a lot. The moral is that whomever is forgiven the larger debt will be more grateful, which is likened to whomever excessively sins will be more grateful for God’s forgiveness than one who has only sinned a little.

A standard interpretation of the passage is that it is the prostitute who had sinned the most, therefore, she will love God more than the Pharisees who had sinned little. I would like to challenge these assumptions by suggesting it was the prostitute who had sinned the least, and the Pharisees’ discrimination, prejudices, harsh judgments, and absence of compassion were the bigger sins. This proposition is supported by Matthew 21:31 “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you”.

Further, I can’t help but wonder if the seven “demons” Jesus expelled from the woman were shame, guilt, embarrassment, self-loathing, stigmatisation, humiliation, and helplessness.

From a trauma-informed lens, Jesus’ act of forgiveness actively rejected victim blaming and the stigmatising behaviours of the Pharisees. The superstitious pretence of the woman’s so-called demons being the cause of her sexual “immorality” is archaic sexism. The society she lived in was the dis-ease that needed curing (Christianity and Disease).

Overall, Early Christianity offered acceptance to females (even “prostitutes”) in a way that other competing major religions did not: Judaism expected women to be pure and faithful to their husbands/father/other male or else they could be stoned to death. The (Roman) Mithras cult was only for men, and the (Greek) Dionysus cult had orgies, as too did the Roman version, the Bacchus cult.

In a sense Christianity subtly evened the gender score cards, at least in theory it did. Celibacy was encouraged for everyone, otherwise sex was only to occur in a marriage bed.

Moving on to Sensible Sexuality

Early Christianity was not necessarily an egalitarian sect, it did, however, provide women with opportunities of autonomy other religions of the time did not. It adopted the Jewish protocols of sexual relations being sanctified in marriage with the added doctrine of forgiveness being offered to sexual acts that occurred “immorally” – the process of confession and forgiveness could be applied to voluntarily and involuntary sexual behaviour – a great advantage of this practice being the enabling of perpetrators to redeem themselves and victims heal.

While Early Christian ideals were rather prudish and narrow there is also a nobility about them. By drawing a firm line in the sand surrounding sexual etiquette they can be commended for helping to put an end to culturally accepted sodomy and stigmatisations of abuse victims.

Christians gave a level of physical autonomy and respect for personal boundaries that was not necessarily present in other spheres of life. I imagine both men and women (who came from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds) may have felt a sense of liberation that enabled them to move around their communities without adverse social expectations to sexually perform in some way.

The problem with what may have been Christianity’s good intentions is that people are complex, we are not all binary and following strict laws is not always practicable. Further, considerations about sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity as discussed in the previous post were not understood 2000 years ago in the same way as they are today.

As Christianity developed, guidelines for sexual behaviours were accompanied by fear tactics that stipulated deviance from binary protocols would result in spending an eternity in hell. To label people as sinners if they do not abide by rigid definitions of male and female, no sex or only sex in marriage, is very severe to say the least.

I view Christian attitudes towards sexual issues as being a bit like mandatory measures taken during Covid-19 epidemics. Initially, harsh rules were implemented like mask-wearing, social distancing, and lockdowns. Without a cure or vaccine, these things were necessary to curb the spread of the disease, then once science caught up they could be eased back again. The “epidemic” Early Christianity was fighting was culturally sustained sexual abuse. They didn’t have a formal #MeToo movement, nonetheless, sexual abuses did occur, potentially on a monumental scale. To fight this “disease” harsh measures had to be implemented, ergo Christian strict sexual guidelines.

Just like mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing does not completely stop the spread of viruses, mandatory celibacy and/or sex only in marriages does not stop all abuse from occurring. We still don’t have a absolute cure for sexual abuse (or Covid) but we are better equipped to deal with it than our ancestors were. We have scientific evidence of non-binary genders, DNA testing can be used help prove rape, and our culture is working towards making the issue of consent better understood by everyone.

Looking back over Church history, I get the impression Christians of all ages struggled with comprehending defining appropriate behaviours and giving consider to individual circumstances. For example, the fourteenth century Christian, Wilgefortis. Her father tried to marry her off to a non-Christian, however, she prayed to God to prevent this from occurring and, subsequently, grew a beard and was considered too repulsive to wed. She was accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death by cruxifixction. While demonised by some, others likened her to Christ and prayed to her as a saint (more about Wilgefortis is written here).

Our ancestors were superstitious, really superstitious. From Wilgefortis being considered a witch or a saint, to women’s sexual behaviours being blamed on demonic possession, attitudes towards gender identity and sexual behaviours have a long history of being influenced by irrational beliefs and spiritual theories that suppose there is perfect “nature” of males and females. Moreover, failing to meet these standards is a sin.

Faith Versus Knowledge

New Testament verses that refer to sexual orientation and gender identity are virtually none existent because, quite simply, these concepts did not exist.

In summary, Christian attitudes towards sexual orientation and gender orientation are best understood in relationship to the historical and cultural roots in which they came from. Christian traditions may be applauded for striving to end traumatic sexual relations in the form of abuse towards women and the sodomising of young males, however, these strict guidelines do not adequately address nuances of human variation.

A key issue that Christian forefathers missed is consent. Common contemporary thought places consent of all parties (whether they are male, female, or other) as being paramount to sexual experiences. The ancient world didn’t think about consent like we do, rather, entitlement, expectations, and cultural norms precipitated behaviours. And without modern criminal investigation techniques, like DNA samples from rape victims, if abuses took place, perpetrators could more easily get away with their crimes. How then could Early Christians create standards in which appropriate sexual protocols were followed? … It is a circular argument that leads back to what should have the greatest authority, the logic of humans (and modern science) or God? … Dear Australians #2.5: God’s Authority …

This blog is part of a series that I hope will encourage deep, thoughtful, respectful discussions about issues relating to the Religious Discrimination bill. If you’d like to be kept up to date, subscribe to receive notifications of new posts by email.


Dear Australians #2.3: Let’s Talk About Sex …

Dear Australians #2.2: Australia and Human Rights

Dear Australians #2.1: We Need to Have a Heart to Heart Conversations About the Religious Discrimination Bill. I’ll Start …


Adultery. (n.d.). Jewish Virtual Library,,

Denova, R. (2019). Prostitution in the Ancient Mediterranean. World History Encyclopedia.

Halperin, D. M. (2016). prostitution, secular, male. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Classics.

How to Party Like an Animal | Psychology Today Australia. (n.d.). \

Dear Australians #2.3: Let’s Talk About Sex …

Issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity emerged from the Religious Discrimination bill as two distinct items. But first, let’s start with the basics so as we’re all on the same page.


Sex refers to a person’s gender, male or female. The distinguishing features are genitalia; a male has a phallus and the female a vagina.

Modern thought acknowledges these two binaries do not adequately suit all people. The range of possibilities between male and female has become known as non-binary or other. A person who identifies as being within this range may have more or less male or female physical attributes. In cases some people are born with duel reproduction organs (intersex), while for others, the non-binary aspect of their identity is more nuanced and is not always easily defined by obvious physical markers.

The term non-binary was invented in the 1990s but it’s only really been in the last decade or so it’s established itself as real thing. When I say “thing” I mean enough scientific studies have been done to give credence to the concept that has allowed it to become part of the fabric of generalised human consciousness. These studies include retrospectively looking back over history and identifying evidence to support the notion that humans don’t always neatly fit into the two discrete categories of male and female.

My introduction to non-binary came about when I was studying Visual Arts at university, in 1996/7, and I was researching a *female* artist who had a beard. I cannot recall this artist’s name, but I distinctively remember learning about their challenges and inner conflicts. They said they felt like a freak of nature. They were raised as a typical girl because that was what their outwards genitalia dictated, however, as they entered adolescence facial growth spontaneously appeared. Needless to say, they were bullied by peers for the “abnormality”. In one of their interviews (recorded on film slides), they spoke of their journey of learning to accept their individuality which included going through a phase of religiously shaving their stubble every morning to avoid judgment. Eventually they came to embrace their uniqueness by keeping their breasts (instead of having them surgically removed) and growing a beard. What a brave soul. Thanks to activists like this artist, children born today with similar physical non-binary gender traits have a better chance of being met with understanding and acceptance.

There are also some people who have no outward physical indicators of being a variant of male or female, however, they have an inward feeling or knowing that these two binaries do not suit them. In some cases, these people can have operations so as to alter their outward appearance to match what they believe is their inner gender. Commonly, these people are called transgender. Other variants can include men dressing as women and vice versa without having operations.

People who openly embrace their non-binary nature are vulnerable to persecution by members of the public who judge them for going against “nature”. Christianity is a group known for being prejudice towards expressions of identity that differ to strict guidelines of masculinity and femininity, however, as discussed in relation to the plebiscite, this is not all Christians. Correspondingly, individuals of other faiths (especially Islam) or of no religious standing can also have discriminatory attitudes.

Sexual Intercourse

Classical thought views sexual intercourse as being a reference to the male phallic entering the female vagina. Sex between two binaries has a generalised focus on reproduction that may occur through the male sperm fertilising the female ova.

The degree to which attitudes in traditional sexual intercourse have encompassed an acknowledgement that the act can simply be done for pleasure varies according to culture, customs, social etiquettes, and other variables.

Contemporary thought has a broader version of the sex act. While vagina penetration is still a large focus area, other factors such as arousal, organism, sensual experience, and tactile sensations can also be viewed as variants of intimate relations. By expanding the parameters of sexual intercourse to sexual interactions, acts performed by lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, and queers can be more easily acknowledged. Essentially, love making can look different depending upon individual tastes, preferences, and circumstances. Moreover, the sexual interactions are not depend upon binary genitals or gender. Whatever rocks your boat, as the saying goes.

Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation refers to a person’s preference for whom they’d like to have intimate experiences with. The two biggest categories are heterosexual (male and female) and homosexual (male and male or female and female). The other major category is bisexual – a combination of heterosexual and homosexual.

Sexual orientation is not dependant upon outer indicators of sex/gender. Kind of like you don’t know what colour a chocolate clinker is on the inside until you bite into it. Okay, maybe that’s not the best analogy. The point is, the gender a person is attracted to has many faucets. I could get all touchy feely about emotions and attractions, etc., but at the end of the day, it’s up to each individual to decide who his/her/they are attracted to. For a lot of people the journey of discovering what feels authentic to them and what they desire in a partner is a windy road. Those who have to change course, take a u-turn, pay speeding fines, mis-read Google maps, etc., sometimes get a little frustrated by those who are able to take a straight and narrow road to their destination … the vehicle (i.e., gender/binary/non-binary/other) one drives can impact how obstacles are navigated.

Discussions of sexual orientation would not be complete without also acknowledging asexuals. These people have little to no interest in sexual interactions with anyone.

The Dark Side of Sexual Orientation

It’s also possible for some people to have sexual orientations in which they desire to have intimate relations with minors, and/or rape and incest. These latter categories are unambiguously forbidden by contemporary laws because they infringe upon human rights and cause physical, mental, and emotional harm. Understanding the impact of abusive sexual relations is a relatively new concept – Freudian theories that persisted for a lot of the twentieth century gave approval to incest, harassment, and sexual violence (i.e., Freud claimed that when a woman says “no” they really mean “yes”, and then there was all that junk about male homosexuality being a condition that needed to be cured by confronting sexual desire for one’s mother. And let’s not forget how Freud called fourteen year old Dorothy a hysteric because she didn’t feel excitement while being harassed by her father’s mate … hmmm, and that was considered revolutionary psychological development ?).

Sex and Sexual Orientation in Antiquity

Antiquity is a big place, filled with distant places and an assortment of beliefs and practices. Some generalisations can be made, but at the same time, there was much variation. I’m primarily concerned with Australian culture and Christianity, which means looking back at our colonial founders in Europe. As is often the case, all roads lead to Rome. Although, the Romans really just laid down the bitumen over the dirt paths made by the Greeks, so that’s where we’re going first.

Ancient Greece is a rather small blot on the modern Australian atlas. Personally, I learned very little about their culture when I was at school, however, as an adult, I’ve come to appreciate that it was a once a great influencer (if they had an instagram they would have been everyone’s friend).

One of the greatest pieces of dirt about Ancient Greeks (in amongst their wonderful achievements) is that adult men sodomised young males over the age of twelve on a regular basis. I’m not going to pretty this up. It was almost a social expectation that older males who mentored young males were privy to sensual intimacy as sideline activity.

It’s also worthy to note that in Greek society, males were not considered “grown men” until they were covered in hair and/or they were about the age of 30. Athenian men would often marry around this age, to girls who had just started menstruating, 12-16. Spartans had slightly different customs, with both males and females usually being in their early twenties when they took marriage vows, although there are still reports that males practiced sodomy prior this, and 30 was still considered to be a bench mark for taking on positions of responsibly in society.

History has a habit of neglecting herstory, so relations between females aren’t well documented. The status quo of married Ancient Greek women was to be kept locked up in the home with their needlework, however, there is also evidence to suggest some women had choice and freedoms. In regards to sexual orientation, the greatest indicator of female and female relationships comes from the poet Sappho. She wrote so many love sonnets about women that the contemporary words “lesbian” is a derivative of Sappho’s home town, Lesbos.

In lieu of insufficient information, the remaining discussion mainly focused on male and male relationships of antiquity.

Greek men did not perceive engaging in anal intercourse young males to be a homosexual act (the Greeks didn’t have a word for homosexuality) because in their society, as described by Paul Chrystal, (author of In Bed With the Ancient Greeks), a man’s phallic was the main focus of sexual acts, as opposed to a boy’s phallic. “Proper” sex involved an active penetrator and someone being passively penetrated, irrespective of gender. Pederastic sodomy met this requirement by the older male being the dominant and the young man being the passive, just like was expected between a man and a woman. Once the youth became a man, the intimate relations were expected to cease because the dominate versus submissive dynamic was no longer present. To summarise: men sodomising men was not okay, but men sodomising young boys was fine because penetrating young boys was similar to penetrating a women … the logic behind these values can be better understood if “spiritual” factors are seen to have predominate Greek thought over physical attributes, i.e., young boys and women had similar soul attributes, that is they were both considered inferior to a man’s soul.

The Greek concept of boys being like women may seem odd to the contemporary mind, however, it was not that long ago this idea completely diminished. All the way up until the 1900s, young males could be called girls without any offence because “girl” simply meant “child”. The differentiation of young people’s gender only gradually began to emerge from the 1300s onwards.

Sex and Semen

Given that males have a long standing history of believing they are superior to women, it’s not that surprising that male semen was viewed as being more important than the “inferior” female cum. In many instances, male semen was perceived as being the next best thing to sliced bread, not wait, not bread, the invention of wine, no that’s not right either, I mean blood; semen was the next best thing to blood, and blood in the ancient world was very important.

What I’m getting at here is that the ancients view of the world was very different to what it is today. For instance, sperm was understood to be made by blood. Aristotle even went so far as saying something about the best sperm being made by the blood that circulated around the eyes … eyes were seen (pun intended) as being really important conduits for supernatural, I mean “natural”, phenomenon, hence Aristotle’s wisdom also included the report that the glance of a menstruating women could make a copper mirror go cloudy. Personally, I have quite a few concerns about Aristotle’s biology lessons but, nonetheless, many have accepted them verbatim

To summarise, the “natural” order of life in ancient times was no comparison to modern science. Understandings of gender, gender orientation, sexual orientation, and sexual interactions were not the same as contemporary considerations of preferences, consent, etc. And well, if you believe the myths, then the common person’s knowledge of reproduction included the belief that virgins could become pregnant … need I say more?

The Romans

Romans copied a lot of Greek customs, including the initiation-like practice of men sodomising boys. In some instances, the boy could be castrated to keep them more effeminate. You’re not having sex with a man if they have no penis! Before anyone attempts to declare the pagans were barbarians by enforcing a transgender-like procedures, I’m going to be spoiler and mention Christianity made it’s fair share of eunuchs all the way up to the 1900s (more about that in a future blog).

The Jews

If interpreted literally, the Torah/Old Testament gives approval to sexual activities such as rape, incest, and polygamy. However, Judaism also carries the previously mentioned traditions of sexual relations only being recognised as valid if done between the binaries of male and female, and are conducted in matrimony for the purposes of reproduction. The question therefore arises, did Jews interpret their scriptures literally or symbolically? I suspect, there were people in both camps, but mostly symbolically. Those who saw Biblical male and female sexual interactions as allegories did not see need to copy such behaviours in real life (see The Big Bang Theory in Egyptian Mythology for an Egyptian based explanation of how allegorical genderism works in literature).

Outside of Ancient Europe other cultures performed sexual acts contemporary societies judge as abomination, for instance the Sambia people of Papua New Guinea perform ritualised homosexual acts as part of their warrior’s initiation process. 

Women, Sex, and Hysteria

In many respects, the realities of the ancient world are that it was a brutal place in which sex and sexual orientations do not match contemporary understandings. Sexual acts we consider to cause harm and trauma could be conducted with either cultural approval and/or perpetrators of sexual violence having less repercussions than today. Being a woman made matters even more nuanced because women could be demonised for their sexual behaviour with much greater ease than men.

Presumably, there have always been assertive women who were upfront about their sexual needs, however, these personalities are not well documented in his-stories of Greek, Rome, or Judaism. As a general rule, sex, moreover sexual pleasure, was a man’s thing. Women were expected to be “pure” and virginal. Not only were females expected to be subvert and submissive (once a son had reached manhood, they were also considered superior to their mother), women were expected to be happy about this status.

If women showed signs of depression, anxiety, or emotional distress they would be labelled hysterical. Greek medicine men (i.e., Hippocrates – who is acclaimed as being the father of modern medicine) believed hysteria was caused by the womb being out of place. A common cure for this condition was to recommend intercourse so as to put the womb back in its rightful place. The theory was dressed up with “scientific” explanations that referred to the cold and dry vagina needing a penis’ warmth and wetness in order to balance the “humours” and make the woman happy again. This “natural” order was correlated with the theology of four elements of fire, air, water, and earth. Alternatively, a woman’s hysteria diagnosis could be treated by advising they abstain from sex completely. Either way, curing hysteria was related back to sexual activity.

These types of theories and practices relating to women’s anatomy and emotional wellbeing endured for 2500 years! Christian doctor’s who followed Hippocrates’ textbook were more likely to advise abstinence or have midwives massage a woman’s private parts. The only significant challenge to the notion that women needed sex to cure their dysregulated emotional states (now understood to be trauma responses or PTSD) was that they were possessed by demons – a predisposition men supposedly didn’t have because their soul’s were more spiritually advanced than women’s.

For a succinct overview of women’s reproductive organs being viewed as problematic, see Women And Hysteria In The History Of Mental Health by Cecilia Tasca and associates.

A few months ago, I watched the 2011 movie Hysteria, which is by no means academic reference. Nonetheless, it made me wonder if, for most of history of many men been absolutely clueless about feminine sexuality and pleasure? Or perhaps, as a friend of mine suggested, there was just a period of time and/or certain cultures in which men were so focused on the so-called importance of penises and semen that they overlooked feminine experiences? It is something I leave for further pondering.

Moving on

Now we’ve got the basics out of the way we can discuss Christian sex … Dear Australians #2.4: Jesus and Women …

This blog is part of a series that I hope will encourage deep, thoughtful, respectful discussions about issues relating to the Religious Discrimination bill. If you’d like to be kept up to date, subscribe to receive notifications of new posts by email.


Dear Australians #2.2: Australia and Human Rights

Dear Australians #2.1: We Need to Have a Heart to Heart Conversations About the Religious Discrimination Bill. I’ll Start …


How to Party Like an Animal | Psychology Today Australia. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2022, from

The History and Psychology of the Orgy | Psychology Today Australia. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2022, from

Dear Australians #2.2: Australia and Human Rights

WW1 and WW2 prompted the whole world to re-evaluate prejudices and the need for equality. In response to Hilter taking racial discrimination to the abominable level of genocide, discussions of basic human rights began to take place.

Australia had direct involvement in the United Nations formation of defining The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The documents contains 30 articles that are designed to ensure peace, liberty, and respect between individuals throughout the world. No single article is supposed to be taken as priority over another. For example, Article 18, which refers to religious freedoms (below), cannot be used as an excuse to attack someone’s honour and reputation, as defined in Article 12 (below). In such cases the right to freedom of religion is restricted so as not to impede other human rights.

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 12

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Australia and Human Rights

Australia’s acceptance of The Universal Human Rights was a great step towards ensuring a peaceful nation, as was desired by the writers of the constitution. Further, as a nation we are party to seven international human rights treaties. However, it wasn’t until 1986 that the government formalised policies through The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

AHRC is a comprehensive Act that covers religious freedom as follows (from the department of the Attorney-General):

“All persons have the right to think freely, and to entertain ideas and hold positions based on conscientious or religious or other beliefs. Subject to certain limitations, persons also have the right to demonstrate or manifest religious or other beliefs, by way of worship, observance, practice and teaching. Legislation, policies and programs must respect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief, unless they clearly fall within one of the permissible limitations”.

Permissible limitations include:

  • protection against brainwashing or indoctrination
  • coercion which would impair a person’s freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice
  • conduct that is required or encouraged by a particular religion or belief that can occur criminal penalties
  • times when there is a need to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others
  • the prohibition on advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence

Whilst AHRC defines Australia’s laws pertaining to human rights, specific civil and criminal charges relating to particular breaches are legislated through several other federal, state, and territory Acts.

At a federal level, the balance between religious freedom and acts of discrimination work in conjunction with the following:

  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1986
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992
  • Age Discrimination Act 2004
  • Fair Work Act 2009

The Federal Government’s role of protecting people from inequality and harassment overlaps with individual state and territory responsibilities.

State and Territory Legislation

Each Australian state and territories has the capacity to create and enforce its own anti-discrimination legislations. See table below for summary.

Australian Capital TerritoryDiscrimination Act 1991
New South WalesAnti-Discrimination Act 1977
VictoriaEqual Opportunity Act 1977
Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001
TasmaniaAnti-Discrimination Act 1998
Northern TerritoryAnti-Discrimination Act 1996
QueenslandAnti-Discrimination Act 1991
South AustraliaEqual Opportunity Act 1984
Western AustralianEqual Opportunity Act 1984
Spent Convictions Act 1988

Australia has come a long way in overcoming bigoted views and discriminatory behaviours driven by religious beliefs. Nonetheless, tensions between differing belief systems and/or people with no religious beliefs still occur. Gaps in federal, state, and territory Acts resulted in the option being formed that either adjustments to the Sexual Discrimination Act needed to be made or a specifically designed religious discrimination act created. The arguments surrounding religious freedoms versus discrimination primarily hit upon issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. Ergo, the Morrison government chose to try to implement the controversial Religious Discrimination Bill.

Intertwined with the debate were repercussions of the 2017 referendum that allowed same sex marriages to be legally recognised.

80% of eligible Australians voted in the referendum, with results of 61.6% in favour of supporting same sex marriages. Personally, I am one of the 20% who were eligible but did not vote. The reason being that my original voting slip was stolen from my letterbox and I was not able return the replacement slip in time. (I know the original was stolen because it mysteriously turned up in my letterbox several weeks later, coincidentally, following a conversation I had with a neighbour – I think I stirred their conscience.)

The Plebiscite

40% of eligible Australians voted in the 2017 referendum against same sexed marriages. Given that in the 2016 census 52% of Australians identified as Christians it’s possible they made up a good proportion of the those who objected. Islamics (2.6% of the population) may also have had religious ideologies that persuaded them to vote in favour of only recognising opposite sex marriages.

As a general rule, Hinduism (1.9%), Buddhism (2.4%), and Sikhism (0.5%) don’t have any offical stance on the matter, so their votes could not have been based on faith. Judaism (0.4%) also generally has a progressive view of sexuality, except for fundamentalists, of which there are not many in Australia.

As for any of the 30% of Australians who identified as non-religious or other spiritual beliefs, who may have voted against same sexed marriages, they presumably did so due to personal convictions (or lack of education about sexual orientation).

Based upon the circumstantial evidence of many forms of Christianity having adverse attitudes towards homosexuality and transgenderism, I am quietly confident that it was this sector of the population who predominately objected to same sex marriages.

Of course, not all Christians agree with Biblical inferences that homosexuals are an abomination to humankind. If that was the case, and all Christians voted in the referendum, then the Christian ethos probably would not have prevailed and same sex marriage would not have been legalised. I guesstimate 40-50% of Christians voted against same sex marriages.

Part of Morrison’s selling point of a Religious Discrimination bill was to “bring balance” to religious freedoms. In other words, people who were pissed that the majority of Australian citizens democratically voted in favour of same sex balance, needed appeasing, or more precisely, given the right to discriminate. Somehow, this was going to fill gaps and make things fair for everyone.

Sexual orientation and gender identity issues have an extensive history that extends far beyond Australia’s colonisation and the formation of organised religions like Christianity, and looking at these helps to shed light on current arguments … Dear Australians #2.3: Let’s Talk About Sex …

This blog is part of a series that I hope will encourage deep, thoughtful, respectful discussions about issues relating to the Religious Discrimination bill. If you’d like to be kept up to date, subscribe to receive notifications of new posts by email.


Dear Australians #2.1: We Need to Have a Heart to Heart Conversations About the Religious Discrimination Bill. I’ll Start …


Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). Main Features – Results.; c=AU; o=Commonwealth of Australia; ou=Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Rights in Australia – Parliamentary Education Office. (n.d.).

Feature image: – link to –

Dear Australians #2.1: We Need to Have a Heart to Heart Conversations About the Religious Discrimination Bill. I’ll Start …

Dear Australians,

I’m sure many of you are as relieved as I am that the Religious Discrimination Bill (also known as the Bigot Bill) was not passed, thus preventing religious groups from being given the right discriminate against . However, what some people appear to have missed is that the bill was always about much more than giving bigots the right to legally judge, humiliate, and vilify others due to their sexual identity and orientation. Behind the smokescreen of celebrating sexual liberations, the nuances of religious abuse and coercive practices remain unaddressed.

As a therapist, I advocate the practice of not letting issues hide under the metaphorical carpet. While the Religious Discrimination Bill has been shelved indefinitely, the whole saga brought up a few things we best discuss now before things boil over again. Let’s take this opportunity to reflect and have a heart to heart about what has taken place. I’ll start. I’ve got quite a bit to say so I recommend you make yourself a cuppa …

In response to my first letter to Australians, Dear Australians, We Need Coercive Control Laws Not a Religious Discrimination Bill, I received the feedback from someone who said: “I didn’t even know Australia already had freedom of religion laws”. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this. From police officers to common citizens, there is a lack of understanding of current legalisations relating to religious practices which, once understood, provide insights into deceptive government behaviour that should raise everyone’s eyebrows. Three key points are:

  1. The Religious Discrimination bill was an attempt to undermine the Australian constitution.
  2. Historical events in Australia and Biblical times are not well known or understood.
  3. Freedom of Religion cannot be discussed without also considering religious abuse.

As with many complex issues, in order to appreciate how factors interrelate, examining history explains a lot about how we came to current circumstances. I’ll start with Australian history and why we are a secular nation.

Penal Colony and Church Act

Australia began as a penal colony with convicts being sent from the United Kingdom. At the time of the first fleet, 1788, the dominate religion in England was Protestant Christianity, Church of England. The supreme governor was their monarch, King George III. (The current Supreme Governor of the Church of England is Queen Elizabeth II).

Convicts sent to Australia in 1788 were expected to attend weekly outdoor Church services. The first church building established in Sydney Cove, 1793, was Anglican (another way of saying Church of England). The chapel was burnt down in six years later. The arson attack is believed to have been done by disgruntled convicts who objected to being forced to attend; this many have been inspired by atheistic beliefs or devotion to an alternative form of Christianity.

Most of the convicts were Anglican, however, one tenth were Irish Catholics, with smaller percentages of other faiths, like nonconformist Protestants. Angst between Christian denominations began in Europe during the reformation era (c.1517-1648).

When King Henry VIII founded the Church of England in 1534 many Catholics fled to Ireland, thus preceding English/Irish conflicts were often Anglican/Catholic tensions. A cycle of revolts and tensions persisted between English Protestants and Irish Catholics for many centuries.

In 1798, when a major conflict broke out in Ireland, Catholic rebels were transported to New South Wales.

In 1804, Catholics in New South Wales attempted to overthrow British rule. Consequently, Catholics priests were forbidden from practicing clerical rites in Australia for 16 years.

To help ease religious tensions, in 1836 Governor Bourke introduced the first Church Act. This provided subsidies for land and the building of chapels to Anglican, Catholic, and Presbyterian denominations equally. Members of the Anglican Church objected to the Act because they believed the Church of England should have more distinction over other Christians.

Overall, the Church Act successfully brought about a sense of peace, which was further enhanced with later amendments that made provisions for Jewish, Methodist, and Baptist communities. Despite government support for all religions, segregation took place with Catholic-only or Presbyterian-only workplaces. “No Catholics/Jews/Protestants/Other need apply” was not an uncommon on employment ads. Social expectations of marrying within one’s faith remained the norm. Name calling and derogatory remarks about other’s beliefs was commonplace, even amongst children who were echoing their parents prejudices.

Australia Constitution 1901

As Australia moved towards forming a constitution, the men in Commonwealth government roles had varying Christian heritages. Through a conscious awareness of how conflicts can arise from any one religion dominating others, like what occurred in Europe and Australia’s early colonial days, section 116 of Australia’s constitution stated:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

According to Australia’s first census in 1911, 96% percent of Australians considered themselves to be Christian. Thus, it can be assumed that section 116 was aimed at ensuring no “Christian” religion was to be imposed. I highly doubt there was foresight to perceive the great diversity of religion that Australia would have in 2022, nonetheless, its intention come to fruition, mostly.

The high number of Christians in Australia’s early days did not include First Nations people. Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders were viewed as being more like animals than people, let alone communities who deserved to have the right to freely exercise their religion. It was not until 1971 that First Nation People were indiscriminately counted in an Australian census.

Between 1860 and 1870 landowners could acquire indigenous workers then force them to work on sugar fields, as pearl divers, on cattle and sheep properties, and other hard laborious positions. If paid, it was only a fraction of what white workers received; some reports claiming indigenous Australians received 3% of Europeans earnings. (Reminder: Scott Morrison has a very narrow view of slavery looks like.)

Mistreatment of indigenous Australians was commonplace and long standing. All the way up to the 1960s, countless Australian aboriginals were taken from their families and incarcerated. Many were forced to live in (Christian) missions or on reserves with freedoms to move around cities and towns only allowed if they had an exemption certificate. These were dubbed “dog tags” and in order to get one, individuals had to promise to give up their culture, language, family, and religious beliefs.

The secular basis of the Australian constitution was not specifically designed to be tolerant of Eastern faiths like Hinduism, Buddhism, or Sikhism, either. From the time of the gold rush onwards, Asians, particularly Chinese, were the target of racial discrimination. From additional taxes being placed upon them if they wanted a gold mining license, to the first Immigration Restriction Act and Regulations of 1861, racism towards “heathens” prevailed.

The government’s white’s only polices, banning immigration from all non-European countries, came into effect in 1901, the same time as the constitution.

As for those who wanted to follow traditional beliefs, like Celtics, or other paganism, section 116 wasn’t designed for them either. The Christian assumption that such practices were demonic prevailed, as evidenced by state laws that forbade witchcraft, sorcery, and fortune telling. In 2005, Victoria became the last state to remove laws prohibiting paganism and occult-based beliefs and practices.

Christianity has a long history of non-tolerance towards alternative belief systems in a variety of contexts. It’s an attitude that supposes indigenous Australians, Asians, pagans, or anyone other than a Christian, have inferior religious beliefs, therefore they don’t really matter. (As I’ve discussed before, Christian supremacy has significant links to Aristotelian philosophy.) Colonialist Australia inevitably inherited some of its attributes of superiority from its English roots, but our constitution is secular, so perhaps our hearts were in the place and we just need to do a bit of reflection?

Australia’s move away from bigotry and hatred has occurred in steps, baby steps … alongside our progression has been an increased global awareness of human rights … stay tuned for the next blog – Dear Australians #2.2: Australia and Human Rights.

Over the coming days I will be publishing more letters to Australians that I hope will encourage deep, thoughtful, respectful discussions about issues relating to the Religious Discrimination bill. If you’d like to be kept up to date, subscribe to receive notifications of new posts by email.


Korff, J. (2021, March 29). Creative Spirits: Australia has a history of Aboriginal slavery. Creative Spirits.

National Museum of Australia – Bourke Church Act. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2022, from

Places of worship | Religion, church and missions in Australia. (2016, May 17). State Library of NSW.

Early Christian Symbols, the Anchor, Peacock, and Wand

The image of Jesus dying on a cross is a common icon of contemporary Christianity, however, such symbolism is a far cry from how Early Christians depicted their saviour. Evidence in the form of artworks from Early Christian households and catacombs reveal a very different set symbolism to what today’s followers are familiar with. Three examples of lost Christian symbolism include the anchor, peacock, and wand. 

  1. Anchor 

Anchor in the the Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome, 2nd Century (Source: Persecution Worldwide)

An anchor suggests being secured to a location, like a boat whose anchor is tied to the shore. It was a metaphor used to infer a Christian needs to secure (anchor) themselves to Jesus Christ, especially when the seas of life are rough and windy. This interpretation is supported by Hebrews 6:19-20 in which anchor is specifically referred to as being “hope”:

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. 

(Jesus being a High Priest of the Melchizedek order is an issue for another day.)

2. Peacock

Sarcophagus of Archbishop Theodoric, marble, 6th century; in the church of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, Italy.

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

Ancient legends (which the people of Jesus’ lifetime were familiar with) claimed a peacock’s flesh couldn’t riot. Therefore, the peacock was used as a symbol of Jesus’ immortality. Further, peacocks represent rebirth because each year they lose their feathers and regrow them. Thus the peacock was also a reference to Jesus’ resurrection and annual celebrations of his birth (some sources say peacocks begin regrowing their feathers around December 25 each year, however, I haven’t been able to confirm this information). Coincidentally, symbolising Jesus as a peacock went out vogue around the same time as Christianity became the official religion of Rome. 

3. Wand

Early Christian depiction of Jesus performing magic with a wand

Source: Biblical Archaeology Society

Early Christians depicted Jesus as being like a magician who healed people by waving a wand. This symbolism could be a link to Moses’ staff (that he raised to magically part waters). Alternatively, given that Christianity has Greek roots as well as Hebrew, the symbolism could be a transference from Hermes and Athena who both waved wands to perform magic. Either way, the depiction of Jesus with a wand presented an easy to read symbol that denoted magical powers that people living in the first century could understand. 

Why the Change of Symbolism? 

Christianity did not evolve in a vacuum, it borrowed heavily from the cultures it emerged from, namely Hebrew and Greek. Most people were illiterate, therefore using pre-existing symbols like the anchor, peacock, and wand enabled easy and effective transfer of concepts. 

The transformation of Early Christian symbols into alternatives which today’s Christians are more familiar with coincides with Emperor Constantine’s conversion and Christianity becoming the main religion of Rome. 

While the essence of Christian faith continued to promote the meanings behind the old symbolism, new iconography that was more appealing to a broader Roman audience developed. In contemporary media studies this is referred to as using codes and conventions that reflect social values. 

To the Roman mind, the anchor, peacock, and wand did not evoke the strength of a saviour who was destined to rule the world. To demonstrate Jesus was master of all, He had to be shown as being stronger than pagan Gods. Therefore, the Early Christian’s image of Jesus as a young, shaven, young boy, transformed into a larger than life mature bearded man, not unlike His revivals Jupiter and Neptune. The process of rebranding Christianity from a small fringe sect of believers into a mainstream religion occurred gradually between the 400s – 600s. 

For more discussions on Early Christianity and Symbolism see

Raw Flesh, St Valentine, Forbidden Marriages, and Great Uncertainty

One of the wonderful things about the develop of technology is that facts can be checked in an instant. Today, February 14, which is known throughout the Westernised world as Valentines Day has presented such an opportunity.

While casually scrolling through Facebook, I came across a post about the Ancient Roman Festival of Lupercalia and it’s links to Christianity and Saint Valentine. The story was extraordinary, so I decided to check out the facts, and as bizarre as some of the antidotes are, the story rings true, well kind of.


Lupercalia was a she-wolf Roman goddess who nurtured the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.

Capitoline Wolf (Capitoline She-Wolf), c.1200s, Louve, Paris

(Source: Public Domain)

Each year on February 15, the Romans partook in a festival that involved animal sacrifice (goat and dog to be precise), dancing, and encouragement of sensual pleasures. Part of the tradition involved two priests running around with sections of the sacrificed animals and slapping the bloody flesh on women. To be hit was an omen of fertility. You could say this was authentic Roman(ce) behaviour.

As the years progressed, and Christianity became the formal religion of Rome (313 CE), the pagan festival lost popularity. In 494 CE it was completely forbidden by Pope Gelasius I. The celebration of St Valentine on February 14 is generally considered to be a Christianised Holy Day designed to take the attention away from the pagan Lupercalia festival. Moreover, the aim was to encourage a more measured, spiritualised version of love. In other words, traditions like poetry and note writing were considered more tasteful than slapping a single women with a hunk of raw flesh. It is times like these I completely agree with Christian values.

How does St Valentine fit into the picture?

Legends says Emperor Claudius II Gothicus (reigned c.268-70) cancelled marriages so as to encourage more men to fight in battle. Apparently, males were hesitant to go out and get killed while trying to kill other men in order for the Emperor to take control of more men, lands, possessions, and everything. Why would men be hesitant? The Emperor decided it was the usual cause of all men’s problems, women. Clearly, it was the wives and girlfriends stopping men from obeying their Emperor. If the men couldn’t get engaged or married then that would surely encourage them to go to war.

If the scenario sounds a bit doggy, then you’re not alone. Concise records (if they ever existed) to confirm these events have not survived. But since when has truth got in the way of a good story?

Popular opinion declares that the Christian priest, Valentine, married couples in secret, thus spoiling Emperor Claudius’ scheme. Subsequently, Valentine was hunted down, put in prison, and killed on February 14. If true, I’m not really sure how to rate it as a romantic gesture, but is it a good example of Christians being martyred for their oppositional behaviour, not their beliefs per se.

Saint Valentine Blessing an Epileptic

(Source: Public Domain)

Several other stories are also in circulation, such as Valentine falling in love with his prison guard’s daughter and sending her a love note signed “Your Valentine”. Christian priests weren’t forbidden to marry back in those days, so it’s not impossible. Still, not to sure where it ranks on the romance score board. Personally I’d be a bit creeped out if I were that prison guard’s daughter. I mean, the guy was on dead row, was it true love or just opportunity?

There are also reports of Valentine miraculously curing a judge’s daughter of blindness. This swayed the law official into converting to Christianity, and resulted in the release of several Christians from prison. (Saints in those days seemed to be much better at performing miracles than more recent eras.)

The Catholic Online website presents a few more theories about Valentine without giving absolute credence to any of them. It does, however, concede that there is a real St Valentine whose feast day is February 14, despite the Church not really knowing who he really is or why they are honouring him.


Somewhere in the mix of Valentines Day traditions are rumours that Juno Fructifier celebrations took place on February 14. Juno, the chief Goddess of Rome, was celebrated with references to childbirth, and husbands giving wives presents. While this may be accurate, other sources indicate Juno was celebrated on March 1. The dates are close enough to speculate that Juno worship influenced St Valentine’s Day celebrations, albeit, it isn’t a perfect match.

Final Word: Uncertainty

Love is a great thing to celebrate and February 14 is as good a day as any; however, as for the reasons why it has become a tradition, I have a great level of uncertainty about the justifications. Then again, word romance itself refers to imitating the strategies Roman soldiers used to woo women, so maybe the all the legends, stories, and antidotes are appropriate?

Did Romans Kill Jesus Twice?: The Beardless Versus the Bearded Jesus

Most Christians think of Jesus as being a bearded man. This is not surprising given all the paintings, movies, and other forms of Christian iconography that present him in this manner. Therefore, it often comes as a surprise for people to learn Early Christians had a different image of their saviour, one of a clean shaven youth. To appreciate how Jesus aged and grew a beard, it’s helpful to go back to the basics.

Early Christianity, c.30-313 CE 

According to biblical accounts, Christianity began with a person known as Jesus of Nazareth wandering around Galilee talking to crowds. He spoke in metaphors then later explained the symbolic meaning of the parables to twelve devoted followers (Matthew 13:34). Jesus also established some traditions (like blessing bread and wine) and passed on doctrines relating to life on earth and in the afterlife.

After dying on a cross, Jesus rose from the dead, and his disciples were blessed with the Holy Spirit (Pentecost). The disciples then became apostles (Greek for messengers) and wandered the Roman Empire and beyond spreading what was called the Good News.

In some instances, the apostles spoke to crowds, however, this was dangerous because the messages they conveyed were considered to be a threat by some authorities. Further, while some level of religious tolerance existed, failure to honour Roman deities was unlawful. The Jewish community had an exemption from this law and some Early Christians attempted to argue that because Christianity was an offshoot of Judaism they should have the same privilege. However, many were unsuccessful and died as martyrs for refusing to hail Jove, Zeus, Aphrodite, etc.

As an alternative to preaching and practicing the religion in open spaces, Early Christians gathered in private houses. Exactly what took place in these gatherings is unclear. It is generally assumed there was some sort of shared meal (or Eucharist), alongside sharing Jesus’ parables, having theological discussions, and communal prayer sessions.

Churches founded by the apostles and/or affiliates of the apostles were based in Athens, Antioch, Ethiopia, Constantine, Armenia, Milan, and other locations around Europe, Africa, and Asia Minor. Particularly influential Churches were established in Corinth (by Paul), Alexandria (by Mark), and Rome (by Peter). Each Church had an overseer, which in Ancient Greek was called a bishop. The apostles were the first bishops, and they passed on the responsibility of overseeing Churches to others.

One of the original roles of Church overseers was to ensure each developing Christian community maintained a level of unity with others. There was no formal Bible in these humble beginnings, information was mostly passed on through word of mouth, with, of course, supplementary letters that later became part of the New Testament (i.e., the epistles or written communications from overseers to emerging Christian communities, many of which are credited to the apostle, Paul).

The Christian Bible does not contain any detailed account of Jesus’ physical appearance, therefore when Christians started painting his image, they did so in accordance with verbal information or out of their imagination. Potentially the oldest example is in a house Church in Dura-Europos, c.232, modern day Syria. 

A fresco painted on the wall of this dwelling depicts the Biblical scene of Jesus healing a paralysed man. The screenshot below taken from a short documentary video shows Jesus as a beardless man. 

Fresco of Jesus Healing a Paralysed Man, Dura Europos, screenshot 6:08 

Other examples of Jesus depicted in this manner are rare but not entirely uncommon. The beardless Jesus was also often portrayed with a wand that he waved around to conduct miracles (Also see: Biblical Archaeology Society: Jesus Holding a Magic Wand?)

Early Christains sometimes faced persecution, although this wasn’t necessarily as rampant as some accounts like to give. I imagine the situation was a bit like the number of QAnon believers who get arrested isn’t as high as the actual number of people who follow QAnon theories; similarly, the Early Christians who got persecuted didn’t necessarily experience this because of their beliefs per se, but because they were causing civil unrest. (Please note, I’m not using this example to try to imply any truth or falsity about QAnon or Christianity, it’s just a way of conceptualizing it was rebellious behaviours and stirring up troubles on the streets which led to people like Emperor Nero giving orders for Christian executions.)

On a theological level, some philosophers disagreed with Christianity, like Porphyry of Tyre (c.234–305 CE), wrote treatises Against the Christians. Therefore, considering Early Christians did get a bit of a bad rap, it’s not surprising many tried to stay under the radar.

Emperor Constantine (Reign: 306-37)

Everything changed In 313 CE when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. His personal conversion was recorded as being due to having a vision of a cross in the sky and being told “In this sign conquer”. Subsequently, the Roman army’s standard incorporated the Christian Chi Rho, ⳩. (The Chi Rho comprises of the first two letters of the Greek spelling of Christ, ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, superimposed upon one another. X + P = ⳩.)

Constantine’s labarum, with a wreathed Chi Rho from an antique silver medal

(Source: Wikimedia Commons).

With Christianity’s rise to prominence, house Churches gave way to buildings that were funded by the Roman government. Hence, a relationship between Church and State developed.

Constantine ordering a council meeting (the Council of Nicea) to clarify doctrines and unify Christianity. The religion had become fractured with different groups having opposing opinions regarding issues like celibacy (and self castration), the Virgin birth (not everyone believed this was real), and the nature of the trinity (some believed God created Jesus, others believed Jesus always co-existed with God). Once matters were decided, opinions became canonised law. (The underlying assumption was along the lines of, when groups of wise men debated topics their final conclusions are the result of God speaking through them, therefore, must be honoured.) Once Christian canons were formed, anyone who disagreed could be labeled a heretic and sent into exile.

Under Emperor Constantine’s influence, leadership roles within Christianity became more formalised and a ranking system, like that of Roman military, began to develop. Apostle Peter’s leadership, as the overseer of the Church in Rome, was especially honoured. The Bible verse in which Jesus says “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18) justified the successive line of bishops in Rome being distinguished above others. Peter’s lineage was the overseers of overseers, bishops of bishops, in other words, Papal rulership.

The first reference to Roman bishop-hood was Bishop/Pope Siricius (c.334-399), although the title and power wasn’t fully inaugurated till a few centuries later.

Romanised Christianity 

Emperor Constantine was the ruler of Rome, and his endorsement of Christianity Romanised beliefs and customs.

Constantine’s cousin and successor, Emperor Julian, tried to revert Rome back to the traditional Gods and Goddesses, for example, by putting funds into restoring pagan temples. However, his efforts were unsuccessful, partly due to having a short reign (361-63). He died due to a spear wound obtained in the interlude of a battle with Persians. It is rumoured the fatal blow was not the enemies (Persians), but a Christian, moreover, a Roman Christian.

Julian was succeeded by Emperor Jovian (363-4), a Christian who detested paganism, thus funds went back into Christian Churches and away from pagan temples.

Emperor Valentinian I (364-75) was the next in line and he too supported Christianity. Valentinian reinstated many Christians into positions of power, like Constantine had done before him. Valentinian also handed the Eastern half of Rome over to his brother, Valens, to rule as co-Emperor while he focused on the West. 

Moving on a bit, Eastern Rome became known as the Byzantine Empire and it maintained Imperial authority until 1453 when the Ottoman Empire took control of the capital city, Constantinople. In the West, Rome went through a series of challenges before completely falling in 476. However, this may be viewed as only a political collapse; the role of Bishop in Rome had increased in power by this point, albeit, Papal rulership was not recognised throughout all of Christendom. Many viewed the Byzantine Emperor as head of the Church, and they had a significant say (to say the least) about who sat on Peter’s throne in Rome. Thus, at this point in history it is painstakingly clear that the grass roots of Christianity had subsided and Church leadership positions were held by affiliates of families who were powerful, wealthy, and of nobel status.

Now back to Jesus’ and his beard … 

One of the first appearances of Jesus with a beard comes from a Roman catacomb, late fourth century (after Constantine had Christianised Rome). He is depicted with the iconic halo and the Alpha and Omega letters which symbolise his eternal nature from the beginning to end.

Bust of Christ. c. Late 300s. Mural painting from the catacomb of Commodilla.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Another example of an early bearded Jesus, also from Rome, is the Apsis Mosaic, c.410-17CE. Not only is Jesus a mature man, his grand status is emphasised by gold paint and his stature is larger than those around him. This is a far cry from Early Christian depictions of a modestly cloaked young Jesus who blended in with his peers (see images below for comparison).

Apsis Mosaic, c.410-17CE, Santa Pudenziana, Rome

(Source: Wikimedia Commons

Christ Teacher, c.300s, Catacombe di Domitilla, Rome

(Source: Wikimedia Commons

It’s speculated that the grand new Jesus look was part of a broader propaganda campaign run by Roman leadership to sway pagans towards Christianity. Like todays internet memes, the craze needed time to build some traction before it really took off. The young looking Jesus still featured in some pieces like Baptism of Christ, all the way up to the late 400s/early 500s.

Baptism of Christ. c.late 400s/early 500s, Mosaic in Arian Baptistry. Ravenna, Italy,

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In the Italian mosaic above, Jesus is the young man in the center of the image with a halo around his head; he is submerged in water (the River Jordan), while John the Baptist, on the right, gives him blessings. The dove above represents the Holy Spirit coming down. The figure on the left is usually interpreted as being the personification of the river – in the ancient world it was normal to view bodies of water as gods.

I wonder if the inclusion of a Roman God in a Christian scene was a means of appeasing old laws in the event the government decided to revert back to paganism and insisted Roman Gods were honoured? Alternatively, it’s plausible Christians continued to believe bodies of water had spiritual properties that warranted recognition; the fusion of pagan beliefs with Christianity has many nuances.

As an alternative theory to Early Christians depictions of Jesus being based upon eyewitness accounts, his youthfulness as the main icon of the religion, can be interpreted as symbolic of Christianity being a young religion.

Those in the camp who believe Jesus was always a symbolic character can also note his early appearance was similar to the Greco-Roman God, Apollo:

Apollo of the Belvedere, c. 120–140 CE, Vatican Muesum, Vatican City. (Apollo was associated with healing, medicine, light, truth, music, and much more. Apollo was the son of the Sun God, Helios.)

(Source: Wikipedia Commons)

By the end of the fourth century, Christianity was not so young. It had become a major religion, and the leadership of Rome who were promoting the faith were trying to convert citizens on a grand scale. You could say, the youthful Jesus did not pass marketing promotion standards. Jesus needed to be seen as all powerful, a true rival to his opponents, like Jupiter or Neptune (Zeus and Poseidon in Greek).

Below is an example of one of Jesus’ competitor deities, Neptune. Neptune is the central figure, his divine status emphasized by a halo around his head (halos were standard symbol to differentiate the divine from the earthly). Neptune’s left hand holds a trident pointing upwards to the heavens, while his right holds a fish pointing to the sea. He is riding a water chariot with four houses, to the left is a centaur and to the right a goddess. Surrounding the central image are references to the four seasons, as symbolized by women in various states of dress, and in between are farming duties being carried out by male figures.

Triumph of Neptune, c.200s, Roman mosaic Bardo Museum Tunis

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The grand status of Neptune being promoted by sporting a beard may be missed on contemporary audiences, but not so to people of the past. To Greco-Roman citizens, a beard indicated superiority and intellect, hence, Zeus, the supreme God of Olympus, also had a beard. (Zeus was known as Jupiter or Jove to Romans.)

Laurel-wreathed head of Zeus on a gold stater, Lampsacus, c. 360–340 BC

(Source: Public Domain)

Zeus was ether, earth, sky, and everything, so if he had a beard then surely there was truth in the beauty of a beard? Greek philosophers certainly thought so. This line of thinking prevailed all the way up to the 1700s when universities funded studies to ascertain empirical proof of facial hair being a physical indicator of superiority and intellect. Their hypothesis was not supported, but the fact that it was an academic discussion goes to show how far the impression went.

When Christian artists began portraying Jesus with a beard, it can be presumed they were doing so with the knowledge that the facial hair would be associated with superiority, as opposed to showing a beardless Jesus.

Jesus’ beard raised his image from that of a vibrant young person who mingled with commoners to that of an authoritative, wise man.

Christ Pantocrator, c.500s. Jesus as a saviour with a beard, Saint Catherine’s Monastery,Sinai.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the above example of an early Christ Pantocrator (i.e., pantocrator means “Almighty” or “all-powerful”) it is interesting to note Jesus is holding a book rather than holding a weapon, like Neptune’s trident or Zeus’ thunder bolt. Conversely, the Book could be viewed as a tool which Jesus metaphorically defeats his enemies (i.e., pagans? Jewish? Muslims?)

Arguably, no Early Christian associated Jesus with an authoritative text because none existed. Jesus was the living Word (John 1:1,14). The Christian Bible was a Roman invention.

The Roman Bible, the Vulgate …

In the later part of the fourth century, Pope Damasus hired a leading scholar of the era, Jerome, to get the job done. Jerome worked tirelessly for years translating Hebrew and Greek writings to produce the first full Old and New Testament in Latin. The Bible was completed in about 400 CE and became known as the Vulgate. It was the only legal version of the Bible for several hundred years.

Jerome’s work involved sorting through a multitude of documents and different versions of the Jesus narrative. Some accounts were completely thrown out and labeled heresy, while what remained became canonized. Jerome’s job description included placing the writings in an appropriate order, however, chapters didn’t have names like today’s Christians are familiar with, that came much later.

Much could be said about Jerome’s work, and he’s certainly received a lot of criticisms over the years. To put it briefly, given the Romanisation of Christianity changed the traditional appearance of Jesus from a young, freshly shaved youth with a wand, to an old man with a beard and book, I don’t hold much faith in the authenticity or authority of said book (although the Vulgate’s description of Moses with horns is pretty cool!)

I am by no means the first person to find it oddly ironic that Jesus nominated Peter, the bishop of Rome, to be the head of the Church. This was more than convenient to Constantine (and his predecessors) who wanted make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Nonetheless, despite a multitude of issues, Jerome’s work is still the backbone of contemporary Christianity.

By the end of the sixth century, depictions of Jesus with a beard were commonplace throughout Eastern and Western Churches. Specifically, the iconography of Jesus holding the Bible in his left hand and giving a blessing with his right was particularly enduring. 

Medallion with Christ from an Icon Frame. c. 1100, Byzantine Empire

(Source: The Met Museum

The transformation of the Early Christian Jesus into the Roman version was more than skin deep. The first believers focused on the Good News of imminent peace on earth. Consequently, they favoured a representation of the Christ as a Good Shepherd who looked after his flock. 

The Good Shepherd, c. 300–350, at the Catacombs of Domitilla, Rome

(Source: Wikwand)

The Good Shepherd, c.425, Ravenna, Italy

(Source: Wikwand)

The further one moves into Romanised Christianity, the images become more about suffering than prosperity, as notable in depictions of the crucifixion. No Early Christians depicted the crucifixion, this type of imagery did not come into vogue until appropriately 1000 CE. 

A crowded Gothic narrative treatment, workshop of Giotto, c. 1330

(source: Wikimedia Commons)


As a final twist in the beardless versus bearded Jesus saga, in Christ’s lifetime Jewish tradition required men to have beards, however, the Roman fashion was to be beardless. Therefore, as a Jew, you’d expect Jesus had a beard, and it may have been this assumption that lead to facial hair being depicted (or it was a way to appeal to Jews?). But if that is the case, why did Early Christians depict a shaved face? Is this yet another example of Jesus transgressing against Jewish laws?

Symbolic representations have a way of adhering to the cultural values of their creators, and conversely they shape the values of developing cultures. The young beardless version of Jesus says something about the Early Christians that is not present in the Romanised version of a middle-aged, bearded man. It is as though the Romans killed Jesus twice, firstly in the flesh, and secondly in symbolic iconography.


Jeremy Norman’s History of Information. (n.d.). The Earliest Christian House Church, With the Most Ancient Christian Paintings : History of Information. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from

Rattini, K. B. (n.d.). Constantine—facts and information. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from

Stewart, A. C. (2011). The Earliest History of the Christian Gathering: Origin, Development and Content of the Christian Gathering in the First to Third Centuries. By VALERIY A. ALIKIN. The Journal of Theological Studies, 62(2), 732–734.

Christian Principles, What are They?: Supplemental to Dear Australians, We Need Coercive Control Laws Not. Religious Discrimination Bill

In response to my open letter to all Australians aimed at raising awareness of the implications of the Morrison government’s legalisation of religious abuse, sorry “Religious Discrimination Bill”, I received a comment stating that Australia was built upon Christian principles and therefore it should continue to do so. Another commenter then accurately pointed out that Australia was secular, not Christian.

Secular politics means our government is supposed to work independently of religious or spiritual matters. Therefore, to have a federal Religous Discrimination bill that overrides all other discrimination acts in each state and territory is a bold move away from nurturing a secular society that is supposed to support all religious and non-religious people equally. I have made my views of Morrison’s apparent biases and hidden agenda to tilt the scales of secularity towards religions very clear, so I won’t flog that horse any more.  

Having said that, I think it’s also good to consider the idea of “Christian principles”. Many Australians have some form of Christian heritage, so what are these principles that we supposedly need a law designed specifically to protect them? 

Crickey, there so many versions of Christianity: Catholicism, Lutheranism, Methodist, Eastern Churches, Latter Day Saints, Reformed Christian, and many more, including Pentecostal. However, on a theological level, all these variations of Christianity involve believing in one God, who is the creator of heaven and earth, a Nazarene dude who lived 2000 years ago is the saviour, and if you just believe in these two things then you’re on your way to heavenly bliss once you’ve kissed this mortal toil goodbye. 

But wait, there’s more. To embody these beliefs you need love. You need to love thy neighbours and you need to love enemies. Everything about Christianity after these factors, I would argue, has more to do with traditions, rituals, rules, guidelines, specifications, and cultural values that have been added on to the core principle of Christianity, love. 

Love, in the Christian sense, is supposeded to be non-discriminatory. Jesus set the tone for this standard by hanging out with corrupt tax collectors, the bourgeois of fishing villages, ex-prostitutes, and crowds of everyday people. I’m yet to find a convincing Biblical text were Jesus said we should love everyone but discriminate against the gays (yes they existed 2000 years ago, yawn), and the Jews (Jesus was Jewish, why would he discriminate against them, unless the were pompous hypocrites?), women because they have less superego than men, sorry I mean spirit (Freudian appropriation of Greek theology came much later), or any other criteria. As for those foreigners, especially those with a different faith, I’m pretty sure Jesus said something about being a good Surmaritian. But what would I know? I’m not a religious leader nor a pastor. Maybe I’m just too simple and cannot see all the regulations around loving people like some other Christians can?

Perhaps loving everyone is not the core principle of Christianity? I mean, if it were, why would we need to create a legal document that says a person’s religious beliefs need to be protected? Of course, the Religious Discrimination bill isn’t just about Christianity. The next biggest religion in Australia is Islam (I’m skipping over atheism because it’s not a religion; my apologies to the 30% of Australians associate themselves with this group). I’m not a Muslim, however, I’m aware that Islamics have five pillars of faith. They’re kind of like the Christian theological principles of believing in one God, honouring Muhammad (=/≠ Christian’s honouring of Jesus), and maintenance of traditions, etc. Beyond all that, love of Allah is really important and can be shown by loving others.

The next biggest religion in Australia is Buddhism. This has a very non-attachment kind of philosophy, however, paradoxically encourages love in all scenarios. Kind of like love everyone equally but stay non-attached to expectations and rigidity. Buddhism doesn’t have a supreme God that demands to be worshiped but it is open to the idea that spiritual beings are a thing. 

The last big religion I’ll mention is Hinduism. It’s the oldest known religion around the world and recognises thousands of Gods and Goddesses. Crudely, it’s each to his own regarding which ones should be worshiped. (I find it fascinating that Zoroastrianism – an ancient Babylon/Persian religion – can be traced back to the ancient Hindu texts, the Vedas. And subsequently, Zoroastrianism has links to Judaism and Christianity – stories for another time.) Hinduism places love in the same realm as the divine. 

I know I’m super simplifying complex religious beliefs here, but the bottom line is that regardless of deity/ies a religion venerates,  love for others is a really important component of all major religions (I suspect a lot of atheists also rank love for others as being important). 

Love, unconditional love, means being non-discriminatory. At least, I wish it was that simple. The infamous Hillsong Church illustrates this point well with their message that they love everyone, but if you’re gay then you can’t have an active leadership or ministerial role. Apparently, according to Hillsong, the apostle Paul was super clear on this topic. However, if you ask others, Paul was a clear as mud, and really what he was expressing was the equivalent of an ancient #metoo sentiment. Who should win such an argument? Those who believe the confusing transcript of an ancient text that has had dubious re-writings? (Islam has the similar issues.) Or modern psychological science that says homosexuality is not an illness? (Even psychoanalytic associations have apologised for Freudian ideas that homosexuality is condition that needs to be cured. I’m still patiently waiting on psychology establishments to apologise for Freud’s remarks about females supposedly meaning “Yes” when they say “No” to sexual advancements from males, but that’s yet another story … then again, if freedom of religion goes too far then perhaps the the justice system will return to allowing husbands the right to rape their wives? You know, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22), and that jazz. Personally, I wish there was more awareness of the terms “wife” and “mother” being used symbolically in scripture to represent “church”. Isaac Newton knew this well.)

The issue of sexual orientation and discrimination is an easy one to get lost on when objecting to the Religious Discrimination bill; however, the fact is, the bill goes much deeper than sexuality. Nuances of giving religious bigots of any faith having the right to to express discriminatory statements of beliefs towards others has far reaching ramifications. For example, I know of a Christian group that claims that in order to enter heaven followers must hate their parents. The leader quotes Luke 14:26:

“If any man come to Me and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”

To most of the Christian world, the above quote is figurative speech and/or an example of a family system used to symbolise ancient religious hierarchies. To a fundamentalist who interprets the Bible literally, Luke’s words are justification for tearing families apart. I do not wish to give notoriety to a particular religious leader who enforces this doctrine, so I will not mention them by name. Suffice to say, if legislation is passed that overrides other laws, then such people can and will use ancient texts to support their beliefs and discrimination practices. Being discriminated against for being a parent may sound absurd, but this and even stranger beliefs could be upheld if Morrison’s shortsighted bill goes ahead.

Under current laws, specifically in Victoria, a religious person using coercive practices to indoctrinate others can be charged with radical extremism and hate crimes. I feel some sense of reassurance in knowing the current premier, Dan Andrews, opposes the bill and has stated that if it is passed he will not acknowledge it’s authority within Victoria. As a further act of commitment to anti-discrimination, the Andrews government has very recently amended the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) bill, to ensure religious organisations and schools will no longer be able to sack or refuse to hire people based on protected attributes such as sexuality, gender identity or martial status.

If the federal Religious Discrimination bill is approved acts of prejudice and terrorism will be given the green light. I cannot stress enough that the bill states it provides:

certain statements of belief do not constitute discrimination for the purposes of certain specified Commonwealth, state or territory anti-discrimination laws”. 


In other words, if a religious leader wants to claim that it is their belief that all parents are evil, then they can do so as easily as a religious leader can claim homosexuality is a sin. Not all religious beliefs are created equal.

A few days ago, I posted a copy of my Open Letter on my personal Facebook page. In response, an old friend who is a devout Christian sent a personal message in which they said they said they did not agree with everything I said but they had experiences with “crazy Christians”. The correspondence that continued was a wonderful exchange in which it became evident, despite our differing views, we were connected by the common agreement that love for others is what matters above all else. Their words were not empty. “I’ll do what I can to help,” they said.

The term “crazy” is rude and improper. Nonetheless, it aptly captures the problem with Morrison’s Religious Discrimination bill. While most Christians, Atheists, Islamics, Buddhist, Hindu’s, and others would not dream of hurting others through discriminatory and prejudicial practices or beliefs, the fact remains that there are some “crazy” individuals out there who would. Just as there are “crazy Christians” there are “crazy Islamics”, “crazy Buddhists”, “crazy Hindus”, and other “crazy” religious people who take things to a level of radical extremism, sometimes even going so far as to engage in hate crimes. The right to religious freedom should not override other human rights.

Religious freedom cannot be duly considered without also giving due consideration to religious belief. Alternatively, in consideration that love, moreover, non-discriminatory love, is a prime principle of most major religions no new law to protect the freedom of religion is needed. And finally, as a secular society, non-discrimination (aka love) should be the backbone of our laws.