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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

"You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." G.K.Chesterton

"As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that."C. S. Lewis

"I blog, therefore I am." Anon

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

giving the dog, not the person, the benefit of the doubt

remembering the secular witch hunt of Lindy Chamberlain
With its maelstrom of corruption, cover-ups and incompetence, of hidden agendas, miscarriages of justice and conspiracy theories, it's really no wonder the tale has become such a national legend. It's our JFK.
Jim Schembri

Australian TV is currently showing the mini-series Through my Eyes based on autobiography of Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton detailing the infamous events surrounding the disappearance of her baby Azaria Chamberlain at Ayer’s Rock (Uluru) nearly a quarter of a century ago, a case that has become a piece of Australian folklore.

Lindy always claimed a dingo (native wild dog) took her baby from the tent where she was sleeping, but both popular opinion and received wisdom at the time resoundingly pooh-poohed such "nonsense" and asserted that Lindy had murdered her baby - probably in some weird religious sacrifice that she and her pastor husband, Michael, were involved in as part of their bizarre "fundamentalist" religion. The jury at her trial agreed and Lindy was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder.

It seems just like yesterday that the disappearance of baby Azaria and its tortuous sequel dominated the Australian media and was the talk of all Australia for months, even years on end. Everyone had an opinion... and that was overwhelmingly that Lindy Chamberlain was guilty and had gotten what she deserved.

The only problem was she was innocent; she didn’t kill her baby, a dingo really did take it...

Of course the story is familiar to most Australians, having being the subject of several books, numerous magazine and newspaper articles, television documentaries, endless investigations and a previous mini-series on Australian TV. It is probably best known outside Australia through the 1988 movie made by Fred Schepsi starring Meryl Streep as Lindy and Sam Neill as husband Michael entitled Evil Angels (US title: A Cry in the Dark). The movie was based on the book by lawyer John Bryson which exposed the hysteria that gripped the country, the witch-hunting of the Chamberlains and the shoddy and inquisitorial nature of the entire Crown prosecution case that led to such a striking miscarriage of justice.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight Australians now know that Lindy did not kill her daughter for they know only too well how dangerous dingoes can be. Since the Azaria case there have been any number of well publicised examples of dingoes both entering camper's tents and of attacking, injuring and even killing small children. But back then, despite the fact that this was known by dingo experts, the general public refused to believe Australia’s wild dog could be guilty of such an atrocity. The guilty party just had to be those weird religious fruitcakes Michael and Lindy Chamberlain...

While her sentence was later overturned and she was released and pardoned, the ordeal, the ongoing public humiliation, the innuendos, and the constant gaze of the nation's media eventually destroyed the Chamberlain's marriage and nearly destroyed their faith.

The only crime of the Chamberlains was the fact that they were committed Christians belonging to a sect - the Seventh Day Adventists - that was outside the radar of both the average Australian "intellectual" and the ordinary Australian citizen. In the very secular society which Australia was - and is - strong religious fervour especially of the evangelical kind was seen as the province of ratbags, weirdos, wowsers, and fanatics. Of course the Chamberlains had to be guilty of taking part in some evil religious sacrifice to assuage their brutal and incomprehensible God! In a situation, so apposite of the status of ethics and thinking in the emerging brave new world, the dog, not the person was given the benefit of the doubt.

I remember the Azaria affair very well; it was conducted like a secular inquisition in the courts, the media, around kitchen tables and in workplaces. The case was the talk of Australia. Rumours and innuedos spread from one end of the country to the other. The most ridiculous stories was traded as fact by people who should have known better – but of course didn’t. You know who you are... This was the real crime.

The Chamberlain's apparent "lack of grief", their up-front profession of faith and their trust in God to strengthen them and comfort them in their ordeal were seen as somehow suspicious, strange, unreal, even unnatural to a secular "scientific" society and thus they were not given the traditonal Australian fair go. They were, in fact, the victims of an anti-religious bigotry that has a long history in Australia and other secular nations, demonstrating once again that supposedly rational and scientifically-minded people can be just as irrational, and just as prone to prejudicial beliefs and misconceptions, as any supposedly unenlightened religous person.

Had the law allowed it there is no doubt Lindy Chamberlain would have been burnt at the stake by her accusers egged on by the secular masses baying for her blood.

9:00:00 pm