A couple of weeks ago, I attended an event for young activists and social changers to meet the new UN Youth Representative, Adam Pulford. It’s one of the interactions I’ve got to have with the vibrant team at OurSay, who empower young people to get smart about voting and politics! The idea of the event was to meet Adam and express to him, as samples of the Australian youth he’s representing, what issues matter to us! May I just say, the guy is pretty cool and willing to hear a whole bunch of perspectives instead of sweetening his own agenda by finding kindred spirits to join his bandwagon. Awesome!

When the time came for him to write up all our passions on the board, the responses came thick and loud: gender equality, poverty, nuclear energy, Asian relations, environmental sustainability. And then, keen as mustard to share what matters to me: “spiritual equality”!!

You could’ve heard a pin drop. And if it wasn’t for the guy promoting the benefits of going nuclear as a renewable energy source, I think I probably would’ve been the most unpopular person in the room.

But thankfully, I had a few minds in the room open and inquisitive enough to ask me what ‘spiritual crisis’ was and allow me to get through the night unscathed. But it made me realise the truth of what kind of uphill battle I’m facing, trying to put these issues on the agenda and ensure that people struggling with their spiritual health are provided for in the health sector.

There’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs whenever I get the chance to talk about it further; when I get to share stories of people I’ve met, and circumstances I’ve heard about, and research I’ve read; when I draw the links between spiritual health and issues like Islamophobia, Indigenous empowerment, equality for gay people, imbalances in education, fundamentalism, workplace discrimination and even criminal behaviour. I find that people look at me with big eyes and say “oh yeah!”. They often then remember that fundamentalism was never cured by fundamentalism, fighting fire with fire created nothing but empty landscapes, and indeed most of the positive changes that have occurred in society are from protests-times when we fought for something, not just against it. I feel like finishing these discussions with ‘am I crazy? Seriously, am I speaking English?”

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I could go on for hours about why when two parents whose pram is set on fire, the reports are always “Muslim couple attacked by Australian youths”, and not “Young couple attacked by Catholic gang”? And we wonder why these people go crazy or become so defensive in our culture? Seriously, am I on glue? I’m sure I’m onto something! When the red string connection is drawn between social happenings and religion, many are quick to blame the religion, but more and more people are seeing a health problem at the root of all of these struggles, once it’s explained to them, once we get the chance to share deeper feelings and beliefs.

How can we call the extremists ‘atheists’ and the rest ‘agnostics’? How can we allow priests into AIDS wards to encourage end-of-life conversions to Christianity? How can we speak out so violently against Shari’ah law in Australia without making any reference to how we imposed Anglo-Saxon laws over Indigenous tribal punishment? How can we turn away gay and lesbian refugees over to countries that will imprison or kill them? How can we allow sexual education to be so poor in our schools that there are no answers for religious students needing more specific coaching? How can we be a multicultural nation if we remove all religious education, both institutions and within curriculum? How can we do, and see, and allow, all of these things and think there will be no personal ramifications, no psychological or cultural consequences? Let alone backlash from those involved? Am I on glue?

What I’m hoping to create is connection. Between those who agree with me, those who don’t agree me, those who know what I mean and are seeking the kind of support I’m speaking of. It’s out there, and I’m hoping to connect those people up to. Can I do it alone? Perhaps I’ll have to. But I have a feeling that some people who read this can’t work out whether I’m a genius, or absolutely off my rocker. But if you don’t know, then my mission is clear! It’s possible that I’m right. Then it’s possible you could re-approach that discussion when you come across it again.

If you want to connect, or disagree, or just let me know what you’re doing to support, email me papabayj@gmail.com or tweet me @papabayj.

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