The mother of all oxymorons

David Mansfield

Civil wars, Sydney motorways, Wollongong nightlife and english summers have all come in for a hammering in the world of oxymorons.

And haven’t we given the military a mauling? They even produced a comedy called Army Intelligence.

An oxymoron is a short phrase usually consisting of an adjective and noun that contradict one another.

A tautology, on the other hand (and thanks to sportsman and commentator Rex Mossop and playwright and author Alex Buzo we have enjoyed them in truckloads), is a two-word phrase where both words mean the same thing.

A classic oxymoron is the phrase 'good morning' but, if you are a morning person, it is also a classic tautology.

I have a granddaughter called Patience Mansfield. One of my sons in law, who is married to the aunty of Patience, said upon hearing of the name given to Patience, declared, “Patience Mansfield! That’s an oxymoron.” Being married to a Mansfield he claimed to be speaking from experience.

When I heard his outburst, I responded rather indignantly by saying that Patience Mansfield wasn’t an oxymoron but a tautology. But nobody in the family took me seriously so I patiently stormed out of the room!

But I come to the mother of all oxymorons.

In third place is the laughable little thing we call a rugby league scrum! In fact, the more of the thuggery I watch in the game, I think the name rugby league itself is an oxymoron.

In second place, and much more seriously, is the oxymoron, 'human justice'.

We were recently reminded of the thirty-year judicial process that has vexed the national conscience but finally cleared the Chamberlains.

Who can definitively conclude what is a just outcome for both perpetrators and victims of the Bali bombings, the Bali Nine and Schapelle Corby?

And as for Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, their cases have, and will divide international opinion for a lifetime, if not forever.

But here is the mother of all oxymorons:


It is the doozy of all drop-kick phrases, adopted with such apathetic acceptance that we’ve coined the phrase into one word without question or critique.

So we have the Commonwealth of Australia, yet there are over 100,000 homeless Australians who sleep every night without a roof over their heads (was that just a little tautological?) and we have indigenous Australians who, with few exceptions, live in poverty in every benchmark indicator of health, education, human justice, criminality and common wealth!

We have the Commonwealth of Nations, once known embarrassingly as the British Commonwealth, where it seems that the wealth belongs to a minority of whites and common refers to the rest.

Or we could site the Commonwealth Games. This is really a competition between two, or maybe three, supposedly old friends (now foes on and in the playing surface) who have most of the wealth while the common rest are just there to give the fake impression that this is more than a two horse farce, I mean race.

Perhaps the Commonwealth Games governing body could introduce a cap on the public money wasted on preparing ‘elite’ athletes. The playing field could be evened up a little, much like the salary cap idea in the AFL and the NRL. Perhaps that money could be rechannelled and redistributed to help, just a little, to convince us that we really do believe in an ideology called Commonwealth.

You can imagine how I feel about the Olympics. I don’t want to hear it, because I won’t be able to bear it, that a cent of public money has gone to support a certain swimmer while there is one hungry or homeless person still left in Australia, or anywhere. What was I saying about Human Justice?

Please don’t conclude from all this that I am a lefty pinko. It’s just that I have been praying for decades from my Anglican Prayer Book that I, and others, “would share with justice the resources of the earth, work together in trust and seek the common good.”

Some white middle class African Anglican friends of mine have done some outrageously sacrificial things in their response to such a prayer and the Bible’s call to a life of good works (Ephesians 2:10).

They are committed to Reformed Evangelical Anglican theology and are as passionate as anyone I know about the salvation of souls. But their commitment to biblical Christianity has also led them to acts of grace and sacrificial generosity. God has richly blessed them, and they want to sacrificially share those graces with others.

They have, among other things, been accused of being ‘bleeding liberals’ by some peers, (or should I say right wing, redneck, racists – my words).

I am reminded of the opening lines in the movie Blood Diamond:

Throughout the history of Africa, whenever a substance of value is found, the locals die in great numbers and in misery. This is true of ivory, rubber, gold, oil and now diamonds.

We could, and should, add human flesh and blood to that list.

This is the legacy of civilized Britain and Western Europe. A legacy that is not lost on Africa, and the indigenous Americans (north and south) and Australians and many other parts of the world.

I am reminded of the words of the Living God:

A poor man’s field may produce an abundant harvest, but injustice sweeps it away (Proverbs 13:23).

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God (Proverbs 14:31).

What could be one response of we Christians who make up a significant minority of the white minority in the Commonwealth, albeit in the world, who hold much of the wealth, to the plight of the desperately needy common majority?

Surely it is not guilt, but grace. For:

We know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor so that through his poverty we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:8-9).