in service of the
Dear Scott (if I may),
You have got yourself into a bit of strife from commentators who have found your speech at the Australian Christian Churches Conference to breach the convention of separation between Church and State; also, for your assertion that the devil is using the social media platform for evil.
I on the other hand found much in your talk with which I could agree, my problem is that I see no evidence that what you said is taken at all seriously in your life as Prime Minister.
Let me explain. You made quite a point of agreeing with the late Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and his emphasis the God’s dealing with us, and by implication our dealing with one another, should not be transactional but covenantal. This is a point Lord Sacks makes over, and over again in his writings, and it is a point with which I absolutely concur. As creator, God covenants with the whole creation for good. A covenant is total commitment to the person or object to whom we are bound. As creator God is bound to creation. A marital relationship is covenantal, each partner is bound to the other for good. As Prime Minister you are bound to Australia and its people. Australia and its people must always come before loyalty to your party, or the benefactors of your party. What is the evidence this is so?
You and your government appear always to act in a transactional manner, not in a covenantal way. You transact with stakeholders who support your party’s ideology. You transact on the floor of the house to achieve political victory, not the passing of good policy. You transact with members of your own party who have fallen short of community expectation to minimise fallout for the government rather than remaining committed to the highest possible ethical standards.
Good on you for quoting Jonathan Sacks, but it does not mean very much if action does not reflect the words. It is not good to slip into hyperbole, but the government you are leading looks to be the most transactional Australia has ever experienced.
You made a good point about the importance of community. Humans are essentially social beings. None of us can survive on our own. Believing in community requires a level of altruism and denial of self for the sake of greater good. Private ownership lies at the heart of your government’s ideology. Commitment to profit is the one objective of private ownership. Commitment to public ownership arises out of belief that some aspects of life are best held in common trust for the sake of all. Many acts of privatisation have been catastrophic in term of common good.
You made a particularly good point about value which must be given to every individual, regardless of their identity: politically, ethnically, socially, gender orientation etc. You decried what is appropriately called identity politics. But is not this the very thing your government does? Three-word slogans beloved of your side of politics are all about identity politics. Making sure government largesse is distributed in seats which might pay political return, is identity politics. The theatre of question time is full blown identity politics. I have long been an advocate for environmental responsibility, instead of my arguments being taken seriously I am easily dismissed as a left wing socialist. Lately many on your side of politics dismiss as ‘woke’ arguments for justice and social cohesion. This is full throttle identity politics.
As I heard you speak about valuing everyone for who they are, a picture came into my mind of parliamentary question time. Debate on the culture of parliament as a safe workplace for women was continuing. Tanya Plibersek was making what any reasonable person would agree to be a rational sensible, and mostly party-political free speech. You were at the government dispatch box with your back to her for almost her whole speech. With the best will in the world, I cannot see how valuing the individual for who they are, rather than through their identity (in this case political identity), plays out in your world.
Now let us turn for one moment to social media. I do not personally hold a positive view of this medium and refuse to use Facebook or Twitter. However, ‘the devil’ no more uses this medium for evil than any other instrument in daily life. The truth of the matter is that anything with the capacity for good equally has the capacity for evil. Every human being is capable of both. Triumph and tragedy walk with all of us. Evil does not have an empire of its own. Christians are not dualists. When the light shines the darkness must go. Light must shine on the dark side of social media. Your fellow ‘conservatives’ do not want the light to shine on the basis that everyone has the right to ‘freedom of speech’. It is good to see that your colleague Craig Kelly has had his social media account closed, despite his behaviour being defended by yourself. It should always be unacceptable for those in positions of authority to post material which is irrefutably false. It should also be totally unacceptable for social media to be used to slander others. Part of the problem is that your side of politics runs quickly to shout ‘cancel culture’ when falsehood is being called out for what it is.
As I have said, I am not a fan of social media, no doubt I am a child of my generation, but please do not bat bad behaviour on social media to the ‘devil’ when your side of politics is reluctant to rein in unacceptable behaviour.
Scott, good on you for being unafraid to give testimony to your faith. Good on you for being unafraid to identify with “Australian Christians’. Please be aware however that there are thousands more fellow Christians who struggle to understand how a covenantal Prime Minister can allow families to languish on Christmas Island, or how a covenantal prime minister can remain so equivocal about the future of the planet, or how a covenantal prime minister can remain utterly captive to his party’s ‘identity politics’.
Woke and Cancel Culture
Because of the culturally binary world in which we now live, it is almost impossible to speak without unwanted value being added or subtracted by others. Words or statements are too often enveloped in a pejorative package by those who disagree, thus excusing the package creator from having to deal with the truth being conveyed. Wrapping things as ‘woke’ is one such package of avoidance.
‘Woke’ is now weaponised by those on the right to belittle expressions of value or opinion that appear to challenge preconceived notions of what is acceptable. Those who dare to challenge some of the stories that undergird present day ANZAC celebrations are definitely ‘woke’. Those who support lifting the age of criminal responsibility in children, or wish to see imprisonment as the last resort for young offenders are ‘woke’. Those of us who are outraged by charges being laid against whistle blowers such as witness K and Bernard Collaery are ‘woke’. To be appalled by the endless incarceration of asylum seekers is definitely ‘woke’.
And yet ‘woke’ is a state to which all should aspire. That is, we should all aspire to an awakening based on insight and knowledge. Funnily enough ‘woke’ is the condition that undergirds Christian discipleship. All Christians are compelled to embrace ‘metanoia’, usually translated as ‘repentance’. Repentance is not primarily beating one’s breast in sorrow and regret, but living differently as a result of seeing differently.
There are many aspects to my personal life that have needed to respond in metanoia. I began with a strong patriarchal mindset. I had no knowledge of indigenous life, history and culture and as such had a racist mindset. I was unaware of my personal responsibility for environmental sustainability. To many of these realities I have ‘awoken’. That this journey needs to continue for the rest of my life, I am well aware. I aspire to be ‘woke’. All of us should aspire to be ‘woke’. The weaponizing of the term to deride or discredit is a cowardly act by those who refuse to be informed or worse, to change their way of life.
Freedom of speech is rightly lauded as one of the most important values undergirding democratic society. ‘Cancel culture’, is a weaponised term used to illustrate the perceived manner in which this value is thought to be undermined and as a consequence democracy itself is thought to be under threat. But hang on a minute!
In a democratic society, is it desirable, or should it be possible, for people or mediums of influence to publicly state that which is knowingly and blatantly untrue, especially when the intention of doing so is to mislead for personal gain? No, it should not. The most obvious example is Trump and his supporters who claimed they won the last election when clearly, they had not. The intention was to mislead and undermine democratic processes. It would have been irresponsible not to take steps to mitigate this activity. Cancelling the spread of these statements protected democracy, not the other way around.
For two decades Australian politics has been riven asunder by one side of politics refusing to accept verifiable scientific facts. The cost has been enormous. By now many thousands of Australians could have transited into new sustainable, highly skilled jobs. Australia could have been far more ready to trade on the emerging international market rather than being laggards. Australia could have developed policies that would have been environmentally and economically effective. Instead, we have seen two decades of wasted opportunity and the cost of putting things right escalating by the day. Giving free rein to an alternative view, when in reality there was no alternative view, has seriously undermined Australia
So, does freedom of speech mean that people have the right to say whatever they like. No, it most certainly does not. Individuals do not have the right to slander others, and people or institutions in positions of influence do not have the right to untruths which protect their own privilege or power.
It is ironic that those who argue for the absolute right of ‘freedom of speech’ are themselves less than good examples of this democratic value.
There are a multitude of issues in every generation that ‘dare not speak their name’. Until recently violence in the home and violence towards children has been in this category.
All of us ‘see through a glass darkly’. There must be far more open and non-partisan debate about the issues that confront us in the 21st century. As these conversations occur, blatant mistruths and manipulation in protection of self-interest opposed to ‘common good’, need to be called out for what they are. Protection of the fossil fuel industry by companies and compliant politicians is absolutely in this category.
May we all wake to the challenges that confront us and remain awake (woke) to the democratic call for trust and respect without which an open society implodes.
Shameful, and Humiliating
It is beyond shameful that Australia has held Priya and Nades Murugappan and their children Kopika and Tharnicaa on Christmas Island since August 2019 and that thy have been held in continuing detention for more than 1000 days.
Added to this insult this morning has been news that a proposed visit, to be led by Senator Keneally on a specially chartered plane, approved by Border Force, has been stopped by Defence Minister Dutton. What is it with this man? What ideology drives him, what political ambition possesses him, that he continues to heap cruelty upon cruelty on law abiding asylum seekers? Even more, on a family that clearly have the respect of a whole Queensland rural community behind them. In these circumstances it is utterly humiliating to be known as Australian, for we are all implicated by association with these unnecessary, cruel, and calculated acts that are somehow associated with misguided political advantage.
Following more than a month of terrible headlines involving politicians (primarily but not exclusively) of the hard right, one must ask, is there something inherently and incurably sick with a political ideology that appears to result in behaviour devoid of human decency and respect.
If this is the case, then a little course on empathy training is not going to make the slightest difference.
Is the politically hard right so convinced of truth imbedded in their certainties that they are absolved from normal accountability? It appears so. There was a time when ministers of the crown would stand down when serious errors were made either by them or by members of their department. In the Morrison government this era has long gone. It is now always someone else’s fault, or no fault is acknowledged at all.
I found myself in fierce disagreement with many of the policies and determinations of Prime Minister Howard, but never did I doubt an underlying integrity and decency.
With at least half the current cabinet, it is impossible to place trust and respect, either because of utter incompetence, or because of misleading and untruthful presentation of policy, or because political ambition has completely overtaken service of common good, or because ethical behaviour has become victim to party loyalty and supremacy.
Real leaders will always ‘hold the hose’ and accept accountability for outcomes. No real leader will allow cruelty under any circumstance, let alone in the name of political expediency.
Culture is purpose framed through Identity.
Many words have been uttered about the toxic culture of Federal Parliament. So, what is the problem? Culture emerges out of a perceived or enforced sense of identity. The parliament breeds a sense of entitled identity. Many, but not all, including some women, have woven themselves around such identity and in turn have shaped the identity of their staffers. This became tragically clear in the lack of leadership exercised in response to this week’s march by thousands of women. It was not a privilege, as they were being encouraged to believe, for women to be offered a private meeting with the Prime Minister and Minister for women. It should have been an honour for the Prime Minister and Minster for Women to meet with the women on their turf, seek to hear them and address the issues they brought on behalf of half the population.
If the sense of identity worn by governmental leadership was more transparently one of service, not entitlement and privilege of office, it would have felt an honour. (How many Prime Ministers have had the opportunity to meet representatives of half the population in one meeting)? Political leaders are after all ‘ministers’, the root meaning of which is ‘servant’. The ambition of politicians should be to seek the betterment of society they serve. This is hardly rocket science. Sadly, the ambition of most morphs easily into remaining in power at the next election. Time spent between elections being spent courting interest groups with this ambition in mind.
How did we arrive in this unfortunate state? There are no doubt a multitude of factors, many of which the whole population must own, but one of the dominant driving factors is that an increasing number of politicians are recruited from the ranks of party staffers who inherit an identity with their party and its ideologies from their early 20’s. The world beyond this bubble remains outside their experience. In this bubble the party and its prospects are everything, scandals must be dealt with in terms of their consequences for the party.
It is said that some have nurtured an ambition to be Prime Minister since their school days. In what context was this ambition framed? Was it to finally address unfinished business in relation to our First Nations peoples? Was it to recreate Australia as a regionally based manufacturing country with a multitude of highly skilled job? Was it to safeguard our natural environment, to create an atmosphere in which species extinction is halted and ecosystems protected? Was it to imagine what a liveable city might look like in the 21st century? Was it to build a vibrant economy in a post carbon world? Was it to give effect to a broad based and liberal education for all, that all might have the opportunity to celebrate life in its fulness? Was it…?
Or was the ambition to be no more than becoming the most important person and the most powerful person in the land?
On either side of politics, but especially on the government benches, it is difficult to understand the reason they are there, other than to be important and protect the interests of those who share the same ideological aspirations. This perception is borne out by the flood of politicians who, when they leave office, carve out a lucrative future for themselves from the influence they were able to exercise while in parliament. Pyne and associates is the latest example who now have the arms company Elbit as a major client and this week lobbied on behalf of the company in parliament.
Politics should be about transformational leadership. Our Prime Minister has shown he is incapable of anything other than transactional leadership. Every decade or two it is necessary for the clock to be reset. In changed circumstance it becomes necessary to enable a fairer, more just, more sustainable, more liveable world. Reform is not easy. It almost always means convincing one’s own side that change is necessary let alone convincing the opposition. The last Prime Minister capable of this was Bob Hawke who managed the seemingly impossible task of convincing the Unions that reform required a different modus operandi from them.
There are currently many areas crying out for reform, for which the government is showing absolutely no appetite. Top of the list is the way Australia is (or is not) being led into a post carbon economy. Environmentalists remain important voices, but they are no longer the only, or even the main voices clamouring for reform. To the voice of scientists can now be added, the market, the insurance industry, the National Farmers, State Governments, the nation’s youth, yes, even those employed in the mining industry who know the life of coal is at an end and want transition to a productive post mining life.
There must also be reform of monetary policy which currently allows those with assets to flourish while those on salaries stagnate. Growing equity gap is alarming. If further proof of this situation were required a cursory examination of the fate of Australians during 2020, the year of covid, will amply illustrate. Many large companies, shareholders and property owners flourished, many above the level they would otherwise have expected. At best those dependent on salaries stagnated and at worst either lost their jobs or suffered severe reduction in hours and income.
Aged Care, Health and Education are at various levels of crisis, under performance, or lacking the capacity to deliver. A conversation about how Federation can most efficiently work in 2021 with an honest debate about the relative value of private and public delivery of services is long overdue.
So, let us return to the problem of a toxic culture. If federal politics is to remain at the basement level of party, even intraparty rivalry and jealousy and holding onto (or achieving) power as the only ambition, then frankly there is little chance that the toxic culture can change. Toxicity and vacuousness are soul mates. If on the other hand transformational leadership can emerge with a more noble aspiration, this will energise a transformed culture with a more nourishing and noble reason for existence.
Should the law be the last word in all circumstances?
The awful shadow that hangs over our parliament, and especially the cabinet, has not been lifted by the vigorous denial made by the Attorney General at Wednesday’s press conference. As we know, law in and of itself cannot be guaranteed to deliver justice. Technicalities and the capacity of privilege to engage senior barristers almost always disadvantages the vulnerable and less resourced.
Through it all, the prime minister is insisting the matter has been considered by appropriate law enforcement instrumentalities and the matter is closed.
Neither statement is strictly correct. The law enforcement instrumentality, (NSW Police), has not properly considered the matter, they have made it plain they cannot because evidence they require to do so is held in the silent embrace of the deceased complainant. Her decision not to proceed happened the day before she took her own life. The matter is not closed, not because the Attorney General has not, and cannot, be proven innocent or guilty, but because he is Australia’s law maker, he holds one of the most powerful posts in the land and the population needs to know he is a fit and appropriate person to hold this office.
It is simply nonsense for the prime minister to insist, with colourful and exaggerated hyperbole, that an inquiry will somehow undermine the very foundations of the rule of law. There are many precedents for an independent inquiry. Indeed, the Attorney General has himself commissioned enquiries. Were one to be held, and we assume the Attorney General’s claims are accurate, presumably evidence would accumulate supporting the Attorney General’s denial, enabling empathy to turn toward him, even if such an inquiry could not fully declare his innocence, or guilt.
Context is a powerful factor in the determination of the best way forward. An enquiry would not primarily focus on criminality, which we know cannot be proved or disproved, but on character.
The fact that neighbours of mine who have previously held significant administrative positions in Canberra guessed the unnamed cabinet minister to be the Attorney General goes to the question of character.
That the Attorney General along with Mr Tudge were subject to a Four Corners investigation on inappropriate behaviour in November 2020, goes to the question of character.
That in his press conference the Attorney General spent considerable time diverting attention by comparing his situation to that of a political opponent goes to the question of character.
That in the same press conference he claimed to be the real victim through trial by media, while not supporting an enquiry which would negate the need for the media to pursue its own enquiries, goes to the question of character.
That the Attorney General has relentlessly and cruelly pursued the lawyer Bernard Collaery over the Government’s scandalous Timor L ’Este debacle goes to the question of character.
The government has senior people who have proved themselves to possess impeccable character, Mr Tony Smith, the speaker of the House, comes immediately to mind. Australia’s chief law maker needs to hold the confidence of the people of Australia regardless of the political party to which he belongs. Unless this confidence exists, he becomes the catalyst for loss of confidence in the rule of law, not those who are calling for an enquiry.
Free Speech in Private and Public worlds
A veritable avalanche of words has recently been penned in defence of the supposed sacrosanct place free speech holds at the heart of democratic life. But should that place be so sacrosanct?
Many, perhaps most of us, live almost all our lives in a private world where our opinions and actions are largely, but not exclusively, a matter of our own choice.
The public world is the world of facts upon which every intelligent person can be expected to agree – or be capable of being persuaded. The private world is the world where we are free to follow our own preferences – a world in which there is no right or wrong in lifestyle.
The private world is a world in which good is largely understood as being that which serves our personal interest. The public world is a world in which good is understood as that which benefits the whole, good that is common.
Those familiar with the Christian gospel could reasonably assume the Church would be first and foremost concerned about good that is common. However, the response of the Christian Church post the enlightenment has been to retreat into the private world. It has secured for itself a continuing place at the cost of surrendering the crucial field. The angst president Biden is experiencing from leadership in his Church, the Catholic Church, relates to what is considered morally acceptable in this private world. The Church has apparently nothing to say about the president’s major leadership burden which he must exercise in the public world. This retreat occurred before the explosion of social media, but having thus retreated, the Church now appears powerless to counter the effect of this medium’s ubiquitous presence which in the last two decades has not simply blurred the edges of these worlds but has seemingly made the distinction void.
The ethical consequences are considerable. The loss of an overarching ethical magisterium post the reformation and following the Enlightenment has led western liberal democracies to replace commitment to common good with a view that the role of the State is to protect individual human rights. A transformation has occurred from a substantive morality for the good to a formal morality of rights. This constitutes the central change in Western ethics over the past half millennium in terms of theory, practice, laws, and institutions.
If evidence of this move is required, just look at the official response from government in relation to Craig Kelly and his outrageous statements on social media. The Prime Minister has defended his ‘right’ to speak and express his own views, at least until those views were appearing to hurt the Liberal Party. While on Thursday night’s Q and A, Alexander Downer defended Craig Kelly, deriding those who dared question this right. He said Kelly had become a victim of ‘cancel culture’. Cancel culture is a pejorative term used in defence of everyone’s right to express their views in the public arena, no matter how extreme, and infers those who beg to differ are socialistic moral crusaders.
It is ironic that we appear to need a disaster to restore proper balance. The Covid pandemic has forced political and civic policy making to return to ‘good that is common’, even if it has meant overriding what would otherwise be considered basic human rights. There have of course been objectors, most thoroughly predictable, but on the whole Australians have complied with that which has delivered the best possible community outcome. This has not been the case in the US where the culture of ‘rights’ appears so deeply engrained in their DNA that its protection has appeared more important than life itself.
Perhaps there is time to prevent Australia sliding inexorably down a similar slippery slope, but only if those who hold public office can regain an ethical understanding of the consequences that flow from holding public office. No one is forced to hold public office, but if we do, there must be obligations associated with that privilege which have precedence over private opinions.
To put it quite simply, a person who holds public or representative office is not free to put forward views that are demonstrably false. Craig Kelly is the main culprit, but not the only parliamentary purveyor of falsehood. George Christenson also dabbles in untruth, as does Matt Canavan in relation to climate change. For some time there has been no wriggle room which might permit scepticism about overwhelming, and sadly worsening, scientific advice.
Craig Kelly has been the purveyor of mistruth in relation to Covid 19, Climate change, and the results of the US election. As a public figure he is simply not free to do that.
Following the establishment of a much-needed federal ICAC, one of its duties should be the capacity to sanction a politician who consistently presents material in the public domain which is demonstrably false.
Craig Kelly and his fellow parliamentarians have chosen to live and work in the public world, a world in which they are called to work tirelessly for good that is common. This truth seems to have totally bi-passed many, including Barnaby Joyce. When recently asked his view about the desirability of 2050 emissions targets, he shrugged his shoulders saying that by then he will be so old that any target will be irrelevant.
In the western world free speech is a privilege to be cherished, a privilege about which residents of totalitarian states can only dream. However, nothing in life is cost free. Those in the public world who use this privilege to peddle that which is demonstrably untrue are potentially creating a cost in confusion and division which the wider community must bear.
Australia Day Plebiscite
What kind of people are we, who, knowing full well our choice of national day presents insurmountable and painful difficulties to our first nations people, yet we still stubbornly refuse to move to another day?
The Prime Minister is fond of saying it is not his role to lecture others on a matter of morality or ethics. He recently took this line following widespread demands he sanction Craig Kelly and George Christensen for their continuing fabrication of truth in relation to a range of issues including climate change, but more recently, the result of the US election.
However, he is more than happy to lecture others when the matter at hand is in direct conflict with his government’s chosen ideological position. He has had no difficulty in lecturing Cricket Australia for their decision to feature indigenous history and culture for the fixture on 26th January. He told them to play more cricket and be involved in less politics. The truth of course is that sport has always been involved in politics, be it through grand spectacles like the Olympic Games, or less spectacularly through football competitions, in particular, the boycotting of South African sporting teams which played a large part in the downfall of apartheid.
Apparently, he is quite happy that a committee, to be led by the notorious George Christensen, will lecture banks and insurance companies about their decision not to fund or insure various fossil fuel mining enterprises. Minister David Littleproud informed these financial institutions that it is not up to non-elected individuals or businesses to make political decisions based on moral principle. Apparently, that is the role of government, although extreme reluctance to support an independent federal ICAC casts a shadow over this as a political ideal. It seems not to occur to the minister that these decisions may have had little to do with morality or politics and everything to do with prudent business acumen. Investing in stranded assets would almost certainly risk litigation from shareholders.
The Prime Minister has recently changed ‘young’ to ‘one’ in the national anthem. Few would disagree with the decision. However, on its own it is mere tokenism. We are not ‘one’ simply by changing a word in the anthem, and we are certainly not ‘one’ if on our national day the first nations people feel alienated.
Changing the day, would not mean changing history. We would simply, but significantly, be changing the way we celebrate history. In a real sense 26th January is the least suitable day to choose as Australia’s national day. The landing did no more than strike a claim on these shores for the British monarch and Empire and begin an early settlement. The landing did not in itself establish a new nation. This was not to happen until 100 years later. The landing began the establishment of colonies, the purpose of which was largely penal. Leaving aside the brutality and violence which was to quickly engulf the Dharawal nation, there was no understanding then that the continent upon which the Europeans were setting foot was occupied by more than 300 separate nations with history, culture, and tradition stretching back thousands of years.
Consideration of another date is not, to coin a phrase beloved of Prime Minister Howard, to submit to a black arm band view of history. It is to recognise that as we have matured as a nation, it is no longer a date that best captures nationhood. Over the years many dates have been suggested, no doubt there are many that have merit.
I have always favoured Federation Day as the most logical. We became a nation because of federation on 1 January 1901. I fully realise that this presents a logistical problem for annual celebrations, because everybody is asleep or on the beach on New Year’s Day and it is very close to Christmas. There are ways around it. The Queen’s birthday celebration is transferred to a date with potentially warmer weather and more sunlight!
However, there are other days.
I strongly recommend a plebiscite be held with perhaps two or three suggestions being made of which the current date could be one. A plebiscite requires a significant investment in education which would be an extremely good thing for us all.
It is simply dumb, as well as insulting to our indigenous brother and sisters, to stay as we are. Until there is a change, I will seek the company of First Nations people on 26th January, not out of any disrespect to our nation, quite the contrary, but because we can obviously do better, and for the sake of our ‘oneness’ we have to do better.
Christianity’s Watershed Moment
Evangelist Franklin Graham compared 10 members of the GOP to Judas Iscariot on Thursday after they voted to approve President Donald Trump's second impeachment. Ted Cruz, a GOP president wanna-be who speaks for conservative Christian values has done all he can to discredit the legitimate election of Joe Biden. Our Prime Minister, deeply immersed in ‘conservative Christianity’, has been inexplicably incapable of admitting Trump’s culpability. Why is Christianity so grafted to corrupt politics?
There have been a few watershed moments in the history of Christianity from which there is no turning back. One of these moments was in the 4th century when, through various Ecumenical Councils, it became clear that to claim the name of Christian it was necessary to say that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that in him there is life.
A second moment in the 15th century, facilitated by the printing press, saw authority transferred from a clerical, centralised and often poorly educated elite, to the whole family of God, the laity, via scripture. The faithful had been manipulated by this elite to protect their institutional power and authority.
Are current events in America heralding another such moment? Christianity has been associated with a seditious assault on the congress, an assault from which Christianity cannot be distanced and appears not to want to be distanced. Trump is not, and has not pretended to be, a Christian. As far as one can tell he is biblically illiterate. There is no evidence that he is a regular Church attender. His moral failures are legion and the damage he has done by claiming truth to be fake and what is fake to be true is immeasurable. Chaos and confusion are currently being played out in the lives of those whom he has convinced the election was stolen.
So, why this link between the Christian right and Trump? Quite simply it has absolutely nothing to do with Christian discipleship and everything to do with politics and ideology. The right and Trump have needed one another. From Trump’s point of view the evangelical right provide him with a strong electoral base and from the point of view of the evangelical right Trump provides them with the closest thing they have found to a theocratic state. He delivers, or purports to deliver, their agenda: supremacy of individual rights over social reform, prohibition on abortion, denial of gay rights and unconditional support for Israel. The situation is truly shocking. Is this the moment when any possible link between Christianity and a theocracy is completely, and finally rejected.
It is their obsession with a theocratic ideal, and apparent desire to fight and die for it, that has led to conspiracy theories about its opposite - a satanic cabal. The Christian right’s very identity is immersed in belief that they are soldiers for right against force of evil. At a spiritual and moral level this is a helpful image as a long as we understand the possibility of good and evil are ever present in the lives of each one of us. The dangerous error occurs when the idea of evil is transferred to those with whom we disagree of worse, do not understand. According to the conspiracy theorists, the existence and power of the cabal is led by paedophiles and demonstrated through a massive fraud that stole the election from them and their patron Donald Trump.
In this context the conspiracy theory makes absolute sense. If you believe God and God’s will is delivered through a theocracy; if this has been thwarted, there must be a reason big enough to match the thwarted aspiration.
It is unlikely that this dangerous nonsense with its seditious implications is going to be abandoned any time soon unless or until the ambition that led to it is corrected. The correcting is not the responsibility of secular politics, but of Christian leadership. Where is that leadership? Where is the voice?
It is of course wrong and deceptive to make generalisations, to accuse by association. Evangelicalism is a ‘broad church’. All evangelicals are not Trump supporters or believers in a theocratic ideal. However, it remains the case that evangelicals predominate in the Trump movement, that the name of Jesus was carried by the riotous mob into the congress alongside the name of Trump.
The irony, of which these people seem totally unaware, is that Jesus eschewed power and the exercise of it. When asked to use it he refused, rebuking those who made the request. He made it clear that the only power with legitimacy is the power of salt and light. Without wishing to eulogise Joe Biden, his demeaner, words and influence in the face of relentless provocation has so far been of this kind.
The Christian right have no business condemning attempts to revive a Muslim caliphate, while they embrace language of violence in attempting to enforce their own. In the absence of strong contemporary Christian leadership in condemnation of Franklin Graham and thousands of other self-appointed and theologically illiterate evangelical illuminati, I commend the fifth chapter of one of the earliest extant Christian writings, the letter to Diognetus:
Christians are not distinguished from other men by country, language, nor by the customs which they observe. They do not inhabit cities of their own, use a particular way of speaking, nor lead a life marked out by any curiosity. The course of conduct they follow has not been devised by the speculation and deliberation of inquisitive men. The do not, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of merely human doctrines.
Instead, they inhabit both Greek and barbarian cities, however things have fallen to each of them. And it is while following the customs of the natives in clothing, food, and the rest of ordinary life that they display to us their wonderful and admittedly striking way of life.
They live in their own countries, but they do so as those who are just passing through. As citizens they participate in everything with others, yet they endure everything as if they were foreigners. Every foreign land is like their homeland to them, and every land of their birth is like a land of strangers.
They marry, like everyone else, and they have children, but they do not destroy their offspring.
They share a common table, but not a common bed.
They exist in the flesh, but they do not live by the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, all the while surpassing the laws by their lives.
They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned. They are put to death and restored to life.
They are poor, yet make many rich. They lack everything, yet they overflow in everything.
They are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor they are glorified; they are spoken ill of and yet are justified; they are reviled but bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evildoers; when punished, they rejoice as if raised from the dead. They are assailed by the Jews as barbarians; they are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to give any reason for their hatred.
Those who think Franklin Graham and Ted Cruz and their admirers in Australia are somehow followers of the man from Galilee, please read the above letter and become acquainted with real witnesses, first and second century Christians.
The Danger of Oxygen Fuelled Falsehood
Human opinions and views will always diverge greatly. However, giving oxygen to spurious views in full knowledge they are divisive in nature and designed to misinform should be considered a crime and the perpetrators called to account.
The behaviour, language, and deception of Donald Trump over the four years of his presidency have been an international scandal, not simply a domestic scandal, given the role the US has played, and is expected to play, in international affairs. But equally scandalous, on the one hand, has been the failure of leading Republican figures to pull him into line, and on the other, the failure of social media outlets to prevent the dissemination of material that has been factually wrong, and worse, designed to cause division, even hate. It is almost beyond belief that for four years this president has been allowed to perpetrate falsehood, and in the process, convince a significant following that facts are fake and what is fake to be fact. Twitter is to be congratulated for permanently closing his account, but why did it have to come to this before action was taken?
To be fair to him, the environment in which this scandal became possible, is not exclusively of his making. Deep within the US psyche is ingrained belief that individual rights must prevail, no matter the circumstance. Any attempt to curtail these rights, be it gun control in the face of shocking massacres and brutality, or responsible behaviour to safeguard the community in the face of the covid pandemic, is perceived as an assault on these supposed fundamental rights. The result is that massacres still occur, brutality towards blacks is endemic, and thousands needlessly die of the pandemic. Trump has shamelessly played to this psyche, and in the process has brought democracy to its knees and irretrievably reduced America’s standing in the international community.
The great challenge facing the Unites States of America is finding a political way forward through which the protection of individual rights and the protection of common good can be championed as complimentary partners of one another, not as opposites. This way forward is as urgently required in international affairs as in domestic national affairs. True liberty is not the capacity to do whatever you want; regardless of others, it is the capacity to be fulfilled in the company of the much greater whole to which all humanity belongs. This is a challenge the Republicans must address. If they cannot extract themselves from Trumpism they will lack any real capacity to be a viable, unifying, alternative government.
Unfortunately, fake news, divisive madness, also exists on the periphery of Australian political life and because the purveyors are deemed necessary to the survival of ‘conservative’ politics, they have dangerously more influence than they should be expected to wield as individual politicians. Two of the worst offenders are Craig Kelly and George Christensen. Both are conveyors of untruth, most recently supporting the conspiracy theory that the assault on the US congress was stirred by the left-wing fringe movement - Antifa. If this were true, then not only did Trump egg on the extreme right, but he also managed to influence the left as well! It seems not to worry both gentlemen a jot that the report on which thy relied for the dissemination of their conspiracy theory has been totally discredited.
Readers will be aware that both these men have been climate sceptics and have done all in their power to circumvent an energy policy that will assist Australia’s necessary transition to a low emissions future and the development of new industries based on prolific supplies of renewable energy. Not only have these two men had far too much influence in delaying environmental responsibility, but they have also seriously let down a work force that should by now have been assisted into a future based upon new secure and growing employment opportunity. Instead, the work force has been left facing an inevitable cliff as fossil fuel extraction comes incrementally to an end.
Craig Kelly is an embarrassment; I understand increasingly so even in his own electorate. Why has the Prime Minister protected him? Surely the Liberal Party will not again support his endorsement?
In a recent Opinion Piece Tony Abbott railed against what he considered to be indefensible curtailment of individual rights as Australian state authorities imposed mask wearing and lockdown restrictions. He apparently believed the seriousness of the virus to have been grossly exaggerated and Australian economy growth to have been unnecessarily curtailed. Having spent some recent time in the UK one would have thought that observing 1000 covid deaths a day, an NHS stretched beyond its capacity and an economy in deep trouble, he would understand this pandemic is not a gentle stroll in the park. Abbott clearly holds the view that individual ‘rights’ must always prevail.
In the same opinion piece Abbott opined that decisions such as those involved with shutdowns should be made by elected members of government and not influenced, let alone be led by ‘unelected expert opinion’. One would have thought the reverse, that the role of elected members of parliament should be to be as informed as possible by expert opinion and both devise and implement policy based on this advice, regardless of its popularity or otherwise within the electorate.
Where expert advice or opinion has not been taken or followed, the pandemic is out of control and politically motivated partisan ideology has been allowed to prevail. Where expert advice has been ignored in relation to global warming, the planet becomes unnecessarily more fragile.
All human beings tend to read or listen to opinions which coincide with well-established views. Because of this tendency, it is vital that mainstream news outlets are disciplined in the promotion of facts and that ‘alternative facts’ are not given equal authority. When facts have been determined beyond reasonable doubt an alternative view is simply false.
What has befallen the US is unlikely to befall Australia. However, if voices of falsehood and discontent are given oxygen, it is possible that such madness could find root in Australian life.
A Star Worth Following
If William Shakespeare were alive today his pen would be burning a hole in his manuscript, such has been the volume of material available to him for multiple new plays. If drama, pathos, intrigue, conspiracy, false truth are the staple resources for a great script writer, 2020 has been the greatest of all years to be alive. On a planet in our galaxy the year has ended with the pathetic spectre, more tortured than any caricature could imagine, of a beaten and pathetic president fawning over sycophantic conspiracy theorists who help him keep his world of unreality alive. Pain in the loss of power and visibility is obviously impossible to bear.
On the other hand, on the planet we all call home, we have thousands upon thousands of women and men, scientists, health workers, doctors, carers, drivers, shop assistants, who without power, prestige, visibility, or adequate reward have striven to keep us together, healthy, and alive. The contrast could not be starker.
2000 years ago, the calm enjoyed by shepherds tending their sheep in a field on the edge of a little mid-eastern village was frighteningly disturbed by a strange light and presence. They had become involuntary witnesses to an unfolding drama which would reveal how wrong the world was then, and is now, about the true nature of power and citizenship. The unfolding story would challenge the meaning of governance, the meaning of leadership, indeed the meaning and destiny of life itself.
The recording of this story in the pages of scripture remind the reader that a thousand years earlier, a famous and charismatic leader (David) had sought to cement his legacy in the construction of a physical temple to house the presence of God. He was forbidden and told through his prophet Nathan that this was not to be his legacy, rather God would provide him with the legacy of a household whose membership would be embraced and transformed by the God he had wished to house.
Then came a carpenter and pregnant partner to Bethlehem in obedience to citizenship’s demand that they be counted in a census.
The shepherds witnessed the no vacancy sign, the baby, the stable, the inauspicious beginning. They witnessed in embryo what the early Christians were later to reflect upon as life-giving paradox. Vulnerability is strength. Service is power. Generosity is wealth. Hospitality is inclusion with the power to abolish rivalry and violence.
The shepherds were to hear the message from angel voices. But the message was destined to become incarnate in a person. In Jesus, the message and the messenger are the same. To embrace the message is to embrace the messenger and to experience the promised hope joy and peace. What takes life and form inside one’s very being becomes life giving and transformative, what can never be more than an external adornment remains ephemeral and falsely seductive.
And yet. And yet…………………. We humans are strangely resistant to inner life and would prefer to chase after that which can never fully satisfy, in the process continuing to cause damage not simply to ourselves but to others and the world.
Perhaps the year of Covid will prove, with the benefit of hindsight, to have been the reality check we in the consumer orientated Western world have needed. It has always been a mistake to measure “progress” solely in materialistic, technological, economic, digital terms. What the year has shown is that community, friendship, intimacy, family, are always more important than the endeavours to which we usually commit most of our energy and priority. True progress is always an internal not an external matter. More sober judgement will tell that the behaviour of many world leaders and captains of industry and media, in 2020, has been no different to the scandalous emperors of Rome in Jesus time, or European leaders of the Middle Ages. It is just that sophistication camouflages the reality that we have not progressed a jot.
The headline in the opinion piece for Christmas Eve in the Australian was headed: Faithful haunted by quest for meaning. No, they are not! The reverse is almost certainly the truth. The world is (or should be) haunted by the reality that avoiding the truth revealed in the birth of Jesus is to condemn humanity to constantly repeating its history of mistakes, notwithstanding technological sophistication.
We are not born to triumph over others, but to serve them. As Desmond Tutu says, it is the strong who apologise, the weak do not. Believing we are members of the same family under God, we should seek alliances and cooperation, always breaking down barriers, never afraid to take the lowest place. Not much sign of this in Trump’s “America first”, Johnson’s “Brexit”, Xi’s dominance through “Belt and Road”, or Morrison’s “Australia will not be dictated to”.
In the birth of Jesus profound and eternal truth is made known. Embracing this truth has the capacity to transform the world in which we live. Ignoring this truth is to condemn us to perpetuating the same.
Unto us a child is born
Unto us a Son is given.
And the government shall be upon his shoulder
He will be called wonderful counsellor
Prince of Peace