Going Bananas over Art

I may be in the minority here, but I think there is something going on in Maurizio Cattelan’s work titled ‘Comedian’.

The Italian satirical artist has ‘created’ a work of art by using two common objects: an overripe banana stuck to a wall with a strip of duct tape. The work which is being exhibited at the famous Miami Gallery, Art Basel, has just sold for $120,000US.

 

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Before the mockers mock and critics criticise, it is worth observing how successful this Cattelan original has become. Some might say that the work itself should be subject to ridicule. Add a $120,000 price tag, and the jeering and sneering is more than audible. But the story of this captivating banana isn’t yet finished. A performance artist by the name of David Datuna visited the Art Basel and while admiring ‘Comedian’ up close, he committed the great heresy of reaching out and touching the banana. He didn’t stop there. He ripped the banana and its duct tape from the wall and then proceeded to peel the banana and eat its flesh. Onlookers gasped while others laughed. A security guard appeared, horrified. Datuna exclaimed that his was a work of art and he gave it the name, ‘Hungry Artist’.

He was quickly taken away but later emerged as a free man, free to perform and eat again.

Posting on Instagram he said,

“Art performance by me. I love Maurizio Cattelan artwork and I really love this installation. It’s very delicious,”

The director of the gallery, Lucien Terras,  told the Miami Herald,

“[Datuna] did not destroy the art work. The banana is the idea”.

The $120,000 banana has since been replaced with a fresh banana.

As this work of art captivates people all over the world, I’m thinking, who is acting the fool here? Friends are rolling their eyes all over social media and decrying the waste of money.  People are quick to point out the foolishness.

Who is the fool? Maurizio Cattelan? After all, all he did was take a banana and stick it on a wall. Far from acting the fool, Cattelan is looking at us and laughing with a $120,000 wry grin, shaped like a banana. More significantly, Cattelan’s genius is him successfully drawing us into conversation and debate about a slightly smelly piece of fruit. We are the suckers, falling into Maurizio Cattelan’s world of satire. The banana isn’t the subject, we are the subject. Even eating the art piece forms part of the ever evolving expression that has been set in motion by the artist.

So are we the fool? Well, we are certainly silly monkeys for eating into his artistic expression, and then, of course, there’s the fool who paid $120,000 for old fruit and a strip of duct tape!

In the world of commonsense, we would be regarded as fools,  as we offer up our half-digested opinions about a piece of fruit stuck to a wall. However, the world today isn’t ruled by reason. Rather, we have become eager participants in Cattelan’s pantomime. In this upside-down world where right is now wrong, and wrong is lauded, and where such divisions are even removed altogether, the only fool here is the security guard who dared assume that eating the banana was an act of vandalism. And yet, as Lucien Terras has declared, even the guard has become an aspect of the artist’s expression.

Art has merged into life. Or should that be, life has merged in art? Everything becomes art. We are the artist’s subject as much as that banana, and all the subsequent bananas that will replace the mould and smell.

As far as originality is concerned, Cattelan’s object is little more than a spin-off from Andy Warhol’s portrait of a banana. He is simply replacing a painting with the object itself. And yet, here we are, talking about a banana.

Now that we’ve established that all of us are fools and yet none of us is the fool, is there a right way to be looking at ‘Comedian’? Is there any single interpretation of ‘Comedian’ that is the right one? Indeed, should we even be talking in such categories?

The sculpture isn’t designed to elucidate a set response, but to create an entire spectrum of reactions. It is a portrait of the absurd and the absurd is us. There is no fixed meaning, just meanings. There is no primal purpose, just a bunch of ripening and then slowly rotting contributions.

I’m not quite sure whether ‘Comedian’ is mocking today’s avant garde or is an example of its stupidity. Either way, it is certainly revealing something rather sad and disillusioning about our society. What if the real world is also without overarching meaning and design? What if all we have is 7 billion opinions and convocations and divisions? It would be a truly satirical place to live. In such a world, why shouldn’t we eat and destroy an expensive work of art? Why shouldn’t we deride or laugh or even destroy? Why not spend $120,000 on a banana instead of giving the money to charity?

A universe without God is such a world. In such a closed material construct the only fool is the one who stands up and says “no, you mustn’t do that”. Instead, let people be, to steal, to take, to laugh, to admire, and however else we choose to express ourselves.

If Cattelan’s ultimate objective was to communicate the irreverence and heresy of particular meaning, the joke rests finally on him, for it was after all necessary for Cattelan to image the idea in his mind and then to make it with his hands. There is no art without the artist. Even the aleatoric movement of John Cage and company, the author could not fully remove himself.

The universe God created and in which we live is not such a place. It is filled with careful design and purpose. Not all opinions and reviews are equal. Not every action is good. Not every investment is wise or useful. The scary thing is that this world’s creator takes an active interest in things and he is concerned for how we treat his creation including one another. As Psalm 2 indicates, he is a God who laughs and scoffs at us for deluding ourselves into pretending that our speculations and philosophising can subvert and replace his revelation.

“The One enthroned in heaven laughs;

    the Lord scoffs at them.

He rebukes them in his anger

    and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,

“I have installed my king

    on Zion, my holy mountain.” (Psalm 2)

How much better is the portrait God has given us of his creation. How much more stunning and meaningful and satisfying is the Creator’s plan for the canvas on which you and I exist and have our being. Indeed, it involved the artist entering his own creation for the sake of redeeming us and reconciling us to His Divine purpose.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

This isn’t the final word

Rugby Australia and Israel Folau have come to an agreement. The terms of the settlement remain confidential but both parties have released a joint statement in which Folau affirms he never intended to offend anyone and where Rugby Australia apologise to Folau.

Israel Folau will be remembered as a greatly gifted player, who was nevertheless a disaster for rugby.

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Not everyone is satisfied. Lawyers are expressing their preference to see the case played out in court, not necessarily because of prejudice against either party but for the sake of clarifying where Australian Law sits in regard to religious freedom. Other Aussies are disappointed because the case has ended in ex-communication for Folau rather than social execution. For 18 months, Peter FitzSimons has used his privileged place in the Australian media to call for and support the sacking of Israel Folau. He is far from the only voice, but Fitz has perhaps been the loudest and most consistent.  Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, FitzSimons has expressed his disappointment over the final outcome and has tried to type out the final word on the Israel Folau saga.

“From the point of view of resolving the many issues raised, however – and more particularly holding Folau to account for his damaging actions – it is singularly dissatisfying.”

“As one who has followed the issues closely since Folau first disgraced himself by putting up a post endorsing the view that gays are destined for hell, and who has written and ranted about it extensively, I am more aware than most of the damage he has done, the hurt he has caused. In the 21st century, his homophobic gibberish – you heard me – simply has no place. And it is no excuse that the gibberish in question is sourced from the Bible. I was hoping the court would confirm that, hence the dissatisfaction.

It was for that reason my first reaction on hearing the news – and I write in the first few minutes thereafter – was the settlement was, firstly, a great pity. Secondly, my stronger reaction was I hoped RA kept the presumed payment to him to an absolute minimum.”

FitzSimons has been quick to call out rumours on social media that suggest the size of the settlement, and yet here he is, acting as a judicial speculator,

“have no inside knowledge of the terms, not even a hint, but my bet is it will be about $200,000 to $300,000…. Any sum more than that and I hope RA would have said, “bring it on, we’ll see you in court”.

Finally, he writes,

“Goodbye, Israel. You will be remembered as a greatly gifted player, who was nevertheless a disaster for rugby. The day you severed the final strands of your relationship with Rugby Australia was a good day for the game.

Good day to you, I said good day.”

FitzSimons may be posturing to give the final word, but this is far from over. The ‘Rugby Australia and Israel Folau’ chapter may have been signed off, but the issue of religious freedom in Australia is only just beginning.

Peter FitzSimons may not speak for all Australians, and probably not for mainstream Australia either, but he does represent a group of self-appointed moral arbiters who have significant public and influential voice. He has made it clear that believing and publicly affirming the Bible’s teaching on sexuality amounts to phobia and gibberish and it has no place in Australia today.

“In the 21st century, his homophobic gibberish – you heard me – simply has no place. And it is no excuse that the gibberish in question is sourced from the Bible.”

Back in July, Rugby Australia’s CEO, Raelene Castle, admitted that had Israel Folau only quoted Bible verses, that would be sufficient grounds to have him sacked. The Folau case was never really about contract law. This was always a case of cultural signalling, with Rugby Australia proving its wokeness to the world. Regardless of what one thinks about Folau’s post, he dared break the new moral code that is being pressed upon Australians, and that is, do not question the new sexual narrative. We are to fully subscribe to the new sexuality paradigm, and failure to do so requires a public cancelling and shaming. This forced social subscription may have found a high profile case in Australia but there are countless examples appearing all over the country, including Margaret Court, Coopers Beer, legislative moves by the Victorian Government, and more. Indeed, as Victoria pushes to ban conversion practices they have set the parameters so broadly that it may impact normal teaching and praying that occurs within church ministries.

Peter FitzSimons is an example of broad cultural ignorance toward the Christian Gospel. The entire premise of the Christian Gospel is that God disagrees with us, and yet he loves us. God’s disapproval of human attitudes and actions isn’t an example of phobia, and neither is Christian disagreement with the current sexual narrative. Peter FitzSimons is perpetuating the myth that the only good Christian is the Christian who embraces the atheistic ethic. Yes, it’s illogical and he is not entirely to blame.  It seems as though FitzSimons takes his theological education from the progressive Christian voices whom our culture hasn’t yet cancelled out. Of course, there is no need to silence the priest of Gosford and others. These are nice Christians who have signed up to the neo-Proletariat. They have given up the Gospel for a seat among our society’s culture club. Christians need to work harder at countering these fake Gospels and to do so in a manner that confirms the Gospel and not with the kind of behaviour that contradicts the message we claim to believe.

Like I said, the final word on religious freedom in Australia hasn’t been spoken.

The Federal Government’s religious discrimination Bill has recently returned to the drawing board, following criticisms from both religious and non-religious groups. As it stands, when it comes to religious freedom, Australian law remains unwritten.

Part of the reason behind this legal mess is because Australian law was not framed to deal with a culture that turns against the very belief system which provided its societal and legal foundations. Like a game of Jenga, you can only remove so many blocks before the entire structure comes crashing down. Of course, that hasn’t happened as yet, but that’s part of complexity facing many Western cultures today. How do we remove Christianity without destroying the very fabric upon which our culture depends?

Christians would be fools to bag their hopes in any future law. The law ought to function for the common good of all society (not only for Christians). The law should exist as a friend to its citizens by protecting freedoms. The difficulty of today’s Australia is that we have become the dog chasing its own tail. We allege freedom and toleration but by eating away at freedom and toleration.

More important than the law, will Australians learn to rediscover the art of civil disagreement? We are fast losing both the cognitive and moral ability to engage with opposing worldviews and to live together despite these differences. Social pluralism is being fast replaced by an ugly and authoritarian secularism that reigns with tackless hubris. Christians need to grow thicker skin and realise that the culture has set course. We need to stop that pointless dreaming about a ‘Christian Australia’ which by the way never existed, and we need to stop falling into modern trap of dumping our hope into the societal structures and systems. We must not give up on kindness, patience, or truth telling, on gentleness, love, or faithfulness. There is no need to play by the rules that Rugby Australia, Peter FitzSimons, and others insist upon. Hell is too awful and heaven too wonderful, and we want to serve our fellow Aussies well by offering a better story.

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” (Hebrews 6:10-12)

It’s beginning to look like Christmas

It’s beginning to look like Christmas…

If you’re living in and around Mentone why not join us this Christmas?

Our Christmas Carol Service is on December 15th and begins at 6pm. There’s a scrumptious Christmas supper following the service.

Our Christmas Morning Service starts 9:30am.

Everyone is Welcome

 

 

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Victoria to Outlaw Conversion Therapy (part 2)

In this second post, I am turning to the question of definition. How is conversion practice being defined and what should we think about it?

The definition which the Victorian Government is suggesting is the same as that offered by the HCC report. However, before offering a comment on the definition it is worthwhile highlighting this salient point which comes from the Government’s own website for the rather Orwellian sounding, “Department of Justice and Community Safety”.

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The Government justifies limiting religious freedom

The Government has admitted that it is prepared to further limit religious freedom.

“Both the HCC and HRLC Reports highlight that many modern LGBT conversion practices are religious rather than medical in nature in that they involve, or consist entirely of, pastoral and prayer activities. Manifestation of religious belief through religious practice is protected by the right to freedom of religion. This right to manifest is not absolute and a number of commentators argue that it is not clear that it extends to practices that seriously harm others. The impact of a ban of conversion practices on the right to freedom of religion may be justified given the nature and extent of the harm described in the HCC and HRLC Reports. Legislation to implement the government announced ban on conversion practices needs to demonstrate that it is necessary, effective, and proportionate to protect LGBT individuals from harm.”

To be clear, the Victorian Government is targeting religion, and specifically, the primary focus is on Christian churches, organisations, and denominations, as the material in the 2 reports exemplifies.

The intention is also clear: without any philosophical working, the Government has assumed that sexual rights are more important than religious rights. It is, of course, a false binary, for a person’s understanding of sexual morality is always attached to religious presuppositions. Sexual expression is an expression of one’s deepest convictions about God, the world, and the individual. Having said that, we mustn’t ignore the suggestion of harm, for the wellbeing of these Victorians is important. 

 

Classical Christian teaching defined as harmful

The Government is using the argument of harm in order to limit the freedom of religious groups. Certainly, we do not want any Victorians, including LGBTI Victorians, being harmed. It is important to hear that I am not disputing that some Victorians have been subjected to practices that have caused them all manner of distress and damage. It seems as though these have come about through good intentions, but funnelled through misleading understandings of Christian faith and psychology. The definition of harm, however (as expounded in the HCC and HRLC Reports) extends beyond certain practices which are found on the margins among some religious organisations. For example,

The HCC report includes under its understanding of harm,

“Conversion therapy/practices reinforced homosexuality as a form of ‘brokenness’”

And

“Church teachings that homosexuality is sinful;”

Notice the attention given to Church teachings (as opposed to other religions who also identify homosexual practices as sinful). In other words, classical Christian teaching about sexuality is deemed to be harmful. According to the HCC, an exposition of Romans ch.1 or 1 Corinthians ch.6 would fall under the umbrella of harm. If a Church organises a marriage enrichment day where the Bible’s presentation of marriage is affirmed, this event could fall foul of harm. From weddings to Sunday sermons, from Bible study groups to counselling sessions, in contexts where sex outside of heterosexual marriage is spoken of as sinful or broken, the Health Complaints Commissioner identifies all of the above as harmful and therefore the State can justify limiting religious freedom.

I don’t know of anyone who would argue against protecting people from genuine harm. But dragging traditional Christian teaching and ethics into the ‘harm’ category diminishes the real harm that has been done to some Victorians. Is the Health Complaints Commissioner really proposing that the Government step in to control and redefine Christian belief and practice?

The Proposed Definition of Conversion Practice

Here is the suggested definition of conversion practice:

“(i) any practice or treatment that seeks to change, suppress or eliminate an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity,

(ii) including efforts to eliminate sexual and/or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender, or efforts to change gender expressions.”

The Government acknowledges that there are narrow and broad definitions available and that they have chosen to accept the broader definition that has been supplied by the HCC. It is important for the Government to explain why they are preferencing a broad definition rather than a narrow one. Also, why are they seeking to expand the definition even beyond the few international jurisdictions that have proceeded to ban conversion therapy?

Let’s be clear, the proposed definition of Conversion Practice is so broad that it includes more than a psychologist’s clinic or a counselling room.

The HRLC report wants included under the umbrella of conversion practice,

“pastoral care which includes (or claims to include) ‘counselling’, ‘healing’, claims about ‘curing’, ‘changing’ or ‘repairing’ a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or claims about improving a person’s mental or physical health, would likely still be classified as a health service, and the above regulations would apply.”

Indeed, the definition is so expansive that it may include sermons, Bible Studies, marriage courses, counselling, and prayer. Before a Government spokesman denies this is the case, let’s turn to the reports themselves.

Under the heading of, “RELIGIOUS CONVERSION THERAPY IN AUSTRALIA TODAY”,  the HRLC report refers to new forms of conversion practice, which include promoting self-control and abstinence.

“Instead, they are beginning to promote activities designed to help same-sex attracted people live chaste and celibate lives, in accordance with the sexual ethics of their religious traditions.”

As one academic in the field of gender studies has said to me in private, according to the above assertion, “self control is conversion therapy”. In one foul stroke, significant portions of the Bible would have to be removed.

The examples don’t end there. According to the same report, affirming the historical and biblical definition of marriage is also considered a form of conversion therapy,

“This ‘welcoming but not affirming’ posture equates to a more sophisticated version of the old evangelical adage, ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’. LGBT conversion therapy is not prominently promoted. However, LGBT people worshipping in communities that present cisgendered heterosexual marriage as the only valid form of gender and sexual expression are positioned to repress and reject their LGBT characteristics and to seek reorientation.”

Without significant revision and clarification, the Government’s plan to outlaw Conversion Practices will be used by some to impede what are normal and deeply held convictions among our religious communities.

It should also be said that religious institutions have a responsibility to prevent practices/therapies that are genuinely harmful and wrong. While I cannot speak for other religions, I know that the aim of Christianity is not to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender. I’m reminded of the testimony given by Sam Allberry,

“I am same-sex attracted and have been my entire life. By that, I mean that I have sexual, romantic and deep emotional attractions to people of the same sex. I choose to describe myself this way because sexuality is not a matter of identity for me, and that has become good news,”

“My primary sense of worth and fulfillment as a human being is not contingent on being romantically or sexually fulfilled, and this is liberating,”

“The most fully human and compete person was Jesus Christ. He never married, was never in a romantic relationship, and never had sex. If we say these things are intrinsic to human fulfilment, we are calling our saviour subhuman. “

“I have met literally hundreds of Christians in my situation, and know of thousands more, who are same-sex attracted, and who joyfully affirm the traditional understanding of marriage being between a man and a woman, and the only Godly context for sex. If you do not hear from more of us, it is because it is really hard to stand up and describe ourselves in this way…”

The Bible calls Christians to sexual purity; this does not necessarily mean there will be a change in sexual orientation. The fact is, in becoming Christian many gay and lesbian people will not become heterosexual. When people become Christians, there is however always a change in life. What point is there in becoming a follower of Jesus Christ if nothing changes? In beginning the Christian life, there are newly found desires for sanctification. Let me repeat, this does not imply that people cease to struggle with aspects of their past, including sexual orientation, but it does mean that they now want to be godly in their sexuality. According to the Bible, sanctification includes affirming that sexual practices should remain within the loving, exclusive, mutually consenting, covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. I say all this while I can without fear of being pulled up before a tribunal or court for espousing ‘conversion therapy’!

The fact is, some people over time do change. It is not a Christian teaching that homosexuals ought to become heterosexuals or that transgender people will conform to their biological sex, but it does sometimes happen, and for these reports to ignore this fact is curious, to say the least.

Conversion by coercion or conversion by choice?

As it stands, the Government’s proposal is nothing short of forced conversion. Without significant revisions, this looks like an attempt to control and redefine what religious organisations believe and teach about human sexuality and flourishing.

It is difficult not to see the Government’s grandstanding as somewhat duplicitous, given their proclivity to legislate in favour of gender and sex changes. On the one hand, the Government’s position here is that a person’s sexual orientation and gender cannot change, and supporting someone who wants to change is immoral and should be banned. On the other hand, only a few months ago the Victorian Parliament passed a Bill from the Government that gives Victorians permission to change the sex on their birth certificate, once every 12 months. And of growing concern to many people are Government policies which encourage children to transition their gender, something that State permits without parental permission and knowledge. There is growing consensus and concern amongst medical experts that these kinds of practices are indeed harmful and detrimental to the long-term physical and mental health of Victorian children.

Victoria is witnessing a fundamental clash of worldviews, one supports a healthy pluralism in our society and the other believes in conforming to a narrow and uncompromising agenda.

The Government’s current position on conversion practice is about pressuring religious groups to change their views on sexuality. If the definitions were limited to those rare, extreme, and dangerous practices that some peoples have been subjected to, there is warrant for discussion. What we are seeing thus far from the Government is unnecessary and contravenes those basic distinctions between Church and State.

Christians don’t believe in forced conversions. We believe in persuading others of a message that is good and attractive. Christianity is by definition a conversion religion. No one is born a Christian. People become Christians as they are convinced by the truthfulness and goodness of Christianity’s message, the Gospel of Jesus of Christ.

As Jesus once said to a notable leader,

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Christianity posits conversion as a result of personal conviction and choice, whereas the Government’s position seems to be, convert by coercion. Indeed, placing this conversation on conversion under the “Department of Justice and Community Safety” is probably not meant to be prophetic, but the irony is certainly not be missed.

All Victorians should be concerned by the Government’s plan to ban conversion practices. Let me reiterate, the Government is indicating more than simply banning practices that have proven harmful to some individuals, they are proposing to force-convert religious organisations and churches to the theological convictions of the new secular sexual milieu.

In the future, will Churches and religious organisations in Victoria have freedom to preach, teach, and counsel and pray in line with their religious convictions? Without significant revisions to the proposed definition, the answer is probably no.

Marat’s Assassination on QandA

I’m not an anti-ABC Aussie, but sometimes I suspect they are trying to convert me.

One program I gave up on long ago is Monday night’s QandA. I wouldn’t have known about last night’s program except The Age’s Neil McMahon was praising it, and there was this one segment from the program that kept appearing and reappearing on my twitter feed all day, like a fly buzzing around the dining table in summer.

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An audience member by the name of Murray (not this Murray!) asked the question,

“When trying to bring about significant change, when is aggression and violence a better option than assertiveness, strong arguments and modelling the behaviour you expect of others?”

Among the 5 female panellists, there was no-one suggesting that we turn the other cheek or love our enemies. There wasn’t any air of justice either, just simple revenge-seeking, fear-mongering and hate.

Mona Eltahawy said,

“I have an answer for this that a lot of people do not like. I want patriarchy to fear feminism. And there is a chapter in my book on violence. There is a chapter in my book about white women who voted for Trump and white women who accept crumbs from patriarchy because they allow their whiteness to trump their gender. I’m fully aware of this. But at the end of the day, even those white women have to recognise that nothing protects them from patriarchy.

Nothing. For me, as a feminist the most important thing is to destroy patriarchy. And all of this talk about how, if you talk about violence, you’re just becoming like the men. So, your question is a really important one but I’m going to answer it with another question. How long must we wait for men and boys to stop murdering us, to stop beating us and to stop raping us? How many rapists must we kill? Not the state, because I disagree with the death penalty and I want to get rid of incarceration and I’m with you on the police. So I want women themselves… As a woman I’m asking, how many rapists must we kill until men stop raping us?”

Fran Kelly then asked Murray what he thought of the answer. Murray (who sounds way too sensible for this program) suggested,

“if you think about bullying, bullying begets bullies, so, violence begets violence is what I’m seeing.”

Jess Hill then joined the growing chorus,

“Well, you know, it’s interesting. I think if anyone is shocked by what Mona is suggesting, you just have to look back to history and a certain faction of the suffragettes in the earlier 20th century. They used violence. They thought what they were fighting was a civil war between the sexes. They smashed windows. One suffragette actually went up to a young Winston Churchill in 1909 and whipped him with a horse whip at a railway station”. 

Reminiscent of the knitting ladies watching the guillotine in Paris during the French Revolution,  not one of the 5 women on the panel came out in opposition, instead, there was broad support for the use of mob like violence. Apparently, it is okay to assault people if you don’t like their moral or political views. In fact, it is even okay to murder them. Yep, their words are astonishing and incredibly reckless, but that’s the game of social politics today.

For a few moments, I did wonder, perhaps one or more of the panellists have experienced personal violence against them or against their family at some point. If that is the case, one can understand and even sympathise with some of the anger. I even understand the notion of self defence. But these were not just angry words, this speech was advocating violence.

In all the spittle that was landing on the studio floor last night, none of it bared any semblance of originality of thought or constructive commentary. It just sounded like the kind of neo-Trotskyism that has captivated so many parts of the Western world at this time. It has very little to do with justice and righteousness, and a lot to do self-aggrandisement.  It is a brand of social speech that’s turned into a competition to out shock your opponents. Over the last 2 years ‘cancel culture’ has become a thing: if you disagree with someone you destroy their reputation. These women have decided that cancel culture doesn’t go far enough. In the fine tradition of both the extreme left and right groups, to achieve goals we need to commit acts of violence. It’s pretty daft and it’s also dangerous.

Imagine if a male panellist advocated for violence on the program last night? It doesn’t require much imagination to know what the reaction would be if a conservative had even vaguely implied the possibility of non-State-sanctioned violence. After all, QandA’s history is littered with reasonable men and women supported ideas that even 10 years ago were considered commonsense, but today it’s considered heresy, and so they have been on the receiving end of grotesques verbal reprisals.

To justify the use of violence and murder, Mona Eltahawy claimed that,

“It’s throughout history, no-one has ever gotten their right or their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of their oppressor.”

No one? It didn’t take me long to think of someone. As I cringed through the 5 minutes clip from QandA, I remembered another video I watched, only a couple of weeks ago. It featured a young man speaking in a courtroom and addressing the woman who had murdered his older brother. Brandt Jean looked at Amber Guyger and told her that he loved her. He spoke of a God who forgives. He then asked the Judge if he could approach Guyger and give her a hug.

Which message is better? Which message is more likely to bring about a beneficial and positive outcome? What message gives hope to both the oppressed and the oppressor? The answer is pretty obvious.

The one to whom Brandt Jean pointed Amber Guyger, was the man called Christ. The records show that he was brutalised and murdered by the cancel culture crowd of first-century Judea. The astonishing thing is,  he had the position and power to avoid that outcome but he chose to undergo this ignominious suffering for the sake of those who hated him. It is, what the Bible calls, propitiation (Romans 3:25). For God so loved those who did not love him nor treat him as we ought. Perhaps next time on QandA we can have panellists sharing and advocating that kind of good news message.

Victoria to outlaw Conversion Therapy (part 1)

This is the first of a series of articles that I’m aiming to write on the topic of Gay Conversion Therapy. The Victorian Government has announced that it will introduce legislation in 2020 to ban Conversion Practice (Therapy) in Victoria. While the original issue was gay conversion therapy, the scope has been broadened to include any and all sexualities, including transgenderism.

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I wrote on this topic twice last year, and on both occasions, I expressed concerns with conversation therapies. It is important for readers to hear that I am not supportive of certain practices. I have explained

“To begin with, testimonies of gay conversion therapies are disturbing. Far from being ‘normal,’ these practices belong to fringe religious groups, finding little or no support amongst mainstream Christian Churches and theology. As a Christian, I do not support or agree with gay conversion therapy, as defined in terms of using pseudo-scientific and unbiblical spiritual methods to change a person’s sexuality. I feel for those who have undergone these traumatic experiences, wishing that they had not, and praying that they will find true and lasting recovery and peace.

The conversation is important because the health and life of LGBTIQ Australians matters enormously. They are not pawns to be played in political games, but human beings made in the image of God, and who ought to be treated with dignity.”

Having said this, and without taking anything away from Victorians who have been subject to dangerous and unethical practices, there are serious questions here and concerns that must be adequately addressed by the Government before considering any legislation.

The Government has invited Victorians to give feedback on the issue, although the process appears to be a furphy. In the same opening remarks that invite Victorians to offer their views, the Government also makes it clear that they intend to ban conversion practices.

“In February 2019 the Victorian Government committed to prohibiting harmful LGBT conversion practices.

Conversion practices are any practices or treatments that attempt to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

We’re asking Victorians to have their say. We want to know how you think the law can prevent the harm caused by LGBT conversion practices and protect and support LGBT Victorians.

The feedback you give us will inform the way the government approaches the ban and help shape the law.

The commitment to the ban follows the Health Complaints Commissioner Inquiry into Conversion Therapy report (HCC Report) which recommended the introduction of legislation to ban the practices in Victoria.”

Despite this Government exercise sounding awfully like a case of confirmation bias, I intend to proceed, for like I said above, “the health and life of LGBTIQ Australians matters enormously. They are not pawns to be played in political games, but human beings made in the image of God, and who ought to be treated with dignity.” In addition, there are also very real and relevant issues here relating to religious freedom. I will address these in a later post.

In this post, I want to draw your attention to the Report, Preventing Harm, Promoting Justicewhich forms a basis for the forthcoming legislation. The Report was a joint exercise between 3 organisations, the Human Rights Law Centre, La Trobe University,  and the Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria.

One might expect that an academic report of this importance would be thorough and broad, encompassing different perspectives and listening to a breadth of experiences, from those who have undergone conversion practices to those who have been practitioners and with others who have advocated against them.

Surely the researchers interviewed hundreds, if not thousands of people. Surely dozens of organisations were included in the process for comment, both religious and secular groups. Did they interview anyone who practices conversion therapy? The answer seems to be, no. The report upon which the Victorian Government is building its case to ban conversion practice depends largely on the stories of 15 individuals who each allege a negative experience of gay conversion practices.

The report,

“reveals the voices and lived experiences of 15 LGBT people who have struggled to reconcile their sexuality and transgender identities with the beliefs and practices of their religious community.”

“Nine participants identified as male and gay, two as female and lesbian, two as transgender, one as female and bisexual and one as non-binary. Thirteen participants were from Christian backgrounds, one from a Jewish background and one from a Buddhist background.”

Surely 15 individuals is an inadequate pool size from which to draw substantive conclusions. More importantly, the research appears to be guilty of sampling bias. The recruitment process was limited to a narrow range of networks, which inevitably biased the sampling group that would be chosen.

“Participants were recruited through social media, LGBTI media reportage of the project, and through various LGBTI, queer and ex-gay survivor networks. Participants were selected, using theoretical sampling, to be broadly representative of religious and LGBT demographics in Australia, and were screened for their psychological capacity to undertake an in-depth life interview about potentially traumatic personal histories.”

Significantly, no persons from Muslim, Hindu, or irreligious backgrounds were interviewed, and only persons who were negatively impacted are included in the report. While the 15 participants are Australians, it is not known how many were recipients of conversion practices in Victoria, which I would have thought is important for the given context.

It is also important to note that the report was co-written by an LGBTI advocacy group and by La Trobe University (which is famously responsible for orchestrating the Safe Schools curriculum). The credibility of the research is further weakened by the fact that the project steering committee consisted of representatives from LGBT lobby groups and progressive religious groups. To my knowledge, not one of the advisors represents a faith group that holds to the traditional understanding of sexuality and marriage. Why is that so? 

In other words, from beginning to end, this report is skewed. Even before one word was written, the trajectory was obvious. In my opinion, the report is biased, narrow in its engagement with relevant parties, and relies on a selected group of advisors who are predisposed to criticise beliefs and practices that don’t fully support LGBTIQ ideologies and lifestyles.

Once again, I am not arguing against the experiences of the 15 people and neither am I advocating for the kinds of therapies mentioned in the report. Pseudo-psychological and or spiritual practices aimed at altering a person’s sexuality can be harmful.  However, the Government’s adoption of the HRLC report is no way to put together public policy, let alone for establishing Government legislation. The HRLC  report may be used as a position paper but little more.

Victorians have been given the impression that Conversion Practices are widespread across the country and endemic within religious organisations, especially among Christians. The report states that, “Nonetheless, the ideology of the conversion therapy movement has become mainstreamed in many conservative Christian communities.” The reality is very different, and despite comments like in the previous sentence, the report evidences that the practice is marginal at most.

When a journalist from the ABC contacted me back in 2017, to ask what I thought about gay conversion therapy, I answered, 

“that sounds awful…I don’t know anyone who practices this and so I couldn’t even tell you who to speak to about it…I wouldn’t want  anyone subject to this kind of counselling and I don’t know anyone  who has been.”

If these conversion therapies are not a widespread and common practice throughout Victoria, one begins to ask, why is the Government making this into such a significant public issue, even warranting laws to prohibit practices that are voluntarily undertaken by people? I suspect part of the answer lays in the proposed definition of conversion practice, which will be the subject of my next post.

 

 


There was a typo earlier, which read HCC report, not HRLC. I am since fixed this