Abortion, Canada, and the relentless wave of Authoritarian Secularism

I love taking Claude (family greyhound) for an early morning walk through the streets of Parkdale and Mentone, and to listen to the Bible as we go. Today in the Psalms, I was struck by Psalm 8:2, which says,

“Through the praise of children and infants

    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,

    to silence the foe and the avenger.”

Afterward, I was catching up on the news and heard a report about a recent announcement by Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Organisations applying for Government funding for the Canadian Summer Jobs program, must now sign an attestation that they support abortion. The Government had tried previously to prevent funding to pro-life groups but there were legal hurdles that couldn’t be jumped. Instead, they have now built a wall to keep out organisations they won’t subscribe to the extreme social secularism that is being enforced on Canadians by the Trudeau Government.

 

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 10.07.38 am.png

The form states,

“CSJ applicants will be required to attest that both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

The employer attestation for CSJ 2018 is consistent with individual human rights in Canada, Charter rights and case law, and the Government of Canada’s commitment to human rights, which include women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians. Canada Summer Jobs 2018 4 The government recognizes that women’s rights are human rights. This includes sexual and reproductive rights — and the right to access safe and legal abortions. These rights are at the core of the Government of Canada’s foreign and domestic policies. The government recognizes that everyone should have the right to live according to their gender identity and express their gender as they choose, free from discrimination. The government is committed to protecting the dignity, security, and rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.”

According to information stated on the application form, the rationale for this change is twofold:

-to prevent the Canadian Government from funding projects that don’t endorse abortion and LGBTQI rights,

-and to protect minors being “exposed” to these anti-social views.

Among the organisations that are unable to sign the attestation are Christian groups, many who previously were part of the program and providing work for Canadian youth.

Attention to this new policy came to fore last week when Justin Trudeau was asked a question about free speech during a Town hall meeting at McMaster University, Hamilton. He answered,

“In this country, we defend each other’s rights, even when they’re unpopular, as we’ve seen a couple of times. At the same time, we need to know that there is a difference between freedom of expression and acting on those expressions and beliefs. A great example that I was wondering whether you’d bring up is the current kerfuffle around the Canada Summer Jobs program, and expecting that any organization that gets funding to bring young people through the Summer Jobs program – which hundreds of thousands of young people go through – will respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Now, that doesn’t mean that religious groups and faith groups can’t apply for that. On the contrary, so many of the great community organizations that we have working incredibly hard are faith-based across this country and it’s an important and wonderful part of our society. It does, however, mean – and this is where we get to the crux of the matter – that an organization that has the explicit purpose of restricting women’s rights by removing rights to abortion, the right for women to control their own bodies, is not in line with where we are as a government, and quite frankly where we are as a society.”

The fact the Mr Trudeau felt liberty to use the Summer Jobs Program as his example in answering a question on free speech, says something about his confidence for advancing his social agenda.

Trudeau’s comments are sadly not unusual, but are indicative of much western civilisation today. He is saying to Canadian Christians, ‘we’ll let you hold your believes in private, and perhaps within the confide of your association, but these views are no longer permitted publicly’. This means that organisations will either have to bury their convictions, hide their conscience, and sign the document, or accept that they are no longer Canadians of equal footing and thus lose their funding.

Of course, this is Canada, not Australia. However, we are not so different. Our culture, our history, and our system of Government, is more closely aligned to Canada than it is the United States. The same authoritarian secularism that is sweeping the the land of the maple leaf is also at work here in the south.

It is a perfect illustration of where Western secularism is moving; the gods of the sexual revolution don’t take prisoners. Indeed they will sacrifice the unborn and will trample on the living dissidents. We have already seen a similar move undertaken in Australia. In 2016, the Victorian State Government attempted to legislate that all religious groups must conform to a proposed ‘inherent requirements test”. In short, this would removed freedom from churches and organisations to employ persons based on the theological convictions of the group. The legislation was finally defeated in the Upper House by a single vote. The point is, a State Government in Australia felt as though the sway of society had moved such that they could put forward such Erastian law.

It should also be noted that in addition to the new restriction, Canadian groups are calling for  “anti-abortion” agencies to lose their charitable status altogether.

Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, 

“No anti-abortion agency should be registered as a charity…The mission and activities of anti-choice groups are inherently political and biased, which should disqualify them from charitable status. They work to stigmatize abortion, constrain individuals’ access to it, and ultimately to re-criminalize it.”

In light of the recent introduction of same sex marriage in Australia, the hot issue has become religious freedom and freedom of conscience. These issues have been highlighted by some in the Federal Parliament, and mocked by others. In response to what is probably a combination of reasoned argument and political pressure, a panel has been established to review Australia’s religious freedoms.

As Australians talk about religious freedoms and submit reports to the Ruddock Inquiry, we shouldn’t be surprised to find some who look to this latest Canadian example and use it as ammunition to further squeeze religious freedoms here in Australia.

Jane Caro is a representative of the vanguard of socio-politico thinking in Australia. Two days before Christmas she wrote an article for The Saturday Paper, in which she argued a case for defunding religious schools. In the wake of same sex marriage, Caro has strong views about schools and other organisations whose views differ to the newly redefined Marriage Act.

“We believe that if publicly subsidised schools – and other religious organisations – wish to discriminate against others, they should have to advertise both whom they discriminate against and why – prominently – in all promotional material, prospectuses, websites and job ads. One of the costs of discrimination is that it narrows the field of available talent and anyone considering using the services of such a school ought to be fully informed about that.

Another way of making the statutory right to discriminate fairer for everyone is to remove the blanket exemption and require authorities wishing to discriminate to appeal for an exemption in specific cases. As private school providers claim they rarely resort to exercising their freedom to discriminate, this would seem the most sensible way forward. It might be reasonable to seek to apply religious selection criteria to those who will be giving religious instruction, but why would a mathematics or physics teacher, or a rowing master, or a cleaner or groundskeeper need to be selected on such a basis?

Why should public funds be provided for those staffing positions that require religious discrimination? Surely it would be reasonable for the costs of these positions to be met by the faith community itself, specifically the church and the parents?”

 

It is easy for people to say, “the answer is straightforward, stop applying for Government funding.” The issue is less about the money, but the attack of religious freedom and freedom of speech. This is yet another example of a western nation shedding principles of a liberal democracy. Where citizens lose the freedom to express a point of view (indeed, a viewpoint that was until recent times morally accepted and valued) and are threatened with defunding for holding that position, we are witnessing societies letting go of principles that made possible the creation of the modern democratic State.

Authoritarian secularism may employ the language of progress, equality and fairness, but the reality is very different to their sloganeering. This is about changing how people think and live, this is about redefining truth and morality, and forcing everyone to worship at the feet of our modern manifestations of Moloch and Venus. Aussie Christians need to get used to the fact that the country has changed. We are no longer nominally Christian, and that means that many of the structures and moral frames which built this wonderful nation are being removed. There will be social stigma, there will be financial cost.

How different was my morning reading from Psalm 8. The God of the Bible reveals his glory in his creation, and most wonderfully in humanity. He affirms the praises and song of children and of infants; they are wonderfully made. How different is the view of children that Canada now promotes.

The Lord is majestic in all the earth, both in his stunning acts of creation and in his wondrous act of redemption.

The Psalmist asks,

“what is mankind that you are mindful of them,

    human beings that you care for them?”

The answer given is that God give human kind unique glory and honour, and has placed them uniquely in all the universe to rule. God’s image bearers all fall, failing to rule with care, justice, and kindness.  In love God’s only Son descended to the grave, having being killed in the place of sinners. He was raised to life on the third day, to defeat not only death, but to prove the efficacy of his death for sin.

“Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Advertisements

Penal Substitution is good news

The salvation of men and women from the penal consequences and power of sin through the perfect obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ, His atoning death, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and His unchanging priesthood. (Article 5 of the Australian Baptist Union Doctrinal Statement)

 

Scott Higgins is offering Australian Christians an alternative Gospel to the one deeply held and preached by evangelicals.

In a recent blog post titled, Now this is really good news! Reframing the Gospel, he suggests

“The gospel of Jesus paying the penalty for our sin may have resonated powerfully in mediaeval times through to enormous upheaval in thinking, values and attitudes that emerged in Western society in the 1960s. In our era it has lost resonance.”

Higgins doesn’t settle for the view that the concept of penal substitution is no longer powerful and relevant, he wants us to believe that it is not of the Gospel taught by Jesus and by the Apostles, rather PSA belongs to a formulation created by the medieval church.

He writes,

“Walk into any evangelical church today and this is not what you are likely to hear when people declare the “good news”. You’re much more likely to hear that God is a loving but holy king who is deeply distressed at our refusal to worship him, and who is bound by the demands of justice to punish all human beings for their wrongdoing. So grievous is our offence that that God will condemn us to live eternally in hell, a place so void of goodness, so utterly and excruciatingly painful, it is beyond our worst nightmares. Yet because loves us, God has found a way out of this terrible destiny. God became incarnate in Jesus Christ and took the penalty we deserved, meaning all of who choose to follow Jesus will be considered as if we had never sinned and will be welcomed into heaven.

I suspect that there is a lot more mediaeval in the articulation of the gospel we proclaim today then we would like to admit. Go back to the preaching of the apostles in the book of Acts and you will not hear the gospel described this way. The emphasis is placed firmly on the resurrection as a sign that God had done something extraordinary in the world and that all people should follow Jesus. Was the notion that Christ paid the penalty for our sin part of the follow-on teaching that people received after they converted? Maybe. Maybe not.”

 

There are more than a few problems with Higgins presentation. Here are 4:

Firstly, Higgins hides history

Higgins’ suggestion that an emphasis on penal substitution relies on medieval theology and not the New Testament cannot be sustained.

A thousand years before medieval Europe, the Early Church Fathers taught and affirmed the necessity and centrality of penal substitutionary atonement. Here are just 3 example quotes:

“If, the, the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He has been crucified and was dead, He would raise him up, why do you argue about Him, who submitted to suffer these things according to the Father’s will, as if he were accursed, and do not rather bewail yourselves?” (Justin Martyr)

“Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by .the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.” (Athanasius)

“But as Christ endured death as man, and for man; so also, Son of God as He was, ever living in His own righteousness, but dying for our offences, He submitted as man, and for man, to bear the curse which accompanies death.  And as He died in the flesh which He took in bearing our punishment, so also, while ever blessed in His own righteousness, He was cursed for our offences, in the death which He suffered in bearing our punishment.  And these words “every one” are intended to check the ignorant officiousness which would deny the reference of the curse to Christ, and so, because the curse goes along with death, would lead to the denial of the true death of Christ.” (Augustine)

Not only did the early church affirm and explain PSA, so did Christian theologians throughout the early and high middle ages, the Reformers, and Evangelicals from the 18th through to 21st Centuries.

Second, does the Bible teach penal substitution?

Higgins casts aspersions on the idea that either Jesus or the Apostles necessarily believed and taught the doctrine of penal substitution. To use his own words, “Maybe. Maybe not”.

Readers are left wondering, if he believes in PSA why does he want readers left to doubt?

It of course doesn’t require a Bachelor of Theology to know that both Jesus and the Apostles readily affirmed different facets to the atonement, including penal substitution. For example, the Gospel writers interpreted the significance of Jesus’ death in terms of the Old Testament, chief among them was the Passover, Yom Kippur, and the Servant of Isaiah 53. In all 3 cases one who is innocent dies in the place of the guilty in order to satisfy Divine wrath.

All four Gospels either explicitly quote or implicitly reference the Servant Song (Isaiah 53) more often than any other OT passage. R.T France is correct when he talks about Jesus‘ repeated self-identification with the servant of Isaiah 53. Thus, the entire trajectory of Jesus’ earthly ministry as recorded in Scripture is an embodiment of the suffering servant who’s life culminated in a cross and death, before climaxing in a resurrection:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Indeed, Jesus described his coming death in these terms,

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”. (26:28)

1 Corinthians ch.15 is the one of the Bible’s most wonderful explorations of the nature of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and of its significance. The Apostle begins the chapter by outlining the Gospel.

“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.”

Paul makes it clear that the Gospel he received and preached, is the Gospel the Corinthians received and believed, and is the Gospel which saves. This Gospel contains primary (or essential) elements, which includes the person of Jesus Christ, the testimony of the Scriptures, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and his substitutionary death. The preposition used by Paul here, huper, denotes substitution; Christ died on our behalf/in our place for of our sins.

Thirdly, Higgins unnecessarily pits cosmic and social renewal against personal redemption.

He bemoans evangelicals talking about personal accountability before a Holy God and personal salvation through Jesus Christ, and instead wants us focusing on God defeating the powerful, the wealthy and other structures who trample on the poor and on the environment. Why do we need to choose between the two? Is not the love of money an expression of personal sin before God? Is not using power to crush the weak a demonstration of personal guilt and of need for atonement?

The Gospel of Christ offers a redemption that is individual, corporate and cosmic. We find all three in Colossians 1:15-23.

“15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

“21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”

There is peace is for the individual who has been justified through faith in Christ (Romans 5:1). God does not redeem individuals to remain isolated and separated, for peace is inherently about relationships. In the first and primary place it is relationship with God, but God is also making peace between people, and this on view in Colossians. The cross has a established a corporate peace, known as the Church.

This peace issued through the cross will have a reconciling effect on all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven. Colossians 1:20 is a challenging verse, and it is difficult to conceive how this promised cosmic renewal will appear. Paul can not  be arguing that somehow every single person will be justified and brought into heavenly citizenship and that even the cosmos might somehow attain salvation; Paul was no universalist. The Scriptures make clear that the wrath of God is no empty phrase and that hell is a real place which will hold those things that have been exposed by the light and not saved to the light.

Of Colossians 1:20, F.F Bruce explains, “ultimate reconciliation involves peace. This does not imply “that every human being, irrespective…of his attitude to God, will at last enjoy celestial bliss. “When Paul speak here of reconciliation in the widest scale, he includes in it what we should call pacification”. By pacification, he is referring  to realities submitting against their will to a power they cannot resist. We must appreciate however that such Divine power is never used as an unjust and abusive sword, but always with precision against evil, not “because God is hard but because he is good”.

Murray Harris writes, “The whole universe has been restored to its God ordained destiny”. Peace is not the inclusion of all things into a state of salvific bliss but the right ordering of all things, which focuses on a great salvation but which also includes judgment.

“The point is not that the stars and planets have sinned and need atonement as human beings do. But rather, the sin of human beings has led to a twisting of the whole universe that only redemption of human sin can set right.” (John Frame)

 

Fourthly, Higgins suggests a view of God that is problematic.

While he doesn’t want to say it unequivocally, it appears as though his gripe with PSA is that it conflicts with his view of God and that God could ever exercise violence.

“God was refusing to play by the rules of violence and power. God’s reign would not be achieved through the triumph of violence. God would absorb every vindictive blow, every greedy grasp for power, every hateful curse and meet it with love and forgiveness. Incredibly, Jesus’s prayer was “Father forgive them”.

The problem is not so much what Higgins says in these couple of sentences, but what he insinuates by connecting them with his condemnation of Christians preaching about PSA. While again being careful to avoid open denial, he is sketching a view of God where a violent action like penal substitution is unbefitting the God who opposes violence and power. This is another example of Higgins creating a false dichotomy and fudging the biblical presentation of the cross.  As the Gospels show us, Jesus’ extraordinary words of kindness and love from the cross were accompanied with these other words, ““Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).”

On the cross the Father turned his face away. This was not an accident. God was not passive. The crucifixion was not merely the act of evil persons, for God had willed and planned that his Son would willingly go to the cross, to take the punishment of sinners,

“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23)

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dd9a.jpg

At a stretch, one might read Scott’s argument as an attempt to restore an aspect of Christ’s work that is sometimes overlooked. If he is simply saying, “don’t forget about the cosmic and social implications of the cross and resurrection”, that is useful. However, he seems to be saying more than this. He’s trying to remove from Gospel presentations talk about penal substitution. According to Higgins, PSA has no power to convict and covert contemporary Australians, and it’s probably not a bible idea anyway!

I have elsewhere summarised the 4 basic positions toward the doctrine of penal substitution and I think it is worthwhile repeating them here:

4 Basic positions on penal substition

First, there are those who deny PSA. There are two basic groups of people who fall under this category: those who reject the idea that PSA is affirmed in the New Testament, and those who believe it is taught but have decided to reject that part of the Bible. There are of course further subgroups, those who have issue with concept of substitution and those who only discredit the adjective penal.

Second, those who accept the Bible’s teaching on PSA, believing it is necessary but dismissing the notion that it is central.

Third, those who accept the Bible’s teaching on PSA and who believe it is central, but who believe that other aspects of the atonement have been downplayed and need to rediscovered and given proper emphasis. To explore other dimensions of the atonement at length is not too deny PSA, but it is restoring the beauty of these facets that are sometimes hidden. Of course, there is also more to the ministry of Christ than the atonement: there is his pre-incarnate work, his incarnation, life, resurrection, ascension, reign, intercession, return and Kingly judgement.

Fourth, those who accept the Bible’s teaching on PSA but downplay other aspects of the atonement.

It is difficult to see how the first position is tenable within Christian orthodoxy, for PSA is intricately tied to too many Christian doctrines. Rejecting PSA is often preceded by a changed doctrine of God. It is worth noting that those who deny penal substitution in one hand are often redefining sin on the other hand. Scott is not the only Australian Baptist who throws mud at PSA while arguing for godly sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage. Perhaps we should not be surprised though, that those who don’t believe what God says about sin also don’t accept God’s answer to sin.

The second position is problematic because the Bible does view PSA as critical and foundational. There are many Gospel presentations found in Scripture that do not explicitly speak of either substitution or penal, but of course no Gospel outline ever says everything. And yet, there is a clear weightedness given to substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death which appeases the righteous wrath of a righteous God.

The fourth position is understandable when ministering in a context where PSA is being attacked, however in defending the truth of one doctrine we must be careful not to neglect other important biblical notions of the cross.

The fourth position can end up becoming a reduced gospel. If we only ever preach on the penal aspect of the cross, we will be missing out on the full wonder of the atonement, and we will also be guilty of executing Scripture poorly. If we never speak about PSA then we are guilty of misrepresenting God’s message, and if we neglect those other facets then we are starving our churches and cutting bridges with people where we should be building them. As I mentioned before, if this Higgins’ point then he has something worth saying, but if that is so, why not say it? 

My question to Scott Higgins is, in which of these 4 positions do you fit?  Do you believe Jesus death on the cross includes propitiation?

Aspects of the Gospel may not be popular in Australia right now but that is no reason to minimise them, or worse, to deny them. I’m not saying it’s easy. Then again, did Jesus ever say that evangelism would be easy? What Australian Christians need is to take even greater care to understand the Gospel as revealed in Scripture and to explain with clarity and earnestness this good news of God to our neighbours. It is the failure of Churches to do this, and a lack of imagination to trust God’s Gospel that will make Churches ineffective and irrelevant to Australia in 2018.

Volunteering makes the world a better place

2018 may only be 5 days old, but we already have a contender for the most stupid article of year award.

For a moment, I thought all Fairfax Editors had vacated the building for summer holidays and had given the keys to an 18 year old work experience student who’s started the campaign to elect Bernie Sanders as the next Prime Minister of Australia.

Fairfax has published a piece with the title, Volunteering doesn’t make the world a better place.

As the headline suggests, the article is an attack on the indispensable practice of voluntary work in Australia.

Catherine Walsh is calling on Australians to “stop volunteering”.

Why? She sees volunteering as a faux help, not resolving societal issues but aggravating them. Walsh arrives at her conclusion by arguing that voluntarism is inefficient, is unvalued, and is exploited by organisations who are disinterested in solving problems.

Walsh’s solution seems to be, get rid of voluntarism and instead let’s create a bigger government and remunerate people for all their work. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Let’s handball even more communal opportunity and responsibility over to Government, and let’s suck out the tiny bit of oxygen that keeps Australian philanthropy alive. Instead of donating time and money to causes that we think highly of, let’s give Government permission to charge even higher taxes to pay for the programs that it subscribes as morally relevant.

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dd71.jpg

Apart from her less than satisfactory alternative to voluntarism, there are several important flaws in Walsh’s presentation of volunteering that require response.

Firstly, Walsh largely equates volunteering with virtual signalling. She says,

“Being a volunteer, or fundraising, or working for a charity, signals that you are a good person.”

“If volunteering was valued we would have a separate resume for it, at parties people would ask each other about their volunteering, and hours worked would contribute to superannuation.”

I have no doubt that there are persons involved in voluntary work because it gives them a drug free high. They feel good about themselves, and they enjoy the praise they receive from people around them. That is certainly not the Christian motivation for doing good. We give because we know the joy of what it is to receive. Those who have been loved, want to love others.

According to Walsh, if Australians truly value volunteering, we would be congratulating one another. But why should people boast about their volunteering and donating? Doing so undercuts the very nature of the work, that is, it is being done for the good of others, not for oneself. Is it not possible that Australians happily give time and effort to serve others without demanding compensation, let alone, superannuation? Where is the ideal of sacrificial giving? Indeed, as soon as we strip these Christian foundations for society, we fast become bereft of moral structures that we need for building a healthy society.

And BTW, people can and do include volunteer work on their resumes!

Not only does Catherine Walsh paint volunteerism as egotism, she secondly alleges that voluntary work is inefficient.

“A lot of the volunteering we do is inefficient. Schools ask that parents bake cakes to be sold to the children of other parents who have baked cakes. Most school events involve sausages on white bread and fizzy drinks, which is not recommended as a healthy diet. Chocolates are sold in staffrooms to raise money for the children’s hospital. Rubber wristbands are sold by charities to raise awareness of illnesses. A fundraiser for the environment can sell unhealthy food one week, and a fundraiser for health can damage the environment the next. This is inefficient. Any effort to help one system should not be feeding into the brokenness of another. In order to be helpful we need to factor in all systems at once.”

I do agree with one small point here  – her examples about about cake stalls and chocolate drives; these are often self-defeating exercises given that the very people designed help are the ones buying the sugary treats. We shouldn’t need incentive in order to give generously to a cause that we value. Volunteering though is not donating: voluntarism isn’t donating $5 at a school fete and receiving a chocolate bar in return.  Voluntarism is work without pay; it is giving time, energy, skills, and productivity for a cause without expecting any reimbursement.

Is voluntary work always efficient? No. But then, is paid work always more efficient? Is Government the very epitome of efficiency? And why is efficiency the only measure worthwhile considering?

Much of life is not efficient. Relationships are often complex and messy, and they require time and patience and perseverance. The reality is, not all of life’s brokenness can be fixed with a signed policy statement and a grant dispersed by Government bureaucrats.

Matt Perman explores this myth about work in the book, What’s Best Next?. He writes,

“While efficiency is important, it is secondary. More important than efficiency is effectiveness — getting the right things done. Efficiency doesn’t matter if you are doing the wrong things in the first place.”

It is also important to broaden the view of worthwhile work which is suggested by Walsh. For example, Tim Keller defines work as, ‘rearranging the raw material of God’s creation in such a way that it helps the world in general, and people in particular, thrive and flourish.”

Dorothy L. Sayers asks the poignant question, “We should ask of an enterprise, not “will it pay?” but “is it good?” She argues, “the habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolution change it would be to think about it instead in terms of the work done. To do so would mean taking the attitudes of mind we reserve for our unpaid work – our hobbies, our leisure interests, the things we make and do for pleasure – and making that the standard of all our judgements about things and people”

In other words, while we shouldn’t ignore inefficiency, there are bigger and more important questions that need asking about our work, and indeed why we should value unpaid work. At its root, Walsh advocates a consumerist and individualist paradigm which inevitably squashes the greater love, which requires selfless giving for another’s good.

Thirdly, Walsh presents a narrow understanding of voluntarism.

In her article, Catherine Walsh is targeting organisational volunteerism, however much voluntary work and giving in our local communities is informal.

I think of my local cricket club which depends upon the generosity of volunteers who love the game and who want to encourage children in the game. I think of the local athletics club where my daughter runs, and how they depend on the voluntary time giving by families.  

Thinking of my own local church, where people lovingly pour 1000s of hours into giving, serving, caring, and organising. What they achieve is more than running a few programs, they are building and belonging to community, and including others in this endeavour. Societal cohesion and growth cannot be left to Government, but requires spontaneous and informal contributions from the grassroots up. It’s about loving our neighbour as ourself.

Walsh soon enlightens us as to where her real criticism lays – it is with religious organisations and churches. She says, 

“Many government services are now outsourced to church-run charities, which win contracts due to their tax concessions and tax donation status – and rely on the work of volunteers. They are exempt from anti-discrimination laws. It is not in their interest to solve problems.”

“It is not in their interest to solve problems”?

Wow. One can only assume Walsh has never visited a church, nor observed religious charities at work, nor considered the data which elucidates the extraordinary work being achieved by religious groups in this country. Of course there are always going to be a few bad eggs in any system, but is she being serious? Is this a moment of hyperbole? I know of countless people who have found financial restitution through the generosity of others, of mums who can go back to work because friends are helping to baby sit, of marriages being healed because of counselling provided, of people offering beds for those without, of finding hope and forgiveness where society offered none.

A healthy society can only exist where the people contribute to the wellbeing of others without seeking personal benefit. Do we want to be taking away further personal responsibility and opportunity, and therefore assume that big Government will take care of it? If anything, this will produce more cracks and more people going without.

Imagine Australian society with Surf Life Savers, the CFA and SES, without locally run sporting clubs and playgroups. Consider the billions of dollars that we would be required to pay to Government, should churches and religious organisations (yes, primarily Christian) were abandoned of free serving and giving volunteers?

I’m reminded of the words by the Apostle Paul, who said of Christians,

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.”

The Apostle doesn’t call us to dump everything on Government, or to assume someone else will do it, or to demand reimbursement for services completed. He writes in the context of Christian freedom, for we work in light of an eternal future that has been made secure by a God who worked by grace for our good.

25 of the Greatest Music Compositions

I thought I would kick off 2018 with a very different blog to what readers are used to here at murraycampbell.net. For fun, I wish to offer a definitive (yes, I said definitive!) list of the finest musical works ever written (perhaps not definitive…but close).

Music is one of God’s greatest gifts to the world, and these are some of the most extraordinary examples of this Divine endowment.

Narrowing the possibilities to only 25 is sufficiently impossible, let alone settling on a sequential order with some silly countdown.  For how can one compare Bach to Mozart, or Debussy with Rachmaninov? Can’t one appreciate both apples and oranges? Nonetheless, not all compositions are created equal.

Lists often reveal more about the compiler than they do about the items being collated; this is probably no exception. That withstanding, in my view these are 25 of the greatest compositions ever written. Some of these works I learned and performed when I was younger, and others I first discovered others at an even younger age, while others grabbed hold of me as an adult. Many of them have a back story which I won’t bore you with, but one thing each of these works have in common, and that is, I regularly listen to them. While some of these works are notable for their influence on music history, and all for their musical genius, they each offer to send listeners  traveling through the chromatic scale of human experience, whether it is by their sheer beauty or wonderment or sorrow or haunting qualities.

No doubt others will have alternate suggestions. It’s probably safe to say that among 1000 or even 100,000 readers, no two lists will be alike. And yes, I’m sure the philistines among us will be tempted to include a song that utilises the creative genius of  I – vi – IV – V and the compulsory drum kit! 

So what would you include?

If you have never listened to these works, go ahead and enjoy, be moved, be delighted, be challenged, be intrigued.

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dece.jpg

Blurry photo of Maurizio Pollini taken by me at the Lincoln Centre 2017

 

J.S  Bach

“Jesu meine freude” Motet BWV 227

Well Tempered Clavier

Goldberg Variations BWV 988

Violin Sonata in G Minor BWV 1001

Mass in B Minor BWV 232

St Matthew’s Passion BWV 244

 

George F Handel

Messiah

 

Mozart

Don Giovanni

The Magic Flute

Piano Concerti nos. 20 and 21

Clarinet Quintet in A Major

Requiem Mass

 

Beethoven

Piano Sonata No.8 in C Minor “Pathetique” (or no.29 “Hammerklavier”)

 

Chopin

The Ballades

 

Tchaikovsky

Symphony 5 in E Minor Op.64

 

Puccini

La Boheme

 

Debussy

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune

Preludes for Piano (books 1 and 2)

La Mer

String quartet in G Minor

 

Rachmaninov

Piano Concerto no.2  in C Minor Op.18

Piano Concerto no.3 in D Minor Op.30

Symphony no.2 in E Minor  Op.27

 

Elgar

Cello Concerto in E Minor Op. 85

 

Dmitri Shostakovich

Piano Concerto no.2 Op.102