Melbourne and the rest

Perhaps I should preface this self-congratulatory post by acknowledging that it may contain grains of hubris and slices of hyperbole and possible inflation of reality, but this is Melbourne and this is what we do.

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No other Australian city has the MCG!

This following list was compiled a few years ago, but in honour of some friends of mine who are currently touring around Australia and are seemingly confused about Australia’s great city and the provincial cousins, here is the true picture; unembellished and free from facts.

This is how Melbournians relate to the rest of Australia:

  • We like Tasmanians because they’re like a younger sibling to us and they are so lucky to have as an older brother.
  • We laugh at Queenslanders because they are slow and talk funny.
  • We don’t like Adelaide because they want to prove themselves to be our equal and we know they’re not.
  • We have an eternal grudge match against Sydney. We dislike Sydney so much that our newspapers have a mandatory editorial published every month about why Melbourne is better than Sydney (this sentence is one of the few in this post that’s actually true!). We know we’re superior to Sydney, if only the world we recognize that fact. What makes this rivalry almost unbearable is that when a Melbournian meets a Sydney-sider, this northern neighbor is usually oblivious to the fact that the two cities are meant to be at war. Most foreigners think that Sydney is the capital of Australia. When we’ve stopped laughing at this ludicrous conceit, we take it as a personal insult.
  • We would also take issue with Perth but Perth is so remote we can’t be bothered to yawn at their cultural insignificance…although we happily shared from their billions coming the mining industry boom.

 

I hear what some critics suggest and that Melbourne’s weather is somewhat unpredictable,  and not always as sunny and as warm as Brisbane and Perth. Melbourne retorts, who wants sunny every day? The fact that snow and sun and heat and cold will share the 24-hour weather cycle gives birth to the artistry and complex cultural diversity that continues to define Melbourne as the world’s greatest metropolis. We have grabbed hold of these slings and arrows of climate to create cafes and sporting events and parklands to envy galleries all over the globe. Why else do we care that our airport is so ugly and inconvenient? Because once you’re here, you’ll never need to go back to the airport. 

Put it this way. In 2018, 119,000 people left their homes from all over Australia and from across the world, and made Melbourne their new home. On average 100,000 people move here each year to drink our coffee and to play our footy (and possibly for one or two other reasons also). Indeed, Melbourne will soon outshine Sydney altogether as she loses her final vestige of dominance over us, the awe-inspiring and pointless statistic: Australia’s largest city.

 And what about the rest of the world? Every year we pump ourselves up with self-adoration and we award ourselves with medals for competitions that don’t exist…because we are best! Melbourne’s “National” Art Gallery recently showed off an exhibit about, you guessed it, Melbourne and why Melbourne beats the rest.

If anyone is still left with a smidgeon of doubt, remember this, the rest of the world continues to vote Melbourne as the most liveable city in the world. No-one quite knows what “liveable” means, but that’s beside the point.*

 

*yes, Melbourne has recently lost the title to Vienna but one can’t allow such details to interrupt my narrative

A Mural and a Sign: Two Messages for Melbourne

A mural has appeared in Melbourne’s famous Hosier Lane. I’m not sure whether it’s commemorating or celebrating the egging of Senator Fraser Anning, but it’s there and no doubt it’ll gain national if not international attention by tomorrow morning.

It was only last night that I realised that this incident took place just up the road from where I live and from where my church is located. Frankly, I felt sickened that in my neighbourhood an event took place which is being described as an extreme right-wing political meeting.

 

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Photograph V.T Rudd

The egging was a 17-year-old boy’s response to Senator Anning’s comments about Friday’s terrorist attack in Christchurch, where 50 Muslims were murdered as they prayed in two separate Mosques. Senator Anning suggested,

“The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand… The entire religion of Islam is simply the violent ideology of a sixth century despot masquerading as a religious leader.”

He then had the audacity to misread and misapply the Bible as a proof text. Dr Andrew Moody has written a helpful article which explains what Jesus is saying, as opposed to the message Anning is communicating.

I find Senator Anning’s comments morally repugnant. As an Australian, I wish we would be more welcoming of refugees. I spoke to someone over the weekend who works among some of the poorest and more oppressed peoples in the Middle East. They reminded me of the continued needs that thousands of Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis have, who are looking for a new home, a place that is safe and where they can raise their families without bloodshed.  Also, as a Christian who is serving in a church literally down the road from Moorabbin, I find Anning’s use of Jesus’ words repellent.

Like many Australians, I understand why a 17 year old boy might be tempted to ‘egg’ the Senator when the opportunity arose. If I was 17 years old and the supermarket was close by, I might also be tempted to do likewise, but surely we don’t correct one wrong by making another, even if it a relatively harmless egg.

What has been equally sad in the midst of a grief that so many New Zealanders are experiencing this week, is to see politicians, journalists and social commentators throwing their own rhetorical eggs at each other, lobbing insults from left to right and from right to left. If tragedies like Christchurch are unable to bring communities closer together, we have drifted into an unseemly place in our society. It has reached levels where I prefer not to check my twitter feed, and where reading the opinion pages leaves one feeling more disillusioned and disappointed. I don’t think it’s because we have forgotten how to speak civilly and how to show respect by carefully listening to each other, it’s that we don’t want to, and when people do try they are often shouted down with a torrent of verbal insults. The aim of the day is to win the argument by shouting louder and making oneself appear more morally outraged than others.

A few minutes drive south from Moorabbin along Nepean Hwy and with a left hand turn into Mentone, there is a sign which has been displaying its message for 50 years. Thousands of cars drive past this sign every day, although I suspect most people take little notice; it certainly won’t gain the attention that the mural will receive. I understand why. However, the message does grab the attention of some people. At Church yesterday, a man shared his testimony before the congregation and explained how he was driving past Mentone Baptist Church a few years ago and the message on this sign stood out to him and left him wondering about his own life. He eventually started to attend the Church and he became a Christian, his life turned dramatically, and yesterday he and another young guy at Mentone were baptised down at Parkdale Beach.

The message he saw reads, “Jesus Saves”. It is simple and beautiful, its meaning is ancient and yet also current, it both repels and compels, it creates questions and gives an answer. The message is very different from the mural on Hosier Lane that is imprinting the Moorabbin incident onto the city landscape. In a couple of years time only a few people will remember the egging and by then the mural will have been painted over many times. But the good news message of Jesus Christ will still be here, not because there’s anything special about the sign at Mentone Baptist, but because He is that good. It is a message that not only stands against racism but all manner of thinking and living that deposes goodness and truth and life. It is a message that not only signals fault but speaks of an extraordinary and undeserving redemption.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

 

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Be more like Jesus: Responding to Christchurch

I had just finished writing my sermon for Sunday when I saw the news breaking out of New Zealand. Unfolding during the course of the afternoon, gunmen attacked 2 Mosques in Christchurch, killing at yet unknown number of people and injuring many more. News outlets have confirmed what already seemed obvious, that the intent was to kill Muslims while at their Friday prayers.

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The Bible text that I’m preaching this Sunday is Matthew 15:21-28. It retells an occasion when Jesus was traveling through a region outside Galilee and Judea. As he traversed between Tyre and Sidon, two cities that were populated with followers of various religions (views of God that differed greatly from Judaism), a woman identified as a Canaanite pleads with Jesus for help.

The disciples on this occasion react with disdain and bigotry. The Canaanites were traditional enemies of Israel, and even in the First Century AD, cultural differences existed as well as irreconcilable religious differences. The disciples’ response to the woman wasn’t uncommon. Jesus, however, repudiated their hatred and acted contrary to what the disciples were asking. Instead of pushing her away, Jesus engaged with her, affirmed her cries for help and restored her troubled daughter.

“So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”And her daughter was healed at that moment.”

Jesus’ first words might appear harsh at first, even with a tone of disdain, almost as though he is mimicking the disciples; which of course he is. Jesus was repeating the disciples’ attitudes back to them while also drawing out the genuineness of the woman’s faith in him.

The lesson Jesus was teaching the disciples remains one that we cannot afford to lose today in our age of outrage and the at times, appalling acts of evil. There is a time for anger. There is a time for hate – to hate evil and those who perpetrate evil. But how does Jesus respond to difference here? What we see in Jesus is him entering a territory where the God of Israel was not worshiped and where the law of God was not esteemed. He doesn’t respond to the woman with bigotry and exclusion, but with compassion and inclusion. She calls out to Jesus to save her daughter, and he did.

Surely Christians must respond to others as did Jesus. Not because we are playing silly theological games of ‘all religions are the same’, but because we all share the imago dei and because we have come to know the beautiful grace of God and desire others to know this freedom and life.

We can love Muslim neighbours by praying for those injured and for the many who are now mourning incredible losses. Prayer is not wasted breath, but the extraordinary invitation of loving God who is Father.

We can love our Muslim neighbours by showing kindness to them. On the street, offer a smile. Take a few minutes to chat and offer some kinds words of encouragement. If we don’t have any Muslims in our circle of friends, why not? What can we do to change this omission?

We can love not only by renouncing the hateful speech of those who oppose Christianity on the left, but also publicly repudiate those on the extreme right who support, urge, and carry out malicious attacks on Muslims, on Jews, and others.

Too many tears are being shed in Christchurch tonight, and they will flow for many days to come. Let us sit down and weep with them.

Christchurch is a city name that evokes the most righteous and good, loving and kind man who has ever walked the earth; yes even God himself. He rebuked hate and he loved. Let us learn to become more like Jesus.

Raising the stakes on sex

Jane Caro and John Dickson have been exchanging thought tweets over the past couple of weeks.  It has been an interesting and helpful dialogue. I think it’s important for us to listen to each other in order to understand what makes each person ticks and to find out why we believe what we believe. 

Over the weekend Jane Caro made a comment which appears (Jane can correct me if I’m wrong) to have been written as a way of closing down this conversation. Caro said,

“Dear right-to-life men, if u have sex without wearing a condom u have no right 2stand on any kind of moral high ground & compel a woman 2carry your stray sperm 2fruition. In fact, if u ever have sex without being fully prepared to raise any child who may result u are a fraud”.

John Dickson noted the pro-life position that Caro has unwittingly outlined, not only for men but also for women. He said,

“I agree with this. But I wonder if you do! You wrote: “In fact, if u ever have sex without being fully prepared to raise any child who may result u are a fraud.” Does that apply to women, too?”

He later responded to someone who objected to his question by saying,

“All of that is true. None of it negates the question: Shouldn’t both sexes be willing to take full responsibility for any life that is created by having sex? I say: yes! Is it really plausible to suggest this principle only applies to men?”

Again, it’s a fair question.

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I’ve noticed amidst recent commentary on abortion that there’s another piece of logic and ethics that has, in my opinion, gone astray. The logic goes like this,

  1. Leading up to and during sex, a man needs to take responsibility for his actions.
  2. If the woman falls pregnant, it is her decision alone whether she keeps or aborts the child
  3. Upon giving the birth the man ought to share responsibility for raising and supporting the child

I suspect almost everyone agrees with points 1 and 3. We need to acknowledge that there are some men who fail miserably on points 1 and or 3. The Proverb is true of them,

“Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” (Proverbs 25:28)”.

While I have met such men, I know many more who behave very differently, and with great love, care, and responsibility. Notice, however, that this chain of responsibility has been cut in the middle?

Last week I was reminded in very adamant terms that men shouldn’t talk to the topic of abortion. The argument presented was that men don’t experience pregnancy and so they should simply shut up. The baby is nor forming inside the man, and so his views are not required….except for those men who publicly and without qualification support the course of abortion! Yes, men do not and cannot understand what it is like to be pregnant, with all its joys and fears, expectations and uncertainties, but that does not mean that most men do not care and that we have no sense of responsibility to protect and nurture young life. I began to wonder, should the ALP present their newly announced abortion platform to the Parliament, will male MPs be asked to sit out of any debate on abortion and will they be asked to refrain from voting? Will men who work on hospital boards be requested to abstain from commenting should the Labor position become law? What of male doctors and nurses who are faced with the ethical dilemma of abortion? What about the fathers of these children? 

Let me repeat, along with John Dickson, that I agree with Jane Caro’s comment. In fact, I suspect there is broad consensus in the community that men must take responsibility for points 1 and 3.  However, the logic that is today commonly espoused in our culture excises men during stage 2. Again, I appreciate that mothers have a peculiar relationship with their child in the womb that no man can fully understand. It is also true that fathers share a special bond with their children, even while the infant is growing inside the womb. To insist upon responsibility at the start and at the end, but not in the middle, is surely a moral mistake? This is not about men demanding anything, but it is a couple who have committed to the good of each other, giving and receiving in love. 

I would take it one step further and suggest that point 2 shouldn’t exist at all. The very notion that we are discussing whether to kill a baby or not is morally insane. But for argument sake, let’s assume the moral posture that Australian culture has adopted, can we not still see the problem with premise no.2?

It’s almost as though the very nature of sex communicates that it is not suited for the uncommitted and unloving. It is not a casual transaction. It is not without design and purpose. Sex is of such intimate and personal giving of oneself to another human being that it requires deep commitment and trust; dare I suggest, sex needs marriage. Yes, marriages can breakdown. Both men and women can fail in keeping their covenantal promises of marriage. Sadly, some marriages become like hell. But have the alternatives done better? We are suffering from myopia if we fail to acknowledge that when marriage is working (which it most often does), it offers the best framework to resolve the tensions and mistrust and fears that are involved in these issues surrounding raising children.

Jane Caro has made an important point. She hasn’t gone far enough, but it is a start. Men take responsibility for your actions. If you are unable to commit to raising a family and to do so with the character and longevity that is required, it is better for everyone that you practice some good old fashioned and virtuous self-control.

“Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.”(Psalm 32:9)

ALP Abortion Policy won’t make for a better Australia

“There is a way that appears to be right,

    but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

 

This week, Tanya Plibersek announced Labor’s plan to further support the widespread practice of abortion in this country. The  ALP is proposing that abortions should be more easily available, funded by the taxpayer, and that this should include late-term abortions, and that Federal funding to hospitals will depend on them providing abortion services.

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By Thennicke – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

 

The media is reporting support for this policy initiative from across the country, but many other Australian women and men are saddened that our society is so determined to dehumanise the most vulnerable.

What is remarkable about this announcement is that it follows the recent dreadful revelations that have been made public in the United State regarding abortion. Different State legislatures have proposed Bills that make it easier for babies to be aborted up to birth, and now, even post birth.

In January, a stomach-churning video went viral. In the State of Virginia, House Democrats were advocating a Bill that would legalise late-term abortion, just days after New York State adopted similar legislation. Kathy Tran, a Democrat delegate, responded to questions by admitting that the Bill will permit abortion even as late as when a woman has entered labor.

Kathy Tran: “My bill would allow abortion up to 40 weeks.”

Todd Gilbert: “Where it’s obvious a woman is about to give birth…would that be a point at which she could still request an abortion?”

Kathy Tran: “My bill would allow that, yes”.

Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam, later added at a media conference that the life of a newborn child can be legitimately ended if that is the wish of the mother and attending physician.

“If a mother is in labor…the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians & mother”.

Within days, the US Senate debated a Bill to ban infanticide and thus require medical practitioners to provide medical care for infants born alive post a botched abortion. Yes, this happens, and yes, the Bill was blocked.

Labor’s policy would include public funding to cover late-term abortions, as exercised by some Australian States. Over the weekend I once again heard the suggestion that late-term abortions only occur when the mother’s life is at risk or in cases where the babies’ health is severely compromised. Let us be clear, this is not the argument used by legislators in the United States this year. The argument is, it is the mother’s right to choose abortion, even at the point of giving birth; nothing about baby or mother suffering from physical or psychological trauma.

Moreso, the data doesn’t support the hypothesis that late-term abortions are restricted to life-threatening situations. In my home State of Victoria, the Government’s own data states that 14.9% of all perinatal deaths in Victoria were accounted by abortions for “maternal psychosocial indications” (children aborted prior to 20 weeks are not included in the data). 40.32% of all late-term abortions (from 20 weeks) are for “psychosocial” reasons, meaning there is nothing wrong with the baby or physical health of the mother.  Please note, these numbers include terminations that occurred in hospitals and does not include abortions that take place in clinics (which is where the majority of abortions happen).

On January 29th I wrote,

“What makes our society even more culpable than past societies is that we are committing the same sins but with greater knowledge and with greater ability. Modern knowledge reveals truths about how babies are formed in the womb, things that were once believed but could not be seen until the invention of ultrasounds. We can see the heartbeat of a baby in the earliest weeks. We can delight at a child’s fingers and toes growing at 6 weeks. We now know that babies can hear and respond to music by 16 weeks; the next Mozart is already learning to feel and marvel at the beauty of sound.

Medical advancements give us unparalleled ability to care for both mother and child, to even perform surgery on a baby while it is in the womb. When these little ones surprise us by coming into the world early we have the know-how to save the lives of these children as young as 22 weeks.

This is a grotesque reality in which we live: despite superior knowledge of human life in the womb and superior medical technology to save life, our commitment to destroying life has also increased.

I suspect some readers will respond with partial agreement; you dislike late-term abortions, but you don’t have a problem with ending a pregnancy during the first trimester. This is not an uncommon position to hold.

May I respond by asking you this question, at what point can we draw an absolute moral line? At what point can we justify the moral shift from being okay with killing the child to believing it is not okay?  Is the moral threshold when the baby begins to feel pain? Is it the moment cognitive awareness starts? Is it the week when their limbs have formed? Is it the moment the heart begins to beat? There is no ontological moment during a pregnancy at which we can argue, at this stage, it is okay to abort a child.”

Instead of the news from the United States making Australian politicians reluctant, one of Australia’s major political parties announces that they will to push ahead with liberalising abortion. Indeed, the ALP is going so far as to tie funding for hospitals to abortion. Are we as a society now prepared to blackmail medical institutions into contravening conscience and to performing a procedure that is specifically aimed at killing a human life? Where else in a civilised society does a Government compel another body or institution to take the life of a human being? Is it not ethically dubious to the say least?

I have no interest in the politicising of this issue; when should a human life be determined by a vote in Parliament?   I urge Tanya Plibersek and the Australian Labor Party to reconsider this policy. Included in the platform is money to support women who wish to have readier access to contraceptive methods. Great. There are viable and ethically sound alternatives to abortion. There are organisations who exist to help mums struggling with pregnancy. There are communities willing and able to assist. There is no sound reason to pursue the current course, except in the extremely rare circumstance where the mother’s life is genuinely at risk.
What a messed up society we’re creating. Scientific truth and biological facts are shunned in order to promote social agendas. We can openly and freely refuse a person’s humanity. We can end human life in the name of autonomy and personal liberation. We justify killing a generation of children in the name of genetic purification. It is truly insidious. It is all the more topsy-turvy as public policy undermines itself because it refuses to see the hypocrisy in its own sloganeering. A society cannot truly claim to believe in the equality of women while persisting in a practice that leads to the deaths of 1000s of young girls each year. The Federal Parliament has recently moved to begin a Royal Commission into the abuse of disabled people, but will they front the ideology responsible for killing 1000s of disabled Australians every year?

“Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes.” (Proverbs 27:20)

Should the day come and we realise the ignominious nature of this dehumanisation project, we will look for a God who might dare forgive us, and remove the guilt that we cannot rid ourselves. The Bible speaks of such a merciful God. He is compassionate and patient, but his patience is not without end.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near ” (Isaiah 55:6)


According to reporting in The Age tonight (March 7th 7pm), Labor has reevaluated one of its major points and will now no longer expect Catholic hospitals to comply with legislation that requires all public hospitals to become providers of abortion. If correct, this is positive news but it doesn’t overturn other significant concerns

Further thoughts on Marxism and Christianity. Can I be both?

I’m sitting down at the dining table, listening to Shostakovich’s 12th Symphony as I chew on some feedback that I’ve received from an article I posted this week.

I had critiqued a claim made by Van Badham on last Monday’s episode of QandA. In answering the question, “Do you believe in God”, Van Badham asserted that she is a Marxist and a Christian.

I questioned this synthesis by citing Karl Marx’s himself, who opposed religion and belief in God in the strongest terms. I then set forth a series of propositions which demonstrate a great moral, social, and theological divide separating Marxism and Christianity, one that cannot be easily joined. Some readers have agreed with my conclusions while others have not. One or two readers have made helpful comments which has encouraged me to think further.

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Are Marxism and Christianity consonant with one another, or at the very least, adaptable so that they can be held together? The proof of compatibility does not lay in someone making the claim or in the event of someone attempting to join the two together. People make all kinds of outlandish suggestions: “I am a Christian and a Buddhist” or “I am a Christian and I don’t believe in hell”. The question is, does it work logically and theologically? Can Marxism and Christianity be held together and affirmed?

I didn’t address the question of other political and economic theories, as these were not the issue at hand. It is, of course, true that any political system will need modifying if Christians are to make use of them. The reason is straightforward, Christianity does not sit synonymously with any particular political system, for Christian thinking, practice and vision are set by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a terrible misstep to stamp ‘Christian’ on any of them. All these are creations stemming from the minds of men and women who are shaped by a worldview which ultimately springs from a view of God. Christians will face questions and challenges in any political system, but some are a better fit than others. Not all political theories are equal. Not all forms of Government can be equally celebrated and obliged by Christians. Some political ideologies have found inspiration via Christian thinking, while others have been established without reference to God of the Bible, and others again have been deliberate creations in opposition to religion, and especially to Christianity.

There are several possible ways Christians may respond to a particular political system:

  • Christian can live under a political system that they do not support or affirm. They have no opportunity to speak and question the moral value of the system. Christianity can, of course, exist under any political regime but that does not mean that system is good or in any way compatible with the Christian faith. Take, for example, Christians in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and Christians in North Korea and China.
  • Christians can live under an openly oppressive political system without challenging it or by finding ways to challenge without losing the values of God’s Kingdom. It is worth noting that in a totalitarian context (communism being but one example) to challenge comes at a great personal cost, and under more liberal systems there is greater freedom for demonstration and appeal for change
  • Christians may have sympathy with the ambitions raised in particular political ideologies and affirm important questions that are being asked.
  • Christians may often participate in a political system, but there will always be some degree of tension between serving Christ and serving the State, and between holding onto the message of the Gospel and enacting Governmental policy.

The primary trouble with Marxism is not its atheism but that it is a total life program. It is designed to define all aspects of life, from the State to society, culture, family, and yes even religion. Marxism preaches a totalitarian paradigm, materialist and closed in nature. It allows no room for competing worldviews, especially belief in God. In this sense, Marxism is an attempt to blur politics and religion by offering the State in the place of God, and party members as its priests and high priest. Why do we think Muslim minorities and Christian minorities are suppressed in China? Why have Christians especially (and other religious people broadly) been subject to brutal persecution and oppression in communist nations?

Here are two possible reasons for the pushback that I’ve received for writing the previous article, “Can I be a Christian and a Marxist?” One, people are defining Marxism purely in terms of political theory and suggesting that it one among many. The reality is, Marxism is more than an approach to politics and economics, again it is a total system, including its own insistent view of religion 2. Conflating socialism with Marxism. Marxism is a type of socialism, but socialism is broader and existed well before Das Kapital. If it is a case of being passionate about addressing poverty and other injustice in a society, such ambition can find compatibility with Christianity, and one can pursue these things quite easily without identifying with Marxism.

As someone duly noted on a Facebook thread, there have been attempts made by a few Christians to synthesise Christianity with Marxism. The most famous example is that of liberation theology. Their example, however, is telling because it is a case of God disappearing. Liberation theology has found expression in a few places but it was most prominent in Central America among a small circle of  Roman Catholic priests and theologians during the late 1960s. It often resulted in God migrating into the world of tribal deities, or without name altogether. Jonathan Leeman summarises the case of liberation theology’s most famous proponent Gustavo Gutierrez, the assent to God becomes no longer required, “God might say, “You are my people,” but there is no requirement for the people to say, “You are our God.”  Ironically, the movement had all but dissipated by the time the Berlin Wall came down.

Leeman has also noted this telling observation made by theologian John Milbank. Milbank talks about people doing “Christian theology on heretical or Neopagan foundations”. “Case in point: “the main proponents of ‘political theology’ in Germany, and ‘liberation theology’ in Latin America…remain…trapped within the terms of ‘secular reason’ and its unwarranted foundationalist presuppositions.” Specifically, these political and liberation theologies embrace Marxism “as a discourse which supposedly discloses the ‘essence’ of human beings and a ‘fundamental’ level of human historical becoming.”

There are many movements from history that have been demonstrably wrong and evil, and yet leave behind certain progress which impresses and benefits us living today. Soviet Russia gave the world Dmitri Shostakovich. Also important,  I argued in the first article, all manner of ideologies can highlight real and important issues and point to them saying, we need this fixed. This, however, does not mean that the solutions offered are of benefit or can be embraced by those professing the Lordship of Christ.

The question is, can Marxism be uprooted from its anti-theist foundations and become a political tool for Christians to advocate, such that one says, “I am a Marxist and I am a Christian”?

My view is that the answer remains, no. Put it another way, can a Christian in China be a member of the Communist Party? Has any true Marxist State ever encouraged healthy pluralism and religious freedom? Would Marx agree?

A friend suggested to me that an equivalent to Marxism and Christianity is Evolution vs Christianity. I beg to differ, a more suited analogy is,  Scientism vs Christianity.

I am interested to hear how this conversation continues. I certainly appreciate learning from others in the process.

Can I be a Christian and a Marxist? A Qanda

I haven’t watched Q&A for some time. The predicable lineup of guests, questions, and interventions by Tony Jones has made the program rather dull. But given the interest that the ABC was generating with Jordan Peterson’s invitation onto the panel, I thought perhaps it was time for a revisit. Not that I’m a Peterson devotee, but at least he speaks his mind and is not afraid to challenge newly adopted cultural norms.

Did the show live up to the hype? Probably not. I suspect the tone of conversation was more civilised than producers were hoping for—even to a fanciful extent, when Terri Butler MP, insisted that no one in Australia is shut down or squeezed-out for speaking their mind. Had she forgotten what happened when Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie sat down with a Coopers beer and started a friendly conversation about gay marriage? Has no one shared with Ms. Butler how difficult it is for cultural conservatives (especially Christians) to retain faculty teaching positions in Australian universities today? Could someone at least share with her the stories of families who are being forced out of the public school system because of the social engineering programs that are being forced fed on our children?

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Leaving that aside, I was interested in what each of the panelists said when answering one of the final questions for the evening: “do you believe in God?”

What a great question. I listened to each of the responses. With responses ranging from agnosticism to deism, it was a reminder that hardline atheism is not as prevalent as some would make it out to be. Even politicians, psychologists, and transgender women, wrestle the notion of God. This is a question that won’t go away.

I was particularly struck by Catherine McGregor’s comment about being without a spiritual home. Catherine acknowledged the reason for this. Catherine, if you’re reading this, I would love to meet up with you over a coffee next time you’re in Melbourne. In fact, I would be keen to sit down with any of the panelists to listen to their questions and thoughts about God and to open the Bible with them and explore the Gospel together. There is no greater inquiry than this, who is God and can he be known?

Now I’m zooming in on the particular issue that I wish to comment on in this post. Tony Jones brought Van Badham into the conversation by revealing what he must have thought was a revolutionary marriage: Marxism and Christianity.

Van Badham nodded and explained that she is a Christian and a Marxist, “both at the same time … I absolutely believe in God”.

Alex Hawke, retorted, “I’m not sure you can be a Christian and a Marxist … they are mutually exclusive”.

Marxist Christianity?

Who is right? Can we hold Christianity together with Marxism? Hawke would go on to repeat the unhelpful and untrue idea that religion is a private affair, so I’m not suggesting that he is espousing a better view of God.

The question this raises is not as silly as we might think.  For example, socialism is once again finding appeal among young Australians. So when Roz Ward wrote the curriculum for Safe Schools, she announced that its purpose was to expose children to Marxist ideology.

Is Van Badham right to say that we can hold Marxism and Christianity together? I think we are right to be a little suspicious of anyone who juxtaposes Christianity with a set political ideology. It doesn’t matter whether the political views are representative of left or right, progressive or conservative, it is entirely appropriate to tread with caution.

It was Jesus who said, 

“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Mark 12:17)

“My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

Jesus was not arguing for a complete separation of religion and state and of the temporal and eternal. Jesus elsewhere taught that, “The time has come … The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Also, the Great Commission doesn’t ignore nationhood and systems of Governance, but rather insists that Christ, as Lord, has the right to issue a gospel summons to the nations:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

It is important to see that, while different groups tried to box in Jesus politically and socially, he would not allow it. His political ideology is the Gospel and the Kingdom of God, not liberalism or socialism. It is prudent for Christians to step with care, for if Jesus wouldn’t permit his character and work to be defined in socio-political categories, should we? It may be argued, that aspects of Christ’s teaching can be adopted by political minds. We might find tiny pieces of Jesus’ethics at work across the political spectrum in all kinds of legislative agendas. However, we ought to express great reticence at matchmaking the message of Christianity with any political structure and ambition.

Having said that, what about the example offered by Van Badham? I suspect Karl Marx would disagree with her synthesis.

Karl Marx argued:

“The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

Take for example the following comparisons:

Karl Marx

Christianity

Was an atheist

Jesus believes in God and he claims to be God

Taught that belief in God is the invention of people

God is eternal and we exist because of him and for him

Claimed religion is a drug given to dull peoples senses as well as comfort them in their poverty

The Gospel is real good news of salvation that brings forgiveness and freedom and reconciliation to the living God

Christianity is dangerous

Christianity is good

The religion of revolution, with the masses toppling those in authority.

Christianity grows through preaching and prayer, loving our neighbours as ourselves

The State controls total life: commerce, education, art, sport, religion

Governments have a role to play but they are not God.

Has led to totalitarian regimes who have oppressed and murdered 10,000s million of people

Christianity is largely responsible for the political and religious freedoms exercised in the Western Hemisphere today. The principle of persuasion not coercion is antithetical to Marxism and foundational to the Christian Gospel.

The goal is a classless society, achieved by the masses.

The goal is the exaltation of Jesus Christ, the redemption of sinful men and women, right judgment on the world, and the bringing in of the new creation, accomplished by God alone through Christ.

 

Christ and the Collective Saviour

These differences are hard to reconcile. The subject has added complexity if, as some philosophers suggest, Marxism is its own religion. Raymond Aron is among many who note that communism, (the natural outworking of Marxist thought), is a “secular religion” whereby “Marxist eschatology attributes to the proletariat the role of a collective saviour”. There is no synthesis to be had between Marxism and Christianity.

Marxism, like other ’isms, asks important questions and highlights real issues that face real people. However, whether it we define it according to Marx’s own teaching, or by the embodiment of those original ideas in  130 years of history, it is pretty hard to marry Marxism with Christianity. Marxism is driven by an a-theology, soteriology, and eschatology that rejects almost every single Christian premise. There has not been a single country that has fully embraced Marxism and has also encouraged religious freedom and freedom of thought. The sum total Marxist States that support Christianity is zero. It is true that Christianity often expanded in these contexts, but this was despite Governmental oppression, not because of it.

It was a great question for Q&A, and some interesting answers were offered. I hope it might encourage other Australians to ask and seek and find God. He is better than we imagine. He may counter our expectations and agendas and supplant them with a greater love and meaning and challenge than we can imagine.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6)

 


I’ve posted a follow-up article in light of comments offered by a few readers – Further Thoughts on Marxism and Christianity. Can I be both?