Is the human race special?

If you’re looking for a pick me up message for today, I don’t recommend this contribution on the ABC website, The human race is not special. So why do we think we’re immune to mass extinction?

Geoff Dawson, whose bio says he is a psychologist and Zen Buddhist teacher, explains that human beings are no more important than any other species on the planet and that we should not over concern ourselves with our potential demise.

He asks the question, “Could we face a mass extinction of human beings in our lifetime?”

Dawson acknowledges that,

“To contemplate mass extinction is indeed a dark place to go to and a difficult conversation to have — even more difficult than global warming itself — because it is to think the unthinkable.”

However, don’t be fooled into thinking that this dark place holds any real meaning. Dawson explains that this conversation isn’t difficult because there is some overarching meaning to life or because human life is intrinsically more important than other life forms. Far from it, he would say. The extinction of people only warrants a problem for those who are facing termination.

“If one’s view of the world is based on science, we are not special, we were not placed here by a God to be the custodians of the Earth (and if we were, we have let the Almighty down big time!) and like all other species, we will have our place in the sun.

We will die out, and other, more adaptable, life forms will take our place.

The myth that we are somehow special and will continue to live forever as a dominant species is based on a deluded human-centric form of existential narcissism.

We may wring our hands and our hearts may ache at the rapid destruction of wildlife that is happening right now before our eyes, but we never seem to seriously consider that we may go the same way.”

What fantastic news! Don’t worry about the future because you are not special.  Our significance is no greater than that of any other species on the planet. Your impending death may not be a particularly pleasant experience for you or for the people who have affections for you, but in real terms, you’re just preparing the ground for future species. In the grand scheme of meaningless time, we are no more special than the dinosaur, the Dodo, or the Sabre-toothed Tiger.

Feeling better now? Probably not, but our Zen Buddhist friend insists that this is science. Although, why Dawson is bothered with science remains a mystery to me, because one of the basic assumptions of Zen Buddhism is that intellect and language of ethereal and true meaning can only be found by disengaging from both. 

Contradictions aside, what Dawson describes is not science, but naturalism, which is a way of interpreting scientific evidence based on the prior assumption that there is no God. In this way, both Zen Buddhism and naturalism share some common threads. The world has no overreaching design or telos, and one creature is not inherently more valuable than another. What makes human beings important is the evolutionary roll of the dice, that has resulted in cognitive, physical, and social strengths that enable us to control and use other species. Naturalism believes that people only sit at the top of the world because of power. All these conscious thoughts and beliefs about inherent dignity and greater worth than a tree or a frog are simply evolutionary mechanisms put in place to maintain the survival of our species. In fact, the very notion of human rights presupposes superiority over other things; perhaps this should be revisited!

By now, I’m sure you’re feeling the love. If you weren’t already questioning your self-worth, you probably are by now. But of course, this is the natural course when believing there is no God. Should we ignore this logic and feign belief in intrinsic human worth or do accept the world of Geoff Dawson? If the latter,  why bother addressing issues of Global warming or caring for endangered species? After all, it’s all a game of power and serving self-interest.

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I suspect most of us are uncomfortable with Dawson’s evaluation. We do not believe that goats and rats or even our pet dog are as important as other human beings. This raises an important question, why?  Why do most of us find Dawson’s comments not only unsatisfying but even grotesque?

Why should your thoughts or feelings or relationships matter any more than those of non-Homo Sapiens? Why should my desires and plans bear any more weight than that of non-sentient objects such as the rainforest or mountain or bushland?

Surely, it is because we know that while birds and fish and kangaroos are wonderful creatures and who add beauty and wonder to this world, we are not those things. Human beings are unique. We are physical beings, but also sentient and moral beings. We have a mind, soul, and spirit. There are vast cognitive differences between a human being and every other species on the planet, and to argue otherwise is stupid and anti-science. None other, despite their astonishing habits and works, come remotely close to the glory of man and woman.  But in our world of today, the obvious cannot be spoken, and the evidential is denied. People know that they are superior to animals and yet it is almost blasphemous to say so.

The answer humanity’s greater worth is not limited to this existential knowing, it is also grounded in a knowing that is more ancient than the universe itself. One might even say, that it is a Divine word that has created this knowledge of ourselves and of the world.

Rather than denigrating human beings, belief in God elevates our stature in a way that is both congruent to experience and that fills us with meaning and purpose. You were not just a clump of moving cells in flesh; you are made in the image of God. You are no mere animal with no more rights than an orangutan or cow or goldfish. At the same time, neither are we God. While I cannot speak for other religions, the Christian view pushes against both insignificance and self-absorption. Christianity repudiates the ultimate meaningless of naturalism and its companion, ultimate hopelessness, and Christianity also rebukes greed, consumerism, and abuse.

The answer to human misuse of the environment is not to relegate human beings to the place of monkeys, snakes, or the koala. Rather, it is to renew a proper understanding of what the Bible refers to as stewardship. And it is to recognise the reality of the incarnation, where at a direct point in history, God the Son took on flesh. John announced in his famous prologue,

“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.” (John 1:1-5)

The fact that God became man, more than anything in history, says that every single person matters. They are not neglected by God or of no consequence to him. Indeed, God entered this space, becoming fully human without stripping his Divinity. The Gospel describes how this Jesus suffered the full gamut of human trials, and went through death that we might not be extinguished. Indeed, according to the Christian Bible extinction isn’t the end, but there is genuine hope of redemption and resurrection.

I appreciate that among my readers, you may or may not accept the Christian worldview. But my question, for now, is this – Which is better, the world of Geoff Dawson or the world explained by Jesus Christ? Should we suck it up and conclude that you and I are not special, and so treat each other accordingly? Or perhaps this Jesus has more to show us about both human worth and failing, and global trauma and reconciliation, than we perhaps realise.

Is the human race special? Are you special? Let me conclude by turning to these words of the Psalmist,

“You have searched me, Lord,

    and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

    you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

    you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

    you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before,

    and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

    too lofty for me to attain….

 

…For you created my inmost being;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

    your works are wonderful,

    I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you

    when I was made in the secret place,

    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;

    all the days ordained for me were written in your book

    before one of them came to be.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!

    How vast is the sum of them!

18 Were I to count them,

    they would outnumber the grains of sand—

    when I awake, I am still with you. (Psalm 139)

Meditating before the KAWS

Melbourne may think of herself as a secular city but she remains very religious.

This Saturday the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is being turned into a spiritual centre, with hundreds of people paying to gather around a KAWS sculpture for meditation.

The NGV’s newest major exhibition consists of works by the Brooklyn based pop-artist, Brian Donnelly. The exhibition includes a series of really tall cartoon-like sculptures made of bronze. I can’t make up my mind if they’re re-imaging Elmo, Mickey Mouse, Krusty the Clown, or a synthesis of several different stuffed puppets. They are a fascinating combination of cute and sad, of adorable and melancholy. These sculptures are impressive and thoughtful.

 

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photo from NGV

Sitting around the largest of the sculptures, titled, Gone, will be 350 paying guests who are hoping to lose their minds and find themselves. The two forlorn figures represent the emotions that accompany loss. I am not quite sure what role Gone will perform during the meditation. Perhaps it is a symbol for the exercise, to lose ourselves or to excise the losses we experience in life.

The event is a collaboration with Manoj Dias of A-Space, a yoga and meditation teacher based here in Melbourne.

In an interview for Broadsheet, Dias shares his journey into meditation:

“Manoj Dias had a career in the advertising industry. He worked 70 hours a week. He drank four cups a day. And then Manoj Dias had a panic attack.

His doctor prescribed anxiety medication, but that didn’t sit right with him. So a friend recommended a yoga class with a Buddhist monk. Though Dias grew up in a Buddhist household in Sri Lanka, he’d lost touch with the traditions when his family immigrated to Australia. Despite his distance from meditation practice, he struck up an immediate connection with his new teacher. “I practised with him every day for five years and he’s still my guru today,” says Dias.

Dias and Lynch created A-Space with two intentions in mind: help people connect with their own thoughts, and therefore connect with others. It’s a space to slow down, be introspective and “genuinely feel connected to the person next to you”, says Dias.

“Meditation has given me a moment to genuinely feel something – that what I’m doing right now is really meaningful.”

 

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The NGV is advertising the event with this befitting tagline by Friedrich Nietzsche,

‘Invisible threads are the strongest ties.’

It is apt because, like Nietzsche who was a nihilist, meditation is often an expression of nihilism. The aim is to disconnect yourself from the material and from life’s desires. You overcome by avoidance. You find yourself by disengaging. Peace is experienced by removing all the distractions and troubles and responsibilities that usually absorb our attention.

Buddhism and Nihilism share a common thread, and that is life is ultimately a sardonic joke, an illusion to either escape or will eventually consume us. This NGV event will no doubt be popular because it pulls on peoples’ desires for inner peace. True peace isn’t found by disengaging with the world or by introspection but looking to the one who was crucified and who raised to life. If Gone is the end of the story we are indeed lost and a few moments of quiet introspection won’t offer lasting consolation.

Ironically, according to the NGV’s description of Gone, the work is reminiscent of Michelangelo’s, Pietà. This sculpture by Michelangelo depicts the lifeless body of Jesus Christ, cradled by Mary.

If only we would grab hold of that reference point and meditate beyond ourselves and look to that crucified one, not via a sculptured image but in the words that reveal God to us. My contention is that the crucified Christ offers a more substantive and satisfying answer for those who are searching for peace and hope.

Glen Scrivener puts it this way,

“The answer to suffering is not detachment but attachment”

Instead of disconnecting from the pressures, sufferings of this life, Jesus came to us and experienced them for us. The God who exists didn’t ignore or wish away the depths of human despair and depravity, but he bore the sins of the world on that cross.

When the Apostle Paul entered the great city of Athens, he noted the culture’s obsession with spirituality. In order to cover all the bases, the Athenians had built a statue to ‘the unknown god’. Paul announced and reasoned with the city’s population, evidencing that God has made himself known and that He is greater and better than our imaginings.

 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:24-31)

This news may have fallen out of favour in parts of Melbourne today, but surely it is worth revisiting. Melbournians are searching.

Christianity doesn’t dismiss the idea of meditation altogether. The Bible speaks of a form of meditation that has value. This meditation does not look inward, but outward. It doesn’t involve emptying the mind but filling the mind with God who has made himself known. Christian meditation involves communing with God by remembering, reading and understanding his words, promises, and works, and through this, we truly find ourselves and the peace and hope that each of us longs for.

“I gave an account of my ways and you answered me;

    teach me your decrees.

Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,

    that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds. 

My soul is weary with sorrow;

    strengthen me according to your word.” (Psalm 119:26-28)

“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8)

The KAWS exhibition in Melbourne is a timely reminder of humanity’s sense of lostness and of that craving to find peace, love, and hope. The answer is not in ourselves and to accept the black hole that is nihilism but to discover the God who made us with design and good purpose, and who entered this world and embraced suffering and death that we might come to know him.

Rain, the ABC, and the heresy of mentioning prayer

The ABC has been caught out in the rain and subjected to a torrent of tweets demanding a retraction. They ran a story about the rain that is falling in NSW with the blasphemous headline, “Prayers answered as NSW rainfall extinguishes 74-day Currowan bushfire”.

Thousands of comments have poured down over Twitter and Facebook, expressing anger at the ABC for daring to use the word, prayer. 

“Prayers have no place in journalism. #ThisisNotJournalism”

ABC news… prayers had nothing to do with it. Please delete this offensive tweet. #FreedomFromReligion

“Prayers answered” ???

Seriously  @abcnews get this religious propaganda out of your lexicon. The rain came because science. Nothing more nothing less.  Sure as shootin’ not because someone asked nicely for it.”

I suspect the choice of wording had nothing to do with actual belief in God, as though the editor was personally thanking God or encouraging readers to do so. Like millions of Australians every day, we borrow words and ideas from Christianity to express our own thoughts. In this case, someone at the ABC probably thought they were being cute.  It’s a rather innocuous and generic way of noting thankfulness that the bushfires have been extinguished.

But in Australia today, this cannot be tolerated. References to God cannot be permitted unless it is in the pursuit of mocking religion. Religion (and specifically, Christianity) is to be ridiculed by the media in the most celebratory and obnoxious ways, but no one is to dilute the purity of worship to secularism. Introducing the word prayer is sacrilege. It might encourage someone to, you know, actually pray to God. Worse still, maybe there’s a religious person working for the ABC and they’re trying to brainwash the country with subtle suggestions of Divine power.

Our friendly neighbourhood secularists have reminded us, even an irreligious use of a religious word must be opposed. I couldn’t help but turn a little smile as I noted that some of the people yelling at the ABC today were, only weeks earlier, defending the ABC for its evenhandedness and balanced reporting.  But now, they are demanding to know the name of the editor who approved the headline; no doubt to shame them and call for their immediate dismissal.

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Wait till the outrage mob realise that there are Christians working at the Bureau of Meteorology and that some of our country’s Climate Change scientists are also Christian! Yes, that’s right, scientists who also pray. Scientists who believe in God and in the Bible!

The ABC has now repented of their grievous sin. The headline has been replaced, but our moral judges are not yet satisfied. What guarantees will be put in place so that this never happens again?

In contrast to this irrational and over the top reaction to the ABC, I think prayer is great.  We should thank God for the rain, for the rain has put out dreadful fires. We should also ask God for safety for those who may experience flooding, just as we have done so with the recent fires.

 

Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 4.58.14 pmA friend of mine who lives in the Blue Mountains faced the threat of bushfire only a month ago. This weekend he called the SES for sandbags to help protect his home from floodwaters. Fire and flood remind us that the world, as wonderful as it is, is not the safe and secure environment that we long for. As we have been reminded in recent weeks, humanity has done much to harm the world; it is, to use a biblical word, cursed. It is both a place of extraordinary beauty and terror. In the current cultural climate, we mostly focus on the things we don’t like. Australian society is filled with perennial complaining and whinging, and in that, we often forget the tremendous blessings that we enjoy and the good that we can see and hold.

Many Australian have been praying for rain, both to put out a terrible season of bushfire and also to break the drought has gripped so much of the country. Has God answered those prayers?

Sometimes our words carry more truth in them than we realise. The angry mob who have bullied the ABC this afternoon will probably not thank God for the rain. They may well be grateful, but to whom?  Thankful for the meaningless weather patterns that have combined to create the splashes of water on our gardens and in our rivers? Without God, surely the weather is just nature’s mechanics at work without reason and meaning? The clouds did not form for our benefit, to help us in any way. There is no ethic or design; it’s just water. That’s all it is. The very notion of thankfulness for rain is an illusion, an evolutionary mistake in the human consciousness that causes us to pray and thank a God who does not exist.

Or maybe, as the Apostle Paul once told a crowd in the city of Iconium,

“In the past, God let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:16-17).

New Concerns over Victoria’s Proposed Banning of Conversion Practices

As a Victorian, I have a moral obligation to report to authorities personal knowledge of alleged child abuse. As a pastor of a church, I have both a moral and legal duty to report knowledge of or suspicions of child abuse. Mandatory reporting is a social good. Even without the legal requirement, one’s natural concerns for a child’s wellbeing would automate contacting the police.

In Victoria, under new laws being proposed by the Andrews Government, I can be imprisoned for 12-18 months, for speaking up against the psychological and physical trauma inflicted upon children by gender warriors and dangerous medicos who work to change a child’s gender or sex.

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Last year the Victorian Government revealed plans to ban conversion practices. While the original issue was gay conversion therapy, the scope has been broadened to include any and all sexualities, including transgenderism. In November, I exposed the biased and flawed reports upon which the Government is basing its definition. I also noted at the time that the proposed definition of conversion therapy is so broad that it includes normal Church preaching from the Bible where topics of sexuality are mentioned. Indeed, a Christian wedding could also fall foul for Christian Churches define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. In what would be an extraordinary attack on Christianity, an Australian State Government is arguing that Classical Christian teaching is harmful and can be banned.

Earlier in January, retired Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Stuart Lindsay, wrote an article where he alerts Victorians to another serious implication of Government’s planned laws. With the apt title, Sound an Alarm: Gender Activism Is About To Silence Us, Judge Lindsay explains how,

“the Victorian government intends to pass a law very soon that may see ordinary citizens imprisoned if they speak up against the chemical, psychological and physical mutilation of confused adolescents.” 

And,

“The discussion paper and the reports it relies on, together with Ms. Hennessey’s public utterances about them, make it clear that Victoria intends to make plain what is latent or ambiguous in Queensland’s proposed legislation. It is not just the individual transsexual or homosexual who needs protection from conversion; no, the criminality can arise outside of any therapeutic context. It is society that needs to be protected so the mere utterance of heterodox views about affirmation of gender or sexual “choice” must be extirpated.”

“This is what is about to happen: talking about or writing about or counselling against or promoting caution about affirmation as the sole medically permitted response to any putative decision by an individual to transition to their non-natal sex, or even discussing the practice of affirmation generally in a non-supportive way, is about to made illegal. It will at the very least be subject to civil penalty proceedings (in which case, see you in the Tribunal, facing up against publicly funded gender radicals).  Much more likely are serious criminal penalties. I mean prison sentences”

The irony is not difficult to see. Indeed, it is not so much ironic as it is moronic and downright dangerous for anyone with a conscience and who still believes in science and commonsense. According to Premier Daniel Andrews and Attorney General Jill Hennessey, praying for individuals who are struggling with their sexuality is immoral, and preaching Biblical sexual ethics is also wrong. But telling a boy that they are really a girl and putting them in a dress, and changing their name, and beginning medical procedures and filling them with drugs to alter their biology and physical appearance is considered a moral imperative. Of course, the issue is becoming more insidious as a growing number of psychologists and doctors express concerns over how children with gender dysphoria are being treated.

I am quickly writing this and putting it into the public space before Parliament sits and I find writing my memoirs from a prison cell.

Judge Lindsay notes the real agenda behind the Government’s move, as I have also noted in the past. It is grievous to say but it has little to do with the wellbeing of children, and much to do with implementing cultural Marxism. Before this is dismissed as one of those tiresome and hyperbolic caricatures,  Roz Ward, (who is the architect of Safe Schools and academic at La Trobe University), has openly admitted that this is the case. 

To close, allow me to repeat what I wrote lastNovember,

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.

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, 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.

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

Indeed, as Judge Lindsay has now revealed, a prison term may also be in the offering for those evil Christians and dreadful medical professionals who dare speak out against the new ‘normal’.

 

 


Note: this is not a personal or political attack on Daniel Andrews. Earlier this month I praised him for his work during the bushfire crisis

Australia is giving herself a nosebleed

“Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger.” (Proverbs 29:8)

It was only 2 days agothat I spoke about how the bushfires in Australia have been used to promote political agendas. I suggested that we should begin with grieving with those who have suffered loss, and we can give and pray, but sadly there are some Aussies who’ve bypassed these steps and run straight to angry politicisation.

There are many everyday Aussies who are helping out. There are political representatives across the divide leading and serving. There is however a sick undercurrent that is forcing itself to the surface.

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If we needed any new examples of the insanity and unscrupulous behaviour that is taking over our culture, here are two that have arisen in the last 24 to 48 hours.

One, Victoria remains under a heightened state of emergency, with weather conditions worsening today and the high probability of fires flaring across the State. As emergency services are stretched, Victorian Police have urged people not to attend a planned protest in the city today.

A group known as “Uni Students for Climate Justice”, are organising an anti Scott Morrison protest in Melbourne CBD late Friday afternoon.

 Acting Assistant Commissioner Tim Hansen, emergency services minister, Lisa Neville,  and the Premier Daniel Andrews have all condemned the planned action.

Neville has said,

“This is a really reckless and selfish thing people are doing,”

“I don’t want to see police having to pull people out of [fire-affected] communities to come in and manage a protest.

“There is a time for protests. It’s not this Friday.”

Instead of clogging the streets of Melbourne on a day when our emergency services are being pushed to the limits with life threatening fires across our State, why not find a way to help local communities in need?

Second, one of Australia’s wealthiest businessmen, Andrew Forrest, has donated $70 million toward bushfire relief. All week, people have been shouting out their donations and calling on fellow Australians to show generosity at this time. But in the case of Andrew Forrest, leftist twitter has nothing to say except derision and outrage.

For example,

“Andrew Forrest’s net worth exceeds $12.8 billion. His self-serving tax deduction of $70 million is less than 0.55% of his wealth. No single human being should be that rich. A student with $100 in the bank who donates $1 is showing greater generosity.”

“so disappointing.”

“Andrew Forrest explains his faith. So his god found the key; and placed it back on his bike were he’d find it. His god ignores so much distress & tragedy; ignores so much misery. But helps young Andrew find his bike key? Is this faith? Or is there a severe mental unbalance here?”

I won’t repeat the worst of the tweets. Why such disdain for Twiggy Forrest? 1. He isn’t a green carrying progressive. 2. He hasn’t blamed the bushfires 150,000% on Climate Change. 3. He aligns himself with the Christian faith.

I know next to nothing about Mr Forrest, but the hypocrisy of his critics is telling. The same voices who are praising donations and demanding action cannot accept a $70 million donation because they don’t like the man’s politics and religion.

The bushfires are sadly illustrating once again how fractious and polarised our society is, and our inability to exercise humility and grace. I wouldn’t be surprised that if Jesus Christ himself came to Melbourne today, the response would be, “crucify him”!

“For as churning cream produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife.” (Proverbs 30:33)

The Aussie nose is bleeding and it’s likely to keep flowing for some time. Australian society desperately needs new voices, not giving up on truth but speaking with wisdom and kindness. We need new voices, not to compete with the anger but to create a better story for the wellbeing and future of this country.

Responding to the Australian Bush Fire Crisis

We spent the first three days of 2020 driving to and from Canberra, for a family wedding. Once we drove across the border from Victoria into NSW, visibility on the road slowly deteriorated as the air became more dense with smoke. By the time we reached Canberra, we could see less than 100m in front. Getting out of the car, the smoke clung to our clothes and flushed into our throats as we breathed, causing everyone to cough and eyes to sting.

We had the radio tuned to the ABC for reports on the fires. As we drove into Canberra we listened to a pollution expert explain that air quality index readings above 200 are considered hazardous to health. That day in Canberra (as it was for most days in recent weeks), the readings spilled over 2,000, and even reaching 5,000 during parts of the day. Canberra wasn’t only the dullest city in Australia, it now has the worse air quality of any city in the world.

Our hotel was situated just around the corner from  Parliament House. The flag and spire on top of the building that usually dominates the area, couldn’t be seen due to the blanketing haze. We drove across Lake Burley Griffen with its famous fountain but all was invisible to us.

Picture this, the situation around the country worsened over the week. Returning home to Melbourne on the Thursday, we drove south along the Hume Highway. For the entire 700km journey smoke covered the roads and the paddocks and hills on either side. 700km of smoke from bushfires. As we approached Albury/ Wodonga the smoke thickened, and at times visibility on the road was less than 200m. We stopped for lunch in Wodonga, where the smoke was heaviest. Our food had little taste for the smoke covered everything. The air tasted of ash, and its’ heaviness found a home in our throats and noses.

I have passed through bushfire areas before. Growing up in country Victoria, I’ve experienced burnt out bushland and smoke lingering around the hills, but never anything so thick and covering an area of such staggering size. Something like 10 million hectares of land is now scorched black. That’s an area larger than many entires States in the USA. More than 20 people have died, 2000 homes destroyed, and it is said that half a billion animals have been killed.

Cooler and wetter conditions mean that most of the fires are now either under control and at least temporarily dampened until the weather changes once again. We can be thankful for this temporary reprieve.

The reason for writing this post less about sharing our recent family road trip and more about offering some advice. Unlike most bushfires in Australian history, this time everyone has an opinion. Some of the suggestions are helpful while others should be avoided.

I want to offer 6 responses that Christians can make following these weeks of fire (and in preparation for the rest of the fire season which we mustn’t forget has another two months to go). I want to begin where I think the Bible encourages us to begin

1. Weep with those who are weeping and mourn with those who are mourning. 

“mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15)

If we cannot start here and empathise with those who have lost much, frankly our opinion about the rest is little more than a noisy gong being played out of rhythm. Fast-forwarding to politicking and virtual signalling is uncouth and uncaring.

2. Avoid the heated and at times disgusting politicisation of these events.

In one sense it is impossible to separate the fires from politics altogether. Of course, understanding what has happened and learning how to better manage the future matters enormously.  However, over the last month, we have seen some of the grossest grandstanding and vilest commentary that I have witnessed in Australian political history.

No, I am not referring to the Prime Minister here. I recognise Scott Morrison has made errors of judgement in his initial responses (in my opinion, taking his family on a one week vacation over Christmas is not one of them). I also think that the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, has overall addressed the crisis well. While I frequently disagree with the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, he has conducted himself well and served Victorians well throughout this crisis. There have been however too many loud and loquacious voices using this tragedy for political point-scoring.

In such dangerous and exhausting circumstances as the nation has witnessed, there is naturally going to be anger and frustration, especially by those who are closest to the fires. But much social media and media responses have only served to fuel anger and encourage outrage in an irresponsible way, and often by people who know little about the subject matter. My plea is, don’t dump more petrol on the crisis.

Think before you tweet. Check before you share articles. Ask, is this righteous anger or are you justifying your disapproval of political opponents?

3. Don’t claim to be an expert when we are not

I have been asked to write some thoughts on the bushfire emergency. Until now I declined. Let me share why. There are two reasons why I have hesitated in writing anything on the fires. The first reason is that when someone’s house is on fire you don’t stop to argue about how the fire started, you go in and help them. There is a time to critique and analyse, and there is a time to get on with the job of helping out. As I suggested under point 1, many Aussies who have a megaphone in hand have skipped the important step of mourning and weeping, and instead jumped straight to blaming and shaming. Second, while I understand there are 25 million experts on climate change in Australia, I am not one of them. I can offer a point of view about fires and climate change, but I no more an expert than most of my 25 million fellow Australians. The problem is of course, that by even admitting such, there will some critics who assume I must be one of those evil climate deniers. Anything other than shrilling at the top of my lungs has become reason to cast suspicion on a person.

So what do I think? I accept that the globe is warming and that human beings have contributed to this problem. I am not a climate change scientist and neither are most of us. One cool fact though is that at Mentone Baptist Church we have an actual climate change scientist, and conversing with her is more than helpful. In addition to accepting the science on Climate Change, I also accept reporting that has revealed many of the fires that have started this season are the result of human agency; arsonists. Extreme drought conditions in many parts of the country and years of ignoring Indigenous practice of fuel reduction burning are also a combustible combination. It seems as though there are multiple factors contributing to the terrible fires burning across the country, including climate change. Indeed, it only makes sense that climate change will produce more volatile conditions (i.e. droughts and heat) leading to bushfires. It is vital that experts once again meet and provide workable and important solutions for future seasons (which include pathways to introducing more renewable energies). Believing in responsible policies and avoiding extreme rhetoric does not amount to Climate Change denial. These are my 2 cents worth of comments, spoken as an Aussie novice in this area.

4. Donate without playing to the crowds.

When donating to any of the organisations collecting for fire relief, don’t grandstand. It’s helpful to promote organisations who are doing good work but we don’t need to know how generous you are personally.

5. Pray.

Prayer isn’t useless. There are Aussies fighting the fires and who have escaped the fires who’ve been praying and they stand by prayer. Pray is effective for those who pray to a living God who is Sovereign over all things. Christians pray to a loving Father, who is the creator of all things and who is compassionate. We don’t pray because we understand everything that happens, we pray because we trust God who sees all things.

Pray for those fighting the fires. Pray for the communities who are facing fire. Pray for rain. Pray for our Government and political representatives that they will make wise decisions both in their immediate responses and for planning for the long term future. Here is a suggested prayer written by Glenn Davies, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney:

“Our heavenly Father, creator of all things and especially the creator of this land and its original peoples, we call out to you in these desperate times as fires have swept across several parts of our country.

Our hearts cry out to you for those who have lost loved ones, and those who have lost properties in the wake of these ravaging fires 

Father we pray, in your mercy, restrain the forces of nature from creating catastrophic damage; in your mercy protect human life.

Guard those volunteers, rural fire service personnel and emergency services who selflessly step into the breach to fight these fires. Guide police and authorities who help evacuate and shelter those who are displaced.  Bring comfort and healing to all who suffer loss.

Remembering your promises of old that seedtime and harvest will never cease, we pray that you would open the heavens to send refreshing rain upon our parched land. 

In your mercy, we pray for drenching rain. 

We pray that despite the forecasts, in your miraculous power you would bring forth rain to quench these fires and to bring life back into the earth, so that crops may grow and farmers may bring forth the harvest of the land again.

We bring these requests before your throne, in the name of your Son, who died and rose again for our deliverance,

Amen.”

 

6. Put your hope in God

Before Christmas, I wrote an article about hope, because I am increasingly hearing and seeing a young generation express hopelessness and despair. There are many reasons why millennials are sensing a world without hope, and chief among them is the issue of Climate Change.  In that piece, I suggested something that amounts to blasphemy according to some, but it is true and needs saying:

“Climate change isn’t the existential threat facing the planet and humanity. It is a symptom of an ancient problem that we have afforded to ignore for far too long. If there is no God, why should we ultimately concern ourselves with altruism? Why bother with protecting the environment for future generations if purpose is found in the individual and defined by personal satisfaction? The fact that we understand that there are moral boundaries and that the future does matter, is not an argument against Divine purpose but the only rational explanation for having such concerns. How we behave toward one another and how we use the planet is important because this isn’t a meaningless existence.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

There has been a cosmological battle taking place for millennia, and it is ultimately against the Creator, not the creation. The ancient mandate to care for the world remains, but the growing call to save and redeem the world is not one within our purview. Those who believe we can save the planet have far too high regard for human capability and moral will. I’m not saying, don’t bother reducing carbon omissions and forget about investing in renewable energy; far from it. The house I live in won’t stand forever but it doesn’t mean I neglect the building. I neither wreck the house nor place all my energy and hopes in the house. I’m just pointing out the fact that people putting their ultimate hope in other people will always disappoint in the end. The role of global saviour is too big a job. You see, I don’t believe things are as bad as we suggest they are; despite even the good around us the reality is far more perilous.”

The Bible tells us that the world in which we live, with all its beauty and wonder, is also a dangerous place. It is cursed and corrupted and corroding like those old fashioned corrugated iron roofs that mark the Australian landscape. The hope for creation lies not in our management skills and commitments, but in the Gospel alone. When Christians forget this, we place too great a burden on our children to fix that which we cannot, and we may slide into preaching a Gospel to Australia which is no Gospel at all.

 “19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:19-25)

We can’t survive without hope. Hope in the world or hope in humanity is an age-long route to despair. Human responsibility is noble and right, but the hope of the world cannot rest on the shoulders of any given generation.

“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Romans 5:5)

President Trump is wrong about Evangelicals but he is not to blame

“Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.” (Psalm 2:7)

 

The necessary divorce

Is this the necessary divorce? The match wasn’t made in heaven. It was a coupling that shouldn’t have been, and yet some leading Christian voices in the United States laid down their theology and ascended the White House. In the last 48 hours, this special relationships has unravelled. Government and Church can be good friends but they make a lousy married couple.

Following an article written by Christianity Today’s Editor in Chief, Mark Galli, President Trump has attacked the magazine and ‘defended’ evangelicals. With what appears to be a sense of betrayal, the President has resorted to his usual public naming and shaming on twitter.

“….have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President. No President has done more for the Evangelical community, and it’s not even close. You’ll not get anything from those Dems on stage. I won’t be reading ET again!

“A far left magazine, or very “progressive,” as some would call it, which has been doing poorly and hasn’t been involved with the Billy Graham family for many years, Christianity Today, knows nothing about reading a perfect transcript of a routine phone call and would rather…..”

“guess the magazine, “Christianity Today,” is looking for Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, or those of the socialist/communist bent, to guard their religion. How about Sleepy Joe? The fact is, no President has ever done what I have done for Evangelicals, or religion itself!”

I’m not writing to comment on the impeachment or to even comment on President Trump’s policies. I’m not here to defend Christianity Today either. My issue relates to the necessary separation of Evangelicalism from the White House (and any single political party for that matter).

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In response to President Trump’s assertion about looking after evangelical interests, it is not the role of Government to guard the evangelical faith. That is beyond the purview of a President’s responsibilities. The Church is not the State and the State does not control the Church.

Government and Church have different spheres of responsibility. The keys of the Kingdom belong to the Church while the Government holds the sword of justice. The different roles don’t mean there is no conversation between the two and that one cannot be of service to the other, but they are not institutions designed for a wedding. This important separation of Church and State is not an argument for the removal of religion from the public square, for all politics is religious. Some pundits argue for the removal of any semblance of religion in proximity to government, but this is neither biblical nor is it ideologically possible. Whether in the foreground and background everyone brings their convictions with them into the public square. We are all shaped by views about God and the world and these beliefs impact political priorities and policies.

It shouldn’t need saying, but just in case, the Government is not tasked with the responsibility of guarding one subsection of society, but caring for all its citizens by upholding the constitution, the law, and working for the good. Christians are part of the constituency, not the whole.

Also, President Trump understands Evangelical Christianity through a political lens that sees everything through a false binary: You’re either Conservative or socialist, you either vote Republican or Democrat. This is to misunderstand the nature of Christianity and the message of the Christian Gospel.

The Christianity Today article has spoken boldly about the importance of character,

“It’s time to say what we said 20 years ago when a president’s character was revealed for what it was.”

Indeed,  too many Christians threw this qualification into the recycling bin for a season. I also remember at the time of the 2016 election, leading evangelical voices were cautioning Christians and reminding them that character matters. Ed Stetzer, Russell Moore, and Al Mohler were among them. The reality is that some evangelicals wedded Trump while others stood at a distance. By in large, the Australian media ignored all this and instead ran with the preferred narrative of evangelicals supporting Trump. The reality is far more complex than has been reported. This doesn’t take away from the fact that many Christians in the United States, especially with notable names like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jnr, anointed Trump with a sacred calling that he and no President can hold.

Lest we conclude the problem is all Trump, we would do well to recall remember some of the things that have been said recently by Democratic presidential nominees in the name of Christianity. Pete Buttigieg, for example, takes the identity of Christian while supporting many ethical positions which are irreconcilable with the Christian faith, both politically and personally.

Should we blame the President? He is certainly responsible for what he believes and says. But is he to blame for the marriage with Evangelicals? No.

The greater responsibility lies with the fact that many Evangelicals in the United States fused their hopes and aspirations onto the Presidential bandwagon. They sacrificed integrity for expediency. I am not saying that voting Democrat is the alternative. How can one support a party that advocates the killing of unborn children and the destruction of sexual norms?

Sometimes there is no viable option. Surely this has been the predicament for Christians in many cultures during many seasons in history. The Bible never gives Christians a voting card. We are meant to honour, obey and pray for the Governing authorities, and to keep doing good to all. Some Governments are better than others, and we should wisely decide whom to support.

In none of this am I making a statement about who to vote for; not at all. The issue at hand is far more important and pressing; do not fuse the Christian faith with a political party or leader. Do not give to the State that which belongs to the Church. Do not sacrifice the Great Commission in order to maintain a place in the halls of Washington DC.

This isn’t an evangelical problem alone. Conservatives and Progressives alike make this blunder with a place too much emphasis on common grace and not enough episodes on the churches mission which centres in particular grace

It has been sad to watch a word which has holds such rich theological and historical significance, being undone in such a short time. Evangelical has been regularly misappropriated not only by political pundits but also by Americans themselves. True evangelicalism has little to do with the political aspirations of right-wing America, and everything to do with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Authentic evangelicalism is defined by this Gospel as presented in the Bible, not by the political right or left, not with Democrats or Republicans, and for the Australian context, neither Liberal nor Labor.

Terribly, “evangelical” America supported Donald Trump and have been tarnished for doing so. I cannot see how this association will advance the cause of Jesus Christ. If anything, the word may become irretrievably immeshed in a cause that is not the Gospel.

It is one thing to be part of a Presidential term, but it is quite another to one day stand before the Judge of the earth and give an account for how our lives have adorned or maligned the Gospel of Christ.

This final point is not only true for American Christians but also Australian Christians. When will Christians learn not to place undue hope in Government? The election has exposed a messed up eschatology and misplaced soteriology, which will not only disappoint, but will prevent people from seeing Christ. However Donald Trump decides to build his wall along the Mexican border, it is nothing compared to the wall evangelicals have built-in this election which will block out the wonder of the Gospel. How will true evangelicals work to dismantle this false gospel? What will we do publicly and in our Churches to redress the damage caused by this political misalignment?

Hope for a generation without hope

During the course of 2019, I have observed a growing sense of hopelessness being felt and expressed by people across the globe, especially among teenagers. Climate change, political agendas and social uncertainties are compounding and amplifying a disillusionment about the future.

There is an audible disquiet and growing despair spilling over from social media and into our schools and onto our streets. My children’s school was so concerned about this that they wrote a letter to parents, urging us to address these matters in a calm and constructive manner.

This year we have heard young people declaring that they will never have because of threats facing the globe. Members of the British Royal family have also joined the chorus, announcing that they will have fewer children because of the perils posed by climate change. 

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AAP

It is not only Climate Change that is of concern. Western societies are experiencing a rise in anti-Semitism, stories of sexual abuse rarely leave the headlines, and the question of religious freedom is no longer limited to the theoretical. The oft forgotten issues of alcohol, drugs, and gambling continue to destroy homes and lives across our suburbs and towns. There is also the situation facing Hong Kong, the forced internment of over one million Uyghurs in China, and a 1000 who have been killed in Iran recently protesting in support of freedoms in that land.

There is much to see in our world today that can overwhelm young and vibrant hearts. Indeed, has there been another year in living memory that has exuded so much negativity and sense of despair?

Our city streets are regularly clogged with protests. Once upon a time, we might see 3 or 4 such marches during the course of a year, but now it is almost every week. And the people protesting have also changed. There are fewer industry unions standing for the rights of the working class. The demonstrations are about sexual rights and the environment: save the planet, save animals, and kill the unborn. If that final inclusion sounds a little distasteful, that’s because it is. Children are now joining in these rallies in their thousands, skipping school to express dread and discouragement as they consider their future.

These conditions are a dangerous recipe. Passionate citizens and concerned people can be exploited by vociferous ideologues. History is littered with such examples and even some current movements have also been used and turned by less than helpful campaigners. How quickly we forget. For example, when Safe Schools was launched, its chief architect, Roz Ward, explained that the curriculum was designed to introduce Marxist thinking into our schools. Far from assisting youth who are wrestling with their sexual identity, they became pawns in a political subversion game being played among academics and social activists.

There is something particularly disconsolating in watching a generation lose hope. Sure, some of it is virtual signalling. Of course, adults need to take responsibility for the over the top rhetoric they sometimes apply to public issues. And yet, we should recognise that many young Australians are feeling the weight of a less than certain future.

When we looked back we remember that ours isn’t the first generation of young people to experience despondency. The generation of 1914-18 was marked by the trauma of world war. The following generation grew up during the Great Depression and was soon struck down by a global war more terrifying and bloody than the one their parents survived. Children of the 1950s learned to duck and cover, in the event of a nuclear attack that many believed was inevitable.

We could dig further back into history and look to the time of the Exodus or to the age of exile in Babylon. What were those people living through?  How did they feel? And where did they place their hope?

Of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, 

“During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”

Of the people living in exile for 70 years, 

“They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’” (Ezekiel 37:11)

Millennials are not the first generation to face enormous life changing obstacles and they won’t be last. This is not to dismiss Climate Change. My purpose here is not to contest the science for I am no expert in this area. I have no reason to doubt the research being conducted by so many and where there is broad consensus. Indeed the issue fits neatly with a biblical understanding of the world and of the human capacity to care for and to abuse the creation in which we live. 

Are we reaping the fruit of generations of greed and selfishness? Probably. We are also reaping the benefits of generations of ingenuity and progress. I can almost hear Charles Dickens penning those famous words, 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”

In some respects, we are living in the best of days. Our standard of living has never been higher. Our children have more opportunities and experiences open to them than could have been imagined 20 years ago. In many areas, life has never been better, but the rhetoric of doom is drowning out much else.

Call me a heretic but Climate change isn’t the existential threat facing the planet and humanity. It is a symptom of an ancient problem that we have afforded to ignore for far too long. If there is no God, why should we ultimately concern ourselves with altruism? Why bother with protecting the environment for future generations if purpose is found in the individual and defined by personal satisfaction? The fact that we understand that there are moral boundaries and that the future does matter, is not an argument against Divine purpose but the only rational explanation for having such concerns. How we behave toward one another and how we use the planet is important because this isn’t a meaningless existence. 

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

 There has been a cosmological battle taking place for millennia, and it is ultimately against the Creator, not the creation. The ancient mandate to care for the world remains, but the growing call to save and redeem the world is not one within our purview. Those who believe we can save the planet have far too high regard for human capability and moral will. I’m not saying, don’t bother reducing carbon omissions and forget about investing in renewable energy; far from it. The house I live in won’t stand forever but it doesn’t mean I neglect the building. I neither wreck the house nor place all my energy and hopes in the house. I’m just pointing out the fact that people putting their ultimate hope in other people will always disappoint in the end. The role of global saviour is too big a job. You see, I don’t believe things are as bad as we suggest they are; despite even the good around us the reality is far more perilous. 

At least in the West, millennials are following their parents lead and ditching Christianity in favour of either vague and undefinable spirituality or choosing a-theism and an irrational universe. I reckon this pursuit is partly responsible for hopelessness that is weaving itself through our communities. It is time to revisit the person of Jesus Christ. Indeed, for most Australians, it is to visit Him for the very first time. The Gospel of Matthew declares, 

“In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matt 12:21)

And this, 

 “And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.”

” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:12-13)

Here are words of profound hope. Here is a person in whom we can rest our hope. Jesus wasn’t a virtual signaller. He came into a hostile world and to a people without hope. He demonstrated his Divinity in the most powerful and loving ways. He chose to take a road to crucifixion. He was raised to life on the third day. He has ascended to heaven. He will hold the nations to account. He will hold all of us to account. He brings hope and healing, peace and reconciliation. Some Churches have done a great job at confusing and even betraying these things, but the message stands the test of time. Indeed there are millions of millennials turning to the Gospel all over the world today and discover the kind of hope they need and cannot find in anything else.

We can’t survive without hope. Hope in the world or hope in humanity is an age-long route to despair. Human responsibility is noble and right, but the hope of the world cannot rest on the shoulders of our children. You may doubt what I suggest, but at the very least, why not open a Bible to the Gospel of Luke or the Gospel of John, read and consider this hope before you discount him?

“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Romans 5:5)

What is a woman?

What is a woman? Let’s be clear from the outset, this wasn’t my question. I am simply repeating a question asked by a woman to another woman, and the answer is certainly worthy of discussion.

It was only a few years ago that it was possible to describe what a woman is and indeed, what a man is. We could talk about biology and physiology. We could define men and women according to whether a person had  XY chromosomes or  XX chromosomes. We could speak of social and emotional differences. Of course, if you dare offer any such explanation in today’s culture, you’ll soon find yourself being shamed and cancelled.

 

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So what happens when a political leader is asked on national radio, “what is a woman?”

British voters are counting down the hours to the election. I am very casual and distant observer of British politics, but my interest here is apolitical. This post relates to the latest showing of the absurd in our Western culture.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 and was taking questions from callers. A woman by the name of Anna phoned in and asked,

“It is really great that your party promotes women’s rights. So please can you tell what is a woman?”

I suspect Swinson’s answer will be disappointing news to many women, and to men, and to men who think they are a woman.

Amidst many ums and pauses, the  LDP leader said,

“I know that I am a woman…..we know what we are….all woman have rights and need to be protected…”

Anna wasn’t exactly satisfied by this lack of an answer and so she tried again, “So how can you tell what a woman is?”

The best explanation that Jo Swinson could offer was,

“people can understand their own identity”

There we have it. It is no longer possible to define what a woman is. You know if you are, but don’t count on biology to inform you or anything else for that matter. If that leaves you in a state of uncertainty, unable to base your gender identity on anything clear and certain, that just how things are.

Jo Swinson may believe she is representing transgender Brits and people who are confused about their gender identity, but her answer doesn’t offer them any comfort. They may say that they are a woman, but can they or anyone know? Definition is beyond our grasp. Apparently, we are now unable to even describe what a woman is.

As the American political commentator Ben Shapiro asked a few months ago, is female simply a set of social stereotypes or is it biological? We are told that it cannot be biological because a woman can have a penis just as men can give birth to children. Therefore,  femaleness must be definable by social stereotypes, a criteria of observable non-physical differences from males. But of course, the dilemma is that we are not permitted to suggest that men and women have any differences beyond the biological; that would be mansplaining. It is derogatory and sexist to hint there is any difference between men and women.

If this is the case (that we can’t detect a woman according to either biology or social stereotypes) what is the value in even using these categories of sex and gender? Why not eliminate them altogether?

Western culture has quickly turned into the ouroboros. We are slowly destroying ourselves as we deny essential realities about the world and about ourselves. It’s as though some bright spark read Romans 1:18-32 and thought to himself/herself, what a brilliant pathway to progress! But this isn’t progress, it is a dangerous game of identity politics with an undertone of Marxist like authoritarianism, and it is hurting real people who are struggling with real issues.

Jesus once asked a group of intellectuals, “Haven’t you read…that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female…” I suspect Jesus wouldn’t survive on social media for very long. Our inspired progressive leaders would have him cancelled by nightfall for daring make such a suggestion! We don’t need further legislation and social alterations that will define men and women out of existence. If only we would stop listening to the insane and dangerous, and begin listening to the One who came from heaven and who was crucified out of love for us. He doesn’t only explain to us men and women, he offers us greater dignity and love and life than any politician can ever promise. But giving up hubris and putting on humility isn’t an easy path to take, but it is a necessary one if we have any chance of finding redemption.

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.

AAP

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)