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?

 

A QandA Recap

The Age is right to publish Neil McMahon’s Qanda recap under ‘entertainment’, for it doesn’t belong under ‘news’ or anything resembling fair and factual reporting.

According to McMahon, Magda Szubanski is an angel, in contrast to  the rest of the panel who are presumably on the devil’s payroll.

I’m not having a go at Magda Szubanski and her contribution last night, but McMahon’s near superhuman selective hearing.

If you’ve only read McMahon’s offering in The Age, you’d be forgiven for thinking that last night’s QandA served up another staple diet of stupid Christians and thoughtful atheists, annoying anti-SSM campaigners and human heart beating advocates. I’m sure McMahon’s regulars will read his account with cheers, but for others who watched last night’s program, we are left wondering, through which smokey haze did he view Qanda?

QandA has gained a reputation for too often lacking finesse and nuance from its guests, but last night each panellist brought a healthy degree of intellectual argument touched with humility and empathy.

 

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The entire program was dedicated to issue of same sex marriage, and important questions were asked, and all 4 panellists offered (for the most part) substantive comments and arguments, and yet McMahon fails to even acknowledge any of this.

McMahon latches onto one comment made by Karina Okotel, which was certainly less than convincing, but he concludes that she must be either lying or is at the very least untrustworthy in what she says,

“Okotel is a challenge in this debate: an all-smiling and apparent voice of reasonableness adept at speaking out of both sides of her mouth like the lawyer she is.”

Sure, she fluffed her answer, but it’s not as though there isn’t a clear and important response to this question (cf. https://murraycampbell.net/2017/09/02/fathers-day-telling/).

McMahon also completely ignores one important fact check from the episode, namely when Magda Szubanski repeated the old time myth of 10%. Alfred Kinsey’s now debunked study has nonetheless taken the status of undeniable truth for some in the community. After all, the temptation to inflate favourable numbers is understandable. According to most research, the real number of Australians who variously identify as LGBTI is closer to 2-4%. And according to the 2016 Census, 0.39% of Australians are living in a same sex relationship. Belonging to a small number doesn’t alter the humanity and worth of these Australians, but I would have thought that presenting misinformation isn’t helpful, no matter which side of a debate you are presenting.

Magda’s personal testimony is important and worth listening to. We (speaking to Christians here) do need to listen to such voices. It’s also worth hearing how she understands what Churches are saying about marriage. There are moments when Glenn Davies tries to correct some of her assumptions, without success it would seem, but the interaction does communicate something of the mishearing that is going on in our society.

If there was a “powerful” moment in last night’s program, surely it was Archbishop Glenn Davies stating that should holding Jesus’ view of marriage be declared unfit in Australians society, he would be prepared to go to jail. He would accept the democratic processes of our nation, but is not prepared to change his convictions even in face of imprisonment. But not even worthy of a footnote for McMahon.

Perhaps someone needs to give Neil McMahon their hearing aid, but then again, I’m sure he knows what he’s doing. Photoshopping reality is sadly a far to common tool of the trade in journalism today. Journos from all sides are guilty of doing this as they win the applause of their facebook groupies. Let’s be honest, this is not only a journalist problem, but we see it among our politicians, and we even see it in ourselves. We may rightly object to the selectivity and agenda bogged journalism that’s muddying our media, but at the same time, we ought to ask the same about our own proclivities. 

 

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,
    for the ears of the wise seek it out.” (Proverbs 18:15)

Meaningless Marriage on QandA

If you watched QandA last night, you may be left wondering why is Australia  having a discussion about marriage at all? It’s not because reason shows us that marriage should remain between a man and a woman, and it’s not because of impassioned stories from gay couples, but because we were told by two QandA panelists that we ought to get rid of marriage altogether.

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English philosopher, AC Grayling, claimed that the origins of marriage were sexist, but now “there’s another sense of the word marriage which is the commitment that two or perhaps more — I don’t know — people make to one another about pooling their resources, mutually supporting one another.”

He added that he doesn’t support the institution of marriage (despite the fact that he is married), although he does support same-sex marriage.

Merav Michaeli is a former journalist and currently serves as a member of Israel’s Parliament. Like Grayling, Michaeli has a very negative view of marriage and thinks society expunge marriage altogether.

“This is not something that we should maintain in the world when we realise all of us are human beings.”

Why?

“Marriage has nothing to do with love but is a tool created to dominate women, and not somethin that should be sustained”.

“In many countries … your parents make you marry someone because of their social status, because of the family they come from, because they want to keep the property in a specific family or another family.”

Any audience member wearing their ‘love is love’ t-shirt last night, must have felt a little awkward…or enraged. Don’t worry, Michaeli was about to insult almost everyone on the planet. Not only is marriage not about love, it is an indictment on society for it is, according to Michaeli and Grayling, a system of oppression. Merav Michaeli went even further and alleged that marriage is a danger to children,

“The core family is the least safe place for children”.

“The custody, this total custody that we have in this structure of marriage which still gives men domination, complete domination over their children and too often over their women … is a part of the ongoing hurt in children.”

When host Virginia Trioli asked Ms Michaeli what is her alternative to marriage and the nuclear family, the answer was, the State should take responsibility for determining who will raise children. In other words, it should not be assumed that biological parents will raise their own children. In fact parents should not have inherent  rights to raise their children, but the State should be given authority to allocate children to what Michaeli calls, ‘share households’.

If your jaw dropped last night, I understand why. Pause for a moment and hear what Michaeli is suggesting; parents should not have the right to raise their own children. I’m guessing that Australians are sensible enough to know how absurd and immoral that idea is. It’s crazy. It’s George Orwell revisited. While we may not be in 1984, we do however need to appreciate that should marriage be redefined, the State will encourage children to be raised without one or both biological parents. Same sex marriage, even more than existing adoption laws, will institutionalise the raising of children without both biological parents. Not for a second am I suggesting that the State will be knocking on doors and taking children away without parental consent, but it does encourage a culture where children can and should be raised without mum or dad.

I have no doubt that there are Australians who have had a terrible experience in marriage. I know couples today whose marriages are not the beautiful and safe relationship that they imagined it would be. There are however many more examples where marriage does not reflect, in any way, the negative and abusive regime model that Michaeli describes. And where marriages have failed and are broken, most couples celebrate this situation, they wish that their experience was one where marriage was full of love and security and flourishing.

it is also important to note that, Michaeli and Grayling were not describing marriage as it was in the beginning, or the countless wonderful ways in which marriage has been expressed throughout history in different cultures. Instead, their arguments depend on taking poor historical examples of marriage, and fallaciously presenting them as normative.

The very first marriage is described in terms of goodness and intimacy and faithfulness,

“for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs  and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones

    and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called ‘woman,’

    for she was taken out of man.”

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”

The Apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter 5 speaks of marriage with tenderness and other person centredness: a husband should lay down his life for his wife. A wife can choose to respect her husband, and help him be the kind of man he ought to be.

While both AC Grayling and Merav Michaeli said marriage was bad, both they, and Shadow Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, presented the concept of marriage as relative and so not fixed in any ontological or purposeful way. Despite this, every historical example of marriage that was inferred in last night’s program, depended on the fact that marriage is between a man and a woman. Why is that? Could it be that no matter the extent to which a society tries to recalibrate marriage, in less than helpful ways, some things remained unchangeable?

The program also revealed that debates over marriage are much more complex than often presented. Among those who support classical marriage, are arguments grounded in biology, ontology, sociological reasons for raising children, and at times theology. Common among those advocating for marriage change is the view that marriage is a malleable and ultimately groundless institution that should reflect what people want it to mean. The logical extension of this view is exactly what we find Merav Michaeli advocating: let’s get rid of marriage altogether.

The lesson from history is not that marriage is wrong or that marriage is relative, but that we grieve when marriage goes awry.  When society adopts the less than ideal of marriage, surely the answer is not to further walk away from the ideal, but to return to it?

Listening to last night’s conversation on QandA once again reminded me that the first question Australian should be asking, what is marriage? Is marriage love is love, or something more? Is marriage a meaningless term that everyone has the right to use however they choose? Is marriage about property rights?

 

 

 

The ethics of Peter Singer: he believes what?

Does a pig have greater value than a child with Down Syndrome? Is a dog worth more than a severely disabled child?

According Peter Singer the answer is, yes.

Peter Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. Australian born, he is one of our country’s best known academic figures, and tonight he was invited to return to be part of the panel on ABC’s QandA. 

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In 2007 Singer wrote a piece in the New York Times, where he discussed ethical questions surrounding  a severely disabled 9 year old girl by the name of Ashley. He wrote,

“Here’s where things get philosophically interesting. We are always ready to find dignity in human beings, including those whose mental age will never exceed that of an infant, but we don’t attribute dignity to dogs or cats, though they clearly operate at a more advanced mental level than human infants. Just making that comparison provokes outrage in some quarters. But why should dignity always go together with species membership, no matter what the characteristics of the individual may be?

What matters in Ashley’s life is that she should not suffer, and that she should be able to enjoy whatever she is capable of enjoying. Beyond that, she is precious not so much for what she is, but because her parents and siblings love her and care about her. Lofty talk about human dignity should not stand in the way of children like her getting the treatment that is best both for them and their families.”

Notice the comparison he makes? He suggests that the life of a dog or cat has more value and ‘dignity’ than a human being with limited cognitive faculties. Not only that, in true utilitarian style he denies Ashley’s intrinsic worth as a human being, suggesting that she has worth only insofar as she is loved by her family.

In a recent article in the Journal of Practical Ethics, Peter Singer tried to justify killing children with Down Syndrome.

“For me, the knowledge that my [hypothetical Down] child would not be likely to develop into a person whom I could treat as an equal, in every sense of the word, who would never be able to have children of his or her own, who I could not expect to grow up to be a fully independent adult, and with whom I could expect to have conversations about only a limited range of topics would greatly reduce my joy in raising my child and watching him or her develop.

“Disability” is a very broad term, and I would not say that, in general, “a life with disability” is of less value than one without disability. Much will depend on the nature of the disability.

But let’s turn the question around, and ask why someone would deny that the life of a profoundly intellectually disabled human being is of less value than the life of a normal human being. Most people think that the life of a dog or a pig is of less value than the life of a normal human being. On what basis, then, could they hold that the life of a profoundly intellectually disabled human being with intellectual capacities inferior to those of a dog or a pig is of equal value to the life of a normal human being? This sounds like speciesism to me, and as I said earlier, I have yet to see a plausible defence of speciesism. After looking for more than forty years, I doubt that there is one.”

That’s right, according to Peter Singer, a pig has more right to live than some human beings, should the person have intellectual and mental disability.

In 1999, Michael Specter of the New Yorker, wrote that, “Singer believes, for example, that a humans life is not necessarily more sacred than a dogs and that it might be more compassionate to carry out medical experiments on hopelessly disabled unconscious orphans than on perfectly healthy rats.”

The worldview driving Peter Singer’s beliefs is atheism, and his ethic of choice is utilitarianism, which holds that the most horrid actions can be justified should the outcome bring benefit to another person or group of people. It is therefore unsurprising that he openly advocates bestiality, infanticide, euthanasia, abortion, and that he dehumanises those whom he declares less fit for life in this world.

We need to appreciate that these ideas are not being whispered on the dark web or behind closed doors, but openly in one of America’s Ivy League Universities, and in some of the United States’ and Australia’s most respected news and journalistic outlets. Indeed, he retains a teaching position at the University of Melbourne, where I am a graduate.

I have no doubt that it’s not only Christians who will be appalled by Peter Singer’s ideas; many atheists will also be disgusted.  And yet, Peter Singer is in some sense a victim of his own atheistic ideology, for he is chasing his worldview through to its logical conclusion. If this world is it, and there is no God who made and oversee all things, why should we pretend that people have inherent worth and equal dignity? Why should we attribute greater moral value to a sick person than a healthy animal? Why shouldn’t we kill the weak in order to help the strong?

We can be prone to hyperbole for all kinds of things, but it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that some of Peter Singer’s ideas are akin to ideologies pronounced by some of the most dangerous regimes the world has ever known. Before we yell out condemnation from across a chasm, we should  recognise that our own society has already adopted aspects of this ethical framework: in the way we understand some of society’s most vulnerable people, including the unborn because they may carry an ‘abnormality’. The fact that most of us resist and want to push back on many of Singer’s ideas, tells us something about how unsatisfactory and unnatural atheism truly is.

So where should we turn our attention? How different is the answer that we find with the God of the Bible. The Bible insists that every human being, from the moment of conception, is precious and made in the image of God. Gender, age, health, mental faculties, physical appearance, do not detract from a person’s inestimable worth.

Throughout his three years of ministry Jesus was known for befriending and caring for those whom society thought little, and had often neglected. No one was too insignificant for him to take interest in and show love.

On one occasion we are told,

“A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.” (Matthew 8:2-3)

Jesus didn’t stop there, the extent of love that God demonstrated was found on a roman cross, where the Son of God sacrificed his life for the salvation of others.

“Surely he took up our pain

    and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,

    stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

    he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

    and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)

‘Vive La Australia’: Freedom of Speech in Australia

Last night while Melbourne suffered through the Great Snowstorm of 2016 and the rest of the world chased Pokemons, Mentone gathered for quite an extraordinary evening.

FreedomofSpeech

The topic of conversation was ‘Freedom of Speech in Australia’, and we were privileged to have speaking, Mr Tim Wilson MHR, and Rev Dr Michael Bird. Present in the audience were members of various political parties (and of none), and people reflecting a variety of religious and non-religious world views, including of course members from Mentone Baptist Church.

The first thing I learnt last night is that the Federal seat of Goldstein, whom Tim Wilson now represents, is not pronounced Goldstein but rather, Goldstein! In other words, the ein is pronounced as mine, not bean. Apologies to everyone living in Beaumaris, Hampton, Brighton, and so on!

Electoral names aside, both Wilson and Bird presented a case for free speech in Australia that was erudite, thoughtful, and engaging. And this was followed by a time of QandA with the audience.

Tim Wilson spoke first. He offered an historical overview of Australia’s anti-discrimination laws, and articulated how ‘good law’, that which related to work place harassment, has been abused by being applied universally to public speech. A case in point is the now infamous and inexplicable Section 17 of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act.

In a defence of free speech, Wilson asked, “is it really right, just, that to exercise our most basic right we have to question whether we are going to be held in contempt of the law and then going have to pay significant legal bills to defend ourselves”

While not the topic at hand, it is difficult to speak on Freedom of Speech in 2016 without commenting on the current marriage debate. Wilson shared some of his own experiences growing up as a homosexual and of him favouring changes to the Marriage Act. Most importantly, in light of his views on marriage, Wilson said,

“I don’t think we can have a constructive conversation around the marriage of same-sex couples until both sides can say what they truly think.”

He then pushed further, pointing out, “the hypocritical nature of so many people today, when they don’t want to hear a particular argument, they declare it to be bigoted or hate speech.” Wilson then referred to Bill Shorten and Penny Wong, noting that only a few short years ago they spoke against changes to the Marriage Act, but now they can’t desist from calling opponents of same-sex marriage, bigots and hate filled.

At the other end of the spectrum, Tim Wilson offered a timely admonition to religious organisations, who though themselves call for a higher standard of morality, they have been exposed, especially in the area of sexual abuse.

As a Christian leader I affirm his rebuke, and would add that men (or women) who commit abhorrent acts on children behind clerical vestments and institutions are not representative of the Christ whom they claim to worship, but are the very manifestation of anti-Christ, for the deny him by their deeds. And yet, we need to understand that the public do not also differentiate between authentic Christians and dress-up Christians. Tim Wilson was spot on to call out Christian leaders to work harder on this.

Mike Bird employed his familiar array of jocose analogies and allusions, while driving home some pertinent truths for Australian society, as well as for Churches.

‘The future is French’, Mike asserted, in relation to where Australian religion and politics is heading. Either we will take the path of Vive la différence or that of the less desirable, Laïcité.

“I like to think our Constitution is robust enough to protect basic freedoms, and our political parties will seek to do right by all. However, people of faith can expect to receive a hard time from progressive activists and parties in the forseeable future. Religion may be sanitised from the public square.”

How should Churches respond to this paradigm cultural and political shift? Bird proposed that the future will either be Swedish or Chinese!

The reproach was overlooked by many last night, but Bird was calling out ‘liberal’ churches, suggesting they suffered from Stockholm syndrome. That is, they have lost their identity by tinkering with the tenets of the Christian faith in order to ensure religion is palatable to the powers that be.

Instead, Bird exhorted Christians to learn from Christianity in China, where it exists on the margins of society. Yet despite the oppression of Christians in China for many decades,  it has witnessed exponential growth, and all without the privileges of political and public freedoms, which we currently enjoy in this country.

Michael Bird also lauded Tim Wilson’s work last year in organising the Religious Freedom Roundtable, and he suggested that we need more forums such like that.

If I were to offer any criticisms, they would be minor:

At one point Tim spoke of certain religious groups who have tried to impose their morality onto other minorities. I do not disagree that historically there have been religious groups who’ve behaved as such, but the key word here is ‘impose’. There is an essential difference between imposition and influence, or pressure and persuasion. Mike said it well, when he exhorted Christians to “persuasive and compassionate discourse.”

In a crescendo of rhetoric Mike declared that, ’Christendom is over’. I would push back on this point and argue that Christendom in Australia never was. There is no doubt that Christianity has significantly influenced Australian culture and life, but it has been tolerated rather than happily embraced, sitting there in a position of begrudged prominence.

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The content of each presentation was winsome and helpful, but for me the highlight of the evening was the manner in which the conversation was conducted, including  participation from the audience. The tone was respectful but not innocuous; certain hypocrisies were called out, and serious challenges were proposed, but all without the immature name-calling and shout downs that are becoming all to common in the public square.

Last night demythologised the rhetoric of some social progressives, that civil dialogue can’t be had on issues relating to sexuality and marriage. Can an heterosexual Evangelical Anglican clergyman discuss issues of national importance with an agnostic gay politician? The answer is, yes. Indeed, despite obvious differences, they shared much in common. And can a room full of people, representing a spectrum of political and religious ideologies, enjoy a robust night of conversation? Yes, and in fact, people stayed and talked so late into the evening I was tempted to begin turning off the lights.

Finally, as a poignant way to close the evening, while answering a question on how to raise children to preserve and properly practice free speech, Mike Bird responded, ‘Love God, love your neighbour.’

Of course, these words comes from the lips of Jesus, who in turn was affirming the Old Testament Scriptures, and they remain the model for how Christians relate to others in society. I cannot speak for those of other world views, but this is how Christians must participate in both public and private. This Golden Rule does not build a staircase to Heaven as is sometimes believed, but rather, it is the life response of a person who has been captivated by the grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. It was fitting way to end such a rewarding night, “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

The talks an be downloaded here and the QandA here

A Christian QandA: But where was the Gospel?

Tonight’s ABC’s QandA program was purposed to examine the role of Christianity in Australian society today.

Interestingly, two hours prior to the show, I tweeted a question to which many of my Christian friends responded, ‘no, they would not be watching the program’. It seems as though lots of people are dubious about QandA’s capacity to present a fair and reasonable picture of Christianity, which is perhaps has some warrant based on previous programs.  I guess I include myself among the sceptics, but overall such doubts were given the boot. The show was presented well, and the rudeness scale from some previous episodes dropped off significantly.

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The program though didn’t quite start of the right footing, with Julia Baird exclaiming, “Everyone on the panel is a Christian.” Hmmm, really? There were some pretty dubious theologies up there tonight. But then I remembered how Julia recently referred to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a cult who reject Christianity, as ‘conservative Christian’. That aside, Julia Baird did a fine job at facilitating the proceedings.

The Panel

On the panel was John Haldane (a Scottish Catholic who is a Papal advisor to the Vatican), Julie McCrossin (radio & tv personality, and gay rights activist), Ray Minniecon (Pastor & Chairperson of the Sydney Anglican Indigenous People’s Committee), Tiffany Sparks (Anglican minister in Brisbane), and Lyle Shelton (Director of ACL).

Given the program’s topic, one would have thought the ABC would invite Australia’s most notable Christian voices: where was Peter Adam, Peter Jensen, Brian Rosner, John Dickson, Michael Jensen, Justine Toh, and many others? I understand why Lyle Shelton was chosen, and Ray Minniecon, but the other panelists? McCrossin and Sparks represent what is at best a fringe and frayed interpretation of Christianity. John Haldane is from out of town and struggled to comment on Australian cultural particulars, although he did add a sense of intellectual gravitas that was otherwise missing at times.

Having said that, QandA is not (nor is it meant to be) an orthodox Christian program, and the producers no doubt have pressures on them to diversify the panel and encourage as many sparks as possible.

The Questions:

The most interesting part of the show was seeing what questions people were asking:

  • When a 16yo is arrested for terrorism is it time for us to consider if we have failed to nurture our sons?
  • Do the churches share responsibility for failing to articulate the Christian principles of a ‘just war’?
  • There was a question about Eric Metaxas and his alleged comparison between Nazi Germany and debates over sexuality.
  • Why are churches in Australia so silent when it comes to climate change?
  • What role should our churches be playing for true reconciliation in our nation today?Do Church leaders recognise the role that patriarchal hierarchies & theologies play in DV?
  • Is what the Bible describes a more realistic view of our world or have the secularists got it right?

Apart from the final question, no one asked about the veracity of Christian beliefs (is it true or not), rather, people wanted to know whether Christianity is good (good being defined in a variety of ways). That is worth reflecting on from an apologetic and evangelistic perspective. But also, for many of the questions, including the climate change and indigenous recognition, Christians have been actively speaking on these issues, and yet it seems as though the public hasn’t listened (ABC viewers at least!). This raises an important question for Christians as we seek to speak into society: why are we not being heard? How can we work better at clearly presenting our views?

The Conversation:

It is best to watch the program for answers to the specific questions, for here I only wish to offer one comment, which to me sums up the program:

Where was the Baptist tonight? Yes, that’s tongue in cheek…sort of. Baptists are in fact one of the few Christian denominations growing across Australia, and yet there was no room for one? Leaving the facetious aside,

Why was an entire episode of a ‘Christian’ Qanda without any mention of the crux of the Christian faith, the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

I remember an episode with Peter Jensen and one with John Dickson, where both sought to explain the Gospel and give a reason for the hope they have. Tonight, the entire program was addressing matters from a Christian perspective and yet where was a faithful and clear articulation of the Gospel, even in a single sentence? The closest we came was when Lyle Shelton made passing reference to Christ laying down his life, and when Ray Minniecon called Australians to ‘repentance’. 

Of course, television programs (and the media in general), have little interest in the actual message of Christianity;  it is easier and more contentious to focus on moral questions. These questions are important, and as a Christian I believe the Bible gives us answers, but Christianity is not moralism. This is one of the potential dangers for groups like the Australian Christian Lobby. While I agree with many of their statements, they can be guilty of presenting a Christianity that is defined by a set of moral values, but that is a faulty view of Christianity. This is not questioning their orthodoxy, but the only message we have is  is the good news message of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died on a cross and rose from the dead for the salvation of everyone who believes in Him.

‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ (2 Corinthians 5:21)

‘I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ (Philippians 3:8)

As Julia Baird summed up the final question, she gave the panel every opportunity. She asked, ‘is it down to God’s grace or human endeavour?’ There I sat, pleading, would some one please explain the good news of Jesus Christ? Would someone at least say, ‘yes, it’s God’s grace’. What an opportunity to articulate the truth and beauty and power of God’s grace, but no. I was saddened to hear no minister of the Gospel say yes to God’s grace.

I was saddened. I was not surprised to hear Julie McCrossin and Tiffany Sparks contradicting Biblical truths; that’s what ‘progressives’ do; they throw away those things in the Bible that contravene their liberal views. But still, as Australians listened tonight to Christian leaders expound their beliefs, they will go to sleep none the wiser, yes, hearing some Christian ideas and thoughts, but almost nothing about the message which is Christianity. 

What I heard tonight was, Christians have opinions about lots of issues, just like everyone else. I heard, Christians disagree a lot. I heard, people have the capacity to change.

This ‘Christian’ QandA ended up sounding more like a Jane Austen novel set in Victorian England, acknowledging some things Christian, but with very little appeal to the Christ of Christianity and to the grace of God which Christians do trust, rejoice in, and want other Australians to know.