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Andrew Bolt and the Australian Christian Lobby.

So obviously I’ve been on something of a hiatus with blogging recently. I’m hard at work on my Moore College 4th year project (thesis) on Christian generosity with special reference to Peter Singer. My hope is that during November I’ll be able to make a few summary posts that explain where I’ve headed with it, for the sake of those who are interested in my findings but not interested enough to sit through 15 000 words.

 

Last night I received the Australian Christian Lobby’s e-newsletter. It included an extended message from the ACL Chief of Staff Lyle Shelton. I’ve included it in full below. In the letter, in something of a stream-of-consciousness Shelton gives us his thoughts on what he calls ‘the Bolt judgement’, then seamlessly transitions into a  Greens drive-by.

Shelton, in my view, does Christianity no favours by siding with Andrew Bolt in this matter.

While I understand Shelton’s uneasiness about curtailment of free speech we need to remember exactly what Bolt was been accused of – without a scrap of evidence offered he went on to malign a group of people, implying that they are welfare cheats. We might well say, “that’s his opinion and he is free to express it” but is that good enough? If his opinion is unsubstantiated with facts or data, does he really have the ‘right’ to voice them?

Moreover, Shelton chastises the courts for being the ones to decide on this matter. He argues that the ‘court of public opinion’ should be the court that decides on free speech issues. This bothers me. One of the common features of the court of public opinion is that it tends towards the majority. It also not an impartial court, with control held by those privileged enough to have their voices heard above the rest of us. In short, in the court of public opinion guys like Bolt have a megaphone.

I can’t think of a single theological justification for the defence of Bolt in this matter. It saddens me but this seems to be another example of the ACL siding with the conservative side of the political spectrum when it can’t think of anything “Goddish” to say.

 

Dear Steve,

The Federal Court’s ‘Bolt Judgement’, as it has quickly become known, raises serious concerns about free speech in this country.

Nine people of Aboriginal descent complained that they were maligned and insulted by News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt and the Court agreed the Racial Discrimination Act had been breached.

Bolt is sometimes strident and less than gracious in his criticism of others.

But being “offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated” by a newspaper article is hardly reason for a court case.

Surely this should be thrashed on in the court of public opinion through vigorous debate, not litigation.

Anti-defamation laws are well established and this is the course through which any grievance should have been pursued, not anti-discrimination law.

The Greens often raise the issue of ‘hate speech’ but employ a double standard as we have seen within the Tasmanian Parliament recently.

With the benefit of the Hansard record we show in today’s E-news just how aggressive last week’s Greens’ attack on Tasmanian Liberal leader Will Hodgman was. His crime was to give a moderate and balanced defence of marriage between a man and a woman.

Surely the Greens don’t suggest defending a child’s right to its biological mother and father is hate speech?

Racial and religious vilification legislation, which exists in most States, is very much a farce as was seen in the two Dannies case in the early 2000s.

Yesterday’s Bolt Judgement further highlights the problem of these laws which allow court cases based on feelings of hurt or insult but which will probably never apply to supporters of marriage who it seems can be pilloried as bigots with impunity.

Correction: A supporter has picked me up on my historical accuracy following last week’s E-news. “Thank you so much for the use of this Falklands War analogy from 1982- however, I believe a slight amendment is needed, as the 23 Royal Marine Commandos involved in the engagement described were defending the island of South Georgia, at Gryviken, while another 80 of their comrades, under their CO, Major Mike Norman, on the main island of the Falklands defended against the Argentine invasion at Port Stanley, in no less a heroic manner against overwhelming odds.”

Kind regards,

Lyle Shelton
Chief of Staff

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Heckles at NTE

I’m writing this post on the slimmest of chances that it gets to its intended reader.

I’ve recently arrived home from the recent National Training Event run by the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (AFES). I have nothing but unreserved praise for the conference (it was my 9th and I don’t think I’m alone in saying it was the best ever – and not just because Don Carson was speaking). It was really great to celebrate what God is doing among the 1500 students who were all there.

One thing that did annoy me though was at the end of one of the evening sessions we finished with Amazing Grace (the new, hip Chris Tomlin arrangement).

Chris Tomlin’s version finishes with the verse:

The Earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God who called me here below
Shall be forever mine.

But just as we had finished singing this verse someone sitting near me decided to shout out a heckle! They called out “One more verse, the gospel is for eternity”. The mood of the room turned and people shuffled out annoyed. What I gather (this person made a similar heckle last year when they shouted out “one more verse”) that they are disappointed that the Chris Tomlin arrangement doesn’t include the verse referring to being there for ten thousand years. Two points:

– The verse that they were concerned wasn’t being sung isn’t original to the song. I own a copy of Olney Hymns, which is a collection of the three hymnbooks penned by Newton and Cowper. In the Amazing Grace entry, it contains 6 verses (one of which I had never heard of) but none of them were the verse being heckled about.

– Putting historical gripes and humanist demands for ad fontes aside – the last two lines of the actual last verse do communicate the eternal nature of our relationship with God.

It was a pretty disappointing display by this heckler. It was disappointing that he was willing to make his personal preference the focus of the night. The talk, the video, the performance, the music were all meant to be drawing our attention to the task of gospel proclamation. To be perfectly honest with you, I’m struggling to remember a single line of Don’s talk that night but I can sure remember the heckle! I imagine I’m not alone.

It was disappointing because he knew that his protest wouldn’t actually achieve anything (the tech guys can’t just whip up a new verse and the musicians just play it).

But mostly I’m disappointed because if indeed the heckler feels any remorse over his actions he can’t possibly apologise to the 1499 people he annoyed.

Were you there? What did you think?

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The unexpected outcome of a little boycott

First ever post by Anna on the Boxpop!

Yesterday, Steve wandered down to the overpriced Franklins on King St and bought a new deodorant.

Whoop-de-do, I hear you say.  Well, let me tell you that this, as it turns out, is a big deal.  All day yesterday I felt like there was a different man in our house.  It’s not that Steve’s old deodorant was anything that amazing, but it was just what he wore.  What he’s worn for longer than I’ve known him and longer than we’ve been married (which is nearly six years).

You see, it wasn’t that the old can ran out and Steve just didn’t get the normal one to replace it.  Steve’s old deodorant was made by Rexona (try reading that and not saying “it won’t let you down” in your head), which is owned by Unilever.

Unilever own heaps of companies, one of them being Lynx.  You may have noticed that for many years Lynx has employed a particularly feral style of advertising relating to women, and have consistently refused to change their ways.  With the recent launch of their campaign for the Lynx Lodge, we thought it was high time that we took our enviable Austudy income and undertake a boycott of Unilver products.  They own a lot of companies; Lipton, Dove, Bertolli, Sunsilk, Vaseline, Pond’s, TIGI, OMO, Surf, and Domestos to name a few.

Suffice to say, this little change is weirding me out.  Steve just smells different.  As it turns out this is one boycott that will take some getting used to.  I think I’ll have to accompany him next time he goes deodorant shopping.

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Wheeling out the bioethicists.

Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems like every now and again we have a huge flurry of discussion about bioethics in the news and then it dies down again. I’m sure there’s plenty of stuff going on everyday that remains unreported, but it’s incredible that when issues of life and death enter the public discourse, there’s something about us that makes us want to go further than discussing individual issues (e.g. Abortion, Euthanasia, Embryonic Stem-Cell Research) in connection.

I have a feeling it’s because there’s more going on in these discussions than the case studies – what we see in the media every six months or so is a few skirmishes that add up to a war of world-views. Bioethicists (or in their absence people in white coats who speak about ethical issues) are wheeled out, given a guernsey on the opinion pages, the news blogs, the chat programmes. They have a swing, score a few against the other team and are wheeled away again until the next tide of news coverage is due to come.

While there are a plethora of opinions, the Australian media is generally a lazy beast. Two monolithic world-views are given predominance – the consequentialists and the Christian theists.

 

Have a read of these articles (and the comments that follow) and as you’re reading, ask yourself who the authors are portraying the goodies and who are the baddies?

Euthanasia 1 & 2

Abortion 1 & 2

Embryonic Stem Cell Research

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Godspell

Phew, well I’ve taken a short Sabbatical while the country got itself in order (I mainly just didn’t blog about the Australian election because I, like every other commentator had no idea what was going to happen!). But now for something completely different

Last night Anna and I went on a date to go see the St. Stephens Newtown production of Godspell. It was a great night out and if you’re in Sydney you should definitely get tickets as there’s only four more shows and the pre-booked tickets are way better than the at-the-door ones.

Here’s what I loved about it:

– It was great fun. The costumes, the energy of the cast, the band, it all added up to a really great night out. To put what I’m saying in context I should note that I hate musicals and I still had a good time. I mean I haven’t seen the Sound of Music or Grease and I STILL had a good time. Kudos to Megan Hanger for having her hair in a beehive (what were they thinking in the 60s ad 70s?) and to Andrew Ford (playing Jesus) who donned an army crew cut.

– I loved the first Act in particular. I loved the “tower of Babble” prologue. For those of you who haven’t seen Godspell before, the prologue begins with the philosophies of various philosophers (I couldn’t pick all of them but I did recognise Socrates, Jean-Paul Satre, Friedrich Nietzsche, perhaps Thomas Aquinas) in song, first individually and then in a cacophony. This is sliced through with the piercing clarity of the declaration that God was entering the world. Beautiful, powerful. I also loved that it was packed with Jesus teaching and when you are confronted with it in it’s shocking simplicity you can’t help but be drawn to it. 

Here’s what I found… interesting… about the script

Now I don’t want to seem like a nitpicker but there was one little thing that bugged me. There was only a muted sense that Jesus death achieved anything. It was hard to understand exactly why Jesus had to die. The Bible doesn’t leave us in the dark about this one. Sure, Jesus in part died because his teaching and miracles got up the nose of the establishment. But mostly he died to restore relationship shattered by the sin of humanity.

How does a person’s death restore relationship? Well to understand that you have to understand the nature of what broke our relationship with God in the first place. Sin in the Bible is not just a litigious issue, it’s also deeply relational. We tell God, the giver of life, that we want to be cut off from him and so God gives us what we ask for. But God isn’t satisfied with this being our end. He deals with our guilt on the cross (kinda but not exactly like this). With his anger and our guilt dealt with on the cross we can now have right relationship with God again. This is part of what the cross achieved. But the script doesn’t give this sense as strongly as it could have.

Having said that though, this is really a minor hang up (there’s only so much you can say in a musical). All in all though I thought it was excellent, I’ve got a nasty case of the covets (I don’t think that my church couldn’t pull it off) and I’m thrilled to see the old Godspell script dusted off. Beehives and all.

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On Voting and Jesus, Part 6

This post is part of a series

We’ve reached the end (just as well, these posts were taking ages to write!) I hope they’ve been helpful for you as you’ve thought through the best way to vote this election. No Policy Area for your consideration today. I hope by now you’ve all come to some resolution about how you are going to vote in the lower and the upper houses. Today is really a rounding off.

What does being a Christian in a democracy look like beyond Saturday?

Election Principle 6 – You don’t just vote

Over the last several posts I’ve outlined a series of principles to help you wisely vote this election. But in my last post in this series I want to suggest that voting isn’t enough.

“*groan* I knew it – he want’s me to be political…” Yep, but not how you mean.

One of my presuppositions in writing this series has been the belief that life is political. Any time you choose on thing over another and that choice affects someone else you’re being political.

Now some of you may well have decided this election to join a political party. That’s a great way to get involved in the process but I want to pitch a bit lower than that. How can the average person get involved in the process of governing beyond voting?

Here’s a few ways I have been involved in the past.

– Send your local Member of Parliament (MP) a letter, or have a meeting with them. This is not as scary as it sounds. You might have a particular interest in an issue (Australia’s deployment in Afghanistan, nutritional food labelling, paid maternity leave, housing affordability, student income support, care for veterans). Write your local MP an email and mention at the bottom that you’d be happy to discuss the matter further with them. You don’t have to be completely across the issue, all you need to do is show up, have a cup of tea and tell them your story.

In the minds of an MP, every 1 person who they meet with on a particular issue equals 500 people in their electorate with the same sentiment. If enough people express the same sentiment then the MP will listen.

– Participate in a Senate inquiry. Again, not as scary as it sounds. One of the most important jobs of the Senate is to consider how policy will effect people. They organise themselves into committees and these committees hold inquiries. All kinds of organisations and individuals participate in these inquiries. On the Senate website there’s a list of inquiries which are happening right now. If you have an opinion, a word of testimony about how a particular piece of legislation will impact on you or your community, or a bright idea for how things could be done better then all you need to do is write a 1 pager.

Senators love personal stories because their reports then have a human touch, which can be a powerful way to turn the opinion of others. I’ve participated in several such inquiries and ended up in the printed reports as well.

A few more thoughts:

– Don’t participate in facebook petitions. FB petitions are not real petitions. They don’t achieve anything because the decision makers never see them. Only participate in petitions that are addressed to the parliament or to individual MPs and are going to be taken to them.

– If you feel strongly enough about an issue to sign a [real] petition, consider writing a letter as well. It’ll take you ½ an hour but it might just lead to real change.

– Pray regularly for your leaders. Their job is really tough. They have to balance the needs of many, many people. They have the same internal pressures to think from self interest that we do. Pray for them.

This Election101 – Votiquette

So… Guess I left this a little too last minute!  Clearly not enough time to get answers to questions.  Anyway…  Thanks to Milli and Jonathan who offered the following answers.  How about for the next election I’ll work on Votiquette properly and get it together earlier on.

From Milli:

“From the aec website, answers 3 of your qns:

What can I do if I make a mistake on my ballot paper?
If you have made a mistake on your ballot paper you should return it to the polling official who issued it to you originally and ask for a new ballot paper. You will be given a fresh ballot paper, but only after handing back the one you have made a mistake on.

Why do they supply pencils in polling booths and not pens? Doesn’t using pencils allow votes to be tampered with?
The provision of pencils in polling booths is a requirement of section 206 of the Electoral Act. There is, however nothing to prevent an elector from marking his or her ballot paper with a pen if they so wish. (This answers the Qn about bringing your own lucky pen)

My relative or friend requires assistance to vote. Am I allowed to assist them?

If an elector requires assistance, they are able to choose the person who assists them, whether they vote at a polling place or are having a postal vote.”

Thanks for the info, Milli (and AEC).

From Jonathan:

“On the question ‘Can I wear political clothing?’

Yes. Yes you can. Although it potentially broadcasts your intentions. Unless of course you are wearing political clothing affiliated with a party or organisation for whom you would never vote as some kind of subterfuge.

To answer a question with a question, why would you?

A question that perhaps should have featured here is “Following the election, will the sun still rise in the morning?” To which my natural response is, wouldn’t it be great if Christ returned before then. Although the answer is almost certainly, come what may the sun will rise until the return of the risen Son.”

Thanks Jonathan.

Guys, remember to number all the boxes.  If you make a mistake, don’t freak out and don’t throw your paper away, just take your paper back to the lovely polling officer and they’ll give you a new one.

Happy voting!  Please pray for those standing, those working for the AEC and for those voting.

I’ll be back next week to offer some thoughts on the wash up.

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That begs the question…

Alright people, gather around – the pedant is ranting again. Lend me your ears sermonisers, lecture-givers and off-the-cuff orators this is important: I’m calling you to repent so do not harden your hearts.

Have you ever said, “ahh, yes but that begs the question….” and then raised a question that is raised by a prior assertion? Have you? You have – haven’t you! Don’t deny it. Well it’s OK. I forgive you. But now let me introduce you to the correct way to use this phrase.

“Begging the question” is a type of logical fallacy (that is, a way of proving something that is false). What it involves is proving something to be true by assuming that it’s true. Another phrase we use for this is a circular argument, though some people (including Aristotle) dispute that these two are exactly alike.

Begging the question looks something like this:

2GB Shock Jock: “The belief in mandatory detention of refugees is universal in Australia. After all, everyone in Australia thinks we should lock up refugees!”

See what happened there? The shock jock puts the point and then tries to prove it by, well, restating the point using different words.

Usually these chains are a bit longer, and therefore sound more sophisticated. They’ll say something like A is true because B is true, B is true because C is true and C is true because A is true.

Listen I know this sounds a bit… erm… wanky. But could you all please stop using “begs the question” to mean “raises the question”? Just say raises the question. You’ll still sound smart, I promise.

In the next few days I’m going to post on a response to the philosophy101 lecturer’s favourite circular argument:

How do we know that the Bible is the word of God? Because God says it is. Where does he say it is? In the Bible.

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