Sunday, October 9, 2011

The right side of history

I was interested to read in a recent article (here) from the Australian that the phrase 'the right side of history' has been growing in popularity.  For example President Obama has claimed that American foreign policy during the so-called Arab spring is on the 'right side of history'.

I didn't agree with Frank Furedi's analysis of the phenomenon:  this has absolutely nothing to do with a resurgent belief in Fate.  Yet the observation is an interesting one all the same.

When people speak about the 'right side of history' they are using a moral rhetorical device.  They are saying 'I am in the right because history will judge me to have been correct.'   This argument seems to acknowledge that when someone is in the midst of an issue it can be hard to know what is right or wrong, because as history is being made, it is hard to know what to do.  However eventually the benefit of hindsight will bring moral clarity and at some time in the future people will come to a consensus about what was the right decision, and they will be right.  The 'right side of history' is the side which people some time in the future will uphold as correct,

There could also be a more pragmatic view of morality embedded in this rhetorical flourish.  This is the sense that there will be a 'winning' side who will get to write the history, and if you make the right choice now, you will find yourself on that winning side, and those who write history will look more kindly on your contributions and think better of you.

For example, many British people supported Chamberlain's appeasement stance at the time, but 'history' ruled against Chambelain, both in terms of a moral judgement – Chamberlain's 'peace in our time'  slogan came to be destested as a grotesque deception – and because the opposing position represented by Churchill won out politically and militarily.  Appeasement did not win WWII.

As another example, most British politicians at the end of the 18th century supported the slave trade.  This was a popular, mainstream view at the time, but 'history' has rejected it as abhorrent.

The phrase 'the right side of history' seems to presuppose a belief in progress, that people in the future will know best, because they will be morally more enlightened.  It also seems to presuppose that a stable consensual view of history will emerge as the 'correct' one.  Not true.  Historical perspectives shift and things thought admirable in one era will be detested in another. 

The phrase also acknowledges a degree of moral confusion and uncertainty, that people find it hard right now to know what is right and wrong.  Surely moral uncertainty is part of the spirit of our age.  The person who uses the phrase is claiming that despite this uncertainty, their views will win the day.  "Trust me - sometime in the future people will come to see that I did the right thing."

There is, it seems to me,  an element of cowardice and moral surrender in the phrase, with its overtones of 'winner takes all' virtue.  We should not do what is right just because it is right, but only because future generations will find it to be right.  Does this mean that if the Third Reich had won WWII, they would have been on the 'right side of history', and Hitler's genocidal policies would have been judged to have been virtuous?  Is that all that morality consists of  – the judgement of history?

Surely this is a desperate rhetoric, the forlorn cry of a lost and confused generation, without any moral compass of its own, which is desperately scrambling to second-guess the moral judgement of future generations in an attempt to find some point of certainty.    Is this all we are left with as the foundation of morality:  if our grandchildren will only think well of us, all will be well.  Such rhetoric plays on people's fears of being shamed, but that is a hopeless basis for distinguishing right from wrong.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Rise and Rise of Horror - David Goldberg (aka 'Spengler') on Horror in US popular culture

How the hijackers changed American culture
By Spengler

This essay is excerpted from my collection of essays, It's Not the End of the World - It's Just the End of You [1]. It appears simultaneously with my new book, How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying Too). [2].

A month after the September 11, 2001 attack, I wrote in this space:

The grand vulnerability of the Western mind is horror. The Nazis understood this and pursued a policy "des Schreckens" (to cause terror) and "Entsetzens" (horror, literally: dislodgement). Horror was not merely an instrument of war in the traditional sense, but a form of Wagnerian theater, or psychological warfare on the grand scale. Hitler's tactical advantage lay in his capacity to be more horrible than his opponents could imagine. The most horrible thing of all is that he well might have succeeded if not for his own megalomaniac propensity to overreach.

America, as Osama bin Laden taunted this week, lost in Vietnam. But it was not military setbacks, but the horrific images of Vietnamese civilians burned by napalm, that lost the war. America's experience in the war is enshrined in popular culture in the film Apocalypse Now, modeled after Joseph Conrad's story, The Heart of Darkness. The Belgian trading company official, Paul Kurtz, sinks into bestiality and dies with these words: "The horror! The horror!" It was a dreadful film, but a clever reference. At the close of World War I, T S Eliot subtitled his epitaph for Western civilization, The Waste Land, with a quote from the Conrad story: "Mr Kurtz, he dead." [3]

In this essay, adapted from material first published in First Things magazine, I argue that the 9/11 terrorists succeeded in precisely this goal: to employ the theater of horror to demoralize Americans. The culture has changed in consequence of the attack, to our detriment.

The "horror" genre supplied one out of 10 feature films released in the United States in 2009, according to the International Movie Database. During Universal Studios' heyday in the 1930s, the proportion was one in 200; only a decade ago it was one in 25. Vampire teen heartthrobs meanwhile take first place on some lists of best-selling books.

By way of contrast, 716 horror features were released in 2009, compared to 39 Westerns, a ratio of almost 20 to one. During 1960-1964, Americans saw more Westerns than horror movies. The earlier date is pertinent because it includes two of the most fearful events in post-war American history, namely, the Cuban missile crisis and the assassination of president John F Kennedy.
Westerns invariably portray a well-understood form of evil and contrast it to the courage to stand up to evil. Horror films involve an evil that is incomprehensible because it is supernatural and so potent that ordinary courage offers no remedy.

Americans never were more frightened than during the Cuban missile crisis, when nuclear war might have erupted, and never more affected by an act of violence than by the murder of a president. But in the 1960s, Americans thought they understood what they most feared; today they appear to fear most what they cannot understand.

What has horrified them?

The element of incomprehension, that is, of the supernatural, distinguishes the horror genre from mere gratuitous violence. It is not the spurting blood or mangled flesh that defines horror but the presentiment that the world itself is disordered: Demons abound in the absence of a beneficent God, who is somehow absent.

There is nothing new in the monsters that infest popular culture, indeed, nothing particularly scary about them compared to the lurid products of the pagan imagination in antiquity. What is new is the unprecedented way in which they have proliferated in the American popular media.

In biblical terms, we may define horror as the presentiment that the forces of chaos have escaped their appointed bounds and that a good God no longer exercises mastery. Fear and awe of God differ radically from horror: We fear God's punishment and stand in awe of his presence, but we are horrified when we no longer believe that God will do justice. One might mention in this context Psalm 74:
O God, my king from of old,
Who brings deliverance throughout the land;
It was You who drove back the sea with Your might,
Who smashed the heads of the monsters in the water;
It was You who crushed the heads of Leviathan,
Who left him as food for the denizens of the desert.
As Jon Levenson of Harvard University observes (in Creation and the Persistence of Evil), these are unmistakable references to a Canaanite myth discovered in the excavation of Ugarith (14th century BCE). "Each of these words occurs in some form in the passage just quoted. Without the Ugaritic literature, these allusions would remain tantalizing obscurities."

In Levenson's reading, creation ex nihilo in the sense of an instantaneous change from nothing to something fails to capture the theological implication of the biblical creation story.
Two and a half millennia of Western theology have made it easy to forget that throughout the ancient Near Eastern world, including Israel, the point of creation is not the production of matter out of nothing, but rather the emergence of a stable community in a benevolent and life-sustaining order.

The defeat by YHWH of the forces that have interrupted that order is intrinsically an act of creation. The fact that order is being restored rather than instituted was not a difference of great consequence in ancient Hebrew culture. To call upon the arm of YHWH to awake as in "days of old" is to acknowledge that these adversarial forces were not annihilated in perpetuity in primordial times. Rising anew, they have escaped their appointed bounds and thus flung a challenge at their divine vanquisher.
There is a radical difference, by the same token, between Christian apocalyptic literature and the corresponding subgenre of horror films: In the former, God manifests himself in the world and his mastery over the fearful apparitions never is in doubt. But God remains inexplicably absent while hell rampages in The Omen or Rosemary's Baby.

Biblical faith has no need of theodicy (YHWH explicitly condemns the theodical arguments of Job's friends in 42:7). Jeremiah's famous accusation (Jer 12-13) against YHWH is neither a philosophical judgment of God nor a cry of horrified despair but rather an indignant demand that God rise up and destroy the wicked:
You will be in the right, O LORD, if I make claim against You,
Yet I shall present charges against you:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper? ...
Drive them out like sheep to the slaughter,
Prepare them for the day of slaying!
As Levenson comments: "The answer - and please note that there is an answer here - is nothing like those rationalizations proposed by the philosophers: 'Drive them out like sheep to the slaughter.' The answer to the question of suffering of the innocent is a renewal of activity on the part of the God of Justice. In light of the answer, it becomes clear that the question is not an intellectual exercise but rather a taunt intended to goad the Just God into action." Jeremiah recounts dreadful events, but he is outraged rather than horrified. That is the decisive difference.

The faith of the West too easily devolves into philosophical rationalization about divine justice rather than persisting as faith in the covenantal relationship with a just and loving God. We then become vulnerable to a neo-pagan foe that wielded horror as an instrument of policy.

What produces monsters is not the sleep of reason but the absence of faith. God's creation metaphorically banished the monsters from the world in the biblical creation story. If we cease to believe that God will rise up as of old and fight our fight, then we will reify the world's evil in the guise of fictional monsters. That is the secret of our morbid fascination with the horror genre. 

Why do Americans pay to watch images as revolting as the cinematic imagination can discover? Many things might explain the vast new market for uncanny evil. If you do not believe in God, you will believe in anything, to misquote G K Chesterton; and, one might add, if you do not feel God's presence, you will become desperate to feel anything at all. Terror and horror are at least some kind of feeling. After pornography has jaded the capacity to feel pleasure, what remains is the capacity to feel fear and pain.

But there is to the horror genre a pattern, of highs and lows, that may reflect something specific about Hollywood's feeding of the mood of the United States - something about America's encounter with truly horrible events, from World War II through Vietnam and down to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the lingeringconflict in Iraq. Terror loiters in dark corners just off the public square.

Among all the film genres, horror began as the most alien to America. The iconic examples of the genre in the 1930s required European actors and exotic locales - vampires from Central Europe, for example, and zombies from Haiti. The films were noteworthy precisely because they were so unlike the cinematic mainstream: In 1931, the year that Frankenstein and Dracula first appeared, the worldwide film industry managed to make and release 1,054 features, of which only seven could be called supernatural thrillers.

After retreading the same material for 20 years, Hollywood finally put a stake through the genre's heart. By 1948, the few horror films being made were the likes of Abbott and Costello encountering Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein's monster. Laughing at monsters was emblematically American - and remained so, as when Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder did it, perhaps best of all, in 1974 with Young Frankenstein.

In other words, Hollywood gave us a small run of exotic-origin horror films in the 1930s, all drawn from European fiction: Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Portrait of Dorian Grey. After World War II, however, these nightmares of tormented Europeans were mostly naturalized as sight gags for American adolescents.

And that was how it was supposed to be. The monsters had a different meaning in their Old World provenance. The pagan sees nature as arbitrary and cruel, and the monsters that breed in the pagan imagination personify this cruelty. Removed from their pagan roots and transplanted to America, they became comic rather than uncanny.

America was the land of new beginnings and happy endings. The monsters didn't belong. After 1946, Adolf Hitler had been crushed, and that was that. Americans did not want to think about it anymore. And at the height of the national self-confidence that followed, the horror genre almost disappeared from American film. In 1950, for example, Hollywood managed only four films in the genre, all B-movie filler.

Horror recolonized American culture during late 1960s. The genre jumped from 2% of all films to 6% between 1968 and 1972. The homegrown American horror film, moreover, evolved from summer-camp slashers to truly disturbing portrayals of torture and madness.

As the online commentator Marco Lanzagorta notes, "A renewed interest in the horror genre" arrived "in the late 1960s, most probably due to the success of sophisticated and revolutionary horror films" in the vein of Night of the Living Dead (George Romero's 1968 surprise B-movie hit) and Rosemary's Baby(Roman Polanski's 1968 major-studio release).

What motivated so many Americans to subject themselves to such torment? Perhaps the explanation is that, with Vietnam, horror had returned as a subject in American life. United States troops were engaged with an enemy that made civilian populations the primary theater of battle, fighting a different and terrible sort of war. The images of civilians burnt by napalm transformed my generation. Until our adolescence - I was already 12 when John F. Kennedy was killed - America's civic religion was taken for granted. In 1963, my peers and I put our right hands over our hearts when the flag passed; by 1967 we did not flinch at flag burning. Horror over a war in which civilians could not be distinguished from combatants destroyed America's civic religion, and it was, I suspect, also the beginning of the end of mainline Protestantism.

Long after the fact, Francis Ford Coppola took Joseph Conrad's tale of horror in the jungle and transplanted it to Vietnam. Compared to what we had seen on television, the Apocalypse Nowof 1979 seemed trivial, but it gave permanent images to the post-Vietnam national mood: the sense of being lost in a nightmare of pointless and pervasive cruelty.

As data drawn from the Internet Movie Database shows, the horror genre grew from insignificance during the 1950s to 6% of all releases by 1972, in the last phase of the Vietnam War. A second spike came in 1988, driven by a bumper crop of sequels to established series (Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Critters, Friday the 13th, and so on).

But what accounts for the six-fold increase in the total number of horror films released since 1999? Subgenres such as erotic horror (mainly centered on vampires) and torture (the Saw series, for example) dig deep into the vulnerabilities of the adolescent psyche. Given the success of these films over the past 10 years, the number of Americans traumatizing themselves voluntarily is larger by an order of magnitude than it has ever been before.

There are any number of possible explanations for this phenomenon. What the bare facts show, however, is that moviegoers are now evincing a susceptibility to horror. People watch something in the theater because it resonates with something outside the theater. To see the cinematic representation of horrible things may be frightening, but the viewer knows that it is safe.

And the sense of safety we derive from watching make-believe things helps us tolerate the prospect of real things. What in the world today horrifies us the most? The horror that attended the Vietnam War had far-reaching cultural effects even though not a single shot was fired on American territory. All the more so should we expect the attack on the World Trade Center and its aftermath to have such consequences.

Random acts of terror against civilians seem a new and nearly incomprehensible instrument of war to most Americans. That is why they have such military value: The theater of horror has a devastating effect on our morale. The same is true for suicide attacks, which continue on a scale that has no historical precedent.

The enemy's contempt for his own life is, in a sense, even more disturbing than his disregard for ours. Nor should we underestimate the cultural impact of the torture debate. Not only has America considered regularizing an abhorrent practice, but our armed forces have became entangled in countries where torture is a routine and daily matter. Americans do not need to imagine what might be going on in Afghanistan. On YouTube they can see videos of young Muslim women being tortured for minor infractions.

Starting on September 11, 2001, Americans were exposed to an enemy that uses horror as a weapon, as did the Nazis - who never succeeded in perpetrating violence on American soil. In its attempt to engage the countries whence the terrorists issued, America has exposed its young people to cultures in which acts of horror (suicide bombing, torture and mutilation) have become routine.

As long as we insist that there is no fundamental difference between our outlook and theirs - and as long as we make only weak attempts to take responsibility for the civic outcome in such cultures - their horror becomes ours. In World War II, America portrayed its cause as a crusade against the forces of evil. Today, we send female soldiers wearing headscarves under their helmets to show cultural sensitivity to the Afghans.

How much damage the souls of Americans have incurred in consequence of this exposure to real horror, we cannot say. But the growing morbidity of America's imagination as shown in the consumption of cinematic horror suggests we might heed the tagline of Jeff Goldblum's 1986 remake of Vincent Price's The Fly, made famous by Christina Ricci in the 1993 spoof Addams Family Values: Be afraid - be very afraid.

1. It's Not the End of the World, It's Just the End of You: The Great Extinction of the Nations by David Goldman. RVP Publishers (September 19, 2011). Price US$22.95, 384 pages.
2. How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too). by David Goldman. Regnery Publishing (September 19, 2011). Price US$27.95, 256 pages.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

More on the UK Riots

Here are two posts from people in the UK about the riots.

J. John, (writing in Christian Today) believes that the core issue is rejection of Christian faith, with a resulting erosion in moral values, among both the rich and the poor:
"My own diagnosis is that the nation has lost the Christian faith that, in a quiet and unnoticed way, acted as the glue that has held the British social fabric together. For two generations it has been fashionable to sneer at Christianity and to consider it unnecessary for a modern civilised society. The result has been a moral vacuum and amongst the noise of sirens and breaking glass many people heard the sound of chickens coming home to roost."
On the other hand, Harriet Sergeant (writing in The Spectator) calls the rioters 'Blair's children', and attributes their destructive rampage to three factors, traced back to a failed social policies of the Blair government:
  1. The failure of schools. A leading symptom of failure is illiteracy:  "A full 63 per cent of white working class boys, and just over half of black Caribbean boys at the age of 14 have a reading age of seven or below."  Sergeant argues that educational ideology and 'wishful thinking' has taken precedence over teaching methods which actually work.  Instead of structure and discipline, children have been subjected to ideologically-driven 'student-directed learning'.  As one young person put it:  "School shatters your dreams before you get anywhere."
  2. Changes in the job market.  The decline in the availability of unskilled jobs has been matched by an influx of immigrants who are eager to take up what unskilled jobs do remain.  The result is crippling unemployment for poorly schooled British youth.
  3. Degradation of family life.  The British family shows signs of mortal illness:  "In a recent survey 49 per cent of British parents did not know where their children were in the evenings or with whom."  Britain has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Europe, while government support for single mothers has been climbing at a staggering rate:  "The government have put young girls in a position where the only career open to them is to have children, whether they want to or not and regardless of whether or not they are good mothers. The state has taken over the role of both husband and father and, as it is all too clear, have failed at both." 
Failure of school, work and home:   this British tripple-whammy disaster  has surely been generations in the making.  The educational policies of the 80's and 90's were hatched by the baby boomers, who, like Tony Blair, were teenagers in the 1960's.

How long could it take for a nation to turn these failures around, even if they have the will and the understanding to do so? 

And what if J. John is right, and the policy failures Sergeant identifies stem from a deeper spiritual malaise, which is ultimately the rejection of faith in God, and the embracing of worldviews built on a mistaken understanding of humanity?  What then does the future hold for Britain? 

Are there signs that the  people of the UK are ready to adopt the medicine of repentance which J. John is offering?  And if not, how then will British society's leaders find their bearings in these confusing and troubled times?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

More on England - unhappy children to disturbed young adults?

In relation to the English riots, I was interested to discover that in 2007, UNICEF published a report entitled ‘Child poverty in perspective; an overview of child well-being in rich countries’ (UNICEF, 2007). This provided an overview of child well-being in industrialised nations.  It used six main headings: material well-being; health and safety; education; peer and family relationships; behaviours and risks; and young people’s own sense of subjective well-being.

The report placed UK at the bottom of the league table.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The British policing 'with consent: speaking softly, while saying "No Big Stick"

Hugh Orde, police chief in Britain has responded to the London riots:
"What we have seen so far is not soft policing, and although I understand the enthusiasm of politicians and communities for robust measures, excessive force will destroy our model of policing in the long term. What we must hang on to in all of this is the British model of policing, premised on human rights and the minimum use of force. We police with consent and must be professional, proportionate, fair and justifiable to the public at all times."
Likewise British Home Secretary, Theresa May, has stated: ‘The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon,’ she told Sky News. ‘The way we police in Britain is through consent of communities.’

Pride in the 'British' way shines through here.  But what happens when consent breaks down?

Below is Bill Muehlenberg's post on the riots:

On the British Riots

With five days of anarchy on the streets, buildings burning, streets unsafe, looters running amok, and already a billion pounds in damages, it is not too soon to start asking a few hard questions concerning the riots in Britain. Why are the streets of London aflame? How do we account for all this in a modern, prosperous Western nation?
There are a number of features which have contributed to this madness. They include: the abject failure of multiculturalism; the rise of the welfare state and the incessant demand for entitlements; the meltdown of family and community; the secularisation of society; the relativisation of morality; and the stranglehold of political correctness.
But it might be wisest to allow some English and international voices to share their concerns here. Already a number of incisive commentaries have been penned, and I offer here some of the best of their thinking on this worrying situation. One of the earliest and best pieces was by Jewish commentator Melanie Phillips. Her short but penetrating piece is worth citing in total:
“As London descends into anarchy this evening, with disturbances, arson, looting and other criminality breaking out in one borough after another for the third night running, it is clear that this is organised disorder, with thugs being dispatched to provoke and escalate hooliganism and rioting from area to area through use of social media and apparently now, the more secure BlackBerries.
“It also seems clear that this follows in a direct line from the disorders in recent years, such as we have seen at the G20 demonstrations or the storming of Conservative party headquarters over student fees, which again seemed to owe their violence to organised anarchist (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) and revolutionary leftist groups. This is almost certainly because of the near-delirious belief among such groups that, with the western economy in meltdown and the political class and the police discredited and disdained, Britain is on the cusp of a revolutionary moment. So they hijack specific protests or demonstrations in order to smash up property, police officers and anything or anyone deemed to represent the established order in order to bring about the End of Capitalism As We Know It.
“What we are seeing, in the sluggish and unprepared reaction of the police and political class to these events, compounded by their serial failure to grasp from previous such disturbances just what is going on here, is a catastrophic combination of professional inertia and incompetence, serial eyes off the ball, paralysing political correctness, an apparent reluctance to identify, name and deal with subversive activity, a capital’s police force in systemic disarray,  a criminal justice system that has become an insulting joke, a refusal from the top to draw clear lines in the sand and to exercise moral and political leadership, a pandering instead to mob rule, tyro politicians who have never had a grown-up job and couldn’t run the proverbial whelk-stall let alone get a grip on a culture teetering on the edge of the cliff, a third-rate civil service machine that no longer can be relied on to keep the show on the road, a culture of narcissistic selfishness on an epic scale and a general breakdown in education, morality and elementary codes of civilised behaviour, much of it deliberately willed on for the past three decades by a grossly irresponsible and politically motivated intelligentsia that set out to smash the west. And now London is being smashed as a result.”
Arnold Ahlert speaks to family breakdown and the debilitating effects of the welfare state: “Perhaps just as important is the destruction of the nuclear family. Fully 40 percent of all American children are now born out of wedlock, a figure which rises to approximately 70 percent among black Americans. In the UK, out-of-wedlock births now account for nearly 50% of all births, on track to becoming the majority of births (and in some areas, 75% by 2014). The societal wreckage this produces has been well-documented and will not be reiterated here, save for the fact that a wholesale breakdown in morality, like the technology that facilitates it, enables greater criminal activity….
“But there is a bigger consequence that arises from the expectations for, and the inevitable failure of, welfare-statism. Whether they realize it or not, many Americans, as well as their British counterparts, are undermining the social integrity of their own societies. Little incentive remains for providing for oneself — or for that matter, one’s offspring — when the grotesqueness of the ‘social safety net’ renders this virtue irrelevant. When society has removed all negative consequences to poor life choices, which keep people and their progeny nestled in the underclass (child abandonment, disdain for education, glorification of thug culture, etc.), it effectively rewards them. It is thus absurd to expect these behavioral trends to disappear rather than the reverse.
“The situation is all the more exacerbated by a culture that shields the very segments of society that perpetuate these trends from any scrutiny and responsibility — primarily due to cowardice over racial matters. Hence the sweeping media silence on the disturbing trend of minority-perpetrated mob violence, evident in most of the reportage on these incidents. Here again, on even this most rudimentary level, negative consequences for self-destructive behavior are lifted. We cannot even identify the source of such criminality, nor demand change on the part of the offenders.”
Leftist commentator Brendan O’Neill says it is “less political rebellion, more mollycoddled mob”. He explains: “The political context is not the [education] cuts or racist policing, it is the welfare state, which has nurtured a generation that has no sense of community spirit or social solidarity.
“What we have on the streets of London and elsewhere are welfare-state mobs. The youth who are shattering their own communities represent a generation that has been suckled by the state more than any generation before it. They live in urban territories where the sharp-elbowed intrusion of the welfare state during the past 30 years has pushed aside older ideals of self-reliance and community spirit. The march of the welfare state into every aspect of urban, less well-off people’s existences, from their financial wellbeing to their child-rearing habits and even into their emotional lives, with the rise of therapeutic welfarism designed to ensure that the poor remain ‘mentally fit’, has undermined individual resourcefulness and social bonding. The antisocial youthful rioters are the end-product of this antisocial system of state intervention.
“The most striking thing about the rioters is how little they care for their own communities. You don’t have to be a right-winger with helmet hair and a niggling discomfort with black or chavvy yoof (I am the opposite of that) to recognise that this violence is not political, just criminal. It is entertaining to watch the political contortions of commentators who claim the riots are an uprising against the evils of capitalism, as they struggle to explain why the targets have been Foot Locker sports shops and why the only ‘gains’ made by the rioters have been to get a new pair of trainers or an Apple laptop. In the Brixton race riots of 1981, looting and the destruction of local infrastructure were largely incidental to the broader expression of political anger, by-products of the main show, which was a clash between a community and the forces of the state. But in these riots, looting and smashing stuff up is all there is. It is childish nihilism.”
He also speaks to the seeming inability for the English authorities to even offer effective crowd control and workable policing: “There is one more important part to this rioting story: the reaction of the cops. Their inability to handle the riots effectively reveals the extent to which the British police are adapted to consensual rather than conflictual policing. It also demonstrates how far they have been paralysed by the politics of victimhood, where virtually every police activity gets followed up by a complaint or a legal case. Their kid-glove approach to the rioters only fuels the riots because, as one observer put it, when the rioters ‘see that the police cannot control the situation, [that] leads to sort of adrenalin-fuelled euphoria’. So this street violence was largely ignited by the excesses of the welfare state and intensified by the discombobulation of the police state. The riots tell a very interesting story about modern Britain.”
Michael Ausli also comments on this disturbing feature of the riots: “As England is wracked by spreading mobs of anarchist youth, Britain’s Home Secretary reveals the rot at the core of the modern entitlement state. Responding to calls for a firmer response to yobs attacking private property and innocent citizens, Theresa May intoned, ‘The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon,’ she told Sky News. ‘The way we police in Britain is through consent of communities.’
“She may not have noticed that major communities in Britain are under attack, and not just undergoing an Anglo version of Spring Break in Dayton Beach. May’s statement is nonsensical, for either she is talking about the very rioters themselves or assuming that private citizens too afraid to come out of their homes expect some type of dialogue with the Metropolitan Police. Worse, it sends the very strongest signal to Britons that their leaders no longer have the will to maintain public order, which is the very fundament of civil society.”
Short term issues can be addressed here, such as getting the police force to start acting like a police force. But the bigger, more entrenched problems which I spoke to earlier – the welfare state, the failure of multiculturalism, the de-Christianisation of England – will of course require much longer and deeper solutions.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sharia Britain: the paradox of tolerance

by Mark Durie

This week Baroness Caroline Cox launched a bill in the House of Lords to impose principles of gender equality upon the sharia courts of Britain.

This proposal reflects a growing groundswell of concern about the impact of these courts upon the lives of Muslim women.

This initiative is supported by a diverse coalition of human rights groups, including the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation, whose director Dianna Nammi devotes much of her work to assisting British women who are intimidated and discriminated against by the rulings of sharia courts.

The sharia is a system of rules for all of life.

Developed by Islamic scholars in the first centuries of Islam, it not only regulates prayer and worship, but also family relations, welfare, criminal matters, food, financial transactions, politics and even warfare.

The new bill aims to outlaw such practices as valuing a woman's evidence at half that of a man's; it seeks to prevent the intimidation and victimization of women who come before sharia tribunals; it requires religious tribunals to inform women that their sharia marriage or divorce may have no standing in British law, leaving them without legal protection; and it makes it a criminal offense to falsely claim legal jurisdiction.

A study by the think tank Civitas reported in 2009 that 85 sharia courts were operating across Britain, some of which have legal standing as tribunals under the alternative dispute resolution provisions of the 1996 Arbitration Act.

In a pattern being repeated across Western societies, from Sydney to Ontario, Muslim communities have been asking for legal recognition of sharia law, in the name of tolerance and pluralism.

Critics object that sharia courts discriminate against women, and their expansion in Britain is entrenching a system of parallel societies divided along religious lines.

In 2008 the Lord Chief Justice of England, Nicholas Phillips recommended 'embracing Sharia law', saying there was 'no reason' why it could not be used to alternative dispute resolution, and the Archbishop of Canterbury commented, 'it's not as if we're bringing in an alien and rival system'.

On the other hand, the Grand Chamber of the European Human Rights court found in 2003 that a plurality of legal systems which accommodates sharia infringes rights to religious freedom, because a state would thereby pressure individual Muslims to live according to religious rules with which they may not personally agree.

A 2004 report by Marion Boyd, Ontario's former Attorney General, supported Canadian Muslim groups' call for the use of sharia to settle family disputes.

However it was Muslim women such as Iranian immigrant Homa Arjomand who spear-headed resistance to the move, arguing that sharia law denies women equality before the law.

Few governments have been as forthright as Australia, whose Attorney General, Robert McClelland, recently declared that 'Sharia law has no place in the Australian legal system' because 'men and women are equal before the law irrespective of race, religious or cultural background.'

British sharia courts are conducted behind closed doors. Reports indicate that women are severely disadvantaged by their rulings.

It is easy for a Muslim man to divorce his wife under sharia law, for no reason. For a woman divorce is much more difficult.

She must apply to a court, and only on the basis of a limited set of reasons, which do not include domestic violence or rape by the husband.

Often she must pay the husband money in order to be granted her divorce.

Furthermore, under sharia law a divorced woman has no right to a share in family assets, and a father has sole custody of any children after they turn seven.

Women are further disadvantaged by the sharia laws of inheritance and evidence, which value a woman's worth at half that of a man's.

Such principles are not an invention of marginal religious radicals.

The International Fiqh Academy is a group of distinguished jurists which operates under the auspices of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

In 2009 it issued a formal ruling on domestic violence which endorsed principles such as those being applied in British sharia courts, including the right of a husband to use force to compel his wife to have sexual relations, even if she is 'unwilling', and the right of a man to discipline his wife by what it termed 'non-violent beating'.

It is an irony that a woman can be more vulnerable to discriminatory treatment in a legally authorized British sharia tribunal than she would be in some Islamic jurisdictions.

Islamic states often pass laws to lessen the disadvantage suffered by women under sharia conditions.

For example, since 2000, Egyptian law allows women to divorce their husbands without having to give cause – but not without a financial penalty – and in 2005 a law was introduced to extend the period of a mother's custody of a child beyond the age determined by the sharia.

In Britain tribunals with legal standing dole out a purer strain of sharia.

The proposed new equality bill represents a significant escalation of resistance to sharia creep.

It can only succeed with government support.

If it fails, this will mean perpetuation of second class legal status for many British women.

It is a paradox of tolerance that legal inferiority might to be deemed to be 'good enough' for Muslim women, in the name of minority rights.

Mark Durie is an Anglican pastor and author of The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom.

This appeared first on Jenny Taylor's Blog on 10th June 2011. 
Exclusive UK rights assigned to Lapido Media.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

European Court to rule on Christian discrimination cases - Christian Concern

European Court to rule on Christian discrimination cases

In a significant legal development, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has requested that the British Government state whether they believe that the rights of Christians have been infringed in recent cases where individuals have been penalised for expressing their faith in the workplace.
The request has come because legal action is being taken by four Christians who argue that their rights have been infringed.
The four Christians are: Gary McFarlane, a counsellor who was sacked by a counselling service for saying that he would not give sex therapy to homosexual couples; Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who was banned from working on hospital wards for wearing a cross around her neck; Nadia Eweida, a British Airways employee who was prevented from wearing a cross; and Lillian Ladele, who was disciplined by Islington council for refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies for homosexual couples.
The Christian Legal Centre is representing Shirley Chaplin and Gary McFarlane.
The cases have been viewed by the European Court as being of such importance that they merit further investigation. Once British Government ministers have responded the Court will decide whether to hold further hearings. Many will be watching these developments closely, as the number of Christian discrimination cases in the UK appears to be continuing to rise.
It is hoped that the consideration of these cases will provide greater clarity as to how freedom of conscience for Christians can be preserved when it comes into conflict with UK ‘equality’ laws.
Earlier in the year, the ECHR ruled that crosses were allowed to be displayed on classroom walls after a case from Italy was heard. This decision appeared out of step with how British courts had ruled on the four cases, which were all lost on appeal.
Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of the Christian Legal Centre, said:
"These cases are massively significant.
"There seems to be a disproportionate animosity towards the Christian faith and the workings of the courts in the UK has led to deep injustice.
"If we are successful in Strasbourg I hope that the Equalities Act and other diversity legislation will be overturned or overhauled so that Christians are free to work and act in accordance with their conscience.
"People with orthodox views on sexual ethics are excluded from employment because they don't fit in with the equalities and diversity agenda. It is this which we want to see addressed. Such injustice cannot be allowed to continue."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lean Years Ahead in the Middle East

What is going on in the Middle East involves a tangled mess of intersecting factors.  There is no single explanation for the unrest.

Factors include demographics, failing economic policies, oppressive regimes, radical religion, and food.  David Goldman (who writes in the Asia Times under the name of Spengler) first drew my attention to the food issue.  His latest writing on this, The Hunger to Come in Egypt makes very sobering reading indeed.

The problem of food is not only in Egypt - it will 'bite' elsewhere in the Middle East where there are not huge oil revenues.

Why is there a food issue?  To put it in a nutshell, the rise and rise of the Asian middle classe has put dramatic upward pressure on global food prices, especially during times of shortage.  Greater competition for the available grain resources, combined with growing meat consumption (animals eat the grain which otherwise might be destined for human consumption) as well as grain for ethanol exchange is causing widely global fluctuating grain prices.  Poor people simply cannot afford the price of grain when the prices spike.  I have collected here some statistics which provide something of the background to this.

First, we can note that the Middle East is in the peak of a population boom, with vast numbers of mouths to feed, especially among the cohort of young adults.  At the same time, in the Middle East, youth unemployment is the worst in the world:

Unemployment rates for youth International Labour Organization (ILO),

Global Employment Trends for Youth (Geneva: ILO, 2006): Annex 1.
(MENA = "Middle East and North Africa")

The next graphic shows how, over 50 years, North Africa and the Middle East have taken up a steadily increasing share of world wheat imports, until over the the past decade their share has hovered around one third of the global total.  The other big block of wheat importing nations — and the Middle East's main competitor for grain supplies – is South, East and South East Asia, where vast wealth has been accumulating during the Asian economic boom.


This next table shows the changes from 2004 to 2009 in the ranking of top wheat importers.  Middle Eastern countries went from being 2 of the top ten importers to 5 of the top ten.  Notice the top wheat importer in 2009 was Egypt!  Where does the money come from to pay for all that wheat?  Since January 2011, not from tourism revenues.
1. China
1. Egypt
2. Japan
2. Iran
3. Italy
3. Brazil
4. Algeria
4. Algeria
5. Brazil
5. Japan
6. Indonesia
6. Indonesia
7. Spain
7. Morocco
8. Egypt
8. Iraq
9. Mexico
9. Nigeria
10. South Korea
10. Turkey

This next chart shows the price of wheat in recent years.  We are just now in another spike in prices. 

What happens if you live on under $2 a day, the global price of grain more than doubles, your national currency collapses, tourism revenues dry up and the local economy fails?  People starve.  A lot of people get badly hurt in the scramble for food and the inevitable recriminations as desperate people and political opportunists look for scapegoats.  You also could see a lot of starving people trying to make their way across the Mediterranean in leaky boats.

Goldman writes:

"Revolutions don't only kill their children. They kill a great many ordinary people. The 1921 famine after the Russian civil war killed an estimated five million people, and casualties on the same scale are quite possible in Egypt as well. Half of Egyptians live on $2 a day, and that $2 is about to collapse along with the national currency, and the result will be a catastrophe of, well, biblical proportions."

Friday, May 6, 2011

Response to Angus McLeay on the 'inherent requirements' test

It is disappointing to see name-calling and misrepresentation in McLeay's recent article "HOT POTATO': Religious Freedom, the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act and the Inherent Requirements Test".

Using emotionally charged terms such as 'strident', 'lobbies' and 'unChristian', he claims for himself the moral high ground while regarding it as a virtue that in doing so he will win favour in the eyes of some non-Christians.  But at the same time he misrepresents and vilifies fellow-Christians who disagree with him.  For example:

1. It is not true to claim that religious groups have opposed the removal of the right to discriminate on the grounds of disability.  I know of no Christian group who put such an argument forward.

2. It is a gross exaggeration to claim that "Those who opposed the recent changes claim that the true motivation for updating the Act was simply to harass Christians and enforce radical secularism".  Some may take that view, but to attribute it to all opponents of the Act is to promote a falsehood.  For example, I am someone who has vigorously opposed some specific feature of the new Act, and believe that it WILL encourage a climate in which secularism is enforced, do not and have not claimed that such an outcome is the 'true motivation' of the Act.  I would acknowledge that even many of those who would wish, for example, that Christian schools should not be able to make faith a criterion when employing teachers of secular subjects are "motivated by ideals of dignity and a fair go for all".  But I disagree with their conclusions in pursuing that agenda, and also with their assumptions about what constitutes a fair go.

3.  It is also misrepresentation to claim that "the campaign against changes to the old Act would rather us not be upfront about why staff in Christian organisations need a faith-based foundation for their roles". As a counter example, the argument against the "inherent requirements" test, which the Anglican Diocese put in 2009 to the former Labor government when it was revising the old Act, was that a "genuineness" test was better suited to the need for transparency.  In making this proposal, there was absolutely no desire that Christians not be upfront about the grounds for appointing people.  The genuineness test, if accepted, would have encouraged both transparency and accountability.

4. It is not true to claim that opposition to the inherent requirements test is based upon an 'unsupported and wild assumption' about how it would apply. For example, the Anglican Diocese's submission opposed this test based upon a legal opinion prepared by a senior barrister (who soon after was appointed to the supreme court of Victoria). This opinion considered in detail how the 'inherent requirements' test has been applied in other legal contexts.  The opinion pointed out multiple problems with this section of the act. One issue was ceding to a secular tribunal the right to decide which jobs within a religious organisation legitimately (in its view) require some sort of religious adherence or moral/ethical standard over and above the mere functional capacity to perform the job. 

5. McLeay asserts that "if a maths teacher in a Christian school is required to share the faith of the school community, that would be stated upfront and there would be some reasonable justification."  Is this not a wildy naive assertion?  For, on the contrary, submissions by mainstream representative secular bodies to the Victorian parliament's review of the law in 2009 argued for an 'inherent requirements test' because they maintained it would mean quite the opposite, namely that the faith justification would NO LONGER be accepted for a position such as a maths teacher. And they backed the new law for this very reason, and oppose the recently proposed amendments also for this reason.  I deplore the fact that McLeay flies in the face of clear evidence, to embrace limitless optimism.  I also deplore the fact that, buoyed up by such naivety, and citing not even a shred of legal analysis to back his view, he vilifies those who disagree with him as 'unchristian', simply because he is aware of non-Christians who think the worst of them.

In a strange kind of fear-driven logic, McLeay's plight is that his heart leads his head.  His heart fears that non-Christian people will think ill of him, and especially of his gospel.  So his head appeals to this sceptical audience by denigrating other Christians, as if shouting out: 'Look at me, I am not a bad Christian like those other people.'

A better way is to stick to the issues and argue them clearly and simply.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Was Jesus an Equal Opportunity Employer?

In the March 2011 edition of TMA (The Melbourne Anglican), Dr Muriel Porter published a piece (see here) arguing against further review of Victoria's anti-discrimination laws.   TMA also published an opposing view written by me (see here).  There was quite a lot of ground covered by Dr Porter's piece, and I wanted to expand on a few points, as well as give her theological argument the greater attention it deserved, hence this blog post.

Dr Porter was concerned that 'religious groups who claim to speak in Jesus' name have prevailed on the new Victorian government to give churches virtual carte blanche to discriminate against those they deem not acceptable.'
There are multiple errors and confusions in Ms Porter's piece.
  1. It is simplistic to presuppose that the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 prevents churches from discriminating in employment.  In fact the recently introduced Act allows religious groups to discriminate under certain circumstances on the basis of:
         "a person's religious belief or activity, sex,
        sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity,
        marital status, parental status or gender
        identity by a religious body"
    It is a fact that the Catholic Archdiocese ended up supporting the changes introduced by the former Brumby government, precisely because it believed it would be able to continue to discriminate when employing people. Of course, there are others in the community who hope that the 2010 Act imposes severe restrictions on churches' ability to discriminate.  I would say that, unless the law is changed, we are going to be in for some very interesting and intensely fought legal cases.
  2. Dr Porter cites Rachel Ball who had commented that "religion is not an automatic, pre-determined trump."  In reality, Attorney-General Robert Clark had only proposed to redraw the lines determining how religious exemptions apply.  Religion was never a trump even under the pre-existing law, which preceded the 2010 Act, as a recent VCAT case showed.
  3. Dr Porter cites Ball's argument that "church leaders would be rightly distressed if a secular organisation sought to discriminate against a Christian employee on the grounds that they did not want a believer in their workforce’.  This is an invalid comparison.  Religious organizations understandably want to be able to take into account religious considerations when selecting employees, just as a political party in Victoria will want to take an employee’s political views into account; a bank would wish to take into account someone’s views on banking; a pub would wish to take into account someone’s attitudes on the comsupmtion of  alcohol; and an Aboriginal support group may wish to take into account someone’s attitudes to aboriginality. 
  4. Dr Porter is mistaken when she claims that 'No one is suggesting' that churches should not have full control over who they appoint as 'overtly religious leaders'.  In fact the Human Rights Law Resource Centre (the organisation of Rachel Ball, who Dr Porter cites with approval) argued for that all exemptions should be removed from the Act (including the rights of churches in employing clergy).
Dr Porter writes:
“... who can occupy the many and varied secular roles within our large and diverse organisations should reflect the openness and loving acceptance of our Lord as far as possible. Our employment practices should clearly reflect our faith stance that all human beings are made in the image of God and deserve the fullest dignity.”
I am troubled by Dr Porter's conviction that a clear distinction exists between 'religious' and 'secular' roles in Christian organisations.  The person who cares for the gardens of our church does not see her role as 'secular', nor do many Christians working in teachers in Christian schools.  This distinction harks back to the old-fashioned idea that roles for clergy are religious, while roles for laity are not.
The contrast between sacred and secular is an important theological and social distinction, but it is a poor thing indeed to be inviting the state to impose its understanding of the distinction upon our institutions.  It is unwise to invite the state to rule that a great many positions in our institutions, founded and sustained for Christian purposes, are 'secular' and could therefore be filled by people of any faith or none at all.
However, my greatest concern about Dr Porter's argument is her appropriation of Jesus.   Yes, one must agree that Jesus opposed as a sin the exclusion of people by religious figures, as Miroslav Volf explains in Exclusion and Embrace (p.72):
"An advantage of conceiving sin as the practice of exclusion is that it names as sin what often passes as virtue, especially in religious circles.  In the Palestine of Jesus' day, 'sinners' were not simply 'the wicked' who were therefore religiously bankrupt, but also social outcasts, people who practiced despised trades, Gentiles and Samaritans, those who failed to keep the Law as interpreted by a particular sect.  A 'righteous' person had to separate herself from the latter; their presence defiled because they were defiled. Jesus' table fellowship with 'tax collectors and sinners', a fellowship that indisputably belonged to the central features of his ministry, offset this conception of sin.    Since he who was innocent, sinless, and fully within God's camp transgressed social boundaries that excluded the outcasts, these boundaries themselves were evil, sinful, and outside God's will.  By embracing the 'outcast,' Jesus underscored the 'sinfulness' of the persons and systems that cast them out."
But, as Volf goes on to explain (p.73), Jesus was no 'prophet of "inclusion", for whom the chief virtue was acceptance and the cardinal vice intolerance':
"It would be a mistake, however, to conclude from Jesus' compassion toward those who transgressed social boundaries that his mission was merely to demask the mechanisms that created 'sinners' by falsely ascribing sinfulness to those who were considered socially unacceptable.  He was no prophet of 'inclusion' for whom the chief virtue was acceptance and the cardinal vice intolerance.  Instead, he was the bringer of 'grace,' who not only scandalously included 'anyone' in the fellowship of 'open commensality' (Crossan), but made the 'intolerant' demand of repentance and the 'condescending' offer of forgiveness.  The mission of Jesus consisted not simply in re-naming the behavior that was falsely labeled 'sinful' but also in re-making the people who have actually sinned or have suffered misfortune."
In these times, Christians in the West are being challenged to be more inclusive at the same time that they are being convicted – literally – of excluding others, a legal process which is gathering momentum in the UK.
A much-publicized recent example is that of Peter and Hazelmary Bull, whose Cornwall B&B was targeted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission because they would only hire out bedrooms to singles or married couples – and not to same-sex couples.  The Bulls were convicted of breaking the law and had to pay thousand of pounds in damages to Mr Steven Preddy and Mr Martyn Hall, who had been refused a bed for the night.  In an odd twist to this case, the taxpayer-funded Equality and Human Rights Commission recently initiated proceedings (subsequently withdrawn) to increase the damages paid by the Bulls, arguing that the courts should have given no consideration at all to the Bulls' Christian faith.  At the same time hotels advertising "gays only" are commonplace throughout Britain.

After targeting Christian hotels and B&Bs - by its own admission – and winning its case against the Bulls, the Equality Commission has said that, in the interests of 'objective balance' it will investigate these hotels to see if they too are in breach of the law.  The Equality Commission also recently apologized for implying that Christian foster parents could 'infect' children with their moral values.  (The senior Equality barrister who prepared the offending submission which used the word 'infect' was Koran Monagan QC,  the European female director of the International Lesbian and Gay Law Association.)
In a public environment which is increasingly hostile to Christian values, and indeed to Christians themselves as individuals, the Victorian 2010 Equal Opportunity Act is a potential tool in the hands of those who wish to ramp up such lawfare here in Victoria. It is naive to pretend otherwise.
Yes, Jesus opposed exclusion, but he did not offer inclusion without boundaries as its alternative.  It is profoundly unhelpful to compare those who have legitimate concerns about the Victorian law with the Pharisees of Jesus' day, and to say that Christians who have such concerns are guilty of "narrow-minded self-protection” who risk becoming “little more than a sect.”  Such rhetoric only serves to muddy the waters of public debate.

It matters greatly how Equal Opportunity laws are worded.  I am pleased that Christians have been expressing their concerns about this law, and I welcome the Ballieu Government's decision to reconsider the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. 

Anti-discrimination Law and the Inherent Requirements Test

This piece was published in the March 2011 edition of TMA (The Melbourne Anglican).

It is welcome news that the Ballieu government will review the controversial and ambiguous 'inherent requirements' test introduced in 2010 revisions to the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act. 

A litany of incensed but ill-informed commentary gushed forth in response to this announcement.

Anti-discrimination legislation defines attributes which it is unlawful to rely upon when providing services or offering employment.  For example, it is unlawful in Victoria to employ people on the basis of their race, gender or age.

All anti-discrimination laws allow exemptions. These allow an Aboriginal youth housing service to target its services both to Aboriginals and to younger people: it would otherwise be illegal to discriminate on the basis of race and age.  Without an exemption, a synagogue could not require its rabbi to be a Jew.

Everyone accepts the need for exemptions, but there is disagreement about how to provide them.  Part of the heat in the debate is that some see these laws as a mechanism to push people of faith, especially laypeople, back into their churches.

In July 2009 the Human Rights Law Resource Centre argued that all exemptions should be removed from the EO Act, including the rights of groups to employ religious leaders on the basis of their beliefs. They proposed instead that employers be made to apply on a case by case basis to VCAT for exemptions.

The rhetoric which claims that the Victorian government intends to give religious employers  an "an automatic, pre-determined trump", is drastically overblown. This fantastical claim was put out by Rachel Ball, of the very same Human Rights Law Resource Centre which demanded zero exemptions.

Even before the 2010 amendments, religions did not have an automatic trump, as a recent VCAT case showed, when Judge Felicity Hampel found against Philip Island Adventure Resort for rejecting a booking from a gay suicide prevention group.

The issue at hand is quite specific.  It is the recently introduced 'inherent requirements' test.  This test means that to gain the benefit on an exemption, a religious employer must be able to prove that conformity with the religion is part of the inherent requirements of a position.

This innovation was initially proposed by secular groups who wanted to make it illegal, for example, for Christian schools to make faith a criterion when employing teachers.

At present there are thousands of students in Victoria whose schools require all their teachers to adhere to a faith statement.  These schools would have to radically alter their ethos in order to survive after August, when the Brumby government revisions come into effect. 

Many other organisations will also be impacted. World Vision has long required senior management to endorse a doctrinal position.  But how can they argue that belief in Jesus Christ is an 'inherent requirement' of running a finance department? 

In reality the Brumby government's innovations will lead to much confusion and a good deal of protracted lawfare before Victorians even know how they apply.

The Anglican Standing Committee of General Synod made a well-considered submission on this issue in 2008.  It argued that an inherent requirements test was a poor option, because Christian organisations
  1. 'seek to maintain their distinctive religious mission and to avoid loss of effectiveness, by employing people throughout the organisation who adhere to religious purposes and hold the religious beliefs of the organisation'; 
  2. 'all action is done "to the glory of God"', and this 'makes it impossible to distinguish between specifically religious activities and other activities'; and 
  3. 'the concept of Christian vocation is not limited to clergy or specific ministerial functions within the church, but it includes the work of lay people in whatever capacity they serve.'
There are better alternatives. Diocesan legal experts recommended to parliament in 2009 to define the religious exemption for employment in terms of a 'genuineness' test.  An exemption could then be claimed if done in good faith, in accordance with genuinely held beliefs.  This is no religious 'trump', but would be subject to scrutiny in a tribunal or court. 

As a student at an Anglican grammar school I was grateful that my principal made it his policy to employ Christians throughout the staff.  The character of the school was much better for it. 

Aggressive secularists would be only too glad to see Christian agencies go the way of the YWCA, which has abandoned its Christian identity. The threat to religious institutions in Victoria's EO laws is not that they will be compelled to employ adulterers or gays.  It is that they will have to secularise. 

Those who cite the example of Christ in this matter may recall that he befriended prostitutes and tax-collectors to call them to repentance.  It was the sick, he said, who needed the medicine he had on offer, not the well.   His mode of evangelism does not justify the inherent requirements employment test.

We should be encouraging the Ballieu Government as it seeks a better way to provide the needed religious exemption.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Farewell to Robert Trumble

Not all of us at St Mary's will remember Robert Trumble.  He and Joan worshipped at St Mary's for many years, and made a huge contribution to our community.  A few years back they moved over the Kew, and have been worshipping at Holy Trinity Anglican church.  Robert passed away in his sleep earlier this week, and his funeral will be at Holy Trinity (corner of High and Pakington Streets) at 11am on Friday January 6. 

Please pray for Joan and the family at this time.  Their children are Simon and Christine.

Robert came from a large family of 8 brothers and sisters, of which he was youngest and the last surviving child.  He was a renowned musicologist and author.  A gentle and committed Christian, Robert had an inquiring mind, and included among his extensive library many works of theology, with pencilled marks on most of the pages.

Robert's  father, Hugh Trumble, was a well-known Australian cricketer, and test captain, who retired from test cricket in 1904!   Robert was truly the last of his generation, whose father was born before St Mary's old blue stone church had even been built.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Unborn Paradox by Ross Douthat - NY Times

"This is the paradox of America’s unborn. No life is so desperately sought after, so hungrily desired, so carefully nurtured. And yet no life is so legally unprotected, and so frequently destroyed."
Read the whole article by Ross Douthat from the New York Times: The Unborn Paradox.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Condolences for Al-Qiddisin Church in Alexandria and Copts everywhere

I write to express my profound sorrow beyond words, and to extend condolences to the families and friends of the 22 martyrs killed and to more than 90 people who were wounded in the bomb attack on Al-Qiddisin (The Saints) church in Alexandria on New Year's Eve.

I also extend my condolences to the whole Coptic people, and the Coptic church and its leaders, including a community of over 100,000 Copts living in Australia.  As an Australian Anglican priest, I wish particularly to express my support for Pope Shenouda at this time, and also for  Bishop Suriel of the Diocese of Melbourne and Affiliated Regions, and for Father Tadros, Vicar General of the Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions.  These leaders carry a weighty burden of care for their people, as they prepare to lead them in celebrations of Christmas this Friday, January 7, 2011.

So many have been deeply affected by this shocking atrocity, which targeted peaceful worshipers in a way intended to exact maximum casualties. People came to pray, seeking peace for the new year ahead, and were instead subjected to an inhuman act of cruelty and hatred.

The Alexandria attack is the worst in recent memory of a series of assaults on Copts and their places of worship.  Indeed the year of 2010 began with a shooting massacre of Christian worshipers outside Nag Hammadi Cathedral on January 7, the occasion of the Coptic Christmas Eve.

Although this latest attack has been denounced by Egyptian authorities, it has taken place in a climate of growing official discrimination against the Christians of Egypt, including against converts to Christianity.

I deplore the lack of freedom of religion in Egypt,  the authorities' apparent unwillingness to protect the indigenous Christian minority and its places of worship, and the lamentable track record of the Egyptian justice system in securing criminal convictions against those who have targeted Christians for attack.  I call upon Egypt's leaders to respond to these abuses honestly and with integrity, without making excuses or indulging in denial.

I also deplore the complicity of some Middle Eastern community leaders and media organizations, who have inflamed a climate of incitement against indigenous Christians, one of the worst recent examples being the interview of Mohammad Salim Al Awa by Ahmed Mansour on Al-Jazeera TV, which went to air on September 115, 2010.  This interview made repeated outrageous and false allegations against the Coptic church and its leaders, which have subsequently even been invoked by Al-Qa'ida in connection with deadly attacks on Christians elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Copts are the direct continuation of the indigenous Christian community in Egypt, founded by St Mark.  They have maintained a faithful witness to Apostolic Faith in Christ through two thousand years of trials and persecution.  I am confident that this latest attack will not shake their will to maintain this witness in their ancestral land.  In the spirit of Matthew 10:42, I call upon Christians throughout the world to offer compassion, practical support and prayers for the Copts, which they sorely need at this most painful of times.

Farewell for Ken and Allison Thompson

A farewell and commissioning service for the Thompsons, St Mary's link missionaries to Cambodia, will be held this Saturday, January 8th at 4pm. Location is 63 Wiseman Road, Silvan, Melways 123 G5. It will be outdoors at the Thompsons' farm, so there is plenty of room. Please bring your own picnic blanket, chairs, picnic, plates, cups, food, meat etc. There will have a BBQ set up for those who want to cook meat and water and cold drinks are provided, Everyone is welcome.