Social Media and the Secular Age

Could it be said that “social media” is an agent of ongoing “secularisation”? Well, the answer, of course, depends upon what we mean by this term “secularisation”. We have been discussing this in previous posts, and I have drawn attention to the weakness of the theory as it related to the early “religious” experience of students when they were at primary school. Somehow the “secularisation” that was discussed within sociology when I was an under-graduate, and which became a taken-for-granted aspect of the discipline in the 1980s and 1990s when I taught sociology at university, focused upon the “religious character” that was present at the onset of the modern age, and which has, supposedly been in decline ever since.

It has become commonplace to attribute the rise of modern political thought in the West to a process of secularization … it may well be that we live, as Charles Taylor tells us, in a “secular age”, but if so we nonetheless owe several of our most central political commitments to an age that was anything but. And it seems reasonable to suppose that we will not be able to understand the peculiar fault lines and dissonances of our contemporary political discourse until we come to terms with that basic paradoxical fact. (Eric Nelson The Hebrew Republic Harvard University Press, 2010, pp. 1, 3)

Nelson is suggesting that the traditional historical narrative “will have to be significantly revised, if not discarded”. His challenging interpretation can be accessed “here”.

My point however which I have tried to elaborate in an autobiographical way  in previous posts has been somewhat more “personal”.

Consider what Charles Taylor says about the rationale for his above-mentioned book The Secular Age (Harvard Uni.Press 2007). His aim, he says, is to chart the historical change “from a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others.” (p.3) That formulation is convenient for my purposes even if I begin to suspect that this view is framed by a post-modern Christian equivocation in which his statement seeks to be (objectively) in solidarity with his “secular age” fellow citizens, even while he sees his mission (subjectively) as a Christian public intellectual who would seek to recognize the transcendence within the “immanent frame”.

What I have suggested is that “secularisation” is not something simply to be grasped by an abstract and theoretical understanding history and societal differentiation – although we certainly need deepened scientific understanding of the manner in which the full gamut of our many-sided responsibilities are given to us to love God and serve our neighbours with the love that draws from us. We find our calling – our work, our job – in complex networks of ongoing societal development that presupposes all the amazing developments the globe has witnessed in the last five centuries. How are we to understand these developments if not to view them within the framework of the Bible’s revelation of our mandate before God to form and cultivate what He has given?

I have suggested in earlier posts, that learning “personally” about what was involved in “secularisation” was strangely ignored in university. We were effectively encouraged to forget the faith (we thought) we had from earlier years, and simply adopt a utilitarian approach to life.

“All these religious and philosophical questions can wait until later. It’s urgent that you get qualified so you can get a job.”

My observation is this. “Secularisation theory”, however that is understood, needs to see the inner connection between that taken-for-granted view of what living in this society means and “secularisation”, meaning, in this instance, the manner in which education and public life are organised with the assumption that a disciplined forgetting of one’s religious past is indispensable to “life in a secular age”.

Look again at that quote from Taylor. Is there not a way of reflecting upon this in “personal” terms? The personal, self-reflective question is this: Was there a time for a child (for some children at least) growing up in Australian suburbia in the 1950s when it was virtually impossible not to believe in God? Were they not surrounded by the combined impacts of Christian family life, church and Sunday School? And then, as this person matured and confronted the 1960s, was there not an urgency to stand as a fully responsible believer, a genuine follower of Jesus Christ? But was it in reaction to “secularisation” that prompted family and church people to encourage the young Christian to make a “choice”? Was all this childhood and youthful faith to be viewed as a believing that derived from grabbing what was but one human possibility among all the many others that siren-like were making their pitch for the young person’s “choice”?

We began this post by asking whether “social media” could be viewed as an agent of “secularisation”. And we said immediately that an answer will have to depend upon what we mean by the term. But then the overall discussion seems to be somewhat disjointed. We might want to reflect upon how “social media” should be formed as part of Christian discipleship. How should a young Christian avail him or herself of these technological gadgets?

It is clear that “social media” places new communication technology in our hands. And in our hands it certainly allows us to send message (here is a post!). And so yes this technology is part of our life and undoubtedly it participates in our efforts to form relationships, disseminate information, encourage other to fulfil our diverse responsibilities. But then that kind of “human flourishing” also followed the development of the printing press. In time restrictions were removed not only from publishing the Bible in the vernacular, but also from the personal publishing of political tracts, let alone the diverse artefacts of literary art. Establishing a delivery service by which people could write letters to each other has also played an important part in fomenting and developing discussions of all kinds between people. There was a time when newspapers became an important part of public life and political discussion, and letters to the editor still carry some, if reduced, civic weight. The invention of the telephone enabled people to keep in touch, and we do so even if we live far apart. A few decades back radio broadcasting developed talk-back radio and these days radio station are encouraging listeners to download their apps into mobile phones. The technology of social media is evident all around us.

We have also been discussing how “social media” has, in latter times, filled a political vacuum that has arisen in polities around the world that claim to be parliamentary and democratic. What we see is not pretty. We have also suggested that the political vacuum has come about because political parties have become committed to winning office rather than articulating a particular political outlook, philosophy or world-view.

And now “social media” in its variant forms has become part of this problematic  political situation around the world. But it is also in times dominated by the threats of Islamist Jihad that give voice to a determination to extend the reach of Islam, the Dar al-Islam into the Dar al-Harb. The threat, regularly repeated, is that they will do so by violent means. We have also noted that it is not a phobia to be afraid of a person or group who threatens to kill you.

In the last few years we (i.e. not only we in the “west” but also we global citizens, including the “rest”) have seemingly entered this new era of instant global communication. Could Twitter texting be embraced as a valid dimension of “deliberative democracy”? Quite apart from the fears generated by the Jihadist threats, it seems that “social media” also confronts us with new kinds of dangers and threats. The advent of the i-phone and texting may enable people to stay in contact but there is also a nasty side to such communicative technology.

Recently, the occupant of the White House in the United States of America used his Twitter account to “tweet” a warning to a guy he had just fired. He had better watch out and not say the wrong thing. The 140 character limit on “tweets” may have constrained him, but what we should be asking is why we were made privy to this statement by a Commander in Chief to the former head of the FBI. If there really were recordings of White House conversations then why couldn’t this have been conveyed in the letter in which the man’s tenure was terminated? What business did we have knowing about this threat? And why should be learn of it in such a manner? What kind of transparency is this?

The fact that the President of the most powerful State would try to bounce a message off his Twitter “followers” to threaten this man not only indicates lack of manners, it confirms this act as brazen bullying. Any Grade 6 Primary School child would see it this way. It is bullying! In that sense we might suggest that this style of Presidential politics has shown a disregard for proper standards of behaviour. And did we see whoever it is in control of that paragon of superficial communication cancelling POTUS’s Twitter account? Hasn’t Twitter, let alone POTUS, heard about the way “social media” is used in highly inappropriate, offensive and criminal ways? It is not only the POTUS “Code of Conduct” but what about Twitter’s civic responsibilities? Who will step forward to say that this was merely a matter of POTUS exercising his right to free speech?

The actions of Jihadi Islamists are criminal and need to be legally resisted in the interests of public justice, nationally and internationally. We have learned the bitter lesson of a language that seeks to redress 9/11 by claiming to embark upon a “war on terrorism” to maintain America’s pre-eminence in perpetuity. But when we now see the leader of that most militarised and most powerful (and most indebted) nation of the world providing a precedent for the improper and threatening use of “social media”, we realise that our  work in crafting a Christian political option must also be vitally concerned with doing justice to inter-personal and informal relationships, just as must as we focus upon institutional impacts, corporate service and global networks. We also need to develop a healthy fear of the hurtful and dangerous consequences of social media usage and find ways to resist social media perpetration of injustice, however that is expressed. Social media that resorts to “hairy chested” threats in 140 characters does not respect its own proper contribution to life on this planet. We are not called to theatrically call attention to ourselves but to a faithful stewardship.

Nurturing Justice claims to be promoting a Christian political option. Here in this post however we do not formulate the ongoing public policies in relation to social media that we will need to develop if we are to stand as faithful servants of God’s Kingdom in the years ahead. We will need to grow wise, to find ways to contribute to public education – particularly to political education in which we discover anew the path of public justice. And we are certainly not going to consign “social media” to the trash heap. Our task is biblically-directed reformation with the recognition that computer, I-pad and mobile phone are all given to us and retain their value because Christ Jesus is the God elected Redeemer. He retains his sovereign claim upon us and, with the entirety of creation, these creatures as well.

BCW 2 June 2017

 

Twittering Plebiscites and the Sending of Messages (3)

CELEBRITY TWEETS AND THE TRUMPING OF OPEN DEBATE

In the first post in this series we raised a question about the way Australia’s federal parliament was constrained to be “sensitive” to the vulnerable people who have decided that their personal future hangs on the “marriage equality” political project. Those who argued in this way to block legislation for a plebiscite, were implicitly presupposing that we now live in a public arena in which political discourse is deeply unreliable, in which political debate is already seriously distorted. They do not seem to have been alive to the fact that they were actually criticising themselves and their parties for the alleged inability of the nation to engage in such a civic public discussion. 

And as this “marriage fiasco” has rolled on, into its current phase, we are none the wiser of why the nomenclature has also changed. First it was “gay marriage”; then it was “same-sex marriage”; and now confirming the post-structuralist attempt to reconfigure human identity by language manipulation it is “marriage equality” and even more sentimentalistic “equal love”, a presumed equality between what are presumed already to be different kinds of marriage. The basis for this? Well it is no longer a matter of human identity as the bible teaches, for instance, made in the imageo Dei, male and female; it is now no longer male and female but homo- and hetero-. Find your sexual self on the spectrum … That is the sand on which the “marriage equality” project is now positioning itself. 

But more than that: our politicians blunder on, seemingly oblivious to the blindingly obvious fact of political life that legislatures and courts can make mistakes that, in time, are going to have to be corrected because they are wrong, because such changes fly in the face of a normative reality. Yes, we now the sky is not going to fall in. But we also know the injustices that can follow when Governments make faulty legislation. The American experiment in its constitutional beginnings was wrong dead wrong about the humanity of the slaves imported from Africa. The Australian constitution in our Federal beginnings allowed for an ongoing national ignorance of the peoples who had peopled this continent and adjacent islands for millennia! The Bolsheviks in abolishing marriage were soon to discover they had made a truly dreadful mistake and in a matter of months reversed their revolutionary decree to insist that marriage was in fact a duty of all paid up and loyal members of the party! Need I go on?

So what is going to happen to all the sensitive souls who are being protected from a harsh and cruel plebiscite when after laws are legislated, purportedly to bring about marriage equality, and it is then discovered – by someone here, another there, that a marriage between a man and a woman, faithfully contracted for life between them, is not the same as a same-sex friendship that wants to be perpetual, that wants to engage in regular mutual sexual play? What then?   

The other side of the all too convenient avoidance of a plebiscite – and New Zealand had rejected a change to its flag; UK had voted Brexit; and of course we know about the disaster on the other side of the North Atlantic – was that for all the concern for civic virtue and compassionate conversation, the blockers of the Liberal-National plebiscite legislation ignored the fact that we were then having and continue to have a media obsessed with what is Twittered. And so celebrity Tweets are now news and if you are on the wrong side of the Tweets, let alone of the net, you may be told in classic blocking and pompous blogging fashion:“enough is enough!” 

Game set and match! Except all that “victory” tells us is that such a celebrity is simply alerting us to the fact that there won’t be any discussion. Well we knew that already with the 140 character limit. But face it: Twitter is effectively proclaiming itself as a kind of plebiscite! And it has failed! Consider the so-called Arab Spring.

And where now is the follow up to the rationale appealed to when the plebiscite was blocked? Where is the publication of a detailed policy platform that would address the manifold distorting influences of “social media”? Where is the political call for citizens to insist that political conversation on “social media” be developed solely in just and respectful ways? Where are the political parties that are championing genuine opened-up political discussion, instead of this reduced and mindless emphasis upon “what is trending”?

Are our elected representatives able to avoid playing the populist game that involves tapping out silly and superficial messages of ersatz solidarity with voters on their whatever-it-is accounts to address some or other question? And so, those who are judged to be political opponents, who have courage to speak out, will be targeted – the message will be: don’t listen to them! They will be subjected to “hit ‘n run” crowd-criticism, and the other word for this is group bullying, sending all the wrong messages, and to a younger generation to boot.

And when social media is about elected representatives trying to maintain a facade of accountability with electors, there may well be an element of increased transparency via such “feeds”. But in this polity, where is the political alternative to Twitter politics, to such Tweeting blockers stepping into a political vacuum created by decades of political neglect by parties. The parties have failed to use their publicly funded political resources to assist the State-crafting education citizens at a local grass-roots level desperately need. Where is the comprehensive political education going on around this country? Can political discourse get any more superficial than what we have today? And we are not going to get an analysis of this problematic via Twitter Tweets.

If readers have been paying attention here – as I have struggled my way through this blog series – they will note that I have been suggesting that there is good reason to suggest that an intuitive “phobia” is dominant in “social media”. The “phobia” is also evident in the techniques of those too quick to fire off their tweets with terms “homophobe” or “Islamophobe” to type-cast political opponents. What is to be made of the “phobe” suffix? What’s going on here?

In brief those typed as “homophobe” or “Islamophobe” are subjects of a psycho-political diagnosis – it is implied that they are suffering from an irrational fear. This person is under surveillance because they hold an opposing political view. This person is not to be engaged in discussion but it is broadcast that this person’s views indicate that they are possessed by a groundless fear, a phobia. They are being told that their public statements against homosexuality or against Jihadist Islam are merely statements of their own “fear” and as such are a repression of the true (inner or essential) state of affairs.The  diagnosis of this phobia is to be bounced off a wider audience in order to play of a person’s fears, to indirectly suggest that the person displaying “homophobic” tendencies is actually afraid of his or her own “homosexual” tendencies. In like fashion someone who displays “Islamophobic” tendencies is somehow repressing an inner “spirituality” that would embrace Muslims but cannot because they an inner spiritual desire denies the attraction of Islam to this person.

Now this is attempted brainwashing, subtle indoctrination, by cunning use of language. How is it to be countered? We could turn the tables and simply say that those who use the ****phobe stereotype are simply exposing their fear of political debate. But my suggestion is that instead we should begin by considering the question: what’s the big deal about “fear” anyway?

Why shouldn’t a person be afraid when tempted to adopt a truth-distorting self-definition? Why shouldn’t a young Christian be afraid of straying from the ways of the Lord God? Simply by asking that question, we encounter a different perspective? The Sermon on the Mount gives us many instances of Jesus’ careful teaching that assists his disciples in examining their lives and avoiding paths that will take them away from the ways of the Lord, the way of God’s Kingdom.

Why indeed shouldn’t we be afraid of being brainwashed by mass media, by the subtle and cunning use of deviously tweaked criticisms as outlined above? 

Moreover, as we have noted we have every right to be afraid of people who, by their action, have told us that we are under their interdict, that we are simply those not (yet) killed. And in inter-personal conversation, let alone in discussing the political dimensions of any responsible response to Jihadist Islam, a person is are not suffering from a phobia simply because they have been threatened with the sword.

The “social media” – especially with its character limits – certainly encourages the use of formulaic terms and short cuts. And apart from anything else, what the decades long assertion about “gay marriage” has affirmed has been a deep fear, on the part of those advocating homosexuality as a lifestyle, an avoidance of encouraging public discussion about marriage law. We have pointed out how the submissions on behalf of those demanding repeal of laws that criminalised homosexual practise in the late 1970s asserted that a homosexual relationship should not be evaluated in marriage terms. But somehow things have changed and we haven’t exactly been told why. Anyone advocating “marriage equality” in this polity who has not appraised themselves of the matters contained in the Parkinson and Aroney assessment, The Territory of Marriage, may simply be spouting political ignorance about the current benighted state of Australia’s marriage law. And that wouldn’t be surprising because for decades the two major political blocks have persistently stood in the way of the political education of the electorate, of their own electors.

At this point in our discussion we have come to the view that the power of “social media”, and in particular the hit ‘n run style of Twitter communication, derives in large part from an ongoing failure of our political system to assist citizens in maintaining their responsibility for forming the state, for contributing via political associations (driven by political convictions) to the complex task of “State-crafting”. And so we are presented, daily, time and again, with news media giving inordinate place to the “trumping of genuine political debate”. Political discussion needs to side-step the self-serving elite who seek to have their public standing validated by their celebrity status, whether Hollywood, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, AFL headquarters, Wimbledon or the BBC.

BCW

31.5.17.

A

 

 

Twittering Plebiscites and the Sending of Messages (2)

INTRODUCTION

In our previous post we posited two questions for Christian readers to ask themselves as they reflect upon the way “social media” has, in but a short decade, seemingly transformed our political debates, or at least appeared to do so. We have linked this discussion to our previous posts that have sought to cast doubt upon the esteemed dogma, regularly put forward as an unassailable fact, that this is a “secular age” and that Christian citizens ought to unhinge their citizenship from their faith in Jesus Christ.

So, here Nurturing Justice continues to make my suggestions to readers, particularly those who are fellow Christians, but anyone else of other faith, uncertain faith or no-faith who is reading this is welcome to join in. At this point we are assuming that there is a Christian way of life and we want to clarify how that way of life should be coming to expression in the midst of public debate that is increasingly fomented if not malformed by what we now call “social media”.

And so, we have to limit ourselves and confine our observations to two topics – homosexuality and Jihadist Islam. When these topics are raised in public debate, and in social media in particular, questions about the Christian way of life are unavoidable. And so if we are wanting to find the path of authentic discipleship we may find it excruciatingly difficult – we may well be suffering from a kind of “media fatigue”, a sense that our faith has been under attack for so long that really we simply want to retire to “smell the roses”, spend time walking along the coast, reading children’s stories and simply avoiding the contentious new, newspapers and the ridiculous tweets of the totally out-of-his-depth American President.

There are of course many other issues which require Christian citizens to engage in ongoing political conversation if we are to develop a Christian political perspective. But we single out these two in particular; they have been with us for decades, are not going away and to raise them yet again is to have us asking ourselves whether we are making any headway..

So in the former post I referred to two issue, the questions of which I now edit.

MARRIAGE AND THE IMAGE OF GOD.

1. How is the pagan mythology of “sexual identity” (and with it the attempt to misrepresent the human condition by appeal to a bogus “heterosexuality”) to be adequately refuted within and among Christians and their churches to make good the claim to be the disciples of Jesus Christ?

Another way of saying that is to acknowledge that we are called to live with an enriching recognition that the Imageo Dei is male and female as the scriptures confirm and that the glory of God is unfolded as males and females serve their creator in all of our life including marriage. Marriage is the inaugural God-endowed institution for the generation-to-generation nurturing and cultivation of creation’s stewards by God’s image-bearers.

With the teaching of Jesus and the apostles as the Christian basis for marriage, we turn again to Jesus’ teaching and discover the definitive proscription of violating the other person by a covetousness (the 10th commandment) that would render any person, any of God’s image bearers, into a sexual object and thereby violate that person’s standing before God (as with the 5th as well – Matthew 5:27-32; Genesis 1:27-31; 2:15-25; Exodus 20:12,17). This gives sufficient ground to such an exclusive view of marriage. Christians are called to receive the teaching that humankind has been created male and female and this is quite other than the pagan presumption that humanity simply has to be allowed to form various kinds of homo-hetero balance for cosmic harmony. And as difficult as this may be for some people, this biblical teaching yet calls us to fully respect the unmarried and the widow and widower.

But then even with such basic viewpoint, a veritable tsunami of historical questions will flood our consciousness: how are we to live in a way that faces up to the long-tradition of generation-by-generation mis-education about marriage, of adulterous living, about the practical denigration (including what seems to have been a secretive riot of sexual license within the closets of the Christian church and its organisations itself) in which God’s image-bearers male-and-female have been cruelly violated and Christians have cruelly and violently abused themselves and their public trust in the process? And how does the Christian community, the Body of Christ, reckon with the way in which Christian profession has been used as a cover for all kinds of degrading and hypocritical practise?

Seeking to face up to this Biblical teaching certainly calls upon us to seek wisdom as we make any contribution to public policy, let alone with respect to pastoral care that is required within church communities. Why shouldn’t two women in seeking to develop a stable household for their respective children, having fled abusive and violent partners, set up house together and seek, as best they can, to provide a stable home with the kind of legal entitlements granted to other households?

And as indicated above there is the need to exercise discernment in the way in which a Christian view of sexuality is discussed when putting forward a public view of why marriage cannot be homosexual. And that view will have to be put forward with ongoing integrity what legislatures and courts decide. Governments make mistakes; marriage equality advocates are making a massive mistake when they assume that the matter will be finally resolved with legislation. Not at all.

Marriage presupposes a sensitivity that husband and wife are called by God to nurture between themselves, with all their own distinctive personal characteristics in a permanent life-long bond. And Christians in nurturing their children are going to have to learn how to maintain unashamed adherence to the teaching of Jesus.

Such a perspective can hardly be suggested with 140 characters of a Tweet. And if we Christians haven’t found a way to discuss human sexuality among ourselves – and given some of the scandalous revelations that are before us who can blame anyone for being hang-dog about the topic? – we are hardly ready to launch forth with a well elaborated comprehensive political viewpoint about marriage, family life, households and so on. But we do have to take up our political responsibilities as Christian citizens to love our neighbour by seeking public justice for all.

THE NEW TESTAMENT’S TEACHING ABOUT JESUS CHRIST CONFRONTS ISLAM

2. How are we Christians, to resolutely take seriously the New Testament’s teaching about the anti-Christ (2 John 1:7-11) and clearly take distance from all such teaching and ways of life whether modern, post-modern, ancient or archaic?

Again this is not a matter to be taken lightly and it is certainly not something that should be reduced to a 140 character Tweet. But if we Christians are true to our profession then that means we cannot avoid responding to Islam and that religion’s teaching about Jesus Christ.

In September we will be 16 years on from the intensification of Islamic Jihadism that was signalled by the 11th of September 2001 attacks on Manhattan Island.

Now consider the Muslim viewpoints from these two links:

Here is a link a Sufi friend and colleague sent to me. He is continually concerned with the way in which Jihadist Islam is causing havoc in Muslim communities here in Australia. He is concerned to develop what he calls the cosmopolitan Australian Islam that has inspired him since before Yugoslavia fell apart into ethnic violence in the 1990s. It was from that disintegration that he and his wife fled. And yet, he is also of the historical  view that despite what Sheikh Tawhidi affirms, he believes that to a large Islam advanced peacefully – Islam he affirms is religion and insofar as it is religion, a matter of faith, its advance is always peaceful not the military subjugation of an empire. So already as the television announcer said, seemingly with great surprise, there is deep disagreement, deep public disagreement, among Muslims with respect to their own religion. Sheikh Tawhidi in the midst of that profound religious confrontation claims that Islam needs to move away from its “scriptures of war”, its books that are used to teach young people to go and behead the infidel.

Here’s another viewpoint, this time about the annual feast of Ramadan and developed by someone who is said to be an Emirati pop-star.

How are we to enter into political discussion with Muslim fellow citizens? The discussion can not only be about the murderous activities of the Islamic Jihadists? And the political discussion will have to broach the New Testament teaching at some point but it is also going to have to do so in a political where other religious commitments, anti-Christian messianic motives are at work. In doing so we are going to have to find a way to do justice to all these religious viewpoints including the various kinds of Muslim contributions we have noted above.

And though “social media” discussion of such antitheses cannot be avoided, for our part Christian citizens are going to have to learn how to account for the inner conflicts  within other religions and ideologies, including within Islam? To address the kinds of issues and disagreement that are raised about the atrocities of Islamic Jihadists we will have to have some idea of how they are each claiming to give expression to a Muslim “way of life”? And the difficult part of this is that the Islamic Jihadists are also claiming to be giving authentic expression to a Muslim “way of life”.

PROVISIONAL CONCLUSION:

There is indeed an urgent need for a Christian political option conversation world-wide – today. And in this and further posts we have wanted to consider some of the problems that “social media” – “information technology” – presents to us as we seek to form this vital conversation. The content of these posts should not only look at what should be the content of our posts, but at the emergent and taken-for-granted “hit ‘n run” structuring of social media conversations – Twitter and the like, with what are in fact conversation suppressing character limits, promotes unprecedented possibilities for the generating of fear, for manipulating and making fellow citizens scared – and all the while “contributions” are being made which carefully and persistently avoid sustained argument. Consider only what comes from the US White House, but then also ask your friend, the harried parent whose son has been the subject of continued barrage of vitriol from a former friend. The possibility of political irrationalities gaining a hold are increased and all the while there is the ongoing threat of Muslim Jihadism that is telling us that, as far as these psychotic murderers are concerned, we are simply the ones they haven’t yet reached with their emissaries of death.

We began this post by reflecting upon the place of “social media” in our lives. We have identified two “hot topics” and suggested that our Christian contribution has to be disciplined by heading Biblical teaching. In Biblical terms everything that exists is subject to the Creator’s creation order and that includes all possible “ways of life” that have unfolded in human history. The important issue, I think, from this post is that these diverse “ways of life” and their various, competing even antagonistic contributions can be found reflected and disclosed within the framework of “social media”. Next time we will try to get some further insight into “social media” in creational terms, but even then we won’t be able to properly assess its true value if we ignore the ways in which it degrades and denigrates.

But then we are certainly not going to consign “social media” to the trash heap. This is because computer, I-pad and mobile phone are all given to us and retain their value because Christ Jesus as our Redeemer retains his sovereign claim upon these creatures and the entirety of creation.

BCW

30.5.17

 

 

 

 

Twittering Plebiscites and the Sending of Messages (1)

My older brother recently attended a high school reunion. He was a few years ahead of me so this reunion was not for my year. But he was asked about me and my younger brother, about what we were  doing. He tells me his reply about me went something like, “He works as an independent Christian scholar.” So, is that what I am? Well, I cannot deny it, and indeed have no wish to do so. In fact, it is probably best to just leave it at that and allow my brother’s questioner to make of it what he will. If that spoken “tweet” gets around then maybe someone might get in touch and ask me to “please explain”! Will these NJ posts be able to provide answers?

Another correspondent from my high school days, a legendary fellow who has been a truckie and poet out west, was recently in touch – this contact also came to me via my brother. It seems that having a relatively famous poet for a brother keeps my own “network” alive! Is keeping networks what older and younger brothers are for? Maybe!

When he did get in touch, this truck-driver poet told me he had been pretty sure that by now I would have been a well-established minister in some Christian church somewhere. Well,that I take as a real compliment – he must have seen some dedication in my youthful profession of Christian faith. So does he read my blog as my personal alternative to a weekly pulpit?

This above, I now reveal, is part of the “back story” of my previous series on the (is it now discredited?) “theory of secularisation”, and the seeming de-Christianisation of “the west” that has begun to make itself so obvious in everyday life. And so, how are such who imbibe a secularised way of viewing the world, to interpret the significance of their seeming forgetfulness of their “Christian connections” early on in life? Are they to explain their lack of interest in these matters? Is it that forgetting is merely a “secular” activity anyway, in which case “secularisation” might seem to be a life-time conspiracy that inevitably, fatefully, prevents people from facing up to their own residual “religiosity”.

Ad so, in addressing my peers from the past, I’m trying to think of ways of making a Christian political option – yes as I understand it – palpable. That was part of my motivation for the previous series: why are we inclined – is it nature or nurture? – to forget how religious we were, or even that we had some “religious experience” at primary school (1956-1965). Could “secularisation” in any particular adult case merely be a matter of adult fashion, where it is simply the “done thing” to forget these things, or say you do, until at last you believe they were irrelevant anyway?

I’m aiming as much at poetic truck drivers or other former school mates, let alone former students or colleagues or anyone else who may have stumbled across me, or for whom our paths have crossed in days gone by, as well as those who have serendipitously come across this blog, however that may have come about.

So, at that level – where Nurturing Justice cannot avoid being part of “everyday life” – our political option reflections are framed to encourage whomever might see some ambiguity or even inconsistency in “my story” or my “blog” to be provoked to think further about “things” – not necessarily spend more time surfing the wide oceans of social media – but more specifically to engage in a kind of “personal reflection”, if not of their own ambiguities, convoluted paths or deep contradictions that emerge willy-nilly in everyday life, then of mine or someone else’s. Make my day reader and keep on thinking about political responsibility. (Political responsibility and childhood – hmm. Seems like we have come across a possible future post.)

Nurturing Justice is not intended to be gob-stobbing conversation blocker.

And I would dearly welcome (pardon the sentimentalism) talking about “things” with old school friends, who knew me, and particularly with Christians who I got to know as the leader of the Blackburn South High School “InterSchool Christian Fellowship” in 1968, or a Monash Evangelical Union “Men’s Vice-President” (1970-1971), or even as a co-founder of the Monash Christian Radical Club (1971).

Now, what I have said above also presupposes, at least to some degree, the rampant development of “social media”.  Is not “social media” a dynamic force, an ongoing agent of “secularisation”? Could it be part of a new “religion”, a religion perhaps in which “latter-day” decrees – that might well merit comparison with Islamic FATWAS – are sent out against those who are viewed as ****phobes!

Let’s just provide two questions for the moment for readers to think about as part of this broadsheet’s attempt to promote political thinking and discussion. Let’s reflect upon the impact of this technological presupposition upon the structure of contemporary political life and our subsequent conversation about it? Here’s two questions to think about.

  1. Have the blockers of the Liberal-National Government’s “plebiscite” on gay marriage, considered how they have hidden themselves ambiguously behind TWITTER and similar launch-pads by a justification that accuses the supporters of a plebiscite of wanting a platform upon which “hate speech” will take control? What are they going to do about “hate speech” on Twitter, particularly FATWAS issued against their own political opponents?
  2. If a Muslim cleric can say that Islam’s books teach the unconscionable beheading of people, is he to be considered an “Islamophobe”? He is clearly fearful of how Islamist Jihadism stereotypes all Muslims. So are other citizens now given permission to say this too? (ref Matthew 5:43-48).

At this point, in this blog, I wish to suggest to fellow Christian readers in particular, but anyone else is welcome to join in, that there at least two questions Christian citizens should asking of themselves and among themselves in order to develop a Christian political perspective.

  1. How are we Christians to come to terms with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles concerning marriage (see Jesus’ definitive proscription of making any person, God’s image bearer, into a sexual object – Matthew 5:27-32; Genesis 1:27-31; 2:15-25; Exodus 20:12,17)? How are we to live in a way that faces up to the long-tradition of generation-by-generation mis-education about marriage, of adulterous living, about the practical denigration (the church-led secretive closeted mardi gras if you will) in which God’s image-bearers male-and-female, in the west, have been cruelly violated? How is the pagan mythology of “sexual identity” (and the equally misrepresenting nonsense of “heterosexuality”) to be adequately refuted within the churches claiming to be Christian in an ongoing biblically directed discussion among us as disciples of Jesus Christ seeking to walk in the ways of His Kingdom?
  2. How are we Christians, to resolutely take seriously the New Testaments teaching about the anti-Christ (2 John 1:7-11) and clearly take distance from all such teaching and ways of life whether modern, post-modern, ancient or archaic?

A conversation about a Christian political option is urgently needed among Christians – today. And in further posts we might consider some of the “social media” “information technology” dimensions of this conversation.

BCW

updated 30.5.17 

An Inconsolable Wailing in Ramah

Lifelong Lament of the Man of Sorrows for Bethlehem, His Birthplace

Some Sad Thoughts on the Manchester Atrocity

How are we to go on living, day after day? How many more times are we to hear, yet again, of yet another atrocity designed to tell us that we are simply those who are on the long list of those who have not yet been murdered? I am appalled to put it this way but this relentless anarchic campaign invites us to imagine ourselves and our local community wrecked – in a few hours or tomorrow – by such arbitrary cruelty, blasphemously labelling its terror with the pious fraud of Inshallah. It is as if a magic appeal to the heavens will transform practical hatred into righteousness, suicidal self-destruction into blessedness.

This is satanic evil and we are called to confront it by our prayer and, such is the seriousness of our times, even by our fasting.

Matthew begins his record of Jesus the Messiah by telling us the genealogy of Joseph. The story of that side of Joseph’s family history would have been an important part of the Son of God’s education. Look carefully at the list. Notice the reference to Judah; notice the reference to Solomon, David’s son, the child of Uriah’s wife! Matthew’s record is deep Good News. The Lord God so loved his own specially chosen people despite their gross sins. King David is here listed as an adulterer and a murder. And yet, Joseph, who cannot escape his membership in this dysfunctional familial line is called into service. Did the Lord care for Abraham, Jacob and David? Will the Lord look after him as husband of Mary now that she is pregnant?

Matthew not only tells us how Joseph came to be part of the story but also how Joseph and Mary told that story to Mary’s oldest son. The strange and gruelling events that they endured were explained in terms framed by what the prophets had announced long ago. And so, Matthew is telling us, Jesus of Nazareth, Israel’s Messiah, lived out his days with an awareness that His heavenly father, the one he could utterly rely upon, was faithful to his promises. God is with us despite the terrifying nightmare visited upon Jesus’ own age cohort in Bethlehem, where he had been born. This young man is being prepared by wise parents to be the man of sorrows, intimately acquainted with grief.

So we can conclude that this part of the family story hung over Jesus during His earthly life. Just as Joseph could not get away from the scandals in his lineage, so Jesus had to deal with the knowledge of a most awful and brutal “cleansing” that took place some time after his parents fled with him from Bethlehem to a safe haven. Yes, indeed the prophet Isaiah had dubbed him :

One despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief! (Isaiah 53:3)

And this family lived to tell the story of God, Immanuel, coming to live in the midst of his tragically forever backsliding people; it may be a story of a great fulfilment but Joseph, along with his already pregnant wife, had to get used to telling that story to Mary’s first-born:

This is what is to happen: the young chaste woman shall be with child and give birth to a son, and the name they shall give him will be Immanuel – which is “God with us”(Isaiah 7:14 and 8:8,10).

Scripture fulfilled! But such a tragic story as well, a story that could not be told without tears welling up in one’s eyes, without sickness taking a grip on one’s stomach. A young displaced family fleeing the murderous reach of the psychotic monarch of Judaea. Herod showed himself to be skilled in the arts of practical, cowardly hatred.

Joseph and Mary would tell this lad how he came to be born, how they were surprisingly found at Bethlehem by three naïve, star-gazing magicians from the east who had petitioned the King and thereby fed his psychotic jealousy. The Messiah of Israel, the promised Prince of all princes could only be a threat to this madman, as much as he is still a threat today by his life and his teaching that even goes out to those committed to such appalling Islamic terror:

You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:43-45).

These star-gazing magicians had asked Herod the whereabouts of the new-born King of the Jews that had been revealed to them as they stared at the stars. But it  was a dream that awakened these naïve visitors to the danger in which they had placed this young, innocent family and so they departed without reporting back to Herod. And the result? A campaign of shock and awe was visited upon those families of Bethlehem who had recently been granted sons. No sons born in David’s city were going to challenge this maniac’s rule!

Reading through the New Testament we notice that this famous city of King David, the city of Jesus’ birth, is only mentioned in connection with his birth. Did Jesus visit Bethlehem in his ministry and on his way up to Jerusalem? We are not told.

King Herod’s brutal murder of all boys under two years of age is also told to us by reference Jeremiah 31:15:

Thus says the Lord“A voice has been heard in Ramah;
    there has been wailing and great lamentation.
It was Rachel is weeping over her children;
    and refusing to be comforted because these her children, are no longer.”

Yes, his coming, his first coming, would be with tears and weeping. But Israel’s Messiah, the Anointed, the Son of God, has come near and bodily shared it all, our human griefs and pains. And despite Herod’s action, Bethlehem retains its place in Jesus’ story, the place in Jesus’ story that provoked inconsolable lamentation. And yet despite such life-long tears, such life-long weeping, Matthew is compelled to tell this story. It is so strange this chapter that tells us of Jesus’ birth and family life, but it is Matthew’s opening announcement that Immanuel has come to fulfil God’s promises by being by our side.

BCW

24.5.17

Politics as Business – Business as Success!

THE POLITICAL-MASS MEDIA CULT OF SELF PROMOTION:

“SPIN AND SUPERFICIALITY”

Yesterday, we noted how the fashion of posting innocent “selfies” to a Facebook page has come about in the aftermath of a world-wide effort to transform universities into enterprises of intellectual self-promotion. My intention is not to identify in mechanical terms some “causal link” – the 1980s reform to Australia’s university system > the 21st century’s unleashing of unbridled narcissism – but rather it is to draw attention to how genuine political education has been made more complex by the impact of neo-liberal managerialism upon science and scholarship.

But it is true that our lives will continue to be filled with inner tension and outer turmoil when public life is dominated by the mercantile foolishness that presumes “success” must be any person’s “chief end”. We do not need a PhD thesis in psychology to be able to see that for the recently elected President of the United States of America, personal “success” is his chief end. It is about orchestrating things by making demands, and to keep on doing so, until he gets his own way. His Twitter tweets are also warnings to those standing in his way now that he has reached the top. (Consider his Tweet this week to the sacked FBI Director. I would have thought that was a “bullying threat” but I haven’t seen Twitter cancel his subscription, at least not yet.) The current aim of the incumbent of the White House is to supersede any threats to his “success” by his “success” and his tweets are made with that in view. The road to “success” and then, having achieved his goal, the path he is on demands that he put into action the plans he has already devised for dealing with competitors, those who, by their “success”, stand in the way of his getting his way.

Still, when all of life is characterised by “success” then one will become aware of a reality that has to be mastered by making many steps, each requiring a mini-success along the way – large and all-embracing goals are achieved by many small and limited successes that accumulate as one’s life goal is attained. In all this, the important thing is to gain one’s self-respect, and to do in a way that ascribes status to oneself by achieving one successful project after another …  and so by mastering the Facebook subscription and launching a first “selfie” one is simply taking the first small step on the path of self-promotion, artfully cutting a deal for oneself, incessantly demonstrating that one is successful and not to be messed with. A public ethic of “success first for me” is also inevitably to announce a threat to any who might “get in the way”. It is also a personal self (if not selfie) discipline.

Consider how the respectful and respected youthful Barack Obama gained “top job” after his “game changing” method of connecting his bid for the Presidency to what is now known as “crowdfunding”, support gained by an appeal for funding, an initiative launched from “social media”. The man who wanted to take his place once Obama’s time had expired, watched all this very carefully and decided he knew how he could gain “top job” by successfully learning the lesson and taking social media one step further … the trick was to develop a technique that would not just gain sufficient support to gain office but one that would enable him, so he thinks, to maintain support once he gained what he decided he had to have. The “top job”, he concluded, was there for the taking, and surely the country needed him to take it – and so he proceeded via his Twitter account to send out that message.

 The ambiguities begin to pile up. Is this an approach to political life that can be sustained? Now that the US President has endorsed a particular use of Twitter, going one-step further than Barack Obama’s “crowdfunding” technique, to garner public support, what is the next step? Where is this development taking us? We may need to think long and hard about this and also reflect upon the uncertainty we have about the answer to that question – if we have one. Does it not remind us of the crisis in which western democracy is now floundering? Does it not confirm to those besotted with Twittered politics that we no longer have a clear idea about the political party’s task?

And of course the US President is by no means the only politician using Twitter.

 

All of life, it would seem, becomes caught up in ways of speaking “in a world where spin and superficiality has far too much to say” (to quote the PM’s valedictory tweet on the death of Mark Colvin). Well yes. And the question is not whether but how spin and superficiality are to be overcome with genuine political discourse and political education. These timely words come back to haunt the Australian Prime Minister in a political context this is not only dominated by spin and superficiality, but by his own recent political “success” when he met the US President. How is it that he and the US leader can get away with mouthing the view that the US with their Australian military associates actually WON the war in Vietnam? How did this view ever escape exposure as “spin and superficiality”? How is it that this “fake news” wasn’t blown out of the water? Spin and superficiality indeed, Prime Minister! The Prime Minister’s Personal Assistants need to stop trying to make the Twitter page so pretty and instead concentrate on giving historically accurate and truthful advice!

And here’s the thing: the launch of the PM’s “selfie” with the US President, and the management of his Twitter account was the goal at one point and its “success” simply meant anything and everything else had to be of subsidiary importance. Did Rupert Murdoch’s Australian-wide tabloid  The Australian feature this “fake news” as news? Is anyone going to inform the thousands of Vietnamese boat people who came to these shores that they were mistaken, that the war had been won by the US and its allies? Did it have to take a former and much respected diplomat, the one-time Australian Ambassador to the United Nations (1992-1997), to tell the PM of his egregious error of fact? And dare we ask whether the record been corrected with the Americans? Are we to conclude that it would simply be spin and superficiality if it were corrected? (Alternative facts, Prime Minister?)

It is certainly not just the Trump administration that has deep troubles with itself. There is indeed much here that requires ongoing and sustained analysis. In closing I list three matter that Nurturing Justice should seek to discuss in upcoming posts.

  • The success ethic, social media communication, schooling and the political education of children!
  • How has political representation been transformed by the “success” ethic? How should Parliamentary representation, as work, be viewed in relation to “careers”? What has the tendency in Parliamentary democracies to make elected representation into a career, meant for careers in the public service and for the diplomatic service in particular?
  • How has the “reinvention of Government” according to neo-liberal criteria since the 1980s and the privatisation of State services meant for the State crafting development and the respect for citizenship as an integral part of accountability of public governance.

To repeat: has not the US President endorsed a use of Twitter to suggest that political “success” is within the reach of any aspiring citizen – whatever the goal may be? What goals may these be?

BCW 18.5.17

Blogging as a Selfie?

“Oh, what genius! What a headline! All the hard work over many years and Nurturing Justice is finally on the brink of global fame! Doesn’t this make it all worth the effort? This NJ heading will give many hits and more followers! My blog on the verge of fame, a regular post for so many around the world!”

Well, before readers get their interneted exercise by jumping to conclusions, the above is a blog version of the self-referential nonsense Jesus warned about in his parable of the wealthy landowner.

There was a rich man whose land bore fruit in abundance. “What am I to do?” he asked himself. “I have not the space to collect the harvest. This is what I shall do,” he then exclaimed. “I shall pull down my storehouses, building larger ones, and into them I shall collect my corn and my other goods! And then I shall be saying to myself, “My good man, you have many good things laid by for many a year to come. Take your rest now; eat, drink and enjoy yourself!” Yet God spoke to him thus: “Foolish man that you are! This very night your life will be demanded of you. Well then, the things which you have made ready – to whom will they belong?” Indeed, this is how matters stand with the man who stores up riches for himself but has none in the sight of God.” (Luke 12:16-21 Heinz Cassirer translation).  

Isn’t there a problem with Blogging – isn’t it simply a means of sending elaborate arguments which are, in the final analysis, self-promoting?

In my former life I have been an academic, a tutor and lecturer. To gain promotion, or perhaps a permanent, tenured position, it was taken-for-granted that we had to produce a curriculum vitae and that meant a list of publications. And when the universities were transformed around the world as educational enterprises that had to be run on profit-making lines, that meant one’s avoidance of self-promotion had to be dispensed and lists were required as part of yearly assessment. Writings were to be classified in various categories with different weighting – published books from university publishing houses, commercial books, peer reviewed journal articles, other articles in other journals, book reviews, other writings like letters to the editor and so on. All categories were given a weighting and the results these days can be found from the web-sites of academics. They are a requirement from university management. Academics not only have to engage in research and teaching; they have to indulge in self-promotion and this requires an ongoing, peculiar and persistent accounting in which everything written and everything published and all papers delivered at conferences and all guest lectures be assiduously itemised. Can we say it is a kind of professional Facebook page!

There’s no escaping it. If you want to survive you’ve just got to sell yourself. That’s the name of the game. That is the art of the deal.

That’s the mantra: self-promotion. Is that not the spirit motivating the “selfie”? This not only creeps into everything an academic does; it creeps into everything. Such intellectual entrepreneurs are but the products their own selling – and that is the ideology which, more and more, is driving universities the world over these days. My experience of universities and university teaching (1978-1998) knew this motif, was shaped by it in its own way, but it did not have the government-backed managerialist “enterprise-university” power behind it that it now has. And my academic experience came before the onset of the “Twitter Revolution” but in looking back I can perceive the trend, the trend that saw academics cajoled, this way and that way, into various kinds of self-promoting entrepreneurship.

These days prominent public figures, and those elected to public office, seem bent on using their mobile phones and I-Pads to solve any worries they might have that they are not adequately representing their electors. They are making sure that their statements gain as much popularity as possible. And so they are in the “political business” showing ongoing sensitivity to the “political market-place”.

And here I am, the steward of my own blog that goes back to 2006, keeping an assiduous record of all my Nurturing Justice “posts”. And yet, given the structuring of this blog – all due respects to WordPress.com notwithstanding – the internetting technology that I am here employing might suggest that this is but a elaborated and wordy form of what any “Tweet” conveys as it makes it contribution within the constraints of its word limits. Best to keep is short and sweet.

All of this has come to mind this morning when one of my correspondents sent me a link to the May 16, 2017 Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by David Brooks.

When the world is led by a child – reports that President Trump betrayed an intelligence source reveal the dangerousness of an immature man.

As I read this, I found myself tempted to indulge in self-congratulations – had not Nurturing Justice already opined (19th January) that the candidate elected to the US presidency last year was bent on mimicking Bart Simpson the “I didn’t do it” kid? And at that point my question that I need to ask myself, let alone any critical point I might direct at Brooks when endorsing his comment, is whether I am avoiding the kind of foolishness Jesus told his disciples was how God looked upon such vacuous self-referential praise! Moreover, how does one read Brooks without it simply feeding a hunger for diversionary “entertainment”, even as the political soap operas of our experience these days are filling us with the two emotions of boredom and deepened anxiety. Does not a little “serious reflection” tacked on to a review of “upcoming entertainment”  assuage any work ethic feelings of guilt that too much time is spent and wasted on “entertainment”.  Given the “show” David is commenting upon his op-ed piece has the form of a film critic seeking to challenge our world-view. Admittedly, Brooks is a journalist who has long been seeking to do more than just comment upon politics but to encourage his readers and listeners  to look again, to reconsider, what is taking place.

There’s something here in his piece that Nurturing Justice as well as those seeking to nurture justice should take to heart – if this “show” is demonstrating that the US has elected an immature, petulant and self-absorbed child as its President, what is this doing to the political education of 9 year olds? Now there is something to get our public policy teeth into – there is something that invites to to develop a comprehensive Christian sociological elaboration of the way children are nurtured politically. Not just in general terms; but what does Mr Trump’s election and the burgeoning populist nationalism that it represents (around the world) tell us about the manner in which a younger generation are being educated politically.

No, blogging is not a selfie BUT by asking ourselves the question we come face-to-face with our political responsibilities to the next generation and the one after that! This will require a deepened commitment to journalism that confronts the political economy of our global society in ways that demonstrate an enduring love for our our neighbours, at home, abroad and those seeking asylum from tyrannous governments and exploitation. Such journalism will have to provide genuine political education – not Tweets, not sound bites, but clearly articulated arguments and policies. Therefore we would conclude that, yes, blogs can degenerate into “selfies without word limits”. But this is no reason to stop writing and persuading and publishing to commend a Christian political option.

BCW

17.5.17