Public Discussion and Christianity’s Decline

We have been discussing discussion. We have been talking about how we talk, how we converse inter-personally, but that also means we cannot avoid referring to how we communicate and disseminate information and “news”. In my last post the context of such a discussion about discussion was drawn in these terms:

… in a global context dominated by a constant babble of alternative and dissonant stories that now flood our post-post-modern consciousness on a daily, if not hourly, basis, is our own contribution going to be merely more “windy words”? Job’s words to his comforters can remind us how our speech can run out of control. “Will your windy words never end? Will you continue going on and on and on …?” (Job 16:3)

And so the question comes back again – the question is just as pertinent now with this latest post. Do we have any enduring task in all this? Should we even be seeking to make a contribution? Is it worth it?

The human art of everyday conversation is a skill to be learned. Just like complex diplomatic negotiation at a G20 convocation, it is part of the wonderful created reality of our social life. The crisis in discussion as a creaturely activity needs to be understood and overcome. That includes the crisis we experience in our own everyday public and private conversations. There is an ever-pervasive sense of  futility that threatens to swamp us, and it needs to be resisted, challenged with a new way of talking, a new way of approaching our task in this world, our cultural task.

Will windy words never cease? Well, we will need to become convinced that conversation is integral to who we are. We need to become convinced that telling stories, writing articles, giving literary form to our our scientific explorations, writing blogs like this one, are all part of what the Bible refers to in Genesis 1 as “the cultural mandate”. In fact those who have become disciples of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ, listen to and attend to his parting words and realise that their cultural task now, with the announcement of His Kingly Power, is indeed their response to the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20).

The unhealthy atmosphere of public cynicism and scepticism will not be overcome without the growth of a climate of healthy conversation. God’s knew that. That is why Christ was sent and Christian discipleship indeed may flourish in chat with one’s neighbour “over the back fence”. That is why Nurturing Justice says it again: we need to discuss how to form conversation, how to initiate discussion, how to form our contributes to public debates in ways that scrupulously avoid whatever destroys and vandalises the good gifts that God continues to shower upon us.

We need to recapture a sense of public conversation as part of who we are. It is not just something we add to our Christian lives to make our lives less boring by trying to be “more chatty”. Our calling is to converse as our calling, our vocation.

Now as I write this, I am reminded of what I read in The Australian last Saturday. These prominent articles by two leading journalists in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire might seem to be suggesting that a “Christian political option” is going to be initiated sometime soon. [Will it be Rerum Novarum rides again?] See what you think. I will give the two quotes from the pages of “The Inquirer” section and then I will conclude with some brief comments.

Here’s the first:

It is from Greg Sheridan “Six Roads to the West’s Strategic Crisis Point.” p.16 The Weekend Australian July 8,9 2017:
“… the sixth and final dynamic assaulting the strategic position of the West … is the growing distemper of Western electorates and populations generally.
“Since the global financial crisis a decade ago, middle class and below incomes in Western nations have been almost stagnant while a small group at the top has grown exponentially richer.
“This has led to bad-tempered and unstable electorates, willing to entertain all kinds of electoral experiments but not willing to undertake any further budgetary belt tightening.
This robs the Western political paradigm of some of its legitimacy and some of its stability when all the other factors listed above are undermining the grand Western narrative.
“The cyclical distemper born of economic woes feeds off two deeper structural changes in Western societies. The first is the eclipse of Christianity in the West. Several West European nations are more atheist than Christian and the religion with the fastest growth rate in Western societies, albeit off a low base, is Islam.
“Yet Christianity is basic to the Western cultural and political identity. The West for the moment is living off the draining moral capital of its Christian inheritance. Without transcendent belief, there is no ultimate philosophical obstacle to the pursuit of power as the highest human purpose.
“As Henry Kissinger has remarked, Western governments are no longer able to ask any sacrifice from their electorates.”

The second quote is this:

It is from Editor-at-Large Paul Kelly “Blessed be the egoistic individuals” p.19 The Weekend Australian July 8,9 2017:
“The reality is staring us in the face. Yet it cannot be spoken, cannot be entertained, cannot be discussed because there is no greater heresy and no more offensive ­notion than that the loss of Christian faith might have a downside…
“The rise of progressive values in the name of freedom and justice would march in parallel with the decline of religious faith. Put ­another way, they were different sides of the same coin. Eventually, the revolution took judicial and legal form. The greatest institution that embodied the new social order was the US Supreme Court.
“In a series of judgments, the court redefined the idea of freedom and human nature. Weigel captures this, quoting from the majority decision in the 1992 planned parenthood case. “At the heart of liberty,” the judges said, “is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.” Led by Justice ­Anthony Kennedy, this philosophy was repeated in the more ­recent decision to impose same-sex marriage.
“At this point individual autonomy and human rights (what some might call “the Big Me”) replaced the concept of an objective moral order founded in the Christian tradition. The notion of a God-­ordained morality was swept aside along with its view of mankind as more than a bundle of desires to be sanctified as human rights. Man, not God, was enshrined at the centre of the universe.
“The judges reflected the spirit of the age and the cultural revolution that had transformed the West. The idea of freedom was separated from a higher order moral duty and tied to personal self-realisation and self-esteem. Narcissism was legitimised. Weigel says: “There is no claim here that the American democratic ­experiment rests on self-evident moral truths.” The upshot was a society of many truths; each person was granted autonomy to ­decide his or her own moral truth.
“What does this mean for ­politics?
“It requires little insight to conclude such a society and culture that prioritises a cult of “individualism” when translated into the political sphere is less cohesive and united, more divided over existing norms, less willing to accept the decisions and compromises of political leaders, far more difficult for politicians to manage and persuade and, above all, from which to extract a working majority position. In short, governing is harder, the gap between politicians and public more difficult to bridge and the society divided at its essence.
“There is, however, an even deeper problem.
“As the moral status of the church declines, the moral status of progressive ideology grows. Vacuums will be filled. Because the Christian ethos was tied to the past and tradition, it became a target for the new ideology of personal freedom. This is founded in the view that settler societies such as America and Australia have failed to come to terms with the racism, indigenous exploitation, sexism, patriarchy and monoculturalism at their heart. The task of community leaders was once to uphold the values of the civilisation; now, more often than not, it is to dismantle them.
“Pivotal to this transition is the progressive attack on the Aristo­telian framework that made the West a success. This concept was articulated at various stages by the popes, notably Leo XIII and Pius XI. As outlined by Tulsa University professor Russell Hit­tinger, this envisages three “necessary” elements for human happiness: domestic society (marriage and family), faith and church and, finally, political ­society. A brief reflection might confirm the wisdom of this ­framework.
“It is, however, now being dismantled in the new and manic crusade of human freedom. Pro­gressive doctrine denies any preferred model for family structure since that would be prejudicial and discriminatory; it now approaches its ultimate objective in the realm of faith — to drive ­religion from the public square and reject the role of religion and church as a mobiliser of social capital in a secular society.
“The final logic is that everything depends upon politics. As the society of family and marriage ­becomes mired in confusion, as the society of church and religion is the target of assault, so the ­society of politics is being asked to assume a role and burden utterly beyond its capacity and guaranteed to leave community-wide ­unhappiness.
“The tripartite design that made the West such a workable and ­successful proposition is being torn part. Once dismantled, it ­cannot be put back together. This is being done in the name of justice, rights and progress. There was an ­inevitability about the decline of Christian faith, but there was nothing inevitable about the dismal pretender that presents as its replacement.”

There are a few observations that I would make. Nurturing Justice might watch the development of a “Christian political option” that would develop from these analyses, but there are critical issues that need to be raised straight away.

To what extent is The Australian – and other mass media “outlets” of the Murdoch media empire like “the West … for the moment … living off the draining moral capital of its Christian inheritance”? What transcendent belief has motivated News Ltd’s pursuit of power as the highest human purpose? Again, are we to believe that The Australian has had not part to play in the rise of “progressive values” which in the name of freedom and justice have, we now hear from its pages, marched in parallel with the decline of religious faith? Is The Australian not so secular after all? Since when?

Instead of writing in terms of vague generalities, are we to suppose that there has been no political conversation motivated by “Big Me” individual autonomy and human rights promoted by The Australian and its owner? Where has The Australian been in support of the  moral order founded in the Christian tradition?

It somewhat takes the breath away to read how “the philosopher” made the West a success?  What has Aristotle got to do with Christian discipleship and the task of forming a Christian public discussion?

Both quotes suggest a journalistic style that attempts to discuss by standing outside, if not above, the “eclipse” and the “decline” they describe. There is no discussion about how this eclipse might be overcome with a genuine revival of “true religion and virtue”, nor is there any indication that anything can be done now to arrest the political decline by a Christian understanding of public justice. In fact there is no real discussion of how their analysis arises from their faith perspective. The assumption is that they are simply dealing with the facts, “nature”, the news. And the decline of “grace” is their lament.

Further, there is no indication that either journalist sees any inner connection between the West’s crisis due to the erosion of public trust and journalism. How are we to interpret these articles, these discussions? Are they not part of the very trends they lament? Could the dogmatic neo-Aristotelian objectivity they espouse merely be the other side of a syndrome of journalistic denial that forgets that they have been front-row contributors to the phenomenon they now seek to put in the headlines?

And as such these quotes from these contributions to public discussion by two respected journalists, give us no indication that we might be dealing with a cumulative tradition that demonstrates a Christian inability to mount and form public discussion with integrity. Remarkably, as those lamenting the decline of faith, or transcendent values, there is sadly no mention at all of the compromised contribution of senior clergy of the Roman Church who, despite inheriting “Catholic social teaching”, have aided and abetted the public denigration of marriage they so lament.

BCW11.7.17

 

 

Matthew’s Gospel for Quisling Tax Collectors and Other Deviants

There will probably be those who instinctively interpret Nurturing Justice as an attempt read the Bible in political terms. What follows is a “reading” of a seemingly innocent passage from Matthew’s gospel (“politically innocent” that is) that not only tells us that what is “on the page” is filled with political implications, but more importantly it indicates something about a Gospel-directed political involvement for us in this time. Matthew’s Gospel is characterised in toto by this leit-motif:

It is mercy I delight in, not sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6 see Matthew 9:13).

It is the Gospel account of a tax-collector and I wonder whether it is actually written with fellow tax collectors, as well as other outsiders, in mind. The opening song of the Sermon on the Mount reminds us:

A blessing rests on those who are merciful; mercy will be shown to them (Matthew 5:7).

The Lord’s Prayer reiterates this:

Remit us the debts we have incurred against you as we remit the debts incurred against us. (Matthew 6:12)

Yes reading the Sermon on the Mount from a Tax Collector’s perspective might indeed deepen our understanding not just of Matthew’s response, but of Jesus’ teaching! A Biblically-directed Christian political option will need to avoid self-justification by conveniently dogmatised Bible teaching, and find ways to support merciful compassion in political conduct. And in this context I propose to consider

Matthew 4:23-25.And as he went around from place to place around the Galileean region, Jesus was teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. Because he was healing every disease and all kinds of afflictions among the people, his fame spread across all of Syria too, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

We have to wait until we are right into this story, known as Matthew’s Gospel, before we learn about the call of Jesus to Matthew the tax-collector (9:9; 10:3). And when we, 21st century readers, come to that – not being in a position to ask Peter or John or those who were in touch with the apostles – we are prodded to go back and re-read the earlier parts of this extensive chronology and carefully note its nuances. We might even do a bit of cross-referencing with other Gospels to get a sense of what was going on and how it was that Matthew framed his account in the precisely the way it has come to us.

We note Matthew’s focus. Was he reliant upon the story of Joseph concerning the early life of Jesus? (see Chapters 1&2) And we then jump with him perhaps 25 years, plus or minus, to hear of the arrival of John in (3:1) to begin his work. And as if John is the MC of some still-to-be-disclosed event, we then learn of the arrival of Jesus coming from Galilee to be baptised. Matthew does not tell us what John is reported by Luke to have said to tax-collectors –

Quit this workplace habit of taking a bit on the side habit which has become a feature of your tax-collecting work – you are answerable in your employment to the Anointed of the God of Israel who is on his way! (see Luke 3:14-15).

Was the person Luke identifies as Levi (Luke 5:27-32) Matthew? Well we do not know for sure. But Matthew’s list of the specially selected twelve (10:2-4) certainly lists Matthew the tax collector, who Jesus had called to follow him (9:9-14). And by working our way through this we can suggest that this Gospel is intent upon majoring upon the message of Hosea:

It is mercy I delight in, not sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6 see Matthew 9:13)

So what was Jesus to teach to the crowds coming to him, once he realised that Isaiah 61 and all the other prophets applied to himself? He had been prepared, Matthew tells us, (4:1-11) by the most agonising of privations and cruel suggestions – these started then before his ministry gathered any momentum in the wilderness for 40 days and nights and was continued right up until his dying breath (see 4:3,6,9 and compare with Matthew 27:40-44). Clearly, he had become aware of a temptation to use the mass appeal of his teaching to meet his own needs, to embellish his own grandeur. And so, he is depicted in all Gospels as one who is deeply aware of the possibility that his teaching, if deconstructed to function within the Tempter’s deceitful strategy, would wreck immeasurable havoc by capturing God’s elect in a net of slavery once more.

“Why not, it will only be for a time after all, but then by allowing yourself to inherit all the kingdoms of the earth my way you can take the next step and offer it all up to God, your Heavenly Father … “

And Jesus’ reply:

“You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve!”

sent Satan away.

There are other features of Matthew’s discussion here of the move of Jesus from Nazareth to Capernaum and the calling of the young men in the Galilee fishing co-operative that are worthy of our continued reflection. Peter and Andrew, James and John – who were also disciples of John the Baptist – were called to travel with Jesus in an enterprise designed “to trawl for people”.

In the desert by prayer and fasting, Jesus had undergone a 40 day preparation. And when all the temptations had been resisted and the Tempter sent on his way “for a time”, Jesus had confirmation of his Father’s blessing by his own specially sent visitation of angel-messengers.

But in 4:23-25, Matthew is almost taking on the archetypal characteristics of what we might expect from a Jewish tax-collector who joined in the joyful task of proclaiming the Good News of God’s Kingdom:

Have I got a good news story for you!

He is saying something like:

This was big, truly big. After John’s call for repentance there was a very wide expectation of something big and important unfolding … before their own eyes.

And Matthew then, by indicating just how widespread this movement had become, tells us what he is going to try to convey in what follows. So from Chapters 5-9 we seem to have a “Chapter”, a focus upon a peculiar and identifiable stage in Jesus’ ministry. From 10:1 we read of a further intensification of what is to be the future ministry of the apostles, the twelve disciples he especially called to be by his side.

We might say that Chapters 5-7 is the record of Jesus’ teaching, the basic outlook on life that Jesus expects of his disciples. It is also very clearly the proclamation of the Kingdom of God (the “good news of the kingdom”), which then suggests that Chapters 8 and 9 is a selective record of these healings, how diverse diseases and ailments were met by his competent and authoritative health-care ministry, confronting those possessed of demonic powers, those crazy and paralysed. Matthew is also suggesting that the people “came out” to him and that in response Jesus was pleased to convene a plein air synagogue.

Is Matthew suggesting that we will want to know what Jesus planned to do with all the crowds that came out to him? Matthew indicates Jesus made careful and well-planned choices of those who would travel closest to himself.

But he is also suggesting that Jesus was going out to a desperate, hurting, confused and angry people. Here they were: they had gone out en masse to John and confessed their sins, being baptized in the Jordan by him. And then John was arrested – his days evidently numbered. It is in this context – we will be told – although it is not said so explicitly by Matthew – that some of the most desperate, and abused, were also numbered among the crowds that then went out to hear Jesus teach (9:10). And the Pharisees, ever vigilant in their role of spiritual overseers, saw this and complained. Jesus confirmed that his ministry was precisely to such people. These were they who fulfilled the prophet’s criteria at the time Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. Matthew was alert to how Jesus’ ministry fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies:

Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, the sea road beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who spent their days shrouded in darkness have seen a great light; and on those that dwelt in a land overshadowed by death has a light dawned (4:15-16).

This is an inauguration of an ongoing mission of mercy (9:10), a root and branch restoration of God’s rule amongst his people, and not just from the “grass roots” or the massed convening of “popular sentiment” but of the endowment of a “new heart”. And when the Pharisees make their complaint – this is a movement that is attracting tax-collectors and sinners! – Matthew is in the thick of this contention because Jesus has personally called him to his side.

And the disciples of the imprisoned John the Baptist, still smarting from the injustice of his imprisonment – we don’t hear that his murder had made an impact until Chapter 14 – are also somewhat uncertain with Jesus’ apparent lack of concern for ritual purity. In 11:2 we read of Jesus’ answer to John’s question as to whether he is truly the one who fulfils John’s preparatory work. The answer Jesus gives is to reiterate the Messianic promise that Jesus had confirmed in his own person from Isaiah.

On your way and report to John the things which you are seeing and hearing, how the blind receive their sight, the lame can walk, the leprous are cleansed, the deaf can hear, the dead are raised to and the poor are having good new proclaimed to them. And one more thing: a blessing rests on all those who take no offence at me (Matthew 11:4-6. See also Isaiah 29:18, 35:5ff, 61:1).

John’s disciples had earlier complained about Jesus’ apparent neglect of fasting. But then (9:14-17), and in this passage to his imprisoned cousin, Jesus confirms that his work is nothing less than a living celebration of the breaking out of God’s ministry of mercy.

It is mercy I delight in, not sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6 see Matthew 9:13).

Jesus’ disciples are participants in an ongoing, joyful and richly satisfying “engagement party” – and so we confront something that will call forth the imagery of the apocalyptic Marriage Sup of the living and resurrected Lamb of God bearing the wounds of his trial as the betrothed of his bride – and in the meantime there is a harvest of grapes to begin the brewing of a new wine, a time to design new wedding garments. This is good reason why John, even under such privation and potential agony should take heart. His work will have enduring significance.

So, do we have one teaching in the open air and synagogue and another teaching altogether in private when his disciples confront Jesus face-to-face with their questions? Is that what this is to be? Is this how the Kingdom comes? Well, it is quite conceivable that those who experienced the crowds and thought that this was a movement that would throw the Romans out would have to be organised. But if they thought this was indeed Jesus’ plan – and the possibility that this is what God had intended seems to have still been on the strategic horizon of the closest of Jesus’ disciples right up until just before his parting words to them and his ascension. But they would also have great trouble lining it all up with what follows in Matthew 5-7 – the Sermon on the Mount.

There is an “insider” view that Jesus explains to his disciples when he draws them in close. That is undeniable. But it is a cut of quite a different cloth from any reading of his teaching that would suggest it was in someway beholden to the expectations of popular sentiment. But any “inside” or “up close” view is not to be part of any deception against those “outside” or “far away”. It is rather a matter of having Jesus as our teacher of wisdom, helping us to understand the teaching he has given to us. (We might have to look more carefully at Mark 4:11 ad Luke 8:10 on another occasion with respect to what these tell us about what Jesus expected of his specially chosen twelve.) The purpose of being “up close” to the disciples is to give them his own teaching about how they are to teach and proclaim God’s Kingdom. They are drawn in close to learn of Jesus’ own explanation of his teaching, teaching he knew was going to be thought of as “common property”.

And Matthew tells us how, on the mount, Jesus sat down to teach in his open-air synagogue. And that teaching has everything to do with our life lived fully within the maintained and blessed creation order of the Lord. Creational living is not exhausted by our political  responsibilities but neither can these be excluded. And moreover, with the message of the Good News inspiring us, we will confess that Jesus Christ has restored political responsibility within God’s creation order. And that is why we seek a Christian political option.

Further thought (12.6.17):

How do you write a post-resurrection account of the Sermon on THAT mountain when you have met with the Resurrected One a year or so later at the same place?

How do we now read Matthew 5 to 7 after Jesus instructed his disciples to go back to Galilee to “the mountain” to meet with him (28:16)? And then, as Luke tells us, when he is about to leave he instructs them – (not here, don’t go making this into a shrine like Peter wanted to do on that other occasion, it’s back to Jerusalem and wait … and while you’re about it you’re going to have to appoint – your task now – another to fill the 12th spot).

I guess Jot and Tiddle tax-man Matthew knew all about keeping records and keeping track of important information from his professional involvement for the occupying powers, if not for the quislings running the temple tax department – you won’t be entering the Kingdom of heaven without your accounts books being more transparent and fully audited than those of the scribes and pharisees.

And at the time Matthew wrote this, he must have wondered if his quill was catching fire as he penned 5:43-48 and he remembered how Jesus was entrapped. But then there is that parable (13:24-30) that coincides with 5:45 (God from his creational faithfulness sends his sunshine to rise upon the just and unjust) – the parable that Muhammed has seemingly ignored in his rooting out the infidels or simply requiring the Dhimmis not to sprout – and Matthew is well and truly on the path of realising that that sermon was setting them on their way …

But I’m thinking about how you or I would go about writing the story of a Man’s teaching career after you’ve met him once more, large as life, when he was resurrected. I mean who could ever pay attention to what Jesus was saying when he appeared to them and he was right there? Then again who wouldn’t be all ears? Then again who wouldn’t be making sure that they had heard him right the first time before they had deserted him and gone back over the entire time they had been with him to make sure they would not blot their copybook a second time. It’s obviously an event that strains all our contradictory instincts competing with each other to find a “balance” to complete breaking point. I ask: so wouldn’t I have wanted to go fishing under such circumstances, as Peter evidently wanted to do?

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

 

 

 

 

Do I Have to Read This?

Elaine Storkey’s Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women SPCK London 2015.

This is a difficult book to review. I would immediately commend it to any reader of Nurturing Justice. However, I could well understand why any reader of this blog who, having linked to this page, and has got this far in reading, might then say to him or herself: “Do I really have to read this?”

Let me try to get at my problem in writing a review in another way. My best and most reliable critic has worked for decades in agencies supporting “at risk” families and in child protection. She reminded me that policy-researchers and workers in this field are inundated with reports and don’t need yet another book that tells them what they have had to deal with day by day, month after month, year by year and decade after decade. This book, to such faithful workers in a seemingly unrewarding field will, in all likelihood, not be needed. And having read Storkey’s masterly overview of the global situation, one cannot but wonder about the toll on those working to support such violated women in these extensive fields of human misery. I read her work and my respect is deepened for those who stave off what seems to me to be an  ever-threatening sense of futility ready to pounce on whatever support such agencies can bring. It seems that public policies are simply not having much impact; and the constant and sometimes upward trends showing the extent of such degrading and dehumanising conduct are evident at home and abroad, in the developed as well as  developing countries.

That perhaps is enough to indicate why, as I write this, I am sympathetic to any reader asking, “Is this a book I need to read?” If you are working in the midst of efforts to counter such human disaster then maybe this book is not for you. But if you are in training because of a professional ambition in health, welfare, law, education, to make a difference then this is probably a book that you should read.

But do so slowly and I am reminded of the words ascribed to William Wilberforce as he takes the opportunity to introduce the supporters of his fellow parliamentarian to the smell of the slave ships moored in the Humber estuary.

Ladies and Gentlemen. This is a slave ship, the Madagascar. It has just returned from the Indies where it delivered 200 men, women and children to Jamaica. When it left Africa, there were 600 on board. The rest died of disease or despair. That smell is the smell of death; slow painful death.  Breathe it in. Breathe it deeply. Take those handkerchiefs away from your noses … There now. Remember that smell … remember the Madagascar, ….

And there was that film Amazing Grace reminding us, through scenes like that, that God made men and women in his image, all men and women, equally in his image.

Well, if someone comes to you and asks whether you know a book that can help  them understand and begin to overcome the atrocities that are perpetrated around the world by violence meted out to women and girls, then this is that kind of book. But say to that person that they have to read the book slowly, even though this book has the smell of death and putrefaction. One cannot read this book and expect to put it down without being impacted by its dreadful message. Readers have to breathe it in, and breathe it deeply. They need to set aside an entire day to read it and to cry and to pray and to share their troubled thoughts about this human disaster with those they love … let me imagine a friend of yours, perhaps in your church, someone who has been required by the courts to only have visits to wife (or former wife) and children under strict supervision. Let’s go further and imagine that he has benefited from an “anger management” course and is “on the way”. If he would come to you and ask:

Do you know of any book that could tell me in some detail the extent of violence against women around the world …?

then, this may well be such a book that could help such a willing student appreciate how his own life has been part of the frightening and alarming picture that Elaine Storkey draws for us in this book of 220 pages in length. But also it is a book that might be just what a person needs to wake them up to an ongoing disaster – it may well be just a few doors up in your street.

And in that regard this is a book for any who would seek deepened appreciation for what is so destructively at work in this world of ours.

To put it another way: I would not suggest that this is a book to give to those who have already been immersed in the kinds of human degradation that this book documents. I’m thinking of those involved in, say, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It is not a book to give as a present to those who, in their work, are already preoccupied with the victims of violence. We might have further comment on the final four chapters (10. Why gender-based violence? It’s in our genes: exploring our evolutionary heritage; 11. Why gender-based violence? Power and patriarchy; 12. Religion and women; 13.  Christianity and gender: a fuller picture) in a later post.)

But Elaine Storkey’s description of what she calls a “global pandemic” and the careful identification of the various dimensions of such female focused violence is a shocking chronicle of human depravity.

Here is Elaine’s own introduction to her book from her web-site.

And here, in conclusion, is the table of contents.

Scars-Chapter-Page

That is sufficient for this post. As I say this is a book – as is Elaine’s web-site – that should be read slowly. “Breathe it in. Breathe it deeply.”

BCW 19.4.17