Tag Archives: christianity and politics

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The alt-right brony Christian conspiracy theory

When you’re fighting a culture war it seems that your enemy’s enemies become your friends.

Also when you’re fighting a culture war it seems any ammunition served up to further your cause should be fired without question.

This makes for really strange bedfellows.

My Little Pony is a cult TV cartoon phenomenon — based on the line of toys. This show is also popular amongst adults, perhaps feeling nostalgic, perhaps those who believe ‘friendship is magic’. A male who loves My Little Pony is often called a ‘brony’ — a delightful little portmanteau of ‘bro’ and ‘pony’… The show is big on inclusivity, and recently introduced its first lesbian pony couple. There’s a well documented subset of bronies in the alt-right; neo-nazi bronies. They have a chat room called ‘The Horse Reich” (content warning of course). There are a couple of stories covering this cultural movement over the last few years at Vice and Medium — and lest these articles feel like they’re from the left, you can get a bit more insight straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, from the Alt-Right Brony page on Facebook, or check out this truly ‘DeviantArt’ tribute to My Little Pony.

The Alt-Right has been working its way into western democracies for a few years now, and it enjoys an interesting relationship with Christianity because of the profound impact Christianity has had on western culture (especially institutional Christianity which has established significant western institutions like schools, universities, and hospitals, and even provided the building blocks for democracy, especially post-Reformation). Its presence in Australia has felt more ‘fringy’ to the conversation than influential — consider, for example, the almost universal condemnation of ex-senator Fraser Anning, both after his maiden speech and his response to the Christchurch massacre. This doesn’t mean the Alt-Right is not an issue, its influence is growing and will continue to grow so long as we (either from the left, or the right) buy in to the ‘culture war’ approach to politics; where the Alt-Right are either allies because they’re our enemy’s enemy, or they are friends. Given the interesting relationship the Alt-Right has to Christianity, we Christians need to be particularly discerning about how we approach people who may, at times, share some cultural convictions we hold as a result of our faith (the Alt-Right is vocally opposed to abortion, and to the ‘LGBTQI+ agenda’ and the boogey man of ‘cultural marxism’ — which is a label that is in itself an alt-right conspiracy that has a racist (anti-semitic) heritage), the Alt-Right also tends to be racist; though some of its ‘thought leaders’ have been shifting to ‘pro-western’ rhetoric rather than ‘pro-white’ — so people of other than European heritage can join in if they love “western values”; the Christchurch shooter was, according to his manifesto, not attacking a mosque because of the ethnicity of the worshippers, but rather, as part of a pro-European act; a very real example of shots being fired in a ‘culture war’ — a war that starts in political rhetoric, that eventually produces action.

There’s nothing Christian about the Alt-Right. The political vision of the Kingdom of God is people from every tribe, and tongue, and nation, gathered in the throne room of God worshipping the God of all creation, and the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus. The Kingdom of God is not ‘western’ — though the west does owe lots to the faithful presence of Christians within its institutions. Christendom did produce some good stuff, even if seeing the church and state as coterminous is increasingly a pretty obvious historical and geographical anomaly, and a theologically questionable exercise — a properly Christian ‘political theology’ needs to work as well in a small town in China in 1300 as it does in Australia in 2019. Because Christianity is neither ‘white’ nor ‘western’ we Christians need to be careful about our relationship with the Alt-Right; it’s not symbiotic. They are parasites; seeking to suck the good from Christianity to prop up a racist or ‘western’ ideology at the expense of all others. This is why the ACL choosing to endorse One Nation in its how to vote card is such a problem. But it’s also why this week has seen a fascinating display from one of Australia’s leading proponents of the culture war narrative; the Australian Conservative’s Lyle Shelton. Lyle, of course, was the former Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, and the leader of Australia’s official campaign against Same Sex Marriage. He failed in his bid to win a senate seat, which means he has more time on his hands now, as communications director of the Australian Conservatives, to tweet random grenades in a culture war that nobody else seems interested in fighting… but every time he does that, because of his prominence as a “Christian” voice in politics he further entrenches the relationship between Christianity and the Alt-Right; and the problem with parasites — like ticks — is they don’t just get sustenance from the host body, they’ll eventually kill the host, or, like mosquitos, they’ll leave the host with a bunch of strange diseases that might lie undiagnosed if the symptoms aren’t recognised.

Here are two tweets from Lyle from this week. They’re screenshots in case at some point in history they are removed (so far Lyle has doubled down on the Proud Boys one).

Now. I could write a whole post on the oddness of Lyle’s logic in the My Little Ponies one. Firstly, gay couples existed before same sex marriage; and existed in cultural texts before same sex marriage. In fact, most people who are good at politics — unlike Lyle — recognise that politics sits downstream from culture, and it’s not same sex marriage that has produced gay characters in television programs, but gay characters in television programs that led to same sex marriage being acceptable in the electorate. This means, if you were outraged by this, you’d be better off devoting your energy to producing popular cultural texts that represent Christianity well, not, as Lyle suggests, that you’d jump into the political fray aka the Culture War TM. This is very much a ‘call to arms’ — and, sadly, it’s the kind of call to arms that leads to violent people in the Alt-Right taking up arms (ala Christchurch, and several shootings in the U.S). What’s also odd is that the implication of Lyle’s argument that same sex couples and families should not be represented in popular television programs leads to weird extrapolations about the place of such couples or families in societies. It’s a dog whistle. It’s a terrible one. I have regular conversations with my kids about the kids in their classes, or at their schools, who have two mums or two dads — having these families represented on television is a blessing, not a curse, for Christian parents who understand that it’s our job to form or indoctrinate our kids; not the state’s. Using ‘indoctrination’ as a pejorative is, for a Christian, a very odd thing — especially because Lyle is a fan of Christian education as an alternative and possible stream for Christians who want to approach the world like he does (who can also use their religious freedom to keep the atmosphere ‘pure’ from any families who might threaten the nice little monastic walls he wants built around our kids to free them from the indoctrinating power of culture and the state. Let’s, instead, focus our energy on teaching our kids to be part of the Kingdom of God, to follow the Lord Jesus as their example because they worship God and find human flourishing, or fullness, in that relationship. Let’s be parents who use TV and schooling as an aid for our parenting, rather than a substitute…

But then, the second tweet, where Lyle is pictured with a bunch of blokes from the Proud Boys — an Alt-Right group whose leader was banned from visiting Australia earlier this year. What’s worse is that the ‘Proud Boys’ are proudly making ‘white power’ hand symbols. It’s also not just Lyle Shelton caught up in this mess; Bob Katter made the news this week for his ‘larrikin’ pledge of allegiance to the Proud Boys. It’s not clear to me if it’s worse for a Christian involved in politics to share an ideology with the Proud Boys and the neo-nazi Alt-Right, so that a photo like this is a meeting of the minds, or to see them as allies in the Culture War and so lend credence to their platform rather than deliberately and clearly disavowing the movement. Lyle did neither. After a tweetstorm (and a deleting of the photo on Facebook), Lyle issued this ‘non apology’ to clarify his position.

“I’m skeptical when the Left brand people Nazis, haters etc. So when a group of “Proud Boys” invited me for a drink, I was happy to have a chat. I share their disdain for PC. If there are elements of white supremacy or advocacy of violence in the PBs, I obviously reject this. As a target of violence from the Left (my office was bombed, meetings disrupted, family home address placed on the internet, death threats etc), I abhor violence. I also campaign against eugenics as practiced in Australia against disabled & female unborn babies. I’m no Nazi.”

Now, some will see this as the sort of disavowal required; but I don’t think so. Lyle might claim he rejects ‘white supremacy’ and any of it associated with the Proud Boys; but there’s very much a ‘the enemy of my enemy’ (the politically correct left) thing going on here, and the sort of non-apology/non-condemnation that allows him to have his cake and eat it too. He can pander to the political support of the Alt-Right while maintaining some sort of clean-skin mainstream ‘rightness’. No thanks. Let me say it again; there is nothing Christian about ‘white supremacy’, dogmatic nationalism, or using ‘anti-PC’ as a way to disguise hate speech. So Christians have to call this out for same reason it’s worth calling out the hateful origins of Israel Folau’s meme, and the ACL’s endorsement of One Nation, and the ‘culture wars’ as a phenomenon; legitimising hateful words in the name of one’s ideology scoring points in a culture war leads people to take up arms; the Christchurch shooter made the same hand symbol the Proud Boys do in this photo. There’s no place for this in any politics that claims to be Christian. It’s definitely possible to be a conservative who loves good things about the west and wants to hold on to them; but not like this. Lyle doesn’t need to ally himself with these lads in order to win some ‘greater’ victory; to do so is a loss for the Gospel, and as Jesus said “what good is it to gain the whole world and yet forfeit your soul’. Proud Boys or members of the Alt-Right who find themselves in our churches because they share a conservative political ideology and love for the fruits of Christianity in the western world need to be clear about where that fruit comes from — the Holy Spirit being poured out on people of every tribe and tongue and nation, going to the ends of the earth, as people put their trust in the victory and rule of the resurrected Lord Jesus. The fruit without the tree is poisonous.

But maybe this is actually all quite innocent; maybe Lyle was at the Mount Gravatt Bowls Club with the Proud Boys for a Brony convention. Maybe he’s a closet brony and it’s more socially acceptable to be a racist than be outed that way. That might explain his anger at the new couple on My Little Pony. Maybe it’s actually My Little Pony fans, not Christians, who should be up in arms about their ‘identity’ being co-opted and destroyed in the name of some culture war. Strange bedfellows indeed; but it kinda makes more sense to me than trying to fuse the worship of a crucified Jewish man, put to death by the western state (Rome), in the non-western world (Jerusalem) with white supremacy or the defence of ‘the west’ and its values.

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Change you can believe in: Why it’s time Fred Nile’s political party changed its name

We’ve got the Katter Australia Party, and the Palmer United Party, I think it’s time we had the Fred Nile Party — the suggestion that Nile’s Christian Democratic Party (CDP) is definitively Christian is getting harder and harder to swallow. I propose a rebrand.

The TL:DR; version of this post is that if you think the CDP should change its name you should fill out this change.org petition.

Here’s what the CDP says it stands for:

“While we have fought for the values that made our nation, we are committed to the future development of our nation as an inclusive community based on cohesive values that made us a people.

The CDP seeks to support and promote pro-Christian, pro-family, pro-child, pro-life policies for the benefit of all Australians, and to ensure that all legislation is brought into conformity with the revealed will of God in the Holy Bible, with a special emphasis on the ministry of reconciliation.”

It’s unclear to me how this image the CDP shared on Facebook is consistent with this platform, let alone with the God of the Bible (the Bible is curiously silent on Australia and the role of its flag), it isn’t silent on how we’re to treat people who are different to us — especially how those who are powerful should treat those who are vulnerable or marginalised. In a democracy, where you’re part of the majority — regardless of your socio-economic status— you are part of the ‘powerful.’

CDP

Muslims in Australia are not our enemies. They’re our neighbours. And even if a particular individual wants to position themselves as my enemy — or yours— if you follow Jesus this doesn’t change how you treat that individual. Here’s what Jesus says in Matthew 5 (verses 44 and 45)…

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

I can’t fathom how this image is loving to our Muslim neighbours (a core value of Christianity from the mouth of Christ himself).  I certainly can’t fathom how the word Christian belongs on the image at all. I don’t think Jesus is particularly interested in the Australian flag. His concern is that people put their trust in him, and find their citizenship in his kingdom. People are in the same non-Jesus boat whether their rejection of him pushes you towards a storm trooper helmet, Australian flag face paint, or the niqab.

Our citizenship, as Christians, is not caught up in the nation we are providentially born into, or blessed to migrate to and be accepted into as citizens, our citizenship is tied up with our king, and that means though we’ll want to love our neighbours in whatever geographical context we find ourselves.

There’s a letter about Christians, written to a guy named Diognetus, that describes how the early church lived in the places they lived that would be helpful for us to remember — especially as the idea of Christendom gets smaller and smaller in our rear view mirrors.

But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship.

They live in their own countries, but only as nonresidents; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners.

Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign.

We don’t need to get caught up in jingoism (and if we do find nationalism, or patriotism, personally compelling, perhaps reflecting on the role our ancestors have played in shaping the country we live in, or being excited about the role we play in shaping our nation as citizens, we certainly need to distinguish our patriotism from our Christianity).

Philippians 3 kind of captures all this stuff — it talks about what a Christian looks like (they follow the example of Jesus, in this case Paul as he follows that example), it talks about those people who don’t follow Jesus. It should grieve us when people don’t follow Jesus.

17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

You might want to play the “no true Scotsman” game here, but I’m going to work on the assumption that the word Christian means what it meant when it was coined (you may also want to call this an etymological fallacy). Christians are people who follow Jesus. Here’s a little story from Acts that describes how people first came to be called Christians, and who this label described — you’ll notice that it transcends national boundaries, but particularly it describes the changes that make people ‘Christian’… This is from Acts 11.

19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

I have no reason to doubt that Fred Nile is a Christian. I’m not calling that into question. But the CDP platform in general, and this message above in particular, are not Christian policies, they’re Fred Nile’s policies. It’s wrong for him to suggest otherwise. Jesus is the essence of Christianity. I’d go further to suggest that his sacrificial love on behalf of his enemies, in order to invite them to be part of his kingdom (and indeed, his family) is the essence of Jesus.
This charade has gone on for far too long. There might not seem like much you can do about it beyond putting up your hand and saying ‘not in my name,’ and working hard to love and include Muslims treating them like Jesus treated you. But please pray for Fred Nile. He’s a human. By all accounts he loves Jesus. Pray for those in the CDP. And write to them. You can get Fred Nile’s email address here, or simply sign this change.org petition and you’ll send him this email:


Dear Fred,

The time has come. While it is true, in the broadest sense, that the Christian Democratic Party occupies a legitimate position in Australia’s political landscape, and it is true that people of faith should have a voice in Australian politics, we call on you to change the name of your party because at present you are not living up to any of your titular nouns.

Christian (n): Followers of Jesus Christ.
Democratic (n): relating to, or supporting democracy or its principles.
Party (n): a social gathering of invited guests, typically involving eating, drinking, and entertainment.

or:

a formally constituted political group that contests elections and attempts to form or take part in a government.

While I have no reason to doubt that you are a follower of Jesus, personally, it is clear from recent hateful nationalistically driven attempts to prevent other citizens of Australia exercising their democratic rights (where a CDP Facebook post suggested Australian flag face paint is the “only face-covering that is acceptable in Australia”) that the CDP’s actions are not those that can meaningfully said to be following Jesus.

Jesus laid down his life for his enemies to make them his family, and called those following his example — taking his name — to love our neighbours (and our enemies). There is no Christian rationale for treating a fellow human as an enemy.

It is also clear that the CDP is not interested in extending democratic principles to those people they disagree with. It is also clear that your party is failing to adequately act as a party in either sense — in this bigoted posturing dressed up as ‘Christian’ you are neither entertaining, nor ‘attempting to form or take part in a government’.

If you are not going to speak in any way that recognisably represents or recommends that people find their identity in Jesus — God’s king — then please change your name.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” — Philippians 3:20
Sincerely,
[Your name]


Other stuff to read

KRudd’s treatment of the Bible and the gap between knowledge and understanding

Kevin Rudd’s assault on the New Testament and “biblicism” continues.

“In my response to ahh that fella last night, when people start hurling Biblical quotes at me, I know a bit about my New Testament as well. And as I said last night if you’re going to be serious Biblicist about these questions, we’d still be supporting slavery in the New Testament, and by the way, to all of you who are women, it says in the New Testament, according to St Paul, that wives should be submissive to their husbands, so just bear that in mind because it’s in the Bible. If we in fact, took that seriously, then do you know what? We may as well repeal also the Sex Discrimination act, because that creates a different set of circumstances. Let’s get real about this. The core principles are those I outlined last night, and what happens with any civilised country over time is that they apply those to different sets of circumstances.”

He just doesn’t get it.

We aren’t called to change the Bible to meet our times to love people better. The Bible changes us to meet our times so that we love people better.

He misses the point – the social structures in the Bible aren’t for every person – they are for every person who would follow Jesus in a path of voluntary sacrifice. Those who would follow Jesus and die to self. Those who are serious about taking up their cross.

The Bible calls those who would follow Jesus to submit their sexuality to his Lordship.

The Bible calls those who would follow Jesus to demonstrate submission, as a picture of the incarnation, within their marriages. This isn’t about womens’ rights.

The Bible calls those who were slaves to model the gospel in their situation, again, as a picture of the sacrifice involved in the gospel.

It doesn’t affirm slavery. It doesn’t trump the rights of women. It doesn’t restrict the sexual expression of those outside the church. It holds out an ideal for Christians to adopt.

That’s why the Bible doesn’t work as a legislative text book in Australia. But if Rudd wants to seriously tackle the question of gay marriage as a theologian, his answer is better grounded in providing individual freedoms – especially in the long term for churches – to form their own opinions and act in good conscience on these questions.

His answer is not found in adapting the meaning of the Bible to meet his own political agenda.

In 2006 the shadow minister for Foreign Affairs, who would soon become opposition leader suggested the following relationship between God and politics:

God is not partisan: God is not a Republican or a Democrat. When either party tries to politicize God, or co-opt religious communities for their political agendas, they make a terrible mistake. The best contribution of religion is precisely not to be ideologically predictable nor loyally partisan.”

This was Kevin Rudd. Sadly, his shambolic coercion of the New Testament in the last couple of days is one of the worst examples of co-opting God for an agenda that I think I have seen from an Australian politician in a major party.

Rudd claims to “know his New Testament pretty well”… but he disagrees with the vast majority of church going people in Australia and sits with the liberal interpretive fringes, significantly undermining any divine voice that may be present in the text.

But ultimately it’s not his confusion about the function of the New Testament that bothers me – it’s his vision of what the Bible does for the individual that continues to blow me away. If all the Bible does is liberate us from present oppression – if it does nothing but establish a trajectory from which we tackle the injustice of our time – then where is the cost of the Gospel for those who would take up their cross and follow a crucified king?

Rudd loves Bonhoeffer. Or so he claims. Bonhoeffer was great on political ethics – and through his writing, he still is. But he’s only great on political ethics because he understood the Gospel.

Here’s a quote from The Cost of Discipleship.

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

So long as Rudd emphasises abstract love and a trajectory of social change while ignoring the heart of the Gospel, his claims to “know his New Testament” demonstrate a clear lack of understanding of what the New Testament is about.

His approach, through his own interpretive lens, without sensitivity to the meaning or purpose of a text, is essentially the same as the fundamentalists he is shouting down.

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What is a “Christian” response to Australia’s foreign aid cuts?

Lets face it. I probably wouldn’t have voted for Labor at the next election anyway. Like millions of other Australians, I’m feeling completely disenfranchised by the major parties in Australian politics.

While part of this is because neither side is particularly likeable – and that goes double for the leaders of the parties. Another part of the problem driving my political apathy is that I don’t think it makes a huge difference who is in power in Australia.

Both major parties are essentially centrist. Both parties have pretty sound credentials. And while extremist pundits on either side of the spectrum want to run around saying that the sky is going to fall in if the other party gets/stays in power – it’s simply not true.

We’ve got it pretty good in Australia. Ridiculously good. Our first world conditions are improving. Yesterday’s luxuries are necessities, tomorrows luxuries are becoming necessary quicker than ever before. So complaining about the political scene in Australia where neither major party is out to oppress a minority, or start a war, is pretty much the epitome of a #firstworldproblem.

Because we’re a first world country there are many people – myself included – who think that the decent, and necessary, thing to do is to provide aid to developing countries to help raise the standard of living and save lives across the globe.

This is, if you’re not into altruism, good foreign policy. More stable countries around the globe means less wars, less refugees, less poverty. To channel Toby Ziegler’s “free trade stops wars” argument – we’re better off and more secure when other countries are better off and more secure.

The Labor party has been accused of back-pedalling away from their surplus promise faster than an off balance unicyclist. But at some point, a promise isn’t worth keeping. If the promise shouldn’t have been made in the first place. Sometimes you’ve just got to wear changing circumstances on the chin. Sometimes you’ve got to admit you were wrong – with a flat out mea culpa, a “deficit we had to have” speech, or an explanation that while economic times have changed, and while a surplus was the government’s best intention, certain other social and moral obligations have to be kept… any of these things is a better than the alternative the Australian Labor government has settled on.

How many foreign lives need to be cut short so that Labor gets its $1 surplus? What is it worth to gain that surplus, but forfeit our nation’s soul in the process.

Here’s what’s happening. Labor is cooking the books a little, to allocate $375 million of foreign aid spending to Australia’s refugee program. Ben Thurley, from the Micah Challenge, says this is allowable under Australia’s aid obligations.

He says:

“The Foreign Minister says this isn’t a cut to foreign aid, and in a strict sense he is right. Under Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rules (pdf), governments are allowed to report the first 12 months of in-country support costs for refugees – the official term for “aid”. The Foreign Minister even points to three donor countries who claim more refugee assistance as aid than Australia is reportedly planning to claim, the US ($895 million in 2010), France ($435 million in 2010) and Sweden ($397 million in 2010).”

While it might not “strictly” be the case, it’s pretty clear what the government’s intentions are – a member of their own back bench is speaking out against taking the politically expedient route to a surplus.

This aid saves lives. It improves the status quo in measurable ways. Here are some stats from World Vision, via the Micah Challenge again:

World Vision has estimated that in the last year alone Australian aid money saved at least 200,000 lives, provided education for more than half a million children and gave disaster assistance to more than 10 million people. It is these outcomes that are threatened by this plan.

Aid works. It’s not enough to throw this burden to Christian charities, and support them with your dollars – the same charities, who have people at the coal face in these countries, are calling for the government to be more generous, not less. Compassion has this useful mythbusting post on the benefits of foreign aid.

TEAR Australia is also speaking out against the proposed changes.

They’re calling people to take action – and providing some tips and easy(ish) ways to do it.

Tim Costello, World Vision CEO, wrote this piece in The Agesumming up the situation nicely in terms of how the Australian public at large should respond…

“They know that funds designated for poor communities beyond our shores should not be plundered to support the government’s own political interests. Australians will rightly view this decision as a sleight of hand, not least because it is driven by a desperate political imperative to reach a budget surplus.”

Both he, and the Micah Challenge, point out that there’s a bit of a mystery in terms of what programs are going to lose funding via this move.

Each of these groups is a Christian aid group. Doing good work in less fortunate countries, in the name of Jesus. And making a difference. You suspect if they could do the job without government aid, they wouldn’t be all that concerned about the cuts. But concerned they are.

The Australian Christian Lobby has also issued a statement – calling for the government to rethink.

“The government certainly has an obligation to fulfil its commitment to asylum- seekers and refugees in Australia but to do this at the expense of poverty-stricken communities overseas is unfair,” he said.

He said it’s the second time this year the government has not followed through on its commitment to foreign aid.

“In May the government announced it would delay increasing aid spending to 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2015,” he said.

“Australia’s current commitment stands at 0.35 per cent of GNI – well short of what is needed to eradicate poverty and help developing nations implement poverty-reducing policies,” he said.”

Should Christians respond to these cuts?

Evangelical Christians have been rightly scared by the “social justice” or “social gospel” movement – a product of the approach to mission adopted by the ecumenical movement in the mid-to-late 20th century. Basically people from a bunch of different Christian traditions got together – and because they couldn’t agree on what the gospel was, decided to focus on what they could agree on – looking after the poor. So they saw gospel work, God’s mission, as work on social transformation, the liberation of the poor and oppressed. That’s a little simplistic – there was also a group who genuinely think looking after the poor is all we’re cared to do, with a mantra that goes something like “preach the gospel always, never with words,” it seems they collapse these verses from Luke 4 into just the bits I’ve bolded:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Evangelicals – and I’m one of them – are right to emphasise that part of the church’s role – the defining part – is to proclaim the good news. That’s how poor people, and all of us, are truly liberated.

But as is the case with most correctives – the pendulum has swung to the point where evangelicals now don’t want to touch anything that looks like social justice. Preferring “just to do gospel work.” I read a tweet just yesterday that basically wrote the whole movement off.

This is silly. How can we claim to love people if we aren’t seen to be loving them. This, again, is where ethos – our character, how we live, has to form part of how we communicate our message. We love people because God loved us. But if we want to be loving people by sharing the gospel, part of that means living in a way that makes it clear that we believe our message. That it shapes and excites us.

Social justice – provided it is performed by Christians, operating as Christians, is gospel work. It underpins proclamation. Social justice without this intent is still good work.

Social justice is there, as an imperative, for the people of God, in both the Old and New Testament.

The Micah Challenge, for example, takes its name from a cracker of a Bible verse – from Micah 6:8.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Which, coupled with a little bit of James 1:27…

27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Jesus says looking after the poor is a sign that we belong to him… in Matthew 25.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Looking after the poor is part of how Christians serve our king.

How should Christians respond to these cuts

If the charities who look after the poor around the globe – in the name of Jesus – are saying that foreign aid is necessary for making change, saving lives, and caring for people, and if caring for people is something that we’re called to do, then it follows that we, as Christians, should do what we can to see that aid continue… doesn’t it?

But what should we do? As Christians?

Pray. Definitely.

Give. Absolutely. The charities mentioned above do great work, in different and creative ways. So by all means – give directly to these charities. But they’re saying that’s not enough. The small government libertarian in me wishes this was an issue that could be solved without government intervention. By individuals. And there are plenty of generous individuals out there. But it’s not a level playing field – and libertarianism needs a situation where people are treated as equals, and where opportunities are essentially equal across the board – and that’s not the situation here.

Speak out. This isn’t just about awareness raising. This is about participating in a democracy. As Christians, but also as citizens. This is a political decision. The charities I’ve mentioned above have pretty much unanimously suggested that we respond by contacting our local federal members, and the leaders of each major party – which is as simple as googling their name and sending an email.

I think this is a good idea.

I realise I’m turning into a complete lefty at times – which is weird. I’ve only ever voted conservative. But I like to think that there are certain political issues that transcend a really arbitrary political spectrum that has been imposed on us through lack of choice, and the political reality of a two party system. So much complexity gets lost in that pursuit of political simplicity.

I’m hesitant to push hard and fast political conclusions here – but a truly Christian response is shaped by Jesus – who sacrificially gave himself up for those who follow him, out of love. At great cost. We’re called to imitate him. He calls us to love the poor. If the best way to love the poor, around the world, is to encourage the government to spend money on doing that – then we should. Right? You may think there are better ways to do it – and I’m more than open to suggestions. Perhaps these charities are unanimously wrong.

But I think Tim Costello’s right – the public knows this is a politically expedient move to save a stupidly promised surplus – so I wonder if a bit of public pressure, in the media, is called for. So don’t just send your email to your MP, send it as a letter to the editor of your paper, call a talk back radio station when this topic comes up. And if you’re in a situation where you can send a media release, on behalf of a Christian organisation – do that.

Here’s a brief sample. To finish. It covers the bits I’ll be including in my own emails to local members and party leaders. But this sort of thing works best if people are putting their own thoughts into their own words.

I really like something that a very wise friend of mine said on this front recently – he said it’s a real shame that Christians have a reputation for being conservative when it comes to this sort of political or social issue – it’d be great if we could be seen to be progressive.

Church X calls for government to increase, not slash, foreign aid commitment

Church X is dismayed by recent reports that the Federal Government is looking to slash foreign aid spending by $375 million to fund refugee care and in a bid to deliver a surplus.

Church X recognises that economic times are tough both domestically, and internationally, and suggests that wealthy countries like Australia should see this as an opportunity to generously invest, and increase foreign aid.

Church X spokesperson X said that while foreign aid is a smart investment in global stability, it also saves lives.

“We believe in the sovereignty of nations, but we also believe that God has generously provided our nation with wealth, and that this wealth presents an opportunity for Australia to be generous to fellow humans around the world.”

“We are dismayed that the government is looking to cut aid when it is needed most. Times of economic instability are precisely the times when wealthy countries should be concerned about the poorest of the poor.”

“We believe that all human lives are of equal value, because all humans are made in the image of God, and that if it is in our power to save lives – and if this is something our nation is obliged to do – we should be using the resources God has provided our nation to be generous to others.”

“As Christians we believe the ultimate display of generosity has been offered to all of us, through the death of Jesus, on the cross, in our place. This sort of sacrifice for others is the model we seek to follow, and a model that has led to significant social transformation in the last two thousand years.”

“Australian charities, with workers on the ground in those countries Australia’s aid benefits say that foreign aid is essential for saving lives. Our charities do great work. But it’s not enough.”

“On this basis, Church X is calling on the Federal Government, and our local member NAME, to increase Australia’s commitment to foreign aid to a level that makes Australia the most generous nation in the world, not decrease our aid spend in pursuit of a politically expedient headline, or a victory in a weekly news cycle.”

ENDS

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Driscoll on Christianity in public

Say what you will about Mark Driscoll – but the man is sharpest (I think) when he’s talking about how the church should interact with the surrounding culture. I like this video because we are almost completely in agreement.

Christianity, society and politics from CPX on Vimeo.

He talks about how we can learn from Calvin’s approach to Christianity and Politics, avoiding anachronistically suggesting that any imposition of Christian government is wrong, and suggesting that it’s not appropriate today because you’d need everybody in a country to be Christian in order for that to be appropriate.

“Change often times comes from the bottom up. And I think one of the great myths is that politics changes culture. Politics doesn’t change culture, it represents culture. Politics represents the views of the constituency.”

“My efforts particularly in our city have not been politically active, I’m quite frankly not, I mean, we don’t talk about politicians or issues, much, I mean as I’m teaching through the Bible there might be some corollary between a social issue and a biblical teaching, but for the most part our goal is to love and serve people, to serve the city, to be people who really do love and are committed to our city and want to see the benefit to all people in the city, not just the Christians, and I believe that as more people share that ethic that will help to turn the culture of the city over and that will lead to political change.”

Watch it. It’s good.

This is the sort of post that is eventually going to migrate to Venn Theology (in fact, it’s cross posted there).

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Reading some O’Donovan

Robyn and I are the proud owners of one of the new Amazon Kindles. It is going to keep us company on the plane for our trip. It’s also given me the chance to tackle some Oliver O’Donovan (just so I can be better equipped to argue with Stuart and Mark). The Kindle is exciting and should make blogging book reviews a breeze. You should check out the continuing discussion with Mark on a Christian approach to ethics, politics and gay marriage. We’ve almost written a book.

In the meantime, here are a couple of quotes to ponder from an essay by O’Donovan.

“Democracy and human rights are not identical things, so it is necessary to ask whether they can coexist. It seems that the answer depends on two contingent factors: how the democratic societies conduct themselves, and what rights human beings assert. You cannot champion “democracy and human rights” without quite quickly having to decide which takes precedence between them; and since either of those terms, and not just one of them, may from time to time be used as a cloak for self–interest and tyranny, there is no universally correct answer. That is the underlying problem of coherence in contemporary Western ideology.”

“The legal tradition needs correction. The obligation of the courts to maintain self–consistency makes them reluctant to innovate. But innovation may be required, and that for two causes: first, where tradition has deviated from natural right; secondly, where it is ill–adapted to the practical possibilities within society. These two concerns are often confused, yet they are in principle quite different, moving, as it were, in opposite directions: bringing law closer to the moral norm on the one hand, further from it on the other. Some reforms are idealistic, attempting to correct our vices; some are compromises, making some kind of settlement with them. Either kind of reform may be necessary at one or another juncture, since acts of judgment have to be both truthful and effective. Every change in law aims to squeeze out, as it were, the maximum yield of public truthfulness available within the practical constraints of the times. Sometimes it does it by attempting more, sometimes by attempting less.”

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Family Last: Why I’m not voting 1 for Family First despite being a Christian

A well meaning friend, perhaps unaware of my position on Family First, suggested that I become Facebook Friends with Queensland Senate Candidate Wendy Francis. I have met Wendy (a few years ago), I used to play football (soccer for the luddites) against her son. Anyway. I added her. She seems like a decent, hard working, Godly Christian lady, I’ve no doubt she’s a great mum. I’ve got no doubt she’s a Christian. I’ve got no doubt she’s moral. And I’ve got no doubt she’s intelligent. But I won’t be voting for her. She’ll probably end up somewhere above the Greens and the Australian Sex Party on my ballot paper (I like numbering the senate paper completely. I’m a politics geek. Sue me.). And here’s why. I don’t think she’ll make a good politician. Pretty much by her own admission. If you want a godly, motherly, intelligent amateur holding the balance of power in the senate (which might happen) then feel free to vote for her. I won’t judge you.

She’s been busy on Facebook posting 101 reasons to vote for Wendy Francis. Here are some examples.

#13 I’ve never had media training and I don’t know how to avoid or fudge questions.

#88 I really don’t know quite how to be a politician and I rather suspect I should stay that way and those who vote for me would agree

#71 In a campaign featuring robotic candidates controlled by media minders I’m a fresh contrast. It’s time for un-politicians!

My big problem with the Family First campaign (and its epitomised by Wendy’s appearance on Sunrise) is that they completely lack any form of nuance or any sense that they’ll be, if elected, governing for everybody. Not just the people who vote for them. What they say is fine (almost) coming from the mouths of lobbiests and special interest groups. But this sort of comment from her Facebook profile is just a little scary: “Atheist Prime Minister & atheist Greens with senate balance of power equals the wrong road for Australia”.

I can’t help but think that if she had media minders, or thought like a politician, she may have avoided situations like this.

“legitimising gay marriage is like legalising child abuse”

Comparing anything that’s clearly not in the same category of child abuse to child abuse is like comparing things to Hitler. We have a pretty solid definition of child abuse to work from – and we have myriad victims of child abuse in our community who must feel somewhat slighted by the idea that children with two loving parents are being placed in the same category.

Christians hate it (I know I do) when atheists suggest that Christian parenting is child abuse. So why would we, as Christians, use similar language to describe family structures we disagree with. Even if it wasn’t her who posted the message (and she says it wasn’t, but that it was a staffer) it’s the kind of amateur hour thing she seems to be proud of (based on her points above). And she didn’t distance herself from the sentiment in subsequent interviews. A little media training and political nous goes a long way.

Something can be bad for a child without it being child abuse. This lack of nuance is appalling. Is she saying that any child without a father is suffering abuse? Does it follow that any mother who leaves her husband and becomes a single parent is also an abuser? Or is it only if they leave their husband for another woman?

I sympathise with her position on same-sex couples adopting. But I think it’s a much more complex situation than can be adequately argued or justified on Twitter in 140 characters or less. Is it better for a child to have loving gay parents than no parents? Probably. As soon as you concede that point you’re on the back foot. Coming out with emotive tripe that seems designed purely to cause scandal is a ridiculous political strategy designed only to resonate with the lowest common denominator of Christian thought.

My biggest problem with Family First is that they almost completely fail to empathise with the people they oppose. Christians, by the grace of God and our parliament, enjoy incredible freedom in our country. This kind of “we speak for the majority so we’re going to prevent any minorities being represented” mentality is just scary. You know what happens in cultures that oppress and silence minorities. They start sending them to death camps. There. I made a Hitler comparison.

Politics has famously been described (probably by Churchill) as the art of compromise. By being definitively “non-compromising” and “non-political” you’re essentially saying that you don’t care about the outsider. The people who don’t hold your views. That’s not what being a senator, or being a Christian, is about.

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Benny on religion

In these initial posts I thought I would continue the Christian themes that are abundant on this blog, so I thought I would comment not on why/why not I believe certain Christian beliefs, but rather my opinion of religions as a whole.

A little background, I think it would be awesome if there is a God, and it would be almost as awesome if people were born believing in God and this never changed. This would be good as everyone could just live out this life, and then move onto the next one. It would be one big spring break. I also think that this would probably make the world a much less stressful place, and everyone would treat each other better. There would be no need for selfishness, no reason to feel sad if anyone was lost, this world would be only temporary.

However, moving away from the crazy perfect dream, in the actual world it is difficult to tell if religion has more beneficial points than bad points.

Nathan and I have had the discussion of the origin of morals before, which I firmly established my belief that morals aren’t a derivative of the Christian faith. Still, I accept the role of religion in developing many people values, morals and ethics, and I think for the most part Christianity does instil people with a certain standard of goodness. From this perspective, if the Christian faith was more dominant, maybe we would have a better moral grounding, however it is hard to tell. It is possible that morals developed to an extent through general life experience. Maybe religion helps people developed these attributes at a greater rate. This seems likely.

However, what I think is more beneficial to the development of good societal morals and ethics is the community group that religion often fosters. Church groups bring people together, teach the group the expected standards of behaviour, and the younger generations learn how to behave form the older. This almost tribal oversight on the development of younger people I would think would result in them developing better behaviour principles. I would think that belonging to a community group would benefit the morals of people almost as much as being within an organised educational institution and even a strong family unit.

Where clashes occur is across religious boundaries. It seems religions aren’t good at being friends. And some religions aren’t even good at liking their own members if they aren’t religious enough. This is a major mark against religions, and causes divides within the larger community. This concept is one of the prime reasons I do not like any religious divisions in schools. There are enough artificial lines drawn in other areas of society along religious boundaries. I strongly believe that if anything we should be trying to get schools as culturally diverse and free from any types of potentially dividing lines as possible. This means removing all religious-focused educational institutions, and trying to ensure that we preserve this one institution where developing children interact with children from other cultures and religious backgrounds. I understand that many will feel this somewhat impacts on their religious choice and ability to make decisions for their children, however from a whole-of-society standpoint, I think this aids in developing a more inclusive, open society.

Further, religions, relevantly the Christian religions, are not tolerant. Some say they are, but they are not. To some extent I think Nathan has both become less tolerant and more acknowledging of the fact the Christian religion is not tolerant. I think it is important not to get confused between the recognition that different views exist, the tolerance of different views such that there is a willingness to allow those different views to be incorporated into society alongside your own.

This is not the case with many religions, well at least western religions anyway (but I’m not overly familiar with the religions of the world, so I am likely unfairly stereotyping far too many religions into this broad religion umbrella). In the grand scheme of things, it has to be said that rarely do religious ideals greatly impact on non-religious day-to-day choices or lifestyles for the most part.

However, the laws that religion has spurned, as well as the societal stigma’s and opinions in created still remain, and often it is certain minority or misfortunate groups that they have the most impact on. I find it absolutely infuriating at the thought of gay people being beaten or discriminated against on religious basis. Nathan seems to have an issue with same sex marriage due to the potential impacts it could have on family units. There are arguments on either side of this, many difficult to truly validate (such as studies that tells me that traditional families are better/worse than a different family type), but at least if they are approached logically and rationally, I am willing to think through them, and come to a conclusion. I like rational arguments and evidence. What I find more difficult is arguments based on religious grounds. I accept that religious people developed personal values around their religious beliefs and values. However, I find it unfair and unjust to regulate the lives of others based on such groundings.

I am also becoming concerned that Christians have a certain superiority complex that extends further than their belief they have the correct theological choice. As already mentioned, it includes Christian’s belief in their superior moral compass, but I think it also may extend to thoughts that Christians may be just generally more enlightened in all contexts. However, Christians probably make this argument against non-Christians.

There is also a tear within myself to an extent. While I want to preserve everyone’s right to choose and practice their own religion, I also realise that the way in which religions impede upon each other, it is not realistic to believe all these different views could live contently side by side. I think this source of conflict has a negative impact on society.

Finally, I don’t mind being preached to. while I think a lot of non-Christians are bothered by this, I think most of my religious friends understand certain boundaries, and for the most part in Australia it is quite easy for Christian and non-Christian groupings to get along quite easily. In fact, the way smiley puts it, if my Christian friends didn’t try to drag me in once in a while, they are probably not being a good Christian in trying to save their friends. That said, the extent some people have gone to spread the word I think has been somewhat unacceptable. Organisations that organised for missionaries to enter countries where Christianity was not welcome is a grey area I find somewhat difficult to vindicate. They may be heroes of the religion, but again it shows an element of elitism that exists within a group that is willing to do this. It may have been done with the best of intentions, but in the big picture, being so direct may have done more instances of harm than good. And it unlikely caused further tension between already strained international ties.

So to be a true Christian, you seemingly have to take the good attributes with the bad. And, from the requirements of Christianity of spreading the word and living by the bibles teachings, it seems that there is no solution for the incompatibility between the Christian v non-Christian world.

Pro-life not anti-death

One of the big issues I have with the “Christian” input into the abortion debate is that it’s pretty heartless when it comes to understanding the mother to be. I understand the need to fight for the rights of the unborn. I think we’re called to speak for the voiceless. I think we should uphold the value of human life. But most abortion protestors (as a horrible generalisation) are big on “it’s wrong don’t do it” and not so big on what to do if you don’t do it.

It’s a complex issue and worthy of much more than a simple dismissal. Abortion protestors are often (another horrible generalisation) jumping on a moral soapbox that is irrelevant to a non-believer, while offering no solutions whatsoever to the causal issue. Some mothers just don’t feel equipped to have a child, to raise a child and to love a child. I know that not having a child would be a much better option. I know because Bristol Palin says so.

The voice of the “pro-life” movement would be much more compelling if they were “pro-life” not just “anti-death” – which is why I think this Presbyterian Church in America that has come out and offered to take in any unwanted baby and care for them – is taking a great approach to raising the quality of the discourse on the matter. And getting some positive press for doing so… Here’s an excerpt from the sermon.

"I make a promise to you now and I don’t want you to keep this a secret," the pastor pronounced, "the Peachtree Presbyterian Church will care for any newborn baby you bring to this church.
"We will be the family to find a home for that child, and there’s no limit on this. You can tell your friends, you can tell your family, you can tell the whole world …"

On death do us part

Two death post in one night. This isn’t some morbid fixation (though I am watching Bones as I write)…

I have appreciated elements of the Pyromaniacs writing. They call a spade a spade. And I appreciate that. I’ve never really engaged in commenting on their posts – even though there have been some I disagreed with.

Until this post – where one of the “Team Pyro” guys wrote a long post about the death penalty on his personal blog. I hope the comments around this site never reach the sycophantic levels of rabid agreement that go on over there…

Now, I’m not against the death penalty. I’ve argued for it on previous occasions. But I think we should be encouraging a government that is careful, considerate and merciful. I agree that the law needs to pursue justice – and that that looks like retribution, rather than rehabilitation. But this post doesn’t hit that balance.

It also falls into the trap, in my opinion, of equating America with God’s kingdom.

Ben, from bathgates.net, led the way into the fray and I followed to see what had happened in his wake. It’s not really pretty. But feel free to join the fun.

After this experience, and having read through thoughtful analysis of the “ministry” of the Pyromaniacs on Ben’s blog, I’m much less interested in what the Pyros have to say about anything.

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Costello goes back to school

Peter Costello has a piece in the SMH on proposed changes to the discrimination laws, he chooses to focus particularly on the ramifications of changing this legislation for Christian schools.

“At present, discrimination statutes don’t apply to religious bodies and their schools on the grounds of freedom of religion. So a parliamentary committee has recommended options to extend the power of the state over the province of religion. One proposed change is to restrict the freedom of religious schools to choose their employees on the basis of their religious faith.”

I’m not apologist for Christian schools – they can create unhelpful monocultural microcosms that can cause problems for people engaging with the world later in life. On the flipside, they are really helpful institutions where children receive a better than average education at the hands of teachers who actually care about their development…

Forcing religious schools to make employment decisions free from preference to religion sounds equitable – but there’s no way a Christian School would hire an atheist teacher – they’d find other reasons to not hire them. It’s almost impossible to police. So it’s not a concern.

It is dumb though. And it’s the reason that Christians should push for a clear separation of church and state. It cuts both ways.

Christian Socialism

Christian socialism is all the rage. Bonhoeffer is the new black – cited by everyone from K-Rudd to Greens candidates… to Terry Eagleton. Terry Eagleton is the guy who wrote “that review” of the God Delusion – that took Dawkins and co for task for failing to understand theology when dismissing Christianity. He says they’re dismissing a caricature – they say the caricature is ok because they’re rejecting the fundamental premise that faith is based on.

This has caused a bit of a philosophical stink amongst friends in Britain’s intellectual circles. Eagleton is a Marxist with a Catholic background. He used to be a drinking buddy of Christopher Hitchens (another angry atheist). He’s got more in common with the writer of this interesting little interview from the New Humanist than he has differences. It’s worth a read. If only for these two quotes:

“Listen. If Dawkins has emancipated people, freed them from the religious closet as it were, then all credit to him. Loath as I might be to compare Dawkins to Jesus Christ, in this he resembles the heroic figure in the New Testament who comes to sweep away all the fetishism and sickness and cynicism of the neurotic religionists.”

In a sense, Dawkins is the opiate for the religious masses…

You want to save Christianity from the Christians?

“Yes, I quote my father who insisted that Jesus Christ was a socialist and that any Christianity that is not on the side of the dispossessed against the arrogance of the powerful and rich is utterly untraditional. Dawkins and Hitchens write about Christianity and never link the words God, justice and love. That is either a sign of their obtuseness or a sign of the massive self-betrayal of the Christian movement. It has got to the point where intelligent people like them don’t understand that Christianity is not about how many months you get in purgatory for adultery. It’s about a love and a thirst for justice that will bring you to your death. There’s nothing lovely about it.”

So, was Jesus a Marxist? Has the church got it so badly wrong that people need rescuing at the hands of someone like Dawkins?

I think Eagleton’s definition of Christianity is skewed – but it’s probably a useful thought for pulling people away from bible belt conservatism.

One of the central tenants of humanism is that humanity can basically “save itself” – that left to our own devices, and without nasty people causing trouble, humanity will move in a positive trajectory.

Political Calvinist

Calvin is best known in Christian circles as the predestination guy. But I think he should perhaps be best recognised as the political guy. He was a champion of the separation of church and state – this came from the church first, not the state… and was big on the separation of powers with a system of checks and balances.

This fascinating biography of Calvin includes some great insights into how he interacted with the (still nominally Christian) government of the day…

“Calvin’s preaching was at times direct, confrontational, and “politically informed.” One 1552 sermon so irritated the Council that they inquired just why it was that he spoke of the Senators and other civil rulers in a particular sermon as “arguing against God,” “mocking him,” “rejecting all the Holy Scriptures [to] vomit forth their blasphemies as supreme decrees,” and as “gargoyle monkeys [who] have become so proud Calvin’s rhetoric was certainly not so academic or technical as to elude his audience.”