Tag Archives: Q&A

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Public Christianity and bearing the image of God: some confessions and a response to the response to Q&A’s Christian episode

Confession #1. I have not watched Q&A’s “Christian” special from last night. I’m not yet sure I can stomach it, but I am reading the transcript. There’s some good stuff there, and some bad stuff.

Confession #2. I have followed the discussion about the episode in earnest because when it comes to public ‘texts’ that aim to articulate a vision for the good life in our community — conversations in the public square — the conversation about the text interests me as much, if not more, than the ‘text’ itself.

Confession #3. I have, in the past, said many, many, things about public Christianity that I stand by, but that this post addresses, specifically the idea that the way to get the Gospel into a conversation in the public sphere is to say the name Jesus lots and lots. That’s definitely partly true. But it’s not everything.

Confession #4. I suspect the outcome of what I’m going to suggest below is less Christianity in the public square and more Christianity for the public good, but doing that might get us some invitations back to the adult table (I’m pretty sure Q&A is actually the teenager’s table not the adult’s table).

I do still like the vision for our place in the public square put forward by Scott Stephens from the ABC (summarised here, quoted below). But I don’t think the ‘public square’ as represented by our new media ‘Fourth Estate‘ is actually capable of allowing us to play the role he speaks about. This version of the fourth estate — the role the media was meant to play as a sort of public guardian speaking truth to power by providing a public square — now comes in either in the form of Q&A’s national broadcast of representative debate, or the sort of public square we find on our Social Media platforms where the voices we hear are curated by algorithms and filtered based on popularity. I firmly believe that to achieve Scott Stephen’s utopian vision we may actually need to develop an alternative public square where we can play that role, and that may be less about taking our up role as the ‘First Estate’ with renewed vigour (where the other estates shut us out and don’t see us as part of the ‘estates of the realm‘), and thinking of ourselves as an entirely different realm. Where we might invite more voices to take part in conversations about the common good at our own table, and listen well to them.

“Could it be that the role of the church (and the public broadcaster?) is not so much to be one ideological warrior among many, but the shepherd/keeper of the moral ecology of the public square itself. The defender of whomever is excluded from the public square itself.” — Scott Stephens, at the Emmanuel Centre for the Study of Science, Religion, and Society’s Faith and Public Office Conference

This is a nice sentiment, and a lofty goal, but it’s made harder because our contributions to the public square have, for some time, been at odds with the religion of our day, our secular idols. We are exiles. We don’t belong to the realm, the powers and authorities in our culture anymore, even if we might protest loudly and seek to claim our rightful, historical, place at the table.

We’re marginalised voices not in a sort of woe-is-me I’m being persecuted sense, but in the we’ve-made-a-rod-for-our-own-backs sense. We’ve used the power and influence we’ve had in the public square to silence voices that people are now listening to. Or so they tell us. What’s weird is that we probably actually belong at the margins, if we’re going to take following a crucified king seriously, and whatever power or influence we might have is probably best used on behalf of the poor, the oppressed, and the weak. We’re being pushed to the space we should be speaking from anyway, and now we can listen to these voices that Scott Stephens suggests we should be giving voice to. So there’s that.

It’s possible we’ve allowed too many people to speak in our name, unquestioned, equating conservative morality with God’s kingdom in much the same way that makes this picture so obviously vile and offensive, but without being amplified to cartoonish heights.

trump

So what separates any of our political engagment — our ‘public Christianity’ — from Trump’s? Whether we’re on the right or the left, what is it that protects us from co-opting Jesus for our own agenda and has us living as people tasked with being part of God’s agenda? Because the problem with paying lip service to Jesus in order to get the word cloud looking more “Christian” is that it’s actually not evidence that you’re contributing to the public good as a Christian; that you’re actually doing things for his name. Not yours. The calling of the ‘public Christian’, or the calling to be publicly Christian, is a call to bear the image of Jesus in his world. Paul describes this task succinctly in Colossians 3.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. — Colossians 3:17

I’ve, generally speaking and with a few notable exceptions who do things very well, been very vocally critical of public Christianity in Australia. Especially in the media. One of my loudest critiques, often the things I write that have the most ‘virality’ is that our public Christians need to speak about Jesus. We definitely need to get the ‘word’ part right, but ‘word or deed’ isn’t setting up two optional categories, it’s unpacking the ‘whatever you do’… they’re related. Not separate. They’re twin aspects of our image bearing vocation.

I would’ve loved the panelists on the show last night to have spoken more about Jesus, not artificially weaving him in to answers to real questions, but showing how he informs good and real answers to real political questions at every turn. If our answers to any question about life in the world as Christians isn’t built on Jesus, and the virtues that we’re called to exhibit as we live for his name, then they might be ‘wise’ or philosophical, they might even be good and sensible and human, but they’re not meaningfully Christian. There’s plenty of human wisdom that Christians can tap into as citizens as we observe the world, but that always has some connection to the divine nature and character of God, that stuff can inform the public square when it comes to decision making and the shape of our life together, but a good mathematician or health professional can do that sort of thing too (and Christians can, and should, be good mathematicians or health professionals). But when it comes to ‘public Christianity’ we’re talking about our answers to the public’s great needs coming from somewhere beyond simply good science or math. I feel like we’ve lost this central conviction, that Jesus should be at the heart of our politics — literally how we ‘citizen’ — and how we speak into the public square as his ambassadors. His image bearers. I certainly don’t see this conviction articulated in many places whether we’re talking about Christianity’s conservative or progressive arms.  The context of that Colossians verse is our new political reality. Our belonging to a new people. Our renewed function as image bearers…

“… you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised,barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” — Colossians 3:10-14

Too often our assessment of public Christianity, mine included, is about Logos.

Did they hit the right notes on my Christian shibboleth test?

Did they say “X”? 

Where X is our summary of the Gospel, for me, something like: “Jesus is Lord of a new kingdom, he proves it and invites us to take part in it, and be one with him, through his death and resurrection, and the gift of the Spirit”…

And that’s important, but it’s a potentially meaningless criteria if its simply about getting the message right… The Gospel is a message. But it’s a message about an alternative political reality. An alternative emperor; that’s caught up in the first century meaning of the word Gospel. A ‘gospel’ was political good news, delivered by ambassadors, that shaped the lives of citizens. Words matter. The word-made-flesh matters. But in Jesus being word and flesh we see the way to navigate this tension. A human image is embodied. We teach by what we do, by what we consider to be virtuous and how we embody those virtues, and how that embodied life supports and amplifies our speaking. We’ve been Logos heavy, and part of the answer is Ethos, and its relationship to the fruit of our message, to what people do if, or when, they’re persuaded. It’s in lives that match our words, and words that spring to lives from our lives, from the relationships we have in and with our community; from how we love people. It’s not seeing ‘truth’ and ‘love’ as exactly the same thing, as though we love simply by speaking, or as completely disconnected activities. More of the answer comes from properly seeing the Gospel as a challenge to the political orders of the world, not just a detached bit of news that leaves us unchanged. This stuff changes everything, and the change is demonstrated in the examples we live in our world.

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. 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. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.Their mind is set on earthly things. 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 3:17-20

This new “citizenship” is why we might end up excluded from ‘estates of the realm’ when the realm belongs to those opposed to Christianity and to Jesus. This is why thinking of the church as belonging to that realm as a separate estate to the media, as the ‘first estate of the realm,’ not as a realm of its own, will also lead to trouble. We are citizens of something new, but we still have obligations to love our neighbours, and part of that love must surely be in seeking their good by modelling and articulating an alternative Christ-centered vision of life whenever, and wherever, we’re invited to speak.

This typical ‘Logos-centric’ approach, an approach I’ve been guilty of, is an anemic vision of what it means to be publicly Christian. To do “Christian politics.” It puts too much weight on proclamation and not enough on the ethos that goes with it, and I think it makes the criteria a simple check box that some of us, me included, are prepared to tick off if people simply give lip service to Jesus. This is a dangerous check-box if it means we’ll pass people who say things that are totally at odds with the sort of lives of love, and vision for human flourishing, that the Gospel brings and exemplifies in the person of Jesus, or fail people who are living those lives out of Christian convictions but don’t totally land the Gospel in their delivery. There are reasons to pass or fail people at either end of the spectrum… but it’s not enough to tick-a-box for the Gospel, or to quote bits of the Bible that seem to support our position, any monkey, even Trump, can do that.

A certain subset of people reading this, the type who have jumped on the same bandwagon as me with a bit of vigour (and often not much sympathy for the way public Christianity via the media takes place) might switch off here, especially if it sounds like I’m saying “preach the Gospel, when necessary use words” — I’m absolutely not saying that. Words are always necessary, and as Christians, our words about life in the commonwealth as Christians with a view to the common good, should always be fundamentally informed by the Word-made-flesh, and point to him as the model of the good life, and the solution to our bad and damaging ways of life.

Successful public Christianity, whether its on the TV or on your street, is about genuinely grappling with who Jesus is and what he is remaking us to be as we share in his death and resurrection, living out the fruits of this new life, and this grappling, and inviting others to do the same. It’s about adopting a posture of other-loving humility that informs our words and our manner. Trump clearly hasn’t done that, if you listen to what he says about Christianity, but if you listen carefully to many of our Christian voices, voices coming from people I believe are often genuinely Christians, we don’t get much of a sense of this deep-seated conviction that the Gospel creates a political reality. We need Christian images, not simply disembodied Christian voices. Which means the adversarial Q&A format is an interesting challenge… We need to rest in our new citizenship, and develop a new vision for what life together with other kingdoms, following other gods, looks like. Because that’s what Christian politics is about. Citizenship. That’s what shapes our ethos, or image, and feeds into our words. A belief that Jesus is Lord is something that should lead us to proclaim that truth, and build a community around it. A community of Christians though; its loony cultural-colonialism to expect people to live as Christians without the Gospel. The Lordship of Jesus, and his example of love and the ultimate picture of what human life should look like, should help us form coherent opinions on all sorts of social issues so that words on our lips aren’t window dressing, but are substantiated by our lives, and show why we do things differently.

In an age where the public square is contested, and the Christian voice is losing a position of power it held too vigorously and too long to the point that the power corrupted us, we need something more sophisticated than bumper sticker Christianity. Conservative or progressive secular politics with a bit of Jesus chucked in on top. We need to be able to articulate a radically different vision of humanity and ‘kingdom’ that comes from our new citizenship, and our new way of seeing the world, which begins with the death and resurrection of Jesus and seeks to make his name great in the world. We need to recapture the sense that public Christianity is a fundamentally human activity caught up in our created vocation of carrying God’s image throughout his world, as his image bearers, especially as this image — that is broken by our decision to bear the image of false gods — is being restored by God’s Spirit so we are transformed into the image of Jesus. Our persuasive efforts in the public sphere are about being people of this new kingdom, ambassadors from a different sort of kingdom, pointing to the conquering king. His name should be on our lips not as a token ‘get the Gospel in to the Public Square’ box to tick, but because our foundational belief is that a public square founded on anything else is deadly and destructive.

Too much of our ‘public Christianity’ — some of which is on display in the transcript from last night that I’ve read so far — is just us picking a political side that we’ve been indoctrinated into by our culture, our parents, or what appeals to us. The default human institutions — left or right — with a bit of Jesus. Sometimes it’s not so simple. Sometimes we’re informed by some part of our Christianity that is not ‘central’ — like a moral framework that we pull from the Old Testament, without Jesus, so we’re constructing our own man-made religious framework, sometimes our actions are shaped by a particular vision of the new creation, an eschatology, where we’re seeking to construct something good without recognising the gap that exists between us and our neighbours is infinite – that we have the mind of Christ, via the Spirit, and they don’t. Sometimes it seems we expect people to take these positions on board in their life, to change their deeds, without being transformed into the image of the one whose name we now live for, the one who stands at the centre of the cosmos and models the way of love for us, and so rightly stands at the centre of any true picture of how we should do life together as people. Too much of it assumes we have a right to have a voice at the table in an estate that is not ours. Too much assumes that we’re to hold on to, or wield, power (in the form of lobbying) for the sake of ‘Christians’, not use whatever power or influence we have for the sake of others (in the form of advocacy). Too much of us leaves Jesus acting as the ambassador of whatever worldly cause has co-opted us, even if it’s morally good and naturally worthwhile, so that we, and he, are ambassadors for morality and nature, and not for the one who is truly moral and created all things.

If you’re going to be a public Christian, which we should all be every time we cross the threshold of our homes and walk into public space, and any time we invite the public into our space, we’d do well to meditate on Colossians 3 and 2 Corinthians 3-5, perhaps especially this bit…

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. — 2 Corinthians 5:14-20

This should ultimately be what separates us from Trump, and keeps us both wanting to speak about Jesus and doing it coherently. It’s who we now are, not just a box we tick to appease the Christians talking about our performance on social media or in 3,000 word rants on their blogs.

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John Stackhouse on Q&A gives a great answer to a tough question (and explains why I’m not an atheist)

John Stackhouse is a very smart man. And a Christian. He was on Q&A last night and served up what I think is the only coherent way to reconcile the tension between the very broken world we live in, and all the bad stuff that goes on, and not just believe in the existence of a loving God, but follow that God. I had a stab at answering this question (sort of) in about 12,000 words. Stackhouse was much more succinct. So his answer is of significantly greater value.

The ABC will no doubt post a transcript in the next little while – but I typed this one out last night to share on Facebook.

Question: Professor Stackhouse, as you know there is a lot of strife in this world, in various places, including what one commentator called evil, the likes of which we have not seen in generations. Such evil is even being visited upon innocent children. And many Australians are beginning to feel a sense of despair. It’s tempting to ask why God hasn’t shown up on the scene to fix a very broken situation. But supposing he did what’s your sense of a just punishment for those who bomb, torture, rape, and slay innocent human beings. And by the same token what remains of a positive vision for peace.

Stackhouse: I think it’s an excellent question. We do have to presume, if we’re Christians, and people of similar outlooks, that God is mourning over the world, that God is not happy about these things and that God, is, in fact, as the ancient Scriptures say, keeping a log of these things. That nobody does anything in a secret place. God has maximum surveillance in fact. He does know what everybody is doing all the time. He knows the metadata and the data. He’s got it all.

TJ: Does he do much with it though?

Stackhouse: Well. That’s I think the crucial question. If God wants me to continue to trust him as an all good and all powerful God when he manifestly seems not to be one or the other or both, then he better give me a jolly good reason to trust him anyway. And God hasn’t given me any daily briefing on why he’s allowing the atrocities here, or the atrocities there, and they go back since the dawn of time.

TJ: Is that where faith comes in, because we know many holocaust survivors lost their faith when they saw the dark side of human nature, and realised that God was never going to intervene?

Stackhouse: Indeed. Post holocaust theology among my Jewish friends is a very daunting and very dark place, because for them there is no ground on which to continue to believe in God that is strong enough, to outweigh the grounds for not believing in God. And that to me is the real question. It’s not necessarily whether God explains to me what he’s going to do. I’m not sure whether I have the moral or the mental capacity to be able to judge whether God is doing a good job in the world. I think he’s not doing a good job often, but I’m not sure I’m capable to judge that. But if he wants me allegience, he jolly well better give me a good reason to trust him anyway. And. For the Christian. That answer is Jesus. That answer is looking at this figure who Christians believe is the very face of God. So if God’s like that, then I can trust this hidden God, who seems to be making a mess of the world. And if he’s not like that, then I’m in a difficult situation. So Tony, for me, as a Christian who looks at the world like everybody else does, if I don’t have Jesus, I frankly, better be an atheist because like my Jewish friends, post holocaust, God doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job running things.

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Q&A, the other Hitch, and some dangerous ideas…

Did you catch Q&A last night? I’ve largely given up watching Q&A, unless Malcolm Turnbull or Tanya Plibersek are on. They seem to be able to humanise the political catch phrases better than most. Tony Jones irks me. I’m turned off by the turnstile approach to pumping politicians through the panel who simply foist us with whatever party line there is to be foisted upon us, with minimal humanity, minimal engagement, and maximum robotechnics. Nobody seems to change their minds as a result of an hour of twitter interrupted grandstanding, and the show is so pitched towards the self-proclaimed intelligentsia that I actually feel a little bit dirty watching it. A case in point is the sycophantic applause bandied round on Twitter following K-Rudd’s Q&A performance, followed by the panning the general public gave him for nastily and arrogantly going for the jugular when he answered a Christian who held the position on gay marriage that K-Rudd himself had signed up for until a couple of months prior.

Q&A barely has mojo.

But I do tune in when there’s likely to be a discussion about Christianity – as was the case last night, in the Festival of Dangerous Ideas special edition, featuring gayctivist Dan Savage, feminist provocateur Hanna Rosin, feminist elder stateswoman Germaine Greer, and Peter “brother of Christopher” Hitchens.

Peter Hitchens is a Christian. Some time in his history a switch in his head flicked and he went from Trotskyist to Tory, from atheist to Christian. He’s an interesting character in part because he’s elegant and eloquent, but he’s also supercilious and appears curmudgeonly, and in part because he’s got interesting street cred as someone who significantly shifted his position on issues of politics, philosophy, and religion while in the public eye. He changed his mind. There are so few public intellectuals who do that. That alone makes him worth listening to. Even if listening to him is a pain. At times. Because he sounds like such a toff.

Last night on Q&A it was Hitch 2.0 verse the world. The champions of the world were Savage, Greer, and Rosin, with Jones offering a little support every now and then. Hitch held his own – he doesn’t back down from his opinions, he seemingly seems to see no reason to do so – he also refused to make eye contact with his fellow panelists, and was often guilty of dehumanising them or using personal pronouns in a less-than-vaguely dismissive way when referring to his fellow panelists. It was uncomfortable television.

Usually on Q&A there’s someone you can get behind and cheer on, or at least agree with. My ability to empathise with the panelists was pretty lacking last night. I came close to identifying with Germaine Greer, who was at least prepared to admit that the sexual revolution doesn’t come for free. When you read the transcript of the evening, Hitch 2.0 is much more reasonable than his manner suggested, and he was certainly shouted down whenever he spoke – by the other panellists if not the audience.

Hitch 2.0 opened with a defence of Christian morality, and something of a requiem to Christendom.

PETER HITCHENS: Well, Christianity more or less collapsed in Europe after 1914 and the First World War and when it ceased to exist, all kinds of other things rushed in to take its place. But mostly what’s rushed in to take its place is what I call ‘selfism’: the idea that we are all sovereign in our own bodies, that no-one can tell us what to do with our own bodies and that everything that we do is okay, provided we think we aren’t harming anybody else. Quite often the truth is that we are harming other people but hiding it from ourselves.

HANNA ROSIN: But who gets to decide what’s corrupt? So, you know, drinking, drugs, gay sex. I mean sort of where do you draw the line at what seems totally arbitrary?

PETER HITCHENS: Where do you draw the line? You draw the line fundamentally, as far as I’m concerned, around about the Sermon on the Mount and those instructions given to us and I have absolutely no shame in saying that I believe that the Christian religion was the greatest possession which the human race had, which it’s now, in large parts of the world, rather busily throwing away.

His big dangerous idea seemed to be that we’ve got to take responsibility for our actions, and admit that we’re inherently selfish. Which is beautifully orthodox Christian anthropology. He was, by word if not by tone, self-effacing and humble.

“DAN SAVAGE: Consent matters and harm matters. Consent matters and harm matters. If there’s consent and no one is being harmed it’s no one’s business what an individual chooses to do with his or her body.

PETER HITCHENS: Yes, but the question…

TONY JONES: No, I’m going to…

PETER HITCHENS: No. No. No. It’s so essential to answer this. The people who say that they’re not doing harm are invariably deceiving themselves. The people who divorce and say the children are happier as a result, they’re not.

DAN SAVAGE: And the government should rush in to prevent people from being self-deceptive if that’s indeed what they’re doing?

PETER HITCHENS: The teenager who takes drugs and becomes mentally ill and ruins his own life and that of his parents is doing harm to other people, but at the time they do these things they say “No, my body is sovereign. I am a completely autonomous person. I don’t harm anybody else. ” We lie to ourselves about this all the time. I lie to myself about it. You all lie to yourselves about it. You lie to yourself about. We know that we harm other people.”

Hitch’s criticisms of the Savage world view were coherent and are worth hearing. But this quote below is one of the examples of his refusal to engage person to person, as it were.

TONY JONES: Peter Hitchens, I’ll just bring you in here. You listened to that. I mean do you see anything sort of wrong with this concept of hook-up apps?

HANNA ROSIN: You’re setting him up. You’re setting him up. Say no. Just say no. Just for the surprise of it, just say no.

DAN SAVAGE: I’m going to get on grinder and see who’s on right now in this room.

PETER HITCHENS: Do you want me to say anything, or not? It seems to me that when intimacy is something which is profoundly private and often, if people are mistreated when they’re intimate with other people, they are severely damaged and the idea that sexual relations can be conducted in this casual and mechanical fashion is extremely cruel and crude and dismisses the concept of human love from a very important part of our relations and I think that’s a pity. He doesn’t think it’s a pity. He wants a crude and, as far as I’m concerned, individualistic, unrestrained and a totally selfish world.

DAN SAVAGE: And the transcendent can emerge from the crude.

PETER HITCHENS: There is a definite difference between me and him. I’d just like to emphasise it. I think a society in which his ideas rule will be one you will very much regret having created.

Here’s a nice little example of Tony Jones participating in the discussion…

PETER HITCHENS: (Indistinct) No, don’t stop me. The ceaseless (indistinct)…

TONY JONES: Excuse me, we have a question. We have a question on this subject.

MULTIPLE SPEAKERS TALK AT ONCE

HANNA ROSIN: Wait a minute. Wait. Wait. Wait. Can I…

PETER HITCHENS: …(Indistinct)…

TONY JONES: You’ll get a chance.

HANNA ROSIN: No. No. No. Just one thing…

PETER HITCHENS: You haven’t stopped anybody else.

HANNA ROSIN: One thing.

PETER HITCHENS: You haven’t stopped anybody else.

TONY JONES: I’m stopping you to allow a questioner to make a point…

PETER HITCHENS: Yeah, I know you’re stopping me. I noticed that, yes.

TONY JONES: …you can respond to.

PETER HITCHENS: Right.

Great hosting Mr Jones.

Here’s how Hitchen’s thesis for the evening plays out in his own brand of condescension come self-deprecation. It’s an odd mix for an Australian audience.

PETER HITCHENS: All revolutionaries…

DAN SAVAGE: …it will identify itself to you.

PETER HITCHENS: All revolutionaries claim to be fighting against the oppression of other people when, in fact, they’re fighting for their own personal advantage.

TONY JONES: On that one-liner we’ll move on.

DAN SAVAGE: I’m fighting for everybody.

TONY JONES: Sorry, go on.

DAN SAVAGE: Well, the gay rights movement is fighting for the advantage of being treated equally and being full members of society. We are not fighting to take anything from anyone else.

PETER HITCHENS: Says you.

DAN SAVAGE: That is not some selfish goal that we had in mind. Oh, it would be really fun to be equal under the law.

PETER HITCHENS: No selfishness involved in it at all. Not a bit. No.

DAN SAVAGE: No. I’m not trying to prevent you from living your life.

PETER HITCHENS: Well, of course I’m selfish but I don’t pretend not to be.

He does present quite a nice warning – he’s not fighting the cultural wars, he’s fighting a desperate rear guard action. This exchange was also a little heated.

DAN SAVAGE: How do you hope to bring about the world – to return the world to the state you would like to see it in without authoritarian (indistinct) …

PETER HITCHENS: Oh, I gave that…

DAN SAVAGE: You’re not going to get the pot out of my hands any other way.

PETER HITCHENS: I gave that up long ago. It would only make me miserable. I know that you people have won. All that I seek to do…

DAN SAVAGE: Which is why you have to be gay married now and do drugs now with the rest of us.

PETER HITCHENS: No, all I seek to do is to tell the truth about you and what you want while it’s still allowed to do so because you are so fantastically intolerant.

TONY JONES: Now, Peter, I’ve got to interrupt. What do you mean when you say “you people”?

PETER HITCHENS: I mean the cultural revolution. I mean the cultural and moral revolution which has swept the western world since the collapse of Christianity.

DAN SAVAGE: I’m not intolerant.

PETER HITCHENS: It changed our societies, as anybody who has lived through it knows, out of all recognition in the course of 50 years and in my view for the worst. He’s part of it. She’s part of it. For all I know you are part of it but I’m not.

DAN SAVAGE: You’re paranoid and you’re projecting by saying we are intolerant. You have…

PETER HITCHENS: See, this is the intolerance. Because I hold an opinion different from his, he has become suddenly a qualified psychoanalyst who can tell me – who can tell me that my opinions which I am entitled to hold.

DAN SAVAGE: You’re entitled to your opinions. You’re not entitled to your smears.

PETER HITCHENS: But are a pathology. And this is the absolute seed bed of totalitarianism. When you start believing that the opinions of other people are a pathology, then you are in the beginning…

DAN SAVAGE: You’re the one standing there pathologising other people’s choices.

PETER HITCHENS: …in the beginning of the stage that leads to the secret police and the Gulags.

DAN SAVAGE: You are the one sitting there saying that society is sick and damaged because other people are now free as white men used to be.

PETER HITCHENS: You’ll have the whole world to yourself soon. You can’t imagine anybody else is entitled to hold a view different from yours without having some kind of personal defect. That’s what’s wrong with you.

And this bit…

“DAN SAVAGE: You sit there pathologising other people’s choices. You sit there saying that other people being free to live their lives by their own light in some way oppresses you, when it oppresses you in no way whatsoever. You are free not to get gay married. You are free not to use drugs. You are free not to drink. You are free to stay married to one person for the rest of your life. You are free to stay home and raise your wife’s children so they always have a parent by their side. You are not free to sit there and say that other people being just as free as you are to live their lives and make their own choices in some way is damaging you personally, in some way is destroying society. People are freer now, happier now. It’s a less intolerant world than it used to be because people like me are now empowered to look at people like you and say you are full of shit.

PETER HITCHENS: This is so personal. Can I respond to it before the…

(AUDIENCE APPLAUDE AND CHEER)

PETER HITCHENS: It’s a rally.

TONY JONES: Okay.

PETER HITCHENS: It’s a rally.

TONY JONES: Hold on. We actually do need to hear (indistinct)…

PETER HITCHENS: While you do this – while you do this I can’t talk. While you do that – while you do that I can’t talk and you know it and that’s to your – and that’s to your shame because silencing opponents is a very wicked thing to want to do.

DAN SAVAGE: You’ve been a lot of things tonight, but you’ve not been silenced.

PETER HITCHENS: You said this is very personal. This is very personal. I’ll reply to it. I am a very rich and fortunate person. I can – and I’m coming towards the end of my life anyway. I can personally escape many of the consequences of this but most people can’t. They can’t afford to and leave aside some of the things you’ve mentioned but a society in which the use of illegal drugs is widespread and unrestrained is one in which everybody is affected by the consequences, whatever they themselves do. It’s like that ridiculous bumper sticker “Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one,” to which my reply has always been: “Don’t like murder? Don’t commit one”. The fact is if a society permits – if a society permits things to happen which damage the lives of many people, who, as I’ve said earlier as a result of the selfish unwillingness of those who do those things to recognise that they have consequences, it affects everybody.”

Peter Hitchens also channeled Russell Brand, or more the anti-Brand, with his thinking on the modern political scene.

“TONY JONES: Peter, you did do whatever you could to hasten the demise of the Cameron Government. In fact you…

PETER HITCHENS: Yeah, not very effective with that.

TONY JONES: Well, in fact, you actually advised people, or your readers, to vote for UKIP, which is a populist party – a populist party primarily anti-immigration in its basis?

PETER HITCHENS: Well, I advised them to do that because I kept saying that they shouldn’t vote at all but they all seemed to think that voting was some tremendous important process, which actually it isn’t. If you go to a shop and you’re offered a load of goods which you don’t want to buy, you don’t buy any of them. So why, in an election, do you vote for people you don’t like?”

Interestingly, Hitchens and Brand had this clash last year.

And then this one as a follow up…

But back to Q&A.

Rosin and Savage kind of became one person by the end of the show, or some sort of comedy double act where you couldn’t tell who was playing the straight man. Greer was, at times, incoherently nostalgic, once the show hit its halfway mark she stopped answering questions and started wafting into stories from the good old days. As I said above, Hitch 2.0 wasn’t particularly loving to the other panelists, and for me, that damaged the credibility of what he had to say. It’s an ethos thing. You can’t just carry ethos with the words you say. But boy did he nail the finish.

Where Tony Jones invited the panel to share what they think is the most dangerous idea going around… Here’s the video of the answers, the transcript is below.

I’ll present the answers out of order – so that Hitch gets the last word, which he was so keen on all night. These were a little character revealing.

DAN SAVAGE: Population control. There’s too many goddamn people on the planet. And I don’t know if that’s a – you know, I’m pro-choice. I believe that women should have the right to control their bodies. Sometimes in my darker moments I am anti-choice. I think abortion should be mandatory for about 30 years. That’s a dangerous idea. She wanted a dangerous idea. So throw a chair at me.

GERMAINE GREER: Well, I’m always in the same place. The most dangerous idea, the one that terrifies us the most, is freedom – to actually be free – is, to most human beings, disorientating, terrifying but it’s the essential bottom line. If you want to be a moral individual you must be free to make choices and that includes making mistakes.

HANNA ROSIN: I’m tempted to say something about the Jesus Christ but being the Jewish one on the panel I’ll let that one go. Given our conversation today, I think I’m going to go with we should watch our children less. We live in a culture which follows our children around, is obsessed with safety, decides everything for our children, doesn’t let them have any freedom. Doesn’t let them wander. Doesn’t let them go anywhere or do anything by themselves and we should, in fact, do less with our children, not more.

PETER HITCHENS: The most dangerous idea in human history and philosophy remains the belief that Jesus Christ was the son of God and rose from the dead and that is the most dangerous idea you will ever encounter.

DAN SAVAGE: I’d have to agree with that.

TONY JONES: Just quickly, because I think you can’t really leave it there, why dangerous?

PETER HITCHENS: I can’t really leave it there? Because it alters the whole of human behaviour and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and, therefore, we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. It alters us all. If we reject It, it alters us all was well. It is incredibly dangerous. It’s why so many people turn against it.

What an ending. There wasn’t a whole lot to love about Q&A last night. But I loved that.

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Peter Jensen on #qanda

Wow. Just wow. Look, Peter Jensen said tonight on Q&A that he supports the ACL – I’m going to write to him and ask him to support them with some PR advice. Just wow.

While every word he spoke was seized on and ridiculed by Catherine Deveny, Peter Jensen winsomely, faithfully, and articulately, presented the gospel and called for a more respectful public discourse about serious issues.

The Transcript is now online.

Let me just start by articulating, lest there be confusion, why I think Peter Jensen did a good job while saying substantially the same thing as the ACL.

He talked clearly and winsomely about Jesus and how the gospel impacts our social position. Not on all issues – Jesus was almost absent on his treatment of Asylum seekers – though his love for others wasn’t – and he said that it wasn’t “unChristian” to seek asylum”… he also talked about things in a measured way and talked about wanting to improve the tone of conversation around these issues – I don’t think the ACL models this well, and they certainly talk about Jesus much less than Jensen did, and does. A friend suggested that my favourable response to Jensen, when he not only endorsed the ACL, but took the same position as them, was possibly a result of bias, or that it would be perceived to be the case. But let’s walk through last night’s program and see how the Archbishop did (this friend didn’t actually watch until the end, and I thought it got better as it went along).

On Asylum Seekers

I think this was where what I am guessing was a strategy that Archbishop Jensen employed to demonstrate that careful engagement isn’t the order of the day on Q&A – he has been, perhaps rightly, criticised for being a little waffly – but I think he may have been inviting people to interrupt. He’s typically incredibly well briefed and sensitive to different mediums. There’s also this:

Which is interesting. So I think he’s subverting the medium to make a point about public discourse.

ROSS GRENFELL: Archbishop Jensen, do you agree with Tony Abbott’s comment that good Christians would not use the back door in relation to asylum seekers using boats? After all, weren’t Mary, Joseph and Jesus undocumented asylum seekers when they fled to Egypt to escape Herod.

TONY JONES: Peter Jensen?

PETER JENSEN: No, I don’t agree with it and I do agree they were refugees and Christians ought to be extraordinarily sensitive to refugees and their needs. I agree with all those things. Can I go on?

TONY JONES: Yes, of course.

PETER JENSEN: I thought you might allow me. I do think, in terms of our political discourse, I’m sorry we can’t let the Government change its mind and get away with it because, after all, when new facts come in we’ve got to have people to change their minds.

In the light of my recent posts on asylum seekers I will say, that apart from tone, in the black and white form of the transcript, Catherine Deveny made some solid points, given extra credibility off the back of her recent Go Back To Where You Came From appearances.

Catherine Deveny: …This is very easy. This is not about stopping the boats, this is about starting the planes. This is about processing in Indonesia and in Malaysia. There is no deterrent that you can set up in Nauru or Manus Island or Christmas Island that is going to stop those people getting on boats. They say to me – every single one of them has said to me, “I would be happy to be swallowed up by the ocean than go back to where we’ve came from.” You have no idea what these people are facing. It is extraordinary that we’re not doing our basic obligations as signatories to the UN Refugee Convention. We shouldn’t just be doing what the UN suggests we should be doing, we should be doing so much more. We have so much to give. This is a country that has been built on boat people, as they call them. I don’t see boat people. I just see people.

There was a nice moment where Peter Jensen promised to hold the government to account on its treatment of asylum seekers according to a recent report – which he had read, and could engage with.

CHRIS EVANS: Well, as I say, you can’t put a length of time on it. We don’t honestly know but in implementing the whole package one would hope that the deterrent value would start to see a change in behaviour. It’s one of the reasons why I think the…

TONY JONES: All right. So, no, just having elicited that answer I just want to hear from Peter Jensen. Are you satisfied with that, no time limits?

PETER JENSEN: Yes, well, I’ve had a look at the report. The spirit of the report is saying something a bit different, I think, Chris, and I trust that as you implement it you will be there’s nothing like hopelessness.

CHRIS EVANS: No.

PETER JENSEN: And to have arrived at Nauru and to have Australian protection in that sense, I know it’s an independent country, but to have no timeframe will breed the hopelessness that leads to self-destruction and to depression. So I would be looking for something better than that if possible, I have to say, and I think that’s the spirit of the Aristotle-Houston report.

I actually thought Chris Evans was worse to listen to than Catherine Deveny.

The Archbishop’s gospel contribution began in earnest on the question of the Sydney Anglican’s alternate marriage vows.

ELIZABETH ANNE SMITH: As a young woman and feminist living in the 21st century, where everyone is entitled to equal rights, I would like to know what valid reason the Church has to request a wife submit to her husband in marriage.

TONY JONES: Peter Jensen, let’s start with you since you started this debate.

PETER JENSEN: I thought it might be me. Yes. Thank you very much. Thank you for the question. Really I mean that, because at long last we’re beginning to have a conversation which sounds as though it’s going to be a rational and serious conversation about the nature of marriage and I have to say, from my point of view and perhaps some others as well, the whole question of marriage and family is one in our community that needs careful thought. Now, when I say the Church, by the way, we have put forward a possible service for use. It’s not mandatory. It’s an alternative. Let me say that. What we’re seeing, I think, is a clash of world views between what I’d call individualism and what you may call family or, in a sense, community. It’s a clash of world views which is going on all around us and it has drastic consequences one way or another. If you agree with me that a man is a man and a woman is a woman and although they are we are absolutely equal, equal in the sight of God, both made in the image of God, both with the same destiny, both with the same value, all those things are inherent in the Christian gospel and they must remain in the Christian gospel, agree with that and yet, on the other hand, I would say there are differences between men and women which both sides bring to a marriage and we have not been good recently at working out what it is that men bring to marriage and women bring to marriage.

A word search even for the word “gospel” doesn’t produce a whole lot of substance on the ACL’s website.

This was perhaps my favourite moment of the night, Tony Jones treats his guests with thinly veiled contempt a little too often…

TONY JONES: Okay. Let’s just get to the heart of the matter and to the question. Now, you’ve said biblical teaching is that the bride can make a voluntary promise to submit to her husband. So what exactly does the word “submit” mean to you.

PETER JENSEN: Well, it is a biblical word.

TONY JONES: Well, it’s an English word, actually. It would have been in Hebrew in the Bible.

PETER JENSEN: I don’t know quite how to tell you this, but it was Greek actually, if that’s all right but don’t worry

Then there was this:

PETER JENSEN: If submission is in view, it is because a husband has made certain key promises. This is more about men than it is about women and it is about a concern that men are not being men in the community. What men bring to marriage, what men bring to anything, is that sort of physical strength, if you like, a certain degree of arrogance, a certain degree of determination to be bossy, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. What men are being asked – they were asked something before the women say anything. What men are being asked is will you live towards your wife like Jesus Christ who gave his life for his bride. Will you do that? And if the man says yes to that and only then, otherwise I would not recommend it, if a man says yes to that and so commits himself, then I believe it’s right for a woman, if she chooses to, to say I submit to that in the sense that I recognise it, I respect it, and I’m going to give you space in our marriage – I’m going to give you space in our marriage to be a man.

As Tony Jones turned to Catherine Deveny in response to this Peter Jensen showed he had been briefed, with a reference to a tweet she put out a week ago.

PETER JENSEN: Now, you believe in marriage.

CATHERINE DEVENY: No, I don’t.

PETER JENSEN: That’s an important first point.

CATHERINE DEVENY: I don’t believe in marriage.

PETER JENSEN: You don’t believe in marriage.

CATHERINE DEVENY: I’ve never been married but I’m a very big supporter of same-sex marriage because I believe that marriage is a mistake that everyone has the right to make. I have never been married but I would like to congratulate you on your decision to proudly fly the misogynist and medieval colours of your religion and I do support your right to discriminate within your religion. And what I think is great is that you can choose to go to Las Vegas and be married by an Elvis or now you can choose to go to the Anglican Church and be married in a museum by a dinosaur….

So I think it’s interesting that you guys are going for a niche market there. I mean you guys could have gone for the Gloria Jeans, the corporate rock, the Hillsong, the ‘Be awesome for Jesus’ but you’re going, ‘No. No. Men are in charge because of the mumbo jumbo.’ So congratulations.

TONY JONES: I think you ought to be able to respond to that but briefly I just want to hear the…

PETER JENSEN: Where would you start to respond to that? I’m looking for a respectful and serious discussion of very important issues.

CATHERINE DEVENY: That is respectful.

PETER JENSEN: And we get dinosaurs and this sort of stuff. Interestingly, in the churches for years now we have not been using this language and we’ve gone down to 30% of the market.

CATHERINE DEVENY: Mm, the market.

PETER JENSEN: I’m saying, no, I think there’s a clash of – I think it was your word. I think it’s a clash of cultures here, very important. I may be wrong about all this. I’m only human. I think it’s important.

That my friends is epistemic humility. It’s disarming.

BRONWYN FRASER: Hi. I work with Christian cultures – women in Christian cultures overseas who do have this biblical wife submission approach to marriage and they also report some of the highest levels of domestic violence and sexually-based violence. Up to 60% of the women have experienced this. Could it be that this sort of inequality in marriage can lead to domestic and sexually-based violence and, as a Christian, how does this actually represent what Jesus stood for?

TONY JONES: Peter Jensen?

PETER JENSEN: Yep. I believe this, again, gets to the heart of issues that are very important and can I say I utterly abominate the whole idea of domestic violence. I think it’s a wicked thing and any person – particularly any man who lays his hand on his wife is, to my mind, committing a grave sin. So that is what I believe. Now, is my view contributing to that end? I trust not because, properly understood, my view is saying that no man could ever do that, that it’s really he is to behave towards his wife as Jesus Christ behaved towards the Church.

He was again humble and open to discussion on gay marriage.

“PETER JENSEN: Yeah. Yeah. And again there’s an argument for this and it’s one that we ought to conduct in the right spirit, I believe, and with give and take and listening to the whole matter. I do…

TONY JONES: So you have an open mind about gay marriage?

PETER JENSEN: Well, I have the same open mind most people have about most things. Namely, with a good argument you may change your mind but for the moment you keep going down one track.”

Then it got really interesting, for me, anyway, given the last week… I take some solace from the bolded bits…

PETER KEEGAN: The Australian Christian Lobby has again made the headlines for offensive remarks made by its director, Jim Wallace. As a Christian, I continually find that the ACL does not speak for me and does not represent the kind of faith that I see reflected in the teaching and ministry of Jesus. Archbishop, will you publically say that contributions like those we heard from the ACL pose a greater risk to the health of our public discourse and the integrity of our faith than the presence of lifestyles or beliefs that may differ from our own?

PETER JENSEN: Again, thanks for the question. No, I won’t say that. I am generally supportive of ACL, I have to say. I don’t support everything that’s said by its leaders.

TONY JONES: What about this very specific statement where Jim Wallace suggests that homosexuality poses the same kind of health risk to the community as smoking does?

PETER JENSEN: It needs to be observed that he has been somewhat quoted out of context in some reports. I’m not sure about that one but in some reports he’s been somewhat quoted out of context. But what he has done for us, rightly or wrongly, what he has done is given us an opportunity to talk about something significant, namely the question of health risks. Now, I think it is true to say – I think it is true to say – it’s very hard to get all the facts here because we don’t want to talk about it and in this country censorship is alive and well, believe me…

In response to a gay teenager, brought up in a Christian home who explicitly cited the rejection from his Christian community as the reason for his suicide attempt, the Archbishop had this to say… I loved the last bit, because it’s what I’ve been arguing our response should be.

ALISTAIR CORNELL: My question is for Peter Jensen. I was born and bred Anglican but at the age of 15 I tried to take my own life. What advice would he give to a 15 year old suffering almost to the point of death from the rejection of his community about being gay?

PETER JENSEN: Thank you and thank you for the courage of coming on and telling us that story. You see, one of the difficulties is to get that story, to get it to someone like me and to give me the chance to assess it for what it is…

PETER JENSEN: Well a 15 year old sorry, I need to be careful here. We don’t want to talk about this particular young man with his courage. But clearly a teenager is going through a period in their lives, exciting as it is, in which they’re seeking to find themselves. A person who feels in themselves same-sex attraction and I might add, a lot of such folk have talked to me over the years, is seeking, I think, to find themselves, to find an identity and in our sort of society, with its emphasis on sexual activity as an identity finding activity, there is therefore the opportunity to think that that is the way to do things and yet here you have this frowned upon same-sex feeling.

TONY JONES: Okay, I’ve just to interrupt because we do need to hear other panellists on this subject but put simply are you saying or repeating, in a way, or making, you know, a sort of more complex argument about what Jim Wallace said, which is homosexuality is bad for your health? Are you seriously trying to make that argument tonight?

PETER JENSEN: I would like to know see, people tell me that it is and they produce literature on the subject. I can’t get a discussion going on this because it’s a forbidden subject. Now, I’m open on this. I hope it’s not true, Tony. I don’t want to see my friends dying and I’ve seen my friends dying. I don’t want to see that. I don’t want to hear stories like that. But, dear friends, sorry, when do we get to the point where we can talk about this without shouting at each other and hurting each other?

This bit was helpful too…

TONY JONES: Well, can I just ask, presumably you’ve looked at some of the science around the health statistics, have you actually looked at the science about the gay gene which suggests that it is intrinsic in a person their sexuality and if you’ve looked at that, I would ask you this: if God actually created homosexuals, would you not then have to turn around and change your mind on all of these issues?

PETER JENSEN: Thank you, Tony. God did create homosexuals. I don’t need the gene to tell me that. God created homosexuals. God created every person and loves every person, without doubt.

TONY JONES: No, I mean he created if there is a gay gene, would you say the creator was responsible for creating that?

PETER JENSEN: Well, I would say that that that may be the case but we’re not talking about same-sex attraction, we’re talking about the acting out of same-sex attraction. We’re talking about well, I realise that we’re living in a very, very different world from the one I’m talking about but I’m living in a world where a number of my friends have life long committed themselves to no sexual relations.

Then we were on the home stretch – atheism and proof of God’s existence.

“CATHERINE DEVENY: For me, I mean, you can took about proof and there’s no proof. I mean one of the things that I always think about is like if God exists why doesn’t he show himself? But when you actually look at the Bible, which is – that’s the only text that I’m – like, religious text that I’m really familiar with, it is basically social engineering embedded in fairytales and horror stories which is just chock full of homophobia, misogyny, discrimination and division and most people haven’t even read it. It has been written by 44 – you know, 60 people, I think, 44 chapters, you know, three different languages over thousands of years, thousands of different interpretations and despite all of those different interpretations, the only thing they can all agree on is homophobia, misogyny, discrimination and division. So, I’m sorry, the way that I see it, it’s just been a very, very handy way to keep people in their place, particularly women, homosexuals and people who don’t believe what they believe.”

Then there was this. Pure gold. Christ centred gospel in the face of the chatter of Catherine Deveny who couldn’t resist scoring cheap points with angry soundbites. This is why I’m so very happy with last night. I know most people agree with Catherine Deveny’s assessment that the church is out of touch on social issues – you only have to look at the comments on this post that went up when it was just my tweets… but that’s not the point. Winsomely, and gently, responding to criticism and seeking a conversation where you can get to this point – having argued your position on social issues on the basis of Jesus and the gospel all the way through – that’s why this man is an example for how to, as John Dickson says, do public Christianity.

PETER JENSEN: Okay. Has God shown himself? Yes, I believe he has and I believe he’s shown himself in Jesus Christ. I believe if you want to know examine his life, examine what he said, examine his miracles and that’s where the big issue is. Come back to Jesus Christ and examine his life, examine what he said, examine what’s around him. I have to say that Catherine’s account of the Bible is as fanciful as a tooth fairy. It’s got no bearing on the reality of the Bible.

CATHERINE DEVENY: You mustn’t have read it.

PETER JENSEN: Yeah, I’ve read it a bit. And really the big look, I tell you what, the big story of the Bible is just as simple as anything. Jesus Christ came into the world to save us and he is God amongst us. What more could we ask? I tell you what, it’s the most gracious I’m so sorry you’ve got your view of it.

CATHERINE DEVENY: You said, “What more could we ask?” Equality, that would be good.

PETER JENSEN: Well, we’ve got it because every man and woman…

CATHERINE DEVENY: I’m sorry, a white middle class man like you does have it. Try being disabled, try being an asylum seeker, try being gay, try being a woman, you’ll find it’s not there.

TONY JONES: Okay. All right, Catherine. No. No. No. No. Okay. All right. Sorry, I said we’d give him the last word. I didn’t mean…

CATHERINE DEVENY: Yeah, I think he said plenty of words.

PETER JENSEN: Well, the last word is that in Jesus Christ we have that equality and in Jesus Christ was have that salvation and all I can say is the most wonder that the love of God for everyone, no matter who they are, no matter how they’ve lived or whatever, is the greatest reality in the world.

Gold.

Here are my tweets from during the show.

I’m disappointed this is the summary from the SMH.

David Ould was in the audience last night and had this to say.

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Easter, Q&A, Dawkins, and Jesus

Did you hear the one about the Cardinal and the Evolutionary biologist? Or at least watch Australia’s highest ranking Catholic, George Pell, take on Richard Dawkins on the ABC’s flagship “new media” panel program Q&A, on Monday night in an Easter extravaganza?

You can watch it in full here…

It was a train wreck. Talking too much about where Pell went wrong wouldn’t be conducive to keeping my promise not to debate atheists online, at least atheists I don’t know personally. But Pell was awful. In my humble opinion. The only saving grace of the night was that Dawkins wasn’t much better, and my conversations with non-Christian friends afterwards, both on Facebook and in the real world, confirm that his brand of intolerant fundamentalism is every bit as on the nose as Christianity.

Despite giving up visiting atheist blogs and forums to engage in what I would like to call “winsome trolling” – where you keep a conversation going, but as pleasantly as possible, as “tolerant” as possible, as genuinely inquisitive as possible, and as focused on Jesus as possible – I have some experience arguing with people who adhere closely to Mr Dawkins views, with a more than liberal smattering of those advocated by the late Mr Hitchens, and messers Dennett and Harris. By my calculation I’ve spend hundreds of hours engaged in such debates, either at the keyboard, posting here, speaking to others in person, or ruminating about the conversation I’m currently engaged in while I go about my daily business. I’m a fairly experienced amateur. But I’m an amateur no less. Pell. Arguably. Is a professional. At least that’s why he was presented to us on Monday night. And yet. Almost immediately. He became tangled in several follies of, well, any form of argument/debate, let alone an argument or debate that is televised to a national audience.

In some moments he was sneering, in others pompous, in others snide, in others confused, in others doddery, in others he danced around a question without going near providing an answer, and every five minutes he trotted out a reference to Hitler. In short he was neither convincing or winsome. His theology was jelly-nailed-to-mast stuff. One minute he said he hoped hell existed because Hitler’s evil required it, on the other hand he said he hoped nobody was there, then he said that atheists would end up in heaven if they did good – thus defeating himself. Why would one sign up for a life of self denial if the outcome is unchanged. Pell said himself (and I agree) that an atheist can do good. What he didn’t say was that any “good” act is the result of humanity being created in the image of God, and that none of it has any merit so far as our relationship with God is concerned (the former is consistent with a Catholic understanding of human nature, the latter is pretty much the root cause of the Reformation and non-Catholic Christianity).

I wasn’t expecting to agree with much of what Pell said theologically – but I was hoping that as a guy wearing our colours, and claiming to own Christ, he’d at the very least be loving and winsome, and treat his opponent with respect. Instead, he spend time strawmanning Dawkins, engaging in logical fallacies, playing the man not the argument, misunderstanding the science he was claiming to promote, and generally not talking about Jesus – except after he’d confused everybody by talking about ancient Greek metaphysics (particularly Platonism), while trying to explain what goes on with the wafers when Catholics take communion (transubstantiation).

At one point, when Tony Jones asked him where he’d draw a line on what is “myth” and what is “truth” in the Bible, or rather historical truth, citing the example of God writing the Ten Commandments on stone tablets, Pell flat out denied that the Bible says God wrote the commandments down.

Here’s a little bit from the transcript:

“TONY JONES: So are you talking about a kind of Garden of Eden scenario with an actual Adam and Eve?

GEORGE PELL: Well, Adam and Eve are terms – what do they mean: life and earth. It’s like every man. That’s a beautiful, sophisticated, mythological account. It’s not science but it’s there to tell us two or three things. First of all that God created the world and the universe. Secondly, that the key to the whole of universe, the really significant thing, are humans and, thirdly, it is a very sophisticated mythology to try to explain the evil and suffering in the world.

TONY JONES: But it isn’t a literal truth. You shouldn’t see it in any way as being an historical or literal truth?

GEORGE PELL: It’s certainly not a scientific truth and it’s a religious story told for religious purposes.

TONY JONES: Just quickly, because the Old Testament in particular is full of these kind of stories, I mean is there a point where you distinguish between metaphor and reality? For example, Moses receiving the Ten Commandments inscribed directly by God on a mountain?

GEORGE PELL: I’m not sure that the Old Testament says that God inscribed the Ten Commandments but leaving that aside it’s difficult to know how exactly that worked but Moses was a great man. There was a great encounter with the divine. Actually, with Moses we get the key that enables us to come together with the Greeks with reason because Moses said who will I tell the Egyptians and he tell that my name is “I am who I am”.”

Perhaps he’s not familiar with chapters 31-34 of Exodus…

Exodus 31:18 When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God…

32:15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.”

The other thing he kept doing, that really irked me, was presenting the Catholic theological position as the “Christian” position, rather than the position of his own tradition.

MATTHEW THOMPSON: I am an atheist. What do you think will happen when I die and how do you know?

TONY JONES: George Pell, we’ll start with you? You ought to be an authority on this, I imagine?

GEORGE PELL: Well, I know from the Christian point of view, God loves everybody but every genuine motion towards the truth is a motion towards God and when an atheist dies, like everybody else, they will be judged on the extent to which they have moved towards goodness and truth and beauty but in the Christian view, God loves everyone except those who turn his back turn their back on him through evil acts.

Sadly that is not the “Christian” point of view, but a disputed point where Catholics and Protestants disagree.

It was. In short. A train wreck.

Here are some of my favourite tweets from/in response to the night that pretty much sum up what I’m thinking…

Jesus got 8 mentions in the program, by name, he was obliquely referred to in a couple of Pell’s quotes. One was from a questioner, one was from Tony Jones, three were from Dawkins.

Here’s the best description of the gospel from the night.

“…the fundamental idea of New Testament Christianity, which is that Jesus is the son of God who is redeeming humanity from original sin, the idea that we are born in sin and the only way we can be redeemed from sin is through the death of Jesus…”

And it’s from Richard Dawkins. Who is dismissing it. Dawkins is clearer on the gospel he’s rejecting than Pell is on the gospel he’s promoting.

Two mentions were in a segment where Pell suggested that the Jews were culturally inferior to the other civilisations of their time.

“TONY JONES: I’m sorry, can I just interrupt? Are you including Jesus in that, who was obviously Jewish and was of that community?

GEORGE PELL: Exactly.

TONY JONES: So intellectually not up to it?

GEORGE PELL: Well, that’s a nice try, Tony. The people, in terms of sophistication, the psalms are remarkable in terms of their buildings and that sort of thing. They don’t compare with the great powers. But Jesus came not as a philosopher to the elite. He came to the poor and the battlers and for some reason he choose a very difficult but actually they are now an intellectually elite because over the centuries they have been pushed out of every other form of work. They’re a – I mean Jesus, I think, is the greatest the son of God but, leaving that aside, the greatest man that ever live so I’ve got a great admiration for the Jews but we don’t need to exaggerate their contribution in their early days.”

Pell finally got on message at the last gasp, in his best answer of the night, answering the last question which essentially suggested a modified Pascal’s Wager, where people should become Christians because life is better for Christians, particularly health wise. Pell thought that was a bad idea.

GEORGE PELL: So am I. It’s a question of truth. Christians don’t present God as, like Santa Claus, something that a myth that’s useful for children and believing in God and being a Christian cuts both ways. More people were killed for their Christian belief in the last century than any other century, probably than all the other centuries combined. They died on principle to be faithful to Jesus so we might get some benefits. You know we mightn’t get ulcers, we might live a bit longer, that might have much more to do with our heredity but we follow Christ because we believe it’s the truth. I think it does bring a peace of mind. It does help us but sometimes it gets us into my life would be much simpler and much easier if I didn’t have to go to bat for a number of Christian principles.

The one thing the transcript doesn’t capture is tone. Pell was snarling. Sarcastic. Snide. He didn’t miss an opportunity to take a cheap shot. Dawkins wasn’t any better. But the tone of this discussion was what really disappointed me. I am overjoyed that we live in a country where the national broadcaster hosts discussions like this, without any fear of repercussions or persecution from the government, or any fear of censorship. But surely Christian spokespeople should be using these opportunities to talk about Jesus, not get cheap laughs and applause from a crowd for mocking their opponents.

So that was Q&A’s Easter special. It made me angry. Why couldn’t someone like Peter Jensen have been invited onto the panel instead. He’s so much more winsome, and able to stay on message about what Christianity is really about (hint – Jesus). Check out the raw footage from this interview he did with SBS.

That’s heaps better than the turkeys who used their Easter media opportunities to slam the banks (though they may deserve it), and even those who try to turn the attention onto the upper middle class (which was social justice champion Father Bob Macguire’s approach). I was pretty thrilled that the ministers asked to comment on the meaning of Good Friday in the Townsville Bulletin all talked about Jesus (with varying degrees of clarity and plain english).

John Lennox on science and faith

Like the rest of evangelical Australia I’m a bit of a John Lennox fan at the moment. His turn on Q&A last week was a masterful attempt at presenting the gospel graciously in a relatively combative adversarial format. Those critical of his content (and I’ve seen a couple of Christians suggesting he could have answered a couple of questions better) should pay heed to the format, and the way both Eva Cox and the ABC’s moderator Virginia Trioli were keen to jump in on him before he could finish answering their questions. He articulated the need for forgiveness and the intellectual legitimacy of a God who intervenes in creation in a personal and relational way. I thought he did a stellar job. I thought Virginia Trioli’s banging on about circular reasoning was a little bit annoying because truth will essentially be self authenticating and circular, circular reasoning is a fallacy, but it’s not a defeater.

Anyway. Here’s John Lennox on a topic I wrote an essay about this semester.

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What? The Devil is wrong with country – part 2 – FAQ

Jacob Aranza is a man who believes in offering solutions to real world problems. He’s a man of the people (unless you’re a rock star or country muso). His second book features a chapter of his questions and answers from readers of the first book. Lest you wander into rock and roll temptation here they are… though sometimes I think Mr Aranza pulls his punches, so I’ve given my own answer to the questions below.

WARNING: May contain traces of bad theology for the sake of satire. Bad theology is easy, I can see why the new atheists take the Bible out of context so often, they can pretty much twist it to say whatever they want.

Several people have asked me if Mr Aranza has anything to say about their favourite 80s band. If yours missed out (from a pretty comprehensive list) then don’t un-despair just yet.

Question: I know what you say about the groups in your book is true, but you didn’t mention my favourite group. What about them?
Aranza’s Answer: I may not have spoken about your favourite rock or country group, but if their goal isn’t to glorify God and help build his kingdom, then their music will hinder and distract you from serving God, and can easily provoke you to rebel against God.

My Answer: You know what, if they’re your “favourite” they’re an idol. Sing the Psalms. They’re the only inspired songs (except for a few in the New Testament, you can sing those too). 

Question: The groups I listen to don’t sing about Satan, sex, or drugs. What’s wrong with listening to them?
Aranza’s Answer: Just because a group doesn’t openly sing about immorality doesn’t mean their music is approved by God. If the music you’re listening to doesn’t come from the heart of a spiritual Christian artist you are opening the door to carnality, humanism, and demonic forces. It will distract you from serving him, feed self-centeredness, and eventually breed rebellion in your heart. Just because something appears to be good doesn’t mean it is good.

My Answer: Well, ask yourself “could I dance to this song” if the answer is yes then the music is a stumbling block – and no true Christian would create a stumbling block for their brother (or sister).

Question: I don’t really like what a lot of rock groups sing about, but I don’t listen to the words. I just like the music. Isn’t that OK?
Aranza’s Answer: It might be OK if you didn’t have a spirit or a brain. You may not realise it, but you are more than a physical body. You also have a mind and a spirit which both respond to music. Your mind is like a computer and absorbs what it hears including words to music. It can’t be avoided since your brain takes and stores the information you hear and receive through your senses. Your spirit also responds to music because God created music as a spiritual force. If you are a Christian, the Spirit of Christ dwells in your spirit, making you sensitive to God’s voice and will. When you listen to music that isn’t inspired by God it dulls your sensitivity to God. Eventually it will breed rebellion in you. It’s a lot like smoking cigarettes. They will make you an addict and give you cancer, killing the life in you. This is Satan’s ultimate plan for music, no matter how innocent it might sound.

My Answer: Does it have drums? Drums are a sure sign that this music is the Devil’s music. Drums lead to tapping your feet, tapping your feet leads to dancing, and dancing leads to premarital sex and babies born out of wedlock. Is that what you really want?

Question: What about instrumental music?
Answer: Concerning this subject I would like to quote someone known to have specialised in instrumental music. While I was speaking in Louisville, Kentucky, the pastor shared with me that Phil Driscoll had been there the previous week. Phil Driscoll was in secular music for many years as a writer and instrumentalist making up to $450,000 a year previous to his conversion to Christ. Phil shared that he felt the spirit of whoever was playing the music was the spirit that would influence those who listened to it. I agree with this.

I might add that there are plenty of instrumental albums produced by Christian artists, from jazz to classical, and from pop to easy listening. There’s no excuse for listening to secular music anymore. Whether [or not] the music has words, the spiritual force behind it will affect you.

My Answer: Instrumental music is the most dangerous part. The Bible clearly shows us that playing instruments leads to death. Especially the tambourine. In Judges 11, Jepthath’s daughter plays the tambourine and dances, and her father puts her to death. In 2 Samuel 6 the Israelites dance around playing tambourines and other instruments – and God strikes Uzzah dead. Tambourines and dancing are bad. Despite what the Salvation Army and Timbrel Praise will try to tell you.

Question: I don’t like non-Christian music but I work in a place where it is played al day long. What should I do?
Answer: You can start by expressing your views to your boss. Let him know that the major themes of the music are sex, drinking, drugs and satanism. Try to get them to play instrumental music and offer to bring in your own instrumental music. They’d probably like the Christian instrumental music and wouldn’t be offended because there aren’t any words. If you can’t get rid of the secular music, then be sure to keep a song in your heart that you sing to the Lord. Ask God each day to protect you from the negative forces behind this music. No matter what happens, have confidence that God will give you the power to be victorious in this situation.

My Answer: Ask yourself “what would Jesus do”… not gentle Jesus meek and mild, but Revelation Jesus. Quit your job, and purify the office with fire.