Archives For QandA

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.

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.

Did you catch last night’s Q&A? The Fairfax press is hailing KRudd’s exchange with New Hope Brisbane pastor Matt Prater as the “answer of the century.”

Kevin Rudd has lurched right on Asylum Seekers, and lurched left on marriage, and in the process has alienated those Christians – and I’d put myself in this category – who want to take the words of Jesus seriously when it comes to issues of justice for the oppressed, and the nature of the church/state relationship. Personally, I believe that marriage as God created it, is a lifelong union between one man and one woman, but I don’t believe my views should be enshrined in the legislation of a secular state where all minorities need to be protected and catered for equally.

While this election is something like a battle of the evil of two lessers – Rudd’s constant movements of his moral compass with the political ebb and flow on moral issues has me despairing for the nature of leadership in opinion poll driven politics – and despairing for the impact his soap box theologising has on how people understand what the Bible is about and what Christianity is. This is the big concern for me coming out of last night. Rudd just doesn’t seem to get the gospel.

He tried to explain his asylum seeker backflip in the earlier minutes of Q&A last night – but I missed that. I tuned in about 15 minutes after the show started. But it was when a pastor from Brisbane stood up and asked him a question about his flip-flopping on marriage equality that Rudd problematically made the shift from politician to theologian.

Slamming the pastor in the process.

It’s odd that you can get so much mileage from lambasting a position you held publicly until just three months ago – when KRudd made his move on marriage equality based on his theology (I’d say illegitimately) – rather than his political philosophy (which I’d say would be legitimate).

Here’s the video of the exchange.

Here’s the question Rudd faced. From the Q&A transcript.

“MATT PRATER: Hi, Prime Minister. I’m a pastor of a local church and work for a national Christian radio network. Most of the listeners and callers we have had in our radio station have been saying they won’t be voting for you because they’re disillusioned because you seem to keep chopping and changing your beliefs just to get a popular vote with regards to things like marriage. Why should we vote for you?”

I’m sad he didn’t say “like marriage and asylum seekers”… but the question is what it is.

The video makes for awkward viewing – and I’m not particularly interested in the marriage debate. As outlined above. So lets focus on the claims Rudd makes about the Bible. Because that, ultimately, is where he’s winning praise outside of the church.

The ‘abnormality’ of homosexuality

“Number one, I do not believe people, when they are born, choose their sexuality. They are gay if they are born gay. You don’t decide at some later stage in life to be one thing or the other. It is – it is how people are built and, therefore, the idea that this is somehow an abnormal condition is just wrong. I don’t get that. I think that is just a completely ill-founded view. Secondly, if you accept that it is natural and normal for someone to be gay because that’s the way they are, then it follows from that that I don’t think it is right to say that if these two folk here, who are in love with each other and are of the same gender, should be denied the opportunity for legal recognition of the duration of their relationship by having marriage equality. If you accept that – if your starting point is that homosexuality is abnormal – I don’t know if that’s your view.”

Choosing the terminology one employs in a debate and forcing the person you’re talking to to adopt that terminology and all its baggage is a really horrible way to conduct a civil conversation. By framing the question the way he did, Kevin Rudd skewed the theological playing field. The normality or otherwise of a sexual orientation is irrelevant. We are all sexually broken because our sinful natures – which mean we sin naturally – taint every aspect of our being. That’s a pretty foundational tenant of the Protestant stream of Christianity. The relationship between being made in God’s image and being sinful is something Paul grapples with in Romans. It’s properly basic Christianity.

Here’s what Paul says in Romans 7, from verse 18.

“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

This is the first point at which KRudd’s position poses a significant threat to the Gospel. If there is no dilemma – if what is natural is good, if what is natural is created and “what ought to be” – then there is no human dilemma. If sin is not natural then there is no need for humans to be rescued by God. There is no need for God to send Jesus into the world. There is no need for Jesus to go to the cross to deliver us and to redeem our nature. There is no need for the Holy Spirit to work in us, as Paul says it does in Romans 8:29, to conform us into the image of God’s son. Which leads neatly into the next problem with KRudd’s understanding of the Gospel.

Slavery, Born this way, and transformation

Here’s the follow up from Matt Prater.

“Jesus said a man shall leave his father and mother and be married and that’s the Biblical definition. I just believe in what the Bible says and I’m just curious for you, Kevin, if you call yourself a Christian, why don’t you believe the words of Jesus in the Bible?”

Here’s the next significant issue from Rudd’s answer.

“Well, mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition. Because St Paul said in the New Testament, “Slaves be obedient to your masters.”

Ignoring the false link Rudd then draws with Slavery in America – let’s have a look at what else St Paul actually says about slavery. In 1 Corinthians 7. From verse 21

“Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave.”

Rudd doesn’t seem to grasp his hero Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the Christian life…

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

If slavery is a “natural condition” as Rudd says the Bible says it is – then there should be no escape. And yet, here Paul calls those who are slaves to take their freedom if available.

The ability to change your state from bondage – your natural state or in this case literally being a slave – is a huge part of Paul’s understanding of the Gospel. Why should our sexuality be removed from this equation?

Here’s what Paul says about the outworking of our broken nature and the pursuit of freedom just a little bit earlier in that same letter to the Corinthians.

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were.

This seems, from Paul’s logic earlier in Corinthians, and elsewhere (like in Romans), to involve a natural state – especially because of how he describes the transformation happening…

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

This is the problem with the born this way argument. It makes people slaves to their nature – unable to exercise freedom to self-determine one’s identity – sexual or otherwise. It’s a horrible position to take. It pigeon holes people based on factors they can’t choose. The question often asked here is “what sort of God would create people who do the wrong thing by nature?” – but a question on the flip side that is rarely asked is “What sort of God would make people a slave to their biology or environment with no potential for growth or transformation?”

The answer, from Paul, is that the sort of God who does exist is a God who not only makes transformation possible – he equips broken people with the capacity to be transformed through his intervention in the world in the person of Jesus. Who offers transformation. That’s a pretty key idea in the New Testament – in fact I would say it is the BIG IDEA of the New Testament (and the whole Bible). This is the third problem with Rudd’s answer last night. The biggest problem.

The big idea of the New Testament is not about our love for others, it is about God’s love for us in Jesus.

“What is the fundamental principle of the New Testament? It is one of universal love. Loving your fellow man. And if we get obsessed with a particular definition of that through a form of sexuality, then I think we are missing the centrality of what the gospel, whether you call it a social gospel, a personal gospel or a spiritual gospel, is all about.”

The centrality of the Gospel – the word means “good news” and in the Graeco-Roman setting meant the good news about the arrival of a king – is the arrival of God’s promised king. Jesus. Jesus is at the heart of the Gospel – not “universal love” or “loving your fellow man” – these are outworkings of the character of God who reveals himself in Christ. These are the way we respond to being loved by God so much that he became human and died our death to offer us new life. This is how we respond once our nature is transformed. It is not something we are naturally capable of. It is not something that makes people “Christian.” It is not the Gospel. There is no social Gospel without the person of Jesus. There is no personal Gospel without the person of Jesus. There is no Spiritual Gospel without the person of Jesus.

The gospel is about Jesus.

It is clear Rudd doesn’t get this.

He should stop talking as a theologian and work at speaking as a politician.

I thought last night’s Q&A was going to be a trainwreck.

The Christian panellist, Christian Democrat MP from New South Wales, Fred Nile, isn’t exactly presented in the media as being moderate and nuanced. Lawrence Krauss went toe-to-toe with John Dickson – one of Australia’s most impressive Christian thinkers, and while it was a bit of an agree fest, Krauss showed he was capable of being winsome and engaging. And he was back. The rest of the panel were window dressing for this fight – former British Anglican Bishop, the openly gay Gene Robinson was on as something like the middle ground between the two, and there were a couple of Australian pollies – Amanda Vanstone and Susan Ryan.

I was worried. I wasn’t going to watch. And then I flicked to the ABC at about 9:45. And caught this interaction…

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, there Fred. I want to ask you when the suicide rate is so high in LGBT teens, when you use such hateful and disgusting language about them, do you not feel – or I think maybe you should – feel slightly responsible for some of this that goes on?

FRED NILE: I must object to that because I will give you $1,000 if you can find anywhere where I have said anything which is hateful or vicious about homosexuals. Okay.

TONY JONES: Okay. I think it is time to move on.

Fred was facing a pretty hostile group of panellists – even the other religious guy was against his clear presentation of the historically orthodox understanding of the gospel. He managed to be relatively gracious, speak of God’s judgment, and keep pointing the conversation back to Jesus.

I missed this bit… according to the transcript.

FRED NILE: Because I take, as my authority, Jesus Christ, the son of God, and also the living word and I believe that God gave to us the written word, the holy Bible and as a Bishop you would know the church for 2,000 years and longer has upheld marriage as it is and has also said that homosexuality is immoral and unnatural and so on. So you are going against the teaching of the church so you should be ashamed to be a Bishop and going against the teaching of the church.

TONY JONES: I’m just going to interrupt because…

FRED NILE: I am agreeing with (the transcript says “referring to”) that atheist over there.

That came after Gene Robinson had played down any meaningful distinction between religions.

GENE ROBINSON: I am actually delighted to respond to that question. It is the experience of the living God in my own life. That is why I stick with it. That is why I believe that the church, the synagogue, the mosque can constantly reform itself because God’s will is being revealed to us over time. We are constantly understanding better God’s will and this is one of those places where we are changing what we have believed for 2 or 3,000 years. I believe that scripture is holy in the sense that it is the story of people who have had an experience with the living God and we read it in order to know where to look in our own lives for an experience of the living God. And so I do believe in it. The Church has got a lot to apologise for but, then again, don’t we all? And I believe that this is the way to discern God’s will and I am thrilled to be a part of that.

I also missed this.

AMANDA VANSTONE: So you can be a nice person your whole life and still not get into heaven?

FRED NILE: That’s right. That’s right.

TONY JONES: Just excuse me for one second because…

AMANDA VANSTONE: It is not worth going there.

FRED NILE: Yes.

TONY JONES: …on this table we have two…

FRED NILE: To have eternal life you…

TONY JONES: Excuse me. Excuse me for one minute.

FRED NILE: …have to believe in Jesus Christ as saviour.

TONY JONES: Excuse me for one minute.

FRED NILE: There’s only one way.

Amanda Vanstone came back at him again…

TONY JONES: Just to sort of end this part of the discussion, can I just bring Fred back in here. I mean are you worried if you create an exclusive world where your version of Christianity leaves out people like Gene, that that is actually bad?

FRED NILE: Well, I’m not leaving him out. He is excluding himself. I haven’t left him out. I want him to come in.

TONY JONES: Well, in fact, he’s not excluding himself in the sense that he is a bishop with his own congregation.

FRED NILE: I would like you, at the end of this program, to say, “I believe in what you have just been saying Fred.” I hope he might do that.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: But all the people who also believe in God but from other religions are also excluded, I presume. So basically you’re an atheist about all the other religions. It’s just yours you’re not. Is that correct?

FRED NILE: I leave it to God. He is the judge and he will judge each person.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: So, no, but are they excluded? If you’re not a Christian but you, say, you’re a very faithful Muslim or a faithful Jew, are you excluded?

FRED NILE: I’m just saying God will judge them not me.

TONY JONES: Okay. We’ve got a…

FRED NILE: I know God is a loving God and God will be fair in his dealing with each individual.

And kept pushing that “good enough for God” wheelbarrow all the way up the hill.

AMANDA VANSTONE: I don’t know the details of the second case but they would seem, on what you have said, to be inextricably related. I mean the more you have people saying Muslims want to go and kill everybody, the more you have whipping everyone else up into a frenzy of fear and apprehension and a feeling that they must deal with this. So it goes back to what my granny said: if you lead a good life, you will get into any heaven worth getting into and it follows that you – you know, if I get up to Heaven and St Peters says, ‘Gee, you made a mistake and you went to the Anglican Church and you should have gone to a Catholic one or you should have gone to some other church,” I’m going to be bitterly disappointed because I went to a Christian school and I was taught the need to be a good person and not judge people, as you say, on labels. It doesn’t matter if they are Catholic or Anglican or Muslim or whatever. What matters is whether they are a good and decent person and that is how we should be dealing with each other. And once you start this, “Well, they’re Muslims. They want to kill you,” well, you’re separating it out, you’re getting into us and them and you will have battles, ugly ones, where people will be killed.

How wishy washy and meaningless. She didn’t pull her punches after Tony Jones had rung the bell for the end of the evening’s discussion though, hitting out with this low blow that Fred Nile couldn’t reply to.

AMANDA VANSTONE: Fred. Fred, I think I can help you with one thing at least and that is that any God worth following wants converts not conscripts. So religious people should stop looking to parliaments to conscript people into a belief that they don’t adopt.

That’s bad. It’s not very nice. It’s poor form. According to her view of salvation, she should be a little worried now.

Krauss on Labels

This was another bit that showed the intolerance of the New Atheists and the contrast with Jesus… this was in a discussion of the recent events in England…

FRED NILE:… I follow what Jesus said: love your enemies and that is the central teaching of the Christian faith. It’s not a source of violence against people at all.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Who are the enemies in this case? I just don’t who the enemy are. Are you saying Islam is the enemy? You know, the problem is…

FRED NILE: Well, whoever is attacking you…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Yeah.

FRED NILE: Whoever is attacking you, like in Cairo, burning down the Cathedral, that is your enemy. So you still love them but you try to change that society.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Part of the problem here, and I agree with, of course, what you just said, but we label people and religion is a wonderful way of labelling people and making us versus them. And so we don’t see the people, we see them being Christians or Muslims and we hate them because of that and so that’s another reason why, I think, religion gets in the way because it causes us to stereotype people instead of seeing people as individuals with a common humanity…

Tony Jones interrupts with something meaningless… and Krauss gets back on point…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: The point is that obviously they were driven by hate. My point was that they were not killing that poor young man because they knew him, they knew anything about him. They had already labelled him by a bunch of labels: military, representative of a Christian state that had done supposed atrocities against Islam and that is the kind of labelling that leads people to be able to do these heinous acts because they no longer see people as people but representative of something they hate and that, to me, is one of the real problems of the us versus themness of religious groups that cause other people to no longer be people.

Then he lets this clanger rip. Holy contradiction Batman.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Steve Weinberg, who is a physicist and also an atheist, said that there are good people and there are bad people and good people do good things and bad people do bad things. When good people do bad things, it’s religion.

Where Nile went wrong

Nile wasn’t great on the homosexuality question. He was faithful. He tried. He tried to be loving. But he was just outclassed and out of touch on the origins of homosexual orientation. He argued that same sex attraction is a choice because it is changeable – when all that reveals is that change is possible, it says nothing about the origins of the attraction. What was interesting was that Krauss and Robinson had a bit of a disagreement – Robinson, “the gay Gene” (line of the night) suggested same sex attraction is a product of environmental factors that kick in before you’re three, which is consistent with just about everything I’ve read on the topic. Krauss “corrected” him, apparently he’s a biologist now, and there is a gay gene out there. Because some animals are gay. That’ll be news to people who’ve conducted twin studies.

I didn’t love his emphasis on the distinction between the Old Testament and the New Testament – the continuity is greater than the departure, and Jesus affirms the New Testament. It’s hard to present a nuanced account of the narratives of the Old Testament when the dices are loaded like they were in the questions, and when people have pretty strong preconceptions about horrible stories in the Old Testament, as though God affirms what is happening there. Like this exchange. Thanks for your objectivity and literary nuance Tony…

TONY JONES: Just like, in fact, you could take that psalm, which is out of the old testament, which suggests you could dash babies’ heads against rocks as part of a revenge against the Babylonians…

FRED NILE: Well, that’s the point I’m making, that that is no longer relevant in the new testament period. Jesus said that was the old covenant. We’re now under the new covenant.

The answer isn’t that that verse somehow applied literally once upon a time. The answer is to look at genre. Psalms, poetry, aren’t exactly known for being law. The Psalm does not say “you must dash babies’ heads against rocks”… nor is there any evidence that Israel was ever in a position where dashing Babylonian babies against rocks was a possibility. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Psalm is saying that Babylon is really, really, really bad. So bad that people who do things that sound really, really, really, bad to them are commended because they are so bad that such an act is good by comparison. That seems to make more sense of the text than a command to murder babies. Especially in its literary context, and in the narrative context (Israel’s history). Here is the offending verse…

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

This insensitivity to the context of passages in the Old Testament was demonstrated by panellists as well, so Krauss:

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: I am sure we will get to talk more about marriage but I want to go back to the questioner a little bit because it seems to me I actually kind of agree with him a little. I can’t quite understand why you stay in the church. I mean, look, you read the Bible and it’s pretty explicit. You know, there’s that wonderful section, really heart-warming, where Lot is visited by these angels, men and the town’s people want to take him on a raid and he says ‘No, no, rape my daughters instead,’ and, you know, it is one of the wonderful parts of the Bible. And when you read all of this and, you know, you read that men who lay together should be killed and all that, you know you can interpret it all you want but you’re sort of picking and choosing, I think. You decide you want to be a Christian and you throw out the stuff that you don’t like, like I think most Christians do, actually. Throw out the stuff you don’t like, keep the stuff you do. Why not just throw out the whole thing and just be happy and love people and be gay?

Lot’s actions aren’t affirmed in this narrative, you get the sense, if you’re a normal reader, that Lot isn’t held up as a paragon of righteousness here. Description isn’t prescription. This would be like me reading Krauss describing his version of Christian theology and ignoring the context and assuming that’s what he believes…

“People who are loving, caring, good people will go to hell.”

Or perhaps:

“Well, I mean, I actually think the worse crime in the new testament is the crucifixion of Jesus.”

The fuller context of these quotes is more fun than the misquoting game though…

Where Nile got it right – pushing Krauss on Jesus

The best bit of the night, for mine, was how incoherent Krauss looked on Jesus. He lost points a couple of times, and had the twittersphere turning against the snide new atheists with gems like this one…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, let me jump in and say – I mean we’re all pretending Jesus was this great guy but let’s step back and say this guy also seemed to say if you don’t believe in me you know what, you’ll be condemned. You know you won’t get to heaven. You’ll be condemned eternally to pain and worse than the people in Sodom and Gomorrah, just for not believing in me. What kind of God would you – I mean, you know, what kind of love is that? What kind of love…

FRED NILE: That was the…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: People who are loving, caring, good people will go to hell for all eternity for choosing – choosing to have the – to use their brains and I find that just, you know.

Then there was this one…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, I mean, I actually think the worse crime in the new testament is the crucifixion of Jesus. It seems to me amazing that you solve the problems of the world by having someone sacrifice – by having this person violently tortured and sacrificed for the sins of a non-existent forbearer, who made a mistake of taking an apple from a rib-woman. I mean it just doesn’t seem to make sense.

TONY JONES: Okay. All right.

FRED NILE: Jesus was dying for all of our sins. Your sins and my sins and the victim’s sins.

And finally, what I think made the night worth the price of admission… or what would have if I’d paid to be admitted…

FRED NILE: I would just like to challenge Lawrence that the greatest fact is the fact of Jesus Christ.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: How do you know?

FRED NILE: He is a reality and he came into this world to show us the way of salvation and he said in his own teaching…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Is that because he said he did?

FRED NILE: …”Who do you say that I am?” And so the question you have to ask who was Jesus Christ and what is his meaning – what is his meaning, his life to you and his death? You talked about the crucifixion. What does his death mean for you? And it’s a source of salvation. He died for our sins, the sins of the world.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, you know, when someone tells me they’re God I tend not to believe it. Okay. But, you know…

FRED NILE: But have you studied…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Hold on.

FRED NILE: Are you open-minded enough as a scientist…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: I’m not even sure he was real, to tell you the truth.

FRED NILE: …to study – to study Jesus Christ and to study the new testament?

MULTIPLE SPEAKERS TALK AT ONCE

FRED NILE: Are you open-minded enough, I just…

TONY JONES: Fred. Fred. Fred.

FRED NILE: …would like you to give me…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: When I was a kid…

TONY JONES: Can I just put this to you, the counterpoint: Are you open-minded enough to accept the Muslim position that Mohammed is the greatest man in history?

FRED NILE: I don’t believe he is the greatest man in history in the same way Jesus Christ was. Jesus Christ was the son of God and…

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: But that’s because you have decided he is.

FRED NILE: But that’s factual history. You can actually study that.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Factual history?

FRED NILE: There are documents, there are historical documents, that show that. It’s not a myth.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: That show what: that he existed or he is the son of God?

FRED NILE: That he existed and how he was born and so on.

 

John Dickson on #qanda

I’m thankful Australian Christianity has spokespeople who don’t play the stupid combative game that Q&A seems to thrive on. John Dickson continued in Peter Jensen’s fine tradition (not Pell’s so much, thankfully).

science plus Jesus

Image Credit: Australian Christian News

I really appreciated his willingness to charitably cede points, and agree with others on the panel in order to make the most important point, and to push on despite being interrupted to get his key message across. This is a paraphrase, I only started typing what he was saying about halfway through… but I thought this bit was the highlight. The transcript is now available, and I’ve included some other highlights below.

“you’ve got to ask yourself the question: is there any evidence on the world stage that this God we think is maybe just a mind has touched the earth in a tangible way? And for me, if you are asking me why do I think there’s a God, it’s this philosophy of science, plus the life of Jesus.”

There were some great #qanda tweets on screen tonight too that indicated Dickson’s approach, and the substance of his answers, was appreciated by the non-Christians in the audience.

I’m sure others are going to be more or less excited about his treatment of science – but historically, there’s little doubt that science arose on the back of a Christian desire to know more about God’s creation, so there is something nice about not tossing science under the bus while acknowledging that it is a movable feast – a point Krauss made very strongly over and over again – science isn’t set in stone, it’s an ongoing discussion of the evidence, and what Dickson demonstrated is that a robust Christian faith has nothing to fear from science – because it’s all about Jesus, and understanding how the Bible relates to the God who created the world reaching out to touch it in the person, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

It’s worth pointing out that while Dickson accepted a truckload of science that some Christians might be unhappy with – including stuff about the age of the earth and evolution – he wasn’t asked about the historicity of Adam, which is where a lot of the theological weight in the debate rests – he also didn’t say anything disputable about the content of Genesis 1-2, what might be in dispute is what to do with his genre observations… and being honest about the history, intentions, usefulness, and limitations of science while being clear about who Jesus is, in a program that was trending worldwide on Twitter, is, I think, a win. The program format limits the panelists’ ability to come back and clarify or expand on the points they make – so while I’ve read a bunch of people throwing rocks at Dickson, on Twitter, in the comments here, etc – I think you’ve got to take the format into account.

Here were some bits from Dickson that I thought were just stellar…

“I agree with almost everything Lawrence just said actually except I would beg to differ about whether science can actually produce an ethic. I think human beings produce an ethic and we decide whether to use science positively or negatively according to our world view and history is littered with examples of science being used brilliantly, ethically so, and times when it’s used badly. I disagree that science has any ethical import. It’s a neutral discipline and it’s a wonderful discipline. The little quips that I heard throughout about science is all about humility and so on I love. In fact Peter Harrison of Oxford University, who is one of the world’s leading historians of science, thinks that it was a revolution in this doctrine of humility that flourished in the 14th and 15th centuries that got science going in Europe in part. It’s not a total explanation but that as Augustine philosophy developed, which basically said human beings are flawed so we need better techniques. We can’t trust our brains. We need to observe, and this Augustinian philosophy grew out of Christianity, as you know, and so Christianity probably is, in part, responsible for science in the first place. I agree that it shouldn’t stick its head in now and tell the scientists what to do. My view is let the scientists do the science. My view is let the scientists do the science and let religious believers do what they do.”

This bit (Family First can learn from this one)…

“The only thing I want to pick up Lawrence with is to say to call it child abuse, to me there are two problems with this. One, it so inflames the conversation and I think the new atheism breeds of this kind of inflamed kind of conversation. The second thing I find very uncomfortable about it is that anyone in the audience who has actually been abused finds that a very odd use of that very loaded term. I know you don’t mean it like that but it’s like someone saying “Oh, that’s a holocaust”. There is one holocaust.”

This was the absolute gold.

JOHN DICKSON: “We live in a universe that operates according to these elegant, beautiful laws and when I read your book this week I was more convinced that that’s the case. And this universe, operating according to these elegant laws, has produced minds that now understand the laws, especially this mind next to us. And so this, to me, all looks and this is not a proof for God but I’m just saying why a lot of people think the God thing has a lot going for it, the whole thing looks rational. The whole thing looks set up to be known. Now, only known in a rational, like the God of Einstein, so then you’ve got to ask yourself the question: is there any evidence on the world stage that this God we think is maybe just a mind has touched the earth in a tangible way? And for me, if you are asking me why do I think there’s a God, it’s this philosophy of science, plus the life of Jesus.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, yeah, but hold on. There was a bait and switch there that I object to and that was that…

JOHN DICKSON: Can I get to the end of the bait?

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, you said Jesus and then you started going off and we were no longer – okay.

JOHN DICKSON: So what I’m saying is you ask yourself the question: is there any tangible thing in the history of the world that looks like contact from the God we suspect might be there? The overwhelming – I think overwhelming evidence points in the direction of Jesus, his life, his teaching and his healings, his death and resurrection. And when I come to believe that, this opens up the world to me. It is like CS Lewis saying “I believe in Christianity for the same reason I believe in the sun, not because I can look at it but because by it I see everything”. And, for me, Christianity explains the world I live in in such a spooky and deep way that I find I feel I have met the God I had a hunch was there based only on the beautiful elegant (indistinct)…

TONY JONES: Okay. All right. So now we’ve moved into the – I was going to say I would like Lawrence to respond to that. We have moved into the area of intuition now and perhaps…

JOHN DICKSON: And history.”

I barely watch Q&A anymore – five panelists is far too many. Tonight would have been sensational had it just been Krauss and Dickson, the others (as much as I like Tanya Plibersek) added nothing to the discussion, and there were too many times where misunderstandings were glossed over and not resolved in order for the pollies to get their bits about climate change in.

Did you catch it? What’d you think?

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.

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).