censorship

Cancelled (by Martyn)

“Those who hate the truth must censor” — Martyn Iles

I’m still trying to navigate that tension of not being sucked into the culture war vortex that some Christian leaders from the hard right want to call us into (and look, I suspect there’s some bias in this Fairfax report about a recent conference here in Brisbane, but probably not that much…), but also calling such leaders who claim to represent Christ to account. Not because I think this is my job in particular — but if a group is going to claim to represent Christians, then I do think they should be prepared to listen to their constituency; and the nature of lots of these movements is that they are a law unto themselves and disconnected from institutions who provide accountability and discipline (so, for example, if I’m out of line, you’re welcome to take that up with the Presbyterian Church, who I am accountable to for my words and actions).

So while I’m trying to avoid ungodly and combative interactions with the likes of Martyn Iles and Lyle Shelton on social media, I do see a whole lot of other leaders in the church sit idly by, and talk to many of them in private about shared concerns about the direction these men and their organisations are pulling the church, or at least the public perception of Christians.

So last night when Martyn Iles posted a long (by his standards) rant about the irreverence of just referring to Jesus by his name, Jesus, rather than a host of divine titles also due to him as Lord and Christ, I responded. I suggested he might go to a theological institution and get some training before putting himself in the position of teacher and judge. Accountability is a good thing after all; so is expertise. Then I tagged a prominent Christian social commentator and historian asking for his talks, and that commentator responded by pointing out that young Martyn’s hypothesis seemed misguided when weighed up in the Gospels.

This is the same Martyn Iles who hates cancel culture and who just recently posted this about censorship:

But now, dear reader, after some very mediocre analysis of Martyn’s truth claim; analysis made public, but counter to the view Martyn would have his readers hear, my comments have been censored (removed) — and my ability to comment on Martyn’s wall has been revoked. Or one might say I’ve been “cancelled”…

Now. I’m not a victim here. I am not playing the victim card by making this observation. I’m sure Martyn and whoever gets roped in to run his socials sees my contributions as generally against the mission of the organisation or platform, and I have plenty of platforms where I can exercise my own free speech, and speak both my own mind, legitimate criticism of Martyn and the ACL and the direction they seek to take the church, and even against this sort of censorship. I have plenty of privilege and this isn’t, ultimately, a restriction of my voice. It’s not like Martyn’s wall is a news service (he and the ACL kept posting things through Facebook’s news ban).

I’m also known to block people infrequently on social media, for my own headspace, and, because, at some point I am not obliged to provide a platform for views I don’t agree with. I’m really reluctant to do this, and so comment threads on things I write can get messy and ugly (especially on Facebook). I am not a ‘public square’ — my Facebook presence is a private square that I, in various ways, rent from Facebook (by providing content and getting people to spend time on their site), and my blog is utterly ‘privately owned’ — it receives no funding beyond the dollars I pour into keeping it running. How I choose to use this space, or my ‘rented’ space on Facebook, is up to me as host. That’s fine.

People not wanting to respect the ‘house rules’ is a thing that makes me think more censorship would be a good thing, not to prevent analysis, but because hospitality might sometimes require kicking out guests who want to make everyone else feel unwelcome. This is a thing called the ‘paradox of tolerance’ — and I tend not to pull that lever to censor ideas, but rather to protect relationships.

But it does strike me as interesting. The people who bang on about censorship and cancel culture are so quick to employ it.

And there’s a silver lining here — because I spent most of my morning chatting to people who’d only come across Martyn’s stuff on Facebook because I couldn’t help but comment on it… And now. Well.

Anonymous v Westboro: Unappointed arbiters, justice, and the dangers of repaying evil with evil

In the past, Anonymous, the anonymous group of hacktivists, were reportedly set to lock horns with Westboro Baptist – the hatemongering group who protest at the funerals of dead soldiers and the victims of tragedy, shout slogans outside concerts around the US, and target other churches. They also recently appeared on Russell Brand’s TV talk show.

The problem with being an anonymous group is that you’re pretty easy to imitate, and the group initially denied targeting Westboro – but claimed they were watching, and then hacked their website for the lols.

Now. Anonymous is getting serious.

After Westboro announced they were going to picket the funerals of the victims of the Newtown school shooting (note – not a particularly Christian response to tragedy), Anonymous acted. Circulating contact details for the members of the church around the internet, and posting this ominous video on the Westboro website.

Just be warned – there’s a pretty shocking high pitched noise at the end of the speaking, that might make you jump.

Anonymous – Message To The Westboro Baptist Church from @kyanonymous on Vimeo.

Here’s a snippet of the script – which you can find in full on the Vimeo page.

“Your pseudo-faith is abhorrent, and your leaders, repugnant. Your impact and cause is hazardous to the lives of millions and you fail to see the wrong in promoting the deaths of innocent people. You are self-appointed servants of God who rewrite the words of His sacred scripture to adhere to your prejudice. Your hatred supersedes your faith, and you use faith to promote your hatred.

Since your one-dimensional thought protocol will conform not to any modern logic, we will not debate, argue, or attempt to reason with you. Instead, we have unanimously deemed your organization to be harmful to the population of The United States of America, and have therefore decided to execute an agenda of action which will progressively dismantle your institution of deceitful pretext and extreme bias, and cease when your zealotry runs dry. We recognize you as serious opponents, and do not expect our campaign to terminate in a short period of time. Attrition is our weapon, and we will waste no time, money, effort, and enjoyment, in tearing your resolve into pieces, as with exposing the incongruity of your distorted faith.”

Anonymous may or may not have orchestrated this petition to have Westboro’s tax exempt status withdrawn by declaring them a hate group (perhaps a more useful petition than the bid to build a death star). That petition has passed the threshold required for a response from the White House.

Part of me really wants Anonymous to succeed. I love the idea of hacktivism, especially when it’s directed at such an insidious group who do real harm to people, and to the gospel of Jesus.

It’d be nice to have the power to do something when tragedy strikes. When there’s someone who is clearly in the wrong – be they directly involved, or a parasitic third party.

But another part of me worries about a society where censorship is dictated either by the consensus of the majority, or the activism of a powerful, and hidden, minority.

It presents another dilemma – given that Anonymous is anonymous – and completely not accountable to anybody but themselves – unlike duly elected representatives of the state – this classic dilemma, is expressed in this manner in Latin:

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Or “who watches the watchmen?”

Who watches those who appoint themselves as gatekeepers for society? The moral arbiters? Especially if they’re vindictive, and have something that approaches unlimited power to wreak carnage.

The society anonymous seeks to prevent, at least if it’s really channeling V for Vendetta – which the Guy Fawkes mask they own as their own would suggest, is a totalitarian society driven by tyranny, where opposing views are silenced.

There’s something disturbing and ironic about Anonymous appointing themselves as the totalitarian regime, potentially enabling lynch mobs through the publication of contact details of a widely hated group.

There’s a tension here. Words have consequences, and speech is never really free. There’s a problem when “free speech” means you can say anything to harm anybody without the fear of consequences. But there’s an obvious problem, too, with preventing people from speaking because you disagree with what they’re saying.

I hate what Westboro do. I hate that they stand outside funerals and compound the grief of the grieving. I hate that they claim to do it in the name of Jesus. But I’m not called to hate the individuals who make up Westboro. I’m called to love them. I’m not called to silence them. I’m called to speak truth to them. With love.

There should be consequences for Westboro’s hate speech. And they shouldn’t be allowed to say what they want to say wherever they want to say it (namely, outside funerals). But if they want to preach their abominable gospel from their abominable pulpit, and from their website – then they should be free to do it. We get into dangerous territory if people can silence views they disagree with, rather than simply having equal opportunity to speak against them, and let the market decide.

But the Anonymous campaign goes further than that – it aims to silence the group.

They say:

We will not allow you to corrupt the minds of America with your seeds of hatred. We will not allow you to inspire aggression to the social factions which you deem inferior. We will render you obsolete. We will destroy you. We are coming.

Everyone is equal.

They mean everyone is equal – except Westboro. It’s all very animal farm – and they’re the pigs. Again, a subversion of anti-totalitarian literature…

There’s a little bit of recent form for this – Anonymous also targeted the advertisers who were prepared to continue advertising with 2Day FM after the recent tragic outcome of a prank call. Blaming the network for the unfortunate, and unforeseeable, outcome of the broadcast. YouTube has canned the videobut you can still see it at The Australian (you may need to google it to get behind the paywall).

“We have studied the facts and found you guilty of murder. You have placed yourself in an untenable position. You have placed your advertisers at risk – their databases, their websites, their online advertising.

We are Anonymous and hereby demand you terminate the contracts of Mel Greig and Michael Christian. We will not listen to any more excuses. We will not let you escape your responsibility. You have a funeral to pay for. We are Anonymous. We are legion. We are amongst you. Expect us. This is not a prank call; this is no laughing matter. This is your one and only chance to make amends. You have one week to do so.”

They’re Judge. Jury. Executioner. Pretty totalitarian – the separation of powers is one of the checks and balances modern democracies use to prevent something of the situation we’ve seen in the past.

Westboro’s idiocy, their evil, their hate – it doesn’t dehumanise them. It just makes them stupid, evil, hatemongers.

My inner idealist would just like to see people continue to be able to sustain the distinction between Westboro and the rest of the people in the world who call themselves Christians, without the need to even talk about them when they do stupid stuff. But their hateful message is powerful because people are always on the look out for an other to hate, and a cause to belong to. We have skinheads. Gangs. Anonymous web terrorists.

I can’t help but think that a much better – particularly if you’re a Christian – response to Westboro (and to Anonymous) is to respond with unexpected love, bizarrely – this is just what Russell Brand did. And what Mars Hill did when Westboro came knocking at their church doors.

Doing this properly requires two things of us.

First, we’ve got to believe that there’s a just God waiting at the end of time to punish wrong doings, and judge justly. The sins of Westboro will not go unpunished. No wrongdoing will.

And this takes the need for us to act as judge, jury, and executioner out of our hands. Leaving us to love. Romans 12 says it best:

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

That’s the first bit – and already it takes some of the wind out of the sails of the Anonymous campaign (and it’s something Westboro should be taking note of too – but they’re not particularly adept at reading the Bible).

The second factor, perhaps more important. Is to remember that not only are we Anonymous – wanting to run things our way. To decide right and wrong for ourselves, and judge others by our standards. We are Westboro. We are the radio DJs whose poor judgment spiralled out of control. We are sinners. We are subject – by right – of judgment, by a perfect juror, and the execution that comes as a consequence.

Only, if you’re a Christian, Jesus took that judgment for you. Who are you to judge, if this is the case. The (potentially apocryphal) story of the woman at the well is a story worth heeding at this point, from John 8.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

At this point Anonymous finds themselves in the dangerous position of being the Pharisees – those opposed to Jesus – who miss the spirit of the law, and the true nature of humanity – rather than the righteous. They’re not claiming to be Christians – but they are claiming to be the righteous judges who serve a higher calling than mere mortals.

But what do I claim? What can I claim?

I am Fred Phelps. I am a hater. I am a sinner. My heart is a factory of pride, and my pride always comes at the expense of others. I need Jesus to step in for me. How can I do anything but offer love and grace to other sinners?

That’s the most worrying thing about Anonymous taking control – not only did we not choose them as the moral police, not only do they lack any of the accountability required stand in judgment over other sinners, they seem unprepared to treat those they oppose as humans. With love.

Celebrate “Freethinking” with GodBlock

If there’s one thing I love about our new atheist friends it’s that they’re so open minded and freethinking. They really strive to get to the bottom of different points of view, while considering the “evidence.” They definitely don’t want to censor ideas they disagree with – because myopia is exactly what they accuse us blinkered theists of suffering from.

True freethinkers should surely be encouraging their children to participate in religious discourse – even if it’s being promoted by people from philosophically divergent points. That is, of course, what freethinking looks like. Participation in the marketplace of ideas without regulation or constraint. Free thinking should be to ideas what the free market is to the economy – the unrestrained ability to find a product, or position, that you believe is best.

Which is why I’m happy to present the latest tool in the atheist toolkit – GodBlock – don’t let your children stumble across God on the Internet lest their judgment become clouded (or indeed lest they become “indoctrinated” – the side effects of which are greater than any immunisation).

Here’s why GodBlock exists:

“In the last century, the United States has seen a resurgence of fundamentalist religion. Fundamentalist Evangelicals, Mormons, Baptists, Muslims, and Jews have held back progress in science, human rights, civil rights, and protecting our environment. How can we reverse this trend and join the rest of the world in the gradual secularization of society and government?

Most deeply religious people are born into their religion, but even children raised in a secular household are vulnerable to content on the web. That’s why we’ve produced GodBlock. GodBlock is a web filter that blocks religious content. It is targeted at parents and schools who wish to protect their kids from the often violent, sexual, and psychologically harmful material in many holy texts, and from being indoctrinated into any religion before they are of the age to make such decisions.”

Yes, on no account must we allow people to think for themselves. If the Bible (or other texts) are so inherently harmful and violent then surely good atheist parents will be able to talk through the issue with their children in order to guide them on paths of righteousness…

Barefoot and fancy free – The gripping conclusion

I dropped by my nemesis’s site tonight – I was bored. It seems the barefoot bum has been spanked by blogger for breaching their terms.

I did consider flagging him as inapprorpriate – but I can’t remember if I ended up doing so… serves him right. He was a nasty piece of work.

“Blogger strongly believes in freedom of speech. We believe that having a variety of perspectives is an important part of what makes blogs such an exciting and diverse medium. With that said, there are certain types of content that are not allowed on Blogger. While Blogger values and safeguards political and social commentary, material that promotes hatred toward groups based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity is not allowed on Blogger.”

Nemesis

I think I officially have an online nemesis. And I’m unworried. The Barefoot Bum has written a couple more posts about how many problems he has with me – and refuses to post my comments. How beautifully ironic given that he suggested I’d edit my comments after he posted his rant.

Anyway, don’t bother commenting there. It’s not worth the angst. He’s certainly pretty sure of his faith. And pretty abusive.

In closing, I give you this statement based on my experiences posting comments on atheist blogs this week:

Atheist communities are a group of people united by nothing.

Tanner’s hide

Finance and Deregulation Minister Lindsay Tanner is Web 2.0 enabled with a blog over at the SMH. Today’s post is all about the government’s new Web 2.0 based thinking – they’re probably going to use blogs in some upcoming community consultation. Ironic really, given that the same government is advocating restrictions to the internet that would put us on par with China. Perhaps comments they don’t agree with in the consultative process will be blocked? Or the IP address taken down and the perpetraitor (sic) silently removed from their homes and literally excommunicated (possibly a removal of Internet privileges).

Here’s Tanner’s rather convoluted description of what he thinks about Web 2.0…

“This new mode of production is known in the academic literature as peer production, but is more commonly referred to as Web 2.0. It is a trend that applies to much more than the creation of cultural goods, although these goods, such as the innumerable YouTube video mashups which poke fun at politicians, are acting as the harbingers of change.”

“Peer production empowers every citizen to be creator and critic, as well as consumer, of information. It is a mode of production that is enabled by two key factors. The first is the collapse of cost barriers to producing information – computers are now widely accessible in western society. The second is the removal of logistical and functional barriers to collaboration through new internet based networks.”

“The glue that binds peer production together is the ethic of collaboration it inculcates among groups. People contribute their time to peer production because they find communities with a passion for making their adopted content niche the best it can be.”

“This environment also creates efficiencies by allowing skilled amateurs to allocate their intellectual capital to the content niche about which they are most passionate. This is significant when you consider the quality and value of work done by people for love and not money.”

All in all, his article is a pretty garbled way of saying the Government is down with the Internets and all that.

“These changes are not easy for government to process. Our Westminster bureaucracy has optimised its policy production processes over centuries. Adaptation to the new information environment will be neither quick nor easy.”

I guess that’s something Obama can relate to.
Here’s his obligatory dig at the Howard Government:

“The Australian Government should be leading the way in adapting our old processes of consultation, policy making and regulation to the connected world. Yet we lag behind other nations in both the scale and pace of reform, a situation largely attributable to the culture of secrecy, spin and apathy of the Howard years.”

“I am taking steps to reinvigorate the Commonwealth’s efforts in this area. For example, early in the new year the Government will run a number of trial online consultations using blogs and other Web 2.0 tools”

You know what would be brilliantly ironic – if all this consultation got blocked by the Government’s proposed clean feed (a very bad idea – putting us on par with China in terms of restrictions) with it’s invisible blacklist of sites. My disdain for the Australian Christian Lobby is growing – I think they miss the point on so many issues when dealing with a secular government and trying to impose Christian values on the general public – who generally aren’t Christians. I acknowledge that as Christians we believe our way of life is better – and more in line with God’s expectations – but it’s not for us to impose our code of conduct on the rest of society. I also acknowledge that increased consumption of pornography has some links to increases in sexual violence and is socially undesirable. But I don’t think this is the way to tackle it – and I don’t think – as Jim Wallace so tactlessly put it that opposing this plan is tantamount to supporting the evils that lurk in the dark corners of the internet. Here’s the quote from the ACL Media Release.

“Obviously the Internet industry is going to continue to fight this important initiative

but the interests of children must be placed first.”

“The need to prevent access to illegal hard-core material and child pornography must

be placed above the industry’s desire for unfettered access.”

Censorship is bad. Particularly for the church. Once you start advocating censorship what happens if a militant anti-Christian or Islamic party gets in and adds all the Christian sites to the black list? Have you thought about that ACL? Have you? Christians who are serious about Christianity’s real agenda – which is the proclamation of the gospel can not be supportive of Government intervention into the minds and beliefs of the general public.
By all means, if you’re a Christian then take part in the political process – but don’t pretend to speak for all of us – and do so to raise your opinion on a matter – not to demand legislation be based on a Christian world view. That is not in the spirit of democracy – that’s a theocracy.
Oh, and if you want to voice your opinion on this matter through the press (or the Government’s upcoming Web 2.0 consultancy process) – the ACL has a handy letters to the editor writing guide.
I’m going to do some work now.

Censored

Apparently some students from Washington State University were less than happy having their accidental emails to yours truly posted online. Something about privacy issues, stalkers and the like. I’d post the email I received from the student, and the lecturer – but they would probably feel violated. I have removed names and student numbers from the original post. I don’t like censorship – I’m a freedom of speech advocate myself. Did you know that Australia has no constitutionally enshrined “freedom of speech” we’ve just stolen the concept from the US. Interesting stuff really – censorship can be a necessary evil, obviously certain sections of society need to be restricted from accessing particular content. A lot of Christians are pro-censorship when it comes to areas like the arts without really thinking through the issue – what if one day censorship swung around and tried to restrict religious discussion (ala the “Catch the Fire Ministries” court case on religious vilification) – we can’t have our proverbial cake and eat it too at that point – you’re either with free speech or you’re against free speech.

One person who probably should be censored is Joe. His blog is a fine example of that which we should be seeking to keep out of the hands of innocents. There are probably a number of things that really should be censored like Channel 7’s Sunrise program which last week ran an obviously fake photo of the Strand in Townsville under flood water believing it to be real. I emailed them several times seeking a retraction on behalf of Townsville’s tourism industry and they ignored me. Channel Nine ran the Sunrise story in their news bulletin last night after we got Tourism Queensland to put out a statement about the photoshopped picture. Funny stuff.

I was going to write about political activism and piracy (the nautical kind) but I’ll leave that until this afternoon or something.

Free speech and criticism

It seems that these days everyone’s a critic. I decided to post the following bits of criticisim from Mel and Sara in the interest of a free press, in a brutal body blow to the concept of blog censorship (I’m not sure it’s really an issue – some blogs need to be censored), and to promote freedom of speech. I really want to make sure that no one misses out on these gems – I really do value your feedback and opinions (that is to say I place value on them – not I hold them in high regard).

Sara says…
“This isn’t exactly what I had in mind Nathan when you said you might mention me in your blog… Oh well, I probably shouldn’t make assumptions. Really, I should have guessed how imprudently impudent you are. (I looked those words up in a Thesaurus, does that disprove Nath labelling me uneducated? And another thing, don’t unintiated and ignorant mean the same thing? So really, aren’t you just repeating yourself for the sake of making yourself look more intelligent? It could be similar to saying that your post alludes and insinuates that Mel and myself are uninformed. While each word had its own distiction, in this instance it’s clear that they both mean the same thing.)Now how am I going at proving my acumen? On a lighter note, CB; you’re a champ! Thanks for sticking up for us!”

Sara wrote that comment on Sunday evening. She was so passionate about getting everything perfect that she was late to church. I’m afraid looking up a thesaurus does not further your argument Sara. There would also be a subtle distinction between uninitiated and ignorant, but I can’t be bothered making it up. I apologise if you feel I either alluded or insinuated that you were ignorant. I meant to say it outright. That’s not true, it was just a good punch line.

Mel said…
“Nathan – you egotistical pig!It was great having you back… but may also be great you’ve left – I just read the blog & if you were still here, you’d be injured or dead…DON’T EVER COME CRYING TO ME ABOUT BEING SICK – I WON’T HELP YOU! My university degree mustn’t be enough to prove i have some intelligence, so I won’t use it to help you. You don’t need big words to be intelligent. I read plenty of books – maybe even more than you! I don’t see the use in talking myself up by pretending to sound smart. (Unlike some)Sara & I are intelligent.. perhaps you are just too thick to see it. Our suggestion was to make it more reader friendly – not so wordy… Or pretentious. Thanks CB – you are great!”

Mel, maybe I sound smart because I am? I’m not sure a university degree really says anything about anyone’s intelligence any more than owning a tractor says something about a person’s farming ability.

So, there you have it, according to Mel and Sara, I’m an egotistical, impudent, imprudent, and pretentious pig. On the other hand CB is a great champ.

For the record – all I did to encourage such thinking was refer to a conversation in which certain parties suggested that my blog was too intellectual for them. Obviously these people missed all the fart jokes, nudie runs, and other low brow content contained in the archives of nathanintownsville.blogspot.com.

For the record, my blog now contains a stirring 27,000 words. That’s over half a Mills and Boon novel.

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