Friday, July 31, 2009

Breakfast Radio Show: Cruel Entertainment

Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O are being criticised at the moment for something that happened on their breakfast show. They hooked a 14 year old girl up to a lie detector and got her mother to ask her questions. When the mother asked about the girl’s sexual history, the girl broke down and said she was raped.

The police is now involved with investigating the rape, which was never reported. And although most people seem to agree that Sandilands and Jackie O would not have known about the rape, questions have been asked about why they would get a 14 year old to answer questions from their mother while hooked up to a lie detector in the first place.

The focus has been very much on Sandilands and Jackie O and this specific incident, but questions also need to be asked about breakfast shows in general. Much as they deserve our criticism, they were working in the type of environment where ratings and publicity is important. They didn’t decide to pull this stunt in isolation of all other factors. They did it because they understand the types of stunts that the media talk about and that pull in the listeners.

It’s easy to see that a 14 year old girl breaking down and admitting to a rape is not a good thing. But are we so easily upset when radio shows constantly do things that place a high value on entertainment, and not much value on people. I don’t listen to Sandilands and Jackie O. But I have listened to some breakfast radio shows. And many of them seem to always be pulling the kind of pranks where others can get hurt. It doesn’t seem to matter, so long as people are listening.

And that’s where perhaps society is at least a bit in fault in the Sandilands and Jackie O incident. Because we listen. And we laugh. When someone rings someone up, pretending to be someone else, and gets a pretty annoyed person on the other line, we think it’s funny. When a competition is held that involves people doing things they really should not be doing, we either enter or we at least tune in to see who wins.

We’re like the audience at a Roman gladiator contest. It’s easy to tell ourselves we’re not to blame because we’re not the ones actually organising the event. But if it wasn’t for our attendance and our desire to ‘see blood’, the events would not be held in the first place.

Who really is to blame? Sandilands and Jackie O for organising this. Or the many listeners who would have tuned in, even though at least some of them would have suspected that it wasn’t quite right. If the girl had not broken down and confessed to rape, would it have just been another radio prank that is talked about in offices and laughed about with friends. Would we have been so ready to say it was a wrong thing to do? Or would we have kept silent, and listened in the next time they did something similar. Because hey, it might be wrong. But it was entertaining.

We live in a world where we are constantly entertained. We have TVs, radios, DVD players, Playstations, iPods, the internet. It takes a lot to catch our attention. And this need to entertain is not just relegated to the media. Even churches, shopping centres and schools feel this pressure to be entertaining.

And unfortunately, what often entertains us is the misfortune of others. We are entertained when people are hurt, angry, annoyed or fighting. If it’s controversial, so much the better. In the blogging community I used to write for, the posts that got the highest ratings and the most comments were not the ones that were particularly well written or had something valuable to say. They were the ones where people were arguing or saying mean things.

When I first started writing this post, I was feeling quite virtuous. Other people might be at fault in the Sandilands and Jackie O incident, but not me. I don’t listen to them. The only breakfast radio show I listen to is Radio National, and they’re definitely prank free. But you know what? In that old blogging community, I used to check out the posts where people were arguing just as much as anyone else. It seems I too am entertained by arguments, fights and squabbles. And it’s this desire to ‘see blood’ that allows those kind of things to continue.

Now I don’t want to let Sandilands and Jackie O off the hook. What they did was wrong. And I don’t want to lump all breakfast shows in together. I am sure that some of them do realise the importance of people and know when to draw the line. And I also know that many of them do good things for people, through their fundraising efforts and giving people a voice that they otherwise would not have.

But I think the question still needs to be asked, not just by breakfast show hosts, not just by people in the media, but by everyone who has ever entertained others or ever sought to be entertained. When does entertainment become cruelty?

(Image details - Pollice Verso by Jean-Leon Gerome)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Love and Compassion in a Virtual World

In Australia recently, a teenager committed suicide about being bullied on the internet. Although I’m not a teenager and I wouldn’t exactly call it bullying, nor did the episode leave me feeling at all distraught, let alone suicidal, I too have experienced a fair bit of nastiness from people over the internet.

It left me wondering why people seem to be so cruel when the internet is involved. And whether we treat people differently on the internet than we do face to face. And most importantly, how should we interact with others in cyberspace?

When Jesus told his disciples that the greatest commandment was to love others, they could never have foreseen a world in which we communicate with people on the other side of the world. We write messages and interact with others who we may never see and never meet, who often seem not quite real to us. Not only that, but we ourselves can communicate in such a way that we remain mostly anonymous. We are virtual people talking to virtual people, living in virtual realities.

So does interacting in a virtual world mean we are only to love others virtually? Or does love and compassion have no place on the internet at all? Or should we always seek to treat others with dignity, love and compassion, regardless of how we are interacting with them?

It almost sounds like the question the disciples asked Jesus. Who exactly is our neighbour? Back then, I’m sure they were thinking of whether their neighbour was their friend or their relative or the people of their home town or a fellow Jew. When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus expanded the idea of neighbour to include much more than they would have imagined.

Today, we might ask ‘Well who is my neighbour?’ Is it just the people I can see and touch and know. And I’m pretty sure that Jesus would expand our idea of neighbour to include even those people we only ‘meet’ on a computer screen. Even if we don’t know their name, even if we don’t know what they look like, even if they’re misrepresenting themselves, they are still our neighbour.

It is tempting to treat people in cyberspace differently than how we treat people we meet face to face. One reason why we may treat people differently on the internet is we are anonymous. The face that many of us show to the world is not a true reflection of what’s in our hearts. We treat each other with love and compassion, but our love and compassion only goes skin-deep. We act in a certain way because we don’t want to lose friends, or gain the disapproval of others.

The internet strips away many of these reasons. We cannot lose friends, because we don’t know the people we are communicating with. And if people disapprove, it doesn’t really matter, because they don’t know who we really are. In fact, the internet can often be an excuse to act out what really is in our heart, without fear of being found out or judged.

Jesus said that it’s what’s in our heart that matters. And the way we act towards others on the internet may be a good guide as to what we’re really like inside. We may think we are nice and fair and kind. But if we don’t act that way when we're anonymous, then perhaps we’re not really that way at all.

And we should also remember that just because we have certain thoughts in our mind, doesn’t mean we should put them out there where they can hurt other people. The fact we think something doesn’t mean we should write it. If what we are thinking is hurtful or mean, we should probably try to readjust our heart, rather than letting it all out on the internet.

Another reason we may be tempted to be cruel in cyberspace is we don’t know the people we are communicating with. And it’s harder to care about people who we don’t know. Different people will reveal different aspect of themselves. But for some of the people we interact with online, we know nothing more than the name they have chosen to use. We don’t know about their families or their friends or their problems or their lives. It is harder to care for people, when we know so little.

Not only do we know so little about them, but we see so little about how our words can hurt them. When we talk to someone in real life, we can usually tell when we have upset or offended someone or hurt somebody’s feelings. On the internet, we only know what someone chooses to reveal to us. Not only that, but we do not have to face their reactions to us if we don’t want to. We switch off the computer and no longer have to deal with it.

Sometimes it’s hard to even remember that they are real people. They feel a bit like the Microsoft Help paperclip. Just part of our computer experience. We turn the computer off and the person goes away. We read their comments. We interact with them. But we get no sense of who they really are, and so it’s easy to forget that they really are someone. They’re not just a character in a software program. They are real people who lead real lives. They care. They cry. They feel. And most importantly, God knows who they are. They are real people to Him. People that God cares about. And so we should care about them too.

(Image Details - The Good Samaritan - George Frederic Watts.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What we lose with progress

To most, progress is seen as a good thing, as something we should embrace. When the word ‘progress’ is used, there is often the suggestion that the world is continually improving. And anyone who doesn’t like progress doesn’t want the world to get better.

Technology is seen as good, so long as it doesn’t harm anybody else. We invent items to meet needs we didn’t know we had. Yesterday’s inventions are today’s necessities. And anybody who doesn’t rush out and buy them is told they are missing out or continuing to do things the hard way.

Science is seen as good – usually. There is often the idea that just because we might be able to do something, we should go out and try it. This is particularly the case when it comes to advances in medical knowledge. If there’s a chance we can prevent or cure diseases, then progress means exploring the possibilities.

Ideas are also good – the new ones that is. Stick the tag ‘progressive’ onto any new and different idea and you’re immediately suggesting it’s something that people should embrace. Discussing new and different ideas is often coupled with a rejection of old or traditional ideas. Those that embrace the new are ‘progressive’. Those that continue to follow traditional ideas or beliefs are old-fashioned, irrational or immature. And if those old ideas disadvantage anybody, then you’re practically treated like a monster.

But what is it exactly that we’re progressing towards. Are we trying to improve the world? Are we continually getting closer to some kind of ideal?

I believe that what we are trying to progress towards is a world where nobody has to suffer, nobody has to face any difficulties, nobody is disadvantaged and nobody has to feel bad about anything at all.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Almost Utopian, in fact. But I’m not convinced that it is good. Firstly, because usually it’s only the people with money that come anywhere close to this ideal. And so many people are under pressure to make more money, so that they too can live in this blissful world where everything is easy and painless. Meanwhile, the people without money continue to live in a world that’s not even meeting their basic needs.

Secondly, I believe the more we ‘progress’ towards this ideal, the more we lose other things that area actually quite important.

First of all, guilt and repentance. In a world that places a high value on not feeling bad, guilt and repentance are downplayed quite a bit. And I would agree that too much guilt is not healthy. But a little bit is actually a good thing. Guilt stops us from doing the wrong thing. It also leads us towards repentance, towards a desire to change. And it is when we change, that we become better people.

Secondly, gratitude. I believe that one of the greatest blessings a person can have is a grateful heart. But gratitude is formed through having to go without. Today’s world doesn’t know much about going without. If they want something, they’re told to go out and get it. Even borrow money if you have to. And we don’t focus much on appreciation, because as soon as we get what we want, there’s someone else to tell us that we need something else.

Thirdly, compassion. The more we suffer, the more we feel for others that go through their own pain. And let’s face it, there will always be suffering. Nobody has a painless life. But it seems that the aim of progress is to remove suffering completely. And look, I don’t like the idea of people suffering. I cry whenever I see someone hurting. But that’s kind of the point. I cry because I have been through my own pain, which enables me to empathise with others. If we removed suffering completely, will our hearts become hardened?

Fourthly, strength. And I’m not talking about the kind of strength that enables someone to lift weights here. I’m talking about strength of character. When we go through difficult and challenging times, we become stronger. And I would much rather make friends with a person who has faced a lot of hardships than someone who has lived a life of ease and comfort. That’s not to say that the painless, comfortable life can’t produce good people. I’m sure it can. But they haven’t been tested. They haven’t faced the necessary challenges that are needed to strengthen their resolve, strengthen their courage and strengthen their character.

Fifthly, acceptance. We don’t always get what we want in this life. None of us do. And at some point in time, we have to accept that. But in a world that places a huge focus on rights, I think it’s a little harder for people to come to that place of acceptance. If we don’t get what we want, we tend to want to sue somebody or change a law or claim we’re being disadvantaged in some way. Now there is a time to fight injustices. But perhaps there is also a time to realise that the world is not always a fair place. Sometimes we miss out on the things we think we deserve.

Maybe my desire for these things makes me one the old-fashioned, stuck in the dark ages kind of people that the progressives look down upon. Maybe the fact that I don’t like ‘progress’ puts me in some category of ‘people who are trying to hold back society’. Maybe.

Or maybe I actually do want mankind to progress. Not just in a fluffy, insubstantial ‘make me feel good’ way. But in a real way. A way that maybe doesn’t pander to our flesh quite so much, but takes very good care of our souls.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The bible is not just a set of isolated verses

Christians love bible verses. We like to memorise them, quote them, engrave them on knick-knacks, recite them in churches, stick them on fridges, use them in arguments and sometimes even paint them on placards.

There’s nothing wrong with this. The bible is the word of God. The more we memorise, recite and see bible verses, the better able we are to remember what God has to say about any situation. But it’s important that we remember that the bible is not just a set of isolated verses.

The other day I heard someone say that Christians often spend more time discussing bible verses than they do discussing bible stories. And that’s interesting, because the bible itself is one incredible story. And the bible verses that we quote or memorise really only make sense in the context of that story.

Obviously, it’s a bit harder to memorise bible stories or engrave them on vases. One of the reasons why bible verses are so popular is because they’re short.

But I also wonder whether one of the reasons we like bible verses so much is because they feed our ego. Look at the face of someone who gives you an exact quote from the bible, along with chapter and verse. There’s usually at least a little bit of smugness there. Now compare it with the face of someone who says, ‘Well I don’t know where it is, and I’m not sure of the exact words, but doesn’t the bible say something about this?’ It’s completely different. The latter person is also embarrassed that they don’t have it all memorised.

In reality, though, the person who does not know chapter and verse may have a better understanding of what the bible says. Because they’re not just looking for an isolated verse that they can use with pride in a discussion. They actually may be looking at the whole thing. It’s not their aim to search for a bible verse to tuck away for future use. It’s their aim to actually read the bible.

And often I think, when we focus so much on verses, we forget where they were used and in what context. They’re isolated from the rest of the bible. And then because we know these verses better than we know the story, we use them in different ways, ways that perhaps don’t even make sense when we consider the story in which they were placed.

I’ve got a confession to make. I have read the bible, searching for verses to highlight. And I’ve gotten very annoyed when there’s a really great passage in the bible, but no single verse that stands out as a good one to highlight. I am looking for one verse. And I can’t find one verse. The whole passage is brilliant. But no single verse by itself carries the same impact.

Do we ever just look for the single, highlight-able verses, and miss the meaning of the passages and stories that we have also read? Do we maybe even skim through them, looking for those verses that can be taken in isolation?

I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure that when the Holy Spirit inspired the bible, he wasn’t making sure that all Christians had a handful of bible verses that they could write on greeting cards and stick on fridges. The bible’s purpose is not just to provide short, quick sayings that are easy to highlight, easy to memorise and easy to use. It’s a story. And it’s the whole story that’s important.

Have you ever had a discussion with people about a novel? I have to admit, I’m not much of a fiction reader. But my mum studied literature at university and so I’ve heard a few of those types of conversations. When people who love literature discuss a book, they very rarely take out one or two sentences to quote at people. They discuss the characters, they discuss the story, they discuss the style, they discuss the themes, they discuss the meaning. Because all of those things are more important that what the fifth chapter, fourth paragraph, third sentence says word for word.

And yes, it is quite possible to go to a book club and point out one or two sentences that particularly stood out. But no good book discussion is going to revolve solely around those isolated quotes. It’s the story that is important. It is the story that they love.

And understanding the story of the bible is more important than knowing a whole heap of bible verses by heart.
(The image is The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from the Gospel of John, courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mission or Empire Building

Evangelical Christians – naturally enough – pay a lot of attention to evangelising. One of their main aims is often to convert people. A successful evangelical preacher is one that has had a large number of converts. A natural accompaniment to this is church growth. Evangelical churches want to grow. Churches are either pleased with their growth or believing God for the growth that is about to happen. A successful church is one that has a large number of attendees.

Now there’s nothing wrong with converting people or wanting a large church. However, I do think that some churches can focus too much on kind of these kind of empire-building things, neglecting the larger issue of mission.

Converting people to Christ can almost be a kind of scalp collecting exercise. The more we get the better. The higher our numbers, the more successful we are. But just because we have quantity doesn’t mean we have quality.

Every so often a Christian event will claim that a certain number of people made a commitment to Christ. That’s great, but how important is it? Not very, if they didn’t stick with it. How many of those people were still committed a week later? How many were truly seeking to live a Christ-like life six months later? How many were dedicated to the mission of Jesus Christ two years down the track?

I’m sure some would be. If such a huge number of people were committed, some of them will stick by that commitment. And so, one might argue, does it really matter that some of them fell away? Well it does, if they now have the attitude of been there, tried that, got the postcard and don’t need to go there again. It does if their sudden commitment actually prevents them from developing a relationship with God later on.

We wouldn’t be happy about anyone who came to us saying that they made a marriage commitment to someone they had only met that morning. So why are we so happy when people commit to Christ before they really know him at all? I’d much rather hear about one person who commits to Christ, after developing a relationship and getting to know who he is, than about 50 who made a spur of the moment decision.

I talk about Jesus all the time. Not in terms of if you don’t believe in him you’re going to Hell. Those kind of fear tactics may have worked well in medieval times, but we’re living in the 21st Century. I talk about Jesus in terms of who he was, what he stood for, what he said and what he did. I don’t do this to convert anyone. It’s just, as I said to one person, “Jesus was a great guy. I just want people to know that.”

The other way people get to know Jesus is through seeing Jesus in the lives of Christians. That’s where mission comes in. Christians should be the ones out in the world doing the kind of things that Jesus wants us to do. Christians should be out there feeding the poor, helping the homeless, comforting the lonely, reaching out to the those in need. And we should do all this in a loving and non-judgmental way. Not to convert, not to build our church. Just because we should – because it’s the kind of thing that Jesus would want us to do.

But that brings us back to church growth. Obviously the more people that are in a church, the more people can be released into performing the mission of the church and the mission of Jesus Christ. And that’s great. The more people there are out there following Jesus and doing the kind of things he wants us to do, the better. But just because someone is a church attendee, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing this.

So instead of counting numbers of church attendees or converts, maybe we should count the number of people we help. Maybe we should count the number of outreach programs we have. Maybe we should count the number of people who demonstrated a long-term commitment to the cause of Christ. Maybe we should stop focusing on empire building, and start focusing more on mission.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Is Divorce Too Easy - Tony Abbott's Proposal

The Divorce - Jan Hendrink van der Laar

Australian Liberal MP, Tony Abbott, has proposed a system whereby couples that are marrying can choose to opt out of the no-fault based divorce that is now in place. Instead, they agree to only allow divorce if someone can be shown to be at fault.

A number of criticisms have been made of his proposal, including the possibility that it will leave people in harmful or meaningless marriages, or that it will lead to a situation where everyone is playing the blame game.

I think these criticisms have merit. Some marriages just are not healthy and the best thing is simply to end it, rather than continuing on with a marriage that may be damaging to a person’s emotions or even physical wellbeing. And I certainly don’t want to see a situation where people are just trying to blame the other partner for their bad marriage. When a marriage ends, particularly when children are involved, it is best to try and forgive the other person, and put the bad things behind you. This would be very difficult to do for people who are trying to show the other person is at fault.

However, divorce is too easy. Way too easy.

I think far too many marriages end when they shouldn’t. Because divorce is too easy, as soon as the first difficult time comes along, it’s simple just to opt for a divorce. Sometimes even friends may suggest a divorce or ask why a couple stays together, when the marriage obviously isn’t working. What could just be a temporary problem ends up being a permanent break. Marriages grow stronger as couples go through difficult times and work through problems. I fear that less and less people will be willing to do that nowadays.

Also, no matter how much a couple may tell themselves they will stay together after they are married, the fact is they know they don’t have to. And there is a difference between making a commitment for life and a commitment for – until we hit our first speed bump and need a divorce. A lifelong commitment requires a lot of thought before making a decision. A short-term commitment doesn’t. And the very relationship is different. How we act and live with someone who we have to be with for the rest of our lives is going to be different to the way we act with someone who we are married to for the moment.

But I say all this as a divorced person. I know how difficult some marriages can be. Not just difficult. Let’s face it. Some marriages can be – well, actually. I’m going to leave it there. Because I don’t like to talk about my marriage. I avoid the subject whenever I can. And I almost left this topic alone, because I knew it would mean thinking about it.

Let’s just put it this way. Some marriages are very bad. To create a situation where people have to stay in those types of marriages is not a good idea.

But it’s hard to know what the solution is. I think there has to be some way of getting out of a marriage, without playing the blame game, dredging up emotions and saying who is at fault. But I also think that divorce should be a lot harder than it now is.

And I don’t think Tony Abbott’s proposal will really help. It does goes back to the blame game, which isn’t nice. As an opt in system, it’s not going to make divorce anymore difficult for the people who are sure they will be together for life and don’t need it, or the ones who don’t want to be tied to someone for life and are not going to sign any contract that ties them down.

However, even though I don’t think Tony Abbott’s idea would work, I don’t think he deserves to be criticised. Divorce is too easy. And something should be done to make it harder for people. I don’t want to live in a world where a marriage contract is easier to get out of than a mortgage repayment. And I think Abbott should be praised for at least trying to find solutions.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It's Not Fair!

Here’s a little experiment. Take six biscuits and two children. Give four biscuits to one child and two biscuits to the other child. Now you don’t actually need to carry this experiment out to know what will happen. The child who got two biscuits will complain that it’s not fair. There’s even a chance that the child who got four biscuits will give the other child one of theirs.

It’s hard to tell whether we are born with a desire for things to be fair, or whether it’s something we learn. But we all seem to have it. It starts off when we’re kids, when our idea of fairness usually revolves around making sure that nobody else gets more than we do. As we mature, our idea of fairness expands. We want to receive fair treatment. We want to get what we deserve. But we also, hopefully, recognise that fairness is not just something that applies to us, but to all people.

When we complain about something or are angry about something, what we’re usually upset about is the fact that things aren’t fair. When we are arguing with someone over their actions, we’re usually trying to convince them that they didn’t act fairly. When we’re depressed about our lives, there’s usually the thought that life just isn’t fair.

Well life isn’t fair. People don’t always get what they deserve. Some people get all the luck, while others seem to have a very rough deal. Some people do the right thing and it works out badly for them. Others do the wrong thing and benefit. We don’t all get equal treatment or opportunities or equal anything – no matter how much we want equality. There seems little reason to believe in justice or fairness. Because it’s something that never happens completely in our lives.

But even though life isn’t fair, we still keep hoping that it will be. We aim to treat people fairly. When we or others are mistreated, we take steps to make things right. We get annoyed when we hear about injustices. We fight to try and make the world a fairer, more equal place.

But why? Why do we want the world to be fair? Why shouldn’t there be injustice in the world? What makes injustice wrong?

The bible is very clear that justice is important. In fact, it could be argued that, in the western world, our desire for justice and fairness comes from our Judeo-Christian tradition. But many people today reject the concept of morality that comes from God. If the bible says that something is wrong, there’s no reason to go along with that anymore. Biblical morality is no longer seen as important.

Instead, our ethics should be guided by – guided by what, exactly? Often it’s guided by this sense of justice. Things should be fair. Things should be equal. People should not be disadvantaged.

If we’re going to chuck out any moral teachings that come from Christianity, then why do we hold on so strongly to justice, equality and fairness? What makes these things good in themselves? Why should I care if I get four biscuits and you get two? Who says we should both get the same amount?

Now I agree that justice and fairness are two very important factors we should take into account when making ethical or moral decisions. The problem is I have a hard time figuring out exactly why we should do that, if God and the bible are no longer in the picture.

But God’s not out of the picture. In fact, I believe this need for justice and fairness is something that comes from God. God is a God of justice. As we are made in His image, we want justice too. And no matter how much we might try to say that God and the bible aren’t important, we simply will not let go of the idea that things should be fair.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Keep the Faith

On 1 July 2009, The Australian published an article by Giles Auty, called ‘The Left is Killing Religion’. The original article can be found HERE. In this article, Auty discussed a talk he gave for the annual St Edmund Campion lecture, which was titled ‘Are we truly evolving? Reflections of the life of an Elizabethan saint’.

He starts off by saying that in Elizabeth England, Catholic priests struggled to keep the faith alive. And then makes this comparison:

“Now, instead of finding itself persecuted by Elizabethan spies, informers and hangmen, Catholicism finds itself under severe assault from the self-righteous, politically correct social engineers of Britain's political Left.”

Although he says this has not happened yet in Australia, he worries that it may not be far away. He also makes the point that Christianity is being ‘treated with increasing contempt’.

It is an interesting comparison. We like to think of ourselves as progressing. Well, some of us do. I personally have a problem with the word ‘progress’, but I’ll leave that for another day. We are getting better and better all the time – supposedly. We are getting smarter and learning more and throwing away the superstitions of the past.

But this has all been done before. Some people may find it hard to see the similarities between Elizabethan England and today’s postmodern world. I mean, Elizabethan England was completely different, wasn’t it? They were still holding onto old religious superstitions. Today’s world wants to get rid of them.

But see, the Protestants in Elizabethan England also thought they were getting rid of old superstitions. They might still have believed in God. But they thought they were doing something new, something that go rid of the useless traditional religion, something that was more progressive. And Catholicism, so they thought, was just a religion that had passed its used by date.

And now we have the postmodernists who are trying to make a secular society. They say this is in the name of progress. They’re not progressive. They’re in fact, regressive. They’ve gone back to a time when people tried to remove all traces of a religion they disagreed with. It failed then. And it will fail again. Because people of faith aren’t that progressive either. They’ll go back to doing what they have done many times before.

Because just as the world continues to bring forth people who want to suppress religion (in either one or all forms), so too does the world continue to bring forth people who are willing to fight and even to die for it. People are not just going to sit back and let faith quietly slip away from the world. Even if all traces of religion were removed from public life, people will still be there, behind the scenes, hiding if they must, risking their life if they must, fighting to keep the faith alive.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Saints and Prime Ministers

Mary MacKillop

(This article was originally published at

Prime Ministers and saints are not usually coupled together. Which is why I was quite surprised to find that Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, had told some nuns that he would speak to Pope Benedict XVI about the canonisation of Mary MacKillop.

Actually, I was more than surprised. I was annoyed.

Now I am definitely not the kind of person that thinks politicians should never speak on issues related to faith. In fact, the last time I was this annoyed with Kevin Rudd was when he said that he was just a garden variety type of Christian, and his faith would not be influencing his politics in anyway. If you’re a committed Christian, your faith should influence every aspect of your life. Politics included. That’s not to say you rule the country as a theocracy. But you can’t just set aside faith when you go to work for the day.

Anyway, back to Mary MacKillop.

The reason I was so annoyed was because I don’t see why the Prime Minister should have anything to do with Mary MacKillop’s canonisation. Yes, it would be nice to have an Australian saint. And I can understand him hoping that she is made a saint. But hoping that something happens is different to speaking to the Pope about it.

He’s a lapsed Catholic who now attends an Anglican church. He’s definitely not what you would call an expert on saints. He is the prime minister of the country where Mary MacKillop happened to live. That’s all. And Mary MacKillop’s canonisation should have nothing to do with him.

Now Pope Benedict XVI did tell Sister Anne Derwin that Mary MacKillop would be canonised, they were just waiting for the miracle. At least he didn’t say that all they were waiting on was Kevin Rudd to tell them what to do.

And I do think that Kevin Rudd saying he would raise the matter shows either a complete lack of knowledge of the actual canonisation process or a simple desire to win political points. It wouldn’t matter who spoke to the Pope about making Mary MacKillop a saint. Pope Benedict XVI is not waiting for people to tell him what to do. He is, as he said, waiting for the miracle. It has already been accepted that Mary MacKillop performed one miracle. And a second miracle has been put forward. The Catholic Church now needs to confirm that this second miracle has taken place. There is an investigation process underway and it must be completed before Mary MacKillop is canonised.

In other words, canonising someone is not just a matter of saying ‘Hey, I think this person should be a saint? What do you reckon?’ There is a formal process that must be gone through first.

I presume that Kevin Rudd knew that. So why say he would speak to the Pope? Just to show he cares about religion? To try and act more important than what he is? Or maybe just because the nuns asked him to and he didn’t want to say no?

But whatever his reasons, the fact remains that prime ministers should not be involved in the making of saints. And I honestly believe they’d be better off staying out of the process altogether. Especially when they’re not even Catholic. Nothing Kevin Rudd says to the Pope about Mary MacKillop’s canonisation is going to make one scrap of difference. And that’s the way it should be.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Suspicious Minds

Recently I found myself in a situation where I didn’t trust somebody. Now I’m usually a person who does trust people, who always believes the best in others. But with this particular person, I just had this niggly feeling that something wasn’t right. I even mentioned my suspicions to others. And then felt terrible that I had done that.

I tried to give this person the benefit of the doubt. When a situation arose in which I had to trust them to a certain degree, my first reaction was ‘No, don’t do that.’ But I thought no. I don’t want to be someone who thinks people are deceiving them. I want to believe that people generally have good intentions. So I acted against instinct. And then worried that I had done the wrong thing.

It turns out my suspicions were correct. And at first, that was a bit of a relief. At least now I knew that I wasn’t suspecting someone without good reason. But at the same time, I also felt a bit deflated.

Yeah, I was right. This person was trying to deceive myself and others. So what? I still didn’t feel that good that I had been so ready to believe the worst of somebody. I don’t want to be that kind of person. I never was before.

It kind of brings up a whole load of questions for me too.

Was I right in suspecting them? Should I have gone with my instinct? And could that niggly feeling perhaps even have been God’s way of warning me?

Or should I have trusted them anyway? Even though they didn’t deserve my trust. Even though my instincts were right. Should I still believe the best of people, even though it means sometimes I may be wrong?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. I still don’t know whether I did the wrong thing in trusting this person or whether I did the wrong thing in suspecting them. And should a Christian lean more towards trusting or lean more towards listening to the voice that tells them something is not quite right?

I don’t want to be a suspicious and paranoid person. I really don’t like the fact that I was that person for a time. And I really hope that my suspicions and paranoia end there. But I’m worried they won’t.

Because the problem is, once suspicions have been proved correct, it’s hard not to listen to them the next time around.

I’m not annoyed with this person for trying to deceive me. But I am annoyed with myself that I wasn’t deceived. I’d rather be deceived. I’d rather trust and be hurt, than not be able to trust at all. I’d rather believe the best and be proved wrong, than believe the worst and hate myself because of it.

But at the same time, maybe that feeling that something wasn't right was God telling me to be careful. And maybe I should have listened to it more.

Pope Speaks Out Against Greed

Pope Benedict XVI has put out a new paper, ‘Caritas in Veritate’ or ‘charity in truth’. In this paper he has called for a new financial order, one that is centred more around ethics and the common good. It was released just before the G8 conference.

In this paper, the Pope spoke out against greed and the focus on profits. He also said there should be a world authority that manages the global economy, helps work towards food security and protects the environment. Plus, he asked be a new way of understanding business, where workers are respected and ethics and social responsibility and prioritised over profits.

I don’t know how much good any of this will do. But I am glad he is speaking up about it. There is a problem with the current global economy. Power belongs to the wealthy. When the focus is on profits, ethics and social responsibility suffers. We seem to care more for money than we do for people. And that’s not good.

Whatever is seen as most important in a world is the thing that will take priority over all other things. At the moment, profits is seen as more important than people. The duty corporations have to their shareholders is greater than the duty that they have to the common good. And in an environment like that, people will suffer. Alleviating the poverty of others is not as important as increasing the dividends for a company.

It is a selfish world. A world where, by their very nature, corporations must seek what benefits them, rather than what benefits mankind. If a corporation finds a cure for some disease, they need to explore the best way of making money out of that cure, instead of seeing how it can best help others. And that’s just one example. Individuals can be selfless. Corporations can’t. And more and more, the world is impacted by corporations in this market driven economy.

As a Christian, I believe that caring for people is way more important than accumulating wealth. There are a lot of verses in the bible where God asks us to care for the poor. And we should also speak out against situations where the poor and the marginalised suffer because of man’s greed. Globalisation has brought benefits to people. But it has also disadvantaged people. We should do what we can to ensure that globalisation works for the common good, rather than the profits of a few.

We need to move the focus back onto ethics and the social responsibility. We need to start treat people more important than profits. We need to recognise the dignity and worth of everyone.

Whether this actually should take the form of a world authority as Pope Benedict XVI suggests, I don’t know. But something has to be done. If it’s not, then people will continue to suffer, poverty will continue to grow and the push for profits will continue to ensure that everyone is only working for their own selfish gain.

For more information, please see these articles:

By Eric Reguly
(8 July 2009, The Globe and Mail)


Bookmark and Share

Blog Patrol