Tag Archives: Jesus

Abbott’s religiosity is no basis for policy

11 Jul

A couple of days ago on July 10, Tony Abbott took part in a radio interview that the Australian headlined: Abbott slams boatpeople as unChristian

“Asked on ABC Perth radio why his attitude to asylum-seekers was unchristian, the Opposition Leader responded: “I don’t think it’s a very Christian thing to come in by the back door rather than the front door…But I think the people we accept should be coming the right way and not the wrong way…If you pay a people-smuggler, if you jump the queue, if you take yourself and your family on a leaky boat, that’s doing the wrong thing, not the right thing, and we shouldn’t encourage it.”

Abbott doesn’t answer the question about his perceived lack of Christian charity towards those in need. Instead he attempts to blame Muslim asylum seekers for acting in a manner he believes is unChristian. Abbott does this as if people who are not Christian are at grievous fault for being not Christian. That failure taints every action they take in their lives, it seems, and they should be held accountable, mostly by being excluded.

Presumably Abbott is aware that the majority of boat arrivals are Muslim. Presumably Abbott is aware that the largest Islamic democracy in the world is our neighbour, Indonesia. Dog whistling? Following Scott Morrison’s anti Muslim strategy?

Morrison sees votes in anti-Muslim strategy. The opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, urged the shadow cabinet to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about “Muslim immigration”, “Muslims in Australia” and the “inability” of Muslim migrants to integrate… Lenore Taylor, Sydney Morning Herald, February 17 2011.

Oh, yes, most boat arrivals aren’t Christian, unlike Scott Morrison who is a member of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal Church. Not all Christians cultivate an aura of entitlement, privilege and absolute rightness, but too many Christian politicians in Australia today seem to hold those beliefs about themselves. Not all Christians consider other faiths to be lesser faiths, but too many Christian politicians seem to hold those views.

Abbott might as well have accused the asylum seekers of being unAustralian. Either way, what is on display is Abbott’s inability to envisage cultures other than his own as legitimate and equal, and his inclination to judge those cultures in terms of his own limited experience. Abbott’s lack of sophistication coupled with his religiosity, are not qualities we look for in a leader.

However, they do in part explain why Abbott seems arrogantly convinced that he can bully the Indonesians into letting him send back the boats. The Indonesians had a nickname for former Liberal Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock They called him “the minister with no ears” because he harangued them but didn’t listen. Is it Abbott’s aim to inherit this title as he perpetuates the disrespect for a culture he doesn’t care to understand?

Abbott also believes he has the right to bully the navy into towing back boats, in spite of considerable advice as to the undesirable possibilities of taking that course, both in terms of life threatening risks to asylum seekers and navy personnel, as well as disruption to our relations with Indonesia.  “He will not be able to have a constructive relationship with Indonesia and tow boats back,” Philip Coorey quotes an official as remarking, in his recent National Times piece. How much of Abbott’s arrogance in this matter is fuelled by a sense of Catholic Christian superiority to a Muslim nation?

Describing asylum seekers as “unChristian” is an example of how Abbott frames Australian politics through the prism of that Catholic Christianity. Is he capable of making a separation between his religious beliefs and his job as a politician? Increasingly the answer seems to be no, he’s not.

Neither does Abbott speak for all Christians, many of whom are deeply involved in the refugee cause, and would likely distance themselves from his arbitrary judgments.

Whatever the problems are with boat arrivals (most of which are caused by Australia’s treatment of them) they will not be solved through invoking Tony Abbott’s Catholic Christianity and Scott Morrison’s fundamentalist terror of Muslims.  Indeed, neither have any place in the debate. We urgently need decent policy, not religious prejudice and personal superstition.

In his last solo Qanda appearance in April 2010, Tony Abbott was asked the question “When it comes to asylum seekers, what would Jesus do?”

TONY ABBOTT: Well, Jesus wouldn’t have put his hand up to lead the Liberal Party, I suspect. Or the Labor Party, for that matter.

TONY JONES: Okay. But someone who believes in principles that he espoused did do that, so it’s a legitimate question.

TONY ABBOTT: Yeah. Don’t forget Jesus drove the traders from the temple as well. Now, I mean, you know…

TONY JONES: What’s the point of that?

TONY ABBOTT: The point is…

TONY JONES: What’s the analogy?

TONY ABBOTT: …Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. I mean Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.

TONY JONES: It’s quite an interesting analogy because, as you know, and a whip was used on that occasion to drive people out of the temple. You know, if that’s the analogy you’re choosing, should we take it at face value?

TONY ABBOTT: No. No. I’m just saying that, look, Jesus was the best man who ever lived but that doesn’t mean that he said yes to everyone, that he was permissive to everything, and this idea that Jesus would say to every person who wanted to come to Australia, “Fine”, the door is open, I just don’t think is necessarily right.”

“Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone.” And Tony Abbott of course knows to whom Jesus would say yes in 2012. This is old-fashioned Sunday School rhetoric. This is drivel. Tony Abbott is a man showing all the signs of being out of his depth. Give him a slogan, put a funny hat on his head, get him making pies, yes he can do all that. But the serious business of leadership? Of policy? Of decent public discussion?

Jesus is reputed to have driven moneylenders from the temple, and he did it violently. The analogy Abbott makes between usurers and asylum seekers is both despicable and revealing. Jesus acted because he believed the moneylenders were defiling a sacred place where they had no right to be plying their sordid trade. The story is an example of Jesus’ righteous anger, and his desire to protect his beloved father’s house from the contamination of profane activities. Jesus wanted the temple kept pure and to this end, he drove the impure out.

How interesting, then, that a Christian should choose this particular analogy to explain why not everybody who wants to come to Australia may do so, in particular those of other faiths who arrive seeking asylum by boat. Dog whistling again? Capitalising on concerns about a presumed Muslim inability to integrate into a country Abbott wants to think of as unspoiled and Christian?

“Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. I mean Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.”

There is no place for religiosity in the asylum seeker debate or anywhere else in our politics. There’s especially no place for a future Prime Minister who believes he knows what Jesus would do, and makes policy accordingly. Jesus is irrelevant in the asylum seeker impasse, as are Tony Abbott’s projections of what Jesus might think.

Having said that I can’t help but feel if Jesus was around now, he might well stride into parliament with a stock whip and kick some arse.

Entitlement, bullying, and private faith

21 Jan

Since I received defamation threats from Melinda Tankard Reist’s lawyers, I’ve had occasion to consider just what a defamation threat is actually intended to achieve.

If I had done what was demanded of me, that is apologised, retracted, signed and published a letter drafted by the lawyers, and then paid all Tankard Reist’s legal costs, I would now be free of fear. This is the deal. Do what we say and you won’t have to worry about massive legal costs that will break you. Don’t do what we say and you risk ruin.

This is what a defamation threat does. It is weighed in favour of the plaintiff. It does not require a fair hearing in a court of law for it to be effective. It works entirely on fear. It is bullying. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s a bullying scam. The plaintiff counts on you collapsing and doing what she’s demanded, for fear of what will happen to you if you don’t.

You pay all the costs of her instigating this bullying action against yourself. The plaintiff will get exactly what she wants, which is you silenced, and it won’t cost her a cent.

Neither Tankard Reist nor her lawyers counted on their intended victim announcing she’d received defamation threats on Twitter. That wasn’t the way it was supposed to play out. Bullying only works when there’s secrecy. Take it out into the open, shine the light of day on it, and it’s useless as an intimidatory tactic.

Tankard Reist is reportedly horrified at the swell of reaction against her, some of which has been quite foul. I have also received some disgusting tweets from people claiming to be her supporters. I know how to use the block button. I know Melinda does as well. It works. If you don’t want to see them, Melinda, get someone else to monitor Twitter for you. And take responsibility for having created this situation all by yourself.

In her article in the SMH today, Julia Baird says in her last paragraph that it would be a pity if Tankard Reist’s faith was used to try to discredit her.

I’ve never used the ad hominem argument that MTR’s views should be dismissed because she’s a Christian. My argument is that as a public figure, seeking to influence public policy on female sexuality and its representation, and on abortion to which she is unequivocally opposed, she needs to be upfront about her religious allegiances. Women have the right to know if someone who is working to prevent access to abortion is doing so from concern for women, or is fueled by her belief system.

We need to have from MTR evidence -based arguments against abortion, and many other issues she argues on emotive and anecodotal grounds. Because if this evidence isn’t available, her conclusions are subjective. This is not good enough.

No one should be attacking Tankard Reist because of her faith. She should be rigorously questioned on her evidence for her claims and if she has none, then she should be asked to explain on what they are based. This is the price paid for advocating a public morality. I don’t care what she tells her children to do. But once she’s prescribing for women, thats another story.

Baird also asks the question when must a private faith become public? I would say certainly when the believer is in a position to effect public policy making on issues of morality. The churches have considerable power, consider for example their exemption from anti discrimination legislation in the matter of employing gays and lesbians. Any other employer who refused to hire on the grounds of sexual orientation would be liable for prosecution. Not so the churches. Why? Because of their beliefs.

So are we required on the one hand to adjust our laws to accommodate the Christian faith, while simultaneously granting the believers who influence those laws the right to conceal that faith from the public gaze?

Are any Christians entitled to wield such influence, and to demand protection from all scrutiny as well?

I don’t understand this notion of privacy around religion. It seems to me many religious followers, perhaps not all Christians but certainly some, believe that living their faith in the light of day is one of the things their God requires of them. Christian politicians for example, usually seem reasonably up front about where they are coming from. What reasons would a Christian have for demanding privacy for their faith in Australia? They aren’t facing any kind of discrimination or persecution, indeed it is their churches that are enacting discrimination.

This:

Matthew 5:14-16  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

And this:

Matthew 28:18-20
(18)  And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  (19)  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  (20)  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

While it seems that faith is regarded as personal in many Christian teachings, it is not regarded as private, and these are two entirely separate things.

Tankard Reist has publicly said that she tries to live her life doing what Jesus wants. Where does Jesus require his followers to be private about their belief in him?

I don’t know how long Tankard Reist and her lawyers can keep their threats hanging over my head. I have no control over this. In the meantime thank you to everyone who is helping me with their concern, interest, signing of the petition, tweets, DMs, blog comments, phone calls, and even dinners and wine. I count myself lucky. Very, very lucky. And I thank you.

Who would Jesus sue?

15 Jan


If you are interested in Melinda Tankard Reist’s fundamentalist Christianity you’ll find a biography here with far more detail than I provided, including her affiliation with the Salt Shakers, a Christian fundamentalist organisation founded by, among others, strident anti-homosexual Baptist preacher Bill Meuhlenberg. Meuhlenberg’s latest anti same-sex marriage rant, titled “When darkness descends upon a nation” was written in reaction to the recent ALP decision to support same-sex marriage.

Among other rhetorical gems, you’ll find this comment on Prime Minister Julia Gillard:

And what of Labor’s leader? Did we really ever expect that a fornicating socialist atheist was going to really hold the line on this? Of course not; certainly not when she is in bed with our other leader, a homosexual socialist atheist.

What you will also discover in the Tankard Reist bio is that for 12 years she was employed by Tasmanian Senator Brian Harradine as his bio ethics advisor. During this period Harradine successfully prevented Australian women from accessing the drug RU 486 despite it being available in other Western countries, and the numerous trials that had proven it’s safety and effectiveness as an early abortion drug.

But wait! There’s more! During Tankard Reist’s employment as his bio ethics advisor, Harradine also successfully prevented AusAID,the main Australian government overseas aid organisation, from funding any organisations that provide “abortion training or services, or research, trials or activities which directly involve abortion drugs,” even where it could save the life of a woman.

The Harradine-determined AusAID policy allowed funding for counselling after an abortion, but disallowed the dissemination of advice and education to women in underdeveloped countries who sought safe abortion.

A World Bank Report at that time estimated some 68,000 women in underdeveloped countries died as a consequence of unsafe abortion, and some 5.3 million suffered temporary or permanent disability.

This situation caused Bernard Keane to write this in Crikey, in an article titled “AusAID conservatives have blood on their hands:”

As a consequence of the restrictions, thousands of women overseas have died from unsafe abortions (see Sue Dunlevy’s excellent article from last year for some figures). Those deaths are a direct legacy of Brian Harradine and the Howard Government’s willingness to cater to the medieval delusions of the superstitious.

Tankard Reist’s involvement with fundamentalist Christians opposed to abortion, contraception, surrogacy, and homosexuality are well documented, and I have to wonder why she’s singled me out at this point in time for writing about her religious beliefs.

Throughout her career, Tankard Reist has doggedly described herself as a feminist, despite her anti choice stand, and her willingness to align herself with people such as Meuhlenberg and Harradine, who seek to exert their control over women’s bodies. Tankard Reist appears to be quite comfortable supporting and abetting this urge to dominate and control women, while simultaneously railing against what she considers the objectification, sexualisation, and pornification of women in popular culture.

Tankard Reist apparently has no qualms about having worked for a man whose determination to impose his religious beliefs on government policy prevented women far less fortunately placed than herself  from accessing medical help and education about contraception and abortion. It appears to be of little consequence to her that women in underdeveloped countries suffered and died as a direct consequence of Harradine’s religious beliefs, during the period when he was her employer.

Yet show her a Kanye West video or a Brian McFadden clip, or women in Victoria’s Secret lingerie who like pole dancing, and she’s got petitions going every which way to silence and censor. What’s wrong with this picture?

As I think Jesus is reported as having observed, by their friends you shall know them.

(The title of this post comes from a tweet I received yesterday and I think it’s brilliant.)

UPDATE: I received the letter of demand from Tankard Reist’s lawyers on my personal email address. They state that they’ve sent a hard copy to my home address. I am not in the phone directory and I have no landline in my name. My personal email address isn’t available on my blog and neither is my home address. It probably wasn’t difficult to find someone who would divulge my email address, but my home address? 

KanYe West, Melinda Tankard Reist, and the control of the representation of desire.

26 Feb

by Lucero Design via flickr

At Melinda Tankard Reist’s website underwear manufacturer Victoria’s Secret is under attack, two hapless tools from the Gold Coast trying to sell real estate using a woman in her undies are copping it, and oh no! Not that, still! Yes, the KanYe West Monster video clip, months after we all got into that epic tussle at the Drum, is still absorbing the Tank’s attention.

Last week MTR was described by Stephen Harrington at the Punch as “Australia’s Helen Lovejoy,” for her complaints about this video clip, as well as the “what about the children” rhetoric she invokes as an argument against just about everything.

(For those not familiar with the Simpsons, Helen Lovejoy is the ultra conservative wife of the local Christian minister whose catchcry is “But what about the children!”)

Melinda pours retributory scorn on Harrington here. The West video is, she claims, a “significant watershed in the de-humanisation of women.”

That’s a bit hyperbolic, in my opinion, given the on going, grave, and global abuses of women’s human rights that certainly do de-humanise those groups subjected to them.

The psychotherapists’ interpretations

At New Matilda, psychotherapist Zoe Krupke interprets the video clip from her professional perspective, and explains that violence such as is portrayed therein can be a consequence of “denial of personal weakness and fragility,” resulting in projection of these qualities onto others, in this case the strung-up, zombiefied and helpless women.

In other words, controlling others through violence allows the perpetrator to bury feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability, and replace them with an illusion of power.

All of which is true enough, but if you read the lyrics it’s clear that they are about nothing but West’s feelings of personal weakness and fragility; rage at perceived exploitation by the music industry, and women, rage at his admitted inability to behave in any way other than monstrous; identification with other monster figures, and a pathetic plea for someone to love him.

by Maximillian Dinslage via flickr

None of which are expressed in ways that are likely to get him any of the things he seeks, but rather are an explosion of fury, frustration, and self-mockery.

I’m a monster
no good blood-sucker
everybody know I’m a
muthaf*cking monster
None of you n*ggas know the carnage I’ve seen
I still hear fiends scream in my dream…

And so on. The thoughts and feelings of a disturbed being, a rapper having a laugh, or both, depending on your perspective.

Feminists aren’t the only ones with opinions

You've Been Dickrolled. by David Jackmanson via flickr

 

What is certain (I’m sorry, at this point I can’t help myself, the only certainty is the certainty of uncertainty, thank you so much for the philosophical insight, Tony the Tool, another of the known unknown unknowns littering the political landscape, and pictured here damn near naked) is that while a feminist analysis of the work is worthwhile, it’s far from being the only possible analysis. The video and lyrics are complex, with racial references as well as those mentioned above, and to attempt to have it censored because it “dehumanises” women is, in my opinion, the kind of sadly unimaginative reaction we’ve come to expect from some media feminists these days.

What the video clip certainly is: the concretisation of one rapper’s subjective vision of his world. If it weren’t as popular as it is, there would be no need for further discussion. But it is tremendously popular, (listed in Rolling Stone’s best 30 albums of 2010) and has received critical acclaim from that magazine’s  informed commentators

These accolades suggest West’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasies strike a chord, so to speak with millions of others. It may not be the kind of chord MTR wants struck, whatever that is, and I can’t figure that out. What do these women want? Nevertheless, it’s popularity alone makes it culturally significant, and worthy of examination.

Not that I’m suggesting popularity is the only criterium for cultural significance because clearly it isn’t. The bizarre and complex vision represented in this piece lifts it out of the mundane.

It isn’t everybody’s vision of the world. Then again, neither is a man nailed to a cross, blood seeping out of his wounds and a hole pierced in his side everybody’s vision of a healthy religious experience. John the Baptist’s bloody head on a silver platter doesn’t cut it as inspiring religious commentary for all of us either.

I have a strong visceral response against most moves to censor. No matter what you think of the aesthetic quality or otherwise of the KanYe West video, it is the expression of an artist’s vision.  Are we to live in a world bereft of all dark and difficult imagery? Are we to censor all representations of emotions and passions because they make some people uncomfortable?

Cindy and that sexy thong. by Dave Lee via flickr

 

When women choose to earn their living from their bodies

Women who model for Victoria’s Secret do so of their own free will, and are well paid for their work. Likewise the women who appeared in the West clip as simulated corpses and zombies.

The luscious woman in the Gold Coast real estate agents’ ad was also, presumably, paid for her work. Many women with lovely bodies enjoy using them as a source of income. Many other women and men enjoy looking at those bodies. Is this really “objectifying” women? Or is it merely admiring, and maybe sometimes envying their beauty?

I’m not likely to meet any of them. They are likely to remain only one-dimensional images to me. So why do I have any responsibility at all to see them as anything else? Why is it wrong for me to take pleasure their beauty? How am I offending them?

If I were to treat the women and men around me as one dimensional, then I would be objectifying and insulting them. But like most people, I know the difference between an image and a fully fleshed human being.

There are some who try to make the people in their lives more closely resemble a one-dimensional image they’ve seen on screen or in a magazine. Their problems, and the problems of their partners, won’t be solved by banning the images. I’d suggest their difficulties are deep, and if no images are available they’ll manifest in some other equally unfortunate way.

The desire to be desired

The desire to be desired is a normal human need. Practically everyone at some time wants, indeed needs, to bathe in the glow of somebody’s desiring gaze. But desire and its expression and representation are intensely personal matters. Lacy panties or cottontails, stilettos or bare feet, cleavage or buttoned up modesty – there’s a place for everything, but not in the world of Melinda Tankard Reist. In that world there’s only one possibility for the expression and representation of desire, and that’s hers.

Baffled by her negativity, I’m as yet entirely unable to ascertain what her vision actually consists of. Though she unrelentingly castigates us for our unhealthily fetishistic and voyeuristic gaze, I’ve never once heard MTR give an example of how she thinks female sexuality ought to be represented and expressed.

We should pretend we aren’t sexual beings, and deny that we love to look at each other, even though much of the time society requires us to do that with a furtive gaze?

We should pretend that erotic zones are not of intense interest to us, starting when we emerge from the latency period laughing ourselves silly at jokes about underpants?

If every publicly revealed body is an exploited and objectified body, are we all to cover up to protect ourselves from a gaze that MTR would have us believe can only be interpreted as exploitative and objectifying?

The battle for the control of the representation of desire

by Breezer, via flickr

 

MTR is fighting a two fronted battle for  the right to determine not only what we should look at, but how we should look at it. She wants to be inside our heads, telling us how to see things. Where she see exploitation, so must we.

She wants to control the representation and expression of human desire. She wants to control the interpretation of the gaze.

MTR seeks to superimpose her moral vision upon everyone else, a vision that cannot allow the possibility of a benign desiring gaze, a vision that insists the desiring gaze is always dangerous, unless it is confined to encounters between to consenting adults (preferably married) in the privacy of their own homes. Once desire is provoked outside of the marriage bed, her thinking goes, it must inevitably result in damage of some kind. I have long suspected this to be at the heart of MTR’s crusades. Now she’s proved it, by taking on Victoria’s Secret.

In her vision, the free flow of desire in the world, far from being a driving creative force, is miserably reduced to a threat to women.

This is why MTR does not offer her vision of an acceptable public representation of female sexuality. There isn’t one in her moral framework.

In this, she’s a bit like the followers of Sharia law.

But feminists fought for freedom

MTR and her followers justify their desire to impose their desire, by dressing their arguments up as feminist rhetoric, and indeed there are some conjunctions.

But feminists fought for freedom. If a woman chooses to use her body to earn her living then it’s nobody’s business but hers. Melinda Tankard Reist makes an unfortunate conflation between free choice and exploitation. That exploitation and abuse of women exists is not at issue. However, it does nobody any good to confuse the two, and in the process attempt to shame women who are making a free choice, and attempt to deprive them of that right. That’s an anti feminist move, in my book.

The argument that we’re brainwashed to think we must do our best to look like underwear models or we’re inadequate, holds some water. There’s a great deal to critique in fashion magazines that manipulate insecurities in order to get us to go out and buy something to address those perceived failings.

On the other hand, one of MTR’s fellow campaigners, journalist and researcher Nina Funnell, whose tirade against the KanYe West video can be read here recently took part in a Cosmopolitan (October 2010) competition to find the year’s most influential woman. All the competitors were young, and had the Cosmo look, including killer heels, and sexy masks. There were obviously initial selection criteria that had everything to do with the contestant’s physical appearance. Only after those requirements were met, were the women’s career and personal achievements considered.

There were no older women in the contest, baffling, given that older women are often excellent mentors and influential figures.

In my book, an outrageous and insidious abuse and objectification of women right on our doorstep, sending the message that how you look matters much more than what you do and are, from a magazine read by thousands of young Australian women. Yet not a  murmur was raised in the MTR camp.

To wrap it up…

The Gold Coast tools are pretty funny, I thought when I watched their video clip on Melinda’s website. Their ad is so over the top as to be bordering on a spoof of using sex to sell. It wouldn’t make me want to buy their penthouse, so in that sense it’s an advertising failure.

Corset, Paris 1902. Unknown via Wikimedia

Corset, Paris 1902. Unknown, via Wikimedia

As for Victoria’s Secret well, good luck with that one. While the sight of stunning women in lacy thongs and balconette bras might not be everyone’s idea of beautiful or sexy, it is currently a dominant cultural expression of those qualities. Once the sight of an ankle did it for us, and who can forget the practically (in my opinion) only good bit in Jane Campion’s The Piano, when Harvey Keitel caressed Holly Hunter’s leg through a hole in her stocking? Aaaargh, the recollection can make me shiver with delight even now.

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