Category Archives: interfaith

Instead of the Friday poem: Dorothy McRae-McMahon

sun23002a From the liturgy prepared by Dorothy (right) in the past week.

Let us go from here

As the bush springs green again,

restoring its beauty to us as a gift,

as the seeds are broken open by the fire

for the beginning of new life,

and as we bring together all that is among us

for the future in this place:

Let us go from here,

stronger than when we came,

holding on to those who have lost the most,

ready for all that is to come

and walking firmly into a new day.

Let us go in courage, hope and peace,

surrounded by the love of God.

photo by Neil 23 Nov 2008 at South Sydney Uniting Church

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Posted by on February 13, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, faith, humanity, inspiration, interfaith, South Sydney Uniting Church



Irfan Yusuf and the ranting nut-jobs

Very relevant as a case in point to a stream of thought coming from Jim Belshaw lately – see Culture, Groups and Public Policy – 1 and Culture, Groups and Public Policy – 2 – is Irfan Yusuf’s latest post HUMOUR: A joyous rant from Daniel Pipes’ website.  Jim said, among other things:

The starting point in these (anthropological and sociological) studies lies in the separation of the observer and the observed. The group under study – town, village, tribe, club – is recognised as distinct. The aim is to understand its structure and behaviour.

I make this point because a lot of the political and social commentary that I read starts from one set of group assumptions and realities (the commentator’s) that are then applied to and used to interpret or critique the behaviour of another group or groups with its (their) own sets of assumptions and realities.

He applies that to one particular issue here:

At the end of my first post in this muse, I suggested that President Bush’s policies in the "War on Terror" helped create the very thing that it was intended to destroy. I also suggested that the knowledge was available to pin-point some of the potential errors in advance. It simply wasn’t applied.

Part of the reason for this lies in the nature of groups and group dynamics. The internal world of the group is just too powerful. It dominates to the exclusion of other views.

Particular problems arise when, as in the Bush case, a gap appears between the internal reality of the group and the external world.

That I strongly agree with. In Irfan’s post the group-think is that of the anti-Islamist brigade, one minor exemplar of which is this “interpretation” of Irfan Yusuf, which bears no resemblance at all to the actual Irfan any of us can read for ourselves but rather shows the refracting lens through which the commentator passes all information:

Self promoting Stealth Jihadists under the guise of so called Multiculturalism and pseudo/-mock journalism….This post is one of a planned number, which is going to focus on the stealth Jihadists amongst us. I intend to expose such smooth slick snakeoil merchants.

Radical Islamist Lawyer Irfan Yusuf….

Say what???  “Radical atheist Pope Benedict XVI” is only slightly more far-fetched!

But Irfan retains a sense of humour, beginning his post with this:

Obama secrets

Memo for 2009 and beyond: ignore a hatemonger today! 

I do hope that with the defeat of the mindset of Bush, Cheney and company some of this sickness of the spirit will recede too.


Bishop Robinson’s “lost prayer”

Totally flying in the face of many people’s stereotyping, evangelical sites God’s Politics and Christianity Today have given due respect to the inauguration prayer of gay bishop Gene Robinson. The two God’s Politics references are Bishop Robinson’s Lost Prayer at the Inaugural Kick-off and More About Bishop Robinson’s Lost Inaugural Prayer. This is the prayer:

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears — tears for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women in many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless this nation with anger — anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort — at the easy, simplistic answers we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience — and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility — open to understanding that our own needs as a nation must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance — replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.

And bless us with compassion and generosity — remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, inspire him with President Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for all people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain.

Give him stirring words — we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking far too much of this one. We implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand — that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity, and peace.


It’s a beautiful prayer.

Powerful and inclusive. At once humble and bold.

Religion in the USA – as in most places – is rather more nuanced and interesting than many pundits and bloggers would credit.


Bonus poem: Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000)

Sunday is as good a day as any for reflection. But then so is Friday, or Saturday…

I have quoted Yehuda Amichai before, most recently in From left field, off the wall, and similar Christmas musings 1. The poem for today – and surely it is a poem for today – comes from this site.

Temporary Poem of My Time

Hebrew writing and Arabic writing go from east to west,
Latin writing, from west to east.
Languages are like cats:
You must not stroke their hair the wrong way.
The clouds come from the sea, the hot wind from the desert,
The trees bend in the wind,
And stones fly from all four winds,
Into all four winds. They throw stones,
Throw this land, one at the other,
But the land always falls back to the land.
They throw the land, want to get rid of it.
Its stones, its soil, but you can’t get rid of it.

They throw stones, throw stones at me
In 1936, 1938, 1948, 1988,
Semites throw at Semites and anti-Semites at anti-Semites,
Evil men throw and just men throw,
Sinners throw and tempters throw,
Geologists throw and theologists throw,
Archaelogists throw and archhooligans throw,
Kidneys throw stones and gall bladders throw,
Head stones and forehead stones and the heart of a stone,
Stones shaped like a screaming mouth
And stones fitting your eyes
Like a pair of glasses,
The past throws stones at the future,
And all of them fall on the present.
Weeping stones and laughing gravel stones,
Even God in the Bible threw stones,
Even the Urim and Tumim were thrown
And got stuck in the beastplate of justice,
And Herod threw stones and what came out was a Temple.

Oh, the poem of stone sadness
Oh, the poem thrown on the stones
Oh, the poem of thrown stones.
Is there in this land
A stone that was never thrown
And never built and never overturned
And never uncovered and never discovered
And never screamed from a wall and never discarded by the builders
And never closed on top of a grave and never lay under lovers
And never turned into a cornerstone?

Please do not throw any more stones,
You are moving the land,
The holy, whole, open land,
You are moving it to the sea
And the sea doesn’t want it
The sea says, not in me.

Please throw little stones,
Throw snail fossils, throw gravel,
Justice or injustice from the quarries of Migdal Tsedek,
Throw soft stones, throw sweet clods,
Throw limestone, throw clay,
Throw sand of the seashore,
Throw dust of the desert, throw rust,
Throw soil, throw wind,
Throw air, throw nothing
Until your hands are weary
And the war is weary
And even peace will be weary and will be.

Translated from the Hebrew by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav, in A Life of Poetry: 1948 – 1994, New York, HarperCollins, 1994

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Posted by on January 18, 2009 in humanity, inspiration, interfaith, Israel, peace, poets and poetry


Only the demons are dancing…

Sadly, that is my belief about the current situation in Israel.

Twenty years ago I was working in a place where the Israeli and Australian flags flew, where the anthems of both countries were sung in school assemblies, and among my colleagues were quite a few Israeli citizens. They would come down here to Surry Hills when they were homesick to eat in Abdul’s Lebanese restaurant, where they may have heard Arabic spoken as they partook of the shared pleasure in felafels and hummus. Among those colleagues, especially the Israeli ones, was a wide range of views. On the one hand there was the Jewish Studies teacher who caused a bit of a stir when she told her class: “If I was a Palestinian I would join the PLO tomorrow.” (This was in 1988-89.) She had been a tank commander in the Israeli army, was invited to join Mossad, and knocked them back on the grounds she didn’t approve of them. Her father, after all, was an Israeli communist. On the other hand there was one young man called Conan the Barbarian by the (Jewish) kids, whose claim to fame was the number of Arabs he had strangled. Or so the kids told me. Another colleague told me he preferred not to be called a “Jew” as he was an atheist and thought “Jew” expressed a certain religious assumption he didn’t relate to; he was however happy to be called an Israeli.

All that complexity no doubt still exists, despite policies that were well under way in 1988-9, which my colleagues would often argue about. I met great people in my time at that place; one, from South Africa, had a brother who defended ANC members in the courts and whose father had at one time hidden Nelson Mandela when he was on the run.

All of them had been touched, one way or another, by the Holocaust.

But it is hard to deny the implications of these maps, which I first saw on 3 Quarks Daily a few days ago. I posted the entry in my Google Reader, along with quite a few other posts from a range of people, including the Kashmiri Nomad, a bright but comparatively hard line Muslim. Comparatively, but not into violence, as far as I can tell after several years reading his views and even sometimes exchanging comments. But to the maps.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on January 12, 2009 in faith and philosophy, Holocaust, human rights, humanity, interfaith, Israel, memory, Middle East


A rabbi on Gaza

I was going to leave this alone, but in checking my blog roll (which I will soon revise and prune) I happened on Shalom Rav, Random Blogthoughts by Rabbi Brant Rosen in the USA. In particular see Outrage in Gaza: No More Apologies (28 December), Israel and Gaza: In Search of a New Moral Calculus (30 December) and Israel and Gaza: One Geographer’s Prediction (6 January). Really, these have more weight than anything I can say. A brief sample from the first:

The news today out of Israel and Gaza makes me just sick to my stomach.

I know, I can already hear the responses: every nation has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its citizens. If the Qassams stopped, Israel wouldn’t be forced to take military action. Hamas also bears responsibility for this tragic situation…

I could answer each and every one of these claims in turn, but I’m ready to stop this perverse game of rhetorical ping-pong. I don’t buy the rationalizations any more. I’m so tired of the apologetics. How on earth will squeezing the life out of Gaza, not to mention bombing the living hell out of it, ensure the safety of Israeli citizens?…

So no more rationalizations. What Israel has been doing to the people of Gaza is an outrage. It has has brought neither safety nor security to the people of Israel and it has wrought nothing but misery and tragedy upon the people of Gaza…

More on all sides thinking like that and there could be hope. That’s leadership.


Posted by on January 8, 2009 in America, inspiration, interfaith, Israel, Middle East


Sydney’s Wayside Chapel, King’s Cross

I went there earlier this year to take some pictures for The South Sydney Herald. As it happens, the pics haven’t been used, but I was glad to have had the assignment. I don’t have all that much direct experience of The Wayside Chapel, a sometimes contentious part of The Uniting Church, but one of my South Sydney colleagues, Blair, is a regular volunteer there. Just about everyone in Sydney knows of its work.

fri14 013

The Wayside Chapel: photo by Neil

The pastor, Graham Long, has lately appeared from time to time in the press as David Hicks’s mentor/counsellor. There is a South Australian connection, which emerges in a good profile feature in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: Let he who has not sinned ….

Long, 57, has been in charge of the Wayside Chapel in Hughes Street, Potts Point for four years, though he was only confirmed as a Uniting Church pastor this month. He is the third controversial man to lead the Wayside Chapel in the past 44 years. Noffs was a charismatic pioneer, whose influence and innovations were felt worldwide. Ray Richmond served for 13 years and opened Sydney’s first illegal drug injecting room, leading to a criminal charge that was later dropped.

An avuncular, bearded figure with a raucous and ready laugh, Long might appear a safer choice: a less heroic but more practical administrator capable of steering the organisation from near insolvency to financial health, and supervising the $7 million redevelopment of the ramshackle premises. Fortunately it is a dry day: water apparently pours through his ceiling whenever it rains…

"I’m not Ted Noffs and I can’t be Ted Noffs," he told the board. "If you’re not ready for a change, I’m the wrong bloke."

There was the added complication of religious politics. Though the chapel was originally set up by Methodists, it now comes under the Uniting Church of Australia. To be accepted as pastor, Long had to go through the Uniting Church’s vigorous training procedure – which could not start until his suspension from Churches of Christ had expired.

Fortunately, "the Wayside board couldn’t give a flying fruit about these distinctions". He was appointed general manager and licensed to perform normal pastoral duties – baptisms, funerals, marriages and so on – until he finally qualified.

The challenge surprised him. The organisation was barely financial and the three separate buildings that make up the Wayside Chapel were a health and safety minefield. Two-thirds is beyond renovation, and must be pulled down. The board obtained planning approval for a $7 million rebuild, and launched a public appeal just before the world went into financial meltdown. So far $1.4 million has been pledged.

"This financial crisis has been a crisis for us too," Long acknowledges. "But from a turnover of $300,000 a year when I joined, we’re now at $1.8 million a year."

Most of that money is self-generated. "Ted’s vision – and it’s the same with us today – is that we don’t want to be seen as a soup kitchen. We are something which helps the community behave like a community. We want the poor to know that we exist only because of the generosity of the rich. And the rich to know that the poor are their brothers and sisters.”

Long fostered corporate ties, got celebrities to serve as chapel ambassadors, recently adapted a suite of small rooms for the recreation of under 25s – "the only drugs-free, supervised space for young people in Kings Cross" – and converted to reality the idea of three homeless young men for Food For Thought, a regular celebrity-speaking session where a changing roster of street kids prepares the food.

But at the heart is the Wayside Chapel itself. "We try to keep the chapel as a quiet, safe, sacred space. Lots of people just come here to sit and think," Long says. "Everyone falls over at some point, and everyone needs help getting back up again."

And another religion/community matter

Also in today’s Herald: Don’t force us into ghettoes: Trad.

LOCAL councils around Australia have been warned they risk imposing a "ghetto mentality" on the Islamic community if they continue to oppose religious projects such as the controversial proposals to build Islamic schools at Camden and Bass Hill.

The warning was issued yesterday by the founder of the Islamic Friendship Society, Keysar Trad, as he opened a prayer centre at St Marys.

Mr Trad said the centre, which took 3½ years to be approved by Penrith City Council, will participate in a number of multi-faith and community events, such as Clean Up Australia Day.

Asked about recent controversies surrounding other developments – such as a proposal for a Muslim school at Camden and a stalled project by sportsmen Anthony Mundine and Hazem El Masri to convert a church into a mosque in Canterbury – he said their rejection would hurt his community….

I’m not always a fan, I have to say, but this piece is worth thinking carefully about.

Using the example of an attempt by Mr El Masri, a prominent Canterbury Bulldogs footballer, to convert a church in Ludgate Street, Roselands, he said some councils and residents were focusing on trivial planning issues to sink projects that would have an otherwise broad appeal.

"Generally, when you think of Hazem El Masri, if he was establishing a youth centre, most people would want to send their kids there regardless of their religion because he’s a sporting hero who could teach their children discipline and help them have sporting success," Mr Trad said.

"But it seems in that area, the conjunction of his name with the word Muslim has created a situation where council took objection to something that relates to that centre. We don’t do those things to our sporting heroes in Australia; in Australia our sporting heroes are good role models, they deserve to continue to have our respect."

The Mayor of Penrith, Jim Aitken, said there was no community objection to the new prayer centre at St Marys but said planning regulations are not the only reason some developments are delayed.

"The issues are the same in any area. Some people will be against other religions coming into our society, and other people just don’t care," he said. "You just have to keep explaining to everyone what’s going so they understand."

The vice-president of the new prayer centre, Mohammad Ruhulamin, said there would be an emphasis on hosting events that involved people outside the Muslim faith.

"If our people want to be part of the community, the community must be accessible to us," he said. "It will take some time to build relationships with people. It will not be easy."

Rather than my commenting further, I recommend you use the Islam category tag to see what I have already said. This is the 136th post so tagged!

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Posted by on December 27, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, Christianity, faith, faith and philosophy, humanity, inspiration, interfaith, Islam, local, multicultural Australia, pluralism, religion, South Sydney Uniting Church


From left field, off the wall, and similar Christmas musings 2

In From left field, off the wall, and similar Christmas musings 1 I promised:

In the second in this series I ask: Does the usual Christmas Nativity Scene have authenticity? I answer: No. Did you know that Jesus may well have not been born in Bethlehem?  Did you know that what we accept, or have come to depict, as the Nativity is an amalgam of several contradictory stories? Did you know that the earliest gospels say nothing at all about the birth of Jesus?

For many none of this will be news; for others it may be disturbing. Wait and see.

So here we are, and for a full account of these matters see Bishop Spong: A Religious Santa Claus Tale. Not that Bishop Spong is the only church figure to say things like this, and he is certainly far from the first. You see the trouble with fundamentalists is that they don’t read their Bibles carefully enough.

Isaiah 7 almost certainly does not refer to Jesus, even though the appropriation of two verses in that chapter has become so embedded, thanks to Matthew’s very dubious use of a Greek translation of the Hebrew original, that many Christians find that unthinkable. However, if you read the chapter properly – that is you read it all, in context, in a good translation — you will see that it does not mention virgins anywhere, and that the birth it is talking about is very much a symbolic lesson for the times in which the text is set – a particular political situation around 800 years before Jesus was born.

The earliest Christian texts tell us nothing about the birth of Jesus, or nothing supernatural. Those are certain letters of Paul, as Spong says:

Paul, who is the first author of a book in the New Testament (he wrote between 50 and 64 C.E.), appears to have no knowledge of anything being unusual about Jesus’ birth. All Paul says is that Jesus was "born of a woman, born under the law" (Galatians 4:4) and "according to the flesh" he was "descended from the House of David" (Romans 1:3). Paul never mentions the names of Mary or Joseph. The only reference he makes to a member of the family of Jesus was to James, whom he called "the Lord’s brother," and with whom he did not get along very well (Galatians 1).

The earliest gospel in the Canon is Mark, which has no birth narrative. Neither does the Gospel of Thomas, which many scholars date back to around the same time the other Canonical gospels were being written. Thomas has no narrative at all to speak of, and in that respect probably reflects (though the Thomas we now have is not a primary version) what the first gospel stories were actually like.

Matthew and Luke, writing at least 40 years after the death of Jesus, have independent and contradictory stories about the birth of Jesus, Luke’s chronology, despite his being the more polished and careful as a writer of the two, being very doubtful. It may even be that Jesus was actually born in Nazareth in Galilee, where, it is reasonably certain, he spent most of his life. Matthew goes to extraordinary lengths with a tale which, like so much in Matthew, deliberately parallels the lives of Moses and Jesus in order to explain how Jesus ended up in Nazareth. Reading Matthew alone you would think Joseph and Mary had always lived in Bethlehem. Luke, on the other hand, probably correctly notes that they were from Nazareth, but then gets them to Bethlehem via the plot device of a census, which appears, if at all, to have happened some ten years or so after Jesus was born, which was not on the 25th December in a year no later then 4BC, when King Herod died. One story has wise men from the east visiting Mary in her house; the other has shepherds visiting a stable. The two events, if either is really an event, may have happened several years apart. The ox and ass came in later through creative embroidering and do not appear in the gospels themselves.

John, writing towards the end of the first century, begins with a philosophical poem rather than a story.

All the gospels really start with John the Baptizer, and the first public appearances of Jesus. And so on. All this is really well known.

So what do we celebrate at Christmas? The idea that “God is with us” – however you understand that. Tikno in Indonesia captures this well enough in his recent comment:

Before, when the bell is ringing, Jesus has came in simplicity.
Now, when the bell is ringing, let go holiday.

One remembers also the best that has been inspired by the name of Jesus. An obituary in today’s Sydney Morning Herald is not a bad example:

…Sister Veronica, raised in Quirindi, just south of Tamworth, was a pioneer of Aboriginal education. Entering the Josephites, the order founded by Blessed Mary MacKillop, just before her 18th birthday, she took her vows three years later.

She had chosen an order that had as its mission an energetic engagement with the community. She taught at Annandale, Port Kembla, Revesby, Walgett, the Central Coast and Hunters Hill, where she was headmistress of St John’s Preparatory School.

In 1974, she arrived at an Aboriginal mission in Kununurra to run the local school. Expecting a class of 60, she was greeted by 135 children. "From that first surprise blossomed her partnership with Aboriginal people and the evolving of what became known as two-way education," said a fellow Josephite, Sister Maria Casey.

Sister Veronica was an early exponent of what was then a radical educational theory: teaching the regular curriculum of maths and English alongside the local language, culture and history. For the first time, the local Kija language would be written, as well as spoken.

Later she moved to Warnum, one of the most isolated pockets of the Kimberley. She and the other sisters working there lived rough for several years, in the soaring temperatures of north-western Australia, before their house was built. But the hardship forged a bond with the women of Warnum, who accepted her as kin, even giving her a "skin name".

Sister Veronica became deft at handling the often delicate politics of the church, the education system and the indigenous communities. Measured in her approach to people and problems, she never gave the appearance of frustration or anxiety.

Her knowledge of indigenous women was captured in her master’s thesis, Aboriginal Women In The Face Of Change, and her book, From Digging Sticks To Writing Sticks

There is of course much one would rather forget, but let us set aside Christmas for focusing on the good that has been and can be.

Finally, look at a post by Postkiwi Duncan Macleod, a Uniting Church minister in Queensland: Gustav Niebuhr on Interfaith Conversation.

Gustav Niebuhr’s writings include the book “Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America” and articles for “The New York Times Magazine”, “The Christian Century” and “The Buddhist Review”. He is associate professor of religion the media at Syracuse University in New York State. Gustav is the grandson of Reinhold Niebuhr, and grandnephew of Helmut Reinhold Niebuhr…

Gustav talks about being inspired to write his book, “Beyond Tolerance”, by his experience at the New York Times in the late 1990s writing about religious conflict in which he encountered people who were engaged in inter-faith dialogue and projects. His interest in the topic was spurred into action when he found people of faith who deliberately reached out to the Muslim community in the wake of 9/11.

Michael Pappas in his interview suggests that crisis might be what is required to stimulate the building of inter-faith relationships. Niebuhr points out that relationships are built over time in response to a growing awareness of pluralism. He refers to the changes that have happened in the United States since the immigration laws were overhauled in 1965.

I found it interesting the idea the most effective relationship building is done not by intellectual dialogue (usually carried out by academics) but through shared projects. Niebuhr refers to the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago, founded by Eboo Patel, as a great example of how that might happen. Niebuhr talks about using humour, interviews and stories to break down stereotypes.

Much better than being “right” don’t you think?

Update: a sad note

Being a Protestant, I am not affected directly by anything the Pope might say, but it is always heartening when he says something useful, as he does at times. However, it is very sad when he says something as backward-looking, indeed quite silly, as the hyperbolic pronouncement that has just come out on the subject of gays, lesbians and transexuals. The Wild Reed will be very disappointed I should think, though not surprised.


I was born and raised in rural Australia but am now living in the US where I serve as the executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) and the editor of The Progressive Catholic Voice. I established The Wild Reed as a sign of solidarity with all who are dedicated to living lives of integration and wholeness – though, in particular, with gay people seeking to be true to both the gift of their sexuality and their Catholic faith.The Wild Reed simply invites people to observe and reflect upon one man’s progressive, gay, Catholic perspective on faith, sexuality, politics, and culture.

My old internet friend, the late Father Ken Sinclair, must be spinning in his grave. Ken co-wrote this major study: Consequences of Decriminalization of Homosexuality: A Study of Two Australian States.

A comparison between homosexual males in two Australian states. Victoria (prior to decriminalization of homosexuality) and South Australia (eight years after decriminalization), indicated that the consequences of decriminalization did not include an increase in the negative aspects of homosexuality, such as public solicitation or sexually transmitted disease. Findings suggest that as a consequence of decriminalization, the psychological adjustment of homosexual men will increase and sexually transmitted diseases and public solicitation will decrease. These data are tentatively interpreted as indicating that there are few if any negative consequences of decriminalizing homosexuality, and a number of positive consequences.

Indeed many Catholics I know will be saddened. Will they take notice? Of course not…


From left field, off the wall, and similar Christmas musings 1

Let me remind you of my Christmas poem selection #4 from last year.

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.

And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

Yehuda Amichai

The other night I was listening to ABC Radio National, which at this time of year broadcasts New Dimensions, a US-based program of left-field alternative and often New Age views which range from the flaky to the genuinely thought-provoking. The particular episode was devoted to Aftab Omer. According to New Dimensions:

Omer is a truly a global citizen. He was born in Pakistan and has lived in Turkey, India, Hawaii and now lives in Northern California. His research and life experience has led him to study how we need to move from dysfunctional conflicts to creative conflicts. The problem of our global cultural crisis is not conflict, rather how we handle those conflicts. He says, "We are surrounded by people who perceive differently than us. As long as we’re locked into our personal perceptions and cannot broaden out into different perspectives we will be struggling with dysfunctional conflicts rather than creative conflicts." He suggests that the global challenges of diversity, conflict, and chaos can be met through actively engaging these differences and perspectives with openness, fierceness, and curiosity. He shares with us the idea that peace is not sustained though avoidance of conflict, but is sustained through finding ways to engage in creative conflict.

His is a quite different analysis of the problems we face, and I think it deserves thought. There is a downloadable free lecture available (signing up is easy) from Glasgow Caledonian University:

In a city which prides itself on friendliness and yet has inequalities in health which persist despite our best attempts to tackle them, questions about our relationships to others are of key significance. This issue of otherness is ancient and contemporary, local as well as global, and of significance both in everyday life and periods of cultural crisis. In this lecture, Aftab Omer will consider how to develop core principles and practices that are responsive to the challenges of otherness both within the city and beyond. The diversity we see in the human race is often treated as a problem rather than an asset. For example, we see this in various forms of social oppression such as inequality, racism and cultural trauma. Omer argues that responding effectively to the fragmentation that characterises this global cultural crisis, calls for leadership that practices a profound engagement with all that is other. Such a perspective will raise important insights and questions about how people, organisations and cultures relate to each other, with important consequences for the pursuit of wellbeing.

In the progressive US Jewish magazine Tikkun a recent article refers to Omer’s work: Awakening Our Faith in the Future: Obama’s Renewal of Our Liberal Identity by Peter Dunlap.

With an Obama presidency, liberals like me can breathe a sigh of relief, right? Well, yes, but maybe no. Certainly when our candidates win locally or nationally we feel pride, relief, and hope. Yet, what have we really gotten with an Obama administration? As the Clinton administration demonstrated, it takes more than winning an election to move the country, especially if it seems that winning required a turn to the right.

Many people feared Obama’s post-convention lean to the right. George Lakoff may have articulated this fear best when he said Obama’s pull to the right would legitimize the conservatives’ positions and perhaps even help make their candidates more appealing. After all, “if Obama espouses conservative positions, then why not simply vote for the real thing?” Well, Obama took that risk and has been elected on centrist political themes without a clear liberal/progressive mandate. Where does that leave the Left? Where does that leave issues of universal health care, offshore oil drilling, corporate accountability? While I’m certain that Obama would do the right thing if he thought he could, his turn to the right tells me he isn’t so confident. He may know the way, but will he turn this country toward its moral destiny? Will he lead us toward a future that repudiates and pursues reparation for our past militarism? Will we develop alternative fuels and overcome our oil addiction? Well, I don’t know. What I do know is that, like before, the opportunity does not lie so much with Obama as it does with us.

How many times have we heard that one—that the answer lies with us? How about the idea that the answer lies within? Does that sound true but unhelpful, because you feel you don’t know how to turn inner change into political change, or your own concerns into community engagement? Gandhi’s invitation for us to become the change we wish to see in the world risks becoming a painful cliché because it does not come with instructions. Without some sense of direction, it’s too easy to infuse Obama with too much responsibility for the hopes he has released in us. He released the hope. We need to embody it, but how?…

If we assert our political agenda in the overly rationalized manner adopted by many liberals and progressives, we will not have learned from Obama’s example. Obama’s evocation of hope reflects his own transformation of that traditional liberal identity; it is this transformation that’s worthy of following, not his (necessarily?) centrist stance on issues. We can follow him toward the realization of a new liberal political identity, one based on his mastery of leadership capacities and our own manifestation of other emergent leadership capacities that even he has not yet embodied.

While we can learn from Obama’s new liberal identity, there are many cultural leaders currently articulating and embodying other leadership capacities that will be essential for the future of liberalism and the progressive movement. My own understanding of the emergence of such capacities comes from the work of Aftab Omer, founder of the Institute of Imaginal Studies. I discuss the contributions of Omer, Lakoff, Michael Lerner, and other emergent progressive cultural leaders in my book Awakening Our Faith in the Future: The Advent of Psychological Liberalism

Faith, by way of contrast with both fanaticism and fundamentalism, is the capacity to embrace and confront uncertainty; words to that effect (I paraphrase) in Omer’s New Dimensions interview resonated with me. Dunlap continues:

For Obama, religion cannot be reduced to a right-wing fundamentalism that identifies abortion and same-sex partners as immoral. Obama believes that America’s religious tendency speaks to a hunger that “goes beyond any particular issue or cause.” Describing his own experience with this hunger, Obama testifies that, without faith, something is missing in our lives. He understands that people “want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They’re looking to relieve a chronic loneliness.”

During his time as a community organizer, Obama confronted his own “spiritual dilemma” through which he discovered that he had kept a part of himself “removed, detached,” leaving him as an “observer” in the midst of the many people of faith he worked with. He said he learned that “without a vessel for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart, and alone.” Through his community service work, he confronted his own religious alienation and resolved this dilemma by joining a faith community.

Obama’s story shows us one path to reconciling our prejudices against religion with our liberal values and politics. His integration of these enable him to speak with a moral authority that is missing from both traditional religious speaking not rooted in egalitarian values and traditional liberal speaking not rooted in a faith community.

In The Boston Globe (referred from The Arts & Letter Daily today) is another article which appeals to me: Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on December 17, 2008 in challenge, Christianity, faith, faith and philosophy, fundamentalism and extremism, generational change, humanity, inspiration, interfaith, peace, pluralism, religion



Frank Sinatra, of course, a touch ironic in itself:

How sad for Obama!

There was a reference to Blaggerthingy on God’s Politics just before the Big News broke — anyone want to buy a senate seat? — and of course there is also that factory sit-in. All of it bad for the image of the USA. If Blaggerthingy is guilty as charged, then he has managed to screw his country’s reputation in a way that would cheer the hearts of anti-US terrorists and others the world over. Good one, Blaggerthingy! Be proud.

The God’s Politics reference is hardly flattering either, but does serve to remind us that we shouldn’t entirely judge the USA by events such as those we have been appalled by lately.

Recently, West Side Chicago folks went down to the state Capitol, seeking release of long-overdue reimbursements for services to homebound elderly – $1 million outstanding, enough to cripple a struggling community development corporation. We stood outside the governor’s door, our chant loudly echoing through the halls of the Capitol:

Blagovich, Hynes, pay your bills;
the community suffers, pay your bills;
seniors suffer, pay your bills;
you’re making hard times, pay your bills.

Meanwhile, paydays are delayed, salaries cut, and people laid off. Our controller said the state is out of money; legislators and the governor blamed each other. Nothing happens, and yet we must still provide the services. Thirty-one states are in fiscal crisis; cities and counties are slashing budgets. And they’re slashing the very survival programs for the poor.

The economic crunch, as we all know, is not only a matter of investments and credit on Wall Street and Main Street. It deeply impacts low-income families and low-wealth communities as a whole. In our low-wealth community, we don’t debate whether we’re in a recession or depression; we know we are in HARD TIMES. It is not a matter of shopping; in our community, it is life-challenging issues of food, medicine, rent, and jobs.

Poor and low-income communities are mostly left out of the conversation and the bailout plans. At least unemployment payments have been extended, but so much more urgent action is needed.

Speak out for those who cannot speak, Speak out … defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8-9). Right now there is only a whispered mention of the rights of the poor and needy. Who will speak? Where is the church in speaking out, joining the chorus? Where is our sense of the common good, of caring for each other?

Mary Nelson

Serves to remind us too that people of faith are not necessarily right-wing nut jobs…

The factory story has been well covered on the Net and has cheered the hearts of my Marxist friends.

Beginning Friday, around 300 workers at the Republic Window & Door factory in Chicago have occupied the plant demanding severance and back-pay owed by the company. For the first time since the birth of the CIO union federation in the 1930s, U.S. workers are occupying their workplace. As the bosses push to place the burden of the failing economy on workers’ shoulders, the class struggle is back on the agenda in the U.S.

The 300 mostly Latino members of the United Electrical Workers union began the occupation on the last scheduled day of operations before the bosses would close the factory. The company gave the workers less than 60 days notice of the closure, in violation of federal labor laws. The company reported that its monthly earnings had dropped by around 25% to $2.9 million. But the company continued filling orders through the last scheduled day of operation, which gave workers little room to believe that the factory needed to close its doors.

Republic management told workers that it was necessary to close the factory in order to get loans from its main creditor, Bank of America. UE workers picketed the Bank’s Chicago headquarters on December 3rd. Despite pledges from the bank and Republic management for a meeting on Friday with the UE local 1110 to discuss severance and other issues, this meeting was sabotaged when Republic management failed to show up. Workers replied by occupying the factory.

Bank of America was one of the many large banks to get a part of the gigantic $700 billion bailout package approved by the Democratic and Republican parties in Congress in October…

I am very much in sympathy with the factory workers in that one. Other commentators in the comments on the post I have linked to have suggested that the factory owners are in breach of quite a number of US laws as well. However, I wouldn’t hold my breath about the Revolution just yet, scandalous as this case is.

I’m afraid I am neither for Marx nor for Hayek in these matters, but I shouldn’t offend the faith of others, should I? Or should I? Apart from the fact I am too old and too uninformed, really, to say much new or intelligent along such lines. But the history of the past century or two does not encourage me in faith in either…

Jon Taplin puts a positive spin on Buggerwhatsy and other recent issues though, citing Teddy Roosevelt: A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.

…Teddy Roosevelt was right. It’s the geniuses with the college educations that are robbing us of our future.We are all aware that we stand at a seminal moment in history where the very foundations of our society are being remade. Many observers seem to think that the object is to patch things up so we can get back to the “status quo ante”. But I disagree. This is a reform moment. We must clean up the role of money in politics and we must give the regulators power to prevent the abusive use of the tax laws that Sam Zell and his genius bankers used to wreak holy havoc on their employee’s future.

Jon, a a Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, is not being anti-intellectual in saying all that, as anyone who follows his blog will know.


Camden on the Gold Coast?

I promoted Muslim Schooling on Gold Coast by Postkiwi Duncan Macleod on Neil’s Shared Items yesterday, but it is worth a post here too.

The Gold Coast where I live has hit the news headlines this last week as a group of Christians petitioned, and protested against the establishment of a Muslim school in Carrara. Australian International Islamic College, based in Durack, Brisbane, is proposing to build the Gold Coast’s first Muslim school right next door to the Dream Centre, a large AOG church.

Tony Doherty, a minister with the Dream Centre, is coordinating the Concerned Carrara Residents Group, mobilizing the local residents against the proposed school. The group’s expressed concerns are about the increase in traffic, reduced security, the disturbance of the peace (look how upset the group is and the school hasn’t started yet), a lack of community cohesion relating to the long standing churches and social clubs in the area, a concern that a separated Muslim community would take over the area, and the loss in property values.

It’s obvious that this protest is based on a concern about the school being Islamic. There’s a major school just down the road run by an interdenominational group of Christians that would have ten times the amount of traffic.

One of the comments from the Church is that it doesn’t make sense to have a Muslim community next to a Christian community. Where else would you place them if you wanted them to live harmoniously within the wider community?…

My emphasis. It all has a familiar ring, hasn’t it? Duncan, a Uniting Church minister, continues:

I think it’s time to affirm what being Australian means. We live in a secular society, in which people of all walks of life can have access to education and employment, no matter what their creed. That includes access to State schools, as well as the right to provide faith-based education that fits with the State’s syllabus…

Let’s keep our eyes on this one.

Speaking of Uniting Church, it is hardly a secret that The South Sydney Herald is a community project of South Sydney Uniting Church. I was interested to note, when I attended the end-of-year party, that those involved testify to its inclusiveness, however, ranging from Andrew (editor and minister) through a group including older leftie/anarchist activists, young bright journalism types, including one Liberal Party member, artists, atheists, gay lesbian and transgender, and just lately as a guest contributor Brendan Nelson! The Paper, as those involved call it, has developed quite a lot this year and really is appreciated in the local area – that is Newton, Redfern, Chippendale, Rosebery, Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, Kings Cross. They have broken some important stories during the year and been quite a little ginger group all round. They also do much to give voice to local performers and artists, the local Indigenous community, and quite a few others.


While not directly related to the subject of Duncan’s post, OPINION: Second Column in Crescent Times … by eminently sane Australian Muslim lawyer Irfan Yusuf is a good companion piece.

So here’s my solution to prejudice – prove the agents of prejudice wrong. Yes, Muslims have a soft spot for the Palestinians (as indeed do many Jews, especially in Israel). But that doesn’t mean we should assume all Jews have an anti-Muslim agenda. We should leave this kind of simplistic logic to simpletons who attend Republican Party rallies or who seek to take over the NSW Liberals.

That means we should build networks with like-minded people. And under no circumstances should we tolerate any group in society to be marginalised.


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Book notes and footnotes

sat29 On the right you will see a small stack of (bargain!) books, two that I have referred to just lately, and one that I am about to review.

The new book

LawrencePotter Lawrence Potter (left) has inadvertently led me to a very good book blog via This May Help You Understand the World by Lawrence Potter. As that entry says:

In a confusing universe, it’s reassuring to find that it isn’t only you who doesn’t grasp the intricacies – or even the basics – of the world’s problems. We probably all feel that at some instinctive level we understand most of the big issues, but the truth is – certainly as far as I’m concerned anyway – that we couldn’t even begin to explain the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims (and why it matters) or the US electoral system, or the Weapons of Mass Destruction controversy, or why the Palestinians are fighting each other or even why organic bananas are so much better for everyone, not just you.

In fact, I suspect that the number of people who could get any further in their explanation than “Err … well …” would be tiny.

Those are just some of the topics covered in this excellent and well-timed book…

I concur! The first entry is on jihad

Potter is very thorough and up-to-date (as of early 2007 of course). Other topics include: Israel/Palestine, US elections, world trade, climate change, Darfur, Russia, nuclear proliferation, and China. On China, about which I know a bit, I find it very well informed. Back to the review:

Considering what a comparatively slim volume it is, the amount of information in it is amazing, and it’s just so pleasing to be able to listen to a news broadcast or read a paper and actually have a reasonably clear idea of what they’re talking about. In fact, smugness is in danger of setting in …

Oh … and Mr Potter also tackles the thorny question of whether George W Bush really IS stupid.

The answer may surprise you.

And any author who looks like that has to be credible. 🙂

Seriously, this is an excellent and very readable book. He avoids pomposity and excessive predictability or overdone PC. Not a bad achievement, eh! It’s another Best Read of 2008.


Well, that horrible set of events in Mumbai continues to distress and perplex, doesn’t it? In my post Some thoughts on Mumbai I ventured some background gathered from good sources, but the plot really is thickening, isn’t it? Trouble is there are so many vested interests at play here it is hard to know what is most likely. There can be no doubt none of it bodes well.

In today’s Australian one letter writer expresses quite a common view, which would seem to have much in common with what I tried to say in Dark energy, God and humility, which in a way is also about Mumbai…

IT’S all too easy to see the current terrorism in Mumbai as the work of an insane minority. These men are not deranged. They are intelligent and psychiatrically normal men who just happen to believe literally the words of their silly and dangerous religious books.

Both the Koran and the Old Testament frequently advocate violence towards those of differing religious beliefs. Most people, perhaps influenced by secular humanism, instinctively do not take these “silly bits” literally. Unfortunately, a minority of the devout can’t make a distinction.

Until the major world religions, be they Muslim or Christian, are prepared to “clean up” their violent and often murderous literature, they deserve to be proscribed just like any other terrorist group.

David Phillips
Southport, Qld

As John Dominic Crossan says in God & Empire, however, it is not quite as David Phillips and many others portray it. If one considers a dual portrait of God as a God of Violence and/or a God of Love:

It is positively, absolutely not that one solution is found exclusively in the Old Testament and/or the Jewish tradition while another is found exclusively in the New Testament and/or the Christian tradition. It is not ecumenical courtesy, political correctness, or post-Holocaust sensitivity but simply biblical and historical accuracy to insist that both solutions run side by side, and often in the same books, from one end of the biblical tradition to the other. They are asserted relentlessly as the twin tracks of the Divine Express…

He’s quite right, an assertion I base on having read the Bible and Apocrypha from one end to the other, not cherry-picking as I went, and much the same can be said for the Qur’an, a substantial amount of which I have also read. (Few books are more bloodthirsty than The Apocalypse of John, after all.) It is what you do with this that matters. Crossan comes up with one solution, which I am not sure works, but at least leads to a rather healthy analysis of life and politics… I can’t help thinking, though, that the life-time study of the biblical traditions and the Ancient Near East/Greek World/Roman World has led to an only too understandable cultural myopia… We’ve all been there. What he knows he knows in depth and explains very illuminatingly, however. Can’t see fundamentalists liking it one little bit.

I make a case in that “Dark energy” post for quite a radical rethink by believers of their sacred scriptures, one that is not I have to say original to me. At the same time there are those not willing to be quite so radical who can still be perfectly harmless, even desirable, as neighbours and fellow-citizens, even if they regard me with suspicion and I regard them as being a bit cracked. Only through such benign tolerance do any of us have much hope, after all. We don’t have to be right, you know…

And the excellent blog I found…

… It’s Vulpes Libris (The Book Foxes). Have a look.

On Mumbai

This is pretty impressive: Terror in IndiaDileep Premachandran. (ABC Unleashed)

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Posted by on November 29, 2008 in Best read of 2008, Bible, Christianity, current affairs, events, faith and philosophy, humanity, interfaith, Islam, other blogs, reading, religion, South Asian, terrorism



Dark energy, God and humility

I’m afraid that for me theology really is a branch of poetry. When at Christmas we sing “He came down to Earth from Heaven” we know the preposition is objectively meaningless, that the whole expression reflects a long gone cosmology which saw the sky as a vault or “firmament” with God sitting above it. But I can sing it as a human and traditional way of asserting that the indefinable Ground of Being is close to us, in us, sustaining us. That is by no means a scientific proposition, and I have now lost the attention of just about everyone from more literal-minded Christians on the one hand to atheists on the other, who probably wonder why we bother. By “we” I mean those who share in the kind of theology I am alluding to, but which I do not pretend to expertise in. Explore it (and other theologies) on my links page, if you care to, bearing in mind those are just starting points.

A number of things bring all this forward here again. First, Christmas is coming. Second, I happened to catch Australia Talks on Dark Energy – fascinating, and well worth downloading while you can. You have about two weeks.

It’s called dark energy and it makes up about 73 per cent of the universe but the scientific community isn’t really sure what it is: is it matter, is it a vacuum, is it a constant?

The mystery emerged back in 1998, when astronomers discovered that the expansion of the universe was accelerating; according to theories of gravity and general relativity, it should actually be slowing down. So what’s happening? Enter the idea of dark energy. Could it be a previously unknown fifth force and what does its existence mean for ideas about the big bang and, what’s more, the theory of everything? If you’re a science buff, a star gazer or just interested in new ideas, this is your chance to join the discussion with three of our leading astronomers. We’ll look at Einstein’s theories, glance back to the work of Edwin Hubble, and look forward to what the unravelling of the dark energy mystery might mean.

It was revealed that what we can actually detect with our senses of the universe is just part of 4%, in fact 90% of that 4% is invisible…  That we now exist in such a state of uncertainty is, as one of the guests on the program said, humbling.

Theology and religion need to be humbled too, but the stumbling block, I’m afraid, is the outdated – now so far past its use by date as to be toxic, indeed lethal – view that God has actually spoken or written infallible things which we can now read and follow. This particular teaching is unfortunately at the centre of all the Abrahamic religions, though the way it is manifested or understood varies.

I can believe God “speaks” – but I see that as a metaphor at best. I do not believe God has uttered contracts or documents untouched by human hands. Yet in those various scriptures, and not only on those of the Abrahamic faiths, one may be said to hear the spirit of God, just as long before Abraham was even born, if indeed he was an historic personage, my Aboriginal ancestors heard that spirit by other means, long before the putative era of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, which, it is interesting (as John Dominic Crossan does in God & Empire) to note, is very near the time agriculture and settled town life emerged in the Ancient Middle East. At that time, it could be argued, their world was created.

It is a big issue, this one of sacred scriptures. Even moderate Muslims, for example, are locked in the main into such a belief: “It is a tenet of the Islamic faith that the Qur’an is considered to be the literal, authentic, and unadulterated word of God. It is a tenet of the Islamic faith that the Qur’an is completely authentic; it has not been redacted, altered, revised or corrupted in any way.” – Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Great Threat: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists (Harper San Francisco 2005). That book does go on to say that there are other traditions as well within Islam that need to be considered, and that the way in which the Qur’an’s teaching has been understood or mediated has been rich and various, and this is true. He also sets out to show that there is no necessary contradiction between adhering to Muslim belief, including the tenet under discussion at the moment, and living in a pluralistic or democratic society such as his own USA. Needless to say he does not accept the arguments of the terrorists.

Nonetheless, there is a problem, isn’t there, even if it is not necessarily a problem of being able to get on with one another whatever our beliefs. All that takes, naive as it seems, is the will on both sides to do so. However, see also What Is the Koran? from The Atlantic Monthly January 1999 for, I think, a fair assessment of what the shape of the problem might be.

In mainstream Christianity and in Judaism there are a range of views about their Scriptures, but the recognition they are human documents, albeit “inspired” in some way however that may be defined, has been gaining ground for the last 200 years. Some see this as a degeneration, of course. Unfortunately, the Jewish and Christian scriptures just are fallible human documents, and to pretend otherwise is (I believe) both pointless and dishonest. Also once they are seen for what they are and seen increasingly in their real contexts, the more interesting and relevant they often become. Or so I find.

And yes, there are big issues here about just who Jesus in fact was/is, and what he is for us today. Not to mention that we no longer believe that either Jerusalem, Rome, or the Mediterranean is the centre of the world, but rather that God’s “speech” has been rather more scattered and diverse than we suspected. But that’s enough theology for now.

My point of course is that theology is a very uncertain art, and should be seen by all to be such, whatever the religious tradition it inhabits. (And no, in case you are wondering, Popes are not infallible; even Popes only claim that some of the time, but I don’t believe it is so at all… That is not to say that they are never worth listening to.)

Back to the Science.

I was struck by the fact that the scientific view of the universe has made such a leap since just 1998! It is hard on us oldies, eh!  Now take something as muddled and unscientific as education. Theory there, some would say, oscillates rather than progresses! I know my 1998 essay on literacy is as up to date now as it was then, especially with some web links to places where other more recent discussions might be found.

Ah me, I am a back number, you know. Let’s face it… 😉

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Posted by on November 28, 2008 in Bible, challenge, Christianity, faith, faith and philosophy, fundamentalism and extremism, inspiration, interfaith, Islam, pluralism, Pomo, religion


Beware: “political correctness gone mad” stories may not be all they seem…

It is a cliche of grumpiness to mutter about “political correctness”, a phrase I once swore never to use if I could avoid it. But often it turns out to be a furphy. I thought of this yesterday, as it happens, when I proposed to myself photographing some of Sydney’s Christmas decorations for Ninglun’s Specials. Yes, “politically correct” as Clover Moore may seem, she apparently doesn’t have a problem with wishing people a Happy Christmas, strewing street banners right and left to do so and wishing us all a “Joyous Christmas” on the front of her latest (recycled paper) full colour propaganda and information brochure…


No problem! Not in my opinion anyway, and quite compatible with inclusiveness, respect, multiculturalism and all those good things…

So I read with interest The Catholic Herald (UK): This is anti-political correctness gone mad.

“BID TO BAN CHRISTMAS" shrieked the headline in the Sun in bold caps, "Festive Fun Upsets Migrants, Says Labour Think-Tank". To someone writing a book about political correctness a story like that is, well, like Christmas coming early. There is my next chapter, I thought, as I filed the cutting.

But when I looked into the story in more detail it started fraying at the edges. Yes, it was certainly fair to describe the Institute for Public Policy Research as a "Labour Think-Tank" – Nick Pearce, the director of the IPPR at the time its allegedly anti-Christmas report was published, went on to become the head of policy at Downing Street. But when I rang their offices to ask whether they really wanted to ban Christmas (or, if you read the Daily Mail rather than the Sun, to see it "downgraded to help race relations") they denied any such thing. Here is what their report actually says: "Even-handedness dictates that we provide public recognition to minority cultures and traditions. If we are going to continue as a nation to mark Christmas – and it would be very hard to expunge it from our national life even if we wanted to – then public organisations should mark other religious festivals too." The tone may be a little po-faced, but the report does not in any sense suggest that Christmas should be abolished.

The lament about politically correct attempts to destroy this great festival is a hardy perennial of anti-PC journalism, and any newspaper stories appearing between now and early January which include the words "political correctness gone mad" need to be treated with a great deal of caution…


Hat tip to Indigo Jo, a British Muslim, for that story.

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Posted by on November 27, 2008 in culture wars, faith and philosophy, interfaith, local, media watch, Multicultural, multiculturalism