Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Asylum Seekers

Are people evil?

Recently I watched the movie, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. If you haven’t seen it, it’s not a movie with a happy ending. That’s the whole point of it; it left me just staring into space, shaking my head at the horror of our inhumanity towards each other.

I’ve thought a lot over the years about the sickness of humanity and what it means for us. I was reading in Jeremiah just this morning where it says that the human heart is deceitful above all things.

What does it mean to be sinful? Are there people who are actually evil? Or are we all just broken people who have forgotten what we all really want? Was even Hitler, with all his deplorable actions which can only be described as evil, was he actually evil? Or was there something even in a madman like him that wanted redemption? Was there something forgotten somewhere in his heart of hearts that had the capacity to respond to love?

Millions would of course say that, no, there was nothing redeemable in the heart of such a monster. And if you are of Jewish descent, to even raise the question of whether Hitler could have been redeemed would probably be insulting.

But then I look at my own depravity. I have done some terribly hurtful and selfish things in my life, but I believe that even I am not beyond redemption. So where do we draw the line? Where do we say that one person’s depravity is redeemable but another’s isn’t? If I was living in Germany in the 1930s, would I, like millions of my countrymen, have blindly followed a despot into justifying the attempted extermination of an entire race of people? Would I, a Christian, have aligned myself with the German Christians movement and turned a blind eye to the satanic policies of German nationalism and openly supported them?

The human heart is indeed deceitful above all things, and when I want to make a judgment, I must always point the finger at myself before I point it at others.

I certainly believe there is evil in the world. There is a level of evil that exists that political policy can never remedy. Whatever social programs are instituted for the benefit of the poor in society, the human heart still needs changing.

This was brought to the fore during the Global Financial Crisis a decade ago. The banks were bailed out in some countries, and checks could have been put in place to regulate the unfettered market capitalism that caused the crisis. But the same thing will happen again one day unless the hearts of people are changed. The human heart is too sick to change on its own. It needs outside help.

I see evil as a sickness that pervades every one of us. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, the line dividing good and evil doesn’t run through nation-states; it runs through every human heart.

The recent furore over comments made by our Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, exemplifies this. Dutton’s comments cannot be explained in any other way than that they were racist. But is Dutton an evil individual? I would say no. His words were insensitive and insulting and undiplomatic, and putting what he said in place would be evil, but they would not define Dutton as an evil person.

Humanity has the capacity for both the most despicable evil and the most selfless altruism. The problem with evil is that it not only dehumanises those we commit evil against; it also dehumanises the perpetrator. As I watched ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, that thought struck me. A brilliantly acted movie, the hatred and stiffness in the faces of the Nazis as they brutalised Jews just because they were Jews, was a contrast to the loving innocence of a little German boy who just wanted to be friends with a little Jewish boy. Inhumanity in intelligent adults contrasted with humanity in little children.

Hatred is rooted in fear, and it hardens the human heart. Hatred makes us less human. Love, on the other hand, softens us and makes us more human, more able to feel, to respond with passion and energy to life. Love makes us happier.

In a few weeks the world will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passing of Martin Luther King. Like many preachers of love, King was cut down by the forces of hate, but the message he preached will never be cut down, because it is a message that comes from a higher place, from a place that hate can never penetrate. Though it wins victories now, hate’s war on love is lost. This was the message that King preached throughout his short life.

Though we all possess evil within us, and we too often succumb to it and hurt each other, love has already won the war. It won the war when Jesus defeated evil once and for all on the cross and in his defeat of death through rising from it.

Evil is real, but it doesn’t have the final say. While evil is in the world, we grieve and mourn and cry, but we don’t lose hope, because evil’s days are numbered. No one is beyond redemption; no one is so evil that they can’t be changed. If that was the case, then evil would be stronger than love. But it isn’t.

When I shake my head at the horror of the Holocaust, or the racism of our Home Affairs Minister, I am forced to look first at myself. There is evil in my heart, and it needs changing and renewal just as much as Peter Dutton’s. God help us all to be more human, just like you.

What the Manus Island refugees have taught me about following Jesus

The human tragedy that is the situation on Manus Island has horrified thousands of Australians. Personally, I have never felt so angry and disbelieving that our Government could be so cruel and unjust. What the ongoing tragedy has also confirmed to me though is that the life of following Jesus, the life we experience in following Jesus, is gained by going out of our comfort zones. Let me explain.

Last week I called the offices of some MPs about the abandoned men on Manus. I don’t like making phone calls like that. I get nervous about how I’m going to come across, and I procrastinate. After the first call, I was surprised at how uncomfortable I felt doing this. I feel much more comfortable behind my keyboard on my laptop writing to an MP rather than calling their office to express my disgust. It’s part of my dislike of conflict. So, when I decided to call, I just wanted to get it over with.

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Is Australia a nation of idiots?

australia-flag-mapAs we come to another Australia Day and thank God for the public holiday, I think it would do us well to have a read of a couple of very good articles decrying the fact that we generally live in a nation of self-centred idiots.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald this week, Sam de Brito pointed out that “The ancient Greek word idiotes, from which the English version is derived, meant “one who put private pleasures before public duty and who was, for this reason, ignorant of everything that mattered”.

Is that the general perception you get when you watch commercial television in this country and listen to our political leaders spout three-word slogans? De Brito goes on to say that, in ancient Greek society, “the famous Greek statesman Pericles is recorded as saying: “We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say he has no business here at all.”

In the last decade or so, Australians have become very cynical of our politicians. And generally for good reason. Question Time in our Parliament is shown on overseas news networks as an example of the abuse and name-calling that a nation’s elected leaders can stoop to.

The other article that came to my attention was Corinne Grant’s piece in The Hoopla, pretty much saying the same thing as Sam De Brito. Calling to mind our tendency to want to pacify ourselves with mindless pleasures while the world goes to hell in a handbasket, Grant, in her own comedic way, gives the example of satirising our phobia of asylum seekers by saying “The sooner we send ‘em back to get killed in their own country, the sooner we can stop worrying about them taking all our car parking spots at the supermarket.”

Have we become a nation of self-centred morons who passively sit back in our comfy chairs and blame asylum seekers for causing us all this trouble as we flick the channel over to the next episode of Million Dollar Minute? While of course we can’t label all of us in this way, it is a general perception of many Australians that we just don’t care about asylum seekers, what’s happening in Syria, or anything that has to do with what really matters in life, as long as I’m alright.

So what’s with this selfishness? How can we be so blind to the genuine needs of others and so gullible, so unthinking, about what we are told by our media and politicians? I see it as largely about protecting a way of life. Twice in recent years, Credit Suisse has voted Australia, per capita, as the richest nation in the world. No one wants their comfortable way of life threatened, and as long as “I’m alright Jack”, I don’t really want to know about the bad news I see on TV.

When we are so rich, we can easily become blinded to the difficulties of people outside our circle of reference. And when the media encourages this attitude by furthering our demonization of people groups such as asylum seekers and outlaw bikers, an unthinking populace tends to go along with it.

Our political leaders are equally culpable. Our most recent Federal Election campaign was characterised by its negativity and lack of genuine policy discussion. And we the people have become numb to it. So, when our Prime Minister refers to the complex situation in Syria as a war between “goodies and baddies,” we barely bat an eyelid. After all, we’ve just thrashed the Poms in the cricket. That’s what really gets our adrenalin pumping.

Our comfortable lifestyle is also a result of our history since European settlement. We are a nation that has never had a civil war (you could say there was one against our indigenous people but that’s more genocide than civil war, and that’s another story), and we are not bordered by a host of other nations like Europe is.

People often question why Europe has had so much conflict over the years. Why can’t they just get along and stop fighting each other? When you consider the fact that most conflict is over issues of land, you can see why the fact that there are so many different nations and cultures in Europe has fed so much conflict. That plus the fact that some of those conflicts go back centuries, a good deal longer than the history we have known since European settlement. In contrast to Europe, we are a nation surrounded entirely by coastline – “girt by sea” as our national anthem puts it.

Our love of pleasure while trying to ignore those aspects of life that make us who we are is a reflection of a lack of a sense of what we think life should be about. It was 25 years ago this year that John Smith wrote his magnificent Advance Australia Where? (different to Hugh Mackay’s more recent book of the same title). Smith’s book was a brilliant analysis of why a country with such material riches has such a tragic rate of social statistics. The tagline of the book was “a lack of meaning in the land of plenty.” That said it all then and it says it all today.

I am convinced that meaning lies only outside of ourselves. The more we look for life inside ourselves and in the idea of “individual freedom” as it is thrown at us by popular culture, the more we are sucked into its vortex and the more we lose a sense of who we really are. What I have found through living life with its associated consequences, good and bad, is that real meaning and ability to cope with the vagaries of life is only found in following Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus lived in a culture that was in some ways very different to ours, but in other ways was very similar. People in 1st century Palestine wanted their good life just like we do.

The way Jesus handled this desire in people was not to criticise them for having the desire, but to accept them for who they were as people while pointing out better ways to live the good life. If we want to be first, he said, be first at serving. If we want riches, seek riches in heaven. That will give us what we are really after.

Thankfully the church in Australia is talking a lot more these days about issues of meaning and identity. Churches run courses on depression, addiction and other critical life issues. Despite the dumbing down that we generally see in popular culture, many Australians are searching for a genuine spirituality as they realise that something is drastically wrong in a country where we are told that life could be a dream if only we won that elusive lotto draw. In some ways, the church is answering the call.

The search for what really matters in life is one that lasts a lifetime. It is a journey of discovery, difficulty, joy and love, especially when we do it with others who are on the same journey with us and accept us for all our foibles. May this Australia Day be more than a celebration of (hopefully!) another win over the Poms in the cricket, but a genuine reflection of who we are and who we want to be as a nation. Our destiny depends on it.

What Will People Say at Your Funeral? – updated

martin-luther-king-funeral-processionSpeaking to some family members on the weekend, one of them spoke about their brother who had just recovered from prostate cancer. We also talked about someone else in their 50s who had recently succumbed to breast cancer and how she left behind a husband and children who were traumatised by it all.

The conversation turned then to how life catches up with all of us. We all go the same way in the end. From dust we arose and to dust we return. It made me think about what sort of person I want to be remembered as. It also made me think about what sort of society we want to have for those who come after us.

As I think about our comfort, complacency and apathy, particularly about how much we grumble in this country despite being the richest country in the world, I think of the movie The Hunger Games. In that story, people are so satiated that they have lost all sense of morality and sense of compassion for others. They happily go to the games and have no idea what is happening to the disadvantaged in their own city.

The same is true of us. The idea of leaving a legacy in our lives seems a distant memory, and not even a memory for most of us. We are so busy trying to be happy in our lives that very few of us think about what sort of world we want to leave our children. If asked, most people would say that of course they want to leave a better world for those who come next. But we don’t stop to ponder anymore. We have forgotten what it’s like to take time to stop and smell the roses.

Are we so consumed with pleasure that we have forgotten what gave us the good life in the first place? Do we really believe that there is any value in taking time to stop and think and ponder about life? Or do we blindly and unthinkingly accept the mantra that what really matters is the economy, that the key to having a good society is having a strong economy? I suspect most of us do when it all boils down to it.

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Where is home?

first-home-project1-406x303“‘Where is home? Where is my home?’ I hear my spirit cry” – Midnight Oil, Home

“Still gotta let you know, a house doesn’t make a home” – U2, Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own

Every human needs a sense of place. Everyone needs a sense of belonging. We need a place we can call home. That’s why the issue of land rights is so important for Australia’s indigenous people. It goes right to the core of their identity. The land is about who they are. It’s also why children in foster care are so disadvantaged. From the first years of their life they are moved around from place to place, and they may even receive lots of love. But the more they are shunted around, the more they will have building up inside them the nagging question, ‘where do I belong?’ This question nags away at their fragile souls, and it’s no wonder so many become so restless in so many ways later in life.

Bono’s profound statement in the line above about a house not necessarily making a home strikes at the heart of identity. We need a safe place in our lives, a place of refuge, a place we can come to and know it’s ok. That’s why Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is just more and more shameful. It speaks volumes that the Gillard Government’s decision this week to excise the Australian mainland from the migration zone didn’t receive howls of protest from the Opposition, because they totally agree with it.

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Our Asylum Seeker Shame

Asylum_seekersAfter last week’s Houston Report on how to deal with asylum seekers was released and then debated, here are my thoughts on the issue (with thanks to my wife for her intelligent and passionate explanation of some of the issues to me).
About 10 days ago, we went to a dinner run by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, among other groups. I have always thought that Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers was inhumane, but what I heard, including from a former asylum seeker himself, took it to another level. Australia is at a low ebb in its treatment of desperate people fleeing for their lives. My wife, who has a passionate interest in this issue, also put me straight on why the Houston report is cruel in its recommendations.
The ABC piece especially is brilliant and heartfelt in its description of true Christian faith, the way of Jesus of Nazareth, welcoming the stranger. Australia is a long long way from this at the moment. And for Tony Abbott to invoke Christian values in his comments on this issue is misguided at best. It is in fact obscene as he knows the facts. For him to talk multiple times this week about the 22,000 “illegal arrivals” is typical of his political ambition. He has been told numerous times that under Australian and internaitonal law, it is not illegal to seek asylum, even if you don’t have documents or even if you have false documents. There is no such thing as illegal arrivals. Given that he knows this – and to be pulled up on it strongly as he was by Jon Faine during the week – shows that he is either incompetent in his understanding of the issue, or that he is deliberately making a political point to invoke fear of the outsider. It is clear to me that it is the latter. Either way, it makes him unfit in my opinion to be Prime Minister of this country. Check out the following articles:

Jesus was an asylum seeker

As the race to the bottom of the asylum seeker policy ocean by the two major parties shows no signs of stopping, I thought it timely to put this information up. Not that it hasn’t been seen before by alot of people, but the more it gets put out there the better.

A Christian leader in Australia recently tried to say that Jesus and his parents were not asylum seekers. He said the following (a direct quote):

“I had one critic write in recently saying Jesus and his family were asylum seekers. Sorry, but they were of course nothing of the sort, and it is quite silly to suggest they were.”

Now let me read to you the words of Matthew 2:13-15 which talks about this:

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.”

Now if that is not seeking asylum from persecution then I don’t know what is.

If you’re not sure about this issue and want to know more, my friend Eden Parris has sent this asylum seeker myth buster sheet from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. As the fake Greens ad on Gruen Nation this week said – “if you think boat people should be treated as people…”, then get stuck into your local MP and let them know that this is an issue they simply must do better on.

Our double standards on asylum seekers

Photo by emmanouel VUnfortunately the Rudd Government’s stance on asylum seekers is not that much different to the shameful approach of the Howard Government. It is about not much more than political people-pleasing. Mr Rudd, with his ‘tough but fair’ approach, is looking to have it both ways. And unfortunately, much of the Australian media are going along for the ride. There are touches of courage being shown by journalists here and there but on the whole, no one is really saying it like it is.

Get Up, the independent advocacy organisation, has produced a factsheet dealing with some of the myths about asylum seekers that are being peddled in much of the media today. Some of the issues it deals with are:

  • Is Australia doing it’s fair share for asylum seekers?
  • Are we being swamped by boat people?
  • Has the Government made us a soft target?
  • Are asylum seekers queue jumpers?
  • Is there a danger of bringing in terrorists if we let in too many boat people?

It’s a pity that Australian Governments of both political persuasions don’t seem to remember that many of our ancestors on the First Fleet were also ‘boat people’. Brought here, not by choice, but as ‘criminals’, these convicts made a life for themselves under the most brutal conditions. Similarly, in the 1950s, European migrants came to Australia from the ravages of the Second World War and made good. They were hounded then by many Anglo-Saxons, and nothing seems to have changed. The voices of reason are so often drowned out by the shrill voices of fear and xenophobia. Why are we so scared of the ‘other’? Why are we so hypocritical?

The hard line should be taken against the people smugglers, not the asylum seekers themselves. It’s like the issue of overseas aid. We didn’t hold back on giving aid to Myanmar when they had their cyclone last year just because they have a military dictatorship. I don’t recall anyone  complaining  about that. We’re happy to slap each other on the back telling each other how generous we are when we chip in to give to a disaster overseas, but when it comes to my backyard, the attitude often is that we couldn’t possibly let those same people, now called ‘queue jumpers’ in to take all our jobs. Our double standards are atrocious.

Please support Get Up and help to destroy the myths that abound in so many parts of our country today.

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