Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Politics (Page 2 of 5)

Donald Trump and Christians

Two things from this article stand out to me: the utter foolishness of Donald Trump, and the equally utter foolishness of every Christian who supports him. Check these quotes out:

  • “It’s hard, because my whole life, I take money, take money. Now, I’m going to be greedy for the United States. I’m going to take and take and take.” – Trump, at a rally in Georgia on Monday.
  • John Lee, 47, who runs a small business selling ‘Christian clothes’, was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the second amendment. ‘We want to see The Donald,’ he says. He has common sense. He doesn’t put up with wish-wash; he’s not your standard politician. He stands up for principle and takes care of his people.’

Meanwhile, I hear Jesus whisper down through the ages:

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” – Luke 12:15-21

Crisis for Republican party as Trump heads for Super Tuesday victory

Donald Trump appears poised for sweeping victories on Super Tuesday that would effectively anoint him the Republicans’ presumptive nominee, leaving the polarised conservative party in the throes of an existential crisis.

The false influence of the Australian Christian Lobby

I’ve never had much respect for the ACL. They are more concerned with political position than with the Gospel, in my opinion, and more concerned about being right than being loving. Plus they are often just dishonest.

Having plants to ask questions, like Rob Ward and others, in the audience on Q&A last night, does nothing to increase my respect for an organisation that does not represent my understanding of the Jesus of the gospels.

This article is a good, brief critique of the ACL…

Australian Christian Lobby ‘not as influential as some suggest’

The Australian Christian Lobby has a valid place in public discourse, but its influence in Australian politics is not nearly as dramatic as some make it out to be, Stephanie Judd writes.

The Big Short is long on the human predicament

Left to right: Tracy Letts plays Lawrence Fields, Wayne Pere plays Martin Blaine and Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

We all remember the Global Financial Crisis, or GFC, as it was called. It was a time when the world stood on the brink of economic catastrophe, to the point that it was being talked about as leading to another Great Depression such as the world suffered in the 1930s.

The Big Short is the story of why the GFC happened, and how a few people saw it coming but no one listened to them.

The movie is based on the 2010 book of the same name by Michael Lewis. It stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. 

What this movie highlights is the problem of human greed at its worst, and the evil which is unleashed when people simply don’t care about anyone else but themselves.

The housing bubble of 2007/08, which led to the GFC, highlighted the problems of an economic system that is unregulated and doesn’t take into account human nature. The problem with unfettered market capitalism is that some people have to remain poor for others to get rich. It is an amoral system, which, when left to its own devices, produces unprecedented greed the likes of which took the world to the edge of the economic cliff just those few years ago.

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Non-violence in the face of ISIS?

Once again, Sojourners are one of the very few Christian movements to put forward a credible, intelligent alternative to the violence of Empire in the face of the brutality of ISIS. This article by Micah Bales should be compulsory reading for every Christian wanting to articulate a Christian response to ISIS.

The way of the cross is indeed foolishness to many. As a believer, it is even foolishness to me at times. That just shows how entrenched in the way of the world I am.

Check out some of these quotes from the article above:

  • “When we choose to follow Jesus, it’s a death sentence. To become a disciple is to take up the cross, just as Jesus did. Followers of Jesus don’t get to kill our enemies. Followers of Jesus don’t get to conquer terrorists like ISIS with violent force. As followers of the slain lamb, we are conquerors through the blood of Jesus, through our commitment to show love even to those who want to behead us.”
  • “The world needs to know that the people of the cross are the ones who will die saying, Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
  • “We are called to be the seed that dies – by beheading, if need be – in order to give birth to a world of beauty and justice that is unthinkable for those who are seen as reasonable and realistic in this blinded age.”
  • “This won’t protect us from the violence of evildoers…But it is the way that leads to life. This is the faith that overcomes the world. It’s a life of trust and joy that rings out like a bell in these times of fear and oppression.”

When we are willing to die for the way of Christ, to be martyrs for the kingdom of non-violence, we show that we would rather die than cooperate with the way of death that Empire tells us is right. That is the foolishness of the cross. We would rather follow a Messiah who gets himself killed than one who overthrows Empire and conquers all.

Yet the irony is that in following the Messiah who gets himself killed, we become those very conquerors. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. That is the way of Christ that overcomes the world. In the end it is this way, and not the violent way of Empire, that wins. To quote Martin Luther King, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

Bill Shorten’s Workchoices moment

I agree with the sentiments in this article, especially the disappointment about Shorten’s invisibility since becoming Opposition Leader.What I found disappointing about his Budget reply speech though was that, as Joe Hockey said, it was very short on detail.Hockey though has a short memory. Tony Abbott’s Budget reply speech last year was exactly the same, although it went further in being an arrogant “we’re ready to govern” speech. It seems the lack of policy detail in Australian politics has not changed in the last 12 months.

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.

Left, Right, Left, Right

jesus-for-president-590x230Why is it that issues like climate change are not so much ideologically based as based on people’s politics? You can predict that the people who support the idea that climate change is real and that it is largely human-induced will also agree on a myriad of other social issues such as the need for more public transport, and opposing Western troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the other hand, those who are climate change sceptics or outright deniers are also those who believe in the free market and supported the war in Iraq and troops in Afghanistan.

Some Christians say it is clear that Jesus was more to the left because of his identification with the poor and marginalised. I think trying to align Jesus with a certain political leaning is very dangerous and is definitely not something that Jesus himself would do. It is bordering on the idolatrous to try to fit him into a box like that. I understand what Christians mean when they say Jesus might be more left-leaning, especially when trying to influence people on how to vote at election times. But as Jim Wallis has said alot in recent years, ‘God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat.

Consider what Richard Rohr tells us about the origins of Left and Right as terms to describe political allegiance:

It is interesting that these two different powers took the words Right and Left from the Estates-General in France, where on the right of the throne sat the nobility and the clergy (what were the clergy doing over there?) and on the left sat the peasants and 90 percent of the population. Those are now commonly used terms in the global political world. The Right is normally concerned with maintaining some status quo, stability, continuity, and authority; that is a legitimate need and without it you have chaos. Those on the Right are normally considered innocent until proven guilty.

The powers that be have tended to write history from the side of authority and power, and those who protect it. Once we see this, we wonder why we never saw it before. But some form of the Right is necessary for authority and continuity in a culture, and some form of the Left is necessary for truth and reform in a culture. And thus the pendulum swings, and I guess we all hope we are living at the appropriate time when it is swinging toward our preferred side.

Adapted from A Lever and a Place to Stand, p. 97

Rohr reiterates and expands on some of these points again:

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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:
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