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IDENTITY POLITICS IS A DANGEROUS GAME

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Ever noticed that the establishment’s reaction to malevolence and suffering has more to do with the victim’s group identity than any other factor?

During Easter, Islamic state detonated bombs in Sri Lanka that were clearly intended to target Christians. The bomb blasted destroyed Churches and luxury hotels and left three-hundred dead.

The violence was clearly a targeted attack against Christians on the Holiest feast of the Christian calendar. However, where they were only too eager to talk about the Muslim identities of those targeted in the Christchurch shootings, those in the establishment were conspicuously silent about the Christian faith of those being attacked in Sri Lanka. Neither the former US President, Barack Obama, nor the Democrat candidate for the 2016 election, Hilary Clinton bothered to use the word “Christian” in their response to the attacks.

Barack Obama tweeted:

“The attacks on tourists and Easter worshippers in Sri Lanka are an attack on humanity. One a day devoted to love, redemption, and renewal, we pray for the victims and stand with the people of Sri Lanka.”

Likewise, Hilary Clinton tweeted:

“On this holy weekend for many faiths, we stand united against hatred and violence. I’m praying for everyone affected by today’s horrific attack on Easter worshippers and travellers to Sri Lanka.”

Following the New Zealand Mosque shooting, both Obama and Clinton were quick to assert their compassion, support, and solidarity with the “global Muslim community.” However, after the Sri Lankan bombings, they became rather reluctant to signal their support for Sri Lankan Christians or even to identify the victims as such.

Barack Obama referred to the attack as one perpetrated against “humanity” rather than one against Christians. Likewise, Hilary Clinton urged people to stand “united against hatred and violence”, but failed to specify who, in this case, was perpetrating the violence or the people they were perpetrating it against. More disturbing, perhaps, is the use of the term “Easter worshippers” as a euphemism for Christians. Easter isn’t holy for “many faiths”, it is Holy for Christians.

Contrast the responses to the Sri Lankan bombings to those of the Mosque massacres in Christchurch, New Zealand. After that attack, the Muslim identity of the victims were clearly and repeatedly stated. Marches in the street professed love over hatred and peace over violence. Political leaders like New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, made symbolic, and rather shallow, gestures of solidarity and acceptance towards the Muslim community. And the public were forced to listen, ad nauseum, to left-wing pundits prattle on about the supposed Islamophobia of Western society.

As I pointed out before, the way the establishment responds to hatred and violence depends largely upon who is perpetrating it and who its target is. It is because of identity politics that our cultural standard-bearers ignore attacks on Christians but go out of their way to illustrate attacks on Muslims.

Identity politics blinds us to reality. It allows us to feel hatred and resentment towards others by reducing them to their group identity. As a consequence, the violence, prejudice, and discrimination Christians and Jews have faced in many parts of the world has largely gone unnoticed.

Identity politics blinds us to the fact that the Christian population in Africa and the Middle East has declined from twenty-percent to four-percent in just over a century (with much of the reduction occurring after 2000). It blinds us to the fact that Christians in the Middle East and Africa are the most persecuted minority in the world.

More alarmingly, Middle Eastern and African Christians are not even to be granted help from Western countries. Instead, they are to be sacrificed on the altar of racial and religious diversity. When the Pakistani Christian, Asia Bibi sought asylum in Great Britain, her request was refused because her presence risked “inflaming community tensions.” (Asia Bibi, of course, was imprisoned for several years after she was accused of blasphemy against Islam).

It would seem that no criticism may be levelled against Muslims or any other non-white, non-Christian group. And it would equally seem that it is perfectly acceptable to criticise Christians and white people for their group identities.

It all boils down to Islamophobia: just one out of a whole batch of ultimately meaningless accusations designed to silence critics and stifle debate. The English Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats refer to it is as a “type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness and perceived Muslimness.” Gallup referred to it is as a “specific phobia” gripping Western society. Amnesty International refers to Islamophobes as “racists and bigots [who] believe that diverse societies don’t work.”

Most of Australia’s media – save perhaps for a few conservative newspapers and some talkback radio – is left-leaning. News and current affairs shows have left-wing biases, panel discussions are strongly tilted to favour left-wing views, and the ABC, Australia’s national broadcaster, is so resolutely left-wing it almost beggars’ belief.

Such a configuration naturally creates biases. It is a commonly accepted fact of psychology that when a person associates only with those who agree with them the result is groupthink and confirmation bias. Australian media has become an echo chamber for left-wing beliefs.

As the author and podcast host, Andrew Klavan pointed out: it is a rule of mainstream media to treat events that confirm left-wing biases as representative but to regard events that contradict them as isolated. Therefore, the attacks in Christchurch are indicative of the racism and Islamophobia that has supposedly infected western society. However, a terrorist attack committed by a Muslim is treated as an isolated incident which does not reflect a trend in which countless terrorist attacks and attacks on Jews and Christians – both in the West and outside of it – have been committed by Muslims every year.

The dichotomy between the reactions towards the attacks on Muslim’s in Christchurch and those against Sri Lanka is telling. Identity politics is a curse upon our society. It divides us by manipulating us into seeing everyone we see as members of their social, economics, or racial group rather than as individuals. Such a game can only lead to disaster.

IN DEFENCE OF CHRISTIANITY

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In 2017, the online video subscription service, Hulu, embarked on the production of Margaret Atwood’s (1939 – ) 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. The story is set in the fictional, totalitarian state of Gilead: a society run by fundamentalist Christians who overthrew the previous secular state and set up a theocracy in its wake. For years, influential thought leaders and other arbiters of popular opinion have espoused the opinion that broader society would greatly benefit from the abolition of Christianity. It is my belief that such an occurrence would have precisely the opposite effect.

No group has criticised Christianity more than the New Atheists. Frequently deriding it as nothing more than “science for stupid people”, prominent New Atheists have ridiculed Christianity and dismissed its positive effects. Atheists and anti-Christians turn Christianity into a straw man by reducing it down to his most basic elements (they are helped, unfortunately, by those fundamentalist Christians who still assert that the earth is literally six-thousand years old). They then use this straw man to discredit the idea of faith. The philosopher, Sam Harris (1967 – ) argued in his book, The End of Faith that religious belief constituted a mental illness. More alarmingly, the British Scientist, Richard Dawkins (1941 – ) took things one step further by claiming that religious instruction constituted a form of child abuse.

The basis for much of Christianity’s negative portrayal finds its roots in the philosophies of the political left. A central tenet of the left-wing worldview is an adherence to secularism, which appears set to replace Christianity as the prevailing cultural belief system. (This is not to be confused with atheism, which denies the existence of a creator). On the one hand, secularism promotes both religious liberty and the separation of church and state (both of which are good things). On the other hand, however, proponents of secularism reject the knowledge and wisdom religious institutions can impart on the world. In a secular society, God can be believed to exist, but not in any sort of a productive way. God is something to be confined the private home or the sanctuary of one’s local Church. God is something to be worshipped behind closed doors where no one can see you.

Of course, anti-Christian rhetoric has been a facet of popular culture since the 1960s. Today, finding a positively-portrayed devout Christian family is about as likely as finding a virgin in the maternity ward. Christians are routinely depicted as stupid, backwards, hateful, and extreme. By contrast, atheists are routinely depicted as witty, intelligent, and tolerant. In short, Atheism is deemed as good and Christianity is deemed as bad. And, of course, this attitude has filled some with a kind of arrogant grandiosity. During an interview in 1966, John Lennon (1940 – 1980) opined: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.”

The mainstream media rarely discusses the persecution of Christians. Indeed, prejudice and discrimination against Christianity is treated with a type of permissiveness that prejudice and discrimination against other religions, Islam being a primary example, is not.

Christians are estimated to be the victims of four out of five discriminatory acts around the world, and face persecutions in one-hundred-and-thirty-nine countries. Churches have been firebombed in Nigeria. North Koreans caught with Bibles are summarily shot. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have faced mob violence, forced removals, and, in the wake of the Arab spring, the abduction of their females who are forced to marry Muslim men.

In China, Christian villagers were instructed to remove pictures of Christ, the Crucifix, and Gospel passages by Communist Party officials who wished to “transform believers in religion into believers in the party.” According to the South China Morning Post, the purpose behind the drive was the alleviation of poverty. The Chinese Communist Party believed that it was religious faith that was responsible for poverty in the region and wanted the villagers to look to their political leaders for help, rather than a saviour. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Chinese Communist Party looked at their own evil and ineffective political ideology as the true cause of poverty in their country rather than blaming it on religion?). As a result, around six-hundred people in China’s Yugan county – where about ten percent of the population is Christian – removed Christian symbology from their living rooms.

Popular culture and thought in the West has attempted, with a great deal of success, to paint Christianity as stupid, backwards, dogmatic, and immoral. It is the presence religion that is to blame for holding the human race back. It is religion that is to blame for racism, sexism, and all manner of social injustices. It is religion that is the cause of all wars. So, on and so forth.

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I strongly disagree with this argument. Indeed, it is my belief that the abolishment of Christianity from public life would have the effect of increasing intolerance and immorality. Christianity’s abolishment will have precisely this effect because it will abolish those metaphysical doctrines – divine judgement, universal and absolute morality, and the divinity of the human soul – that has made those things possible.

Christianity and Western Civilisation are inextricably linked. In the field of philosophy, virtually all Western thinkers have grappled with the concepts of God, faith, morality, and more. As the writer, Dinesh D’Souza (1961 – ) wrote in his book, What’s So Great About Christianity:

“Christianity is responsible for the way our society is organised and for the way we currently live. So extensive is Christian contribution to our laws, our economics, our politics, our art, our calendar, our holidays, and our moral and cultural priorities that J.M. Robers writes in Triumph of the West: ‘We could none one of us today be what we are if a handful of Jews nearly two thousand years ago had not believed that they had known a great teacher, seen him crucified, died, and buried, and then rise again’.”

The primary contribution of Christianity to Western civilisation has been to act as a stabilising force, providing society with an overarching metaphysical structure as well as rules and guidelines that act as a moral foundation. This shared metaphysical structure and moral foundation, combined with traditions and cultural customs, has the effect of bringing a country, a township, even a school or parish, together.

When Christianity lost its supremacy in society it was replaced by smaller, less transcendent and more ideological, belief systems. Where people had once been unified by a common belief, they have now become more divided along ideological lines. Religious belief has not been replaced by rationalism or logic, as the New Atheists supposed. Rather, people have found outlets for their need to believe in other places: social activism, political ideologies, and so forth.

The most prevalent contribution that Christianity has made to the Western world comes under the guise of human rights. Stories like The Parable of the Good Samaritan have had a remarkable influence on its conception. Human rights stem, in part, from the belief that human beings were created in the image of God and hold a divine place in the cosmos.  Christianity has played a positive role in ending numerous brutal and archaic practices, including slavery, human sacrifice, polygamy, and infanticide. Furthermore, it has condemned incest, abortion, adultery, and divorce. (Remarkably, there are some secularists who wish to bring back some of these antiquated practices).

Christianity placed an intrinsic value on human life that had not been present in pre-Christian society. As the American Pastor, Tim Keller (1950 – ) wrote in Reasons for God: “It was extremely common in the Greco-Roman world to throw out new female infants to die from exposure, because of the low status of women in society.” Roman culture was well known for its brutality and callousness. Practices of regicide, gladiatorial combat, infanticide, and crucifixion were all common. Seneca (4BC – AD65), Nero’s (AD37 – AD68) chief advisor, once stated that it was Roman practice to “drown children who, at birth, are weakly and abnormal.”

Christian morality has had a notable effect on our views on human sexuality and has helped to provide women with far greater rights and protections than its pagan predecessors. Christianity helped to end the hypocritical pagan practice of allowing men to have extra-marital affairs and keep mistresses. It formulated rules against the cohabitation of couples prior to marriage, adultery, and divorce. Unlike the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans, Christians do not force widows to remarry, and even allowed widows to keep their husband’s estates.

The Christian faith has been instrumental in the enactment and promotion of public works. The instigator of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) championed the idea of compulsory education and state-funded schools. Similarly, the Lutheran layman, Johann Sturm (1507 – 1589) pioneered graded education. Christianity has been the source of numerous social services including health-care, schooling, charity, and so forth. Christianity’s positive belief in charity and compassion has lead to many orphanages, old-age homes, and groups like the Sisters of Charity and Missionaries of the Poor, the YMCA and YWCA, Teen Challenge, the Red Cross, and numerous hospitals and mental health institutions being founded by the faithful.

One of the frequent criticisms levelled at the Christian faith, particularly the Catholic Church, has been that it has stymied scientific and technological development. In truth, Western science and technology have been able to flourish because of the influence of Christianity, not in spite of it. This is because the Christian belief that God created everything lends itself to the idea that everything is worth contemplating. It is certainly true that the Catholic Church has been hostile to those discoveries that do not conform to its doctrine. Galileo, for example, was forced to retract his claim of heliocentrism because it challenged the Church’s doctrine that the earth acted as the centre of the solar system. For the most part, however, Christianity has been largely supportive of scientific endeavour. Christian scientists have included Gregor Mendel (1822 – 1884), Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543), Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630), Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642), Arthur Eddington (1882 – 1944), Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727), Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662), Andre Ampere (1775 – 1836), James Joule (1818 – 1889), Lord Kelvin (1824 – 1907), Robert Boyle (1627 – 1691), George Washington Carver (1860s – 1943), Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895), Joseph Lister (1827 – 1912), Francis Collins (1950 – ), William Phillips (1914 – 1975), and Sir John Houghton (1931 – ), and more.

The forces behind the stratospheric success of Western civilisation has not been its art or music or architecture, but the ideas it has built itself upon. It is notions like the rule of law, property rights, free markets, a preference for reason and logic, and Christian theology that are responsible for making Western society the freest and most prosperous civilisation that has ever existed. It cannot survive with one of its central tenents removed.

The Hierarchy of the Catholic Church

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Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, established His Church with a definitive structure. It is the duty of every Catholic to understand this hierarchy and how it helps Christ’s Church lead the faithful at both the local and overall level.

The most basic level of the Church is the local parish. This is where practising Catholics are baptised and confirmed, get married and have their funerals, attend weekly mass and receive the sacraments. Often the parish is named after Christ himself (Blessed Sacrament, Sacred Heart), the Virgin Mary (Our Lady of Mercy, Our Lady of Good Counsel), or a Saint.

After the parish, there is the diocese: an amalgamation of parishes controlled by a local Bishop. The Bishop of the diocese is seen as an authentic successor to the apostles and is not just an ambassador to the Pope. Following from the diocese is the archdiocese controlled by an Archbishop, and finally, the Catholic Church headed by Saint Peter’s successor, the Pope.

The order of precedence for the Catholic Church can be found here.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946)

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This week for our weekly cultural article we will be examining the David Lean’s (1908 – 1991) 1946 film Great Expectations, considered to be one of the greatest British films ever made. When it was released in 1946, it was met with glowing reviews. Today, seventy years later, it has been described by Criterion as “one of the greatest translations of literature into film.”

David Lean’s Great Expectations captures the essence of Charles Dicken’s (1812 – 1870) literary genius by juxtaposing his memorable characters with the artful film direction of David Lean. Leans use of black and white to add to the foreboding and melancholy atmosphere of the film.  Then there are the numerous dark, creepy, rundown, and ultimately human locations that burn themselves into the memory: the creepy graveyard where a young Pip first meets escaped convict Abel Magwitch, the Kentish marshes, Miss Havisham’s dilapidated and macabre home whose clocks are stopped at the exact time Miss Havisham learnt of her fiance’s betrayal, 19th century London, Mr. Jagger’s offices whose walls are decorated with the death masks of defendants lost to the gallows, the prison where Magwitch dies, and so forth.

Then there are the wealth of memorable characters the film presents to us. The most notable of these is Pip through whom we see all of the tragedy and injustice of early 19th century England. Pip acts as more of an observer to the world around him than an actual protagonist. We first meet Pip (Anthony Wager, 1932 – 1990) as a young orphan being raised by his overbearing older sister (Freda Jackson, 1907 – 1990) and her kindly blacksmith husband (Bernard Miles, 1907 – 1991). It is during this time that Pip first encounters Abel Magwitch (Finlay Currie, 1878 – 1960), a kind yet ultimately decent escaped convict, in the cemetery, and when his heart is broken by the coquettish Estella (Jean Simmons, 1929 – 2010) and the dishevelled and deranged Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt, 1900 – 1969).

As the film progresses, we see Pip grow into a young man, played by John Mills (1908 – 2005), who, it could be argued, was perhaps a little too old to play Pip in his early twenties.  This Pip has been bequeathed a large allowance by an unknown benefactor and travels to London with the view of becoming a gentleman. There he forms a friendship with the Herbert Pocket (Alec Guinness, 1914 – 2000) who helps him refine his manners. The adult Pip finds himself corrupted by the ponce and ceremony of the English upper-class and is ashamed to admit that he would have paid money to keep Joe Gargery, dressed in his cheap suit and awkward manner, away. Pip is forced to reexamine his views after discovering that his benefactor is none other than the escaped convict Magwitch, who was so struck by Pip’s childhood compassion that he was inspired to make something of himself and become his benefactor. Magwitch’s kindness and gratitude cause Pip to regain his lost humanity.

Great expectations represents a type of film that no longer exists: one that deals entirely with the human condition. These films are no longer made because they often do not involve exciting elements, but rather present characters that are flawed and suffering and places these characters in stories that are essentially tragic in nature. These films are no longer made because they do not fit into the blockbuster formula. Rather than the larger-than-life heroes of the blockbuster, films on the human condition feature characters that are ultimately flawed and suffering. These characters are placed in stories that are ultimately tragic in their nature. A far cry from the often over-the-top plots of the modern blockbuster.  There is something deeply satisfying about films like Great Expectations which shows normal people to be capable of leading a dignified existence regardless of the tragedy and suffering they are forced to face.