The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

In which I am proven to be an amazingly prescient genius person and not just because I know the word “prescient”

Hi there. I’m Tim. Sometimes I make predictions. Sometimes they are hugely false, like that time I predicted Trump would resign after six months because he would get sick of working eight hour days. Silly me… I should have figured he’d only work a three hour day. But sometimes… sometimes I prove to be amazingly prescient. Like the time I predicted this:

Once marriage equality comes in, the objections [to it] will stop. The bigoted fear-merchants who fought for so long, and warned of such dire consequences, will put down their tooth and nail, pack up their placards, and fade into obscurity.

You see, today marks the first anniversary of that time the Liberal government made us all waste $120 million to spend a few months vilifying the LGBTIQ community to re-verify the results of countless already-available public polls and decide on an issue that wasn’t the public’s business and parliament could have voted on for free. So it’s a perfect time for me to reflect on my prediction and check in on how amazing I can be. And lemme tell you… all signs point to me being quite amazing.

You see, I have noticed a little bit of a trend in conservative objections to progressive ideals, which seems to be thus:

  1. An injustice is recognised.
  2. A proposal is made to correct the injustice.
  3. We are told that correcting the injustice will lead to the wholesale destruction of society.
  4. The change is made anyway.
  5. Society is not destroyed.
  6. All the people who said society would be destroyed forget about it and move on to something else.

This exact sequence of events has played out in a multitude of historic advances. Female suffrage, inter-racial marriage, no fault divorce, IVF, and the decriminalisation of homosexuality, to name but a few. In each case, we were told that to make the change would be to ring the death knell of life as we knew it, and usher in a new era of calamity and universal suffering.

We know, of course, that in each case, no such calamity ever came to fruition. Instead, we collectively benefited from a society that was more accepting, more kind, and one step further along the long path to true equality. Every time these disastrous changes were made, we saw that, ultimately, life went on, and after a while, most people didn’t care.

I should point out that, logically speaking, this does not at all prove that their objections were unfounded (there are many other reasons that prove that). What it does highlight, however, is the perfidy of their professed sincerity.

Let’s just think about this for a second. Female suffrage, we were told, would be an absolute disaster. One poster that depicted the dangers of female suffrage showed “a grim-looking man arriving home from work to a scene of domestic chaos, with weeping children, a dangerously smoking lamp, and a casual note attached to a suffrage poster – ‘Back in an hour or so’”. My god, that sounds horrendous! Can you even imagine? If you can’t imagine, the people of the time were happy to produce gems like this to help out:

Yes, friends… if women were allowed to vote, it would definitely, definitely result in never ending nagging.

So, with so much on the line, what did such people do when women were finally granted the right to vote? Did they fight to their last breath to have universal suffrage overturned? Are they still fighting today? Or did they all die from incessant nagging? The answer to all of those questions is a resounding “No”. I wonder why.

Which brings me to my prediction about marriage equality in Australia. We were told that it would destroy families. We were told it would result in people marrying their cats. We were told that there would be another stolen generation, which was a rather oblivious objection, coming as it did from the sort of Christians who instigated the original. Even I can admit that, if true, that would be a high price to pay indeed.

History now shows that they lost, as they were always going to. That’s not particularly interesting, given the multitude of polls that showed that defeat was inevitable. What is interesting, is what happened next.

And what happened next was… nothing.

Sure, there were a few whinges on social media. Lyle probably cried, not there’s anything wrong with that. But apart from that… nothing. No extended campaigns to reverse the decision. No marching in the streets demanding the maintenance of the status quo. No bills introduced to parliament to prevent this catastrophic change to Australian society.

Which means one of two things. They’re just a fear mongering bag of dïcks, or they don’t really believe the shït they’re shovelling.

And just to be fair, I’ll let them decide which.

Religious Protections? How Astonishing!

scott-morrison

It’s generally a good rule that you can determine what’s important to a country by observing what its government or laws protect. Of course, in the case of Australia, the phrase ‘unrepresentative swill’ has a curious persistence in the public mind, possibly created by the fact that we are, in fact, governed by unrepresentative swill. Just as cream rises to the top, so too does scum, and generally in unregarded places – the dark corners and byways of our great nation where we can’t be bothered to go. It’s worth thinking about how we actually got our current crop of leaders. It would seem that the main ways would be through the kinds of community networks churches are so good at (more of which in another post), and through the internal mechanisms of the two major parties and their feeders, being the union movement and big business/big Jesus respectively. So for Australia, what needs to be said is that you can tell what the government, without reference to the people, cares about by observing what it’s most willing to protect by law.

Back in the heady days of the Same Sex Marriage Don’t Call It Marriage Equality Debacle And Signal Failure Of Parliamentary Responsibility, which I call ‘The Coward’s Plebiscite’ for short, many questions were raised, some by this author, as to whose job it actually was to make laws. Now this is quite a basic question, and it was quite tricky to expand the answer – parliament – into a six hundred word post. I did this mainly by impugning the character, tolerance, and courage of our fearless leaders, being hesitant to address that which is much more difficult to determine, i.e., what they were actually thinking. In the light of hindsight, and with our nation’s new First Creationist, I mean, Prime Minister, having emerged from his gratuitous bloodbath to set his policy agenda, it has, in fact, become a bit easier to determine what it is this particularly trollish coterie known politely as ‘the conservative faction’ were actually thinking. Basically, our first impression was correct. So unwilling were they to institute equal civil rights for homosexuals, they followed a template from their favourite bedside book and did a Pontius Pilate. Washing their hands of the responsibility, they devolved the power of execution onto the mob hoping, I’m now absolutely certain, that the mob would be nasty and vote to crucify the progressive movement. The fact that they were so emphatically wrong still keeps me warm on cold nights with the memory of the time I fell even more deeply in love with my country.

But that’s all ancient history in the rough and tumble of politics, right? Well, not exactly, as it leads me back to my original point that you can tell what a government thinks is important by looking at what it’s willing to protect with legislation. The review on religious protections, commissioned by Turnbull as he bravely ran away from yet another of his political principles, has reported. The government is now getting ready to implement its recommendations, and all of this is going very smoothly. The report’s still secret (not officially, just in a ‘not yet released’ way), but even the Jesuits on the panel are saying that it’s just a matter of putting ‘some small tweaks’ into existing anti-discrimination laws. I really don’t have a problem with this. Religious freedom is key, and is the very principle which allows me to say that Scott Morrison’s religion is only separated in craziness from Scientology by its age and pedigree. But the problematic part is what it tells us about the nature of this government.

Basically, this Liberal government was so unwilling to make laws protecting the equal civil rights of people outside their own template of normal that they spent twenty million dollars of our money taking a punt on the Australian public being as ungenerous and backward as themselves. Simultaneously, they’re so willing to protect their own atavistic, myth-loving kind, that they’re announcing legislation to do so, almost as a first action after the chaos of their own utterly self inflicted wounding. So it’s pretty clear that religion is the most important thing to these people. I would hazard a guess and say that this is simply not the case for the majority of Australians, but I don’t have to thanks to the census. Which leads me back to the idea of ‘unrepresentative swill’. Worth thinking about, if you live in Wentworth or, if you don’t, as a thought to save up for whenever God tells our PM to call an election.

Scott Morrison’s ‘Upbeat’ Church

Australia is under threat from extreme ideologies. The creeping influence of these vile theologies has penetrated our civil society, soured our political discourse, and impacted every level of our nation, right up to its highest office. I am talking, of course, about Christianity.

There has been some recent and very polite attention drawn to the church of our new Prime Minister, Horizon Church, particularly in the SMH, wherein can be found an extremely soft soap profile of their high priest or pastor or god whisperer, or whatever they call themselves. In this article which, the more I read it, the more it looks like a masterful exercise in misdirection, senior Jesus Wrangler Brad Bonhomme is asked a series of searching questions about his energy levels and the fact that he is not a member of the Liberal Party. Or, at least, that is the only inference which can be drawn from the content of the article. He describes his church as ‘upbeat’, and then spends a long time being utterly irrelevant in a beguiling way by explaining that he has no input on the Liberal Party’s policy direction. Which is one of those truths which is actually a lie. But nowhere is there any exploration of what a Pentecostal church actually believes.

The Pentecostal churches and I are old adversaries. I have always contended that they are a cancer on society, exploiting the poor and vulnerable, openly operating for profit, hiding toxic and hateful beliefs beneath their manic smiles and doing all of this, of course, not only without paying any taxes, but with a fair amount of government money and, around election time, courtship. It’s probably enough to say that among the council of churches of which Horizon is a part is that cankerous boil on the backside of religion known as Hillsong, but I feel it’s important to go where the SMH either didn’t dare or think to tread, and provide answers to some actually important questions about the church.

It’s telling that it takes four clicks to get to their doctrinal basis. For those not as intimately familiar with religious doublespeak as this Catholic educated author, I should explain that the doctrinal basis is like a theological constitution. It describes core and broad beliefs, but like a constitution, limits itself to those which are fundamental and non-negotiable. Basically, it’s a useful document because it’s a valid assumption that all members of this church either believe, or say they believe, the stuff on the list. And as far as this list is concerned, it’s actually quite worrying stuff. The preamble uses the phrase ‘inspired Word of God’ in describing the bible. This is usually code for ‘I’m a fundamentalist nut job’, but not always. You’ll find a similar phrase in the Baptist doctrine, for example, but Baptists are generally free to interpret the bible in their own way. But not in this case. The phrase appears multiple times with the addition of words like ‘direct’, ‘sufficient’, and ‘accurate’. Basically, the Pentecostal churches are biblical literalists.

What this means is that we have a Prime Minister who believes that the world was literally crafted and made by God, that humanity was literally created by God from the clays of the earth, that Moses literally received the law in tablet form on Mount Sinai, and that every word of the books of the law should be followed. If you click through their bible reading plan, you’ll find that the first reading is Leviticus, that famous book of laws about stoning gay people and people who wear clothes of different fabrics. Now you might think I’m overstating this, but click through to the doctrine and scroll down to the end, past the bit about getting the world ready for the second coming, and the one about believing that sinners burn in hell for all eternity, and you’ll see that there’s a simple, clear statement of belief in creationism.

Now, I should point out that we live in a pluralistic society. I firmly believe that everyone has the absolute right to believe whatever crazy garbage floats their boat, whether it be Ickean lizard monarchs, gay frogs, or immortal Jews with revolutionary tendencies. But I also think it’s important to be aware of just who the crazy people are. Given the last census, it’s worrying to see just how unrepresentative the Parliament generally is when it comes to religion. Fraser Anning: Evangelical. Mike Baird: Fundamentalist. Tony Abbott: Catholic. Cory Bernardi: Catholic. Scott Morrison: Happy Clappy Tongues Speaking Lunatic. And these aren’t just vague religious affiliations – they’re forward deployed, staunchly held positions. Morrison himself has been quoted as saying that faith informs everything he does. So no wonder he doesn’t like climate change scientists. The man has apparently got a B.Sci himself, though I have no idea what kind of insanity is required to reconcile that with creationism in this day and age. But what I mostly wonder is, if faith does inform everything he does, then what steps will he be taking to prepare us for the Millennial reign of Christ at the End of Days, as his church instructs him is necessary? And what steps do we think he’ll take to try and save all Australians from the eternal hellfire?

The biggest question, though, is this: Should we accept a Prime Minister who has beliefs incompatible with basic sanity?

I say no.

Faith As Insanity

Everyone who’s ever been or raised a child should immediately understand epistemic regress. This is the idea that it’s possible to ask an infinite number of ‘why’ questions for any proposition. Why is a bird not a fish? Because we have a mutually agreed framework of criteria for deciding what species animals belong to. Why should I agree to that framework? Because if you don’t you’ll make me really cranky. Why should I care if I make you cranky? Because I’ll probably throw you out the window.  Why do you defenestrate people when you’re cranky? And so on.

Epistemic regress isn’t just an annoyance, however – it’s a serious epistemological problem in that it calls in to question the idea that we can know anything at all. If knowledge is meant to rest on some kind of foundational truth, then there has to be a proposition which cannot be queried with a ‘why’ question – that is, a proposition which does not require justification. If we go with the alternative idea, that knowledge can rest on inference – that there’s things we can know because we know other things – it’s pretty easy to see that the problem gets even worse.  And it seems that it’s not just philosophers and toddlers who are aware of this. Perpetually asking ‘why’ will almost always get the same, essentially foundational response: “It just is,”  or possibly a punch in the mouth. What both of these responses really refer to is the idea that we must be justified in believing certain things – that we have to draw the line somewhere – so that we can get on with more important things than the nature of reality and truth, like earning money so we can buy craft beer and Ikea.

The point is, there is an undeniable hole or void at the bottom of what can be known or understood, so everybody must eventually draw a line somewhere, and this really isn’t an issue. Which is why I’m not going to make any cheap cracks about believing in magic or listening to disembodied voices. Epistemologically, there’s not a lot of difference between believing in ‘Justice’ and believing in ‘God’. But there is, however, a world of difference when it comes to the methods and motives behind any conscious decision to hold religious faith. In the case of a randomly chosen atheist (me), said atheist understands the nature of the problem, and is happy to accept that operational assumptions are required in order to live a life which occasionally involves going outside and interacting with people. I know that I can’t know things, so I make up my own mind about what to do about that. In my case, what I mostly do is complain and share nihilistic memes. And, most importantly, I accept that there is an area of real uncertainty in which I can go on asking infinite ‘why’ questions in the hope that perhaps, at some point, some thought will occur which will solve all or part of this problem. Or not. I don’t really care, as I understand that the point of the process is not to find answers to impossible questions, but rather to conduct validity audits on my own consciousness and thought.

Let’s compare this with the religious viewpoint. For the purposes of this discussion, I define ‘religious faith’ as belief in the existence of a god or gods who are responsible for the creation and operation of some or all of the universe. I am also limiting this to those who believe in a god that is not entirely abstract and transcendent, which would seem to be the vast majority of the faithful – there would be no point in trusting, ‘listening’, or praying to a completely transcendent god, so I therefore assume that those who do those things do not believe in one.

The religious (amongst others), faced with the inescapability of the aforementioned void or absence, respond by personifying it before attempting to establish a personal relationship with this personification.  If we take Christianity as a case in point, this is what is meant by the fact of it being a ‘mystery’ religion. The central tenet of connection with the Christian god is that, as a being, this god is unknowable and ineffable, which is fine, and that furthermore this god has agency, will, concern for the faithful, and an ability to communicate with them. Which isn’t fine at all, on any level. As an insane proposition, this goes far, far beyond the concept of having an imaginary friend. It is a decision to view the whole universe as inhabited with sentience, and furthermore, with a sentience that is somehow cognisant of a tiny bag of meat and water crawling across the surface of a speck of dust within it. This would be the cognitive equivalent of deciding to start a romantic relationship with a dining room table, and then worrying that the sun might find out about the affair and become jealous.

Now I’m not saying that all people who believe in some god or other are clinically insane – as a proposition, that doesn’t hold up to even a second’s examination. And it’s just as easy to argue that my own acceptance of the void and futility, and decision to proceed with my pointless and unimportant life in any case, is also insane. In fact, I’d agree with that argument. I think that the whole business of being a self aware mortal human is loopy and irrational in a deeply likeable way. But what really does separate me from a religious viewpoint is the fact that I have not wilfully decided to anthropomorphise the yawning pit underpinning our knowledge of reality. Because that’s really what most religious faith boils down to – a projection of the human self onto the faceless id of the universe. Love, forgiveness, approval, disapproval – god is basically a way of turning the entire sum of reality into an imaginary friend who is in fact a reflection of ourselves. So when I look at my version of insanity, and compare it with the narcissism and anthrocentrism of most major religions’ interpretation of reality, I find it pretty easy to decide which of the two is more morally and intellectually acceptable.

 

Why you should vote “Yes”, even if you don’t want to

Well, the day is finally here. The High Court challenges have been struck down, the campaigns have been run, and now here I am, walking up the street to cast my vote, in the warming sun of spring-time Sydney.

As I approach the polling place, I cannot help but smile that the vote should take place in a church. How satisfying, to imagine god looking down upon me as I vote. I must remember to look up and wink at him, right when I mark my ballot paper. Not in a sexy way, mind. That would be a little hypocritical, given why I’m here. Just in a completely platonic “Hey buddy, I got this” kind of way. But anyway… what a sweet irony, that the democratic process of this lucky, prosperous, fair-go-for-all country should call on me to vote in god’s own house. And how fortunate, that that same democratic process is giving me an opportunity to have a say in how other people live their lives.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it. It’s not just a say in how they live their lives. It’s about how their lives affect me. Even they admit there aren’t many of them. What is it, like 8% at most? And yet they already affect every aspect of our lives, and, more importantly, the lives of our children. That’s what this is really about – a battle. A battle for the minds of the young. Because the future is forged in the minds of the young. And fart jokes. Fart jokes are also forged in the minds of the young. Their side has always known that. Probably not the bit about fart jokes, because they never appear to have a sense of humour. But definitely the bit about the future. And that’s what they’re trying to do here.

But even if they weren’t trying to convert our kids, I’d still vote “No”, because they’re wrong. As simple as that. They’re wrong and they want to drag the rest of us down with them. I can’t stand the thought of all the things they do and say behind those closed doors. It’s gross. And ridiculous. It’s… it’s… dammit. I was trying to combine “gross” and “ridiculous” into a word but I can’t, because I’m so angry and grodiculous.

These are the thoughts that consume me as I shuffle along in the queue, smiling at my own righteousness, and breathing in the delicious smell of sausage. In fact, all I can smell is sausage. Far out, now all I want to do is eat a sausage. Not in a sexy way, mind. That would be a little hypocritical, given why I’m here. It’s just a democracy sausage. I’m allowed to eat a democracy sausage.

Eventually I find myself completely alone in a small cardboard cubicle next to 30 other people completely alone in their own cardboard cubicles. I try and stifle the similarities with that weird night out in Hong Kong, and I look down to see a piece of paper, and a crappy pencil, and a simple question. But no sausages.

And the question is beautiful. And just what I wanted. And I will vote “No”, because that’s what I believe, and that’s what they deserve. So I grab my crappy pencil, which is way too short and digs into my palm. And as I look down at my hand, and at the pencil digging into my palm, I am struck with both the simplicity and the power of it all. There’s no fighting in the streets, no storming of the palace gates. All it takes is me, armed with a simple pencil, and answering a simple question, and the lives of many are changed forever. And I imagine the hand of a “Yes” voter poised above the same ballot, possibly right next to me, and I grin as I imagine what she must be thinking. She’s also thinking about the simple question, and the simple pencil, and about how right now millions of her fellow citizens are grinning, just like me, at being able to have their say in how she lives her life. Her hand is probably shaking… with rage, or fear, or embarrassment, that something so dear to her, something so innate and precious, is being subjected to the whims of a bunch of complete strangers.

Wait, what? Where did those thoughts come from?

This isn’t about her! It’s about me, and my children, and what’s right. Right?

My pencil hovers above the “No” box. Now it’s my hand that is shaking. What am I doing? I look once more at the question before me, the question previously so simple and beautiful:

“Should we continue to allow the public practice of Christianity?”

I read it again, and again, and again. And suddenly everything is not as simple as I thought. Their faith is misplaced, and it does affect my life, and they do try and influence our children.

But it is precious to them. And sincere. And their right.

We’re all different, but we’re all in this together. And a part of our democracy would die if we were to take it away from them.

So I vote “Yes”. Not because I agree.

But because it’s right.

Court 1: The Margaret Court Centre for Kids Who Can’t Write Letters Good and Want to Do Other Stuff Good Too Like Play Tennis

Say what you like about Margaret Court and her views on marriage equality, but dayum… girlfriend sure knows how to write a letter.

I know this because she wrote one and, like many of you, I read it. But unlike the rest of you Philistines, I didn’t merely recoil with horror at her tendentious mendacity, and berate her for the belligerent homophobia of her splenetic polemic. No! Because to me, her words were art. And, much like a painting by Andrew Bolt’s doodle, surely we can appreciate a great work of art, while distancing ourselves from the dïck that created it. What is to separate us from the beasts if we can’t? Oh, pants. Pants also separate us from the beasts. But you get my point – Splenetic Polemic would be a great band name. And also, Margaret Court’s letter was like a painting by Andrew Bolt’s doodle.

So that is why I waited a little while for things to settle down for Margaret, before rushing to enrol in The Margaret Court Centre for Kids Who Can’t Write Letters Good and Want to Do Other Stuff Good Too Like Play Tennis. And boy, am I glad I did. After attending the course last week, I can now say without a word of a lie that, not only is Margaret a great tennis player – oh hang on she’s probably not that good any more. I’ll start again. Not only is Margaret a great former sports entertainment person, but she’s a great teacher, too. And for those of us lucky enough to attend the course, she great teachered the cräp out of us. I now know how to write a letter just as amazing as Margaret’s, and my forehand has improved by at least 8%.

Now, Margaret wants to keep this knowledge a secret. She said that with a great forehand comes great responsibility, or something like that. But I think this knowledge deserves to be out there. I think we should all be able to write letters like this. Especially today, when there are so many letters to write, and so many social causes to champion. So, at great personal risk, I managed to smuggle out the Margaret Court Guide to Writing Letters Good, which walks you through the real-life letter mentioned above, and shows you how you too can write a letter just as amazing.

And at the risk of being sued, here it is:

See? I told you it was amazing. But as amazing as it most certainly is, what if such brilliance is beyond me? How can I possibly know whether I am worthy of receiving such wisdom? Well, I thought about it a long time, and I decided that the only way I will ever know is to write a letter myself. And so I did – to Virgin, who are also an airline, and who also support marriage equality. My letter is below, and Margaret, if you are reading, I hope I did you proud, and you find it a fitting tribute to the elegance and luminosity of your undeniable artistic ability.
_____

Dear Mr Board Person,

I write this as an open letter to the Virgin board as someone who works with spreadsheets a lot. Seriously, I have the best spreadsheets. Just fantastic.

As you will know, I can make a really funny noise with my ear, and I once ate a whole box of Barbecue Shapes for dinner.

Now, I’m not mad, but I’m disappointed that Virgin has decided to actively promote gender equality in the workplace. I believe that it is wrong to plough with a donkey and an ox yoked together, as stated in the bible.

I feel so strongly about this that I absolutely refuse to fly with you ever again. That is how important it is to me. But, on the other hand, I don’t like trains or buses, and I can’t fly Qantas, so I might have to fly with you sometimes. But I will give you all dirty looks.

How proud I was to promote Virgins throughout the world, from the Aircar SkyChariots to the Boeing 7-Elevens. I did this as I was absolutely quite certain that Virgins were a huge promoter of gender inequality, right up until your recent public statement.

I used to be a penguin, and will be pleased to attend your family Christmas dinner at any time. But it won’t be in March.

May the kisses of a thousand racehorses grace your birthday party.

Tim, B.BBQ Shapes, Somewhere in Scandinavia
_____

There. It is done. Thank you Margaret for your guidance, and may the kisses of a thousand racehorses grace your birthday party.

For the love of god, just be honest

And so, it would seem, the Safe Schools program has ended in NSW. For while our Victorian counterparts vowed to fund the program themselves after Federal funding ended, here in NSW the government is apparently Fred up with it, and has sent it sailing down the Nile.

But fear not! According to Education Minister Rob Stokes, it will be replaced with another program with a broader focus:

Bullying will never be tolerated in NSW public schools — whether it be because someone is overweight, gay, based on the colour of their skin or for any other reason.

Well that sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? School can be a horrendous experience for people who are a little different, and we should do whatever we can to eliminate the bullying elicited by such differences. And not just for LGBTIQ students, obviously. As the good minister says, children who are overweight or not white enough or who like golf are bullied, too. And if we’re serious about eliminating bullying from schools, we need to cover all these differences, right?

Well, yes, of course. But there’s a problem. Why is it that the loudest voices advocating for change are also the biggest bullies when it comes to the LGBTIQ community?
_____

You may have noticed lately that there are a few ostensibly contentious issues floating around. Now, I say ostensibly contentious because, really, they aren’t contentious at all. They are rendered contentious, however, by a typically small, but always influential, minority. The most contentious issue of recent times has been, to my mind anyway, the debate around Marriage Equality. But there are, and have been, a multitude of others. The debate around abortion rights, for example, never seems to go away, not to mention the sporadic agitations for euthanasia. Then there is the teaching of scripture in public schools, vaccinations, same-sex adoption and surrogacy, the gender pay gap, climate change, changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, corporate tax cuts, gun control, treatment of refugees, the decision to axe Renegade – and that’s just off the top of my head. The list, it seems lately, is endless.

Thinking about all these issues, and how we debate and decide on things as a society, I was struck by three thoughts:

  1. In most cases, the resistance appears to be geared towards maintaining the status quo;
  2. There is normally a single, core belief at the root of such resistance, which, paradoxically, is never mentioned;
  3. The decision to axe Renegade was the worst decision in the history of mankind. (You should all take a moment to watch the link before proceeding. You will thank me later.)

Thought #1 is not new, and has been observed by countless observers who observe things worthy of observation. Humans are nothing if not creatures of habit, and old habits die hard, with a vengeance, sometimes. Thought #3 is also fairly obvious. I mean come on, he was a cop and good at his job. Why would anyone axe a show like that? Thought #2, however, deserves some attention, if you can spare it.

Let’s look, for a moment, at Marriage Equality. While a large number of nations have embraced it with open arms, and have not yet descended into debaucherous anarchy, in Australia the resistance to change has been as fierce as it has been needlessly prolonged. Countless polls show public support has hovered around 70% for almost a decade, and yet still the opponents of change drone on and on with the same old tired arguments that were debunked on day one. Marriage has always been between a man and a woman, you see. So we can’t possibility change it now. And it’s all about the children. Don’t forget the children.

There’s a problem, however – these arguments fall apart at the smallest nudge with a logic stick. For starters, when you’re in a debate about changing the legal definition of something, you can’t just appeal to the current definition and pretend it’s an argument. Oh, and if you are going to stubbornly point to the legal definition, you can’t claim that marriage is all about children when your cherished definition doesn’t mention children at all. Silly, right? And yet here we are, in 2017, and same-sex couples still cannot marry.

The truth is that there is not a single, logical reason to deny marriage equality. Not one. And yet still people oppose it. Why is that? Why are people still opposed to euthanasia and abortion? Why do people still deny climate change, when there is such overwhelming evidence to the contrary?
_____

In the case of marriage equality, the reason should be obvious – the overwhelming majority of opponents are religious. A survey of some 40,000 Americans conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that, while around 55% of Americans were in favour of marriage equality, 91% of the people who oppose it identify as religious. This can’t be a coincidence. And if it’s not a coincidence, it means that the reason they are opposed to marriage equality is not because of some disingenuous claim like children do best with their biological mother and father. It’s because they view the existence of gay, interesex and trans* people as anything from slightly distasteful to morally reprehensible, depending on affiliation.

This is not, however, a slight on the religious in general. How could it be, when the same survey found that, for every four people who support marriage equality, three of them belong to a church of some kind. Clearly there are a lot of people who are able to either reconcile their decision with their faith, or set it aside for the sake of their LGBTIQ brothers and sisters (and everyone inbetween).

Likewise, this is not an attack on the right of people of faith to oppose marriage equality because of that faith. I don’t agree with it, but if that is their choice according to their conscience, then so be it.

What I do take issue with, however, is deception – if you’re going to deny LGBTIQ couples the right to marry, at least be honest about why.
_____

So how does all this relate to Safe Schools? Well, why don’t we have a look at what some of our favourite people have to say about it, shall we?

“Good that NSW is scrapping so called Safe Schools, a social engineering programme dressed up as anti-bullying,” said Tony Abbott.

Apparently Tony doesn’t like social engineering presented as something else. Which is interesting, given the $250m his government set aside to put trained chaplains counsellors in government schools.

The Australian Christian Lobby can always be relied upon to fulfill Jesus’ central mission of making life miserable for gay people 1, so let’s see what they have to say:

Make our schools safe for all students
The federally funded ‘Safe Schools’ initiative is supposed to be an anti-bullying program. [But] this radical program is being used to introduce children from primary school age up to sexual concepts that are not age appropriate.

Well they sound like legitimate concerns, don’t they? We must teach children that all bullying is wrong, and the material should be age appropriate. I wonder if Lyle Shelton, the head of the ACL, would change his mind about the program’s LGBTIQ content, if those concerns were addressed? What say you, Lyle?

Despite the rainbow carpet being rolled out in schools, gender theory is highly contested with leading feminists such as Germaine Greer scathing. Women and girls should feel safe in their toilets and change rooms from male-to-female transgender people who have not undergone a sex change, they rightly say. And there is no scientific evidence that anyone is “born gay” or that little boys and girls have been born in the wrong body and that surgery, hormones, tucking or binding are the solution.

Needless to say, your intellectual rigour is on shaky ground, if you’re resorting to “leading feminists such as Germaine Greer”. In any event, we’re getting closer to the crux of the matter – it seems like Lyle is not so much concerned with the program’s specificity or age-appropriateness, as he is with the existence of gay and transgender people themselves.

Even people like Fred Nile can’t seem to just come out and say what’s really on their mind:

Naturally, we are deeply concerned about the proliferation of such programs which are ideologically driven with the aim of recruiting children.

To nobody’s surprise, he is happy to follow Tony’s lead, and merrily support the ideological teaching of Scripture in NSW public schools with the aim of recruiting children. But that’s for another time.

Unfortunately, we need to stoop to Bill Muehlenberg to find out what all of the above people are thinking, but are too afraid to say (some LGBTIQ people may want to skip this one):

The war against reality, against biology, against who we are as human beings is getting out of hand. For those of a religious persuasion, it is a direct assault on our Creator and the way we were created. In the beginning God made us male and female. He did not make us with gender fluidity or with a smorgasbord of sexual expression and choices.

And there you have it. Thought #2 in a nutshell. People like Tony Abbott, Lyle Shelton, and Fred Nile exert an extraordinary amount of energy opposing social change. They have thrown up all manner of arguments against marriage equality, euthanasia, abortion and “Safe Schools”. But no matter how many of their concerns you assuage, no matter how many of their arguments you prove misplaced or wrong, their opposition will never waver. For neither Tony Abbott, nor Lyle Shelton, nor Captain Christian himself, Fred Nile, seem to ever mention the one thing – the only thing – on which their opposition is founded.

Their god 2.

Which, when you think about it, is simultaneously a little weird, and perfectly understandable. But also really annoying.

So, to Tony, Lyle, and Nile… I, for one, wish you would talk about your god. Don’t tell us it’s all about someone’s child, unless that child is Baby Jebus. For not only are you denying your own faith, much like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, and not only would it save us all a helluva lotta debate time, but it’s downright cowardly.

Bill Muehlenberg may be an ignorant buffoon, at least he’s honest.

– Tim
_____

Footnotes
1. I don’t think this was Jesus’ central mission, but the ACL seems to, judging by the focus of their media releases.
2. Or rather, their own personal interpretation of their god.

Fred Nile’s Insidious Theocracy

Fred Nile

A lot of people find Fred Nile faintly amusing. I understand this, as a casual glance at God’s own MP can leave a mistaken impression of some harmless old throwback shouting into a secular and unresponsive darkness. The truth, however, is far more disturbing.

The Christian Democratic Party (CDP), of which Nile is president, is a small, but potent force in Australian politics. Sure, they’ve hardly any seats in parliament and, like most personality cult parties, the CDP has lost about as many seats as it’s held through endorsed members splintering off to do their own even whackier stuff. But bums on legislative seats is not the whole story by a long shot. The CDP fields multiple candidates in multiple states every election and by-election, not because they expect to win, but because their profile makes them reasonably certain to attract enough votes to receive Electoral Commission funding. You can click the link and do the maths, if you like, but the long and short of it is that parties can draw close to $1.5 million dollars in funding and ‘reimbursements’ by winning a single seat. Add to this the odd few thousand, up to a cap of about $12,000, which candidates receive if they garner at least 4% of the vote, and it becomes apparent that the CDP is a proper moneymaker.

This is not, of course, a rort in any sense of the word. The funding exists for sensible and admirable reasons, but the sad reality is that seasoned political operators will invariably ‘game’ this and any other system around. So what begins as a democratic initiative to encourage worthy candidates to stand again, evolves into a fundraising arm of what I can only describe as one of the most bigoted, non-violent extremist groups I have ever encountered. Fred Nile’s harmless old coot persona does not survive more than a few seconds of scrutiny. His ideas aren’t so much old fashioned as they are Mediaeval. Homosexuality, in his world, is a ‘mental disorder and lifestyle choice’, ‘adoption unnatural’, and any and all forms of fertility or sexual treatment/therapy a gratuitous misuse of God’s procreative design features. And as if this weren’t enough, Nile is said to have resigned from the Uniting Church because it “officially decided to part with a literal interpretation of the Judeo-Christian Bible“.

What I wonder is why this party isn’t given the same treatment as Neo-Nazis or Islamist Jihadis. Sure, they’re not beating up minorities in the street or beheading people on the internet, but their beliefs are at least as regressive and hateful. And how much harm – how many suicides, breakdowns, and so on – are brought about by the airing of their hateful ideas? If the limit of free speech is generally agreed to be the incitement of hate and harm, why do Fred Nile and his Christian Jihadis get not only a pass, but a bunch of our money? It must boil down to the double standard which is operative when we’re dealing with Christian extremists – a result of the fact that, in some ways, our country is still very Christian. Sure, church attendance is dropping, and secularism is a rising force, but as a whole we are still biased towards the notion that familiar evils, like Nile’s, are somehow less dangerous or harmful than exotic ones.

The Curious Effect of the Sharia ‘Threat’

It’s a well known fact that importing Muslims into our country puts us under threat of having our culture obliterated and our hapless citizens yoked to the harsh and oppressive juggernaut that is Sharia Law. That is, it’s well known amongst people who are unclear on the definitions of the following words:

  • Muslim
  • Threat
  • Culture
  • Sharia
  • Law
  • Fact
  • Mat
  • Cat
  • Sat

Leaving such minor matters aside, we are still confronted with the reality that a growing number of Australians is embracing the idea that the Islamification of Australia is a threat which exists outside the realm of paranoid white supremacist fantasy. This growing anxiety is pushing more and more of our fine citizens to the political right, where we find such sterling products of the democratic process as Pauline Hanson, Corey Bernardi and George Christensen.

Now, to be fair, I do need to point out that the right wing is not the exclusive province of the sort of people who inspire the design of signs like this:

No, the political right has its fair share of savvy, intellectually agile and politically sophisticated adherents, well grounded in the complex theoretical bases behind nativist monoculturalism, protectionism, and so on. It’s just that they tend to limit themselves to painstakingly levering these concepts into the tiny minds of shrill populists, presumably via the exclusive use of words of one syllable.

This situation is imbued with a twofold irony. Firstly, there is the fact of people like Hanson – a spokesperson for the people who is incapable of coherent speech. And then there is the deeper and more worrying irony, mostly having to do not with the nationalist or white supremacist side of politics, but with the stolid core of ultra-conservatism.

This core, represented by the likes of Bernardi, Nile, and Christensen, is one possessed of deep religious roots, and an unshakeable belief in the idea that civil law should be informed by one or more of the many flavours of Christianity. As crazy as this idea might sound, it’s not a conspiracy theory I have confected in order to fight fantasy with fantasy – this is an openly stated position.

This means that the imaginary threat of a sharia-based criminal code is causing a movement towards politicians who believe that religion is a sound basis for the creation of laws.  Or, to put it another way, the fear of religious law is causing people to support politicians who wish to enact religious law.

This being the case, I think our most urgent policy priority should be the mass production of this warning sign:

Let’s hope it’s as least as effective as the chainsaw one.

The Australian Christian Lobby’s Delusions of Adequacy

Australian Christian Lobby

This is the ACL’s idea of an ‘argument’. Note the complete absence of logic of any kind.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is a frustrating organisation, not least because of its militant parochialism and refusal to accept that positions based on a combination of Christian revanchism and bigotry are, in fact, revanchist and bigoted. Its tendency to bleat out an utterly fabricated narrative of persecution, its insistence on blaming some amorphous ‘left wing media conspiracy’ for reverses generally caused by its own media incompetence, and its startling inability to pursue or even to form any kind of logically coherent argument are all extremely annoying. And Lyle Shelton, their managing director, is the kind of attention-seeking, self-pitying, incompetently grandiloquent noisemaker who makes the fists of all right-thinking folk become seriously itchy.

So, given just how annoying they are, it’s not hard to understand why someone blowing up a van in their carpark could immediately be put down to a targeted attack. I myself thought it highly probable, given how I feel every time Shelton opens his stupid gob or mashes ineffectually at his keyboard. And I wasn’t alone in this. There are huge sections of the voting public who apparently take ghoulish glee in attributing any and every act of non-domestic violence to Muslim terrorism or Muslim immigration or Muslims in general, possibly because a narrative as inherently irrational as Islamophobia requires quite a lot of fodder to sustain. Within twenty minutes of the first run of the the story, thousands of comments claiming that this was definitely the work of Islamic State and that the leftard libtard media was deliberately suppressing any mention of this, had engulfed certain pointy-headed and ill-spelled corners of the internet. Incontrovertible, iron-clad arguments like: “It was a quiet area, so it must have been a terrorist attack” were helpfully formulated, presumably to assist the police in their investigation, and not to muddy the waters with irrational reactionism. Quite a valuable contribution given that the poor, helpless counter-terrorism and  security experts of the world tend to be stuck with the idea that mass casualty attacks are generally conducted in busy areas at busy times of day. In order to cause mass casualties. Such narrow, blinkered thinking was obviously much enriched by the public’s insightful contributions.

In any case, during the initial phase of this story, the ACL actually had my sympathies. It doesn’t matter how mendacious, petty, bigoted or deluded one’s beliefs are – no law abiding organisation deserves to be the target of political violence. Shelton’s initial Twitterings were mostly generous and politic, though his comment, “hard to believe this could happen in Australia” sounded an ominous warning of the stupidity to come. And my word did he deliver. It appears that in the wake of the explosion, his first and admirable priority was to see to the welfare of his staff, which meant cutting short his holiday and returning to Canberra. In view of the fact that the building was empty at the time, and that none of his staff were injured or killed or, presumably, present at the time, this seemed a little odd. But then, if someone blows up the front of your building, it makes sense that you should repair immediately to the scene. It appears, however, that upon his return he did little other than stand in front of cameras and say stupid things stupidly to the media.

Australian Christian Lobby

Lyle Shelton, proclaiming his organisation’s suspect martyrdom.

By the end of the day, the ground was laid out as follows. The Canberra police had interviewed the suspect, who was unknown to police, and therefore presumably to domestic intelligence, and who said that his sole aim was to “blow myself up”. This, and the host of other factors militating against the interpretation of this event as an attempted mass casualty attack led the police to conclude that there was “no ideological or political motive” behind the explosion. Shelton, of course, wasn’t at all happy about this, and by evening he had proclaimed that the police had been too quick to jump to conclusions, jumped himself to the conclusion that the ACL was the victim of a terror attack and blamed the Greens and other parliamentarians for inciting anti-Christian terrorism by using the word ‘bigot’ to describe his bigoted views.

And then, of course, the story faded from view. This is partly because the only sources of credible information are a tight-lipped police command and a man with burns to 75% of his body, but mostly because the ACL is basically not all that important. Sure, it’s loud in its claims to represent the Christian community, but there isn’t any real evidence that it does. Its base, purportedly largely made up of Pentecostal and non-conformist churches, does not in fact support its views on marriage equality. Its measurable impact on elections is negligible to non-existent. To an informed observer, the ACL’s principle role is to be trotted out in front of the cameras whenever journalists want to provide the appearance of balance by padding out a panel with a talking head from the lunatic Christian right. And this represents, for me, the single most frustrating thing about the ACL – their persistent and unfounded delusions of adequacy. On no level do they actually contribute in any meaningful way to the debate on any issue, but their notoriety and fatuous self importance means that they have a profile which is all out of proportion to their relevance.

So, in the unlikely event that there’s anyone out there who actually is planning an attack on the ACL, I would urge you to reconsider. Not only would such an action be illegal, immoral and inhuman, it would also be of material assistance in backing their delusional narrative of persecution. They’re just not important enough to attack. In fact, I’m convinced that they’re not even important enough to respond to. Like every other screaming toddler, I firmly believe that the best tactic by far is to simply ignore them.