Thursday, December 17, 2009

Five hours of religious ‘dialogue‘

For five hours, a progressive Anglican church in Auckland was challenging traditional Christian assumptions and attempting to open a dialogue on those beliefs. Clearly that couldn’t be allowed to last.

St Matthew-in-the-City erected the billboard above at 11am this morning and around 4pm ONE News caught a man in the act of painting brown paint over the faces and headline. The news didn’t indentify the vandal nor get a statement from him (though they did show his face plenty of times). Predictably, the usual assortment of fundamentalist Protestants had condemned the billboard, as did the Roman Catholic Church.

To me, as an outsider, the “controversy” looked like a family fight among cousins who don’t really much like each other very much. This has always puzzled me about the right wing: They have far more to gain by working in unity with other Christians when they can, but more often than not they seem hell-bent, as it were, on trashing other Christians.

Oddly, a comment on the TVNZ story neatly explained why fundamentalists are so cocksure (as it were) that they alone speak for all Christians. The commenter wrote:
The word christian (sic) means 'someone belonging to Christ'. Here's a clue into what's happening here. Some people call themselves christian & don't believe what the Bible says, putting up such a poster & others live their lives as Jesus did. There's a saying that goes 'standing in a garage doesn't make you a car', anymore than 'going to church makes you a christian'. It's about a personal relationship with God with changed attitudes & life style. [emphasis added]
So, to this fundamentalist, “real” Christians are those who “live their lives as Jesus did” (what, in Israel?). In my mainstream Protestant upbringing, we were taught that the Christian bible was “the inspired word of god”, whereas to fundamentalists it’s the literal, absolute dictated word of their god. That’s why the commenter said, “Some people call themselves christian & don't believe what the Bible says”.

That of course neatly gets around the very human origins of the texts now called the New Testament, a document cobbled together as much for political reasons as ecclesiastic ones. It also avoids the problem posed by different translations and the differing interpretations they cause—their favoured version is the only one that matters.

So, the fundamentalists define the word “Christian” in a way that can only mean themselves and which deliberately casts other Christians—especially liberals and progressives—as NOT Christian. It also allows them to feel self-satisfied as “victims” whenever they have to confront the reality that plenty of Christians don’t agree with them.

I wasn’t offended by the billboard, of course, but I don’t think it’s very good. All good propaganda has to have an easily identified message, and when carried on a billboard, it has to be clear. It’s probably not the best place to try and open a dialogue on religious beliefs. However, the fact that it might offend some Christians is not an argument for suppression, censorship or vandalism. Whatever happened to “turn the other cheek”?


Roger Owen Green said...

I thought it was a sex joke. (HARD act to follow.) Thus silly; I wasn't offended, but I guess I could see how others could be.

WV: inflo. That MUST be a sex reference too.

Anonymous said...

Hi Arthur

What I found interesting about this was a statistic hidden in the herald article – where the number of folk who had complained to St Mathews was recorded – 20.

In a city of (1.4?) million people I suspect that’s below the margin or error.

Arthur Schenck said...

Yeah Roger, I thought it was just a bad joke, too. Sometimes that'll work for an ad campaign meant to spark discussion, but this time I just don't think it worked.

Anon., you're right—a very low number of complaints, but the religious right never lets their small numbers deter them from claiming victimhood. The TVNZ story—which I saw when it aired—reported that there would be several complaints filed against the billboard, which again would be a tiny number—and VERY unlikely to succeed. The problem with reporting complaints, or that people plan to file complaints, is that it creates the false impression of massive opposition or offence when there's been no evidence presented that more than a few hard-core religionists were offended.

It seems to me that most people just saw it as a bad joke poorly executed that wasn't worth all the manufactured outrage. The vast majority of New Zealanders were, in fact, over it by the time the TVNZ report faded to black.