Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Real enough

This past Sunday, I blogged about a stunt by a rightwing catholic and his group and, because of Poe’s Law, I wondered if they might be parodies. Sadly, it turns out they’re real.

Arthur Skinner, the guy who slashed the billboard, apparently attended a Marist school, which could explain his fixation with Mary. Perhaps as a result, he has a long history of belligerent confrontation promoting rigid catholic orthodoxy:

In 1998, he organised protests at Te Papa in Wellington over the museum displaying “Virgin in a Condom”, an artwork that I personally thought was stupid and provocation for its own sake, but I also remember that because religious conservatives were demanding not only that the exhibit be removed, but also that museum director be fired, I sided with the museum. As I would.

In 2000, Skinner led extremist catholics in a demand that Auckland catholic bishop, Patrick Dunn, be fired by the pope if he didn’t recant something he said about contraception. Acknowledging that edicts of the Roman church applied only to church members, he said that while, like the Roman church, he was completely opposed to artificial contraception, he nevertheless thought that non-catholics who were “sleeping around” should protect themselves and use contraception.

Dunn’s position in 2000 was sensible, reaffirming Rome’s orders to catholics, while recognising that non-catholics weren’t obliged to obey. Nowadays, of course, the Roman church has become virtually indistinguishable from fundamentalist protestants in that it feels it can not only tell non-catholics how to live, but that it also has the right to use everything at its disposal—money, captive audience at masses, instructions from church officials—to try and force their views on everyone through promoting or opposing legislation or public officeholders.

What this means is that while Skinner was completely outside the mainstream in 1998 and partly outside it in 2000, he’s now just somewhat more conservative than the church generally.

On Sunday, I praised Auckland’s catholic church for saying the correct things about the billboard defacement. I spoke too soon. It turns out the same spokeswoman said, “Once again, St Matthew’s shows us that they have moved away from traditional Christianity, even though their hearts might be in the right place.” Condescending, much? It’s also only a milder version of Skinner’s calling them a “church—so called”.

St. Matthew’s resisted the temptation to rise to the bait, and declined to press charges. The church noted that Skinner was taking his action in order to gain publicity, and in the hope he would be arrested. Basically, St. Matthew’s wasn’t going to give him the attention he sought. Wise move.

Still, there is a bright spot in this stupid saga, something familiar: As is almost always the way when rightwingers seek to curtail other’s freedom of expression, St. Matthew’s billboard ended up being seen by far more people than could ever have been possible otherwise, and the message they were trying to convey was reported throughout the world. Good work, Skinner!

So, yeah, it turns out that Skinner is real, and his group is, too (more or less, at least). Considering how much he’s done to further the work and message of those he opposes, it’s easy to see why I could’ve thought he was a parody. The joke, however, is apparently on him.

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