Thursday, July 01, 2010

Tim Costello, and the fearless former Chairman becomes great Christian leader ...

(Above: oh dear Dog, that it should come to this. A senseless lolcat mocking the great Dog).

Of all the irritating nonsense written about Kevin Rudd's departure from the throne, surely Tim Costello's scribbling for The Australian, Like a death in the national family, tops the list for reprehensible offensiveness.

Who knows if it was Costello who baited the hook for his piece thus, or a subbie:

I will miss Kevin Rudd, a great Christian leader brought down by his party's factions, says Tim Costello.

The offensiveness of course is the same offensiveness that Rudd displayed, whenever he hung his Christianity out on the line to dry, or did his church doorstoppers, in a way reminiscent of American politics, rather than the more reticent secular ways of the British tradition, where politicians understand that it's the right of every constituent to embrace their own kind of calathumpian nonsense if that's the way the spirit moves them.

Quiet secularism or unostentatious privacy in relation to religious beliefs is a much more inclusive outlook than the kind of routine offered up by 'out' Christians, who regularly spend their waking hours wondering who's the more Christian. Me or thee ...

This can of course only be determined according to their own theological inclinations. Costello shows how it's done in his piece, by showing how if you get two Christians in the room, the likeliest result is fine hair splitting on appropriate Christian responses ...

First there's the set up. Let's all celebrate being Christians:

Unlike others who mocked him as out of touch, I liked having a prime minister who read theology and had a hero called Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I detected echoes of Bonhoeffer in his penultimate speech last Wednesday night in calling the ballot on. He spoke of not letting the party lurch to the Right in harshness to refugees and asylum-seekers.

Then having established the common ground, let's get into the heresy and splitter business:

In my mind, he did not always faithfully represent Bonhoeffer. For example, when he called people smugglers vile scum, he moved away from the Bonhoeffer who was first arrested by the Nazis on people smuggling charges, for getting Jews out of Germany. Only later did the Nazis charge and execute him for the assassination plot against Hitler ...

Uh huh, now we've played the 'who can out-Bonhoeffer Bonhoeffer' game, time for a little more unity:

I remain impressed by Rudd as a self-confessed Christian leader who stood up against the sentiments of many Christians: Christians who read the same Bible and spout, "I will vote for the party that stops or turns back the boats, whatever the cost."

Until of course the unity has to give way to taunting un-Christian Christians for their un-Christian ways. You know, the Christians that read the bible, and spout, not understanding it.

Never mind that the lord in question - if you believe the Old Testament is in any way relevant - conducted a holocaust on humanity by way of a world-wide flood. Not to mention encouraging sundry examples of vengefulness, rape, murder, armed combat, slavery and the cleansing of nations by wiping them from the face of the earth. Turning back a few boats would be just a morning's work for this kind of god.

But of course Costello is doing all this so he can smote mightily conservative Christians:

Rudd in his last week tackled this magnificently in front of the Australian Christian Lobby, who met in Old Parliament House last Monday evening. On being questioned, Rudd rejected the disconnect between the Bible and the sort of refugee populism that does not blanch at kids in detention and the temporary protection visas that sent many mad. He reminded us of the prophetic tradition of the orphan and stranger (and refugee) as the object of God's love. And the shame of Australia's participation at the 1938 Evian conference, when we refused to accept any Jews because we did not want a racial problem. Out of the moral failure of the Holocaust, the UN convention on Refugees was born. Christians should remember this is the policy that expresses the story of the Good Samaritan.

It's at this point that it's tempting to fling up the hands and say a pox on all Christians. Let's not conflate the UN convention on refugees with Christianity. The United Nations is a secular organisation, the convention has been signed by some 147 countries, Christian, Muslim and ratbag, and within the convention there are handsome provisions regarding discrimination:

Article 3
The Contracting States shall apply the provisions of this Convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.
Article 4
The Contracting States shall accord to refugees within their territories treatment at least as favourable as that accorded to their nationals with respect to freedom to practice their religion and freedom as regards the religious education of their children.

Now all we need is a codicil saying that secularists should be protected from constant harassment by Christian leaders and their cohorts.

But Costello is just warming up in his conflation of feel good Christianity and effective policy making:

The last Saturday night before his historic 2007 election win, Rudd visited homeless shelters and sat and talked with people from boarding houses or who lived on the streets, many from drug-affected or mental-illness backgrounds, to understand their distress. He did so without any press or attention, when you might have expected an opposition leader to be wringing every vote out of the electorate. He formulated a target of reducing by half the 100,000 homeless people in our communities. He showed himself to be a politician who sought to inhabit the personal experience of forgotten people rather than a distant policy-maker living in the bubble of power.

Actually the way I remember Rudd's homeless shelter gesture was a move of exceptional political cunning. Rather than have the homeless line up to be exploited by the media, he made a visit in the night to a homeless shelter to talk to some fifty residents, and then bunged on a righteous do in the media a little later. He couldn't be accused of exploitation, only of caring, and he milked his caring down to the very last exploitative drop ...

He urged all Labor MPs to visit a homeless shelter in their area, and acquaint themselves with the reality of homelessness, promised to halve the number of homeless people by 2020, flung $1.2 billion at the problem, and issued a green paper, Which Way Home? A New Approach to Homelessness.

At which point the homeless disappeared from the front page, having played their bit part as ample evidence of a caring, sharing government at work.

It was only the dedicated cynics who bothered to read updates, such as Kevin Rudd losing the fight on homeless:

The Rudd government has conceded the homeless crisis has worsened since the Prime Minister declared war on a problem he described as being a "national obscenity".

While official figures are months away, key agencies, including the Salvation Army and Youth off the Streets, have told The Weekend Australian there has been an appreciable rise in homelessness in the past 12 to 18 months.

They estimated there were now well over 100,000 Australians homeless on any given night, a figure broadly conceded by government.

This is despite Kevin Rudd promising the country in May 2008 that "we can do better; we must do better" in tackling the crisis and setting an interim target of reducing homelessness by 20 per cent by 2013.

Federal Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek yesterday conceded there was evidence of a spike in the number of Australians needing assistance since Mr Rudd uttered those words.

Well if Rudd sought to inhabit the personal experience of forgotten people, excuse me if I think of him as a distant and failed policy-maker living in the bubble of power.

If we wanted to find another example, we need look no further than the Northern Territory intervention. How about Federal NT intervention will cause more harm than good: new report? Why not take a look at Report reveals gaps in NT intervention? Well there are more headlines - NT intervention progress gravely disappointing, NT intervention moving at 'snail's pace' - but enough already.

And then there's Costello lauding and hailing Rudd as a great internationalist on the basis of lifting the aid budget, while somehow managing to overlook Australia's dismal participation in the dismal affair called Afghanistan.

Yep, the Dutch government could collapse over its participation, and suddenly the Dutch are withdrawing from Oruzgan in August and even the New Zealanders can recognise a poisoned chalice when its thrust at them - New Zealand rejected Australian plan for joint Anzac force in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Australian government - and the opposition - remains in lock step with the United States, and blathers on about a withdrawal sometime in the next two to five years, though I guess there's always hope we could move beyond a mere 15 year war, and hope to outdo the hundred year war with a 101 year war.

Ah well, I don't bear former Chairman Rudd that much of a grudge, and I guess the thing that set me off was the column's fatal introductory remark that he was a great Christian leader brought down by party factions.

If he'd been a great leader, that would have been enough, but he could never hide his smarmy Christianity or give up his church door stoppers, and when it came to actually executing effective compassionate social and welfare policies, he was anything but a great leader.

Reading Costello's crocodile tears and his grief for Rudd and his awe at Rudd's vision made me wonder whether I actually lived in the same country and read the same headlines.

Well the secularists are to the fore now, and you can sense that the Christians are agitated:

Kevin Rudd, I for one will miss you. Some of us believed Kevin 07 was a triumphant lion. He had shown real power, choosing his own ministry. And at times he almost became the government in himself. But all the time he was merely a lion in a golden cage called the polling pen.

Not that I don't like Julia Gillard or think this is not a historic change. Indeed, her touch and tone are compelling. She met one of my sons in a Rockhampton radio studio a month ago when he was spruiking for his charity, YGAP. He told her that he probably had more of my genes than his Uncle Peter's. Quick as a flash she asked, would it not be better if he had an equal mixture of both? Inclusive, and perfectly pitched.

But as impressed as I am with her, I do feel as if there has been a death in the Australian family. Whether it was self-inflicted by his leadership style or the raising of expectations on climate change - he apparently ignored the automated message on the London Underground, Mind the Gap - I felt grief at Rudd's demise.

Spare me days. A death in the family. And worse, replaced by a redhead who's as quick as a flash at inclusiveness.

Well, who knows if the great secularist leader currently at the helm will be any better at the gig.

But one thing's safe to say, we'll be spared cant and piety and moralising homilies, and hooks like "a great Christian leader brought down" and thank the lord for that.

Unless of course Tony Abbott gets up, or big Mal takes him down, and then I'll be looking forward to that line being delivered with a great deal of relish ...

(Below: the thoughts of a red-headed atheist. And pray tell, exactly what is wrong with a little colour from a bottle?)

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