Sunday, December 18, 2011

And now for a Sunday dose of Christian politics, Christian censorship and dominionism rampant ...

(Above: evangelical Christian politician in action).

What on earth is to be done about the Sydney Anglicans, and Michael Jensen in particular, as he scribbles Constantine Defended?

Jensen is ostensibly writing about Constantine and his convenient conversion to Christianity:

The famous story goes that on the eve of the battle of the Milvian Bridge (28th October, 312 AD), Constantine had some kind of vision or dream (the contemporary sources seem to disagree) which led him to paint the shields of his soldiers with the labarum. The labarum was a sign which combined the Greek letters ‘Chi’ and ‘Rho’, which look like an ‘X’ and a ‘P’, and which form the first two letters of the name of Christ.

Constantine won the battle, and this led to an extraordinary change in the policy of the Empire.

Yep, if the old gods aren't working for you, trade them in, and trade up to a brand new god who will deliver all the V8 grunt, power steering, and smooth ride you've come to expect from the new model Kingswood.

Victory in battle? Now that's a reward in spades. At least until the Visigoths come knocking and then Augustine has to invent the heavenly city and the concept of a just war, so assorted Popes could turn themselves into quasi-emperors and go about the business of empire building ...

Somewhere along the line, Jensen becomes infatuated with an American theologian Peter Leithart, but first we must issue a disclaimer:

There is much that is ugly and unchristian about some of the collaborations between state and church that we know from history.

But once disclaimer is done - let's not dwell on Oliver Cromwell, the Puritans, the Salem witch trials, the Catholic church in South America, the Inquisition, assorted Islamic theocracies, and the current Republican party in the United States - it's time to get down to business:

The problem is not with the notion of a Christianised politics (for Leithart), but that Christian politics has more often failed to live up to its own gospel. Leithart writes: “If there is going to be a Christian politics, it is going to have to be an evangelical Christian politics, one that places Jesus, his cross and his resurrection at the center. It will not do to dismiss the Sermon on the Mount with a wave of the hand (‘that’s for personal life, not political life’) (p. 332)

Just think about it. The Sydney Anglicans sound like they want to go dominionist, or perhaps Fred Nile. And where does putting the cross at the centre of politics get the Jews, the Islamics, the secularists and the atheists?

Lost at sea most likely.

You see, Jensen doesn't want some half hearted approach:

That is: if we are going to elect Christian politicians, or urge the state to pursue Christian policies, then we’d better not be half-hearted about it! Why, for example, have we in the church permitted politicians who are Christian by subscription or conviction to enact policies that are so degrading of our common life as a nation? How is love for neighbour being expressed in Australian politics at the moment? Why do we put up with less than honest politicians? Why is generosity so lacking in Australia?

Yep, get thee gone atheistic Juliar Gillard. You're degrading the common life of the nation. Go for it Tony Abbott. You're expressing love for your neighbour, and you are an honest, an exceedingly generous politician of the kind we all associate with Christian politicians.

The funny thing is of course that Jensen with his mealy-mouthed talk of loving thy neighbour and generosity, completely fails to mention or deal with the behaviour of the current crop of evangelical Christian politicians and their disreputable politics ... the kind being pursued in the United States with a ruthlessness and brutality and exclusiveness that is a marvel to behold in an allegedly Christian nation.

What he needs is a quick course in dominionism so he can walk the walk, while talking the talk:

In the context of American evangelical efforts to penetrate and transform public life, the distinguishing mark of a dominionist is a commitment to defining and carrying out an approach to building society that is self-consciously defined as exclusively Christian, and dependent specifically on the work of Christians, rather than based on a broader consensus. (here).

Yes that's the way to go with evangelical Christian politics. Get hold of the levers of power, and make everyone dance to the same deluded tune. And once you're on that slippery slope, why there's no end to the inevitable conclusions that can be reached:

1. Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe that the United States once was, and should once again be, a Christian nation. In this way, they deny the Enlightenment roots of American democracy.
2. Dominionists promote religious supremacy, insofar as they generally do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other versions of Christianity.
3. Dominionists endorse theocratic visions, insofar as they believe that the Ten Commandments, or "biblical law," should be the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a vehicle for implementing Biblical principles. (ibid)

Go Michelle Bachmann, go Rick Perry.

Smote those gays, make sure that women know their place is in the home (which is certainly not being a bishop in the Sydney Anglican church), and all will be well with the world, But back to Jensen:

I am not expert enough to judge whether Leithart has got his history right. There are many controversial questions in the life of Constantine that will never be resolved at this distance. But he makes a compelling theological case about the possibility of a Christianised politics – one that ought to be carefully considered. The influence of the gospel for the better on contemporary society has occurred not merely from outside the political arena as a prophetic voice but from within it.

A compelling theological case for Christianised politics! For the better!

Would that be the Christianised politics that produced the pursuit of empires in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, or perhaps merely the first world war? As Christian nations went about turning the fields of Europe into a patchwork of mud and blood ...

There is of course one fly in this splendid vision of Christian politics at work. What would happen if say, instead of Fred Nile, Cardinal George Pell got into a position of power, and enacted various aspects of Catholic church teaching, including the one that heretic Sydney Anglicans are destined for an eternity of torment in hell?

Oh wait, he already has a proxy, one Tony Abbott. Be afraid of Christianised politics, Sydney Anglicans, be very afraid.

And speaking of Pell, his week-old column for the Sunday Terror shows what would happen if Pell's form of Christian politics managed an even bigger share of power.

Censorship, so beloved of the Catholic church since the days of Index Librorum Prohibitorum, would raise its ugly head once more ... (oh wait, did someone mention Stephen Conroy was a socially conservative Catholic, and two and two make four?)

Pell, in scribbling Sensible Decision, celebrates the banning of The Human Centipede 11, without ever giving an indication that he's seen the film:

Congratulations to the board and the minister on this outcome. Predictably, a few on the margins are bleating about "censorship". But most Australians will see the decision as a win for common decency and common sense.

Pell bases his case on the show being a really bad film, and a squandering of talent, and with an over-abundance of sordid material.

If these were good enough reasons for banning films, then thousands of shows would be on the pond's index prohibitorum. All the same, would it really be fair to ban The Sound of Music?

Sadly, it seems that Pell was scribbling before news that the ban was overturned and the show will now - with less than a minute cut out of its running time - be released in Australia:

The film will return to Australian cinemas, or secure a release on DVD, buoyed by the free marketing it has inadvertently generated over the last few weeks. Early this month I wrote about how organisations such as Collective Shout have unintentionally supported the film by underlining its core selling point: notoriety. This latest twist in the Human Centipede saga ought to deliver them a sobering reality check. (here)

It's worth quoting at length Luke Buckmaster on the campaign which sees Pell in bed with the likes of Melinda Tankard Reist:

A Serbian Film and The Human Centipede II are now destined to be long remembered in an industry stuffed full of forgettables, and the internet makes it simple for anybody to pry open the cult vault and sample the sacred warez. In the online environment, banning films has become the mother of all free advertising, a shoo-in method for ensuring torrent numbers skyrocket. The days of films being lost forever, like Pure Shit nearly was, are long gone.

Indeed. I was so irritated by Pell's piece that I immediately downloaded The Human Centipede 11, as I still can in the last days of freedom before Conroy turns the country into North Korea.

For Melinda Tankard Reist, Collective Voice, Family Voice Australia and liked-minded politicians, the truly frightening part of this year’s censorship debate lies off screen, away from the fiction of perverted misfits and sex-crazed loonies. For them, the real horror lies in the possibility that their actions may have inadvertently supported the very films they are rallying against.

And then I chose not to watch it, as is my right and my choice, because it's not up to Reist, or Pell or the censors to tell me what to read or watch in the privacy of my home, especially as I'm not half -crazed with fear and loathing, as in the Reist style, or reliant on imaginary friends to tell me what to think and do, in the Pell manner.

We've all been down this long and winding road before. Back in the early seventies, when all the fuss about censorship was doing the rounds, and Don Chipp was trying to allow Australia to turn into an adult, consenting nation, some dour citizens got concerned about the Marquis de Sade and his 120 Days of Sodom (which you can find on the intertubes here in pdf form, amongst a number of other places).

Egged on by the fuss, I got hold of a Grove edition and sat down to read the book, which had been in hot water since it was written in 1785 ... and emerged with a profound sense of ennui, tedium and boredom.

I actually couldn't make it to the end, not for reasons of revulsion, but because it was so badly written (and/or translated), and the desire to shock or to fetishise isn't enough to sustain interest over the longer haul of a longish book, especially one without plot or interesting characters.

If you're going to read de Sade, start with Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue ... and don't be beguiled by censorship fanatics into wasting your life just to make a point.

The same thing happened with Pasolini's Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma. The fuss surrounding the 1975 film - which was eventually cleared for a dvd release in 2010 in Australia - eventually beguiled me enough to take a look at a copy, and then to wonder what all the fuss was about. Was it the consistent breaching of Godwin's Law? Because it certainly wasn't the staid and predictable staging ...

It's at the extreme end of Pasolini's film-making (you can catch Bill Mousoulis brooding about its implications here In the Extreme: Pasolini's Salò) and while I don't regret watching it that much, it's not a well-made film, more of a rhetorical dead end, with other films like his life of Christ much more transgressive and interesting (ditto his medieval trilogy).

The point?

Well in the end Pell, Reist, Conroy and the rest are motivated by the notion that they know better, and they should have a final say over what the mob watches, for fear the mob might turn yet again into the rampaging hordes familiar from the days of de Sade and the French revolution.

Yet before the fuss, The Human Centipede would only ever attract a constitutionally hardened horror film cult buff audience, and that crowd already has more than enough movies full of the same sort of stuff, filtered down to the level of popular taste by mainstream shows like the thriller Seven. In all likelihood, without the attention of censors, it would have attracted the same level of attention as is now spent on cult Italian horror films of the nineteen seventies ...

And Salò is best suited to the art house film festival brigade best trained in the art of enduring tedium as a form of aesthetic enlightenment ...

So once again we are starting to see the dumbness of censorship in action, which as Buckmaster points out, sees provocative shows designed to push boundaries - because that's all they've got as a promotional and aesthetic device - given an unseemly amount of publicity for no particular purpose. The film-makers need the Reists and Pells of the world as much as the Pells and the Reists need the film-makers ...

It makes you realise that Pellist-approved, Catholic style, patriarchal censorship of the old school is a dangerous brew, which can to lead to much distraction from more important issues - like the fate of altar boys in Belgium, Ireland, Australia and the United States - in much the same way as Christian politics and politicians seems to have encouraged for centuries all sorts of behaviour and reactionary politics which finally erupted into two world wars ... along with the current crop of crusades in foreign parts.

Will the Pellists and the Sydney Anglicans think just a little about this?

Not likely, and unfortunately such is liberal way of the world for secularists, they can't be banned either ...

(Below: coming to a computer screen near you courtesy of Christian politicians, but at least Americans have explicit rights to be abused, because constitutionally Australians have diddly squat).

1 comment:

  1. Yes George and his many right-thinking religionists much prefer full on unambiguous "realist" sado-masochistic snuff/splatter films in which the "hero" is systematically beaten to death.

    And the applied patriarchal politics that was all the rage at the time


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