Sunday, November 22, 2015

In which the pond blames university students for insulting moderates and fundamentalists ...

Being in the University of Sydney Fisher library yesterday for no useful purpose or good reason, the pond picked up a couple of Honi Soits to remember the good old days of hard copy student newspapers ...

Of course you can find it online here in this modern world (one of the tree-killer editions, as above, was put together by the ghost of print media past), and apart from noticing that students seemed a little more sedate, genteel and professional than in the glory days of Tharunka, the pond stumbled on an anecdote which brought a warm glow to its cheeks and a modest amount of moistness to the eyes ...

It too is online as Tim Minchin vs. God, as told by one Tom Goodwin.

Now the arguments by email are familiar enough, with Tom as the stooge or the straight man, but it's worth recycling this meditative Sunday, because, as with all good yarns, there was a happy ending:

Hi Tim, 
When we last emailed 6 years ago, I was an opinionated 16 year old Christian… I’m now 22 and no longer a Christian. I’m sure you’ve had many similar conversations over the years, so our exchange probably doesn’t immediately spring to memory. 
I just thought I would write because toward the end of our exchange all those years ago (after you’d just had a baby), you said “even if I had time to have this conversation properly, I know it would have no impact on you”. 
I just thought you might be interested to know that it did have an impact… You said I “had faith”, but really I think I was just searching for meaning/truth. And you were right, the most convenient ‘truth’ was the one that my extended family had convinced themselves was real… 
I really hope you get a chance to read this (even though I still think I sound like a twat when I write) because I guess it shows that debating stuff with seemingly stubborn Christians isn’t always all for nothing. 
I hope you are well. 
I saw you in Californication, that was awesome. 

Now the pond rarely thinks of Tim Minchin, but hereafter the pond will think of him kindly. To take on a self-confessed opinionated 16 year old (you know, gays and rape and murder and theft all in the one breath, and all the rest of the fundamentalist tropes), and be kindly and responsive and absolutely not condescending or evasive, but instead lead this stranger to the light, after a life in fundamentalist darkness ... well, it made the pond feel cheerful for the rest of the day.

And it got the pond to thinking that we needed to clone a million Minchins and get them emailing fundamentalists at a time when it really matters ...

Of course the effect of the story is ruined online if you head down to the comments section, where a couple of fundamentalist twits turn up, one blathering on about DNA as evidence for god, and another providing a link to R. C. Sproul.

The kool aid is strong in some and the work of a Minchin is never done, but as someone once said, there might be a hundred sheep but it's right to be joyful and rejoice when someone has found and brought home a lost sheep ...

It got the pond to thinking about the arguments presented in Martin Flanagan's Paris attacks: Why I'm with Waleed Aly, not Andrew Bolt (with forced video).

At its core, Flanagan's argument is flawed because of the comparison: between the Bolter and any other figure in Australia, one could end up with a headline such as Why I'm with Satan, not Andrew Bolt.

A better headline would have been, Why I'm with Tim Minchin, not Waleed Aly.

It so happens that Honi Soit also features online an interview with Aly, "Don't Call Me Moderate": Speaking with Waleed Aly.

Ali recycled yet again his dislike of the term "moderate":

In 2007 I published a book and there’s a whole chapter in there called ‘don’t call me moderate’ because it’s a term I hate. I don’t know what it contributes. I don’t like what it implies, and so if people are calling me a moderate Muslim it annoys me. But in the case of that kind of attack, the purpose is pretty clear and that is to position me and everything I say through some sort of Muslim lens or prism. So that everything I do is discredited or reconstructed as dangerous activism. But who is listening to it? People who want to think that anyway. I mean it hasn’t destroyed my career. It hasn’t destroyed my friendships or my family or made my life more miserable and it doesn’t change what I say. So in what way is it relevant except to some other audience, you know what I mean? I’ve always taken the approach that so long as I can stand by what I’m saying intellectually that’s all that matters.

That last line is the punchline:

... so long as I can stand by what I’m saying intellectually that’s all that matters.

Which means as a Muslim, moderate or no, he stands by the pile of steaming gibberish known as the Quran, and no doubt, like many moderates, picks and chooses the texts he will accept, much as Christians are wont to do with the trickier parts of the old and new testaments.

It's about this time on a meditative Sunday that the pond likes to provide a link to the Skeptic's Annotated Quran.

Yes, we hold our nose at the American spelling of sceptic, just so we can also link to the Skeptic's Annotated Book of Mormon and the Skeptic's Annotated Bible.

The pond regularly had this argument with relatives who lived under Pell when the Pellists were cock of the walk in Melbourne.

They fancied themselves as moderates, but each week on a Sunday they propped up the tottering edifice of fundamentalist Catholicism by trotting along to mass and feeding the Pellist coffers and testifying by their presence to his rule ...

The same happens with the angry Sydney Anglicans. If you happen to be tithed in Sydney, whatever your private and possibly moderate views, you're helping fund the new Moore College Taj Mahal that's being built at the northern end of King street in Newtown ... and so the assault on gay and women's rights will continue indefinitely into the future.

Which is why Aly is routinely fundamentally intellectually dishonest.

You won't see him spending much time in public debating and defending the absurdities of his faith, and the way such defences prop up the tottering fundamentalists in charge of the Islamic faith around the world.

For once the pond can resort to the comments section:

Another article that starts out with the important context of Islam, ISIS and terrorism, and then .... fails to delve into the nature of Islam whatsoever. The most pressing issue of our time is: what is it about Islamic doctrine/history/ideology, and the prophet Mohammed, that is so readily "misinterpreted" by terrorists like ISIS. Alas, we will never know, because "moderates" like Aly continue to ignore the problem. For a so-called intellectual to avoid the whole intellectual ideology of Islam as somehow irrelevant to discussion, and irrelevant to terrorist motivations, is beyond paradox, and beyond comprehension, it's completely insane. There's some strange bias in Waleed Aly, so it's not an intellectual matter at all. Aly has some irrational prejudice against discussing Islamic ideology as a motivator of Muslims. Alas, "journalism" like this won't get to the bottom of it.

And so on, though of course, the most pressing issue of our time is: what is it about Christine Islamic doctrine/history/ideology, and the prophet Jesus, that is so readily "misinterpreted" by terrorists at the Pentagon, and crusaders such as George Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard.

The pond thought we'd better slip that in before we end up sounding like a ranting Bolter.

But once you do fair dibs, and include all the fundamentalist war mongers in the mix, we do end up having to think about the whole intellectual ideology of all religions.

Fundamentalists of all stripes - be they Marxists or Calathumpians - have their chosen texts, and moderates routinely cherry pick them without ever challenging the nonsense at the heart of the kool aid. (Yes there were even a few moderates in Jonestown who tried to get out when the kool aid first began to circulate).

Where things fall down is that most people have an allegiance which sees them stand by arguments that are in reality intellectual sieves - in the Bolter's case, it's crazed fundamentalist Christians, a big part of his base readership.

As a result, moderates in every religion routinely attempt to deal with fundamentalists and routinely fail, and so the Pellists end up making mischief in Rome, the angry Sydney Anglicans make mischief in the world Anglican community, and the west somehow ends up facilitating and consorting with that fundamentalist country Saudi Arabia, when in reality it's a font of repressive Wahhabist activism. Yet somehow its only Iran that ended up in the axis of weevils ...

What we need is not quislings or fellow travellers of the Aly kind, temporising but never willing to face up to the intrinsic absurdities of their beliefs, but a few Tim Minchins pounding on the piano of theological nonsense ...

I just thought you might be interested to know that it did have an impact… You said I “had faith”, but really I think I was just searching for meaning/truth. And you were right, the most convenient ‘truth’ was the one that my extended family had convinced themselves was real… 

It reminded the pond of another truth. What we believe tends to be a function of where we were brought up, and by whom ...

And that reminded the pond of another comment, this time at the bottom of the Flanagan piece, and since the pond hasn't insulted everyone this meditative Sunday, it's Bolter time:

Sure anyone can have an opinion. 
But: A. Anyone with a docile disposition tends to regard authority as source of truth. 
B. Person at A, coupled with a delusional superiority mindset, tends to believe his/her own opinion as universal truth.
C. Person at B, working at a powerful media outlet, is likely to believe he ought to save the world (in his mindset) from destruction by people of different opinions than his/hers. 
So much so that if he/she were growing up in, say, a communist country, he/she would espouse the communism ideology without you realizing it's the same person. 
An example of C person: Andrew Bolt. 
'Nuf said.

The pond has just one problem with this. It under-estimates the cynicism that led the Bolter to construct the ratbag Bolter persona, which lifted him out of the ruck of ordinary journalism into a much more elevated career as a fundamentalist lighting rod. It's all there in Anne Summers' Andrew Bolt and the making of an opportunist.

For many, it is not an entirely convincing reinvention. “It’s a performance piece,” says Catherine Deveny, comedian and writer (whose columns Bolt has, surprisingly, said he reads). “If it wasn’t so dangerous it would be hilarious.” A woman who lived with Bolt in the early 1980s says, “He certainly was not the conservative figure he is now. It’s like he found a niche.” Later that same decade the writer and academic Robert Manne wrote for Bolt when he was editor of the opinion pages. “He was conservative but so was I,” says Manne. Ten years later – Manne’s politics having changed – Bolt attacked him at a multicultural conference: “I was astonished he was the same man,” Manne told me. “He obviously saw there was reputation and money to be made from being conservative. There were no examples of such people in Australia. In the mid ’90s this type emerged and he was one of the first.”

There were others long before the Bolter, but let the history pass, so we can note that the Bolter, like Aly, also cuts his cloth to suit the times.

He purports to be rigorous and intellectual and hard-headed, but he's canny enough to know that Christians are a big part of his base, and he knows how to dog whistle.

This is how he does it, as in Kinder to our Christians.

After rehearsing all the indignities that Christians suffer at the hands of trendies and artists and such like - and their refusal to dish out the same to Islamic fundamentalists - the Bolter concluded:

This is a religion that’s always preached tolerance, reason and non-violence, even if too many of its followers have seemed deaf. 
 It’s also urged us to leave the judgment of others to God (a message I ignore for professional reasons). 
We are the beneficiaries of that preaching, even those of us who aren’t Christians. We live in a society, founded on Christian principles, that guards our right to speak, and even to abuse things we should praise. 
We can now vilify Jesus and damn priests, and risk nothing but hard looks from a soft bishop, and a job offer from The Age. 
We dare all that because we do not actually fear what we condemn. We know Christians are taught not to punch our smarmy face, and we even count on it. Indeed, it is the very faith we mock that has made us so safe. 
This is one reason why I, an agnostic, will today do what I do every Easter, and play Bach’s divine St Matthew Passion while I sit for a while and give thanks. 
I will be thanking again not only a preacher of astonishing moral clarity and courage, but one who inspired a faith that has brought us unparalleled gifts รข€” including the freedom to create even a chocolate Jesus in this most holy of weeks.

Now it would be possible to spend a little time debunking this sort of fellow-travelling nonsense - given the way tolerance, reason and non-violence led allegedly Christian nations to bung on two world wars ...

But more interesting is the canny way of the fellow travelling - an agnostic who yearns to believe and can find salvation in Bach. This is a routine the Bolter still delivers - the pond heard him do it within the last month on radio.

In truth, the Bolter and Waleed Aly have much in common, and there is much, much work for the pond's bank of cloned Tim Minchins to do ...

And clearly heading off to the University of Sydney and picking up a Honi Soit is very dangerous. Shame on you students, shame on you ... it would have been a lot easier and simpler if the pond could just have said "bah, humbug" and walked on by ...

Which just leaves time for a Wilcox cartoon about fundamentalists, and more Wilcox here:


  1. A great example of the Catholic mindset -

    “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”

    The poor bloody Cathars had done little more than reject the authority of the Pope, so all the inhabitants of Beziers were slaughtered..

    1. Now Anony, the Cthars, as I'm sure you'd know, were outright dualists. Just think: they believed that there were separate 'divinities' for good and for evil. How much more evil than that can you get ?

      Incidentally, the form of the quote I'm familiar with is "Kill them all, God will recognize his own." Similar sentiment, I grant, but that bit about God recognizing his own is just a tad more Christian, don't you think ?

    2. Too bad that a finessed shroud was as close as the Bishopric of Rome ever came to (re)discovering the (un)holiest of holy relics which a Cathari had in their bread-bag possession, too. No amount of razing Occitania could procure it, nor destroy it, if it took the impossible, northern high pass in deepest Winter, and it did, and it still grins to itself in the thrice-dark, leering and peering down on a near-forgotten Torino of yore.

    3. Same same, Gruebleen.

  2. Hang on, DP, all those writers, performers, broadcasters you've mentioned have one thing in common with professional religionists. They all get paid for producing material that people will buy.
    So, in regard to the various matters they go on about, I'm reminded of my favourite dad joke, the pig with a wooden leg.
    I mean, if Papa Kelly came out with the ultimate solution to the world's troubles he'd make himself redundant. Awful thought!

  3. Gollum Henderson has a big mindgasm on Insiders because everyone's being so mean to his Tony.

  4. Nice one Dot, a sort of join the dots exercise.

  5. "Manne told me. “He obviously saw there was reputation and money to be made from being conservative. There were no examples of such people in Australia. In the mid ’90s this type emerged and he was one of the first.” "

    That is significant; but I don't think media corporations stumbled on any sort of gold mine in promoting conservatism; it was carefully orchestrated. They had (and still have) a lot to gain commercially from a captive audience scared of their own shadows.

    1. There was a Melbourne Age opinion journalist for quite a while - back in the 1980s, and probably even earlier - who was clearly one of "them". He eventually made the mistake of thinking that he was more important than the Queen and did a 'character assassination' piece on her that, after a bit of argy-bargy, basically got him fired. He sorta disappeared completely then.

      I thought, initially, that he was a bit of a forerunner for the 'bread and water man' (aka Paul Sheehan), but more recently I reckon he was in the direct line of evolution leading straight to The Devine and The Bolter.

      I wish I could remember his name, but Google Search hasn't found him for me. I'd probably need to go back and read a whole lot of old Age archives to find him (and who wants to waste a lifetime doing that ?).


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