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ABC on Jesus the sky pixie: Get Religion, October 11, 2012 October 11, 2012

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Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live!

These words close Vladimir Mayakovsky’s 1924 poem “Vladimir Ilych Lenin“.”  Written in the months after Lenin’s death, “VI Lenin” is the greatest of Mayakovsky’s works and the apex of the socialist realist style of poetry that flowered in Russia in the decade after the Revolution. “VI Lenin” is also the template through which some in the press construct the person and works of Jesus Christ

For many members of the chattering classes Jesus is a Lenin figure, or Lenin is a Jesus figure (depending on your priorities) with the difference that Lenin was a real historical figure, while Jesus was not. A recent interview with Salman Rushdie conducted by the ABC, (note the “the” before ABC, meaning the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, not the American Broadcasting Corporation) typifies this view of Jesus held by his cultured despisers.

But culture first, then media criticism.

Divided into three cantos, “VI Lenin” tells the story of the triumph of the proletarian revolution through the vehicle of the working class, which through toil and strife, guided by the laws of social development, revealed by its ideological genius Karl Marx, produces the “twin of Mother History” — the Bolshevik Party and its leader, VI Lenin.

The party for Mayakovsky is the symbol of the strength and wisdom of the working classes and is what has trained and mobilized the masses, and lead them out of their bondage. And over all this:

appears
the compass of Leninist thought,
appears
the guiding hand of Lenin.

Lenin’s life did not end with his death as the people and the party live on.

And even the death of Ilyich
became a great communist organizer
.

Lenin will live in the hearts of the proletariat and will remain the rallying point for world revolution.

Proletarians, form ranks for the last battle!
Straighten your backs,
unbend your knees!
Proletarian army, close ranks!
Long live the joyous revolution, soon to come!
This is the greatest
of all great fights
that history has known.

What prompted that bit of showing off of the detritus of a wasted youth was the Salman Rushdie interview broadcast on the ABC Radio National program Books and Arts Daily. In a forty minute segment entitled “Salman Rushdie’s New Memoir: Joseph Anton” host Michael Cathcart spoke to the British novelist about his life in the wake of the fatwah.

The show notes state:

On Valentine’s Day in 1989, Iran’s Supreme leader the Ayatollah Khomeini declared a fatwa – any believer who assassinated the novelist Salman Rushdie was promised eternal life. The Ayatollah announced that the Indian born British novelist had committed an unpardonable blasphemy against Islam in a novel called The Satanic Verses. To supporters of the fatwa, even the title must have seemed like a confession. This was a man who by his own declaration was the author of The Satanic Verses. And so Salman Rushdie winner of the Booker prize became Rushdie the Infidel. Rushdie the man in hiding. For some he became a champion of free speech, a man who refused to cave in to bullying. To others, he was the author of his own misfortune. Now he tells the story of his years in protection in a memoir, a vast book called Joseph Anton, the alias he took while in hiding.

I encourage you to listen to the interview. Rushdie tells a fascinating story about his life and his work — and also has insights in the present unrest spreading across the Muslim world.  In recounting the protests that followed the publication of The Satanic Verses Rushdie states the “people who had demonstrated were ordered to demonstrate.”

“They didn’t know anything” about his book and were out in the streets demonstrating against a Western provocation against Islam on the instructions of political leaders who wanted to capitalize on the book’s notoriety for their local political advantage. The same pattern of events was unfolding in the Muslim world, Rushdie argued, with the obscure YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims.”

This interpretation of events is in line with the reports I shared from my contacts in Egypt on 11 Sept 2012 when a mob attacked the U.S. embassy in Cairo and consulate in Benghazi. While the government on 28 Sept backed away from its claim the attack on Benghazi was caused by spontaneous outrage from the “Innocence of Muslims” film, I have yet to see them concede what the press and Egyptian government have concluded — that the Cairo riot was a staged provocation also.

Do listen to Rushdie — he is worth your time. The interviewer, on the other hand, was not as strong.  About six minutes into the broadcast, when discussing Rushdie’s university studies about the history of Islam, the interviewer said:

There is no doubt that Muhammad was a real person. .. (while) Jesus was an ambiguous person.

Muhammad is real. Jesus is, maybe, real, or maybe a legend, the ABC argues. The interviewer has mangled his facts here, as after 150 years of scholarship on this point, the historical Jesus is conceded to have existed by most scholars. The issue as to whether Muhammad existed is an open one in Western scholarship.

For Mayakovsky Lenin is not like other men. He is a symbol of the struggle of the proletariat: past, present and future. He is a genius and a practical man, the “most human of all humans who have lived on earth”, Mayakovsky wrote.  A man “just like you and me.”

The ABC interviewer, were he to posit the existence of Jesus, would describe him in these terms also — and view the Christian religion in terms of its social utility. Let me say my concern is not to argue theology, but to point out the worldview the interviewer used in expressing what he believed to be the consensus as to who Jesus was. Jesus like Lenin was a figure whose value lay in his symbolic utility. It is how Jesus is interpreted, not who he is or his work that matters.

This, of course, is contrary to most Christian traditions, save for a few modern sects — yet the palette the ABC uses to paint who Jesus was is a default left-liberal semi-universalist one. Doubts can be raised about Jesus, but the portrait of Muhammad is the one held by traditional Islam.

Voluble skepticism of Christianity doubled with incurious statements about Islam is common among the press these days. Why?

Was this an example of political correctness? The crawling that one sees from many in the press when the topic comes to Islam? Or, was it ignorance of the topic? What say you GetReligion readers? Do you think the ABC would have argued that Jesus was real while Muhammad was sky pixie (a phrase beloved by atheists in describing divinity)?

First printed in GetReligion

ABC Radio National – Religion & Ethics Report: July 18, 2012 July 19, 2012

Posted by geoconger in 77th General Convention, Interviews/Citations, The Episcopal Church.
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It was the church of George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, George Bush Sr and seven other United States presidents. The Episcopal Church is the US branch of the Anglican Church and it was once very influential. More than a third of Supreme Court justices have been Episcopalians. It was one of the first mainstream churches to ordain women; the first to consecrate an openly gay bishop. But over the past 20 years, the church has lost more than a third of its members, falling from 3.4 million in 1992 to 2.3 million in 2012. Now, following its convention in Indianapolis, the Episcopal Church appears on the brink of collapse. Beliefnet.com reports 46 members of the synod have spoken out in support of seceding from the Episcopal Church; six bishops have petitioned the Archbishop of Canterbury for permission to leave the Church but remain part of the worldwide Anglican communion. Not all the tension is over liberal policies on sexuality. There’s also deep disagreement on fundamental matters of Christian doctrine. Author, journalist, and Episcopal minister from Florida, George Conger, explains the developments at the convention that sparked the latest crisis.

Listen to the broadcast here. Or download the file.

Can a feminist be pro-life?: Get Religion, February 17, 2012 February 17, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Popular Culture, Press criticism.
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Can a feminist be pro-life? Can a feminist be a Christian?

Here’s another. Can an atheist be pro-life. Or, is the pro-life movement merely a stalking horse for the Christian right?

While some of this field has been plowed by Christopher Hitchens —  a professed atheist, Hitchens answered the question of whether an atheist can be pro-life in an article he wrote for Vanity Fair (The answer is yes. He was an atheist and opposed abortion.) — it is new to Australia. And the debate over who is a feminist is a live one.

These questions were at the heart of a media furore in Australia last month following the publication in the Sydney Morning Herald of a profile of pro-life activist, Melinda Tankard Reist.  MTR — as she has come to be called on twitter and other social media sites — is the author of Big Porn Inc, a study warning of the pernicious cultural and social effects of pornography.

The SMH’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Melinda Tankard Reist’ was a mostly positive appraisal of MTR, written in the breathy People magazine style seen in the early stories about Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.

Melinda Tankard Reist is a woman of strong opinions. She is also a woman about whom people have strong feelings. If you’ve seen her proselytise on pornography on TV, read her opinions on the sexualisation of girls in the newspapers, or watched her go after do-badding companies on Twitter or through her activist group Collective Shout, chances are you have a few opinions about her of your own.

She’s a wowser. A no-nonsense political crusader beloved by both teenage girls and their mothers. A religious conservative in feminist clothing. A brazen careerist. A gifted networker and generous mentor.

The Canberra-based activist, mother of four and author of four books is difficult to pigeonhole and impossible to ignore. (and so on and so forth)

The article prompted a sharp response in an opinion piece entitled “There is no such thing as a pro-life feminist” published in the SMH by Anne Summers which challenged MTR’s right to call herself a feminist. The original story also prompted a torrent of abuse.

Writing in the Herald Sun in an article entitled “Pro-lifer sparks charge of the spite brigade”, Mirando Devine stated:

The cyber bullies who piled on to anti-porn activist Melinda Tankard Reist last week are behaving like 17th-century witch hunters, not the enlightened tolerance queens they claim to be.

Tankard Reist’s crime was to be profiled not unfavourably in a Sunday magazine, which described her as one of Australia’s best-known feminist voices.

This infuriated the miserable Orcs who lurk in the dark recesses of Twitter and the blogosphere.

Up they sprang to pour calumny on Tankard Reist, a pro-life feminist and 48-year-old mother of four from Mildura.

She was nothing but a fundamentalist Christian trying to hide her religious beliefs. Therefore, her views on the sexualisation of children, the objectification of women, the corrosive effect of internet pornography, were suspect.

Oh, and she should be abused with a coffee cup.

One blogger attacked MTR for speaking out on abortion and offered this put down.

She’s a Baptist and attends Belconnen Baptist Church. … She is anti-abortion. She is deceptive and duplicitous about her religious beliefs. … What does does she have to hide?

Well that’s another one to add to my list: Freemasons, the Tri-Lateral Commission, the Illuminati, Bilderburgers, Bonesmen and now Baptists — agents of Satan all. But I digress.

Writing in The Age in an article entitled “Another day, another fresh wave of e.hate”, MTR objected to the the standards of debate being exhibited in the social media culture, where physical and verbal threats had crowded out rational discourse in battle of ideas. Other feminists soon entered the fray.

The directors of a feminist publishing house defended MTR in a story entitled “The Authentic Feminism of Melinda Tankard Reist”, posted  the ABC’s Religion and Ethics site which argued that being a feminist did not mean checking one’s mind at the door or conforming to a single party line on any issue. Other opinion pieces soon appeared in the Age, “Feminism’s clique does not help the cause”, in the SMH, “Plenty of room under the feminism umbrella” and “Tankard Reist explain yourself”, and on the ABC’s Religion and Ethics site, “Media must do better on porn debate” that adopted differing views on the controversy.

The story took a further twist when MTR engaged an attorney to ask the blogger who said she was a Christian fundamentalist to retract her statement. MTR is not a Baptist and does not attend Belconnen Baptist Church. She is a Christian, however, and has not hidden her faith.

The Herald Sun reported that this attempt to set the record straight prompted a new attack.

The Twitter hate exploded. Leslie Cannold, a so-called “ethicist”, was among the more energetic defenders of Wilson, averaging two tweets every hour every day, indicating a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Tankard Reist.

“She wouldn’t be considered newsworthy if correctly described as fundie Christian. They’re all anti-porn raunch & choice.”

There is more than a little envy among Christophobes at Tankard Reist’s growing influence and good standing with young women.

In a summary of the debate printed in the opinion section of The Drum on the ABC entitled “Tankard Reist furore: feminists on the attack”, Claire Bongiorno questioned the anti-Christian sentiments of some of MTR’s critics.

Eva Cox has suggested that Tankard Reist’s views may be incompatible with “basic feminist criteria” because of her ‘religious’ views.

… Cox argues that people claiming to be feminists should declare their ‘religious’ beliefs. Such declarations would allow those assessing their feminist views to identify any presuppositions with which a feminist writer may be working. Cox stated in a recent article in The New Matilda that, if we knew Ms Tankard Reist’s “religious” views, then it may be that her feminist views “fail to meet what I would see as basic feminist criteria”.  However, knowing the “religious” views of a feminist writer may not be useful and it may result in misunderstandings and incorrect inferences being drawn.

The suggestion that one needs to scrutinise Tankard Reist further because of what she has identified as a “struggling spirituality”, also suggests a suspicion and intolerance for faith.

Women who ascribe to some kind of faith can and do still have agency to think and form views about feminism. There is also no reason to assume that women can’t critique aspects of their particular faith with which they disagree. For example, some Catholic women may criticise the patriarchal structures that limit female participation and leadership in their church. It is patronising to women of faith that they should be treated differently in intellectual debates.

This is all great stuff. A wonderfully spirited debate is taking place in the op-ed pages of Australia’s leading newspapers that is seeking to flesh out a pressing social and ethical issue — can a women be a feminist and a religious believer? Can she be pro-life and and feminist?

The place you will not see this issue mentioned is in the other parts of the Australian press. Apart from a few articles in the technology section about the perils of abuse on social media sites and the legal liability of libeling someone via twitter or Facebook, I’ve seen nothing.

I hold up this debate in Australia’s op-ed pages for the approbation of GetReligion readers because of its high quality — and because I do not believe we will ever see this sort of thing in the American press. On blogs yes. In newspapers or on the website of television networks, no.

This is my way of making a plea for American newspapers to make space for feuilletons. What in the world is that, you may ask. In the U.S., the most read feuilleton is the “Talk of the Town” section of the New Yorker — a collection of light news, art and literary observations. The German press takes the concept somewhat more seriously and its fueilleton section is the field of  battle in the war of ideas and provides solid reporting on intellectual, literary, philosophical and religious news.

There are specialty websites that meet this high culture niche, but in the race to be the most mediocre, the most vanilla newspaper in the land — offensive to none, advertisers for all — the press is abandoning one of its key duties. The duty to educate and inform the life of the mind.

So GetReligion readers, can a feminist be pro-life? Can a feminist be a Christian?

What say you?

First published in GetReligion.