Saturday, December 24, 2016

A nice dialogue about Christmas faith

Nicholas Kristof is a journalist I admire, particularly for his concern about social justice issues. I recently posted about a nice book that he co-authored with his wife about poverty alleviation programs.

In the New York Times, Kristof has a nice dialogue with Tim Keller,  entitled Pastor, Am I a Christian?
I like the questions discussed and the civil and mutually respectful tone of the back and forth.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A landmark event in USA social and political history

I should be wary about recommending movies that I have watched on a long flight. The combined factors of boredom and fatigue can reduce my critical faculties. Sometimes if I watch the same movie at home later with my family, I wonder why I recommended it.

Nevertheless, I am confident that Confirmation is worth watching, particularly because of the issues it raises and the historical significance of the events it chronicles. In 1991, Clarence Thomas was nominated to be a justice of the USA Supreme Court. Anita Hill, who had worked for him previously accused him of sexual harassment. At the time, she was a law professor at Oklahoma University and appeared before the Senate judiciary committee. Thomas denied the allegations. It degenerated into he says vs. she says. Some believed him. Some believed her. Who people believed was strongly correlated with their political views.

The trailer is here.

I found some of the movie painful to watch. The lust for power and struggle for political influence was striking and distressing. The most disturbing thing for me was seeing the manner in which a group of old white male Senators interrogated and attempted to discredit a young African American women.

There is a PBS News interview with Anita Hill, 25 years after the event, that is worth watching.

In spite of Hill's allegations, Thomas was still confirmed by the Senate. Yet, the event was a landmark significantly raising the consciousness of the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, leading to new laws and policies.

Some might say great progress has been made in 25 years. However, I find it very disturbing that this year a US presidential candidate was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women. And, he was still elected!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Who do you love to hate?

Republicans or Democrats, Atheists or Christians, young earth creationists or evolutionary biologists, Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton, Calvinists or Arminians, Muslims or Hindus, supporters or opponents of same-sex marriage, liberals or conservatives, Sydney Anglicans or the Uniting Church, Greens or One Nation, complementarians or egalitarians, Stockbrokers or social workers, pro-life or pro-choice, blacks or whites, capitalists or socialists, …?

Over the last decade, I think there has been a significant decrease in civil debate, both in public and private. Those with different views or from different social groups are disparaged or “demonised”. Sometimes this is blatant; other times it is more subtle.
Some groups seem to get their identity from who they “not” or what they are opposed to.

What is causing this contempt for the “other”?
I see several contributing factors.

Social media. 
This leads to people congregating in groups of “friends” who have similar views, values, and “identity” to their own. Highly specialised and like-minded groups (Calvinist Chelsea fans who also like cheese…)  can congregate. They don’t have to engage seriously with alternative views. They are in a “content bubble”. Communication is impersonal and terse. People say things online that they would be much less likely to say face to face to another. Extremist and impulsive views that were once said personally to a small group of people can now unfiltered reach thousands and even millions. Specialised and extremist talk radio and cable TV hosts play a similar role.

 In a wide range of countries some candidates and parties have been able to successfully exploit “identity” politics and fear of and contempt for the “other” to get elected. The last USA Presidential election is an example.

I feel my view is true and yours is wrong and so it does not matter what evidence there is for a different view.

I should stress that none of us is immune to these tendencies. We are all prone to pride, prejudice, and self-righteousness.
I also stress that on my random list above there are some views or people I strongly disagree with. Some I find extremely troubling and even dangerous.
Not all views are equally valid. But, that does not give me the right to “hate” them.

Why should everyone be concerned about this?
Democracy, peace, and community depend on reasonable and diverse debate.

Why should Christians be concerned?
Our identity comes solely from being a follower of Jesus and knowing we are loved by God.
It transcends nation, denomination, ethnicity, and any particular theological or political views. And, everyone is made in the image of God, regardless of their views or behaviour, and is loved by God. Thus, they are to be respected and valued as a person.
Humility and gentleness need to replace self-righteous anger.
Consider the way that Jesus interacted with tax collectors and prostitutes.
He also harshly confronted the Pharisees for their pride and self-righteousness.