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Friday, June 22, 2012

The War against Christianity's fundamentals

Today's church is going medieval on society through legalism and its insistence that government legislate biblical law. When they don't get their way, they scream 'War against Christianity' and 'War against Faith'. Yet, the real 'War against Christianity' is the one in which 'fundamentalist' churches have hijacked the message of Jesus and turned him into a selfish, money-hungry bigot.

These sensationalist allegations of 'war against the church' are being made by fundamentalist Christian groups and aimed squarely at President Obama and others who dare to have the temerity to allow for diversity in our society. 

Below is a short summary of some of the issues and quick response to each:
  • welfare 
    to deny welfare or sharing of wealth, some Christians focus on the verse in Matthew 26:11, in which Jesus says 'For you have the poor will you always ... '. However, this verse is out of context because the second part of it reads '... but Me you do not always have'. Jesus was telling the disciples that He, as the Son of God, should be their priority; He wasn't saying to ignore the poor. There are over 2,000 scriptures saying to care for the poor unconditionally, including the original scripture that Jesus was referencing, which is found in Deuteronomy 15:11, 'for the poor will never cease from the land; therefore, I command you, saying 'You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land' '. None of this 'give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a life time' maxim which is not biblical and is often used to justify not giving to the poor at all. God commands us to give food, drink, clothes, shelter and money to the poor and needy. If we can help the poor by giving them jobs and careers that is good, but don't ignore their immediate needs with misquoted scripture and clever sayings.
  • refugees and asylum seekers
    the media reports the constant attack by conservatives and the religious right on asylum seekers, refugees and most often on the 'queue jumper' - boat people - those who decide  that their lives are more important than protocol. Yet Christians want to crucify them. The bible tells us to care for the stranger. For instance, Matthew 25:34-35, '
     ... for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'  Ironically, Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt in order to save the life of the baby Jesus. If Joseph and Mary weren't 'queue jumpers', then Jesus wouldn't have lived and there would be no Christianity.
  • multiculturalism 
    (importantly, non-Christians) since when is western society the exclusive domain of white Christians?
  • removal of military insignia from bibles sold to US servicemen bibles are still available, just not with an insignia.
  • universal health-care 
    why shouldn't everyone be entitled to access free health care. It works fine in countries such as Australia, so why isn't it good enough for the USA? Oh, that's right. It is part of an evil Socialist Agenda!
  • big government 
    read 'big government' to mean any government that taxes people, provides welfare and tries to govern for the betterment of society. Of course, if the government is giving tax concessions and hand-outs to big business then that is ok! Ironically, these same Christian groups wants the government to enforce their religious rules through legislation, but don't want to pay tax to fund their increasingly political activities.
  • war
    apparently, the church is quite happy to wage war, but then again it does have a history of it. Crusades anyone? Matthew 5:9, ' blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God '.
  • same sex marriage
     any relationship is the business of the two people concerned. It is not the business of the church to say who can or cannot marry. Yet some Christian groups and churches have campaigned for legislation against, or preventing legislating of, same sex marriage. The argument that gay people are just indulging in their lusts shows a complete lack of understanding of the basic building block of a long-term, committed relationship: love. It is most convenient for some Christians to ignore the basic biological fact that people are born gay. For an in-depth study of biblical scripture regarding homosexuality, refer to this article: 'Adam & Eve meet Adam & Steve'
  • abortion 
    regardless of the moral argument over this, some groups use the issue to vehemently, and sometimes violently, promote a religious agenda. Forcing Christianity onto non-Christians and telling them what to do is not acceptable. Additionally, many of those same groups cease to care about people once they are born, instead they condemn welfare for the poor. If human life is so sacred to them, then they should be caring for people from conception to the grave.

Of course these are just a few of the issues that some Christian groups claim are undermining the church and are part of the 'War against Christianity'. Yet, not one of these issues directly affects Christianity, nor weakens the church as a religious organisation. The church's priority should be salvation, not enforcing rules. Religious groups have taken a retrograde step through such legalistic positions. Today's church is going medieval. As with the medieval church, the legalism is not about salvation or helping society, but about political power, and this we see with the rise of religious political parties. 

If fundamentalist churches and religious groups wish to engage in political activity, then they should pay tax. At the moment, they do not contribute financially to government through taxes, but want to dictate how government is run and the decisions it makes.

The true 'war against faith' is that in which Christianity is being hijacked and it's faithful being manipulated into believing that 'real' Christians support right-wing parties, support war, support capitalist greed while opposing 'socialist' initiatives such as assistance for the poor, the down-trodden, the widow, the refugee.

Any attempt by government to assist the poor, or for that matter everyone, through the provision of universal health-care, welfare, jobs programs and daring to suggest that the wealthy pay more tax, results in the rabid religious right screaming that it is a 'war on faith', a 'war on Christianity', that it is 'socialism'.

Well, guess what? Jesus was a socialist AND he told us to pay our taxes. But, I guess we shouldn't say that too loud, it might upset those Christians who are chasing the great American Dream: to get as wealthy as possible with the blessing of God (I'm not sure what scripture actually says that God wants us to accumulate wealth at the expense of others - I can name a few that say to get rid of your wealth and share it with the poor - but that would be socialism!).

Just a few scriptures:
  • Matthew 25:34-36 'for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to Me'
  • Matthew 25:45 'inasmuch as you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me'
  • Acts 4:34-35 'Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need'

Fundamentalist Christians fervently supported the invasion of Iraq regardless of the illegality of it, regardless of the fact that Iraq had been the playground of the United States for years and its people suffered, as did many others around the world, as the USA spread its evil, capitalistic greed and power-hungry hegemony over the globe. Hussein was funded by the USA. As was Osama Bin Laden and the Mujahideen during the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, resulting in Al Qaeda and the Taliban respectively. 

Yet some Christian groups expect us to continue to support this war-mongering in the name of Christ because the USA is seen as some sort of bastion of Christianity. These people seem to not understand that the founding fathers took pains to ensure that the USA was a secular nation by separating church and state. God is not mentioned in the Constitution and the First Amendment specifically states that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion ...'. 

Remember, Jesus telling us to 'turn the other cheek'? We wouldn't have to turn any cheek if it wasn't for the aggression of the USA and blood-thirsty screams for vengeance from 'fundamentalist' Christians every time someone dares to question or fight against US aggression.

War against Christianity? War against Faith? Damn, right there is a war. 

It is the War against Truth, the War against Love, the War against the Beatitudes, the War against the Poor, the War being waged by the those who have reinvented Jesus as a war-mongering, homophobic, capitalist bigot. The war is against fundamentalism, not the right-wing reinvention of fundamentalism, but the true fundamentals of Christianity, namely the messages of love, grace and forgiveness which Jesus preached and which Christianity is founded on.

That is the real War against Christianity.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Praxis of Evil - SMS, telegrams & linguistic evolution

Language is under threat from SMS, Twitter and other social media which require users to abbreviate words ... or so we are told. Yet English today is almost unrecognisable to what it was 1,000 years ago ... and the apocalyptic SMS wasn't responsible for that. Given the linguistic evolution of English, who are we to whinge if some enterprising pundit of modern technology uses common sense in spelling a text, Twitter or Facebook update? 

SMS and social media have certainly introduced their own sub-culture language, even hijacking numbers in their quest to subvert the laws of linguistics. The number '8' is certainly a prime offender, being used to overthrow the suffix '-ate'. Some common social media abbreviations include:

- 'r' for are
- 'L8R' for later
- '2moro' for tomorrow

And then there are the initialisms:

- 'ROTFLMAO' for 'rolling on the floor laughing my ass off'
- 'LOL' for 'laugh out loud'
- 'TTL' for 'talk to you later'
- 'BBL' for 'be back later'

Is language truly under threat though? Yes and no.

'No' ... no, it is not under threat from social media. No more so at least, than it was threatened by telegrams. Remember them? Telegrams were a fore-runner of SMS and far more costly. Telegrams were usually charged by the word, so senders would leave words such as 'a' and 'the' and abbreviate phrases to save money.  Admittedly, people didn't send telegrams as often as people send SMSs today.

But 'Yes', the english language as we know it is is under threat. Not from social media, but quite simply for linguistic evolution. The english that we speak today has borrowed heavily from numerous languages, including latin, greek, french and arabic, amongst others. It has also been influenced by people who couldn't spell or who thought the previous spelling conventions (if they ever existed) required a good tune-up.

Does it really matter if English changes? Or should I say, 'if it continues to change'?

The below bible verse (John 3:16) is copied from various versions of the bible and shows the evolution of the language since the 14th century. Thank God, that English has evolved:
I suspect that some people back in the days of yore, would have complained about the changing face of their language too. Particularly, as foreign words were introduced which tended to happen when conquering, or being conquered by, foreign forces. When compiling the Oxford English Dictionary, words of foreign origin were originally left out (particularly those of the enemy French), however, it became obvious that many had come into common usage, so the decision was made to include some of the more accepted foreign words.

Although English has improved throughout the centuries, it still has so many quirks in spelling, sounds and grammatical rules as to make it a difficult language to learn - particularly if learning it as a second language. There are so many changes that could be made to the language to make it easier. For instance, would it kill us if the following changes were accepted as correct:

  • 'f' instead of 'gh
  • 'f ' instead of 'ph'
  • 'k' instead of 'ch'
  • 'ch' has a couple of personalities as a 'k' and a 'sh', for instance, 'school', 'machine
  • 'z' instead of a hard sounding 's'
  • for that matter, 's' having a consistent sound, instead of doubling as an 's' and a 'z', e.g. 'terse' and 'tease'
  • why does 'c' masquerade as both a 'k' and an 's', e.g. 'cool', 'lettuce' (why not spell them, 'kool', 'letus'). I propose that the letter 'c' is redundant and should be dismissed from the alphabet!
  • on the subject of redundancy, what is with the letter 'q'? It can't go anywhere without a 'u', so why not ditch it and use the versatile letter 'k'?
  • why do we use double letters when single ones will do nicely?

Back in the day, most silent letters were pronounced. These days, silent letters are a nightmare. In fact, 'nightmare' is a nightmare. It has a 'gh' in it, which is usually pronounced 'f', yet is silent. 'Mare' rhymes with 'air', but is spelt with an 'are'. By itself, 'are' is pronounced 'ar' not 'air'. So who are we to whinge if some enterprising pundit of modern technology decides to use some common sense in spelling when sending a text or facebook update?

In some words, there are different letters which are pronounced the same! Why? What is their purpose other than to confuse? Why isn't 'confuse' spelt 'confuze', or 'confyuz', or 'konfyuz'? What about words that are spelt differently, sound the same and have contradictory meanings? For example, 'raise' and 'raze': 'raise' means to elevate, erect or increase, while 'raze' means to tear down, demolish or destroy. It's easy to see the difference between homonyms while reading, but try seeing the difference while speaking without the letters psychedelically appearing before your eyes like a grammatical acid trip.

Then there are some words which have at least two contradictory meanings. For example, dust can mean to remove dust from or to cover in dust, cleave means to tear apart or join together.

I could go on and on about duplication and contradictions in the English language with letters, words and grammar.

Now, I'm not advocating the wholesale, over-night decimation of the alphabet and immediate reconstruction of the rules of grammar. I am saying that the English language has a lot of wriggle room for improvement, some of which will come to fruition along its evolutionary path.

Feel threatened by SMS? Like the telegram, SMS is not going to redefine the English language, it is merely a blip on the grammatical radar. However, the English language is evolving, as it has always done. The language in 100 years will be as strange to us as the language of 100 years ago is. In 500 years, our language of today will be as antiquated as the language of Shakespeare and King James. It will be comprehensible for the most part, but will have phrases, words and terminologies that we just won't have a clue about.

Rather than being precious about our language changing, rather than demonising elements of its usage, we should study it, master it and accept that change is natural.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Eddie Koiki Mabo - Hero!

Eddie Mabo is one of Australia's greatest heroes. The man who single-handedly (well, with the help of family, other Islanders & a talented legal team) overturned 200 years of legitimised theft of indigenous land by colonial powers.

The pilfering was legitimised in Latin. Now, it is common knowledge that if you use a latin phrase then you must be right. After all, those Latins knew what they were talking about. Terra nullius!  oooooohhhh ... Latin ... therefore it must right. What does it mean? Well, it means 'empty land' 'uninhabited land', 'no-man's land'.  That was the description ascribed to Australia and it's islands by Captain James Cook as he landed on Cape York Peninsula, in the area that was to become known as Cooktown.

To claim land, the British Empire had three options. They could purchase the land, they could conquer the land or they could deem the land uninhabited. Under international law, to purchase or conquer land required the Empire to respect the rights of people from whom it was being purchased or conquered. This was unacceptable, so Captain Cook claimed the land for the British Empire and deemed it uninhabited - terra nullius.

With the pronouncement of terra nullius, the colonial invaders began settling the continent as there was obviously no-one else settled here, well, apart from around a million aborigines and Islanders. Today there are around 500,000. Settlement was not their friend. Many died from disease, many were murdered. The colonial government classified aborigines and Islanders under the Flora and Fauna Act, which may help explain why shooting them was considered a sport.

Eddie Mabo discovered just how insidious one little Latin phrase could be when he learnt that his family's traditional tribal lands actually belonged to the Crown and not to them.

Eddie was from Mer (Murray) Island in the beautiful Torres Strait. He was born on 29 June1936. In 1959 he married Bonita Neehow and their fruitful marriage produced 10 children. After a stint of pearling, Eddie ended up working as a gardener at James Cook University (JCU) in Townsville. It was here that he met the esteemed historian, Professor Henry Reynolds*, with whom he struck up a friendship. While Eddie was reminiscing about his homelands, Reynolds broke the news to him that the Crown actually owned the land, not Eddie or his family. Eddie was introduced to terra nullius and it came as a shock.

In 1982, Eddie was invited to speak at a Land Rights Conference at JCU, where he explained land inheritance. After hearing Eddie's speech, a lawyer encouraged him to sue the government for land rights and to have terra nullius overturned. Reynolds supported and encouraged Eddie to pursue this.

When I think of this law-suit I can't help but think of Dennis Denuto, the fictional lawyer in the classic Australian movie, The Castle, who sued the government for reclaiming land that belonged to the Kerrigans, in the Melbourne suburb of Coolaroo. Denuto, trying to explain why the dispossession was wrong in light of the Australian Constitution, stated poetically and rather aptly, 'but it's the vibe of the thing, your Honour'.

Eddie and Bonita Mabo, other representatives and their legal team, were tenacious in pursuing justice. Eddie knew that the dispossession of his land was wrong, even though the law said that it was right. Regardless of what was in the Constitution or in the law, terra nullius was wrong. It was just the vibe of the thing!

Ten years after Eddie Koiki Mabo, a humble man from Mer Island, took on the might of the Australian government and 200 years of tradition, the High Court handed down it's historic decision: terra nullius was overturned and native title was recognised. It was a landmark decision, a turning point in indigenous affairs and Australian history.

Unfortunately, Eddie Mabo did not live to see this decision. The stress of 10 years of legal struggle affected his health. On 21 January 1992, five months before the decision was handed down, Eddie died of cancer.

Eddie's name is synonymous with land rights and social justice. He was a man who stood up for what was right, and challenged the law when it was wrong.

Eddie was given a traditional burial ceremony on Murray Island - a traditional ceremony for the burial of a King!

In 1992, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission posthumously awarded the Human Rights Medal to Eddie. The Medal was also awarded Barbara Hocking, a barrister with the legal team, and the other Islanders participating in the case, namely Sam Passi, Reverend Dave Passi, James Rice and Celuia Mapo Salee.

Eddie Mabo is a true hero; an inspiration for his people, an inspiration for all Australians.


* Henry Reynolds is another Australian hero who has written substantially about indigenous history, including his seminal work 'Why Weren't We Told', in which he details indigenous dispossession, and in particular, his discussions with Eddie Mabo. His books are available from most book stores. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Mabo Day - Validation of indigenous history

The significance of the Mabo Decision, passed by the High Court of Australia on 3 June 1992, should not be forgotten. Whilst the case itself was about native title, the Decision validated the history of indigenous people and formally acknowledged their dispossession. The Mabo Decision proved that there is a lot more to indigenous history than land rights.

Eddie Koiki Mabo had been a tireless campaigner for indigenous land rights. In 1981, after advice from lawyers at James Cook University in Townsville, Mabo mounted a legal challenge against the Commonwealth government regarding the principle of 'terra nullius' (or 'uninhabited land') which had resulted in the Crown legally owning land that had traditionally belonged to his people. Ten years later, and three months after Eddie Mabo's death, the High Court accepted Mabo's case and overturned the principle of 'terra nullius'.

Sunday, 3 June 2012, is the 20th anniversary of the historic Mabo decision. For two centuries terra nullius had been the principle behind the massive European land grab by declaring Australia to be 'uninhabited land' and classifying indigenous people under the Flora and Fauna Act. Whilst the Mabo decision was a significant achievement, much more needs to be done in order to remove the vilification and human rights abuses that continue to plague indigenous Australia.

Aborigines were driven from their homelands and relocated to communities which they had to share with many other displaced tribes. This effectively destroyed tribal blood-lines and familial relationships through the destruction of their complicated kinship laws which determined who could marry whom. Aborigines were unable to marry without the permission of the Chief Protector of Aborigines, children were forcibly removed from families, communities were subject to curfews, alcohol was banned, they were prohibited from voting, movements and employment were restricted, they were banned from speaking their own languages and celebrating their own cultures.

Indigenous workers were either paid below award wages or their wages were garnished by the government and held in trust, literally for decades. A court case which commenced in the 1980s sued the Queensland government for back-pay because of wages that had been held since the 1950s. This case was finally settled 10 years later.

Many non-indigenous Australians see them simply as living a privileged, lazy life dependent on welfare and alcohol, collecting excessive welfare hand-outs and benefits; almost an idyllic life of beer and skittles. Yet, contrary to this, indigenous Australians need to meet more stringent conditions than non-indigenous Australians before receiving welfare. Additionally, many indigenous communities had a 'work for the dole' scheme years before it was introduced for non-indigenous Australians. Yet, they are still amongst the most disadvantaged people in Australia, with higher mortality rates from preventable illnesses, less access to decent and affordable housing, lower quality medical care, lower literacy and numeracy levels, higher unemployment rates, higher rates of incarceration for similar crimes committed by non-indigenous people and much higher rates of deaths in custody than the non-indigenous.

Instead of accepting ignorant, racist opinions, we should firstly put ourselves in the shoes of those who have lost so much for so long. Instead of believing that aboriginal issues are ancient history and that 'they' should just 'get over it', we need to understand that the centuries of abuse are not over. Indigenous Australians are still subject to human rights abuses and racial vilification. This isn't ancient history. It is ongoing.

Some will argue that if they want better conditions, then they should move out of the communities and into larger towns or cities. There are some who have done this, only to find difficulty in securing accommodation and employment because of institutionalised racism. They end up homeless, living in parks or over-crowded accommodation with family or friends, which only reinforces the racial stereotypes.

Successive governments have attempted to address indigenous issues, yet have failed dismally. In 1989, Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke established the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) whose role was to address injustices to aborigines and assist in improving aboriginal conditions. Unfortunately, ATSIC's demise was spectacular and cemented in the mind's of many that indigenous people were incapable of governing themselves. A number of factors contributed to the fall of ATSIC, including sexual abuse allegations against their chairman, Geoff Clark. A review of ATSIC in 2003 also exposed financial corruption.

Around 15 years after it was established, ATSIC was abolished by Prime Minister John Howard who condescendingly stated 'the experiment in elected representation for indigenous people has been a failure'. Howard essentially was stating that aborigines could not be trusted to look after themselves. This was nothing new. Australia had two centuries of laws and policies based on the assumed supremacy of white people over Aborigines and Islanders.

After abolishing ATSIC, Howard sent the Army into aboriginal communities to combat sexual abuse of children. In a move reminiscent of a colonial army marching on unarmed 'natives', the Australian government took control of 73 indigenous communities in what he called the 'Northern Territory Intervention'. The government also cut welfare payments to parents whose children failed to attend school. Failing to provide welfare for children not in school exacerbates an already difficult situation and does nothing to benefit either the children or parents. Howard also reduced funding to the Community Development Employment Project (a work for the dole scheme) which had greatly benefited many aborigines through providing them work in their communities. Following the intervention, the locals still live in sub-standard housing, with poor water supply and limited employment, education and health services.

The Northern Territory Intervention encouraged a supremacist belief in many non-indigenous Australians who viewed the people in these communities as alcoholics and rapists. Yet there are many people involved in the implementation of programs which address alcohol and drugs, domestic violence and sexual abuse. Contrary to the message sent by the Northern Territory Intervention, the majority of indigenous people are not alcoholics or paedophiles.

Rather than the paternalistic, condescending, white-supremacist approach, the government has to work with indigenous people and their representative organisations in order to develop and support sustainable initiatives. Over the years, there have been a number of successful initiatives implemented by indigenous people in the areas of business management, employment and training.

There have been some steps forward. In 1996, in response to a legal challenge mounted by the Wik people of Cape York Peninsula, the High Court of Australia handed down a decision which ruled that aspects of the Native Title Act which previously  had granted exclusive possession to the holder of the pastoral lease and prevented any native title claim over that land, were now invalid. The decision meant that indigenous people now had access to land held by pastoral leases if they could prove traditional ties to that land.

In 2007, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised on behalf of the Australian government for the 'laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians'. Unfortunately, some Liberal Party MPs boycotted the apology in disagreement. In contrast to Rudd's apology, the Liberal Party response delivered by Brendan Nelson took little responsibility for government actions and instead, criticised the victims. Nelson's speech was met with derision and resulted in many people turning their backs on him, whilst Rudd's speech was met with cheers and support from indigenous Australians.

The current Labor government has been supporting homelands, which are small communities comprised of aborigines who have left the larger communities to live on or close to their traditional lands. In the Northern Territory there are around 500 homeland communities and about 30% of the indigenous population live there. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights, 'these communities have lower levels of social problems, such as domestic violence and substance abuse, than more populated communities. According to reports, the health of indigenous people living on homelands is significantly better than of those living in larger communities. Homelands are also used effectively as part of substance abuse and other programmes for at-risk Aboriginal youth living in more populated or urban centres.' (

There are a number of events throughout the year which should be embraced and acknowledged by non-indigenous people in order to break down the barriers and improve understanding of indigenous issues. These events include Mabo Day and NAIDOC week (National Aboriginals and Islanders Day Observation Committee - refer to their website at ). There is also the anniversary of the National Apology given by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Even Australia Day should include dedication and acknowledgement of the impact that European settlement had on Aborigines and Islanders, as well as  the contribution that Aborigines and Islanders have made to the development of Australia.

All Australians should learn the true history of their country, including indigenous dispossession, the effect of mining and pastoral leases on tribal lands, the Stolen Generations, the marginalising of indigenous people into remote communities, the wage quarantines, the strikes of the 1950s in Queensland and the government's strike-breaking actions which saw families split up as the male strikers were relocated to other communities, the brave battles fought by Aborigines and Islanders defending their territories against British and European invasion (and later fighting for Australia in numerous wars), the efforts and significant achievements by numerous indigenous organisations, incarceration rates, deaths in custody, the racism that indigenous Australians experience in seeking accommodation, employment, education and even while simply shopping.

The question that should be asked of all Australians is 'what would you do if you experienced this?'.