July 21

Not an atheist? Feel free to mark “Other”

not an atheist

 

The “mark no religion” campaign is a targeted and determined movement run by a few atheist lobby groups with the goal of representing Australia to be more atheistic than it is.

It is very true that some people tick a particular religion on the census form for pretty shallow reasons, and dedicated adherents of those religions may think that their religion should be taken more seriously. But the census form is not asking you to express the level of dedication you hold towards your religion. The question on the form is simply: “What is the person’s religion?”

The Atheist Foundation of Australia is trying to instruct you as to how you should answer that question. But that is a question for you to answer without having to justify your answer or prove whether you meet their standards for identifying with a particular religion.

For example, on their website, they state: “The position of the Atheist Foundation of Australia is that no one should consider themselves Christian if they do not accept the basic tenets of the Nicene Creed – or at the very least, they should reflect upon whether there are good enough reasons as to why they consider themselves Christian.” As good as the Nicene Creed is as a basic foundation of Christian beliefs, is should not be treated as a qualification test for whether or not one chooses to be a Christ follower. Many youth or new Christians may still be getting their head around some of the ideas contained in the Nicene Creed and yet are still Christians. Why would you let the position of an atheist organisation instruct you as to what you should or should not consider yourself?

Not only this, but they also tell you how your children should identify themselves as well! Their website says that all young or adolescent children should be categorised as “no religion” suggesting “Richard Dawkins and other prominent authors have pointed out that no one should consider children Muslims, Hindus, or Christians.” It is clear that they are really pushing that particular agenda.

Their main tagline is “Not religious anymore? Mark ‘no religion’ on the 2016 census”. But just because you do not consider yourself “religious anymore” does not mean that you do not have any form of spirituality or beliefs about spiritual matters. It is a false dichotomy to tell people that if they do not identify as being “religious” then they must identify with having “no religion”. They are deliberately discouraging people from the fact that they are very free to describe their spirituality in the section marked as “other”. In fact, after determined lobbying, they have been able to get “no religion” as the top pick on the list, giving a false impression of its importance in the hope that people will tick that and not bother considering the “other” category at the bottom of the list.

Now, I am not informing you of this because I want you to tick any particular box. Quite the opposite. I want you to feel free to tick whatever box you like. If you want identify as a Christian or a Buddhist or a Hindu, tick that box. If you identify as having “no religion” then tick that box. If you identify as something else, then tick the “other” box and tell the Government what that is so that you can be better represented.

It is the “mark no religion” campaign that is trying to persuade people to tick one box over another. A census is about your information, not their political agenda. Don’t be fooled or pressured by the Atheist Foundation of Australia to tick your census form for their ends.

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June 29

“Ministry in the Dark” Survey

 ministry in the dark

Fill out the survey below, or go to this link:
http://goo.gl/forms/nEqAo3pCTQ3ASnW03

Please feel free to share this survey with anyone you know in Christian ministry.

 

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June 29

10 Problems with “The Burnt Toast” Story

Burnt toast

 

What a sweet story with a lovely message… NOT!!

Allow me to have a not-too-serious rant about the 10 big problems with this video.

  1. Firstly, if the mum had had had such a “long and stressful day at work” and she was so exhausted that all she could put together for dinner was jam and burnt toast, why didn’t dad get off his butt and help her out? Presumably they both are working. Why is mum making dinner while dad sits at the table waiting to be fed? In the end, as I will show, his laziness led to guilt, lies and possibly even cancer.
    .
  2. When the toast is brought out to dad, he doesn’t say anything to his wife or acknowledge that clearly she wasn’t coping. The child even says they were waiting to see dad’s reaction, but even the child is surprised that he ignores her completely and simply talks to them about their day.
    .
  3. Prompted by his coldness, or maybe out of fear of his judgment, or maybe just as a cry for help, the mum then apologizes for the toast being burnt. Why is she apologizing? I guess, maybe she is just acknowledging that burnt toast is horrible and she wishes she had more energy to serve him the three course dinner he is obviously accustomed to.
    .
  4. The child “will never forget my dad’s reply”, and I won’t either. He straight up lies to his wife. He says, “Honey, I love burnt toast!” What is that going to do?? Either it will come across as some sort of sarcastic joke, again not really acknowledging her exhaustion, or worse still, it will come across as 100% truth. This will just leave the mum wondering what kind of weirdo has she married that actually loves burnt toast and if she accepts that, she may get the impression that in future she SHOULD burn his toast, as that is his strange preference.
    .
  5. The child clearly sees through his lies and that night they decide to ask their dad if he was telling the truth or lying. Dad unapologetically says that yes he was lying but that he just did it to not hurt mum’s feelings. What sort of lesson is THAT teaching his child? I can see inside their mind, Honesty Island crumbling like in the Pixar movie “Inside Out”! He makes out that lying was his only option, but there were so many things he could have said to his wife. How about, “I forgive you” or “No need to apologize, I understand you’ve had a hard day.” Or even, “I should be the one apologizing. We both worked today and you clearly deserve a rest more than me. How about I order takeout?” But no. He goes with a lie and tells his child that that’s the best way to love people.
    .
  6. Not only does he admit to lying to his wife, he then goes on to lie to his child – or at least tell he says something that is incorrect. He says “Burnt toast doesn’t hurt anyone, but words do.” Wrong dad. Check your facts. A quick Google search would show you that the burnt bits of toast contain an alarming high level of the chemical acrylamide – a cancer-causing toxin. His lies and misinformation does nothing to warn both his wife and child of the carcinogenic dangers of burnt food and may actually lead them to eat more of it! Good one dad!
    .
  7. Also, are words really that bad? They definitely don’t cause cancer, that’s for sure! But even if they can sting some times, do we really want our kids to lie rather than say words that might “hurt” people? Sure we want to teach our kids that hate speech, bullying and cruel mockery is unacceptable, but in this “safe space”, politically-correct, hyper-sensitive culture that our kids are growing up in, do we really want to teach them that any words that might hurt are forbidden and lying to someone’s face is preferable? We used to try to teach our kids resilience to words. Rather than the unscientific theory that “Burnt toast doesn’t hurt anyone, but words do”, maybe dad should have remembered the old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Words may hurt someone’s feelings sometimes, but they won’t do permanent damage like break your bones or give you cancer!
    .
  8. The video ends with this moral: “To accept your mistakes and appreciate your differences – that is the key for a healthy and long-lasting relationship.” A nice enough message, but is that really the moral of this story? Who accepts their mistakes? Does the dad? No, he is oblivious to his lack of helpfulness, he justifies his lies and he spreads misinformation about cancer. Lotsa mistakes there that don’t get accepted. And even if we conceded that poor mum made a “mistake” by serving the Master of the House toast that was burnt, does she accept it? Well, she tries to with her apology, but her lying husband tells her that it wasn’t a mistake at all because he loves burnt toast. Very unhelpful.
    .
  9. And where does anyone learn to “appreciate your differences”? Who’s differences? The differences between a lazy, dishonest dad and a mum who works hard all day and then has to make dinner for her family? Those are definite differences, but I for one hope the child doesn’t learn to “appreciate” them!
    .
  10. Lastly, I have a problem with the claim that “accepting mistakes and appreciating differences” is actually “the key for a healthy and long-lasting relationship”. As most people know, honest and gracious COMMUNICATION is actually the key -and that is what this story seriously lacks. If the mum can be critiqued for anything, she maybe should have communicated that she needed help, although it seems the dad already knew what sort of day she had had. The dad should have communicated truth rather than lies, to both his wife and his child. And if he was so sacred of communicating hurtful words, he could have just shut his mouth, got off his chair and communicated love by actually making HER dinner!

The only good communicator in this story is the child, who didn’t sit on their doubts about their dad’s claim to love toast. The child asked for the truth. Those questions may have hurt the dad as they suggested that he was a liar, but like the child in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, this child decided to speak up. It is sad that her good communication was answered with bad communication, dodgy justifications, unscientific information and terrible life lessons.

End of rant.

Don’t take it too seriously. 🙂

BURNT FACE

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June 26

“What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?” – Book Review

img_0200

I recently finished listening to the audiobook of Kevin DeYoung’s book, “What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?”.

I found it to be a compelling and clear defence for the bible’s teaching on the issue of homosexual practise, in light of the revisionist arguments that have gone around in the last decade or so.

DeYoung systematically goes through the commonly used and critiqued passages with sufficient depth and biblical knowledge, never descending into philosophical or emotional arguments. He also covers some of the common questions and objections that people raise and I feel he answers them with not only biblical faithfulness but also some pastoral sensitivity.

There are a couple of things worth noting about the book:

Firstly, despite the title suggesting that the book will cover “homosexuality” as a phenomenon or an experience, the book is completely focused on one issue – homosexual activity. Fortunately, DeYoung is very upfront about this in his introduction, but I wish he had made that more clear in the book’s title. He does cover the experience of same sex attraction in an appendix, but the guts of the book is about whether or not the bible teaches that same sex sexual behaviour is sexual immorality. The reason why he has this focus is because that is the bible’s focus on this topic. The bible doesn’t really tackle the idea of sexual orientation or same sex attraction. The bible doesn’t explicitly talk about how this originates and whether or not it can be changed. DeYong’s goal is to defend the bible and so, he puts his energy into being very focused on that goal. The good side of this is that he argues his case very robustly and covers each passage with the attention they deserve.

Secondly, this book will mean very little to someone who doesn’t care about the authority of bible. Although he acknowledges that many types of people might be reading the book, he starts with the premise that the bible is God’s Word and should be followed. He doesn’t argue for the bible’s authority. The purpose of the book is to defend what the bible actually teaches on this topic. Whether you actually believe the bible is true, is secondary to DeYoung’s purpose.

The reason why this is such an important book is because of people like Matthew Vines, the young “Christian” man who has been going around in the last few years arguing that the church has just been reading the bible all wrong and in actual fact, it doesn’t condemn same sex sexual behaviour at all. Vines seems to agree with the idea that the bible is the authoritative Word of God, but he just suggests that it is our interpretation that we have been getting wrong. DeYoung’s book is a powerful rebuttal to the weakness of Vine’s arguments.

The perfect audience of DeYoung’s book would be a Christian, who wants to understand God’s Word, but has been rattled by some of the arguments they have heard being passed around the internet. If that’s you or you’re just a Christian who wants to be greater equipped to answer people’s objections, then I can highly recommend this book.

It is fairly short, pretty cheap (around $15) and an important resource in these times when “people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3).

If you are interested in buying the audiobook, you can get it HERE.

Or check out your local Christian Bookstore.

If you’re more into videos, here is Kevin DeYoung going through the material. It’s not as detailed as the book, but it’s at least an overview:

 

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June 11

Parents, Remember the Lord

remember the lord

 

This is my take on Colin Buchanan’s wonderful kid’s song, “Remember the Lord”.

His words are great, but they’re just targeted to children. I reckon we all need to remember the message of the Chorus.

So a week out from Dorothy’s first birthday, here is my version, in honour of all first time parents.

 

PARENTS, REMEMBER THE LORD



When you bring home your baby from the hospital ward,

And you have no idea just what’s in store.

And your heart is filled with hopes and dreams

And all of the sudden they just start to scream.

 

Chorus:

Remember the Lord, oh oh.

Remember that he is in control.

Remember the Lord, oh oh.

He’s watching your children, he cares, oh oh.

Remember the Lord, oh oh. Oh, oh.

 

You’ve read “attachment theories” and “Baby Wise”,

But it don’t take long til you realise,

In those early days if your baby’s alive

Then you’re doin okay. Just try to survive.

Chorus

 

When it’s half past 3 and they’re still not asleep

And you’re so exhausted you’re going to weep.

When they’re pooing and spewing and not doing great

Cos the breast feeding hurts and they’re not gaining weight.

Chorus

 

When you keep comparing your kid to theirs

When one can’t roll and the other climbs stairs

When one is bald and the other has hairs

When one steals toys and the other one shares

When one’s expressive and one just stares

When one’s a dream and the other, nightmare

When you know as a Christian you shouldn’t compare

But you’re trying really hard so it’s hard not to care.

Chorus

 

When you want them to grow in their spiritual life

And you think it’s all up to you and your wife

For modelling gospel faithfulness

But you really need grace cos your life is a mess.

Chorus

 

Now I don’t want you to think that havin kids ain’t fun

But it tests your character from day one

It exposes your pride. It bears your soul.

It reveals who you really think’s in control… So…

Chorus

 

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June 10

Jesus: “Friend of Sinners”

 

jesus friend sinners

 

This is a response I gave to a statement posted by someone as part of a Facebook discussion. As my response was lengthy, I thought it might interest you to read and reflect on.

This is what the person wrote:

“Hey Simon, I don’t know you and you don’t know me, so hopefully this won’t get awkward or personal. Contemporary ‘Christians’ like to make a point that Jesus was both about holiness and compassion, and that we should always remember that Jesus emphasised repentance as much (or more so) than compassion/embracing the sinner. However that is a modern filter we apply. Yes, we can apply the title of Judge or ‘Son of God’ to Jesus, but the title he preferred was ‘Son of Man’. He was overwhelming known as the ‘friend of sinners’ and one that spent most of his time in the company of them. He was not seen as judgmental to these people. His presence wasn’t conditional on them repenting, or changing anything. Sure many made different life choices after, but not as a condition of his friendship. But Jesus wasn’t afraid to name sin as sin – but the sins he targeted was not the ones the current (or past) religious institutions likes to target (except Pope Francis). The sins Jesus spoke most against were against those that thought they were religious in the ‘right’, the well resourced and comfortable. He was scathing about those. If only more people were Jesus-like to target those sins first and foremost before going for those that are already victimised. Loving God means loving others. Jesus and the Prophets saw these as intrinsically linked. Happy to be corrected by how Jesus lived.”

This was my response:

“Hey [name], thanks for your comment. I have a few responses if you’ll let me.

Firstly, I don’t want to take away from your valid point that Jesus spoke most against religiously self-righteous people rather than the victimised. I think we should do so as well.

I think you have said a few misleading things though.

I don’t think that “Contemporary ‘Christians’ like to make a point that Jesus was both about holiness and compassion, and that we should always remember that Jesus emphasised repentance as much (or more so) than compassion/embracing the sinner.” I don’t think they say that at all. Maybe that’s what you hear, but at least, in regard to myself, I don’t think that. The message of “repentance” and the message of “compassion/embracing the sinner” are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are one in the same. There is nothing more loving than calling someone to repent from sin. To think otherwise, is maybe to misunderstand repentance. Repentance is turning away from rejecting God and turning to trust in God. Repentance and embrace from God are not two separate thing. Repentance is called because embrace is offered.

Now, I don’t think that Jesus emphasised repentance more than other things, but it seems you might be implying that unless you were in a position of religious power or were as you say, “well resourced and comfortable”, then Jesus wasn’t calling you to repent. This just isn’t accurate. Jesus calls all people to repent, both the powerful and the powerless. When Jesus started his ministry, he went around proclaiming the “good news”. And what was the good news? Well it was pretty simple, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) To remove repentance from Jesus message is to miss the good news.

Then you say: “Yes, we can apply the title of Judge or ‘Son of God’ to Jesus, but the title he preferred was ‘Son of Man’. “
The first thing to say to that is, it is not “we” who apply those first two titles to Jesus. Jesus applies those titles to himself. And again, like “repentance” and “compassion”, the titles of “Judge” and “Son of Man” are not in conflict. In fact, the one is the basis for the other. As Jesus himself says, “[The Father] has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.”  (John 5:27).

I may be wrong, but I think you misunderstand the title “Son of Man”. It seems you think of it as a term that is referring to Jesus’ humanity. It is actually the complete opposite. Jesus uses the term because it is a fulfillment of the prophecy in Daniel 7:13-14. I’ll let you look it up, but it basically is saying that the “Son of Man” is a title for the Messiah who will be given all power and authority to rule God’s Kingdom. It’s an awesome image. Jesus shows that this is what he means by using that title in passages like Luke 22:67-69, Matthew 16:13-17 and all the places where he talks about the Son of Man having the authority to do this and that. This is why it is so shocking that he would say that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). If the “Son of Man” means just a person like you and me, this statement makes no sense. Jesus embraced the title “Son of Man” because he was the Messiah – not one that they expected, but no less than the Messiah either.

The last thing I want to respond to is where you say:
“He was overwhelming known as the ‘friend of sinners’ and one that spent most of his time in the company of them. He was not seen as judgmental to these people. His presence wasn’t conditional on them repenting, or changing anything. Sure many made different life choices after, but not as a condition of his friendship.”
There is such a mix of truth an error in these words, I’ll try to articulate my issue with them.

Firstly, Jesus never called himself a “friend of sinners” and he wasn’t overwhelmingly known as this. That is a term Jesus says the crowd accuses him of. In Luke 7:34, Jesus says: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.'” This is the only occasion the term is ever mentioned in the bible. In fact, I couldn’t even find the words “friend” and “sinners” used in the same verse anywhere else! Hardly something Jesus was “overwhelmingly known as”. In fact, if you want to say this is an appropriate title for Jesus, you’d have to also say that “glutton” and “drunkard” are also appropriate titles.

Clearly, “friend of sinner” is an accusation. So what are people accusing Jesus of? Well, as you know Jesus does eat and drink with those considered “sinners” and the Pharisees are often upset with Jesus for this. But why does Jesus eat and drink with sinners? Is it because, as you suggest, he just wanted to spend time in their company and he didn’t judge their sin or expect them to repent or change? No. I think quite the opposite.

When asked point blank “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”, Jesus responds quite simply: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:30-31). The sinners who he ate with were not the marginalised victims of power imbalance and religious oppression. They were the spiritually sick and he was the doctor. And part of his medicine was that he was calling them to repentance.

Repentance wasn’t an afterthought for Jesus. It wasn’t as you say: “Sure many made different life choices after, but not as a condition of his friendship.” No, repentance was the heart of his call to sinners. He ate and drank with people to tell them to repent and enjoy God’s friendship.

I don’t want to come down to harsh on you, as I think you have a wonderful heart for people, but I think you have too small a view of sin. Of course, repentance is a condition of friendship with God. If someone was a Nazi soldier during WW2, it would be wonderfully Christian to offer them them amnesty and the opportunity to surrender without fear of punishment, but they would have to stop fighting for the Nazis to make that possible.

Consider the parable of the Prodigal Son. The father throws a big party and welcomes his son home because he “was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24), but this was only possible because he had “come to his senses” (v17) and acknowledged that he had “sinned against heaven and against you.” (v21).

Jesus tells this parable as a judgment against the Pharisees who were muttering, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (v2), but he explains that repentance is the reason why he does this. Twice in this chapter he says: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (v7 & 10).

Repentance is a condition of forgiveness and reconciliation with God. And it is a good and loving thing to call people to, because sin is a killer. It kills our relationship with God and in the end, it kills us. Repentance is the path back to the loving arms of the Father who wants to celebrate our return home.

My encouragement to you is, don’t be scared of calling people to repent. Jesus wasn’t. And don’t limit your call to just the rich and the powerful. To do that is to not love to poor and the powerless, who are just as much in need of the gospel of forgiveness and mercy.

Sorry, this was a bit long! But I thought it was a good and important topic to address properly.

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June 10

The Man in the Moon – a poem

man in the moon

 

The Man in the Moon

a poem by Simon Camilleri

 

Let us pause and consider the Man in the Moon,

For he glows with a light that isn’t his own.

Created to shine in the darkness of night

By reflecting the glory of another’s light.

 

For it’s by the sun’s light that the moon can be known

And it’s by the sun’s light that its beauty is shown.

It’s the sun that now holds all the orbits in place.

If the sun let it go it would be lost in space.

 

Yet the man in the moon wishes he could break free.

He thinks of his orbit as like slavery.

Every lunar eclipse, to the earth’s furthest side,

The moon tries to escape, and like Adam he hides

 

In the shadow of earth where he thinks none can see,

And there in the dark, he declares “Now, I’m free!”

“Now it’s my time to shine. My own light fill the skies!”

So he tries to shine light. Yes he tries and he tries…

 

But he can’t. He’s a moon. Not a sun. Not a star.

And you can’t be enlightened lest you know what you are.

Still as the moon’s orbit from the earth’s shadow slips,

The moon vows to try harder, the next lunar eclipse .

 

The moon is a fool. Just like you. Just like me.

There’s a reason why madness is called “lunacy”.

The moon thinks he’s so big and the sun looks so small.

If he only could see the sun’s not small at all.

 

Even to us on the earth, they both look the same size.

But it’s due to perspective, it’s a trick of the eyes.

You could fit 64 million moons in one sun!

Yet the man in the moon thinks that he’s “Number One”.

 

So later tonight in the moon’s bright reflection,

Do your own reflective introspection.

See the man in the moon. Cos if you can,

You’ll see that the moon is there in the man.

 


 

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen:

not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

– C.S. Lewis

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May 28

Being on the Wrong Side of a Parallel History

PARALLEL

 

Imagine an alternative Victoria in a parallel universe.

In this reality, a hard-line fundamentalist Christian political party has just won the state election by a landslide and takes power, having the numbers to ban, endorse and enforce what it deems to be true and right and healthy for the state.

They roll out an “abstinence only” sex ed program called “Sacred Schools” and say it must be used in every public school whether the teachers, students or parents want it or not.

They are advised by the federal government that the program should be amended so it is an “opt in” program to allow parents the right to choose whether their kids attend, but the state government says NO because some kids have bigoted atheist parents who can’t be trusted and every child deserves the right to hear their abstinence message.

They also won’t make any of the recommended edits to the program or remove its links to fundamentalist Christian websites.

Then, it comes out that the co-founder of the program has a scary political agenda, publicly stating they want to replace the Australian flag with a giant cross signifying that the rule of Jesus has been enforced by law across the land.

If all that was happening, I can image that the parallel universe Simon, if he was still a Christian, may be more blind to the dangers of such a system of government because they were playing to his demographic and proclaiming a message that he might find some sympathy for.

I mean, parallel Simon believes in Jesus and he agrees with abstinence. He doesn’t want it to be enforced as the only perspective kids get taught about, but he reasons, if only one idea is going to be taught he is glad it’s an idea that he agrees with.

Christians in this parallel universe would easily be blind to the way this government got bigger and bigger and slowly forced itself and its beliefs on everyone else.

Non-Christians would try to speak up but would be shouted down as anti-religious bigots by the government , and their blind Christian fellow citizens would just laugh at them as over-exaggerating the problem.

In this parallel universe:

  • non-Christian charities would lose their tax exemption status,
  • there would be “safe zones” set up to prevent people from protesting anywhere near churches,
  • school chaplaincy – which in this universe was mostly run by an agnostic organisation – would be completely defunded,
  • and specifically atheist organisations would be told that they now had to allow Christians to work as part of their staff if they wanted to avoid being sued for discrimination.

Even the tiny opt-in “evolutionary biology class” called SRE (Scientific Reasoning & Evolution) that only ran weekly for half an hour for kids who wanted it, would be banned from all public schools. The Christian state government claimed that for those 30 minutes, it disadvantaged the creationist kids who chose not to attend.

If all this was going down, I wonder if parallel Simon would speak up?

Would he defend the rights of views being systematically silenced?

Or would he just be silent himself, blindly happy with the way his views were now seemingly on the right side of history?

 

 

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May 24

The Political Party I’d Like To Vote For…

vote

 

I want a political party that:

– gives generously to our needy neighbours,
– cares for the poor in our own country,
– is welcoming to those fleeing oppressive regimes,
– works towards tolerance and social harmony in our communities,
– resources and equips education, health, science and the arts,
– stewards the environment well and tackle pollution,
– protects the innocent and the vulnerable from violence,
– cares for the unborn as well as mothers in crisis,
– values every life no matter whether it is old or young,
– encourages economic stability and jobs growth,
– makes it more possible for people to buy a house,
– inspires and facilitates entrepreneurship,
– helps the unemployed,
– helps those trying to start a business,
– helps big businesses create more jobs,
– makes sure the wealthy are paying their taxes,
– prevents and punishes crime,
– re-educates criminals where possible,
– makes sure our laws are fair and reasonable,
– protects our country from the threats of terrorism and attack,
– gives individuals the freedom to think, live, love and express themselves,
– fosters a society that allows people to disagree on important issues,
– values religion as a social and individual good,
– is open and honest about its use of money,
– manages money well and reduces debt,
– guards itself from giving itself more power than it should,
– does not think its role is to control every aspect of life,
– inspires its citizens to take responsibility for their own contribution,
– is humble before the God that will judge all those in a position of power and influence,
– is not a fantasy.

 

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May 16

Captain America and the Size of Government

captain america

 

I saw “Captain America: Civil War” last night and there’s lots of things I could say about the movie. I loved the action, the performances, the dialogue and especially the new characters that are now in the Marvel Universe. I highly recommend seeing the film as one of the most fun and interesting Marvel films to date. But apart from all that, Civil War has got me thinking lots about one of the big issues central to the film – the pros and cons of big and small government.

Now, I don’t think this is a spoiler as it is revealed in the trailers and all the advertising, but the tension in the film centres on legislation that is proposed to regulate superheroes and their powers. It is called “The Sokovia Accords” with the subtitle of it being a “Framework for the registration and deployment of enhanced individuals”. Basically, the idea is that superheroes are expected to either retire or sign the document and if they sign then they can’t do any superhero work without the permission of an international panel that will monitor them, regulate them, send them out when required and prevent them from going out when deemed necessary.

Now, I was very impressed with how the movie presents the argument that this is a good and necessary thing, showing the destruction and death that many of their past actions have caused. Sure they were trying to save the world, but they ignore laws, international borders and in the end innocent people died due to their actions, and sometimes (like in the case of Ultron) they were saving the world from a threat that they themselves created.

Captain America has some concerns though. He is worried about the restriction of their personal freedom to not only fight evil, but also to make choices for themselves about how to regulate their power. He is also skeptical that a government panel would always make the best choice in how to use and regulate superheroes. As he says, it runs by people with agendas and agendas change… If we sign this, we surrender our right to choose. What if this Panel sends us somewhere we don’t think we should go? What if there’s somewhere we need to go and they don’t let us? We may not be perfect but the safest hands are still our own.”

Now, for a series of movies that are often simply a bit of popcorn entertainment, it was interesting to see one that tackled a debate about political philosophy that is very relevant for our world today. The debate is about the idea of small vs big government.

SMALL vs BIG GOVERNMENT

If you’ve never heard of this debate before, it’s basically asking how much control, influence, involvement or power should be given to the government and how much should be given to individual citizens or private organisations (like businesses, churches, families, private schools etc.).

A small government approach is one where the government has as little involvement as possible in the affairs of its citizens. Small governments may still provide basic, necessary services (military defense, police, fire, water, electricity, sewerage etc.) and they may also provide services like welfare for those that cannot obtain work or health services, but the weight of the power and responsibility rests on individual citizens and organisations.

Big government, as you can probably guess, is the opposite approach. The government has a substantial level of involvement and regulation, and the weight of power and responsibility does not rest on the citizens but the government that presides over them.

Now, each of these approaches or politics philosophies have their pros and cons. Small government focuses on people’s individual libertarian rights to live their own life, raise their own kids and express their own values. Generally, most individual people want small government because they don’t want to be told what to do, especially by a government that may not share your values. Generally, small governments create more prosperous countries as they aim to encourage and empower enterprise and individual creativity. The problem with small government is that people’s individual values can be pretty selfish. Small government allows for the rich to get richer with no concern for the poor if they don’t want to have any. Also, small government creates a society of mixed values and behaviours, which means that tolerance is very important and social harmony can be challenging.

Big government has its own set of challenges. On a positive note, big governments aim to prevent the poor from getting poorer and the rich from getting richer, and through government regulation and oversight aim to create a more equitable society that is free from the individual abuses that small government can bring about. The problem with big government is that it can be just as abusive as individuals. The big government approach assumes responsibilities that, under a smaller government, are distributed to individual citizens. This often involves raising taxes and taking power and freedom away from its citizens, which can kill enterprise and may encourage bigger businesses to take their industries off shore where they can prosper in a country with less restrictions. Also, in an attempt to create social harmony and restrict the values of individuals and businesses that it deems bad for society, a big government will inevitably seek to enforce its own set of values on society and it will have the power to do so. This may be ok if its values are good, but who doesn’t believe that their values are good? As Captain America says in the movie: “it runs by people with agendas and agendas change”.

Basically, both big and small government philosophies are wanting the same goal – they aim to help create a prosperous society where all citizens can flourish and where evil is restricted. They simply represent two opposite ends of the spectrum of how to achieve that goal. Small government primarily gives that responsibility to individuals and free enterprise and aims to make the government have as little power as possible, and big government gives the government the primary responsibility and consequently much more power and influence to achieve that goal.

BIG & SMALL GOVERNMENT IN MY EXPERIENCE

Personally, I believe, as most do, that a balance between the two is necessary. In regard to gun control for example, I am glad that I live in Australia which has taken a big government approach to the issue. Guns are extremely restricted and the only guns I know of anyone owning, are rifles used for shooting pests (like rabbits and roos) out in the country. This means that I also don’t personally know of anyone who has been shot, either deliberately or accidentally, and Australia – with a population of over 23 million – in 2014 experienced only 230 gun-related deaths. The US in contrast, has a population of 316.5 million, which is 14 times the population of Australia, but in 2014, the US had 146 times the amount of gun-related deaths (33,599 deaths).

So when it comes to guns, I am happy that the government restricts my and others personal freedom to own, carry and use guns. The big government approach in this situation has literally helped lives to flourish and has created a better society for all citizens (except arguably for those who wish to own guns of course).

Another area of big government that I have benefited from is Australia’s healthcare system. Although I may not agree with everything my healthcare tax dollars are put towards (abortion for example) I think we have a great system that allows pretty much everyone to receive the care they need. Important medicines (like the diabetes medication I take daily) is majorly subsidized and I can see diabetes educators, nutritionists and other health specialists free of charge because of this soft form of universal healthcare that we have. It’s not without its problems, with the public system overrun and susceptible to overuse, but I am glad we have this semi-big government approach to this vital service.

So, I see the good of big government, but like Captain America, I also see its dangers. Captain America’s concern in the movie “Civil War” is primarily about how a government body may have a different set of values to an individual citizen (or superhero) and how their increased power and influence may be used to serve their own agenda rather than the citizens themselves. Captain America suggests that the big government approach is a form of “surrendering our right to choose” and proposed some theoretical examples where this might be a problem: “What if this Panel sends us somewhere we don’t think we should go? What if there’s somewhere we need to go and they don’t let us? We may not be perfect but the safest hands are still our own.”

As a Christian, I am most concerned about the big government approach in its potential effect to and restriction of religious freedom. In a big government, if the government deems certain beliefs or values to stand in the way their particular view of what makes a “good” society, they may use their increased power and influence to restrict or even criminalize those beliefs. This may seem extreme, but it happens in many countries even today.

In 23 out of 49 Islamic countries, it is illegal to convert away from Islam and it is also illegal for non-Muslims to share their faith in such a way that they might encourage a Muslim to convert. In Malaysia, it is illegal to leave Islam in every state other than Negeri Sembilan. In this state you have to apply to the courts if you want to convert and the vast majority get denied. This is what it looks like when the big government approach takes over religious expression in a country.

This is not only a problem if a religious government gains control and establishes a big government. It is also an issue in socialist secular countries as well. In China for example, freedom of religion is majorly restricted to only five government-sanctioned religions. Of this five, there is only one protestant group allowed which the government has called the “Three-Self Patriotic Movement”. It’s teaching, appointment of leaders and ability to meet freely is tightly regulated and defined by the government. Naturally, they do this because, as every government does, they want their country to flourish and be prosperous for all its citizens, and they believe that complete freedom of religion would jeopardize that goal. Politicians of any country’s government may have this concern, but it is only those that have a big government approach, that are afforded the power to be able to enforce it.

Now you may still think that examples like Islamic countries and socialist China are extreme and bear no resemblance to democratic Western countries, but in the last decade the threat to religious freedom has been growing. Generally, Western countries have been influenced by Christianity, which at its heart teaches that faith in Christ is something that must come freely and can not be forced or enforced (although I acknowledge at times in history this has been foolishly attempted by some rulers). Countries influenced by Christianity have therefore encouraged a separation of Church and State and have enshrined a freedom of religious belief and expression into many of its laws.

THE BIG GOVERNMENT TREND IN THE WEST

What we are now seeing, as Western countries peel off the Christian veneer and as more secularist politicians gain power and influence, is that governments are finding their values and the values of many religious people are starting to become more and more in conflict.

In London earlier this month, some Orthodox Jewish schools were investigated by government education inspectors and have now been told by the courts that they must promote “fundamental British values”. Presiding judge Hugh Brayne said that the ruling was to ensure that students at the Jewish school would “be equipped to enter modern British society, which accepts as part of its diversity civil partnerships, gay marriage, families with same-sex parents and acceptance of transgender persons”.

In the States, just last Friday, in a classic big government approach, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education issued a decree that told all public schools in the country that they had to provide access to toilet, locker room and shower facilities to students based on the gender they identify with rather than based on their actual sex. It wasn’t a law (as schools are under the legal jurisdiction of the state not the federal government) but they have said they would withhold federal funding for those schools that do not comply.

In Australia, these issues are also very relevant with a similar thing happening with the Victorian Labor government pushing its values about sexuality and gender by enforcing the controversial sexuality education program “Safe Schools” in all public schools, whether or not school staff, parents or even students wish to sign up to the program. Also, an article last week in The Daily Telegraph calling to remove the tax free status of churches unless they meet the criteria of a government review. “What is necessary now is for all religious organisations to submit annual financial reports and for the government and Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission to review their tax-exempt status.” Now, as much as I think it is valid to stamp out any abuses of the tax free status by religious organisations, it is concerning if financial incentives were ever used to influence churches to align with the values of the government.

In regard to the push for reform of the legal definition of marriage in Australia, questions about big vs small government are integral to the debate. On one hand, a small government approach would suggest that individual citizens should have the freedom to marry however and whoever they choose, or to define marriage however they want. Unfortunately, the parties that openly support the change, such as Labor and the Greens, are generally also supportive of the big government approach. This makes many Christians very concerned that once the change becomes enshrined in law, they will not have the freedom of religion to teach what the bible says about marriage, sexuality and gender in Christian schools, Universities, public forums or possibly even churches. Such teaching will be deemed “hate speech” and “offensive” and a big government approach will see it potentially being legislated against in order to enforce conformity to the government’s values.

A similar concern is felt for Christians involved in businesses that provide services for weddings, such as bakers, wedding planners and photographers. In a small government approach, these Christians would have the freedom to conscientiously object to supporting an event that they believed was morally objectionable based on their religious convictions. I’m still thinking through my position on this, but it is clear that under a big government approach, there will be no debate – they will have to conform to the government’s new definition of marriage or they will be fined for discrimination. We have already seen this happening in some Western countries. Possibly the most well known was a little bakery in Oregon run by a Christian couple who informed a lesbian couple that they couldn’t in good conscience make a cake for their wedding, and a court ordered they pay $135,000 to the couple for the emotional damage caused.

LIKE A TREE BESIDE THE RIVER OF TRUTH

If Western countries don’t want to end up like the oppressive governments mentioned earlier, then they need to be wary of the way the big government approach is being used and accepted more and more. As I explained earlier, the big government approach can be at times helpful. It is definitely a powerful strategy which can use its influence for great good, but at the same time it can be used for evil and oppression as well.

That is why I think the movie, Captain America: Civil War is so interesting in today’s climate. It raises a debate that some people don’t realize needs to be debated. It points out the danger of giving the power over many into the hands of a few. It has made me think through where I stand – be it Team Cap or Team Iron Man. It’s actually a hard choice at the start as both sides make their case quite well, but in the end, Captain America’s concerns are shown to be valid.

Now, I may think through these issues and come to my own conclusion, but in the end, I see my own country slowly sliding towards a bigger and bigger government. With a federal election only a couple of months away, this debate could not be more relevant. I only have one vote though, and so my calling is to simply what I think is right. As the government gets bigger and uses its increased power to try to restrict views that it disagrees with, I will try to remember the words in the movie that inspire Captain America as he sat in that solemn church – words that, in the original comic, Captain America spoke himself:

“Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world – ‘No, YOU move.’”

I don’t know what saying “No, YOU move” might look like in my own circumstances, but I guess over time, I’ll find out.  I also don’t know exactly when a big government approach is better than a small government approach, and visa versa. It’s very complex and I hope I haven’t presented the issues in an unfairly simplistic way. I guess, the more I think about it, the more I feel I side with Team Cap and a small government philosophy. At least in a general sense. Small governments can seem cold and harsh to the poor and the weak, but at least they don’t restrict individual citizens and charitable organisations from caring for those in need. It seems to me that a big government that is corrupt can do much more harm than a small government that is cold. But hey, what do I know? I’m no political analyst. I’m just a guy who saw a cool superhero movie. I’m just someone who is thinking through his position on all these issues. I’m just a Christian. I’m just an individual citizen.

you move

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