Go ahead, Stephen Fry, take your best blaspheming shot

Go ahead, Stephen Fry, take your best blaspheming shot

In 2015, British comic and television personality, Stephen Fry appeared on an Irish chat show and referred to God as ‘capricious, mean-minded and stupid’. You might have seen it being shared on social media. The host Gay Byrne asked Fry what he would say to God after he died and appeared at the pearly gates. Stephen Fry replied that he’d tell the Almighty, ‘How dare you create a world in which there is such misery. It’s not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil’. Things went sour this month when a complaint was made to the Irish police that Fry had broken the country’s Defamation Act of 2009, which makes it illegal to publish or utter blasphemous material. That’s right. It’s 2017 and a famous television personality was being charged with blasphemy.   It turns out everyone in Ireland is embarrassed by their blasphemy law, so much so there are calls to repeal it, including from the church. No one has ever actually had to face criminal prosecution for breaking the law and it’s assumed Mr Fry won’t either. That didn’t stop the publicity hungry atheist Richard Dawkins, in a show of solidarity with Mr Fry, from announcing he’d be giving a public lecture in Dublin in June and would “be available for arrest on a charge of blasphemy.” He

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The good ship “No Worries” is sinking

The good ship “No Worries” is sinking

I live in Australia where it’s usually assumed we’re all largely apathetic about traditional religion in general and the Christian church in particular. Maybe that’s because we’ve never had a civil war, or fought off an enemy land invasion, or suffered from a violent sectarian uprising (unless you count the enemy land invasion perpetrated by British colonists upon indigenous Australians, which we should). Nevertheless, we’re pretty chill about everything. I mean, we proudly gave the world one of our favorite sayings – “No worries”. Our struggle isn’t warring religious viewpoints. It’s getting people interested in religion at all. A new study has just been released asking Australians what kinds of things are likely to pique their interest in religious faith. The results are fascinating. They found, “Observing people with genuine faith is the greatest attraction to investigating spirituality. Second is experiencing personal trauma or a significant life change.” That’s not the most fascinating part to me, but I’ll come back to it later. More interesting were the things that turned people off being interested in religion. They hate apologetic discussions and debates. And “the top repellent to Australians investigating is public figures or celebrities who are examples of that faith. This is followed by miraculous stories of healings or supernatural occurrences.” Wait, what? They hate combative apologetic presentations designed win arguments, testimonies from

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Forget Capitol Hill, we change culture from the ground up

Forget Capitol Hill, we change culture from the ground up

There has been a plethora of books in recent years about how Christians can change the world. Many of them urge us to engage society, mobilize our forces and win the culture wars. But let’s face it — whenever the church tries to rule the world it never goes well for us. Indeed, most of the criticisms leveled at the church by its detractors relate to the church’s abuse of temporal power. It’s nice to imagine the church as an ancient remedy that brings healing and repair to a diseased system, but increasingly, people have spoken of the church more in terms of a virus than a tonic. Journalist Christopher Hitchens wasn’t one to pull punches. In his 2007 book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, he said, “Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.” Adopting this same line is John Loftus, a former Christian minister and now an atheist. In 2014, he published the anthology Christianity Is Not Great, in which a group of scholars focused on what they perceived to be the damage done by the church throughout history covering everything from the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition

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It’s perfectly natural, not perfectly biblical, to desire the death penalty

It’s perfectly natural, not perfectly biblical, to desire the death penalty

You’re probably gonna tell me to stop reading Charisma News when you hear I was stunned to come across their recent lead article, Executing 8 Murderers Isn’t ‘Unchristian’ by Bryan Fischer. Fischer is a broadcaster with American Family Radio. His article was originally published on their website. In it, he offers the usual reasons why capital punishment is necessary, sprinkling his commentary with various Old Testament references and then detailing the crimes of the eight men about to be executed by the state of Arkansas (one of them, Ledell Lee, has already been put to death by lethal injection). But his outrage isn’t entirely directed toward the men on death row. It’s also directed at Christians who have the temerity to oppose the death penalty. Grousing about a Christian Today article entitled Christian campaigners horrified by Arkansas execution, Fischer takes the site and the article’s author to task for daring to imply that the Christian position on capital punishment is to oppose it. Wrong, wrong, wrong, he says. “This headline is written as if that is the only acceptable ‘Christian’ position to take,” Fischer bemoans. In fact, he goes on to say, “It would be unbiblical and unChristian not to carry out the death penalty for cold-blooded murder.” Bryan Fischer then quotes Martin Luther King, as if to imply that

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One of the most powerful weapons of privilege is the refusal to listen

One of the most powerful weapons of privilege is the refusal to listen

In Australia same-sex marriage is still illegal. But the movement for marriage equality is on a roll. Buoyed by victories in similar countries like Great Britain, Ireland, the USA, Canada and New Zealand, they can smell imminent success, and they want no further debate. They want an act of parliament. Now! They believe they are on the side of history, so have no patience for hearing the case for traditional marriage any more. And this has led some of their more strident activists to try to silence conservative voices. They routinely refer to advocates of retaining traditional marriage as homophobes or bigots. They exert public pressure on businesses to sign on with the marriage equality movement. They cast aspersions on anyone for having had ties to conservative Christian organizations. They’re particularly aggressive in their attacks on the Australian Christian Lobby, who felt forced to gain permission to keep its board members’ names secret on the grounds of “public safety” after sustained abuse. All this has led many Christians to speak of the death of free speech and to refer to those who aren’t interested in their views on marriage equality as bullies. The Anglican archbishop of Sydney recently referred to the same-sex marriage campaign as “narrow-minded, freedom-restricting carping.” “People are beginning to wake up and take notice,” he continued. “They are

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We don’t need better politicians; we need better voters

We don’t need better politicians; we need better voters

Bishop Will Willimon of the United Methodist Church recently participated in a political demonstration in his home state of North Carolina. He even managed to drag several of his conservative parishioners along too. They were standing up to the Governor’s recent decisions regarding voting rights, cuts to social programs, and the repeal of the Racial Justice Act. Maybe the good bishop and his flock imagined they had struck a blow for truth and justice, and made a difference in the lives of those affected by the policy changes. Well, that was until Governor Pat McCrory dismissed the protests as “just a bunch of aging hippies from the sixties.” McCrory was completely unmoved. And unbowed. That was when one of Willimon’s parishioners said this, “Preacher, we don’t need better politicians; we need a better class of voters. Maybe you should stay home and work on your Sunday sermon rather than protesting in Raleigh.”   Think about that. We don’t need a better grade of politician. We need a better class of voter. And according to Willimon’s friend, in order to enhance the class of voters, preachers need to work as hard on their sermons as they do on their public demonstrations. We need voters who’ve been shaped by God’s word and who cast their ballots to reflect the biblical values of

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Truth-telling in a world of fake news, alternative facts, and America First

Truth-telling in a world of fake news, alternative facts, and America First

Remember the days when we used to suppose that Western society pretty much held to values drawn from Christianity? In those days the church used to rail against such social ills as drugs and booze, and marital infidelity, and gambling, all the while assuming that society basically valued things like truth-telling, justice, neighborliness and generosity. That seems long ago. Now we find ourselves in a world of fake news, alternative facts, America First, and that “beautiful” big wall. Now we find ourselves in a world where telling lies and looking after yourself isn’t just secretly practiced; it’s openly championed. And all the way to the very top. A few years ago I was visiting friends and the 12-year-old girl of the house was running for president of the student body at her school. She asked if she could practice her campaign speech to the grown-ups, so we all assembled in the living room. She cleared her throat, readied herself, and launched into her presentation. And started telling straight-out lies. She promised better teachers, more appetizing cafeteria food, less homework, brand new lockers, and a whole range of other inducements for her fellow students to vote for her. We applauded dutifully and told her she was great. Which she was. But later I asked her mother whether it was alright for

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I’m pro-life and I marched.

I’m pro-life and I marched.

I was in San Diego on January 21. The morning was bright and crisp that day. The previous night the city had been lashed by a rainstorm, leaving everything shiny wet and the streets and sidewalks littered with puddles. You couldn’t help but feel the energy in the city that morning. It was the day of the Women’s March.  Blue skies opened up as residents streamed down Broadway toward 5th Street to start the march. And I joined them. There were smiles and laughter. People were dressed in costume, many wore pink. Muslim women wore hijabs. Most carried signs, some of them hilarious, others quite touching. No one was threatening to bomb the White House. It was one of the most joyous public demonstrations I’ve been part of. And I’ve been part of a lot of them over the years. By now you know, the marches were originally conceived as a single event, the Women’s March on Washington, and intended to send the freshly minted Trump administration a message about women’s rights and social justice.   But it couldn’t be contained to the capital. Marches began sprouting up in over 400 US cities, including lil’ ol’ San Diego. And 168 other countries, where there were nearly 700 marches worldwide, including 20 in Mexico and 29 in Canada. It is estimated more

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Decision Making and the Will of the People

Decision Making and the Will of the People

This week, Donald J Trump will take the oath of office of the president of the United States. A lot of people can’t believe it’s actually happening. There have been “Not My President” rallies across the country. There’s been hopeful talk that Russian hacking scandals might forestall him taking office. Some Democrats are planning to boycott the inauguration ceremony. Like it or not, Mr Trump won office fair and square. Well, according to the rules of the US electoral system. Complaining about his victory will achieve nothing. But trying to figure out how he did it might prove to be more profitable. How did a man with no experience of public office whatsoever manage to defeat a woman who was regarded by all to be one of the most qualified candidates ever to run for the presidency? What were people thinking when they voted for Donald J Trump? In the early 1970s two brilliant young academics embarked on a research project to unravel the mysteries of human decision-making. Amos Tversky (left) and Danny Kahneman were professors at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and they hoped that by revealing the mechanics of decision-making, their work could transform how individuals, corporations and governments chose which courses of action to follow. Tversky and Kahneman thought if they could transform decision-making into a kind of engineering problem, they

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Does the President’s character really matter?

Does the President’s character really matter?

“The road to power is paved with hypocrisy, and casualties.” That’s the fictitious and machiavellian Francis Underwood from South Carolina’s 5th congressional district. In the Netflix series House of Cards, the amoral Underwood makes it all the way to the Oval Office, thanks to some deft manipulation of his enemies, including the odd murder or two. Sure, he’s evil. He’s probably a sociopath. But he knows how to govern. In fact, that’s Frank’s own justification for all the hypocrisy and casualties: he gets things done! So does it really matter what the character of the President is like? Should voters elect a person based on their personal morals and private life? Isn’t the POTUS just meant to “get things done”? Why do we need her or him to be a paragon of virtue?   It’s not like Presidents in the past have been lily-white. American history is rife with examples of people who were lousy spouses or backroom dealers, but great stewards of the state. Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy were unfaithful to their wives. As were Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton. Warren Harding, a man elected because it was said he “looks like a president,” even fathered a child with his mistress during his term of office. It didn’t affect their ability to govern, did it? Okay, well

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Julia Gillard and the terror of rape culture

Julia Gillard and the terror of rape culture

This will be my third and last post in a little series looking at sexism. You can find the other two here and here. Julia Gillard was the 27th Prime Minister of Australia from 2010 to 2013. She was the first woman to hold that office. This week she was in London addressing a gathering in memory of Jo Cox, the UK politician murdered while campaigning in her constituency in northern England in June. What she said shocked me to my core. “Threats of violence have become more prevalent for women in public life. They can take the form of detailed death threats, or threats of violence against family, friends and staff. And of course, as a woman in public life, the violent threats take on another sickening dimension. Threats of violent abuse, of rape, are far too common.” Say what?  Rape threats are common? Well actually, Ms. Gillard continued, not only common… “A woman in public view may expect to receive [rape threats] almost daily.”   Did you get that? Australians who objected to Ms. Gillard’s leadership of their country actually threatened to rape her. Almost daily! I knew about how the media had questioned her choice not to have children. I knew she had been publicly chided by a senior conservative senator for being “deliberately barren.” I knew

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When girls thrive, all of society benefits

When girls thrive, all of society benefits

Exiled Iranian politician, Mahnaz Afkhami once declared, “When women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life. The connection between women’s human rights, gender equality, socioeconomic development and peace is increasingly apparent.” In other words, if you want a more peaceful society, let girls and women flourish.   No seriously, if there’s a silver bullet or a shortcut to world peace it’s this: remove the barriers that inhibit opportunities for girls to become successful women. And this week I discovered if you want the best opportunities for your daughter, you’d better move to Sweden or Norway or Denmark or Finland. Heck, just get her to Scandinavia as quick as you can. To coincide with International Day of the Girl, Save the Children released their ranking of the best and worst countries in which to be a girl, and those four countries topped the list. Which makes sense since along with Volvo, Abba and pickled herring, Scandinavia is definitely known for peace. Embarrassingly, some other wealthy developed countries like Australia (21), South Korea (27), USA (32), and Japan (35) ranked down the list. In fact, it’s better to be a girl in Kazakhstan than America, or in Serbia than Australia (ouch!!). So how does that work? Well, Save the Children identified five key predictors

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