Pell’s Toll

I don’t want to spend a lot of time delving into the intricacies and contradictions of this topic, but I do have a few thoughts I want to express about Cardinal George Pell, his child sex abuse conviction, and the influence he’s had on Australian political direction. Until his downfall, Pell embodied that dangerous mix of religion and “rightwing conservative” politics.

It has now been revealed in Australia, that the nation’s highest ranking Catholic was found guilty in December 2018, of sex offenses against children. The verdict had been suppressed here until two or three days ago, even though it was revealed elsewhere in the world.

I remember local newspapers expressing a grievance for being prevented from reporting about a prominent Australian’s conviction of serious offences. They were prevented by a court order from reporting on the case and its outcome.

Now the news is out.

Cardinal George Pell was found guilty of engaging in forcible sexual acts against two choir boys after mass in the 1990s. Pell is one of the Pope’s most senior men. I recall something about him being the third most important person in the Roman Catholic Church.

Of the two victims, only one took this case to court, the other had died of a drug overdose many years ago. His family now say they finally understand why their son had such a troubled life, spiralling into a fatal relationship with drugs; although throughout his life he had always denied he’d experienced any sexual abuse.

The case against Pell therefore relied on the testimony of one man who gave evidence on behalf of himself and his childhood friend. While not intending to defend Pell or discount the validity of the guilty conviction, I find myself troubled a little by that. How much actual evidence was there apart from that one person’s testimony? I assume there was a lot more than that single thing, but I’ve come across nothing yet in the news reports I’ve seen.

My unease is exacerbated by the many cases I’ve read and heard about recently, where there have been clear miscarriages of justice and the innocent have been given long prison sentences on very flimsy evidence, or have had their lives ruined by false claims against them that they were never allowed to challenge in court. For various reasons the courts, and the media, do get things wrong, particularly when evidence is sparse and circumstantial.

On the other side of the equation, if Pell is innocent, it astounds me that his defence team tried to minimise the sentence he’d be awarded, by trying to underplay the seriousness of the crimes of  which he’d been found guilty. Describing the crime as a “plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating”, didn’t seem to be the tactic of a genuinely innocent man.
In the many cases of wrongful conviction that I referred to earlier, there was an ongoing insistence of innocence, with no desperate backing down, in the hope of getting leniency in sentencing.

One of the complicating factors of this case is that Pell was a senior member of an organisation with a woeful record of sexual abuse against minors committed by its leaders. Equally woeful is the response taken when the abuse has been exposed. The response primarily sought to protect the RC Church and its guilty clergy rather than bring about justice for those who had been abused.

Cover-up was the chosen course. And that ongoing history places some guilt upon ALL of those in leadership who enabled it. Whether they personally abused a child or not, if they actively played a part in that cover-up they should share the guilt.
Pell himself gained a reputation for making things harder for those who sought some kind of recognition and recourse from the church. Is Pell a good man, innocent of the sex crime but reaping what his church had sown? Some are suggesting that’s the case.

After the revelation of the guilty verdict, some of the more rightwing commentators of the local Murdoch press have spoken out against the court’s decision, claiming that Pell is a scapegoat. Additionally some of the more rightwing Government ministers have expressed similar views. And two former prime Ministers have expressed their support for Pell. John Howard (PM from 1996 to 2007) wrote a glowing character reference for Pell after the conviction and before sentencing, describing him as  “a person of both high intelligence and exemplary character“. (my emphasis – onesimus)

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Pell continues to maintain support from those people. He has been a strong voice of right-wing conservatism, and his influence on the political paths of a few domineering members of Australia’s current government is evident, in particular the climate change deniers who have crippled Government climate and energy policy since they came into power in 2013.

Some time ago, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott (a Pell supporter) gave a speech decrying those who sought action to address climate change. His speech was a barely disguised repetition of one previously given by Pell. (see below)*

Now that Pell’s conviction has been made known, it will be interesting to see whether his political influence, enacted by his polictial acolytes, will gradually be undermined.

________________________________

*

Pell said some of the “hysteric and extreme claims about global warming” were “a symptom of pagan emptiness, of Western fear” of the “immense and basically uncontrollable forces of nature”.

“In the past, pagans sacrificed animals and even humans in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods,” Pell said. “Today they demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.”

This week, Tony Abbott made a curiously similar speech.

Addressing the climate-sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation in London, Abbott returned to his own scepticism about whether climate change is occurring to worrying degrees. He adopted his private confessor’s argument and his style.

“Environmentalism has managed to combine a post-socialist instinct for big government with a post-Christian nostalgia for making sacrifices in a good cause,” Abbott said.

“Primitive people once killed goats to appease the volcano gods. We’re more sophisticated now but are still sacrificing our industries and our living standards to the climate gods to little more effect.”

https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2017/10/14/abbott-looks-pell-energy-policy/15078996005349

Also of interest, a dissenting right wing commentator’s view.

Broadcaster Ray Hadley criticises Howard and Abbott for supporting Pell.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/feb/28/commentators-doubting-pell-verdict-sends-damaging-message-to-survivors

 

 

Dangerous Love

I’m reading Dangerous Love by Ray Norman.
Norman was national director for World Vision in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania where he worked with his wife Helene.

His book looks at the challenges and cost of mission work, where Christian witness requires the casting aside of a lot of “western” preconceptions.

As well-educated and comparatively wealthy foreigners, we easily succumb to the notion that we are somehow higher in the pecking order, that our important objectives and busy schedules should take precedence because “we know best”. And too often our image among the poor is tainted, and our actions reflect a sense of entitlement and thinly veiled arrogance (in spite of our good intentions…

… In much of the world outside of Europe and north America, people are less achievement-oriented and place significantly higher value on relationships. On days after an unexpectedly long exchange with farmers, I might glance at my watch and mumble something to the effect that there was still much I had not accomplished that day. I would often hear words such as, ‘Yes, but those things can always get done tomorrow. At least today we have done the important thing and gotten to know each other better.’

During his tenure in Mauretania, an act of extreme violence against Norman and his daughter Hannah challenged the family’s resolve to continue the work they felt called to do. They were also made aware of inadequacies in the way fellow believers reacted to them in the aftermath of that violent incident.

It seemed that even our own pastor in France, a man who, along with his spouse, had been a source of support and encouragement to us over the years, seemed to strufggle with how to respond to us. He had been informed of what had happened, and once we arrived in Calais we expected to hear from him or his wife but never did. I eventually called him on our third or fourth day there. He told me that he’d heard our news, and he listened quietly as I chatted. But it seemed our situation was beyond him…

Eventually, the healing process began when the family chose to return to their work in Mauretania, and the greatest help came from those intended to be the recipients of the Norman’s ministry work. A clear example of this came from the women of Arafat, a nearby poverty stricken township, who invited Helene Norman to their community.

We understand because we too are women. And we want you to know that we are here to walk with you, to support and encourage you in this experience in which you have suffered deeply. So please know, Madame Norman, that we have brought you here among us to let you know you are not alone on this journey. We are here with you.

 

Ray Norman reflects on this as his wife tells him the full story:

I stood there in stunned silence , and between her sobs, she began to explain in halting words how the women of Arafat had provided for her, in her deepest time of need, what no friend or gathering among her many Christian acquaintances across three continents (Africa, Europe, or America) had been able, or had the insight to provide. How in the most unlikely of places, she had found common ground with those who suffer, and how God had touched her heart and demonstrated his promise of faithfulness in a remote land through ‘the least of these’ (Matt. 25:40)

 

 

 

The Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and 9/11

The Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and 9/11. Dr. Nabeel Jabbour interview – Part 2

This is part two of the series of interviews with Dr. Nabeel Jabbour, continuing his history of modern day Islamist extremism.
Here he shows how the events touched upon in the last audio led to Al Qeda and the attacks of September 11, 2001.

From the Zwemer Centre for Muslim Studies:
http://www.zwemercenter.com/zwemer-podcast/page/6/

How ISIS Began in Colorado

How ISIS Began in Colorado (interview with Dr. Nabeel Jabbour – Part 1)

The next few posts will be audios from the Zwemer Centre for Muslim Studies.
http://www.zwemercenter.com/

They are a series of interviews with Dr. Nabeel Jabbour about the origins an influences behind the rise of present day extreme Islamism.

The roots of this extremism stretch back to surprising places.

I had recently come across a lot of the content of this particular audio from a “secular” source on ANB radio
http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/what-he-saw-in-america:the-violent-legacy-of-sayyid-qutbs-visi/7795158

Muslims, Mission and Martyrdom with Dr. Jerry Rankin

I’ve recommended and posted a few audios from this source.

This is one includes another very interesting interview worth the listening time.

The interview starts around the 7 minute 25 second point, after some banter between the podcast presenters.

from:
http://www.zwemercenter.com/zwemer-podcast/page/7/

This audio and the rest in the series can be downloaded from the site at the above link.
I’ve downloaded episodes to a USB stick so I can listen to them in the car on my way to and from work. I find that much more practical than sitting at the computer to hear them.

as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone

I see this as a continuation of what I wrote in my earlier post a hate-speech whirlwind, particularly with regard to the bible reference quoted in it.

1 Cor 5: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.”

 

Consider the content of the talk in this video. Compare and contrast its message with common Christian attitudes and behaviours towards others.
Does it concern you (even before listening to it) that the talk is given by a Muslim woman?

 

The Muslim on the Airplane: Amal Kassir

 

After taking some time to make the above mentioned comparison and contrast, consider how often commonly expressed and displayed Christian attitudes live up to the content of this scripture excerpt:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

A Few Thought About Recent Events

 

Yet another terrorist attack in the west, and who knows how many more outside of western interests where these things are not as rare or infrequent as they are closer to home? (At least one in Indonesia reported today 25th May)

And not unexpectedly, the murderer was a deranged Muslim extremist expecting to get fast-tracked to paradise. Imagine the disappointment on arriving at his eternal destination.

the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. (Rev 21)

I can see at least two of those labels are clearly relevant to that deluded young man (cowardly and murderer) and possibly more.

 

At these times debates always arise about the nature of Islam. There are inevitable contradictory contrasts presented, with some declaring Islam a religion of peace, others that it’s a religion of violence and hatred.
While arguments fly, with people taking one side or the other, equally valid arguments could probably be made for both views.

 

Firstly, most Muslims are probably no less peace loving, peace desiring than the majority of non-Muslims. They just want to get on with their lives, taking care of their families in safety and security. They are Muslims because they were born into a Muslim family and follow the rituals and practices they’ve been taught. There would be little difference between them and their attitudes and those of most western “Christians”, except the Muslim often has a much more developed daily awareness of their god than the majority of westerners (even church goers) and are often far more devoted to their beliefs than a great number of professing Christians. And remember, it is only in recent decades that the Muslims among us have become targets of suspicion. Previously they lived  among us with little cause for concern, and Christians need to resist  demonising the people no matter how we view the religion they’ve been brought up to follow.

 

Moving to the other side of the argument, we only have to look at those nations where Islam dominates and see how it affects their laws, their governments and the lives of their people. Those nations include some of the most openly brutal and intolerant in the world, often responding to perceived lawbreakers with violent punishments, and dealing harshly with those alleged to have been insulting to Islam. All of that is justified by appeal to Islamic teaching.
Those who insist on portraying Islam as violent need only to point to those nations, and also highlight those parts of the Koran that justify the harshness in those nations – the parts that teach intolerance for and retribution against “the infidel” (or non-Muslim) and the lawbreaker. And parts of the Koran can make that an easy argument to prosecute. It is to this view of Islam that the terrorists belong, seeking to bring down those outside of their particular religious view of the world.

 

However is pointing out Koranic violence the wisest argument for Christians to make, when it is equally easy to turn the accusatory finger to point the other way?
The Bible itself isn’t free of violence commanded by God. God given Law also demands lethal and violent punishment (some punishments the same as in the Koran, which partially draws on the older scriptural writings that preceded it).
It can be non-productive and unhelpful, to make arguments against Islam citing violent instruction in the Koran, that can equally be levelled against Christianity and Judaism through citing the old and New Testaments.

 

So is there any difference? Are Judaism and Christianity any less condemnable that Islam for having violence at their heart (as provable from the evidence of their holy writings)?

I say there is a difference.
The unfolding message of the Bible is different. There is an ongoing purposeful development throughout. The Bible presents a history of God’s relationship to mankind, showing where we came from, through to God’s ultimate purpose for us.
The Bible starts with God’s creation of the universe and the planet where we live, and how he populated it with an incredible variety of living things, culminating in man and woman.
It tells of how His perfect creation was tainted by the introduction of sin (rebellion) and continues with an unfolding account of God’s means of restoring the relationship between God and man that was lost through that initial rebellion.

 

The violent events recorded in scripture fall within the context of that developing history of fallen mankind struggling with a Holy God of perfect justice. A history that continues to unfold, heading towards a complete renewing of creation. In fact a totally new creation where only righteousness can dwell, a creation free of the hatred and violence that became the inevitable result of man’s rebellion against God.
It will be a new creation, a new heavens and earth populated only by those who have chosen to be willing followers of God through the gift given via His Son Jesus.

 

And that is the difference I see – that there’s an end purpose; GOD’s purpose, where the continuing cycle of men’s violence and other corrupt actions are stamped out, and God’s ways become man’s ways.

 

There’s a reason why we are told that the enemies we face aren’t flesh and blood. That we don’t wage war as the world does. And yet Christians often go against that instruction and put hope and trust in, and support, man’s violent military solutions to the evils of groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, and their blind foolish followers. Support that can take on a misplaced patriotic fervour. Support for military action often conducted against relatively small groups who have established themselves in poor, vulnerable and insecure nations, or nations MADE insecure by earlier military action. Military action that exacerbates the problem and supercharges the recruitment drive of the enemy “we” are intended to defeat, to the extent that it’s “our” purpose that is defeated and not the enemy “we’ve” been fighting.

 

And while they turn their military might against the nations unwillingly harbouring terrorists – our governments continue to align themselves with gulf state sheikdoms, particularly Saudi Arabia, home and supporter of extremist Islam; who have thrown hundreds of billions of dollars into exporting the extremists Islamist ideologies that we allegedly want to destroy.

And why is that the case?
Indian researcher Professor Brah-ma Chellaney of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi says:

“Money is the main reason why the United States in particular is unwilling to break its longstanding alliance with the gulf sheikdoms.”
(http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/saudi-arabia-responsible-for-worlds-terrorist-ideology/8553832 )

 

As the title of this article says, this post expresses a FEW thoughts about recent events.
There’s probably a lot more that could be said to add to the topics I’ve touched upon. Some of the subject matter is far more complex than many people like to think, and therefore I’m not sure whether I’ve clearly expressed some of the things I wanted to say. I just hope I’ve made enough sense to take a glimpse beyond the glib political and religious rhetoric we tend to be bombarded with through various mass media, so we can avoid the same feelings and expressions of hatred that we accuse others of harbouring.

Most dangerous?

Two disturbing articles, especially when considered TOGETHER keeping in mind the implication of the second one in which Bannon is portrayed as being a Judeo-Christian traditionalist. The articles show how increasingly Christians are being thrown into the Trump (Bannon?) camp whether we want to be or not.

_______
From article one “Steve Bannon is calling the shots in the White House. That’s terrifying“:

“Bannon is not the president’s servant. The president is his tool. For years, Bannon cast about for the proper vehicle to carry the fight forward. Sarah Palin, Rick Perry –they were considered possible material. Now in Donald Trump he has found adequate if imperfect stuff. Both are workaholics. Both share a protectionist mindset. Both are combative.

But Bannon, in contrast to the president, is not easily distracted. He is intelligent, articulate, focused in his ideology and dedicated to the struggle. And he has now been catapulted by an undisciplined president to the inner precincts of the National Security Council and its principals’ committee, assuming a position senior to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence.

Unvetted, unconfirmed but immensely powerful, Bannon may just be the most dangerous man in America.”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/31/steve-bannon-most-dangerous-man-in-america

And article two “Why Steve Bannon wants to destroy secularism” :

“Just what does Steve Bannon believe? For some, his thinking can be boiled down to racism. For others, he is merely a sinister opportunist taking advantage of Trump and the “alt-right”, a far-right movement in the US, for economic gain and fame. But what if he is fundamentally driven by something else? Like: religion.”

And

“The most bothersome feature of Bannon’s talk is the fact that a Catholic group at the Vatican responded to it with enthusiasm. Their questions demonstrate that they knew Bannon’s desire to make his message receptive to rightwing populist parties. Excitement over his idea of a renewed Judeo-Christian Europe seemingly trumped such concerns. This is same political ideology that galvanized evangelicals to vote for Trump.”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/07/why-steve-bannon-wants-to-destroy-secularism

___________

I find it disturbing that THIS is the way that Christians, Christianity and Christian interests are being portrayed to the wider world.

In an email exchange with a friend we discussed the current Trump (Bannon?) response to Syrian refugees.
My friend said:

Can you feel the whole world polarising? Mild-mannered Muslims are realising that they are the enemy after all. Trump also is allowing Syrians in if they are “Christians”. That is like having a gold-letter reference from Jack the Ripper. Now those mild-mannered Muslims know who the actual enemy really is. “Christians” like Trump.
In their eyes, you and me.

I replied:

Yes, when they started to speak of favouring Syrian Christians, I thought of the target being put on their back – making them even MORE prone to severe persecution; subjecting them to a darker equivalent of Trump’s “extreme vetting” (as if anything Trump does isn’t dark enough in its own right).

And as western society increases its protest against Trump’s dictatorial mania, his perceived favouring of Christians puts that target on our backs too.

The “target on the back” of western Christians that I mentioned to my friend firstly relates to an increased hostility towards followers of Jesus by wider western society when genuine believers become increasingly painted with the same brush as the “evangelicals” whose support helped Trump to the Presidency.

Secondly it will relate to an increased hostility from the Trump camp towards those Christians who saw through the Trump camp’s “alternative facts” and opposed him.

_______________________

A disturbing image linking Trump, money and the cross. The latter associating Trump wrongly (but understandably) to Christianity via traditional symbolism.

trump

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/gallery/2017/jan/31/signs-of-the-times-the-best-anti-trump-placards-from-across-the-uk-in-pictures#img-15

In the Land of Blue Burqas (updated)

burqasIn the Land of the Blue Burqas by Kate McCord gives a fascinating insight into the people of Afghanistan, particularly the women, and how Islam affects their lives and relationships.

While Islam and Christianity embrace very different views of God, McCord makes use of a few common areas of belief to build a bridge to share the gospel.

McCord writes of how “Afghans almost universally believe in the concept of kismet, fate. Whatever happens happens because Allah wills it, no matter whose hand has accomplished the thing”.

She addresses this with a group of Afghan women while discussing a deadly car bombing in Kabul that destroyed a bus and killed many including a young mother:

“God told us not to kill. We cannot disobey God in the name of God. That is a lie. God told us to love Him with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our strength. Then He told us to love our neighbours. If a man kills his neighbour, he is disobeying God. This man who blew up the bus and killed that mother did not do the will of God. He did the work of Satan. God will judge him”

One woman in the room responded by sharing another story.

“Our town was at peace. We didn’t know war. We were happy. One day my cousins and aunts were gathered in the house preparing [food] for a wedding party. A bomb fell. We found pieces of dough, bundles of meat, hair ties, scarves, and scraps of bloody fabric. Even the part of the ceiling that didn’t fall was covered with blood and pieces of bodies”

… we all looked at the swirling red carpet . Each woman muttered “Tobah” repent.

After a long pause I restated what I absolutely believe to be the truth: “That was not the will of God, either”
“No,” the women agreed. “That is not the will of God.”

McCord gives the Christian reader a lot of food for thought.
She writes:

“For many Westerners, the question of who God is and what He wants for and from us is simply not relevant. We are, after all, wealthy and busy. For Afghans, it may be the most important question of all.”

And she confesses to something that I think affects most western Christians to one degree or another:

“Sometimes I forget to differentiate between what I believe as an American woman and what I believe the Bible teaches. America is my culture, and Jesus is my Saviour and Lord. Sometimes it’s hard to untangle the two. Afghans challenged me to try.

McCord compares various aspects of her Christians beliefs with those of her Afghan neighbours to show how the vastly different cultural beliefs affect Afghan views of God and as a result their society.

One example she describes is the Afghan view of temptation and sin.

I learned that in Afghanistan, the influences that cause or encourage a person to do what the society defines as wrong are the real sin, not the person who actually does the wrong. People are weak and must be protected. The society provides that protection. Any influence that tempts a member of the community must be eradicated, silenced, or walled out.

McCord also found that her time in Afghanistan gave her a new perspective on some very familiar parts of scripture.

Afghans helped me understand the teachings of Jesus more completely. The culture of Afghanistan today is much more similar to the first century Judea of Jesus’ day than my own Western culture is…

As an example of this, she writes:

I was often amazed when an Afghan heard a Jesus story for the first time and then told me what it means. Jesus spoke to a woman at a well, a woman who had had several husbands and was not married to her current partner. My Afghan women friends immediately saw the woman’s shame. No woman in Afghanistan can arrange her own marriage. The woman at the well had been used by five men, and the last didn’t even have the decency to marry her.

I found the book to be a an effective eye-opener, not only to an unbelievably foreign culture and religion, but also to the unbelievably naïve view that Western Christians have developed concerning the life and teachings of Jesus and how we’ve been taught to view them.