What was I up to ten years ago?

See Monthly Archives: July 2006.

This lot have been in the news again lately….

Hidden prophets

01 July 2006

A few days back Aluminium wrote about a job interview:

I went to the MET interview today and learned that MET stands for Meadowbank Educational … something. It’s not an exciting technology school like I hoped. It is quite the opposite: an Exclusive Brethren school. MET is a collection of small schools under the one Principal, distributed across the state. It stems from a main campus in Sydney. This campus has 80 students from Year 7 to 12…

…I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Especially when they told me the position was for next term onwards. I explained that I was committed at school until the end of this year – thinking that the direct approach might get me out of there quicker. Unfortunately, no.

So that was that. Forty minutes of interview. Not a total waste of time as I now know what MET schools are in a NSW context.

For those who don’t know, the Exclusive Brethren is a “secretive Christian cult” according to Wikipedia and a kind of Christian Taliban according to me. Aluminium must be reading today’s story by David Marr with interest.

WITH an iron hand, West Ryde businessman Bruce D. Hales rules his world church. To his 40,000 followers in the Exclusive Brethren, this prosperous supplier of office equipment in the Sydney suburbs is known as the Elect Vessel, the Lord’s Representative on Earth, the Great Man, the Paul of Our Day, Minister of the Lord in Recovery and Mr Bruce.

For 175 years the sect has counted among its strange proscriptions – no public entertainment, no novels, no eating with outsiders, no university, no membership of other organisations of any kind, no shorts (“God has no pleasure in the legs of a man”), no party walls shared with non-Brethren, no films, no radio, no television and no mobile phones – an absolute ban on worldly politics.

Brethren members have never voted. Since they came together in Dublin in 1829 to live their pure life, they have believed it is God’s prerogative and His alone to choose governments, as laid down in Romans chapter 13 verse 1: “The powers that be are ordained of God.” That rule held until the 2004 re-election campaign of John Howard where Brethren – never acknowledging their sect – advertised, leafleted and campaigned on behalf of the Prime Minister.

The Brethren fear God, honour the Elect Vessel and love Howard. “I am very thankful for the current Government we have in Australia,” Brethren representative Richard Garrett told the Greens’ leader Bob Brown a few weeks ago in Canberra. “I mean, in my lifetime we haven’t had a better government. We haven’t had a better government economically. Whatever way you look at it we have an excellent government in Australia.”

Within weeks of campaigning for Howard, Brethren were offering covert but well-funded support for George Bush. Intervention in Canada and New Zealand followed. Earlier this year, Brethren campaigned hard against the Greens in Tasmania. The strategy involved billboards attacking the Greens, towed through Hobart’s streets by men wearing party masks of freaks and ghouls. The message on the billboards was: “Dangerous Extreme.”…

Fascinating reading.

“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is not Christian

05 July 2006

That is the thesis of Blasphemy in Song by Laurence M. Vance, which The Poet sent me yesterday. The much revered Cam Williamson, the Presbyterian Minister at Sutherland in my teenage years (before that church went crazy Calvinist), said as much fifty years ago, so this comes as no surprise to me, no matter how popular the tune, at least, has become in all sorts of places:

Glory, glory to South Sydney! Glory, glory to South Sydney! Glory, glory to South Sydney!… etc.

As Vance says:

Although the Bible likens Christians to soldiers (2 Timothy 2:3), and the Christian life to a battle (1 Timothy 1:18), the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” is not a song that should be on the lips of any Christian. It is not a Christian hymn at all. It is a disgrace that the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” even appears in a Christian hymnbook alongside of such great hymns of the faith as: “Blessed Redeemer,” “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name,” “The Way of the Cross Leads Home,” “That Beautiful Name,” and “O Worship the King.” Julia Ward Howe was a Unitarian, and wrote the song as a partisan Unionist during the beginning of the Civil War. The “Battle Hymn of the Republic” is religious war propaganda. It is no more a Christian hymn than “White Christmas.”
Like many who lived during the nineteenth century, Howe was very familiar with the Bible. Consequently, the language and imagery of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” are largely biblical. The problem, however, is that Howe applied the judgment of the “day of the Lord” to the destruction of the Southern armies by the North…

The “Battle Hymn of the Republic” ought to be parodied, satirized, and lampooned. It has nothing to do with God or Christianity. It is not a Christian hymn. It does not belong in a Christian hymnbook. It should not be sung in any Christian church – Northern or Southern. It should not be on the lips of any Christian – Yankee or Southerner. It is partisan political paean to bogus history and faulty theology…

I think we can see his viewpoint clearly enough there!

A birthday in South Sydney

09 July 2006

Church was rather amazing this morning. For starters, there was one of those times where real life enters the picture: someone dealing with the suicide just this week of her brother, and coming to the church for help. Makes you wonder where people might go otherwise?

Dorothy McRae-McMahon preached this morning, as honest and loving and humble as ever. On the Uniting Church and sexuality the general feeling was to be glad to be in a church that, when it comes down to it, does embrace difference.

Dorothy gave me a poem for my birthday.

I will not die an unlived life,
I will not go in fear
Of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
To allow my living to open to me,
To make me less afraid,
More accessible,
To loosen my heart
Until it becomes a wing,
A torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance:
To live.
So that which came to me as seed,
Goes to the next as blossom,
And that which came to me as blossom,
Goes on as fruit.

Those words from Iona Community poet Davna Markova are quoted at the end of The Myths of Christianity – 3 by Bishop Richard Holloway, whose work I so like.

Now for lunch with Lord Malcolm and Sirdan.



13 July 2006

I have long been a fan of Riverbend’s girl blog from Baghdad, about which you may read more in my Lines from a Floating Life (formerly) on Blogspot. She does not post all that often, understandably. Her latest, dated 11 July 2006, is a cracker.

It’s like Baghdad is no longer one city, it’s a dozen different smaller cities each infected with its own form of violence. It’s gotten so that I dread sleeping because the morning always brings so much bad news. The television shows the images and the radio stations broadcast it. The newspapers show images of corpses and angry words jump out at you from their pages, “civil war… death… killing… bombing… rape…”

Reading 1 Samuel and reflections on the Bible and two complementary books

13 July 2006

As well as reading the Book of Acts, as I said a few days back, my following of the Episcopal lectionary has taken me back to the story of Samuel, Saul and David. I have absolutely no doubt that the best approach to these stories is to read them as poetic, or, if you like, to regard them as being about as historical as Hamlet or even The Lord of the Rings. They are clearly legendary tales, albeit with a core of history. Archaeologists and scholars differ on just what that core consists of, but there is a certain attraction in the minimalist position of Thomas L Thompson..

The history of Palestine and of its peoples is very different from the Bible’s narratives, whatever political claims to the contrary may be. An independent history of Judea during the Iron I and Iron II periods has little room for historicizing readings of the stories of I-II Samuel and I Kings.

The implications of such a position are of course enormous, serving the interest of none of the parties in the current mess that is Palestine/Israel. I do not believe the historical reality of Abraham/Ibrahim as represented in the Bible or in the Quran, a point I argue elsewhere, finding it utterly tragic that belief in such matters has been the occasion for the deaths of so many innocents down the years. I do accept the right of Israel to exist, but I deplore the way this project has been carried out. The United Nations should have been taken far more seriously on all sides of this matter, and the USA should have been far more critical of Israeli irredentism. In my view Jerusalem should be no-one’s capital, but an international enclave. Not many agree with me. See, however, Mitchell Plitnick of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Given all that, I sympathise with Sam Harris’s The End of Faith (pb 2006).

Our situation is this: most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book. We have the misfortune of having many such books on hand, each making an exclusive claim as to its infallibility… Each of these texts urges its readers to adopt a variety of beliefs and practices, some of which are benign, many of which are not.

However, Harris goes on to reject the very position which I see as a way out of this dilemma, a critical reading of these sacred texts which values the teaching while rejecting the infallibility and the historical accretions of dogma and false certainties. None of that would surprise the writers on Radical Faith, nor would such thoughts be alien to people like Karen Armstrong or John Shelby Spong.

In The Twilight of Atheism (2004), which I first alluded to in July 2005, Alister McGrath quite properly punctures many of the dogmas of atheism, including the delusion that it is necessarily more tolerant than its opposite; there is an atheist fundamentalism as well, just as vicious, when given the chance, as any other.

McGrath’s book is particularly strong on certain aspects of European, especially British, literary history. I would recommend him to anyone on the Romantic poets, for example, and on what Shelley meant by atheism. On the other hand, I find it sad that he could write a book arguing for theism from such a narrow cultural base, ignoring, really, over a billion of the world’s monotheists. The time for such parochialism is surely over. The most curious aspect of the book is that he makes postmodernism strangely attractive, while ostensibly arguing against it — in a chapter, I might add, that is good in itself but very poorly documented compared with the rest of the book, constantly referring to texts which are not listed in the bibliography at the end. Again McGrath rejects the position that probably makes most sense, so there is a curious convergence, in that respect, with Sam Harris.

One interesting minor point in McGrath’s account of Charles Darwin is his assertion that much of the received account of the great debate between Bishop “Soapy Sam” Wilberforce and T H Huxley is legend rather than fact. This may be so: I have found the article McGrath mentions but does not footnote: “Wilberforce and Huxley: A Legendary Encounter” by J R Lucas. Make what you will of that. It is ironic that McGrath seems reluctant to apply the same historical methodology to the Bible.


25 July 2006

Lately I have been getting mobile phone calls from The Mine, desperate to have me back in one of the welfare roles I used to inhabit. So today I am off to The Mine with a republished CV and a form of application to become what used to known impolitely as a “retread” — a retired teacher returning to service. I have no intention to do anything major though. Forty years (not just at The Mine) really is enough.


Lunch at Johnnie’s Fish Cafe

30 July 2006

Not with Lord Malcolm and Sirdan today, but with Delenio, who told me about a recent typo I am about to correct… Very pleasant day. Talked of many things, including Master Fu, and wondered about The Rabbit. After that I caught up with The Empress and a few others. Next week is Sirdan’s birthday, and something may be happening then.