Author Archives: thatsmyphilosophy

Christians Lie!

Most moments in our lives wash over us, quickly forgotten. The information which shapes and changes our views is often acquired incrementally –  we know what we believe, but it’s hard to recall how or when we came to form our opinions. But, on rare occasions,  a single insight, or piece of information, can transform your understanding of the world in an instant.  These tectonic shifts in perspective are so rare, they become etched, indelibly, in our memories and can change our lives forever. The revelation that changed my life and world-view was the statement, “Christians lie.”

Long before I was any kind of activist, long before I’d even started the university degrees which gave me the skills I now use as a professional researcher, I attended a party. The host was a ghost-writer for a series of famous detective novels, the guests, an eclectic mix of professionals, artists and writers, and a few ‘randoms’ like me. 

At that time, I had very few strong convictions. I wasn’t religious, but I was curious about the history of religion. I knew nothing about evolution – it wasn’t taught at the private school I attended as a teen. And, although I may well have agreed with the concept of voluntary assisted dying, it wasn’t a subject to which I’d been exposed. I might have described myself as nominally Christian, although I’d long since ceased to believe in an omniscient or omnipresent deity. Like most Australians then, and probably now, I thought of Christians and Christianity in general as ‘good’ – even if I didn’t buy in to the whole ‘God’ thing.

A young couple at this party stood out from the rest of the guests. Looking vaguely like hippies, I saw them locked in earnest conversation with a man in his 40s, who I knew to be a scientist. I didn’t like him much. He was abrasive and arrogant, but the volume of the conversation was escalating and I was intrigued, so I moved in as a spectator. 

They were discussing evolution. The young couple, recently converted to some fundamentalist faith, were arguing passionately that the theory of evolution had been definitively debunked; that only creationism could explain the complexity and diversity of life on earth. To my uneducated ear, they sounded well-educated, well-read and convincing. But, the scientist was better read, knew the sources they were relying on, and eviscerated their argument forensically. 

“Who says that?” 

“Based on what evidence?” 

“That’s not what that study says! Have you read it?” 

“You’re quoting that completely out of context? What he really said was …”

It was the first time I’d witnessed a clash between ‘belief’ and ‘knowledge’ and, at length, ‘belief’ was reduced to a lot of ‘humming and harring’ until, roundly defeated, it retreated to the buffet and affected a feigned fascination with the finger food.  

Talking to the scientist later, I said, “I enjoyed the argument, but they did seem really well read and well informed. What about all the evidence they talked about?”

The scientist looked me straight in the eye, and in a tone which reminded me of God instructing Moses from the burning bush he said intoned slowly,  but emphatically, “Christians lie!”

I was not, then, particularly well educated, but I was not stupid. I had, of course, entertained the idea that Christians might be mistaken in their beliefs. But, it had never occurred to me that people who aim to emulate Christ and inhabit the high moral ground might tell bald-faced lies. It would be another 20 years before I’d call myself an atheist, but this was a revelation which changed my entire view of the world. In fact, the idea that Christians might lie hit me so forcefully that every time I find evidence to support that assertion, I time-travel back to that long-ago party and hear the scientist’s words ringing in my ears.

Some time later, I came across research undertaken by Dr Martin Bridgstock. In the 1980s, Bridgstock was struck by the amount of ‘scientific evidence’ being put forward to support creationism. The material was sufficiently convincing that Bridgstock decided he should investigate it. Just as I had been at the debate at that party, Dr Bridgstock was taken aback to find the Christians compiling these academic arguments weren’t just mistaken – they were lying. 

He says:

“Anyone encountering creationist claims for the first time is bound to be struck by the amount of scientific evidence they produce. Major scientists are quoted, scientific papers referred to, and important findings detailed. Given the sweeping nature of the creationist challenge, it is logical to ask a simple, basic question: how reliable is the evidence that creationists produce? 

… I examined the creationist literature, and checked claims that creationists made. Two rough statistics summarise my findings. 

First, on average, each creationist reference to science has two errors: these comprise a minor error (e.g. a wrong page, date, or an error in a quote) and a major error. The latter is an error which gravely misrepresents, and changes the meaning of the evidence quoted. 

The second statistic is that roughly 90 per cent of creationist references to science have something gravely wrong with them: that is, they have major errors.

This result — repeated many times — shocked me profoundly. It meant, if correct, that creationist claims could not be believed without careful checking. It also meant that the normal give-and-take of discussion simply could not exist: how can you discuss something with people who have made so many errors?

Bridgstock continues:

… Misquotes are not uncommon in creationist literature. More common is taking a quote, or some information out of context, so that its meaning is altered.

… It is quite common to find creationists quoting only part of a scientific paper, if the part they do not quote conflicts with the point they wish to make.”

And, once misleading academic-sounding documents are published, he says:

“… one notices also that they quote themselves and other creationists extensively.”

That is, having misrepresented legitimate academic texts, they then quote their own dishonest texts as evidence.

Bridgstock concludes:  

“As one works through the creationist literature, one constantly finds errors, changes and misquotes of this type. On top of these major errors, there is also a thick scattering of trivial errors. This suggests to me and to other researchers that creationist claims are not reliable. Ultimately, this lack of accuracy appears as a form of arrogance. The one thing any researcher needs is humility before the majesty and complexity of the universe. It is this lack which renders creationism a menace to scientific enquiry.”

Reading Bridgstock was another one of those “lightning bolt” moments in my intellectual evolution. It took me from the assertion that “Christians lie” to carefully documented and incontestable evidence that this was true.

By the time I read Bridgstock I was much better educated, having completed a university degree and post-graduate studies as a mature-age student. Concepts such as ‘evidence’, ‘credible sources’, ‘respecting the context of quotations’ and ‘being aware of ideological agendas’ had been drummed into me. With this rigorous training behind me, I was even more aghast that anyone with a tertiary education could betray the discipline of academic research and writing this way.

In 2013, I attended a debate in Brisbane between astrophysicist Professor Lawrence Krauss and Dr William Lane Craig on the topic, “Has Science Buried God?” Speaking first, Krauss, to the shock of both the audience and Craig, immediately launched into an impassioned speech about his opponent’s history of lying for Jesus. It was brutal, but Krauss didn’t just claim that Craig was a liar, he backed it up with video evidence. Speaking to Eternity News after the debate, Krauss explained:

“There’s no point in my debating William Lane Craig—he’s not going to learn anything from me or listen.

… I happen to think William Lane Craig abuses science and says many, many, many things that are not only disingenuous but untruthful, but recognises that his audience won’t know that. So one of the reasons I like to do these [debates], and certainly why I agreed to allow the first one to be videotaped, is to demonstrate explicitly examples of where he says things that he knows to be manifestly wrong, but also knows that the audience won’t have access to the information.

… I wanted to show that he was a liar. I think I did that, in my opinion, in the last debate. And I’ll do it again. I want to show what the science is. So I’ll show it again.”

Krauss continued:

“… when Dr Craig says ‘Scientists say this’ without any support, without any references, that it’s just some quote from someone, or no quote at all … [people] should be suspicious of what he says.

… I think he knowingly abuses science and other people’s arguments—distorts them— I think he does it because he believes in the end. He amazingly believes, wholeheartedly, in the scriptures. And I think his attitude is that because they’re right, anything goes to prove their right. But that’s not how we learn about the world.”

Around this time, voluntary assisted dying was becoming a hot topic of conversation and, as I heard the many arguments advanced in opposition to it, I started using the research skills I’d learned at university and had honed in the years since graduating to look into it. My research took me right back to that party in the 1990s where I was first introduced to the idea that Christians lie. I became such of an expert on the subject, I was invited to deliver the keynote speech to the Dying with Dignity NSW annual conference in 2011.

In my speech, I argued that Christians were not just lying about voluntary assisted dying, they were using the same dishonest tactics to argue on various fronts – about abortion, LGBTIQ people, and stem-cell research. Different topics, same strategy. I argued that the material emanating from pro-life and anti-gay advocates wasn’t just misinformed – it was blatant and deliberate lying. It was dishonesty and deception strategically employed for the purpose of achieving a religious goal.

I gave the example of The Family Council of Victoria (FCV) –  affiliated with a number of prominent Christians and Christian organisations including the Catholic Women’s League and Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party. At that time, under the heading “Abortion and Breast Cancer” the Family Council of Victoria’s website stated that: 

“The link between induced abortion and breast cancer is substantial … The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the U.K. has issued warnings of a 30% greater risk of breast cancer via leaflets and the internet.” 

But, when I checked the website of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), it said:

“… there is now evidence to conclude that induced abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk.”

And, it was not just that the FCV hadn’t caught up with the latest news. The RCOG’s statement had been on their website for eight years

Another example related to LGBTIQ issues. An anti-gay Christian group called the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuals had cited an article by Professor Lisa Diamond to support the thesis that sexual identity can be changed. In fact, her study said exactly the opposite. Professor Diamond pulled no punches in her public rebuke:

“… there’s no chance that this is a misunderstanding, or simply a different scientific interpretation of the data, that’s simply not possible. This is a wilful misuse and distortion of my research. Not an academic disagreement, not a slight shading of the truth, its wilful distortion. And it’s illegitimate, and it’s irresponsible, and you know that, and you should stop.” 

As I’ve developed as a researcher, I’ve learned that on issues such as evolution, abortion, stem-cell research, LGBTIQ issues and voluntary assisted dying, when you find a claim or an anecdote that is blatantly untrue, the source will almost inevitably be a Christian activist or organisation – although the link will almost always be concealed or undeclared. Dig enough and you’ll find that doctor is a devout Catholic or Mormon, that ‘neutral’ journalist is an evangelical Christian, that outspoken politician is even more outspoken when addressing her local Baptist church, that ‘secular’ bio-ethics organisation is funded by the Catholic Church, that MP’s presentation was authored by a religious ghost-writer with no academic qualifications, and that ‘not particularly religious’ opinion writer has strong family links to a fundamentalist church.

The lying, coupled with the subterfuge, is jarring – even after you’ve encountered it time after time after time. 

It should come as no surprise that opposition to voluntary assisted dying is almost exclusively linked to, or inflamed by, religious activists or organisations. In an interview with VAD activist, Neil Francis, Els Borst, the Dutch MP who first introduced VAD legislation to the Netherlands, reveals there was a time when the lies emanating from the Vatican were so egregious, the Dutch government sent a delegation threatening to cut diplomatic ties. 

Els Borst: Their journal, the Osservatore Romano, was writing, was publishing articles saying that in the Netherlands, people who went to a nursing home or an old people’s home, didn’t dare to do that any more because they were so afraid they would be killed by their doctor after a week or so.

And we were so angry about this, absolute lies, that we went together, to the Vatican, and we told them that if they didn’t stop that sort of lies in their journal, that we would stop diplomatic relations with Vatican City.

I can still remember the night Neil shared that, as yet, unpublished information to me, as we shared an Asian meal in Brisbane. I found I still had the capacity to be shocked.

One of the most scathing assessments of this religious strategy of dishonesty and deceit comes from John Griffiths, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Groningen. Writing in a scholarly book on Euthanasia and Law in Europe, Griffiths says:

“Imprecision, exaggeration, suggestion and innuendo, misinterpretation and misrepresentation, ideological ipsedixitism, and downright lying and slander (not to speak of bad manners) have taken the place of careful analysis of the problem and consideration of the Dutch evidence.”

I had Griffith’s quote in mind today as I was reading a document, recently published by Andrew Denton’s Go Gentle Australia (GGA) (for which, in full disclosure, I have done some work in my professional capacity as a freelance researcher.) GGA’s “A Guide to the Debate on Voluntary Assisted Dying” points to a ‘minority report’ opposing the introduction of VAD, by Western Australian MP, Nick Goiran. Goiran (a committed Christian) warns of the high number of wrongful deaths occurring in countries and jurisdictions which have legalised VAD. At face value, it’s a terrifying account. But GGA’s assessment of Goiran’s claims is strangely reminiscent of Martin Bridgstock’s critique of creationist literature, three decades earlier. GGA explains:

“Analysis shows the bulk of the evidence used in this report was not peer reviewed but instead came from abbreviated versions of official reports taken out of context, newspaper stories and anecdotes told by anti-euthanasia physicians.

A detailed investigation of 26 allegations of ‘wrongful deaths’ presented in the Minority Report shows that only six out of 26 cases (less than a quarter) related to patients who may qualify for an assisted death (under the legislation that was being debated in Western Australia).

Twenty cases in the Minority Report were entirely irrelevant because the subjects fell outside the proposed criteria.”

Among those cases found by GGA to have been grossly misrepresented in Mr Goiran’s account were: one rejected as ‘lacking veracity’ by the CEO of the health care provider in which the incident occurred; four in which the victim of the ‘wrongful death’ was still alive, and; two in which the subjects were not approved for assisted deaths and died by their own hands.

In short, the report was a tissue of lies, based on half-truths, misreporting and information taken out of context. And Goiran is far from the only culprit. This is not the exception, but the rule.

Now, let me be clear. When I say “Christians lie” I do not mean every Christian lies. I don’t even mean that most Christians lie. But what I can say is that Christians who engage in ideological activism designed to curtail the freedoms of others, or impose their religious views upon those who don’t share them, routinely lie, distort, misquote, and present information out of context – and they do it deliberately. I know this because I have seen them corrected and directed to the correct information time and time again, and yet, they continue to pump out the same, old, discredited arguments. 

Further, not content with this outrageous mendacity, they routinely conceal, and, in fact, deny outright, the religious ideology which underpins their convictions. 

Call me naive, but even today, when I scratch the surface and find that a blatantly dishonest account has been authored by a Christian I am still as shocked as I was the first time the scientist at that party said to me, “Christians lie.” 

I still struggle to understand how people who claim to be fighting on the side of truth and morality are routinely willing to just make shit up in order to achieve their goals. What’s more, because I do not tar all Christians with the one brush, I know that many, perhaps most, Christians are appalled at what is being done, and said, in their name. It is, to put it in Biblical terms, an abomination.

Christians lie. In doing so they betray everything their religion is supposed to stand for. Conservative Christian activists are dedicated to defending the things they hold sacred, but they are all too ready to violate the one thing that should be sacred to all of us, whether we are people of faith or of none – the truth. 

Chrys Stevenson

“Climb Every Mountain” – Scott Morrison’s Speech to the ACC

Earlier this week, I listened to a snippet of Scott Morrison’s speech at the Australian Christian Churches Conference. Today, I bit the bullet and watched the whole speech. I’d like to talk about Morrison’s three main points:

1. That protection (i.e. social assistance and welfare) should come from ‘community’ not the state, and that those who expect protection from the state are immoral.

2. That groups which coalesce in order to obtain protection from the state are evil and strip their members of their individuality and humanity.

3. That it is not his job to save the world – it is God’s, working through his community of believers.

Now, there are some pretty big contradictions in Morrison’s speech. There he is, a Pentecostal Christian, speaking to a group of people who identify first and foremost as Pentecostal Christians. His speech is littered with the jargon of Pentecostal Christianity. And, as he speaks, the audience responds vocally in a ritual heard only in Pentecostal Churches. The Prime Minister enjoins them to form (church) communities and bring others into them. None of this, apparently, strips the members of the ACC churches of their humanity in the way that identifying as a feminist, a unionist, a refugee, a person of colour, a person with disabilities, or a member of the LGBTIQ community does.

Morrison decries this kind of ‘identity politics’ saying:

“There is a fashion, these days, to not think of Australians as individuals. There is, particularly, I think, amongst our young people – and I worry about this – people think of themselves (it’s called ‘identity politics’), they think of themselves by the things they can describe in collective with others – these are important things – one’s ancestry, one’s gender, where one’s from …. but there is a tendency for people not to see themselves and value themselves in their own right as individuals. And to see themselves only defined by some group. And to get lost in that group, and you know when you do that you lose your humanity. And you lose your connection, I think, one to each other. And you’re defined by your group not by, I believe, who God has created you to be, and to understand that. And that’s a big thing going on in our community and our society, and it’s corrosive. It’s absolutely corrosive, and I think it’s undermining community and I think it’s undermining the self-worth Australians can have. ‘Cos if you’re only defined by what pack you’re in, or what group you’re in, or what box you’ve been put in, and how others have defined you or sought to define you, either to enlist you to their cause or whatever that might be, Australians need to understand that they, themselves, individually and personally are unique and wonderful. … I think it’s an evil thing, I think it’s a very evil thing. And we’ve got to pray about it. We’ve got to call it out. We’ve got to raise up spiritual weapons against this.”

And just how do you raise up spiritual weapons? Through the church. In fact, he calls upon his audience to go out and evangelise to build (church) communities.

“I need you to … reach out and let each and every Australian know that they are important, that they are significant and, as we believe, they are created in the image of God. And in understanding that, they can go on a journey that I’m very confident you can take them on.”

Morrison makes it crystal clear that when he says ‘community’ he means ‘church community’.

“I’ve always been at a community church. That’s where I want to be. In a church that believes in community and creates community. And the essence of community is each individual understanding that they’re valued, that they’re unique, that they can respect one another, that they can contribute to one another. We cannot allow what we feel entitled to, to be more important than what we’re responsible for … Morality is about not only focussing on you, but on the person next to you … That is the essence of community. You can’t pass a law for it.”

You can’t pass a law to show people they’re valued? You can’t pass a law to encourage people to respect each other, e.g. in the workplace? You can’t pass a law to ensure that the disadvantaged get a hand up and a fair go? I’d beg to differ.

When Morrison says, “I need you to keep building community in this country,” he doesn’t mean communities of disadvantaged people, he means faith communities. When he says, “You can’t replace community with governments,” he means, “You can’t replace church communities with governments.”

He makes this very clear in his opening comments. When Morrison (not uncharacteristically) offered no useful solutions to social problems, he says Jenny Morrison’s father would become frustrated. In response, Morrison would say, “You know Roy, I can’t fix the world. I can’t save the world. We both believe in someone who can.”

For Morrison, the solution to social problems is to outsource them to God. It’s a typical Morrison “it’s-not-my-job” response. It’s not my job to hold a hose. It’s not my job to fix social problems. It’s not the government’s job to fix social problems.

And, for Morrison, people who work in co-operation outside the church to lobby the government to address social inequity are involved in the work of the devil. He drives this point home by referencing Rabbi Jonathan Sacks book on morality.

“Our rights used to be how we were protected from the state. And now, it’s what we expect from it.… What we once expected from family and community, now we contract this to the state and to the market.”

Morrison agrees, saying, “You can’t replace community with governments, with the markets, with other institutions .. you can’t!”

The Prime Minister makes it clear that when he is talking about “community” he is talking about a church community.

His ACC speech is self-indulgent and waffley, but it’s full of Pentecostal dog-whistles. Essentially, he is preaching the Pentecostal prosperity doctrine of individualism. What counts is not what disadvantage you’ve been born with or acquired throughout your life, but your relationship with God. If your relationship with God is strong enough, and if you tithe until it hurts, He will lift you out of your disadvantage you and reward you. If you are not rewarded, you have only yourself to blame.

As Bruce Duncan explains in an article for Social Policy Connections:

“The ‘prosperity gospel’ reduces religion to a magical technique to advance one’s individual self-interest, ignoring that the Gospel is meant to be ‘good news for the poor’, the Bible’s code for all in distress. The prosperity gospel instead focuses on individual wellbeing, rather than promoting wider concepts of solidarity and social justice in an effort to promote the common good of everyone, but especially of the most disadvantaged or marginalised.”

Duncan reminds us that, as Treasurer, Morrison:

“… pursued hard-line neoliberal policies, condemning welfare recipients as the ‘taxed nots’ while committing $65bn in tax cuts for the big corporates. More recently he rejected ‘the politics of envy’, code to disparage calls arguments for a fairer distribution of wealth, and deplored those who are ‘takers’ but not ‘makers’.”

For Morrison and his ilk, if anyone is going to look after the poor, the marginalised and the disadvantaged, it should not be the government – it should be the community – the church community. And, of course, it is his tribe of fundamentalist Christians who will decide who gets what, who is deserving and which people just need to ‘pray for God to change them’ or just pull their goddamn socks up.

Morrison’s ACC speech is just a fuzzy version of hardline fundamentalist Christian economics. Here’s what Christian libertarian, Thomas L Johnson, says on the subject:

“Any Christian who does not openly and vehemently denounce all forms of government welfare, cannot, in truth, call himself a Christian, for government welfare is the antithesis of Christian char­ity. Government welfare operates on the premise of force, whereas Christian charity can only exist where there is freedom of choice —where there is an act of the indi­vidual will. Since government wel­fare programs are outside the con­trol of the individual, and thus outside the realm of free will, they are outside the province of Chris­tian morality and are consequently evil, and must be condemned by all moral men.”

Morrison could have taken exactly this quote as the basis for his speech. But why would he suggest that such a huge burden be carried by people of faith?

Because, when the poor and disadvantaged become dependent on the church, the church gets the big government grants and the power that goes with that. What’s more, the church gets to call the shots on the services it provides.

We can already see the effect of this in the Catholic Church’s dominance in the health care sector. Regardless of the patient’s personal needs or beliefs, Catholic hospitals deny them access to legal procedures like abortion, tubal ligation, and voluntary assisted dying because they do not accord with the institution’s Christian values.

When the Church, rather than feminist groups, provides pre-natal counselling services, abortion is not mentioned as an option. If the subject is raised, the pregnant female is provided with a raft of misinformation about how abortion is likely to cause breast cancer and psychological issues. God’s work is done.

Churches like Hillsong and Horizon, hold to the New Apostolic Reformation’s 7 Mountains Mandate. Their aim is to build the power and influence of the church across all public institutions in order to create a global theocracy. Only then, they believe, will Jesus return to the God-fearing society his apostles (NAR church leaders) have prepared for him.

So, when Morrison tells you his policies aren’t derived from the Bible he’s probably right, they aren’t. But they’re certainly inspired by the twisted tenets and beliefs of the Australian Christian (Pentecostal) Churches and the New Apostolic Reformation.

The idea that Christian charities can take the place of the welfare state was particularly popular in America under Trump. Emma Green in The Atlantic tells us:

“President Trump’s initial budget proposal would end aid for poor families to pay their heating bills, defund after-school programs at public schools, and make fewer grants available to college students. Community block grants that provide disaster relief, aid neighborhoods affected by foreclosure, and help rural communities access water, sewer systems, and safe housing would be eliminated.”

Importantly, Green notes that most of the money that goes into churches doesn’t get spent on helping the poor and the disadvantaged, but goes towards the defraying the costs (and luxurious lifestyles) of clergy, building, materials, etc. That’s been very obvious in the recent Hillsong scandal in the USA where money tithed to the Church was used for the high-flying life-styles of the pastors.

Here in Australia, when Hillsong teamed with an Aboriginal group in Redfern to obtain a government grant, the money was spent on its own staff. The mob at Redfern barely received a cent. We’re seeing similar problems with faith-based employment services.

Make no mistake, Morrison sees the devil at work in women’s March4Justice, in refugees’ rights groups, and in LGBTIQ communities. The only community he is not threatened by is the community of fundamentalist Christians and, it is to this community he wishes to channel the maximum amount of money and power.

Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

In his speech to the ACC, Scott Morrison has shown us who he is.

Chrys Stevenson

Ultracrepidarianism – A Load of Old Cobblers

 

This article appears in the Winter 2020 edition of The New Liberator, published by the Rationalist Association of NSW. Back issues of The New Liberator are available on the association’s website. Membership of the NSW Rationalists is very reasonable and includes 4 hard-copy issues of the New Liberator per year and the chance to participate in the ‘RATS’ lobbying efforts. Established in 1912, The Rationalist Association of NSW is currently headed by Meg and Max Wallace and Steve Maxwell. For membership and enquiries, email: nswrationalists@gmail.com. You do not have to live in NSW to join.

It’s been a hell of a year. We’re only half way through 2020 and already Australians have battled bushfires of unprecedented scale and ferocity, watched a global pandemic kill hundreds of thousands and send countries and individuals into self-isolation. Now, we’re looking on as America’s tinder-box of racial and cultural polarisation begins to ignite.

Crisis brings out the best and the worst in us; it throws trends which have been bubbling along in the background into stark relief. One of those trends is not new, but perhaps more prevalent as politicians and populations grapple with how to understand and manage a tsunami of apocalyptic challenges. There’s an old saying, “Opinions are like arseholes – everyone has one.” That’s never been so true. Today, the unqualified, unfiltered, and often unwashed denizens of social media fill our news feeds with their self-confident, and often contrarian, views on current affairs. Lately, the world seems to be full of Renaissance men (and, to a lesser extent, women) who appear to have in-depth, expert knowledge on any subject you care to mention. As an American Facebooker, Tyler Boshoven, recently observed:

“I think the coolest thing about this entire Coronavirus thing is realizing how many people I know have been secret expert virologists this entire time! Like, I know most experts are warning about the severity of the virus, but Johnny drop out over here says it’s no big deal!” 

What caused Australia’s bushfires? Climate change? That’s certainly the view of climate scientists and pyrologists. In November 2019, fire chiefs warned “the climate crisis was making bushfires deadlier and bushfire season longer.” But, because that narrative didn’t suit the Coalition and big business, the issue quickly became politicised. Murdoch journalists, coalition politicians and right-wing commentators deflected attention from climate change by pointing the finger at arsonists. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence that this was not the case, people with no expertise in climate science or fire-fighting dug in.

What caused COVID-19? Virologists who examined the virus closely say it has none of the tell-tale signs of genetic manipulation. Yet social media buzzes with conspiracy theories that the virus is a Chinese biological weapon, deliberately released to bring down Western democracy. Some conspiracists argue that radiation from 5G phone networks has compromised our immune systems and that the virus is a ploy to introduce legislation for compulsory vaccination and inject us all with tracking chips. That this fear-mongering directly contradicts the views of experts matters very little. One in eight Australians now believe 5G is spreading Coronavirus and nearly half believe the virus came from a Chinese laboratory (Essential Poll, 2020).

Recently, when Professor Peter Doherty warned that Australians are becoming too relaxed about COVID-19, The Australian’s economic journalist, Adam Creighton, responded, “I’m concerned people aren’t relaxed enough!” Twitter wit, @DocMelbourne pondered: 

 “Hmmm. who to trust? One of Murdoch’s lackeys or a Nobel Prize winning immunologist?”

For those of us who value expert opinion, scientific consensus and the importance of evidence, the world seems to have become a Huxleyan dystopia in which experts are untrustworthy no-nothings while @WuhanWarrior from Twitter, a high-school drop-out who works at the local Higgledy-Piggledy, knows the ‘real truth’ because he’s ‘done his own research.’

Fire and pestilence are not the only crises we are confronting this year – we have been afflicted with a plague of ultracrepidarians – people who give (usually contrarian) advice and opinions outside their own area of expertise.

While ultracrepidarianism is a contemporary issue, it is far from a modern affliction. The etymological roots of the word ‘ultracrepidarian’ come from the story of the artist, Apelles of Koa, recounted by Pliny the Elder around 4BC. When Apelles put his art on show, the artist liked to hide behind his paintings in order to eavesdrop on people commenting about his skill. Apelles was a reasonable man. When a cobbler noted that Apelles’ rendering of a sandal was flawed, the artist recognised the man’s expertise and repainted it. Emboldened by the artist’s respect for his knowledge, the cobbler then ventured to suggest the subject’s leg could also do with some correction. This was a step too far for Apelles who rebuked the cobbler, “Sutor, ne ultra crepidam!” – literally, “Shoemaker! Not beyond the shoe!”

Photo:  Apelles fresco by Giorgio Vasari, Casa Vasari, Florence

Following Pliny, English satirist, William Hazlitt, recorded the word, ultracrepidarian in 1819. In a put-down that would not be out of place in a Facebook flame war, Hazlitt railed at a newspaper editor: 

 “You have been well-called an Ultra-Crepidarian critic. From the difficulty you yourself have in constructing a sentence of common grammar, and your frequent failures, you instinctly presume that no author that comes under the lash of your pen can understand his mother-tongue … There is an innate meanness and vulgarity in all you do.” 

It should come as no surprise that, 200 years after Hazlitt, ultracrepidarianism is taking over the interwebs. After all, the free world is now led by America’s ultracrepidarian-in-chief, President Donald Trump. Trump is the poster-child – the apotheosis – of ultracrepidarianism. Never, in the history of the world, has there been a greater ultracrepidarian! Trump (who lied about graduating first in his class), graduated from Wharton business school without honours. Six of his businesses were declared bankrupt between 1991 and 2009. Yet, he claims to have an almost super-human breadth and depth of superior knowledge. According to Trump:

“I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world.”

“Nobody in the history of this country has ever known so much about infrastructure as Donald Trump.”

“I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth.”

“I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.”

“There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.”

“Nobody knows banking better than I do.”

“I understand the power of Facebook maybe better than almost anybody.”

“Nobody knows more about debt.” (That just might be true!)

Omnisciently, Trump even claims:

“I know more about Cory [Booker] than he knows about himself.”

Completely undeterred by his lack of medical training, President Trump recently astonished his medical advisers when he suggested that ingesting or injecting household bleach might be a good way to treat COVID-19. Why not? It works on your kitchen benches!

“I’m not a doctor,” the President admitted, but (pointing to his head), “ … I’m, like, a person that has a good you-know-what.”

While Trump clearly values his own expertise, he is not a fan of it in others.

“You know,” he said at a 2016 rally, “I’ve always wanted to say this … the experts are terrible!”

This anti-intellectualism is not confined to Trump. Climate-change denier, Myron Ebell, director of an American libertarian activist group, has derisively dubbed climate change scientists “the expertariate.” Ebell has a masters degree in political theory from the London School of Economics, but no expertise in climate science. Yet, he says:

“The people of America have rejected the expertariate, and I think with good reason because I think the expertariat have been wrong about one thing after another, including climate policy.”

For ideologues, hampered by the fact that science doesn’t support their views, inflating the frequency of scientific error in order to damage the prestige of (and public trust in) scientific institutions is a common strategy.

Anti-intellectualism is not a purely American phenomenon. In 2016, when ten Nobel prize-winning economists warned about the dire economic and social consequences of Brexit, conservative British politician, Michael Gove replied that “people in this country have had enough of experts with organisations from acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong.”

And it seems, Gove, who has no economic credentials (he read English at Oxford), was right. The nation’s leading economists were derided as ‘Chicken Littles’ and Britain voted to leave the EU – 52 to 48 per cent.

Anti-intellectualism flourishes in a world that has embraced a bastardised version of ‘cultural democracy.’ As Salon’s cultural critic, David Masciotra, explains:

“The true villain in a cultural democracy is the intellectual. The intellectual insists on standards of evidence, reason and logic when attempting to reach a conclusion regarding a matter of social import. She undermines the dogma that all nonsense is created equal, which renders her (or indeed him) unfit for participation in the increasingly masochistic rituals of liberty.”

Ironically, the blurring of class barriers and the democratisation of education and knowledge has not lead to a greater respect for expertise. Instead, says Professor Tom Nichols, author of the book The Death of Expertise, democratisation has fostered:

“… the growth of an irrational conviction among Americans that everyone is as smart as everyone else.”

This is not a position of intellectual snobbery. The argument isn’t that experts are smart while everyone else is dumb. Nor is it an argument that people should not seek out information and voice opinions. The problem is not that people are stupid or uneducated, but that people have been encouraged to believe that having a degree, or professional expertise in any area, qualifies them to advance contrarian views beyond their own specialisation. Vocational education bares some responsibility for this compartmentalisation of knowledge. Now, students are educated to be specialists rather than receiving a broad-based education in humanities. An Arts degree is widely viewed as worthless because “it won’t get you a job.”

On Facebook, recently, I was put in my place by an anti-vaccination advocate:  

“A confirmed sheeple indeed! You would do well to research before making such ignorant statements!!! You’ve been blind-sided by incedious [sic] manipulation. As a Natural Health Practitioner, I have been directly involved with the victims of vaccines.”

I am not a scientist, but I am an academically-trained, professional researcher, with 10 years experience researching and debunking vaccination myths. I have actually done my own research.

“Do your own research” is the last resort of the online ultracrepidarian. The problem is that many have no idea how to do their own research and have no appreciation of research as a career in its own right, requiring years of training and professional experience. As Professor Tom Nichols says:

“I fear we are witnessing … a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laypeople, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers—in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.”

This will resonate with those who recently heard celebrity chef and self-appointed ‘wellness guru’, Pete Evans, opine that “doctors don’t know much about biology” while defending his promotion of a machine that flashes coloured lights as a cure for COVID-19. Palpably ‘fed up to pussy’s bow’ with ultracrepidarians like Evans, Michael Vagg, a clinical associate professor at Deakin University School of Medicine says:

“Of all the weasel words immunisation deniers use, I get most infuriated by the ‘do your own research’ trope. You don’t need to. Unless you’re a senior research scientist with your own lab, a posse of postdocs and serious wad of cash, we don’t need your help” (Vagg, The Conversation, 2017).

When people say ‘do your own research’, says Vagg, they want average people to be allowed to disagree with decades of rigorous, serious scientific effort. But, he warns, when relying on the internet: 

“The average person with high-school knowledge and healthy faith in human decency has no chance [of distinguishing fact from fiction].”

What drives people, with no relevant expertise, to dissent from the consensus opinions of those who have spent a lifetime gaining academic and professional credentials in their field? Research confirms Aristotle’s maxim: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” Similarly, psychology has identified the Dunning Kruger effect: “The less you know, the more you think you know.” Like the cobbler in Pliny’s story, when someone is confident in, or recognised for, specialist knowledge they do have, they tend to become hubristic about areas beyond their expertise. Psychologists call this ‘over-claiming.’

Learning new information makes us feel good. Thinking that we’re smart gives us a buzz. But having our opinions or beliefs challenged makes us feel bad. Psychology suggests humans have an innate need to think highly of ourselves – even if this requires a breathtaking level of self-deception. For example, someone can be as dumb as a post and still feel justified in pointing to their head to claim, “I’m like a person who has a good you-know-what.” This is called ‘belief-superiority’ – the conviction that your preconceptions are right, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And don’t be feeling smug! Who among us hasn’t stood on a bathroom scale, exclaimed, “That can’t be right!”, weighed ourselves again (maybe repeatedly), then insisted, “This scale must be broken!”

Belief superiority is nicely illustrated in the Netflix documentary, Behind the Curve. When proponents of the ‘flat earth’ theory invested a substantial amount of time and money into experiments to support their hypothesis that the world is both flat and static, every experiment they conducted proved the opposite. The flat-earthers acknowledged the findings but said, “We obviously were not willing to accept that.” If their scientific experiment had proved their assertion they would have crowed about being right. But when repeated experiments proved they were wrong, they insisted either the equipment or their methodology must have been at fault. As journalist, David McRaney (2011), says on his “You’re Not as Smart as You Think” blog:

“When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.”

Because of the ‘buzz’ we get from validation, people tend to seek out a ‘tribe’ that shares their views. The internet has facilitated that task. People with belief superiority congregate in groups that feed their confirmation bias. The result is the extreme polarisation we are witnessing in today’s ‘culture wars.’ Statistics show that, in America at least, fewer and fewer voters and politicians identify as moderates. The middle-ground is disappearing as people scream at each other across a deepening chasm; each side intransigently convinced they are right – often in absolute ignorance or contradiction of reliable data and evidence.

So what is one to do when confronted with an ultracrepidarian in the wild? While it’s true it’s almost impossible to sway the opinion of the person you’re arguing with, there is a good chance you might influence the bystanders. “Fight for the crowd” is a strategy which dates back to the gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. You are not fighting to win against your opponent, but to convince the audience that your argument deserves a ‘thumbs up.’ Argue to persuade the jury, not the person whose position is clearly entrenched. You almost certainly won’t convince them – but you might just persuade the onlookers that online ultracrepidarian is talking a load of old cobblers.

Chrys Stevenson

 

Cult Awareness Critical

Way back in 2010, I wrote a blog post about the Brisbane Christian Fellowship, a pernicious group of power-hungry, quasi-religious zealots headed by ‘supreme leader’, Vic Hall.

From time to time I get emails from people who have managed to extract themselves from the BCF, due, in part, to reading Helen Pomeroy’s brave testimony about her experience – an experience that nearly killed her.

At the time, Helen was involved in the Streetcar Forum which I’m pleased to see is still up and answering questions for survivors of Hall’s Christian Fellowship cults.

BCF has a ‘sister’ organisation, the MCF – Melbourne Christian Fellowship – also under the auspices of Mr Hall. I recently heard from Paul Kovaks (a pseudonym) who left the cult in 2016. Paul has started a WordPress Blog, MCFExposed, also with the aim of informing and supporting those who are within the grip, or trying to escape from, the psychological and spiritual abuse inflicted by Hall and his group of elders.

Paul says:

“The carnage of destruction from Vic’s messenger word is horrific in scale and nature. People locked up. Families separated. Financial ruins. Children lost. Divorces justified. Men! Women! Wake up. “

It’s important to say that both Helen (at least when I knew her many years ago) and Paul did not abandon their Christian faith – they simply came to realise that the kind of ‘faith’ being peddled by Hall and his cronies was a perverted and abusive form of psychological slavery, completely at odds with the doctrine of the Christian Bible.

I am not a Christian. I don’t believe in God or Hell or eternal damnation and I live a happy, contented and ethical life. People in cults are led to believe that if they do not follow the doctrine of their religious leader, they may as well be atheists for they have abandoned God. This is clearly untrue. People who leave cults can decide to abandon their faith (and, I guarantee, they will not suffer for doing so), but, more often, they retain their faith in God and come to realise that their sincere desire to please God was cruelly exploited by men (and sometimes women) with no authority from the Creator.

For those of us without faith, our aim in exposing cults is not to encourage people to walk away from their religious beliefs, but to walk away from an organization which is preaching a corrupted version of those beliefs and which is causing them pain and psychological damage. As an atheist, I am not in the business of de-converting anyone. And, when people of faith like Helen and Paul tell me their stories, my only aim is to help amplify their voice, not argue with them about religion.

With no authority, other than that which they claim for themselves, Hall and Co. demand that their followers abandon their own hopes, dreams, wishes and personal judgement. They demand that followers forego (what they see as) their personal relationship with Christ, and to have that relationship wholly mediated through the authority of the elders.

Roger Williams, another MCF escapee writes on his blog:

“Most of the time throughout my years in attendance it was publicly and privately expressed and implied that these people as leaders, were the voice and messenger of God, and that to disobey that voice and messenger was to disobey God Himself.”

Williams speaks of:

“A perverted concept of unity, which in reality translated itself into almost total and unquestioned obedience to the leadership. “

That is not a religion – it’s a cult.

According to Paul, those who do not obey the elders are told they are marked for Hell. That is a frightening prospect for someone who believes in such things and whose mental health has been worn down with years of religious/psychological abuse from church ‘authorities’.

No religion should be based on fear. When people fear the consequences of not obeying their leaders, they fear their leaders. When they fear their leaders, they fear each other – they dare not confide their doubts to others lest all hell (literally) breaks loose. And as everyone stays silent, the leaders gain more and more power, and the victims become more and more isolated, worn down and fearful. It is a vicious circle.

Williams says:

“I frequently discerned in my spirit that I was being analyzed as I spoke privately with 2 or 3 of the local Sunbury leaders.  Rarely in my 7 years there, did it feel like we were having a normal conversation expressing the freedom and liberty of the Holy Spirit, as according to 2 Corinthians 3:17.  It was as though they were trying to hunt out sin in my life!”

Under these circumstances, people – people who are supposed to have been made in the image of God – are reduced to little more than vegetative, tithe-paying, cattle. As Paul says on his MCFExposed blog:

“Today I consider MCF to be the ‘Satanic Church of the Vegetative State‘ because nobody there is allowed to do . . anything. Zero initiative allowed. It’s full on Satanic. A waste of human life.”

I thank Paul for contacting me about his escape from the Melbourne Christian Fellowship and his blog. He is trying to get traffic to his blog so that people associated with the MCF will be able to find it through a Google search.

You can find it here:

MCFExposed

 

Chrys Stevenson

 

 

 

Time to take religion out of Anzac commemorations

Harold (Henry) Robert Norman Stevenson

I come from a military family. 

My brother served in both the Australian navy and the airforce.

My cousin and his father served in the airforce.

My father served in the AIF in Morotai.

My uncles served in the Middle East, including one who was in the Rats of Tobruk

Both my grandfathers served in France in World War I.

My grandmother was a military nurse.

My grandfather, Harold Robert Norman Stevenson was the recipient of a Military Medal.

And yet, as the descendant of this military family, I am effectively excluded from attending Anzac Day commemorations because of the overt religiosity (often tinged with right-wing, religious fundamentalism) of the current commemorations. I am sure I am not alone.

Norman A Stevenson

I am an atheist. My father, whose service cost him his mental health, was an atheist – although he preferred to call himself a ‘Jumping Calathumpian’. Yet I cannot attend a commemoration without being assaulted with religious, prayers, sermons and a sanitised version of Anzacs as god-fearing, saintly heroes that would both amuse and horrify them. 

It’s time the RSL took religion out of Anzac services and made them secular. People of all religions and none, including Indigenous soldiers, served at Gallipoli and in other campaigns across time and place. We cannot continue to commemorate them in a way that distorts and dishonours this reality.

Australian defence personnel were not religious in the past, nor are they now. A report from Colonel Philip Hoglin of the Australian Army reminds us of the:

“… overlooked reality that the largest ‘religious’ grouping in the ADF no longer subscribes to, or is affiliated with, a religion.”

John (Jack) Thomas Webster

In 2015, over 47 per cent of ADF personnel had no religion. It is also likely that many of the remaining 53 per cent are only nominally Christian – do not attend church, believe in the power of prayer, or even believe in a supernatural deity. 

Religious ANZAC Day services certainly don’t represent the contemporary ADF. But, what of the Anzacs?

As a group, the Anzacs were not religious. After the war, Australians were profoundly uncomfortable as the church worked assiduously to co-opt the commemorations.

Last year, Ann-Therese King shared a letter from her grandfather’s French fiancée to his mother, describing her impression of the Australian soldiers who defended her homeland in World War I:

“… they are big, hard men, men, who live hard, fight hard, and think less of death than any other body of men I have ever met. They seem to be very irreligious, and sometimes uncouth, but they are brave and large-hearted, and though naturally we have men of all kinds with us, I think their code of honour is the most admirable, that is to be found.” (My emphasis)

This is confirmed by Australian anthropologist, Bruce Kapferer in his book, Legends of People, Myths of State. He says:

“Many of the soldiers … were irreligious virtually by intention. Christian religion was part of the disciplinary framework of the military and the officers of religion were part of that structure of domination which denied to the men a self-determining autonomy valued in egalitarian thought.” (My emphasis)

Similarly, in his book, Inventing Anzac, professor of folklore at Curtin University, Graham Seal, says:

“… the expression and observance of religious belief was discouraged within digger culture.”

What these historians are saying, is that religion is not just irrelevant, but antithetical to the Anzac tradition. 

Kapferer is clear: Religion was not just absent from Anzac culture – irreligion was ‘valorised’. In fact, the essence of Anzac, part of what became the ‘religion’ of Anzac was this irreligiosity. 

Historian, Michael Belcher, refers to the padres who accompanied the Anzacs as ‘poorly appreciated’. The Anzacs, themselves, referred to them as “Cook’s Tourists”.  As World War I veteran, Major Frank Valentine Weir wrote in his letter diary on 31 December 1916:  

“Note all you say re Parson Rogers Chaplains have a great time 1 in bed every night & only 1 parade a week Church – carry the rank of an officer & no responsibility – the free lancer every where they go & recognize no C.O.” 

After the war, says Belcher, most Australian clergy were reluctant to participate formally in Anzac Day commemorations because they did not want to glorify WWI as a ‘Holy War’. 

Indeed, as Carl M F Fischer wrote to the Courier-Mail in 1914:

“If these fighting nations were Christian nations they would obey Christ whose directions are, ‘If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink.’” 

After the war, the Protestant church worked hard to co-opt the Anzac Day ceremonies but there was a huge backlash from diggers and families of other religions and of none. 

By 1938, the Victorian RSL announced:

“An Anzac Day service without prayers which, it Is hoped, will be acceptable to all Churches …”

Their plan did not totally excise religion:

“The proposed new form does not Include spoken prayers or the Benediction, but the hymn ‘Abide with Me’ will be included. An opportunity for those attending the service to recite the Lord’s prayer will be provided.”

The Moderator of the Victorian Presbyterian Assembly (the Right Rev. F. W.Rolland)  responded positively to this mostly secular plan:

“Personally, I realise that the Returned Soldiers’ League desires to have everyone attend the gathering at the Shrine. It is almost Impossible to arrange a service that will suit everyone,and the question seems to resolve itself into securing the greatest good for the greatest number.”

Surely the RSL and the church, today, could be equally as magnanimous?

The extreme religiosity of many Anzac services is disrespectful to the memory and tradition of the Anzacs, to many of their family members and to many of those currently serving in the ADF. The conservative, right wing dog-whistling that takes place in some sermons (see, for example, my “Perverting Anzac Day for Jesus“, 2016)  is exploitative and excludes many of us who would like to participate.

Few would begrudge the opportunity for the faith community to agree upon an ecumenical prayer or observance, but, beyond that, Anzac commemorations must be secular so as not to exclude anyone, including the Anzacs who would not recognise themselves in the sanitised saintly soldiers who are honoured, today, in their stead.

Chrys Stevenson

Why being ‘cheeky’ crosses the line – #MeToo

In a speech presented at The Hollywood Reporter’s 2018 Women in Entertainment gala this week, Australian comedian, Hannah Gadsby, argued that, when it comes to sexual harassment, men – even self-defined ‘good men’ – should not get to define the position of the line that separates harmless human interaction between the sexes and sexual harassment.

The speech resonated widely with women, but I have seen numerous men criticising the speech for being ‘man-hating’ and for advocating a line that will proscribe even the most trivial flirtatious interactions between men and women.

Entertainment reporter, Peter Ford, for example, tweeted that Gadsby’s speech was ‘just sexist mumbo jumbo’.  

“I’m going right off her,” he said.

In an article titled, “Hannah Gadsby, I draw the line at women like you”, Jack Delaney sneers that Gadsby is trying to create a “radical feminist utopia”.

My take on Gadsby’s speech is that she was simply pointing out that men, lacking the lifetime experience of being female, struggle to understand how behaviour they consider to be   ‘acceptable’ can be considered, by many or most women, to be ‘crossing the line’.

They don’t understand how a man who truly believes he is a ‘good bloke’ because he has ‘never crossed the line’ may be viewed completely differently by the women he interacts with. Actions he deems to be ‘well within the line’ may seem, to women (within the context of their lifetimes’ experiences), to be creepy, intimidating, invasive, scary, manipulative, disrespectful and psychologically harmful. 

As I see it, men tend to look at their interactions with women in isolation, while women experience these interactions in the context of decades of micro-aggressions which often begin in childhood; think of ‘death by a thousand paper cuts’. 

Women quickly learn that minor aggressions are often the pre-cursors to even worse verbal and/or physical assaults. If you’re an abused child, your father doesn’t need to actually hit you with his belt to have you cowering in the corner as he slowly removes it from his pants. If your husband is physically violent, it’s hardly comforting that he’s put his fist through the wall and not into your face. You know what’s likely to come next.

Perhaps it’s easier to understand if we imagine an alternative universe, in which a man experiences a minor, affectionate gesture in the context of his lifetime’s experience of interactions with women.

Meet ‘Geoff’.

Geoff is a talented and reliable salesman, accustomed to drawing a modest income.  Until recently, Geoff’s income serviced a sizeable mortgage and monthly car repayments and helped support his wife (whose home-based business is not yet in profit), two school-age children, an elderly mother who lives with them, and a family pet. But Geoff has been out of work for some months now, their savings are dwindling, and he is in desperate need of a job.

This morning, his wife, Sue, sees him to the door on his way to a promising interview.

Before he leaves, Sue pinches Geoff’s cheek affectionately. 

“Go get ‘em tiger”, she says. It’s a loving and intimate gesture that Geoff enjoys.

Geoff boards a crowded bus to the city but, as he walks towards the rear of the vehicle, a random hand reaches out and lightly pinches his cheek. 

This isn’t the same as being pinched by your wife. While it’s not painful, it hits him like a physical assault, and makes him feel unsafe and uncomfortable.

This is not an isolated incident. In fact, Geoff’s cheeks are regularly pinched by women as he walks through crowded places. Geoff stopped going to nightclubs years ago because of the constant pinching – hands coming at him out of the dark like stinging mosquitoes. It made him feel like prey.

His female friends and co-workers don’t understand why it bothers him.

“It’s just harmless fun!” they say soothingly, “You should be flattered. I wish someone would pinch my cheeks!”

Even when Geoff is just walking along the street, minding his own business, women hang out of approaching cars and scream, “Great cheeks! Let us have a squeeze, love, eh?” then zoom past in a hale of cackles. They don’t think they’ve crossed a line. They’re just being nice, showing appreciation for a great set of cheeks. They assume Geoff will bask in the warm glow of their uninvited attention all day. He doesn’t. He finds it confronting and  dehumanising. It makes him feel vulnerable because there’s nothing he can do to stop it – it’s a hit and run attack.

As Geoff disembarks from the bus, a disembodied female voice behind him cat-calls, “Nice set of cheeks, babe.”

He feels embarrassed but he tries to pull himself together. He has to be calm for his interview.

“Well, Geoff,” says the female recruiter, “You seem well qualified but, what sets you apart from the other candidates, is that we’re looking for someone who’ll get on well with our mainly female clientele. With cheeks like yours, they won’t be able to say “no” to you!”

Geoff blushes deeply and shuffles uncomfortably in his chair. But, he really needs this job, so he laughs nervously and accepts the offer to start work the next day.

About a week into the job, (during which several female clients have leaned forward to pinch his cheeks as he closed the deal), Geoff delivers his first sales report to his female manager. 

“Great job, Geoff!” she says, rising from her desk to pinch his cheek playfully, “If you go on like this you’ll be looking at a pay rise and a promotion”, she says, jiggling his cheek between her fingers.

Following such glowing praise, Geoff thinks it might be a safe time to nip this ‘cheek pinching’ thing in the bud. It’s only mildly annoying at this point, but he worries that if he doesn’t ask to be treated professionally, management won’t view him that way.

“Thanks, Jan, I really appreciate it and I love the job. But,” he says hesitantly, “look …  I don’t want to make a big thing of this, and … well … perhaps I’m being silly, but I’m a married man and I’m really not comfortable with you – or anyone but my wife – pinching my cheeks. Can we just keep it professional?”

Jan is shocked and then angry. 

“Really? Seriously? Isn’t that a bit precious? Geez, you’d think I’d raped you. I haven’t done anything wrong. It was a pinch on the cheek, for Chrissake. Look, you’ve made a good start in the job, but if you’re going to have a melt-down every time someone brushes past you, you’re not going to go far or last long in this company. If you want that promotion you’re going to have to be a lot more friendly. Do you get my meaning?”

Geoff is rattled. He blames himself. Maybe he did over-react. Maybe he’s over-sensitive because of things that happened in the past. He remembers when he was at primary school – pre-teen. His step-mother started pinching his cheeks, and then his bum, and then … well, much, much more. When he complained to his father, his step-mother accused him of making things up, “You lying little shit! All I did was pinch your cheeks. I was just being affectionate! What’s wrong with that?”

His father believed his new wife and berated Geoff for ‘causing trouble’.

At high school and at university, Geoff was repeatedly the target of women wanting to pinch his cheeks – and more. They never seemed to think his permission was necessary – in fact, they almost universally assumed he should enjoy the attention. When he rejected their advances they either became angry or mocked him for being ‘sexless’ or ‘gay’.

But, Geoff reasons, that was all a long time ago. He gives himself a pep-talk. “You’re grown-up now. You can say ‘no’. You DID say ‘no’.”

He feels quite proud of himself, but he also feels nervous and insecure – unsafe, disrespected and objectified. But, then again, he can’t just quit. Jobs are hard to get and he really needs this job. 

From then on, anytime the boss passes Geoff in the hallway or runs into him in the printing room she pinches his cheek lightly and says, “There, that’s not too bad, is it? Go on! You like it! You’re just playing hard-to-get!”

Geoff doesn’t like it. Not at all. In fact, the stress is making him physically ill and he is suffering panic attacks. But he needs this job and he needs the promotion.

One day, in the printing room, Geoff’s boss backs him into a corner, puts one hand on the wall over his shoulder, pinches his cheek, then cups his balls in her hand and shoves her tongue down his throat. He is so shocked, he freezes. He feels himself morph into that vulnerable little boy whose step-mother abused him. 

But summoning all his strength, he steps away and says in a hushed but determined voice, “Don’t you EVER do that again! Don’t you EVER touch me!”

His boss arches an eyebrow and says calmly, “If you don’t want your cheeks pinched you shouldn’t flaunt them like that. I’m only human. I just can’t help myself. You should be flattered!”

Still, Geoff takes a stand. He reports the incident to Human Resources and they take it up with his boss.

At mediation she says, “This is ridiculous. All I’ve ever done is pinch his cheek occasionally. He’s over-sensitive. It’s just harmless fun. It’s an affectionate gesture for God’s sake. I haven’t crossed any line.”

When Geoff insists she did more than pinch his cheek – that she assaulted him – the mediator shrugs and says, “Look, mate it’s your word against hers, and she’s worth a lot more to the company than you are. If she assaulted you, why didn’t you call out? My office is close by, I would have heard you. She couldn’t have pinched you very hard – you don’t have any bruises.  It just sounds like an office romance gone bad, to me. I suggest you just chill out a bit and try not to antagonise her.”

Geoff can’t afford to quit. His family depends on his income. He thinks if he just tries to do his job and stay out of the boss’s way, everything will be OK. 

He is passed over for the promotion when it comes up, and his sales territory is gradually whittled away until it becomes impossible for him to meet his targets. Soon, he is told he just isn’t performing well enough and is given notice.

Without the income from his job, Geoff loses his house. The stress causes his marriage to break down. His mother has to go into residential care. He loses custody of his children. He suffers depression and PTSD and he isn’t able to work again. 

Trying to do something productive with his time, Geoff starts volunteering at a community radio station. But, one day, a female announcer who’s been increasingly friendly towards him, approaches him in the tea room and pinches his cheek, playfully.

Incensed, Geoff angrily slams her hand away from his face and shouts in her face, “Keep your fucking hands OFF me!”

“What????” she says, genuinely taken aback. “I didn’t do anything wrong! Hey, I’m a nice person. I was just being nice – friendly. I didn’t hurt you, I haven’t sexually abused you. I barely touched you! I haven’t crossed a line. Hey! I’m the good guy here! Wow! Talk about an over-reaction!”

“You DID cross a line,” says Geoff, shaking. “You crossed MY line. You don’t get to draw my line. I do.”

“Well,” she retorts as she sashays out the door, “Now, you’re just being hysterical.”

Chrys Stevenson

Atheist Safehouse an Atheist Cockfest

Late last night, a Facebook post from my friend, Australian author Margaret Morgan, grabbed my attention.

The image was so startlingly sexist and tone-deaf in the age of #metoo I could scarcely believe it.

Atheist Safehouse? The image shows eight rather intimidating angry men apparently ‘guarding’ this closed group of 42,114 members from unwanted intruders. 

And, last night, the unwanted intruder was me.

Eight men! Where were the atheist women? Was this some kind of “Playboy Atheist” men-only club where women serve only as brainless bunnies to bolster the egos of a group of Godless incels? Or was this simply an aberration that could be easily and elegantly fixed by the admins with an ‘Oops! Yes, we screwed up. We’re fixing it now”.

Not a bloody chance!

For the past twelve months I’ve been working, behind the scenes, at the coal face of the #metoo movement, documenting cases of domestic violence ending in death and looking at incidents and the consequences of trolling and cyber-bullying. I’ve come to understand that, as long as women are not represented and treated equally in society, their physical safety, mental health and financial security will be severely compromised. In short, casual sexism like this normalises the inequality of women. This has  serious consequences; the worst of which are poverty, gender violence and death. 

The equal representation of women in public and private spaces matters. It matters because saving women’s lives and maximising their wellbeing requires a tectonic cultural shift in our society that starts with recognising women’s contributions. It is, frankly, inconceivable that a group which prides itself on intellect and reason would choose a composite photo showing eight men – mostly white – to represent its mixed-gendered membership of 42,114 members.

I joined the group last night in order to comment. Naively, I thought it would be a simple matter of drawing the issue to the attention of the admins and getting the photo changed. 

“Why are there no women in the profile picture for this group?”, I wrote. “You do know there are atheist women, right?”

It immediately became apparent this was not a new issue for Atheist Safehouse. It also became clear the admins weren’t likely to take the elegant “Oops … we’re sorry!” option.

“Here we go again,” wrote a male member of the group. “Could not agree more, but have seen what moderators do about this.”

“O goodie, this again … ” groaned another, less supportive, man.

A female member said tentatively, “I did ask myself the same question.”

Emboldened, another woman chimed in, “Please put Tracie Harris and Annie Laurie Gaylor. Thanks.”

Others suggested Madalyn Murray O’Hair – but it took a few goes to get the name and the spelling right.

My friend, Australian atheist and intellect, Cushla Geary, confirmed what I was beginning to suspect:

“It’s one of the reasons I seldom contribute here – because the debates all too often echo the masthead.”

One male member said one might just as well argue there are no animals represented in the photo because ‘animals are atheist as well’ right? He went on to explain the image wasn’t sexist because the people represented in the photo had just been picked ‘randomly’. 

Soon an admin appeared – a female:

“Please read the pinned post at the top of the page, there’s a section that says the debate on this topic is currently closed, due to lack of consensus.”

(I imagine the big, brave male admins ducking for cover in the cyber-trenches while they sent out the female foot-soldiers to throw grenades at the tiresome feminazi interloper.)

Lack of consensus? About what? Atheist Safehouse is a group of 42,114 atheists and it’s 2018 for Chrissakes! We’re in the midst of fourth wave feminism and the #metoo movement – focusing on combating sexual harassment, assault and misogyny.  Yet, in a group of people who pride themselves on their intelligence and rationality , there’s a lack of consensus over whether an image that depicts eight blokes and no women sufficiently and fairly represents the atheist movement? 

A male ally raised a pertinent question:

“How do you get ‘consensus’ when you regard the topic as ‘closed’, I wonder.”

I agreed, remarking that, surely, the idea that men and women were equal, and should be represented equally, was uncontentious. 

At which point some genius suggested there should be a poll. Yes. Seriously. A fucking POLL!

It was suggested the matter should be put to a vote. Apparently, in this group, women’s equality is not a ‘given’, it is a privilege which can only be bestowed if the ‘consensus’ or ‘majority vote’ deems us worthy of inclusion.

“This is the most regularly asked question on the page,” said a jaded male member of the group, “and I guarantee you’ll be disappointed and dissatisfied with the vast majority of the answers. The powers that be have decreed that the subject is not up for discussion and a large portion of the group agree, so I’m afraid that’s how it’s going to stay.”

Naively, it occurred to me this group simply didn’t realise there were female atheist leaders. “Where is Polly Toynbee, Greta Christina, Karen Stollznow, Ophelia Benson, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Susan Blackmore, Sumitra Padmanabhan, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Susan Jacobs, Margaret Downey, Ariane Sherine, Debbie Goddard and more?” I wrote.

But the admins were unmoved. Another female admin chimed in: 

“Chrys Stevenson, please go read the rules of the group and it will be explained as well as what is appropriate topics we allow. You are new but this topic has been hashed and rehashed. The banner stays as it is. Turning off comments for this post.”

Silenced.

Consider the gravity of this in today’s cultural climate:

The female admins of a group of 42,114 free thinkers shut down a discussion on whether women should be represented equally on their masthead.Not only that,they shut it down because people kept complaining and, instead of changing the damn photo, they preferred to just prohibit people from talking about it!

As a result of this ‘discussion’ I was quickly expelled from the group, as was my friend, Cushla, who stepped up to defend my position. Before I was banned – as I knew I would be –  I made it known I had taken screenshots of the conversation and would bring the matter to public attention. That post was deleted too.

There was a time when I would have kept these kinds of disputes ‘in house’.  I kept shtum for years over various atrocities within organised atheism for fear of bringing a movement I believed in into disrepute. But the atheist movement’s shameful stance on feminism is now well known. If organised atheism is seen as disreputable it is the fault of the misogynists, not those of us who call it out.  The men (and women) who prop up the mean-spirited, myopic misogyny of groups like Atheist Safehouse are solely responsible for the crumbling edifice of a movement which once had promise, but is now rotting from both the head and its core. 

If an atheist group of 42,114  (42,112 members now Cushla and I have been booted) cannot take the simple step of removing a single photo and replacing it with a more representative image, what hope is there that atheism can be rescued from the grip of the immature, socially inept, MRA man-babies who seem to have colonised the movement.

New Atheism is supposed to be about freeing the world from the irrational beliefs that hold back human progress. One of those irrational beliefs is that women are less deserving of equality, recognition and respect than men. And yet, in one of the largest atheist groups on Facebook, you cannot even discuss this issue – it is verboten. And 41,112 atheists choose to belong to such a group!

Tell me again how New Atheism is going to make the world a better place?

Chrys Stevenson

If you were gay, that’d be OK …

 

“At times, just as a junkie needs a fix, I’d find myself in the desperate position of craving sexual contact with a man. Any momentary enjoyment, though, was quickly replaced with feelings of disgust, self-loathing and repentance. The battle to resist was torturous, the aftermath depressing, but no one could know about the battle inside me. I was the pastor, the one who should have it all together.” – Anthony Venn-Brown, “A Life of Unlearning: a preacher’s struggle with his homosexuality, church and faith”)

When you have a reputation for opposing the religious right, people tell you things.

Sometimes, I’ll get a tip about something that can be verified and written about. Mostly, the more delicious the gossip, the less likely it is to be true – or, at least, unlikely to be provable. Much of what I hear behind the scenes I write off as improbable, or wishful thinking. And so, it goes no further.

I relish gossip as much as the next person. But, I don’t publish scuttlebutt because I believe that even those we disagree with most vehemently don’t deserve to have untrue (or at least unproven) allegations thrown at them.

Regular readers will know I often warn, “Do not become the monster you are fighting”.

No matter how dreadfully our opposition acts, – no matter how they lie and cheat and dissemble – we must not sink to their level. As Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high”.

But, recently, a rumour has come to my attention which I cannot prove; and yet I cannot let go of it. I’ve thought long and hard about the ethics of writing about it and my motives for doing so. Ultimately, I hope that in writing this article I can head off a disaster at the pass and encourage someone to take their destiny into their own hands. My chances of succeeding are small – and may even be misdirected –  but perhaps this article will speak to more than one person and do some good. I hope so.

“I’m getting some information from a very good source,” came the message, “X isn’t as ‘faithful’ as they could be.”

What followed was a salacious allegation that a prominent supporter of the “No” campaign has been sighted behaving ‘recklessly’ in a manner starkly in contrast to his publicly stated views on homosexuality.

“Do you have evidence about ‘X” being gay?”

“No. But he’s been seen and he’s being watched.”

Despite this information coming from a usually trustworthy source, my inclination was to dismiss it as wishful thinking. There is a great temptation to believe what you’d like to be true. A revelation like this about a high profile supporter could bring the whole “No” campaign house of outrageous propaganda crashing to the floor. But, obtaining evidence would be a grubby business. Publicly ‘outing’ someone – even someone who has done tremendous harm – presents a huge ethical dilemma.

Nevertheless, the information niggled at me, so I contacted someone who knows ‘X’ and people in his circle.

Is it possible, I asked, that ‘X’ is gay?

I honestly expected to be told, “No way! Absolutely not!”

Instead, the response was, “Yes, that’s probably true.”

My contact says they know of at least one homosexual ‘incident’ involving ‘X’ and ventured that such ‘incidents’ don’t tend to be isolated. To protect the other party, my contact is unwilling to provide more information, and I respect that completely.

Now, I feel a little like a cartoon character who’s been thrown a bomb with a fast burning fuse and can’t work out what to do with it.

I’ve pondered on this for a few weeks now. And, to be fair, I must disclose that I contacted another person who knew ‘X” many years ago. They said they had no inkling then that ‘X’ might be ‘that way inclined’ and thought it was possible, but unlikely.

I could keep digging. But, to what purpose?

On the one hand, it would be a fine thing to expose a  “No” campaigner as a hypocrite and a fraud and wreak untold damage to their grubby and dishonest campaign .

On the other hand, I can’t help but have sympathy for someone who has been made to feel their natural sexual inclination is something to be hidden, denied and fought at all costs.

I may hate the harm ‘X’ is causing others, but I cannot ignore the harm they are doing to themselves and, undoubtedly, those close to them.

It the rumour is true, it is not surprising ‘X’ is becoming more reckless at a time of high stress. If it is true, ‘X’ must be going through a desperately sad period of internal torment.

The tragedy is that, if it is true, he is channelling his own self-loathing into a campaign that redirects that hate on to adults and children who do not deserve to be shamed and vilified.

I need to make this clear –  I do not know for sure if this rumour is true. My sources are good, but there is certainly no evidence I can present, and no first-hand witnesses have come forward.

It’s not surprising. The circles in which ‘X’ mixes have a long held ‘conspiracy of silence’ surrounding those who battle ‘the demons of homosexuality’. If a person is valuable to the cause, it’s better to blame Satan and keep the occasional transgression ‘hush hush’. Better  to deal with these things ‘in house’.

And yet, the conspiracy of silence is notoriously bad at keeping a lid on the homosexual proclivities of anti-gay activists and politicians.  Indeed, high profile fundamentalist Christian lobbyists and politicians seem to be particularly prone to being outed in the most humiliating ways.

  • You may remember Baptist Minister, and founder of the Family Research Council, George Rekers, was exposed disembarking from a flight with a travelling companion he’d found at RentBoy.com. According to Rekers, the ‘boy’ was engaged to ‘carry luggage’, although his CV at RentBoy.com pointed to his “smooth, sweet, tight ass” and “perfectly built 8 inch cock (uncut)”. He was, he said,  “up for anything” – including ‘carrying luggage’ it seems.
  • Republican anti-gay campaigner, Steve Wiles, was ‘outed’ as having been a drag queen in a ‘past life’.
  • Pastor Ted Haggard was outed by the sex worker he’d been seeing in a ‘professonal capacity’ for three years.
  • Republican Bob Allen was an avid anti-LGBTIQ campaigner, but came unstuck when he offered an undercover male police officer $20 for a blow job.

If you are a self-loathing gay man and you put yourself into the public spotlight as an anti-gay activist, you are playing a high stakes game. The odds of ‘winning’ are against you. People are watching. People are chattering behind the scenes. People know your secrets. Someday, someone will break the silence and you will be publicly humiliated – not because you are gay (there is nothing humiliating about being gay!), but because you are a liar and hypocrite.

Yet, there are evangelists who have come out with dignity, maintained the love of their families, the respect of their communities, and even made a good living out of preaching love and inclusion instead of hate and fear. There are many LGBTIQ people and clergy who have found ways of reconciling their sexuality and their faith. Indeed, they say being true to themselves has enriched their faith and affirmed their family values.

Reverend Mel White, formerly a ghost writer for televangelists Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Billy Graham, came out publicly in 1994 with his book Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America. As a closeted gay man, White says he felt “condemned by God and alienated from his family and closest friends”.

After coming out White was inundated by thousands of letters from people saying, “No-one has ever said to me before, you can be gay and Christian.”

Let me say that now to ‘X’. You can be gay, a Christian, and hold a respected position in the mainstream community. Others have done it. You can too.

As a child, White was taught that a man who lies down with another man is an ‘abomination’.

He didn’t see himself as ‘gay’, he saw himself as ‘a heterosexual with a ‘problem’’.

It’s a common story, but, try as he might (and he tried everything) , White’s ‘problem’ didn’t go away; even with a happy marriage, children and stellar career.

The inner torment made him suicidal. “I was slashing at wrists with bent coat hangers”, he says in an interview with 60 Minutes.

Now, White says, “Thank God I can say at last who I really am. I am gay. I am proud. And God loves me without reservation.”

Mel White talks about the horrifying cost of the Christian right’s hardline stance on homosexuality. He speaks of young Christians, rejected by their families, churches and Christian communities, killing themselves at alarming rates, because they believe they can never be ‘redeemed’. Or, doing as White did in his early years, they act out recklessly and promiscuously followed by periods of deep self-loathing.

“The closet is a place of death for gay people,” warns White, “Coming out is a place of life, even if it costs you.”

Now, White feels compelled to speak out against those in the church who condemn homosexuality:

“I have to do everything in my power to stop them. Because, for their own soul’s sake, they’re doing terrible damage. And if I’m to be a responsible Christian brother, I need to say to them, ‘Look what you’re doing! You’re doing wrong!’

And one day, I really believe that God is going to say. ‘… guys, don’t you know what you did to my gay and lesbian children?’

And that they’re going to suffer for it!”

In Australia, Anthony Venn-Brown’s story is similar. He, too, was married with children with a thriving ministry.

Venn-Brown fought against his homosexuality while building a wildly successful career as an evangelist.

Coming out was painful and difficult, but he did it on his own terms, and has been rewarded with widespread acceptance and respect.

As a former evangelist, Venn-Brown has carved out an alternative career as a ‘gay ambassador’. Now he says:

“I know who I am and what I’ve done. Most of my life was spent pleasing others by saying and doing the things they wanted, but I was living a lie. Finally being honest with myself cost me everything I held dear: my marriage, family career, business and friends. Facing the truth meant I would hurt people I loved the most and become an object of embarrassment, ridicule and shame.”

But, in his book, A Life of Unlearning: A Preacher’s Struggle with Homosexuality, Church and Faith, Venn-Brown speaks of:

“The wonderful place of integrity, peace and resolution I now live in …”

As much as I may abhor the actions of “No” campaigners and their leadership, I cannot demonise and dehumanise them as they seek to humiliate the LGBTIQ community. Many are victims of early indoctrination. Others found much needed solace and healing from a church which tells them they are ‘special’ and ‘chosen of God’. Sadly, some churches do this by defining the ‘chosen’ against a demonised ‘other’. Love and healing is for those who pay their tithes.

Our opponents – even the malicious, lying, hateful ones –  are humans. It’s important to remember that.

Whether or not the rumours about ‘X’ are true, it is inevitable that some of those who so ardently oppose marriage equality are simultaneously struggling with their own sexual identity. That is not to say every homophobe is a self-loathing gay;  simply that history shows there’s a fair chance there are some in that cohort.

I cannot wish that any LGBTIQ person should be publicly outed, ridiculed and shamed. But, I can say with certainty that, if ‘X’ is gay, that is what will happen;  if not now, at some point.

The centre will not, and cannot, hold.

If the rumours are true, if ‘X’ is wise, he will follow  the lead of those who have controlled their own destinies; he will bite the bullet and out himself with as much dignity as he can muster. There lies the path to peace, salvation, and self-respect and an end to a life of endless torment and self-blame.

If there is an ‘X’  (or a ‘Y’ or a ‘Z’) supporter of the “No” campaign reading this, I hate everything you stand for, but I do care for the human being beneath that carefully constructed facade you present to the world.

LGBTIQ people throughout the world are suffering as a result of the actions and propaganda of people like you. The idea that you may be one of the people you vilify  is difficult for both of us to reconcile.

Come out!  Do it of your own accord. Don’t wait to be exposed. Be the master of your own destiny, don’t let some tabloid newspaper take control.

Come out. You will find a community of people ready and willing to assist, support and sustain you and, in doing so, you will find not only the respect you have struggled to obtain your whole life, but the self-respect you will never find while you deny who you really are.

Don’t be the man you’re expected to be. Be the man you’re meant to be. You.

And, if you do it, you may be very surprised to see who your friends are.

Chrys Stevenson

Forget the Lobbyists – What do Ordinary People think about Marriage Equality?

We’re hearing a lot from church leaders and religious lobbyists in the debate over marriage equality and the forthcoming postal survey.

We’re also hearing a lot from marriage equality advocacy groups, LGBTIQ lobbyists and we left-wing, bleeding-heart, ’social justice warriors’.

But, what do normal, average Aussies, think of this whole thing? How are people in conservative, LNP voting parts of the country feeling about the debate?

On Facebook this morning, my  local Sunshine Coast Community Board provided a valuable insight. It should give comfort to all the LGBTIQ people who are really struggling with a barrage of hateful fear mongering. And, perhaps, it might give pause to conservative politicians, most of whom who seem to be completely out of step with their constituents’ views on this issue.

In a discussion on marriage equality which drew well over 500 posts in just a few hours, I calculated that, roughly, 95% were in strongly in favour of marriage equality.

I wasn’t the only one to comment on the strong turnout for the “Yes” vote:

TR:  Well by the look of comments the vote yes will be a landslide. What a stupid waste of tax payers money. Just make it legal already. 122 million to find out what we all already know. It’s a resounding yes to marriage equality.

SSE:  … this does make me feel happy! Just on this thread alone majority want a yes

I’d like to share the original post and responses, below.

William H:  For all those who do not understand.

There is no reason to say YES to SSM marriage. Don’t let them take away what Marriage is, being a union between a woman and man, leave that alone and protect that for our future generations. Equality I agree with, as in equal rights, and that can be simply fixed without destroying what marriage within our society means.

How to fix the problem, it is actually very simple, in the marriage act, married couples do get treated differently to same sex partnerships, all that needs to be done, is fix it with in the act, to protect Same Sex Partnerships, let them celebrate and recognise that celebration as same sex unions even supply a certificate to legalise it, Same Sex Partnership are already being registered and recognised by the birth & death and marriage department. Its only the section of the law that needs to be and simply fixed. We do not have to give away what marriage means to many others. Equal right can be achieved without destroying marriage. 😉  – William H

Please share, to educate others.

The responses came thick and fast!

JG: Oh William. This is just the chuckle I needed over my morning coffee.

RS:  You are a bad human

LL: if you dont like gay marriage William, don’t marry someone who’s gay. It really is as simple as that!!!!!!

MH:  Everyone has a right to marry the person they love. I will be voting for a change.

SS:  Why not worry about righting all the wrongs in your own life and strive towards being a better person before dictating how others should live .

AS:  The ignorance and fear mongering is disgraceful! Love is love, you cannot accept this then please do not reproduce

KF:  It must feel lonely being left behind in a world which is moving towards love and acceptance. Please don’t breed mate.

NH: For me, marriage is two consenting adults who wish to spend the rest of their lives in a loving relationship.. sex of the couple doesn’t come into it. Just two committed people who love one another…

EK:  Whilst I understand your comment, do not agree with it in any way. I think the meaning of marriage has changed over time and is no longer viewed with religious context to many. It is important to realise that with our ever changing and developing world theories and meanings change over time – and marriage is something that has changed. I recently married my husband , and for us getting married was a way of “sealing” our love and commitment to each other. Everyone has the right to love and be with whoever they want, to be treated and viewed with equality.

DB:  Gee thanks William for letting us know our rights. And speaking of rights, everybody should be equal under the law and you can’t help who you love.  Marriage is a legal contract and same sex people want the same benefits of law as straight people, and who are you or anybody else to deny them that

BC:  Not hard to see who he votes for, just look at his page…a Hanson supporter through and through…homophobic and xenophobic…

CR:  Who cares if you are black, white, male or female? If you love something or someone one, what is wrong with that? Love is what this world needs. Not ignorance or hate, and i am not saying yr comment is hate fueled, but an ignorant one.

LIH:  Mmm I understand that you have an opinion and that’s all good and well but how does it affect you what other people do and most heterosexual married couples divorce anyway so why can’t people just be with who they love and be recognised for it

JS:  So you have actually argued for marriage equality. Interesting. No one is asking YOU to change what marriage means to you are they now, just to provide equal rights to all couples.

SSE:  Not even gonna argue. But a big old YES here!!!

CH:  Are you kidding me ? No reason? How about my cousins deserve to marry the woman she fell in love with as much as I deserve to marry the man I fell in love with.

KB: We shouldn’t even have to vote. Wasting tax payers money on something that should be a given. Same sex marriages shouldn’t have even had to go through all this to be allowed. It’s the narrow minded ass’s like urself that needs to be educated. Look at the divorce rate?!?!?! All the married same sex marriages I know of are lasting longer than what most marriages last here. 100% yes for me !!!!!!

RS:  Dont agree with same sex marriage? Dont get married to someone the same sex as you! Problem solved. Not your business who loves who and how they wish to show that love.

AK: How does voting yes affect you in any negative way, if you don’t want to marry a gay person, don’t!  Don’t stop others from marrying who they want cause you’re scared of something you don’t understand

CR:  Marriage is the legal union of two people as partners in a personal relationship. That’s it! Not between a man and a woman. Between two people!  We have been socialised & conditioned (some would say brainwashed) to believe that it should only be between a man & a woman but it is not so. Maybe gays being married will actually restore marriage not destroy it, because there are plenty of heterosexuals who don’t seem to have any respect for marriage!

I’ll be saying YES!  Have a great day! 😊

JP:  What I don’t understand is how anybody can think it affects them, apart from same sex couples wanting to get married. Does not affect anybody else.

AW:  Marriage is not “our right” being man and woman. It should be the right of ANY two people who love each other and want to commit for life to each other…… I see far more same sex relationships working well them male and female ones…. go figure, we could all learn something from gay couples

When William H was accused of being discriminatory here was the response: 

CH:  Technically it is just a different opinion to yours. That doesn’t make it discriminatory.

ZF:  C, it’s not an opinion on whether or not he likes chocolate cake. It’s an opinion that encourages removing equal opportunity to people based on their sexual orientation, so yeah it is discriminatory.

And, of course, there were some comments on the ‘religious view’:

SB:  I had a Christian ceremony 11 years ago and when same sex couples can finally have the same right to that as me, it won’t change a thing.

NB:  Marriage is more than a union between a man and a woman, with it comes legal rights and having the wedding (one of the best days of my life and I’m sure I am not alone there). How can you call it equal rights when I can get married with no questions asked, have our day and have the legal rights that come along with it, yet there are so many others that can’t? That’s not equal rights.

MR:  ‘Marriage is a union between a man and a woman’ is a very religious way of looking at things, which is fine if you still believe in myths, fairytales and imaginary friends, fortunately it’s 2017, and religion doesn’t rule supreme anymore, time to move on and change your views to something more reasonable like – marriage is a union between two people who love each other.

CW: It really saddens me that all of these people who are preaching ‘love’, have so much hate in their heart for anyone who differs in opinion to their own

EW: Who are you to say who can or cannot make a commitment for life to another person. You are not God to order who people can love. Marriage isn’t just to provide future generations. It means that the person you are married to is your ‘next of kin’ your legal partner, your ‘other half”. Allowing everyone to choose who they love to be that ‘other half’ has nothing to do with future generations. A legal marriage makes it binding and an inseparable bond. How does it affect YOU personally William? I am heterosexual and been married for 52 years . I would never deny anyone the joy and security of a true binding love partnership. Most of my gay and lesbian friends have also been in loving partnerships for numerous years but want the security of it being legal. Some are rearing incredible children and again want the security of knowing that child will be secure and safe with the other parent should anything happen to the adoptive one.

BB: Also…the countries that force under aged girls into marriage! Is that protecting the “santity of marriage” ? As for religion !!!! how much horror has that caused in the world!!! Let’s change the world to a more happy place, especially by letting ppl who love each other be married

JL:  You know for a group of people that are supposed to love everyone the religious folk in this world cause more hate and trouble than anyone else -.-

Sunshine Coasters had a very clear idea of what is threatening the ‘sanctity’ of marriage – and it isn’t allowing to loving, consenting adults of the same sex to marry each other.

RC:  It’s very sad that people still want to treat someone that’s different to them as second class citizens. You should be ashamed of your bigotry and get educated on equal rights and who really has been destroying the meaning of marriage!

KD:  The real destroyers of the sanctity of marriage are abuse, cheating, disrespect, lack of communication, addiction and divorce. Why not focus on stopping these ‘sins’ and let people have the choice to marry who they love. I’ll be voting YES to equality

FMac: I think you need to look more closely at what actually destroys marriage: infidelity, stress, money, having kids, alcohol or drug abuse, contempt, lack of respect, not putting in the effort, choosing the wrong person, changing, growing, having married too young or for wrong reasons, getting married on tv, treating marriage as a stepping stone, marrying someone 50 years older than you then they die – none of these reasons are exclusive to the heterosexual community. So your logic is flawed. Allow people who love each other to have the same equal rights, including marriage. It’s none of your business anyway

DB:  What marriage means William? Like the many women who are abused or murdered by their husbands. Or those many who are having affairs. Then the fifty odd percent who get divorced.  Marriage is a legal contract between two people, not some fantasy land.

ECS:  You can marry your uncle, Aunty, and first cousins as long as they are the opposite sex, you can get married and divorced as many times as you like, you can marry someone of the opposite sex and abuse them to the point of death….but marriage equality is what is going to destroy ‘what marriage means’???

I don’t know about you, but MY marriage, is not defined by any other marriage, it belongs to my husband and I, it has nothing to do with anyone else, so I don’t understand why people think marriage equality will have any bearing on their own existing or future marriage?

NJ:  how is it that marriage is sacred between a woman a man but the actual respect and sanctity of marriage itself is disrespected and taken for granted by heterosexual marriages?! I believe every couple has a right to be married especially those that keep fighting to be able to have the right to be married. Those couples will actually respect marriage and it’s sanctity. go back to the middle ages

MM:  What about divorce, infidelity and that ridiculous show Married at First sight? None of those ruin the sanctity of marriage? You dear sir are a homophobic bigot who needs to keep your uneducated rants to yourself.

The next three posters summed it up nicely:

CMc: I’ve only got three words to say about the theory about homosexuality ruining the sanctity of marriage: “Ashley Martin website” .

RJ:  38 million people registered on an infidelity website, but yea it’s the gays ruining the “sanctity” of marriage

KMc:  Sorry same sex couples want to ruin the sanctity of your fourth marriage …

Some equated the discrimination with racism (although it seems the original poster is also racist):

LG:  This is like saying that African American people should have stayed sitting in the back of the bus and in the “coloured” section in cafes because at least they got to ride the bus and go to the cafe… how do you not see how that is not equality??? Being recognised legally but not being allowed a union of marriage like others is not equal.

SMCG spoke for all the families out there who just want to celebrate and honour the relationship between their loved ones and their partners – gay or straight …

I’m so excited that my daughter Haylee and Elle are getting married in three weeks.. I’ve never seen a couple so happy and in love… And I can’t wait for them to have children together and I becoming a grandparent again.. just my opinion

Or, as MW said: 

Who gives a fuck. Just let everyone get married and be done with.

And a post from KS summed it all up very nicely:

Uh, the only reason I would share this is to talk about how much I disagree with this view. There IS a reason to say yes, so that they can proudly declare their loved one as their husband and wife. That title signals so much, it does not have to be between man and woman. It should be between two people that love and adore each other. End of story.

Yep, KS. Love is love. End of story.

Chrys Stevenson

 

If you’d like to have some simple arguments to use against the fear-mongering and misinformation being disseminated by the “No” campaign, please take a look at Doug Pollard’s post here.

Doug’s provided a downloadable flyer which you can use for noticeboards, neighbourhood leaflet drops, or just to pass on to your friends and relatives who are ‘on the fence’.

Vote “Yes” everyone! It matters.

The Swastika-Shaped Mote in the ACL’s Eye – Melbourne’s Homophobic Poster

“Homosexual partners who lack conjugality [the joining of complementary sex organs by persons properly disposed to do so] cannot raise children as competently as heterosexual partners who possess conjugality.

… you probably all know this, this is bedrock Catholic teaching on this topic …

As a recent Catholic teaching document on this topic expresses, quote, ‘The absence of sexual complementarity in homosexual unions creates obstacles in the normal development of children such that,’ quote,  ‘allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children.’

…. Now I could be accused of hate speech in lots of settings just for reading that but here, that should be kinda background knowledge to what I’m going to cover.’

Fr. D. Paul Sullins: Gay Parenting and the Conjugal Ideal: Implications for Research – Franciscan University of Steubenville, 21 December 2013, quoting from Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Card. Ratzinger, Prefect, Angelo Amato, S.D.B., Titular Archbishop of Sila, Secretary. 

This week, in the heat of the debate about the marriage equality ‘plebiscite’, a vile poster appeared on the streets of Melbourne. The poster took its inspiration from a ‘study’ by D. Paul Sullins:

The study cited on the poster is: D. Paul Sullins, “Invisible Victims: Delayed Onset Depression among Adults with Same-Sex Parents,” Depression Research and Treatment, vol. 2016, Article ID 2410392, 8 pages, 2016. doi:10.1155/2016/2410392.

Last night, Lyle Shelton, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby appeared on The Project on Network Ten. Asked about the poster, Shelton said:

“I don’t know who put that poster up. I can’t imagine anyone from our side would do that. … I know the people on our side of the debate and we’re not like that and nor would we be like that.”

Instead, Shelton suggested, the poster may have been put up by those involved in the “Yes” campaign, as a means of proving our point that a public referendum would lead to hate speech.

“[The poster] may have even come from people wanting to prove the sort of point you’re making,” Shelton told The Project host, Waleed Aly.

But, Mr Shelton misspoke; not to say, lied. Lyle Shelton’s people ARE like that. Exactly like that.

As I have shown above, Father Sullins, the ‘academic’ who provided the propaganda for this poster has publicly acknowledged his view on homosexual parenting amounts to hate speech. And Lyle Shelton’s Australian Christian Lobby website promoted exactly the same study cited on that hateful poster just last year:

 

Make no mistake. The ‘findings’ of this piece of trash research are complete and utter fiction.

Not disclosed on the ACL website or on the hate-poster is that D. Paul Sullins is a married Catholic priest from the Catholic University of America. He is “the Director of the Summer Institute of Catholic Social Thought; a longtime board member of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists; a Fellow of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute; the Ignatius Loyola Fellow for Catholic Identity at the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education; Associate Pastor of the Church of Saint Mark the Evangelist, Hyattsville, Maryland; and (not least) a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus.”

Father Sullins works at the Catholic University of America. A pontifical university founded by the US Catholic Bishops. For the past 17 years, the CUA has been under censure from the American Association of University Professors for failing to honour the AAUP’s Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

In 2013, the CUA severed links with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) because of that organisation’s well-considered, evidence-based policy in favor of legalized abortion.

The CUA does not engage in a robust search for truth. Instead, as a college endorsed by the conservative Catholic Cardinal Newman Society, it conforms to the society’s aims to support education that is:

‘faithful to the teaching and tradition of the Catholic Church; producing and disseminating research and publications on developments and best practices in Catholic education; and keeping Catholic leaders and families informed.’

In accordance with that aim, the Cardinal Newman Society demands that:

“Priority is … given to those means which will facilitate the integration of human and professional education with religious values in the light of Catholic doctrine, in order to unite intellectual learning with the religious dimension of life.”

The aim is not to participate in honest and open research in order to uncover the truth. Rather, it is to create documents which will pass as ‘research’ but are actually propaganda designed to rationalise Catholic ideology in a secular world.

Fr D Paul Sullins and the university he works for do not approach the subject of marriage equality and same-sex parenting from a neutral stance. Both are openly homophobic. An LGBT group within the CUA, CUAllies has repeatedly had its application to be an official student club denied on the basis that “officially recognizing the group would be supporting advocacy work against the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

A former student described the university’s attitude towards LGBTIQ students as ‘hostile’.

Credible academic journals no longer publish Father Sullins’ work. Instead, he has to pay to have his work published in ‘open access’ online journals with dubious peer review processes.

Sullins work is discredited by his peers. In a brief to the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Obergefell et al v Ohio Department of Health, the following organisations spoke out against the inadequacy of Sullins’ research on homosexual parenting:

The American Psychological Association,

Kentucky Psychological Association,

Ohio Psychological Association,

American Psychiatric Association,

American Academy of Pediatrics,

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy,

Michigan Association for Marriage and Family Therapy,

National Association of Social Workers,

National Association of Social Workers Tennessee Chapter,

National Association of Social Workers Michigan Chapter,

NationalAssociation of Social Workers Kentucky Chapter,

National Association of Social Workers Ohio Chapter,

American Psychoanalytic Association,

American Academy of Family Physicians,

and American Medical Association

They said, in part: “Recently published papers by Donald Paul Sullins … have similar methodological flaws.”

No less than three articles on same-sex parenting by Sullins are critiqued by America’s leading mental health, social work and medical bodies:

“Sullins fails to adequately take into account children’s histories of family disruption; he combines all children residing with same-sex couples into a single heterogeneous category, while creating more differentiated categories of children of opposite-sex couples (children residing with married versus single or divorced parents); he fails to acknowledge known coding errors in the NHIS data set, which resulted in the misclassification of many heterosexual partners as same-sex couples; and – in one paper – he attempts to correlate a largely heritable condition (ADHD) with variables related to children’s upbringing. In addition to these problems, none of the journals in which Sullins’ papers were published are indexed in major, reputable social science databases.”

His many detractors point out that Sullins’ academic peers, after decades of research, concluded in 2004 that:

(a) “there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation: Lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children” and (b) “research has shown that the adjustment, development, and psychological well-being of children are unrelated to parental sexual orientation and that the children of lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those of heterosexual parents to flourish.”

They continue:

“The APA has continued to monitor the state of the scientific research and confirmed that this conclusion continues to be accurate.

Similarly, the AAP has concluded that “[t]here is extensive research documenting that there is no causal relationship between parents’ sexual orientation and children’s emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral development. Many studies attest to the normal development of children of same-gender couples when the child is wanted, the parents have a commitment to shared parenting, and the parents have strong social and economic supports.”

Of the journals that have published Sullins’ shoddy research, his peers say:

“the review process used by these journals appears to have been perfunctory and conducted by reviewers without relevant expertise or any familiarity with the NHIS. Even a cursory examination of the reviews, which are posted on each journal’s web site, reveals that they raised few substantive concerns at all.”

Even the shonky pay-to-publish journal that published Sullins work has since tried to distance itself from the fallout, adding a disclaimer to the article:

“In June 2016, several readers raised concerns about this article. At that time, we evaluated the article’s peer review process and brought several concerns to the handling editor’s attention. These included: the study’s small sample of same-sex parents, the lack of discussion of other influences such as family breakup on the wellbeing of the children included in the study, the implied causation in the title ‘Invisible Victims,’ and the potential conflict of interest implied by the author’s position as a Catholic priest.”

All of this information is readily available on the internet. It took me a morning to research it. And yet, with all of the financial resources of the Australian Christian Lobby, they clearly never bothered to employ a researcher to fact-check the data they put up on their website.

Why? Because like the Catholic University of America and Father Sullins, their aim is not to disseminate the truth, but to create propaganda – no matter how much harm it does to members of the LGBTIQ community.

There are many legitimate, mainstream peer-reviewed studies from credible academic journals which show exactly the opposite to the filth disseminated by Sullins. But the Australian Christian Lobby rejects those mainstream studies because they do not mesh with their ideological bias against homosexual parenting. The Australian Christian Lobby has no interest in the truth; only in shoring up their own harmful, hateful, outdated and disproven ideas.

Father Sullins’ study is indefensible. It is not research; it is ideological, religious propaganda. Yet, the Australian Christian Lobby was not content just to promote that propaganda uncritically. When it surfaced on Melbourne’s streets as a hate-speech poster, Lyle Shelton accused supporters of marriage equality for disseminating it in order to make his side look bad – because his side wouldn’t put out material like that.

That, of course, as I have shown, is an outright lie.

The origins of the poster have been traced to a neo-Nazi organisation, called Iron March. The poster was designed by someone using the name “Regnum Dei” – literally “Kingdom of God”. Again, there are far more ideological links between that name and the ACL than between those of us campaigning for marriage equality.

“I got some new hate facts here, fresh off the press.

“Should I be putting “Ironmarch.org” on these? I’ve been debating the idea since the first one I made. On one hand, these aren’t explicitly fascist, on the other, it might attract fagbashers to this site,”

… says Regnum Dei above a graphic showing the same poster which appeared in Melbourne.

Interesting, that just like Father Sullins (and potentially the ACL), “Regnum Dei” is also fully aware he is disseminating hate-speech.

“Hey Jereb,” he says, elsewhere on the site, “I’m Regnum Dei (aka Regnum KAY KAY KAY). I’m here in NW Florida, and I want to start the Pensacola Division. I’m a high speed low drag 250 lbs, as per ROF regulations, and I have a T H I C C SHEWOLF QT GF that will redpill more STRONG INDEPENDENT WAMEN to our cause, which is SEXY.

… National Socialism? Fascism? More FACism amirite? That is NOT what our BASED MASON founding fathers wanted! Getting married through the Church? Naw, christ don’t know SHIT about my ETHNOSTATE, I’m getting married through ROF. Practicing sexual self restraint for spiritual health and not contributing to the impurity of my Kinsmen’s future wives? Naw, as stated by #5 of the Codes of RoF, recreational sex is fine so long as you use contraceptives (wouldn’t want any reponsibilty for may actions, let alone children, that is what KIKES want), and don’t worry, my T H I C C SHEWOLF QT GF uses contraceptives when out “recruiting” 😉

I’m ready for all out war, with all my TACTICAL BLACK 5.11 gear, which really blends into all the black trees, black dirt, black foliage, and black sand that makes up the Floridian biome and terrain.”

This is the kind of thinker Lyle Shelton and the Australian Christian Lobby align themselves with when they disseminate D Paul Sullins’ hate speech on their website. This is the kind of person who agrees with their perverse, extremist views on same-sex parenting.

And while suggesting links between an American neo-Nazi member of the Ku Klux Klan, a Catholic priest and the Australian Christian Lobby may seem to be drawing a ‘long bow’,   it is not as long as the link Lyle Shelton tried to draw between the hate-speech poster and those of us who advocate for marriage equality.

The Catholic Church has shameful historical links with fascism. Their ideologies and modus operandi mesh well. Throughout modern history, the Catholic Church has supported fascist regimes. It is almost needless to say, also, that the Catholic Church’s fears about ‘violence to children’ did not extend to protecting the many thousands of children under their care who were sexually and physically brutalised by their own nuns and priests. Nor that barely a whimper has been heard from the Australian Christian Lobby on this topic, other than to blame homosexuals.

But, what is less well known is that Mr Shelton’s own family and the Australian Christian Lobby are closely connected with fascism and right-wing extremism.

The Australian Christian Lobby evolved out of a religious cult called the Logos Foundation. Logos continues to this day, according to some, in the Toowoomba City Church, which operates under the auspices of Shelton’s father,  Ian Shelton,  in Toowoomba.  Lyle Shelton was raised within the Logos cult and his father was a cult leader along with Logos founder, Howard Carter. When Logos fell apart, Ian Shelton ‘regrouped’ with the formation of his Toowoomba City Church, and what had been ‘Logos’ reformed as the Network for Christian Values – later to evolve into the Australian Christian Lobby.*

It has a fascinating history, retrievable for those of us who like to trawl through internet archives and obscure books.

According to David Greason (in Faces of Hate, Cunene et al, 1997), the Australian Christian Lobby’s predecessor, the Logos Foundation,  and the fascist, ultra-nationalist, League of Rights worked in alliance during the 1980s. The League of Rights was described by the Federal Government’s National Inquiry into Racist Violence as “undoubtedly the most influential and effective as well as the best organised and most substantially financed racist organisation in Australia.”

In 1994, Derek Brown, previously the national co-ordinator of the Logos Foundation, was the director of the Network for Christian Values, later to rebadge as the Australian Christian Lobby (Source: Sydney Morning Herald, December 12, 1994).

During its heyday, Logos, had close links with both Ruis John Rushdoony’s theocratic Chalcedon Foundation and Australia’s extreme-right wing, anti-semitic League of Rights (Canberra Times, August 1994).

Today, the Chalcedon Foundation is listed as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, principally because of its support for the death penalty for homosexuality (Schlatter, Southern Poverty Law Centre, 2010). That is not to say the Australian Christian Lobby holds that view today, but its dubious history certainly traces back to an organisation with close links to those who did.

There is a strong history of homophobia running through the history of Logos, the NCV and the ACL. For example, during  the campaign to decriminalise homosexual sex in Queensland, the Logos Foundation (with Lyle Shelton’s father as one of its leaders) campaigned against any change to the law, branding homosexuality as ‘unnatural, unhygienic and unproductive’ (Clive Moore, Sunshine and Rainbows, 2001; Courier Mail, 7 November 1989).

Toowoomba Uniting Minister Rev. Ray Lindenmayer commented at that time on Logos leader, Howard Carter’s “extreme social, political and religious views” and how “his organisation [LOGOS] exploits people’s anxieties and insecurities to push their far right-wing agenda” (Greg Spearritt, Sea of Faith, August 2013).

The links between Logos, the Network for Christian Values (later the Australian Christian Lobby) and the fascist League of Rights are too numerous to ignore.

ACL founder, John McNicoll was a contributor to the League of Rights’ journal, “The Strategy”, although he later sought to distance himself and the Network for Christian Values (later the ACL) from the organisation and claimed NCV director, Derek Brown, had since resiled from Logos’ anti-semitic views (Canberra Times, September 1994).

Jeremy Lee was the Queensland and northern NSW director of the League of Rights and acted as the ‘defacto deputy’ to the League’s founder, Eric Butler. Lee was also a founder of the Logos Foundation.

After the Logos foundation was dissolved in the wake of founder, Howard Carter’s, sexual indiscretions it was reborn as Shelton’s Toowoomba City Church, an entity which continues to operate today.

Shelton’s son, Lyle, worked in his father’s church as a youth pastor for a time and is now the Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby. Lyle Shelton maintains ties with his father’s church and preached there as recently as August 2015. In his sermon, Shelton describes himself as “very much a product of this church” and says he wouldn’t be doing what he is doing in Canberra today if it were not for the vision of his father’s church. Far from advising the congregation from toning down their extremist views, he advises, “Don’t settle for comfortable church existence – stay on the edge.”

“The edge”?  Considering the history of the ACL and the Toowoomba City Church and Lyle Shelton’s upbringing in a fascist-linked cult, one might wonder whether that’s a thinly veiled exhortation to religious and/or political extremism.

Let me be clear, I am not saying the Australian Christian Lobby produced or put up the poster in Melbourne. What I am saying is that for Lyle Shelton to suggest supporters of marriage equality had any part in a ‘false flag’ campaign linked to neo-Nazi propaganda is disgraceful.

Shelton would do well to remember the Australian Christian Lobby, his family, and the Catholic ideology he disseminates have far more links with neo-Nazis and fascists than those of us campaigning for the simple right of two people who love each other to have the right to marry in a civil ceremony.

The Australian Christian Lobby evolved from a cult that was intimately linked, through ideology and personnel, with the racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, fascist, League of Rights. That is its history. If Lyle Shelton wants to draw links between marriage equality activists and neo-Nazi propaganda, he would do well review his own history and remove the rather large swastika-shaped mote from the ACL’s eye.

Chrys Stevenson

See also: The Christian Right’s Roots in Rural Queensland by Dr John Harrison, UQ.

* The Australian Christian Lobby was started in 1995 under the name of the Australian Christian Coalition, which was developed by two Network for Christian Values board members: former Townsville Bulletin editor John Gagliardi and Canberra-based Baptist minister John McNicoll. – https://www.crikey.com.au/2016/02/22/money-and-mining-men-behind-the-shadowy-australian-christian-lobby/