So you open your eyes and groan as the sunlight streams through the gaps in the blinds. You try to pull the rug back over you as you slump on the couch. It’s no use. Your throat feels like sandpaper, your head like someone is banging pots and pans inside it. You struggle to make sense of what happened last night.
And then you remember. You remember how it all started so well and ended so badly. You feel your stomach turn slightly. You slide off the couch, stagger unevenly to the fridge and reach for the last bottle of Coopers Premium Light, and knock down the hair of the dog that bit you.
So, here’s a rather seedy, morning after assessment of the Coopers/Bible Society debacle from where I sit in my post-apocalyptic haze.
1.The Bible Society Needs to Learn How to Be Culturally Savvy
The Bible Society is probably waking up this morning wondering “What were we thinking?” It would seem to be PR Studies 101 to ask an organisation such as Coopers who were promoting your cause, whether such a fraught topic as same sex marriage could be piggy backed onto their goodwill.
In a culture in which the best tool the hard progressives have is to shout you down and flood your message with a tsunami to drown it out, this was always going to fare badly. It would seem that the Bible Society presumes a neutrality in the culture that is no longer there, at least it is not there among the cultural gatekeepers who control the narrative.
But really, on the most obvious level this is clearly a video that the Bible Society should have cleared with Coopers. And clearly, Coopers would have said “no”. Clearly. to it. At a PR level the Bible Society over-reached its mandate. The 200 years campaign promoted by Coopers is well and truly buried, along with all that goodwill.
2. The Price of Free Speech is Rising
I have read a good article by Murray Campbell that says that this shows that truly free speech is dead in Australia. I would nuance that a bit though. Free speech is not free in Australia – it simply costs a lot, and the cost is rising.
If you want to debate or raise an issue that the cultural gatekeepers have either decided has only one correct answer or has been decided already, then prepare to pay an enormous cost. The hard secular progressive ideology won’t shut you up because they won’t have to, you will shut yourself up.
They will so scorn you and shout you down in the public square and pour all sorts of faux truth in your direction (Donald Trump learned his fake news technique from the Left), that you will self-censor and silence yourself. You will learn such a hard lesson the first time you get shot down that you will be hesitant to raise your head above the parapet again.
Read this interesting article from The New York Times, in which liberal writers are themselves nervous about those who espouse liberal values, but push them in illiberal ways.
3. The Church Is Not Obsessed with Sex, the Culture Is
On a Facebook thread about this topic, Morling College academic Michael Frost argued that the poorly thought out campaign by the Bible Society simply proves to the culture that the church is obsessed with sex. I disagree. In fact it is the culture is completely obsessed with sex and the proof is all around. The church is simply responding to this obsession. Indeed the culture – insofar as the media culture reflects it – is completely obsessed with same sex marriage being a very public matter. Michael argues, however, that to bring this issue into the public square is going against the very privacy that people are demanding for their sexual preferences.
That flies in the face of the evidence. My Facebook feed the last two weeks has been constantly filled with Holden car ads and ANZ bank ads promoting Mardi Gras and same sex relationships. Holden, apparently, won’t be happy until we can hold hands with whoever we wish to hold hands with walking down the street, presumably as long as they are old enough to have a drivers’ licence that is. Sexual autonomy is front and centre in our culture because we are told that we primarily identify as sexual beings. Sex has become the foundation of who we are and that is not the doing of the church.
Over the past few years we’ve had double page spread ads from fifty or so of the biggest companies in Australia promoting their position on SSM. Every Christian who gets onto QandA has their credentials tested against the acceptable position on SSM, and you cannot go a day, not a day, on the ABC without a program or interview highlighting the matter. For something so private it has inundated the public square, completely inundated it. When one of the primary icons of Western influence, the White House, emblazons itself with the rainbow colours, any indignation that the church is illegitimately raising this issue in the public square is unfounded.
4. Civil Discourse Is A Thing of the Past
Which brings me to the nub of the matter that the Bible Society failed to see, civil discourse is pretty much a thing of the past.
Michael Frost made a worthy suggestion in the ongoing debate that perhaps the Bible Society should have tackled less inflammatory issues to highlight that we can have “light” debate in the public square. This, thought Michael, would have taken the heat off the Bible Society, and Coopers immediately. But, and this is not to pick on Michael in particular, his two alternate suggestions, climate change and immigration, would merely end in the same depressing result. I know this because they have already.
Danish scientist Bjorn Lomborg (a gay man who ticks many of the progressive boxes), who although in broad agreement with how climate change is happening, challenges the accepted methods for dealing with it , was all set to have a department established for him at the University of Western Australia, until the same shouty types who shouted down Coopers, shouted him down.
Or more to the point, they made life intolerable enough for the university that the university itself pulled the plug on Blomberg in yet another act of self-censorship to keep the peace. And when the dust had settled the university’s student guild made this memorable claim: Some ideas are too unsettling and dangerous for its students to have to deal with.
Simply put, there is no non-inflammatory issue in the public square any longer. On any issue at any time there are an army of placard painting trolls just ready to swamp the public debate with noise, anger, extreme statements and threats. And all, apparently, for the sake of safety. Pick your public square topic, there is an army ready to march against you.
In the New York Times article I link above, Democrat commentator, Van Jones, is quoted speaking to students at the University of Chicago:
“You are creating a kind of liberalism that the minute it crosses the street into the real world is not just useless, but obnoxious and dangerous. I want you to be offended every single day on this campus. I want you to be deeply aggrieved and offended and upset, and then to learn how to speak back. Because that is what we need from you.”
He’s right. All we will be left with in the public square is obnoxious and dangerous cry bullies who have been cosseted all of their privileged lives from their Montesorri schools to their Ivy League universities. Then, when the real world hits them, all they can do is rage. It would be pathetic if it were not, in Van Jones words, so obnoxious and dangerous.
The Christian worldview gave freedom and conscience and freedom of speech to the West, and the much vaunted progressive move away from this is bearing bitter and angry fruit that cannot cope with true difference. Diversity today celebrates outward difference, but rigid implacable uniformity philosophically. It is a Clayton’s diversity with less oomph than even a Coopers Premium Light.
4. The Church Will Flourish Regardless
I have been writing about this stuff over the past couple of years, and I always seem to end at this point: the church will carry on being a witness to the Kingship of Jesus, regardless. I am not particularly a cultural optimist. The Greek empire went to seed and the presenting malaise was its sexual depravity. The early Roman empire scorned the Greek empire for its sexual laxness, yet when the Roman empire went into decline that’s the very indicator that presented itself. So too our culture. The West is in decline and sex is in the ascendency as proof. China and India – and to some extent Russia – are looking on and watching us sexually amuse ourselves to death.
But I am a kingdom optimist. Not because the church in the West has got itself sorted out, but because we worship and serve the risen Jesus. The fractured, broken image of the kingdom we see in the church will one day be fully restored at the Parousia. Until then we have the power of the Holy Spirit transforming us from the identities we would place upon ourselves, or have imposed on us by others. I have no hope for my own children in this perverse world save for the fact that the Spirit of God can enable them to live in it without being of it. They will find a world much harsher and opposed to God’s wisdom than I found my world, but God can and will keep them. But in the end it will be the world, not that church, that wakes up with the mother of all hangovers, and the dawning of that new day will be bright and welcome to God’s people, whatever way it plays out in the coming decades.