You’d think that with ALP politicians now falling over themselves to show how in tune they actually are with religious communities that this would be a time for the progressives to start listening to people they don’t understand.
Yet progressive online journals such as The Conversation, are still getting it completely wrong, to the point that their analysis of Scott Morrison’s brand of Christianity is almost risible.
Once again we find that after five minutes of soul searching, it’s back in the saddle with as little insight as they had before. Maybe in three years time, they’re thinking, maybe in three years time!
The Conversation‘s article “Five Aspects of Pentecostalism that shed light on Scott Morrison’s politics” sheds alright, it sheds accuracy. The only light it does shed is on The Conversation‘s determination to rewrite the narrative of what happened on the weekend.
At least the ABC is having a period of introspection – probably one that will last weeks or until its funding is safe again. They’re now making up for their complete lack of curiosity over the past two years about the nature Christianity ethical communities such as faith-based schools.
Hey, who knows, they may even apologise to those of us forced to pay their wages about the disgraceful lies they were happy to tell about Christian schools chucking out gay students willy-nilly.
But the likes of The Conversation? Not a chance.
Now don’t get me wrong. I can cope with someone disagreeing about the nature of religion. But if you’re going to misrepresent religion and then use that misrepresentation to push your own barrow, then you deserve exposure for that. And hey, here we are!!
But what makes it worse is that the article is written by an actual theologian. An emeritus Professor of Theology in the History of Religious Thought, at the University of Queensland, Philip Almond.
Now I have no idea about the nature of Philip Almond’s faith and where it lands, but his politics? That’s another thing, and he’s more than happy to leverage that to skew someone else’s faith. But my primary concern is that he’s doing a knowing disservice to the secular community by completely misrepresenting the Prime Minister’s Pentecostal faith.
Take aspect three of the five aspects of Pentecostalism that The Conversation claims to be across. It’s worth quoting in full what emeritus Professor Almond believes constitutes Pentecostal Theology.
In keeping with his theology, Morrison appears to see himself as chosen by God to lead us all towards his understanding of the promised land, which as we know means, “If you have a go, you get a go”.
This “have a go” philosophy sits squarely within Pentecostal prosperity theology. This is the view that belief in God leads to material wealth. Salvation too has a connection to material wealth – “Jesus saves those who save”. So the godly become wealthy and the wealthy are godly. And, unfortunately, the ungodly become poor and the poor are ungodly.
This theology aligns perfectly with the neo-liberal economic views espoused by Morrison. The consequence is that it becomes a God-given task to liberate people from reliance on the welfare state.
So there is no sense in Pentecostal economics of a Jesus Christ who was on the side of the poor and the oppressed. Nor is there one of rich men finding it easier to pass through the eyes of needles than to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. On the contrary, God helps those who are able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
Pentecostal prosperity theology? On what planet is prosperity theology front and centre of Pentecostal theology? In fact historically – and in many cases today – the more Pentecostal you are, the less tied you are to middle class and prosperity values. And just why is it that Pentecostalism is to be found in just about every down and out town around the Western world?
Why is it that it is so often the Pentecostal churches have their churches out on the streets and handing out aid? Why is Pentecostalism the biggest growing Christian group in Brazil?
Pull themselves up by their bootstraps? Liberal theology surely, and of a type that may be only too common in emeritus Professor Almond’s clan.
But let’s give the good emeritus Professor his due. Perhaps he visited ScoMo’s church website and saw their theological position on prosperity. So I had a look at the doctrinal basis of Horizon Church where the Morrisons attend. You can have a look yourself here.
Now I don’t agree with certain parts of this doctrinal statement, but prosperity gospel is not front and central, and not even one of the top five aspects (hint: it’s not an aspect at all) of the Australian Christian Churches to which Horizon belongs.
Yet the good emeritus Professor insists that that doctrine is so central to ScoMo’s theological foundation that he’s going to shape public policy by it.
And of course that’s just one aspect. The other four? Miracles, Divine Providence, Exclusivism, Pietism. Only four major aspects of Christian thought and practice for the past two thousand years, and absolutely central and present in every church expression on every continent down those years.
So take this for example:
In this Pentecostalist exclusivist view, Jesus is the only way to salvation.
Psssst! Hey, emeritus Professor Almond, that’s standard Christian theology. Words taken from the mouth of Jesus himself! Most Christians down the centuries have believed that. Many don’t, but the vast majority outside the West still do.
But this is the real doozy:
According to Pentecostal theology, all of history – and the future – is in the control of God; from creation, to the Fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden, to the redemption of all in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In turn, this will lead to the second coming of Christ, the end of the world and the final judgement.
Astonishing! Where do the Pentecostals come up with this stuff?
But of course the Prof’s intention is not to enlighten us as to the Prime Minister’s orthodox theological position on creation, fall, redemption and restoration. It’s to make a political point:
This is why further action on reducing carbon emissions to counter the environmental damage wrought by climate change may have little intellectual purchase with the PM. If the end of the world through climate change is part of God’s providential plan, there is precious little that we need to or can do about it.
Professor Almond could just have easily noted that since ScoMo believes that all of the created order has been just that – created, and is in fact headed towards a new creation, then he has an even greater commitment as a good steward of God’s good creation to look after it. And to that noble task we should call him.
After all millions of Christians who hold the same viewpoint as ScoMo on this (and I am one of them) want to see the world looked after, and want to create good safe, sustainable communities, do so on the basis of that vision of history and the future. In fact many Christians who voted against the Coalition did so on the basis of their conviction about that same theology.
In the past couple of years I’ve tended to let this stuff slide right on by me. But no more. If we’re getting deliberately misleading nonsense like this from emeritus Professors of Theology in the History of Religious Thought, then no wonder the average punter reading The Conversation has no clue about religion. Mind you, they might not care to have any clue, and that’s the way this illustrious journal wants it.
Two take-away thoughts. There are a number of ways to highlight how wrong Professor Almond is. You can write and rant about it. And that’s okay (though the rant better be civil). Or you can care for the poor and for the planet – which I know many of you are already doing, even the Pentecostals among you.
The Conversation may be better off renaming itself The Echo Chamber, or perhaps even The Star Chamber, for already, this early in the piece, it’s made up its mind on just about everything. A conversation, like an actual one, with the PM, seems a bridge too far, for an organ that can’t be bothered researching what Pentecostals, and mainstream Christians, actually believe.
Oh, and I note emeritus Professor Almond’s latest book is entitled The Devil: A New Biography. Maybe the next printing of it will have a picture of Scott Morrison on the front.