I am a Catholic. Not a particularly great one – I usually only attend Mass with my kids, therefore every second week. I find myself disagreeing with various pieces of Church doctrine at various times. I can see vast variations between the dogma of the Vatican, the pronoucements from St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney and the beliefs of those who attend. I see variations in my own parish. There is in my parish a “Family” group, which was advertised as a group where people could “voice their concerns” about changes being suggested to the marriage act. I don’t know if many are in that. I certainly don’t go.
When I am on Twitter, I see a lot of anti-religious and anti-Christian dogma flying across the streams. Any reference to Catholicism is almost always linked at some stage to the heinous behaviour of a small percentage of disgusting priests, brothers and teachers. I see the more strident anti-religion campaigners lumping every denomination together. As if we are all fundamentalists, or blind Pope followers. I ignore it, because it isn’t true and the people making the claims are usually lazy people not willing to walk in the shoes of another and see the complexities within Christianity and within the denominations themselves.
That is why it hasn’t been a surprise to see the anti- religion crew come out in relation to the actions of Melinda Tankard Reist (MTR) against the actions of a blogger, No Place for Sheep (Jennifer Wilson). It is a pretty absurd business, and the reaction to it has revealed the depth of mistrust and borderline hatred is harboured against religion and those who practice it. It’s all been completely unnecessary on both sides. I personally found Wilson’s blog to be simplistic in regards to MTRs views and how her religious beliefs supposedly feed into them. Because it is supposition to suggest that one’s religious views have a negative impact on one’s views on culture and on women, which seems to be Wilson’s contention. To say that anyone who believes in the Virgin Birth somehow categorises women in a certain fixed way as a result is pretty bizarre. Wilson also appears to be saying that MTR is trying to enforce her fixed view on women on others – that women should be virgins or married and therefore can’t express their sexuality. I can’t see any forcing of views or oppression of women and their views in MTRs work. Nor even any attempts to suppress women from “sexually expressing themselves” in all walks of life. From what I can see, MTR is talking about the pressure on women to be “sexy” by wearing clothes supplied by men.
What seems to be demanded of MTR is that she has to put on her Facebook profile and her blog that she is a member of a particular church – apparently Baptist. That her views can only be respected if we know what church she goes to. Personally, though, I really don’t see why MTRs religious activities are vitally important to know. I go along with Dave Gaukroger’s view of the link between her views and her campaigns. MTRs campaigns seem to be focused on how society is sexualising children and reducing women into being categorised by their looks and sexiness. Hers are comments about secular society. There are many who aren’t Christian who would agree with her ideas about this topic. My own dislike for much of what MTR campaigns about isn’t based on my shaky, personalised Catholicism – it’s knowledge I have a 9 year old daughter and I see what girls are doing in video clips. I suspect MTR doesn’t put her religious affiliations on her website because it’s not relevant – and she probably predicted the reaction. “Oh, well, you are anti pornography and anti skimpy clothing because you are a Christian” with all the sneering that would go with that – cue discussion of the Virgin Birth and the rest.
I also don’t agree with MTR’s action to sue for defamation. It is unnecessary. MTR has a position of power, as a published author and much quoted figure in mainstream media products. Someone who can afford the experienced and no doubt expensive defamation lawyers. Most bloggers do this stuff as a hobby and shouldn’t have having their financial safety threatened because of words read by a small group of people. To have people say that she should be putting her religious activities on her website should just be ignored, especially as most blogs aren’t really widely read and are quickly forgotten. What she has unleashed, however, is what I call the Sorcerer’s Broomstick Effect. In making an effort to chop one uncontrollable broomstick, you make a thousand more, all dumping buckets of water in the pool. Now there are hundred of furious people, demanding she puts her religious affiliation on her website.
And what a pool it is. In the past couple of days, I have seen the range of attacks on Christianity that I expected. People mentioning Hillsong, though MTR has nothing to do with it. Mentioning some kind of bizarre doctrinaire program called “Shine”, even though she has nothing to do with that. Today, we had one blogger going to the Baptist Church website, quoting from stated beliefs and saying that MTR must believe every single thing on its website. The truth is quite different. Every Baptist Church in Australia are separate entities – they are not centrally controlled. I remember knowing people who went to the Menai Baptist and Gymea Baptist churches in the Sutherland Shire. I heard both pastors talk. They were vastly different in their approach, especially in regards to being humble and contrite. The pastor at Menai Baptist was one of the most humble, giving people I have ever met – even if I disagree with much of what the Baptists do. I have met so many different types of Baptists over the years that it made me shake my head to see them characterised as one monolithic mass. These are the same people who often applaud Tim Costello when he criticises Clubs Australia or Governments of either side about the neglect towards social justice. He is a Baptist. Today I saw his name on a program where he was to speak on the same night as MTR. Would it be a bad thing that MTR belings to the same denomination as him?
Costello is happy enough to put his background as a pastor on the World Vision website, I would argue, because there is a direct link between his work with World Vision and his religious beliefs. World Vision is an avowed Protestant charity with different approaches to Caritas, the Catholic charity who perform similar work with the same goals, to help the poor in developing countries – in order to continue what they see as God’s work. These aren’t people making cultural comments on clothes and music. If MTR was saying that women putting on skimpy clothes was an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, that these women were unclean, then yes, her religion is important. However, she isn’t saying that. Not even hinting at that.
This blog, like the many others about the topic, will sink without trace. And we will have the people who will say the same stuff about religion that they are already ready to say. That it’s intolerant. That it’s all fundamentalist. That it’s all Hillsong. That it’s all Pell. That there is a great Christian Conspiracy ready to enslave everyone to the One Belief. I will get criticised as a Catholic, a believer in the Sky Being and the Virgin Birth. But that is what will happen. That is Twitter. That is Blogging. And in a week, there will be something else.