Australian Politics 2020-02-09 14:55:00
Is the Christian story antisemitic?
The Gospels make crystal clear that the Jewish leadership of the day were responsible for Christ's execution. It is a sad day when that tale can no longer be told. It is the central event of the Christian faith
To say that Jewish leaders of today are responsible in any way for their predecessors of 2000 years ago is simply childish but the current Jewish leadership in Australia seems to have heard that message in what is just another retelling of that 2000 year old tale
In an age of social media, when facts and interpretation are often melded into the same narrative, the result can become a nasty mixture, as Gerry Riviere, a chaplain at a Baptist school in Melbourne, has found.
Riviere had to apologise for his remarks in a Christmas school newsletter about the role of the Jewish elders in Jesus’ crucifixion.
The furious reaction of Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich, followed by an apology from the school, was based on a perception of anti-Semitism.
There are two separate issues here. First, whether Riviere’s remarks, published in this newspaper and online, were in fact anti-Semitic or simply based on an interpretation of a viewpoint that deemed it anti-Semitic.
Second, in a broader context, since we live in an age of outrage, due especially to social media, if any accusation, whether an alleged breach of standards or even a contrary view to current ideological “right-think”, is always a matter of guilty as charged.
This is part of what the unfortunate chaplain wrote of the Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus: “Whilst Rome was the dominant political power, the religious power within Judaism belonged to those in leadership. The leaders had misinterpreted who God was and what he was like, and so when the people looked to their religious leaders for some comfort and encouragement, they found neither.
“The religious leaders were intoxicated with the power their system afforded them. Thus, neither the political nor the religious systems gave the people any hope.
“Jesus entered that environment to bring a message of hope and love. “He challenged the thinking and actions of the religious leaders who, rather than accepting they were wrong, constantly challenged him, and finally, in an attempt to silence him, placed him upon a cross.”
When I read this I thought the reaction from Abramovich seemed puzzlingly over-the-top. Riviere’s statements were, he said, “beyond belief … inflammatory and outrageous” and, not willing to stop there, “full of classic anti-Semitic slurs”.
To be fair, the vehemence of this reaction forces one to ask if, at first glance, this seemingly anodyne little message in a school newsletter is not anti-Semitic, then why does Abramovich, a respected Hebrew scholar, who wants to promote ecumenism, believe it is? In a democracy it is important to explore all points of view, even religious questions.
The statement that the Jewish leaders misinterpreted “who God was” could be viewed as anti-Jewish. The perception of God in Judaism hasn’t changed too much across thousands of years. Hence it appears an attack on the basis of the religion. Also, in a religion that relies so much on continuity of interpretation the notion of religious leaders “misinterpreting” God then, as now, could be construed as an attack on some elements of Jewish biblical scholarship.
Likewise the characterisation of the leaders of that time as “intoxicated with power” is not a particularly pleasant portrait. However, one doesn’t have to examine the gospel accounts too forensically to see that they did indeed seem to be keen to hang on to their power and, more important, their teaching authority. That, to my mind, is a basic human flaw, not a peculiarly Jewish one.
However, the most controversial element of the post that annoyed Jewish critics was the idea of Jewish responsibility for Jesus’ death, which in the past led to the idea of collective Jewish guilt. As Abramovich points out, this notion has been debunked by many theologians and popes. Nevertheless, he sees the last sentence as indicative of that lingering notion.
It is true that for many hundreds of years the idea of Jewish responsibility as a whole and the responsibility of the leadership of that time was conflated.
However, in recent times as many scholars note, even in the gospels it is clear that Jesus had prominent followers within the rich social and religious hierarchy.
The story of Jesus’ passion and death with slight variations in the narrative depending on which of the gospels is used, is read and enacted with great drama in Catholic churches, every Passion (Palm) Sunday. Another version is read on Good Friday. It is harrowing, dramatic and very interesting too. In every gospel version the basic outline of the story is that the dominant Jewish elders in the council had been plotting against Jesus for some time and are the ones who deliver him to his ultimate death by the Roman civil authority.
Curiously, even though in general the grasp of religious issues by the mass of the Australian population is a great well of ignorance, the online commentary is favourable to the chaplain. Most commentators know that Jesus was not a civil leader, he was a spiritual one, and as for his crucifixion most of the commentary on this subject has relied on the gospel narrative as the factual basis for a defence of the chaplain against the charge of anti-Semitism.
One wonders why the children of Carey Baptist Grammar School wouldn’t think the same way. It is, after all, a Christian school. Riviere was obviously subjected to intimidation by his principal, who in turn was intimidated by the reaction from the Anti-Defamation Commission, particularly since the school takes Jewish students.
It is well to remember that this storm in a teacup is all because of a particular interpretation about a religious historical matter.
At a time when we are considering a religious discrimination bill, this incident is a pointer to future problems. We live in an age of outrage, when accusations can become fact, and a chain of false subjective interpretation, followed by intimidation, happens when anyone says anything that is deemed controversial.
This isn’t just about religion. The combination of social media commentary and prescribed orthodoxies about everything from sexual identity and relationships to climate change and immigration means that perception of fact and real facts can be clouded. Sometimes, especially via social media, this can be the result of deliberate misinterpretation. Then the problems begin when the ensuing muddle becomes the “real” narrative — and the entire basis for an argument.
How do we attract men back to teaching?
The start of the new school year, and amid a flurry of shiny new shoes, unsullied lunch boxes, scraped back ponytails and short back and sides there’s the anguish that a favourite teacher has left my youngest son’s small primary. Oh, loss! It’s a man, so the absence feels particularly grievous; they’re a rare breed in these parts and my boy was hoping that this year, finally, he’d land him. But it’s not to be. He’s upped sticks. Shifted his gentle, thoughtful presence to another locality along with his talent with computers, his musical abilities in a school that has no music lessons in its curriculum and his raucously popular ukulele club. It’s a void keenly felt among parents and pupils.
But for young Australian men, teaching as a career is no longer the lure it once was. The number of male teachers in our primary system has been steadily declining since the early ’80s, when about 30 per cent were men. Researcher Kevin McGrath conducted Australia’s first longitudinal study of teacher numbers, the workplace data on gender imbalances in schools and their leadership positions. His conclusion: “Our schools are set to run out of male principals in the next 20 years, and the male teacher will be extinct in the next 40.” In some schools, says McGrath, there are already no male teachers, no male principal, and the only male on staff is the cleaner or maintenance man.
Gabbie Stroud is a former teacher who wrote about her experiences in the bestseller, Teacher. Her newly released book, Dear Parents, is presented as a series of clandestine teacher emails to mums and dads over the course of a school year. It’s illuminating about what teachers really think of us, the obsessive, demanding parents; about the frustrating, overburdened system of admin teachers endure around face-to-face time with kids; and about the conundrum of the male teacher. “Derek [a young fictional teacher in Stroud’s fictional school] will have his work cut out… to establish himself as an approachable male teacher without being pegged as being too familiar, a weirdo or too strict,” she writes. “I’ve seen parents erode male teachers out of teaching positions in less than 10 weeks. He’s a brave guy to join the profession in the current climate… Then there’s the issue of pay. Whether you believe it or not, parents, for the amount of work required a primary teacher’s pay is pretty ordinary. I think that keeps a lot of blokes away.”
So how to attract males to this profession, and keep them there? Because their presence is vital. I want a diverse teaching environment for my kids, one that reflects real life. “Schools are a microcosm of society, they tell students a lot about the role of men in society,” McGrath told the ABC. “Parents and children want male and female teachers and they want teachers from a range of different groups.”
Stroud concludes her latest tome with a plea for understanding: “Do you remember a teacher that made a difference for you? Who was that teacher? What did they do that made them so memorable? … I’m sure if you took a minute to think, you’ll realise that they made you feel good about yourself. They made you feel like you had something to offer the world. That’s what teachers do.”
So here’s to Mr Rice, my Year 5 teacher at Keiraville Public School and the only man who taught me in primary. He made me believe in myself all those decades ago, made me believe I could be a writer. His generous, nurturing spirit ignited a flame that’s burned in me strongly ever since. So this is my thankyou to him – and my lament that there aren’t more men like him in the system now.
We won’t block new coal projects: Labor
A future Labor government will not stand in the way of a new coal-fired power station or coal mine if it meets “normal environmental approvals”, deputy leader Richard Marles has conceded.
But Mr Marles, who once said the collapse of the global thermal coal market was a “good thing”, refused to say whether he had a personal objection to new coal mines.
“This is a matter for the market,” Mr Marles told the ABC on Sunday. “The normal environmental approvals should apply.”
The Morrison government on Saturday announced it had signed off on up to $4m to support Shine Energy’s feasibility study for a high-efficiency, low emissions coal plant at Collinsville in Queensland.
Mr Marles said it was obvious government should not be subsidising coal and instead leaving it to the market to decide if projects were possible.
If the industry chose to build a coal-fired power station, it would have to meet government environmental approvals before being given the green light.
“A Labor government will have the normal environmental approvals for power stations,” Mr Marles said.
“A Labor government is not going to put a cent into subsidising coal-fired power. And that is the practical question as to whether or not it happens.”
Labor’s equivocation on the Adani coal mine in the Galilee Basin and ambitious climate change policies were considered critical to its 2019 election loss, which led to a disastrous result in Queensland and big swings against the part in coal mining seats.
Mr Marles acknowledged on Sunday coal miners played a “very significant” economic role and the industry would continue “for decades to come”.
“We have been seeking bipartisanship for a long time in relation to this. But to get bipartisanship, we actually need to have a side that we can talk to,” Mr Marles said.
Intellectual freedom at Australian universities? Only if your values are ‘aligned’
The university year began with a rumbling noise that all is not well with intellectual freedom in this country. What started as a small story at a Queensland campus has become a very big one that demands attention if we care about the future of the current generation of young Australians, the next generation, and the trajectory of freedom in this country.
Generation Liberty is home to a group of young Australians, part of the Institute of Public Affairs, who are committed to understanding and promoting the way in which freedom has enriched people across the history of civilisation. As a board member and now chairman of the IPA, I have come to know many members.
They are an eclectic bunch mostly under 25. So good luck to those creepy fiends of identity politics who try to filter these young people by sex, sexual orientation, racial and religious traits. This futile search will throw up these common threads only: they are curious contrarians. They engage in furious debates, don’t take themselves too seriously and are willing to listen to others. They want to learn things they haven’t always been taught at school or at university, the history of Western civilisation, warts and all, the ebbs and flows of freedoms and its impact on people.
Last month, Gen Lib, as we call it, applied to have a stall at Market Week, an extended part of O Week at Queensland University of Technology, which runs in late February. By email in late January, Alisha Pritchard from QUT’s student guild declined Gen Lib’s application, telling it the committee had “decided that your brand does not align with our values”.
In the days that followed, Drew Pavlou, a student who sits on the University of Queensland’s senate, started a petition to ban Gen Lib from UQ’s market day activities too. Pavlou describes himself as a human rights campaigner. He has tweeted a video of himself supporting Hong Kong protesters at UQ. Alas, his lack of support for intellectual freedom at home creates a serious credibility problem for him. In other social media posts Pavlou has called for crushing dissent, burning books and said Gen Lib members “need to be bullied into submission.”
What on earth are they afraid of? This year, Gen Lib intends to run a book club for students that will include Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, Albert Camus’s The Stranger, Mark Twain’s The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. Gen Lib also will chat about what we call Big Fat Books, including The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom.
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has the authority to direct the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency in the exercise and performance of its powers. Picture: AAP
Which book frightens QUT’s student guild or the student representative on the UQ senate’s peak governing body so much that they don’t want students knowing about Gen Lib?
When news broke of this censorship of Gen Lib, QUT’s student guild ran for the hills, claiming a litany of other reasons for Gen Lib’s exclusion. But remember its first response to Gen Lib: “Your brand does not align with our values.”
At one level, this is a story about a group of students who have not been taught about the empowering forces of intellectual freedom, let alone the history of freedom across a few thousand years of Western civilisation.
But it is part of a much bigger story that includes a vice-chancellor, too. Following questions from this newspaper to the Education Minister, QUT vice-chancellor Margaret Sheil released a statement last week saying that O Week gives priority to guild-affiliated clubs, and Gen Lib could affiliate and apply next year. In any case, “the available area for stalls during O Week is currently at capacity”, she said.
Then came some pure puffery. “QUT does not operate on the basis of left or right-wing bias: the effectiveness of all we do here relies upon remaining open to a variety of contesting viewpoints and to the merits of evidence,” Sheil said.
Was Sheil misinformed about the facts or was she being disingenuous? Either way, the university’s leader failed to address the fact that the student guild at QUT rejected Gen Lib’s application for Market Week, not O Week, and on the basis that its brand did not align with their values.
On Wednesday afternoon, QUT backed away from its first statement. Peter Gatbonton, QUT’s manager of student engagement, emailed an invitation to Gen Lib’s Theodora Pantelich, inviting them to be part of O Week.
What happened to no space? Maybe like a late guest pulling out from a wedding reception the chaps from the Socialist Alternative couldn’t make it after all.
Seriously, are we meant to be grateful that QUT administrators caved in to pressure and managed, after all, to find space for the ideas of freedom at QUT’s O Week?
Perhaps, in her private moments, the vice-chancellor of QUT wonders how the heck it reached this dismal state of affairs among her students. In truth, the responsibility rests with university administrators like her. Rarely from the goodness of their hearts or the brilliance of their minds do VCs defend intellectual freedom. They tend to do it once forced, when exposed, and shamed. Like here.
Vice-chancellors love talking about deliberately ambiguous concepts such as “diversity” and “inclusion” rather than a bedrock principle called intellectual freedom. Worse, they have overseen the cementing of these woolly words on campus to shut down diverse views and students who challenge the orthodoxy feel excluded.
We know this from a survey of students conducted by the IPA last year. Rather than listening to the public exhortations of VCs, we asked students about their experience at universities. Forty-one per cent of them said they felt unable to express their opinions at university. This is what transforms a small story about a student guild at QUT into a very big story about the strangulation of intellectual freedom. The story gets bigger still. It includes a set of laws that are lame and a regulator that has had no discernible impact on improving intellectual freedom at Australian universities.
Start with the Higher Education Support Act 2003. As a condition of receiving federal money from taxpayers, it provides that “a higher education provider … must have a policy that upholds free intellectual inquiry in relation to learning, teaching, and research”. Then there is the HES Framework 2015 that says: “The higher education provider has a clearly articulated higher education purpose that includes a commitment to and support for free intellectual inquiry in its academic endeavours.” This framework requires a university “governing body … to develop and maintain an institutional environment in which freedom of intellectual inquiry is upheld and protected”.
Now for the regulator. The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency is empowered to enforce the HES Act and the HEC Framework so taxpayers and students know publicly funded universities are carrying out their core mission to educate their students.
TEQSA’s own report card is woeful. Like VCs around the country, TEQSA’s chief commissioner, Nick Saunders, has mentioned intellectual freedom, including when asked at a Senate estimates inquiry, but there is scant evidence of a regulator genuinely committed to holding universities to their core mission of intellectual freedom. If this is yet another rogue bureaucracy ignoring its remit from government, the government has a chance to appoint a new kind of bureaucrat. TEQSA chief executive Anthony McClaran is leaving his role at the end of next month. The search for a new boss may be the chance to boost the heft of this body.
But, then again, maybe the law needs reforming. After all, requiring a policy on paper about intellectual freedom is meaningless; what matters is enforcement. This story, then, is also about the federal government. A series of them, in fact. Intellectual freedom has been on the slide for decades, going back to the atrocious treatment of Geoffrey Blainey at the University of Melbourne in 1984 when he aired his view that the Hawke government’s 40 per cent intake of poor immigrants from Asia could threaten the country’s social cohesion unless managed properly. He was hounded off campus as a racist. Blainey is not a racist; he is one of Australia’s finest historians.
There has sometimes been a bit of talk from politicians, prime ministers too, and a bit of legislative tinkering such as Julia Gillard’s changes to the HES Act in 2011. But still, today, too many university campuses are not known as places of learning where intellectual freedom thrives. If they were, a student guild running stalls for new students wouldn’t dream of banning a Gen Lib stall on the basis that its brand did not align with the guild’s values. If intellectual freedom were taken seriously, a vice-chancellor would not put up with this baloney on their campus. And neither would the regulator or our government.
The Education Minister has the authority to direct TEQSA in the exercise and performance of its powers. Isn’t it time then for a ministerial kick up the regulator’s backside? If not now, when? What will it take for that to happen?
Remember, too, that thousands of Australians are still waiting for the Morrison government to support intellectual freedom by supporting Peter Ridd, who was sacked by James Cook University for challenging the quality of climate science.
Instead, Education Minister Dan Tehan has plans to tweak this, and tinker with that, tightening up the government’s “compact” with each publicly funded university to include universities reporting on their approaches to supporting freedom of intellectual inquiry on campus. That’ll fix things, then.
Another more difficult, but not impossible, route to intellectual freedom is to remove sources of public funding from universities that fail at that core mission.
A baker’s mission is to bake. A lawyer gives legal advice. A plumber will fix your plumbing. Yet we need laws, regulators, compacts and codes to convince university administrators their core job is to offer intellectual freedom on campus.
No wonder Generation Liberty is thriving, attracting curious young people hungry for what publicly funded universities fail to offer them. It is a safe bet that, far away from student guilds and VC offices, our values about freedom align very closely with millions of Australians.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here