Words and conspiracies

In a free, democratic and diverse society it’s only to be expected that the place of religious belief in public life will be debated. This is as it should be. However in the interests of balanced and informed dialogue a bit of common wisdom in how the debate is conducted goes a long way. Respected organs of media should set the standard.

The basics of constructive debate include caution with hearsay, resisting conspiracy theories, attention to the meaning of language peculiar to certain groups, and great care when quoting phrases without a context. The present debate about Christian teaching in schools has too often lacked attention to such concerns, and it shows in some of the alarmist and polarised language now being used. This will serve none of us, our children included.

Like any organisation or professional circle, the Christian community uses peculiar sets of words, phrases, images and metaphors, some drawn from the Bible itself, others from a variety of contexts in Christian history. The world could not contain the conspiracy theories that might arise from a layman’s hearing of language used in a medical conference, courtroom or mechanical workshop (among an endless list).

When words like “preacher” start to be applied to the religious education class at the local primary school, it’s time we all asked questions.


Words and conspiracies — 5 Comments

  1. All very good points about how debates should be conducted – especially about recognizing the language of particular groups. As for expecting the media to adhere (somewhat) to them, I’m not sure. They (the media) seem to set out, more often than not, to distort the context of any report in order to make headlines and stir I-love-to-hate-you emotions, with various news sources being worse than others. However, we also know that they do this, so should always be wary of it. It’s a gray area – where some “sensationalism” is legitimate, and when it goes to far. Certainly, persuading a large section of the community to have strongly adverse opinions on a minority, based on misinformation, is wrong, but stirring a storm in a tea cup, over something which passes quickly – I’m inclined to leave them to it. :)… (Haven’t been following this particular issue – just a general comment).

  2. And, BTW, another common media distortion is not respecting the structures and lines-of-authority in organisations, in attempting to smear high profile people with scandals that they are not responsible for. I’ve seen it happen to many politicians, churchmen, businessmen, and other leaders.

  3. Yes, I think that’s all generally right. Being naive about the media is never smart. But I continue to challenge editorial teams about responsible use of the power in their hands to shape public sentiment. Some do listen, many don’t.

    What we have in the current situation – especially in Victoria – is a very real possibility of the atheist lobby winning, i.e. loss of access to state school classes and secondary chaplains. It’s more than a passing spotfire in this case.

  4. Yes, although that’s not unique to the media. It’s become a standard value in our culture that when something goes wrong someone at the top must resign or be sacked. Not much rationality there, but it seems to be de rigeur in industry and government and nearly everywhere.

  5. Lance, when you are done whinging about the outbreak of reporting on the system of religious instruction that is being widely criticized by very respected members of your own church, is destructive to your faith, and very hurtful to families who wish to raise their children in faiths other than your own and want to have a discussion or actually talk to someone rather than pontificate about the tone or stridency of words that others choose to decry the clearly dishonest character of what is going on in our schools and how parents actually feel about it, there are many who will happily oblige.

    First, it would be useful for your to actually read the history of this issue and see how we got to were we are now, with a state funded parachurch claiming an explicit right to “preach” in our schools.

    The second thing you should do is carefully read the words and statements that have been made by Evonne Paddison, the discredited and now vanished CEO of ACCESS Ministry.

    Once you’ve done those things, you’ll be in a position to recognize that the critics of what are going on are being honest and the self interested evangelical activists who are using terms like “go and make disciples” are not being misquoted or having their words twisted.

    Paddison gave an extended 30 min exposition of the strategic and missional character of her ministry, she clearly articulates the purpose of her work and reason that it matters to her as an evangelist. She calls our schools, “australia’s greatest mission field”.

    Our schools are not a place for you, or anyone to conduct “mission” … go sell it in Africa, we aren’t buying.

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