A short rant

aka “a simple desultory philippic” a

A monkey isn't happy!

We interrupt this series on difficult questions for a short rant. Please move along quickly!

Sometimes something that you’ve seen or heard before becomes memorable for no particular reason. This happened twice recently to me.

Accentuate the trivial

I watch very little TV, spending much of my evenings on the internet, and almost never do I watch Sydney’s commercial channels except for sport. But recently, while on a brief holiday, I watched the first episode of the new X-Files series.

The X-Files was interesting, with (I’m told) all sorts of references to the past series that went over my head. But the big shock was the advertisements, which I am not used to.

Channel TEN is probably the most down market of the five main Sydney TV stations, and there were constant promos for its rather low-brow shows, including a new “celebrity” unreality show hosted by one of the greatest cricketers of all time who has parlayed his sporting reputation to become a celebrity bogan.b

For the rest, it wasn’t so much the products being advertised, but their style – loud, materialistic, often portraying shallow or demeaning attitudes and pandering to greed, selfishness, and inconsequential aspirations. They must think their demographic is a trivial generation.

I don’t suppose there was anything unusual about all this, it was just a shock to my naive system.

It reminded of a time a while back when I walked through the centre of Sydney past a location where there were a number of up-market clothing stores, each showing large posters with their beautiful models demonstrating what we could aspire to be if we bought their expensive gear. But the noticeable thing was the expression on the models’ faces – rarely a smile, mostly an expression of aloofness, sometimes even apparent disdain, which must be considered to be “cool”. Is that the sort of people we aspire to be?

We in Australia (along with many other countries) live in an age of enormous privilege. We have wealth and possessions beyond the imaginations even of our grandparents, opportunities for higher education, meaningful work and travel, and access to the whole world via the internet. And yet it seems this high point of civilisation has just given our culture more opportunity to be trivial.

International violence

Although I live in Australia, I still take some interest in the US elections, because what happens in the US has implications around the globe. It is often hard to believe that the presidential candidates are the best available.

I looked at the online news after the recent Iowa caucuses (I gather there is some difference between a caucus and a Primary?), and heard a short part of a speech by Republican candidate Marco Rubio. He was very personable, and I can see why many judges rate him the most likely Republican candidate to win enough votes to gain the Presidency (if he is able to win the nomination).

But one thing scared me.

Part of his rhetoric was that he would make America great again (somehow he thinks Obama has been bad for the country despite the economic recovery from the Bush era). I think every candidate probably has to say something like that to give citizens some reason to bother voting, but he mentioned a few specifics.

One of his specifics was to enlarge the military, because, he claimed, the world is a better place when the US is the dominant military power.

It is true that there are times when Australia and other countries have benefited from US military might. But there are hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens killed in the second Gulf war – perhaps a hundred for every life lost in the Twin Towers. There are many non-combatants, including children, who have been killed by impersonal drones. These are people, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, yet they are too often reduced to being “collateral damage”. The US has caused the overthrow of governments and has a habit of interfering in the affairs of other countries without UN approval.

There are many in the west who are very ambivalent about the US. Grateful at times, but at other times scared of how that military muscle is so often misused. And at present worried that gung ho politicians are reinforcing violent attitudes and stereotypes, and could conceivably use war to win popularity at home.

After all, this is a country that has several times more guns per person than most western countries, and about 30 times the rate of gun deaths, yet is unable to see there is a problem. It is therefore, perhaps, not surprising that US citizens are apparently blase about their military killing so many non-combatants overseas.

What’s Jesus got to do with it?

It isn’t hard to see that Jesus was opposed to greed, materialism, violence and viewing life cheaply – ours (by trivialising) or others’ (by killing).

Somehow, we christians, whether in Australia, the US, or elsewhere, seem able to convince ourselves that he didn’t mean what he said, and too often find it easy to go along with our culture.

I’m sure I’m guilty too, sometimes. But sometimes the truth becomes obvious, when the opposite view is so clearly in front of us.

End of rant

Thanks for listening. Now to get back to faith and works.

Picture: MorgueFile

(a) From an old song by Paul Simon. A philippic is a rant, and a desultory philippic is a rant with little purpose. I don’t think it was a particularly clever song, but the verbal diarrhea of the title has remained in my memory.

(b) Australian slang for someone who is somewhat unsophisticated and unrefined.

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  1. I don’t think that was a diversion but rather an extension of the difficult questions and “faith and works” posts. Thanks for this.

  2. I agree with most of your post.
    Like you , the only time I watch commercial TV is for sport, cricket mainly or sometimes tennis. I’ve been disappointed with the sponsorship of both alcohol and gambling in cricket as well as AFL, another game I enjoy. The match fixing and doping scandals as well as the drunken escapades by some sportsmen should be a warning that these associations are dangerous and should be stopped, but money talks at all levels and I’m sure that our political parties are being paid to turn a blind eye.
    As for the US, I’d have to say that I find them hard to work out in many ways. The tortuous Presidential election primary system, and the costs associated with it set the stage for large masses of money being required and therefore for influence peddling on a gigantic scale. I believe it cost Obama over $500 million for the 2012 campaign.
    I know this is a Christian site, but some of the most religious candidates in the US seem the whackiest. Ted Cruz is an evangelical Christian who opposes more restrictive gun legislation and wants to wind back Obama’s health care reforms. He gave the least amount to charity of the major candidates, apart from Trump (less than 1% compared to Sanders 6% and Clinton 13% of income). This type of charismatic but ideological person is dangerous in positions of power, even more so when they think that God is on their side.
    George Bush is a Christian and got us into the Iraq wars as a type of “crusade” against Islam.
    In terms of US military power, criticising them is sort of biting the hand that feeds you. I certainly prefer them to what China is doing in the South China Sea, but it certainly seems that they prefer bombs and bullets to peacemaking, although how you actually deal with maniacs like ISIL or Daesch whatever they are called without some civilian casualties is debatable.
    Clinton and Sanders seem the only major candidates with any common sense. There was a retired neuro surgeon on the Republican side who seemed sensible but he seems to be polling poorly.
    Pardon the expression but God help us if Trump or Cruz become President, but all the current candidates don’t seem to be interested in campaigning on gun control and are leaving it to Obama who has nothing to lose. I hope he can make a difference before he leaves, and he shouldn’t have left it this long.

  3. Hi RWWilson, thanks for your thoughts.
    G’day West, I agree pretty much with your comments about the US Presidential “race” and the views of christian candidates. I have never understood how Jesus was such a radical person in many ways, with many of his views being closer to leftist ideas than rightist, yet so many US christians are so conservative.

  4. It’s not just US Christian politicians though. Jesus said “suffer the children to come to me…”,but avowed Christians like Tony Abbott, Cory Bernadi, Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull would prefer that they suffered on Nauru.
    It is good to see Anglican churches offering sanctuary to refugees though.
    Obviously the refugee issue is a tough one to handle. Maybe some see that the suffering of a few is necessary to save the lives of more,but no children should be in detention in my opinion.

  5. I’m not sure I’d call Malcolm Turnbull a “christian”, but I agree the others are an embarrassment. In the end, we are sacrificing principles, international respect, and the lives of desperate people for political ends, and the future won’t judge us well, I believe.

  6. I am sorry, Eric, but I think that Trump should be not placed as an American Conservative. He is not. He has got many criticisms from conservative thinkers (e.g. http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/12/16133/ ) .
    The conservative movement in USA isn’t just an amount of WASP who hates everybody else, there’s more than that. Cruz and Rubio themselves are sons of immigrants.
    We should be careful when sticking to some trending topic, such as “Let America be great again” or “Guns and no guns” we may be misled.
    But certainly the political stage in a moment like a presidential race has huge bias, but we should be careful in order to simply labeling someone as left, right, liberal, conservative, good or bad. We can do better than that. Anyway, regardless of political race in US, Australia, Brazil or wherever, we should focus better on our cultural background, historically and theologically, and of those whom we are debating with.
    Best regards,

  7. Hi Jonathan,
    I don’t think I mentioned Trump, but he is standing for the Republican nomination, and in broad terms his policies seem to be more “right” than “left”. But of course it would be foolish to think that all people to the right of centre think the same.

  8. Comment from England – trying to place a Christian viewpoint in the political landscape is hazardous – on the right you have what appears to be a leaning towards “if they don’t work they don’t eat” (or get health care or education) and “the poor you will always have with you” (so why bother helping them) viewpoints but little compassion for the “widows and orphans” (or the disabled and vulnerable and abused) – while on the left you have plenty of compassion but are also faced with the reality that compassion is for ALL, and indeed the promotion of all view points, including the homosexuals and pro-abortionists etc, and a general tendency towards athiesm – the Christian doesn’t really fit into either side – personally, I can’t see the true Christian position represented on the right and would rather take my chances with the athiests

  9. Hi WW, yes I think the perspective is different in different countries. I don’t feel the left presents a problem, for I think we should have compassion on everyone, even (especially?) those we disagree with. And in the end, while I try to make the “right” decision, I have decided I would rather be ripped off occasionally rather than be uncompassionate to someone in genuine need. So you and I seem to end up in a similar place, but for slightly different reasons.

  10. “Lack of compassion”, please, Eric.
    I prefer to stay with those who don’t complain about a piece of advertise that they complain of “humanizing a fetus”.
    It’s not a simple matter if we should pay or less directly from our pockets our via tax-funding for healthcare, education. If we should accept one or a million of migrants. There are core things about has we understand liberty, personal choice, parental role etc.
    But anyway I agree with wanderwrites, labelling ourselves simply as leftists or rightists won’t fit in some cases. Justin Welby, archbishop of Church of England, in a interviewed for The Spectator has made a similar point recently.

  11. Yes, I’m not really interested on being loyal to a political label. But I do think that Jesus’ teachings tend to run closer to left views than right views. And I agree that matters like how many refugees to accept and how much to tax are difficult ones. In Australia, the left tends to waste money by being inefficient while the right tends to waste money by being corrupt, so we need to try to avoid both extremes.
    But most important in the end, I think, is to have an attitude of compassion and a willingness to share wealth, rather than a hard-hearted attitude and a desire to protect our privilege.

  12. I think the best politicians don’t make a fuss of their religious views, if they have them, they just try to live by their consciences.
    Hawke was a good Prime Minister (for a while), I believe his father was a Minister but I don’t think Hawke himself had religious views. He did have several personality flaws which became more apparent in his later years. Keating was/is a Catholic but never made too much of it.
    Howard was a Methodist but he also did not parade it too much.
    I tend to distrust politicians who make a noise about their religious faith. I feel they are playing to their audience ; ie their own electorate, rather than presenting logical arguments for their policies to a mainly secular society.

  13. I own a gun too. Living in a rural community I need it for feral animal control. Before that I lived in a city for 40 years and never felt the need or desire to own one.
    I presume you are an American Mama ? Maybe we Australians are naturally more law abiding, I don’t know, but the US gun culture is a mystery to the rest of the world.

  14. Hi mama, you need be in no doubt that we can and will still be friends! 🙂 In fact, be assured that I would not try to attack your views or try to change them. But I would be interested to ask you a couple of questions:
    1. Do you own a gun for protection?
    2. Do you think you would be able to shoot someone?

  15. Thanks. That was an interesting article. I personally would support most of Sanders’ ideas, but history has tended to show that moderate candidates of either side are likely to beat more extreme candidates in the Presidential election. So while Sanders may defeat Trump, he may be less likely to defeat Rubio. So I don’t know whether to hope he wins or not.

  16. I agree with your comments re Sanders.
    The other thing is that the powers of the President over domestic issues is severely curtailed, they need Congress on their side to do anything meaningful at home as Obama has found with Health care reform.
    I can’t remember many US Presidents who have achieved much of note in US domestic policy, although I haven’t lived there and stand to be corrected on this.
    The powers of the President are centered around Foreign Affairs and internationalism which is where Hilary has it all over Sanders of course.
    Whether this will be a factor in the way Americans vote I don’t know, but if they elect Sanders in the hope of a ‘better deal’ for ordinary citizens they may be ultimately disappointed.

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