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Easter 2010: Three controversies

My reflections on Easter continue following this news item from Al Jazeera English, about which I will say more at the finish:

Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and on the third day He rose again. I believe that. Millions of other Christians share that belief and celebrated this Easter. Many millions of people don't believe that. I respect their beliefs.

I do, however, have problems with those who wish to belittle people for, in their words, "believing in fairy tales" and "talking to their imaginary friend" when referring to the following of scriptures and of prayer. Professor Richard Dawkins, a highly distinguished scientist, is one who frequently blots his reputation by countering with petulant epithets those who do not support his atheist philosophy.

Dawkins' pomposity and arrogance do his cause no favours, as a number of avowed atheists have pointed out in various opinion pieces following his recent visit to Australia for the Global Atheists Conference. My observation of Dawkins upon his appearance last month on the ABC's "Q&A" was to draw comparison between Dawkins on religion and Professor Ian Plimer speaking on climate change. Both are scientists speaking outside their field of expertise, both being selective in their presentation of "evidence", both being arrogant and patronising towards their opponents.

Dawkins has his followers, and good luck to them. What disappoints me deeply is to see people with whom I share political and ideological views, including on social justice and discrimination, joining in some of the Dawkins name-calling and vilification of his Christian critics. I wonder if these people would make the same attacks on the beliefs of Australia's Islamic community, or on the spiritual beliefs of Australia's indigenous people?

Jesus was put to the cross by those who saw His rising movement as a threat to their establishment. Inherently, there is a chance that any sermon delivered on Good Friday will touch on the question of persecution of Christians. Nonetheless, I feel uncomfortable hearing Christian leaders using that occasion as a means of criticising other faiths. Islam, to whom Jesus is but one prophet, has been a favourite talking point in recent years. (On the other hand, Judaism, which recognises neither Jesus Christ nor the New Testament at all, is strangely off-limits.)

This year, possibly as a reaction to the publicity Professor Dawkins has been receiving in this country, they've taken aim at atheism. Many of the arguments are fair comment within the context of a Christian sermon, but potentially inflammatory when they become "newsworthy" content on a slow-news holiday. Sydney Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen remarked that many wars are not religious in their basis, citing Hitler and Stalin as examples. There was a quick response from the Atheist Foundation of Australia, but any danger of their release being taken seriously was firmly extinguished with the following line:

"To state we ‘hate his god’ or are ‘attacking his god’ is nonsense. How does one hate or attack that which does not exist."

- source: Atheist Foundation of Australia, Inc. press release, 2.4.10

Slanging matches are never dignifying affairs. There are better days for existential debates about religion than at the height of religious festival.

For the perceptions of many, Christianity is equated with the abuse of power by those who minister Christian faith, particularly sexual abuse. There's a stream of stories from all over the world about sexual abuse cases within various Roman Catholic institutions, of the failure to adequately punish those responsible, and of the lack of care and compassion towards the victims. Without getting into the detail of recent remarks and reactions from the Vatican, I have a few general observations to make:

  • the Roman Catholic church has profoundly failed as a religious denomination in terms of its pastoral care. Even if one percent, or 0.1 per cent, or 0.001 per cent of its priests and other workers are corrupt, then that's more than Zero and therefore unacceptable.
  • Institutionally, Roman Catholicism has no little relevance to the 21st century. I would argue that it has little relevance to the religious orders of the Bible. It is cast more in a mediaeval time from which it has refused to adequately move forward.
  • Papal infallibility? I don't think so. In any other organisation Benedict XVI would have been forced to resign by now. The very credibility of a major tenet of Roman Catholicism is under siege, as it should be.
  • Celibacy. Where's the biblical basis for the celibacy of priests? Celibacy is just another form of prohibition - too easy to disregard and thus push underground to avoid detection. Cardinal Ratzinger, tear down that wall.
  • Women participating fully in the running of the church. Think how this would transform and open up the Roman Catholic church. The arguments over 1 Timothy 2 are enough to make my brain explode. I fail to believe that God precludes woman priests.

Finally, back to the issue raised in the Al Jazeera video at the top. It appears to be ok for Christians to observe Easter in Jerusalem, unless you're a Palestinian Christian who lives on the Other Side of the Wall. Jerusalem is a holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. It should be an international city of worship and not the capital city of Israel or any other country. And certainly not one divided by a wall of "apartheid".

Here is the Easter message from EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel).