Does Democracy Limit Diversity?

Cultural diversity at its best is truly divine. But does diversity have healthy limits? David Sretenovic gives a short comment by contrasting democracy and multiculturalism.

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Democracy is an imperfect system but it’s better than others. And as proudly diverse and multicultural as Australia is, I think democracy trumps multiculturalism because there are “cultures” — or elements of cultures — which we as Aussies categorically reject (except at the extreme fringes). Military dictatorship (martial law), pedophilia, child labour, wife-beating, slavery (including sex-slavery and trafficking): ultimately multiculturalism demands the inclusion of all of the above to the extent that they are part of some cultures, but democracy grants the authority to exclude them. Democracy also gives the excluded cultures a fighting chance at re-inclusion, via dialogue; goodwill and dialogue are the doorway. At its best, multiculturalism is truly divine — my favourite vision of humanity — but I’m glad that in Australia, democracy is the substructure.

Is My Religion Under Fire? – A Letter to Fellow Christians

David Sretenovic gives his take on how voices in the media and social media worlds are currently coming at Christianity. He adds his advice for Christians towards the goals of cutting through and regaining some traction in political debates.

Dear Fellow Christian,

In democracy, there is an imperative — at least for the news media — to treat all religions as equal. The spin-off is that for cynical atheists in the media, this means: all religions are equally useless. Their bias is towards making or keeping this as the status quo! To such media commentators, it is galling that a Christian would “arrogantly” critique another religion; they cannot stand for such criticism as it allows a case to be built that one religion is better than another. Heck, their modus operandi seeks to nullify all evidence that religion offers any value at all! It is a knee-jerk reaction to cut such tall poppies down, but it is based on an ethos of democratic religion-equality. This is a discursive inertia which is worth keeping in mind, as it allows you to pick your battles deftly.

For me, here’s where the battle is at right now for us as Christians: putting forward the case that not all religions are in fact equal. I think that the more you look into religions — rigorously critique them — the harder religion-equality is to maintain. When you’re out at sea, looking into the vast distance, they’re all just islands, but once you go up close, you see Tasmania is significantly different to Taiwain; pull out the binoculars and the microscope, and you see how different the climate, the animals and the soil are … and then of course there’s the fruits. Democracy allows us argue this case, but the media is evidently geared to resist it, wanting to maintain the appearance of giving all religions a fair go.

So there’s a resistance within the media to qualitatively discriminate between religions; this resistance is certainly rife on social media too, where so many of us peddle our religiously influenced ideas (i.e. share the gospel and its ramifications). Let’s take the example of a cynical atheist friend who is quick to point out how Christianity both historically and contemporarily has and causes as many problems as other religions. This is another manifestation of “religion-equalising” inertia. I think that such a person probably needs to be convinced to show some interest in religion – of any sort – before he or she will hear a critique of a competing religion’s precepts, let alone acknowledge that one religion may have something special to it — which we as Christians are so confident of. I’m pointing to a largely unnoticed structural reality in these political debates: it’s typically not Christianity which is being opposed; rather it’s religion in general. And therefore the fight is not to defend Christianity, but to get folks interested enough to look at religious ideas. Folks who have rejected religion are simply not inclined to let any one religion claim a moral high ground: religion itself is the corruption according to their paradigm. If you allow one to claim superiority, then you have to start thinking and critiquing — i.e. doing “Bible study” — and most importantly validating elements of religion, which is the primary no-go zone for the cynic.

There are a number of additional tactics worth using in order to make apparent the crucial differences between religions. For example, the commonalities need to be acknowledged. We have to resist the temptation to hide the similarities. There is an understandable fear in doing this because we risk being associated unfairly. Some folks too quickly see the superficial similarities and jump to the conclusion that all religions are equal. But so long as the conversation is kept alive, the crucial differences do emerge. And it’s worth the effort. You need to inventively cultivate your case, and keep presenting it; allow rebuttals and then keep working the discourse; concede when good counter-arguments are presented; turn the other cheek sometimes, even give up your life in sacrificial love: all great evidence to support your case.

If you are the defensive type, then you often find yourself incensed by the prejudice and targeted commentary which is so common (e.g. snarky Facebook memes). What I’m saying here may help you take a step back and then two steps forward in a very satisfying way. As it is, our words often amount to wasted breath because our detractors have walls of defensiveness and jadedness; they tune out from the start. The way to crumble those barriers is to change tactics: instead of skirmishing, retreat and start rebuilding your fortress on the foundation that not all religions are the same. You are baiting the enemy to look for themselves and see that Christianity in fact sometimes says the exact opposite of other religions, and it’s good news.

Although the cynicism — often via the media, and from authorities — can enrage me and indeed cause real-life damage to me and my community, I feel that I can empathize with my attackers. I can see how they’re operating out of a democratic ethic (albeit sometimes with dark prejudice, but again I understand the way toxic religious encounters are largely triggers for these). Empathy and an understanding of the democratic logic both hone my emotions and nourish a fresh paradigm. I sense this paradigm’s potential is huge because it may allow us to regain a legitimate chance to speak and be heard, and moreover begin to speak with authority on not just religion, but also the “hot-button” political topics which are causing our communities to wither.

(P.S. Do you notice the “us/them” dichotomy within this article? From my perspective, the way I use this terminology actually erases the barrier in real life. Peace.)

Yours in Christ,

David Sretenovic

Cherishable Chores

Just had to pen a beautiful moment from my life as a stay-home Dad. A gift to me from God.
— David Sretenovic

Pacing the room, cradling my 20-month-old son, his head beginning to get heavy on my shoulder. The only thing that changed was that I reached around to embrace him more deeply, along with the melting of my heart. To any outside viewer, I would have been doing exactly the same thing, but for me the two activities were literally worlds apart. One moment I was putting him to sleep – a chore. The next, I was cuddling him for all he’s worth, for all I’m worth, with every atom of my beating heart, aware of the fleeting treasure I held: a beautiful young boy, growing into a man. In a breathtaking moment, my chore was transformed into my privilege and a task which I cherished; instead of seeking the task’s rapid completion, I spontaneously poured myself into the moment and felt it expand to meet my open soul. I have seldom had my day “interrupted” in such a powerful, meaningful way. I see it as a move of the Holy Spirit. It was an interjection of a spiritual force with eternal qualities; a gift of eternal life, entering my temporal life. I see it as God. A blessing!

How good is radical, extremist religion!?

David Sretenovic looks at how the media are using the terms “extreme” and “radical” in relation to religion. There’s more to these terms than meets the eye, he explains. The flipside is the need for journalists to have the courage to nurture goodness in our upcoming generations.

What we really need in society is a lot more mediocrity. Luke-warm efforts. Kids and seniors alike just really need to attack their goals half-heartedly. Just imagine the difference.

Okay, so I’m being facetious. But let’s consider religion as depicted in the media. You can hardly deny that the media are cautious of religion beyond that safe, moderate zone. Certainly “radical” and “extreme” religion is anathema. News outlets have kidnapped these terms and made them the posters for all that is contemptible and leprous. In reality though journalists haven’t been very precise with these terms, and have done us a disservice.

The media have turned “radical, extreme religion” into a pariah. I think journalists have thrown the baby out with the bath water in doing this, because there is a form of radicalism which inspires because of its extremely refreshing goodness – these radicals bless us in a uniquely wild way. As a Christian, it is natural for me to argue this line: if Christianity is indeed true, good and life-giving, then radical and extreme Christianity is the ultimate, optimal and perfect form of it. Now, if only there was a historical figure who modelled such radical, extreme Christianity… oh, just a second, there was this pretty extreme guy at the beginning of it all.

So, what am I saying? Well, let me break it down, using our most precious entity: our children. Do we wish for them to be doing extremely caring and loving acts? Of course. And do we wish for our children to have the mettle to be radical if necessary – to be a voice for the marginalised, to champion lost causes, and advocate for compassion in a dog-eat-dog world? I think we do. As parents, we understand the need to sometimes swim upstream – that is the essence of being radical. Rosa Parks; Mahatma Ghandi; Mother Teresa – extremists and radicals in terms of doing what’s right. So long as you find a good cause which you believe in, radical and extreme efforts are exactly what we need. Naturally, this goes hand-in-hand with being true to ourselves.

In one sense, it is those with the greatest integrity who live the most extreme versions of our religions: they actually live out what they believe. It is rare, but it is honest, genuine and uninhibited. Urban wisdom tells us to “be yourself” and “don’t hide your true colours”. Young people especially need to be encouraged to follow their hearts: if you believe something is good and right, have the courage to live it out! This moral truism is undermined if there is a fear of being labelled an extremist radical for doing so. But there is a further social dimension to living with integrity to your religious beliefs: you can be challenged by the manifested reality of your beliefs.

Instead of labelling adherents of religion as “extremists”, if journalists and thought-leaders increasingly nurtured the ability for citizens to have the courage of their convictions, what will follow is a generation of young people who walk the talk, as opposed to a closeted generation who fearfully hide what they believe and feel. For those outside a religion, as well as those being raised within it, this is the only way for the value and fruits of a religion to be objectively observed and challenged publically: when it is lived out in full-blown truth and integrity.

Let me give an example. There are two particular religious movements (which I won’t name) on the rise in Australia which share a common law, that of “disfellowshipping” on the basis of transgression. There are strict and draconian laws and punishments in place, and extend to forbidding even greeting a disfellowshipped individual in the street. Threats of additional punishment, including violence and death remain in place to deter the faithful. The media tend to label such actions as extremist, but if the religion teaches it then those who follow through are simply being true to their faith – having integrity. Moreover, those who do have integrity do society the favour of showing the religion for what it really is; would-be converts ought to have this reality on the table. Integrity to follow one’s religion should not be discouraged, but unfortunately the media is lumping such behaviour together with the term “extreme radical”, and it leaves no room for someone to be admired for being true to themselves. I must add here though, I don’t believe that encouraging extreme integrity equates to encouraging violence. No, it is the courage to have integrity that gives people the ability to say no to bad ideas. Again, integrity goes hand-in-hand with the freedom to assess the value of a religion for oneself; there are some religious laws – such as these draconian laws, for my part – which are simply destructive and should be discouraged for the benefit of society.

So I don’t think journalists have actually intended to label “extreme religion” as the enemy; there is too much goodness in extreme religion. What journalists have meant to target is “bad religion”: those elements within a religion which strike at the good foundations of society. But that takes courage, and candour in making judgements, so it’s no wonder that not many journalists take this line. But deep down inside, I think every journalist wants to promote radical and extreme goodness; it’s just not comfortable to nurture it in religion at the moment.

Science Deniers and Finger Pointers

David Sretenovic loves science, but critiques it a bit too much for some “science-types” out there. In this blog he responds to a passionate spray by a denier finger-pointer. He suggests that real science leaves room for skepticism and critical analysis.

Insufferable Intollerance snip
“Insufferable Intolerance Blog” (April, 2015)

Any “science deniers” out there? Hehe … I think those opposite me in online debates sometimes see me that way. A post by “Insufferable Intolerance Blog” about “how science deniers think” got my attention (1). Ultimately this blogger sees deniers as “the problem”; specifically, deniers are “con-artists in lab-coats” and folks who can’t tell the difference between these cons and real scientists.

Well, I’m not the lab-coat wearing type. And as for not being able to recognize a real scientist… hmmm, well here’s the thing. I’ve linked an article (below) by Dr Richard Horton who is the chief of real scientists, and he admits that “much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue” (2). As a case in point, The Lancet itself published the now famously retracted study by Andrew Wakefield (linking autism to vaccines). As a long-term editor of The Lancet, I presume Horton himself would have presided over that oversight. Apparently even the chief of real scientists can struggle to separate the real and fake science … so tell me, Insufferable Intolerance Blogger, does that make him a denier, and a part of the problem?

Richard Horton snip
The Lancet, Vol 385, No.9976, p.1380, April 11, 2015

I can go one better. Although I haven’t read his article (due to inaccessibility), and I’m presuming this is an accurate quote, Horton is upfront about the paucity of the “peer review process”: “Editors and scientists alike insist on the pivotal importance of peer review. We portray peer review to the public as a quasi-sacred process that helps to make science our most objective truth teller. But we know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong” (3).

I’m no hater, so Insufferable Intolerance Blogger, it’s cool – you’re entitled to have a spray. And the thread below your comment is a brilliant venting-ground for the frustrated boffin. I just hope you’re not pretending that you’ve made any sort of objective or scientifically rigorous case. It’s actually the same kind of subjectivity you’re accusing the deniers of using.

And for the record – I LOVE science! I simply exercise my right to remain skeptical towards any given publication, and use my critical thinking as fits my conscience. As a real scientist should.

 

References:

(1) https://web.facebook.com/InsufferableIntolerance/posts/625453310949124?fref=nf&pnref=story

(2) http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)60696-1/fulltext?rss%3Dyes

(3) Horton, R (2000). “Genetically modified food: Consternation, confusion, and crack-up”. The Medical journal of Australia172 (4): 148–9. PMID10772580 (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Horton_(editor) )

 

Unfetter the Marriage Debate: Harness Your Imagination

David Sretenovic welcomes a wider imagination – and hopefully foresight – for the current marriage definition debate. And of course: vision and the expression of honest opinions.

Unfetter your imaginations! In redefining marriage, the genius (and peril) of democracy is that there are literally no limitations. Traditions, religions and ideologies typically limit the range of acceptable options — not so in the secular, polemically-based model. We actually have an impressive range of options available: male-female marriage, polygamous marriage, polyandrous marriage, adult-child marriage, same-sex marriage, male-male only marriage, female-female only marriage, child-child marriage, incestuous marriage, temporary-contract marriage, swinger-arrangement marriage, instant-marriages (like in Las Vegas), no marriage… just to name a few.

It’s interesting to consider that in this sense, traditional marriage has never claimed “equality”: it is a deliberate discrimination against other relational configurations. With same-sex marriage, there would simply be ONE new optional marriage configuration recognized by our government: I will now be allowed to marry either a man OR a woman. But in Australia I will still be imprisoned for bigamy if I take a second wife (under Section 94 of the Marriage Act, 1961). As a nation we will still be excluding (“discriminating against”) all the other marriage configurations, many of which do have their own lobbies who are actively presenting their cases for change. To me, saying we’ve “finally reached equality” is actually derisive of such genuine human causes because it completely ignores their cries of unfair, culturally biased discrimination (here’s the Wikipedia link for a superficial start on the topic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygamy_in_Australia ). It has been a brilliantly executed political campaign to have convinced so many that we will have “equality” if same-sex marriage is legislated, when clearly so much “inequality” will remain.

The bottom line: support a vision! What do you WANT for our society? Vote with your voice … but the fun starts as you and others unravel the implications — on social media we can explore it brilliantly. But be prepared to hear others out too, including personal fears and warnings (which each of us is entitled to) — that’s all part of it. I’ve argued my pro-traditional marriage position elsewhere, so I won’t push my view here. My thrust here is the liberation of the individual’s soul to ponder this meaningful issue, delimiting the scope of debate, and freedom to wonder aloud. Here’s to open minds — minds free to choose either their own or another’s vision.

[Again, “hate” and “abuse” are enemies of what I’m doing by sharing this on social media. My ultimate goal on social media is to imagine our ideal future society together, and cooperate to make common goals a reality. Cheers for posting thoughtfully and sensitively. — David]

I am a Child of Power

David Sretenovic shares insights into his personal odyssey of parenting, and in particular the power he associates with that uniquely human trait: the ability to make self-determining choices.

This past week I lived out a breathtaking moment which I had envisioned as a teenager; it was a moving spiritual encounter which outdid anything I had imagined. I remember dreaming of being married with children, and living out the role of the potter: the clay of my children at my fingertips. Their physical and social experiences indeed, but central to my awe was that most divine, fragile and intimate treasure: their heart, mind and spiritual selves. That proposition, perhaps above any other, gave me such a zealous respect and passion for life and a desire to manifest an excellence as pure as my humanity allowed. I knew that one day I would hold in my charge the most precious entity on the planet, that is, a pristine soul, a sentient canvas: my own child. And I would also be the shaper of the social cocoon into which my child emerges and which immediately imprints itself onto this palpitating extension of myself. I knew that one day I would be guiding my child to understand who she (in the case of a girl) is, and initiating her into the power she possesses as a human being.

And so it was this week a particular conversation arose, quite spontaneously, and I explained to my daughter a concept which is summarised in a refrain which has echoed through our house all week. You can see Andjelia explain it in the linked 10-second video (here): “sometimes you choose, sometimes I choose.” She has been growing into a bold and clever little girl, and her emotions, desires, needs and wants have, in natural turn, collided with the sometimes-giving-but-mostly-unyielding world. That is – for the time being – mostly us, her parents, hehehe 😉 … who have the prerogative of setting boundaries to help her come to grips with the fact that there is never in fact only two options. So it was time for me to talk her through some parameters of negotiation when her and our wills collide: sometimes I will allow her to choose, but at other times she won’t have that luxury and I will expect her to comply… moreover with increasing amiability. (In truth, “sometimes you choose, sometimes I choose” is mostly helping me control her hopelessly fickle wardrobe flights of fancy, and the tantrums which ensue when all I’m flippin’ trying to do is get her dressed and get on with the day – aargh!)

In my mind, for her to understand the power of her choice is unquestionably one of the most significant gateways she will ever pass through. I want her to realise that this is what makes her human, and what allows her to give another human their dignity – to nurture humanity in the world around her. She is a real, infinitely unique, beautiful, powerful and influential entity in the universe, and her ability to believe that strikes at the very core of identity. Perhaps above all other features of identity is that she is a human being, and she can choose to believe that or not. But also this: she is made from the stuff of perfection, filled with the essence of beauty, directed by the power of resurrection, and surrounded by a never-ending love. And I’m only referring to her family – I haven’t even started to describe what she has the choice to believe about God. I want her to know that she can choose to move, or not move, to give or take, to build or break, to submit or lead, to fulfil the role of sister, or not. I want her to be happy, so I am teaching her that she can choose. Of course, this will allow her to choose and fail, choose to believe lies and choose to abdicate her will. But I sense that I am giving her her humanity – the dignity to choose.

There is another reason I came to have this discussion with Andjelia. It was result of the best single piece of parenting advice which I have been given (“best” in terms of manifested, effective results). Prior to having children, my wife and I stayed at Misty Mountain health retreat where we were cleansed and invigorated in body and soul. Our host and teacher was Barbara O’Neil, and within her health and wellbeing seminars she counselled from her wealth of experience in raising children. And this advice, along with her anecdotes, stuck with me: “always work with the will.” The idea is to steer the child by giving choices and consequences, thereby keeping them onside without squashing that essential human trait of personality, and nurturing the emergence of a liberated, empowered will. My wife and I have applied it to the best of our ability, and on any given day you might see us responding to an intemperate child with a pair of options to choose from: “Andjelia, I know you’re upset that Jet is taking your pens but we don’t shout and scream. Now, do you want to stay here and share with him, or go to your room and draw by yourself?” I can’t thank Barbara enough for the way she implanted that concept – together with a punishment and consequences rationale – because it has given our daughter and indeed us a way out of strife so many times! And I think it is building a habit of reaching deep into herself and her identity as an overcomer in life, a critical thinker, a foresighted problem solver and self-directing soul. It’s giving her the tools to navigate the tensions within herself and conflicts in the world that she will face.

There’s an inevitable struggle which I already know is part of a human’s lot which she is yet to perceive. It’s that journey of self-discovery, and finding peace in a crazy-beautiful world which sometimes seems to be born of darkness. For now, she needs to understand and accept that as a little girl under our care, “sometimes she chooses, sometimes we choose.” But that is just temporary until she takes her own path. I want her to know that in time, she is going to be faced with a government, an ideology, a religion, a peer group, an identity theory, a personal insecurity, a destructive primal instinct – some faux power which is trying coerce and crush her – and she is going to stare that bully* down and say, “I am a child of power. And for me, you NEVER choose. I choose.”



* “bully” is a term which doesn’t do justice to the anger that rages within me at times towards the powers that can push their self-interested, annihilationist evil upon individuals. In fact in the original draft of this blog I used a different word which you could discover by watching the movie Good Will Hunting, the “you don’t want to hear that” scene where Will (Matt Damon) offloads onto Skylar (Minnie Driver) about his true past, and uses that choice slur to describe the person who stabbed him. I ultimately believe that God controls all, and so I’ve chosen this euphemism to reflect my hope at the best of times, rather than my rage at the worst.
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