Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Books that discuss and challenge religion

Against our better judgement by Alison Weir

I must admit that I know little about the history of Israel and part of choosing to read the book was the challenge to myself to learn more about this part of the geopolitical landscape. However, as I read this book I kept on asking, "are you serious?"

Against Our Better Judgement is a brief chronological description of the Pro-Israel lobby has systematically placed themselves in positions of political, social and financial power in order to manipulate the system to further their sub-terraneous agenda.

Weir starts her book with the birth of Political Zionism in the 1800s and continues until more recent times. She goes on to look at how the Judaism’s political movement chose the geographic location of the state that they thought they had the right of establishing. It was interesting to read that Zionist lobby group went ahead and established this Jewish nation state in an area that was 98% non-Jewish.    

While it was a well written book that was well referenced, it would have been good to have a discussion surrounding the theological history of Israel as I thought this was lacking.

As a lapsed Christian, I was brought up being that God had given the Jews this land as their own so it would have been good to have a chapter that discussed her argument within this context.  STARS **** 

Voting For Jesus by Amanda Lohrey

This Essay is one worth reading if you want to understand the relationship between the church and state in Australia better.

While it is a few years old it looks at the rise of the Hillsong movement as well as the role of Christian Lobbyists in Australia. I found this interesting as Amanda Lohrey argues, these lobbyists often argue that they represent a bigger constituency than that actually do. This is not really discussed that much in the media but I hope it changes soon because this is a challenge to the notion of a liberal democracy.

I enjoyed her discussion around “Imao Dei” or, in plain language, the relationship between God and images – semiotics if you will. I never gave this much thought but I was aware of the complex nature of religious iconography but never really thought about the value that religions place on the image.

For example when she quotes Art Historian Diana Eck who argues that “it would be fair to say that the Western traditions, especially the religious traditions of the ‘book’ – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – have trusted the word more than the image as a mediator of divine truth….the ears are somehow more trustworthy than the eyes’. Interesting!     

While this might seem a random thing to write about in an essay about the relationship between religion and politics but what Lohrey does is to analyse the value and use of the images and relate it back to the contemporary society.  She cites scientist George Lakoff who has identified two different models of Jesus: Jesus the saviour and Jesus the teacher. It seemed that Jesus the saviour model influences the more patriarchal traditions while the teacher model inspires social justice.

I guess it is important to know when trying to understand the nuances of religion in Australian politics.   

But the part of this essay that I found the most interesting is the discussion around Christian lobbyists and the rise of Christian political parties.

To be fair, she does argue that ‘at any given time religious lobbies work away to influence governments and this is sometimes seen as sinister, although arguably it is no more so than the efforts other interest groups seeking to influence public policy’. While this is good to remember, the rise of religious lobby groups isn’t widely known or discussed in Australian society.

Lohrey agrees with critic Marion Maddox who argues that ‘today’s Christian lobby groups…have totally engaged in unacceptably covert operations: they are a kind of fundamentalist mafia whose influence is out of proportion to the constituency that they claim to represent’. Having lived in Australia now for a while, I can testify that I find the people that live here to be a relaxed and easygoing lot but listening to the propaganda of these lobbyists you would probably get the idea that Aussies were uptight and ultra conservative who want to lock their daughters up from age 12 onwards.

In defence of the secular state she cites the separation of church and state as ‘one of the great civilising achievements of modernity: freedom of religious observance and non-discrimination on the basis of religious faith’. She reminds us that a secular state is not anti-faith but ‘asserts the importance allowing individuals to find their own way through to the faith in their own way, and in their own time.’

Interestingly Lohrey does highlight Marion Maddox’s theory that ‘even as church attendance is dropping, the influence of right-wing Christian lobbyists is growing and is disproportionate to their representation in the wider community’.

While there has been a royal commission into corruption in the trade union movement, I wonder if we’ll ever see one into the separation between church and state. STARS *****

The Sisters of Sinai: how two lady adventurers discovered the hidden gospel by Janet Soskice

This is a true account of two sisters who travelled around the Middle East and studying ancient texts and languages.

I couldn't help but be impressed by these two ladies and their drive to discover ancient manuscripts in an era where women weren't considered intellectual and social equals. 

While they wouldn't have considered themselves feminists nor was it their intention to improve the lives of women but their lives was a testament to perusing passions and the shearing of knowledge. STARS ***

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