Religious extremism and freedom of expression gone wrong

In early December 2014, a gay author, Jim Marjoram, based in Auckland NZ received a derogatory email from pastor Logan Robertson of Westcity Bible Baptist Church, which stated:

“We are not interested in your filthy lifestyle or book. The Bible says you are vile, strange (queer), reprobate, filth, sodomite, natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed…I pray that you will commit suicide, you filthy fag”.[i]

Pastor Logan Robertson was replying to an email sent by Jim Marjoram to Auckland churches promoting his new autobiography “It’s Life Jim”, which describes his struggle reconciling homosexuality and his fundamentalist Christian beliefs over a period of 40 years. It appears that Robertson took offence at receipt of such a solicitation on his home computer. You might wonder if he has a point. After all, Christianity explicitly rules out homosexuality, so why should he not condemn the act. Well, condemning is one thing. In this case, the pastor seems to step short of threatening the homosexuality, by wishing him unwell. This does not seem to project the ‘notion of love’ conveyed by the church.

Robertson denied that he had done anything wrong, qualifying his actions: “I didn’t tell him to go and commit suicide. I said I prayed that he would…All I did was write what I wrote, and then I prayed about it that he would, and that’s it. There’s nothing more to say”. [ii]

Contrary to Pastor Robertson’s rationalization, this defense is not exactly solid ground when you consider that in the context of religious beliefs, ‘praying for him’ to commit suicide could be construed as ‘irresponsible advice’ by a custodian of people’s spiritual well-being. Should a pastor tell people they are evil? This is essentially what the pastor is doing. That would strike many Christians as ‘arrogant’ and ‘presumptuous’ given that the bible conveys that it’s the place of God to pass judgement. It is a weak defense for another reason. Both parties, by ‘virtue’ of their faith, believe in an all-powerful God that listens to their prayers. Robertson might well have a congregation which is motivated to act on his vitriol, and Marjoram has reason for apprehension that he might incite such hatred in his congregation. The flipside is that Marjoram could be construed as hypocritically ‘trumping him’ by subjecting Robertson to public ridicule for his Christian beliefs, irrespective of how misguided. If there was any action to take, surely it was to the Human Rights Commission or the police, and not to the media. That does not seem very Christian either – but don’t look for integrity in religion – it’s simply not there. Both men undoubtedly believe that people should do ‘God’s work’ or live in accordance with God’s values. For this reason, the courts could construe Robertson’s vitriol as inciting violence insofar as devoted Christians under Robertson’s influence could harm Marjoram. Such a prospect is probably improbable in the context of NZ life, given that the gay community has popular support. It would be an empty gesture. The question is – why make it?

It seems probable that Pastor Robertson thought he was tapping into an undercurrent of unspoken support for his cause. Of course that does not necessarily make it right; but it does highlight the failing of contemporary democracy to give voice to minorities, and even ‘marginalized’, derided majorities, who fear repercussions. Support for Pastor Robertson’s statements however did not arise, however we all know that it’s there.

Marjoram was unfazed by the rebuttal, stating that: “I guess he just sort of epitomizes what a lot of fundamentalists and that type of really heavy religious people [have as] attitudes”. [iii]

It is true that there are a lot of fundamentalists in NZ who are rather ‘stoic’ in their beliefs. With respect to religion, one cannot expect personal integrity, since religion is a repudiation of evidence and rational argument. It begs the question – why Marjoram is a Christian at all, however that does not change the fact that there are Christians who feel compelled to condemn him for his values.

If people are defying there Christian beliefs it is destined to be, not because they lack integrity, but because the prospect of integrity defies their nature as human beings. This is evident in a number of ways:

  1. Unconditional love – Marjoram is seeking a sanction from Pastor Robertson in the form of ‘unconditional love’. The notion of love divorced from values is ridiculous. Pastor Robertson’s outburst was not compatible with Christianity, however it was compatible with the human desire to express. The quality of his expression was however diminished by his Christian values. The same could be said of Marjoram who implored Robertson to act in defiance of his nature. We love people for a reason. Robertson cannot ‘reasonably’ love a person for values that are a defilement of their beliefs. Why the intensity of loathing? Simply because Robertson probably sees such acts as the thin edge of the wedge, which defy explanation to him, so he can offer no sympathy them. They are additionally in defiance with the Bible.
  2. Judgement – Both parties are really making judgements; though clearly there is an intensity associated with Pastor Robertson’s tirade that tends to convey an intensity of hatred. The bible makes hypocrites of both men because life demands judgement. We act in the context of choice. A choice demands a standard of what constitutes ‘the good’ so that we might arrive at a course of action. Judging every aspect of our lives is a ‘human necessity’. Those who seek otherwise are really seeking a ‘free pass’ to avoid accountability.

Such stoicism persists in people’s minds, not because we have the ‘freedom of expression’, but because we don’t. Consider that ‘expression’ is just one right. The issue is:

  1. We have a sanction for dogmatic values. The churches are sanctioned by a great many people and governments alike. The problem is that churches and other religious organisations are peddling ‘life-negating’ values that are incompatible with a modern society. This is the origin of the ‘hate’ expressed by this pastor.
  2. We have a political system that ‘pits votes for and against’ rather than positing arguments that people might actually be accountable for. I can’t criticize a Christian representative if he is not accountable for his sanction. He is free to incite and clandestinely foster certain values because of the secret ballot and the dogmatic sanction that balloting entails.
  3. We have a political system that grants the majority the right to decide the fate of the minority. Robertson probably believes that his views are popular, or the majority, so he might well expect the government to ‘act morally’ to condemn such values. He probably thinks the government would if it had his courage, and if was not beholden to politically-correct leftists.
  4. We have an education system that has sabotaged the intellectual development of youths. The Prussian Education System,[iv] the foundation of the Western education experiment effectively subjugated the ‘British subject’ to the greater good of society, whatever the political parties decided advanced democracy.

Justifying Christian beliefs

The nature of this hate is simply that the pastor is unable to reach a personal interpretation of homosexuality, and given his tragic mindless as to the parlous state of social values, and his ignorance of homosexuality, he is destined to conclude, with the aid of specific edicts described in the bible, that he is righteous in his belief, and that as an agent of God, justified to extol ‘the righteousness’ of God.

Marjoram: “I realized it’s exactly the sort of reason why I created my support group, because of people like him and those attitudes that…creep through the church”. [v]

Marjoram struggled himself for 40 years to accept his homosexuality. He is however no less convinced of his ‘righteousness’. He however has the popular sanction of society, so he is not called upon ‘any more’ to justify his values, even if they contradict the bible. It’s a strange state of affairs that we have a bible that stands as a justification for anything in the modern world. Those attitudes understandably arise and are fostered by churches. The question is why the pastor does not heed them, and think less of himself? If he genuinely believes in Christianity, then there must be more to his position than his condemnation of ‘fundamentalism’. He must surely believe that the bible is wrong. Presumably he thinks God and Jesus are moral crusaders, so you would think that he has reached the conclusion that:

  1. The bible is an overt misrepresentation of the facts, i.e. An exaggerated set of claims.
  2. The bible is a political document and not a philosophical text espoused by Jesus since it was doctored by Emperor Constantine in order to preserve power.

The problem with Christianity is that ‘there are no winners’. Marjoram and Pastor Robertson, along with all Christians, are all victims of their beliefs. There are consequences for subscribing to dogmatism, and these people are ‘typical representatives’ for their creed. I have not read Marjoram’s book, however it is clear from his general beliefs, as well as Pastor Robertson’s stated beliefs, that both persons are ‘mystics’ who subscribe to ‘causeless’ non-rational ideas. This is evident in both men because both subscribe to the belief that one should accept ‘causeless ideas’. Consider that:

  1. Robertson subscribes to the argument that Marjoram is vile for defying the proscriptions of an unsubstantiated book written thousands of years earlier.
  2. Marjoram subscribes to the belief that Robertson should love him irrespective of the fact that he does not share his values.

Their mysticism does not preclude some acceptance or application of rationality. It is however in the midst of moral apprehensions that the dogmatists reaches, not for a rational conclusion, but for an unidentified ‘causeless’ feeling to advance. Now, there are only two reasons for expecting these two men to not act on their beliefs:

  1. They fear the consequences of acting on them. They need to be considerate of the law lest they be arrested, charged and prosecuted for inciting violence or hate.
  2. They are rewarded whether they act on them or not. They are able to get validation, both remunerative and social support in the community, whether the church or their followers
  3. They are cynical about the prospects of their actions making a different. This is clearly a high probability given the subjugation of religion under statehood.

Far from stepping back from his views, the pastor has taken the decision to escalate his hatred, saying to TVNZ that:

Pastor Logan Robertson: “I believe that every single one of them should be put to death…obviously a Christian shouldn’t be doing it. It’s the government’s job to be doing it.[vi]

It is interesting to observe whether any prosecution will be taken against Robertson. Of course, one would hope that no such recourse was necessary, as ‘the threat of censure’ is surely not the best motivation for action. That said, Marjoram had earlier conveyed that he was ‘not fazed’ by the vitriol, but Robertson has since escalated the hate by suggesting he should be ‘put to death’ (by the government). Insofar as Robertson is a possible voter with a ‘nominal’ legal sanction, this might be construed as a ‘real threat’, even if there is a long bow to be drawn between a single voter and a national political majority. The question of course is whether:

  1. Marjoram has changed his position about prosecution
  2. The courts feel compelled to ‘nip any hate in the bud’.

Organized religion, including Pastor Logan Robertson’s name-sake, the Baptist Churches of NZ, says the Westcity Bible Baptist Church is not part of its affiliation.

Respite for Christian homosexuals

You might wonder why a Christian would find respite in religion given the attitude of religion towards homosexuality. One’s natural inclination might have been to reject religion for the sake of one’s own self-worth. Christianity however teaches one to ‘hate one’s own humanity’. The concept of ‘Original Sin’ tells us that we are ‘sinners by nature’. If this were not the case, then surely these two men would not be involved in this petty attack.

What other possible explanation is there for belief in these passages for a Christian pastor. There is of course another explanation and that is simply that religion was used as a basis for manipulating people. Ever since early times, we can understand the struggles of communities to preserve their lives and culture. Their sustainability rests upon:

  1. Their capacity to protect their communities and their capacity to produce food and other products, and to trade surpluses for productive tools, as well as weaponry to defend their lives and property
  2. Their capacity to organize and to preserve a commitment to certain values and certain leaders.

It might well be stated that Robertson’s views are ‘heretical’ or not popular. The truth however is that they once were ‘readily expressed’, and they are still popularly held in silence, and are widely tolerated in the third world. They are not popularly expressed in the West because most exponents of them don’t want to hold themselves up to personal ridicule or injury. They therefore express them in silence. A pastor of course tends to attract a little more ‘sympathy’ because their school of thought is expected to express and retain such conservative views. They carry the sanctions of governments who rely on conservative Catholics, or even Muslims, to retain power. Their legacy of course is vested in the defenders or leaders of these powerful institutions. It is also fair to say that Robertson expressed his views because he was adamant that they are popularly held among religious institutions.

Extremism in perspective

The NZ Human Rights Commissioner has condemned the communication by the pastor.

Richard Tankersley, Human Rights Commissioner: “New Zealanders who preach hate and violence are fundamentalists, they are extremists and they are the problem…Hate-mongers who attack gay Kiwis need to know their behavior has no place in Aotearoa. This is an appalling case and I know most New Zealanders will find it offensive and unacceptable”. [vii]

The Human Rights Commissioner however does not convey a highly credible view given the position of the government who appointed him. You are not going to see this Human Rights Commissioner condemn his own government, and yet the NZ government is ‘threatening violence’ through its propensity to forcibly tax people. Unless you are a ‘fundamentalist’ who extols dogmatic ideas detached from reality, then one is an exponent of rationality as a foundation for justice. Human Rights Commissioner Tankersley therefore can be construed as no better than his accused. He is an exponent of violence through the tax system. However he also suggests that ‘causing offence’ is grounds for public censure. This is entirely untenable lest we want to see all adverse accountability curtailed. The Nazis surely hoped for such provisioning, and this was precisely how they did it, starting with the education system.

Richard Tankersley, Human Rights Commissioner: “I encourage Kiwis to not be bystanders, to stand up if we witness hate attacks whether it’s in a pub, in your church or even on social media. Let victims know they’re not alone: but crucially let perpetrators know New Zealanders will not stand by silent while they spread hate and violence”. [viii]

This is actually a form of ‘hate speech’ as well. There is no attempt by Tankersley to engage in any discussion on rational terms; only to engage in his own disparagement of Robertson as a ‘hater’. This is not how freedom of expression should be conducted. This is rather a repudiation of religious dogma’ in favor of statist dogma. This is the unsavory state of political discourse in the West, where people are presented with two false dichotomies. If you want further evidence of this, look no further than the Financial Services Act, an act of the NZ parliament which the Human Rights Commissioner apparently has no view, or which he sanctions. That is because the Commissioner’s role is merely to offer the illusion of rights protection, whilst the state rides rough-shot over people’s legitimate interests. The specter of a single ‘commissioner’ – appointed by the government – to hold the government accountable is laughable. Consider the right to free expression outlined in the Bill of Rights:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form”.[ix]

There are of course qualifications for inciting violence or hatred, however these are ‘practical’ arbitrary proscriptions that merely builds dogma upon dogma, whilst ignoring the ‘principled’ spirit of legitimate law-making that is a positive attribute of our common law tradition. Common law however is being side-lined by the ‘dogmatic proscriptions’ of human rights commissioners, politicians and yes ‘extreme’ pastors, however none of these people are positive custodians of any redeemable platform. They all pose a threat to modern society and the values which made it so.

What breach of right am I alluding to? Well, the Financial Services Act persecutes financial advisers for giving advice without a license. It is not even a question of whether its ‘good advice’; at issue is the state’s right to say what is ‘advice’ (good or bad) and who may offer it.

“New Zealanders with less than $100,000 to invest will struggle to get personalized professional investment advice unless the Government steps in, says Liz Koh, a chartered accountant and certified financial planner. Licensing of the industry meant there were now fewer than 2000 authorized financial advisers allowed to give personalized investment advice”. [x]

The implication is that statutory regulation is achieving the exact opposite of what the legislation intended to do; unless the legislation was written by large corporate players to bestow upon them a monopoly. Perhaps that was the intent, but it was also to give the appearance that government will protect you. Why would government want to look so bad? Are they really invested in the destruction of government – on the proviso that that they ‘make a killing’ before contemporary governance collapses? It is hard to say.

The real face of extremism

The problem is that ‘extremism’ has been an enduring quality of Western values since ancient times. We are not in fact ‘less extreme’ than our predecessors, we are more so. Our civility lies not upon our greater integrity or the coherency of our shared values, but upon our comfort, common security and our preparedness to tolerate any entrenched conflict in cynical resignation. Does that mean we should celebrate our current disposition? Clearly not, when it leads people to make threats and otherwise convey beliefs detached from facts and arguments. When ancient beliefs can be extolled as ‘plausible’, and even commonplace, as religion is, then you have to wonder just how ‘civilized’ society is today. There will be those religious fanatics who will argue that Christianity presided over the industrialization and stability of the Western world. It is true that Christianity was an unsavory ‘bed-fellow’ of industrialization, in the same way that totalitarianism or fascism is an uncomfortable ‘bed-fellow’ for China’s industrialization, but that’s not to impart the idea that ‘autocracy causes industrialization’. These ‘incompatible ideas’ did not cause prosperity, they were in fact impositions and obstacles for its greater development.

Observe that, no sooner had people got wealthy, that they got lazy about the precise origin of their success. Humanity never sought to understand the origin of their prosperity. Their only concern was that it was their own initiative; and even then few could even defend that premise in a society that wanted to claim a share of their effort. Producers were derided as exploiters and pastors where elevated as ‘moral exponents’, when in fact they were always preaching the destructive ‘sacrifice’ and mindlessness of tribal witch-doctors. A pastor, politician or judge cannot ignore the necessity of at least aligning their values with ‘meaningful’ rational standards. At root however, there is no compelling reason for them to preserve any depth of coherency. It need only prevail as a ‘cosmetic perception’.

Understanding extremism

The problem lies in one’s definition of extremism. Most people consider ‘extremism’ to be a departure from the status quo or consensus. The problem with this ‘moral relativism’ is that it displays no respect for facts or evidence. This is ultimate why it takes a crisis for people to spurn extremism, and simply act. It is why every revolution occurs, not in response to a change in values, but from a sense of dire necessity – an imperative to act. Usually that imperative is an economic crisis, after ‘fundamentalist beliefs’ in economics or politics were deemed too controversial, or ‘non-PC’, that politicians, conservatives and leftists, were not prepared to consider them. This is why libertarians, who are “extremists”, insofar as they depart from ‘conventional wisdom’, are constantly marginalized in political discourse. This system ‘permits people their contradictions’. It does not help that many of those who would identify as libertarians also hold contradictions. This is not a good political system, and the persistence of poor values is not ‘because of democracy’, but rather because what is celebrated as democracy in contemporary society, is not really democracy, but only the ‘hope of it’. It could be construed as ‘nominal democracy’ insofar as there is nothing substantive about a political system that offers people only the prospect of voting for one or a number of strangers every 3-6 years, where one bestows power of attorney upon these ‘custodians’, and suspends the discretion to rescind that sanction. Why would one celebrate that ‘right’ or ‘obligation’ when one would sparingly grant a ‘trusted friend’ a far more limited power of attorney.

‘Extremism’ is actually not a repugnant idea. Fundamentalism could be construed as two perspectives:

  1. Dogmatic adherence to an idea
  2. Principled adherence to an idea

The problem is that critics choose not to make any differentiation between these two options.

Dogmatism is adherence to an idea that bears little or no regard for the facts of reality; insofar as the exponent of the idea cannot defend their belief.

Principles of course can be dogmatically held, but insofar as ‘belief’ is not necessarily a repository for dogmatism, we should at least give people the benefit of the doubt to justify their values, and accommodate any earnest attempt to understand.

Idealism is adherence to principles that pertain to the facts of reality. Insofar as they are ‘objective’, the exponent of those ideas should bear the burden of proving them to oneself, and applying them in the broadest possible context to ensure that they are not dogmatic in the application of their ideas. In a social context, people who which to extol certain values should expect to be publicly accountable for their values. The consequences of any action should be private, and this is only possible if people act under a voluntary code.

References

[i],[ii][iii][v]  “Westcity Bible Baptist pastor admits praying for suicide of gay author Jim Marjoram” by Teuila Fuatai & John Weekes, NZ Herald, website, 8th Dec 2014.

[iv] “From Prussia to America: Public schools destroy lives” by iwillspyonyou, website, 21th Feb 2012.

[vi][vii][viii] “Gay ONE News Reporter labelled ‘filthy’ by Auckland pastor”, One News, TVNZ & Sky News, website, 8th Dec 2014.

[ix] Freedom of expression, “New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990”, NZ Legislature, website, full legislation, retrieved 9th Dec 2014.

[x] “Good investment advice not always easy to find” by Tamsyn Parker, Money Editor, NZ Herald, website, Sep 11, 2012.

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