Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I disagree with the Archbishop but I respect his right to exercise free speech

In a Taonga article Archbishop Philip Richardson recommends we have a national debate about freedom of expression and its limits, triggered by a controversial t-shirt on display in Canterbury Museum.

The article gives you the links - if you choose - to explore just how utterly distasteful the t-shirt is, and offensive to Jesus. It fails both the "Would your mother like you in this t-shirt?" test as well as the "Would you like your mother or father to be the figures depicted in this T-shirt?" test.

But here's the thing, we do not need a debate about freedom of expression. We are free to express ourselves, we are a democracy and it would be just about impossible to conclude such a debate with an effective law defining where freedom of expression ended and respect for people and their faiths begin.

I propose a different test on freedom of expression.

Is the Canterbury Museum prepared to display the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that have been offensive to Muslims?

If it is, fair enough, it is a fair and equal opportunity offender of religions.

If it is not, then it has failed the justice test on freedom of expression. If an institution or individual is unwilling to offend one religion then none should be offended. If an institution or individual is willing to offend one religion then let all be offended without exception. That is basic justice within a secular democracy.

End of debate.

Over to you Canterbury Museum ...

PS For clerical commenters from other dioceses: do your licences permit you to publicly disagree with your bishop? If they do not (and I hear that at least one diocese has a clause prohibiting such disagreement) then what does that mean for freedom of speech IN OUR OWN CHURCH?


Zane Elliott said...

Peter, are you willing to exercise your freedom of speech and share with us which Diocese has prohibited such a right?

I am amazed that clergy are tolerated to publicly disagree with the Doctrine of the Church but not a bishop!

Chris Spark said...

A quick thought Peter - I also had pointed out to me that there is a related issue here, with another test to apply. The Director of the museum has said this represents T-shirts as expressing provocative and edges of culture. But if that is the case, are they displaying offensively and obscenely racist T-shirts? This is certainly (and much more so in our Western society) the provocative edge of culture.
I doubt they would, and rightly so.

Anonymous said...

Jesus and his mother Mary are, of course, honoured in Islam. It would be interesting to know whether the curator knows that.


carl jacobs said...

So I looked up that T-Shirt on the internet, and it didn't actually offend me all that much. Why, you might ask? Because someone who would wear that T-Shirt in public has voluntarily placed himself in the "Yes, I really am this stupid. Please remind me to keep breathing" category. It's more sad than offensive. How can you be offended by someone like that? You really have to consider the source.

The shirt is simply vulgar. It displays the vulgarity of the one who wears it. It therefore becomes nothing but a lens through which he projects his own image. It's not us on display. It's him.

Anonymous said...

“Canterbury Museum director Anthony Wright said the shirt was a small part of a large exhibition examining the garment's place in popular culture.”

1) Isn’t Anthony Wright a canon of your cathedral?
2) In what sense is this rightly part of an exhibition of the place of T-Shirts in our culture when it is illegal in New Zealand to sell or wear this?

All the best


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks all for comments.
One reply, to Zane: I try not to publish hearsay.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, I want to respond to your comment, hereunder:

"I propose a different test on freedom of expression.

"Is the Canterbury Museum prepared to display the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that have been offensive to Muslims?

""If it is, fair enough, it is a fair and equal opportunity offender of religions.

I respectfully ask, has it occurred to you that one reason for allowing the content that is in dispute here - of an item of distaste for Christians; and maybe not allowing for the display of an items which caused offence to the extreme Muslim entity of ISIS; BECAUSE: the display of the Charlie Hebdo material has actually caused terrorist activity, whereas Christians may not be so sensitive as to react in that way?

I also belief that Archbishop Philip is right to encourage Christians to debate the relative values of free speech versus dogmatic prohibition.

I would not choose to view the T-Shirt in question, but that does not mean that I have the right to forbid others. We happen to live ((thank God) in a freely democratic country, which I believe is preferable to living in, say Uganda or Nigeria, where human rights are not freely guaranteed.

Peter Carrell said...

I sometimes think we live on different planets, Ron!

In this case I live on the planet where if it is offensive to offend Christians and to offend Muslims, then don't offend them, out of respect for human dignity. And do so whether or not there are any terrorists around.

Your comment suggests you live on a planet where if you can get away with something then do it, but if you fear someone may chop your head off for doing it, then don't do it.

I am happy living on my planet and have no desire to live on yours!

Anonymous said...

Catch 22 in NZ Anglicanism:

If you hold a licence on the basis of prohibiting disagreement with your diocesan bishop you cannot say so as that may be seen to be disagreeing with your diocesan bishop. If you do not hold such a licence you will not be published as your information is hearsay!

All the best

Who does not live in Wellington Diocese

Jean said...

I think as Christian's we are called to be people of Light and not of Darkness, and as such, we have a responsibility to both respect others and to speak out against derogatory or offensive actions against ourselves or our neighbours.

What is the saying something along the lines of 'bad things happen when good people do nothing'......

I think free speech is a bit like a smoke cover. It is an important aspect of freedom but we shouldn't use it to justify poor judgement. I supported the rally in Paris not because I at all agreed with the cartoons but because I don't think you chop someones head off for them. Just as I am not advocating we do so to the curator of the Museum... : ) but nor should it pass un-challenged.

I would say why this t-shirt? Probably simply because its infamous reputation would draw people to the exhibition! While like Caleb such a t-shirt seen by me on an individual would more than likely illicit a 'get a life' kind of response, I don't really believe displaying such an item is the type of 'culture' we as Kiwi's should choose to publically highlight or put on display.

Any volunteers to print a T-Shirt with, "Jesus came to forgive you", that could be donated to the curator with a little note assuring it is suitable for all to view?

It's raining!

Peter Carrell said...

(Glad to hear it is raining in your part of the drought stricken South Island, Jean)

To clarify for John and others re freedom of speech in our church:

A. I don't want to comment on the specifics of the wording of a licence I have not seen.
B. I have no problem with a code of conduct which asks licensed ministers in our church to speak respectfully in public of colleagues and of one's bishop, and offers guidelines on the conduct of public conversation were one to disagree with a view of one's bishop or archbishops.
C. I do have a problem with anything which even looks like the suppression of dissent.
D. I would be fascinated to have a discussion (once this wording is cited) as to what might constitute views one could expect clergy to debate in private settings (e.g. "I disagree witht the bishop over the appointment of x to parish y") and what might be a fair and free spirited public debate (e.g. "I congratulate the bishop promoting the Labour Party's policy on helping the poor but I really think if we are going to support one party's policy on poverty then it ought to be the Green Party's approach. The bishop isn't offering a radical enough solution ..."). It would be a sad day if the latter was ruled out of bounds!

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, it was YOU who made the suggestion that there is one diocese in ACANZP where; to contradict one's bishop would be considered rebellion. This WAS NOT suggested by anyone else. Therefore, any controversy on this subject might lie at your own feet. (p.s. Was it the diocese of Nelson, by any chance?)

And, as for us residing on different planets, Peter. I reside on planet earth, a place where the reality is existential - not ephemeral.

Have a good Lent!

Bryden Black said...

I will respond to ++ Philip’s call for a “debate”, but I will take it far further than perhaps he might think/like to think.

I’d ask a rather basic question: what is freedom? Many of us think we know what it looks like and what unfreedom looks like. But do we/they?

For example, a certain land of the free went to war in the name of Liberty. And where are we all now? Sure; I’m not naive enough to not be aware that oil too was a trigger for the war, as were the presence of WMDs - before they were shipped over the border into Syria 3 months before the war began (source of that claim: one single, brief paragraph in The Vicar of Baghdad by Andrew White, information supplied to him by senior members of the Ba’ath Party). Ironic to think the UN is now supposedly seeing to their removal amidst the chaos of the present civil war in Syria ...

Another example: western consumer culture has now muddied the waters regarding “choice”. For in many people’s minds having the choice of 75+ breakfast cereals or an entire aisle of types of coffee (I saw such in California!) pretty well equates with more substantial forms of freedom of choice, like voting for X and not Y, or aborting a human foetus versus carrying the child to term. Of course, ask folk how such forms of freedom might be expressions of the moral good, or otherwise, and very soon what will be revealed is the sheer instrumentality that all these notions share in common and the grave lack of any due teleology.

Which brings me to my point. No; I shall not be rehearsing what any Pol Sci 101 course SHOULD be teaching via such names as Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Kant, the French Utopian Socialists of the Revolution, JS Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, Lenin, Trotsky, Adorno, Irigaray, Sartre, Berlin, Greer, Foucault, .... Rather, I wish to address a deliberately theological formulation of the matter, on account of the sheer historical nature of the emergence of the very notion of human personhood. For without both the Incarnation and the ensuing doctrine of the Trinity there would never have been the realization that Ultimate Reality is Essentially Personal, nor the idea that an essential feature of human being is our Imaging that Reality. All of which leads me to a revised, theological notion of Freedom.

Freedom is my gift to you, another human being, just as freedom is your gift to me, so that, before the Face of Another, who grants each of us (and so all of us humans) the very gift of Life, freedom describes that particular form or quality of personal relationship established by the granting - or withholding, to deny freedom - of such basic human gifts, unto the essential flourishing of human Life. True; more needs to be said about “human flourishing” and its opposite, decay and dying, and so death. But enough is already said to show that the issue is NOT one of “freedom of expression” versus its “limits”. Rather, freedom is a communal, relational quality and not in the first instance any individual’s “right” or “expression” at all! Ouch; I can hear the screams from Charlie Hebdo ...! But that was the point of rehearsing that list earlier (which naturally is far from exhaustive, and which in fact displays a profoundly ambivalent lot). The historical moment of “the turn to the subject” occasioned by the 18th C and its precursors is also the emergence of deemed human moral autonomy and its eventual expression throughout western culture, even if at its birth the Christian Religion was absolutely seminal and necessary. But what we have now in the 21st C is the severance of that delightful fruit of freedom from its original source or root. There is a basic relationship between modern atheism and the falsification of freedom. NO wonder there is such confusion now surrounding such pathetic T Shirts as this vulgar display ... What it occasions however is the search - for those who so desire - the search for the Fount of Genuine and Fulsome Freedom at all at all. [With grateful acknowledgment of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics II.1]

Simon said...

If I was a Muslim in Christchurch I would probably be offended by the highly inappropriate naming of the region's Super Rugby team and the utterly crass dressing up and publicity stunts that go on to promote said team. Or perhaps I'd just sit back and chuckle at the satire.

Father Ron Smith said...

" I shall not be rehearsing what any Pol Sci 101 course SHOULD be teaching via such names as Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Kant, the French Utopian Socialists of the Revolution, JS Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, Lenin, Trotsky, Adorno, Irigaray, Sartre, Berlin, Greer, Foucault, ..etc. etc. etc. etc." - B.B. -

Perhaps that's just as well. A blog is hardly the place to enunciate a whole philosophy on one's personal, unique understanding of religion - or, really, anything. That's what books are for - so that one can them quote them and their authors, sometimes, ad nauseam! But please, not on a blog!

Zane Elliott said...

Fr. Ron, if 'A blog is hardly the place to enunciate a whole philosophy on one's personal, unique understanding of religion - or, really, anything.' is true it might be time to pull the pin on KiwiAnglo where your personal and unique understanding of SSM/SSM is expounded quite constantly.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron and Zane
Okay: a bit of tit for tat re blogs and their purposes.
I'll call time on that exchange and ask for substantive engagement with the substance of Bryden's comment (or other comments).

Bryden's point is well made: we are having the discussion Western civilization is having because Western civilization has engendered it and more or less prescribed the conclusion. Our Christian discussion is obligated - because we seek the mind of Christ - to ask whether the more or less prescribed conclusion is congruent with God's Word or the words of those subjects studied in Pols 101!

Bryden Black said...

Precisely Peter! 1 Cor 1-4 in the context now of modern atheism and autonomous freedom. Thank you!

Father Ron Smith said...

Zane. My philosophy on my blog kiwianglo is not unique. It is shared by many Anglicans and others who want to respect same-sex monogamous relationships.