Published in the Courier Mail 20 August 2003
THE opening night of the recent Ideas Festival at the Powerhouse asked a pivotal question, hotly debated and well examined: whether new ideas can save us. A splendid question indeed, although it started me wondering: What are they trying to save us from?
Terrorism sprang to mind, of course, but I knew they weren’t talking defence strategy. Maybe the US? After all, I often hear the US, and Western democracy, accused of being the world’s great evils. And that’s highly likely to be discussed at the Powerhouse, or so I’m told.
And then it hit me. Maybe they are trying to save the world from absurdity! Why, there would be no shortage of things to discuss.
Take, for example, Mel Gibson’s new film, The Passion — and I’m not even talking about releasing it in Aramaic and Latin, without subtitles. Hey, it’s his money and he can do what he wants. What’s truly absurd is the reaction to the few preview screenings that Gibson has allowed.
Let’s consider the outcry. Some of the scenes have been labelled bloody, gruesome and disturbing, with nails being driven through the hands of Jesus. What else can we expect from a crucifixion? There’s simply no pleasant way to chronicle the events of that first Good Friday.
Regardless of what you believe about the claims of the divinity of Jesus, it is still a generally accepted historical fact that he was crucified and that it was horrific. If we have decided we are sophisticated enough to call for an end to censorship, we should be rejoicing that Gibson has not spared our sensibilities.
The American Anti-Defamation League is horrified at the “unambiguous depiction of Jews as the ones responsible for the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus”. Goodness, next they’ll be horrified that the Germans are depicted as being responsible for the Holocaust.
Anti-Semitism is abhorrent, as is any form of hatred or violence, and also is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus himself. But lurking behind the league’s outrage is a view even more loathsome.
When our society accepts that certain things cannot be said, even though they are true, and then selectivity applies this principle, we start to spiral into absurdity.
Even a cursory reading of the gospels clearly shows it was Jews who were responsible for the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus. Does this mean all Jews are to blame, or that Jews who are alive today are to be held responsible? Of course not. In the same way that we do not hold today’s Germans responsible for Nazi atrocities, or today’s Christians responsible for the Crusades, we should not blame Jewish people today, or their leaders, for what happened 2000 years ago. But 2000 years ago, it really happened. To say otherwise is a denial of truth — and that helps no one.
A man is before the Equal Opportunity Commission in a southern state now for publicly stating what was contained in the literature of a particular religion. Members of this religion have claimed he is inciting hatred and are attempting to silence him, yet he is simply stating what they have in their holy book.
It remains that many groups in our society are given special dispensation to claim discrimination, and we placate them. We refuse to allow anything to be said that reflects poorly on those groups, even if those things are true. Doesn’t this, in itself, breed resentment?
At the same time, we allow people the freedom to rage against the fundamental building blocks of our Western society — democracy, orthodox Christianity and the family — without any concern about the ramifications. I wonder sometimes if it occurs to them that the very social and political systems they seek to belittle are the ones that allow them the freedom to preach their doctrine of “acceptable intolerance”.
Are we really a sophisticated, liberated society, or one that is restricted, gagged and irrational?
Was this absurdity the thing that the Ideas Festival was trying to save us from? Can anyone tell me? Maybe a problem this big needs a bigger saviour than “new ideas” — a saviour who extols truth, love and personal responsibility. But then again, there’s nothing new about that idea, is there?