Monday, July 29, 2013

Death of a woman

Greeve St is a pick up zone in St Kilda and the site of the murder.

Tracy Connelly is dead.  She was murdered at her work place last week. Few are surprised for her work place is frightening and dangerous.  No, Tracy did not fight in Afghanistan or walk a tight rope traversing the Grand Canyon.  She was a street sex worker in St Kilda.  And so another avoidable murder of a street sex worker occurred to apparent public indifference.  Her relatives will mourn the bubbly character taken too soon.  The rest of us, however, will shrug our collective shoulders, and many will think but not say out loud, “well what can one expect” and move on. 
Ms Connelly was murdered in a street across the road from mine.  It is a street where violence is not unknown and I am aware of several murders in the past decade.  These were not the quick clinical killings by bullet or lethal injection.  These were the slow, agonizing, awful murders by bashing or knife. 
It is a pick up zone for the street sex workers. Street sex work is illegal and this sets up these often vulnerable women for violence and sexual assault.  The police cannot easily protect a group in an illegal vocation.  I am sure that the police will vigorously pursue this murder investigation but there are ways bloodshed could be minimised. 
In 2002, I served on the Port Phillip Council and we finished a law reform process with the State government via the Attorney Generals’ Street Prostitution Advisory Group (AGSPAG) which included police, residents and one worker.  That law reform process was motivated ostensibly by activists in the community sick of the detritus of sex litter, the constant leering of the men and the public sex.  But there was another less publicised reason. In 2000 there were a string of unspeakable assaults, rapes and the occasional murder.  The situation was out of control and no council could abide such ferocity without trying to do something.  Remember that street sex workers are really vulnerable.  Street sex workers are often (but not always) drug dependent and that dependency is frequently seeded by sexual assault as kids.  So I sat on AGSPAG cognisant of both the concerns of the residents and the terror of the women.
People outside Melbourne might have heard of the rape and murder of Jill Meagher.  That murder has now exposed what was happening.  Her murderer was the main culprit.  In 2002, Adrian Bayley was prosecuted regarding 16 counts of rape committed between September 2000 and March 2001. He pleaded guilty to the charges, all of which were committed against prostitutes working in St Kilda.  Bayley had driven his victims to a lane behind a group of shops in Elwood, before parking against a fence so they could not open the passenger door.
This information closed the circle for me. It was a partial explanation why there was such violence at the time of the AGSPAG process. Even though the Bayleys of the world may come and go, there is still an endemic culture of violence that rules street sex work. It needs to be addressed. And moreover, Bayley showed that those who assault prostitutes easily alter their MO to visit violence upon the wider community.  Women at large are not safe if they rely on the “Ripper Rationale” – murderers of sex workers are gentle with and respectful of the rest of the gender.  
This man has terrorised women in St Kilda and across Melbourne.
 The AGSPAG group chose the concept of “tolerance zones”.  (Remember in NSW, street sex work is lawful as long as it is not near or within view of a dwelling, school, church or hospital) Many other reforms were implemented but AGSPAG is known for the one infamous idea that failed to get up.  The rationale for these zones, places where street prostitution would be tolerated, was to limit the areas of prostitution, increase the monitoring and safety of the women and lessen the impact of the litter, public servicing and perceived intimidation from pimps.  There was a sense of unanimity when AGSPAG reported.
That unanimity dissolved in an instant when the community was consulted.  We made errors in the process but it was clearly controversial. If the bipartisan support at the State had stayed intact, the proposal might have been modified to an acceptable extent.  That did not occur. The Liberal Opposition went opportunistically ballistic and the Labor Government went weak at the knees. Moralistic hypocrisy prevailed and the flawed prohibition model is still with us today with all of its cruelty and inefficacy. The one chance we had to have a fundamental rethink of the safety both of the community and the sex workers has probably been lost for decades.  And so more lives will be lost and many women will be bashed and/or raped because sex workers apparently don’t matter.
It will not surprise you, but I blame the Abrahamic religions of the Judaeo Christian tradition.  These are faiths which are punitive.  They set up moralistic schemes where the evil are punished in some afterlife.  Sin is dealt with by prohibition not sophisticated harm minimisation techniques needed in a modern time where the prohibition exacerbates harm.  Drugs, prostitution and some socially stigmatised practices like abortion have their harms increased by legal prohibition.  These are biblical in their nature.  They are wrong.  I know that Mary Magdalene was perhaps a sex worker and that in St Kilda, churches do wonderful things for street sex workers.  But the ideology of the creeds still inform those who cannot cope with law reform.
The time has come to revisit this issue.  I know that the world will not mourn Tracy Connelly like we mourned Jill Meagher but they are both blameless women victims of appalling violence.  The Jill Meagher case, though not involving a sex worker, reminds us of the need to organise our community in such a way as to make it safer for sex workers.  Bayley has shown, those who assault sex workers can cross over and assault (and murder) the general public.  Thus this is an issue for both a vulnerable sub group and the whole female population.
 Tolerance zones are probably out of the question. At the last Council election, the notion of the zones was used as means criticising candidates.  The incumbents at State and local levels will not go near the idea.  A review is needed. The current prohibition model fails our most vulnerable and indeed the female gender.   

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Did Peter Jensen Save the Global Anglican Communion???

A benign picture of a recently departed but scary prelate.

11 days ago, after a tumultuous term for a dozen years, the most Reverend Archbishop Peter Jensen retired as the leader of the Sydney Anglicans.  I hate many of his views but he may have saved the Anglican denomination from tearing itself to bits.
The Anglican Communion matters.  At 80 to 85 million adherents, it is the third biggest Christian denomination after Catholicism and Orthodoxy. 
Anglicanism matters also because it represents the tensions all the big denominations of faith face – diversity and disagreement.  How they manage this critical to the future of the denomination concerned.  It is also a pointer to all global organisations, secular and sacred, on the question of managing change when we have divergent global views. As change hits different countries in different ways and at different speeds, global churches (and other global institutions) have a real problem keeping it all together.
In the homeland of England, the C of E is sclerotic.  Click on this PowerPoint discussion by Prof Linda Woodhead.
This survey of English belief discloses a Church sliding into irrelevance. Even 33% of Anglicans are “doubters”.  Only 6% of the community turns to God for moral guidance.  68% (including “don’t knows”) of the community don’t really think about the established Church at all and of the rest, only 18% see it as positive.  Last year at the November Synod, the idea of women bishops was rejected to massive public derision.  They had another go last week at the Synod in the beautiful northern city of York where the Synod agreed to a new glacial process to decide on this unexceptional idea.  Instead of derision, this development elicited a yawn.  In its home of Great Britain, Anglicanism appears to be a train wreck.
Anglicanism very roughly follows the boundaries of the British Empire with adherents in the UK, Africa, here and increasingly Asia. Anglicanism and indeed Christianity in general are having a growth spurt in the developing world at the expense of Islam. There is a claim by a Muslim scholar that 6 million Muslims are lost each year to Christianity particularly in Africa.
 One of the beneficiaries of this trend is African Anglicanism.  There are more Nigerian Anglicans than in the home of this denomination, England.  Thus the Africans are claiming to have more power in both Catholicism and Anglicanism.  Catholic and Anglican Africans can mount a claim for more power in their respective churches.  They are growing.  They are waging the often bloody war with Islam.  They have the numbers.  They ought to have the power.  And these congregations are often hopelessly conservative on the two topics that that churches traditionally do poorly – sex and gender.
Anglicanism is being stalked by the prospect of Schism because its conservative wing cannot deal with pretty unremarkable ideas such as ordination of gays and women.  The conservatives can be found in every part of the Anglican world but the Africans are big on these topics and the Nigerians in particular make no bones about it.  They will not tolerate ordination of gays and women.
The Dioceses in the West naturally find these ideas not too confronting.  The northern Americans embrace gay and women leadership.
To the outside world, there is a temptation to see the divide over doctrine as a racial divide.  That is not the case.  But it does have a superficial look of the black versus white wings of the church.  The reality is that the American diocese is bitterly divided with the conservatives gravitating towards two movements – the Continuing Anglican movement which is outside the main denomination and the Anglo Catholics who were poached by Pope Benedict in 2007.  The can keep their Anglican liturgy and their married priests but are hybrid Roman / English Catholics. 
Peter Jensen allied himself to a similar conservative grouping called GAFCON – the Global Anglican Future Conference.  This mob includes the Africans and other conservatives.  I think that it may have saved Anglicanism from schism.  For it spoke to the African conservatives and gave them an outlet for their grievances.  Archbishop Jensen was an important leader of this gang. It also made obvious that this is a doctrinal fight not black versus white divide. 
In 2008, GAFCON met in Jerusalem prior to the Lambeth Conference which is the meeting of worldwide Anglicanism.  The Conference is so named for it takes place a Lambeth Palace which is the headquarters of the boss of Anglicanism, the Archbishop of Canterbury. 
The GAFCON views are loathsome to me and I imagine most of the godless. But I suspect that it saved Anglicanism for the time being.  Within that faith there are intractable disagreements.  These disagreements must have an outlet or the discontented will walk. If organisations do not provide the disgruntled with outlets for their rage, then schism beckons.  
I sense that GAFCON kept the conservatives in the Anglican community. I sense too that it showed that the clash of ideology is not a sectarian and racial one but doctrinal debate. That is a wonderful thing for the last thing the world needs is another fight between races.  Indeed that is probably the best thing about the Commonwealth Games and Anglicanism – differing races, ethnicities and groups can share communion brought about by the dying embers of the global anachronism that was the Empire.
So I sense that Archbishop Jensen, though championing views that are utterly repugnant to me, and in the long term, not viable for any modern organisation, did squirt some glue into the fraying Anglican Communion.  I will pine for him for he is such an easy target for us atheists to aim at.  However, we cannot deny his role globally.  And locally, whilst I despise their liturgy, there is no doubt that Jensen’s Evangelical foot soldiers slugged it out better than most for planting new Christian bums on seats.  Oh yes, Jensen was belligerent, intelligent and annoying.  But he was the sort I love to hate and I think I may miss him.
Am I mad?  Should I be dancing a gig at the prospect of his departure?
Would you miss Archbishop Jensen more that Cardinal Pell or do you hope that someone stuffs Cardinal Pell and mounts him permanently on a plinth?
How do global organisations deal with the fractious few who stand in the way of progress?
When should schism triumph over compromise and moderation?
Over to you guys.

Monday, July 08, 2013

John Paul II Diminishes the saintly exchange rate

The Australian dollar is finally in reasonably sharp decline.  It is, however, not the only devalued currency in the world.  The value of sainthood has taken an absolute battering with it current worth being flushed down the toilet.
Two living Popes, Benedict XVI and Francis, are collaborating to shift their immediate past president, JP2, up the canonisation ladder.  John Paul II has now passed the biggest hurdle for a non martyr, beatification on the basis of a couple of miracles.  He is a dead set cert for the big ST as a pro nominal.
Canonisation has in the past been a glacial and deliberate process.  It once took decades of slow movement through the 4 stages of Servant of God, Veneration, Beatification and Canonisation. 
The big change to the process came in 1983 when the Devils’ Advocate, the Promotor Fidei was abolished.  This office would argue against canonisation.  After that filtering system was gone, then canonisation picked up.
The quickest way to sainthood is martyrdom.  For those who us who don’t crave the opportunity to die for the faith, the other way up is to cause a couple of miracles.  Once again, the rules, once tough, are now easy peasy.  A miracle now includes an unexpected medical recovery from an untreatable disease after the invalid has prayed for assistance to the candidate for sainthood.  So if someone prayed to me for recuperation and they spontaneously recuperated, I would have one miracle under my belt in my quest for sainthood! Lucky me!
This is a photo of me being blessed by John Paul II in 1985!  A long and touching relationship.

This photo, taken by the Vatican staff, shows me in the red jacket and rat tail haircut and my wife next to me with the camera poised to take the snap above.  I think that you can just discern her smile under the camera.
The ridiculousness of this test is obvious. Many devout people are going to be praying to the Pope of the day to save them from their illnesses.  The more ill they are the more prayerful they are likely to be.  And of course, medical science has yet to achieve perfection and so some spontaneous “medical miracles” are beyond understanding.  Take this example of a window washer surviving a 47 story fall.   There are heaps of the unexplained recoveries. Cancers go into remission.  Accident victims resume breathing. Coma victims suddenly sit up in bed.  All of these are mysteries but are they miracles??
Faith always prospers with the unexplained.  But to attribute unexpected survival not to even to God but to some person named in a prayer is a stretch of the imagination.  The person so named didn’t solicit the prayer, needn’t know about the prayer or even have claimed that they made the prayed for outcome happen.  All that the candidate for sainthood needs is to be named. 
For a Pope, this is a ridiculously easy test.  Popes probably get named in the prayers of millions every day. It would be amazing if a Pope couldn’t rack up gazillions of examples where people who prayed to him and then spontaneously recover from some real or imagined fatal illness.
A quick perusal of the list of saints by pontificate indicates an explosion in the numbers in recent years.  The popes used to canonise a couple throughout their whole pontificate.  Then too the Saints were more often than not, dead for a few centuries or so.  Now we are less patient.  John Paul II went on an orgy of canonisation.  If only he spent as much energy on sexual abuse scandals, the Vatican financial scandals, the women and gay ordination issues and etc.  The man loved a party and canonised accordingly. 
There seems to be a not so hidden agenda.  As secularisation and the Vatican’s own greed and incompetence threatened the faith, they embarked on a canonisation campaign to change the narrative around the place.  Who needs talk about abuse victim suicides or financial scandals when we have a canonisation party to look forward to?  It is myopic distraction from the elephants in the room.  It is the most obvious strategic response to institutional attack.
Thus the saintly currency is utterly debased. Could anything be more debasing that giving a gong to Pope John Paul II who opposed contraception even in the face of the AIDS crisis?  Even Jesuit Professor Jose Maria Castillo and Italian theologian Giovanni Franzoni have their reservations.  Pope JP2 should be judged harshly by history and not beatified.
Admittedly the Papacy is not alone.  The Brits are debasing knighthood by giving one to a man who won a bike race in France and another is bound to get it for winning Wimbledon when these sports stars also earn millions as compensation for their unique talents.  Is this the monarchy, another institution under pressure, leveraging off celebratory to gain popular support?
Non Catholics and atheists must look at this canonisation development bemused.  I think it indicates the place in Rome is rotten to the core.
What is your view?
Should JP2 get a gong?
Is the test of miracles are joke or a farce (the choices are narrow deliberately)?
Is the explosion in the numbers of saints a response by the Vatican or just merely a symptom of the modern impatience, modern addiction to celebrity or a modern response to problems?  Is it all three?  If it is all three, would you care to make a weighting on the most important???
Over to you guys.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Jumping Ship - A Time of Transition


This is a time of transition in Australia, for our world of belief and unbelief as well as our politicians. On the parliamentary front we have seen politician after politician give tearful self justifying valedictories as they head for escape hatches.  Has parliament ever been as lachrymose? Has it ever been so righteous?  Well self justifying righteousness is a badge of public office so we should not be too surprised at that.
Now the world faith and faithlessness is being invaded by body snatchers.  A couple of ancient but significant bods are departing the scene.
David Nichols has retired from being the Supreme Commander of the Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA). Archbishop Peter Jensen is retiring  as the leader of the Sydney Anglicans and Cardinal George Pell has been begged to follow their splendid example.


David is a significant person.  David has held the position of President of the AFA for 8 years during which the profile of Atheism in Australia has grown dramatically.
Notable achievements under David’s presidency include the 2010 and 2012 Global Atheist Conventions, the controversial Bus Ad Campaign of 2011, the 2012 Census Awareness Campaign, addressing the Commonwealth Senate enquiry into charitable tax exemptions and commissioning the first television advertisements for atheism.  Of course as a weight challenged man, I also admire his wonderful skinny bod; thin and gorgeous.  Hard work works for David. 
The Global Atheist Conventions were huge events.  I had a bit of bumpy ride initially for my version of atheism is an accommodating atheism.  The AFA has members who find my approach too weak kneed and unsatisfying.  So I was quite unpopular when I talked about the legitimate role of faith in a pluralist society. I was booed when I correctly predicted that using the constitutional protection against forced religion in Section 116 was an unsound basis to attack expenditure on faith education.  But a variety of voices is the hallmark of a mature movement.  Atheism in Oz has such maturity and stature and AFA has been vital.
The AFA has been outstanding under David’s leadership. The Global Atheist Conventions were amazing events.  He retires an absolute winner.


Jensen departs the Sydney a controversial, even divisive, figure. To the godless like me, he is the devil incarnate.  I adore guys like Dr Jensen because he seems so last millennium.  He opposes gay marriage, gay ordination and he is not really big on the ordination of women relying as is his wont on the misogynist musings of St Paul.  He is the sort of hard line, biblically based sort of bastard we love to hate.  Even Anglicans like Bishop Spong and the Melbournian Muriel Porter rail against Dr Jensen and his Sydney zealots.
This blog has in the past lambasted him as the classic reactionary religious that gives us a comfortable feeling of superiority over believers.  How could any right minded person think that faith has anything to offer with retro dinosaurs like Jensen???
But I am sad to have to admit that some of his achievements are manifest.  Notwithstanding his patrician upbringing in Bellevue Hill, he has a strong reputation for advocating social justice issues, support for trade unions and other community pillars, allegedly tough on sexual abuse and generally progressive if it doesn’t involve sex. 
His major achievements are in the evangelical and liturgical areas. I think that the Melbourne Diocese is like a comfortable shoe. It won’t go away. It won’t rock the boat. It will not grow. But Jensen has made attempts to empower local congregations to work with new liturgy. His time has coincided with a fired up evangelical wing of the NSW Anglican community and the growth of that wing of the church is palpable. 
Evidently Jensen’s epiphany came when the American Protestant fire and brimstone man, Billy Graham stormed around Australia in the 1960s.  This epiphany clearly moulded the Archbishop’s time of service.  He gave sustenance to the biblically based, low church, Evangelical Anglicanism, which is unrecognizable from Evensong at Westminster Abbey.  These congregations are manifestly growing.  He has been the mid wife of this growth.
And more globally, it could be argued he saved the Anglican Communion.  There is a potential Schism brewing in Anglicanism over sex.  I will go into this next time in detail.  But I think that white, Western reactionaries like Jensen headed off the threats of Schism in both the American and African dioceses.  Anglicanism is still rent with division but I think that Dr Jensen can retire knowing that he helped hose down the opposition to Lambeth Palace so that people didn’t feel that they had to destroy the house.
Dr Jensen is a complicated figure for the godless.  We welcome his backward views for the poor PR it gives faith.  Those views give us someone we love to hate.  But his liturgical and evangelical achievements cannot be denied.  More on his role in saving global Anglicanism next time in a few days.


My favourite whipping boy is back in the news.  Just when every politician and prelate seems to be retiring George just keeps on.  Pope Benedict knew when to go by establishing a modern precedent for retiring from a job for life.  George should do the same thing.  He looks doddery. His shadowy role in the sex abuse scandal is undefined but damning in it lack of definition.  Victim groups are calling upon him to stand down.
He is called spiritually impotent and too identified with both the problem and the Churches reprehensible responses to the crimes.  He could join David Nichols from the AFA in dignified retirement.  I imagine he won’t.  I love that man.  We atheists would be lost without him.

What is your view???

Are the retirements of right wing war horses good for atheism or not?
What is your favourite Global Atheist Convention moment?
Was Jensen a success or failure?
Is Cardinal Pell a good to damaged to survive?

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Over to you