Mar­tyred for her be­liefs

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View -

NOW that the US elec­tion is over and we’re all en­joy­ing the prospect of an Obama pres­i­dency, it’s worth re­con­sid­er­ing the cul­tural phe­nom­e­non of Sarah Palin, un­suc­cess­ful Repub­li­can can­di­date for the vi­cepres­i­dency. For­get the pol­i­tics. What of Palin’s cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance? One Amer­i­can an­a­lyst ar­gued that she pro­voked such pas­sion­ate re­sponses be­cause she so per­fectly em­bod­ied one side of the cul­ture wars.

Palin, fa­mously, is the Gov­er­nor of Alaska, and the mother of five. Her el­dest son is serv­ing with the US mil­i­tary in Iraq. Her youngest is a baby with Down syn­drome. She re­ceived the Down syn­drome di­ag­no­sis dur­ing the preg­nancy but went ahead with the birth. She be­longs to a Bi­ble­based church, and pre­vi­ously at­tended a Pen­te­costal church. Her un­mar­ried teenage daugh­ter is preg­nant and is go­ing to have the baby.

Palin is a hunter and her of­fice is adorned with the hide of a bear her fa­ther shot. Her hus­band is also a hunter and a snow­board racer, as well as an oil in­dus­try worker and some­time com­mer­cial fish­er­man.

I am still at some­thing of a loss to know how Palin pro­voked such pas­sion ev­ery­where: pas­sion­ate sup­port among evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians and pas­sion­ate de­nun­ci­a­tion among all bien pen­sant sec­u­lar­ists across the world.

I was sur­prised my­self at how many heated dis­cus­sions about her I be­came in­volved in. Nu­mer­ous friends thought John McCain might be a bet­ter pres­i­dent than Obama, but couldn’t stick Palin at any price.

I have come re­luc­tantly to the view that it was not her poli­cies or lack of ex­pe­ri­ence that pro­voked such fu­ri­ous de­nun­ci­a­tion of Palin. It was, rather, the type of Chris­tian­ity she em­bod­ies. It used to be that anti-Catholi­cism was the anti-Semitism of the in­tel­lec­tual class. But with the Catholic Church now so fee­ble in most West­ern so­ci­eties, that prej­u­dice seems to have shifted to evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians.

Thus Palin was con­sid­ered a kind of freak, with, uniquely, no imag­i­na­tive un­der­stand­ing ex­tended to her life at all. When you dis­til the causes of the loathing Palin pro­voked you get three specifics.

First, cre­ation­ism. Sec­ond, she has at­tended a Pen­te­costal church where peo­ple speak in tongues. And third, she is op­posed to abor­tion, even in cases of rape and in­cest.

Cre­ation­ism is un­rea­son­able if you be­lieve the world was cre­ated in one shot a few thou­sand years ago. Such a creed would con­tra­dict sci­en­tific ev­i­dence about the age of the Earth. But all re­motely or­tho­dox Chris­tians surely be­lieve in some sort of cre­ation­ism, that is to say that the world was ul­ti­mately cre­ated by God.

The sec­u­lar­ists are far too shrill and un­rea­son­able about the assent we must ap­par­ently all give to evo­lu­tion­ary the­ory to avoid be­ing con­sid­ered nuts. To say you find the the­ory of evo­lu­tion a bit im­plau­si­ble in its full­ness, or not enough to ex­plain the ge­nius of hu­man­ity, is not the same as say­ing the only al­ter­na­tive is a lit­er­al­ist be­lief in un­rea­son­able cre­ation­ism.

When I was a kid at var­i­ous Catholic schools,

AT a re­cent re­union my broth­ers and I said how amazed we were that we were even vaguely nor­mal, given our bizarre child­hood. Take Christ­mas, for ex­am­ple. Land­locked dur­ing the year, we took off each De­cem­ber for a place called Umko­maas, a shark-in­fested coastal re­sort in Natal. Hav­ing loaded the car with empty Co­caCola bot­tles to bring back sea wa­ter for the ser­vants, who would spray it on their beds to get rid of the tokoloshe , a par­tic­u­larly ve­nal lurk­ing bed­room spirit, my fa­ther would do three laps of the cir­cu­lar drive­way, said staff, in­clud­ing the gar­den weeder, the laun­dry maid, the tro­phy pol­isher and the chef ( plus hat), lin­ing up to wave us good­bye.

We never thought this odd. Nei­ther did we ques­tion the fact that we were not al­lowed to talk for the eight hours it took to get there; our I was taught as an ab­so­lutely rou­tine bit of Chris­tian doc­trine that a spe­cial act of cre­ation is re­quired by God for each new hu­man soul. How can you be­lieve that and not be­lieve that the emer­gence of the first hu­man soul re­quired a spe­cial act of cre­ation? In other words, some­thing like Palin’s is pretty much the or­tho­dox view of the world’s largest re­li­gion.

Then there is this busi­ness of speak­ing in tongues. Pen­te­costal­ists be­lieve that when they wor­ship in tongues the Holy Spirit speaks through them. Now I grant that any re­li­gious tra­di­tion looks a bit spooky to peo­ple out­side the tra­di­tion, but this is much less spooky than it seems.

Af­ter all, more or less all Chris­tians be­lieve that when­ever two or three are gath­ered in wor­ship, God’s spirit is among them. The idea that the Holy Spirit speaks through worshippers re­minds me of the line in that beau­ti­ful film Char­i­ots of Fire . Eric Lid­dle, the Chris­tian fa­ther needed to con­cen­trate on the traf­fic. Once we got to the coast, he was a changed man. In fact he was some­thing of a trend­set­ter. Car surf­ing and shoot­ing, for ex­am­ple.

Ev­ery Christ­mas Eve he sat on the bon­net of the Chev in his Santa out­fit, toss­ing coins and sweets to the lo­cal chil­dren.

One of the Christ­mas rit­u­als was shoot­ing sharks, but this wasn’t women’s busi­ness, so while my fa­ther and broth­ers headed off run­ner, tells his sis­ter he un­der­stands his Chris­tian duty to be a mis­sion­ary in China. But God also made him fast, ‘‘ and when I run, I feel his plea­sure’’.

I don’t think the Lid­dle char­ac­ter was be­ing blas­phe­mous, or claim­ing unique mirac­u­lous in­ter­ven­tion by God in his life. But gen­uine Chris­tian re­li­gious be­lief re­quires a sense of God’s om­nipres­ence.

I must con­fess that many years ago I at­tended one Catholic Pen­te­costal prayer meet­ing. I was mo­ti­vated partly by spir­i­tual cu­rios­ity, and it may also be that I was mildly smit­ten by one my fel­low at­ten­dees ( a per­fectly good mo­ti­va­tion for re­li­gious prac­tice through the ages). The speak­ing in tongues busi­ness oc­cu­pied just a few sec­onds at the start, and the sound of voices re­minded me more than any­thing of an or­ches­tra tuning up.

I don’t think any­one there had a magic-trick feel­ing that some strange, ab­nor­mal in­flu­ence was at work. It was rather, as the prayer books say, peo­ple try­ing to open them­selves to the pres­ence of God. I fully ac­cept that this is very much a mi­nor­ity pur­suit in our cul­ture, but it is not re­ally a sign that the prac­ti­tioner is a freak or a fruit­cake.

Fi­nally abor­tion. This is one of the great, vexed eth­i­cal is­sues of our day. Most peo­ple find it hard to ac­cept that a hu­man be­ing, with all at­ten­dant hu­man rights, ex­ists the sec­ond a sperm fer­tilises an egg and the em­bryo con­sists of two cells. On the other hand, most are very un­easy about the idea that a fe­tus, five min­utes be­fore birth, has no rights at all and one minute af­ter birth has full hu­man rights.

Palin, like McCain, be­lieves that a hu­man be­ing ex­ists from the mo­ment of con­cep­tion. This is the or­tho­dox Chris­tian view. But McCain gives the sec­u­lar cul­ture the wink by say­ing that this hu­man be­ing can none­the­less be de­stroyed if he or she was con­ceived through rape or in­cest. This is surely in­con­sis­tent if you be­lieve the fe­tus is a hu­man be­ing.

On all th­ese things I’m not ar­gu­ing that Palin is right. In of­fice as Gov­er­nor she has not pur­sued any of th­ese mat­ters but has fo­cused on the nor­mal day-to-day is­sues that con­cern vot­ers. But I do think some­thing very bad in­deed is hap­pen­ing in our cul­ture when the mere fact of hold­ing or­tho­dox Chris­tian po­si­tions ex­poses a politi­cian to sav­age ridicule and con­tempt. Given the debt our cul­ture owes to Chris­tian­ity, it is per­haps a sui­ci­dal im­pulse.

re­view@ theaus­tralian. com. au it that some­thing al­ways goes wrong. I apol­o­gise for be­ing lazy about re­ply­ing to emails; I get ruder the older I get.

There’s one ex­cep­tion to re­cip­i­ents of my sea­sonal bon­homie who have stayed in touch and that’s the reader who sent a par­tic­u­larly vile mes­sage af­ter I com­plained about the risks of be­ing mowed down by er­rant cy­clists. I do not re­sile from my whin­ing and I am sad­dened to hear there will be a huge in­crease in th­ese pave­ment pests.

The sen­der of rude notes used my whin­ing to ac­cuse me of be­ing a ‘‘ kaf­fir hater’’ for rea­sons best known to him­self. So I hope he goes to hell in a hand­bas­ket and is sur­rounded by thou­sands of ul­u­lat­ing impi bran­dish­ing spears. Cheers.

fraserj@ theaus­tralian. com. au

Il­lus­tra­tion: Jon Kudelka

im­por­tantly with loaded guns, the girls would search the beach for shells to make dolls to dis­guise the toi­let rolls back home. We all got burned to a cin­der and my broth­ers had com­pe­ti­tions to see who could eat the hottest curry. So, as you can tell, I had a typ­i­cally clas­sic up­bring­ing.

Get­ting old is a bit like drown­ing; your life flashes be­fore you, es­pe­cially at this time of year, and con­trary to the opin­ion of most of us heav­ing sweat­ing tur­keys from the kitchen, I love the heat the sea­son brings, al­though I com­plain end­lessly; give a thought to those English women pi­o­neers who set­tled in the out­back and cooked the tra­di­tional mid­day din­ner un­der scorch­ing skies.

Be­cause this is the last Satur­day be­fore the big day, I would like to wish read­ers a happy time with their fam­i­lies, al­though tra­di­tion has

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