Windscreen stickers of family groups propagate an image of modern Australia that takes no account of our national diversity.

Anyone in a car can’t help noticing the collections of stick figures labelled "My Family" on other cars’ rear windscreens. Though of dubious artistic merit such illustrations are surely an inoffensive change from the trivia, smut and politics that drivers who like the world to know their opinions usually plaster on their car back windows – announcements of the presence of infant passengers, lewd boastings of tradies’ sexual potency, lies about the ABC belonging to “us” etc.

Inoffensive? Not for anyone who doesn’t fit into the cosy traditional family scenario. Such people have every right to feel affronted, excluded and should seriously consider invoking Section 18C. To the millions – perhaps a majority – of our fellow citizens who do not share it, the world of “My Family” amounts to what has just been defined on American campuses as “microaggression”. Dad has a golf club or barbecue fork, Mum has nothing but an air of being dependent on Dad – a cypher in fact, just the way patriarchal oppressors like their women. There’s a range of goody-goody-looking kids in descending order of size and a dog and/or cat and perhaps a fishbowl or tortoise. It’s an old-fashioned family – the kids don’t even have wires coming out of their ears. The stock small girl has cutesy plaits. This family could be straight out of the 1950s and Father Knows Best. As an image it is hopelessly, as we now say, heteronormative.

The stick-figure industry needs to get with the programme. Its products should reflect the reality of family life in the present day. To start with, dump the cisgender mould. Costume modifications ought to be made to accommodate a spectrum of LGBTIQ etc. preferences – Dad in fishnet stockings or tastefully arrayed in the guise of Marie Antoinette playing a shepherdess in some masque at Versailles, Mum – or should we say Parent 2? – suitably non-gender stereotypical in a boiler suit, her cephalic orifices adorned with rings and bolts .

Multiculturalism is an area in which "My Family" is in particular need of rethinking. None of the current figures reflects the rich complexity of the contemporary Australian community. This is partly on account of an illustrational limitation: stick figures can’t convey skin colour as an indication of racial identity (which in certain cases is just as well, since pigmentation is no longer a sine qua non for those who declare themselves descended from our first peoples). Probably the only means of indicating cultural or ethnic distinctions in stick figures is by dress or hairstyles. Figures should be available in this category showing Dad with a turban or, to reach out to our more – how should one put it? – marginalised newcomers, Dad with what looks like an upturned pudding basin on top to represent the tagiya. Mum, beside him, would be a shroud-like figure with a slit for the eyes as on Ned Kelly’s helmet. The kids might be shown playing with a hacksaw if male, or if female awaiting the professional attention of a bearded scalpel-clutching figure hinted at in the background by a few deft strokes of the stick-figurer’s art.

But why all this talk about Mum and Dad as the only parental combination? Let’s have some forward thinking in the “My Family” industry. Two Dads and two Mums should be available as sets, and they should go on sale now, well before the event, like hot cross buns arriving in the shops the day after Christmas, so that everyone can be ready for the Great Day when the Referendum sweeps away millennia of prejudice in marital practice. And while planning future production schedules, stick-figure execs would do well to keep their eye on the next big battle against nuptial injustice, and plan for a line of Dad and multiple Mums or vice versa.

And why should the “My Family” kids you see be pre-adolescent? One of them could be shown as a newly licensed driver, P-plated and dorf-dorfing, rocketing past every other car on the road. An exiguously clad daughter unconscious in the gutter outside a club at five in the morning could be another emblem of the children of a modern family enjoying their freedom. But let us not leave the pleasures of alcoholic and other stimulants to the young. Why not portray either parent plus latest "partner" at home settling down in front of the Plasma with crisps and beer as the evening meal and a touch of ice for dessert? The scene could be captured either before or after Dad, displeased by the results of the cook-off in My Kitchen Rules, decides to kick in the television and, when the partner protests, take a smack at her too. She gives as good as she gets, and so the evening wears on in a domestic spectacular enough to keep Victoria’s new royal commission going for weeks, until both parties pass out, to be discovered by the police who have called to announce that the son of one of them has been nicked for dealing.

The extension of the notion of family into the area of non-speciesism, as periodically advocated by progressive expatriate philosophers, might be depicted by Dad or Mum kissing the canary or locked in passionate embrace with the cat. But not everyone likes animals. Children can be cruel to them – a stick-figure child drowning the cat or canary in the fishbowl would make that point – and rednecks kill them in the name of sport. This unavoidable reality of Australian venatical life could be indicated by an image of Dad with a shotgun blasting away at a duck (and perhaps hitting Mum instead, in which case the latter could be depicted post factum in a wheelchair, if not as an urnful of ashes).

The activities of the modern family seem limitless. For example, whatever the liberal media would have you believe about the Roman Catholic Church, statistics show the family is the worst arena of child abuse. Could the cast of stick figures not include a leering uncle for whom the most nubile of the daughters is lifting her skirt? And what about Grandad and Grandma, unrepresented in the families I have seen on cars? Justice would be done to contemporary reality if we showed them being hustled on their zimmer frames into a twilight home, there to sink into terminal inanition, or, if we may peep into a future in which progressive hopes are realised, pressing the "yes" button on one of Dr Nitschke's machines.

The human material for a more accurate repertoire of stick figures is all around us. All that is needed now is for art to imitate life.

27 October 2015
Published in The Spectator Australia


Picture this: on the side of a van in a busy street, a larger-than-life representation of the holy Prophet himself, stepping out on a journey, perhaps en route to Medina during the Hegira. He is carrying a heavy burden. Between him and a bystander, who seems rather taken aback by this apparition, a bubble contains the words, “How much to Ballarat?”

The van belongs to an “art courier” called Artist Moving Artists, and you can see the image on its website (www.artistmovingartists.com.au/). But just before you check, of course the image doesn’t represent Mohammed. As if it would and the van still be driving freely around. Someone would have complained by now or sued under Section 18C citing Islamophobia. In some places – perhaps even here soon – the van would be torched or the driver decapitated.

No, the image represents Christ and He is carrying His cross, and for all the apparent ease with which he is depicted shouldering this burden, He is on His way to be crucified. The crucifixion of Christ, as Quadrant readers will not need to be reminded, but a lot of other people these days evidently do, is at the heart of the Christian religion. It and the scourging and long trek up the hill to Calvary which preceded it are not only sacred redemptive events for Christians but in human terms a horrifying sequence of brutality and suffering. So of course to a certain mind they are a perfect topic to make fun of, a golden opportunity for satirising a bruised and bleeding man on his way to a cruel death. 

I don’t know about Christians in general, but the deriding of Christianity that is all around one today is usually water off a duck’s back to me. Even extreme examples of what used to be considered blasphemy, such as the Piss Christ affair some years ago, fail to move me. It’s not so much that I am good at turning the other cheek. It’s more that I think if some pathetic tosser can only attract public acclaim for his pseudo-art by dunking a crucifix in urine then taking a picture of it, he’s more to be pitied than censured. Botticelli didn’t need to do that.

Yet for some reason when I saw the artist’s art-moving van, it knocked me. Why, I thought, are Christians singled out for a mockery which if applied to any other social group would be condemned as “hate speech”? Why indeed are Christians so hated? What harm have they done? Yes, I know about the Inquisition and the Wars of Religion but there has to be more to it than that. People who deride Christianity often trot out these or similar events as justification, but this is disingenuous. Such people as are really anti-Christian are not so on account of something that happened centuries ago. Indeed they might not have any clear idea why they dislike Christianity, and horror stories from the past help them explain it to themselves. “Just think of all the terrible suffering religion has caused,” you hear people say, as though they feel some sort of excuse is needed for their own less than charitable attitude.

At the risk of over-simplification I suspect the explanation is something on the following lines. There are people who loathe Christianity because of its opposition to their liberal progressive social agenda. Their ideas, being congenial to the media, are constantly diffused throughout the community; and this, combined with the growing indifference to religion characteristic of prosperous societies, helps create a climate in which to ridicule Christians is socially acceptable.

Christians are thus fair game for anyone who wants to draw attention to himself by creating a frisson of shock in a society such as ours which, for all its efforts, has not yet wholly expunged Christianity from its consciousness. If you have a product to sell, like the artist-removalist, publicise it by making fun of Jesus. Just like Andres Serrano, the Piss Christ chap (has anyone heard of him since, by the way? We’d soon hear about him, via his obituary, if he were to essay a Piss Mohammed.). Just like those awful ABC television drama scripts whose writers attempt to give vigour to their leaden dialogue by having everyone say “Christ!” or “Jesus!” every five seconds. The ABC, of course, is most solicitous towards the sensitivities of the select social groups it approves of and puts up signs before certain programs warning viewers that they might be offended by this or that. Christians never merit this consideration from the national broadcaster, though it sometimes seems that there’s little the ABC transmits that doesn’t have the potential to offend them, if only in a program’s implicit views and assumptions.

Insensitivity to what Christians hold sacred is now normal behaviour. I spent time in hospital recently and in a bed across from me was a loud-mouthed middle-aged man, glued to football matches on his overhead television, who shouted “Jesus!” every time something roused him to comment. Above on the wall (and presumably unmoved by his invocations) was a crucifix: this was a Roman Catholic hospital, but no one complained about this taking in vain the name of the founder of the religion which supposedly inspires the hospital in its mission, and neither to my shame did I. That’s how people talk now. In pubs and other low places they always did, but polite society did not endorse such language in everyday life. Now no one cares.

They certainly don’t care about the van with Christ on it. I rang the principal of Artist Moving Artists – his name is Drasko Boljevic and he works as an artist when he’s not moving other artists’ art – and he told me he knew of no one who’d been offended by the image. “Oh yes, there was one lady who said she didn’t like it or something like that, but no one else and people have told me they think it’s funny.”

We know that if it were Mohammed on the van rather than Jesus not only Muslims would be protesting. More likely, in the race to have the image removed there’d be a photo finish between them and our home-grown politically correct. But what if the van carried some image disapproved of by the latter only? What if it bore the words, “Send asylum seekers home”, or “No wogs for Oz”? Gillian Triggs would have the vapours; the goons of No Room for Racism would have a field day. The cartoonist Leunig would produce a silly doodle showing the van as a Nazi death wagon. What if, more polemically, it asserted, “Feminism is a toxic heresy which has poisoned our culture”? What would the liberal-minded advocates of toleration who control the public discourse have to say about that? Imagine the letters to the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. Imagine the torrents of unladylike invective from Clementine Ford rising above the elderly squeaks of “Misogyny!” from Anne Summers.

Seeing that van made me wonder what it would take for Christians, who are still quite numerous in this country, themselves to use a bit of muscle against those who make fun of what they hold sacred. It almost certainly won’t happen, because Christians are obliged to show forbearance (“do good to them that hate you”) and, though they take a stand against issues they believe to be wrong and against the interests of society in general, defending their own faith is something they don’t put much effort into these days. Mr Boljevic told me he had delivered artworks to churches and “no one complained” about the image on the van. (The last big skirmish, apart from Piss Christ, was a protest by churchmen in the 1950s against the Sydney Royal Easter Show opening on Good Friday. Notwithstanding the greater adherence to Christianity 60 years ago, that attempt to defend the solemnity of the day of crucifixion ended game, set and match to the show, so much so that by 2014 a Royal Easter Show media release was able to boast of a “Right Royal Good Friday” at the show, the “royal” having nothing to do with the King of Kings, but referring to the presence at the showground of the future head of the Church of England, the Duke of Cambridge, and his consort.)

One further reason why Christians will not turn on those who deride them, I suspect, is that since the long-gone days when they were in the majority, Christians have been expecting that sooner or later they’ll again become outcasts in a hostile secularised world. And it’s happening before our eyes. If, though, their patience at hearing their faith made fun of ever did snap and wrath turned to violence, how many of the mockers and sneerers would have the courage of the Charlie Hebdo team and keep at it and how many would quietly decide that, as with jokes about the Prophet, that’s one place you just don’t go.

9 September 2015


There’s an eco-warrior in the Vatican.

A very important fact about the Second Vatican Council is that after it a large part of the Roman Catholic Church stopped looking heavenward and began to look earthward.

Not finding enough to say about the world of the Spirit, or anyone to say it to who would listen, many in the Church opted instead for “engagement with the world”. Perhaps the world around them had become the only one in which Catholic hierarchs really believed in our sceptical age. Now, with the encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis in his new role of eco-warrior exemplifies this post-Vatican II embrace of the here and now.

Forget about what the Founder of Christianity had to say about where His kingdom was. The post-Vatican II Church found that its kingdom (or should one say area of focus) was “social justice” here and now. Forget about sinful souls. “Sinful structures” (capitalism) were the real manifestation of diabolical activity in the world. Episcopal utterances, increasingly delivered not by bishops but by ecclesiastical quangoes acting in their name and paid for by Sunday Mass-goers, were framed in the language and values of socialism (the earliest Christians were socialists, it was said, although no one pointed out that they weren’t in precisely the same sense that the term is understood now; if they were socialistic in practice it was an expression not of class envy but of the commandment to love one another).  

In all the places where Catholics were henceforth to be in the world but no longer not of the world, nowhere was the new gospel implemented with greater zeal than in South America. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that that’s where Pope Francis comes from; though there is evidence that he takes a not unfavourable view of that continent’s special contribution to Catholic thought: liberation theology – liberation being understood not so much as liberation of a spiritual and internal nature as defined in the Sermon on the Mount, but political liberation, by force if necessary, from “oppression” – liberation from Caesar you might say, which is exactly the mistake the Jews made with Christ in their expectations of a Messiah. What is not a coincidence is that this man, who by training and experience is steeped in the “spirit of Vatican II”, has brought the full Vatican II agenda of engagement with the world, as it has developed in practice if not as intended by the Council itself, into every area of his papal ministry, and has now crowned his efforts with his encyclical on the environment, its title taken from a hymn by St Francis of Assisi in praise of creation.

Pope Francis knows no more, and probably a lot less, about the environment than many other people; but he has chosen to take up the cudgels on behalf of a powerful movement that asserts that greedy Western man is wrecking it (with his “sinful structures”). In an area where scientific hypotheses are far from unchallengeably demonstrated, the Pope has gone for the warming-our-way-into-self-immolation option. It’s what he was sold by his principal scientific adviser, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and there is no evidence that he consulted any non-subscriber to this view. For all his self-identification with the humble poverello of Assisi, Francis is a determined authoritarian, as personalities that present a hail-fellow bonhomie and for whom all is fine as long as they’re telling the jokes often are; and having been persuaded by Herr Schnellnhuber et al. that man-caused climate change is a given fact, he declares it to be so with the zeal of a Green. The earth, he states, referring to it as St Francis did as “our mother”, a concept now much favoured by neo-pagan environment-worshippers (and a term that used to be reserved by popes for Our Lady or the Church itself) is being ill-treated (it was tactful of the Pope not to use the term abused), and if we don’t do something about it we’ll find ourselves in an overheated hell. (Presumably that means we’ll be able to experience at least one of the Four Last Things without having to go to the trouble of dying first.)

Francis doesn’t believe in mincing his words: “an immense pile of filth,” he says, is what the earth is starting to resemble (have the street-sweepers in St Peter’s Square downed their brooms?). “[O]nce beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.” Why?” Well in part because of “a throwaway culture which … quickly reduces things to rubbish.” And guess who’s to blame for the throwaway culture?

From Sustainability 1.2 he moves to climate science. “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system… Humanity is called to recognise the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it … ” and so on and so forth in the somniferous jargon of a Greenpeace tract. We've heard it all before. It didn't need the Pope to say it.

Vatican II’s engagement with this world thus finds its fullest expression yet in Pope Francis’s parroting of modish ideologised science. Naturally, Laudato Si is being lapped up by a secularist establishment not notably inclined to listen to papal views on other topics, such as abortion or same-sex “marriage” or more importantly the fundamental propositions of Christian faith, beginning with the existence of God. And this is the problem. Care of the poor and the planet should be a result of belief not a substitute for it. If the Church convincingly preached Christ’s doctrine of love of God and of neighbour, there’d be no need for papal encyclicals on sustainability. Responsible stewardship (as it used to be called) of the created world was not invented by modern environmentalists.

In his post-Vatican II focus on this world rather than the one to come, Pope Francis has given those who seek in Christianity the meaning of life a stone instead of bread. He has allowed himself to be used by ideologues. He has lent his weight to a series of scientific assertions that remain speculative but are accepted as true because people of a certain political tendency want them to be true as a necessary first step to a new world order.

In 1992 Francis’s predecessor Pope (now Saint) John Paul II acknowledged that, in a celebrated earlier excursion into scientific judgment, the Church had been wrong and the subject of its condemnation, Galileo and his theory of heliocentrism, right. That of course was a case where the boot was on the other foot, with the scientist in the ridiculed minority position global warming “deniers” are in today. This time papal authority is on the side of an unverified scientific “consensus”. By endorsing it Pope Francis might have bequeathed to a future Pope the necessity – embarrassing for both the office and the man – of again apologising for a predecessor’s error.

27 June 2015
Published in The Spectator Australia