I recently sat down with David Riddell, a Christian counsellor caused a stir a little while ago amid accusations that he practices so-called “gay conversion therapy.”
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When is an academic job a platform for you to carry out activism on behalf of your views on gender, punishing students who don’t share your personal opinion? When you’re a lecturer at the Auckland University, it turns out.
Recently, a photo showing essay question options in the sociology department at the University of Auckland has been doing the rounds on social media, and for obvious reasons. The question reads: “What is transgender theory? Why does transgender theory matter? (Essays that take a ‘gender critical’ position on transgender or question the validity of trans identities will be failed)”
The Ministry of Education is trying to force Bethlehem College, a Christian school, to change its statement of belief – a statement that reflects Christian beliefs. Specifically, they are trying to compel the school to remove their statement that they believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman, on the grounds that this discriminates against those who do not share this view or who are in a relationship outside of this definition. On the face of it, this is a shocking thing for a Government agency to do and an obvious affront to the right of the school to freely state its belief on a matter that is hardly a surprise. This is, after all, the Christian view of marriage. But here’s the thing: The grounds on which the Ministry is trying to make the school change its statement of belief on the one hand, and the reason the ministry is being urged to do so on the other, are quite different animals.
It’s a situation, I think, where a government agency is fronting what seem like reasonable grounds for their demand, while serving a more sinister purpose. That’s how a slightly cynical person might read this situation (and cynicism is perhaps wise in this situation).
We have a tendency to think our own sins aren’t that big a deal, or to find ways to downplay them or overlook them, while taking serious issue with those awful people on the other side of ideological divides. I’m something of an Evangelical Christian, and I’m very aware that it happens here in abundance.
Speaking of Evangelicals…. It’s cool to hate Evangelicals. You probably know that. I entered the word “Evangelicals” in a search of Twitter, to see what results I got. I got this:
Now it’s just a tweet, a random individual’s prejudice on display. I know. But everyone who spends time on social media (and doesn’t inhabit a circle of friends numbering in single digits) knows that actually, what you find is an absolutely constant, voluminous stream of a mixture of all sorts: Vitriol, contempt, general slander, obviously unreasonable generalisations, conspiracy theories, revolting claims, and so on. Don’t take my word for it. When I carried out this search, this is what I saw immediately. I did not have to go looking for these. These were among the first results:
You may have heard that there’s a protest going on. Here in Wellington, there are protestors camped outside Parliament. They are opposed to vaccine mandates, which mean that unless a person is up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines, they are restricted in terms of which business places they can go to, and in many cases they are subject to being dismissed from their job against their will. Three quarters of the protestors are not vaccinated at all and have been personally impacted by this, but everyone involved in the protest agrees that the mandates need to end. People are hurting over this.
Initially there was a strong police presence at the protest, and as was captured in some very unpleasant footage, police actions directly caused violence and a serious dent in the claims that police conducted themselves “professionally.” Now the police are ramping up their activities again (as they must), and it just doesn’t look like this is going to end well.
I have a side in this, in the sense that very basically, I agree with the protestors. Vaccination is a very good thing to do (a lot of the protestors would disagree with me there), but the mandates are a significant overreach of the state. The mandates have created a second class of citizens (something the Prime Minister openly agreed with before the mandates came into effect), extending even as far as the Church, which is now a segregated body of the welcome and the unwelcome (when the Church meets together).
Far be it from me to tell anyone what to think about this. But… Church, please think very carefully before you side with the powerful.
There is currently a Bill before Parliament to ban conversion therapy. It has passed its second reading, and only seven Members voted against it: Simon Bridges, Simeon Brown, Melissa Lee, Simon O’Connor, Shane Reti, Louise Upston, and Michael Woodhouse. They are all members of the National Party. That party allowed its members to vote according to conscience, rather than voting as a block. I do not know if any members of other parties would have voted against this Bill, had they been given the choice. They did the right thing, and I today am writing to them to thank them, and to encourage them in their stand. That letter (which I will send to them) is shared here.
No, I don’t want to see gay people coerced into torturous therapy, or indeed any therapy against their will (like anyone else). Who does? This Bill, however, would do far more than ban such treatment, which is already illegal. Conversion therapy, according to the Bill, is:
Any practice, sustained effort, or treatment that—
(a) is directed towards an individual because of the individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression; and
(b) is done with the intention of changing or suppressing the individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
So, why don’t I want to see a new Bill that bans this passed into law? Read on. My letter to these seven member of Parliament follows.
It can be difficult to admit that your hero left a legacy that is very… mixed.
You’re a villain if you have anything but unfettered praise to offer for Archbishop Desmond Tutu, now that he has passed away, aged 90. He was a great voice for justice against Apartheid. That is how many in the world will remember him, and understandably so. It is impossible to look back on so much of what he had to say about racial segregation in South Africa in the early 1980s and not be impressed. Just read this account from Jim Wallis:
Let’s shift our conversations about things we care about away from social media giants, and back into the blogosphere.
It’s nearly always a bad idea to have all the power in the hands of a few. This reality has boiled over in the world of social media recently. Twitter and Facebook accounts, not just of President Donald Trump but of a number of political conservative, right-leaning, or libertarian people have recently found their social media accounts suspended. The phenomenon has been described as a purge, and is quite evidently not being done on the basis of worrying posts that might incite violence. Perhaps the most peace-loving politician in America, Ron Paul, wrote about his concerns over social media censoring viewpoints, and promptly found himself locked out of managing his Facebook account. The phenomenon has affected hundreds here in New Zealand as well.
The stories I see are similar: Users learn that their accounts have been suspended on the grounds that they have “repeatedly” violated an unspecified term or condition, in spite of there actually being no previous warnings of any such thing. It has been said for some time that social media giants are strongly left-leaning and applied their policies in a discriminatory way towards those who lean the other way. The claim that this is mere paranoia has increasingly become a ludicrous one, and now nobody with any powers of observation can deny it.
There are several issues going on in this sinister conduct, and one of them obviously concerns whether or not social media corporate giants should act in such a censorious way. They should not. But another issue is here: We should not be arranging our lives and social interactions in such a way that makes us so reliant on so few providers. This much power should never have ended up in the hands of Twitter, Facebook, or Google, and it must be taken back.
Men are much more aggressive than women, right? Studies say so. We just know this. Well, there may be truth to it (there is), but be discerning when you hear or read people say it. What exactly are they saying? Does all the evidence support it? Does the evidence support quite what they are saying, or does it support something similar but not the same?
When reading for an introductory psychology paper last year, I was struck by an example of how authors subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) encourage the reader to accept narratives that have become part of our social orthodoxy. In this case it’s a narrative about men being more aggressive than women. It’s subtle, but here’s what I observed. The textbook is by Lorelle Burton, Drew Westen, and Robin Kowalski. Only when writing this blog article did I look up information about these authors and realise that the first and last of them are women, and the second is a sometime contributor to the Huffington post and progressive advocate who served as an advisor to a Democratic election campaign in which he advised them to “for the most part, forget about issues, policies, even facts, and instead focus on feelings.” I add this lest anyone suspect that these factors contributed to my impression of what I read. For some reason, I had assumed that “Burton” was a man (possibly because the name sounds like “Bert!”). The book is Psychology, published by Wiley, and this is the fifth Australian and New Zealand edition. It is the assigned text for Social and Individual Psychology.
You’ve heard of Jordan Peterson. He’s a Canadian professor of psychology and a clinical psychologist. In his work in the latter role, he has helped a lot of people deal with mental health issues and sort their lives out, as clinical psychologists are wont to do. He became notorious because of the hate he received when he objected to a university trying to force people to use the gender pronouns of transgender individuals. Not that he never uses those pronouns, but he objected to being told that he had to use them, or else face consequences. He didn’t create the situation, he just responded to it because it affected him directly.
Peterson has managed to offend people in other ways, too (not that this is a great feat today), for example by arguing that genuine sex differences exist – hardly a radical theory. Cathy Newman notoriously made him more famous via an interview in which she spent nearly all of her time re-stating and misrepresenting most of his answers when discussing the gender pay gap. Peterson didn’t force her to do that. She did it herself, and so badly that she became a meme. She was a train wreck, and in retrospect few people doubt that she knows it. Otherwise the interview would have been much less remarkable and would almost certainly not have had the positive effect on Peterson’s fame that it did.
Most of Dr Peterson’s subject matter is psychology and self-help. But (generally when the issue is raised with him) yes, he has talked about things with broader political and social implications. When he does, the target of his criticisms are generally not just people on the left or the right, conservatives or liberals, but rather the space on the political spectrum he calls “the radical left,” although at times he has also spoken specifically about the dangers of fascism in particular as well as the factors that enable it.
Unsurprisingly, the radical left (as much as I dislike collectivism – take me to mean “many people who could fairly be described as radical leftists”) tend not to like Jordan Peterson. But even not liking somebody or their views should surely be compatible with some very basic principles of fairness and decency.
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