The Fundy Post: Welcome back
By Paul Litterick
Having made it to double figures, I was hoping to do something different and, just once, avoid talking about The Maxim Institute in this issue. I won't, because there is just so much going on. Sorry; I will try to be good next week.
Maxim on Philosophy
Where to begin? We could discuss Maxim's comments on Jacques Derrida in the 28th October edition of Real Issues, in which the post-alive post-modernist was quoted on the subject of marriage. He was against it. As a central part of it's strategy to sound clever, Maxim always blames Post Modernism for Moral Decline, but rarely quotes any writing by an actual post-modernist . This time, they appear to have done some accurate and timely research, so far as reading some of Derrida's works. My first thought was "what idiot gave these people a library card?" However, some research which was even more accurate and more timely (cut and paste the text into Google) revealed the truth: the quotation was cribbed from someone else. The man who did all the work and got none of the credit was Simon Upton, former Environment Minister and now Chairman of the OECD Roundtable on Sustainable Development. Mr Upton went to the trouble of reading an interview with Derrida in Le Monde and translating it, before putting it on his blog, Upton-on-line (http://www.arcadia.co.nz/index.html). Upton's point was to show how the French treat their philosophers as heroes; Maxim doesn't like thinking people, particularly foreign ones, so they used the quotation to suggest that the Civil Unions Bill was the result of the malign influence of continental intellectuals.
Maxim on Charity
We could also talk about Maxim's concerns over the Charities Bill, as reported in the current edition of Real Issues, released on 25th November and available at www.maxim.org.nz. The Bill is being rewritten in response to concerns raised by charities at Select Committee hearings, but Maxim is still worried. Why should they be so interested in the work of charities, apart from the usual drivel about being essential to the working of a Civil Society? Perhaps the reason can be found in these sentences from Real Issues: "The original Bill contained many draconian provisions, including the threat of deregistration if a charitable organisation engaged in political lobbying. There has been no indication from the government it will alter this in the revised version".
You may not know this, but Maxim is officially an educational charity. You can go to the Companies Office web site (www.companies.govt.nz), search the register for Maxim Institute and download a PDF of its aims and objectives. In its usual pompous and verbose style, Maxim defines these to include:
To establish and maintain a research unit for holistic research utilising philosophical, theological, cultural, sociological, historical and related analysis of current issues pertaining to society in New Zealand and in particular to educational issues.
equip, motivate and strengthen teachers in their educational task, particularly by stimulating their cultural, historical, theological and philosophical appreciation of that task
educate the public in their understanding of the institutional, legal and moral framework that makes a just and democratic society possible.
There's a whole lot more of this piffle but none of it (apart from a bit about supporting marriage and family as foundational to a strong and enduring society) bears much relation to the Maxim Institute we know and love. So, are they performing to expectations? If you are a teacher, you may feel less than equipped, motivated and strengthened by Maxim's work, since they haven't done any. You may be checking your pigeon-hole every day for the "curricula material" they have promised to write, but none has been produced so far, although Chris Banks was told of a two-page English curriculum that Maxim promises to release soon.
As a member of the public, you might feel just a little patronised by these people that they deign to educate you in Civics. You might think you know full well what makes a democratic society possible and that it is not a bunch of religious bigots pretending to be savants. You might go so far as to exercise some of your democratic rights and do some complaining. After all, the effect of being an educational charity is that Maxim does not have to pay income tax, giving them the same privileges as real charities that do real work helping people. We uneducated members of the public are paying tax so they don't have to. Perhaps we should write to our MPs about this. Just to give our indignation an extra hint of piquancy, we could do that by using Maxim's list of MPs email addresses and fax numbers at http://www.maxim.org.nz/letter/cu_letter.php
I know I mentioned it in the last issue but it is not too late to have your Summer Holiday with Maxim. If you are one of Tomorrow's Leaders and feel you are lacking a Worldview, you may want to sign up for Maxim's re-education camp, Compass 2005 for "10 days of challenging and inspiring seminars, workshops, forums and one-on-one time with local and international speakers." The one-on-one time seems a trifle dubious, but extra-curricular activities are a traditional part of training courses and Maxim promise that there will be "plenty of time at the beach". On the other hand, one look at the photographs of the speakers (http://www.compass.org.nz/events/speaker.php ) will cleanse you of any impure thoughts you might harbour.
So who are these speakers and what do they want? From the House of the Dead come the usual crowd: Greg Fleming, Paul Henderson (the Leading New Zealand Educator) and Bruce Logan (who is "held in high regard for his thought-provoking, well-researched commentary on social and philosophical issues confronting New Zealand society"), amongst others too tedious to mention. The guest speakers are more interesting. Among the local mob are representatives of the Bible College of New Zealand, the Masters Institute and Lifeway College, all of them fundy academies. There are a bunch of Americans as well, none of whom, we can be sure, voted for Kerry.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention Adrian Bates, the CEO of AIG NZ, which is the local branch of Answers in Genesis, an organisation dedicated to proving that everything we know about geology and biology is wrong, and that the world really was created a few thousand years ago and then devastated by a huge flood a little while later.
I rest my case. Any lingering doubts that Maxim is a fundy front organisation can now be put to rest.
Morals and Food
And what of Civil Unions? It would appear we have now reached the nasty stage, where opponents have realised their scare campaign has failed and resort to sheer unpleasantness. A new website has been launched - www.civil-unions.org - which has none of the pretend social concern of Maxim or United Future. It is 100 per cent unadulterated hate. The site's organisers were initially a little publicity-shy: they registered it with a company which conceals the identities of site owners, so the usual WHOIS searches will not work. However, after a few days one Garnet Milne, pastor of the Wanganui Reformed Church, emerged as spokesman. Who else is involved remains a mystery, although donations can be made to the previously unknown Support Good Morals Campaign. Much of the site's content is material previously published by our old friends, The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards. The organisers claim to be independent of any other anti-civil unions campaign.
Anyway, whoever they are, they have generated a lot of paper in the last week or so. The details need not trouble us - this turn of events indicates that at least some opponents of the CUB have decided to throw off all restraint and scream their hatred to the world, a sure sign that they know the game is up. In a way it is quite refreshing to finally see them in the clear light of day, after months of hearing pseudo-scientific arguments against civil unions and stern warnings about Moral Decline. Despite all that flummery, they are just a bunch of bigots, after all.
Meanwhile, some others have resorted to that tried and tested way of preventing social change, fasting. United Future MP Paul Adams has undertaken a 21-day fast to stop the legislation. Apparently, he does this all the time. He has fasted many times in the last 18 years in support of various matters that he wanted to "bring before the Lord" and has "not suffered any ill effects". Whether he has caused any good effects to happen is not reported.
Also renouncing a life of pie is Steve Trim (ho, ho, ho), pastor of the Open Door Papamoa Baptist Church, who has upped the stakes by calling on Christians to pray and fast for 40 days. His concern is not just the CUB, but also racial tension over the seabed and foreshore debate, abortion, hate speech legislation and rampant materialism, according to Challenge Christian Weekly. He apparently chose the 40 day fast because it is the biblical thing to do, disregarding the obvious medical effects on his congregation of going without food for more than a month.
This fasting bandwagon will not stop. The Elim Church runs a campaign called NZ Pray, which aims to change the nation by prayer and has now added fasting to its repertoire. Its web site declares, "The proposed Bill is one of the most damaging pieces of legislation our nation has ever faced. A miracle is needed. Our only option is to seek the face of God for His sovereign intervention through fasting and prayer - we need a miracle." This is a bit odd, because the official Elim guide to fasting says that "The purpose of all worship, including fasting, is to change the worshipper." Going without food will at least get the worshipper in shape for Summer; perhaps we can also hope for the miracle of tolerance and understanding.
On the other hand, one group is prepared to buck the trend. Gay Eaters for Jesus is encouraging supporters to have an extra portion at their next meal, to celebrate civil unions, the booming economy and all things bright and beautiful. Their media release can be seen at http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/PO0411/S00244.htm. Spokesman Xavier Goldie says they are "not promoting a lifestyle of excess. After all, many gay, lesbian and progressive people realise the beauty of restrained minimalism – whether in interior decorating or one’s political outlook, and we certainly wouldn’t want to contribute to an expanding waistband. We’re just trying to encourage people to live it up a little in a country that holds a great future for all New Zealanders, irrespective of their sexual or gender identity.”
Since the group is inclusive enough to include progressive people, I think it must be time for dinner.
Christianity for Kidz
Before we go, our Website of the Week is www.jesusfreakhideout.com - which offers everything a Saved Teen could want, including bands (nice Evangelical bands that Worldly people won't know about), devotionals and advice about sex and how to avoid it. The message boards make particularly interesting reading. If that is all too much for you, try http://atheisthistorian.org/badthinking/badthinking.html
If you are looking for something to do of a Tuesday evening, you are welcome to come to Rationalist House (64 Symonds Street, Auckland) at about 6.30 pm for an evening of thought-provoking television, conversation, tea and biscuits. We are running the series of Alain de Botton's Status Anxiety, which is about why people worry about what others think of them.
This edition of the Fundy Post was made possible by several nice cups of tea. Next week: a special guest contributor.