(This is Part Two of an article whose Part One was published beginning last month. The article only scratches the surface of years of experience attempting impossibly to distill the essence of a problem through a few examples. But beyond merely personal issues I insist we are looking at something symptomatic of a spiritual problem of major proportion because as maintained at the outset manners and their implied concern are fundamental to religion itself).
THE SPECIAL MANNERS OF CHRISTIAN JOURNALISTS AND MEDIA PEOPLE
A neighbour of mine when I lived in Melbourne and who had worked in TV and wanted to help me thought to mention me to a noted religious journalist who sits on a leading church council. She tried more than once to approach her but gave up because she found the woman’s known ill temper and tantrums so impossible as to make her intimidatingly unapproachable when she tried. Such behaviour though no compliment to Christian lifestyles is perhaps something I should ignore and dismiss as the exception - but is it? It seems duplicated elsewhere….
One can read on the Net, for example, stories like how a religion correspondent for one of Britain’s leading papers was publicly condemned by the secretary of former presiding Bishop Griswold of the American Episcopalian church, as an insufferably rude person to deal with. But of course public tantrums or abusive talk don’t have to be the problem, just absence of Christian courtesy in the form of basic honesty and reliability. Some years ago I had dealings with a religious journalist (near the time he got rightly or wrongly accused of pedophilia!) and I remain convinced I was lied to about something by him and certainly a feature article he was supposed to put out about my work for Christmas and over which I’d been put to a lot of trouble by him never got out.
More recently I was needlessly inconvenienced by a religious journalist who by emails promised to ring and interview me and didn’t and didn’t later apologize for keeping me more than once at home waiting for the non event. The assumption is the rather dismissive and unchristian one but common enough in secular media that everyone’s a nobody who’s privileged to have any contact so any treatment will do. The editor of the paper to whom I complained virtually said as much. Clearly most Christian journalists write but don’t meditate or assimilate their faith, it’s purely cerebral, just another subject to scribble about. However….
Such irritations are the merest storms in a teacup I might well forget if I weren’t rendered half media allergic following the never apologized serious undermining I suffered and suffer from to this day as a result of behaviour at the time I received my doctorate. In this instance a Catholic journalist, who took ultra conservative exception in interview to my mentioning James was the brother of Jesus, in Christian charity went on to issue the shocking disinformation that I’d been government funded to research Jesus’ sexuality. Nothing of the sort was the case but word went global.
When I protested at this item’s further shocking popularization by the religion writer of another Australian paper (to the effect I’d supposedly taught Jesus incarnated to have sex with his disciples!) his editor told the surprised Press Council I had no reason to complain and he hoped I’d never be heard of again. Certainly I’ve never been reviewed or interviewed by any religious journalist in Australia adding to one of my publishers’ difficulties in getting one of my books distributed.
Instead of Christians in media coming to my aid and giving me opportunity to set things to rights, or just convey more of the real substance of my discoveries when these were finally published even the common decency of good manners absents itself. Yet inevitably perhaps. As an internationally leading writer on spirituality told me as regards the religion editor of a leading Australian paper, it’s his experience this person is adept at intrigue and back stabbing and best avoided. Certainly this person was rude. He had personally requested a copy of my Signs for a Messiah whenever it would appear but didn’t acknowledge receipt of it when it was delivered and then in three months never replied to my publisher’s repeated efforts to contact him. His omission to review my book contributed to my publisher’s difficulties in getting the work more widely known to its intended international audience in and beyond Down Under.
Note however the criticism from the mentioned spirituality writer didn’t proceed from, say, charismatics, who colourfully propose press and media in Australia compose a special pernicious case ruled by the spirit of the coming Antichrist. However mentioning charismatics and the high ground they like to declare from is in turn an occasion to state that while I have found individual charismatics to be people of genuine integrity and spirituality so far I find little good to say of those with media pretensions. There I find only the same boorishness as the rest, a trait incidentally not duplicated in my experience of atheists from Iris Murdoch to Andre Malraux, various politicians and members of royalty all of whom have by comparison positively spoiled me by replying. Perhaps like the insufferably truculent and arrogant Benny Hinn (to whom I’ve never written and wouldn’t) some Christians imagine they themselves are some form of royalty beyond the existing kind!
For example, after several attempts to contact the editor of Charisma Magazine including a request just to check mail hadn’t been lost/deleted, I have never received a word of reply related to issues involved with my Behind and Beyond the Latest Jesus Mystery, which should engage the concern of almost any Christians, nor to my unusual Lennon articles which had directly linked to issues he had himself been raising, the sole reason I originally wrote to him. Since this is not a major magazine likely to be so overloaded with correspondence I would get lost in it, it’s extremely likely this editor is another who just ignores people at his convenience. Rather more importantly, and as somewhat expounded toward its end in last month’s story on Michael Glatze, I’ve received no acknowledgement from the leader of Extreme Prophetic about quite serious views questionably conveyed by that media outlet and which I am more qualified than many writing in to comment upon.
The talks and opinions I had questioned comprised the sort of thing I could, but in kindness wouldn’t, apply about to sites and people concerned with discrimination laws. While I didn’t wish to cause trouble I did expect important issues to be at least registered and I included paste from an article by a Christian writer showing how over a third of all people on the streets in America are gay,any thousands of these are young people kicked out of “good” Christian homes encouraged by the “abomination” talk of closed mind preachers whose notions of “homosexuality” are wilfully limited to the most extreme expressions of gay parades. But small wonder after weeks I haven’t received one line of acknowledgment from charismatic journalists and media people they are too often complicit in a sort of Christian censorship machine…...
I didn’t include, as I could have done, words of a South African charismatic in his university thesis to the effect that. The possibility of being a witness to the fact gay people are accepted by God and the Spirit of God dwells in a gay Christian did not seem to be an option to these men [ he had been interviewing] within the confines of the traditional Pentecostal/charismatic churches. Both Nicky and Andre revealed they had had conversations with prominent leaders in the Pentecostal movement who appeared to be aware of the fact that interpretation of the clobber texts were in some instances questionable, but who were not prepared to “expose” their membership to these facts. This was apparently necessary to “protect” members…” In other words……the faith stories of gay Christians don’t count and the leadership represents a degree of moral cowardice, willful censorship and incongruous refusal to be open to what the Spirit might be saying to the churches. It is quite prepared to let people’s lives be hurt so that others (heterosexuals) can sit unchallenged in their pews in the same way that for centuries Christians accepted slavery and apartheid. And the easy acceptance of a dismissive rudeness towards people helps to keep this ship of ignorance and bigotry afloat.
THE SPECIAL MANNERS OF RELIGIOUS PUBLISHING IN THE ERA OF PC
The main reason I’m uneasy, despite known liberal views in some areas, with complicated new anti hate laws in the EU that won’t allow religious organizations to refuse or discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation is because I’m already unhappy with the kind of people religious organizations are refusing to “discriminate” against (not choose) and are hiring. There are sensitive and complex issues for freedom of speech and personal rights involved in these laws. If they are strictly applied I can see there won’t be a shred of the spiritual left in religious organizations amid their pragmatism. One might as well be ringing up night clubs when dealing with them. (This is probably the situation secularists are aiming for and why they vigorously support the rights of people like gays they are not necessarily otherwise much interested in).
Religious associated publishing houses have been a good case in point for some time now. They can be so “generous” in their views they won’t inquire about ideological affiliations – after all Christianity is about unconditional love – right? I suppose they could have been ardent converts but the attitude, the names and accents I have sometimes encountered in religious houses suggest I was dealing rather with bored Muslims and Hindus than engaged Christians. (I’m probably correct. A Muslim even organizes religion for one of England’s leading TV channels, a privilege his family’s country of origin would never permit - it’s currently looking into instigating execution for men and lifelong imprisonment for women who convert out of Islam!)
Whatever….actual house attitudes are not about unconditional love or truth when it comes to everyday procedures for religious publishing and one can imagine that those most guilty of what I question here would probably think Jesus quite “rude” for criticizing the Pharisees since no one should be “judgmental”. (That’s anyway pretty much the line of modern liberal historical Jesus studies. Jesus would never have said those things about church leaders, or he didn’t quite mean them if he did!).
As only one example I had six months wasted by a religion publisher in England for the most appallingly unprofessional and rude behaviour. I had applied to this house with a book on the Creed at a time when following certain controversies it, or my take on it, was very topical. For this and other reasons like I was dealing with media at the time, I requested if at all possible the ms could be given relatively fast assessment. It was agreed it would be but the promise meant nothing. (In publishing promises rarely seem to mean much but Christians are supposed to be reliable and if a subject is topical if they’re at all Christian in feeling commercial interests might combine with evangelical concern to promote the faith).
I was told whom I could contact about the proposal. The name proved valueless; the person was never available at any time (one had to waste money calling from overseas – emails would likely be ignored) and if one finally received a message from the person via a secretary it was a promise they would email or ring back. Which they failed to do so or you yourself were supposed to ring them at a certain time which they then would not honour.
To say you’re “busy” is the excuse for almost anything in business today. But for Christians with integrity? After some struggle to have attention I was assured I would definitely have an answer before Christmas and didn’t. Later I would be told I would definitely have one before Easter. When I did obtain some kind of answer it was so peculiar I questioned aspects of the reading by the single reader ( had they even read the text?) to whom it was so belatedly sent and decisions are usually made with more than one person or reader involved. I was told the problem would be dealt with but unsurprisingly it wasn’t and by this time I had neither desire or intention to insist. Clearly I was caught in Vanity Fair, not some place of any genuine religious enterprise.
THE WONDERFUL MANNERS OF THE COMMERCIAL CHRISTIAN
The commercial attitude is everywhere in religion especially in America infecting everything. I won’t enlarge upon the scandal of the promotion of anointing oils, baptismal water and the endless array of DVDs from sites dedicated to spiritual growth or my experiences of how they won’t give you a reply if you query whether some statement or prophecy was ever certified or, in the interests of accountability, point out it had been proved false. It would presumably compromise PR or worse the sales pitch to concede anything was not perfect and if you’re not another buyer or contributor you can be safely ignored anyway. One very specific example of the kind of manners this section of the religion supports will suffice for many.
Recently someone connected with an organization usually (and usefully) protesting persecution of Christians in the world wrote a review of an apparently exceptional visionary book parts of which its author believed had been directly given him by Christ and intended as a warning message to the world. The author supposedly had not only suffered enormous difficulty being published but even getting the book printed. Strange events experts couldn’t explain had occurred at the actual printing.
As it happened this rare report corresponded closely to things that had occurred to myself at first printing of Signs for a Messiah. (I could almost wonder had my report on these matters been read and used). I wrote to the reviewer/promoter of the work assuming he would either be personally interested in my own story or like to hand it on to the author he was writing about. After failing to receive a response I wrote again and received the dismissive comment that the book was well worth reading. Period. I wrote back to say I now had second thoughts about buying and reading the recommended book at all since if disinterest and sympathy regarding what I had to say was so total it was hard to believe the review and perhaps the book too hadn’t been done for purely commercial reasons.
I didn’t expect and didn’t obtain a response. Maybe ten or more years ago I would have done so. Some effort to pacify hurt feelings or a difficult customer would have been made (“the customer is always right” used to be an accepted idea in business for even secular business people). But the new style post modern Christian, ego driven and in America apparently as completely commercial as money changers in the Temple, thinks solely of his or her own feelings and, resisting all criticism however justified, will walk away if they don’t return abuse. But obviously there’s not a shred of anything spiritual left in this kind of attitude.
TO SUM UP: MANNERS NEXT TO GODLINESS
What am I saying? That I think all Christians are a bad lot? No, and I don’t expect them to be saints either though in obscure places such can be found and I’ve met them, perhaps another reason I’m prepared to be so scathing of those Christians better placed. Another reason is that as indicated above unbelievers and more distinguished than the more socially ordinary Christians cited here have shown me greater consideration. Among the Christians the most polite and generously minded seem to have been the Catholics, like Anne Rice, and the late Jeane Dixon from whom I have a whole collection of letters. (Protestants by comparison seem too often boors, pompous if they’re liberals, dismissively rude if they’re evangelicals).
Overall I do however believe that in modern Christianity quite simply and as the saying goes “the scum has risen to the top” (someone remarked to me this should be this feature’s title). The practice, or rather mantra, of unconditional love by the non saints has meant just any old thing goes. Perhaps it always somewhat did but today the problem has reached crisis point so that the negative vibe now continuously radiates. Those in positions of authority and influence don’t simply lack spirituality, (a reason so many people have retreated to New Ageism and other faiths), but they even lack the preliminary to spirituality which is basic reliability and simple good manners and I am tired of being victim to all this. I identify with those abused by those in the church because, though not sexually abused, I regard myself as consistently mistreated by those I should be able to count on for help. If ever I or many others will have any claim to sainthood it will be for the amount of toleration and forgiveness that will have been required of us dealing with the wounds inflicted by unworthy Christians who maybe aren’t Christians at all.
The bad manners widespread in modern society is something we have to suffer. Etiquette has flown out of the window. People today inside business and out don’t reply or reply rudely to those they don’t want to reply to and even though big businesses could easily devise some computer system of automatic brief reply. People don’t keep promises, whatever is selfishly convenient or self advancing is what’s done, the elderly are not just not respected they are often abused, the social system is foul. But Christians are supposed to be a light to the world against this, not to copy it (as clearly some religious businesses imitate the system). We would therefore be right to distrust most of those who today presume to speak for the religion they don’t basically manifest. If you have dealings with rude Christians tell them they’re not of the faith, because they aren’t. Their righteousness is supposed to exceed that of the Pharisees and Sadduccees if they are to belong to the kingdom (Mt.5:20). Today, their righteousness just doesn’t so exceed in matters big or small.
Today it’s not surprising there is what is called an underground Out Of Church movement by many believers. However questionable this is its spirit and motivation are understandable. Christians just don’t want to be associated any longer with the failures of institutional churches and their too glaring errors. If they can have church in home, street, country or wherever these protestors will have it. If things get much worse I can see this could be needed.