Jimmy Carter and the Southern Baptists


Jimmy Carter and the Southern Baptists

I have always respected Jimmy Carter, even when his enemies portrayed him as a naive do-gooder and drew attention to his being a peanut farmer, implying that such an occupation was incompatible with his role as Commander-in-Chief.

My respect for him went up several notches today when I read that he had severed his ties with the Southern Baptist Convention because of its insistence on women’s subordinate place in God’s creation.  Here is a direct quotation from Jimmy Carter’s public statement on the matter:

“ I have been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. ”

Go here to see his statement in full in the Sydney Morning Herald.


Cecil Rhodes and Other Reminders


A statue of Cecil Rhodes, the British imperialist who did much to promote British imperial interests in Africa, was removed from the University of Cape Town earlier this year.  Now there are calls to have another removed from Oriel College, Oxford.

I have worked extensively in the former Soviet Union where I have seen statues of Vladimir Ilich Lenin, Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky and Joseph Stalin.  Some have been defaced, some have been carried off and dumped – I saw one massive stone head in a railway yard.  But I cannot believe that airbrushing history in this way is ever right.  Surely it is better to confront our past, the ugly bits as well as the glorious, the better to control our future?

In Gori, Stalin’s birthplace, the museum commemorating that bloody dictator has been preserved exactly as it was in Soviet times.  An extra room has been added to supplement its content with a more modern, less laudatory version of events.  Destroying the evidence of history only opens the door to myth-makers.

I don’t always agree with Tony Abbott (former Australian Prime Minister) but I do agree with his stand on this issue.  I believe it is fairly reported in this article from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Golfing in the War


Someone sent me this temporary set of rules of the Richmond Golf Club, dated 1940.  They illustrate perfectly the kind of stoicism that people are capable of in the hardest of times – and that will be required of us all now and in the coming years as we confront an evil enemy.


Christmas Wrapping


We all remember fondly the rituals of Christmas in our youth. I remember one such ritual with especial fondness.  High in a cupboard in the entrance hall was a wide, flat cardboard box in which a suit had been delivered to my father.  The tailor’s name – Hector Powe, – was on the box’s lid.  Inside was the household collection of Christmas wrapping paper.

I had my favourite sheets, as I suppose did the other members of the family. They were like old friends and I took great care not to damage them with sticky tape or excessive creasing.  They were never cut, of course, so the sizes of gifts and wrappings had to be carefully matched.  I don’t remember new wrapping paper ever being bought.

The tailor’s box and its contents have gone – a casualty of my mother’s downsizing to a flat. But in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet I keep a smaller box with a wide enough assortment of wrappings for my present needs.  Every year some sheets are lost from the collection, to be replaced by new ones from which I have meticulously peeled as such of the sticky tape as I can.  Small blemishes are covered up by ‘From/To’ cards, stick-on reindeer and the like.

My Christmasses would not be quite the same without this.

Victims and Criminals


A young man died at the electronic music festival recently. The cause of death? Illicit drugs, which are said to be commonly available at such festivals. What makes me stroppy? His family are describing him as a victim and blaming the festival organisers for his death.

Unless he was held down and forced to swallow pills, or an attacker forcibly injected him, he was not a victim. He was a criminal*. And if festival organisers were required to guarantee the safety of every patron who chooses to indulge in dangerous or illegal activities, I suspect the ticket prices would be much higher than they are.

What makes me even stroppier is that the courts seem to put drug dealing on a par with shoplifting. Three young women who were caught selling ecstasy tablets at a nightclub were given 14-month suspended sentences plus 200 hours of community service. One of them was let off the community service because she was pregnant! These people are beyond any reasonable doubt serious criminals and should be punished accordingly.

* Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know if using the drug that this young man used is a criminal offence in Australia. I’m using the word ‘criminal’ in a non-legal way to mean ‘perpetrator of something that is so morally reprehensible, so socially damaging and so stupid that it ought to be a criminal offence’.

Islamic Reformation?


I’ve read and heard several commentators lately, either advocating an islamic version of the Christian Reformation or arguing that such an event has already happened and the results are not pretty.

Former Australian PM Tony Abbott leads the advocacy pack, implying that a reformation would be a modernising influence, moving Islam away from the beliefs and practices that make it barbaric in many people’s eyes.  I don’t want to put words into Mr Abbott’s mouth, but I assume he would share my hope that modernisation would do away with animal sacrifice, pointless dietary rules, punitive mutilation, oppression of women, suppression of other beliefs, contempt for infidels, and capital punishment of individuals categorised as blasphemers, apostates and heretics.

Waleed Aly, a young Australian Muslim who has become my second favourite radio journalist, argues that “Islam’s own version of the Reformation already occurred in the 18th century” and led to Wahhabism, a form of Sunni Islam which is enforced in Saudi Arabia and is the philosophical platform for al-Qaeda, DAESH and other extremist organisations.

Paul Monk disagrees with Waleed Aly in many things but agrees with him in this.  I commend his article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The UK’s Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, also agrees. In a recent interview on Australian radio he pointed out that the Christian Reformation was a reaction against corruption in the Catholic Church.  The reformers wanted to return to true Christian values.  This is how Md ibn Abd al-Wahhab saw his 18th century reformation: a return to true Islamic values.

It is as erroneous as it is understandable that we tend to equate ‘reform’ with ‘improvement’, ‘progress’ and ‘becoming more like us’.


Unintended Consequences


I have just read a depressing article by Chris McGreal in the Guardian Weekly.  It’s headed ‘Beattyville: abandoned by coal, swallowed by drugs’ and describes the state of impoverishment and demoralisation that followed the closure of coal mines and other industries in Kentucky.

My stroppiness index rose when I read about the ‘pop’ scam, which works as follows. Supermarkets sell discounted cola to poor people, often for food stamps. The poor people sell the cola to smaller shops, cheaply enough to allow for resale at normal prices, and use the money to buy drugs – in particular an addictive pain-reliever called OxyContin that is supposed to be available only on prescription.

Here is a classic case of unintended consequences, though I’m not sure how anyone administering the food stamps programme could have confused fizzy drinks with food.  I’m not sure what conclusion to draw.  Perhaps it’s that no matter how well-intentioned a policy may be, and no matter how carefully it is crafted, people will find a way to subvert it, turn good to bad, and make poor people poorer still.

As it happens much of my recently published opus, The Eeks Trilogy, is about unintended consequences in the realms of robotics, human relationships and space colonisation.



During the past week Mrs SG and I have attended two carol-singing events organised by local councils. People of all ages brought folding chairs and picnics and sang along with some very talented choirs and bands.  Santa Claus found time to drop in on both occasions.

I am an atheist, but brought up in a Christian cultural environment. I don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, any more than I believe in the existence of God, but I was moved nonetheless by The Christmas Story and even felt my eyes moisten during Good King Wenceslas.

The same moistening happened when I read the last chapter of Watership Down, when the Black Rabbit of Inlé came for Hazel.  I was on a Liverpool-bound train to visit my mother for the first time since my father died.  And I was shedding tears for a dead fictional rabbit.

It also happened every time I read the last chapter of The House at Pooh Corner to our elder son – the chapter where Christopher Robin tries to explain to Pooh that he’s going off to school and things won’t be the same.  It’s the end of childhood, the end of innocence.

So I sort of understand people who have been brought up in other religious and literary traditions for whom the stories they heard when they were very young resonate deep within throughout their lives. Sometimes that resonance cause them to do irrational and even – in my eyes – wicked things.


Disruptive Technology


Disruptive technologies are scary.  Uber is one of the scariest, in Australia anyway, because many people have invested 6-figure sums in taxi licences on the assumption that their value can only go up.  Airbnb is another one.  People have invested millions in hotels, meeting all the health, safety, traffic management and other government requirements, only to find that anyone with a spare room is a potential competitor.

My view is simple. In the long run the most efficient way of doing something will always displace the other ways.  Vested interests will howl in pain and rage, and for a while they will hold back the incoming tide.  But eventually, as King Canute found out, they will have to yield.

I remember attending a conference 20+ years ago at which the late James Strong, then CEO of Qantas, argued for a lifting of the ban on Qantas carrying passengers between Australian airports.  The purpose of the ban was to protect the Ansett/TAA duopoly of domestic routes, and it meant that Qantas was flying half-empty ’planes around.  It couldn’t go on forever and it didn’t.  Economic and commercial rationality prevailed – as it must in the taxi and accommodation sectors.

Instead of emulating King Canute, governments should:

  • Create sensible regulatory frameworks for the new technologies, to ensure public safety and payment of taxes.
  • Review the rules and taxes that make it hard for established businesses to compete on equal terms with the disruptors.
  • Ease the pain for the people whose lives and businesses are unexpectedly disrupted, eg by buying back taxi licences.