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Press: When violence is live-streamed by a perpetrator

22 March 2019


A man prays next to a memorial in Christchurch, New Zealand

A man prays next to a memorial in Christchurch, New Zealand

THERE are some stories that are just too big to see. The resurgence of ethno-nationalist religion may be one of them.

The massacre in Christchurch makes me reflect that one of the chief historical functions of religion has been to excuse war crimes or to sanctify murder. I don’t by this mean to let secularists off the hook, but Western secularists, by and large, are just too comfortable to understand life as a struggle without mercy for the losers. They think that “Why can’t we all get along?” is a rhetorical question.

Christianity at least takes the question seriously, and answers it in terms of Original Sin. But Christians, considered sociologically, prefer to answer that it’s all those other beggars’ fault.

In that perspective, the function of the Church of England is to reassure the English that God loves them. Any suggestion that this might not be true verges on blasphemy, even or especially when it comes from an Archbishop. Hence the extraordinary disconnect between the text of a lecture that the Archbishop of Canterbury gave on evangelism and the treatment that the Daily Mail gave it.

Archbishop Welby said, among other things: “The ideology underlying the British Empire was largely predicated on the racial superiority of the British. The Church often, not always — by no means always — colluded with that racist view, and it was a thoroughly un-Christian worldview,” before going on to talk about the Amritsar massacre and saying: “Whether we like it or not, this atrocity, and so many others, was perpetrated by Christians and done in the name of Christian society.”

Spoken by someone whose beloved and admired grandfather was a judge in the Indian civil service, this seems unremarkably true. The Empire is usually justified in terms of a story about good people who occasionally did bad things; but it would be more interesting to defend it as a system in which unexceptionally sinful people were none the less led to do some good things.

The Mail’s lead, copied by The Times, was this: “The Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday condemned the British Empire and dismissed its legacy as ‘un-Christian’. It was driven by a sense of superiority but was really based on ‘abuse and exploitation’, said the Most Reverend Justin Welby. . . His criticism amounts to a repudiation of much of the history of the Anglican Communion, of which he is the worldwide leader.

“His latest remarks put him at odds with those in his Church who believe the empire was a force for good as well as bad.”

Another way to look at this, of course, is that it is an example of the professionalism of Steve Doughty, its social-affairs correspondent. Who else could get a story of general interest out of an archiepiscopal lecture on evangelism — especially one that argued against preaching at people?

THERE are many obvious things that are shocking about the Christchurch massacre. From a journalist’s point of view, though, its novelty lay in the onslaught of video overwhelming the traditional news organisations. The murderer filmed his massacre in the style of a first-person shooter, streaming it live on Facebook. Within 24 hours, 1.5 million further copies of the video had been uploaded to and deleted from Facebook alone; 300,000 of these had to be deleted by humans, since the automatic systems had not caught them.

YouTube has said that a new upload of the massacre video was being posted every second.

The Daily Mail newspaper splashed the next day with a story about the wicked irresponsibility of Facebook, but I don’t see how the company could have protected its systems from this onslaught. Besides, the Mail Online had had a clip from the footage playing repeatedly on its front page most of that afternoon. The Mirror’s website also ran the footage briefly last Friday. (Its editor has since admitted that this should not have happened).

Facebook and YouTube should, of course, ban for life anyone who uploaded the video from all of their properties, but that would be to put principle over profit. It will be news if it happens.

THE New York Times Magazine had a long piece about a mixed Jewish-Christian congregation, whose leader has made a fortune preaching (on Friday evenings) that President Trump is the fulfilment of prophecy.

“Mr. Cahn’s latest book, The Paradigm . . . likens America to the ancient nation of Israel — two peoples, Mr. Cahn says, who have a unique relationship with God. He then argues that all sorts of figures in contemporary politics have biblical counterparts. Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, for example, are the modern-day analogues to wicked Ahab and Jezebel. Trump is the warrior-king Jehu, who took control of the nation and cast idols out of the capital. ‘Jehu also sought to drain the swamp,’ Mr. Cahn said.”

On one level, this is an unexceptional story of chutzpah rewarded. But, at the same time, the fact that people want to believe this hints at something new and important. The story also quotes a poll stating that 25 per cent of Americans believe that God chose Trump as President.

I would guess that those who believe this find it comforting, but where are the Calvinists who tremble in awe at a God who could so afflict his people?

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