Unleashing the Sorcerer’s Broomstick Effect – The MTR Business

I am a Catholic. Not a particularly great one – I usually only attend Mass with my kids, therefore every second week. I find myself disagreeing with various pieces of Church doctrine at various times. I can see vast variations between the dogma of the Vatican, the pronoucements from St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney and the beliefs of those who attend. I see variations in my own parish. There is in my parish a “Family” group, which was advertised as a group where people could “voice their concerns” about changes being suggested to the marriage act. I don’t know if many are in that. I certainly don’t go.

When I am on Twitter, I see a lot of anti-religious and anti-Christian dogma flying across the streams. Any reference to Catholicism is almost always linked at some stage to the heinous behaviour of a small percentage of disgusting priests, brothers and teachers. I see the more strident anti-religion campaigners lumping every denomination together. As if we are all fundamentalists, or blind Pope followers. I ignore it, because it isn’t true and the people making the claims are usually lazy people not willing to walk in the shoes of another and see the complexities within Christianity and within the denominations themselves.

That is why it hasn’t been a surprise to see the anti- religion crew come out in relation to the actions of Melinda Tankard Reist (MTR) against the actions of a blogger, No Place for Sheep (Jennifer Wilson). It is a pretty absurd business, and the reaction to it has revealed the depth of mistrust and borderline hatred is harboured against religion and those who practice it. It’s all been completely unnecessary on both sides. I personally found Wilson’s blog to be simplistic in regards to MTRs views and how her religious beliefs supposedly feed into them. Because it is supposition to suggest that one’s religious views have a negative impact on one’s views on culture and on women, which seems to be Wilson’s contention. To say that anyone who believes in the Virgin Birth somehow categorises women in a certain fixed way as a result is pretty bizarre. Wilson also appears to be saying that MTR is trying to enforce her fixed view on women on others – that women should be virgins or married and therefore can’t express their sexuality. I can’t see any forcing of views or oppression of women and their views in MTRs work. Nor even any attempts to suppress women from “sexually expressing themselves” in all walks of life. From what I can see, MTR is talking about the pressure on women to be “sexy” by wearing clothes supplied by men.

What seems to be demanded of MTR is that she has to put on her Facebook profile and her blog that she is a member of a particular church – apparently Baptist. That her views can only be respected if we know what church she goes to. Personally, though, I really don’t see why MTRs religious activities are vitally important to know. I go along with Dave Gaukroger’s view of the link between her views and her campaigns. MTRs campaigns seem to be focused on how society is sexualising children and reducing women into being categorised by their looks and sexiness. Hers are comments about secular society. There are many who aren’t Christian who would agree with her ideas about this topic. My own dislike for much of what MTR campaigns about isn’t based on my shaky, personalised Catholicism – it’s knowledge I have a 9 year old daughter and I see what girls are doing in video clips. I suspect MTR doesn’t put her religious affiliations on her website because it’s not relevant – and she probably predicted the reaction. “Oh, well, you are anti pornography and anti skimpy clothing because you are a Christian” with all the sneering that would go with that – cue discussion of the Virgin Birth and the rest.

I also don’t agree with MTR’s action to sue for defamation. It is unnecessary. MTR has a position of power, as a published author and much quoted figure in mainstream media products. Someone who can afford the experienced and no doubt expensive defamation lawyers. Most bloggers do this stuff as a hobby and shouldn’t have having their financial safety threatened because of words read by a small group of people. To have people say that she should be putting her religious activities on her website should just be ignored, especially as most blogs aren’t really widely read and are quickly forgotten. What she has unleashed, however, is what I call the Sorcerer’s Broomstick Effect. In making an effort to chop one uncontrollable broomstick, you make a thousand more, all dumping buckets of water in the pool. Now there are hundred of furious people, demanding she puts her religious affiliation on her website.

And what a pool it is. In the past couple of days, I have seen the range of attacks on Christianity that I expected. People mentioning Hillsong, though MTR has nothing to do with it. Mentioning some kind of bizarre doctrinaire program called “Shine”, even though she has nothing to do with that. Today, we had one blogger going to the Baptist Church website, quoting from stated beliefs and saying that MTR must believe every single thing on its website. The truth is quite different. Every Baptist Church in Australia are separate entities – they are not centrally controlled. I remember knowing people who went to the Menai Baptist and Gymea Baptist churches in the Sutherland Shire. I heard both pastors talk. They were vastly different in their approach, especially in regards to being humble and contrite. The pastor at Menai Baptist was one of the most humble, giving people I have ever met – even if I disagree with much of what the Baptists do. I have met so many different types of Baptists over the years that it made me shake my head to see them characterised as one monolithic mass. These are the same people who often applaud Tim Costello when he criticises Clubs Australia or Governments of either side about the neglect towards social justice. He is a Baptist. Today I saw his name on a program where he was to speak on the same night as MTR. Would it be a bad thing that MTR belings to the same denomination as him?

Costello is happy enough to put his background as a pastor on the World Vision website, I would argue, because there is a direct link between his work with World Vision and his religious beliefs. World Vision is an avowed Protestant charity with different approaches to Caritas, the Catholic charity who perform similar work with the same goals, to help the poor in developing countries – in order to continue what they see as God’s work. These aren’t people making cultural comments on clothes and music. If MTR was saying that women putting on skimpy clothes was an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, that these women were unclean, then yes, her religion is important. However, she isn’t saying that. Not even hinting at that.

This blog, like the many others about the topic, will sink without trace. And we will have the people who will say the same stuff about religion that they are already ready to say. That it’s intolerant. That it’s all fundamentalist. That it’s all Hillsong. That it’s all Pell. That there is a great Christian Conspiracy ready to enslave everyone to the One Belief. I will get criticised as a Catholic, a believer in the Sky Being and the Virgin Birth. But that is what will happen. That is Twitter. That is Blogging. And in a week, there will be something else.

7 thoughts on “Unleashing the Sorcerer’s Broomstick Effect – The MTR Business

  1. MTR is an idiot for trying to sue and even sillier for calling it defamation.

    Having said that, she has the right to have her views assessed on their merits and not on presumptions about her motives. It seems that those insisting on religious disclosure are mad keen to turn it into an ad hominem debate: “Well you *would* say ‘X’ because you are ‘Y’ so that explains it all.”

    It’s such an intellectually lazy, non-sequitur of an argument as to make MTR’s positions seem very well thought out by comparison. Debate the topic, not your own assumptions.

    • I agree, it is a silly move – Wilson’s comments aren’t defamatory, I believe – they are an opinion about the content of her website.

      I think MTRs published ideas should be the crux of any discussion of her work – there is more than enough of that to critique without resorting to supposition about “hidden” motives and church membership.

  2. Are you sure you’re not guilty of the same crime Mr Institute? That is, you explain the preponderance of criticism of MTR’s action by way of the irreligious feeling of such critics (“it hasn’t been a surprise to see the anti-religion crew come out in relation to the actions of Melinda Tankard Reist”). Otoh, their outrage — whatever its real or alleged motivation — is a separate issue to its accuracy or appropriateness (which you agree has a reasonable basis, independent of the other views of the commentator). Perhaps this suggests that such coincidences, while not logically necessary, are still interesting and worthy of commentary, and explanation for which may be found in a broader ideological context.

    With regards the seeming demand of MTR to declare her faith on Facebook or her blog, I dunno if it’s a demand so much as a query. That is, given her professional career to date, it’s a curious and remarkable — in the literal sense — absence. (To argue that this thereby renders her observations on pornography or sexuality mistaken or radically flawed is of course a separate matter.) Beyond that, it seems to me that, given MTR’s lawyers seeming demand that their letter is not-for-publication, the case is somewhat obscure, at least until such time as the precise grounds for her complaint are made public.

    • I would argue that people who are zeroing in on MTR’s religion are taking the easy path. It is much harder to go through her work and look for the flaws in her arguments than it is to say “ooh, look, she’s a Christian”. I think we would all take her critics far more seriously if they focused on her actual work, rather than suppositions about her religious observance and its influence. And it’s not helpful to make references to “Mr Institute”. Attempts at personal insults really don’t help anything.

      • Sorry prestontowers(?), I honestly had no idea “Mr Institute” would be read as a personal insult. I looked at your ‘About’ page but couldn’t find a name so I thought that would do in the meantime. Again, my apologies: I’m happy to use whatever term you think is appropriate.

        Otherwise:

        I agree that MTR’s work should be examined critically and her arguments about pr0n and sexualisation assessed independently of her religious beliefs; or rather, in examining these arguments, only to the extent that they have any bearing (which may indeed be little or none). But beyond this, I’m not convinced that the broader ideological and political context of her work, and those of others like her, can and must always be ignored, especially when placed within the framework of contemporary feminism.

        So for example:

        It’s my understanding that JW’s initial comments — and what appears to have triggered the threat of legal action on MTR’s behalf — were prompted by the article on MTR which appeared in the SMH. This was a profile piece and as such was intended to convey to the reader something about the kind of person MTR is; her beliefs, her activities, her motivations etc.. According to JW, it was remarkable in the sense that it failed to examine her religious beliefs and these are, arguably, central to her character and help to explain her engagement with certain issues and the nature of that engagement.

        Or at least, that’s my reading.

        Again, apologies for any insult on my part.

  3. Thanks for this post – it spurred me to write over on RAW / ROAR – a new site for women writing from the left and feminist perspectives. I argue similarly to you (and to the Pure Poison piece, and Blue Milk’s piece, and Cast Iron Balcony’s piece…) – the arguments should stand on their own merits, and the current anti-religion fervour is distasteful to say the least. I also agree the threat to sue is both abhorrent and counterproductive to MTR’s cause.

  4. See: The Barbra Streisand Effect
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect

    The usual nutters of both sides of the religious/atheist divide like to yell at each other. They yell at each over just about anything, this MTR thing is just the latest excuse, but they’ll find something else soon and use that to bludgeon each other with instead. Thats what they do and care not one whit about collateral damage. Surely (after sharing cat photos) thats what the internet was invented for :-)

    For most of us, our faith (or lack thereof) is a private matter, not something we throw into the public sphere for scrutiny. Many, many public figures, indeed, politically engaged and/or loudly opinionated people do not open their private faith-based beliefs for the world to see (although some do – and it seems they get caught on their own hypocrisy more often than not) They don’t start their argument with “I believe and therefore….”. Nor does MTR. Whilst she may be devout, AFAIK, she doesn’t flaunt her faith, she doesn’t use her faith as the platform to campaign against he adult entertainment industry. Rather, she lets her arguments stand on their own merits (such as they are). It therefore seems unfair, to my mind, to expect her to declare her religious affiliations when she has never put religion into her campaign. If she was declaring herself as a “Christian campaigner” or used liberal Bible quotes in her objections, that would be a different case. However (AFAIK) she has kept her religious activities private, and that ought to be respected, IMHO..

    That being said, however, if it was her desire to keep her faith a private matter, then threatening to sue *anyone* for defamation in regards to her religious beliefs (for thats what the case is about) is going to do the exact opposite. She will now have to suffer far more scrutiny in that regard than she has before, and it is unlikely that it will help her cause (even though arguments about the adult entertainment industry should be judged on their own merits and not on the religious beliefs or lack thereof of the person proposing them). AS far as I can see, whilst perhaps her supporter base has not changed, those who are happy to badmouth her now have another weapon to bludgeon her with, those who wished to address her ideas on their own merits will now also have to deal with those who can’t get past their own religious bigotry, and she has no doubt further alienated some who may have been sympathetic to her faith and/or her position. Hence, the Streisand effect.

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