Wednesday 31 August 2011

Nineties Nostalgia: Candidate's Speech

Oh, But I Was So Much Older Then: NewLabour's Dunedin North candidate in 1990 - Chris Trotter.

IN 1990 I was selected as the NewLabour Party’s Dunedin North candidate. On the evening of 14 October I spoke to an election forum organised by the congregation of  Knox Presbyterian Church in Dunedin. The moot was: “What do you and your party have to offer the Christian voter?”

This is what I told them.

WHAT DOES Chris Trotter and the NewLabour Party have to offer the Christian Voter?

A challenging question. A question that resonates with a host of subsidiary questions.

Who is the Christian Voter? What claim does the Christian religion have on the conduct of government in the 1990s? By what set of criteria does the Christian assess the worth of political aspirants?

These are the questions I will attempt to answer in the brief period allowed for my address.

Let me begin with an assertion.

I assert that the number of genuine Christian voters is very small.

That a very large number of New Zealanders participate in the generalised consensus of moral values founded upon the traditional tenets of the Christian faith, I have no doubt. If these be Christian voters, then they constitute nearly two-thirds of the electorate. But, if a vague and somewhat sentimental attachment to Christian ritual constitutes Christianity in the 1990s – then the Church is in deep trouble.

Jim Bolger and Mike Moore have more than enough public relations consultants to satisfy the rhetorical expectations of these nominal Christians. Tonight, I address my remarks to those who demonstrate an active faith – to those who seek to give practical expression to the rigorous demands of Jesus of Nazareth.

To these people I would bear witness concerning the moral emptiness of this age and the difficulties of projecting a moral dimension upon the world of political action.

It seems to me that New Zealand society – indeed the whole of what we call Western culture – has reached a point of spiritual entropy.

We are exhausted, played out, inert. We are indifferent to the future and ignorant of the past. We exist in an eternal televised present – lulled by the sweetened rhythms of a global marketplace which offers an endless stream of commodities to distract us from the emptiness of our existence.

Did I say “We”? Then I misspoke. Because not everyone lives inside the bubble. Beyond the boundaries of a comfortable, a respectable, middle-class existence there lie the borderlands of poverty and alienation. An expanding empire of despair which encroaches, daily, upon the world of consumption and complacent ease.

It is into these regions of distress that the Christian must venture forth.

James K. Baxter expresses the perilous nature of this quest in his poem Crossing Cook Strait. He wrote:

I walked forth gladly to find the angry poor
Who are my nation: discovered instead
The glutton seagulls squabbling over crusts
And policies made and broken behind locked doors.

The Christian mission is to redeem this squalid spectacle. The claim upon political action which the Christian makes is one of transformation. The vocation embraced by the follower of Jesus is one of upending and overturning. Of scourging the moneylenders and confounding the Pharisees.

I come not to bring peace but the sword.

And so we come again to the original question: “What does Chris Trotter and the NewLabour Party offer the Christian Voter?”

The answer is uncomfortable.

We offer complicity in a conspiracy of hope. We offer a berth on a voyage of dissent. We offer a shout of protest at the moral and material inertia of New Zealand life.

Our policies offer no compromises to the centre ground. The road that leadeth to destruction is broad enough to accommodate both Labour and National.

We offer justice, equality, and that sense of mutual responsibility that Christ and all the prophets counterposed against the realpolitik of their time.

In essence we offer action, involvement – dare I say it? – intervention! We offer a determination to smash the bubble that insulates affluence from poverty, indifference from desperation.

The crisis that faces New Zealanders in the 1990s is more than a material crisis – although the scale of economic disaster that looms ahead is ominous indeed. It is a spiritual crisis: an unwillingness to affirm that we are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers; that truly cripples us.

NewLabour, by daring to reject the politics of “I” and embrace the politics of “We”, lays claim to the Christian voters’ support.

It will be interesting to count their number on Election Day.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


Don Franks said...

Do Like Jesus Done
(first performed at the CAFCA “Roger Award” 2010)

Here we all sit one more time – shafted by the ANZ
Stealing away our futures while we work til we’re dead
Now Sexy John won’t save us – and nor will Biker Phil
Or any other capitalist prick asleep up on that hill

But folks -if we don’t do more than cry into our beer
Our great great great grand children will
still be awarding bastards here
Its up to us to find a way – to spoil the banker’s fun
And the one that makes most sense to me
Is to do like Jesus done

He bust straight through security and kicked the tables high
Those speculating bankers could only run and cry
There was no negotiation, no maybes, please or thanks
When Jesus took the workers side
And turned over the banks

Of course there was a price to pay – because then, just as now
The banks were for the ruling class – a very sacred cow
after a scab betrayed him – the cops took Jesus down
and strung him from a macrocarpa – half a mile from town
JC made one big error – he waged his fight alone
Without sufficient back up after he cast the first stone
Just twelve guys in his union – and one of them went sour
It would have been a miracle – if they could have won state power
But anyway, good on him – at least he had a crack
And don’t it make good history – for us now looking back!

Chorus: He bust straight through security...

Well, anyway, so here we are two thousand years on
With the banks still in the box seat- and the Christians mostly gone
Philosophers just take the shit and deftly rearrange it
The point about this unfair world is that we need to change it
We still can learn from Jesus – direct action’s half the way
The other half is getting up the numbers on the day
So why not lets get positive- get out and spread the word
The capitalist system is dated and absurd
Lets organise resistance while we’re still in the mood
We can make a revolution – with Jesus’s attitude.


Chris Trotter said...

As always, Don, a little pearler!

gregster said...

"We offer justice, equality"

Sisters and brothers, let us come together today to contemplate our steadfast progress. Each his brother's keeper, mutually enslaved, in the rightful position pre-ordained for mankind. Justice of one's life not being one's own and the nobility of this self-sacrifice. An equality gained by the recognition that each man's intellectual endowment is inequal but nevertheless this can be equalised by the theft of one's better's productive effort. Wealth after all is there to be distributed, but sisters and brothers you dare not ask as to how this wealth is created, for this is a mortal sin. Do not hasten to an afterlife of socialised harmony where man no longer need think and act for his survival. Do it now - grasp it. WE brothers and sisters can obtain what we strive towards in the here and now. WE are winning brothers. Look around you and celebrate. WE will succeed, if not in this generation, then not too long thereafter. This inevitability has me trembling in anticipation. All of us equal - the ultimate sacrificial justice.

Brendan McNeill said...

A fine speech Chris

The difference I think between Christians (of the left) and Christians (of the right) is that the former believe that issues of poverty and deprivation are best resolved through coercive taxation and redistribution, whereas the latter believe in compassion over compulsion.

It could be argued that neither approach works very well.

Even Jesus said "the poor you have with you always".

In our current context, with an extensive welfare state that sees 13% of the working age population on benefits, poverty is more likely to be an outcome of physical, spiritual or moral brokenness, rather than oppression by the 'class system'.

That doesn't make people less poor, but it does mean that 'more money' is unlikely to fix it in most cases.

That's where the gospel really begins to shine.

Socialism says "I can put a new suit on that man" whereas the transformational message of Christ says "I can put a new man in that suit".

What New Zealand needs today is more "new men" rather than new suits. That outcome cannot be delivered through political action.

gregster said...

"It is thus necessary that the individual should finally come to realize that his own ego is of no importance in comparison with the existence of his nation; that the position of the individual ego is conditioned solely by the interests of the nation as a whole ... that above all the unity of a nation's spirit and will are worth far more than the freedom of the spirit and will of an individual...."

"This state of mind, which subordinates the interests of the ego to the conservation of the community, is really the first premise for every truly human culture.... The basic attitude from which such activity arises, we call-to distinguish it from egoism and selfishness-idealism. By this we understand only the individual's capacity to make sacrifices for the community, for his fellow men."


Anonymous said...

A wee ditty of thanks
to Trotts and Franks

Had He stayed on his ass and just smiled and waved
Sonny Bill Jesus might just have braved
The terrible wrath of the rich and the greedy
To save Himself and bugger the needy

Might've been found at el Bunnings
Pricing paving for the cunning
An ex-celebrity chippie working miracles with wood
From a kick-ass dray daubed Christ He's Good

But He saw too much; saw the blood-stained claws
Of the priests and their whores
Around the necks of the poor
and the keys to His door.

So He picked up a whip, cracked into all tories
For all time and all men, and the rest is His stories.
Through Karl to Savage, wee Johnny's socialist streak
All a-twitter and swelling, voices no longer meek.

All strength to you souls who refuse to flinch
at the scumlords of mammon, their scribes and their pimps
Who take up His sword, drink deep of His chalice
And fight to deliver us from evil and malice.

Yours is the kingdom, our gratitude and gloria
Kia ora rawa atu, kia kaha, ki a korua.


Anonymous said...

So Brendan, you don't think blindingly obvious injustice and tyranny of the right is something a christian should worry about?

You'd have to be blind not to see that.

In the process of transforming oneself, with Gods help, it is only natural to wonder why some are left impoverished and preyed upon by the strong.

It's called compassion. It's not something I've seen a lot of in your posts.

Anonymous said...

Brendan, the passage you cite is Jesus quoting Deuteronomy 15:11:

"For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land."

Go thou and do likewise.

Richard said...

I think Brendan is right about the difference between Christians (of the left) and Christians (of the right).

Jesus vehemently opposed taxation (Luke 23:2), socialism (Matthew 25:29) and big government (Mark 10:42-45).

Government intervention and divine intervention are not the same thing!

Brendan McNeill said...

@ andrewmahon1234

It is difficult to imagine that todays political 'right' is more tyrannical than the Roman oppression under which Jesus lived. Yet, if you examine the Scriptures you will find that he condemned them not once.

Can we conclude from this that Jesus lacked compassion?

In any event, history demonstrates the the 'left' can be just as tyrannical as the 'right' so tyranny is not the sole domain of left or right. It's a human condition.

@Anonymous 2011 8:58 PM.

I agree with the Scripture you reference in Deuteronomy. To whom is the command to 'open your hand to the poor' given? To the individual or the State?

We can give collectively to the poor, and people do, through churches, and other intermediary organizations like Dr Barnardo's, Tear Fund, World Vision etc.

The point is, people who give voluntarily to the poor through these institutions, or personally and directly to the poor, fulfill the commandment.

To my mind, taking from Peter to give to Paul by means of coercion, regardless of who the intermediary is, can hardly fulfill the command of Scripture.

You cannot fulfill Scripture on the one hand by violating it with the other.

While the democratic process sanctions such actions for the 'greater good' this does not make it a Biblical response. Personally I'm not opposed to elements of the welfare State, but I am opposed to baptizing it, and calling it an expression of Christianity.

Coercion of any kind does not feature in the teaching and life of Christ.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Gregster.

Oh dear, what a giveaway, an Objectivist with an alarmingly thorough knowledge of Adolf Hitler.

Though you clearly believe this quote to be a mighty blow against altruism, I'm afraid the joke is on you.

Hitler, you see, didn't believe a word of his own philosophy. He was always and only a man alone: untrammelled by conscience; unmoved by suffering; devoid of empathy. In other words the ultimate psychopath - and Objectivist.

Better luck next time.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Richard.

I want to thank you, Richard, for demonstrating the extraordinary deafness of the right-wing Christian to the true meaning of Jesus's sayings and parables.

I have pasted below the actual biblical passages you have cited as proof that Christ was an early member of the Tea Party.

I'll let my readers judge the theological merit of your claims.

LUKE 23:2 And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is [a]Christ, a King.”

MATTHEW 25:29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.

MARK 10:42-45 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Progressive Paradox said...

Chris thank you so much! I am a politically active Christian leftist and it is awesome that someone summed up our position so well, I'm disappointed you weren't elected and the NLP never reached its full potential. But thank you for standing up for Christian morality all the same.

gregster said...

Thank you for your response Chris. May I briefly reply?

“To these people I would bear witness concerning the moral emptiness of this age and the difficulties of projecting a moral dimension upon the world of political action.”
I have seen the results of moral emptiness. North Korea vs South Korea, East Germany vs West, New Zealand before and after Rogernomics.
The system with the least capitalist elements is the most unsustainable.
““What does Chris Trotter and the NewLabour Party offer the Christian Voter?”

The answer is uncomfortable.

We offer complicity in a conspiracy of hope. We offer a berth on a voyage of dissent. We offer a shout of protest at the moral and material inertia of New Zealand life.”
That is a forthright statement of intent Chris. A “complicity” of force against the individual is what democracy and the church have in common. A “conspiracy of hope” is unwittingly revealing too. True, hope is all that can be held if one’s beliefs are not anchored in reality.
“We offer action,” “intervention,” “to smash the bubble that insulates affluence from poverty, indifference from desperation.”
The inevitable result of your prescription is economic disaster and totalitarianism.
The prevention of economic disaster is simply a matter of divorcing the state (and church) from all economic action. The proper system, which will bring the greatest improvement in living standards to the greatest number, is a constitutional republic.
Democracy cannot deliver justice. Only a system protecting individual rights is just. Yours and the church’s preferred system is one in which no person is free. It is unsustainable because “hope” cannot suffice for productive action. The best incentive for production, and thereby wealth creation, is the receipt of profit. The degree that this incentive is curtailed is the degree of impoverishment.
Observe democracy in action – various gangs influencing shortsighted lawmakers – the politics of pull.

You describe a “spiritual crisis” an “unwillingness to affirm that we are all our “brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.”
The crisis is spiritual. The natural spirit of man is subverted and he is treated as an animal.
“NewLabour, by daring to reject the politics of “I” and embrace the politics of “We””
We the dead.

Michael said...

The expression of Christianity through politics I have found one of the most difficult concepts (as an observer; I am a Chrisitan but not a politician). Your 1990 address to this question is the best I've seen, and I consider a benchmark well worth the reprint. Jesus' message was essentially personal, not political. Explaining why his followers did not fight for his cause, he said, 'my kingdom is not of this world'. Yet for the politician, what is political, and what is policy, becomes personal.

Richard said...

I want to thank you, Richard, for demonstrating the extraordinary deafness of the right-wing Christian to the true meaning of Jesus's sayings and parables.

You're welcome, Chris. The word you're looking for is eisegesis. But is it you or I who is guilty? Can you cite some Biblical passages in support of your contention that Christ was an early member of the New Labour Party?

By definition, taxation is theft by the government. On the issue of taxation, the Gospel message is clear. In the story of Jesus and the Rich man (Luke 18:18-30), Jesus says, "You shall not steal." He then goes on to say, "Sell everything you have and give to the poor." He doesn't say, "Sell everything you have left after you've paid your taxes and give to the poor." He doesn't say, "Sell everything you have and give to the government to give to the poor."

Government welfare is the antithesis of Christian charity.