Writers’ festival ‘undefends’ God…

Read, Rethink, Respond... catch-line for Sydney Writers' Festival

At first glance, Christians might be gratified to learn that the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May will feature a session called, In Defence of God. Closer examination though suggests a name change is in order – God Thrown to the Lions… Media reports say festival director, Chip Rolley, felt that ‘God deserved some time’ after recent visits to Australia by high-profile atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

Good one Chip, are you having a joke with us? The session will be chaired by atheist and publisher-in-chief at Melbourne University Press, Louise Adler, and the two speakers are Eric Lax, a lapsed Episcopalian, now described as a ‘hopeful unbeliever’; and Reza Aslan, an acclaimed Muslim scholar and writer. Reza’s surname is the only (accidental) positive reference to Christianity (think CS Lewis). 

The plot (pun intended) thickens when it is realised the session will be held on Sunday 10am (May 23). Now, where would most Christians usually be at 10am on a Sunday?

Australians of Christian faith should not be surprised at this ambivalent concession to God. The festival’s publicity of the session says, ‘In a country with a relatively high number of atheists, is believing in God the more dangerous idea?’ 

A good question, but the assumption behind it is typical of inner-city, ivory tower-dwellers. Clearly caught up in the hype surrounding Dawkins and co, the organisers have forgotten that 70 per cent of Australians record belief in God and the vast majority of these retain affiliation of some kind to Christianity.

It is, however, a Writers’ Festival, and although there is a strong Christian publishing industry, few ‘Christian’ books are found on the bestsellers lists.

The reality is, though, that even if Christian authors dominated best sellers lists, they are unlikely to feature in an industry captured by unbelief. The humanities have long been dominated by those with a materialist worldview and if they must nod to religion, it will be to the passive, non-exclusive kinds with an other-world cultural feel. You’ll see them scattered through the Writer’s Festival program… 

I’m probably talking to myself here, but at least I’m listening. We Christians are failing in the marketplace of ideas. A best-selling book is a best-selling idea. And even though publishers, authors, publicists and festival organisers are a tiny minority in society, the word ‘best-selling’ represent us – you and me. And so the media is drawn to it, because they are drawn to us, the public. And the cycle continues…To do battle in this field does not involve good intentions. Rather it takes hard-nosed business sense and deep financial commitment to the publishing process. It requires a crafted, disciplined brilliance carrying along thoughtful, timely but seasoned writing. It would require setting aside short cuts and the preaching model and taking up genuine story-telling and well-researched and conceived ideas. 

Hopefully a few of us might wander into the Lion’s Den on Sunday, May 23, 10am at Sydney Theatre, 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay and reveal ourselves as Daniels. And let’s not be too grim. God doesn’t really need anyone’s defence. The Living Word is still living, even if He might struggle to find a publisher… PH

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