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Sam Mangai warns our society’s zealous acceptance of the critical social justice worldview is making some of us foolishly hypersensitive.
In my (tiny) personal collection of artworks, I have a print from a very talented artist, who recently produced the graphics for a Covid-19 health pamphlet.
One of their designs — a ta moko clad Covid-19 virion — sparked a bizarre amount of panic and outrage in New Zealand media and ended up at the centre of, what could perhaps be considered, a case of contemporary iconoclasm.
The incident shows our society’s zealous acceptance of the critical social justice (woke) worldview is making some of us foolishly hypersensitive.
The fool — declares Proverbs 18:2 — doesn’t delight in understanding but simply in airing their own opinions. This truth was clearly on display in the swift public pile-on that resulted in the artist’s work being vilified and, ultimately, cancelled. Furthermore, Proverbs 18:17 serves as a reminder that we shouldn’t play the plaintiff in haste. Initially it was declared "a given" that Maori wouldn’t have approved the artwork. As it turns out, the artist, who is Maori and passionate about their culture, had ticked all the required boxes for cultural approval.
It didn’t appear that any of the pundits and politicians, who decried the image as "appalling" and "insensitive", bothered to consider the artist’s intentions. Frankly, I’m not surprised. The "impact" v "intention" paradigm, which looms large in minds of the critically conscious, encourages people to believe that it is the personal, emotional impact of any given event that determines true meaning. A similar thing occurs in the church with the application of postmodern hermeneutics. The approach here is one of prioritising reader-response over authorial intent. So, when it comes to what the Bible truly means, it’s not, "thus sayeth the Lord" but rather, "how feeleth thee". If you feel offended by God’s condemnation of some "fleshly desire" then — hey, presto! — that’s not what His Word means. It’s a neat "get out of judgement free" card that perpetuates self-deception.
Of course, the impact of the "Covid cartoon", for many, was offence. And so: knees jerked, art was destroyed, and the mana of another individual was sacrificed on the altar of woke. Labour MP Tamati Coffey believed the image "could be seen as racist". Except, given the situation and according to theory, it can’t. Critical race theory and critical whiteness studies have helped redefine racism to be all about the unidirectional flow of systemic power from the "privileged oppressor" (i.e. Pakeha) to the "marginalised oppressed" (i.e. Maori). Therefore, according to theory only Pakeha can be truly racist — a false and abhorrent belief that is (unfortunately) gaining popularity in the health and education sectors.
The Bible warns about the deceitfulness of godless ideas and vain philosophies. Additionally, Jesus denounced the Pharisees for seeking to bring fellow Jews under their corrupt beliefs. So, if what’s good for Maori is good for the nation, then as Maori, it’s high time we stopped kowtowing to a worldview that encourages us to call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). Telling Pakeha they’re inherently and irredeemably racist because they can be lumped under some vague, theoretical rubric called "whiteness" is evil. We need to stop chiding our own as benighted, inauthentic failures, unwilling to acknowledge their "internalised colonial oppression", when they exercise rangatiratanga and think for themselves. Young Maori should be encouraged to see they don’t need to furnish their kaupapa with cynical and divisive concepts like white privilege, white fragility, white guilt, white complicity, white ... ad nauseum. Doing so doesn’t make kaupapa Maori more empowering — it turns it into a yoke of slavery.
There are two religious worldviews united and protected under te Tiriti and critical social justice isn’t one of them. Judeo-Christianity and Te Ao Maori provide us with values like, truth, beauty, whanaungatanga (kinship), merit, and whakaiti (humility), which can be used as the basis for authentic social justice thinking and action. Like all nations, the history of ours is marred with deceit, ugliness, and injustice. But progress has been made, and must continue to be made, through the application of values that are good and true. Not, as the woke would seemingly have it, by passing the whip from one hand to the other.
- Sam Mangai is a member of the Cornerstone International Bible Church in Dunedin.