ABC Discovers Rev John Dickson

After a nine month boycott of ABC’s Q&A, mostly due to the feeling it had lost its mojo, I stumbled upon it last night only to be pleasantly surprised.

Yes, the usual banal and pointless twitter feed was still there, and yes, Tony Jones still seemed to interrupt some unnecessarily and allow others seemingly eternal monologues, but sitting down the end of the panel I noticed John Dickson. I thought, “here we go, this will be interesting”. Many Australian Christians know of John through his work with The Centre for Public Christianity, and others in his former life as member of the band In the Silence.

I have been long frustrated why the Australian Media has a phobic-like aversion to any thorough and open discussion and exploration of Christian faith. For instance, if you were an extra terrestrial from planet Zukon who visited for a day, watched some ABC News, bought The Age newspaper and listened to some radio with John Faine or Philip Adams, you would most likely report back to the folk on Zukon the following details about your trip:

1. This group called the Catholic Church is a gathering of perverted men solely focused on abusing children, and their leader wears a funny hat and has been, according to all reports, “controversial”.
2. Only stupid and unreasonable people believe in a being known as God, while intelligent and brilliant types do not.
3. An outfit called Hillsong, another church group, makes millions and pays no taxes. And their pastor drives a machine called a Harley Davidson
4. The vast majority of Australians are secular atheists.
5. Point 4 must be true as none of these ‘Christians’ were ever seen or heard from in the media.

And so last night on Q&A, John Dickson gave a good voice for Jesus. There were the usual defamatory and offensive tweets like this one:

Lindsay (@KakLinds) 18/02/2013 22:57
#qanda Christians have special responsibility to save the world. Make a start by saving children from pedophile priests. #auspol

And Joe Hilderbrand, who is a very witty and entertaining media commentator, disappointed with this one:

Joe Hildebrand (@Joe_Hildebrand) 18/02/2013 21:55
The world’s most terrifying force has been revealed: A reasonable Christian. #qanda

Just delete “Christian” from that tweet and insert “woman” or an ethnic group to see how offensive it is. Joe, how about Francis Bacon, Blaise Pascal, Bach, Handel, Barack Obama, Kevin Rudd, Prof Graeme Clarke, to name a few reasonable Christians?

Current ABC The Drum host, Julia Baird was more gracious:

@bairdjulia: A scientist and a theologian jousting respectfully, discussing ideas, even laughing. Well played Mr Krauss and @johnpauldickson. #qanda

As was Miranda Devine, and she always courageously defends faith in the public square:

@mirandadevine: @DavidvanGend yes he got a bit too much unquestioning adulation from the panel but @johnpauldickson gave a good account of himself #qanda

Australians really are nervous about religion. In fact, the whole media enterprise seems to be silently devoted to keeping Jesus out of sight out of mind. To be fair, the media are unfair and unreasonable to many other groups too; they only report the sensational, salacious, controversial and adversarial. And complex and intricate subjects must be forced through a filter of simplicity and entertainment. As Neil Postman warned many years back in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death,the electronic media is making us dumber and more passive.

With around 71% of Australians believing in God/gods/higher power, around 60% identifying as Christian, and around 2 million per week worshipping in churches, why shouldn’t there be more open and insightful public discussion of faith? Where are the editors, journalists and program directors with the courage, and integrity to open up airtime and print space for Christian leaders like John Dickson and others, to speak freely and openly about the faith of 1.5 billion of the earth’s inhabitants?

A liberal democratic society must be open and tolerant to all voices; yes, even Christian ones.

Good summary of the night here by Nathan Campbell

12 thoughts on “ABC Discovers Rev John Dickson”

  1. Hi there
    I wonder where you got the figure that 85% of Australians believe in God? I’d be interested to know of that study.

  2. Hi Brian, thanks for your comment. Actually, the figure is an error that I will correct. The 2009 Survey of Australian Attitudes conducted by the Australian National University found that around 15-16% of Australians defined themselves as atheists. It was incorrect to extrapolate the 85% figure for belief in God as this figure includes agnostics. The actual figure seems to be around 70%, still very high.

    A Nielsen poll for Fairfax newspapers found around 68% believe in God/higher power.

    Other more credible data suggests a figure of 71%.

    Hope that helps,


  3. There’s Compass.

    Personally I wish Q+A would stop being about abstractions like whether God exists or not and give more space to the people applying their beliefs (whatever they are) in practical and positive ways.

  4. Thanks for that Nicholas. I still have some questions about your adjusted claim.

    The EA report (the one you linked to) says only 47% believe in God. This is the same conclusion that Phillip Hughes from the Christian Research Association reaches based on the same data (2009 International Social Science Survey).

    The NCLS report is working from the same data set (2009 ISSS) but have, presumably, conflated the figures for belief in ‘God’ and in ‘some form of higher power’ – hence the 71% figure.

    The Neilson poll that you link says “68 per cent of us believe in God or a universal spirit”. It also does not specify the number who believe in God.

    The figure of 47% belief in God seems to be supported by the available evidence. Am I missing something here?

  5. Hi again Brian. It could be that terminology is obfuscating the data results a little. The EA article does say that 47% of people believe in God, but 20% believe in a higher power. I did conflate those terms later in my first response to you using the term God/higher power.

    So yes, with the EA article, 47% believe in God, 20% in higher power, thus around 67% believe in God/higher power. A further 15% say they do not know if there was a God. Which leaves around 16% of people declaring overt atheism.

    And yes, you are right, the NCLS report brings together both God and higher power for the figure of 71%, as does The Age data with its 68%.

    The general picture is that around 70% of people in Aust believe in God or a higher power. And it also seems that around 16% of Australians define themselves as atheist. Another way of saying this might be: around 84% of Australians do not affirm the statement, “there is no God or higher power”.

    I think that is a fair reading of the data.

  6. Thanks for your comment, Tony, I agree. But that’s my point in the blog post that in general terms faith and its ramifications and application to everyday life is not just ignored in the media, but actively excluded.

  7. I must admit I chuckled at the Joe Hildbrand joke, but its definantly sad that that’s the perception. It was great to see the number of positive comments that came through from athiests about how John performed, now to get him on to primetime tv more often….

  8. Hi Rowan,

    Yes, Joe is a very funny guy, but the comment was ignorant. I know plenty of Christians who are very intelligent (doctorates to prove it!) and reasonable people. And it would be great to see more of JD, and the many others like him, ‘allowed’ in the public (media) square.

  9. Actually the ABC gives a lot of space for Christians to state their case.
    Even Philip Adams features regular interviews with prominent Christians.
    Most of it can be accessed via this website
    By the way the person (Scott Stephens) who manages and edits this site is a right wing Catholic. As such he uses the website to promote his right-wing Catholic world-view. Which is to say that most of the essays that he features on the site are by right-wing and/or conservative Catholics, all of whom pretend that Ratzinger was “God’s” gift to humanity, and that the Catholic church is the ONLY source of Truth in the world. And that Ratzinger was/is the cure for the presumed scourge of secularism and relativism.

  10. A further comment.
    It has been quite rightly said (many times) that a picture paints a thousand words, or communicates all kinds of subtle meanings to the brain and nervous system of the person who views the picture/image.
    Furthermore, it has been quite rightly said (many times) that God Is Beauty, or Beauty Is God, or that God Is The Beautiful.
    What then does the image at the top of your website communicate?
    Is it even life positive?

  11. Thanks for your thoughts, Frederick. I agree the ABC does have some religious content. However, I don’t agree that the programming content reflects the interest and practices of people of faith across Australia. On a recent trip to India, for instance, one can find numerous religious programs on public television and much more discussion and debate in the media. My perception is that religious views and discussion are more marginal in the public square in Australia.

  12. Frederick, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ stands as perhaps the central and foundational event for Christians. The understanding of the death of Jesus of Nazareth is multifaceted, mysterious and complex. But nonetheless, it is a source of life and inspiration for millions.

    The image is the backdrop for my blog and is from a work of modern art called “Crucifixion” (circa 1945) by 20th century English painter, Graham Sutherland (1903-1980), and is held in the Vatican Museum. I took this photo of it in 2009 as I was captivated by the way the artist portrayed this most momentous event.

    It is difficult to respond adequately in a blog comment, but some key and important elements for Christians concerning Jesus’ death are:

    In Christ God has acted to deal with sin and death by offering forgiveness and grace through the sacrificial offering of Jesus.

    The cross is an event of atonement where the justice of God concerning evil is satisfied and the love of God is also displayed.

    Jesus said, “no greater love can a person have than they lay down their life for the friends”. Jesus comes from God, and is himself divine, and offers his life for the redemption and salvation of the world.

    I am not asking you to believe these key doctrines of the Christian faith; but just wanting to respond o your question of why I would use such an image on my blog.

    Kind regards,


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