August 4, 2009
On a Hiding to Nothing
Today (3 August) I received two pieces of mail in the post. The first was Build Magazine. The second was my voting paper for the so-called “so-called ‘anti-smacking’ law”. Seeing 89 glossy pages of engineering and building wisdom from the Building Research Association of New Zealand (BRANZ) alongside my voting paper got me thinking about the differences and similarities between engineering buildings and engineering societies. Now, the the building of societies is something we all share in and the big question is towards what are we building? I suspect that much of the opposition to the section 59 amendment (2007) to the Crimes Act 1961 comes from the notion that such legislative changes are in fact “Social Engineering” (or “PC”).
The “anti PC” argument goes that just changing the words does not change anything as we all know what we mean. Call a spade a spade. The counter argument is that there is a relationship between reality and the words we use to describe that reality. By changing the words we reshape the reality. Funny that the people who say the words don’t matter get so steamed up when the words are changed! This suggests to me that the words do matter. Anyone who has read Genesis might suspect that the spoken word is indeed reality-shaping. In Chapter 1 it is the word of God that brings the world into being. In Chapter 2 the naming of the animals and the spoken response of the man to the creation of the woman is fundamental to the relationship between humans with each other and the world around them.
So, what does it mean to rename “smacking” as “hitting” or to call either “criminal”? Quite a lot. Underneath the various arguments lies a profound two-fold question: What sort of world do we want to create and how do we want to relate to those with whom we share this world? Those of us who benefit from the way things are will probably opt for “smacking”, while the victims of violence or those who have to pick up the pieces will tend to go for “hitting”. Children will be pretty clear what they think is happening – if they are permitted to have an opinion.
We all know the referendum question is badly worded but for my money the decriminalisation of violence towards children does not sit with a theology that sees each person as unique and special and as the bearer of the image of God. I am going to vote “Yes” because I am only too well aware of the anger and violence that I am capable of and because I want to be a better person. To vote “Yes” is to say that violence towards children is not acceptable. It means setting ourselves the challenge of living up to our own word.
The Build Magazine cover is minimalist. It features the words “Product Substitution” and below that, “Corrosion”. The article on product substitution warns of the dangers of using inferior and fake products in place of the ones specified. Violence is never an adequate substitute for love. Jesus demonstrates the genuine article. The corrosion article reminds us that – for buildings as for cars – “rust never sleeps”. Corrosion is what we do to children when we resort to force, till one day we look down and find that we ourselves have slowly and silently been eaten away from the inside. A “Yes” vote BRANZ us as people who want to help stop the rot.
Tom Innes is Senior Ecumenical Chaplain at University of Canterbury