Dear Reverend Nile,I watched with interest as you requested that the Federal Government deny US pop star Marilyn Manson entry to Australia to perform as part of the 1999 Big Day Out touring music festival. I came to understand that you desired to prevent Mr Manson's visit to our shores not purely on the basis of the content of his lyrics - or even his reported stage and other antics - but because he is a minister of the Satanic Church, committed to propagating the Church's message through his art.
Let me state from the outset that I share the basic Christian beliefs to which I believe you would adhere. I am convinced of the existence of personal, spiritual evil, named in the Bible as Satan. I am convinced also of that being's power to influence the life of any being on this planet and that anyone who has committed themselves in such a way as Mr Manson has to that being will see his or her art and life affected by that spiritual being.
However, we live in a pluralist society, something which I am sure you know and are perhaps sad about. But it remains a reality.
A pluralist society tolerates Satanism as a religious belief. Whether Christians agree with the wisdom of that, it is a fundamental of the society in which we live. All religions, at least in terms of our laws, are given a right to exist and to freedom and tolerance. It is a right which Christians need as much as any other religious group. To appeal to the Government to ban Marilyn Manson from Australia on the basis of his "religion", rather than for his politics or any other reason, is to call for a dangerous precedent which no Christian anywhere in the world would like to see established.
Yet, I can sympathise with your obvious concern about what is allowed to influence young people in our pluralist society. You have a desire to crack the old chestnut that says art and the practices of artists do not affect the minds, hearts and wills of young (and older) people. I possess the same desire.
But before getting to this, I am concerned on two levels about your approach to achieving your goals, whether they be to have Manson banned or to critique his art.
First, your comments play into a media circus. The media is most interested in religious commentary on social events and figures when those comments can be construed as negative toward events or figures. The media wants conflict and can obtain it through you. Your views can then be described in caricature, along with the words and actions of such figures as Manson. The media can then milk the conflict for sales and, when it is over or while it is going, assume a condescending tone and talk down at the protagonists in the "storm-in-a-tea-cup" which they have been significantly involved in creating.
Second, there is the question of the generational relevance of your comments. The generation that spawned the Baby Boomers, raised in a relatively Christian era in regard to shared morality, in all probability agree with you. And many Baby Boomers (raised to doubt and reject Christian truth claims) because of a hangover from their parent's morality sense that what you are saying about the dangers of Manson is true, but they can't put a finger on just why they should be concerned.
But "Generation X" almost completely disregards your comments. While members of the generation might think Satanism is a dangerous and foolish belief system, they would never seek to ban it or any adherent to it from entering a country. And there would be many Christians within this generation (and other generations) who, while agreeing about the dangers of Satanism and Manson's music, would be aghast at the idea of limiting religious freedom in Australia.
But what of Manson's art? In regard to how people should react to his art, Manson has said, "I think they should be concerned, because what I do isn't safe and it is provoking (sic)."Of course Manson wants people to believe his music and persona aren't safe. It generates sales. But he needs to be genuinely 'unsafe' in order to keep attracting a youth culture adept at spotting a fake. Or at least sensing a person's genuineness; whether or not they are "for real".
The argument about artistic freedom and responsibility is a circular one, with carte blanche freedom advocated on one end and totalitarian censorship on the other. In the middle are those who wish to dialogue. It is only through dialogue on this issue that progress will be made toward societal respect for the artist and the audience.
I am of the opinion that, largely, the public ignores the effect art has in contributing to human character and will. I am amazed that people are happy to recognise a cause/effect relationship in regard to the Australian TAC shock ad campaign and lowered road death statistics, but will not accept the same when people commit anti-social behaviour influenced, often at their own admitting, by certain music. Still, beyond my desire to highlight the need to examine the links between art and behaviour, I do not claim to have any major insights for this dialogue.
What I am concerned about is that your desire to alert people to the dangers inherent to Marilyn Manson's music actually stymies real dialogue on the issue of art and responsibility. The hyperbolic dialogue in which you become engaged in the mainstream Australian media allows the media to seemingly cover the issue. However, the conflict both allows the audience to stereotype Christian views as outmoded, reactionary and extreme and allows it to walk away with its basic prejudice in place: it's only music, it's only teenage rebellion, it's never hurt anyone.
I agree with you that Satanism is dangerous. I agree with Manson himself when he says his music is not safe. I am with you in your desire to stem the tide of musicians (and other artists) willing to push the boundaries of taste to make a buck or to get recognition. But wouldn't it be better if less young people found the need to engage with the kind of art which is potentially dangerous?I believe the way forward for powerful Christian individuals such as yourself, concerned with the lives of young people in a post-Christian age, is to throw your influence, money and support behind individuals, churches and organisations who are willing to dialogue with young people who buy the Cds made by the likes of Manson. Who dialogue with them in a way that respects their tastes and freedoms, but shows them the need for responsibility within art and their own lives.