In the age of outrage, it’s all a matter of perception

In an age of social media, when facts and interpretation are often melded into the same narrative, the result can become a nasty mixture, as Gerry Riviere, a chaplain at a Baptist school in Melbourne, has found.

Riviere had to apologise for his remarks in a Christmas school newsletter about the role of the Jewish elders in Jesus’ crucifixion.

The furious reaction of Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich, followed by an apology from the school, was based on a perception of anti-Semitism.

There are two separate issues here. First, whether Riviere’s remarks, published in this newspaper and online, were in fact anti-Semitic or simply based on an interpretation of a viewpoint that deemed it anti-Semitic. Second, in a broader context, since we live in an age of outrage, due especially to social media, if any accusation, whether an alleged breach of standards or even a contrary view to current ideological “right-think”, is always a matter of guilty as charged.

This is part of what the unfortunate chaplain wrote of the Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus: “Whilst Rome was the dominant political power, the religious power within Judaism belong to those in leadership. The leaders had misinterpreted who God was and what he was like, and so when the people looked to their religious leaders for some comfort and encouragement, they found neither.

“The religious leaders were intoxicated with the power their system afforded them. Thus, neither the political nor the religious systems gave the people any hope.

“Jesus entered that environment to bring a message of hope and love.

“He challenged the thinking and actions of the religious leaders who, rather than accepting they were wrong, constantly challenged him, and finally, in an attempt to silence him, placed him upon a cross.”

Read the article by Angela Shanahan in The Australian.