Hannah Gadsby is a great preacher
Just as she did in her Netflix special Nanette, in her speech at The Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment gala last week, Hannah Gadsby managed to turn making an audience feel uncomfortable into an art form.
Though she would hate me to say it, Gadsby, now a potential Oscars host, is a great preacher. Her meditation on good and bad men is one of the best descriptions of the Christian doctrine of sin that I’ve ever heard. The line between bad and good is not about us (good) and them (bad). The line goes straight through every human heart.
That this plays itself out in our experience of gender, race, disability, and sexuality, is not a surprise.
This time, she was addressing, she said, "the good men". This brought a smug whoop of approval from her audience. "You might regret that applause," she said. When it comes to mysogyny, "the good men," she said, are the problem.
The idea that there are the good men and the bad men implies a line between them. And nobody sees themselves on the "bad" side of that line. Which means that no one ever accepts responsibility for the bad.
The bad is always someone else, not me. But if you thought Gadsby was just picking on men – and making saints out of women – then you haven’t watched till the end of her speech. Gadsby is too honest a moralist for that. She includes herself as the target of her own sermon. She never puts herself above it, which is a completely radical thing to do in this world of virtue signalling and mob justice.
Actually, she said, we all do this drawing of the line between good and bad. We need to tell stories in which we are the heroes, not the villains, after all. It’s part of the human condition.
But you can see the damage we do to others with this story making, especially when we slide the line between good and bad all over the place to make our consciences feel better.
Is there a better option?
Gadsby’s message is that we need to stop thinking that we live in a Star Wars film with the goodies dressed in white and the baddies conveniently dressed in black. Or in Nazi uniforms. That allows us to be smug and hypocritical – and to do more bad in the guise of good.
Recognising that I am bad is actually a moment of freedom, because I can see the damage that I have done and that I do, and in humility try to do differently.
But what Gadsby does not go on to offer is a story we also need: a story in which there is forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation – the counterpart to the truth about our badness. Realising that I am bad is like a kind of moral vertigo. It’s a really uncomfortable feeling. Without resolution, it produces not change, but just shame.
But if there’s the offer of a new beginning – such as we find in the Christian story – then I find a place in which I can accept Gadsby’s searing challenge to realise that I am as often the villain as the hero. And that might make a real difference.
Reverend Michael Jensen is the rector of St Mark's Anglican Church Darling Point.
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