I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of passing or failing the ‘pub test’.
The phrase has been used quite a bit in the news and it’s one of those phrases that has slipped into popular political jargon ranging across topics as far afield as sexual abuse in an MP’s office, the purchase of Cartier watches as gifts for executives and the ‘pork-barrelling’ of government funds. Pork-barrelling’ itself dates back to the early 1700’s when slave owners would favour some slave groups with more barrels of salted pork. But I digress – sought of.
“It fails the Pub Test”, bursts forth from the floor of Parliament House, as if it is some meaningful yardstick by which to measure the opinions of ordinary Australians ( whoever they are?). Or, for that matter, it represents some widely understood indicator of whether most members of the general public approve or disapprove of certain events in the lives of public figures or political activity.
However, underpinning this piece of political jargon is the myth that someone somewhere has actually conducted a pub test, whether in the Stumbling Rook in Campbellfield or the Athenaeum Club in Collins St. The truth is, hardly any pub tests are ever conducted anywhere.
In reality, it’s a form of political ‘speak’ designed to re-direct or influence rather than reflect public opinion. We would benefit greatly by paying even closer attention to what is going on whenever we hear it being used. In many ways, it’s a ‘red herring’. Now there’s another strange phrase going back centuries. Funny how our language is full of such concepts. ‘Red Herring’ was first used back in 1686 in a British gentlemen’s magazine. It related to fox hunting. The article described a way of prolonging the fox hunt by dragging a dead cat across the trail and masking the scent of the fox and thus confusing the hounds. Some friends of mine back in Suffolk, decades ago, when protesting against fox-hunting, would do something similar to disrupt the hunt – not with dead cats I should add. The article also suggested that if no dead cats were available a red herring would do just as well. Herrings turn red during the curing process and give off an absolutely awful smell.
What’s all this got to do with Christianity?
A lot of theological perspectives and doctrines are a lot like red herrings and I suspect a good number of them would not pass the infamous ‘pub test’. Actually, that would make for an interesting piece of research. I suspect hardly any would survive that test, except perhaps that Jesus was a courageous man of faith who died for the sake of justice. I reckon that one might just get through.