This is a collection of David Marr’s Sydney Morning Herald essays from 1999, extended and revised into a collection that critiques fundamentalist Christianity and its attitudes towards sex, censorship, drugs and pleasure more generally.
It’s vintage Marr- witty, brittle, bitter and bombastic. He certainly doesn’t hold back at all on his dislike for John Howard, George Pell, Peter Jensen and the Sydney religious elite.
Of course, a book of “current” essays from 1999 becomes dated, and yet many things remain the same. Howard may be gone, but the religious influence is still with us- unchanged in the case of Jensen and Pell; dominant still with Rudd but somehow, I sense, taking a slightly different direction. I haven’t read Marr’s latest book on the Hensen controversy, but I suspect that it takes up where this book left off.
So, I was interested in Juliette Hughes’ review of David Marr’s new book The Henson Case. She writes, in an observation that is equally applicable to The High Price of Heaven:
Marr is as ever a pleasure to read even when you largely disagree with him about the subject, as I do. But it’s difficult when you disagree with much of the other side, too. The trouble is that most people are well meaning and the subject is incendiary. You’re either a pedophile voyeur or a prudish ignoramus; nothing in between…Marr’s fervid advocacy admits of no equivocation; this discussion begins mezzo-forte, crescendoing rapidly to fortissimo and stays there, attacking predictable targets, the dullard Christian right, the unspeakable Sydney shock jocks
Much of Juliette Hughes’ review resonated with my own uneasiness about the Henson controversy. I was surprised that so many people so quickly adopted such clear-cut and definitive opinions. Almost a year on, I’m still undecided- and think that I may remain this way- about the photographs, the dividing line between art and exploitation, and the contract (if any) between the creator and the beholder.