31 December 2006

Bush beats Osama & Saddam as villain of the year

Americans think their President George W. Bush is more of a villain than Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden, according to a recent poll.
Bush won the villain sweepstakes by a landslide, with one in four respondents putting him at the top of that bad-guy list. When people were asked to name the candidate for villain that first came to mind, Bush far outdistanced even Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader in hiding; and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who is scheduled for execution.

The president was picked as hero of the year by a much smaller margin. In the poll, 13 percent named him as their favorite while 6 percent cited the troops in Iraq.
I wonder if they'll hang him.

30 December 2006

Hanging Saddam Hussein and loving enemies

Hanging Saddam Hussein will do as much for Iraq as hanging P.W. Botha would have done for South Africa -- see my earlier post: Notes from underground: What to do with old dictators.

Pastor Phil Wyman makes some interesting points on treating people as enemies in his blog Square No More: Those Who Pray Together Slay Together.

In the recent obituaries on Gerald Ford, the former US president, it seems that for many the biggest mistake he made was pardoning Richard Nixon.

St Paul warns us (in Eph 6:10-12) that our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against principalities and powers, against spiritual forces of wickedness. Hanging oppressors does not get rid of oppression. Yet we persist in thinking that we are fighting against flesh and blood, and so the cycle of vengeance continues.

It appears the US president George Bush wants Saddam Hussein to hang -- but if Bush is ever brought to trial for his war crimes, will there be any to plead for him to be pardoned?

I have heard that at the war crimes trials of Nazi leaders at Nuremburg one of the difficulties faced by the court was convincing the accused that they were not on trial for losing the war, but for starting it. That Bush would lose the war in Iraq was a foregone conclusion; his crime was starting it in the first place.

PW Botha, so far as I know, went to his death unrepentant. Would hanging him have made things better? Did Jesus make loving enemies conditional on their repentance? It seems to me that in demanding vengeance we demonstrate that we have been infected by the same virus as those we seek to kill. Killing people does not kill the virus, it just causes it to seek a new host. And the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenlies behave very much like viruses in that respect -- C.S. Lewis called them "macrobes" rather than "microbes".

People with secular values find this difficult to understand. They believe it is letting people off the hook, denying responsibility, and letting them get away with it using the excuse "The devil made me do it." But for Christians that excuse doesn't wash. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." That is the real spiritual warfare -- resisting the devil when he tempts us, and especially when he tempts us with the relatively undemanding exercise of confessing other people's sins and ignoring our own.

29 December 2006

Gnosticism, neognosticism and Orthodoxy

A couple of days ago I caught glimpses of a TV programme on Leonardo da Vinci. It had to do with a picture of two babies kissing, and whether it was by him, and if so, whether it showed that he was influenced by Gnosticism. I didn't follow the arguments closely as I was doing something else at the time, but it reminded me that there seems to be a growing interest in gnosticism in the media, and I got the impression that the people who made that TV programme thought that gnosticism was cool, and wouldn't it be cool if it could be shown that Leonardo da Vinci was influenced by gnosticism.

Now I'm no fundi on gnosticism, and I'm not particularly interested in it, but I do find it interesting that there seems to be a social tendency, at least in the West, towards a greater interest in gnosticism.

Some 45 years ago I wrote to my cousin and quoted something from the Nag Hammadi documents, which recorded as a saying of Jesus, "Lift the stone and thou shalt find me; cleave the wood and I am there." My cousin, who was going through a rather puritanical Baptist phase, wrote back asking if those were gnostic documents, and implying that if they were, there could be nothing good about the saying. There seemed to be a great prejudice against anything that might possibly be tainted by gnosticism.

Now the prejudice seems to be the other way. If it's gnostic, it must be good. Leonardo da Vinci was a great genius, but if he was a gnostic, his genius must be greater still.

As I said, I make no claim to be a fundi on gnosticism, so I defer to the opinion of one who is an acknowledged expert, Elaine Pagels. And I think she got it right in her description of the difference between gnosticism and Orthodox Christianity, and why Orthodox Christianity rejected gnosticism:
Orthodox Christians were concerned - far more than gnostics - with their relationships with other people. If gnostics insisted that humanity's original experience of evil involved internal emotional distress, the orthodox dissented. Recalling the story of Adam and Eve, they explained that humanity discovered evil in human violation of the natural order, itself essentially "good." The orthodox interpreted evil (kakia) primarily in terms of violence against others (thus giving the moral connotation of the term). They revised the Mosaic code, which prohibits physical violation of others - murder, stealing, adultery - in terms of Jesus' prohibitions against even mental and emotional violence - anger, lust, hatred.

Agreeing that human suffering derives from human guilt, orthodox Christians affirmed the natural order. Earth's plains, deserts, seas, mountains, stars and trees form an appropriate home for humanity. As part of that "good" creation, the orthodox recognised the processes of human biology: they tended to trust and affirm sexuality (at least in marriage), procreation and human development. The orthodox Christian saw Christ not as one who leads souls out of this world into enlightenment, but as "fullness of God" come down into human experience - into bodily experience - to sacralize it (Pagels 1981:174).
Now, on the fifth day of Christmas, one tends to think of the relationship between God and the material world, and that God so loved the material world as to take human flesh and enter it as a man. This is a stumbling block to Jews, folly to the Greeks and blasphemy to Muslims. But it's what Christians believe.

Pagels did not get everything right in her book. She had some strange ideas about some of the details, such as Orthodox Christian views of St Mary Magdalene (one of the Myrrh-bearing women and Equal-to-the-Apostles, according to the Orthodox). But she got the big picture right on the difference between Orthodoxy and Gnosticism.

Orthodox Christianity, unlike gnosticism, is characterised by ubuntu, humanity.

Christ is born -- glorify Him!
Christ is in our midst -- He is and always shall be.

28 December 2006

Gerald Ford, the unelected US president

Hearing all the eulogies for Gerald Ford, the only unelected president of the USA, reminds me of what G.K. Chesterton said:
Much vague and sentimental journalism has been poured out to the effect that Christianity is akin to democracy, and most of it is scarcely strong or clear enough to refute the fact that the two things have often quarrelled. The real ground upon which Christianity and democracy are one is very much deeper. The one specially and peculiarly un-Christian idea is the idea of Carlyle--the idea that the man should rule who feels that he can rule. Whatever else is Christian, this is heathen.

If our faith comments on government at all, its comment must be this -- that the man should rule who does NOT think that he can rule. Carlyle's hero may say, "I will be king"; but the Christian saint must say "Nolo episcopari." If the great paradox of Christianity means anything, it means this -- that we must take the crown in our hands, and go hunting in dry places and dark corners of the earth until we find the one man who feels himself unfit to wear it. Carlyle was quite wrong; we have not got to crown the exceptional man who knows he can rule. Rather we must crown the much more exceptional man who knows he can't.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of democracy is elections. because all the wrong people put themselves forward for election. Maybe what we need is for the leaders of a country to be chosen by lot. Let parliament be drafted by ballot. They would be just as representative of the country as elected politicans, and they would be replaced when their term of office ends, so they wouldn't be around long enough to establish a bribe-taking system. If Gerald Ford was as good as they are now saying, this would probably be a better system.

25 December 2006

Telling it like it is

Christians suffer for the Iraq policies of the US and UK governments, says the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Christians in the Middle East are being put at unprecedented risk by the Government’s “shortsighted” and “ignorant” policy in Iraq, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, says today.

In an extraordinary attack, Dr Williams accuses Tony Blair and the US of endangering the lives and futures of many thousands of Christians in the Middle East, who are regarded by their countrymen as supporters of the “crusading West.”

He has been backed by bishops across the Church of England, who say that Christians in the Middle East are now paying the price for the “chaos” in Iraq after the British Government failed to heed their warnings about the consequences of military action.

Well good for him, for them. The Anglican moral compass seemed to have lost its bearings with all the wild gyrations about homosexuality, but it's encouraging to see some clear thought about Iraq, which, unlike homosexuality, is an issue of life and death.

Christmas customs and traditions

We've had a Canadian visitor coming to church with us the last week or so, and she has remarked on the differences between the way Christmas is celebrated in South Africa and Canada.

I've noticed some of the differences in blogs and newsgroups and such as well, and if anyone is interested in this, I've written more about it in my LiveJournal.

23 December 2006

Mission and culture

One of the things that shocked, or at least surprised me when I began to study missiology was how many missiologists were ignorant of history. They spoke of cross-cultural mission and inculturation and things like that, but in an ahistorical way.

I wrote an essay giving Boniface of Crediton as an example of Christian missionaries going to people of a similar culture to their own, and the lecturer, a well-known and widely respected missiologist, queried this, and was highly sceptical. The fact is, however, that within a generation or two of beoming Christian themselves, the English were sending missionaries to their still-pagan cousins back in Germany, where their own ancestors had come from. They were not going to people who spoke a foreign language, or people whose culture was totally different. The English had been Germans more recently than Americans have been English today.

21 December 2006

The sun is a very magic fellow

The sun is a very magic fellow
He shines on me each day

Since it's the summer solstice and the longest day (was last night or is tonight the shortest night?), and because I've been discussing the Tarot with various people recently, it seemed appropriate to post this:

You are The Sun

Happiness, Content, Joy.

The meanings for the Sun are fairly simple and consistent.

Young, healthy, new, fresh. The brain is working, things that were muddled come clear, everything falls into place, and everything seems to go your way.

The Sun is ruled by the Sun, of course. This is the light that comes after the long dark night, Apollo to the Moon's Diana. A positive card, it promises you your day in the sun. Glory, gain, triumph, pleasure, truth, success. As the moon symbolized inspiration from the unconscious, from dreams, this card symbolizes discoveries made fully consciousness and wide awake. You have an understanding and enjoyment of science and math, beautifully constructed music, carefully reasoned philosophy. It is a card of intellect, clarity of mind, and feelings of youthful energy.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

The Sun Tarot cardThe main problem with it, as I've said in other posts, is the awful choice of display images that go with it, not one of which is the authentic Tarot sun.

The version on the left is authentic, though I prefer the variant with the drops going the other way. The Moon sucks life from the earth, the sun showers blessings, and the naked or near-naked children are open to receiving them. There is a variant that has one child riding a pony and holding a banner.

One of the things that struck me when I first began learning Zulu was the number of words in the i(li)/ama class (gender) that had to do with the basic elemenal things -- ilanga sun, day; amalanga suns, days; Itshe a stone, and so on. Our life on earth is dependent on the sun, and it is basic to our existence.

And for Christians the solstice is followed shortly by the feast of the Nativity, when we sing:

Nativity of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus ChristThy Nativity, O Christ our God
has shone to the world the light of wisdom
For by it those who worshipped the stars
were taught by a star to adore Thee
The Sun of Righeousness
And to know Thee, the Orient from on high.
O Lord, glory to Thee.

19 December 2006

On Tarot Cards

Quite a lot of people have been blogging about Tarot cards recently, and there was a quiz on Which of the Greater Trumps are you?.

Some of the other blog posts that mention Tarot cards are Sally on "Why Tarot?", and Matt Stone on "Incarnating into occulture".

One thing that struck me about all of these was the horrible images in all of them. The "Which of the Greater Trumps are you?" quiz offered several styles of "Tarot" card to illustrate it, but not one of them was authentic. I chose the least repellant, but it still looks like an insipid Victorian "fairy at the bottom of the garden".

Matt Stone and Sally both used the Waite pack, which loses the original symbolism of the cards. I then did a Google image search for Tarot cards, and was amazed at the huge variety, but the impossibility of finding a single authentic image.

Or am I just being a modernist old curmudgeon or control freak, and not keeping up with the postmodern spirit of "one man, one Tarot", and even "one man, one religion"? Am I falling into the trap of saying "This must mean to you what it means to me?"

I first became interested in the Tarot by reading two novels: The sandcastle by Iris Murdoch, and The greater trumps by Charles Williams. Before reading The sandcastle I'd never heard of Tarot cards, so I went and bought a pack at the Mystic Bookshop in Johannesburg, which was a pretty esoteric place, and the only place one could get such things back then.

In The sandcastle the character who uses the Tarots gives them her own meanings, but I was impressed by the imagery of the cards themselves. They spoke of archetypal human experiences, the things that shape our lives. I then read Charles Williams's The greater trumps and he extended the meaning of the imagery further. I won't add spoilers here, but just recommend that people read it.

In trying to find what others made of the symbolism, I looked for books on the Tarot, and found that most of them were by cartomancers, and were banal and boring. The cartomancers' trade relied on human desires for health, wealth, popularity and success, and interpreted them in the light of that. They were no different from the advertising industry, reflecting the values of capitalist materialist society. I went back to Charles Williams for my understanding and interpretation.

Consider the greatest of the Greater Trumps, the Fool. Matt Stone uses the Waite pack, in which the symbolism of the original card is completely lost. I was going to say "original" symbolism, but then I'm not sure that anyone is qualified to say what the original symbolism was. So let me say what it signifies for me.

Waite's version of the card seems to depict a self-absorbed Victorian fop, careless rather than carefree. The fact that his pilgrim's staff has turned into a rose might lead us to think that he is a sort of hippie flower child. Perhaps that is what the hippie flower children, or some of them, eventually became, but that is a far cry from the original vision.

Unlike the original card, in Waite's card the fool's journey has no purpose, no destination. He is careless of where he is going, because he is so self-absorbed that his surroundings mean nothing to him. His journey is pointless, and the dog seems to be just as pointless.

In the original cards, however, the Fool is the "fool for Christ", the holy fool who has turned his back on the world, yet looks back inviting us to follow him, if we dare. He is being attacked by an animal, a dog perhaps, or a lynx, but it does not seem to be very much bothered by it. So those on the Christian pilgrimage may be attacked by the devil or his demons or the cares of the world, but are not much bothered by them. The response of the Fool is dispassion rather than unawareness.

He is following a road that few choose. His dress suggests a court jester, but also a pilgrim. He is a silly fool, and the English word "silly" is derived from the Greek sali, blessed, and which is also the Greek term for the saints who are holy fools, the yurodivi. And "blessed" suggests the Beatitudes, where the blessings experienced by the saints are so different from the blessings sought by the world that to the world they seem like curses rather than blessings. Little or nothing of this is suggested by the Waite image.

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16 December 2006

Rulers and authorities, territorial spirits, spiritual warfare

Phil Wyman has blogged quite a bit about spiritual warfare and territorial spirits recently here, and here and here.

I think this might be a good topic to discuss in the Christianity and society discussion forum, and I hope that Phil might write a kick-off article there, but I thought I'd put down some more personal thoughts here.

For me I suppose it started at a Biblical Studies lecture at university, when the lecturer talked about the "principalities and powers" of Ephesians 6 as if they were spiritual forces. I had assumed that "principalities" referred to places like Monaco, and "powers" referred to states like the USA, the USSR and so on. They were called "world powers" in newspapers, and the New Testament Greek kosmokratores seemed to be an exact equivalent. The lecturer exposed the limitations of my view by pointing out that St Paul had said that these powers were "in the heavenlies" and were not just earthly powers. He referred me to a book by G.B. Caird, Principalities and powers, which, he said, would explain all this.

I read Caird's book, and a couple of others on the topic, which dealt with the connection between Ephesians 6:10-12 and Romans 13:1-2, and began to look at other uses of the words archontes (rulers) and exousia (authority) in the Bible. This led to the Dionysian Nine, and a whole lot of things suddenly fell into place, including Charles Williams's novel The place of the lion, which I re-read with new eyes.

It also made sense of things like the Roman religion of emperor worship, and why Christian opposed the emperor cult, which was based on the idea that behind human authority was a spiritual authority, which could be recognised by its symbols, for our conflict is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies. A flesh and blood traffic cop who steps into a fast-moving stream of traffic wearing his pyjamas is likely to be ignored or run over. In his uniform, it is a different matter. It is not his flesh and blood that stops the traffic, but his authority. If he tried to stop a 26-wheeler with his flesh and blood, the result would be painful to behold. And the emperor cult did not involve worship of the flesh and blood emperor, but his genius, his authority. A couple of emperors did think they were divine in their flesh and blood, and most of their contemporaries recognised that they were nuts.

Passages like Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and Psalm 82 (LXX 81) suddenly made more sense in the light of this. There are such things as national spirits, and it is possible for a country to become demonised. The political struggle against apartheid was more than just a struggle against flesh and blood rulers. If the struggle were just against a Verwoerd, a Vorster or a Botha, then it should be possible to solve the problem by assassination - tyrannicide. But our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, the authorities...

Paolo Freire, the Brazilian educationist, put a new slant on this in his somewhat turgid book Pedagogy of the oppressed, when he said that oppression makes the oppressed feel less than human, and to the oppressed the oppressor seems more fully human. So the oppressed tends to internalise the spirit of the oppressor. When the oppressed overthrow the oppressors, they tend to become oppressors in turn. What needs to be overthrown is not so much the oppressor as oppression itself.

We saw a paradigm case of this in South Africa in 1976. Seventy years before, after the Anglo-Boer War, Alfred Lord Milner, the instigator of the war, tried to Anglicise the Afrikaners by forcing them to learn through the medium of English. Seventy years later Andries Treurnicht and Ferdi Hartzenberg tried to force black school kids to learn though the medium of Afrikaans. They had internalised the spirit of their ancestral oppressor, Milner. And the result was the Soweto riots, and the massacre of school kids.

What was needed was not so much the overthrow of the flesh and blood oppressors, as the exorcism of oppression. And that, of course, begins with me. It is not just Hartzenberg and Treurnicht who have internalised the spirit of the oppressor, but I have too. That is where the theological concept of nepsis (watchfulness) comes in. Spiritual warfare fought without nepsis and apatheia (dispassion) is apt to lead to prelest (spiritual delusion).

I wasn't much interested in exorcism of places until there were police riots in the Anglican Cathedral in Cape Town: police chased demonstrating students into the cathedral and beat them up inside. I asked the publications department of the Anglican Church if they had an exorcism service, and they sent me their entire stock, saying there had never been any demand for it. But I was disappointed to see that that service was only for the exorcism of persons, not places. I thought that after the police riots a public exorcism of the Cathedral would have been a good thing.

Are there territorial spirits? Is there a need for exorcism of places? I believe that there certainly has been a need for the exorcism of the White House and the Pentagon since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. There seems to have been no earthly reason for it, only an infernal one. And perhaps going back even further, to the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.

Going back further still, the break-up of Yugoslavia, and the wars of the Yugoslav succession, seemed to turn formerly good neighbours into demonised furies from hell.

This post is a bit scrappy and disconnected. It probably needs to be a lot longer to join the dots, but perhaps the last word can be given to G.B. Caird, from his Commentary on the Revelation of St John the Divine (Caird 1966:163-164), when writing about the beast from the abyss in Revelation 12:
But it must not be thought that John is writing off all civil government as an invention of the Devil. Whatever Satan may claim, the truth is that 'the Most High controls the sovereignty of the world and gives it to whom he wills' (Dan iv. 17). In the war between God and Satan, between good and evil, the state is one of the defences established by God to contain the powers of evil within bounds, part of the order which God the Creator had established in the midst of chaos (cf. Rom xiii. 1-7). But when men worship the state, according to it the absolute loyalty and obedience that are due not to Caesar but to God, then the state goes over to the Enemy. What Satan calls from the abyss is not government, but that abuse of government, the omnicompetent state. It is thus misleading to say that the monster is Rome, for it is both more and less: more, because Rome is only its latest embodiment; and less, because Rome is also, even among all the corruptions of idolatry, 'God's agent of punishment, for retribution on the offender' (Rom. 13. iv) .

13 December 2006

Syncretism in Western Christianity

On 14 December 2006 a number of Christian bloggers have agreed to post something about syncretism and Western Christianity. Here are links to those who have agreed to do so.

My own contribution is based on an article I wrote a few years ago, Deconstructing Sundkler: Bethesda AICs and syncretism.

Bengt Sundkler, the Swedish missiologist, was an expert on African independent churches, but in the very act of accusing the Zionists of being unbiblical and syncretist, he betrayed his own syncretism. Instead of using the Bible to demonstrate his contention that the Zionists were unbiblical, Sundkler used Western Enlightenment rationalism and Freud.

Hymn parodies

PamBG's Blog: Very Entertaining has links to some amusing hymn parodies, including this one:

Let us, with an open mind,
Put the formal Church behind:
Sea of Faith, O let us sing,
For we don't believe a thing!

Cupitt's books we try to read,
But our minds he doth exceed:
Sea of Faith, O let us sing,
For we don't believe a thing!

But my favourite dates back to the Cold War days, and came from a book called Quake, quake, quake; I can't remember the author.

The day God gave Thee, Man, is ending
the darkness falls at thy behest
who spent thy little life defending
from conquest by the East, the West.

The sun that bids us live is waking
behind the cloud that bids us die,
and in the murk fresh minds are making'
new plans to blow us all sky-high.

Blog celebrity?

C-List Blogger It seems that my Notes from underground blog makes the C list in authority, based on links from other blogs.

D-List Blogger But my LiveJournal only makes the D list, which is the lowest, and only a few other people link to it.

Of course this whole thing is just a ploy to get more links to the blog that does these things, and thus push up its popularity :-)

12 December 2006

Synchronising a blog on syncretism

There has been a suggestion for synchronising a blog on syncretism, initially in American culture, but perhaps on Western culture generally. You can also find more information about the proposal here.

It seems as though it could be an interesting exercise, though there's not much time left.

For what it's worth, I've written an article that deals with the topic to some extent: Sundkler deconstructed: Bethesda AICs and syncretism. I'm not sure how relevant that is, but it could be wroth discussing.

What's happening to the Anglicans?

It seems as though racist imperialist Brit Anglicans and sexual-orientationist Tanzanian Anglicans are going at each other like Kilkenny cats.

Of course, I could be wrong...: Where is Tanzania?
Is it that island off the bottom of Australia?

It's really rather sad.

11 December 2006

Orthodox youth conference and monastic tonsure

The weekend of 7-10 December was a historic occasion for Orthodoxy in Southern Africa, with the first diocesan youth conference for the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria, and the first monastic tonsuring of a South African monk to take place in South Africa, when the novice Brother Matthew was tonsured as the Monk Seraphim, and was ordained deacon.

Full report, with pictures, at:


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The newly-tonsured Hierodeacon Seraphim with His Beatitude Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa

04 December 2006

Orthodoxy and premodern and postmodern thinking

Bishop Seraphim Sigrist recently posted some notes for a paper he read on Christianity and Society in the Christianity and Society discussion forum, and has now posted a report on the retreat where he read the paper. The retreat was held at a Coptic centre, and his report is illustrated with some Coptic ikons of the desert saints and led to some interesting discussion in which Bishop Seraphim referred to a piece written by William Dalrymple on the role of miracles among Coptic Christians, and especially among the monks of the desert today.

I think this piece by Dalrymple is from his book From the Holy Mountain, in which he compares Near and Middle Eastern Christianity today with what it was like shortly before the Muslim conquest in the 7th century.

What it brings out most clearly are some of the characteristics of the premodern worldview. Compared with Western Christianity Orthodoxy is generally premodern, but in Coptic monks this can be seen in a particularly pure form.

What is interesting is to compare this approach to miracles to that of Western Fundamentalism, because the latter is clearly imbued with moderniity, and even modernism. The Western Fundamentalist approach to miracles seems to be that miracles are important because they are thought to prove some doctrinal or ideological point. Miracles have been taken up into a system of rational argumentation, and this approach is characteristic of the modern worldview. Read almost any theological discussion in Usenet newsgroups, for example alt.religion.christian and you will see that even when Christian fundamentalists are arguing with atheists, both presuppose the same modernist worldview.

I became acutely aware of this in discussions with some Calvinistic Baptists in Durban some thirty years ago. It was apparent that to them the resurrection of Christ was an important "fact", because it was in the Bible. But it did not seem to be a significant fact. It was merely a kind of adjunct to the importance of the Bible and so another matter for rational argument and prooftexting. If one said to them "Christ is risen and the angels rejoice, Christ is risen and Hell was angered for it was mocked" they saw no cause for rejoicing but went scurrying to find proof texts to show that such rejoicing was unseemly and that it wasn't so.

Compare this view with that of the Coptic monks, for whom rational argument occupies a much lower place in the scale of priorities. Miracles are not there to "prove" anything about anything, they are just there to enjoy the commuinion of saints and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

03 December 2006

Ecumenical encounters

For those interested in the recent meetings of the Roman Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch, this web site is giving a running commentary.

02 December 2006

I feel, I feel, I feel like a morning star

A friend over on LiveJournal writes
I just spent a little time on the We Feel Fine page. Someone (or more likely a group of someones) is studying the "feelings" of people who write blogs by scanning LiveJournal, MySpace and Blogger every ten minutes for "I feel" or "feeling," then producing the results. You can search by country, city, gender, date, and you can also find some of their conclusions, like "angriest cities." Try the "murmer" display, for little snippets that appear on the screen: "I feel like a slug, but at least I got some good thinking done" "I feel like noone reads this." It is a little addictive, but it's also a touch sad, I find - I'm not sure why. Little whisps of anonymous feelings drifting across the screen.

What can one say? It took me back 25 years to our church youth group in Melmoth, Zululand, with Sister Charity, CHN, teaching the kids a song:

Shoo, fly, don't bother me
I belong to somebody

I feel, I feel, i feel like a morning star.

29 November 2006

Interfaith environmental conference

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I've spent the last couple of days at a meeting of the management board of SAFCEI -- the South African Faith Communities Environmental Institute. Our Archbishop Seraphim (seen here with Anglican Bishop Geoff Davies, the Executive Director of the Institute) has been a member of the SAFCEI board since its inception, and invited the board to meet at St Cosmas and St Damian Orthodox Church in Sophiatown, Johannesburg.

You can read more about what happened at the conference itself in my LiveJournal.

But one of the things that became clear at the conference was the eagerness with which Canadians were destroying the environment. There are plenty of countries that have been pointed out as villains in the world, but Canada has not usually been among them. But the evidence has started piling up.

I had known for some time that Canadians seemed to have some strange ideas. They have had trolley buses in western towns like Vancouver, and that seems to be a good environment-friendly means of public transport, running it on locally-generated renewable hydro-electric power. But now they seem to want to run their buses on diesel fuel -- a non-renewable fossil fuel, most likely imported from the Middle East.

That's just odd, and anyway I'm prejudiced in favour of trolley buses.

But now, it appears, the Canadians are intending to bring aluminium ore here to South Africa, and refine it here using heavily-subsidised electricity generated in coal-fired plants, and export the ingots. So our electricity bills are inflated to make Canadian companies rich, our cities have to endure acid rain to make Canadian companies rich, and our non-renewable fossil fuels are being depleted to make Canadian companies rich.

And Canada is, apparently, one of the biggest pushers of genetically-modified foods.

That makes Canada a bigger threat to our life-support system than Al-Quaeda. Bush and Blair, move aside. Your villany has been superseded.

Now I'll have to Google to find out who the Prime Minister of Canada is.

27 November 2006

Running out of bandwidth

For the last couple of days we have had no internet access, because we have used up our 2 Gig limit.

This means that we cannot use e-mail or any other services for one week out of four, and so if anyone wonders why we haven't responded to e-mails etc, that is why.

There seems to be an idea the "broadband" means unlimited access, and so people scoff at complaints about sending e-mails with HTML codes that take up ten times the space of the message text, and things like that. I've never looked at YouTube videos that people put in ther blogs, or refer to in e-mails, and newsgroup postings, and we still run out of bandwidth.

Of course part of it is spam, but the fact is that bandwidth is not unlimited, even in these days of high-speed connections.

23 November 2006

HIV, Aids etc

Yesterday I went to a day-long seminar on HIV and Aids.

It was organised by the HIV Clinicians Society, and it was intended for HIV clinicans and religious leaders, and there were a couple of hundred people there. I won't try to summarise the proceedings, but a few points might be worth mentioning.

The first speaker was Clem Sunter, who is a motivational goal-setting bloke, and had just returned from helping the Chinese to beef up their economy. So he was dealing with the question of why it was necessary to have such a seminar. One of the questions he asks in these exercises is "What has changed in the last 5-10 years, and what hasn't changed?" And in this case he noted the following:

  • People are dying. The death rate, especially among people aged 25-35, has risen dramatically.
  • More people are infected
  • There are more players in the game, including the government
  • There have been advances in drugs, including triple-drug therapy
  • There is little change in prevention

Professor Des Martin spoke on transmission and testing, from the clinical point of view -- what is known about how HIV is transmitted, the progression of the disease, and advances in testing. Professor Rachel Jewkes spoke on transmission from an epidemiological point of view. Zackie Achmat, the flamboyant Aids activist, gave another motivational presentation from a somewhat different point of view. And so it went.

Speaking for myself, I found it useful to catch up. Some things had not changed -- there seems to be little known about transmission that was not known 5-10 years ago. What has changed quite dramatically is methods of treatment. Dr Leon Levin, a paediatrician, spoke on treatment of children with HIV/Aids. Most of the children with HIV infection would die in 4-8 years if untreated. Many people asked if there was therefore any point in treating such children, if they were going to die anyway. He said that in his clinical practice he had seen dramatic improvement in the health and quality of life of children after treatment.

All the medical speakers emphasised this point. There is no cure for Aids, just as there is no cure for diabetes, or high blood pressure or heart disease. Those who have the disease will have to continue treatment for life. If they stop their medication, the disease will return, and they will die. But the record of treatment for HIV/Aids is much better than that for other chronic diseases. It is more effective than the drugs used for treating heart disease, blood pressure etc.

I found the most useful part of the seminar the factual and scientific information given. When it got on to the role of religious groups, it tended to get fuzzy. Trying to say things that are acceptable or applicable or all religious groups tends to make those things vague and ineffectual. It might be better to disseminate the facts, and then let each religious group to work out for itself how it will interpret and apply the facts.

But there are some questions that one can ask about Aids and its social impact.

One was highlighted the very next day, when there was a news report about a doctor who was facing disciplinary action from a medical body for listing Aids as a cause of death on a death certificate, on the grounds that this was an invasion of the privacy of the patients, and threatened the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship.

That seems a strange kind of reasoning, as surely the same would apply to any other cause of death. If it is such a threat to privacy and patient confidentiality, then surely no causes of death should be recorded on any death certificates at all.

There are several good reasons for recording the cause of death on death certificates: to see if death was caused by foul play, to see what is statistically responsible for most deaths, which can guide efforts aimed at prevention or cure -- should we concentrate our efforts on reducing deaths from road accidents, or snake bites, for example. Which kills more people -- shark bites or mosquito bites?

The other thing is that at this Aids seminar, and in many other similar seminars, people have urged that the stigma must be removed from Aids. But surely keeping it off death certificates is one thing that perpetuates the stigma. When medical people speak with two voices, one urging the removal of the stigma, and the other urging its retention, to the extent of prosecuting those who list it as a cause of death, there will never be concerted action against this epidemic.

22 November 2006

Vomit and other interesting things

At the beginning of the year I wrote Notes from underground: Vomit and other interesting things and at the end of that post wrote
If anyone reads this blog because they did a search through blog search engines for references to vomit, I hope you'll let me know. Otherwise it might lie in decent obscurity for the next 35 years like my last reference to vomit.

Yesterday someone apparently found it by searching for "Vomit on the underground", but didn't tell me. I found out anyway.

That's blogging for you.

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20 November 2006

Iraq: the new Thirty Years War

War could last 30 years:
New report calls for complete rethink on Iraq

The recent political changes in Washington may make very little difference to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is every prospect of the 'war on terror' extending for 30 years or more.

This is the stark conclusion of the 2006 International Security Report, Into the Long War, launched today by Oxford Research Group (ORG), one of the UK's leading global security think tanks, and published by Pluto Press.

The report, written by ORG's global security consultant, Professor Paul Rogers, analyses events over the last year in Iraq and the wider Middle East and points to the transformation of the war on terror into what the Bush Administration now calls the "Long War".

The dilemma facing the United States now is that if it withdraws from Iraq, jihadists groups may be able to operate without restraint in the heart of the world's most important oil-bearing region.

If it stays, though, then US soldiers become an increasing magnet for radical factions, with Iraq becoming a training ground for new generations of paramilitaries, just as Afghanistan was in the 1980s against the Soviet occupying forces.

The fundamental mistake was to terminate the Saddam Hussein regime by force, since this provided a "gift" to al-Qaida and other radical groups by inserting 150,000 American troops into the heart of the Arab world as what is seen across the region as an occupying force.

Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan itself is now into its sixth year with a marked increase in Taliban activity at a time of record revenues from opium production. As well as NATO's forces, the United States has committed 20,000 troops to the country in a largely unreported
counter-insurgency operation that shows no sign of ending.

In spite of all of these problems, though, the hard-hitting report concludes that:

"There still lies the enduring importance of the Persian Gulf oil reserves, with both the United States and China increasingly relying on the region, which means that it would be entirely unacceptable for the United States to consider withdrawal from Iraq, no matter how insecure
the environment." pp.135-36

What is required is a complete re-assessment of current policies but that is highly unlikely, even with the recent political upheavals.

This is because, although the Democrats now control both houses of Congress, there is virtually no commitment to a full withdrawal from Iraq. Instead there are various moves to modify policy, including the option of withdrawing from the cities to a few major bases, but none
amounts to a really substantial change.

Commenting on those changes needed, Professor Rogers said

"Most people believe that the recent elections mark the beginning of the end of the Bush era but that does not apply to the war on terror.

In reality there will be little change until the United States faces up to the need for a fundamental re-think of its policies.

So far, even with the election results, there is no real sign of that."

ORG's Executive Director, Dr. John Sloboda, added:

"There is a growing consensus among those who have actually seen service in Iraq that the coalition presence is inflaming the problem, rather than being part of the solution.

Our June 2006 submission to the Iraq Study Group urged that 'the coalition should find no dishonour in recognising that most Iraqis want an end to occupation and a fresh framework could support them better in future'.

The carnage of the last six months has eroded any lingering doubt that the coalition must leave, and leave soon."

Notes to editors

1) Paul Rogers writes the International Security Monthly Briefings for the ORG website. Each year ORG compiles the briefings from the previous 12 months, together with new analysis, into an annual International Security Report. The latest of these, Into the Long War, will be published by Pluto Press on 20 November 2006. In this, Professor Rogers examines events in Iraq since May 2005 and assesses how they impact on other countries including Afghanistan, Iran and the wider Middle East.

The report charts a tumultuous period in the conflict, including a wider international perspective on the terrorist attacks in London and Sharm al Sheik, and an assessment of how US public opinion has changed as the war drags on.

2) Press copies of the report are available in hard copy only from Chris Abbott at Oxford Research Group. Please email chris.abbott@oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk or call +44 (0)20 7549 0298 to request a copy. Unfortunately, no electronic version is available.

3) The report's author, Paul Rogers, is available for interview and comment. Please email paul.rogers@oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk or call +44 (0)7867 982 061. ORG's Executive Director, John Sloboda, is also available for interview. Please email john.sloboda@oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk or call +44 (0)7787 975 689.

4) Paul Rogers is Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, and Global Security Consultant to Oxford Research Group. Professor Rogers has worked in the field of international security, arms control and political violence for over 30 years. He lectures at universities and defence colleges in several countries, and has written over 20 books. He is also a regular commentator on global security issues in the both the national and international media.

5) Oxford Research Group (ORG) is an independent British think tank which seeks to bring about positive change on issues of national and international security. Established in 1982, it is now considered to be one of the UK's leading global security think tanks. ORG is a registered
charity and uses a combination of innovative publications, expert roundtables, residential consultations, and engagement with opinion-formers and government, to develop and promote sustainable global security strategies. In 2003, Oxford Research Group was awarded
the Niwano Peace Prize, and in April 2005 The Independent newspaper named ORG as one of the top twenty think tanks in the UK.


19 November 2006

Saints Barlaam and Joasaph

Today is the day of Saints Barlaam and Joasaph (in the Gregorian calendar).

As with many Christian saints, stories and legends about other people got attached to them, so that it is sometimes difficult to see what is historical in their lives, and what are transferred legends.

Saints Barlaam and Joasaph are interesting in this regard because their story has many features of the life of the Buddha, so that some have said that this is simply a Christianised version of the story of Siddartha Gautama -- the prince who left a life of luxury to seek enlightenment.

Comments, anyone?

17 November 2006

US Evangelicals on Kosovo

Any Orthodox comments on this:


(Sorry, the Blog this feature in Blogger Beta is broken - All the features of Blogger are now availabile in Beta -- what they don't tell you before you switch is that they don't work)

13 November 2006

On relativism and fundamentalism

Peter Berger has some interesting comments on relativism and fundamentalism and the way they interact in modern (and perhaps postmodern) culture.

There are some fields of study, and missiology is one of them, in which one becomes aware of how much our worldview is culturally conditioned. In electronic discussion forums, especially international ones, one also becomes aware of how different people's perceptions are, when they come from different cultures.

"Fundamentalists", in Berger's sense, appear to be those who reject relativism, and believe that the values and worldview of their culture are universal and equally applicable to all people everywhere.

I find this difficult, because it makes any kind of communication between different cultures and worldviews impossible. So I sometimes find the phenomenologists' "bracketing" can be useful -- when examining a particular phenomenon or culture or worldview -- accept it as valid in its own terms in order to try to understand it.

Another way of deescribing the "relativist" and "fundamentalist" views that Berger describes is as "subjective" and "objective". For relativists, all truth is subjective. The existentialist philosopher Kierkegaard coined the slogan that subjectivivity is truth. For fundamentalists (with a small "f"), truth is objective. They believe that there is objective truth out there, that it can be known, and they know it.

The trouble is that when one tries to look at things objectively, one sees that fundamentalists are actually very subjective, and fail to realise that objectivity is an unattainable ideal.

For myself, I believe that there is objective truth out there, and that it can be known, but it is primarily known subjectively. So I suppose that makes me a relativist fundamentalist, but not a fundamentalist relativist. Fundamentalist relativists believe that everything is relative and that there are no absolute truths, except one: the propoistion that everything is relative is absolute truth, and may not be questioned.

11 November 2006

Blogger Beta - yeccccch!

I finally succumbed to all the blandishments to switch to the "new and improved" Blogger Beta, and now I am being urged to try all the new features.

But I've just spent an hour or more trying to get some of the old features to work.

One of the reasons I created an account with Blogger was the "Blog this" feature, making it easy to create links to other blogs, or other posts that I wanted to remember.

But now every time I try to use it I am asked to log in (when I'm already logged in), and then when I do try to log in, I'm told that my account (theat I'm logged in to) does not exist.

If any Blogger users read this, please tell me if you have found a way to make this work.

10 November 2006

American elections

In reply to a comment on the US Congressional elections by golodhwgwath over on LiveJournal someone (non-American) commented that they now hoped that the US Congress would now tell the President that they money he wanted to spwnd on wars and bombs they were going to spend on hospitals and education.

My reply was:

Seconded, from another non-American.

One of the things I find quite bewildering, reading stuff on the net, is the number of Americans who claim to be Christians, and yet are prepared to argue vehemently, and indeed self-righteously, about how positively immoral it is to spend money on healing the sick, and yet believe it is quite moral to spend that money on fragmentation bombs to shred little children to pieces.

And they urge their fellow Christians, as Christians to vote for politicians who promise to do those things.

It's a strange, strange world we live in, Master Jack!

This is a reply to a post in LiveJournal.

I tried to reply in the LiveJournal comments, but kept getting this message:

Gateway Timeout
The following error occurred:

[code=GATEWAY_TIMEOUT] A gateway timeout occurred. The server is unreachable. Retry the request.
Please contact the administrator.

Notes from underground: A Youth of the Apocalypse

Several months ago I wrote about the Death to the world e-zine here Notes from underground: A Youth of the Apocalypse

Now someone has given me a new link where you can find Death to the World: the last true rebellion on line.

Since I wrote the original, there have also been some new developments in South African monasticism.

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09 November 2006

Warmongers - Bush & Rumsfeld

It looks as though the Democratic Party in the USA has taken control of congress -- but will they be able to restrain the lunatic in the White House?

It is good to see that the warmonger second-in-command, Rumsfeld, has resigned. But the warmonger-in-chief is still there, so he may yet decide to bomb Iran.

A Republican-controlled congress was either unable or unwilling to stop Bill Clinton from bombing Yugoslavia, so we're not out of the woods yet.

07 November 2006

Liberty Scott: Cheering the death of a dictator

I thought this was worth blogging as one of the most succinct and accurate summaries of the political legacy of the late PW Botha: Liberty Scott: Cheering the death of a dictator

06 November 2006

What to do with old dictators

Saddam Hussein is sentenced to death while PW Botha is offered a state funeral and flags fly at half-mast.

Is that the difference between Muslim values and Christian values, or what?

In South Africa there is much talk of the need for moral regeneration, and every now and then there are reports in the media about religious leaders and political leaders, and even sometimes business leaders deploring the "culture of violence" and calling for the teaching of values.

There is a problem in teaching values, say, in schools in a multicultural society, where some are quick to complain about other peoples' values being forced down their throats. But it is at times like this that one realises that ubuntu is alive and well, and that one of the core Christian values of love of enemies come to the fore, and that projects to promote values, like Heartlines, are not just whistling in the dark.

PW Botha was not in the first rank of dictators of the 20th century. He was not up there with Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. He belonged a bit lower down the list, along with Pinochet of Chile, Franco of Spain, Mussolini of Italy, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and a few others. Unlike many, he did not create the evil system he presided over, he inherited it from his predecessors, and his contribution was to prop it up and prolong it with ever more brutal repression of those who opposed it. There were signs, just before his fall from power, of his willingness to change, when he invited Nelson Mandela, the jailed leader of the opposition, to tea at Tuynhuis, his official residence. But, unlike Adriaan Vlok, his minister of police, he showed no indication of repentance or remorse.

Nevertheless, the South African government, including President Thabo Mbeki, showed the kind of magnanimity that indicates the enormous difference between the values of the new South Africa they are trying to create, and those of the old South Africa that PW Botha was trying to preserve. It's at times that these that I feel proud to be a South African.

And I wonder what would happen if these values had been (or were to be) applied in the former Yugoslavia, Sudan, Iraq, and Israel/Lebanon/Palestine instead of raining down bombs on people?

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04 November 2006

The Undercroft: Sailing to Byzantium?

Many Western Christians are unaware that Orthodox Christians approach Christian unity and ecumenism from a very different angle than most of Western Christendom, and when they do discover it, are often baffled and infuriated. The Undercroft: Sailing to Byzantium? puts a finger on some of the differences in approach, and expresses them very clearly.

Brits believe George Bush is a bigger threat to world peace than Kim Jong Il

Though the British government supported the US invasion of Iraq, the British public believe that that has made the world a more dangerous place, a recent poll shows.
It exposes high levels of distrust. In Britain, 69% of those questioned say they believe US policy has made the world less safe since 2001, with only 7% thinking action in Iraq and Afghanistan has increased global security.

The finding is mirrored in America's immediate northern and southern neighbours, Canada and Mexico, with 62% of Canadians and 57% of Mexicans saying the world has become more dangerous because of US policy.

The US public will presumably show their view when they go to the polls next week.

03 November 2006

National Novel Writing Month

I'll probably not be writing much original stuff here this month.

After challenging other Charles Williams fans to join National Novel Writin g Month and write a Charles Williams-type novel, I thought I'd better do myself what I was urging others to do.

So I'll probably mostly be blogging links to other blogs I find interesting.

The Gaelic Starover: Evangelicals for the Prince of Peace

The Gaelic Starover: Evangelicals for the Prince of Peace

There's also a book recommendation that looks quite interesting.

27 October 2006

Orthodoxy, postmodernity and the emerging church

Last weekend we had Bishop Jovan of Ostrog Monastery in Montenegro visiting. He spoke on the miracles associated with the relics of St Basil (Vassilje), the founder of the Ostrog monastery.

It was difficult to follow what he was saying, because the interpreter was not very good, and I found that even I knew when he was mistranslating (using "religion" when the bishop meant "faith", for example). It comes of the communist education many Serbs had, I suppose.

Later I got an opportunity to talk to Bishop Jovan, and to clarify some of the things he had said. Among other things he had spoken about the contrast between the emphasis in Western theology on intellectual knowledge and rationalism, and the Orthodox emphasis on life. He spoke of the danger of trying to intellectualise and rationalise things like the healings that had taken place at Ostrog, and the temptation to use these to try to "prove" the existence of God. Miracles of healing can easily become idolatrous if we fail to realise that the biggest miracle is the incarnation. What is important is not education, but holiness. Book religion is not enough: the Western church may have holy books, but the Orthodox Church has holy people, like St Basil. As an Anglican friend, John Davies, once wrote to me, what we need is not more good men, but more holy men.

On thinking about this, it seems to me that the core of this is the difference in anthropology. Western anthropology sees the individual and the collective. In the West there may be debates about which is more important, the individual or the collective. But Orthodox anthropology sees persons in community.

On the way to see Bishop Jovan I was listening to a talk show on the radio, and the host, Xolani Gwala, was interviewing the author of a book called I am an African (unfortunately I have forgotten the name of the author). One of the points made by the author of the book was that European (Western) thought saw people primarily as individuals, whereas in African thought community is more important. The contrast he made was almost exactly the same as that made by Bishop Jovan and other Orthodox Christians when comparing Orthodox anthropology with Western anthropology.

Both African and Orthodox anthropology tend to see man in terms of persons in community rather than in terms of individual or collective. The individual is like a monolith, a single stone. The collective is like an aggregate, a pile of stones. But the person in community is like a building; in biblical imagery, like living stones built into a temple. As a Zulu proverb puts it: umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu -- a person is a person because of people.

What Orthodox and African anthropology have in common is that both are premodern, and therefore contrast with the modernity of Western anthropology. Western anthropology is "European" in the sense that modernity arose out of certain cultural movements that took place in Western Europe, especially the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment. But there is nothing intrisically "European" about it, any more than the "person/community" model is intrinsically "African". I believe the author of "I am an African" errs in associating it too much with geography, though he does make the point that it is primarily a matter of values.

Before the Renaissance Europe was premodern too. Christian mission in Anglo-Saxon England, in Solomonic Ethiopia, and in Kievian Rus used essentially the same methods and were based on the same values, and the same anthropological assumptions. It was modernity that made the difference, and modernity is not confined to Western Europe, but is spreading throughout the world; the process is usually called globalisation.

It is one aspect of modernity, reason, that was the subject of Roman Pope Benedict XVI's controversial Regensburg address. The media focused their attention on its alleged anti-Islamic content, but the deeper implication has gone largely unremarked: that Christianity is fundamentally "Western" or "European", and that there is no place in it for "African" or other non-Western insights.

Orthodox Christianity, as Bishop Jovan remarked, does not altogether reject modernity. We make use of modern technology, like air travel and the internet. We can accept the scientific method, based on empirical research and reason, to better understand the natural world. But what we can learn by using these methods is not all that we need to learn, and exalting them into ideologies, such as rationalism, empiricism or positivism, becomes idolatry.

Postmodernity in the West is a reaction against modernism. Among other things it is a recognition that what we can know through reason and empirical investigation is not all we need to know, and that what we can learn through the scientific method can tell us nothing about values. In addition, the notion that the scientific method makes researchers objective and their findings "value-free" is a delusion.

To that extent, Orthodoxy can empathise with Western postmodernity. And Orthodoxy can also empathise with the "emerging church" movement that is trying to come to grips with postmodern society in the West.

In the last few months I've been trying to find out what this "emerging church" movement is about, and something of its missiological significance. I've tried to read and listen and ask questions, but have said little. But now I think I can say something about the emerging church movement from the point of view of Orthodox missiology.

Several people who have identified themselves as part of the "emerging church" movement have said things like "Orthodoxy has much to teach us about spirituality". And it is here that I wish to make a distinction.

As an Orthodox Christian, I am suspicious of words like "spirituality". It is a Western word, and denotes and connotes a Western concept -- "spirituality" tends to be divorced from "materiality". Yes, Orthodoxy has terms like "dushevnost", which can be translated as "spirituality", but a better translation would be "Life in the Spirit", because it denotes a specific relationship with the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father.

In Orthodoxy, "spirituality" cannot be divorced from "materiality". And so here is another point of difference between Orthodoxy and the West, even the postmodern West: Orthodox theology is holistic, whereas Western theology, even (or especially) emerging or postmodern theology, is eclectic.

It could be said that eclecticism is a characteristic of postmodernity, and that may well be true, but it is a characteristic that arises from modernity. Western (ie modern) thought is analytic. In studying something, it breaks it down into its separate components and examines each one separately. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. If you want to find out what is wrong with a car engine, you might need to dismantle it to replace the worn-out main bearings, for example. But that tells you nothing about what a car is for, or the effect that it has on society or the environment.

For Orthodoxy, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Isolating aspects of Orthodoxy, like "spirituality" loses something essential. So, if there is to be dialogue between Orthodoxy and the emerging church movement, the holistic/eclectic difference is one of the things that needs to be looked at. Not in isolation, of course.


PS: I am posting this in various places. For the sake of communicating with the emerging church movement, the main one is my blog here. That is because emerging church people seem to communicate mainly through the blogosphere, rather than through mailing lists or newsgroups, but I'm posting it in mailing lists and newsgroups as well, where there are others whose views and opinions I value. Some of those forums, on Orthodox mission and Christianity and society, can be seen in the sidebar.

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25 October 2006

The Gaelic Starover: Impeach US President Bush

The Gaelic Starover: Vote Early!

Mainly of interest to Americans, no doubt -- a poll in an American newspaper on whether to impeach US President George Bush for starting an unjust war. But I suspect that a lot of people in other countries will have an opinion on that too.

24 October 2006

Orthodoxy and Liberation Theology

When I posted my response to the quiz on theological worldviews in my LiveJournal, I pointed out that quite a lot of theological worldviews were missing from the list, including Orthodoxy and Liberation theology.

Someone asked for my views on Liberation Theology, and so I decided to put an article I had written on the subject some years ago on the web. If anyone is interested, it is Orthodoxy and Liberation Theology.

Comments are welcome, either on the message forum linked to the article, or here.

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23 October 2006

Theological worldviews

I found a quiz on "What's your theological worldview?"

I was struck by the remarkably narrow and circumscribed view of the author. It has no provision for Orthodox Christianity. It has such things as "Classical liberal" and "Modern liberal", which I find difficult to conceive of. It also omitted significant movements in Western theology like liberation theology, black theology, feminist theology etc, and non-western movements like Zionism.

So one couldn't even say that it had a Western bias -- its bias seemed far narrower than that.

I posted my results for the quiz on my other blog, here and was interested to see that (in admittedly small sample) Orthodox Christians seemed to come up with
  1. Roman Catholic
  2. Evangelical Wesleyan/Holiness
  3. Neo-orthodox
in the top three.

I suppose that, of all Protestants, Free Methodists come closest to Orthodoxy in at least sharing some similar concerns.

The quiz also had an "Emerging/Postmodern" category, which I had only heard of quite recently, yet I am sure that both the Orthodox and Zionists outnumber them by several millions.

19 October 2006

The "Cultural Protestant" Origin of Multiculturalism

A conservative blog for peace had an article on "Unitarianism, Modernism and multiculturalism are all Protestantism gone bad" with a link to 西儒 ─ The Western Confucian: The "Cultural Protestant" Origin of Multiculturalism. These bloggers attributed the origin of multiculturalism to "English Calvinism" and "New England Puritanism" respectively.

I made a comment:
Whereas it was the descendants of Dutch Calvinists who proposed the grand solution to multiculturalism -- apartheid.

To spare us the discomfort of having to live in proximity to anyone whose ideas, manners or skin colour differed from our own, they simply bulldozed their houses and removed them to another place -- a process for which the term "ethnic cleansing" was later invented.

Several people responded to my comment, but nobody seemed to "get it". All were trying to find someone (other than Dutch Calvinists) to blame for apartheid. It's easier to find a scapegoat than a solution.

But the bigger question is ignored. And that is the assumption that "multiculturalism" is "bad" or "blameworthy". If the descendants of English Calvinists created the "problem", why are the descendants of Dutch Calvinists "blameworthy" for trying to find a solution?

In South Africa we found that apartheid was a thoroughly bad thing, and that the problem it was intended to solve -- multiculturalism -- was not such a problem after all. And suddenly the rest of the world seems to have switched its view. As South Africa abandoned apartheid, Yugoslavia embraced it, with the help of Germany and Nato. And now, it seems, Americans are doing the same.

The question is not who is to "blame" for multiculturalism, but why do people like this "Western Confucian" and so many others simply assume that it is a Bad Thing?

I can agree that the English Calvinists contributed to it in America -- after all, they emigrated there and created a multicultural society. But if their descendants think it is such a bad thing, then they should either return to their ancestral homelands, or learn to live with the multicultural society that their ancestors created by settling there in the first place.

14 October 2006

Lebanese joke

This joke is doing the rounds in Lebanon:

A Christian whose house was destroyed by the Israeli onslaught lost all his possessions. All that remained was a picture of the Christ. He took it with him and went to see Saad Hariri, who gave him 100 thousand dollars to rebuild.

Seeing this, his Shia neighbour took down his picture of Nasrallah and went to see Hariri with it. Hariri gave him $5,000. The man was surprised:

"But you gave my neighbour 100,000!"

"That's right. He brought a picture of his Lord crucified. Bring me a picture of yours crucified and I'll give you 5 million."

12 October 2006

Orthodoxy and the emerging/missional church

There has recently been quite a lot of talk in Western Christian circles about the "emerging church", or the "missional church", or the Emerging-missional Church.

Most of the discussion seems to have emerged in the blogosphere, and not in many other places. One of the more useful sites I found was Friend of Missional, which gives a description of what a missional church is, and what it is not.

I wondered how any of this linked with Orthodox Christianity, and here are some preliminary thoughts. I think that some of the things that distinguish missional from non-missional churches are covered in an article I wrote on the difference between evangelism and proselytism.

I discovered the "emerging church" phenomenon soon after I started this blog, and searched for other bloggers who were interested in missiology, which is one of my interests. I discovered that a large number of them had also listed "emerging church" among their interests.

There is a sense in which the Orthodox Church is emerging, or re-emerging. Most Orthodox Christians live in the former Second World, and in those places the church is still emerging or reemerging from 40-70 years of Bolshevik persecution. I visited some of the places where Orthodoxy has been emerging: Russia, Bulgaria and Albania, and something different seemed to be emerging in each of those places. I saw only a tiny fraction of it, of course.

I gather from my reading in the blogosphere that the Western "emerging church" is concerned about Christianity in the postmodern world.

In Africa, where I live, Orthodoxy is faced with a society in which modernity, premodernity and postmodernity are mingled together in swirling ever-changing patterns like paints of different colours being poured into a pot and stirred. What eventually emerges may be a dull beige-grey, but for the moment they are not yet all mixed up, and the mixing is still taking place.

A similar process seems to be taking place in Albania, where much of the premodern world survives. Albania was a tribal society until well into the 20th century, and that was the dominant loyalty, above religion or political affiliations. Enver Hoxha tried to stamp out religion, but he didn't manage to eliminate tribalism. And where else do you see farm labourers cutting hay with scythes and loading it onto a horse-drawn wagon, and taking it back to a farmstead with a TV satellite dish on the roof?

Orthodox Christianity and Western Christianity encountered modernity in different ways, and so perhaps the approach to post-modernity may be different. In the 19th and early 20th centuries Western Christianity was fairly thoroughly contextualised into modernity. For Orthodoxy modernity remained something external, something that the Bolsheviks tried to impose on society, but that the Church resisted.

As for how Orthodoxy will end up relating to the postmodern world, well, not enough has emerged yet.

But I'd welcome thoughts from others to help clarify my own thinking.

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11 October 2006

The values of liberal democracy

British MP Jack Straw has caused a storm by his remarks about the way some Muslims dress, with some even going so far as accusing Muslims who dress differently of rejecting the values of liberal democracy. I am not alone in thinking that those who say such things seem to have a swivel-eyed idea of "liberal democracy" -- Madeleine Bunting puts it rather well when she says:
This latter prompted the memory of being taken as a child by my mother to visit the Poor Clares' convent in York. We gave alms to these impoverished women who had chosen complete segregation from the world as part of their strict spiritual discipline; we talked to the gentle, warm mother superior through the bars of a grille that symbolised their retreat from the world. No one accused these nuns of "rejecting the values of liberal democracy" - yet they were co-religionists of the IRA terrorists of their time.
One of the features of liberal democracy is its tolerance. The word tolerance is much abused nowadays, so perhaps I should expand on that by saying that I agree with Fr Thomas Hopko when he said
Tolerance is always in order when it means that we coexist peacefully with people whose ideas and manners differ from our own, even when to do so is to risk the impression that truth is relative and all customs and mores are equally acceptable (as happens in North America).

Tolerance is never in order when it means that we remain idle before wickedness which harms human beings and destroys God's creation.

To be tolerant is to be neither indifferent nor relativistic. Neither is it to sanction injustice or to be permissive of evil. Injustice is intolerable and evil has no rights. But the only weapons which Christians may use against injustice and evil are personal persuasion and political legislation, both of which are to be enacted in an atmosphere of respect. While Christians are permitted under certain conditions to participate in police and military actions to enforce civil laws and to oppose criminality, we may not obey evil laws nor resort to evil actions in defence of the good. This means that Christians are inevitably called to suffer in this age, and perhaps even to die. This is our gospel, our witness and our defence.

In my youth people conformed to a far stricter dress code, and being countercultural may have been cool, but social pressure was against cool. Males went to church wearing suits and ties, females wore skirts, stockings and hats, sometimes even gloves. The only excuse for not dressing like that was poverty, and in many middle-class suburban churches the poor were not welcome, especially since most of the middle-class suburban parishioners were white and most of the poor were black. On one occasion a friend and I went to such a church wearing Basotho blankets (not really to "make a statement", but it was midwinter, and we'd ridden there on a motorbike). It caused more than a stir; it was a typhoon in a teacup, and the next Sunday the parish priest peached a sermon on it, in which he said, among other things, that "the only garment we need to enter God's house is the garment of charity."

The Poor Clares, mentioned above, did deliberately dress in such a way as to identify with the poor, with those who were not welcome in the respectable middle-class churches. St Xenia of St Petersburg was a crossdresser, wearing male clothes in addition to their being ragged. Several other examples are given in a paper read to students by an Anglican monk, Brother Roger of the Community of the Resurrection. The paper was called Pilgrims of the Absolute.

One of the things about religious freedom is that protecting the religious freedom of others is also a protection of my religious freedom. The freedom of Muslim women to dress as they choose is also a protection of people of other religions or none to dress as they choose. If Muslim women are prevented from wearing the niqab, how long will it be before Orthodox monks are told to cut their hair, shave their beards, and wear the same clothes as everyone else.

Come to think of it, that has happened before.

It was done by those fine upstanding supporters of liberal democracy, the Bolsheviks.

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10 October 2006

The international community

Over on the alt.usage.english newsgroup my friend Tony Cooper said:
I also heard President Bush saying that North Korea has "defied the wishes of the international community" by performing a nuclear test. I'm glad the US never defies the wishes of the international community.

08 October 2006

Christianity and culture -- inculturation or countercultural?

Mark van Steenwyk is writing a book on Christian resistance to the dominant culture, at least in North America, and has posted an outline in his blog.

As an Orthodox Christian, I've looked at Frank Schaeffer's attempts to do something similar, but havent found them very inspiring. Some of his books, and a paper I heard him read at an Orthodox mission conference 11 years ago, seemed to be the wrong approach -- going out with a shotgun and blasting everything that moves. Linking things that seem to have little to do with each others, and then attacking them on the basis of criteria that are not stated, as if it is assumed that everyone will know what they are (I wrote more ab out that here).

So I'll follow Mark's project with interest, and see how it develops.

07 October 2006

Truth, reconciliation and healing

I finally got the book, Namibia by Bishop Colin Winter, via Amazon. It seemed new, seemed new though I had paid $1.14 for it (postage and packing was about 10 times that).

I had not really known that the book existed at all until I saw it mentioned in the bibliography of Buys and Kritzinger's book on the history of the church in South West Africa - the Kritzinger in question being Dons. But the fact that they knew of Winter's book and cited it makes their playing down of the persecution of the church by the South African government between 1960 and 1990 inexcusable. Colin Winter did not mince words, he told exactly what went on, and Buys and Kritzinger diluted it and covered up the persecution.

The book is not in the Unisa library, perhaps because it was banned at the time it was published, but it is one that should be there now. Maybe someone had told me about the book, but it had not registered with me, perhaps because it was banned, and so I am reading it as something new and fresh 29 years after it was published -- and when I went to Namibia and met Bishop Colin Winter for the first time I was 28 years old, so that makes it feel rather strange to read it.

Of course Colin Winter's style makes it a frustrating book to use as a historical source. He is great at conveying atmosphere, and has many vivid descriptions, but the chronology is all over the place, and some incidents are conflated. It's written more like a gospel than anything else, with pericopes where you have to try and work out the sitz im leben.

That's one of the things that make it interesting.

I'm reading it a bit like the people who read the first written gospels, 30 years after the fact. I read about events that I witnessed at first hand, while Colin Winter writes about them by hearsay, what he heard from others. Many, of course, are things that he witnessed at first hand, and I heard about from him or others. And if I write my Namibian memoirs, perhaps they will differ from his book as much as, or more than, the gospels differ from each other.

The vivid descriptions, of course, are part of the fund-raising style. The Anglican Diocese of Namibia was always poor, always asking for help from overseas donors, and so much of the description is aimed at getting people in other places praying and paying. But it's not just that. Colin Winter had a genuine love of people, and that comes across in the book. He has harsh criticism for the political system of apartheid and its cruelty, but when it comes to individuals, one can see the Christian love of enemies. He rarely has anything bad to say about anyone.

Yesterday I went to a symposium at the University of South Africa on religion and reconciliation, to celebrate the 75th birthday of retired Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu. Much of it dealt with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which Bishop Tutu chaired.

Piet Meiring and Tinyiko Maluleke spoke about the role of faith communities in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The idea to have groups in the TRC hearings was a late innovation. It was originally intended only for individual perpetrators and victims. But it was the faityh communities that acknowledged their failures to oppose the partheid system. Other groups of civil society, such as business and the media, were only concerned to exonerate themselves.

The TRC did not really concern itself much with human rights abuses in Namibia. But given South Africa's involvement in Namibia up to 1990, they are closely linked.

And eventually, perhaps, the cover-ups and papering over the cracks in these two books will need to be confessed. Buys and Kritzinger play down the persecution, and try to pretend that it did not happen, and so events are disjointed and inexplicable. Winter makes no secret of the persecution, but fails to set it in its context, and at times it seems that it just happened, and no one was responsible.

Many people mentioned that the youth of today are not interested in that sort of thing. That is for the old people to sort out. But Bishop Desmond Tutu, addressed some of his remarks to the students watching from the galleries, and said we need to know where we have come from when we try to see where we should be going.

And having seen Namibia, I think the full story has yet to be told.

05 October 2006

Almost thou persuadest me to be a conservative

When Tories begin talking like this, I'm almost tempted to think that a Conservative government in Britain might be a good thing.
We urgently need a new foreign policy. Get out of Iraq. Talk to Iran. Chase hearts and minds as well as insurgents in Afghanistan. And start 'dancing with wolves'. Above all, cut the umbilical cord with George Bush, and have a British foreign policy again.

30 September 2006

Emerging/Missional divide

Wow, I only recently learned that there was an "emerging church" (as opposed to the Church emerging from wherever it has been hiding), and now I discover (from Ecelctic Itchings) that there is an Emerging/Missional divide!

The problem with Western theology is that it's so hard to keep up. By the time you discover what a new theological trend is actually about, it's already split into rival factions, and you have to discover what they stand for.

I've seen the term "missional" associated with the "emerging church" movement, but I assumed that it simply meant the church in mission -- and the definition of "missional church" is pretty standard, and seems to support my original assumption. But no, it seems that it's now something else, and well on its way to becoming estblished as a rival movement, or a spin-off or something.

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Two birds with one stone?

Perhaps this would be a good way to solve two intractable problems at once!

26 September 2006

Americans just don't get it

In an article on the Clash of civilizations, James Pinkerton writes:
It's true, of course, that the General Assembly contains many dictatorial and tyrannical governments, but Iran and Venezuela are democracies, more or less. And in their demagogic way, Ahmadinejad and Chavez represent huge constituencies, not only in their countries, but around the world. Those two men don't hate America - and our allies, such as Israel - because they aren't free. They hate America because they hate America and its allies, period.

We live in a world in which not everyone gets along, for a combination of reasons - theological, historical, personal, legitimate, illegitimate. That's politics, because that's human nature.

So of these four leaders - the pope, Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Bush - the odd man out would seem to be ... our own president. He has his faith that he is right, but the others have their faiths, too. Hence, the Clash.
Such ignorance is scary. It is quite clear that many Americans appear to believe, like Pinkerton, that "they hate us because they hate us". Not "they hate us because we (or our our allies) bombed them, or keep threatening to do so". Not "they hate us because we have attempted to overthrow their democratically-elected governments by engineering a coup", but just because they hate us with an irrational uncaused hate.

One of the things about human nature is that if you bomb people out of their homes, destroy their livelihood and kill their friends and relatives they are unlikely to be overflowing with love and gratitude towards the people who do these things. This is not an irrational "they hate us because they hate us" hate. They hate for a reason. And the fact that they do so shows the limits of reason, which points to one of the shortcomings in Roman Pope Benedict's Regensburg address. The Christian injunction to love those who hate you goes well beyond the limits of reason.

This is not how clashes of civilizations start, but it is how clashes of all kinds continue and escalate.

New every morning is the love
with which our ministers approve
devices new and up to date
for fostering the same old hate.


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