12 April 2006

Modernity sweeps Africa

According to this article

The typical assumption is that Africa is primarily animistic. This judgment is based on our vision of Africa: ritual drums being beaten, diviners casting cowrie shells, a dervish possessed, and ceremonies to appease angry ancestors. However, Africans, especially those in East and Southern Africa, are steadily moving away from animism.

But what is wrong with the assumption is not just that it is out of date; it may be seriously questioned whether it was ever valid.

Modernity has been around in Africa for a long time, if by "modernity" we mean the worldview that developed in Europe as a result of the influence of the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. It took about four centuries for modernity to become established in the West, and it came to Africa in its Christian guise. It was Christian missionaries imbued with the spirit of modernity who brought Christianity and modernity in Africa (though in the 19th century they didn't call it "modernity", but "civilisation").

Much of Africa, however, preferred the premodern worldview. But was the premodern worldview "animistic"? The concept of "animism" was an attempt by people with a modern culture to understand premodern culture, and failing to do so. The cultural gap between modern Europe and premodern Africa is probably very similar to that between modern and premodern Europe.

And the effect of the encounter between modernity and premodernity in Europe is similar in some ways to that in Africa. Early modern Europe was swept by the witch craze, and as modernity sweeps Africa, so does witch hunting. The increasing intensity and frequency of witchhunts in many parts of Africa is perhaps a sign that modernity is sweeping Africa. But maybe Africa has an opportunity to learn from what happened when modernity swept Europe, and avoid making some of the same mistakes.

11 April 2006

American civil religion

Our President which art in Washington,
May the U.S. empire be called after thy name.
Thy military come. Thy war be done in Iran, as it is in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Give us this day our daily battle.
And forgive us our pacifism, as we ridicule the critics of your wars.
And lead us into combat, but deliver us from Muslims:
For thine is the army, and the navy, and the air force, until your term is up. Amen.

At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist nut, I'm seriously beginning to wonder whether George Bush is not the most convincing contender for "the Antichrist" that we've seen for a long time.

Anyway, check The Predident's Prayer to see who wrote it and why.

08 April 2006

Litterae: Henning Mankell and street children

Something I didn't know... Henning Mankell, author of the crime novels featuring depressed detective Kurt Wallander, has also been director of a theatre in Mocambique.


And he makes come comments about the street children of Maputo that reminds me of the street children that used to come to our services in Mamelodi.

Deus Creator Omnium

There's been a great deal of hype about the Gospel of Judas in the news media recently.

A friend, John Davies (who is a retired Anglican bishop), writes

I find myself often thinking of texts and statements as 'windows' into situations; most obviously true of the NT Letters and the various episodes in Acts. Incomplete, but, we affirm, sufficient (today's BBC news is making quite a thing of the 'Gospel of Judas', as if this would cause us to revise the creeds. The funny thing is that, to be an orthodox (in the general sense) Christian, you dont have to believe anything much about Judas. The Arrest would have easily happened without him. He is important, not because he is essential to the story but because his presence in the story re-assures us that betrayal is part of the normal environment of the Christ-presence and therefore we shouldn't be surprised when it happens to us, through us, or by us. Every priest is a betraying priest, and I find that I still catch my breath at the point in the Canon where I have to say 'in the same night in which he was betrayed)

Anyway, this blog has some more on it, and a link to a translation of the text.

Deus Creator Omnium

Onward leftist Christian soldiers

As a longtime member of the religious left, I've found all this talk about the "religious right" emerging from the USA somewhat confusing. Back in the 1970s I got a directory of the religious left in America, where it was all happening. Jesus freaks, the "Win with love" collective, the Christian World Liberation Front and all the rest.

Where did it all go wrong? Who made the sudden right turn, so that by the end of the 1970s no one talked about the religious left any more, and there was only the "religious right"?

Was it for real, or was it just media spin, or was it both?

Anyway, this blog...

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: Onward, Leftist Christian Soldiers ...

refers to an article about the revival of the religious left in the USA.

Is it a revival, or is it just that the submarine church has been taking a long time surfacing?

As for me, i don't know where I'd fit into the scenario. Bible-thumping peacenik, perhaps. The Americans, however, can't seem to get around their identification of everything with their two main political parties, which are just like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The belligerent Mr Blair supported both with no discrimination. He supported the Clinton-Albright war on Yugoslavia, and the Bush-Rumsfeld ones against Afghanistan and Iraq, with no distinction.

02 April 2006


Fr Thomas Hopko said the following about tolerance, in a paper read to an Orthodox mission conference ten years ago. I think it's very good and worth repeating:

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

A bloke called Harry Blamires wrote a book The will and the way more than 40 years ago, and among other things he said (I quote from memory, having lent the book to someone who didn't return it) that we should be clear about which God we prayed to this morning; was it the Christian God, or was it the God of twentieth-century sentimental theology, who grants us the dubious capacity to face all comers, friend or foe, with the same inscrutably acquiescent grin?

But that dubious capacity is what many people seem to mean by "tolerance" nowadays. Not only should we be tolerant, but we should also be reconcilers, seeking on every possible occasion to reconcile good with evil, justice with injustice, freedom with oppression. We should respect human rights, including the right that some people arrogate to themselves of killing and ethnic cleansing and oppressing others.

And this was the argument that conservatives used against liberals who opposed apartheid. "You call yourself a liberal, by why are you so intolerant of the Nationalists who want apartheid? Don't they have a right to their opinion too?"

And so when Fr Tom says: "Tolerance is never in order when it means that we remain idle before wickedness which harms human beings and destroys God's creation" I think he hits the nail on the head.

(Also posted on my LiveJournal


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