28 January 2007

Fantasy lit as prophecy

Tony Grist has been writing about his impressions of reading the Harry Potter novels for the first time, without the gaps that most of us experienced of having to wait a year or three for the next one to come out. He makes some interesting comments
Every era gets the fantasy it needs. The early twentieth century had Peter Pan- rich pickings for Freudians and all that weirdly prescient stuff about lost boys. The second half of the 20th century had Tolkien- with his ethos of cold war paranoia and unwitting prophecy of flower power. And Harry Potter is the fantasy for the Noughties.

And then
Fantasy gets to places the realist novel can't reach. At its best it doesn't try to teach us anything (which is why C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman are lesser writers) it just tips the contents of what Jung called the collective unconscious at our feet. In hindsight it looks as if Rowling were writing a fantasy commentary on the Blair years- the scurvy politicians, the war on terror, the cynical trampling on civil liberties- but, of course, the whole series was planned in detail in advance. Azkaban isn't a reflection on Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, but a prophecy.

And he notes that those who have dismissed the Harry Potter stories as simply escapist are pretty far off the mark. The fantasy world of the Harry Potter stories has some remarkable resemblances to the real world. And his response to reading The prisoner of Azkaban comes even closer to the mark
Then there's that other prison: the Guantanamo Bay-like hell-hole of Azkaban. In the first two books evil has been concentrated in the person of Voldemort (the enemy, the other, the dark lord, out there) here Voldemort never appears except in discourse and the focus of evil is Azkaban and its disgusting Dementors who- disturbingly- are on our side.

So, if we employ Dementors and send people who break our rules- like the innocent Hagrid- to a place where it's guaranteed they'll lose their minds if not their very souls- how exactly are we better than Voldemort?

One point on which I disagree with Tony Grist is that I believe Rowling, like C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman, does try to teach us things. Her blending of different genres (the school story and the fantasy story, for a start) enables her to go beyond the simplistic moral universe of classic school stories like the Billy Bunter series, for example. As Tony Grist himself notes, she teaches us that moral choices are not always simple. Like other school stories, the Harry Potter stories show some perennial problems in the school environment, like bullying; but Rowling also show how the pattern of moral behaviour formed at school continues in later life.

26 January 2007

Get a life!

I've often seen the comment "Get a life" on electronic discussion forums. It usually indicates that the person who writes it disagrees with what someone else has said, but can't be bothered to get to grips with the issues, so it has become a meaningless cliche.

But here is an indication that at one time the phrase may have had a real meaning: Changing the World (and other excuses for not getting a proper job...): Get a First Life!

25 January 2007

The undead of the Balkans

In an article When will world confront the undead of Croatia, Julia Gorin points out some of the bias of the Western media in reporting on the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession in the 1990s.

It is perhaps something we need to be reminded of. The Bush-Blair war crimes of the present decade have tended to overshadow the Clinton-Blair war crimes of the 1990s, and the role of Nato (the North Atlantic Terrorist Organisation) in supporting the UCK terrorists in Kosovo.

Among other things, it shows that the "war on terror" is a complete fraud.

24 January 2007

Racism and sexism rule OK

I'm glad I'm not the only one to have noticed that in all the media hoopla about potential US presidential candidates Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton, practically nothing has said about their policies. It's all about race and sex. The Gaelic Starover and Priestly Goth Blog: Barack Obama have also noticed this phenomenon, so I'm not alone.

It seems that the media are playing the race and sex cards for all they are worth. There was a thing on SAFM radio yesterday: Will the American voters accept someone of Barak Obama's race or Hillary Clinton's sex? What do black American voters think of Barak Obama (he's a real African-American, with an African father and an American mother)?

This shows how racist and sexist the media still are. In a really nonracist and nonsexist society, the focus would be on their policies.

If whichever one wins withdraws all American soldiers from Iraq by the end of January 2009, then we'll know that they will have at least cleaned up George Bush's mess. The smell will linger long afterwards, of course, but they will have done what they could and can spend the rest of their presidency, one hopes, getting on with more positive things. But race and sex are far more glamourous than cleaning cat crap off the carpet.

But not a word about ending the warmongering that has made America the polecat of the world. It's all race and sex. Not only do the media expect us all to be racist and sexist, the encourage us to be racist and sexist, and to evaluate politicians on the basis of their race and sex, and not on their policies.

23 January 2007

We have found the enemy and he is...

I was surfing the Web this morning, and came across an announcement that the Institute for Progressive Christianity his holding a symposium on The Fight against Fundamentalism.

It struck me as rather odd, and indeed likely to be counterproductive. There are surely more important issues to engage the attention of Christians in the world, whether they call themselves "Progressive" or "Fundamentalist" or "Emerging" or "Mainstream" or "Evangelical" or even "Orthodox" -- issues like climate change, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia, trade imbalance, health and many more.

Why Fundamentalism?

Many years ago I was at a student gathering to discuss ecumenical cooperation among Christian students in South Africa, which was under threat from the Dutch Reformed Churches, who were advocating the splitting of the Students Christian Association into four separate ethnic bodies.

There was a visitor from overseas, Albert van den Heuvel. and in referring to the Gereformeerde Kerk, commonly known as the Doppers, the most conservative and fundamentalist of the three Dutch Reformed Churches, he said that Karl Barth had once said of the Doppers that one should not worry too much about them, because they believed that the Bible was the Word of God, and so one day God would speak to them through the Bible. And it was interesting that it was when South Africa had a Dopper president, F.W. de Klerk, that the opposition parties were unbanned, and negotiations begun that led to the first democratic elections in 1994.

Now historians may argue about whether that was caused by F.W. de Klerk's Dopper conscience, or simply his political savvy, but the fact remains that it was a Dopper president.

Now some Fundamentalists may have strange and very unChristian political and social ideas, but the point remains -- they believe the Bible is the word of God, and so some day God will speak to them through the Bible, and they will realise the error of their ways. Treating "Fundamentalism" as the enemy is really not likely to help in the process.

22 January 2007

Anglicans and Orthodox

In A conservative blog for peace Serge writes:
So in the Anglican Communion one can have women bishops, gay weddings (at least unofficially) and clergy who don’t believe in the creed (I realise these three issues are not necessarily related!) but leaving out the filioque is supposed to impress the Orthodox. Okaaaaay...

... which puts the whole thing in a nutshell.

21 January 2007

The Avenging Aardvark's Aerie

This blog has moved. If you want to comment on this post, see here

It is nearly 10 years since I discovered the Avenging Aardvark's Aerie on the Web.

It was full of all sorts of interesting and exciting ideas on theology and literature and other things I was interested in, and I got really excited about it, and wrote to the author, Ross Pavlac.

Unfortunately he had died the week before.

I was very sad, and felt a great loss of a friend I might have had.

Other friends of Ross Pavlac (1951-1997) have preserved his web pages, however, so that others can read them, even though they will never be updated. They seem to move from time to time, and every time I think I've lost them forever, I've managed to find them again. And fortunately the name is unique, so Google usually finds them.

If Ross Pavlac were alive today, he would no doubt have a blog and be on top of my blogroll.

20 January 2007

Literary critics needed

One of the things in the blurb for this blog is that it's a place where I post half-baked ideas that I hope others will help me to bake. Ususally that's just in the form of a direct comment on a blog post, which can be just a line or two -- "I disagree" or "You're talking rubbish" or something like that.

This time, however, it's a request for a bit more effort.

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In November 2006 I participated in National Novel Witing Month (NaNoWriMo), and challenged others on the Charles Williams discussion forum to join in as well, and try to write a Charles Williams-type novel in a month. I hoped that we could then "have an Inklings", and discuss each other's writing, as Charles Williams and his friends did over 60 years ago in Oxford.

Unfortunately there weren't many takers, and so there was not much discussion. Nevertheless, I finished my novel in the allotted time, and am now revising the draft, and I'm looking for feedback from readers to see if it is worth publishing.

So it needs the effort of reading at least the first chapter, and saying "Yecch! I couldn't take it any more", or else reading the whole thing, and pointing out holes in the plot, or inconsistencies in the narrative, or things that the characters say or do that you don't understand, and so on.

I hope you won't find it too boring. One of my two readers so far (a retired Anglican bishop in England) responded
I have read the story with great enthusiasm and non-stop. I was gripped with the plot from the first pages and stayed with it throughout - very compelling reading! I really enjoyed meeting with all the characters who you have portrayed with great skill, you get to know them as individuals and then you have a love or hate relationship with them. It is very very readable and you get caught up with each of the characters and go along with them on their journeys.

I've left out his more specific criticisms because I hope to get those from people who have simply read the text, not influenced too much by what others have said.

Anyway, if you are willing to give it a go, please e-mail me a request at hayesstw@gmail.com (or any of my other e-mail addresses if you know them -- see my contact page), and I will send you a copy of the latest draft in PDF format, which you can print out or read on screen as you prefer.

You don't have to be a fan of Charles Williams to do this, but if you are, any comparisons, favourable or unfavourable, with the novels of Charles Williams will be welcome.

19 January 2007

Virtual friendships

John Smulo has recently commented in his blog on "virtual friendships" -- people one "meets" electronically, but does not meet in the flesh. I plead guilty to referring to John Smulo as "my friend" even though I've only known him electronically, and haven't known him long.

Today I was looking through some of my old hardcopy journals, and was moved to pray for an old friend I haven't seen for over 20 years. Then I decided to do a web search for him, and found an e-mail address, and sent him a message. Maybe he won't want to be in touch, but I think it works both ways. One can keep in touch with people electronically even though they have moved away physically. An d it works the other way too -- I've met people electronically, and later met them in the flesh, and that has enriched our electronic conversation.

In any given physical neighbourhood, it is sometimes hard to find people with whom one shares common interests, and electronic communication makes it possible, at least theoretically, to communicate with such people unhampered by geography.

It often doesn't work l;ike that, though. People one really wants to discuss ideas with say that they "Don't have time for e-mail". Old friends move away and don't really want to keep in touch, perhaps they've made new friends in their new place. So electronic friendship s come and go, just like ones in the flesh. In the mean time, however, I think one learns something from all of them.

17 January 2007

The vanishing hitchhiker

Phil Wyman has blogged about the vanishing hitchhiker here: Square No More: The Death of Hitchhiking, the Death of Trust?

Phil was talking mainly about the American scene, but I think the same applies here in South Africa, and in lots of other places. As I commented in Phil's blog, I think an important reason for the death of trust is the increase in vehicle hijacking. Drivers see a hitchhiker and wonder if it is hitchhiker or a hijacker, decide to play it safe and drive on.

And like Phil, I think it's rather sad.

In my youth I went to a Christian student conference at Modderpoort in the Free State, which must be one of the coldest places on earth (in winter). There was a priory of the Society of the Sacred Mission (an Anglican religious order) there, and one of the SSM Fathers was Victor Ransford. We were told that at one time he hitchhiked halfway round the country with a Christmas tree. One man who gave him a lift said "I wondered if you were Anglican or Roman Catholic, and then when I got close, I knew you were Anglican."

"How could you tell?" asked Fr Victor.

"By your socks."

At the same student conference one of the speakers was a member of another Anglican religious order, Brother Roger, of the Community of the Resurrection. He spoke on Pilgrims of the Absolute, and extolled the beat generation vision of a rucksack revolution, of the Dharma bums who would hitchhike from place to place to find out if I had a vision or you had a vision or he had a vision to find out eternity.

I never really realised my ambition to be a Dharma bum, but it is sad to think that it is that much harder for anyone to realise such a vision nowadays, or at least the hitchhiking part of it. But some parts of the vision are still alive. There are people who have a vision of urban monasticism and similar things. In the mean time, let's pray that the vanishing hitchhiker will reappear.

15 January 2007

Bush and Blair banned from the Church of the Nativity

I wonder if either of them have had any urge to visit. Anyway, it seems that the clergy regard them in the same way as they regard Herod's Masssacre of the Innocents.

According to Christ is in our midst: Bush and Blair banned
On Tuesday 1 April 2003, the representative of the Orthodox community in Amman in the Jordan, Fr Constantine Karmash, said that he fully supported the Church of the Nativity’s decision to ban the Western leaders from entering the house of worship. ‘The priest at the Church of the Nativity has every right to ban Bush and his supporters, since they have marred the teachings of Christ. Their entry into the church will tarnish it, as [Bush’s] hands are covered in the blood of the innocent’, said Fr Constantine to The Jordan Times.

Yet more on spiritual warfare

After the recent discussion of spiritual warfare, here is a good link to some excellent writing on the subject: Christ is in our midst: sp[iritual warfare.

What makes a person holy is love,
the adoration of Christ
When Christ enters our soul, everything within us will be altered

'nuff said.

13 January 2007

Three-fold ministry and five-fold ministry

My friend John Smulo recently posted something in his blog about the five-fold ministry of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers, and he posted "job descriptions" for each of them. You can see his original posts here and here.

I originally posted the following as a comment in his blog, and then thought I would post it here as well, in the hope of getting comments from my Orthodox readers (all two of them!), who might be able to point out whether I have allowed any heresies to creep in.

The Orthodox Church has a distinction between ministries of order, ordained ministries - the three-fold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, and the charismatic ministries, of which the five-fold ministry is a sub-set (one could add, for example, healing).

It is quite possible for people to have more than one ministry, of both types. Philip, for example, was a deacon and evangelist.

I think your job descriptions are OK in practice, but not in theory. Good in application, but bad in principle.

Again, that might just be an Orthodox take on it, and it might look different from where you are. The thing is, the Church never "hires" apostles, prophets, evangelists etc. The Holy Spirit does. The Church never said "We have a vacancy for a prophet: here is the job description. Qualified candidates please apply."

Jeremiah didn't apply. God told him.

And so from the Orthodox point of view, the charismatic ministries are recognised by the Church, ex post facto. No one is "ordained" as an apostle. But when the Church recognises that someone has had an apostolic ministry (played an important role in church-planting), then they are called (usually after they are dead) "Equal-to-the-Apostles".

So Nikolai Kasatkin, a 19th century missionary to Japan, is now called "Equal-to-the-Apostles and Enlightener of Japan". Mary Madgalene, first witness to the resurrection, is also called "Equal-to-the-Apostles" (sucks to The da Vinci code).

If you look at most of the people who are called apostles etc., you will find that they have fitted the job description. But they weren't given the job description in advance and asked to sign on the dotted line.

When St Nina of Georgia was taken as a slave to Georgia she no doubt hoped that God would use her and be with her, but she never imagined that centuries later people would be singing about her as "Equal-to-the-Apostles and Enlightener of Georgia".

By their fruits shall ye know them, not by their job descriptions.

12 January 2007

More thoughts on spiritual warfare

After reading some of the synchronised blogs relating to spiritual warfare I have a few more thoughts on the topic.

There are two points in particular that I want to comment on. One is the desire, expressed by some, to find a different term to replace spiritual warfare.

Related to this is the linking of spiritual warfare to the idea that non-Christian religions are "demonic", and thus the notion that spiritual warfare is warfare against the adherents of other religions.

My view is that the second of these is a dangerous distortion of the Christian understanding of spiritual warfare, but that it will not be corrected by simply substituting one term for another. A rose by any other name will swell as sweet, and a sewer by any other name will smell as foul. The solution is not to change the name, but to correct the misunderstanding.

Some Biblical references

One problem with the idea of finding another term for "spiritual warfare" is that the concept is embedded in the Scriptures and the Christian worldview, and any term we may devise will probably be inadequate, and may give rise to more serious distortions than those it seeks to prevent. Here are just a few of the scriptural references to the concept of spiritual warfare.

  • II Cor 10:3-5 - Though in the flesh we do not struggle according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful to God for destroying strongholds, demolishing arguments and every high thing that rises against the knowledge of God.
  • I Peter 2:11 - Brethren, I beseech you as sojurners and aliens to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.
  • II Tim 2:3-5 - Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.

Christians and pagans

The last scripture reference ((II Tim 2:3-5) also relates to Christians and pagans. As the historian Robin Lane Fox has pointed out:
In antiquity, pagans already owed a debt to Christians. Christians first gave them their name, pagani... In everyday use, it meant either a civilian or a rustic. Since the sixteenth century the origin of the early Christians' usage has been disputed, but of the two meanings, the former is the likelier. Pagani were civilians who had not enlisted through baptism as soldiers of Christ against the powers of Satan. By its word for non-believers, Christian slang bore witness to the heavenly battle which coloured Christians' view of life (Fox 1987:30).

This heavenly battle, between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan, is one in which there is no peace and no neutrality (see Luke 11:14-26, esp v. 23, "He who is not for us is against us"). If there is no neutrality, then the pagani, those who have not enlisted as soldiers of Christ, must be soldiers in the army of Satan, whether they know it or not That seems to be a logical conclusion, and yet Christians have adopted different views, and ambivalent views, towards non-Christian religions. The stark opposition in Luke 11 is countered by the different view in Mark 9:38-41, "He that is not against us is for us".

At this point I cannot speak for Western theology, because since Augustine of Hippo, Anselm of Canterbury and Calvin of Geneva the West has tended to have a different understanding of sin, and notably of original sin. Western theology has tended to see original sin as a macula, a stain on the soul, transmitted from generation to generation, original guilt being transmitted along with original sin.

The Orthodox understanding is somewhat different. I was born in South Africa, and so I am a South African citizen by birth. But there is no mark on my soul to say that I am a South African citizen. Similarly, South Africa is part of the world and the world lies in the power of the Evil One, and so I was also a citizen of the Kingdom of Satan by birth, but in baptism I renounced my citizenship of that Kingdom and was born again as a citizen by birth of the Kingdom of God (Heb 12:22-24). Thus Western theology has tended to see original sin as a matter of heredity, while Orthodox theology has tended to see it as a matter of the environment. Western theology has tended to see sin and evil primarily as something God punishes us for; Orthodox theology has tended to see sin and evil primarily as something God rescues us from.

Having made this qualification about sin in general, and original sin in particular one can see that at the Fall, man lost the likeness of God, but not the image of God. Orthodox theology does not accept the Calvinist theory of total depravity. Human beings, and human society, and human religion became corrupt, but did not become wholly, purely and totally evil.

So Christians (or at least Orthodox Christians) approach pagans from a double point of view. If there is a polytheistic society (and Christianity grew up in a polytheistic society, and most of the religions it encountered inside and outside the Roman empire for the first few centuries were polytheistic) then Christians believe that they do not worship God the creator, but lesser deities, created deities. Most of the pagan creation myths speak of the gods being created. A common word for lesser deities in the time of early Christians was daemones. Daemones inhabited the atmosphere, between earth and heaven. Their primary characteristic was not (at that stage) to be evil, but simply to be lesser gods. We can see this in Psalm 82 (LXX 81). And this is the picture given in the New Testament. Pagans worship creatures rather than the creator. They worship underlings rather than the great God above all gods. Nations have gods, national spirits, as described in Deuteronomy 32:8-9, and can be seen in the Orthodox ikon of Babel when contrasted with the ikon of Pentecost.

So in the New Testament the gods of the pagans are described as demons and idols, not so much to indicate that they are purely evil, but to indicate that they are lesser. "I say, 'You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless you shall die like men, and fall like any prince.' Arise O God, judge the earth; for to Thee belong all the nations" (Psalm 82:6-8)

That last verse, "Arise, O God, judge the earth" is sung, accompanied by noisy banging and stamping of feet, by Orthodox Christians on Holy Saturday, and it is a prayer fulfilled by Jesus when he said "Now is the judgement of this world (judge the earth), now shall the ruler of this world be cast out (like any prince), and I, when I am lifted up from the earth (Arise, O God) will draw all men to myself (for to Thee belong all the nations)" (John 12:31)-32).

Later in Christian history the distinction between angels and demons hardened. Angels were good spirits, demons were fallen angels, and strictly evil, to be resisted in spiritual warfare, and yet there is also a sense in which Christians mourn for them and their loss, and even the Archangel Michael did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment against the devil (Jude 6-10).

So the deities of the pagans are daemones, in the sense of being lesser spirits, creatures rather than the creator, and their cult is, like all human worship, fallen. The deities may be angels or demons, (in the good and evil sense) as well. Human religion is corrupt, but it is not completely corrupt, and in Christian mission is not necessarily to be eradicated, but restored and fulfilled. And even Christian worship, undertaken as it is by sinful men in a fallen world, is likely to become fallen and corrupt itself. So we, as Christians, do not necessarily say to pagans "Your religion is bad and ours is good, therefore abandon your bad religion and join our good one." But we rather say "Come to meet the One who who supersedes all religion, yours and ours, and who calls us to worship in Spirit and in Truth."

Fr Michael Oleksa notes that the teaching of St Maximus the Confessor gave Orthodox Christianity a more positive view of non-Christian religions than Western theology did. "St Maximus the Confessor wrote that the Logos became embodied not just once, but three times - in the creation of the world, in the Holy Scriptures, and finally and most perfectly as a human being" (Oleksa 1992:38).
It was St Maximus's opposition to the monothelitism of his times, and to the Platonic theology of Origen, that laid the foundations for the positive view which Orthodox missions have generally had of traditional societies in central and eastern Europe in the 9th & 10th centuries, and across central Asia and into eastern Siberia and Alaska over the next 800 years. "Orthodox evangelists felt no obligation to attack all the pre-contact religious beliefs of shamanistic tribes, for they could perceive in them some of the positive appreciation of the cosmos that is central to St Maximus' theology. They could affirm that the spiritual realities these societies worshipped were indeed 'logoi' related to the Divine Logos, whose personal existence these societies had simply never imagined" (Oleksa 1992:61).

So when a pagan diviner (in South Africa called a "sangoma") casts out a demon, should we, like those who accused Jesus, say that he casts out demons by the prince of demons, and denounce it as a satanic deception? If we do, we are seduced into making of accusations, and that is the most satanic deception of all.

09 January 2007

St Constantine, Scapegoat of the West

For the last 30 years or so I have read that the greatest villain, the one responsible for most of the ills of Christianity, was the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. I've read it in academic texts, in undergraduate essays I've marked, in journal articles. I've read it in postings in electronic forums like BBS echoes, mailing lists and newsgroups. I've read it in numerous blogs and online journals, and in works of popular fiction like The da Vinci code.

This notion has become a myth, a legend, an unexamined assumption of stupendous proportions. People see no need to to substantiate the assertion, because "everyone knows" that it is true. And the number of things attributed to Constantine grows and grows. We are told that he censored the Bible, reducing the number of books in the New Testament to a mere 27, and that he ensured the dominance of Christianity in the world for the next 1500 years.

There are at least two historical phenomena that need to be examined. One is the question of St Constantine himself, and his alleged legacy, in the 4th-7th centuries. The other is the scapegoating of Constantine in Western culture in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

There isn't space in a blog post to deal adequately with either. It would take several books to refute all the assertions that have been made. My aim in this essay is more modest -- to question some of the unquestioned assumptions, to point out some of the contradictions, in the hope that some church historians will take up the task. Actually it's more than just church history. The assumptions are widespread, not just among Western Christians and Western theologians, but among neopagans and in secular circles as well.

I first really began paying attention to this when I was marking undergraduate assignments in Missiology at the University of South Africa. If there was one fact that almost all of them mentioned, and remembered, it was the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in AD 312. Whether it was relevant or not, it was a Fact, and therefore to be mentioned. None of them, however, knew anything about Christian mission between that date and Roman Pope Alexander VI who divided most of the world into Spanish and Portuguese spheres of influence in the 15th century.

The general Western belief seems to be that Constantine imposed an official belief on the Christian Church at the Council of Nicaea, which made the Christian Church dominant in Society for the next 15 centuries or more. This is repeated again and again, as if it were a simple, unquestionable and authoritative fact. Christians lived in a society in which they were the top dogs, and, for the most part, the only dogs.

But this view is rooted in Western chauvinism, ethnocentrism, and assumptions of cultural superiority. Western missiologists have tried to get away from the ideas of Western imperialism. They have recognised that there was something wrong with the association of mission and Western colonialism, mission and Western imperialism, mission and Western capitalism in the 19th century. And one way they have tried to do this is by making Constantine the scapegoat for all these things.

Unfortunately in doing this they have tended to ignore or downplay some of the historical facts about Constantine and his legacy. It is commonly asserted in Western culture that Constantine imposed his version of doctrinal orthodoxy on the Church at the First Council of Nicaea in 325, and that thereafter the Church was obedient and subservient to the Roman state, a condition which, according to the common Western view, is adequately summarised by the adjective "Constantinian".

What this ignores, however, is the fact that, far from imposing Nicene orthodoxy on the Church, Constantine and his immediate successors supported the anti-Nicene faction, and opposed the views of the Church expressed at the Council of Nicaea. St Athanasius, the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria, was sent into exile five times during this period for his defence of Nicene orthodoxy which he, far more than Constantine, had helped to shape.

Constantine's sin (in the eyes of the West) was that he proclaimed religious toleration in the Roman Empire in the Edict of Milan in AD 313. It is strange, in the light of this, that one of the things the West thinks important in constitutions of states is a guarantee of religious freedom. For Christians in Constantine's time, he was the Liberator. He was like Simon Bolivar in South America in the 19th century, like Nelson Mandela in South Africa in the 20th century. When Mandela became President of South Africa in 1994, an era of constitutional freedom of religion began. All Christians were now free to preach the gospel, and not just the government-approved varieties, the Dutch Reformed Churches and (later) the Apostolic Faith Mission. I wonder whether, 15 centuries from now, missiologists will be telling their students about the evils of the Mandelan era.

Perhaps the most revealing assumption of all is the one that the "Constantinian era" lasted for 15 centuries. For the majority of Christians in the Roman Empire it lasted a little more than three centuries. In the seventh century most Christians became a minority group, and were treated as second-class citizens from then until now. But it appears that to Western scholars they do not count at all, and are not worth mentioning, because they are "non-Europeans". Thus in speaking of "the Constantinian era" Western scholars display the very ethnocentrism, chauvinism and racism they are trying to distance themselves from by blaming it on Constantine.

For a good corrective to this, I recommend the book From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple. It is not a heavy treatise on church history, but more of a travel book, where the author retraces the travels of two monks in the twilight of the "Constantinian era", just before it ended for the Christians in the lands where they travelled. Dalrymple is also not a propagandist or apologist for Orthodox Christianity. He writes from a Western secular/Protestant point of view.

If one wishes to talk about links between Church and State, it would be more accurate to speak of the Theodosian era, for it was the Emperor Theodosius who, 60 years after Constantine, made Christianity the official religion of the empire. But right up to the last ecumenical council the interests of Church and State did not always coincide, and often clashed. As Fr Michael Oleksa points out:
The iconoclastic controversy was the last, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt by the Byzantine empire to influence church doctrine as it had often influenced church administration throughout the post-Constantinian period. Their opponents were mostly monastic theologians living beyond the boundaries of the empire where they could preach and write in relative security and peace. They pointed out that whereas in the Old Testament God never assumed visible form and could not be depicted, he had now become flesh, and to forbid ikons of the Saviour was tantamount to denying his humanity. They insisted that Christ not only assumed flesh temporarily, but also ascended in glory as transfigured man, having fully retained his human nature (Oleksa 1992:62).
So one of the divisions between Eastern and Western Christians is the attitude to St Constantine. St Constantine was, and remains, a hero and favourite saint among Orthodox Christians, as can be seen by the number of people bearing the name Costa. St Constantine and his mother St Helen are joint patrons of numerous Orthodox Churches. St Constantine is honoured as the one who ended the persecution of Christians, St Helen as the one who promoted the Christian faith, and paved the way for Christians to return to the Holy Land, from which they had fled at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and she is therefore known as Equal-to-the-Apostles.

At times, indeed, the devotion to St Constantine takes on extreme forms, which do not always meet with the approval of the bishops, such as the Anastenaria or Firewalkers of northern Greece, who walk through fire on St Constantine's day (May 21), carrying ikons of the saint.

And the contradiction continues. The Western Christians (and non-Christians) who denigrate St Constantine, and seek to blame him for the faults of their own history, actually demonstrate those same faults in their treatment of Eastern Christians. The crusaders of the 11th century and later paid no regard to the local Christians in the lands they "liberated". They had not liberated them but conquered them. And this can be seen in the neo-Crusaders of the 21st century, whose actions seem calculated to eradicate Christianty from the lands of its birth and early spread.

So my appeal to Western Christians is this: next time you want to attribute something to Constantine, or to use the adjective "Constantinian" to describe something, stop and think what you are doing. Examine your assumptions, and only use the term if you are sure that is historically appropriate. And when you see the term in the writings of others, do not simply accept it uncritically, but question it.

Thoughts on Spiritual Warfare (synchroblog)

The term "spiritual warfare" expresses something fundamental about the Christian worldview: that there is a heavenly battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil, between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan.

Such views were not uncommon in the world in which Christianity first appeared. Zoroastrianism was based on the idea of such a battle. Gnosticism has a similar idea, only it was based primarily on a dualistic conception of matter and spirit -- spirit was good and matter was evil. Later Manichaeism also promoted such views. But Christianity differed from these in that it rejected the idea that evil was an equal and opposite force to good. Christianity taught that God was good, and his creation was good. While good can exist without evil, evil cannot exist without good, just as good money can exist without counterfeit money, but counterfeit money cannot exist without a system of good money. Evil cannot create anything. It can only twist and pervert the good things that God has created.

While Western theology later saw an important distinction between natural and supernatural, Orthodox theology maintained that the primary distinction is between created and uncreated. The significant thing about angels, demons and the devil is not that they are "supernatural", and therefore different from us, but that they are created, and therefore, like us, are dependent on God. The devil has indeed rebelled against God, but remains a creature, and therefore distinct from and certainly not equal to the Creator.

The devil has sought to draw the whole earth into his rebellion, and so St John tells us that "the whole world lies in the power of the Evil One" (I Jn 5:19). The world is therefore enemy-occupied territory. But in Jesus Christ God himself has entered the enemy-occupied territory, and begun to reclaim it from the usurper, Satan.

In describing this process, Christian theology has often used military imagery and terminology. One could say that by his death and resurrection Christ has created a liberated zone within the enemy-occupied territory that is the world. When we become Christians, therefore, we enter the liberated zone of the Kingdom of God.

The Orthodox baptism service is preceded by no fewer than four exorcisms. By being born into the world we are citizens by birth of the Kingdom of Satan, possessed by Satan. But possession is not the same as ownership, and so the exorcisms are to liberate us from the power of the devil. Only then are we free to renounce him, facing the West, the direction of darkness, unshod. Then turning, literally "converting" to face the East, the direction of light, of the "Orient from on High", we unite ourselves to Christ, and acknowledge him as our King and our God. Then we are baptised, and transferred from the authority of darkness to the kingdom of God's beloved Son (Lk 22:53; Col 1:13-14). Baptism is therefore analogous in some ways to an earthly naturalisation ceremony, when we renounce our alliegiance to one country and pledge it to another. The difference, however, is that most states in the world distinguish between citizens by birth and citizens by naturalisation, but by baptism we are born again by water and Spirit, and so become citizens of the kingdom of God by birth.

In our baptism, Christ snatches us out of the clutches of the devil, out of Hell itself. But thought we have been taken out of Hell, Hell has not been entirely taken out of us. We are made citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, but much of our thought and behaviour has been shaped by our sojourn in the kingdom of Satan. We therefore need to put off the old man and put on the new, we need to walk worthy of the calling by which we have been called, as St Paul puts it. We need to become godly. And it is at this point that our ascetic struggle, our spiritual warfare, becomes most fierce, because the devil will try by all means to recapture those who have escaped from his prison.

In almost every one of St Paul's epistles, he begins by saying what God has done for us by saving us from the power of the devil and bringing us into his kingdom, and then about halfway through there is a "therefore", and he then describes the kind of behaviour that belonged to our old life that we must put off, and the godly ways that we must put on. God has done all these things for us, therefore we need to change our lives and live like this. It is important to see what the therefore is there for.

As I see it, there are three aspects of spiritual warfare, or three main ways in which we may become engaged in spiritual warfare:

The ascetic struggle against the passions

The ascetic struggle (Greek ascesis, Russian podvig) is compared by St Paul to the training of an athlete to win a race. It is also analogous to military discipline and training. Discipline and discipleship are related words. The podvizhnik is a spiritual athlete who is becoming fit. As we put off the passions and embrace dispassion (apatheia) we draw closer to Godf, and become more godly.

Deliverance from demonic oppression

When we read the New Testament we see that our Lord Jesus Christ devoted a considerable part of his earthly ministry to casting out unclean spirits from people who were oppressed by them, or were demonised (eg Mk 1:22-24; Mk 1:35-37). This is also part of the ministry of the followers of Jesus (eg Lk 10:17-20).

Deliverance from political and economic oppression in the world

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." So said Lord Acton, the 19th-century British Liberal and Catholic historian.

There are three Greek words in the New Testament that are sometimes translated into English as power. Dynamis, exousia (authority) and kratos (force). Political, economic and religious power are abstract forces, but they nonetheless have concrete effects on people's lives. St Paul tells us (in Romans 13:1-7) that rulers and authorities are instituted by God for our good, and yet also says (in Eph 6:10-12) that we are engaged in a struggle against them, and that they are "the world powers" (kosmokratores) of the darkness in which we find ourselves.

How these three aspects of spiritual warfare are linked

Each of these three aspects of spiritual warfare deserves an essay on its own, and cannot be dealt with fully here. What follows is a few thoughts that have occurred to me as I have read other blog entries on the topic recently.

The ascetic struggle is primary. It is part of the training and dicipline we need in order to engage in other aspects of the struggle.

This sometimes causes problems for Protestants, for whom the language of the ascetic struggle sometimes sounds like Pelagianism -- the idea that we are not saved by God's grace, but by own own efforts to live a good life. The spiritual basis of Pelagianism is summed up in the aphorism "God helps those who help themselves." But this is very far indeed from the spirit of Christian asceticism.

The difference can be seen in the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt, which in Christian typology is regarded as a foreshadowing of baptism. The people of Israel left Egypt unwillingly. Not only was Pharaoh reluctant to let them go, but they themselves expressed misgivings, and found it hard to choose between the security of slavery and the uncertainties of freedom. The crunch came at the Red Sea. With the sea in front of them and Pharaoh's army behind them, the choice seemed to be between recapture and drowning. Then God opened the way through the sea. That was pure grace. It was not dependent in any way on the efforts of the people of Israel. It was only on the far side of the Red Sea that the people went to Mount Sinai and God gave Moses the ten commandments, and God said, in effect, "You are no longer Pharaoh's slaves but you are my people, and if you are my people you are to live like this." Obeying the ten commandments would not get them across the Red Sea. But having been brought through the sea by grace, and abandoned Pharaoh's kingdom for God's kingdom. they were asked to adopt a way of life that befitted the citizens of God's kingdom. Most of them failed to do so and their corpses littered the desert (I Cor 10:1-4).

Christian asceticism is not undertaken to placate an angry God who wants nothing better than to punish us if we disobey; it is undertaken in gratitude to a loving God who has delivered us from the authority of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col 1:13).

And so, to extend the military metaphor a bit, just as the soldiers of the armies of this world will fare badly against the enemy if they are untrained, don't know one end of a rifle from the other, go straight from being a couch potato into a 100 kilometre route march with a 40 kg pack, and don't even know what the enemy looks like, so in spiritual warfare we need to be trained and equipped. But our warfare is spiritual. We are not equipped with Molotov cocktails and AK 47s. The equipment listed in Ephesians 6:13-17 makes this quite clear. And it is the ascetic struggle (podvig) that supplies us with these weapons and teaches us how to use them.

Bishop Hierotheos of Nafpaktos says that "occupation with social problems presupposes that a man has been cured, otherwise, instead of solving problems, he creates still more".

The primary aspect of spiitual warfare, therefore, is the struggle against the passions leading to theosis (divinisation, godliness). As St Peter says, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature" (II Pet 1:3-4).

And also, "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct" (I Pet 1:14-15).

And "I beseech you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul" (I Pet 2:11).

The aim of this aspect of the struggle therefore is dispassion (apatheia), not so much that passions are suppressed, as that they are transfigured by communion with God. A passion is something undergone passively, something that we suffer. So passions like anger, lust, hatred, jealousy, envy, malice etc. take control of us, and we become slaves of our desires and passions. Spiritual growth means that instead of being controlled by our passions, we control them.

When we consider things like political, economic and religious power, as I hope I have shown above, we need to purify ourselves by the ascetic struggle in order to be able to handle them, otherwise, as Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos points out, we shall simply end up as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

These powers are related to human institutiosns, and what our Lord Jesus Christ said of the Sabbath applies to them, mutatis mutandis. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Like the passions, therefore, the new man in Christ will control them, not be controlled by them.

This can be seen in the early Christian response to the Roman religion of emperor worship. In the emperor cult, the power of the state became sacrosanct. Note that the power is not evil in itself. Lord Acton's dictum os often misquoted as "all power corrupts", but that its not what he said. Power tends to corrupt. It is only when power becomes absolute, when it is worshipped and idolised, as in the emperor cult, that it corrupts absolutely.

This applies not merely to political power, but to economic power. It is when economic power is idolised and made absolute that it becomes evil. This can be seen in two apparently conflicting ideologies: Free Market Capitalism and Marxism Leninism. At first glance they seem quite different. When one examines them more closely, however, they turn out to be two denominations of the same religion. The difference is that for the Free Marketeers the name of the deity is "the free rein of the market forces" and for the other "the dialectical forces of history" but both are agreed that man must be dominated by economic forces.

The same can be seen with religious power, and the power struggles in many religious organisations and groups are sufficient evidence of this.

Many people may think that this is remote from them. "I am not a politician, a businessman or economist or trade union leader, I am not a bishop or other church leader", one may think. But most of us have some authority (exousia) at some point in our lives, the authority of parent over child, teacher over pupil, older sibling over younger sibling. Abuse of power can be seen as much in domestic violence as in detention without trial, and it too comes from failure to control the passions, but being controlled by them. So domestic violence too is spiritual warfare.

Recognising that such battles are spiritual warfare also protects us, to some extent, from self-righteousness. A wicked ruler may oppress people, but we can recognise that the enemy is not the oppressor, but oppression itself. Otherwise it is all too easy to seek to overthrow a tyrant and put ourselves in his place.

This notion, however, is sometimes difficult for atheists and secularists to grasp (see, for example, The Atheologian: Acton: power and corruption). It seems like a cop out, to offer the excuse "the devil made me do it", and so wriggle out of personal responsibility. But the podvizhnik will recognise that "I let the devil make me do it, I invited the devil to make me do it."

But who, or what, is the devil? The devil, or satan, is primarily the accuser. "Satan" is not really a name, but a noun, and it means accuser, and specifically someone who brings accusations in a court of law. In the Old Testament this is what Satan does -- he accuses Job (Job ch 2) and the High Priest Joshua (Zech 3:1-5) before God. The Christian Church interpretes these typologically as referring to the accusation of Christ our high priest, and Satan is tossed out of court for making false accusations -- "The accuser of our brethren is thrown down" (Rev 12:10) and "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:1).

The most satanic activity of all, therefore, is the making of accusations.

There are some Christians who are very concerned about Satanists, and believe that "spiritual warfare" is concerned with battles against Satanists and other pracititioners of "the occult". But that is really quite far from the truth. Satan is not particularly concerned about Satanists. They have voluntarily entered his prison and have promised that they will not try to escape. Satan is much more concerned about those who have escaped, and that means Satan is far, far more active in churches than he is in Satanist circles. And if he can get people accusing each other and everyone elee, he will be very satisfied indeed.

That's probably more than enough, so I'll end with three quotations, or summaries, from a couple of books.
The Orthodox moral world emerges as an arena in which good struggles against evil, the kingdom of heaven against the kingdom of earth. In life, humans are enjoined to embrace Christ, who assists their attainment of Christian virtues: modesty, humility, patience and love. At the same time, lack of discernment and incontinence impede the realization of these virtues and thereby conduce to sin; sin in turn places one closer to the Devil... Since the resurrection of Christ the results of this struggle have not been in doubt. So long as people affirm their faith in Christ, especially at moments of demonic assault, there is no need to fear the influence of the Devil. He exists only as an oxymoron, a powerless force (Stewart 1991:146).
Asceticism - prayer, fasting and the like, are required of all Christians, but monastics seek to live a life of prayer in order to become prayer. They renounce pleasures, not because they are evil in themselves, but to demonstrate the Christian perfection is attainable in this world. It is the development of a merciful heart and compassion for all. "And what is a merciful heart? The burning of the heart on account of all creation, on account of people and birds and animals and demons, and for every created being." There is no escapism here, no denunciation of the world or hatred of society or of sinners, but only compassion, patience and love. Prayer is an essential component of this spiritual struggle (Oleksa 1992:73-75).
"The main doctrinal point is simple: NO DUALISM. Satan is not to be regarded as a power equal to God. He is God's creation and operates subject to divine will." Other points:
  1. Satan is immaterial; thus there is no excessive concern with his form or geographical associations;
  2. as he has no real power, there is no reason to appeal to him. All rites, sorcery, black magic, astrology and the like that appeal to demons or the devil are fruitless;
  3. Satan's field of operations is narrow, and the harm he can provoke is limited;
  4. Satan is strictly and intrinsically evil. The Church does not accept the existence of intermediate or ambiguous fairy-like creatures such as neraides, gorgones and kallikantzaroi;
  5. Satan is singular. He is the leader of demons who are fallen angels of the same order as himself. There is no real concern for the names of demons (Stewart 1991:148).


  • Oleksa, Michael. 1992. Orthodox Alaska: a theology of mission. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press.
  • Stewart, Charles. 1991. Demons and the devil: moral imagination in modern Greek culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Links to other blogs synchroblogging on Spiritual Warfare

  1. Phil Wyman - Witches, and Spiritual Warfare
  2. John Smulo - Portraits of Spiritual Warfare
  3. Mike Crockett - Sufism: How the Inner Jihad relates to Christian Spiritual Warfare
  4. Steve Hayes - Thoughts on Spiritual Warfare
  5. Marieke Schwartz - Grace in War
  6. Cindy Harvey - Spiritual Warfare. (?)
  7. Jenelle D'Allesandro - The Militancy of Worship
  8. Mike Bursell - Spiritual Warfare: a liberal looking inwards
  9. David Fisher - Spiritual Warfare: Does it have to be loud and wacky?
  10. Brian Heasley - Something from Ibiza via Ireland
  11. Webb Kline - Webb Kline
  12. Sally Coleman - Sally Coleman
  13. Mike Murrow - Mike Murrow

07 January 2007

Trapped in apartheid - South African churches

I've just been reading Charles Villa-Vicencio's book Trapped in apartheid. It was published in 1988, so it's now nearly 20 years old, so it is rather late to be reading it for the first time. It's about another world, another aeon, and yet it was a time I lived through, and so some some of it seems familiar.

At this distance, Villa-Vicencio's book must inevitably be read as a historical document. It is about what he calls "the English-speaking Churches" in South Africa, and their response to apartheid. The term "English-speaking Churches" itself has a strangely anachronistic feel. The "English-speaking Churches" are the Anglican (Church of the Province of Southern Africa), Methodist (Methodist Church of Southern Africa), Presbyterian, and Congregational (United Congregational Church in Southern Africa). In all of them, the majority of members are not English speaking, though the proceedings at their main administrative meetings were usually conducted in English -- but so were those of other denominations, like the Baptists and the Assemblies of God and the Roman Catholics. What these four have in common is that they are all members of the Church Unity Commission, which has been seeking to unite them for the past 50 years or more.

What strikes me most strongly, reading the book at this distance in time, is how extraordinarily narrow it is. In tracing the response of these four denominations to apartheid, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, Villa-Vicencio ignores huge chunks of Christian experience, and gives a thoroughly distorted picture. I suppose part of the problem lies in his approach and methodology. He is writing from a sociotheological point of view. In one chapter he gives a historical suvey of the response of these churches to apartheid, but it is actually full of a-historical generalities that beg the question. It gives a sociological explanation for these denominations being "trapped in apartheid", but very little historical evidence, beyond mere assertion, that they were actually trapped in apartheid.

That is not to say I necessarily disagree with his main thesis -- I believe they were, to some extent, trapped in apartheid, but if the church history of that period is to be written, it will be very different from the partial picture painted by Villa-Vicencio. These comments of mine are perhaps the opposite of Villa-Vicencio's. His are full of broad sociological generalisations, mine are full of personal anecdotes. But narrative theology is all the rage, or at least it was ten years ago.

On reading Charles Villa-Vicencio's Trapped in apartheid I realise that two of the events in 1985 that he makes a great deal of hardly affected me at all at the time, and more or less passed me by. These were the Kairos document and A call to prayer for an end to unjust rule. I had heard of the Kairos document, but it hardly impinged on my consciousness at the time. I don't recall hearing of the Call to prayer until I read his book.

Villa-Vicencio bases his main critique of the "English-speaking churches" on the Kairos document, and he said that their response to apartheid was "protest without resistance". He examines it in three main areas: the response to Bantu Education, the armed struggle, and the campaign for disinvestment and economic sanctions.

Villa-Vicencio was rather scathing about the response of academics to the Kairos document, but I suspect that it was mainly academics who made it known and kept it alive. If university theology faculties had not given their students assignments and exam questions on the Kairos document over the next ten years or so, very few people would have heard of it.

Villa-Vicencio devotes a single paragraph to the Message to the people of South Africa, issued in 1968, noting that it "rejected apartheid as a pseudo-gospel, anticipating the 1982 'Apartheid is a Heresy' resolution of the WARC by fourteen years."

I believe that The Message to the people of South Africa had a far greater impact on "the English-speaking churches" than the Kairos document. It was preceded by a conference on pseudogospels, and one of the points made at the conference was that a pseudogospel is far worse than a heresy. It therefore went far beyond the resolution of the WARC (World Alliance of Reformed Churches) in its rejection of apartheid on theological grounds. It noted that a heresy is a wrong doctrine, or an incorrect formulation of a teaching on the Christian faith. While it might be technically in error, however, some heretical formulations could remain quite close to the dynamics of the true gospel. A pseudogospel, however, is a false offer of salvation, and is therefore much worse than a mere heresy.

I believe the "Message" had a greater impact than the Kairos document for several reasons. First, its formulation was a far more public thing, and involved a greater number of people. It was issued jointly by the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and the Christian Institute, both influential bodies among "the English-speaking churches". The Kairos document was drawn up by a small group, and signed by a few more people, and issued in the name of a group of individuals who, while they might be respected, did not necessarily speak for any group.

Secondly, the "Message"marked a significant development in public Christian responses to apartheid. Most of the earlier criticisms of apartheid from Christian groups had been directed at the implementation rather than the ideology. In its implementation it caused injustice and unnecessary suffering. There was the implication that it would be all right if only it were humanely applied. If there was any criticism of the principles of apartheid, it was (as Villa-Vicencio points out) from a fairly general liberal point of view rather than a specifically theological one. The "Message" emphasised that not only was apartheid wrong in practice, but it was wrong in principle. It was not merely the implementation, but the ideology, that was so utterly opposed to the Christian faith as to be not merely a heresy, but a false gospel.

The third thing is perhaps the most important, and is something that deserves further analysis. It supports Villa-Vicencio's conclusion, but an analysis of it may give a better reason for why "the English-speaking chruches" failed to move from protest to resistance. This third thing was that the publication of the Message was followed by several meetings at which the formation of "obedience to God" groups was discussed. These groups would be centres of Christian resistance, and the nucleus of a confessing church. The idea never really took off, however, mainly because of the reluctance of the Christian Institute, which had been attacked by the Dutch Reformed Churches as a schismatic new denomination. Bishop Bill Burnett, the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, said that because of his position he could not lead such a movement, but if nobody else tried to get it going, he might consider doing so.

Eleven years later, in 1979, Bill Burnett was the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, and thus president of the Anglican Provincial Synod, and he threw down the gauntlet of a similar challenge to the Synod meeting in Grahamstown. This too is not mentionewd by Villa-Vicencio, but goes right to the heart of his contention, and if it is to be analysed historically then Burnett's two challenges should be considered.

There was a rather long and waffling motion being debated by the Synod about the permits that the government required the church to apply for. Bill Burnett spoke from the chair, saying that he disliked having to apply for permits, but he thought it was part of his role in keeping the institutional church going. He was quite prepared to see the institutional church die, and if that was what synod really wanted him to do, he would do it. It was a challenge to the synod to "think sect", based on the same kind of thinking as in the earlier "Obedience to God" movement. It was a challenge to the synod to move beyond passing resolutions, and to actually act on its principles. The synod failed to meet the challenge, and Bill Burnett retired before the next one met.

The press picked it up, and if the synod had not resolved to play it safe, it might have been a very different story. There was no resolution to this effect that was minuted. Burnett's direct challenge was met by embarrassed silence and evasion; and at that moment the synod, black members as well as white, showed itself to be indeed trapped in apartheid. Burnett had opened to door a chink, but the church did not want to escape from the trap.

There are a few other things, not mentioned by Villa-Vicencio, that may possibly have played a role in the response of "the English-speaking churches".

One was the charismatic renewal movement, which swept through "the English-speaking churches" in the 1970s and 1980s.It actually started among black Anglicans in the 1940s, but did not have a significant impact on whites in these churches until the lat 1960s and early 1970s. Villa-Vicencio fails to mention it at all, and infact there has been very little study of it by church historians.

An event that also had a considerable effect on "the English-speaking churches" was the South African Christian Leadership Assembly (SACLA) in 1979. This was a gathering of some 5000 people, mainly from "the English-speaking churches" in Pretoria. As far as I know its effects have not been studied, and Villa-Vicencio ignored it.

Another thing ignored by Villa-Vicencio is the National Initiative for Reconciliation, which appeared on the scene about the same time as the Kairos document (and for a while the South African government confused the two). It was a response to apartheid; though it differed from the approach of the Kairos document, it probably involved a larger number of people. Villia-Vicencio's book would have been more complete, and perhaps more convincing, if he had compared them.

And finally, an anecdote.

According to Villa-Vicencio, there was a Call for prayer against unjust rule on 16 June 1985. I never heard of it. The 16th June 1985 was a Sunday, and at that time I was an Anglican. The Revd Alphaeus Ndebele and I had been licenced as assistant priests in the parish of St Francis, Mamelodi East. The reason for this was that we were involved in an outreach mission in KwaNdebele, the newest "homeland" and resettlement area, and that the priest at St Francis, David Aphane, had started. We were there because the parish was seen by the diocese as a base for mission and outreach.

That was not how the parish saw it, however. That Sunday the parish annual vestry meeting was held after the service. The parish council was reelected en bloc. The churchwarden announced that Alphaeus Ndebele and I had been sent there because their priest had just been given extra duties as an archdeacon, so we were there to "help in the parish" because of that. Nothing could have been further from his mind than outreach in KwaNdebele. And the Call for prayer to end unjust rule didn't even appear on the radar screen.

St Francis was in a black township where there was quite a lot of resistance at that time, and several people were shot at one gathering. But this impinged hardly at all on the parish and its vestry meeting.

The story of "the English-speaking churches" being trapped in apartheid is a lot more complex and nuanced than Villa-Vicencio seems to think.

05 January 2007

Christmas holiday in Somalia?

Eric Margolis writes
Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia under cover of the Christmas holiday was a blatant aggression that is likely to widen the arc of conflict across the dangerously turbulent Horn of Africa. It also marks the opening of a new front in Washington's war against Islamic militants and reformers

"Under cover of the Christmas holiday?

Does Somalia (a predominantly Muslim country) have a Christmas holiday?

And though Ethiopia is predominantly Christian, it follows the old calendar, and will only be celebrating Christmas on 7 January.

I'm not saying it is impossible, but it is at least questionable -- does anyone know if either country has a Christmas holiday on 25 December?

04 January 2007

Another synchro-blog: Spiritual warfare

Last month a group of us posted a "synchroblog" -- several blogs dealing with the same general topic. Proved quite a stimulating exercise, and Phil Wyman has proposed that we do another one in January, this time on the theme "Spiritual warfare".

This is not an exclusive game -- anyone can join in. All you need to do is post something in your blog on the theme of "spiritual warfare" on 10 January, and let Phil know so that he can add you to the list.

The result is a number of posts on the same topic from different points of view.

There have already been a number of separate discussions on the topic (for mine, click on the "spiritual warfare" tag in the labels for this post, and it should bring them all up). The idea is to try to draw the threads together.

03 January 2007

George W. Bush: Islamism's best friend

Ivan Eland was written an article on a disturbing trend in US foreign policy George W. Bush: Islamism's best friend.

When US forces invaded Iraq in 2003 in order to bring about "regime change", it was difficult to see what other outcome there could be than the replacement of Saddam Hussein's secular Ba'athist regime by an Islamist one. The only alternative to that is permanent American occupation. And that doesn't count Afghanistan, where the Americans are learning what the USSR learnt in the 1980s.

Eland's article shows the effects in other ways. I don't agree with his analysis in every respect, but the question remains: why does George W. Bush seem so determined to entrench Islamist influence in the Near and Middle East? What does he stand to gain from it? Or is he just too stupid to realise that that is what he is doing? And then there is fact that his policies seem calculated to eradicate every trace of Christianity from the land of its birth.

Thanks to A conservative blog for peace for the link.

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Below each posting on this blog there is a place for comments, where you can add your own comments, or read comments other people have made.

Before your comments are posted, however, you have to type in a random series of letters to show that you are a person and not a bot trying to post comment spam.

Even if you type in the letters correctly, however, your comment is not always posted. You sometimes have to type several sets of letters to get it to post. If you post a comment therefore, scroll down to the bottem of the comment area. If what you typed is still there, your comment has not been posted, and you will need to type more letters before your comment is posted. Repeat this until the comment space is blank. Then your comment will be posted. Maybe.

Link to this and Blog this

There is also a thing that says "Link to this post". That doesn't work properly. This is the Blogger Beta version, which is now "fully featured". It has all the features, but they don't all work, that the "Link to this post" doesn't work properly, and the "Blog this" feature doesn't work at all.

But if you click on the "Link to this" you can copy the link that appears (sometimes) to your clipboard, and use it to put a link in your blog. Sometimes the link doesn't appear, and you are asked to log in again, and again, and again. Then you know that this feature isn't working today.


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