30 March 2007

Thandanani - ecumenical discussion forum

I've started a new discussion forum on YahooGroups called Thandanani.

It is for Christians of different backgrounds and traditions to learn about each other's faith traditions and discuss their worship, theology, doctrines, beliefs and practices in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Thandanani is a Zulu word that means "love one another".

The aim is to have discussion rather than debate, exchange of information rather than proselytising and polemics. For it to work we need to have active participation of Christians from a wide variety of traditions -- the fundamental, the sacramental and the sentimental: all are welcome.

The Thandanani forum has its origins in one with similar aims on the FamilyNet BBS network. That forum was called PHILOS, from the Greek word for friendship. Like that one, Thandanani is intended to be a place where Christians can discuss their differences and what they have in common in a friendly atmosphere.

I was moved to revive it by Les Chatwind, one of my fellow synchrobloggers, who wanted to discuss Orthodox theology, and I couldn't think of another suitable forum.

For the purposes of the forum "Christian" means those who believe in the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It's not an interfaith forum -- there are other forums for that.

You don't have to be a Christian to join; you just need to have an interest in the topic and want to learn more.

To learn more, and how to join, visit


Group Email Addresses
Post message: thandanani@yahoogroups.com
Subscribe: thandanani-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
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List owner: thandanani-owner@yahoogroups.com

Morehead's Musings: Symbolic Countercultures and Rituals of Opposition

In his blog Morehead's Musings: Symbolic Countercultures and Rituals of Opposition John Morehead writes
one of the books I finished last night is J. Milton Yinger's Countercultures: The Promise and Peril of a World Turned Upside Down (New York: The Free Press, 1982). In his chapter on symbolic countercultures he includes discussion on rituals of opposition and how these serve or function as countercultures. In this section he discusses the belief in "inverted beings" among the Lugbara in what is now known as Uganda. He states that these beings "behaved in ways 'the opposite of the ways expected of normal socialized persons in Lugbara society today.'"

The description "inverted beings" could also apply, though in different ways to the holy fools found in the Chrsitian world. As Jim Forest puts it
While there is much variety among them, holy fools are in every case ascetic Christians living outside the borders of conventional social behavior -- people who in most parts of the developed world would be locked away in asylums or ignored until the elements silenced them.

Karen M. Staller, the author of a book on Runaways, describes in an interview how the 1960s counterculture influenced American society and worldwide youth culture
Q: You argue the counterculture was influential in this discussion. How so?

KS: I make at least three arguments in this regard. First, by using the New York Times as a source of evidence, I trace the construction of "runaway" stories over an eighteen-year period. In the early 1960s, running away was characterized as a private family matter of little public consequence, but by the mid-1970s it was being typified by young teenage prostitutes. This shift is traceable to 1966-67, when runaway accounts commingled with reports on the hippie counterculture. The "safe runaway adventurer story" construction could not survive, and what emerged in the aftermath of the "hippie" phenomena was a new conceptualization of the typical runaway as a much more troubled, street-based child.

Second, I argue that writers of the Beat movement were providing an alternative (and much more hip) version of "dropping out" for a generation of Baby Boomers who were reading works like Kerouac's On the Road (for example, I use the life histories of two Beat "muses," Herbert Huncke and Neal Cassady). This version of "running away" stood in sharp contrast with the Establishment's interpretation. Arguably, a second generation of counterculturists, calling themselves Diggers, picked up on these ideas and created youth communities that embodied much of the "beat" philosophy. Runaways were attracted to these ideas and to the lifestyle being enacted in counterculture communities such as Haight-Ashbury.

Third, during the mid-1960s the Diggers were engaged in a cultural critique in which they attempted to "enact Free." Their goal was to create a true counterculture that would sustain a community of like-minded social activists free of the social, cultural, moral, and economic constraints of mainstream society. In the process of performing "Free," Diggers provided free crash pads, free clinics, free food, a free store, and telephone help lines (hence earning them such much-detested labels from mainstream journalists as "psychedelic" social workers, "mod" monks, and "hip" charity workers). Both the messages emanating from these communities about love, peace, and alternative families, and the concrete services being provided, were attractive to younger runaway children. In 1967, as the media, acid rock, and pop music groups of the day promoted a so-called "Summer of Love" in San Francisco, Diggers called on the local community for help in caring for the younger children. The community responded by opening Huckleberry House, the first of what would become a nationwide movement of alternative and radical service providers that sheltered runaway children. The shelters looked quite a bit like the Digger crash pads and incorporated many counterculture values.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketTowards the end of the hippie period the film Brother Sun, Sister Moon was released. It showed the life of Francis of Assissi, incorporating the hippie values of the dropout culture. And the early Franciscan movement was certainly countercultural in its own time, in a way that appealed to those involved in or at least sympathetic with the counterculture. In 1960 an Anglican monk, Brother Roger of the Community of the Resurrection, wrote an article with the title God's cool cat: How Beat were the Franciscans and how Franciscan are the Beats? anticipating Zefirelli by nearly 15 years.

In the early 1970s, however, the theoretical possibilities were taking practical form. Jesus freaks like the Children of God were spreading to cities throughout the world distributing their publication New Nation News, and urging people to see Brother Sun, Sister Moon. They lived in hippie communes, which they called "colonies", a term also used by the early Christian communities. Here, for anyone who wanted to see, was the new monasticism. Here were the "inverted beings" trying to turn the world upside down, or, from their point of view, right side up.

Unfortunately, as often happens with idealistic movements, things went sour. In the case of the Children of God the leader, Dave Berg, who called himself Moses David or just Mo, became increasingly erratic and authoritarian. In later issues of New Nation News it became apparent that "Mo" was trying to draw people to himself rather than to Jesus, and the pages of the magazine became increasingly filled with sexual innuendo, for which Dave Berg coined the term "flirty fishing". But that was far from the vision of the Durban colony of the Children of God in 1974, who preached and lived the love of God and urged people to see a film about the life of Francis of Assissi.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketI believe that one of the things that went wrong with the "new monasticism" of the Children of God was that it was disconnected from the old monasticism. The Orthodox "fools for Christ" are inverted beings, and very often their behaviour, by the standards of respectable society, is quite bizarre. The Greek word for them, sali, is the root of the English word silly, and a silly fool is a blessed fool, one who has been touched by God.

Also in the 1970s an American, Eugene Rose, became an Orthodox monk. He had studied at the American Institute of Asian Studies in San Francisco where he met Gary Snyder, one of the inspirers of the Beats, immortalised in Jack Kerouac's novel The Dharma bums as Japhy Ryder. Eugene Rose took the monastic name Seraphim, and sought to establish an American version of traditional Orthodox monasticism. In the 1990s the example of Fr Seraphim Rose inspired a new generation of youth to distribute a revolutionary Christian zine, Death to the world. It was the same size and format as New Nation News, but it had its roots in 20 centuries of monastic wisdom. "Death to the world is a zine to inspire Truth-seeking and soul searching amidst the modern age of nihilism and despair, promoting the ancient principles of the last true rebellion: to be dead to this world and alive to the other world." It published testimonies of the new generation of "punx 2 monks", and its story was told in a book Youth of the Apocalypse.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIt is perhaps a coincidence that the traditional dress and external appearance of monks resembled that adopted by many in the counterculture of the 1960s -- long hair in pony tails and beards for the male monastics. But the internal rebellion has remained the same through the ages: rejection of the dog-eats-dog consumer society.

One problem is that countercultures keep getting coopted by mainstream cultures. The Beats of the 1950s and the hippies of the 1960s had various visions of alternative lifestyles. But it wasn't long before banks were offering "lifestyle banking", and the lifestyle they promoted in their advertising was one of conspicuous consumption: a yacht, a swimming pool, a fancy car -- a far cry indeed from the simple lifestyle advocated by the counterculture. But even the most imaginative copywriter would be hard put to come up with "lifestyle banking" for monks.

The Jesus freaks of the late 1960s and early 1970s promoted "revolution for Jesus", but it wasn't long before the slogans and symbols of the revolution were being coopted by young fogeys in suits who ran middle-class youth groups in middle-class suburban churches, and promoted a new line of sanitised Jesus kitsch like patches to put on your pre-faded, pre-shrunk, pre-torn jeans.

The last true rebellion was also the first. There may be a need for a new monasticism, but apart from the old, it will easily be coopted by the world. No mater how the world's fashions change, monks somehow always look, and are, countercultural.

29 March 2007

it seems to me...: the god delusion: a source criticism

Anyone who has done courses in Biblical Studies at university or done postmodern literary studies should find this exercise in deconstruction interesting: it seems to me...: the god delusion: a source criticism.

It seems that the book The god delusion is based on two very different and sometimes contradictory sources, H and A, which have been drawn together by a redactor, R, who tries to harmonise them.

28 March 2007

GodWordThink: Evangelicals?

What is an Evangelical? Am I one? Do I want to be one? asks Richard from Cyprus in GodWordThink: Evangelicals?

It's a good question, because the word "evangelical" now has so many different meanings that it is difficult to know what people mean by it unless they define it each time they use it. It seems that secular journalists, especially in America, use it almost as a synonym for "fundamentalists", yet not many years ago one of the big disputes between different Protestant groups in America was precisely the dispute between "Evangelicals" and "Fundamentalists", who were at odds with each other on a variety of issues.

Richard in his post examines the differences between US and UK evangelicals. In part, these differences are cultural, but as Richard points out, they are also theological, and two groups of self-styled evangelicals seem to have quite different understandings of what they are, and what evangelicalism is.

In part the problem is that "evangelical" is basically an adjective that has been pressed into service as a noun, and the noun meanings are beginning to take over the adjectival ones. Orthodox Christians can easily describe their faith as "evangelical", since it is based on the good news of Jesus Christ.

27 March 2007


Robert Mugabe likes to create the impression that all the problems of Zimbabwe are caused by imperialists and colonialists of the west, and that all his critics are somehow allied with George Bush, Tony Blair & Co.

Actually it is not so.

The opposition to Mugabe's rule comes from the urban working class in Zimbabwe, and it is they who have borne the brunt of his oppression. As I noted in an earlier post, the open tension between ZANU-PF and the MDC in Zimbabwe is mirrored in the tensions within the tripartite alliance in South Africa.

And now Blade Nzimande has said something on the subject:

'ANC following in Zanu-PF's footsteps'
Christelle Terreblanche
March 25 2007 at 03:14PM

Blade Nzimande, the SA Communist Party leader, has warned that the ANC government may be falling into the same trap as its Zimbabwean counterparts.

Nzimande on Saturday said the SACP should carefully scrutinise its own alliance partner for signs of similarity between the ANC and the Zimbabwean ruling party, Zanu-PF, which has come under renewed international condemnation for its recent repression of opposition and civil society.

Nzimande coined the phrase "govermentalisation of the national liberation struggle" to warn against the dangers of Zanu-PF's and President Robert Mugabe's hold on power.

More here: 'ANC following in Zanu-PF's footsteps'

25 March 2007

Brian McLaren to speak in Pretoria

I gather Brian McLaren is one of the gurus of the emerging church movement, and I've just had news that he will be speaking in Pretoria soon, but there is quite a hefty price to attend his lecture, so I would really appreciate comments from my emerging church friends on whether it's worth shelling out 150 bucks to go and hear him. As a missiologist I feel I ought to keep informed about such things, but is he a good source of information?

Start: 3 May 2007 - 18:30
End: 3 May 2007 - 21:00
Organiser: Sean Callaghan
Contact details: sean@melvillejunction.net

Public Lecture and Q&A – The Secret Message of Jesus. Cost: R150
Venue: NGK Universiteitsoord, Pretoria. 105 Duxbury Ave, Hillcrest, Pretoria.

The "secret message of Jesus" label worries me a little too -- it sound gnostic.

Blog carnival or synchroblog?

I just discovered a post about a Blog Carnival, which seems to be quite similar to the Synchronised Blogging some of us have been doing over the last few months, where people blog on the same topic on a particular day. There's even a Wikipedia entry on them.

And now there is a proposal for a kind of mammoth blog carnival in which they hope to have 30000 bloggers doing a synchronised blog on the same day.

24 March 2007

Archbishop Ncube 'ready to face bullets'

Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube called for street protests against human rights abuses by the government of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and said he was prepared to face bullets if necessary

read more | digg story

23 March 2007

Orthodoxy as Boutique Religion?

The Scrivener: Orthodoxy as Boutique Religion? writes entertainingly about about a view of Western converts to Orthodoxy, which sometimes turns out to be conversion to a subculture.

Orthodox Monk writes about Pentecostalism and the Orthodox Tradition of the Philokalia.

I was unable to comment on their posts in their blogs, so I thought I would combine my comments on both into a new post, though it might make more sense if you read their posts first.

Orthodox Monk says
We really are out of our depth. We really know nothing about Pentecostalism and it would require a degree in religious doctrine and sociology to sort out the different currents in Pentecostalism...

We do know that none of the Elders of the Orthodox Church has ever endorsed Pentecostalism. That is important for there are clearly charismatic elements in the Orthodox tradition of the Philokalia: an Orthodox Elder is normally revealed to the body of the Church through his gifts of clairvoyance.
And he goes on to compare reports of different kinds of Pentecostal and charismatic worship, including the Toronto Blessing, and worship in an American neopentecostal church.

I may be able to help in some ways, as I have had some experience of Pentecostal and charismatic worship, mainly in an Anglican setting, though also among traditional Pentecostals such as the Assemblies of God, and also among neopentecostals. Before I became Orthodox I was in the Anglican Diocese of Zululand, where a charismatic renewal movement started in the 1940s, propagated by the Iviyo loFakazi bakaKristu (Legion of Witnesses of Christ).

In the 1970s the charismatic renewal movement swept Western denominations, including Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians and others. It also gave rise to new denominations, called "neopentecostal" to distinguish them from traditional Pentecostal denominations. This happened not only in South Africa, but it was a worldwide phenomenon. In South Africa it led to the dramatic growth of a community of Anglican nuns, the Community of the Holy Name, especially in Zululand. It led to a new ecumenism -- a Pentecostal choir singing in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Durban and a new optimism in the face of the intractable problems of apartheid and oppression and racial divisions. The South African Defence force was pitted against the liberation armies, and the charismatics proclaimed "Jesus has not come to take sides but to take over."

The founders of the Iviyo movement, Bishop Alpheus Zulu and Canon Philip Mbatha, were not, as "Orthodox Monk" implies, demonised. They were the nearest thing to Orthodox spiritual elders I found in the Anglican Church, men of wisdom and spiritual discernment. Many young men in Zululand went to the sisters of the Community of the Holy Name as I saw young people in Bulgaria visit sisters in an Orthodox monastery outside Sofia, for spiritual counsel and advice.

But not all involved in the Western charismatic renewal were as disciplined as those involved in Iviyo. There were plenty of spiritual "lone rangers", who wandered around convinced that the new teaching revealed to them must be heard, and supersede all others. Some came up with fanciful theories of the revival of apostolic ministries, and proclaimed themselves to be the embodiment of that revival, claiming that they were the new apostles.

At Iviyo conferences, on the other hand, while there may have been 2000 people yelling and jumping and praying in tongues, there would be, out of sight, in the crypt of the church, or a school classroom, a group of about 20, mostly priests and nuns, praying all the time. If anyone claimed to have a revelation from God to give to the main meeting, they had first to take it to those who were praying, who might say that no, that was not a revelation from God, but a spiritual delusion (for which Orthodox Christian have a technical term, plani or prelest.

Some American charismatic leaders were aware of the dangers of this lack of discipline, and to counteract it, people like Derek Prince and others started the "shepherding movement" but this in turn led to excesses in the opposite direction.

In the Orthodox Church, the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit never ceased to operate, but they were always exercised under the guidance of clairvoyant spiritual elders who were themselves guided by their own spiritual fathers. This meant that there were not wild swings between the individualism of the freelance spiritual lone rangers and the authoritarianism of the shepherding movement. And it is this that constitutes the main difference between the charismatic elements of the Orthodox tradition, and those found in the Pentecostal movement in the West.

Those who have been involved in Western Pentecostalism and the charismatic renewal movement can often appreciate Orthodoxy when they see it. One of the leaders of the Anglican charismatic renewal in England, Canon Michael Harper, is now the Dean of the Antiochian Orthodox Deanery in the UK. I have taken Pentecostal friends to Orthodox services and they have appreciated them more than other Protestants who are hung up on "the word". Pentecostal/charismatic worship tends, like Orthodox worship, to go beyond merely "hearing the word".

Older Protestant hymns did sometimes mention experience, but tended, especially in the 19th century, to be individualistic and introspective, describing the feelings of the author of the hymn rather than praising God. By singing them, the worshippers might get ideas about how they ought to feel, but it was not really worship.

Back in the 1960s I once organised a service, led by an ecumenical group in an Anglican church, that included many of the elements that "Orthodox Monk" describes as demonic -- loud music, flashing lights, dancing, etc. One result was that the Anglican bishop of Natal fired me as an Anglican deacon. Another was that the bishop preached in the church soon afterwards, and told the congregation that their church had been profaned (and this appeared on the front page of the local newspaper the following day). A third result was that I and the other Anglican members of the group that had led the service, feeling that we had been excommunicated from the Anglican Church, went to the Divine Liturgy at the local Orthodox Church, where we were received sympathetically by the priest, who said, in effect, that the Anglican Bishop of Natal was an old square. I might have become Orthodox then and there, had not another Anglican bishop asked me to go and work for him, so my conversion to Orthodxy was delayed by 15 years.

My point is this: that many things in the Pentecostal/charismatic movement are things that Orthodoxy has had all along, but which had been neglected in Western Christianity. The Pentecostal/charismatic movement was in some ways a correction of the imbalance, though it has tended to become unbalanced the other way. Now that I am Orthodox, I would not be at all tempted to organise a "psychedelic service" in an Orthodox Church, because Orthodox worship does not have the deficiencies of much Western Protestant worship that makes people feel the need for that. Where there are deficiencies (from a human point of view) in Orthodox worship, they can be corrected not by scrapping it and replacing it with something else, but by restoring it.

What about The Scrivener: Orthodoxy as Boutique Religion??

This is a response to The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity: Western "Eastern Orthodoxy" as Boutique Religion, who says, among other things, that "If anything, it is for the most part an exotic spirituality that ignores the patrimony of the Western Church and seeks to replace the struggles at the heart of Christianity with escapism."

I presume that the problem to which it is not the answer is "the struggles at the heart of Christianity". And the Sarabite concludes with "Not taking this in its most integrist reading, we can say that the West does not need Eastern Orthodoxy to restore it. It can surely help, but the West itself has all that is necessary for the restoration of the Church." And that is a kind of "tu quoque" argument that needs to be taken seriously. One of the great complaints of the Orthodox in the Second World in the early 1990s was that they did not need Western Christians to come and help them restore Christianity in the East after several decades of state-sponsored atheism. Yet many Orthodox Christians in the West appear to believe that Orthodoxy is needed to rescue the West from the forces of secularism and modernity, in a kind of postmodern restoration of premodernity. But that is perhaps a matter for another debate.

For me, however, the question was slightly different. A senior Anglican priest in South Africa, Walter Goodall, writing about the drift of Anglicanism away from the historic Christian faith, said that the solution would be for Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic Church, since the Pope of Rome "is, after all, the Patriarch of the West".

I wrote to him pointing out that South Africa was part of Africa, and that therefore in South Africa Anglicans with such concerns should rather look to the Pope of Alexandria, who is, after all, the Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa.

Boutique religion? I don't think so. Orthodoxy has been African since the first century.

The frustrations of Blogger

After a week of erratic and unreliable internet access I finally get a connection that might last until the end of the month (though it leaves me R200 poorer), I think I can now look at some of the itneresting stuff on some of the blogs in my blogroll, and even comment on some other postings.

No such luck!

The connection has timed out

The server at www2.blogger.com is taking too long to respond.

That's the kind of response I'm used to getting from Typepad, now Blogger joins the club.

Oh well, I still seem to be able to post in my own blog, so perhaps I should post my responses here.

22 March 2007

Amatomu - South Africa's answer to Technorati?

First it was South African Blog Top Sites, now it's Amatomu, which is billed as South Africa's answer to Technorati.

It's still in a testing phase, and there are lots of bugs to work out, but it seems to be quite a useful way of finding what South Africans are blogging about.

There doesn't seem to be any way of reporting problems, except through the main Mail & Guardian page (the M&G runs the site), so I'll mention some of them them here, in the hope that someone sees them.
  • There doesn't seem to be a way to log in or out. There is a "Sign up" option, but tring to log in there produces the message that this e-mail address is already in use.
  • How long will it remain a South African blog list? Is there anything to stop pyramid marketers from Korea or penis enlargers from Oklahoma from signing up?
  • There is a category list, though I haven't found a way of searching it yet. It might be good to have some discussion on it, to refine it a bit.

Apart from that, it's looking good so far, and I wish them every success.

21 March 2007

Mugabe, Verwoerd and Human Rights Day

Today is Human Rights Day in South Africa.

It commemorates the massacre of a group of peaceful protesters outside a police station in Sharpeville, near Vereeniging, on 21 March 1960. The protesters had gone to the police station without the passes that blacks had to carry on them at all times, and ask to be arrested for not having a pass. The campaign was started by the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC).

A couple of days later a young PAC leader, Philip Kgosana, led a march of 20000 people into the middle of Cape Town. There was a strong police presence, and after discussions with the senior police officer present, Philip Kgosana led the 20000 protesters peacefully back to the townships. The National Party cabinet was furious, because there had been no bloodshed. They wanted another massacre like Sharpeville, and the career of that police officer was ruined as a result.

There was a storm of protest from the leaders of other countries over the Sharpeville massacre, and one of Dr Verwoerd's favourite mantras at the time was "we will not tolerate any outside interference in our domestic affairs."

This was trotted out whenever other countries, especially those in Western Europe and North America, criticised the policy of apartheid, or the use of violence against political opponents, as at Sharpeville massacre.

Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has been uttering the same mantra for the last few years, and his policies look more and more Verwoerdian, with the violent suppression of political opposition. He has had as many Sharpevilles as Dr Verwoerd ever had, if not more. For years Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa have been telling how they have been beaten up by the police, had their homes burnt down or demolished and worse. Until recently this happened mainly to the less prominent opponents of the government. The beating up of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the parliamentary opposition, puts it on a different level. In Verwoerd's South Africa, opponents of the National Party regime were beaten up, detained without trial, banned, banished, exiled, and sometimes killed. And the response to criticism of this from the USA or Europe was, "We will not tolerate any outside interference in our domestic affairs."

A cartoon in the Johannesburg Star of 2 April 1960 showed Dr Verwoerd surrounded by a group of world leaders preparing to throw stones at Verwoerd, with a Sharpeville label round his neck. There is an anonymous USA figure, with a label of "Little Rock, negro lynchings, Ku Klux Klan", Nehru of India with the label "Kashmir", Krushchev of the USSR with the label "Hungary", and Nkrumah of Ghana with the label "prison for political opponents". And the caption is, "'He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone...' St John, Chapter 8"

Today Mugabe is taking a similar line, and it could be argued that the other world leaders have more blood on their hands than those of 1960. The US government was not itself responsible for the Ku Klux Klan or lynchings, but it is responsible for Guantanamo Bay and the endemic violence in Iraq, which is worse than anything taking place in Zimbabwe, a state of affairs for which Tony Blair of the UK is equally responsible, along with the continuing human rights violations in Kosovo. Tony Blair indeed wanted to introduce 90-day detention in Britain, as was done in South Africa under Verwoerd, and was lauded by the British media for "taking the moral high ground" in doing so -- how the mighty have fallen! They certainly have no room to point fingers at Mugabe, but neither does Mugabe have any room to point fingers at them. Mugabe and his detractors are indeed birds of a feather. But the behaviour of other world leaders does excuse Mugabe for the human rights violations that are taking place in Zimbabwe.

Where the situation differs is that South Africa did not get into serious foreign military adventures until after the death of Verwoerd.

What brought Zimbabwe to its present state?

The main cause was, ironically, its interference in the domestic affairs of the Democratic Republic of Congo, when Mugabe sent troops to support one of the factions in the civil war raging there in the 1990s. Zimbabwe could not afford this, however, and the result of the foreign military adventure was a critical shortage of foreign exchange. This led to a shortage of fuel, which disrupted imports and exports. Zimbabwean businesses that relied on imports and exports began to go bankrupt, unemployment rose, and the urban workers, in particular, became disgruntled with Mugabe's government. The opposition coalesced in the movement for Democratic Change, which derives its main support from the urban workers, much as Cosatu does in South Africa.

Mugabe saw the writing on the wall when he lost a referendum that would increase his executive powers as president. He adopted a two-pronged strategy to win back his lost electoral support: intimidate the urban workers, who were unlikely to switch to supporting him, and bribe the rural peasants. The bribe he could offer the rural peasants was agricultural land owned by commercial farmers, most of whom were white. Farms were expropriated and redistributed to ZANU-PF supporters, or potential supporters, to win back their support at the polls. The farm workers for the most part were evicted, and lost not only their jobs but their homes.

The resulting disruption to agricultural production meant a further dramatic drop in export earnings, which exacerbated the foreign exchange crisis. There was even less money to buy fuel, which meant it was more difficult to export the dwindling cash crops. Maize production also dropped, and Zimbabwe hd to import maize to feed its population, whose army of unemployed was growing and couldn't afford to buy the maise at ever increasing prices. Thousands of Zimbabweans have emigrated as political and economic refugees to other countries, including South Africa, where many have taken to a life of crime.

People sometimes talk of economic sanctions on Zimbabwe, but that would make no difference at all. Economic sanctions imposed from outside could not possibly harm the economy of Zimbabwe any more than the policies of Mugabe's government has done. Mugabe has already imposed the most effective sanctions himself.

Some have suggested that the South African government should "do something", but it is difficult to see exactly what it could do. It could, possibly, emulate George Bush, and send in the army to bring about "regime change" as Bush did in Iraq. But the result of the Iraq adventure is not very encouraging. Life in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, bad as it was, was nothing like as bad as life in Iraq is under George Bush. There is no reason to believe that Zimbabwe would be any better.

And the South African government is divided on the issue. The South African government is a tripartite alliance of the ANC, Cosatu and the Communist Party. Cosatu and the Communist Party have protested vociferously about human rights violations in Zimbabwe, because it is their class allies, the urban workers, who are suffering most under Mugabe's regime. A Cosatu delegation to Zimbabwe was turned back at the Harare airport, with minimal protest from the ANC.

And the spectre of Zimbabwe looms over the tripartite alliance: if Cosatu and the Communist Party split from the ANC, they could very soon find themselves in a similar position vis-a-vis the government as the MDC does in Zimbabwe. Some have suggested that there should be a break, with the Thatcherist ANC and the socialist Cosatu and Commubnist Party appealing for support for their policies from the voters. But if they were outside the government, Cosatu and the Communist Party would have less influence in moderating the Thatcherism of the ANC. So the alliance as a whole would prefer to shut its eyes and hope the Zimbabwe problem would go away. It is one of the roads South Africa could go down, and we don't want to go there.

Today is Human Rights Day.

And while the focus in human rights violations has shifted from South Africa to Zimbabwe, we are no nearer to a solution to the problem of human rights violations in southern Africa than we were 47 years ago.

19 March 2007

No Web access

I've had no access to the Web since last Thursday (15 March), and am posting this from an internet cafe, so there won't be any new postings or responses to comments here until access is restored, whenever that may be. So if you've made a comment on this blog and there has been been no response, that is why.

I'm not sure what the problem is -- my normal e-mail still seems to be working for now, though Web mail on Gmail, Yahoo etc is gone. We've reported it as a fault, but it could be that we have just run out of bandwidth -- kids looking at too many YouTube videos or something. I never look at YouTube myself for precisely this reason, but I think my sons do. If that is the cause, then we'll have to forbid videos altogether. My wife is looking for a job, and losing Web access for 2 weeks each month makes it difficult.

14 March 2007

Consciousness of absurdity and the absurdity of consciousness

It was G.K. Chesterton who said:
the things common to all men are more important than the things peculiar to any men. Ordinary things are more valuable than extraordinary things; nay, they are more extraordinary. Man is something more awful than men; something more strange. The sense of the miracle of humanity itself should be always more vivid to us than any marvels of power, intellect, art, or civilization. The mere man on two legs, as such, should be felt as something more heartbreaking than any music and more startling than any caricature. Death is more tragic even than death by starvation. Having a nose is more comic even than having a Norman nose.

To which I would add that having a state of consciousness is more absurd even than having an altered state of consciousness.


Well, yes.

Back in the 1960s there was a genre of "theatre of the absurd", and in one such play, A resounding tinkle by N.F. Simpson, one of the characters turns on a radio and hears a parody of an Anglican church service, with its versicles and responses:

V: Let us weep at the elastic as it stretches
R: And rejoice that it might have been otherwise

V: Let us sing because round things roll
R: And rejoice that it might have been otherwise

V: How flat are our trays
R: Our sewers how underground and rat-infested altogether

V: As a river flows always towards its mouth
R: So is sugar sweet.

V: Let us laugh with those we tickle
R: And weep with those we expose to teargas.

You get the idea -- but where is all this leading to?

It leads here:

V: Let us throw back our heads and laugh at reality
R: Which is an illusion caused by mescaline deficiency

V: At sanity
R: Which is an illusion caused by alcohol deficiency.

V: At knowledge which is an illusion caused by certain biochemical changes in the human brain structure during the course of human evolution, which had it followed another course would have produced other biochemical changes in the human brain structure, by reason of which knowledge as we now experience it would have been beyond the reach of our wildest imaginings; and by reason of which, what is now beyond our wildest imaginings would have been familiar and commonplace. Let us laugh at these things. Let us laugh at thought.
R: Which is a phenomenon like any other.

V: At illusion
R: Which is an illusion, which is a phenomenon like any other.

V: Let us love diversity.
R: Because there is neither end nor purpose to it.

V: Let us love simplicity.
R: Because there is neither end nor purpose to it.

V: Let us think and think we think because leaves are green and because stones fall and because volcanoes erupt in a world where seas are salt.
R: Amen.

Forty years later I came across this blog: Memoirs of an ex-Christian: I am my brain, in which the writer says, among other things
current advances in science, especially in neuroscience, are pointing to the disconcerting realisation that the soul is simply a product of, and is totally dependent on, the brain. In a fascinating article on the mystery of consciousness, published in the latest edition of Time, Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard

I'd also read something similar in an op-ed article in a Sunday newspaper a couple of years ago, to the effect that some neuroscientists and psychologists who have studied human consciousness had come to the conclusion that there's "nobody home". Such a conclusion might fit well with Buddhist anthropology, which generally denies the "self". It differs from Christian anthropology, which is based on the ultimate significance of the person.

But we didn't need neuroscientists to tell us this. Philosophers have pondered it for centuries, and most moderately bright 16-year-olds go through a solipsist phase. For me it was triggered by reading "The new reality" by Charles L. Harness, which for me was a paradigm shift that shaped my understanding of paradigm shifts.

I suspect that the question whether there is a "ghost in the machine" is not one that will be answered by neuroscience. It ends up in a circular argument, like a snake swallowing its own tail. Pinker's article gives numerous instances of the brain's limitations and the way in which it can be deceived. Why should it not be deceived when it tries to understand its own functioning?

The blogger (following Pinker) goes on to raise another question:
For some, this idea can be incredibly disconcerting. Not only does it rule out an afterlife, but it also brings up the question of morality: how can someone be moral without having to account for their actions in an afterlife? Steven Pinker, in the Time article, argues that the materialistic view of consciousness offers a sounder basis for morality than the supernatural view of an afterlife, as it forces us to recognise the interests of other beings.

Is this anything more than wishful thinking?

If we rely solely on what neuroscience can tell us, the only system of values we can derive from it is nihilism: nothing exists, nothing is knowable, nothing has value.

Whether or not there is a ghost in the machine, one cannot derive values from the mechanism alone.

And Pinker errs when he says that "the biology of consciousness offers a sounder basis for morality than the unprovable dogma of an immortal soul", because the biology of consciousness provides no proof whatever for the value of anything. He also errs if he thinks that Christian morality, for one, depends on the dogma of an immortal soul. It doesn't.

Christian morality does indeed have unprovable dogmas as its basis, but it is just not the dogma of an immortal soul or an afterlife in which there are rewards and punishments. The basis of Christian morality is the idea that persons exist and have value. This is unprovable. But it is precisely the same dogma that lies at the basis of Pinker's proposed morality, and it is equally unprovable, and it cannot be derived from the biology of consciousness. It is derived from the consciousness of consciousness, which is not quite the same thing.

A Christian theologian, Paul Tillich, once said, "It is the greatness of Christianity that we can see how small it is. The importance of being a Christian is that we can stand the insight that it is of no importance."

And perhaps this too can be paraphrased and extended, as I paraphrased and extended the quotation from Chesteron at the beginning. The importance of being a Christian is that we can stand the insight that it is absurd.

But it seems to me that those, like Pinker, who claim to be able to derive morality from the biology of consciousness, do so because they cannot stand the insight that it is absurd.

And then, of course, there is that fool Dawkins.

This a "synchroblog" posting, which means that other bloggers will be posting on the same day on the general theme of "Altered states of consciousness". Here are links to the other postings.
Added in July: here's a belated link that would have been a worthy addition to this Synchroblog: Altered States, by Anthony North.

13 March 2007

The unrespectability of our religion

I was transcribing some of my old journals this morning, and came across what I had written when I was 19 in response to reading about Leon Bloy.
When I got home I finished reading Leon Bloy and marvelled at his faith and devotion. He had been prepared to live nearly all his life in poverty -- nay, in destitution -- for the sake of Jesus.

Like Clement of Alexandria, like St Francis of Assisi, he gave up all for love. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God." The beatniks are looking for what St Francis was looking for; they are after the absolute values of God rather than the relative values of this world. "A saintly clergy means a virtuous people; a virtuous clergy means a respectable people; a respectable clergy means a godless people."

Christians must never become respectable. Respectability is the curse of true religion. The slavish following of convention and the mediocrity it leads to, or springs from, are the enemy of all true Christianity. People become indistinguishable, they merge into the mass of the respectable, conventional mass of unthinking semi-morons that people this globe; they have no variety, and variety is the spice of life. They are tasteless, "and if the salt hath lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?" Most Christians do not take their faith at all seriously -- in one sense -- they are prepared to live with it, but only just. They will not live for their faith, and certainly will not die for it. Saints were too unconventional, too unrespectable, to be imitated. People pay lip service to the examples of the saints, But if anyone should try to follow their example he is denounced, and they say, "Religion is a good thing, but that is taking it too far." The person against whom such an accusation is levelled has probably just begun to take religion at all seriously. Christians are a lot of hypocrites people say, but if they try not to be hypocrites, then they are fanatics. The unrespectability of our religion! (Journal entry: 17 August 1960)

That was over 40 years ago. I had been introduced to Leon Bloy by Brother Roger, of the Anglican Community of the Resurrection. Bloy's ideas were more than 60 years old then, and yet they seemed equally relevant to the 1960s. And now I keep reading about similar ideas in emerging church circles, including such things as urban monasticism. I look back at and cringe a little at the teenage arrogance, and wonder if our generation turned out any better than those we so self-righteously denounced.

Things have not changed much since then, it seems. A recent survey shows that most Christians in many countries see themselves first of all as citizens of this world rather than as citizens of the kingdom of God. Our citizenship is in heaven, says St Paul, but most have other gods. This is perhaps not so surprising in Russia, where atheism was the official state-sponsored religion for two generations, but it is a little more disturbing in other countries.

There also seems to be an anomaly in the case of the USA, where a higher proportion said that they saw themselves as Christians first, and citizens of their country second. But I wonder -- I suspect that many of those who said that would respond to their country's recent wars of aggression in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq by saying "My country, right or wrong".

09 March 2007

Synchroblog - altered states of consciousness

For the last few months a group of Christian bloggers have been doing a -- blogging on the same general subject on the same day. Previous subjects have been syncretism, spiritual warfare and love.

This month's topic will be "Altered states of consciousness", and the synchronised blogging will take place on about 14 March 2007 (actual appearance of the postings will depend on time zones).

One of the interesting things about synchroblogging is that one can look at the same topic from a variety of points of view. So watch this space on or about 14 March.

And if you'd like to know more on synchroblogging, and perhaps take part yourself, click on the synchroblog label below, or on the Technorati tag here:

05 March 2007

Planning and goal setting in mission

Twenty years ago I went on a course in mission and evangelism at the Haggai Institute in Singapore. It was a month-long course for people from many different countries in what was then called the Third World. One of the things they taught us was planning and goal setting....

The rest of this post, and the links to it, you can find on my experimental Wordpress blog, Khanya.

This isn't just a trick post to try and get you to look over there (though I hope you will, if you are interested in the topic), but also part of my continuing experiments to try to see if I should stick with Blogger or move to WordPress for blogging. So if you have comments to make on the topic of planning and goal setting in mission, I hope you'll make them over on the other blog, but if you have comments ot make on which blogging software is better, I hope you'll make them here.

One of the things I'm playing with in this is the trackback feature in WordPress, which seems to work rather like the (now broken) "Blog this" feature in Blogger.

04 March 2007

The demonification of Serbia

There has been very little publicity in the Western media about the International Court of Juctice's ruling that Serbia was not responsible for many of the war crimes that the Western media had accused, tried and convicted it of. Here is one of the exceptions.
Slobodan Milosevic was posthumously exonerated on Monday when the international court of justice ruled that Serbia was not responsible for the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica. The former president of Serbia had always argued that neither Yugoslavia nor Serbia had command of the Bosnian Serb army, and this has now been upheld by the world court in The Hague. By implication, Serbia cannot be held responsible for any other war crimes attributed to the Bosnian Serbs.

The Western Confucian asks whether Mr Clinton will soon be shipped off to the Hague to face trial. Or Messrs Blair and Bush, for that matter. There are also interesting comments here and here.

Nobody came out of the wars of the Yugoslav succession smelling of roses. Horrible atrocities were commited on all sides. But the attempts of Western politicans and the Western media to demonify the Serbs and lay all the blame on them must rank as one of the more disreputable spin attempts of the 20th century.

The situation was summed up rather well by Samuel Huntington, in his The clash of civilizations and the remaking of the world order:
The breakup of Yugoslavia began in 1991 when Slovenia and Croatia moved toward independence and pleaded with Western European powers for support. The response of the West was defined by Germany, and the response of Germany was in large part defined by the Catholic connection. The Bonn government came under pressure to act from the German Catholic hierarchy, its coalition partner the Christian Social Union Party in Bavaria, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and other media. The Bavarian media, in particular, played a crucial role in developing German public sentiment for recognition. 'Bavarian TV', Flora Lewis noted, 'much weighed upon by the very conservative Bavarian government and the strong, assertive Bavarian Catholic Church which had close connections with the church in Croatia, provided the television reports for all of Germany when the war [with the Serbs] began in earnest. The coverage was very one-sided'... Germany pressured the European Union to recognise the independence of Slovenia and Croatia, and then, having secured that, pushed forward on its own to recognize them before the Union did in December 1991.

Austria and Italy promptly moved to recognize the two new states (1991) Slovenia and Croatia, after German recognition and pressure, and very quickly other Western countries, including the United States, followed. The Vatican also played a central role. The Pope declared Croatia to be the "rampart of Christianity," and rushed to extend diplomatic recognition to the two states before the European Union did. The Vatican thus became a partisan in the conflict, which had its consequences in 1994 when the Pope planned visits to the three republics. Opposition by the Serbian Orthodox Church prevented his going to Belgrade, and Serb unwillingness to guarantee his security led to the cancellation of his visit to Sarajevo. He did go to Zagreb, however, where he honoured Cardinal Alojzieje Stepinac, who was asociated with the fascist Croatian regime in World War II that persecuted and slaughtered Serbs, Gypsies and Jews (Huntington 1998:282).

02 March 2007

How much are you worth dead?

Last night my son was watching a TV programme about air crashes, and the relations between airlines and the families of passengers who have been killed in air crashes. I wasn't paying all that much attention, just looking occasionally to see what came up.

The general thrust of the programme was that the airlines treated the families of killed and injured passengers badly -- that they were evasive, and often harsh and cruel. Where there was prima facie evidence of negligence on the part of the airline, the airline sought by every means to play it down, and forced those claiming compensation to prove negligence beyond any doubt, while not giving them access to the evidence. This led to protracted legal battles, and prolonged the suffering of the relatives of victims.

But then they suddenly went over the top, and my sympathy switched to the airlines. They introduced a psychiatrist who described the stress put on the body by the g-force in an aircraft crash, and the pain suffered by the victims in the nanoseconds before they lost consciousness and died. This psychiatrist apparently gave this kind of evidence in compensation cases, and it was the intention to increase the compensation. Of course the same kind of pain is suffered by victims of car crashes, and I wonder if people have taken to sueing the driver at fault if negligence can be proved? But if the victimes are dead, they cannot be compensated. The living relatives can be compensated for the loss they have suffered but how can they be compensated for someone else's pain, and how can they demand it? It seems toally unjust, and almost ghoulish.

How can a society that bombs people out of house and home without a qualm, that aborts thousands of children without a second thought, suddenly turn around and seek to put an enormously high value on a couple of nanosecond of pain for people who are dead? It seems to be a world in which values have got completely distorted.

Can anyone explain?


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