28 June 2007

Crime victims compensation fund

I see that, at last, there is public discussion of the possibility of having a crime victims compensation fund.

But people are asking how such a thing would be funded.

Surely the answer is obvious -- the assets forfeiture unit should transfer the proceeds of crime from the criminals to the victims.

26 June 2007


Over the last couple of weeks I have seen quite a number of blog posts that have referred to an Episopalian minister in the USA who has said she is both Christian and Muslim. Most of posts I have seen that have come from Christian bloggers have been very uninformative and moralistic. They have either simply condemned the minister concerned, without saying why, or they have held it up as an example: see, everything you have been told about the Episcopalians is true.

We all tend to moralise at times. In my own blogs I have tended to moralise about warmongers like Bush and Blair and Clinton, and that has its dangers (Grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother). But their actions have taken place in public view and in democratic societies are exposed to public debate.

In the case of the Episcopalian minister who claims to be both Christian and Muslim, however, there have been a couple of media reports, which have been, in the nature of such things, rather shallow. And in neither the media reports nor most of the blog postings I have read has there been any serious attempt to get to grips with the real issues.

One exception is this post by The Imugi on Religious Syncretism. The Imugi is not a Christian, but a religious syncretist practising a mixture of Taoism and Buddhism (a kind of syncretism that is quite common in East Asia), yet displays a far better grasp of the issues than most Christian blogs I have read on the topic.

A few months ago we had a synchroblog on Syncretism (you can see my contribution, with links to the others, here: Notes from underground: Syncretism in Western Christianity. I nominate the Imugi's post for honorary, though belated inclusion.

23 June 2007

Poéfrika: Meme findings - what did Jesus look like?

Poéfrika: What race was Jesus? Do we care? and in follow-up posts writes about two pictures of Jesus in a discussion about whether Jesus should be portrayed as black or white, and the notion that Jesus is blond and blue-eyes, because of some recent Western Christian art.

The post also appeared in Black Looks, and for that one the WordPress trackback worked in my Khanya blog, but it seems that the Poéfrika one was the earlier mention, so I thought I would link to it here as well. I think Orthodox Christians would have problems with both the first image and the second image in the meme, and would say that neither looked like Jesus.

For Orthodox Christians the true image of Jesus is more like this (acknowledgements to my daughter, who painted the ikon):

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

In Orthodox ikonography Jesus is shown as a Near Eastern man, not Nordic (blond and blue-eyed), nor Caucasian (like Stalin), nor African, nor Aryan (like the first image). Jesus Christ is one person (hypostasis) and so images depicting him according to any artist's imagination depart from the truth. The "My Jesus" type of Picture, creating a Jesus according to one's own desires and perceptions and values (whether of colour, complexion, or anything else) depicts a fantasy Jesus.

An ikon, however, is not a photograph. It does not show you what you would have seen if you had been there. It shows, rather, what most people did not see -- that this is the incarnate Son of God. Ikons show Christ (and the saints) with elongated noses, not as some kind of aesthetic ideal, but to show that they breathe the air of heaven. They have small feet, because they tread lightly upon the earth. Christ's clothing is red and blue, to show the divine and human natures, but in one person. But he still looks Near Eastern, just as ikons of St Peter the Aleut show him as Aleutian, and those of St Moses the Black show him as African. Jesus Christ was a real person, not someone's conception of an idealised type of humanity.

20 June 2007

Health and healing - private profit from public misery

Pickled Bushman reviews Michael Moore's latest documentary: Sicko (or American refugees in Cuba) showing the ravages wrought by the privatisation mania on the American health-care system, which has slipped from being among the best in the world to 32nd place, just above Slovenia.

The same thing has struck South Africa, since neoliberalism took off in the Reagan/Thatcher years.

Actually the problem is not so much privatisation as commercialisation. One of the things that caused a huge slide in South African health-care services was the nationalisation of all church hospitals in the "homelands" in 1973. This has been documented by Dr Darryl Hackland, who had been Medical Superintendent of Bethesda Hospital (Methodist) in Zululand, and after it was nationalised became a senior official in the KwaZulu Department of Health. The church hospitals were run by "private enterprise", but the difference was that they were not run for profit.

In the 1980s there was a reprivatisation of health services, but this did not take place in the poorer areas of the country, but in the rich ones. The government at the time (under PW Botha) followed the Reagan/Thatcher ideology, and encouraged the formation of commercial clinics, in which doctors owned shares. It was privatisation for profit.

Medical Aid schemes have been infected as well. They were formerly socialist bodies, owned and run by their members, as a form of mutual aid. Now many of them are owned by outside shareholders. They no longer speak of members, but "customers". They no longer provide health care, but "products". They advertise, and refer to themselves as "financial services providers". Beware of any "financial services provider" that tries to sell you a "product". Whenever anyone uses the term "product" for a service, financial or otherwise, it is a pretty sure indication that they are simply out to rip you off. They offer "rewards", like club memberships, and cards that give you discounts in stores -- but be sure of one thing, you are paying for these things, even if you don't use them, and what these frivolities mean is that you get less health care for your money, because your money is being wasted on advertising and promotion and putting money into the pockets of shareholders.

The ANC when it came to power in 1994 has basically continued the policies of the National Party under PW Botha. There have been ritual pronouncements to placate their alliance partners, like Cosatu, but basically nothing has changed.

One thing they could do, for a start, would be to set up a tax structure so that not-for-profit mutual Medical Aid schemes are not taxed, and that commercial ones, making profits for outside shareholders, and ones that run superfluous "incentive" schemes not related to their core business are also taxed. (The same should be done for mutual building societies and life assurance providers.)

Also, "faith-based" and other non-profit private health service providers should be encouraged in a similar way.

I can't speak for other faiths, but from a Christian point of view, Jesus sent out his disciples to preach and to heal, and said "Freely ye have received, freely give." Before 1973, when the provincial governments subsidised church hopspitals, they got a better service for their money than they did when the central government nationalised the services, and then later devolved them to the "homeland" governments. Why? Because Christian doctors and nurses went to work in those hospitals, not for the sake of financial gain, but because of a desire to obey the command of Jesus to "heal the sick". When the government took them over, they found it difficult to get staff willing to work in the mainly rural areas where the church hospitals were to be found, and resorted to using army conscript medical students. Secular doctors were out for money, and only wanted to work in the big cities, where they could specialise in the diseases of the rich.

Doctors in private practice did, of course, have to charge fees in order to make a living. Even healers have to eat. But when they worked on their own, or in small partnerships, they could treat the poor and needy for reduced fees, or even, in hard cases, waive the fees altogether. Where, however, they work for clinics run as for-profit companies, this is much more difficult when the fees are paid to the company, and every reduction of fees for poor patient means a reduced profit for the shareholders.

The Orthodox Church has several saints who were medical doctors, and known as "anargyri" (silverless ones), usually translated into English as "unmercentary doctors". Among them are three pairs of brothers called Cosmas and Damian, perhaps because the later ones consciously followed the example of the earlier ones.

Until now the ANC government has done little more than try to force mercenary doctors, clinics and medical aid scemes to serve the poor. But it might do better to encourage the unmercenary ones, for example by differential taxes, as suggested above.

18 June 2007

George Bizos -- lawyer for social justice

On Youth Day last year, George Bizos, the human rights lawyer, was the main speaker at the Youth Day commemoration aranged by the Orthodox Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria. Now George Bizos has published a book about his life and struggles, and was interviewed on the radio yesterday. South African bloggers don't seem to have had much to say about him or his book, but I did find a mention on this blog, which apart from a couple of minor inaccuracies, is a very good article.


17 June 2007

Baptism at St Thomas's Church, Sunninghill

On Sunday 17 June eight members of our mission congregations at Klipfontein View and Mamelodi were baptised St Thomas's Serbian Orthodox Church at Sunninghill Park, Johannesburg.

There was also a team from the Orthodox Christian Mission Centre in the USA, who are visiting South Afrrica on a short-term mission for the next few weeks.

St Thomas's is the closest Orthodox Church to Klipfontein View, and the candidate from Mamelodi was a cousin of most of those from Klipfontein view.

There are more pictures of the baptism on my LiveJournal.

15 June 2007

Untouchables - Dalits and Hindutva - Synchroblog

Over the last few years I have edited a number of abstracts of articles in missiological journals and a surprisingly high proportion of them deal with Dalits and Hindutva.

Consider the following extracts from a missiological article "Post Modern Challenges to Christian Mission in India" by V. Devasahayam (Bishop in Madras, CSI)
Though there has been a variety of approaches among missionaries, this wholly negative picturisation of mission history is neither factual or true to the experience of people in India, particularly the oppressed. JW Pickett says that Christianity has contributed to the economic development of converts, through education, health services, housing, personality reconstruction, reduction of wasteful expenditure etc. Missionaries protected the untouchable converts from violence and harassment, pleaded with government for their rights and represented them in public forums and courts. Their efforts to draw public attention the untouchables question stimulated Indian efforts on their behalf. “The fear of the Christian missionary is the beginning of social wisdom in India” remarked K. Natarajan

Mrs. Mohini Das attests to this fact:

“Stop for a moment and see what is happening. In both mission schools and government schools and hospitals the daughters of so called ‘Depressed classes’ now Christians, are teaching and tending the children of ‘Brahmins’. Untouchables? What has happened? They are untouchables no longer, for Jesus has touched them”.

To say that, however, affirms only the positive side, but there was a negative side as well, because a bit further on in the same article the author writes:

The caste Christians have not recognised Christian Dalits as equals and Dalits’ claim to equality is resented. Syrian Christians protested when all students were seated together in the CMS Teacher Training Institute in 1905. They complained to the Bishop: “We shall be glad to be informed why you have made this innovation in the seating arrangements without paying due attention to our feelings and opinions”. Fortunately the petition was dismissed both on theological ground and on the principle of equality. When Dalits demanded admission in school for their children, it was resisted by caste people including caste Christians. A prominent journalist wrote: To admit together the caste that had been cultivating intelligence for generations and those castes who had been cultivating land tannamount to tying a horse and a buffalo to plough under the same yoke. There are stories of caste Christians jumping out of the church through the windows when some Dalits were taken into the church for baptism. Christian Dalits are discriminated against by caste Christians both in the religious and secular spheres.

I have quoted just one article but one can read much the same in many articles in many different journals. One can summarise it by saying that Christian mission helped to improve the social position of the Dalits in India, but that many caste Christians were scandalised by this. And in recent years there has been growing resistance among Brahmins, leading to a growth in Hindutva -- Hindu nationalism.

Again, in the same article the author describes Hindutva without "Hindu tolerance": From the time of Gandhi, Hinduism was known for its tolerance of other religions, but that time is rapidly passing, and Hindutva seems to be gearing up for the Clash of Civilizations.
The controversial supreme court Judgement on Dec.11, 1995 has given Hindutva a legal approval: “ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind, and it is not to be equated with or understood as, religious Hindu fundamentalism”. The Hindu nationalist parties fought the elections in the name of Hindutva with the legal sanction for the first time. The architect of Hindutva ideology Savarkar’s said, “the crying need of our times is not men of letters but soldiers. …. you should abandon your pens in favour of guns.” The major items of Hidutva agenda are the consolidation of the Hindu community, the defence of its religion, the Hinduisation of politics, the militarisation of Hindudom, the establishment of Hindu rashtra and the reconversion of former Hindus.

Read the full article here:

For other synchrbogs on the theme of "untouchables", see:

14 June 2007

More on neoliberalism, from The Antidote

A few days ago I wrote about neoliberalism, and the bad effects it was having on South African education. Now The Antidote tells more about the bad effects it is having on water supplies.
In 2000, a cholera outbreak around Ngwelezane in rural KZN killed nearly 200 people and infected more than 80 000 others. Why the outbreak? The government had recently terminated a 17-year-long, apartheid-era supply of free water. Those too poor to buy their water found themselves forced to gather it from wherever they could find it, storm drains, dirty rivers, stagnant pools…. hence the cholera.
(Then) Wits academic Patrick Bond is just one of the critics blaming our government for adopting neoliberal economic policies that put profit before people. Government is turning basic services like water and electricity into commodities, and then selling them off to the highest bidder. From there, it’s a quick step to insist upon a 100% cost recovery model from ‘customers’, regardless of how poor these individuals may be. No money, no water.

What prompted our government to take such a step? For a lot of reasons, but not least of which the fact that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have made no bones about the fact that they will be plenty cheesed off if SA doesn’t go this route. In the words of writer-activist Ashwin Desai, ‘our transition to democracy… was trumped by the transition to neoliberalism’.

I will never forget Nelson Mandela saying, when it had become clear that the ANC had won the election in 1994, that one thing was not negotiable -- the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). And within a year it had been negotiated away.

13 June 2007

Social blogrolling

Many blogs have blogrolls - lists of blogs that the author of the blog likes to read. But I'd like to invite bloggers who read this blog to go a step further and have a pictorial blogroll, which you can get by going to MyBlogLog.

How does this differ from an ordinary blogroll? Well, you can go to the page for this blog, and see the blogroll in reverse -- not just the blogs that I like to read, but the people who've bookmarked this blog because they like to read it. And you can click on their icons to see a list of their blogs.

Also, each blog and blog author has tags. Once upon a time Blogger (the software that runs this blog) allowed you to go to the blog author's profile and see a list of their interests. Then you could click on one of the interests that is your interest too, and find other bloggers with that interest.

Unfortunately it doesn't work any more (like many other featured of the "fully-featured" new Blogger).

But never mind - MyBlogLog has a workaround. Click on the tags, and you will see other bloggers who are interested in that topic, and blogs that deal with that topic. Things like Facebook and MySpace give you social networking, but MyBlogLog gives you social blogrolling.

One of my main interests is , and at the moment there are very few blogs on MyBlogLog with that tag. Yet there were quite a lot of bloggers with that listed as an interest in their Blogger profiles. Unfortunately one can no longer find them that way, but if they listed it in MyBlogLog, the problem would be solved. And it would be nice if some of my fellow Orthodox Christian bloggers did the same thing, and then put a widget like the one below on their blog. Try it and see.

12 June 2007

The Illegal Alien Is My Neighbour!

izzonline: South African economy built on cheap black labour. Izzonline makes an important point. There's a lot of xenophobia about. It's not only in South Africa. A few years ago I was touring Greece with my wife and daughter, and we stayed at a hotel that was not really open, because the tourist season had not yet started. It was in a little fishing village. The owner brought his motorbike in to the vestibule for the night, "otherwise the Albanians will steal it".

And I somehow felt right at home, because back home in South Africa we would blame the Zimbabweans. It is estimated that there are something like a million illegal immigrants from Albania in Greece, and perhaps three times that number of Zimbabweans in South Africa.

But I've not really met and talked to the Zimbabweans (or Mozambicans or whoever) who have stolen my stuff. But I have met and talked to honest Zimbabweans in South Africa, and what strikes me about them is that they are a lot better-educated than most South Africans. I teach in our church theological school, and it is the foreigners who are better students -- Zimbabweans, Congolese. In the case of the Congolese, English is not a second but a third language, yet they pick it up and use it better than South Africans. In church services we read the Psalms a lot, and I found a Zimbabwean who could read the psalms fluently in English (which was his second language), while a South African whose home language was Northern Sotho stumbled over them in that language.

OK, Zimbabwe and Congo never had Bantu Education. But they have had economic meltdowns and civil wars, so they haven't exactly had a good learning environment either. And the fact is that while some illegal immigrants may be criminals, others are hard-working honest people among them who are better-educated than many South Africans and are assets to the South African economy.

And the criminals are probably better-educated than our police, which is why the police are running around in circles, and hardly ever catch them.

Quite a long time ago now I visited Singapore, and I was interested in their philosophy. They were a small country, and their only asset was their people. So they reasoned that they must develop that asset and spend a lot of money on education. And we in South Africa must do the same. So what if the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund demand that we apply "structural adjustment" programmes designed to keep our people in ignorance? To hell with them; let their structural adjustment programmes go back to hell where they came from.

And perhaps we need to be using those illegal immigrant teachers from Congo and Zimbabwe and such places to teach South Africans a love of learning and the meaning of hard work.

And then there is Sepherim: The Illegal Alien Is My Neighbor!, who shows how unChristian the attitude of some so-called Christians is towards illegal immigrants.

09 June 2007

Emerging church and Orthodoxy revisited

This morning I was playing around with the tag surfing feature on WordPress and came across this post, which was more than 9 months old, so I might not have found it otherwise: Just an apprentice: Emerging church and orthodoxy. This linked to some articles by Scot McKnight, an emerging church theologian, which answered some of the questions I posed in an earlier post here: Notes from underground: Orthodoxy and Evangelical Protestantism. And "just an apprentice" puts a finger on the biggest stumbling block in all ecumenical discussions between Orthodox and Protestants, whether the Protestants are Evangelical, Emerging, Pentecostal, Liberal, or anything else:
This question that Scot McKnight addresses is one that I have been asking on my journey. It is a question of ecclesiology. What is the center of the Christian church? What is the prism through which we worship God, read Scripture, and interact with our culture? What is the relationship of the emerging church with the Creeds of classical Chrisitianity? The commentary and analysis by McKnight are helpful in connecting a few dots.
The stumbling block is ecclesiology.

It was this that nearly caused all the Orthodox Churches to leave the World Council of Churches recently. It is this that causes some conservative Orthodox to call "ecumenism" a heresy.

The book to read is Beyond the East-West divide -- the World Council of Churches and "the Orthodox problem" by Anna Marie Aagaard and Peter Bouteneff (Geneva, Risk, 2001 ISBN 2-8254-1350-X).

If you're Protestant and want to talk to Orthodox Christians, read this book to understand where the Orthodox are coming from. It doesn't matter what kind of Protestant -- Evangelical, Ecumenical, Lutheran, Calvinist, Reformed, Pentecostal, Emerging, Anglican (even Anglo-Catholic, if you believe in the "branch theory" of ecclesiology).

One can't go into all the nuances in a blog post, so what follows is probably over-simplified, not to say simplistic, but I try to summarise the point.

Most Protestants share a common basic ecclesiology.

Methodists (for example) are quite happy to see themselves as one denomination among many within a particular religion -- Christianity (which is in turn seen as one religion among many). That applies to most Protestant Christian denominations, and those that do not see it in that way are regarded by the others as sects. Even non-denominational bodies tend to think of themselves as one nondenomination among many denominations and nondenominations within one religion, Christianity.

The Orthodox Church does not regard itself as a denomination, at least in the ecclesiological sense. And even the sociological sense, for conservative Orthodox, comes too close to the "heresy of ecumenism". The "heresy of ecumenism", in this case, being to regard the Orthodox Church as one denomination among many.

The Orthodox "statement of faith" (to use an Evangelical Protestant term), is the Symbol of Faith, usually called by Protestants the "Nicene Creed", though the actual Nicene Creed was a much shorter document, which says nothing about the Church.

Among the statements in the Symbol of Faith is "(I believe) in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" (is mian agian kathoikin ke apostolikin ekklesian). Not in many denominations (and nondenominations), but One Church.

In what sense is the Church "apostolic"?

If we read about the day the Church began, in Acts 2, we see that the first Christian converts "continued in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers" (isan de proscarteroundes ti didache ton apostolon, ke ti kinonia, ti klasi tou artu, ke tis prosevches).

The Orthodox Church believes that it has "continued" unbroken in those four things from that day to this. It is not "Wesleyan" or "Lutheran" or "Calvinist" but "Apostolic". The "apostles' fellowship" is maintained by, among other things, the apostolic succession of bishops. The "apostles' fellowship" is among the key elements of Orthodox ecclesiology, and, with the "apostles' teaching" is what makes the one holy catholic Church "apostolic".

There are numerous denominations, especially in the Pentecostal tradition, which have the word "Apostolic" in the name of their denomination, such as the Apostolic Faith Mission (from which many of the others sprang). As David du Plessis puts it, their criterion is not so much "apostolic succession" as "apostolic success". But for the Orthodox Church the "apostles' fellowship" (or "apostles' communion") is an essential mark of the Church.

In the New Testament the word "church" never means a "denomination" or "communion" (or even a "nondenomination"). In the New Testament the word "church" refers either to the local church or to the universal church. The worldwide church is the "ecumenical church" (not in the modern sense of "many denominations together", but in the geographical sense of "the inhabited earth"). The local churches are bound together in the apostles' fellowship through the communion of their bishops, as they commemorate and pray for each other in the Divine Liturgy.

The church is catholic, not in the sense of being "universal" (for the Orthodox that is covered by "ecumenical") but more in the sense of being holistic. Catholic means "according to the whole". In a holographic image, if you divide the image in two, you get not two half images, but two whole images. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. So the church is like a temple, where the building is more than just the individual bricks and tiles. But each local church is not just a brick in the building, but like a holographic image, whole in itself.

From an Orthodox point of view, therefore, the congregationalist ecclesiology resembles a pile of bricks rather than a whole building, while Roman Catholic ecclesiology resembles a monolith - a single boulder rather than a building.

So for the Orthodox, schism is not within the church, but from the church.

And for the Orthodox it makes little sense to talk of "emerging ecclesiology", unless it means that the ecclesiology that submerged a long time ago in the West is resurfacing.

I realise that to ecumenically-minded Protestants this all looks extaordinarily arrogant, saying "we're right and you're wrong" (non-ecumenically-minded Protestants, like those who generated the Biola report mentioned in an earlier post, assert that far more strongly than most Orthodox). But for the Orthodox it is more a matter of being true to the Orthodox understanding of history -- that the Orthodox Church has continued in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers, for twenty centuries, and it would be false to say that it has not. The Orthodox Church participates in the ecumenical movement because it believes that it would be good to restore the apostles' fellowship among all who declare their faith in the Triune God, but not at the price of abandoning its own ecclesiology and adopting a Protestant one (and there have been times in which there has been pressure within the World Council of Churches for the Orthodox Churches to do just that -- see the book by Aagard and Bouteneff for details).

In dialogue there are four things we need to learn: you need to know who I am, and how I see you. I need to know who you are, and how you see me. We need to know the reality of both sides, and the way in which both parties perceive themselves and each other. Or if you want to be really postmodern about it, the way the self is perseived by the self, and the way the self is perceived by the other. And our perceptions of others show the others more about how we see ourselves. So the Biola report about the Orthodox tells the Orthodox a lot about Biola, and much less about the Orthodox.

So when I describe Roman Catholic ecclesiology as a monolith and Congregationalist ecclesiology as a heap of stones, that tells you more about Orthodox ecclesiology than it does about Roman Catholic or Congregationalist ecclesiology. And so we learn more about each other, even through our misperceptions.

Let the discussion continue.

08 June 2007

Pipes and politicians

As the urbane pipe-smoking Thabo Mbeki nears the end of his second term as President, people's thoughts are turning to possible successors. And many people are becoming increasingly nervous about the suitability of Jacob Zuma, the heir-apparent.

There's a whiff of scandal about Zuma, after his well-publicised connections with crooked businessman Shabir Shaik, and the play-within-a-play rape trial, which looked like a rather clumsy put-up job by people who were also nervous about the prospect of JZ as president.

And one can't blame them for being nervous.

Whether any of the mud slung at him sticks or not, let's face it, the man is thick. He's even thicker than George Bush. I have a growing fear that he might do to South Africa what George Bush has done to the USA.

And some are suggesting that the constitution should be amended to allow Thabo Mbeki to serve a third term. That also makes me a bit nervous. Not that I think a third term of Thabo Mbeki would be a bad thing, but it only puts off the day when a successor needs to be found. And if the successor is someone like Jacob Zuma, or Mad Bob Mugabe, a third term would be horrible.

People are talking about roping in Tokyo Sexwale. Well, he didn't destroy Gauteng when he was premier, so I rather hope he makes it. Any alternative to JZ seems a good idea. The more I think about the prospect of a JZ presidency, the more I appreciate Thabo Mbeki. When I look around at the political leaders of other countries, or at least the ones I know about, I think how lucky we are to have Mbeki. I'd much rather have him than someone like Bush, Blair, Putin or Mugabe.

And then I realise that I can't actually name any others. When I was younger I used to take more interest in practical politics and could name the Presidents or Prime Ministers of a couple of dozen countries, and suddenly I realise that I no longer know most of them. Who ruled Zambia after Kaunda, or Tanzania after Nyerere? The only recent ones I remember are the ones who made wars, like Bush, Blair, Saddam Hussein, Milosevic, Tudjman, Izetbegovic and Olmert. The names of the present rulers of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia escape me. As Shakespeare said, the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. That's rather sad.

But back to Thabo Mbeki... In spite of his making some questionable decisions, I'd still rather have him than most of the others. But come to think of it, his pipe hasn't been much in evidence lately. Has the anti-spoking lobby got to him? Has he given up smoking it? Or has he just given it up in public, as bad for his public image? Does he go out into the garden and only smke it when x metres away from a building, and preferably downwind of it?

How long will it be before the anti-smoking lobby excise all references to "pipe-weed" from Lord of the Rings, I wonder? And what would the Inklings make of the anti-smoking lobby?

The other pipe-smoking politician I remember is Harold Wilson, and I sometimes wonder if Thabo Mbeki hasn't modelled himself on Wilson, at least to some extent. He's probably a bit brighter than Wislon (as the Grauniad might have referred to him), but they have one thing in common. Wilson had great problems with Rhodesia and Smith, and Mbeki has great problems with Zimbabwe and Mugabe. Mbeki's problems are a bit more serious, though. I don't think 3 million Rhodesian refugees went to Britain.

07 June 2007

Vorster rules - in Britain!

Banning, detention without trial and other features of Vorster's South Africa are on their way to Britain, if Gordon Brown has his way, and 83% of Sky News viewers approve of 90-day detention, according to what I saw on the TV a few minutes ago.

Back in 1963, when Vorster introduced 90-day detention in South Africa, the British Labour Party was one of the outspoken opponents of such violations of human rights, and generally supported the anti-apartheid movement. Who would have thought, back then, that the day would come when South Africa would have a constitution that protected human rights, and the British Labour Party would be seeking to turn Britain into a fascist state?

Of course such measures are necessary to protect law-abiding members of the public against terrorism (that's exactly what Vorster said). But perhaps that would not have been necessary of Tony Blair had not led Britain into so many wars, and terrorised civilian populations in Yugoslavia, Iraq and other places by bombing them. He should have heeded the warnings of Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid in Charles Kingsley's The water babies.

06 June 2007

Liberalism, neoliberalism and neocons

Since electronic communication made it possible to communicate regularly and frequently with people in other continents I've discovered that many Americans seem to regard "classical liberalism" and neoliberalism as the same thing.

For most of my life I've regarded myself as a Liberal, and was for a time a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party until it was forced to disband by the Prohibition of Improper Interference Act.

But I was (and am) a political liberal, not an economic liberal. I had always thought that "classical liberalism" was primarily political liberalism, and though there was sometimes a connection with laissez faire economics, it was not a necessary connection. Neoliberalism refered to economic liberalism, pure and simple.

A recent post by Dionysius Stoned, on Foucault, Governmentality and Neoliberalism, has, however, helped to clarify things for me. In this post Dionysius Stoned says:
Lemke points out that Foucault’s lectures suggest two key points of disjuncture between classical liberalism and neoliberalism. The first concerns the relation between the state and the economy. Here Foucault points out that if classic liberalism, resting on “the historical experience of an overtly powerful and absolutist state”, had seen in the latter the role of ‘defining’ and ‘monitoring’ market freedom, this conception is “inverted” under the neoliberal model. Here, rather than the “state supervising the market,” the market becomes the organising principle underlying the state…[n]eoliberalism removes the limiting external principle and puts a regulatory and inner principle [of the market] in its place”. The second difference relates to the basis of government. Arguing that neoliberalisim takes as its “central point of reference and support” the figure of homo economicus, Foucault discussion goes on to show how this conception nevertheless departs from that of classic liberalism. Following off from the prior shift that recodes the social as the economic, neoliberalism enables the extension of economic precepts, “cost benefit calculations and market criteria”, to a whole spectrum of human practice. This conception of homo economicus - honing in on an image of an economically motivated individual who always makes decisions on the basis sound (“rational”) cost benefit analysis - no longer resembles that of the classic liberal philosophers. If the latter, moving from a reductive conception “man’s nature,” had believed that the “freedom of the individual is the technical precondition of rational government” - which government could not constrain without calling into question its own foundation - neoliberalism would no longer take as its point of reference “some pregiven human nature.” Lemke explains:
Neoliberalism no longer locates the rational principle for regulating and limiting the action of government in a natural freedom that we should all respect, but instead it posits an artificially arranged liberty: in the entrepreneurial and competitive behaviours of economic-rational individuals. Whereas in the classic liberal conception, homo oeconomiscus forms an external limits and the inviolable core of governmental action, in the neo-liberal thought of the Chicago school he becomes a behavioristically manipulable being and the correlative of a governmentality which systematically changes the variable “environment” and can rightly expects that individuals are characterised by “rational choice”

Now I'm not an economist and some of Foucault's terminology is way beyond me (I can form no clear conception of a "discursive field"). But translating it into the terms of a discipline closer to home -- theology -- that tends to confirm what I have long thought: that neoliberalism is idolatry, because it seeks to make man bow down and worship economic forces and give them rule. It pretends not to do this, of course, by using the rhetoric of "rational choice", but tends to assume that a "rational" choice is one governed by economic values and considerations.

Then there is another blog post, by "The Antidote", on the subject of South Africa's neoCon spin factory, from which it appears that neocons are practically indistinguishable from neoliberals. As with classical liberalism and laissez faire economics, I am not sure that there is a necessary connection between neocons and neoliberalism, but they seem to coincide most of the time.

And if you remove the "neo" it seems to make little difference either. American "liberals" and "conservatives" alike seem to have a penchant for bombing countries where the name of the capital city begins with B.

Rain in winter

It's raining.

In winter, nogal!

I think we had more rain last night than we have had since the summer before last. I'm not complaining.

05 June 2007

Orthodoxy and Evangelical Protestantism

Benedict Seraphim has drawn attention to this report on Biola University and the Orthodox (Biola? Sounds like some kind of health drink!).

For those who may be interested, it is a comprehensive statement of what Orthodoxy looks like from an Evangelical Protestant point of view.

It has some serious flaws, however.

In the first item, on "justification", it points out, quite correctly, that Orthodoxy does not accept the Protestant idea of forensic justification (based as it is, on the notion of penal substitution). But it makes the error of supposing that the Orthodox understanding of Theosis is comparable to the Protestant understanding of justification. A fairer comparison would be between Theosis and the Protestant understanding of sanctification. There may be differences, but at least it would be like comparing Cheddar with Camembert, rather than comparing chalk and cheese.

Much of the remainder of the document seems to make the Orthodox Church look like the Roman Catholic Church in precisely the areas where the Orthodox Church sees itself as differing from the Roman Catholic Church. The problem here is with the frame of reference. The Biola report looks through Western spectacles, with a Western frame of reference, and does not really take into account the different frame of reference.

04 June 2007

I feel your hurt

Over the last few years I've heard such sentiments as "I feel your hurt" more and more frequently.

Occasionally I've heard it augmented, as in "I feel your hurt and anger."

Whenever someone has said it to me, I hadn't felt any anger until I heard that sentiment uttered.

Why does it anger me?

Well for one thing, why "hurt"? To "hurt" is to deliberately inflict pain on another living creature. What they feel is not "hurt", but "pain". In that context "hurt" is a weasel word.

But the second reason is more important. Saying "I feel your hurt" strikes me as patronising, condescending, and above all dishonest.

If someone has had an unpleasant experience -- an illness, an accident, death of a close friend or relative, in the past people would say something like "I'm sorry to hear about your misfortune."

My sorrow, your misfortune.

But saying "I feel your hurt" is dishonest and hypocritical. If I break my leg, you do not feel my pain. If you break your leg at the same time, you might feel pain, but you feel your pain, not mine.

It's like the headmaster caning the school boy and saying "This hurts me as much as it hurts you."

I'm wondering if this kind of thing isn't media-driven.

When there are reports in the media about unpleasant incidents in schools, for example, as when one pupil shoots another or stabs another with scissors or something, there is almost invariably something to the effect that other pupils or students are receiving trauma counselling. But the one who has suffered the greatest trauma is the one who has been shot or stabbed or whatever, not the vicarious hurt feelers.

So I wonder if the media are primed to ask whether the non-victims are receiving counselling because they don't know what else to ask, and so the school authorities feel they have to say something because it seems that they are expected to.

Perhaps it is because in the West psychotherapy is the one religion that it is taboo to criticise.


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