30 November 2008

Mythology Synchroblog

I've just learnt about an interesting mythology synchroblog, which everyone is welcome to participate in. Unfortunately there's not much time left -- target date tomorrow.

Mythology Blog: Between Old and New Moons � Mythology Synchroblog 5 Reminder (Also Messing around with Typealyzer and Gender Analyzer):
Mythology Synchroblog:

This is a reminder that the Mythology Synchroblog is just around the corner (Dec 1). It’s not to late to join in. Everyone is welcome to participate. So please let us know if you’re interested in the comments below.

The Topic for the Mythology Synchroblog is Mythical Monsters and Otherworldly Entities. The Deadline/Post Date is December 1st.

And then there's also the Darkness Synchroblog due on 10 December. Details should be available at Upcoming Synchroblogs, though they are not there yet. In the meantime you can learn more at Square No More: Darkness and Light as Motifs of Spirituality: Next SynchroBlog

Jonestown - 30 years on

On the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre in Guyana, the media are running anniversary pieces. Such bizarre behaviour as mass suicide is usually attributed to "fundamentalists", but in this case it was actually group from a "mainstream" Protestant denomination.

GetReligion “The press . . . just doesn’t get religion.” — William Schneider:
Jones was a minister in good standing of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), an absolutely normal denomination at the heart of the liberal Protestant ecumenical establishment. He was an idealist on the left and, as everyone knows, this kind of theocratic, cultish behavior is supposed to take place on the theological right, not the left. That’s where the wackos reside. Correct?

Thus, there has always been a tendency to avoid in-depth discussions of what Jones believed, what he preached and how his idealistic, progressive congregation — one committed to racial equality, free health care and social justice — evolved into an armed camp of suicidal killers lined up at a vat of cyanide and fake fruit juice.

28 November 2008


Today is the third anniversary of this blog.

It is now three years since I started Notes from underground on 28 November 2005, and in that time there have been 741 published posts (this is the 742nd).

This wasn't by any means my first online blog or journal.

I atarted an online journal at DearDiary at the beginning of the new millennium

I was then invited by Bishop Seraphim Sigrist to join LiveJournal, which I still use as a journal for personal events and happenings.

I then discovered Blogger, and started a blog here, because the Blogger software was specifically designed from blogging rather than journalling. The distinction between blogging and journalling is rather fuzzy nowadays, but a blog, or web log, is still basically a commentary on things one finds on the web, and Blogger had the "Blog this" feature that made it easy to link to web sites and comment on them.

Then Google took over Blogger, and introduced a new beta version of the software, in which many of the features, including "Blog this", no longer worked. At that point, from about October 2006, many Blogger users began moving to WordPress, and when more and more things in Blogger were broken, I myself started a WordPress blog, Khanya, in February 2007, in case it became necessary to move.

At first the Khanya blog was just experimental, just to see what could be done with it, but I began using it more and more, as Blogger remained crippled. Then about a year ago Blogger began to improve again, and many of the features like "Blog this" began working again.

So now I have two main blogs, which I use about equally. This one, Notes from underground, I still use mainly as a blog proper, to comment on other web sites, because the "Blog this" feature makes it easy. So if there is a distinction, this blog is more for news commentary, while Khanya is more for articles and ideas. But the distinction is not by any means absolute, and the choice of which blog I put something in is often determined not by subject matter, but by which one makes it technically easiest to accomplish whatever I want to do.

A lot of stuff that would previously have gone into my LiveJournal now also goes into this blog or Khanya, because they include pictures directly, while LiveJournal only allows one to link to pictures uploaded to a third-party site like Photobucket, which makes it more of a hassle to include pictures.

One thing that seems strange, however, is that even though I use this blog and Khanya interchangeably, the Khanya blog, on WordPress, always seems to attract more readers, as the following graph from Amatomu shows:

And that's in spite of the fact that this blog has been going almost twice as long as the Khanya one, and should thus have been able to gather more readers.

Anyway, it's now three years old, and I wonder if it (or I) will still be around after another three years.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who has read it and commented on the posts over the last few years. It's the comments that make blogging worthwhile, and help one to see whether ideas are worth pursuing or not. Well, perhaps I should qualify that by saying intelligent comments. Spam comments, and other comments that have nothing to do with the post and so add nothing to the subject, are worse than useless.

26 November 2008

Spend! Save! Don't spend! Don't save!

As the economic recession gets closer to a full-blown depression, the conflicting messages from economic fundis and would be fundis become more and more confusing, leading to reports like this: Spend less this Christmas, says the Church of England, as retailers head for bankruptcy :: Damian Thompson:
Every year the Church of England tries to underline 'the real meaning of Christmas' with a publicity campaign and every year it makes a hash of it. Indeed the sound of a Christian PR stunt backfiring has become a much-loved feature of the festive season. This year s headline the Bishop of Reading the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell calls on the public to spend less in the shops just as the recession is biting and shopkeepers are searching anxiously for customers. Nice one bish.
Hat-tip to A conservative blog for peace.
And then there's this.
TitusOneNine - Joe Nocera--The Worst Is Yet To Come: An Anonymous Banker Weighs In On The Credit Card Debacle:
Over my career, I have seen thousands of consumers that have credit card lines in excess of their annual salaries. Some are sinking under their burden. Some have been fiscally responsible and have minimal amounts outstanding. My 21-year-old daughter, who’s in college, gets pre-approved offers all the time. She has no ability to repay debt, yet the offers flow in just the same. We all know how these lines are accumulated. The banks, in their infinite stupidity, keep upping credit lines because the customer pays the minimum payments on time. My daughter’s credit line started at $1,000 and has been increased over the last two years to $4,400. She has no increased earnings to support this. But the banks do it without asking. And without being asked. The banks reel in the consumer, charge interest rates higher than those charged by the mob, increase lines without the consumer asking and without their consent, and lure them into overextending. And we can count on the banks to act surprised when they aren’t paid back. Shame on them.

You swipes your credit card and you takes your pick.

Muti murders and ritual killing

The Daily Dispatch has a good article on the growing number of muti and ritual murders.

Daily Dispatch Online:
THE use of human body parts for medicinal purposes – “muti”, derived from the word meaning tree – is based in the belief that it is possible to appropriate the life force of one person through its literal consumption of another. Medicine, or muti, murder appears in several countries across Africa, with ethnographic evidence going back to the early nineteenth century in South Africa. Research indicates that an estimated 80 percent of South Africans regularly use traditional herbs and medicines for muti.

Not all traditional healers make use of human body parts as an ingredient in their medicines, but those who do place an “order” with a person hired for this specialist purpose. The orders include private parts, tongues, hands, heads, eyes and lips which are used to ensure economic prosperity, sexual potency and to promote romantic matters amongst others.

These are the type of self-centred motives that leads to murder.

The use of human body matter does, however, not always involve killing. F or example, a living person’s nail clippings or hair cuttings may secretly be collected by a jealous neighbour or friend and used in potions targeted against that person. Body parts can also be harvested from corpses, with mortuary workers and hospital staff implicated in this aspect of the trade.

Lest this be thought to be a problem related only to African culture and African traditional medicine, the following report indicates that Western medicine also suffers from this kind of abuse:

News - Crime & Courts: Spotlight on organ transplant scandal:
A decision is to be made this week on who is to be prosecuted in the alleged international kidney transplant trafficking scandal which allegedly involved St Augustine s Hospital and eight KwaZulu-Natal doctors specialists and staff.

And a decision will also be made on what the proposed charges 'the participants' should respond to said Advocate Robin Palmer a law professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal who has been called in to prosecute the case.

Charges were provisionally withdrawn two years ago against the doctors and Netcare transplant unit staff to allow the State time for further investigations.

Harvesting organs in this manner, whether for African traditional medicine or Western scientific medicine, turns healing into a zero-sum game, in which the health of one person can only be improved at the cost of the health of another.

25 November 2008

The Times - Carter: Zim crisis unimaginable

Recently former US President Jimmy Carter, former UN Secretary Kofi Annan and Graca Machel were refused entry into Zimbabwe.

The Times - Carter: Zim crisis unimaginable:
Former US president Jimmy Carter today said the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe appeared greater than he had feared, due to the country’s crumbling economy and failing health system.

Carter had planned to visited Zimbabwe last weekend with former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and rights activists Graca Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela. But all three were turned away by President Robert Mugabe’s regime.

They had wanted to highlight the country’s humanitarian crisis, with half the population expected to need food aid and a cholera epidemic killing hundreds of people.

"Unimaginable" just about sums it up.

Over the last ten years or more we have watched helplessly as the rulers of Zimbabwe have systematically destroyed the country, and in effect waged war against their own people. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this is Mugabe's petulant revenge against the people for failing to give him additional powers and presidency for life in a referendum. In revenge he took them anyway, and set out to bankrupt the country and destroy its infrastructure.

I can't think of any other country in the world where such a thing has happened. Well, maybe Pol Pot's Kampuchea, but no others. And Kampuchea lasted for a relatively short time. Zimbabwe's agony has gone on and on and on.

I think Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan and Graca Machel are people of goodwill and considerable diplomatic experience. If they despair of a solution to the problems of Zimbabwe, what can the rest of us do?

South Africa has suffered because of Zimbabwe's problems, but we have also benefited in ways that we can't imagine. We have benefited from the skills and knowledge of Zimbabwean refugees. One day Mugabe will fall, and when that day comes many of them will return to rebuild their shattered country. They will leave behind a gap of skills and expertise that we barely appreciate. Are we prepared for that day?

24 November 2008

Random acts of political correctness

Yesterday I posted some thoughts about giving money to street beggars as an act of Christian charity that some people wanted to outlaw. A couple of commentators seemed to have a problem, or at least a query, about my calling this Christian. Then Notes from a Common-place Book: Those Wacko 'Love Thy Neighbor' Christians pointed me to this:
I'm Not One Of Those 'Love Thy Neighbor' Christians | The Onion - America's Finest News Source:
I'm here to tell you there are lots of Christians who aren't anything like the preconceived notions you may have. We're not all into 'turning the other cheek.' We don't spend our days committing random acts of kindness for no credit. And although we believe that the moral precepts in the Book of Leviticus are the infallible word of God, it doesn't mean we're all obsessed with extremist notions like 'righteousness' and 'justice.'

It's good to be reminded of the need to live a balanced Christian life and to avoid fanaticism and extremism. Perhaps that's what it means to be "a moderate".

23 November 2008

Moving back to Blogger?

A couple of years ago half the Blogger blogs I knew were announcing that they were moving to WordPress. Here's one going the other way.

On blogger now � Rock_Angel_Grass:
To all readers who want to read more of my blogs, please visit me at http://blogophobicgracia.blogspot.com for more updated posts.. Thank you.. :-)
Back then, of course, Blogger was being "upgraded", and many features stopped working and the "full-featured" Beta version was missing many of the features that had made people like Blogger in the first place.

Now the Blogger software has stabilised, and some people, it seems, are beginning to move the other way.

For myself, I continue to keep a foot in both camps. One platform is good for some things, and the other for others.

Britain: Eyewitnesses reveal Jean Charles De Menezes shot without warning

from most of the evidence given at the inquest so far, it seems that the police were behaving like terrorists.

Britain: Eyewitnesses reveal Jean Charles De Menezes shot without warning: "No commuters were called to give evidence at last year’s Metropolitan Police health and safety trial over the shooting. This is the first time they have told their stories in public. It is also the first time the two officers who shot de Menezes have given evidence. The inquest has been adjourned until December 1, when the coroner will begin summing up the evidence.

De Menezes was shot after being wrongly identified as a terrorist suspect on July 22, 2005, the day after the bungled terror attempt on the London underground, when four men left rucksacks packed with explosives on London’s transport network that failed to detonate."

21 November 2008

Can Christianity be saved from empire

Can Christianity be saved from empire? was the title of Prof Nico Botha's inaugural lecture as professor in the Department of Spirituality, Church History and Missiology at the University of South Africa (Unisa) last night.

I wouldn't dare attempt to summarise his lecture in a blog post -- for one thing he left large chunks out, and Dr Puleng LenkaBula's response, which summarised it, lasted half an hour. But there are some points that I'll comment on.

He mentioned various metaphors for the relationship between Christianity and empire: knot, captivity, midst, shadown, intermingling, intertwinement, travel companion.

He noted that Christianity has both imperial and anti-imperial aspects. The language of Christianity is imperialist - Jesus is Lord, the Kingdom of God, etc. This goes back to the beginning. Though Abraham is a landless wanderer, he is promised that he will be the father of a great and mighty nation. Joseph had a cosy relationship with the Egyptian empire.

But Jesus did not always behave in an imperialist fashion.

Nico spoke of the church as a parasite or hybrid, living in the space in between, and mentioned another theologian (I forget who) who had spoken of Jesus as being a sort of parasite or hybrid, being both God and man. But I'm not sure that that is the best image of the incarnation.

But all the way through his lecture I kept thinking that I would like Nico to come round to our place and see the film Ostrov (The Island), and discuss it afterwards, because it seems to relate to so much of what he was talking about. And after the lecture Val said the same thing -- she kept thinking of different parts of the film. Since we have the film on DVD I'm still hoping we may be able to gather a few people to watch and discuss it, since it seems to link to so many issue that people are talking about.

Apart from the lecture itself, it was good to meet old friends from the Unisa missiology department like Klippies Kritzinger and Willem Saayman, and catch brief glimpses of others that I knew, like Karabo Makofane, Annalet van Schalkwyk and Piet Meiring. I hoped that I might meet fellow blogger Reggie Nel, but didn't.

20 November 2008

Blog Comment Day 2008 | Blogging

John Smulo is tryin g to promote more interaction in the blogosphere by starting a "Blog Comment DaY"

Blog Comment Day 2008 | Blogging:
Though there may be 100 reasons why people blog, I've yet to meet a blogger who doesn't appreciate comments. For this reason I'm starting Blog Comment Day on December 3, 2008. Here's how it works:

* On December 3, 2008 you will leave one comment on at least 5 different blogs.
* Out of the 5 blogs you comment on, at least 2 of them will be blogs you haven't commented on previously.

John has also set up an event on Facebook and invited people to join in.One thing that surprised me about that was the number of people who declined the event. I'm amazed that so many people have conscientious objections to commenting on other people's blogs!

My demonized computer

My computer has a demon, it really has.

OK, it's probably a daemon, but it's a demonic daemon.

It takes control of my computer most mornings about 9:20, just when I'm trying to get some work done, and wastes about half-an hour every day.

What happens is that the hard disk starts churning, and the computer then takes an age to respond to anything. The only way to gain control again is to press and hold down the power button until the thing stops, and then reboot.

But this morning I decided to do it the long way. When I clicked a few times and there was no response, I checked, and sure enough, the disk activity light showed that the hard disk was churning. I'd been viewing a web page, and tried to close it, as I thought it might be trying to send me something long and expensive, like a video. When it took a long time to close, I realised what was happening.

09:23 - Decide to shut down
09:26 - clicked the Restart button
09:28 - htqtra08 closing, then computer closed down and time disappeared
09:36 - time reappeared on reboot
09:43 - Loading ZoneAlarm
09:45 - Reboot complete.

OK, so that is 22 minutes, but from the time the problem starts to the time I get back to where I was working and start working agan, it's more like 30 minutes.

It's possible to save 5-7 minutes by switching off with the power switch instead of going through the close-down but it's still a long long time.

I'm running Windows XP, and if ever I have to replace this computer, I'll probably be forced to use Vista, which to all accounts is worse.

One of the problems is that Windows never tells you what it's doing half the time. Microsoft don't see fit to tell you. Press Ctrl-Alt-Del to see what program is running and misbehaving so one can close it down, and there's nothing there. When you boot up, there are all kinds of "processes", and I've read that you can speed things up by omitting some of them, but how do you know what they do and whether you need them or not? Microsoft doesn't tell you.

There are other things Microsoft doesn't tell you, or someone doesn't tell you.

Some program, I don't know which, underlines things it regard as spelling mistakes in some documents. But it underlines some spellings that are correct. So where is it, and can one adjust the settings and update it's spelling dictionary?

There is another (or perhaps the same one) that "suggests" things to use to fill in fields on web pages. The trouble is, it "suggests" every typo I've ever made. What is this program, where can one find it, how can one adjust its settings and remove the typos?

Are there any fundis out there who can answer some of these questions?

Someone I know had a hard disk crash recently, and when her hardware had been repaired, she had a problem "revalidating" the Windows operating system. She tried every available method, but nothing worked.

Eventually a friend helped her by loading a pirate version of Windows XP on her computer. It was half the size, booted in half them time, and ran at about twice the speed. It was a stripped down version that was an improvement on the original.

Actually for most of my work I'd be quite happy to use MS DOS. The only trouble is that it hasn't been updated and can't handle modern hardware -- disk drives, controllers, video cards etc.

People say use a better OS, like Linux, but I don't know whether the programs I use most often would run under Linux. I have 20 years of work on my computer, if not more. I really don't have time to start all over again and redo all that stuff.

So perhaps it's time to exorcise my computer.

19 November 2008

Nouslife: Freeing the Saints From Hallmark Festivals

Nouslife comments on the modern potlatch, the exchanging of cards and presents on every conceivable occasion.

Nouslife: Freeing the Saints From Hallmark Festivals:
First this specific got my attention: 'Robyn learned the story of St. Nicholas, the Turkish bishop who became a symbol of anonymous gift-giving by providing dowries to three destitute sisters. (You can read the story in Samantha Baker-Evens article, “The Real Santa Claus”.) When Robyn shared the story of St Nicholas with her children, she was able to encourage them to focus their gift-giving on those who were really in need at Christmas and remember the One who gave us the greatest gift of al—Christ our Saviour. The whole family volunteered to serve Christmas dinner at a local homeless shelter, and they bought a goat for a poor family in Ethiopia. “It was our most satisfying Christmas ever,” she said.'

I must say that the first thing that struck me about it was the anachronism of saying that St Nicholas was a Turkish bishop -- it's a bit like saying that King Arthur was an English king.

And the second thing that struck me about it is that the Hallmark festivals have already freed me a long time ago. Well, that and Tom Lehrer's song

Relations sparing no expense'll
send some useless old utensil
or a matching pen and pencil
just the thing I need, how nice.

It doesn't matter how sincere it is
nor how heartfelt the spirit
sentiment will not endear it
what's important is the price.

Being urged to buy presents and send cards for Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day and all sorts of other days has cured me of buying Christmas cards as well. It just became too much of a good thing -- for the greetings card industry, that is.

My mother-in-law used to send Christmas cards to all sorts of friends and neighbours. She came across one card which was much too nice for the rather vague acquaintances who were next on her list, so she decided to send it to her sister instead. She'd already sent them one, so she signed that one "Gilbert, Effie and the twins" just to mystify her.

But nowadays the greetings card has been replaced by the blog, and that's available all year. Who needs the prepackaged sentiments of the doggerel in a commercial greetings card when you can say it yourself in a blog?

It's no longer "You send me a card and I'll send one to you". It's "You read my blog and I'll read yours."

And instead of making lists of all the people who sent you Christmas cards last year so that you can send them one this year, we have MyblogLog and BlogCatalog to let you know exactly who's been reading your blog so that you can reciprocate. Eat your heart out, Hallmark!

18 November 2008

More on child witches in Africa

The UK Channel 4 programme on child "witches" in Africa broadcast last week has reignited debate on the topic. I keep a database of African independent churches and church leaders, to try to build up a coherent picture of African Christianity, but the media reports on this phenomenon, which has been reported mainly from Nigeria, the DRC and Angola, usually raise more questions than they answer.

According to Tracy McVeigh of "The Guardian" (9-Dec-2007) "it is American and Scottish Pentecostal and evangelical missionaries of the past 50 years who have shaped these fanatical beliefs".

What I would like to know is which American and Scottish missionaries these were. What are their names, their background? Who sent them to Nigeria, and when? Which denominaations and mission agencies sponsored them? What was the source of their teaching, and how did they influence those who are propagating these beliefs in Nigeria today?

These seem to me to be very important questions for missiologists and church historians to be asking. We have international academic discussion forums for researchers on African Independent Churches and New Religious Movements, but if anyone is doing research into those topics they aren't saying. Possibly some sociologists have been doing research into it, but if they have, I haven't heard of it. An interdisciplinary study would be useful.

In the absence of such studies, all one can do is try to read between the lines of the newspaper reports and try to guess what is going on.

According to some reports this phenomenon -- accusing children of being witches -- did not exist in Congo (DRC) in 1994, but it was common in 1999.

One of the denominations reported to be most active in witch hunting is the Liberty Gospel Church, founded in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria in 1992 by Helen Ukpabio, a former nurse.

She has apparently said that if children cry a lot and are fretful it is a sign that they are witches. Now I'm not a fundi on Nigerian witchcraft beliefs, but I do know that in most parts of Africa if a child is ill and feverish and cries a lot people may suspect that the child has been bewitched. Witchcraft has often been seen as a cause of illness. But it seems that Ukpabio has reversed this, and instead of seeing these as symptoms that a child is a victim, she teaches that it a sign that the child is a perpetator of witchcraft.

Maybe there is some precedent for this kind of thing in Nigerian culture -- if there is, I hope someone will enlighten me. But it seems to me like a new twist on the "blame the victim" game.

And if Helen Ukpabio and others like her really got their theology from American and Scottish pentecostal and evangelical missionaries, it might be quite important to know which ones. I think it may, however, be a bit more complex than this.

In Central and West Africa there seems to be a growing interest in exorcism; though such beliefs may have been around for a long time they seem to be growing stronger. Many clergy seem to have specialised in it. I met a student at the Orthodox seminary in Nairobi who had been a Roman Catholic and gathered a congregation of about 500 people in Douala, Cameroun, who had mainly been attracted by his ministry of exorcism. He became Orthodox when the Roman Catholic bishop sought to inhibit his ministry of exorcism, which he continued with the blessing of the local Orthodox bishop.

Another student at the seminary, who was from the English-speaking northern part of Cameroun, had become a Rosicrucian at the age of 16, and had tried an amazing number of religions, including Wicca and Ekankar, before settling on Hinduism, which he studied for some time under a guru in India. On returning to Cameroun he was told by his spirit guides to worship the Triune God, and walked into town and the first Christian Church he came across was the Orthodox Cathedral, so he decided to join the Orthodox Church. But at the seminary he believed that the teaching staff were withholding important information from the students, such as which variety of incense was best for driving out which kinds of demons.

But there is also the possibility that the excesses of people like Helen Ukpabio could actually kill off African witchcraft beliefs altogether.

Something similar happened in the great European witch craze in the 16th and 17th centuries. In early modern Europe there was, in some places, a great increase in witchhunting and witchcraft accusations. As time passed, however, the accusations and the beliefs about witchcraft became more and more bizarre and over-the-top, until people could simply no longer believe them, and eventually the entire belief system crumbled under its own weight. Perhaps Ukpabio's teachings are a sign that this is beginning to happen in Africa.

Loony tunes

It is not unusual for organisations to receive letters from nut-cases, but it is rather strange for them to pass them on to the news media, and for the latter to publish them in full, without comment. This one was apparently sent to the Evangelical Seminary of Southern Africa. It's a strange strange world we live in, Master Jack.

The Times - My power and glory, your faith everlasting:
I will, however, need more than a gun and a Bible to reconstruct these Pyrrhonian backsliders. The Dogon believe they were created by gods who came from the sky in space ships. They are madder than Tom Cruise and I will need 20 crates of single-malt whisky, 500 condoms and a thousand aspirin if I am to convince them that it is not the god Lebe, but the Almighty Himself who visits them at night in the form of a serpent and licks their skins in order to purify them and infuse them with life.

As one of your newest recruits, my motto will be: Convert Or Die. I have already printed the T-shirts so you have to give me the job or I will sue your holy ass to kingdom come.

17 November 2008

Reviving the Russian Soul

One of the most popular recent films in Russia is Ostrov (The Island) which indicates that despite the dominance of the communist and capitalist visions of materialism, interest in spiritual life continues to grow. As the authors of this review point out, "Ostrov’s story of repentance and faith in God hardly seems to be the stuff that blockbusters are made of" -- at least not in the West. I noted my own response to the film here, but this article describes the effect on Russian culture, and the response of the actor who played the protagonist is also interesting, since he is apparently a hermit in real life.

Reviving the Russian Soul, by Mike Kauschke and Elizabeth Debold.:
The story of the film’s principal actor Pyotr Mamonov may offer some explanation. Back in the eighties and nineties, Mamonov was the lead singer in an avant garde Russian rock band that reached cult status. But these days, he lives as a religious hermit near Moscow, and apparently it took a great deal of effort to get him to commit to make the film. Ostrov director Pavel Lungin says: “In a certain sense, this is also a movie about Mamonov’s life. He transformed from being a rock star embroiled in scandals into a deeply religious man.” Lungin realizes that both Mamonov’s life and the life of the monk he plays are resonant for Russians today. “The times of perestroika are over and we need to think about things like eternity, sin, and conscience,” he observes. “These have disappeared from our lives in the rat race for success and money. But people can’t just live for material things alone.”

16 November 2008

Saving Africa's Witch Children

The disturbing new trend of witch-hunting, apparently sponsored by Neopentecostal Churches, continues to get publicity, but unfortunately the media reports are not very informative.

Channel 4 - News - Dispatches - Saving Africa's Witch Children:
In some of the poorest parts of Nigeria, where evangelical religious fervour is combined with a belief in sorcery and black magic, many thousands of children are being blamed for catastrophes, death and famine - and branded witches by powerful pastors. These children are then abandoned, tortured, starved and murdered - all in the name of Jesus Christ.

This Dispatches Special follows the work of one Englishman, 29-year-old Gary Foxcroft, who has devoted his life to helping these desperate and vulnerable children. Gary's charity, Stepping Stones Nigeria, raises funds to help Sam Itauma, who five years ago, rescued four children accused of witchcraft. He now struggles to care for over 150 in a makeshift shelter and school in the Niger Delta region called CRARN (Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network).

Is anyone doing any research into this phenomenon, on the origins and spread of these beliefs, and who is holding and propagating them?

15 November 2008

Roy Campbell, the Bloomsbury Group and C.S. Lewis

I've been reading Virginia Woolf's A writer's diary, and got curious about why it never mentioned Roy Campbell, the poet, who had at one point been associated with the Bloomsbury group, and so got out Joseph Pearce's biography of Roy Campbell to refresh my memory, and found I had almost completely forgotten the tangled web of relationships -- that Roy Campbell's wife Mary was in love with Vita Nicholson (nee Sackville-West) and that the Campbells had gone to live in a cottage on the Sackville-West estate.

But Virginia Woolf was also in love with Vita, and had written her Orlando in a fit of jealousy over Vita's relationship with Mary Campbell. None of that comes out in the (edited) version of the diary. And when he found out about the affair, on 6 November 1927, Roy Campbell went off by train to London, to drown his sorrows in drink. He met C.S. Lewis in a pub, and drinking with him, told him all about it (Pearce 2001:90), and when Lewis remarked "Fancy being cuckolded by a woman" Campbell rushed back to Kent in a rage, and thereafter came to despise the Bloomsbury group, and drew closer to Evelyn Waugh and D.B. Wyndham Lewis, and told Lytton Strachey, who advocated detachment, "Strachey, you are about as detached, morally, physically and intellectually as the animal you most resemble". "What is that?" asked Strachey. "A tapeworm," replied Campbell (Pearce 2001:95).

14 November 2008

Your school chum's not asking about you: Classmates.com sued

Everybody hates me, nobody loves me
I'm going to go and eat worms
Big fat juicy ones, little itty bitty ones
See how the big ones squirm
First you bite thier heads off
Then you suck the juice out
Then you throw the skins away
Nobody knows how I can thrive
On worms three times a day.

Did you sing that, or something like it, at school, when you thought no one was your friend?

Well, guess what -- in spite of advertising by some social networking sites, they're still not your friends.

Your school chum's not asking about you: Classmates.com sued:
San Diego resident Anthony Michaels had been a free member of Classmates.com since last year. However, the site—like dating sites that offer paid membership tiers—doesn't let you do anything all that interesting with the free tier. In order to see who has been looking at your profile and read messages from other members, users must first upgrade to a Gold Membership. That's when Michaels said he was tricked. He said that he began receiving messages from Classmates.com claiming that old classmates of his had been looking at his profile and trying to get in touch with him through the site. If only he would fork over some cash for a paid membership, he could see those messages and reconnect with that old high school crush!

Who could resist such a temptation? Michaels couldn't, and that's why he finally paid up in hopes of reading all those messages that his classmates had been sending him. Upon doing so and logging in, however, he was greeted with crushing disappointment. Not a single message was waiting for him in his Classmates.com inbox, and none of the people who had been viewing his profile were ones he knew or was familiar with.

Clasmates.com is not the only or even the worst of such sites. There is also the Names Database, and Alumni.net, and several others. Many of them practice sneaky advertising of one kind or another. The Names Database, for example, offers to give you some of the interesting information, provided you give them the e-mail addresses of 20 or more of your existing friend so that they can spam them (I don't know if they sell the addresses they harvest in this way so that others can spam them too).

There was one called Word of Mouth, which I think has now disappeared. They invited people to give information about others anonymously, so that they could post malicious rubbish if they wanted to. Then potential employers could pay them to consult the gosspip -- and they could keep spamming to say that someone has written about you, come and see what they've said -- but of course you had to pay to do that. Entering malicious gossip was free, reading it was for subscribers only.

Some such sites are actually quite useful. One of the better ones is ZoomInfo, which just collects stuff from the web. They charge business users, but don't charge people for simple people searches. Not all the information they collect is accurate, but you can sign on and organise the information that is really about you for free.

Another of the better reuniting old friends sites is:

Is someone looking for you? Who? Me? Type your last name and search!

I've not actually found any old friends using their site, but I like their style.

The Times - Few will turn 50 in SA

According to this report, South Africa's life expectancy has dropped drastically in the last 10 years.

The Times - Few will turn 50 in SA:
MOST South Africans will not live to celebrate their 50th birthday, just like people living in strife-torn Somalia and impoverished Ethiopia.

A UN Population Fund report puts the life expectancy of the typical South African man at only 48.8 years; women are not expected to live longer than 49.6 years.

This is drastically lower than a decade ago, when the US Census Bureau’s international database put life expectancy at 55.5 years for South Africans.
The most recent estimate of South African life expectancies was less than for people living in Brazil, the murder capital of the world, or for people in war-torn Iraq.

The report, UNFPA State of World Population 2008, states that South Africa has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world, with 21.8 percent of all women aged between 15 and 49 being HIV-positive — the fourth-highest rate globally. Only South Africa’s less populous neighbours — Swaziland (32 percent), Botswana (28.9 percent) and Lesotho (27.1 percent) — have worse prevalence figures.

So Southern Africa generally is the region suffering most from HIV/Aids.

In view of this, one wonders why South Africa seems to attract so many immigrants, legal and illegal.

13 November 2008

Book review: The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World - Scotsman.com

With such a broad subject as witch-hunting in the Western world, it is a pity that this book was not broadened still further to include the whole world.

Book review: The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World - Scotsman.com:
Book review: The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World

Published Date: 08 November 2008
By Germaine Greer
THE ENEMY WITHIN: 2,000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World

By John Demos

Viking, 336pp, �17.99
JOHN DEMOS HAS BUILT A formidable reputation with his five scholarly books on early American history. His new book, The Enemy Within, is very different. Not only is it intended for a broad readership, but its putative subject, as indicated by the sub title, is no less than '2,000 years of witch-hunting in the western world.' Demos tells us in his introduction that the plan for the book came from his publisher, but he does not really explain why he accepted the challenge. To paint so vast a picture requires a broader brush and rather more intellectual arrogance than Demos has at his disposal.

The review itself has come in for criticism. Letters - Witch Hunts - NYTimes.com:
I have not yet read John Demos’s new book on witch hunting (“The Enemy Within,” Oct. 12), but your reviewer, Germaine Greer, reveals an astonishing lack of up-to-date knowledge concerning a topic that has undergone a revolution among historical researchers over the last 40 years.

And I have a minor quibble of my own, when later in the review Greer says: Book review: The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World - Scotsman.com:
This reader would have been intrigued to find out what Demos, with his in-depth understanding of the events in Salem, would have made of the judicial murder of Joan of Arc, whom the British would have tried as a witch if only Anne of Burgundy, Duchess of Bedford, deputed to examine her, had not testified that she was a virgin. Joan was tried as a heretic instead, found guilty and burnt alive at the age of 19. Like the teenagers in Salem, Joan could cite spectral evidence. Whether her voices would be classed as saints from heaven or goblins damned depended on her judges. The British burned her; 25 years later the French retried her and declared her saint and martyr.

Many of the female saints of the early church behaved in ways that in a different setting would have brought an accusation of witchcraft. Many had relationships with birds and beasts identical to those that witches were thought to have. The seventh-century saint Melangell, for example, sheltered a hare beneath her skirts as she knelt praying in a wood and when the following hounds caught up they fell back whining; later, witches would be thought to inhabit the bodies of hares.

Interesting stories, but rather spoilt by the anachronistic references to "the British" -- it was the English, surely? The story of St Melangell is interesting, though rather tangential to the main topic. I've blogged about that elsewhere at SAFCEI: Saints and animals.

But to return to witch-hunting, I'd like to see more comparative studies between the Western world and elsewhere. Perhaps they will prove or disprove my hypothesis that witch-hunting seems to increase in societies where premodernity meets modernity, as in early modern Europe, and much of Africa at the present day. Maybe it's just that I've been over influenced by the title of the collection of essays by Comaroff & Comaroff: Modernity and its malcontents: ritual and power in post-colonial Africa (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), ISBN: 0-226-11440-6, Dewey: 303.4, but the comparison is long overdue.

12 November 2008

Understanding the Dark Side

An interesting review of Christopher Partridge, Understanding the Dark Side: Western Demonology, Satanic Panics and Alien Abduction, Chester University Press, (2006).

Understanding the Dark Side:
Although the subtitle promises to be a survey of western demonology, Satanic panics, and alien abduction Partridge’s survey is more a deconstruction of UFO religion and the eclecticism of its sources. The extra-terrestrial religious ideas may have had their origin in theosophical strains of Eastern thought but the religion of groups such as Heaven’s Gate is in fact more rooted in western demonology, specifically the adaptation in popular culture of the idea of the nephilim (Gen 6: 1-4). In the space of a short lecture Partridge has done a good job at delineating the dialectic between theory and popular culture and so, from the perspective of those interested in alternative and fringe religions the author has done a good job in charting the field. However, for those like my self who do not spend much time thinking about the theology of the Raelians a more interesting phenomenon - why as the stranglehold of ‘Christian’ understandings of the world been dissipated have these religions relied on parodies of Christian demonologies. In understand that popular culture is tapping into a latent understanding in invoking such ideas from Christian sources - however, the fact that the UFO religions have followed suit strikes me as a far more interesting question both theologically and sociologically.

Father Seraphim Rose, a Western convert to Orthodoxy, in his book Orthodoxy and the religion of the future maintained that UFOs were in fact demonic manifestations.

UFOs, however, are one area where I'm inclined to be modernist rather than postmodernitst or pre-modernist; in fact I'm altogether prosaic and literalist about them. As I see it, if you believe that you have established that UFOs are demons, or creatures from another planet, they are no longer UFOs but IFOs -- Identified Flying Objects. A thing cannot be both identified and unidentified at the same time.

A few years ago I was visited by a member of an Old Calendrist group, Paul Inglesby, who seemed quite obsessed with UFOs, and was trying to drum up support for his campaign of appealing to governments to do something to stop the abductions by space aliens that he was convinced were taking place. He simply didn't see my point at all when I said that if he had identified them as craft of space aliens they could no longer be UFOs (he pronounced it "you foes"). It wasn't exactly a UFO cult he was advocating, more like a conspiracy theory.

He asked me if I "believed in" UFOs. I said I didn't believe in them, though I had seen one. He asked me what I thought it was, and I said if I knew that, it wouldn't be a UFO. For what it's worth, here's what I wrote about it at the time, on an autumn evening in 1964, when I was at university

In the evening I went over to the Union to phone Fr Hallowes. It was about 6:00 pm, and as I walked across the car park I saw a red object travel across the sky from south to north. It was almost due West of the Union, and then it looked like an artificial satellite, moving slowly across the sky, very much as I saw the first Sputnik moving, nearly seven years ago now. That was the only satellite I had ever seen before, and I almost stopped looking and went on to the Union, But then I stopped, because when it was almost due west it seemed to stop, and then moved in a series of jerks. Then it started to move round a star -- at least that's what it looked like to me, but parallax probably meant that it only looked like it. Neil Perrett came along then, and we both watched it. It was higher up in the sky moving back more or less the way it had come, still in jerks, and it seemed less bright. Obviously it was not an artificial satellite, but must be an aircraft of some kind. Too far away for a chopper, but it may be a fast plane, very far away, but somehow it didn't look like it. Not a satellite, not a plane, what the hell can it be? A piece seemed to fall off it, and then it was travelling back, moving north to south, when it dropped a few more pieces, and finally disappeared -- disintegrated altogether. I went on to the Union, and Neil went back to res.

Not a bird, not a plane, not an artificial satellite, not an alien spacecraft, not a demonic manifestation, simply an unidentified flying object - a UFO.

11 November 2008

nourishing obscurity: [remembrance sunday] the armistice story part 1

The 11th of November is sometimes known as Poppy Day (in case you've wondered why Brit TV announcers have been decorated with red poppies for the last few weeks), and sometimes as Armistice Day. This is linked to the cessation of hostilities in the First World War 90 years ago today.

James Higham has a good background post on his blog, explaining how the war started and why the poppies: nourishing obscurity: [remembrance sunday] the armistice story part 1:
We all know about poppies, the day is celebrated around the world and yet do you know the actual story? The aim of this post is to bring together the story in one package.

It is also one of the primary reasons I see no justification for wars being declared. This is not to say we shouldn't be prepared - we should and with the best equipment.

I'm referring to the ruling donkeys deciding that a jolly good war is in order and to hell with the lives of countless young people. Sorry if this makes me hot under the collar.

It's worth a read.

Also worth noting, perhaps, is that the armistice was signed in France, and the day was the feast day of a French bishop, St Martin of Tours, who could be described as the patron saint of conscientious objectors.Some bloggers, like Alice In Blogland: November, will be wearing white poppies, to remember conscientious objectors as well as combatants.

10 November 2008

The Times - Military believe judge was ‘bewitched’

The case of a military judge who has claimed that she was bewitched has really set the cat among the pigeons.

The Times - Military believe judge was ‘bewitched’:
A Senior military judge has escaped prosecution for attempting suicide because some of the SA National Defence Force’s top brass allegedly believed her claim that she had been bewitched.

The defence force’s first black female judge, Colonel Phildah Nomoyi, 41, doused herself with petrol and set herself alight in her garage in June.

Now Thaba Tshwane — the military complex in Pretoria that is home to thousands of personnel from privates to generals — is buzzing with gossip about how Nomoyi escaped being booted from the force.

Not only is the unfortunate judge in danger of being sacked for "shooting herself in the foot" (as the saying goes), but the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) have said they will lodge a formal complaint with the Minister of Defence, SANDF Legal services, SANDF Chief and the Defence Secretariat, against "the spurious religious prejudice and defamation demonstrated against Witchcraft by Colonel Phildah Nomoyi" and (according to reports) "supported by the SANDF in their refusal to remove Nomoyi from her Judicial position or charge her with conduct unbecoming."

Which quite frankly seems utterly ridiculous. Or do SAPRA have evidence that Philidah Nomoyi has accused them, or any of their members, of bewitching her?

I believe that, however the case turns out, the SA Pagan Rights Alliance owe Colonel Phildah Nomoyi an apology for accusing her of "spurious religious prejudice", unless they have evidence to show that she specifically accused them, or any of their members, of bewitching her.

It appears that they are confusing two very different things -- the modern religion of pagan witchcraft, and premodern African witchcraft beliefs. As the historian Ronald Hutton has pointed out in his book The pagan religions of the ancient British IOsles,

By assuming that witchcraft and paganism were formerly the same phenomenon, they (Wiccans) are mixing two utterly different archaic concepts and placing themselves in a certain amount of difficulty. The advantage of the label 'witch' is that it has all the exciting connotations of a figure who flouts the conventions of normal society and is possessed of powers unavailable to it, at once feared and persecuted. It is a marvellous rallying-point for a counter-culture, and also one of the few images of independent female power in early modern European civilization. The disadvantage is that by identifying themselves with a very old stereotype of menace,
derived from the pre-Christian world itself, modern pagans have drawn upon themselves a great deal of unnecessary suspicion, vituperation and victimization which they are perpetually struggling to assuage.

Now I am sympathetic towards neopagans who have been maligned in this way, and have suffered vi8ctimisation as a result. But it is disingenuous to claim that Colonel Phildah Nomoyi had the slightest intention of doing this. It is confusing two very different concepts, and has the effect of victimising Colonel Phildah Nomoyi in the same way that neopagans have themselves have been victimised. She clearly has problems, and deserves sympathy rather than persecution.

Inexpensive progress

Let's say goodbye to hedges
And roads with grassy edges
And winding country lanes
Let all things travel faster
Where motor-car is master
Till only Speed remains.

So wrote John Betjeman in his poem Inexpensive progress (c1955) -- about the time that Britain got its first motorway. I'm sure he didn't foresee the congestion and the joys of sitting stationary in freeway traffic jams.

About 25 years ago the mailships between Britain and South Africa were phased out in the name of "progress". Containerisation had killed them and made then uneconomic, we were told. So overseas surface mail became subject to the erratic and uncertain sailing schedules of container ships, and letters that could previously be guaranteed to arrive within two weeks could take six weeks to two months, or even longer. And now airmail usually takes at least two weeks.

And now Chessalee notes the passing of another milestone in the stalled rush of progress -- the British night mail trains.

Night train that turned post into poetry makes its final delivery - Home News, UK - The Independent:
The 'Night Mail', the train that W H Auden and T S Eliot made famous in rhyme, and the 1963 Great Train Robbers made famous in crime, is being replaced by a much less romantic means of getting letters from one end of the country to the other:lorries.

The trains, officially known as travelling post offices (TPOs), had specially-constructed carriages that allowed post to be sorted on the way. They first ran in 1838, but they have gradually been replaced in recent years, and now the last 10 trains are being axed in a cost-cutting plan to save Royal Mail �10m a year. A Royal Mail spokesman said yesterday: 'Travelling sorting offices were a Victorian solution to a Victorian problem ..., before the era of motorways and air travel. Like mail coaches before them, TPOs are now part of the Royal Mail's history.'

Incredible change

More evidence that Barack Obama's "Change you can believe in" slogan rings hollow.

OpEdNews -- Conned Again:
If the change President-elect Obama has promised includes a halt to America's wars of aggression and an end to the rip-off of taxpayers by powerful financial interests, what explains Obama's choice of foreign and economic policy advisors? Indeed, Obama's selection of Rahm Israel Emanuel as White House chief of staff is a signal that change ended with Obama's election. The only thing different about the new administration will be the faces.

Rahm Israel Emanuel is a supporter of Bush's invasion of Iraq. Emanuel rose to prominence in the Democratic Party as a result of his fundraising connections to AIPAC. A strong supporter of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, he comes from a terrorist family. His father was a member of Irgun, a Jewish terrorist organization that used violence to drive the British and Palestinians out of Palestine in order to create the Jewish state. During the 1991 Gulf War, Rahm Israel Emanuel volunteered to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. He was a member of the Freddie Mac board of directors and received $231,655 in directors fees in 2001. According to Wikipedia, 'during the time Emanuel spent on the board, Freddie Mac was plagued with scandals involving campaign contributions and accounting irregularities.'

The hollowness of the slogan became apparent as soon as he had secured enough votes to win the Democratic Party nomination (see Notes from underground: Oh well, so much for peace and Notes from underground: Why Clinton Lost and why Obama won). Change didn't end with his election, it ended with his nomination.

Many people last week said Barack Obama's election gave them hope, but it's proving to be a very false hope indeed.

09 November 2008

Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria on ecumenism

There's an interesting and wide-ranging interview of the Orthodox Bishop of Vienna and Austria by Peter Bouteneff. I think that the whole interview is worth reading, but what the bishop said about ecumenism certainly rang bells for me.

Dr. Peter C. Bouteneff -- An Interview with His Grace, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria:
After more than thirteen years of intensive ecumenical involvement I can declare my profound disappointment with the existing forms of “official” ecumenism as represented by the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches and other similar organizations. My impression is that they have exhausted their initial potential. Theologically they lead us nowhere. They produce texts that, for the most part, are pale and uninspiring. The reason for this is that these organizations include representatives of a wide variety of churches, from the most “conservative” to the most “liberal.” And the diversity of views is so great that they cannot say much in common except for a polite and politically correct talk about “common call to unity,” “mutual commitment” and “shared responsibility.”

I see that there is now a deep-seated discrepancy between those churches which strive to preserve the Holy Tradition and those that constantly revise it to fit modern standards. This divergence is as evident at the level of religious teaching, including doctrine and ecclesiology, as it is at the level of church practice, such as worship and morality.

Hat-tip to Ad Orientem: Bp. Hilarion (Alfeeyev) Speaks

I have plenty of pale and uninspiring texts mouldering in files and on shelves, produced by ecumenical gatherings, and the only thing that stops me throwing them out is the thought that I might need to quote something from one the following day. And I've been to plenty of ecumenical gatherings where talk is cheap and action non-existent. A few have been worth attending, not for what they achieved, but for the insight they gave into the reasons for non-achievement.

One of the latter class was a meeting of the South African Council of Churches a few years ago on Zimbabwe, where members of the South African observer team of the Zimbabwean elections confessed that they had been persuaded to sign a statement declaring the elections free and fair when it was pretty evident that they were not, and at the meeting they spoke of their remorse at having thereby exacerbated the problems in that unhappy country instead of helping to solve them.

06 November 2008

A liberal underground in South Africa

A recent comment on South African history by Paul Trewhela suggests that if the Liberal Party had gone underground 40 years ago, instead of disbanding under government pressure, it could have strengthened the liberal democratic tradition in South Africa today.

Politicsweb - FEATURES - The battle of ideas in South Africa:
The prime opponent in South Africa of both the European tradition of racist rule, embodied principally but not exclusively in the government of over forty years of the National Party, but also of totalitarian state despotism of the Soviet type (represented by the SACP), was the Liberal Party of South Africa. During the apartheid period, members of this party showed great courage and gave outstanding moral witness. But the Liberal Party existed for only 15 years, between 1953 and 1968, when it dissolved itself.

By that act of self-extinction, in that most bleak period of despotic rule under the heavy hand of Prime Minister Balthasar John Vorster (former paramilitary leader of the Ossewabrandwag), the Liberal Party discounted itself as a serious contender for the allegiance of black people, deprived of a vote, and handed primacy of position in the argument for the criterion of non-racialism in politics to its rival and enemy, the SACP.

In another article, Gus Gosling asks whether it would have been possible for the Liberal Party to have gone underground, and gives some reasons why he thought it could not.

Politicsweb - FEATURES - Why was there no liberal underground?:
In effect the NCL-ARM was the (premature) act of underground resistance from the Liberal Party. The final, aberrant, tragic act of the NCL-ARM on 24 July 1964, an expanded increasingly paranoid state security apparatus, combined finally with Liberal openness ensured the near impossibility for any second act of underground resistance from Liberals.

So why, despite all this, do I still think that Paul Trewhela has a point? The Liberal Party's real failure was that, outside Natal, it was perceived and received as a party of white privilege. (In Natal the Liberal Party had support among rural blacks facing eviction from 'blackspots'.)

I think that Gus Gosling has got it right there. As I've noted elsewhere (Notes from underground: A new history of the Liberal Party?), I have little first-hand knowledge of the Liberal Party outside Natal, but within Natal, I can see no way that the party could have gone underground. The party had operated openly and publicly. Its members and leaders were well-known to the Security Police, who would not have had to be very bright to have noticed underground activity. Their izimpimpi were still active, and long after the Liberal Party had disbanded they continued to report contact between former members of the party to the Security Police.

It was easier for the South African Communist Party to operate underground for reasons noted by Gosling and Trewhela, and also because it saw itself as a vanguard organisation, which the Liberal Party did not. The Liberal Party tried not only to talk about democracy, but to practise it in its own organisation, which meant meeting not as secret cells, but publicly as party branches, and having regional, provincial and national congresses.

So I believe it would have been pretty unrealistic to expect the Liberal Party to go underground.

But there is a related question that is worth asking.

While it would have been almost impossible for the Liberal Party to operate underground, some of its members, including me, were quite interested in the history of the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany, and we did see the possibility of a confessing church in South Africa. So the question to ask is why nothing came of the idea of a confessing church.

When the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer were published in English in the 1960s, they struck a chord with South African readers, who could see many parallels between South Africa in the 1960s and Germany in the 1930s. In 1963 the Christian Institute was formed, and its associated journal Pro Veritate published articles asking if the time had come for a confessing church in South Africa.

I and others have covered this in some detail in a collection of essays Oom Bey for the future: engaging the witness of Beyers Naude edited by Len Hansen and Robert Vosloo (Stellenbosch, SUN Press, 2006: ISBN 1-920109-29-3). One of the things that I was concerned with was that the Christian Institute should try to recruit former members of the Liberal Party (most of whom were Christians belonging to various African independent churches), and, as an interdenominational organisation, provide the basic structure for them to continue to work together.

In the end, for various reasons, this did not happen.

Nevertheless, a Christian "underground" was a far more feasible project than a Liberal Party one, and if it had come off, it could have performed at least some of the functions that Trewhela and Gosling think an underground Liberal Party could have done.

Support Obama's agenda

No doubt Barack Obama has a pretty long agenda for the next few months. Avaaz invites people to send him congratulations on being elected, and reminding him on the things that need to be at the top of that long agenda -- the things that can't wait.

Avaaz says:

After 8 long years of Bush - a fresh start. Let's seize this historic moment to send a flood of global messages to Obama.

Our message and the number of signers, as well as all our personal messages, will be displayed on a giant wall in the heart of Washington DC.

Over the next 48 hours, the wall could become a focal point for US media reporting on global reactions to the Obama win. A massive global response will help make this a major moment of unity and reconciliation between the US and the world. Let's get to a million!

So send your congratulations, and a message, along with thousands of others, by clicking and signing here.

05 November 2008

Ain't that the truth!

Hat-tip to Notes from a commonplace book for this response from Pravda to Barack Obama's election as US president.

A change for the better - Pravda.Ru:
Only Satan would have been worse than the Bush regime. Therefore it could be argued that the new administration in the USA could never be worse than the one which divorced the hearts and minds of Americans from their brothers in the international community, which appalled the rest of the world with shock and awe tactics that included concentration camps, torture, mass murder and utter disrespect for international law. Yet in choosing Obama, the people of America have opted to come back into the international fold. Welcome back, friends!

Barack Obama is one man who has a mission and a dream. He will not change the world, as he claims and he might not even change the USA, in the near future at least. Powerful lobbies control the strings which control the puppets in Washington – indeed, it is not Washington that needs to be changed, but the invisible barons dictating its policies.

Politics and pessimism

So it looks as though Barack Obama is going to win the US Presidential election, and that the Democratic Party in the US will have a majority in the legislature as well.

No doubt his supporters will be elated.

For myself, I'm relieved, rather than happy.

I'm relieved that the nightmare of an unpredictable warmongering president of the US threatening to start World War III that has dominated the last eight years may be over.

I think there are many others who feel the same way.

There is widespread relief around the world that the Bush years are almost over.

But why not elation?

I suppose for me the reason is that history has shown that the Democratic Party in the US is no less inclined to war-mongering than the Republican Party. It's just slightly less lunatic and unpredictable about it.

Bush (father and son) may have bombed Baghdad, but I cannot forget that it was Clinton, a Democrat, who bombed Belgrade.

And it was his colleague Madeleine Albright who forced war on Yugoslavia with just as much manic determination as George Bush II forced it on Iraq, and it was she, who, when asked if the lives of half a million Iraqi children was a price worth paying for American hegemony in the Middle East, said "We think the price is worth it."

But in another respect, one can hope for better things. Under Bill Clinton's Demcratic Party the US at least had balanced budgets, while the Republican administration of George Bush spent like there was no tomorrow, and have left the mess for Barack Obama to pick up. Will eight years be enough to sort out the mess that George Bush left?

So I hope Barack Obama lives up to the hopes that have been placed in him. I think back to the time when Tony Blair was elected as Prime Minister of the UK, and the hopes he aroused. Like Obama, he was young and dynamic and was a new broom promising change. But in the end he was a disappointment, and turned out to be as much a warmonger as Bill Clinton and George Bush combined.

Of course young dynamic leaders are attractive, but age is not necessarily a barrier. In South Africa Nelson Mandela was the best President or Prime Minister the coutnry has ever had since the union was formed in 1910, and he was also, at the time he was elected, probably the oldest.

His successors seem determined to destroy his legacy by squabbling over the spoils of office in bitter personal rivalries and factions. It is sad to see the ANC destroying itself like that.

There's much talk about Mbhazima Shilowa and Terror Lekota forming a new party, which has been dubbed "Shikota" by journalists. But they somehow don't bring as much hope as Barack Obama. I wonder how much they are driven by principle, and how much by sour grapes. Shilowa at least had the vision of an integrated transport system for Gauteng, and the progress in building the new commuter train line between Johannesburg and Pretoria is a tribute to his vision and energy. So perhaps there is some hope there.

Well, I hope Barack Obama will live up to the hopes of his supporters. I hope he will not start any new wars, and that he will succeed in bringing an end to the ones started by his predecessors. But somehow I don't think history is on his side. Undoing the damage done by George Bush in the US and in the world may take a lot more than eight years, more likely eight generations.

See also Abstractions: Remember, remember, the 5th of November..., with some interesting links.

04 November 2008

Synchroblog on leadership

Today we are having a Synchroblog on leadership -- a group of (mostly) Christian bloggers around the world are blogging on their thoughts on leadership, and what leadership means.

There is quite a variety among the posts, but also some common points. Some have focused on political leaders (it is the American general election today), and others have focused on church leaders, and some have compared and contrasted them.

My own contribution is on Servant leadership.

One of the most interesting ones, in the light of the US general election, is John Smulo's blog. In his actual synchroblog post he compares Australian and American styles of leadership, but immediately preceding it is a poll, in which he asks readers to indicate which way they will vote in the US general election.

He has two polls, one for Americans, and one for non-Americans -- the latter are asked to say which way they would vote if they were Americans.

Since John Smulo's blog is a Christian one, and most of his readers are presumably Christian, it shows an interesting difference between American Christians and Christians in the rest of the world, at least at the time of writing.

American Christians are split equally between the two main parties - 32% say they will vote for the Democrats, 32% for the Republicans, a few Libertarians and a few more "other".

Non-Americans show a very different pattern. None (so far) support the Republicans. It's 72.7 Democrat and 27.3% Green.

Perhaps that pattern will change as more people vote, but it seems to have important missional implications. American missionaries often travel to other parts of the world, but often do not realise quite how much the culture of other people, including that of other Christians, differs from theirs.

People in other countries, however, often have a better perception of American thinking, because American news media are all pervasive, and propagate the American worldview to most parts of the world. But even if people are aware of that worldview, they don't always accept it, as John's poll seems to show. Of course it's still a very small sample, but it will be interesting to see how it changes as more people vote.

01 November 2008

The emerging menace in South Africa

There have been a few blog posts recently expressing concern about the emerging menace in South Africa.

Contact Online Weblog: Why Postmodernism and the Emerging Church threaten Missions and World Evangelism:
I am told that there are Anglican churches here in South Africa embracing this new deviation of the Christian faith. which, as I understand it so far, seems to be a kind of neo-liberalism. There is more on the site linked below on the Emerging Church which may be of interest to readers

Another blogger says The Emerging Threat of the 'Emerging Church' in South Africa: Quotes from the 'Emerging Church Conversation' in South Africa
Many older pastors simply don't know the heretical ideas and viewpoints being discussed within the South African 'Emerging Church' movement - and thus fail to take action to speak up against and correct false teachings being spread by the movement. Should you have any other heretical quotes you wish to contribute to this blog, please post them as a comment below, with internet links please to authenticate. The quotes below should help everyone to see the dangerous consequences of using the ideology of postmodernism to interpret scripture.

Now I'll be the first to admit that I find this emerging church thing confusing. Since I first heard about it three years ago, I've been trying to find out what it's all about, and I'm still not sure. But it seems to me that those who are warning against it are introducing more confusion rather than trying to make sense of it. There are a few terms that help to accomplish this: "neoliberalism", "heresy" and "postmodernist ideology".

Now I'm probably more sensitive about terminology than most people, because I worked for several years as an editor of academic texts, and so I'm concerned about terms that could possibly confuse readers.

So let's look at these terms:

  • neoliberalism normally refers to the kind of free-market fundamentalism that has impoverished and underdeveloped many countries in Africa at the behest of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In all my discussions with "emerging church" people in the last three years, I can't say I've noticed any who have been advocating that.
  • heresy is a term that is pretty meaningless unless you know where the speaker is coming from. Most of the people who are most free with their use of words like "heresy" and "heretics" actually hold views that seem pretty heretical to me, but I don't say so. As an Orthodox Christian, I don't regard anyone outside the Orthodox Church as a heretic, or their teachings as heresy. A heretic is a member of the Orthodox Church who reaches something that is contrary to the faith of the Orthodox Church. It is possible that Vassula Ryden, who is offering her New Age teachings in Johannesburg tomorrow, is a heretic, to the extent that she represents herself as a member of the Orthodox Church and her teachings as the teaching of the Orthodox Church. But though I disagree with many of the doctrinal presuppositions of emerging church people, I wouldn't call them heretical. OK, that's where I'm coming from -- but where is the blogger who wrote the bit I quoted above coming from?
  • postmodernist ideology is perhaps the most confusing of all. Postmodernism is even harder to put a finger on than "emerging church", so it would be interesting to know what the writer thinks this postmodernist ideology is. I've not noticed any emerging church people talking much about postmodernism. What they do talk about is how to do mission and evangelism in a postmodern world, where many people don't accept the modernist ideology, or accept it only with qualifications. The implication of that citicism is that the modernist ideology is good, and the postmodernist one is bad -- but why? And why should one interpret the Bible in terms of a modernist ideology rather than in terms of a postmodernist one? The Bible was written by premodern people, and I suspect their own understanding of what they wrote was neither modern nor postmodern.
I'm not saying that the "emerging church" movement is above criticism, but to be of any use, criticism needs to be based on something better than this.


I've suggested ways in which South African emerging church people could respond to critics here.


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