27 February 2010

Belief-o-matic: what sort of religion should one have?

The Stroppy Rabbit: Belief-o-matic:
I do the Belief-o-matic questionnaire occasionally as a sort of personal inventory. My latest results (interestingly, I am now only 87% Pagan):

It's quite a while since I did it, and here is the result:

1. Orthodox Quaker (100%)
2. Eastern Orthodox (95%)
3. Roman Catholic (95%)
4. Seventh Day Adventist (87%)
5. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (81%)
6. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (80%)
7. Liberal Quakers (65%)
8. Hinduism (64%)
9. Orthodox Judaism (52%)
10. Unitarian Universalism (51%)

It was a bit of a surprise, because the last time I did it, I think the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) came third, and now they're a long way down, and the Quakers are up. I think they keep changing the questions.

25 February 2010

Steve de Gruchy's body found

Steve de Gruchy's body has been found, three days after he went missing on Sunday. Mercury:
The body of Professor Steve de Gruchy, head of the school of religion and theology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Pietermaritzburg campus, was found in the Mooi River by police divers and dogs on Wednesday.

Inspector Jack Haskins, of the K9 search and rescue team, said the body had been found about 700m downstream from where De Gruchy, 48, was last seen.
I did not know him well, having only met him occasionally at academic conferences and the like, but his contribution to the Christian struggle against apartheid, and his documentation of it, is well known.

He was the author of several books, including:

The Church Struggle in South Africa: 25th Anniversary Edition
The Church Struggle in South Africa: 25th Anniversary Edition

Several other bloggers have written about him too:

Vyechnaya pamyat! May his memory be eternal!

23 February 2010

UKZN professor missing

There have been reports on Twitter that Professor Steve de Gruchy has been missing since Sunday after tubing at Mooi River.

Professor Steve de Gruchy is an ordained minister in the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA), Professor of Theology and Development at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He also serves as Head of the School of Religion and Theology, and has been Editor of the Journal of Theology for Southern Africa since 2003.

The most recent news on Twitter, at the time of writing, was:

delmelinscott Please pray for Prof Steve De gruchy. He is missing after a tubing incident in Mooi River yesterday. http://myloc.me/43IkH

posted 19 hours ago.

I have been working with Steve de Gruchy's father, Professor John de Gruchy of the University of Cape Town, on a research project on the history of the charismatic renewal movement in Southern Africa.

Update 24 Feb 2010

New reports say that since there has been no sign of him since Sunday, he is presumed to have drowned.

Memory eternal!

22 February 2010

The price of progress

I bought a new laptop computer the other day, since my old one got nicked.

It was quite interesting the way it got nicked, too. The burglar alarm went off at 2:45 on a Saturday morning. I got up and found the laptop mouse and power cable lying on the floor in the hallway, the burglar bars in the dining room window broken (with a vicegrip). The dogs, who were sleeping in the front, only barked when the alarm went off.

The thieves clearly knew exactly what they wanted. They came over the neighbour's fence, which they had cut in two places, and right across their yard, and came from the back. They operated like a smash and grab -- broke the burglar bars, ran in, grabbed the computer, and scarpered before anyone could catch them. It was obviously very carefully planned.

Well, I wish them luck with it.

I doubt it's much use without the battery charger. I was thinking of replacing it anyway. It took 25 minutes to boot and 7 minutes to shut down. Automatic updates meant that new versions of programs got bigger and bigger and consumed more and more resources until it spent more time swapping to disk than actually processing anything. Sometimes I would just press and hold the power button to switch it off and wait for the 25 minute boot rather than wait for the hard disk to stop thrashing around. As they used to say, Windows 99 will be released when Windows 98 has finished loading. Only this was far worse. It was Windows XP, and the machine had a 40 Gig hard drive (nearly full) and 256 Mb of RAM. No one sold extra memory for it any more. I was thinking of buying one of those netbook thingies, but the price doubled after Christmas. The nice thing about the netbooks was that they had Widnows XP.

But when it came to a replacement the bigger ones didn't cost all that much more, and the ones with Windows 7 were actually cheaper than the ones with Vista. And there is some progress -- Windows 7 loads in about a minute, and shuts down in about half that. Trouble is it will take me about 3 weeks to begin actually using it.

First thing is to find where it has hidden stuff -- like file extensions. Creating a short cut to a program when there are four identically named files, and you don't know which is the executable is somewhat frustrating. There is, of course, no manual with the thing. Eventually found how to see the extensions, made a shortcut to the program, and found, ooops, it won't run under the 64-bit version of Windows. Fortunately, they give you a couple of discs with the 32-bit version which you can install. That took most of South Africa's innings against India in the first ODI of the cricket tour.

So, having got the programs I use most onto the new computer (by a roundeabout method -- it's optical drive doesn't like CDs created by its predecessor, so I have to take them to the desktop computer, and copy them from there), then it keeps telling me that one of the programs isn't recognised by Windows. I have to reduce the warning level in the warner to zero before it will shut up. But that means there's no protection against malicious software -- but I don't want a warning every time I use a program I've been using every day for the last 20 years.

Setting up a new computer must be one of those major stress-inducing life events like moving house, or getting divorced or something. It's far more stressful than the break-in and having the old one nicked.

13 February 2010

9/11 photos: helicopter pilot describes taking the pictures - Telegraph

New aerial photos of the World Trade Center in New York burning offer the first clue about why people were not rescued from the burning buildings by helicopter. One of the things I wondered when it happened was "Where were the helicopters?" Here in South Africa we have had at least two fires in high-rise buildings were people above the fire were rescued by helicopter. Surely New York, with much greater resources, could manage to rescue some people that way.

Now, for the first time since it happened, I learn that there was a helicopter looking to rescue people. Hat-tip to Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe: World Trade Centre New Aerial Photographs from after the attack

9/11 photos: helicopter pilot describes taking the pictures - Telegraph:
A series of dramatic aerial photographs have been published showing the devastation of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Never-before-seen aerial photographs of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in new York, taken from a police helicopter
Photo: AP Photo/NYPD via ABC News, Det. Greg Semendinger

As the photos show, the top of the building was so covered with smoke that it would havew been very difficult to rescue anyone who was up there, if they managed to getr up there.

12 February 2010

Recent reading: In the dark of the night

In the Dark of the Night In the Dark of the Night by John Saul

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was looking for a no-brain-strain novel to read before going to sleep, read the blurb on a few, and picked this one, and brought it home a couple of days ago.

It's a ghost story, sort of.

Three American high school boys are staying with their families in adjacent lakeside cottages for the summer. One family has rented an old house that has been unoccupied since the previous owner disaappeared a few years previously, in mysterious circumstances, but the reader already knows that he drowned in the lake trying to escape the voices in his head.

The boys discover a hidden room in an outbuilding with a lot of broken or dismantled objects, a table without a leg, a hacksaw without a blade, a doctor's bag without surgical implements, a lamp without a shade. There's an old ledger that shows that exorbitant prices were paid for some of these.

Then the boys start having identical nightmares of violence, in which one or all of them are involved. When some of the nightmares start coming true, they get scared, and think they myst keep away from the hidden room, but something keeps drawing them back.

It's an interesting plot idea, and at times I thought it might be a four star book, but in the end the author chickens out, and it degenerates into an unconvincing slasher story, a bit of an anticlimax after the build-up, and the symbolism of the objects isn't really made clear.

But still, wasn't looking for great literature when I bought it, just light bed-time reading.

The author is John Saul, who is apparently not the same as John Ralston Saul, another author whose books I have read.

View all my reviews >>

11 February 2010

The importance of co-operatives

One of the factoids one often encounters is the idea that "socialism" invariably means state ownership, and that that is the only alternative to profit-driven capitalism. There are, in fact, various kinds of free-enterprise socialism as well.

The importance of co-operatives | Peter Lazenby:
The announcement that Labour will pump resources into the development of the co-operative movement if it is returned to power in the general election is to be welcomed. If the pledge is honoured the potential is enormous.

To appreciate the significance, we can learn from the history of co-ops in Britain over the last 170 years. It reveals not only the emergence of an unprecedented force for social change through worker ownership and control, but also the extent to which capitalist society in Britain felt challenged by such a movement.

Hat-tip to Nouslife: The importance of co-operatives.

More information is available on a blog devoted to Mutual Money.

In South Africa most of the building societies, and certainly all of the big ones, went commercial more than 20 years ago. They would have made good partners for the ANC's hastily-abandoned Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), the only remnant of which is the pejorative "RDP houses" for a sub-standard jerry-built dwelling, built by commercial builders who have cut corners in construction to increase their profits.

Mutual life insurance cooperatives followed the building societies in demutualising a few years later, one of the worst being the "Old Mutual" -- a deliberately deceptive name, since there is no longer anything mutual about it, and it should surely be called the "New Commercial".

10 February 2010

The Orange Revolution, Peeled

The Orange Revolution, Peeled by Justin Raimondo -- Antiwar.com:
To recall the media hype that accompanied Ukraine’s 'Orange Revolution' of 2004, which propelled Viktor Yushchenko, a former central banker and alleged liberal democrat, into power, is like remembering a fever-dream in the morning: the memory of the details are blurred, and all that really remains is the sense that something strenuous, and ultimately unreal, has been passed through. The disputed election of 2004 – eventually decided in Yushchenko’s favor on account of mass street protests – ended with the defeat of Viktor Yanukovich, the candidate of the Russian-speaking eastern section of the country – the man whose comeback in Sunday’s election represented a stunning repudiation of the Orange Revolution and the regime that was born in its wake. How that 'revolution' came to be, and what it really represented, is about to undergo a major revision, one in striking contrast to the instant narrative provided by the Western media six years ago.

Hat-tip to A conservative blog for peace

And now it appears that Yanukovich, the candidate the Western media wanted us all to hate, has won the election. Is it just that I'm getting more cynical as I'm getting older, or is the media hype getting worse?

Ukraine seems to exist as a case-study for Samuel Huntington's Clash of civilizations thesis, with the fault line between Western and Orthodox civilisations running right through the country. If anything can confirm Huntington's thesis, the Western media spin does.

Another commentator comments on the spin in this article: News Analysis - For Kremlin, Ukraine Election Cuts Two Ways - NYTimes.com

On Monday, for example, European election monitors praised the election that was held Sunday, calling it an impressive display of democracy. Ukraines election, in other words, did not follow the Kremlin blueprint...

What a bizarre statement. A Russian-favored candidate wins in a fair election, and somehow that is supposed to be evidence that Russia is in favor of unfair elections. In fact, their candidate winning in a fair election is the best possible blueprint for Russia.
Imagine what the NY Times would be saying if the election had been unfair!

In the short term, the Kremlin may have benefited from the election. Relations were tense under the incumbent president, Viktor A. Yushchenko, an Orange leader who wanted to pull Ukraine away from Moscows orbit by joining NATO.

Mr. Yanukovich does not support NATO membership and has indicated that he will abandon some other initiatives opposed by Russia. This is the only real news in the whole NY Times story. This was a major geopolitical / energy-politics victory for Russia. Once again a CIA-engineered Colored Revolution has been turned back. The NY Times does its best to bury this news near the bottom of their story, and even then they downplay it by saying the Kremlin 'may' have benefitted, but only in the 'short term'.

What is lost in all this rhetoric about whether "the West" or "the Kremlin" benefited is what is surely more important: whether the people of Ukraine benefited.

08 February 2010

Christian organisations as bad employers

A year or two ago the blogosphere was buzzing over the antics of the Brewer Brothers, who took over the chain of SPCK bookshops in Britain, in the sname of a group that claimed to be an Orthodox mission organisation, and engaged in shady business practices, including treating employees very badly, and in a most unchristian manner. Now comes this: Crew of 9 at Episcopal Church Center abruptly fired; now they need a miracle:
They worked for years cleaning and maintaining the Episcopal Church Center in midtown Manhattan. But after they were fired on Dec. 30, nine hard-working people are in desperate need of divine intervention.

'We came to work on Dec. 30 as every day, hoping to leave a little earlier to celebrate the new year,' said Bronx native Héctor Miranda, a father of three. 'But when we got to the building we were told that we no longer worked there. Just like that. They picked the date well to fire us.'

Surely Christian organisations should set a better example in the way they treat employees?

05 February 2010

On the inherent superiority of Western culture

Cultural chauvinism is alive and well, it seems. Hat-tip to The Western Confucian: The West Is the Best, But Don't Dismiss the Rest for this:

On the inherent superiority of Western culture: Reditus: A Chronicle of Aesthetic Christianity:
Christianity is fundamentally a historical religion. If there were any way to get around that, I would have found it by now. But the fact that the Gospel was written in Greek using concepts such as “logos” that had been in formation in the Greek mind for centuries is no mere accident of history. God could have been incarnated in the context of another culture, just as He “could have” been incarnated in a pearl or an ass. But He did not do that; He came into this world at a very specific time and a very specific place, as did His Body, the Church. Even the Fathers of the Church saw this, and there will always be a superiority of the Greek and Latin tongues to all others, just as the Muslims consider Koranic Arabic sacred, or the Jews Hebrew.

Reading that kind of thing makes me despair.

Assuming that the paragraph I quoted is the premiss, and the heading is the conclusion, I wonder what went wrong. I suppose I should feel relief that this kind of cultural chauvinism isn't confined to Orthodoxy. It's a universal sin.

I've been asked to write an article on the Orthodox diaspora, and so various incidents come to mind.

One, from about 7-8 years ago, was when I went with a rather mixed group of people to be interviewed on the Greek community radio station. One of those being interviewed with us was Johannes Rakumako, a Tswana-speaking South African who was a first-year student at the Orthodox seminary in Nairobi. He had returned home briefly for his father's funeral, and he started to say something about life in the seminary when the presenter interrupted him and asked him what had made him interested in "our Greek culture".

He was gobsmacked, and didn't know what to say. I doubt that he had given Greek culture much thought at all. He was being asked a question from a totally alien mindset.

A second incident from the diaspora that comes to mind is from the film My big fat Greek wedding. We bought a copy of it to show African catechumens from the townships so that they can learn something about Greek culture and Greek cultural chauvinsim. If they become Orthodox, then they are bound to meet Greeks sometime, since most of the Orthodox in South Africa have a Greek cultural background. The film was made in the USA, but in spite of that it fits South African Greek diaspora culture right down to the hairstyles, and the only difference is the accents. The film depicts the "our Greek culture" that the radio presenter was talking about, and so it is a good and good-natured humourous introduction, and in many places it pokes gentle fun at some of the foibles of Greek diaspora culture (which differs markedly from Greek culture in Greece).

But there is one part that was not intended to be humorous or ironic, and that is where the Anglo husband-to-be is baptised in the Orthodox Church, and after he is baptised he says "I'm Greek now".

And that is tragic, and leads to the third incident: when we were in a church hall, having tea after the Divine Liturgy, and a woman announced, loudly for all to hear, "The Orthodox Church is not missionary because its purpose is to preserve Greek culture."

So it's interesting, and perhaps a little consoling, to see that some Western Christians are under a a similar misapprehension. Though that too goes back a long way -- when Saints Cyril and Methodius evangelised the Slavs, they translated the liturgical texts and the scriptures into Slavonic, and were criticised by Rome for doing so, because of Rome's belief that only Greek, Latin and Hebrew, the languages that Pilate used for the inscription on the cross of Christ, could be used in church.

And so I return to the the bit that I quoted at the beginning. To paraphrase another writer, there is to much magnificent truth mixed up with these appalling falsehoods that it smacks of perversity even to attack its perverseness.

Yes, Christianity is a historical religion. Yes, God chose to become incarnate in history in a particular time and place. But he chose to become incarnate in the multicultural Roman empire of a Jewish mother who probably spoke Aramaic rather than Latin or Greek.

But the title of the post says it all: Western culture is "inherently" superior. In other words, God chose to become incarnate in Western culture (actually he didn't, but that is what the author of the post apparently believes) because it was superior to other cultures.

I'm reminded of George Orwell's book Animal farm where the animals on a farm rebel against their human masters, and set up an ideal farm in which all animals are equal. Equality is the watchword and slogan of the revolution, but as time passes one group of animals, the pigs, claim extra privileges for themselves, and begin to lord it over the other animals as the men had done, and when the other animals question this, the pigs say, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." And so here we have the Western pigs claiming to be inherently superior. They were chosen by God for special privileges because they were better than anyone else.

Samuel Huntington, in his book The clash of civilizations and the remaking of the world order writes of this Western superiority

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of other civilizations were converted) but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.

And when God became incarnate, the Romans were in Judaea because of their superiority in applying organized violence.

But this perversion is nothing new.

The history of the Church goes back to Abraham, to whom God said:

and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed (Gen 12:2-3).

seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? (Gen 18:18)

Abraham and his progeny were chosen in order that they might be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. They were not chosen because they were "inherently superior", but rather because they were inferior, a small and weak people, of no account among the great powers of the world.

But the church of the Old Testament, the people of Israel, were often seduced by the notion that God had chosen them for a special blessing because they were inherently superior, and forgot he had chosen them in order to be a blessing to others. And when that happened, sooner or later, and with more or less pain, they learned that it was not so and were brought back to the true path.

Let us not be seduced into the same error. Belief in the "inherent superiority" of our own culture is one of the most impenetrable insulations against the Holy Spirit that exists in the world.

02 February 2010

Twenty years old today: the new South Africa

Twenty years ago today Preisdent F.W. de Klerk announced a new South Africa. He announced his intention of unbanning opposition political parties, and releasing political prisoners, and opening up political debate.

It was the light at the end of the tunnel. We still had a way to go before we emerged into daylight, but at least there was an end in sight, and we could hope for the freedom we had not dared to hope for.

There had been a scent of freedom in the air for a while -- the fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of Ceaucescu in Romania and other events over the previous few months. But F.W. de Klerk's announcement brought it home. Those things were "over there", this was here!

I wrote in my diary 2-Feb-1990, Friday:

Sam came in this morning with the announcement that F.W. de Klerk had finally made it across the Rubicon, and was unbanning all political organisations. Well, we're back to 1950. Perhaps we'll soon get back to where we took the wrong turning and we can begin to go forward again. In the mean time, let's drink to glasnost and Pretoriastroika...

Watched all the TV news, most of which was devoted to F.W. de Klerk's speech in parliament. Amazing how everyone is claiming that their policy/actions were responsible for it. Someone said that sanctions brought it about, Maggie Thatcher said it was their refusal to impose sanctions ... and so it goes on. Not that it matters much now. Best to get on with the rest of the journey, from the Rubicon to Rome.

The "Rubicon" reference was to a speech by the previous President, P.W. Botha, five years earlier, which the media hyped up beforehad. It was going to be a major policy shift, they said, it was going to be a crossing of the Rubicon. They had been speculating for years that P.W. Botha was going to announce his "reform programme", and it finally became clear to the media optimists that he didn't have one. It sank like a stone to the bottom of the Rubicon.

But finally F.W. de Klerk came up with the real thing.

It was on a Friday, and the following Sunday was we drove to church in Johannesburg we saw that a graffiti artist had painted on one of the bridges over the freeway: FW - top man.

And twenty years later I am reminded of a song that was quite popular back in 1973, sung by a group called Parchment.

Yesterdays dream didn't quite come true
We fought for our freedom, and what did it do?
Now no one can see where they stand.
Let there be light in the land!
Let there be light in the people!
Let there be God in our lives from now on.

Fifteen years ago, just a year after our first democratic elections, I visited Kenya for the first time. I was a little surprised that there was only one thing about South Africa that interested Kenyans. They were not interested in our transition to democracy. They weren't interested in how we were going to build a better future. No, the only thing that interested them was the Mandela divorce, and who would get the money. I tried in vain to explain that it wasn't really like that. Mandela had given his Nobel prize money to establish a children's fund. He wasn't in it for the money. And Kenyans found that impossible to believe.

And then I realised that I was learning a lesson about Kenyan politics, and what the average Kenyan thought of their politicians. And I was thankful that South Africa wasn't like that, yet...

But now?

Yesterday's dream didn't quite come true.

And we're just the same as Kenya, and the UK, with their MPs' expenses scandal, and all the rest of them.

But at least we're still free.


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