Notes from underground

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Archive for the category “Christianity”

Darkness suspended, a novel by Jurie Schoeman

Darkness SuspendedDarkness Suspended by Jurie Schoeman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was an absorbing read, at least for me.

Perhaps one of the reasons I found it so absorbing is that it was in a familiar setting. It is set in Pretoria about 15 years ago, 2004-2005, and so a lot of the scenes are familiar. I’ve had coffee and been to the bookshop in Brooklyn Mall, and also at Greenfields in Hatfield (alas, no more!). We’ve many times taken visitors sightseeing on the road past Fort Klapperkop and looked across to the Union Buildings and then gone there.

Was it just its familiarity that made it interesting?

No, I think it’s more than that. The characters are interesting too, and so one sympathises with them in their ups and downs. It’s a crime novel and a romance novel, a love story. And the crime is true to life. It’s not a whodunit. You know who did it, but you see how crime affects the perpetrators and the victims.

The protagonist is the Revd Nigel Jones, the youth pastor of a Baptist Church in the well-to-do eastern suburbs of Pretoria. His closest friends are a fairly wealthy doctor and the manager of a security company — the latter is his running partner, and they take their running seriously, entering marathons and the like.

The things that happen to them test Nigel’s faith, and that of his friends. And that is perhaps the most realistic part of the book. I’ve read many crime novels, but the crimes that take place in them are remote. I don’t know anyone who has experienced anything like that. The crimes and passions and temptations and sins and setbacks experienced in this novel come much closer to home.

So the picture the book draws of life in the “rainbow nation”, or at least the middle-class part of it, in 2005, is absolutely authentic. And that makes it worth a read.

The book has some flaws, too.

It is self-published, and was obviously prepared for publication with a word processor designed for business reports, and it is formatted more like a business report than a novel. The prose could have been tightened up with more editing, and some of the word choices could have been improved — “staunch”, for example, is not a good description of a facial expression.

But those errors were minor and did not get in the way of a good story.

View all my reviews

Interrogating silence

I’ve been reading an interesting article by André Brink, on Interrogating Silence, which was in a book I found in the library.

No this isn’t a review of the book, which got poor reviews on GoodReads, and I haven’t finished reading it yet. This is rather some thoughts sparked off by reading a couple of the articles, and memories of old friends, and the kinds of silences that are imposed on us by changing circumstances.

Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy, 1970-1995Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy, 1970-1995 by Derek Attridge

I took this book out of the library mainly because it had an article by an old friend, Graham Pechey, who died in Cambridge, UK, in February 2016. I had known Graham Pechey when I was a student in the 1960s, and it was he who introduced me to Bob Dylan. He lived in a flat next door to another friend, John Aitchison, and had borrowed the Dylan records from yet another student, Jeff Guy, who later became a historian.

On one memorable evening, on 11 November 1965, after Ian Smith had unilaterally declared the independence  of Rhodesia, and Bram Fischer had just been rearrested after several months on the run, and I had received an official warning from the magistrate in terms of the Suppression of Communism Act, John Aitchison (who was banned) and I sat with Graham Pechey in his flat, and drank toasts to Bram Fischer, Harold Wilson, and Queen Elizabeth II. I’ve described the occasion more fully in another blog post here.

At that time Graham Pechey was an atheist and a bit of a Marxist, but he later explained his sympathy for monarchy, which I am inclined to agree with, on Facebook on the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II:

‘The rise of Hitler, Franco and Stalin showed that there are worse institutions than a Monarchy–that a people deprived of a Royal Family can turn to far more dangerous gods. As one Socialist said before the war: “If you throw the Crown into the gutter, you may be sure that somebody will pick it up”‘. Wise words from the Observer, June 1953, reprinted in today’s issue.

Graham Pechey, 1965

Graham Pechey later married my philosophy lecturer, Nola Clendinning, who took to paining ikons, and in Cambridge, I am told, he was a pillar of the local Anglican Church. I would love to have been able to meet with him and chat about these things over a beer, but the last time I saw him was in 1971, and though we  were later reconnected on Facebook, it’s not the best medium for that kind of conversation. So now all I can do is interrogate the silence.

Though I do have the article in the book: The post-apartheid sublime:rediscovering the extraordinary.

The first article in the book, however, is by André Brink, on Interrogating silence.

In it he writes:

The experience of apartheid has demonstrated that different kinds or levels of silence exist. There is the general silence of which I have spoken above and which exists in a dynamic relation with language/literature; but there are also more specific silences imposed by certain historical conjunctions. If any word involves a grappling with silence, the word uttered in the kind of repressive context exemplified by apartheid evokes an awareness of particular territories forbidden to language. Just as surely as certain sexual relationships were proscribed by apartheid, certain experiences or areas of knowledge were out of bounds to probing in words. These were often immediate and definable: certain actions of the police or the military; certain statements or writing by ‘banned’ persons; the activities of the ANC or other organizations of liberation.

That recalled John Aitchison, who was banned from 1965-1970, and after a year of freedom, again from 1971-76. During those periods he was not allowed to publish anything, nor was any publication allowed to quote him. As described in the article mentioned earlier, in 1966 I went overseas to study in Durham, UK and was away for two and a half years. During that time John Aitchison and I were in frequent correspondence, writing, on average, about once a fortnight. In our correspondence we were constrained by the suspicion (which later proved completely correct) that our letters to each other were being read by the Special Branch (SB) in South Africa, so there was a kind of imposed silence there. The SB reports to the Department of Justice frequently referred to “a sensitive source” (‘n delikate bron) for information that could only have come from letters we wrote to each other when I was overseas.

John Aitchison, 1965

At one point John wrote to me expressing the fear that it would become even more repressive. There was a proposal to extend the restrictions in banning orders so that In addition to not being allowed to publish anything, a banned person would not be allowed to write, compose, compile or distribute any document, photograph etc which was not a publication within the meaning of the act, if it contained any political reference at all. That would have been yet another level of silence. Even private letters not intended for publication would have to be bland and non-political.

I returned to South Africa. We shared many ideas and talked about them and bounced ideas off each other. We published a small magazine called Ikon which shared some of these ideas, about human and inhuman settlements, about theological trends and various other things. John was still banned, so his name did not appear as an editor. Articles we wrote jointly bore only my name. By that time John had married my cousin Jenny Growdon, who was an art teacher and did much of the artwork. But silence was still imposed.

Ikon was originally published under the auspices of the Christian Institute, an ecumenical group that was itself founded to counter some of the silence imposed by apartheid, particularly on members of the Dutch Reformed Churches. But Ikon proved too radical even for the Christian Institute, which was seen by the apartheid government as dangerously radical, and was eventually itself silenced by being banned; both the organisation itself and its leaders were banned in 1977. But it was the Christian Institute itself that attempted to silence Ikon, so we had to publish it independently. Nine months later I was in Windhoek, sitting in the boss’s office in the Department of Water Affairs. After working there for a month as a waterworks attendant, I was told that I was sacked; no notice, leave immediately. I could see a press cutting on top of the file folder open on his desk,. As it was upside down I could only read the headline: CI keer wilde jeugblad (Christian Institute rejects radical youth magazine). O! the ideological perils of being a waterworks attendant!

John’s ban expired in 1970 and communication was freer, but he was banned again  within a year. I was deported from Namibia in March 1972 and stayed with John and Jenny Aitchison in Pietermaritzburg. We had embarked on a new project, the promotion of Theological Education by Extension (TEE) in the Anglican Church. John wrote a 20-page executive summary of a 600-page book called Theological Education by Extension edited by Ralph D. Winter. I duplicated it on a stencil duplicator on green paper and we sent it to all the Anglican bishops in Southern Africa, and all those responsible for theological education in the Anglican Church.

Then I travelled the country (at my own expense) trying to sell the idea to the those we had sent the document to. Many of them were suspicious because the “Green Thing”, as we called the document, was anonymous. It was anonymous because if the SB discovered that John was responsible for it, he could go to jail for five years. In 1972 a lot of Anglican bishops were still rather politically naive, and were not really aware that South Africa was a police state. The following year the government expropriated the Federal Seminary, run jointly by the Anglican, Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, showing that they did indeed regard theological education as an ideological threat.

My career as unpaid promoter of TEE ended abruptly in July 1972 when I was banned. I was living in the same house as John Aitchison, but was henceforth not allowed to communicate with him in any way at all. More silence. The Minister of Justice dealt with that by banning me to Durban, even though I had nowhere to live there, and was dependent on the generosity of clergy (Anglican and Congregationalist) who took me in.

Steve Hayes and John Aitchison, 13 July 1972, about to part for 4 years, both banned and prohibited from communicating with each other in any way. If the SB had seen this photo and known when it was taken it could have meant 5 years jail for both.

But in a sense, that enforced silence was never lifted. It seemed to have a permanent effect. Even after our bans were both lifted in 1976, our friendship was never again as close. Instead of communicating once every couple of months, or once every couple of weeks, it’s now once every couple of years. Did the double ban make the effect permanent. Apartheid is dead, but perhaps in ways like this its ghost still haunts us. How does one interrogate that silence?

After the end of apartheid I wrote a couple of novels set in the apartheid years. One was a children’s story, Of wheels and witches, set in 1964. You can read more about it here. The other was for adults, set 25 years later, but having some of the same characters. It is The Year of the Dragon.

In these books there is a release from some of the immediate and definable constraints of apartheid that André Brink speaks of, the things that were out of bounds to probing in words, namely certain actions of the police and military.

For such things, the silence has been lifted — or has it?

In the last week of 2018 review copies of the book were available free, and I wondered if anyone would like to talk about these things. Eighty review copies were taken, but so far there have been only two reviews. One you can see on GoodReads here.

John Davies, sometime Anglican chaplain at Wits university, now retired in the UK.

The other review, by Bishop John Davies, has not hitherto appeared on the web, but I did send it, along with the invitation to take review copies of the book, to members of three book discussion groups I’m a member of. One group meets face to face once a month, the other two meet on line.

In all three forums The Year of the Dragon has been met by a resounding silence. Apartheid has ended, and so cannot be blamed for this silence. No one has said they have liked the book or disliked it. No one has said anything at all. It seems as though everyone is avoiding the subject.

How does one interrogate this silence?

In an attempt to get a wider readership than just people I talk to anyway, I promoted the book on Twitter, among other things by using the hashtag #iartg. That is the Independent Authors Re-Tweet Group. It provided an interesting assortment of books on my Twitter feed, quite a large proportion of which had covers featuring male human torsos. Perhaps they’re more attractive than dragons’ torsos.

I’ve invited people to ask questions about the book on GoodReads. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Lutho. Silence.

Can you interrogate this silence?

There is something else about the Writing South Africa book.

As I said, I haven’t read all the essays in it, only the introduction and a couple of the other articles. And it did get bad reviews. But it was about the period before 1995, and so was looking forward to a kind of postcolonial literary future, that would not be dominated by struggle literature. It is interesting to read it 20 years on, and compare hopes and expectations of 1995 with the reality.

After the Zuma years that sanguine outlook seems a little naive and unreal. Most of us are a lot more cynical and pessimistic than we were back in 1995. Is there any hope? Is there any reason for hope?

One lesson some of us may have learned is from a Psalm that is sung at almost every Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church:

Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs he returns to his earth, on that very day his plans perish.

And as for hope after the Zuma years, perhaps this:

And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.
And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed (Joel 2:25-26).

 

Racism as an Orthodox problem

Someone recently posted a link to an ostensibly Orthodox web site that seems to be pushing a racist and white nationalist agenda. 15,000 White South Africans Flee Racist Persecution, Plan Move to Russia – Russian Faith:

…the whole notion that Boers see Russia as a possible new homeland is telling and it is huge in its implications. It is happening, as I predicted a few years ago, that white Christian peoples (which is by definition–a European root) will increasingly see Russia as their salvation.

The racism in that article is bad enough, but the idolatry is worse. The Orthodox Church teaches salvation in Jesus Christ, not salvation through Russia.

I’ve followed links to the “Russian Faith” web site in the past; it often has pictures of pretty Orthodox Churches, and a veneer of Orthodoxy. But looking to Russia for salvation rather than to Christ really is idolatry. There’s even a Russian word for it, dvoeverie — dual faith, double mindedness. Believing in Christ and something else; putting your faith in Christ and… Christ and Russia; Christ and whiteness; because Christ alone is not enough. Which is perhaps why St James tells us that a double minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8).

So I’ll no longer be following or sharing links to the Russian Faith website on social media, because it seems to be promoting the Russian faith, that is faith in Russia, rather than the Orthodox faith, which is faith in Christ.

In pointing out the errors, the phyletism, the heresy, of web sites like Russian Faith, however, one must be careful not to be sucked into the opposite error — the currently-fashionable Russophobia of the Western media, where anything linked in any way to Russia is seen as ipso facto evil. In the eyes of the Western media, to say that someone has “Russian connections” is enough to damn them. I believe that there is such a thing as Holy Russia, exemplified by countless Russian saints, but Holy Russia was the Russia that followed the Orthodox faith, faith in Christ, not faith in whiteness or in Russia itself.

This is Orthodoxy: the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, His Beatitude Theodoros II, visiting the Diocese of Kisimu in Western Kenya, whose bishop, His Grace Anthanasius (on the Pope’s left), served as a priest in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria for 13 years, and was beloved by all his parishioners, black and white (Photo by Amadiva Athanasios).

Just because this article was sparked off by something posted on a Russian website does not mean that Orthodox Christians who are not Russian are exempt from the danger of falling into heresies like phyletism, I once heard someone say, at coffee after Divine Liturgy at a church in Johannesburg, “The Orthodox Church is not missionary because its purpose is to preserve Greek culture.” And there is that slogan I have heard from many people Hellenism is Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy is Hellenism. That too is phyletism, and dvoeverie.

 

The witch hunts of Papua New Guinea

Last night I watched a BBC TV programme on The witch hunts of Papua New Guinea – BBC News, and was struck by the similarity with witch hunts that have taken place in South Africa in the last 25 years or so.

The programme had interviews with people who had been accused of witchcraft, and with some of the accusers, and there were many similarities. You can also read more about the Papua New Guinea witch hunts here: Malum Nalu: Papua New Guinea has a witch hunt problem.

I don’t know if there were any attempts by Christian groups to deal with the problem in Papua New Guinea, but in South Africa there was a reluctance to discuss it in missiological circles. The only Christian groups that seemed to have come up with a way of dealing with it were some Zionists, and most Zionists don’t have an academic bent, so not much has been written about it.I did write one journal article, which you can read here: Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery, but there has not been much response to it.

Julian, Gregorian, Mammonian: thoughts on the Festive Season

There was the Julian (Old) Calendar, then there was the Gregorian (New Calendar).

When those on the New Calendar (NC) are celebrating Christmas, those on the Old Calendar (OC) still have 13 days to wait. When those on the New Calendar are celebrating Theophany/Epiphany, those on the Old Calendar are celebrating Christmas Eve. But whichever calendar you are on, there are the Twelve Days of Christmas between the celebration of Christmas and Theophany.

Except that there is a still newer calendar, the ultramodern calendar, which I shall call the Mammonian Calendar (MC), which wants to move the Twelve Days of Christmas earlier still. As for example here:


If 14th December is the 4th day of Christmas, that means that Christmas day itself must be on the 11 December (Gregorian). That would put New Year on 18th December.

Such numbering gets even more confusing than the Julian/Gregorian one, so why not go the whole hog?

Make New Year’s Day the 1st December, and in the interests of the economy make all the days between Black Friday and New Year compulsory retail shopping days, on which all retail businesses must be open 24/7, and all non-retail businesses must close, to allow their employees  time to shop. The months could be given more appropriate names too. How about calling December Steinhoff, January Gupta, February Jooste and so on. Name them after all the heroes of Monopoly Capital. Even Cecil Rhodes could make a comeback.

But seriously, there’s a lot of confusion.

Think of all the places the 4th day of Christmas can be:

  • 14th December in the Mammonian calendar
  • 28th December in the Gregorian Calendar
  • 10 January in the Julian Calendar (with Gregorian notation)

Lots of my Western friends seem to think we keep Christmas on 7th January (Gregorian), but no, we don’t. Most Orthodox Christians in Africa follow the Gregorian calendar for the fixed feasts, of which the Nativity of Christ is one. Two parishes in our diocese follow the old calendar, St Sergius in Midrand and St Thomas’s in Sunninghill. Most of the rest are new calendar.

But business threatens to impose yet another layer of confusion.

My blogging friend Fr Andrew Stephen Damick has made a valiant attempt to chart a safe course through the muddied waters here How Many Days is Orthodox Christmas? — Roads from Emmaus.

And I’ve been doing my bit by posting “It’s the 5th day of Christmas” (that’s today, Gregorian) on Facebook, and hoping some of my friends might pass it on as a reminder to the confused which day it actually is. I don’t think many of my friends are on the Mammonian calendar yet, though Black Friday arrived on these shores a couple of years ago, and is probably here to stay.

The High Priests of Monopoly Capital also like to call the time preceding Christmas “the Festive Season”.

Not for Orthodox Christians it isn’t. For us the Festive Season begins on 25 December and lasts until 4 January. From 15 November till 24 December is the Fastive Season. No meat, eggs, or dairy products. On some days fish is allowed (it’s the main time of the year when we eat fish).

Hot Cross Buns are a relic of the fasting season in the Western Church. If they fasted on no other day, they did so on Good Friday (I don’t know what they do now), and so hot cross buns, if made properly, should be fasting food — no eggs, butter or other dairy produce. But on Boxing Day (the Second Day of Christmas) — no way!

On Christmas day this year we went to the Divine Liturgy at St Nicholas of Japan Church in Brixton, Johannesburg, 91.4 km at 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit, with no aircon in the car. We took Charles Nkosi down to be baptised (full story, with pictures, here). On the way home one of our number, Artemius Mangena, got a phone call from his brother, inviting him to a Christmas dinner…. a vegetarian Christmas dinner! So much for the Festive Season. I said he should at least try to eat some cheese.

 

 

Church and State and religious freedom

A couple of news items that appeared recently have important implications for religious freedom.

Man hauls 6 schools to court over religious teachings in state school | News24:

A Stellenbosch man is taking six schools to court over how far the institutions can go with teaching religion at state schools.

”It has been nine years that I have been on this case,” said small business owner Hans Pietersen on Friday, of a battle rooted in a ”Jesus Week” activity at his triplets’ school when they were still little.

”They wanted everybody to wear armbands for Jesus which immediately exposes everybody who is not part of those efforts,” explained Pietersen.

In contrast with that, I recall that when our daughter was at a church school Grades 1 and 2 were to put on a nativity play. There’s nothing unusual or controversial about that in a church school, but one of the teachers was careful to ask a Muslim pupil if her parents would mind if she took part. “I’ll tell them that they can be thankful I’m not the pig,” she said, and when the play was eventually performed, she played the part of a cow. But she was asked, and was not pressured into participating, unlike the children in the state school who were expected to wear armbands.

A more serious news item, however, is this one New laws to tackle commericalisation of religion in SA: report:

Government plans to introduce legislation to regulate faith-based organisations in South Africa, in an effort to cut down on religious leaders who are making millions of rands through legal loopholes.

According to a report by the Cape Argus, the new legislation will be heard in parliament in June 2017 following an analysis of the public complaints and interviews by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission).

“We are not disputing that there are still some good religious leaders out there, but as a country we are also faced with a challenge of people who run churches like family businesses and no one questions them on how the church’s money is spent,” said Commission chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi- Xaluva.

“We also have those who abuse their power and make congregants do all sort of things like drinking petrol and eating snakes. We can’t have things like that happening but they will continue if the industry remains unregulated.”

The word “industry” used in this connection is interesting. How does the government propose to deal with this?

One way to do it might be to follow the example of Botswana, where religious organisations are registered by the government, and the government has sometimes forced them to change their names. The Apostolic Spiritual Healing Church, for example, was forced to drop “Apostolic” from its name, because, the government said, there were already too many churches with “Apostolic” in their names, and so it was forced to become the “Spiritual Healing Church”, even though it was known as the Apostolic Spiritual Healing Church in Namibia and South Africa.

For many denominations, however, there is nothing they would like more than to register with the government, because this gives them a recognition they otherwise feel they lack.

This is marvellous for church historians trying to disentangle the skeins of South African denominational history. No sooner have two or three gathered in the name of Jesus than one (or more) of them are writing off to Pretoria to be recognised and registered. And for decades civil servants in Pretoria would write back saying that the religions of citizens were no concern of the government and there was no need to register. And the recipients of these letters would promptly put the file number of this correspondence on their letterheads, to show that they were recognised.

The civil servants were being rather disingenuous, of course, because black ministers needed special permits to buy wine for communion before 1962, and they also needed recognition for concession fares on trains. So there was a complex game being played.

In the 1960s, however, the government realised that it could up the stakes in the game by conning the churches into supporting apartheid.

They changed their policy and started officially registering black churches (or saying that they were), provided that the churches concerned had a clause in their constitutions to say that their churches were only for “Bantu” and only “Bantu” could be member or leaders of the church. That conned a lot of church leaders into signing a statement that explicitly stated that their churches supported apartheid.

So the history of government regulation of churches shows that it is not an unmixed blessing, and can have serious implications for religious freedom.

If some churches are doing weird stuff like encouraging people to drink petrol or rat poison, or collecting money in dubious circumstances, then perhaps it might be best to see whether they can be prosecuted under existing laws. After all, the Nationalist government did not have to pass a special law to prosecute John Rees, the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, for fraud.

The War on Christmas

The modern War on Christmas began when Ariel Sharon, then the Prime Minister of Israel, provocatively went for a walk on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in September 2000. thereby sparking off the Second Intifada. This turned Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, into a no-go area, just in time for the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ, which Christians might have wanted to observe with special celebrations.

XmasWarThe song of the angels, heard by the shepherds, was more than a little ironic:

Luke 2:14  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

King Herod, who started the first War on Christmas, apparently showed very little goodwill, and over the last 200 years, little has changed.

Global Research is a somewhat tendentious web site, and I usually take what it says with a pinch of salt, but when it comes to the War on Christmas, I think they got it right. US-NATO’s “Counter-Christmas Crusade” against the Cradle of Civilization and the Holy Land | Global Research – Centre for Research on Globalization:

…a region now decimated by that created by George W. Bush’s and Tony Blair’s “Crusade,” not to mention Obama and Cameron’s “humanitarian bombings” of the Land of two Rivers.

Ur was vandalized by the US army, who arrived with Bibles in vast stocks, missionaries and plans for proselytizing those who had nurtured and stewarded the region’s wonders of all religions for centuries.

Al-Qurna was stormed and devastatingly damaged by British, Lithuanian and Danish troops, the Tree of Knowledge whose legend and life seemingly spanned the mists of time, died, near certainly from the poisonous pollution of battle, more poisonous even than that which destroyed over half all fauna and flora after the Desert Storm 1991 onslaught, leaving the soil dead and infertile for years afterwards.

Syria’s tragedy in the ongoing Crusade, determination to redraw the map of the Middle East and steal all natural resources rather than purchase them, is outside the scope of this article.

And Christmas is not the only Christian activity that has been disrupted by these Middle Eastern wars. Now there is this: Last-minute politics overshadow historic pan-Orthodox council – The Washington Post:

A religious summit last held more than 1,200 years ago suddenly risks being downgraded or postponed because of Syria’s four-year civil war. This unexpected twist has come as the world’s Orthodox churches, the second-largest ecclesial family in Christianity, were supposed to be only months away from their first major council since 787.

Now it is no longer clear when or where the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, a summit first proposed at least as far back as 1961 and provisionally scheduled for May in Istanbul, will be held.

Merry Xmas, everyone!

Some observations on the Ukraine crisis

Three weeks ago I wrote about the lies that the media were feeding us on the “Ukraine crisis”.

It struck me that when they showed us “breaking news” on Ukraine, it would almost invariably be Barack Obama, John Kerry, David Cameron or William Hague looking stern and serious and admonitory, and warning Russia of severe consequences.

I was a bit hesitant about writing about Ukraine (as opposed to writing about the media writing about Ukraine), since I am no fundi on Ukraine, but if the Western politicians can have their say, so can I. I don’t have a coherent story to tell, or any warnings to give, just some rather disjointed observations.

Clergy and monks pray as they stand between demonstrators and riot police in Kiev

Clergy and monks pray as they stand between demonstrators and riot police in Kiev

The story coming out of the Ukraine unrest that most impressed me was the story of clergy standing between sometimes-violent demonstrators and sometimes-violent riot police, and praying for peace. I found them much more interesting than  Obama, Cameron, Kerry, Hague & Co (herinafter referred to as OCKH). Unlike OCKH & Co, the praying clergy had boots on the ground, in Ukraine — see In Kiev, Protests Bring Orthodox Priests To Pray On The Frontline Despite Government Warnings. But that was not the kind of story the media like to tell, and so it got little coverage compared with OCKH & Co.

When it wasn’t all about OCKH & Co, then the narrative was all about Putin. He was clearly the bad guy in the Western narrative, which is further evidence for the truth and usefulness of Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations thesis (see The Orange Revolution, Peeled | Notes from underground).

But when it comes to Putin, I found some interesting comments in an unexpected place: Russia’s Blunder Needs a Realist’s Response | The American Conservative. Hat-tip to my blogging friend Terry Cowan, who drew my attention to it, and recommended it thus:

Here is yet another excellent analysis from “The American Conservative.” For my left-leaning friends, do not be put-off by the word “Conservative” on their masthead. I know of no other site that so effectively battles that most American of all heresies—namely, the belief in our own exceptionalism. And for my rightist friends, be prepared for views widely at variance with Movement Conservatism. Both are conservative in the same way that Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss are both authors.

For myself, I’m not sure whether Crimea’s decision to leave Ukraine and join Russia was a good one or not. What I am sure of is that the US and UK’s decision to have a hissy fit about it was a very bad one. Basically what they are saying is that mob rule is good in Kiev, but bad in Sevastopol, but they haven’t seen fit to tell us why they think that.

And then there is the question whether it was Russia’s “blunder”. In what way was it a blunder?

Well, if I were President Putin, and if I were thinking in a purely secular political manner, I would see it as desirable to have Ukraine as a friendly neighbour, one that was willing to trade with me on advantageous terms and so on. To judge from news reports, the protests in Kiev were precisely against such an advantageous trade agreement with Russia, and the protesters would have preferred 0ne with the European Union. Why they think closer ties with the EU would be a good thing is a bit of a mystery to me — they just have to look at the fate of Greece to see the down side of that. But it’s their bed, and they will have to lie in it.

But if Crimea leaves Ukraine and joins Russia, it tips the balance of power in the rest of Ukraine to the western Ukraine, which is far less sympathetic to Russia, so it does seem to be a bit of a blunder on Russia’s part, and the alacrity with which they accepted Crimea’s request for incorporation seems a little short-sighted. But it has probably boosted Putin’s popularity, and hence his chances in the next election, and that kind of thing tends to carry more weight with politicians than long-term interests. It’s one of the draw-backs of democracy that we have to live with.

But I don’t live in Russia or Ukraine, so such mundane political considerations don’t concern me directly.

I suppose my concern is more ecclesiastical, and there other considerations carry more weight. This article can help give one a clue: RUSSIA – UKRAINE Crimea annexation frightens Patriarch of Moscow – Asia News:

When last March 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the federal parliament in impassioned defense of Great Russia, to justify the annexation of the Crimea, the expressions on the faces of the front rows of the assembly betrayed an unusual concern. Amid the Imam’s turban and the rabbi’s hat, the absence of Patriarch Kirill’s white tiara. Two rows behind the veiled miter of his vicar, the elderly Metropolitan Juvenalij, nodded uncertainly. He was sent to represent the Patriarchal Church, whose blessing was essential to confirm the necessary re-appropriation of the “holy land” of the Crimea.

Kirill’s absence was justified by his spokesman with uncertain references to his state of health (but the day before he had regularly presided over a long celebration) and the devout silence of Lent (but this should also apply to Juvenalij) . In reality, the absence of Kirill’s blessing demonstrates the extreme embarrassment of the Moscow Patriarchate over the Ukrainian crisis, which threatens to upset even the structure of the same ecclesiastical institutions, and obliterate the enlargement projects pursued with great tenacity by Kirill himself in recent years. It seems that Putin has gone too far for his spiritual fathers.

Now that is from a Roman Catholic source, and has its own (Western) axes to grind, but it does show that the Church is not necessarily cheering on the latest political developments. This is in part because of the complicated history of Christianity in Ukraine, as the Wikipedia article on the topic shows: History of Christianity in Ukraine – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Currently, three major Ukrainian Orthodox Churches coexist, and often compete, in the country: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Additionally, a significant body of Christians belong to the Eastern Rite Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and a smaller number in the Ruthenian Catholic Church. While Western Christian traditions such as Roman Catholicism and Protestantism have had a limited presence on the territory of Ukraine since at least the 16th century, worshipers of these traditions remain a relatively small minority in today’s Ukraine.

If you want to know more, read the full article, but one reason for the “Orthodox” divisions in Ukraine is the idea that ecclesiastical boundaries should follow ethinc and political ones.

This idea is a bit strange to Orthodox Christians in Africa, where we are all, east, west, north and south, under the jurisdiction of the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa. Orthodox Christians in Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa, in spite of living in different countries, under different flags, with different languages and cultures, are all part of the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, under one Pope and Patriarch[1]. But Europeans, especially, seem obsessed with the idea that if one country becomes independent from another, it must have a separate church jurisdiction.

Monks and priests pray between protesters and police in Kiev

Monks and priests pray between protesters and police in Kiev

Orthodox bishops around the world are preparing for a Pan-Orthodox Council — the first such gathering since the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. It would be a pity if it were to be dominated by such nationalistic considerations as have given rise to the divisions in Ukraine, which the present political turmoil is only likely to exacerbate.

Yet the witness of Christians in Ukraine to a more excellent way of love and peace is important for the rest of the Church, and the world. And I hope it is that, rather than the divisiveness, that gets reflected in the Pan-Orthodox Council.

But all this makes the antics of OCKH & Co even more bizarre.

Fifteen years ago Nato, at the urging of Clinton and Blair, the predecessors of the OCKH cabal, bombed Yugoslavia in order to divide it — see 15 years on: Looking back at NATO’s ‘humanitarian’ bombing of Yugoslavia — RT News. Some 3000 people were killed. Yet they castigate Putin as evil for dividing Ukraine, without raining death from the skies. This resembles nothing so much as Orwell’s 1984 where good causes become evil at the whim of the authorities. They tell us it was a good thing to divide a country by massive bombing killing thousands of people, but that it is a very bad thing to divide another country by holding a referendum. That sounds like the Orwellian chant: War is Peace and Peace is War.

I prefer religion in the public square, boots on the ground, praying in Maidan.

__________

Notes

Actually it’s not quite as simple as that — there are actually two popes, both with the title of Theodore II, arising from a schism in the 6th century after disagreements at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, but that is a different story.

Christmas and XMas

A useful reminder.

Again and Again

XMasHAPPY XMAS – X is the abbreviation of the name Christ and has been in use since early Christian times. Many people nowadays are mistakenly of the opinion that the use of “Xmas” is a recent invention or a secular attempt to remove the religious tradition from Christmas by taking the “Christ” out of “Christmas. The practice of using contractions for divine or sacred names (nomina sacrum) started sometime in the 1st Century AD although the exact date remains unknown.

‘X’ is an ancient abbreviation for the word ‘Christ’ which comes to us from ancient Greek and is written in the Greek alphabet ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (cristos) The first two letters are called Chi and Rho and were used to form one of the earliest Christograms, which is a monogram or combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ. Known as the Chi-Rho it is traditionally used…

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Christian martyrs in the 21st century

I’ve seen claims on some web sites and postings on Facebook and other social media sites of huge numbers of Christian martyrs in the 21st century, usually without anything to substantiate the numbers claimed.

Now it seems that someone has investigated the claimed figures: BBC Statistics Programme Disputes “100,000 Christian Martyrs Each Year” Claim Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion:

John Allen, author of The Global War on Christians, explained that martyrdom referred to “a situation of witness”. A martyr is not just someone who is killed for holding Christian beliefs; it can be someone who is killed because their beliefs prompt them to acts of moral courage that put them in danger. Allen gives the example of a woman killed in Congo for persuading young people not to join to militias, which is fair enough – but it’s difficult to see how this can be extrapolated to all Christian victims of the war.

According to Bartholomew’s article, the inflated figures are arrived at by counting all Christian war casualties as martyrs, in such conflicts as the Congo civil war.

It’s not just the inflated figures that disturb me, however, but it’s rather the whinging attitude that seems to lie behind them.

Butovo Martyrs

Butovo Martyrs

There were probably more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in any other century in history. That was because there were ideologies like Bolshevism that promoted atheism, and persecuted not only Christians, but Jews, Muslims and Buddhists as well. Many Christians died in such events as the Butovo Massacres, and the Russian Orthodox Church has been going through the historical records and documenting as many instances as possible. Closer to home there were the martyrs of Epinga in Namibia, whose story both state and church tried to suppress.

Many Christians have died as martyrs in the current civil war in Syria, and in other 21st-century conflicts in the region, xso there have been many Christian martyrs in the 21st century, though probably not as many as some have claimed.

I can think of two good reasons for publicising martyrdom, one secular and the other eternal.

The secular reason is that it draws attention to the need for freedom of religion protected by law.

In South Africa we now have freedom of religion protected by law. Before 1994 we did not, and many Christians were persecuted for their faith, both in South Africa itself and in South African-ruled Namibia. The Epinga martyrs were one instance of this.

Chinese Martyrs

Chinese Martyrs

One of the things that arises from this is that the response to instances of violent death can show what values really motivate people.

A couple of months ago there was a terrorist occupation of a shopping mall in Kenya. In the same week there were also the bombing of a Christian church in Pakistan, and violent attacks on travellers in Nigeria. The Western media chose to hype the first incident and play down the others, barely mentioning them at all, in spite of the fact that more people were killed in those incidents than in the attack on the Kenyan shopping mall.

One is tempted to say that this was because the attack on the shopping mall was an attack on the established religion of the West — Mammonism. People tend to give more prominence to the things that interest them.

But Christians are no exception to this tendency, it seems. Christians complained about the bombing of Christian churches in Kosovo, but a number of mosques were also bombed there. A policy of religious freedom benefits all,

From the secular point of view, then violence against people because of their religious views, or any other characteristic, is seen as a bad thing. In some countries it has created a new legal category — the “hate crime”. And, if they are fair, such laws should cover xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, Antisemitism and Christianophobia equally. And I think it is right that Christians should point out the evil of such acts of violence and other human rights abuses.

But in the light of eternity, Christians have a different approach.

Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you,
and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad:
for great is your reward in heaven.

In the light of that, Christian whinging about persecution, whether actual or merely perceived, seems inappropriate. Perhaps a more excellent way can be found here: Redeeming the past: a journey from freedom fighter to healer | Khanya

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