Notes from underground

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Archive for the category “Christianity”

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

Call for contributions: Synchroblog on Syrian civil war

A group of Christian bloggers are planning to have a synchroblog on the Syrian civil war and responses to it on Tuesday 17 September 2013. We invite others to join us in blogging on this topic on that day.

A synchroblog is when a group of bloggers decide to post articles on the same topic at about the same time, with links to each other’s posts, so that you can surf through the posts and get a variety of views on the topic. If you would like to see some past examples to see how it works, you can have a look at this synchroblog on Christian reponses to Halloween, or this one on Spiritual warfare or this one on Altered states of consciousness. Some of the links on some of the older ones may not work, because people sometimes close their blogs or move them, but it should be enough to give you an idea of what a synchroblog is and how it works.

 Saint Thecla (Mar Takla) monastery in the ancient Christian village of Ma'loula, Syria. This is a 1600 year old Orthodox Monastery home to 13 nuns and 27 orphan. It is also the oldest womens' monastery in the world in one of the last villages to speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. St. Thecla Monastery is being attacked by Al Qaeda rebels of the "Free Syrian Army"


Saint Thecla (Mar Takla) monastery in the ancient Christian village of Ma’loula, Syria. This is a 1600 year old Orthodox Monastery home to 13 nuns and 27 orphan. It is also the oldest womens’ monastery in the world in one of the last villages to speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. St. Thecla Monastery is being attacked by Al Qaeda rebels of the “Free Syrian Army”

The Syrian civil war has been going on for more than two years now. It started as protests against the authoritarian dictatorship of Bashar al Assad, which were brutally suppressed, and some of the protesters responded with counter violence. Since then people from other countries have joined in, not all of them with the interests of the Syrian people at heart. There are now various rebel groups with different interests, and some of them have attacked Christian churches and monasteries, and thousands of people have fled from their homes because of the fighting.

Now there is a threat of greater international involvement, as the US government wants to attack the government of Bashar al Assad over its alleged use of poison gas. There is a great deal of ignorance about Syrian Christianity in the USA, the country which wants to bomb Syria. Many Americans seem to believe that Syrian Christians are not Christian at all because they speak Arabic and address God as “Allah”.

There are many aspectsw of the conflict, and so many different ways of blogging about it. It would be good is some Syrian Christians could also join in the synchroblog. But because of the threat of the conflict expanding into an international one, we hope that many Christians from many different places will join in. Your blog post can focus on any aspects of it that concern you, from the heritage of Syrian Christians to the fate of refugees.

How to participate

  1. Write your blog post on the Syrian conflict and post it on Tuesday 17 September. I suggest that those in East Asia, Australia and New Zealand post it in the evening, those in west Asia, Europe and Africa post it at midday, and those in America (north & south) post it in the morning.
  2. As soon as you have posted, send information about the title & url of your post to me at shayes@dunelm.org.uk using the form below. I will compile a list of the posts as I receive them, and post the links on my contribution, and will also send them to other participants.
  3. Post the list of links at the end of your synchroblog post, so that when others have finished reading it, they can go on to one of the others.

Format for reporting your post

As soon as you have posted your contribution, copy the URL for your post from your browser and send it to me in an e-mail message in the following format

NA Poster’s name
BL Poster’s blog name
TI Title of your post
URL Url of your post
REL Your religious background
EM Your e-mail address

If you use that format — with the preceding tags in capital letters followed by a single space (resist any temptation to add colons!), and each piece of information on a separate line (it can word-wrap), I will be able to import it straight into a database without re-typing, and produce a report with the HTML code for the links which can then be appended to your post. I will post them on my contribution, and the easiest thing will be to copy and paste them from there. But I will also send it by e-mail to all the registered contributors (to the e-mail address you provide, so don’t munge it).

If you send it to me by e-mail at

shayes (at) dunelm.org.uk

Ranking blogs by Twitter followers

I recently came across a list of the top 100 Christian blogs ranked by Twitter followers — Top 100 Christian blogs ranked by Number of Twitter followers

…a Top Christian Blogs list with a difference. This list is ranked by another measure of influence that as far as I can see the other lists dont measure: Number of Twitter followers. Interestingly I found almost nobody in the top blog lists who didnt also Tweet, and the vast majority of them post all their blog posts as links to their Twitter feed (usually automatically). If you run a blog and don’t do that yet, its time you sort that out!

I find that rather odd, because I’ve never found a blog that tweets. Bloggers tweet, yes; but blogs, no. At least not in my experience.

And then someone I follow on Twitter tweeted this:

“People you may know” from @twitter is pointless. I don’t use Twitter that way; I don’t think many people do. I follow ppl I DON’T know! :p

And that made me wonder how people use Twitter.

I do follow a number of bloggers on Twitter, because I read their blogs, and want to know when they have posted something new. Similarly, I sometimes, but not always, tweet when I’ve posted something new on one of my blogs. But I tweet about lots of other things, and I’m sure a lot of people who follow me on Twitter never read my blogs at all. So I find it strange that one could measure blog popularity by the number of Twitter followers.

And what makes a “top Christian blog” anyway?

According to Amatomu (when it works), the “top” South African religious blog is a thing called Discerning the world which seems to specialise in venomous attacks on people and churches that the blogger doesn’t like. What she never bothers to tell us, though, is what she does like. Oh, and Adrian Warnock mentioned the absence of female bloggers in many “Top Christian blogs” lists. Well adding Discerning the world should help to remedy that deficiency!

I’m not sure how Amatomu calculates top blogs either. One that ranks consistently high is Dion Forster’s old abandoned blog, Dion’s random ramblings, which his current blog, An uncommon path, somehow never quite manages to catch up with.

Unlike @grahamdowns, whom I also quoted above, I don’t follow people on Twitter because I don’t know them or because I do know them. I follow them because I think they might tweet about stuff that interests me, whether I know them or not. And I often keep caught up by means of the daily digest of tweets, though its criteria for what is interesting don’t always coincide with mine. But that was how I found Adrian Warnock’s post in the first place.

What I find interesting, and use Twitter to help me to find, is not so much blogs as blog posts on topics that interest me. And for that Twitter is most useful if the tweets use hash tags. Adrian Warnock recommends Twitterfeed as a way of automatically notifying Twitter etc of new blog posts. But does Twitterfeed know how to use hash tags? (And, incidentally, that’s one reason I find blogs that ask you to log in before letting you comment annoying. Having to register to post one comment on one post that you find interesting seems a waste of time).

I use hash tags a lot to find tweets by people I don’t follow on subjects that interest me, and some of them, like #missiology, even produce a daily paper if enough people tweet on it.

Steyn Krige, RIP

One of my old school teachers died this week.

I suppose I’ve reached an age where I should not be surprised at such things, but I’m nevertheless saddened by his passing.

He was Marthinus Theunis Steyn Krige, known as Steyn, and he was my geography and scripture teacher at St Stithians College, Randburg, from 1954-1958.

I learnt of his death from an e-mail sent out by the St Stithians Alumni Association

It is with deep regret and sadness that we must inform you that Mr Steyn Krige passed away peacefully on Tuesday night, 27 September 2011, after a long illness.

Steyn was the second Headmaster of the College from 1962 – 68 and the recently-opened class room block at the Boys’ College was named the Krige Block in his honour.

Steyn matriculated from Rondebosch Boys’ High with a first class Matric and taught at that school before moving to St Stithians. At Saints he became Second Master under Wally Mears as well as Mountstephens Housemaster. He succeeded Mr Mears as Headmaster. He was a conscientious and dedicated teacher and a deeply committed Christian. He was instrumental in founding and developing the Randburg Methodist Church.

Whilst Headmaster of St Stithians, he was also Chairman of the HMC, forerunner of the present day SAHISA (South African Heads of Independent Schools Association) and, as Chairman of the HMC, he played a major role in the opening of private schools to all races.

Steyn was a profound educational thinker and many of his innovations are still with us – the option of African languages, Integrated Studies, a three term year and the tutor system.

He was also a progressive educationalist and, after leaving St Stithians, went on to found Woodmead School which was a beacon of liberal education in the 1970s and ’80s. He also founded the New Era Schools Trust, an educational trust, in 1981 together with Dean Yates, a former headmaster of St John’s.

Our sincerest sympathies and condolences go to Steyn’s widow, Hazel, their children and grandchildren, including Ken, a former teacher at the Boys’ College and currently Headmaster of Felixton College in KZN. Please hold them in your thoughts and prayers at this sad time.

His funeral will take place on Friday 30 September 2011 at 14h30 at the Randburg Methodist Church.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Lowry
Rector

David Knowles
Headmaster: Boys’ College

Four years ago a fellow blogger challenged people to write about five people, living or dead, who had influenced our spiritual path in a positive way, and I took up the challenge, and this is what I wrote about Steyn Krige Notes from underground: Five influences

He taught me for most of my time in high school at St Stithians College from the age of 12 to the age of 17. For the first couple of years he taught Geography, Chemistry and Scripture. Chemistry wasn’t his field, and some of his experiments went horribly wrong, and I think he cookbooked his lessons. But he was a good teacher, and even when his experiments went wrong and the expected didn’t happen, we knew what was supposed to have happened.

The year before he came to the school I had begun to break away from my atheist/agnostic upbringing and become interested in reading the Bible, and Steyn Krige hosted voluntary Bible study groups in the housemaster’s flat where he lived with his family. He also arranged camps during the school holidays — in the Western Cape, in the mountains of Lesotho and in other places. And he it was who guided me and showed what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

I rather hope that someone will write a biography of Steyn Krige one day, because the announcement of his death sent out by the school was almost as notable for what it didn’t say as for what it did say.

It said that a classroom block at the school was named after him. I’m glad to hear that, because to my recollection the school treated him pretty shabbily, and it’s good to know that they perhaps tried to make amends in that way.

The obituary says that after leaving St Stithians he went on to found Woodmead School, but did not mention the fact that the reason for his leaving St Stithian’s was that he was sacked. The story of his sacking was all over the Sunday newspapers back in 1969, but the reasons for it were never revealed. Perhaps now is the time to tell it.

When I heard of Steyn’s death I did a Google search for him, and discovered that something similar had happened at Woodmead School, in a fragmentary anonymous article rescued from from Yahoo’s Geocities disaster. What happened to Woodmead Schoolo?:

In December 1998, Woodmead School, the first fully multi-racial school in South Africa, closed its doors after twenty-eight years. Employees who had served the school faithfully were evicted from their houses on the property. Some had been there from the beginning. Most had nowhere to go. To exacerbate matters the school’s Board breached numerous tenets of the National Labor Laws. It withheld information. It ‘fobbed off’ concerned parents. In the end, several members of the Board fraudulently ‘donated’ Woodmead’s Preparatory School to a spurious company. It was then secretly sold to Crawford College for a fraction of its value. The people who closed Woodmead School didn’t understand its unique place in South African history. What occurred was a tragedy. Why did it happen?

An anonymous article rescued from Yahoo’s dustbin is not much to go on, but it does make the questions What happened? Why did it happen? more insistent. It seems that in his teaching career Steyn Krige experienced a considerable amount of back-stabbing.

The Woodmead article goes on to say

When I arrived at Woodmead in 1981, Steyn Krige was still the Headmaster. He had pioneered much of what was unique about Woodmead – the Tutor System, the Tier System, its democratically elected Student Council and Integrated Studies. He particularly liked to discuss Integrated Studies, one of the school’s shining lights, and he would periodically announce that it was time for a conference to assess the current progress of the subject. In theory, Integrated Studies replaced English, Geography, History and Social Studies, but in practice it encompassed a great deal more. Emphasis was placed on themes rather than topics. Each theme was approached from different directions and students were encouraged to explore the theme along a range of pathways. Skills were emphasized and independent learning encouraged and fostered. The students were enormously enthusiastic and supportive. There were classes of fifty but the strength and breadth of the subject offset the disadvantage of large classes. What emerged from the Integrated Studies program were highly motivated students who approached their final years of secondary school with confidence and enthusiasm. In 1982, I conducted a series of interviews with Standard 8 (Grade 10) Integrated Studies students who, without exception, spoke in glowing terms about the value of the subject, its significance in the school curriculum and the positive way it had influenced their academic progress.

When I was at St Stithians Steyn Krige was only deputy headmaster and there was no talk of “Integrated Studies”, but I think I experienced some of the precursors. On one occasion we had a double period of Scripture and Geography, taught by Steyn, and the one flowed seamlessly into the other with no break, with wide-ranging discussion on all kinds of topics, including the end of the world and flying saucers. We rather smugly thought that we had put one over Steyn, and got away with turning a formal lesson into a bull session. But actually people paid far more attention in the bull session than they did in formal lessons. Perhaps that’s where Steyn got the idea, or perhaps he already had the idea, and took advantage of a double period to try it out.

Reading the paragraphs above about Woodmead, it is also clear that by South African standards of the 1970s, Steyn Krige was a loony leftist. By American standards of the present day, he would be regarded as belonging to the Religious Right.

Steyn Krige’s theology was Conservative Evangelical.

St Stithians was a Methodist Church school, and a Methodist minister would come and preach in the school chapel on Sunday mornings, but the rest of the week the religious life of the school was guided and directed by Steyn Krige (a Methodist) and Derek Hudson-Reed (a Baptist) and they ran the informal evangelistic “hot gospel” sessions on Sunday evenings, which usually ended in an “altar call”, and the voluntary Bible study and prayer meetings where we learned far more than in formal “Scripture” classes. Steyn was a Pre-Trib Pre-Millenniallist, though he never used those terms and I only came to understand what they meant several decades later. He taught the “rapture”, though he never used such fancy theological terms, and it was only much later that I discovered the theological meaning of that as well.

So when I was at school, Steyn Krige was showing that it was possible to be politically liberal (and even radical) while being theologically conservative, and I’m sure that those aspects of his life were pretty well integrated too.

And I suspect that this may have been one reason why he was sacked. School boards, and even the boards of church schools, tend to be composed of hard-headed businessmen (who, it would be hoped, would be good at raising money for the school), but to such businessmen both religious fanaticism and political radicalism would be anathema. But I’m guessing now — that’s why it would be good to know the real story.

I try to think of what my life might have been like if Steyn Krige had not influenced me as he did, and somehow I just can’t imagine it.

Christian and liberal?

In a recent comment on this blog Mark Richardson of Australia expressed the view that Christianity and liberalism were incompatible: Notes from underground: Clarissa’s Blog: Being Hated by Conservatives vs Being Hated by Liberals:

I’m a little surprised that you are both an orthodox deacon and someone who appears to identify with liberalism.

Liberalism is the replacement philosophy for Christianity. It is founded on the idea that the good in life is to be a self-creating, autonomous individual.

What matters to a liberal is that we are ‘liberated’ from impediments to choosing as we will. Therefore, the sexual revolution is thought of as a good thing by liberals as it liberated individuals from an older Christian morality.

The liberal concept of freedom, in other words, is incompatible with the Christian concept of freedom.

I recently read the biography of Peter Brown, the former leader of the former Liberal Party of South Africa, and reviewed it on my other blog here.

Reading Peter Brown’s biography prompted some reflection on just what it was that made me get off the fence of a theoretical political neutrality and actually become a card-carrying Liberal. Though I had been sympathetic towards the Liberal Party since the age of 12 (when it had been founded) and urged my mother to vote for them when I was too young to vote myself, I thought that it was better, as a Christian, not to actually join a political party, but to maintain a certain critical distance from all of them (as I do now).

I did have a brief flirtation with the Progressive Party soon after it was founded, when a friend invited me to a meeting and I was carried away by the rhetoric of their leader, Jan Steytler. I even attended their founding congress as an observer, where they adopted their policy of a qualified franchise, which basically meant giving votes to the rich and educated, regardless of colour, rather than the current Nationalist policy of votes for whites only. I had some misgivings about that. While I was still at school I had read a novel by Nevil Shute, In the wet, in which he had described a system of multiple voting. It made sense to me at the time. It gave everyone a say in running the country, but avoided the main weakness (as it seemed) of democracy — counting heads with no regard for what is in them. I tried to advocate this idea at the Progressive party congress, but no one was interested, so I lost interest in the Progressives.

When I went to the University of Natal at Pietermaritzburg in 1963 I actually met some real live liberals, and attended some of their meetings (as opposed to just reading their election pamphlets and other literature, which was the only contact I had had previously). The Liberals advocated “one man one vote”. I thought it better than the Progressive qualified franchise, but still thought that a multiple voting system would be better.

What finally made me join was a combination of three factors that convinced me that the Liberal Party policy of one-man, one vote was right. The first of these was my theological studies at the university. The second was the people I met at rural branches of the Liberal Party, and the third was attending Evensong at St Alphege’s Anglican Church in Scottsville. Theology, political activism and worship.

My theological studies convinced me that since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, no one is qualified to hold political power over another, and certainly neither education nor wealth (the basis of the Progressive qualified franchise) qualified one to do so. Neither did race (the basis of the Nationalist whites-only franchise).

The peasants who belonged to the Liberal Party in the rural areas were, most of them, under threat of ethnic cleansing since they lived in “black spots”, and without votes they were simply political footballs of Nationalist ideology, and most of them would not have qualified to vote under the Progressive Party policy. And those who devised the evil and unjust policy of apartheid would all have qualified to vote, but their wealth and education did nothing, absolutely nothing, to prevent them from promulgating evil and unjust laws. Some of the Nat legislators had PhDs. It was the poor and oppressed who had some moral sense, and a better grasp of political reality.

So though I could truthfully say that I had been a Liberal Party sympathiser from the age of 12, when I first saw a banner announcing the formation of the party, it was not until another 12 years had passed, at the age of 24, that I saw the need to become fully committed as a party member.

And the kind of thinking that led me to that conclusion has been very well expressed by G.K. Chesterton, when he said,

I was brought up a Liberal, and have always believed in democracy, in the elementary liberal doctrine of a self-governing humanity. If any one finds the phrase vague or threadbare, I can only pause for a moment to explain that the principle of democracy, as I mean it, can be stated in two propositions. The first is this: that the things common to all men are more important than the things peculiar to any men. Ordinary things are more valuable than extraordinary things; nay, they are more extraordinary. Man is something more awful than men; something more strange. The sense of the miracle of humanity itself should be always more vivid to us than any marvels of power, intellect, art, or civilization. The mere man on two legs, as such, should be felt as something more heartbreaking than any music and more startling than any caricature. Death is more tragic even than death by starvation. Having a nose is more comic even than having a Norman nose.

This is the first principle of democracy: that the essential things in men are the things they hold in common, not the things they hold separately. And the second principle is merely this: that the political instinct or desire is one of these things which they hold in common. Falling in love is more poetical than dropping into poetry. The democratic contention is that government (helping to rule the tribe) is a thing like falling in love, and not a thing like dropping into poetry. It is not something analogous to playing the church organ, painting on vellum, discovering the North Pole (that insidious habit), looping the loop, being Astronomer Royal, and so on. For these things we do not wish a man to do at all unless he does them well. It is, on the contrary, a thing analogous to writing one’s own love-letters or blowing one’s own nose. These things we want a man to do for himself, even if he does them badly. I am not here arguing the truth of any of these conceptions; I know that some moderns are asking to have their wives chosen by scientists, and they may soon be asking, for all I know, to have their noses blown by nurses. I merely say that mankind does recognize these universal human functions, and that democracy classes government among them. In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves–the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed.

And it was such things that convinced me that the racist elitism of the Nationalists and the economic elitism of the Progressives was not for me, and so I became a Liberal.

Of course not all members of the Liberal Party were Christians. There were Jews, Muslims and Hindus as well. There were atheists and agnostics. They all had their own reasons for joining, and supporting liberal principles and policies like the the rule of law and civil rights and being opposed to authoritarian government and apartheid and ethnic cleansing. I cannot speak for the others, but I can say what led me, as a Christian, to join the Liberal Party.

So I hope that answers Mark Richardson’s question.

I also disagree with almost every one of Mark’s contentions about the nature of liberalism and what constitutes liberalism. I am a political liberal, not a theological, economic or philosophical liberal. And as a political liberal I see the freedom advocated by liberalism as being quite limited. It is limited to freedom from being oppressed by other men. It has nothing to do with being freed from morality, because part of morality, or at least Christian morality (as I see it) is that we should not oppress others. As our Lord Jesus Christ said “All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets” Matt 7:12. Anyone who wants to be freed from that aspect of morality is not a liberal but a fascist. Unless you want to be detained without trial yourself, then, don’t detain others without trial — and that applies equally to John Vorster Square, Lubyanka, and Guantanamo Bay.

For more, see here.

The Burning Times

Burning things (and people) you don’t like seems to be a popular way of getting rid of them. It’s also a great way of getting publicity for a cause. And as people in show business know, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

One of the examples that always springs to my mind is the group of anti-war protesters in California who publicly burnt a dog.

It was during the Vietnam War, and they burnt the dog in protest against the war. The public outrage was enormous, and newspapers editorialised about how they were harming their cause, and their action was counter-productive because it made people who might be sympathetic to their cause more likely to be hostile towards it.

But in fact the negative reaction, the outrage itself, was the whole point. They demonstrated that American society was far more concerned and far more outraged about a dog being burnt in California than it was about hundreds of human children being burnt in Vietnam by American napalm bombs.

And the latest in a long line of such protests is that of Terry Jones, minister of a small church in the backwoods of Florida, USA, who threatened to burn copies of the Qur’an. It caused tweets of outrage to flow through Twitter, and huge protests throughout the world. It certainly put his church on the map.

Terry Jones won’t be the last Qur’an burning publicity hound | Richard Adams | World news | guardian.co.uk:

Jones’s threats will be subject to the law of diminishing returns. Next time he threatens to do burn a Qur’an – and I fear there will be a next time – he’ll be handled with much more caution by the US media, which has made itself look ridiculous in being outfoxed by the crackpot pastor of a miniscule [sic] church in the swamps of Florida.

US President Barack Obama, in a memorable soundbite, said that it would be a recruiting bonanza for Al-Qaeda.

President Obama was probably right, but he has done little to stop the even more powerful recruiting bonanzas for Al-Qaeda caused by burning children in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Those outraged by the burning of the Qu’ran may demonstrate in the streets, wave a few placards, burn an American flag or two, and go home feeling self-righteous, just like the Revd Terry Jones.

It is the ones whose cousins and brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts who were killed when the US forces bombed wedding celebrations, or went on their killing sprees in places like Fallujah who are more likely to join Al-Qaeda.

In the 1960s there was also the phenomenon of the self-immolation of Buddhist monks in protest against the Vietnam War. Instead of burning other people or things, they burnt themselves.

This had a spin-off in South Africa, when staff and students at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg were protesting against some government atrocity — I think it was the banning of student leader Ian Robertson.

I was overseas at the time, but a friend wrote to me in a letter about the protest, which took the form of a torchlight procession into the centre of the town. As they were crossing the bridge over the Umsinduzi River the procession was attacked by National Party-supporters. One of the protesters was an English lecturer and atheist, Cake Manson (who was thought by the English Department to be the greatest playwright since Shakespeare). He retaliated by sticking his lighted torch in the faces of the attackers, shouting the war-cry, “Burn you Buddhist bastard, burn!”

And that takes us back to California.

Burn, Baby! Burn!:

When rioters in Watts, California, began shouting ‘Burn, Baby! BURN!’ in the turmoil of 1965, they were echoing the most popular cry on rhythm-and-blues radio: The trademark of Magnificent Montague, the most exciting R&B disc jockey ever to stroll through Soulsville.

In Los Angeles on KGFJ, and earlier in New York on WWRL, Montague yelled ‘Burn!’ whenever he was playing a record that moved him. His listeners followed suit, calling Montague and shouting ‘Burn!’ on the air. The emotion in that exchange reverberated with as much excitement as the music of Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.

There’s something about the Burning Times…

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