Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the category “worldview”

Falling man

Falling ManFalling Man by Don DeLillo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a strange book. The title relates to a performance artist, David Janiak, who emulates those who jumped or fell from the World Trade Center when the two towers caught fire after planes crashed into them. Using a safety harness, he hangs himself from various structures around New York. But he gives no explanation of his behaviour.

The protagonist is Keith Neudecker, whose office was below the fire, and so he was able to escape, and instead of going home, he went to the home of his estranged wife, and is reunited with her, and their son Justin, whose age is not mentioned until much later in the book, and it turns out that he is about 7 when his father comes home.

The book follows Keith and his wife Lianne, and to some extent their son Justin over three years. It purports, in the blurb, to show how the events of 11 Septermber 2001 affected American consciousness, but I must be dim, because I didn’t see it. Several of Keith’s poker buddies are dead, so for a while he doesn’t play poker, but then resumes. Lianne continues her work with Alzheimer’s patients, and is rather distressed by their inevitable deterioration. But the fall of the towers seems to have nothing to do with this.

We are told little about their lives before the fall of the World Trade Center, so it is not really possible to see how their lives have been changed. The story is not clear, and it is often difficult to tell whose experience is being described.

In spite of this, however, I found it compelling reading. I wasn’t bored, and read to the end of the book.

If you want to read a better review, try this one Inner Diablog: Falling Man, which I largely agree with. But I didn’t feel I could say much about the book, but rather about some thoughts it provoked in me. One thing that struck me in the book was Lianne’s work with Alzheimer’s patients. She encourages them to write down their memories while they can, and when one of them can no longer do this, they want to wrote about her. That struck me as very sad, but it would have been sad with or without the fall of the World Trade Center.

Another thing that struck me was that within a couple of days of the events, reporting on them stopped. For two days we were saturated with images of planes flying into buildings, the buildings burning and then collapsing, and then it all suddenly stopped. In other such disasters one often find that within a few months a book is published, with stories of witnesses and survivors, explaining what happened. But in this case there was a strange silence. I believe there is now a TV documentary showing, but 16 years later. Kids like Justin in the book would now be 23.

And so I wonder if this silence is why the book about it is a work of fiction, but really what is needed is for survivors to tell their own stories. Perhaps they did, in New York, so maybe I’m missing something that was there all along, but it it seems to me the kind of topic that doesn’t lend itself to fictional treatment.

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Random thoughts inspired by Enneagram

This morning Duncan Reyburn spoke about Enneagrams at TGIF, and here are some connected and some disconnected thoughts inspired in part by what he said.

For those who don’t know, Enneagram is one of those personality type thingies, and you can get a sample of it here to find out roughly where you fit in.

If it’s any help, my main type is 5, with 9 and 4 as subsidiaries. And on the Myers-Briggs scale I’m INTP (I find the Myers-Briggs one more helpful, as these things go).

As we sat waiting for Duncan to begin Val recalled that I had been rather disconcerted to find myself labelled as a type back in the 1970s. It was actually a jocular piece written by a journalist in the Sunday Tribune for women who felt the need for a piscine cyclist in their lives.[1] She described varieties of nubile males and what I found disconcerting was that her description of one of the types fitted me right down to the last detail. The detail I remember best was the car I drove — an ancient rust bucket with an empty cold-drink bottle rolling around on the floor (picture here). I think it included a beard and scruffy clothes as well. Actually it was rather flattering, in that she said that was one of the better catches available in the pond, But it was the thought that there were enough of us around to be so closely described that I found disconcerting.

But that was totally unscientific, so back to the Enneagram, and more unscientific thoughts inspired by it.

Duncan spoke about mythology and mythical monsters.: The contrast in Genesis 1 between the forces of chaos and the forces of order, and the notion of mythical dragons symbolising chaos. Duncan cited psychologists like Freud and Jung showing that myths and dreams of dragons represent our unconscious, and that the monsters are not really out there, but in our heads.

Now I may have misunderstood or be misrepresenting Duncan at this point, but I question that assumption. I think that it is a peculiarly white, Western and modernist way of looking at it. This business of seeing things as taking place “in here” in our minds, as opposed to “out there” in the world is very much culturally conditioned. Should we let Western psychologists like Freud and Jung have the last word to say about it?

As J.V. Taylor (1963:44f) puts it, in his book The primal Vision: Christian presence amid African religion:

But though these [dreams, thoughts etc] may infect the body with sickness and delude the senses with hallucinations, we believe them to be rooted within the sufferer’s mind. Dreams are only dreams, for we know their fantasies are confined within the wall of the dreamer’s brain.

We are in danger of forgetting that all this is only a figurative way of speaking. The spatial concepts of inside and outside cannot be used literally of something so elusive and abstract as the self; yet in Europe we have allowed them so to dominate our imagery that we have almost identified the mind with the brain and imprisoned the self within the walls of the skull.

But there have been other ways than ours of picturing this unimaginable Self. Some philosophies, notably the Hindu Upanishads, include on the ‘inside’ much that we can only imagine as being ‘outside’, so that even the transcendent Absolute is to be sought only within the innermost cave of the heart. But in the imagery of primal religion, on the other hand, the self is thought of as spilling out into the world beyond the confines of the experiencing body, and echoing back again from other selves. Africans would assert with St Augustine that ‘we live beyond the limits of our bodies’.

So I think that just as physicists something think of light in terms of waves, and sometimes in terms of particles, so we can sometimes see things as inside, and sometimes as outside our heads. Mythical dragons may refer to things within us, but they can also refer to things outside.

As Anderson (1990:256) puts it:

An experience that a premodern person might have understood as possession by an evil spirit might be understood by a modern psychoanalytic patient as more mischief from the Id, and might be understood by a postmodern individual as a subpersonality making itself heard – might even, if you want to get really postmodern about it, be recognized as all three.

And that’s something I do like to get really postmodern about. I’ve said more on that in this article Sundkler deconstructed: Bethesda AICs and syncretism.

Duncan spoke of films of sea monsters, like Jaws. They give chills to audiences in Pretoria, though they are dry and far from the ocean. Why? Because the monsters represent our Unconscious, which threatens to swallow us. Hence the need to face our monsters, because the monsters are not necessarily evil, but can sometimes take us where we want, or need to go. Jonah, for example, was swallowed by a sea monster, but the monster put him back on track.

St Jonah

Films like Jurassic Park are apparently about land based monsters, but are really about divorce. The external monsters force dysfunctional families to face their internal monsters and become reconciled, and in the end it is the biggest, strongest and most fearsome monster, Tyrranosaurus Rex, which keeps the real threat, the velociraptors, at bay.

And that made me think that yes, it was the Tyrannosaurus Rex of apartheid that kept South African Christians on track before 1994. It was opposition to apartheid that made many Christians and Christian bodies more conscious of their core business. And after 1994, they lost their way, and started floundering, and were caught unawares when the velociraptors of corruption charged in. One evil spirit exorcised, but seven others rush in to take its place. But apartheid was not unconscious, and was not simply in people’s heads. It did not remain within the confines of the skulls of theorists. Apartheid changed the landscape of the country and moved thousands of people from one place to another. It was not simply the Freudian unconscious. So yes, we do need monsters to keep us on track. But monsters and the track are not just inside our skulls.

And Val said that while Duncan was speaking about Jonah, the Ode of Paschal Nocturns was running through her head.

Jonah was caught but not held fast in the belly of the whale. He was a sign of Thee who hast suffered and accepted burial. Coming forth from the beast as from a bridal chamber, he called out to the guard, “By observing vanities and lies you have forsaken your own mercy.”

And it struck me that Duncan had cited someone as saying that Christianity belonged to No 2 on the Enneagram, but really needed to practise the other 8. And I recalled that there are nine odes in the Canon, but we only ever sing eight of them. We never sing Ode 2.

 


Notes and references

[1] The current saying was “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”

Black Hats and White Hats: American Stereotyping

Nearly 50 years ago I had an American friend, Dave Trumbull, whose father, Howard Trumbull, a missionary, was the treasurer of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, and came to a youth meeting to represent his son, who couldn’t be there on that occasion. Before the meeting he asked me who were the black hats and who were the white hats.

Seeing my bemused expression he explained that in Western movies (in the pre-spaghetti Western days) it was a convention that all the “good guys” wore white hats, and all the “bad guys” wore black hats. Audiences apparently needed these cues as to who were the heroes and who were the villains.

He said (in a rather ironic self-deprecating way) that it was something Americans always wanted to know about every situation they were involved in.

And I said that in the particular situation we were facing, it was not an easy distinction to make. It was rather a matter of good guys making bad decisions. He made some comment to the effect that Americans didn’t like messy situations like that.

I was reminded of him and his comments last week when I posted some links to a blog post and a few newspaper articles on Facebook, and the response of American commenters on them was immediately to look for the “black hats” and put the blame on them.

One of the articles was on my other blog, on The Death of Liberalism in the West, which was mainly about the leader of the Liberal-Democratic Party in the UK feeling compelled to resign because he thought his faith was not accepted in the UK political arena. Two American friends responded with comments on Facebook rather than on the blog post (so I don’t know if either of them actually read the blog post, much less the statement by Tim Farron, the Lib-Dem leader). One identified the Black Hats as right-wing bullies, and the other identified them as left-wing bullies.

I was rather disappointed, as I was trying to understand a phenomenon, rather than looking for scapegoats.

The other thing was that I posted links to some articles about a recent fire in a block of flats in London, in which many people had lost their homes and some had lost their lives. One thing that was clear from the articles was that there had been a lot of bad decisions by various people and organisations, including commercial firms, political parties and and local authorities. But some American commenters were specifically trying to pin the blame on particular people or firms. But not only is the jury still out — it hasn’t been summoned yet to hear the evidence. All the reports show is that there is prima facie evidence of the need for some sort of judicial enquiry. Yet Americans seem to feel an immediate need to pin the blame on someone, to identify the black hats.

I mentioned this to Val on the way to church this morning, and she said, but isn’t that typical of Americans — they love to identify the “bad guys”, and sooner or later go in and bomb them. They did it in the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession in the 1990s, where there were no good guys. The Americans appointed the bad guys, put black hats on them, and then bombed them. A few years later they did it in Afghanistan, and then in Iraq, and then in Libya. Now they are doing it to Syria and Russia.

This legalistic American tendency to look for scapegoats and find them before the evidence is available is probably the biggest threat to world peace, and has been for the last 60 years.

It’s more than 50 years since the publication of The Ugly American, which dealt with this phenomenon, but it was so effective that most people don’t realise that the eponymous ugly American was the good guy. He was the guy in the white hat.

A few years after my conversation with Howard Trumbull a couple of friends of mine met a US foreign policy boffin by the name of George Kennan. He had the reputation of being one of their biggest fundis on foreign affairs. They came back from lunch with him thinking that he was so naive that it would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. He asked them who the good guys and bad guys in Namibia in the early 1970s were, and seemed to believe that a flick of a switch in the depths of the Pentagon would eliminate the bad guys and solve all the problems.

But most of the American I’ve met have been like the ugly American in the story. I’ve met them outside America, because they don’t have this binary opposition attitude. Many of them, like Howard Trumbull, are, or have been, Christian missionaries. So not all Americans are evil scapegoaters.

So, in conclusion, I think that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who think there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t, and there are even some Americans in the latter category.

 

Embrace your inner dork

I’m not sure who originated this, but I rather liked the blog posts that incorporated the graphic.

dorkSo hat-tip to Ador(k)able !! | maniacal melancholic and Guidebook for the Dysfunctional: Embrace the inner dork. With a hat-tip to Clinton Kingma, who posted a link on Facebook.

I supose this post is using blogs as they were originally intended, as a weB log, a log of web sites visited, sometimes with comments on them, and sometimes not.

Anyway Guidebook for the Dysfunctional: Embrace the inner dork says:

Since no decent dictionary even defines the word ‘dork,’ I had to go to the urban dictionary. This was my favorite definition: “Someone who has odd interests, and is silly at times.” A dork is also someone who can be themselves and not care what anyone thinks. When I was growing up, being a dork was a bad thing, and believe me, I know, because I was a dork. Other words I may have been called were nerd, geek, loser, lame, wannabe, goober and many more I don’t care to share.

And I rather liked this bit from Ador(k)able !! | maniacal melancholic:

While my peers finished their degrees and got married and had kids and moved into suburbian structures; while they changed nappies and invested in stock options; while they listened to Afrikaans music and watched rugby at the braai… I was reading books, and writing, and philosophising and discovering Edith Piaf and Fever Ray and stayed up all night to watch a meteor shower.

Whiteness revisited — Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl

I recently discovered a new academic discipline, or pseudo-discipline, called “Whiteness Studies”, through some friends who appear to take it seriously.

From what I’ve been able to see, it this discipline proposes to cure racism by encouraging racist thinking, which, it seems to me, is a bit like an alcoholic thinking that the cure for his craving is another drink.

If any of this interests you, I’ve written a series of four blog posts on it, here:

Comments welcome, there or here.

I thought I’d written enough on it, but someone posted something on Facebook that made me change my mind: Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl Team Up to Battle Circumcision in Africa:

Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl Team Up to Battle Circumcision in Africa

Male and female circumcision collide in Foreskin Man #3 when America’s most controversial superhero attempts a daring rescue in the jungles of Kenya.

That looks like a rather good candidate for #20 Being an expert on YOUR culture | Stuff White People Like, though with a somewhat different slant on it. That seems to be the essence of Whiteness, as defined by the American discipline of Whiteness Studies.

But I’m getting ahead of the story, which begins here, in a web article someone recommended to me, about Racism 2.0, which is the racism practised by white liberals in the USA Tim Wise | With Friends Like These, Who Needs Glenn Beck? Racism and White Privilege on the Liberal-Left. And, it seems to me, the comic book Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl Team Up to Battle Circumcision in Africa seems to be a good example of Racism 2.0 as practised by white liberals in America. The gallant white superhero, representing enlightened Western values, sets out to rescue the barbaric Africans from their darkness. The cover of the comic says it all.

One of the things that human beings seem to do a lot is modify their bodies. The way they do this varies with different cultures, and as time passes cultures change, and bodily modifications fall in and out of fashion. One such fashion in the USA has been male circumcision. Another, common in the Western world, has been female ear piercing, and in some sub-cultures in the West piercing other parts of the body and sticking safety pins and other objects in the holes. A southern African varient of earpearcing, about 70-80 years ago, involved putting wooden cotton reels in holes in one’s earlobes.

Other such practices are knocking out front teeth, tattooing, and lengthening necks and penises. In China there was the practice of foot-binding of girls, because small feet on women were fashionable.

Another thing about this is that bodily modifications that one culture regards as normal seem bizarre and barbaric to people from other cultures.

In the 19th and early 20th century Christian missionaries travelled from Western Europe and North America in large numbers to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people in other continents, and they came across many cultural practices that they found strange, and some that they found abhorrent. Among the ones they found abhorrent ones were foot-binding and female circumcision.

In China it was Christian missionaries who founded the Natural Foot Society, to discourage the practice of foot-binding. And in parts of Africa missionaries, who were associated with colonial governments, discouraged female circumcision. In Kenya, where, in the 1920s, all schools were controlled by various religious bodies, some missionaries, led by the Church of Scotland, insisted that all teachers in the schools should take an oath against female circumcision, which was practised by the Kikuyu (Agikuyu) people. This led to the formation of independent African-led educational associations, and eventually contributed to the establishment of the Orthodox Church in Kenya (see Orthodox mission in tropical Africa).

The policy of demanding oaths came back to bite the colonialist missionaries, however, when, about 20 years later, the Mau Mau movement began getting their members to take oaths to fight against the British colonial regime. Suddenly “oath-taking ceremonies” were made illegal, and suspicion that someone had participated in one became sufficient cause for detention without trial. All Kenyan Orthodox clergy were detained.

White Western secular liberals have often been quite vociferous in condemning the way in which Christian missionaries “destroy indigenous culture”, but are not averse to doing exactly the same thing when other people’s cultural values conflict with their own, and using neocolonial powers to put the squeeze on people who resist.

In a way, I can empathise with those who object to female circumcision. I can still recall the shock and revulsion I felt when I read about it as a teenage schoolboy in a book called Blanket boy’s moon by Peter Lanham and A.S. Mopeli-Paulus, which described the practice in Lesotho:

The first night of the (circumcision) school is known as the Marallo, the secret night. This night is spent outside the village in the dongas, where ritual dances are taught and new code names are given to the girls — so that they can afterwards challenge the claim of any woman who states that she is circumcised.

At Marallo, too, the Khokhobisa-tsoene, or “Hiding-of-the-monkey” is encompassed. The girls are cut with a blade in their outer sexual organs, and a flap of flesh is drawn down to cover that mischievous “monkey” which can be the source of much pleasure to uncircumcised girls. The performance of this rite tends to encourage chastity among the women, for a circumcised girl can know little of the joys and passions of physical love. During this ceremony when the blood flows from the wounded flesh, black magic medicine is rubbed in as a protection against bewitchment.

It can perhaps be said that the circumcision of women not only denies the girl great pleasure and joy in the sexual act, but must in consequence lessen the happiness and exaltation of the man, and thus shut out any upliftment of the spirit — lying with a woman, then, becomes a selfish rather than a mutual pleasure. Here in the very homeland, in this circumcision of women, lie the seeds of the physical love of man for man, which is brought to flower in the living conditions imposed on African mine workers by the white man.

As a schoolboy I found that more scary even than a description of a ritual murder elsewhere in the book.

But an interesting thing is that though the protest against the Protestant missionaries’ attempt to suppress female circumcision was one of the factors that helped the Orthodox Church to grow in Kenya, very few, if any, Orthodox Christians practise female circumcision today, not because of high-handed colonial or neocolonial suppression, but rather as a result of people seeing no need for it within a Christian worldview.

Western cultural imperialism hasn’t changed very much. Whether practised by Protestant missionaries or liberal secularists, it looks much the same. And I won’t say it doesn’t exist in South Africa. There are signs of it, for example when you get white suburbanites objecting to their black neighbours next door ritually sacrificing a goat, but generally I think white racism in South Africa takes different forms from that in North America. The North American version, with Foreskin Man going out to deal with the black savages in far-away places, is perhaps typical of the American version. And Foreskin Man doesn’t seem to be interested in rescuing the people his fellow-countrymen drop bombs on, in places like Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, where they lose a great deal more than their foreskins.

Apart from anything else, to me Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl sound utterly kitsch. But that’s probably just my cultural prejudice speaking.

Hijacking words: Urban Dictionary: Communitarianism

Having at one time been an editor of academic texts I am interested in words and meaning, and especially in the way words are sometimes used to obscure and confuse meaning rather than to communicate meaning. Words can sometimes be “hijacked” or “skunked”. They are hijacked when their meaning is twisted or perverted to mean something else. They are “skunked” when they are used by so many people to mean so many different things that you can never be sure what a person means by them unless they give a definition every time they use it. One example is “liberal” and “liberalism”, and that these words have been skunked can be clearly seen in the two preceding posts.

“Communitarian” and “communitarianism”, on the other hand, have apparently been hijacked, at least by some people. I’ve blogged about this before here and here.

Communitarianism is a fairly new word, but the concept was developed by Catholic anarchists like Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin and Ammon Hennessy to distinguish Christian anthropology from modernist secular anthropologies like individualism and collectivism. Even though there wasn’t a specific word for it, the concept has been around at least as long as Christianity has, and I’ve described it, with quotations from Orthodox theologians, in Love is the measure: Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker | Khanya.

I didn’t realise how bad it had got, however, until I read this: Urban Dictionary: Communitarianism:

Communitarianism

buy communitarianism mugs, tshirts and magnets

n. The belief that a society is greater than the sum of its parts, and that the members of an organization ought to work toward improving the organization. Often accused to be ‘communist’ or ‘fascist’.

Communitarianism is perceived to be evil because it opposes the individualistic doctrine of our society.

I find it difficult to see how anyone could take such a “definition” seriously. For a start, “accused to be” is illiterate. The correct English idiom is “accused of being”, and “accused to be” is a solecism. Anyone who writes English that badly is not competent to write dictionary definitions.

The next problem is that we are not told the identity of those who make these accusations, nor are we told the identity of those who “perceive it to be evil”, nor are we told which society is meant by “our” society. But I think it is safe to assume that those who make the accusations and perceive communitarianism in this way are as ignorant as the writer of the definition.

My attention was drawn to this in a blog post by James Highham, whose blog I read fairly regularly, and find interesting, though I don’t always agree with everything he says, and in this instance, of course, I emphatically disagree.

nourishing obscurity : Four Great Lies:

The Fourth Lie – the “third way” – is an attempt to bring people in by the back door to the dark side of the duality and it utilizes the First Lie to good effect. Thus we get “communitarianism”, perverting the concept of local community and having a vast number of federalist controlled local communities, each under the influence and rubber stamping power of a Common Purpose graduate. Leading beyond authority, i.e. assuming powers which are not yours to assume and being answerable only to the oligarchy in the centre.

The thought of Dorothy Day being part of an “oligarchy at the centre” really is too much.

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.

Are you homophobic?

I came across this quiz about “Are you homophobic?”

“Homophobic” is not a word I like very much, partly because I’m a language pedant, and believe it should mean “fear of the same”, and therefore be partly the opposite of “xenophobic”, which means fearing strangers.

Another reason that I don’t like it is that it is often used as an insult or accusation — it is used by bigots to accuse other people of bigotry.

But I accept that the way the word is generally used nowadays, it means to regard homosexuals with fear and loathing.

So I took the test, partly to see what the result would be, but also partly to see what the test would be. Some of these tests are themselves a manifestation of bigotry, as I mentioned above.

Here’s the result:

And you’re not homophobic in the least 🙂


You Are 18% Homophobic


You’re open minded, tolerant, and accepting.

Before reading any further, I suggest that you take the test — first to see what the test thinks of you, and secondly to see what you think of the test.

I think that the test is fairly accurate, and measures “homophobia” as it is generally defined today, that is, the degree to which people regard homosexual people with fear and loathing.

So what do I mean when I say that the word “homophobic” is sometimes used by bigots to accuse other people of bigotry?

This is also related to being a language pedant, but it is about things that are rather more important than the etymology of “homophobic”.

People sometimes ask “Is homosexuality a sin?”

And my answer is “No”.

Homosexuality is a sexual orientation, as people say nowadays. Sexual orientation means what people find sexually attractive. People are homosexual if they find people of the same sex sexually attractive. From the point of view of Christian morality, finding people sexually attractive, whether they are of the same or the opposite sex, is not a sin. What is a sin is to allow that to develop into lust, and possibly sexual activity with another person. What is sinful is not homosexuality, but fornication and adultery.

And as a Christian, I believe that if I perform such acts, or even dwell on lustful thoughts, whether about people of the opposite sex or the same sex, those are sins that I must confess.

There are lots of people who fornicate or commit adultery, with people of the same sex or the opposite sex. Should I shun such people and avoid them socially? Should I refuse to work with such people because they are sinners? No, because I am a sinner too.

And why should we regard it as necessary to shun someone who commits adultery with someone of the same sex, but not those who commit adultery with someone of the opposite sex?

If I am to shun and avoid anyone for being a sinner, then I must first of all shun and avoid myself. Orthodox Christians pray frequently during Lent, “Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother.”

We are not to engage in the relatively undemanding activity of confessing other people’s sins. Nor are we to excuse our own sins as minor, and regard those of others as much more serious. Again, as Orthodox Christians we pray before receiving the holy communion, “I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first“.

Jesus did not shun notorious sinners, and was criticised for failing to do so. He met socially with social outcasts like Zacchaeus, and if he, who was sinless, could do that, how can I, who am the first of sinners, refuse to do so on account of my supposed moral superiority?

One of the questions in the quiz concerned same-sex marriage. I believe that such a thing is ontologically impossible, but I won’t go into that here. I’ve dealt with that in some detail in another blog post on the theology of Christian marriage.

But I will say that that concerns same-sex marriage, or homosexual marriage. People often talk loosely of “gay marriage”, but that is not the same thing at all. There is nothing that I know to prevent gay people from marrying, and some have. It might even be possible for two gay people to marry each other. They might need to think about it carefully, and consider the difficulties that there might be in such a relationship. As a limerick puts it:

There was a young queer of Khartoum
who took a lesbian up to his room
they argued all night
over who had the right
to do what, and with what, and to whom.

But marriage is never plain sailing all the time, and even marriages when both parties are heterosexual often end in divorce.

Another question about words and meanings is raised by the term “gay lifestyle” which some people bandy about.

It’s a strange term, because I doubt very much that there is such a thing as a “gay lifestyle” any more than there is such a thing as a “heterosexual lifestyle”. Gay people can have as wide a variety of interests and engage in as wide a range of activities as heterosexual people. Some gay people are promiscious, and some are not, just as some heterosexual people are promiscuous and some are not. Some gay people are celibate and some are not, just as some heterosexual people are celibate and some are not.

There is, however, one exception to this.

There are gay subcultures, and among these subcultures, there is something that could be called a “gay lifestyle”, but it is important to realise that only a small minority of gay people identify with such subcultures or participate in their activities.

There was a time when homosexual activity was illegal in South Africa, as it was in many other countries. And in those days there was a gay subculture, which had the rather romantic aura of a persecuted minority. It had its own argot, and even the word “gay” was not known to people outside the subculture, probably not even to homosexual people outside the subculture. What drew them together was not just the fact of being gay but the fact of being persecuted, and they had that in common with the communist and liberal and black nationalist subcultures of those days.

Some (not all) members of the gay subcultures were actvists, and they wanted the laws against homosexual activity repealed. And under our democratic constitution those laws have been repealed, and it is illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of sexual orientation, though I’m not sure that that provision of the constitution is as fully observed as it might be, nevertheless, it is there and can be appealed to.

One of the main arguments for the repeal of the laws against homosexual activity was that the law should not concern itself with what was done by consenting adults in the privacy of their bedrooms, and eventually those laws were repealed, as they have been in many other countries.

But some “gay activists” went further.

There was an Anglican bishop of Johannesburg, Timothy Bavin, who after some years left and became Bishop of Portsmouth. He was unmarried, and a group of gay activists decided that he was gay, and began a campaign of actively persecuting him and demanding that he “come out”.

I have no idea whether he was gay or not, but from what I do know of him, he believed that he was called by God to celibacy, and he was abused by a group of “gay activists” who were little more than fascist bullies.

And it seems to be somewhat dishonest to say on the one hand that one’s sexual orientation is one’s own business and that what one does in one’s own bedroom is not the concern of the law and anyone else, and then to go flaunting one’s sexual orientation in “gay pride” parades, and demand that other people flaunt theirs by “coming out”, and persecuting them if they do not. There is homophobic bigotry, and there is gay activist bigotry, but the so-called “gay lifestyle” is characteristic of only a small minority of gay people. It is the bigots and fascist bullies, on both sides, who make the most noise.

___
Synchroblog

This post has been linked to the Synchroblog for October 2010: Same-sex marriage synchroblog | Khanya. Click on the link to see the other posts in the synchroblog.

Postscript

After the US Supreme court approved of homosexual marriage, there was another wave of bigoted comments from both those who approved and those who disapproved. Here’s what someone else posted on that For He is Good and Loves Mankind: The Church, the Culture, Tolerance, Repentance and Love. Wisdom! Let us attend.

Anti-Zionism and antisemitism

Ad Orientem: Anti-Zionism & Anti-Semitism recommends a post that addresses (from a Catholic perspective) the often blurred lines between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism: Vivificat!: When Anti-Zionism Turns Into Anti-Semitism:

I start with a statement that many will find counterintuitive and is this: since Zionism is a non-religious political movement belonging to the sphere of politics according to its own founders, to oppose Zionism a priori does not make one a Judaeophobe and anti-Semite of necessity. Said in other words, in theory, it is possible to be an anti-Zionist without hating Jews as a people or as a believers of their particular religion and at the same time, there is no obstacle in principle impeding an otherwise tolerant state to oppose Zionism and to protect the civil liberties of the Jewish people in their midst.

Unfortunately Ad Orientem: Anti-Zionism & Anti-Semitism also says “Please leave your comments at Vivificat!”, and that is something I find difficult to do, because an Orthodox perspective on the matter must differ from a Catholic perspective, and operates with different asumptions. I think the assumptions of the Vivificat! article are flawed, not merely because they are Catholic, but because they are approaching it from a different end.

Judaism-Rejects-ZionismIn my experience (which is no doubt fairly limited) the link between Anti-Zionism and antisemitism has been made by apologists for the government of the state of Istrael, who denounce any criticism of any policy of the government of the state of Israel (such as the bombing of Lebanon in 2006) as “antisemitic”.

And if that is what “antisemitism” has come to mean, then I have no hesitation is saying that I think “antisemitism” is a thoroughly good thing.

I don’t believe, however, that that “antisemitism” has come to mean that, or that it ought to mean that. I believfe that those who make propaganda for the government of the state of Israel have been twisting the meanings of words.

But that is what all warmongers do. Criticism of the Israeli bombing of Lebanon in 2006 have been described as “antisemitic” (on the grounds that “anti-Zionism is anti semitism”), just as critics of the US bombing of Iraq in 2003 and of Yugoslavia in 1999 have been described as “anti-American”.

The Israel apologists also accuse those who criticise any policy of the government of the state of Israel of denying Israel the right to exist, as if the right to commit mayhem is an essential part of the right to exist.

There’s no arguing with such people, and I’ve given up trying. I do not believe that criticising the policies or actions of the government of a state means that one denies that state’s right to exist, but then, I don’t believe that the right to exist includes the right to commit mayhem.

We had the same kind of attitudes in South Africa back in the 1960s. People who criticised the apartheid policy of the South African government were denounced by the government and its appologists as “anti-South African”. But they believed that it was not possible for South Africa to exist without apartheid. They confused the government of the state with the state itself.

So much for my experience.

nationalism1But one needs to go deeper and examine the roots of Zionism, which was a form of nationalism that arose in central Europe, and partly grew out of the romnatic movement in Germany. In this sense Zionism is akin to Hellenism, the Greek nationalism that arose from much the same roots. And there were other Balkan nationalism too, and others in Eastern Europe. Zionism, Hellenism and the other Balkan nationalisms wanted to establish “homelands” in territory under the rule of multinational empires. In most cases this was the Ottoman Empire, and in some cases the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Prussian Empire, or the Russian Empire (e.g. Polish nationalism). One could even say that in South Africa Afrikaner nationalism has similar philosophical roots.

In some ways, Zionism is to Judaism as Hellenism is to Orthodoxy. Just as there are those who say “Antizionism is antisemitism”, there are those who say that “Hellenism is Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy is Hellenism”. And there are others who have tried to coopt religion for that kind of nationalism. The Roman Catholic Church is not exempt from this — Croatian nationalism is not all that disssimilar from Zionism either.

I’ve written about this elsewhere, in an article on Nationalism, violence and reconciliation.

Atheist evangelism

A group of people in Britain are engaging in “atheist evangelism” by sponsoring bus advertisments with the slogan “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”.

Simon Barrow: People are as likely to be sceptical about the ‘atheist bus’ as they are about being sold religion:

This week the ‘atheist bus’ project finally gets wheels. After scrambling around for a few thousand quid, the money has finally come in to perambulate an inspiring message (‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’) around our streets, bringing merriment to millions…

To those without a huge vested interest in promoting or dissing religion, this probably looks a slightly odd initiative. Frankly, the slogan is a bit anodyne. It’s the non-believing equivalent of ‘God may very well exist. Now have a nice day’. But it will probably still be enough to upset counter-evangelists of the kind who like to tell everybody they are going to hell for not subscribing to their particular doctrine, and who think atheism is very, very naughty.

Simon Barrow also comments about it in his blog FaithInSociety, and several others have also commented on it. In fact, so many people have commented on it that further commentary might seem to be redundant.

I tend to agree with Bishop Alan’s Blog: London Atheist ads: Shome mishtake?, when he says: “Perhaps this particular ad is more agnostic than atheist, and we still have to await a genuinely atheist poster ad.”

But what interests me are the values expressed by the ad, which are assumed rather than explicitly promoted. They are not really atheist values, because there can be no specifically atheist values, since atheism is the absence of something. Atheists may have all kinds of values, and all kinds of reasons for holding them, but the values and the reasons for holding them owe nothing to atheism. Marxism-Leninism, for example, is strongly atheist, but the values it espouses are not based on atheism, but on a particular theory of economics and history. Ayn Rand, who detested Marxism-Leninism, and proposed an alternative, capitalist ideology, was also an atheist. One could multiply examples, but the point is clear — there are no specifically atheist values.

I don’t know whether the sponsors of the bus ad are calling what they are doing “evangelism”. But “evangelism” means “spreading good news”, and the sponsors clearly believe their message is good news and they are spreading it, so it is evangelism of a sort.

But what is the message that they intend to convey? And what is the message that people receive?

I can’t speak for others, but I can say what message I receive from the ad. Whether it is what the sponsors intended to convey, I don’t know. But if any of them read this, perhaps they can tell me if I’ve got it right or wrong. And if the intended message doesn’t get across, then it means that there is either something wrong with the sender, or with the message, or with the recipient.

So what is the good news?

“Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy: There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”.

And that sounds like another message I’ve been hearing a lot on TV lately:

“You only have one life, so make it a full one with world-class entertainment.”

Both messages seem to have the same underlying values, the same basic message:

Eat, drink, and be entertained, for tomorrow we die.

The advertisements are being placed on British buses, so they will be read by rich and well-fed Westerners. Simon Barrow notes elsewhere (Cold water, buses and shared humanity | Ekklesia) that it raises interesting issues about “the extent to which the philosophy reflected in the bus slogan – ‘There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’ – is widely shared (much more than many church leaders seem aware), and so on.”

And yes, that philosophy is widely shared in prosperous Western societies, even if that prosperity is under threat of a recession.

And we see on TV how people “enjoy life” in Britain — teenagers getting drunk. They send each other inane messages on their cell (mobile) phones, with scarcely a thought about the fact that in parts of the Congo armed groups are fighting to control access to coltan, one of the ingredients that makes such “enjoyment” possible, and that people, including teenagers and young children are being enslaved or killed as a result.

Will the message on British buses come across to people in strife-torn Congo as good news, so that they can “enjoy life”, and have a full one, with “world-class entertainment”?

Oh yes, the message, the philosophy, of the slogan is widely shared in the rich West.

So how do I interpret it?

There is probably no God, so go ahead and enjoy your life, even if it is at the expense of other people. There is probably no God who cares about them, so you don’t need to care about them either.

Forty years ago I was studying for a Christian doctrine exam, and instead of reading the text books for the course I read a book written by a Methodist minister in Zambia, Colin Morris. It was called Include me out: confessions of an ecclesiastical coward, and this is how it began:

The other day a Zambian dropped dead not far from my front door. The pathologist said he’d died of hunger. In his shrunken stomach were a few leaves and what appeared to be a ball of grass. And nothing else.

Colin Morris’s book wasn’t aimed at rich well-fed atheist evangelists, but rather at rich well-fed Christian ones, and at ecclesiastical bureaucrats, and he challenged them to think about how the message they put across, in words or deeds, in what they did and what they didn’t do, could have come across as good news to “an ugly little man with a shrunken belly, whose total possessions, according to the police, were a pair of shorts, a ragged shirt, and an empty Biro pen.”

There is probably no God, so it doesn’t really matter if your leaders, using your taxes, rain down bombs on people in Yugoslavia, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, just so long as you continue to enjoy a full life, with world-class entertainment. There is probably no God who cares about them, so don’t let their plight interfere with your enjoyment of life.

Some of the things Colin Morris said 40 years ago are just as valid today, and they apply to all rich well-fed evangelists, atheist as well as Christian, including me.

Much theological writing is a highly elaborate conspiracy against that little man with the shrunken belly and his skeletal brethren. It is an exercise in endless qualification, dedicated to showing why we cannot take the words of the Galilean Peasant at their face value or follow His example simply. Let some Manchester bus conductor murmur that he can follow the words of Jesus but cannot follow the words of some of the men who followed Him, and he will earn himself a lecture. This would be to the effect that Jesus cannot be understood except within the whole framework of the History of Salvation and that he did not actually say many of the words reported of him in the Gospels, so he must take our words for what is fact and fancy, because we know!

The biggest problem for Christians with the philosophy behind the bus advertising is not that it is unacceptable, but that its message of hedonism is accepted all too easily by so many Christians. Again, to quote Colin Morris:

Our failure towards the little people of the earth is more than a lapse of simple charity for which sincere contrition can atone. When our Churches have crumbled and our vestments have rotted and the wind blows through the ruins of our ecclesiastical structures, all that will stand and have eternal significance are creative acts of compassion — the effectual signs of the presence of the Kingdom.

Because the Gospel is simple, the judgement is immediate. It awaits no historical summing up of all things. It can be put plainly and in first-person terms. I saw a starving man and there was no gnawing pain in my belly. I saw a hunchback and my own back did not ache. I watched a pathetic procession of refugees being herded back and forth sleeplessly, and I slept well that night.

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