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Archive for the tag “Christian values”

Yet another reason to boycott Nestlé

Over the years there have been several calls to boycott Nestlé, the Switzerland-based food firm, which was originally known for producing chocolate, but has since branched out, more controversially, into baby food, bottled water, instant coffee and a few other things.

The latest boycott call, however, arises not from their products, but from their advertising and packaging — Orthodox Leaders Call for Boycott of Lidl, Nestle for Airbrushing Out Christian Symbols on Products:

Leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church are asking worshipers to boycott Lidl and Nestlé, which removed Christian symbols from their food packaging in an attempt to be “religiously neutral.”

Earlier this month, shoppers noticed that the German supermarket chain Lidl had used photo editing software to remove crosses on top of an iconic Greek church on its food packaging. Swiss food giant Nestlé and the local dairy producer Mevgal have also removed religious imagery from their Greek yogurts.

In response, the Orthodox Church in Athens is urging its members through sermons and on the internet to boycott Lidl, Nestlé and Mevgal, according to The Sunday Times, whom a spokesperson of the Church told the issue will be raised at a special synodical meeting next month.

In this, they seem to be trying to go out of their way to be offensive. The cosmetics firm Dove recently stirred up controversy by racially offensive ads. Now these firms, or at least two of them, are being religiously offensive. Perhaps Lidl didn’t intend their packaging to be offensive, but it was only after it had stirred up controversy that Mevgal and Nestlé introduced theirs as well.

No one is compelling these firms to put pictures of churches on their packaging. If they don’t like churches and what they stand for, then they could quite easily show pictures of something else. There are plenty of picturesque sights in Greece other than churches.

Some, especially those in the secular West, might wonder what all the fuss is about. It is easy for such people to forget that in the 20th century just about every country in Europe with a majority (or substantial minority) of Orthodox Christians was under communist rule until the 1990s. For people who remember that, and especially those who lived through it, removing crosses from churches is a bit like putting up a Whites Only sign in post-1994 South Africa. People will get offended, because they recall that the Bolsheviks removed the crosses from churches (and in some cases replaced them with red stars). Removal of the crosses thus has a flavour of arrogant bullying authoritarianism.

For the Bolsheviks in Russia there was a kind of standard procedure. First they would knock the crosses off, then the bells, and then they would urge (sometimes forcibly) the members of the congregation to chop up the ikons for firewood. Then they would convert the buildings to stables, warehouses, flats etc. Of course they themselves didn’t see it as oppression — in their minds they were liberating the peasants from superstition, but the peasants themselves didn’t see it as any kind of liberation, just as oppression worse than the Tsar’s.

When I visited Russia in 1995 many temples had only recently been handed back to the Church by the government, and most of them were in poor condition, needing extensive repairs. But almost invariably the first step in repairing them was the replacement of the cross on the highest dome. There could be cheap paper ikons stuck up with sticky tape; the paint could be peeling and the plaster crumbling; worshippers could be making their way across an unsurfaced floor all over steel reinforcing and electrical conduits, but at the top of the highest dome was a golden cross. Restoring it was a priority. Crosses were the first things the Bolsheviks broke down, and were the first things that the Christians replaced. For Orthodox Christians, removing crosses from temples is not trivial.

Today many countries in Europe are no longer under Bolshevik rule, but in the Middle East many Christians in countries with Islamist governments are not allowed to display crosses on their churches, and when commercial firms start displaying the same oppressive attitude, yes, it is offensive. And in the post-Cold War world it can also look like a bit of in-your-face Clash of Civilizations oneupmanship.

As one Greek bishop said:

Imagine the same thing happening in Russia, with products parcelled and plastered with pictures of Moscow’s gold domes, only without their crosses. They [the companies] would be paying each and every person there millions in damages. But here, they have not only stolen us of our voice … but they know that the cost of damage caused in this small country will be small.

So you can add this to the reasons for boycotting Nestlé. At least one Christian blogger I know displays this logo, and perhaps others should start doing so too. Here is a reminder of some of the other reasons for boycotting: 5 shocking scandals that prove it’s time to boycott Nestlé | The Daily Dot:

The company’s abuse of California’s resources is reason enough to be angry at Nestlé, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg for a firm with decades of controversy behind it. It’s been the target of multiple boycotts and protests, Twitter campaigns against the company, making it an almost irresistible target for ire among Californians angry about water bottling practices in the state.

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What’s your story?

Just because you know my name doesn’t mean you know my story.

So said a speaker from Heartlines at TGIF this morning.

The speaker was Brian Helsy, and he told us how Heartlines was promoting a programme to encourage people to tell their stories, especially in urban areas.

wys-logo-640x300That makes sense, because in rural communities people tend to know each other’s stories, whereas urban anonymity means that many people don’t even know their neighbours’ names. I recall that I once heard a burglar alarm going off next door. I phoned the neighbours, only to discover that they had moved away two years before. We go to church and talk to people whose faces we know, but whose names we don’t know, and we are too shy to ask because it looks funny, asking someone’s name when you’ve been talking to them for the last 15 years.

So yes, it looks like a useful thing, and some of the material they have produced looks as though it could help. Some time in the next couple of months we’ll be taking some of the members of our Atteridgeville congregation to meet the Mamelodi congregation. It could be a good thing for people to tell their stories, and get to know each other better,

wyssmallBrian Helsby also mentioned that you could do this with family members, and that’s something we’ve been doing for the last 40 years, as part of our interest in family history. We’ve been asking relatives to tell their stories for a long time.

There are other considerations too. We did something like this in  our Mamelodi congregation a few years ago with the youth (when we had some youth there). We asked them to say what schools they went to One said he went to the Stanza Bopape High School. I asked if he knew who Stanza Bopape was, and if he could tell us anything about him. Neither he nor anyone else knew. Just because a school had his name does not mean that anyone knew his story. You can read Stanza Bopape’s story here.

That, and some comments by younger bloggers, made me aware that many young people, though they had heard about apartheid, had only a very vague idea of what it was about, and what life was like in the apartheid time. So I tried to tell some stories about the apartheid era, and encouraged other other people to do so. You can read about this, and some of the stories, at Tales from Dystopia.

It’s not the first time I’d heard of Heartlines, though. I first heard of it about 10 years ago, when it was promoting the moral regeneration movement. The Moral Regeneration Movement was a government initiative, headed by Jacob Zuma. I’m not sure that the moral rectitude/moral turpitude ratio is any better now than it was twen years ago.

 

Look who’s defending Western Christian Civilisation now!

Back in the 1950s and 1960s the National Party government in South Africa kept passing more and more repressive laws, which it claimed were necessary to defend Western (or “White” — the terms were interchangeable in Nat vocabulary) civilisation.

What were they defending it against?

The Communist menace, that’s what.

One of the first repressive laws they passed was the Suppression of Communism Act (Act 44 of 1950).

The National Party in South Africa and the Communist Party in Russia fell from power a couple of decades ago. The National Party has since disappeared from the scene, its remnants being absorbed into the DA and the ANC, which are now the two biggest parties in the South African parliament.

The Russian Communist Party, however, still exists, and look what they’re up to now:
В Госдуме создают депутатскую группу по защите христианских ценностей – говорят, что для пропаганды : Новости : Накануне.RU, which, being interpreted means

And here it is, from the horse’s mouth:

We intend to develop international cooperation for the common defense of Christian values, because we believe that the future of Europe, as well as the future of a revived Russian Federation does not conclude in a plantation of permissiveness, of total consumption, dehumanization, flouting the basic norms of human common life, and a return to traditional, orthodox Christian values.

That’s from Sergei Gavrilov, a Communist Party representative in the Russian Duma.

Sergei Chapnin, an Orthodox journalist in Russia, comments on Facebook:

What a disgrace for Russia! What a mockery of history! The Communists are going to defend Christian values​​, “the Communist Party Guide never took anti-Christian positions. You can not put the Communists in the current blame the sins of 20s, the acts of militant atheists YaroslavlGubelman or the latest large-scale Khrushchev’s persecution of the church in the early 60’s (S. Gavrilov, the Communist Party).

One doesn’t know whether to laugh of cry.

PamBG’s Blog: Christian Economic Life – Post 1: Foundation

Pam BC has just started an interesting series of posts on Christianity and economics. I’ve read the first two, and it looks very promising indeed. PamBG’s Blog: Christian Economic Life – Post 1: Foundation:

I’m going to try a thought-experiment here. I want to think about what an economy run on Christian principles might look like. And this is quite literally a ‘thought experiment’. At the moment, I have no idea of what I intend to write in the future, but I want simply to think out loud, building on ideas step by step.

So here are some initial thoughts for a foundation:

1) Christian thinking on economics should begin with Christian and biblical principles, not with economic principles.

2) That being said, it seems to me that a good principle for a Christian thought experiment on our economic life would be: honor God and love your neighbor. (There are actually a number of principles that the bible expresses on economic life that a lot of us might not like; forbidding the giving or receiving of debt is one of these.)

3) As I think and write, I will try to separate ‘What works’ from ‘What should be’. I will recognize that ‘What should be’ doesn’t always work well. In separating the two principles, I intend to avoid what seems to me to be a usual problem in Christian economic thinking: ‘That operational method doesn’t work, therefore it is unjust’.

That is a very good start, and I recommend that people who are interested in the topic read the whole series.

If one is really going to discuss such things properly, however, blog comments are rather inadequate. It is the kind of thing worth discussing in the Christianity and society forum.

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And you can see my take on it at Notes from underground: The Invisible Hand.

Seminar – "How To Love Your Enemies".

Pragmatic – Eclectic: Seminar – this weekend – “How To Love Your Enemies”.:

When was the last time you went to a Seminar on, How to love your enemies? How to bless those that curse you? Or, maybe, How to do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spit in your face? Here’s another – how to conduct our business or profession on behalf of Jesus Christ.

Now there’s a thought — it seems that these are not frequently to be seen among the topics for Christian self-help seminars, or among the titles of self-help books in bookshops. When can we expect one by Dr Phil or T.D. Jakes or Joel Osteen? Don’t hold your breath!

Random acts of political correctness

Yesterday I posted some thoughts about giving money to street beggars as an act of Christian charity that some people wanted to outlaw. A couple of commentators seemed to have a problem, or at least a query, about my calling this Christian. Then Notes from a Common-place Book: Those Wacko ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ Christians pointed me to this:
I’m Not One Of Those ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ Christians | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source:

I’m here to tell you there are lots of Christians who aren’t anything like the preconceived notions you may have. We’re not all into ‘turning the other cheek.’ We don’t spend our days committing random acts of kindness for no credit. And although we believe that the moral precepts in the Book of Leviticus are the infallible word of God, it doesn’t mean we’re all obsessed with extremist notions like ‘righteousness’ and ‘justice.’

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

Synchroblog on leadership

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

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

My own contribution is on Servant leadership.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Time to curb the ‘asset strippers and robbers’ who ruin the financial markets, say archbishops -Times Online

For more than thirty years the ideology of neoliberalism has spread throughout the world. It was enthusiastically propagated in the Reagan-Thatcher years and led to the mania for privatisation, which continues in South Africa and has led to the deterioration of our roads, the quality of our water, and many other things.

Church leaders have been slow to speak out about these things. It takes a well-publicised financial crisis to get people like the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury to start using words like “idolatry” when referring to it in public.

Time to curb the ‘asset strippers and robbers’ who ruin the financial markets, say archbishops -Times Online:

Leaders of the Church of England launched fierce attacks on the world’s stock market traders last night, condemning them as bank robbers and asset strippers and calling for a judicial review into Britain’s financial services.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York demanded stronger regulation and an end to speculation and living on debt.

Dr Rowan Williams spoke out in defence of Karl Marx, defending key aspects of his critique of capitalism and gave a warning that society was running the risk of idolatry in its relationship with wealth.

(Hat-tip to Fr David MacGregor)

The hidden and unintended consequences of the privatisation mania are now beginning to appear. Mutual building societies and insurance cooperatives went commercial, bribing thier members with “windfall” shares (actually, it was only part of their investment received in advance — they were mortgaging their future value to external shareholders). Some of them, like the Old Mutual, continue to use the word “mutual” in their names, to deceive the public. The Old Mutual should actually be called the “New Commercial”. One result of this can be seen in the collapse of Northern Rock in Britain.

Another unintended and unforeseen consequence of the privatisation mania can be seen in the deterioration of the quality of South Africa’s water.

News – Environment: SA water quality is fast deteriorating:

South Africa’s water quality is fast deteriorating but the shrinking scientific and engineering capacity to counter this is emerging as the ‘real crisis’ to strike the country.

This is according to Dr Anthony Turton, a senior water researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), who maintains that up to 50 percent of municipalities ‘do not even have one qualified engineer’ on their staff…

“The original work for that was done in the 1980s in massive programmes based at the CSIR,” says Turton. “Those programmes generated many PhD graduates, but also did the primary science on which future management will be based.

“Those programmes are no longer in existence and this is a national crisis of note. We need to recover the bits and pieces we can and then develop new national capacity,” says Turton…

“Nowhere else in the world is this happening so we cannot turn to other countries and say: ‘Please help us’. We as a nation will be required to solve this problem as a nation. This is where national science councils come in. They are national assets, but the current funding models are so restrictive that their potential is being reduced and the capacity they have is being privatised.”

The privatisation of national resources like the CSIR was begun under the National Party government in the 1980s, and has continued under the Thatcherist policies of the ANC. One of the reasons that our water supply has deteriorated under privatisation is that nobody stands to make a lot of money out of water research.

And only when it is actually staring them in the face do Christian leaders publicly speak out, and then mostly against the symptoms, not about the causes of the disease, which has been growing unchecked in the Western world since the 1980s, and metastatising throughout the world through globalisation.

The gospel of consumption

Information Clearing House – ICH:

Today “work and more work” is the accepted way of doing things. If anything, improvements to the labor-saving machinery since the 1920s have intensified the trend. Machines can save labor, but only if they go idle when we possess enough of what they can produce. In other words, the machinery offers us an opportunity to work less, an opportunity that as a society we have chosen not to take. Instead, we have allowed the owners of those machines to define their purpose: not reduction of labor, but “higher productivity”—and with it the imperative to consume virtually everything that the machinery can possibly produce.

In the sidebar of this blog there is a widget that shows what books I’m reading. I put it there because it might interest someone else who is reading or has read some of the same books. But I was always a bit worried about the name and the philosophy behind it: All Consuming. It actually doesn’t show which books I’m reading, but which I am “consuming”. But such is the world today that an act like reading is transformed into an act of consumption, which has, as the article quoted above suggests, become an ideology.

The immediately preceding article in this blog, about the New York Times’s views on Vladimir Putin’s views on religion illustrates this — the author of the NYT article clearly proceeds from an assumption that the consumer ideology is good, and evaluates everything else, including religion, in those terms.

One of the books I have been consuming (or rather “reading”) is Henry Thoreau’s Walden, which starts from an almost diametrically opposed point of view, as the following extract shows. Thoreau, while fishing, is caught in the rain, and takes shelter in a hut that he thought was unoccupied, but finds it inhabited by John Field, an Irishman, and his family, who worked “bogging” for a neighboring farmer.

I tried to help him with my experience, telling him that he was one of my nearest neighbors, and that I too, who came a-fishing here, and looked like a loafer, was getting my living like himself; that I lived in a tight, light and clean house, which hardly cost more than the annual rent of such a ruin as his commonly amounts to; and how, if he chose, he might in a month or two build himself a palace of his own; that I did not use tea, nor coffee, nor butter nor milk, nor flesh meat, and so did not have to work to get them; again, as I did not work hard, I did not have to eat hard, and it cost me but a trifle for my food; but as he began with tea, and coffee, and butter, and milk, and beef, he had to work hard to pay for them, and when he had worked hard he had to eat again to repair the waste of his system, — and so it was as broad as it was long, indeed it was broader than it was long, for he was discontented and wasted his life into the bargain; and yet he had rated it as a gain in coming to America, that here you could get tea, and coffee, and meat every day. But the only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state does not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other superfluous things which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things.

When I’ve finished reading Walden I think I shall rate it as “worth consuming”.

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