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Archive for the tag “Fundamentalism”

SABC: Sport and Faith

A few months ago there was an intense public debate about the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and its former head, Hlaudi Motsoeneng. I don’t know if the SABC has a new head yet, or if it is still drifting along flapping its wings like a headless chicken, but yesterday we were made acutely aware of two things that the new head, who ever that many be, should look into.


Yesterday there was a cricket match where the South African national team was playing against New Zealand. But only the rich could watch it on TV, and it wasn’t broadcast on steam radio at all.

Now this might not matter if you think that sport is a luxury, especially for spectators. No one actually needs to watch other people playing, and there’s nothing to stop them getting out and playing themselves — they could probably do with the exercise.

But the government also keeps banging on about “transformation” in sport, by which they mean that the demographic groups represented in national sports teams should reflect the demographic make-up of the country. But if only the rich can watch those sports on TV or radio, then only the rich will tend to play those sports. Those who can afford to pay to watch those sports on TV will also be the ones who can afford to send their children to the fee-paying schools where those sports are played and effectively coached. If you want to level the playing fields (pun intended) then you must make it possible for the widest range of people see our national teams play. And the government, which controls the SABC, needs to make sure that the SABC encourages this transformation by broadcasting matches where the national teams are playing, both home and away.


For the last few months, on Sundays when we go to church in Atteridgeville, we’ve caught the second part of a radio programme on SAfm called Facts of Faith. The first few times we heard it, it sounded like a paid denominational broadcast. There was a group of people drawn from various religious traditions who were asked to challenge the views of a very fundamentalist speaker, who then demolished their objections to his point of view in a rather condescending manner.

For a while we wondered which denomination was sponsoring the show. Was it Seventh-Day Adventists? Jehovah’s Witnesses? Or some new fundamentalist sect from the USA trying to gain a foothold in South Africa?

We listened to the end of the programme, but they never said which denomination was sponsoring it. It was followed, at 11:00 am by the Sunday morning church service, where one was told which church the service was in, so at least one knew what one was getting.

Eventually we looked up Facts of Faith on the web, and found that it apparently was not intended to be a paid denominational broadcast, however much it sounded like it. Instead it was

Facts of Faith is a platform for religious and faith communities to have a say in social, political, cultural, sexual and general issues. Facts of Faith affords the country and the general SAfm audience’s the benefit of hearing what faith communities have to say about the issues of the day.

Now that sounded as though it could be interesting, except that one wonders why they would broadcast it at a time when most Christians in the country would be in church, and so would not be able to hear it. That too seems a very sectarian thing to do. Nevertheless we continued to listen to the second half on the way home just because we found the main speaker so overbearing and annoying.

But yesterday’s one took the cake.

They were talking about women’s leadership in church, and there was a Muslim, and a bishop of something or other, and someone from the ACDP. We didn’t catch the names because we only started hearing it halfway through.

solascripAt one point they took phone callers from outside, and one caller said he could offer an interesting instance of something in African history that could illustrate women’s leadership from the point of view of Christianity, Islam and African Traditional Religion. He was quickly ruled out of order by the boss of the show (he was the boss, not a chairman or moderator or anything impartial like that). The name of the show, he said, was Facts of Faith, and that meant that they did not accept anything from history, or culture or tradition. It had to be from Scripture and Scripture only. Well that certainly confirmed the fundamentalist bias of the programme, and I was sad, because I would like to hear what the caller had to say.

And I wonder which “scriptures” are used by African traditional religions.



Jonestown – 30 years on

On the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre in Guyana, the media are running anniversary pieces. Such bizarre behaviour as mass suicide is usually attributed to “fundamentalists”, but in this case it was actually group from a “mainstream” Protestant denomination.

GetReligion “The press . . . just doesn’t get religion.” — William Schneider:

Jones was a minister in good standing of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), an absolutely normal denomination at the heart of the liberal Protestant ecumenical establishment. He was an idealist on the left and, as everyone knows, this kind of theocratic, cultish behavior is supposed to take place on the theological right, not the left. That’s where the wackos reside. Correct?

Thus, there has always been a tendency to avoid in-depth discussions of what Jones believed, what he preached and how his idealistic, progressive congregation — one committed to racial equality, free health care and social justice — evolved into an armed camp of suicidal killers lined up at a vat of cyanide and fake fruit juice.

Orthodoxy and Evangelical Protestantism

Benedict Seraphim has drawn attention to this report on Biola University and the Orthodox (Biola? Sounds like some kind of health drink!).

For those who may be interested, it is a comprehensive statement of what Orthodoxy looks like from an Evangelical Protestant point of view.

It has some serious flaws, however.

In the first item, on “justification”, it points out, quite correctly, that Orthodoxy does not accept the Protestant idea of forensic justification (based as it is, on the notion of penal substitution). But it makes the error of supposing that the Orthodox understanding of Theosis is comparable to the Protestant understanding of justification. A fairer comparison would be between Theosis and the Protestant understanding of sanctification. There may be differences, but at least it would be like comparing Cheddar with Camembert, rather than comparing chalk and cheese.

Much of the remainder of the document seems to make the Orthodox Church look like the Roman Catholic Church in precisely the areas where the Orthodox Church sees itself as differing from the Roman Catholic Church. The problem here is with the frame of reference. The Biola report looks through Western spectacles, with a Western frame of reference, and does not really take into account the different frame of reference.

We have found the enemy and he is…

I was surfing the Web this morning, and came across an announcement that the Institute for Progressive Christianity his holding a symposium on The Fight against Fundamentalism. (sorry, link no longer works)

It struck me as rather odd, and indeed likely to be counterproductive. There are surely more important issues to engage the attention of Christians in the world, whether they call themselves “Progressive” or “Fundamentalist” or “Emerging” or “Mainstream” or “Evangelical” or even “Orthodox” — issues like climate change, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia, trade imbalance, health and many more.

Why Fundamentalism?

Many years ago I was at a student gathering to discuss ecumenical cooperation among Christian students in South Africa, which was under threat from the Dutch Reformed Churches, who were advocating the splitting of the Students Christian Association into four separate ethnic bodies.

There was a visitor from overseas, Albert van den Heuvel. and in referring to the Gereformeerde Kerk, commonly known as the Doppers, the most conservative and fundamentalist of the three Dutch Reformed Churches, he said that Karl Barth had once said of the Doppers that one should not worry too much about them, because they believed that the Bible was the Word of God, and so one day God would speak to them through the Bible. And it was interesting that it was when South Africa had a Dopper president, F.W. de Klerk, that the opposition parties were unbanned, and negotiations begun that led to the first democratic elections in 1994.

Now historians may argue about whether that was caused by F.W. de Klerk’s Dopper conscience, or simply his political savvy, but the fact remains that it was a Dopper president.

Now some Fundamentalists may have strange and very unChristian political and social ideas, but the point remains — they believe the Bible is the word of God, and so some day God will speak to them through the Bible, and they will realise the error of their ways. Treating “Fundamentalism” as the enemy is really not likely to help in the process.

Orthodoxy and premodern and postmodern thinking

Bishop Seraphim Sigrist recently posted some notes for a paper he read on Christianity and Society in the Christianity and Society discussion forum, and has now posted a report on the retreat where he read the paper. The retreat was held at a Coptic centre, and his report is illustrated with some Coptic ikons of the desert saints and led to some interesting discussion in which Bishop Seraphim referred to a piece written by William Dalrymple on the role of miracles among Coptic Christians, and especially among the monks of the desert today.

I think this piece by Dalrymple is from his book From the Holy Mountain, in which he compares Near and Middle Eastern Christianity today with what it was like shortly before the Muslim conquest in the 7th century.

What it brings out most clearly are some of the characteristics of the premodern worldview. Compared with Western Christianity Orthodoxy is generally premodern, but in Coptic monks this can be seen in a particularly pure form.

What is interesting is to compare this approach to miracles to that of Western Fundamentalism, because the latter is clearly imbued with moderniity, and even modernism. The Western Fundamentalist approach to miracles seems to be that miracles are important because they are thought to prove some doctrinal or ideological point. Miracles have been taken up into a system of rational argumentation, and this approach is characteristic of the modern worldview. Read almost any theological discussion in Usenet newsgroups, for example alt.religion.christian and you will see that even when Christian fundamentalists are arguing with atheists, both presuppose the same modernist worldview.

I became acutely aware of this in discussions with some Calvinistic Baptists in Durban some thirty years ago. It was apparent that to them the resurrection of Christ was an important “fact”, because it was in the Bible. But it did not seem to be a significant fact. It was merely a kind of adjunct to the importance of the Bible and so another matter for rational argument and prooftexting. If one said to them “Christ is risen and the angels rejoice, Christ is risen and Hell was angered for it was mocked” they saw no cause for rejoicing but went scurrying to find proof texts to show that such rejoicing was unseemly and that it wasn’t so.

Compare this view with that of the Coptic monks, for whom rational argument occupies a much lower place in the scale of priorities. Miracles are not there to “prove” anything about anything, they are just there to enjoy the commuinion of saints and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Elizaphanian: Spiritual cancer (or: why I hate fundamentalism)

A good posting about Fundamentalism, which highlights many of the shortcomings of that ideology. I think this goes to the heart of the matter:

As such this doctrine shrivels the human spirit; it renders impotent the wider human faculties of intuition and imagination; it embraces the secular assumptions of Enlightenment modernism; it distorts what the Bible actually is.

While Fundamentalism was originally a reaction against modernism, it took on many of the characteristics of what it was reacting against.

Elizaphanian: Spiritual cancer (or: why I hate fundamentalism)

One of the problems in discussing Fundamentalism nowadays, however, is that the word “fundamentalist” has become a pejorative epithet among journalists for anyone who regards religion with anything other than bland indifference, thus obscuring what is really wrong with Fundamentalism. Elizaphanian helps to clear up some of the misunderstandings.

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