Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “moral regeneration”

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.

 

Moral regeneration redux

A friend recently wrote to me that he is in a quandary to know which party to vote for in next month’s general election that is:

  1. not corrupt
  2. not filled with monsters from the past
  3. not a joke

And I have to admit that I am in the same position.

COPE (the Congress of the People Party) in an apparently shrewd move, picked Mvume Dandala as their presidential candidate. A Methodist minister, and not a career politician, was perhaps a good choice to fight an anti-corruption campaign, but then they blew it by also choosing Allan Boesak. Of course the Pan African Congress (PAC) also chose a prominent Methodist minister, Stanley Mokhoba, in 1999, and still not no more than 1% of the vote.

In the 1990s, after the fall of Bolshevism, public opinion polls showed that in Russia the Church was the most trusted institution in society – above business, the army, politicians, academics. One resuly of this was that politicians were always looking for photo ops with church leaders, in the hope that some of the magic pixie dust would fall on them.

But when I was applying for a job at London Transport when I went to England as a student, and the only people I knew in England were clergy, they said that clergy were not acceptable as references. Anyone else but not clergy. Clergy, of course, as just as much sinners as anyone else, but in this case they were regarded as somehow more corrupt and even less truthful. So putting clergy as the public face of a political movement to show that it is honest can backfire.

A fellow-blogger and Methodist minister Dion Forster is involved in a new initiative to encourage ethical behaviour in all politicians, business people, civil servants and others, Unashamedly Ethical:

Unashamedly Ethical is a broad based, independent, initiative to promote ethics, values, and clean living among business and individuals. It challenges people to make a personal pledge to ethical living, and challenge others to do the same. In doing so we can turn the tide on corruption and poverty.

Now that could be a good idea, but I think some people are just too wedded to greed for it to make that much difference.

A pledge is a good thing. It is a good thing to encourage people to follow ethical values, and to agree to do so publicly. But perhaps something more is needed. Perhaps someone needs to record unethical behaviour as well. There are radio ads about not trying to bribe police officers, but how effective are they when police officers themselves solicit bribes?

Many years ago there was a court case when a Newcastle busnessman tried to bribe a traffic cop to quash a ticket. The traffic cop took the bribe, but the busnessman still had to go to court and pay his traffic fine, and he sued the traffic officer. The judge in that case threw it out of court, but not before making remarks about the unbelievable moral turpitude of both the plaintiff and the defendant. The trouble is that that kind of moral turpitude is now so commonplace as to be almost unremarkable.

As the Unashamedly Ethical web site says,

… people are tired of the injustice, abuse and lack of accountability we see all around us. People are constantly being challenged to change and to go public with their values and beliefs so that their peers and constituencies can hold them accountable.

But when foreigners are arrested and threatened with deportation by officials who threaten to destroy the papers that show they are here legally unless they get a bribe, it is often easier to pay the bribe. Thaking pledges are all very well, and can be good PR for business organisations, civil servants and politicians. It’s what happens when they break their pledge that might make the difference.

The swing to fascism in the USA and the UK

The swing to fascism in the USA and the UK seems to be becoming more pronounced. The rule of law is being undermined.

Justices Rule Terror Suspects Can Appeal in Civilian Courts – NYTimes.com:

The detainees at the center of the case decided on Thursday are not all typical of the people confined at Guant�namo. True, the majority were captured in Afghanistan or Pakistan. But the man who gave the case its title, Lakhdar Boumediene, is one of six Algerians who immigrated to Bosnia in the 1990’s and were legal residents there. They were arrested by Bosnian police within weeks of the Sept. 11 attacks on suspicion of plotting to attack the United States embassy in Sarajevo — “plucked from their homes, from their wives and children,” as their lawyer, Seth P. Waxman, a former solicitor general put it in the argument before the justices on Dec. 5.

The Supreme Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina ordered them released three months later for lack of evidence, whereupon the Bosnian police seized them and turned them over to the United States military, which sent them to Guant�namo.

Mr. Waxman argued before the United States Supreme Court that the six Algerians did not fit any authorized definition of enemy combatant, and therefore ought to be released.

Adventus comments on this:

One wonders how many ‘radical Islamists’ were individually identified as parties in this case, and why the evidentiary rulings of the Supreme Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina were dismissed so summarily.

I always thought Justice was blindfolded so it couldn’t see radical Islamists, but only facts and law, and rule accordingly. Well, at least 5 justices see things my way.

Earlier in the week the British Parliament extended detention without trial, and I watched horrified as they came up with the same arguments repeated ad nauseam by B.J. Vorster and his henchmen when they introduced detention without trial in South Africa in 1963.

The only person who made a stand for the rule of law was the Tory shadow home secretary, David Davis, who subsequently resigned his seat in parliament. In answer to him the Labour spokesman on Sky TV said that people should “look into their hearts” — and what he was saying, in effect, was that all the evil in their hearts, they should call good. And the media and parliamentary colleagues rounded on Davis, condemning his resignation as an egocentric publicity stunt. But given their fascist bias, I suspect that he is the only one of integrity among the lot of them.

A year ago, when Tony Blair tried, but failed, to get 90-day detention, the British media were speaking of him taking “the moral high ground”, and that was the worst of all, because what they were calling “the moral high ground” comes from the very pit of hell itself.

In the USA the majority of the Supreme Court upheld the rule of law, but there were some judges who did not, as Adventus notes.

What neither Adventus nor the New York Times remarked on, however, was the behaviour of the Bosnian police, which was, if anything, the scariest of the lot. That is the kind of thing that happened here in South Africa before 1994. That is the kind of thing that happened in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. That is the kind of thing that is happening right now in “Mad Bob” Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, and that is the kind of thing the British media are calling “the moral high ground”. And it was to establish this kind of contempt of the rule of law that Nato rained bombs on Yugoslavia and established the Bosnian state.

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter (Isaiah 5:20).

______________

Hat-tip to Tygerland for this list of links on the topic:

  • Liberty – Shami Chakrabarti’s statement and Liberty’s points of contention.
  • Amnesty – Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen’s statement.
  • OurKingdom – Anthony Barnett, OpenDemocracy’s founder and editor, ponders a new ally in David Davis.
  • Iain Weaver – takes a historical look at other MP’s who have put their career on the line for principle.
  • Chicken Yoghurt – Justin swings both ways as he weighs up Davis’ resignation.
  • Labour Outlook – has quotes and links-aplenty from around the media. Including news that Labour won’t stand against DD, with the view to making the Tories appear soft on terrorism. *sigh*

Moral regeneration, degeneration, confusion

There is much talk of the need for moral regneration. There is much talk of the need for values.

But it also seems that while many people agree that there is a need for values, they can’t agree on what those values are, and are determined to force other people to conform to their values rather than find what values they share in common, and agree to work together to promote those, and agree to disagree about the ones they don’t share.

There have been some examples in the news lately, and various people have blogged about them as well, including me.

Let’s start with the need for values.

Christian values only thing holding Britain together, says Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor:

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster and head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, on Monday said that “Judeo-Christian values” were the only thing holding British society together, the Guardian reports…

“People are looking for a common good in this country. A very large number of people are saying, ‘What is it that binds British people together?'” Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said. “There is no other heritage than the Judaeo-Christian heritage in this country.” Replacing that heritage with a “totally secular view of life,” the cardinal said, would lead the nation down “a very dangerous path.”

Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that many Jews find the “Judeo-Christian” epithet pretty offensive, regarding it as an attempt by Christians to co-opt them willy-nilly as part of a Christian agenda. Let’s look at the British “Judaeo-Christian heritage”. I can’t remember when it was that Jews got the vote in Britain, but I think it was some time after the Catholics.

So let’s leave aside the Jews for the moment, since they were excluded from contributing to the heritage for so long. Let’s look at the Christian part of that heritage. The Anglicans in England and Wales had votes before the Jews and Catholics did, but today they are tearing themselves apart because they can’t agree on sexual morality. As I noted in a post on my other blog, African Anglicans and homosexuality, the Anglican Communion seems to be having its very own clash of civilizations between Western and African civilizations.

In that post the point was that African Anglicans who lived in close proximity to Muslims, as they do in Nigeria and Uganda, recall the very beginnings of their church, which began with the martyrdom of Christian pages at the court of the King of Buganda, who “had adopted Arab customs of pederasty, and he expected the young men of his court to submit to his demands. But a growing number of Christian courtiers and pages refused to participate, despite his threats, and an enraged king launched a persecution that resulted in hundreds of martyrdoms”.

Think for a moment of those “Arab customs of pederasty”, and now switch to something I blogged about just a few days ago in this blog: Notes from underground: Muslim parents ask UK schools to shelve pro-homosexual storybooks for 5-year-olds.

It seems that the Anglicans are not the only ones who find it hard to agree on sexual morality.

And who was it who represented Britain’s “Judaeo-Christian heritage” — the school authorities who prescribed the story books, or the Muslim parents who objected to them?

Now the accuracy of the story has been questioned, but assuming that it is true in outline, what is doing on here?

Ostensibly the reason for prescribing such stories is to prevent bullying in schools.

Now I haven’t read the stories, and the descriptions in the news media may not be accurate, but the parental objections seem to be not that the stories are aimed at preventing bullying, but that they are teaching their five-year-old children sexual ethics that the parents disagree with, and don’t say much about bullying. I wonder if those stories would have dissuaded the King of Buganda from bullying his pages?

It seems rather disingenuous.

Think about it another way. I bet that quite a number of Muslim kids in Britain are bullied by non-Muslim kids who tease them and say that their big brothers are making bombs in the attic. So how should this bullying be dealt with? Write story books for little kids showing that it’s cool to make bombs?

One could go on multiplying examples to show that one of the main difficulties in the way of promoting moral regeneration and education in values is that people simply cannot agree which system of values to promote, and this leads to unedifying power struggles, with Anglicans in America suing one another over ownership of church buildings as a result of their failure to agree and determination to impose their set of values on everyone else.

In the mean time, things continue to get worse, as we see in an incident that took place closer to home, right here in Gauteng.

clipped from www.thetimes.co.za

While police are still in the dark about the identity of the driver who shot and killed a 12-year-old smash-and-grabber, it appears many South Africans have little sympathy for the young boy.

Comments on The Times website seemed to weigh in favour of the unknown gunman who killed the boy in Boksburg on Friday, with some even suggesting the killing of the youngster rid the country of a future criminal.

The boy was shot after he apparently smashed the window of a white Citi Golf on Rondebult Road in Boksburg, East of Johannesburg, and stole a cellphone. A witness claimed the boy ran away, but was chased by the driver who shot him in the chest and then fled the scene in his car.

blog it

Yes, there does seem to be a need for education in values in our society.

It seems that nobody taught this boy “Thou shalt not steal.”

And nobody taught the driver of the car, “Thou shalt not kill.”

Or perhaps someone taught them that, but they didn’t learn it. As they say in edu-jargon, the learning outcomes were not achieved.

And the reported response of people to the incident shows that that failure is widespread throughout our society.

Quaker teacher fired for changing loyalty oath

With all the hoo-hah about introducing a pledge of allegiance in South African schools, I was quite interested in this story:

Quaker teacher fired for changing loyalty oath:

California State University East Bay has fired a math teacher after six weeks on the job because she inserted the word ‘nonviolently’ in her state-required Oath of Allegiance form.

Marianne Kearney-Brown, a Quaker and graduate student who began teaching remedial math to undergrads Jan. 7, lost her $700-a-month part-time job after refusing to sign an 87-word Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution that the state requires of elected officials and public employees.

and

A veteran public school math teacher who specializes in helping struggling students, Kearney-Brown, 50, had signed the oath before – but had modified it each time.

She signed the oath 15 years ago, when she taught eighth-grade math in Sonoma. And she signed it again when she began a 12-year stint in Vallejo high schools.

Each time, when asked to “swear (or affirm)” that she would “support and defend” the U.S. and state Constitutions “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Kearney-Brown inserted revisions: She wrote “nonviolently” in front of the word “support,” crossed out “swear,” and circled “affirm.” All were to conform with her Quaker beliefs, she said.

The school districts always accepted her modifications, Kearney-Brown said.

But Cal State East Bay wouldn’t, and she was fired on Thursday.

Quakers have a reputation for that, and I say more power to their elbow. South African law courts are supposed to give you the choice of swearing or affirming, but in my experience they rarely do. I get the impression that objecting and asking to affirm would prejudice the judge or magistrate against you for wasting the court’s time.

I’m in two minds about the proposed pledge of allegiance in schools. Some have objected to the wording, saying that recognising the injustices of the past makes kids responsible for things that happened before they were born. I don’t see that it does. I think it’s OK if kids recognise that certain things that happened in the past were unjust, and resolve not to allow them to happen again in their generation.

The problem I have with it is that making that kind of thing compulsory in schools smacks a bit like the indoctrination of the young, which was one of the injustices of the past. It leads to the kind of patriotism that overflows into chauvinism and jingoism and leads in turn to imperialist wars like the US invasion of Iraq, and a spirit that can be seen on so many right-wing American blogs that are all over pictures of bald eagles draped with American flags, like this one, or this one, or even this one. Do we really want to promote those kinds of attitudes in our schools?

Yes, there is a concern that is sometimes expressed about the need for moral regeneration, and the fact that the youth of today often seem to want it all and want it now, unlike the self-seacrificing Spirit of the Youth of ’76. But where are they now, and what are they doing? What is the example they set, with everyone wanting to be the next tycoon? Rather than forcing the youth to recite pledges, let their elders set an example that doesn’t exalt greed to the highest of the virtues.

I think that one brave Quaker teacher is worth 1000 recitations of a pledge of allegiance.

Whatever happened to Liberation Theology?

Up to 1994 many Christian groups in South Africa were in the forefront of the struggle against apartheid. Some took an interest in Liberation Theology and used some of the ideas of Liberation Theology as a spur to action in the struggle against apartheid.

But since 1994 these very same Christian bodies seem to have lost their way. There seems to be a lack of cohesive vision, and I’ve sometimes wondered whether we actually need a common enemy to give it to us. Is it easier to unite around a common enemy than a common Lord?

I was reminded of this when I read a blog post in which Mike’s Bursell muses about: Liberation theology — challenging

I’ve just been reading Gorringe, who cites Segundo talking about the bottom line commitment for liberation theology is the option for the poor. I think the thing I’m trying to come to terms with is that although I absolutely accept the enormous inequalities – unchristian inequalities – that riddle our society, and the impact that has on the poorest in society, I’m not sure that I’m ready to take on board what seems to be the central tenet of liberation theology: that our first and foremost task must always be the reconstituting of society in such a way as to alleviate – and remove – economic poverty.

And that in turn reminded me of what a friend of mine, Shirley Davies, used to say back in the 1960s — that when South Africa solved the problem of the black and the white, it would come face to face with the real problem: the problem of the haves and the have-nots.

And that has in fact happened, as can be seen, for example, in the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement, and the harassing of the homeless by the police and government officials. Of 1500 homeless people and refugees arrested recently at the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg only 15 were eventually charged with being illegal immigrants. As in the bad old days of pass raids, most of those arrested were not allowed to fetch their documents to show that they were in the country legally.

I’ve written about liberation theology before, in Christianity – North and South, and Orthodoxy and liberation theology, so I will try not to repeat too much of what I have said before here.

In 1994 we had our first democratic and nonracial elections, and it was a vast improvement on what went before. We have free and democratic political institutions and a start was made on the dismantling of apartheid.

But though there was a lot of political rhetoric about the poor, and jobs, and things like that, very little was actually done. The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) which was supposed to deal with some of these problems was abandoned within a year. Instead there was “Black Economic Empowerment” (BEE), which might more accurately be described as Black Elite Enrichment. It was a preferential option for the rich. My wife worked for a BEE company for a while, and met many people, both in the company and those it did business with, whose sole motivation appeared to be greed. They didn’t just want to be rich, they wanted to be inordinately and excessively rich. And in part that is because we live in a society that espouses and accepts those values. This is not unique to South Africa. But it is something to think about when we talk of “moral regeneration”.

Before 1994 a lot of money flowed in to South Africa to NGOs, both faith-based and secular, that were involved in trying to improve the lot of the poor. After 1994 such funding went to the government. That might have been a good thing, if the government had followed through on the RDP, but it didn’t. It abandoned the RDP.

Back in the 1970s some Christian groups in Zululand were anxious to do something about community development. They brought in a community development expert, Milton Rosner, who told them that they were dreaming — nothing smaller than a government could do community development. But since the government was more interested in destroying communities than developing them, then if the churches wanted to do something they needed to pool their resources. “We must work ecumenically and not denominationally” became the mantra (overlooking a better slogan, that might have sounded a warning, “Small is beautiful”).

So the Anglican Church’s Zululand Diocesan Health and Welfare Association (known as HelWel or Zisizeni for short) became the Zululand Churches Health and Welfare Association. But because everyone’s responsibility is no one’s responsibility it became administratively top-heavy, and consumed more and more resources to achieve less and less development.

Better to remember that “small is beautiful”, and we should work denominationally rather than ecumenically. Could an ecumenical bureaucracy provide shelter for 1500 homeless people as the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg has done? I very much doubt it.

All this has little to do with the often convoluted expressions of liberation theology, which are often even more abstract and difficult to understand than other forms of theology. But one of the things that most exponents of liberation theology did manage to convey was that practice (or praxis, as they called it) was more important than the obscure theories.

So when the Christian groups in South Africa lost their way and became rudderless and directionless at the end of apartheid, perhaps one of the things they could have done (and could still do) would be to pick up the RDP, which the government dropped, and run with it. Have a look at the ANC’s document on Reconstruction and development — there’s a lot of good stuff in it — and see what can be applied.

But it would be important to learn from the mistakes of the past. We should work denominationally, not ecumenically. Ecumenical bodies, like councils of churches, should play a coordinating role, rather than being involved in micromanagement of projects. That should be done by their member churches. Bureaucratic centralisation should be avoided at all costs.

But perhaps even more important is what one of the earliest advocates of liberation theology, Dom Helder Camara of Brazil, advocated. We must conscientizar the masses. Later that was translated into English as “conscientise”, along with a lot of other obscure jargon.

But the conscientising and moral regeneration must begin at home. Before we can achieve anything we must convince our church members that greed is not a Christian value.

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