Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “racism”

Protest against Facebook’s racism

Quite a number of people that I know on Facebook are not happy about Facebook’s racism, when they offered a French flag to cover one’s profile picture and urged people to Change your profile picture to support France and the people of Paris.

Lebanese Flag, posted on Facebook by Bruce Henderson

Lebanese Flag, posted on Facebook by Bruce Henderson

After the news that more than 120 people had been killed in terrorist attacks in the city, many people did change their profile pictures, but I and several others did not. It was not because we do not find the violence reprehensible, or that we do not sympathise with the victims. But we wondered why Facebook had not offered a similar option with the Lebanese flag the day before, when similar attacks had taken place in Beirut.

On Saturday a cousin’s husband posted a Lebanese flag (a cousin on the Hannan side of the family, in case anyone wants to know), and said the following:

Bruce Henderson

14 November at 12:08 ·

Today we see all the outpouring of sympathy for people I. Paris, but when will the western news puppets remember that on Thursday 41 people were killed in Beirut. Or is Lebanon not enough of a “friendly” nation. If you are gonna pray for Paris, remember Lebanon too. Terrorism is terrorism.

In the USA there has recently been a sustained attack by some people against the idea that all lives matter (if you don’t believe me, just Google “All lives matter”). And Facebook, by offering this option in one case, but not the other, appears to be part of this trend. In Facebook’s view, if Lebanese lives matter at all, they matter a lot less than French lives.

#BlackLivesMatter ? Not to Facebook

#BlackLivesMatter ? Not to Facebook

Earlier in the year, 147 students were victims of a terrorist massacre in Kenya — more than in Paris. Facebook never suggested that people change their profile picture to support the people of Kenya, nor did they offer a Kenyan flag to make it easy for people to do so.

So someone posted the graphic on the right. Not quite fair, I think, because Facebook did not offer the option of posting any of those flags. If it had, maybe more people would have posted them.

Similar events have also taken place in Nigeria. At one time there was a hashtag on Twitter #bringbackourgirls but Facebook did not offer a Nigerian flag either.

Like and share this on Facebook if you are not happy with Facebook's racism.

Like and share this on Facebook if you are not happy with Facebook’s racism.

And then someone else posted this graphic on Facebook, obviously trying to do what Facebook has refused to do.

If you don’t like Facebook’s racism, why not like and share one or more of these on Facebook, whether you have covered your profile picture with a French flag or not.



Charleston massacre: a mirror of our conflicted society?

Last week, as most people will know, a man called Dylann Roof was arrested and charged with murder for shooting several people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, USA.

The killings and the reaction to them, show something of the strange kind of society we live in. A comment that a friend posted on Facebook seems to encapsulate it:

Charleston killer says “I almost didn’t go through with it, because they were so nice to me.” It is very hard to know what emotion is appropriate when one hears this. I wish Roof could have been exposed to these parishioners of Emanuel a bit earlier in his life, in which case we might never have been reading about him at all.

Lord, have mercy!

Mass murders of this sort seem to have become so common in the USA that they no longer make front-page news, or have an impact on social media in South Africa. The news of Jacob Zuma’s question time in parliament and the Roman Pope’s encyclical on the environment seemed to provoke much more comment.

RoofDThe killing in South Carolina did spark off some discussion in South Africa because the man accused of the murders, Dylann Roof, appeared in a picture sporting two flags that represent racist regimes of the past — South Africa before 1994, and Ian Smith’s UDI Rhodesia. That seems to indicate that he regarded white racism in southern Africa as a source of inspiration. So that throws the spotlight on South African white racism too.

The question of why he did it, and how you describe it has become a talking point. Was he a terrorist? Was he a lone loony? Was he mentally disturbed? Was it a “hate crime”? These questions, and the answers that people suggest, become a mirror of our society.

In South Africa we might say that he went te kere.

“Going te kere” is perhaps a strange expression, because it can mean anything from a parent giving a teenager a bollocking for staying out too late to mass murder. But “going te kere” means snapping, losing one’s temper, doing one’s nut. And the comment attributed to him at the beginning of this article indicates that he didn’t actually go te kere. He didn’t lose control. He had to force himself  to carry out the killings that he had planned to do beforehand. The people were so nice to him that he had to deliberately suppress the temptation to be diverted from the task he had set himself, to repay love with hatred. In that sense, yes, it was a “hate crime”. But if that is so, it was not a crime inspired by an emotion of hate, but rather by a cold calculating effort of will, a dedication to an ideology of racial hatred.

Does this make his actions those of a social misfit, a lone wolf, someone so at odds with the values of society that he must be seen as a social menace, to be locked away?

I think that in many ways he is a reflection of the values of society. US President Barack Obama does the same thing as Dylann Roof is accused of doing, not as a once off attempt, but every week, sending out drones to kill people. He is not going te kere. It is a cold, calculated deliberate act. It is something that permeates society from top to bottom.

If we dismiss Dylann Roof’s actions as the acts of a madman, a social misfit, someone mentally disturbed, we can comfort ourselvs with the thought that we aren’t like that. There are people like us and there are people like him, and we are better off without people like him. But that is just the kind of thinking that drove him to do what he is alleged to have done.

All we can really say is, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

GunCont2Such events also seem to provoke strange American rants about gun control. Graphics like those on the right start appearing on Facebook and other places on the web, and people rant about the evils of gun control.

I must confess that I don’t understand their point, and especially the point of images like the one of smashed cars. One would assume, from these pictures, that they think traffic control is as evil as gun control, that they are asking for the repeal of all traffic laws. I suppose the difference is that the US Constitution doesn’t guarantee people the right to own and drive cars.

GunCont1But if you don’t object to traffic control, why object to gun control? They are actually very similar. I simply cannot understand why people apparently put up with one, and strenuously object to the other.

In a way that is incidental to the question of mass murder, except that whenever there is an incident of mass murder by shooting, the gun control freaks seem to come out of the woodwork. And in this case it is perhaps stranger still, because it seems that one of the charges against Dylann Roof is that he was in illegal possession of a firearm, which suggests that there is already a certain amount of gun control, at least in Chartleston, South Carolina.

This event is not something exceptional. It is something that the President of the USA does regularly and frequently with drones strikes. It is something that members of our South African Police Service did at Marikana, showing how little we have been transformed since the time of the apartheid state that Dylann Roof apparently admired. Transformation is something we talk about, but don’t often see.

So these murders are not the exceptional acts of a madman; they are a reflection of fallen human nature, a nature that we all share. And if that were the end of the story, there would be little hope for any of us. When we look at Dylann Roof, we cannot condemn him as an exception, and distance ourselves from him as if we were not like that. We pray before receiving holy communion, recalling that our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, “of whom I am first.” I am the first, not Dylann Roof, not Barack Obama, not Vladimir Putin, not Jacob Zuma, not Adolf Hitler. I am the first.

But fallen human nature is not the last word, and we can catch a glimpse of transformed human nature in the response of the families and survivors of the church shooting A Lesson on Forgiveness from the Families of the Charleston Shooting Victims- ‘We Forgive Him’:

The victim’s kins [sic] spoke to the killer and did something that most people would not have been able to do less than 48 hours of their loved ones murder- which was forgive Dylann.

Viewers watched as one, by one, sisters, children and grandchildren of all victims extended an olive branch from the depths of their souls, while they each forgave their late loved ones’ killer

Lord have mercy.

Apartheid and racism in children’s literature

A couple of years ago I reviewed a book on Apartheid and racism in children’s literature, and commented on how I had tried to deal with that theme in a book I had written, Of wheels and witches.

wheelscovSince my book has now been published, I thought it might be good to link it with the blog post that deals with how I tried to deal with those themes in writing it. If you’re interested in reading it, you can get a free 20% sample at Smashwords, with the option of downloading the whole thing if you haven’t already been bored by it.

There is at least one review of it on Good Reads here, and I hope others may be moved to post reviews of it there or elsewhere, either before or after reading the linked post on apartheid in children’s literature.

There’s one other thing.

Good Reads has lists of books of various types, and there didn’t seem to be any list for children’s or young adult books set in southern Africa, so I created such a list, and added this and a couple of other books to it. Please feel free to add more books to the list, and to vote for this book if you liked it, or for others in that category that you have liked. Please add it to any other lists on Good Reads that you think it may belong to.



Racism in Pietersburg

Thirty years ago I was visiting a then-disadvantaged (now previously-disadvantaged) university, the University of the North at Sovenga, near Pietersburg (now Polokwane).

It was one of the “tribal colleges” founded in pursuance of the Extension of University Education Act No 45 of 1959. This act made “it a criminal offence for a non-white student to register at a hitherto open university without the written consent of the Minister of Internal Affairs” (Lapping 1986: 184).

It also “provided for the establishment of a series of new ethnically-based institutions for Blacks, together with separate universities for Coloureds and Indians”.

The University of the North was one of those creations of apartheid, but in conversation with a couple of lecturers I learnt how it bit back at its creators.

Extract from my diary for 13 May 1984

After lunch I had a long chat with one of the churchwardens and another bloke who were lecturers at the university. One of them told me that the presence of the university had made a big difference to the attitude of the whites in Pietersburg. The whites had always insisted that a black man get off the pavement when a white man came along, and if blacks did not move into the gutter, the whites would elbow them off.

That all changed when the university started. One group of students, who were karate experts, went to town and walked down the street, and when some whites tried to elbow them off, they remonstrated with them, and were attacked for their pains, but were able to give as good as they got, and were charged with assault. They were defended by a lecturer in the law faculty, who asked the magistrate if, when there was a fight between whites and blacks in Pietersburg, it was more likely that the whites would have attacked the blacks or vice versa, and the magistrate decided the whites were more likely to have started it, and let the blacks off.

I had thought of including this as one of my Tales from Dystopia on my other blog, but decided it was too much of a second-hand story, and not something that related to my personal experience. But I still think it is worth telling.



Six pictures worth 60000 words

I came across this little cartoon strip on Facebook, and “shared” it there, but I think it deserves more than that. It’s about black-white relations in the USA, but is in many ways just as applicable to South Africa.

And it reminds me of an American trade union song I learnt many years ago (sung to the tune of The battle hymn of the republic also known as John Brown’s body)

It is we who ploughed the prairies, built the cities where they trade
Dug the mines and built the factories, endless miles of railroad laid
Now we stand outcast and starving mid the wonders we have made
But union makes us strong.

Solidarity for ever!
Solidarity for ever!
Solidarity for ever!
The union makes us strong.

Viva Vavi!


Seeking asylum: varying views from five continents

Asylum seekers seem to keep on making news. In some places, like Australia, asylum seekers are regarded as criminals, and the media sometimes refer to “suspected asylum seekers”, as though seeking asylum was a crime one could be suspected of committing.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been signed by most countries, says:

Article 14.

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

In Canada, it seems, this right has been respected even when it seems contrary to Section (2) above: Row as Canada gives asylum to white South African | World news | The Guardian

Asylum seeker Brandon Huntley claimed he had been persecuted, abused and repeatedly stabbed. But it was the reason he gave for his ordeal that caused a diplomatic rift today. Huntley is South African – and white.

Canada’s decision to grant him refugee status because of his colour prompted accusations of racism from the South African government and a fresh bout of soul searching in a country still scarred by the legacy of apartheid. Some South African whites say they have become a persecuted minority.

But France refused asylum to Vladimir Popov, Yekaterina Popova and their two children, who claimed that they were persecuted in Kazakhstan because they were Orthodox Christians and ethic Russians. French authorities kept them in detention for two weeks and repeatedly tried to deport them to Kazakhstan. That seems to be in line with the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia and, in some cases, South Africa.

But in this case the European Court of Human Rights disagreed Interfax-Religion

The European Court of Human Rights found France guilty of violating Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), Article 5 (right to liberty and security) and Article 8 (right to respect to private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and ordered France to pay the family 13,000 euros.

So here are five different countries — Australia, Canada, France, Kazakhstan, and South Africa — on five different continents, with very different attitudes to asylum seekers and asylum seeking. For some seeking asylum is a human right, for others it is a crime.


Whiteness just isn’t what it used to be – book review

Whiteness Just Isn't What It Used to BeWhiteness Just Isn’t What It Used to Be”: White Identity in a Changing South Africa (Suny Series, Interruptions: Border Testimony by Melissa E. Steyn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For most of my lifetime obsession with whiteness has dominated South African politics, society, economy and even the landscape. When I heard quite recently that there was an academic discipline called “Whiteness Studies” my immediate reaction was negative. Some of my blogging friends assured me that they had found it useful, and this was one of the books they recommended, and since it was based on stories told by people I found it in the library and began reading it.

Melissa Steyn collected stories from 59 white people in South Africa and divided the narratives into different categories, and commented on the various approaches. This book is the result.

The first chapter is a kind of potted history of “Whiteness Studies” and the various view its practitioners have taken to the phenomenon of “whiteness” in a global sense. In part it deals with the fairly well-known phenomenon of Western modernity, where Westerners (mainly from Western Europe and North America) thought that their society was central and normative, and others quaint and peculiar and exotic. So, for example, Western anthropologists confined their studies to non-Western cultures (and often did so in the service of colonial rulers). The proponents of Whiteness Studies call this kind of cultural chauvinism “whiteness”. But even after reading Steyn’s book, I am not convinced of the adequacy of the description, and I find that Steyn herself falls into the same cultural chauvinist trap by not disclosing where she is coming from, and pretending to be “objective”, even when she is aware of the dangers of that approach.

The main manifestation of this in the book is that, while the bulk of the book is devoted to the the analysis of people’s responses to Steyn’s questionnaire, the questions that elicited those responses are not revealed to the reader. If this forms the bulk of the book, then surely the questions themselves could have been put in an appendix. Apart from anything else, that might give readera a chance to try to answer the questions too, and try to analyse their own responses.

In addition, while Steyn collected 59 narratives, these narrators are not really allowed to tell their own story. Steyn is the only narrator, setting the scene, telling the story, and pulling a quotation, sometimes as short as a single sentence, to illustrate the point in her story. So I get the impression of a stage magician, displaying tricks to an audience, with the quotations from the stories being pulled out like a rabbit from a hat or a coin from the sleeve at the appropriate moment, with only Steyn really knowing what is going on behind the scenes.

For instance, there is this:

Such is the fear of being perceived to be aligned with what is morally reproachable that even to talk about “race” could implicate one in racism. The topic is a no-no:

“Whites can never know how blacks were affected by Apartheid. [computer analyst] “

At first sight, this seems to be a complete non-sequitur. It certainly doesn’t seem to be an instance of race being a “no–no”, because it mentions race (“whites”, “blacks”) and the relations between them (“Apartheid”). Either Steyn is misrepresenting the narrator, or she is interpreting it in the light of its context, which she has failed to quote, and this is withheld from the reader.

Taken on its own, the sentence can be interpreted in a variety of ways, of which the most likely (it seems to me), is that since, because of Apartheid, whites were separated from blacks, they could not know how blacks were affected by apartheid because they were kept isolated, and whites could not see what was happening, and their was little comparable in their experience. For instance, if a black man died in town, his wife and children, if they were allowed to live in the town at all, would be endorsed out to a “homeland” because they became surplus to the labour requirements of white society. Much of this was invisible to most whites, and so they did not know and could not know the extent to which this took place, nor what it was like do be endorsed out and forced to go and live in a rural area where you knew no one.

Maybe the context shows that the narrator meant something different, but Steyn does not show us the context.

Similarly, Steyn castigates those she regards as adopting a liberal “colourblind” approach, saying that they are “in denial”, yet when, in another section of the book, she cites an example of that approach, she praises it.

The Apartheid system tried to make me think about “white” in a certain way and about “black” in another way. I strive to define my own reality and I try to avoid being hamstrung by other people’s projections. [lecturer]

Steyn says “Whatever whiteness may have meant in the past, this narrative perks up in tone when it considers what may develop now that whiteness has lost its power to dominate.”

Yet elsewhere she says that to claim that whiteness has lost its power to dominate is to be in denial. The difference, if any, isd hidden behind the stage magician’s black cloth that she pulls away to reveal the rabbit in the hat.

One of the narratives, however, I could identify with:

I have discovered that, despite apartheid, I have more in common with black South Africans than with other whites, be they British, Dutch, French or American… When I first went overseas in 1986 I thought because of my colonial British background I would find Britain home. Instead I became increasingly aware that I was not British, and that I was African. This is how I came to see myself as a white African. [lecturer]

I wrote something very similar in a blog post at What is African? Race and identity | Khanya long before I had ever heard of “whiteness studies”.

Steyn summarises the argument of the Introduction in her conclusion

In the Introduction, whiteness has been theorized as the racial norm, the invisible center that deflects attention from itself by racializing the margins, and constructing them as the problem. Whiteness then believes in its own homogeneous neutrality. Whites are then described [in the Introduction – STH] as generally unaware of their own racialization, unconscious of their privilege, or of how their implicit assumptions of white entitlement are a consequence of certain historical relations, not something essential about whiteness itself.

I’d go along with that, especially where North America is concerned (and Steyn wrote the book while living in North America). South Africa, however, is somewhat different. Whiteness was anything but unconscious.

But it appears that Steyn was also suffering from the same disease.

On page 26, writing of English-speaking South Africans’ attitudes towards poor rural Afrikaners, she writes, “Like ethnic working class whites and partially racialized groups in America, Afrikaners had to ‘fight’ for the status of first class citizens.”

“Ethnic working class” what are they? Just as “whiteness” is invisible to the dominant white group in America, so is ethnicity. “Ethnic” whites are the “other”, the “them”. And Steyn uses that terminology without batting an eyelid, withouit scare quotes, without even the almost obligatory [sic] used in some academic writing when politically incorrect language comes up. But Steyn is not quoting, she is using the terminology herself, thus identifying with those who believe they have no ethnicity, and manifesting “ethnic blindness”.

Perhaps I might have read this book differently if I had read it before engaging in a discussion on whiteness studies with some others (see Whiteness, whiteliness and White Studies | Khanya).

And one of the biggest problems I have with this book is that it seems to be saying that even if we have deconstructed whiteness, and dumped it, we must now reconstruct it in order to deconstruct it again, like Sisyphus. It’s a bit like a child being told by its mother, “You must have a bath tonight, whether you need it or not.” And the proponents of whiteness studies seem to be saying “You must have an identity crisis, whether you need one or not.”

One thing I will say, though. I didn’t find it boring. It was a page-turner.

View all my reviews


Racial epithets

There has been an interesting discussion on the English usage newsgroup alt.usage.english recently. It started with someone asking whether African-Americans should be referred to as “Black” or “black” (with or without a capital “b”.

I kept out of it at that stage, because I’m not American and certainly not a fundi on American usage.

But then it broadened, as these things inevitably do, and some people were asking about racial and ethnic terms in South Africa, and one person said he thought that Hindus in South Africa were called “black”. And someone else said that the apartheid terminology was “Indians”.

Well, no. “Indians” was the pre-apartheid terminology, and it was applied to Hindus and Muslims indiscriminately if they or their ancestors came from the Indian subcontinent, which is now divided into India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

One of the first acts of the apartheid government was to pass the Population Registration Act of 1950, which required that everyone have their population group registered, and this was done in the population census of 1951. Everyone was given a race (or population group) classification, which was one of Asiatic, Bantu, Coloured or White (all with capital letters, because they were official). Indians, Nepalese, Pakistanis etc were all lumped together under “Asiatic”. In the 1970s the canons of political correctness were changed, and Asiatics became Asians, while Bantu became Blacks.

Then there was this snippet, with my reply:

>Apparently “brown” is now used to some degree to refer to
>Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S.

It is also used as a self-description by some former so-called “Coloureds” who are still so called in official documents in our so called “non-racial” democracy (scare quotes deliberate, indicating two-finger gestures with both hands in viva voce situations).

The Population Registration Act has been repealed, yet the same racial epithets continue to be used, though they are no longer defined. Apartheid may be dead, but it still rules from the grave, and its legacy lingers on.


Arab guilty of rape after consensual sex with Jew | World news | The Guardian

I’m a bit wary of citing the Guardian after their disingenuous distortions about the Catholic Church, so this one might need to be chacked against a more reliable source. Arab guilty of rape after consensual sex with Jew | The Guardian:

A Palestinian man has been convicted of rape after having consensual sex with a woman who had believed him to be a fellow Jew.

Sabbar Kashur, 30, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Monday after the court ruled that he was guilty of rape by deception. According to the complaint filed by the woman with the Jerusalem district court, the two met in downtown Jerusalem in September 2008 where Kashur, an Arab from East Jerusalem, introduced himself as a Jewish bachelor seeking a serious relationship. The two then had consensual sex in a nearby building before Kashur left.

When she later found out that he was not Jewish but an Arab, she filed a criminal complaint for rape and indecent assault.

I’ve been reading The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell, the fictional memoirs of an SS officer in the Second World War.

At one point in the story the police are investigating him as a suspect in the murder of his mother, and he goes to visit his boss, Himmler, to persuade him to quash the charge. And the news story above reminded me of Himmler’s reply:

Obersturmbannfuehrer, I’m beginning to know you. You have your faults: you are, excuse me for saying so, stubborn and sometimes pedantic. But I don’t see the slightest trace of a moral defect in you. Racially, you are a perfect Nordic specimen, with perhaps just a touch of alpine blood. Only the racially degenerate nations, Poles, Gypsies, can commit matricide. Or else a hot-blooded Italian, during a quarrel, not in cold blood. No, it’s ridiculous. The Kripo is completely lacking in discernment. I’ll have to give instructions to Gruppenfuehrer Nebe to have his men trained in racial analysis, they’ll waste much less time that way.

OK, it’s fiction, but the rape story seems to bear out what the Brazilian educationist, Paolo Freire, said in his book Pedagogy of the oppressed:

During the initial stage of the struggle the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or ‘sub-oppressors.’ The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped. Their ideal is to be men, but for them, to be men is to be oppressors. This is their model of humanity.


The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom misacquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man, nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.

Does the story of the rape trial illustrate Freire’s thesis of the oppressed internalising the image of the oppressor, because it certainly looks like racism to me.


On the inherent superiority of Western culture

Cultural chauvinism is alive and well, it seems. Hat-tip to The Western Confucian: The West Is the Best, But Don’t Dismiss the Rest for this:

On the inherent superiority of Western culture: Reditus: A Chronicle of Aesthetic Christianity:

Christianity is fundamentally a historical religion. If there were any way to get around that, I would have found it by now. But the fact that the Gospel was written in Greek using concepts such as “logos” that had been in formation in the Greek mind for centuries is no mere accident of history. God could have been incarnated in the context of another culture, just as He “could have” been incarnated in a pearl or an ass. But He did not do that; He came into this world at a very specific time and a very specific place, as did His Body, the Church. Even the Fathers of the Church saw this, and there will always be a superiority of the Greek and Latin tongues to all others, just as the Muslims consider Koranic Arabic sacred, or the Jews Hebrew.

Reading that kind of thing makes me despair.

Assuming that the paragraph I quoted is the premiss, and the heading is the conclusion, I wonder what went wrong. I suppose I should feel relief that this kind of cultural chauvinism isn’t confined to Orthodoxy. It’s a universal sin.

I’ve been asked to write an article on the Orthodox diaspora, and so various incidents come to mind.

One, from about 7-8 years ago, was when I went with a rather mixed group of people to be interviewed on the Greek community radio station. One of those being interviewed with us was Johannes Rakumako, a Tswana-speaking South African who was a first-year student at the Orthodox seminary in Nairobi. He had returned home briefly for his father’s funeral, and he started to say something about life in the seminary when the presenter interrupted him and asked him what had made him interested in “our Greek culture”.

He was gobsmacked, and didn’t know what to say. I doubt that he had given Greek culture much thought at all. He was being asked a question from a totally alien mindset.

A second incident from the diaspora that comes to mind is from the film My big fat Greek wedding. We bought a copy of it to show African catechumens from the townships so that they can learn something about Greek culture and Greek cultural chauvinsim. If they become Orthodox, then they are bound to meet Greeks sometime, since most of the Orthodox in South Africa have a Greek cultural background. The film was made in the USA, but in spite of that it fits South African Greek diaspora culture right down to the hairstyles, and the only difference is the accents. The film depicts the “our Greek culture” that the radio presenter was talking about, and so it is a good and good-natured humourous introduction, and in many places it pokes gentle fun at some of the foibles of Greek diaspora culture (which differs markedly from Greek culture in Greece).

But there is one part that was not intended to be humorous or ironic, and that is where the Anglo husband-to-be is baptised in the Orthodox Church, and after he is baptised he says “I’m Greek now”.

And that is tragic, and leads to the third incident: when we were in a church hall, having tea after the Divine Liturgy, and a woman announced, loudly for all to hear, “The Orthodox Church is not missionary because its purpose is to preserve Greek culture.”

So it’s interesting, and perhaps a little consoling, to see that some Western Christians are under a a similar misapprehension. Though that too goes back a long way — when Saints Cyril and Methodius evangelised the Slavs, they translated the liturgical texts and the scriptures into Slavonic, and were criticised by Rome for doing so, because of Rome’s belief that only Greek, Latin and Hebrew, the languages that Pilate used for the inscription on the cross of Christ, could be used in church.

And so I return to the the bit that I quoted at the beginning. To paraphrase another writer, there is to much magnificent truth mixed up with these appalling falsehoods that it smacks of perversity even to attack its perverseness.

Yes, Christianity is a historical religion. Yes, God chose to become incarnate in history in a particular time and place. But he chose to become incarnate in the multicultural Roman empire of a Jewish mother who probably spoke Aramaic rather than Latin or Greek.

But the title of the post says it all: Western culture is “inherently” superior. In other words, God chose to become incarnate in Western culture (actually he didn’t, but that is what the author of the post apparently believes) because it was superior to other cultures.

I’m reminded of George Orwell’s book Animal farm where the animals on a farm rebel against their human masters, and set up an ideal farm in which all animals are equal. Equality is the watchword and slogan of the revolution, but as time passes one group of animals, the pigs, claim extra privileges for themselves, and begin to lord it over the other animals as the men had done, and when the other animals question this, the pigs say, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” And so here we have the Western pigs claiming to be inherently superior. They were chosen by God for special privileges because they were better than anyone else.

Samuel Huntington, in his book The clash of civilizations and the remaking of the world order writes of this Western superiority

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of other civilizations were converted) but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.

And when God became incarnate, the Romans were in Judaea because of their superiority in applying organized violence.

But this perversion is nothing new.

The history of the Church goes back to Abraham, to whom God said:

and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed (Gen 12:2-3).

seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? (Gen 18:18)

Abraham and his progeny were chosen in order that they might be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. They were not chosen because they were “inherently superior”, but rather because they were inferior, a small and weak people, of no account among the great powers of the world.

But the church of the Old Testament, the people of Israel, were often seduced by the notion that God had chosen them for a special blessing because they were inherently superior, and forgot he had chosen them in order to be a blessing to others. And when that happened, sooner or later, and with more or less pain, they learned that it was not so and were brought back to the true path.

Let us not be seduced into the same error. Belief in the “inherent superiority” of our own culture is one of the most impenetrable insulations against the Holy Spirit that exists in the world.


Post Navigation