Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “religion”

Been through this movie before?

I’ve just “shared” three appeals for peace on Facebook — one from a Christian, one from a Muslim, one from a Jew.

People say that “religion” is responsible for most of the violent conflict in the world, so how come it is the secular politicians who are fanning the flames of conflict in the world, while is is the “religious” people who are calling for peace?

Remember what happened 100 years ago tomorrow?

19140804I’ve just been reading about it in this book, an hour by hour account of that day, with what led up to it, and the aftermath. Come tomorrow, when I’ve finished the book, I’ll review it (now finished, review here)  but what disturbs me is that nothing has changed. While the world media’s spotlight is on Gaza this week, they haven’t stopped killing people in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. Three civil wars and a quasi civil war in Gaza.

But what are the world’s politicians doing about it? Are they trying to urge the warring parties to get together and try to find a peaceful solution? No, they are grandstanding and making threats against each other, just as they did a century ago. Back then it was called jingoism, and it’s much the same to day.

We don’t want to fight
But By Jingo! if we do
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the guns
we’ve got the money too.

What can ordinary people do to promote peace when the politicians of the world’s most powerful nations are in the driving seat and driving in top gear to hell?

For what it’s worth, here are some of the appeals for peace:

But what is happening?

With Syria buried in the news, hopes fade for ending world’s bloodiest war | Al Jazeera America

What are other countries doing? Supplying arms to the combatants, that’s what.

Church leaders express concern about the sabre-rattling rhetoric: Statement by the diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church in Australia regarding the situation in Ukraine:

The Church is concerned that much of the rhetoric appearing in the media is biased and ill-informed; based upon the geo-political aspirations of certain stakeholders, which can only lead to further conflict and, God forbid, outright war.

And even some retired politicians recognise the danger — Ex-chancellor Schmidt slams EU over Ukraine – The Local:

Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt said on Friday the Ukraine standoff recalls the lead-up to World War I and blamed the “megalomania” of EU bureaucrats for sparking the crisis.

For the moment, these are separate conflicts, but remember that the Second World War started when a lot of separate smaller conflicts coalesced into one big one — Italy versus Ethiopia, Japan versus China, Germany versus Poland. And suddenly it became a free-for-all.

Can we learn the lessons of history, before it’s too late?

 

 

 

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Speaking the truth to power: two Anglican archbishops

A few days ago the synod of the Church of England failed to approve a measure that would allow women to become bishops, and that has led to a lot of comment in the blogosphere, on social networks, and no doubt elsewhere.

Like Antioch Abouna, I have no wish to comment on the internal affairs of another Christian body. What the Church of England decides about who to have as its bishops does not affect me. Sixty years ago Anglican ecclesiology was perhaps a bit closer to Orthodox ecclesiology than it is now. Back then, at least some Anglicans believed that apostolic succession was important; it strongly affected their relationship with the African Orthodox Church and the Order of Ethiopia, for example. Now, I think hardly any Anglicans regard apostolic succession as important, and the model for episcopacy is perhaps more akin to that of a branch manager of a supermarket chain, and the criteria for selection are probably similar — can they perform the management task adequately? Of course the analogy is not complete; a supermarket manager is not expected to be pastor pastorum to the other members of staff, and I believe there is still that expectation of Anglican bishops. As Antioch Abouna has noted, the discussion has been almost entirely in secular tems, and based on secular criteria. So it is up to Anglicans to decide on the criteria for the selection of their bishops in accordance with their current understanding of what bishops are. It is not for Orthodox, who have a different understanding of bishops, to approve or disapprove of whatever they decide.

But an Orthodox Facebook friend also commented “Orthodox Christians who delight in knocking Anglicans (esp. Rowan Williams) very distasteful. Don’t they have anything better to do?” and cited this post Women Bishops and an Archbishop Agonistes | Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy:

Well, it seems that the lame duck Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has decided to take his episcopal duty of admonition with some seriousness this week…

Now there may be a cultural difference here. It is possible that the term “lame duck” is inoffensive or neutral to people in the USA, because of their political system, but to people outside the USA it sounds very offensive indeed, and quite uncalled-for.

But, personal insults aside, what Archbishop Rowan Williams said (as opposed to what he is) does seem to be worth commenting on. Church of England in crisis: Archbishop of Canterbury attacks members for voting against women bishops – The Independent:

Speaking in the aftermath of that decision this morning, Dr Williams said the church risked being seen as “willfully blind” to the demands from wider British society that it must do away with institutional and theological sexism.

“We have, to put it very bluntly, a lot of explaining to do,” he told the General Synod. “Whatever the motivation for voting yesterday, whatever the theological principle on which people acted and spoke, the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society. Worse than that, it seems as if we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of that wider society.”

He added: ”We have some explaining to do, we have as a result of yesterday undoubtedly lost a measure of credibility in our society.“

Perhaps he was speaking as the leader of the Established Church, and believes that the church needs to shape its own priorities according to the trends, priorities and demands of that society.

But if so, I think that reflects the dangers of Establishment. And I cannot help comparing it to another Anglican archbishop, facing a synod, at another place, another time.

The archbishop was Bill Burnett, then the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, and the occasion was the 1979 meeting of the provincial synod of the Church of the Province of South Africa (now known as the Anglican Church of Southern Africa).

There was a rather dull motion being debated, proposed by a Canon Albertyn of Cape Town, asking that the synod set up a commission to look into and report on all the permits the church was required to apply for in terms of the then-current apartheid legislation. Bill Burnett intervened from the chair, and said that in his position as Archbishop he was often called on to apply for permits for various things, and he disliked doing so. He did it because he thought it was expected of him as part of his role, and that it was expected of him to try to preserve the church as an institution, but that it was a role he disliked, and he disliked having to apply for permits, and was prepared not to do so, if that was what synod wanted. He warned that it could mean the end of the church as an institution. Its property could be confiscated by the government, and worse, but he was prepared to do that if it was what synod wanted. “Is that what you want?” he asked.

There was dead silence.

The moment passed, and the synod went back to its ordinary dull business (you can read more about that here Trapped in apartheid – South African churches | Notes from underground.)

But there you have two Anglican archbishops, more than thirty years apart. One is saying that the church must conform to the demands of the wider society, and the other announcing that he was prepared to resist the demands of society, no matter what it cost.

Overdone stuff on Facebook

On Facebook recently there seems to be a proliferation of pictures to illustrate sayings, slogans or cliches.

It tends to be the opposite of the “Occupy” movement — 99% are bad or meaningless, and a waste of bandwidth. The words themselves aren’t worth much, but on the principle that “a picture is worth a thousand words” people seem to try to give the impression that something is meaningful when it is actually meaningless by wrapping it up in pictures.

Now perhaps this is all a matter of personal taste. I’ve occasionally “shared” a picture that I thought was true or witty, and some people have then liked my “status” (status? as in married or single? HIV positive or negative? Employed, unemployed or retired? Refugee? Asylum seeker?).

Here are some of the sillier ones I’ve seen recently.

The only message I get from this one is that atheists are just as self-deluded as the rest of humanity. Whoever produced this conveniently ignores (and obviously wants to persuade other people to ignore), things like the Butovo Massacre.

And then there is this one.

At one level, the message is much the same as the previous picture, but in a sense it is worse.

The sentiment expressed is true enough, and I have no problem with that. The problem is not with what is said, but rather with what is not said, because the implication is that those, like the person pictured, to whom the saying is attributed, who are willing to shed blood and take innocent life in the name of national pride and imperial hegemony will, of course, bring a true and lasting peace.

Bah, humbug!

Like the first picture, it tells you half the story, and tries to get you to ignore the other half.

The next one, however, is the worst of the lot.

The one of Hillary Clinton shows something she said and shows a picture of the one who said it.

But in this one, the words don’t matter, because I’m pretty sure the silly-looking git in the purple jacket and bow tie never said it at all. I’ve seen his face on Facebook dozens of times, with all kinds of opinions attributed to him, some of them utterly contradictory.

At least with Hillary Clinton you know who she is, and you know that she is part of a government in whose name have been done many of the things that she ascribes to the name of religion.

But who is the bloke with the purple jacket and the bow tie? And does he actually know what opinions have been ascribed to him by countless thousands of Facebook posters? They are so contradictory that he can’t possibly agree with them all. And why should his supposed endorsement make the sentiment expressed any more acceptable?

I say nothing about the sentiment itself — in this case the content is unimportant. It’s just a question of why this guy’s endorsement is thought to be important. It’s about as silly as those old advertisements in the 1940s and 1950s that showed an actor in a white coat endorsing a particular brand of toothpaste.

On the other hand, I did think that this one was funny, and probably would not have worked so well without the pictures.

Which just goes to show that it’s probably all a matter of taste, after all.

Luddite theology

Last week I was at the Joint Conference of academic societies in the field of Religion and Theology, and I was struck by the almost complete absence of comment on the conference in social media, or in other electronic forums.

Only last year one of those learned societies, the Southern African Missiological Society (SAMS) held its annual congress in Pretoria, and there was a continual stream of tweets on Twitter with the #SAMS2011 hashtag. WiFi was available at the venue (a local church hall) to facilitate this, and there was even a screen set up to show the Twitter stream as it was occurring.

This year, in a far bigger conference, with 16 different societies participating, held on a university campus, there was almost no electronic sharing with those unable to attend. Though there was a good WiFi network available on the campus, conference participants were not given access to it, even though the conference was very expensive to attend. So the most we could manage during the conference was the occasional tweet from a cell phone, and the occasional picture on Facebook (and I still haven’t managed to work out how to make the cell phone do these tricks, so I was never sure what was posted or not). But as far as I could see only three people tweeted using the #JCRT2012 hashtag, and one of those tweets was simply a remark that I seemed to be the only one tweeting on the conference.

Does this indicate that academics in the field of religion and theology have gone off the use of digital technology, and that SAMS 2011 was merely a flash in the pan, an incongruous exception?

There were digital projectors in all the venues where papers were presented, but I didn’t use one for my paper because I didn’t know beforehand what provision would be made for that, and in many cases when they were used they were distracting, as there was much fiddling with the equipment, and sometimes the wrong slide was shown, with interruptions while the right one was found, and where the equipment was used it was often only to show the text of the paper anyway.

While the lack of WiFi can be blamed on the organisers of the conference, I’m not sure that the blame lies entirely with them. If there was access, would anyone have used it?

Abstracts of all the papers being read were made available to conference participants beforehand, and I thought that that might be an opportunity of sharing what was being said and what was happening with those unable to attend. I posted a few of the abstracts in some electronic forums in the hope that they might elicit some comments or questions, but the response was zero. Perhaps that is an indication that academics in the field of religion and theology are technological luddites, and are simply not interested in using electronic media to communicate, or perhaps it was because they thought that the quality of the papers, as reflected in the abstracts, was so poor that they weren’t worth reading, much less commenting on. I posted several abstracts in the missiological forum, since missiology is my field, but I also posted some in the general religion forum, the new religious movements forum, and the African Independent Churches forum. There didn’t seem to be any responses in any of them.

I don’t think Twitter is the best medium for commenting on or sharing what is happening at an academic conference. I think live blogging is better, as it can give more idea of the content, but without WiFi live blogging is not an option, and so we had to make do with Twitter, but it seems that most people didn’t even use that.

I wonder if anyone will even read this!

I suggest that the next joint conference (in three years’ time) take the form of a bosberaad, where the venue will be cheaper, with no electricity, and people can read their papers by the light of paraffin lamps.

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
reports:

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.

Religion and politics

Religion and politics don’t mix — well that’s what the pietistic evangelicals of the religious right used to tell us back in the days of apartheid. Therefore, they concluded, Christians should not criticise political leaders and their policy of apartheid and the ethnic cleansing that resulted from it. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”.

Now the boot is on the other foot, and it is the secular humanists and the “new atheists” who are saying that religion and politics don’t mix, and one gets the impression that if they had their way there would be two voters rolls, an A roll for atheists, to elect 350 members of parliament, and a B roll for agnostics, who would be allowed to elect 50 members of parliament, and the rest would have no vote at all, and everyone knows that all war, hatred and oppression in the world has been caused by religion, and until the superstitious have come to their senses they should not be allowed to vote.

But what about the politicians themselves?

Over the last week there have been several news items about prominant politicians and their religious views, practices or utterances, to wit Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama and Jacob Zuma. These have been interesting, but even more interesting have been the responses.

Let’s start with Jake the Fake. So far no one has put it better than Tinyiko Sam Maluleke’s Blog – Thinking Allowed!: Welcome to Jacob Zuma’s Heaven:

“When you vote for the ANC, you are also choosing to go to heaven. When you don’t vote for the ANC you should know that you are choosing that man who carries a fork … who cooks people.” Thus spake the son of God to loud cheers and unstoppable giggles. And not for the first time, mind you. He spoke before, he is speaking now and he will speak again. How many times before, has he underlined the intimate relationship between the ANC and the Lord? With uncharacteristic calm and collection, our Jacob has pointed out that until the Lord returns, the ANC will rule. To the ANC has ruling authority been granted during this interim period of uncertainly — the in-between period — the period between the ascension of Jesus and the return of Jesus. Only those who hide in the ark called ANC will survive the trials and tribulations of the current age! You have heard it said before that Jesus will return to fetch the righteous and the holy, but in Mthatha last Friday, Jacob the son of God said to you, Jesus will return to fetch those clad in the black, green and gold.

‘Nuff said. If you want to read more, go and read the rest of it on Tinyiko’s blog.

Then there was this: Putin on Mount Athos pilgrimage:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited the monastic community of Mount Athos in Greece, one of Orthodox Christianity’s holiest sites.

He was the first Russian leader to visit the male-only community, on a narrow, rocky peninsula east of Thessaloniki, Russian TV reported.

The trip was part of Mr Putin’s two-day visit to Greece.

He has openly embraced the Orthodox faith, despite having served the atheist Soviet regime as a KGB officer.

Well, I suppose that makes him an apostate atheist, but at least he has gone to the source, unlike the days when the leader of the Russian Communist Party, anxious to acquire some of the magic pixie dust that fell from the church, which public opinion polls showed was more trusted by the people than politicians, decided to visit a church one day for a photo-op, and lit a candle with his cigarette lighter.

And then there is Barack Obama.

If Putin was a convert from atheism, Barack Obama, was a convert from agnosticism and, rather touchingly, seems as much concerned about his own family as about religion in the great affairs of state or the fortunes of his party. Barack Obama affirms his Christianity | The Guardian:

The US president told the national prayer breakfast in Washington that he prays for peace in the Middle East – and that he also asks for God’s assistance with his 12-year-old daughter, Malia.

‘Lord, give me patience as I watch Malia go to her first dance, where there will be boys. Lord, let her skirt get longer as she travels to that place,’ Obama recounted.

Obama’s speech today was laced with Biblical references in his most public affirmation of his faith. With many Americans under the illusion that he might be a covert Muslim, Obama explained: ‘I came to know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace him as my Lord and Saviour.’

Obama described his upbringing as ‘not religious’, his father as a non-believer and his mother ‘grew up with a certain scepticism … she only took me to church at Easter and Christmas – sometimes’.

The response of one American (but typical of other responses) to this news was to say “The Koran permits lying if doing so benefits Islam.”

We are urged to pray for rulers and civil authorities, so let us pray for all these leaders. But especially Barack Obama, because he is evidently president of a nation of lunatics.

Physicist and priest, Polkinghorne balances science and faith

Physicist and priest, Polkinghorne balances science and faith: “John Polkinghorne, 80, is one of the world’s most famous physicists, known in part for his role in explaining the existence of the quark, the smallest known particle. He is the former president of Queens College at Cambridge University in England, a member of the Royal Society, was knighted for his work on England’s standards for embryonic stem cell research and for the medical industry’s ethical positions, and winner of the Templeton Prize.

When he was in his 40s, he left the world of physics and became a priest in the Church of England. He has written more than 30 books on the relationship between faith and science, and is one of the world’s leading voices on that topic.”

I read one of his books about 50 years ago — quite good, if I remember correctly.

The Bush-Blair legacy

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” So wrote Shakespeare in Julius Caesar, and so it has proved with the evil unleashed by George Bush and Tony Blair, which continues long after they have left office.

The City and the World: The continuing tragedy of Iraq’s Christians.:

Another survivor of yesterday’s siege told the BBC that ‘I do not think I and other Christians can stay in Iraq any longer,’ while a young Christian from Northern Iraq (which is ostensibly much safer than Baghdad) told the New York Times, ‘There is no future for us here.’ Accounts like the one given above make for difficult reading, but they remain only a small part of the larger tragedy of Iraq’s ancient Christian churches, which have suffered from continual violence, persecution, and dispersion since the fall of Saddam Hussein. My greatest fear at the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was that Bush administration war policy would play a direct role in destroying one of the oldest Christian communities in the world; over the past seven years, it has become increasingly clear that those fears are being realized.

Hat-tip to Kyrie eleison | A vow of conversation.

Americans’ views of God shape attitudes on key issues – USATODAY.com

Americans’ views of God shape attitudes on key issues – USATODAY.com: “Surveys say about nine out of 10 Americans believe in God, but the way we picture that God reveals our attitudes on economics, justice, social morality, war, natural disasters, science, politics, love and more, say Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, sociologists at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Their new book, America’s Four Gods: What We Say About God — And What That Says About Us, examines our diverse visions of the Almighty and why they matter.

Based primarily on national telephone surveys of 1,648 U.S. adults in 2008 and 1,721 in 2006, the book also draws from more than 200 in-depth interviews that, among other things, asked people to respond to a dozen evocative images, such as a wrathful old man slamming the Earth, a loving father’s embrace, an accusatory face or a starry universe.”

It would be interesting to see how that compares with other countries and regions of the world. And I’m reminded of the Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras, who said

Starting from such a concrete and existential concept of sin, the Orthodox tradition has refused to confine the whole of man’s relationship with God within a juridical, legal framework; it has refused to see sin as the individual transgression of a given impersonal code of behavior which simply produces psychological guilt. The God of the Church as known and proclaimed by Orthodox experience and tradition has never had anything to do with the God of the Roman juridical tradition, the God of Anselm and Abelard; He has never been thought of as a vengeful God who rules by fear, meting out punishments and torment for men” (Yannaras 1984:35).

Recent news and trending topics

Here’s a concise summary of what has absorbed the news and the blogosphere recently.


Hat-tip to BANAR DESIGNS.

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