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Archive for the tag “theology”

A tale of two women

When the Roman Pope visited the USA last week, two women made the headlines, and were all over the social media. One was a celeb, the other a saint.

Guess which one got more attention?

Kim Davis

Kim Davis

Kim Davis, a minor celeb, met Pope Francis briefly at a function, and dominated Facebook for the next three days.

I’m not exactly sure what her claim to fame is, but clearly it was sufficiently well known to many people in the USA that it needed minimal explanation, though it seems that the Vatican was moved to give a great deal of explanation, to judge by all the clarifications and denials and explanations and whatever.

And these things were plastered all over Facebook in great profusion. I don’t know about anyone else, but they certainly dominated my newsfeed.

And it was apparent that this was related to the current obsession with sex — in the media, in many Christian denominations, and in many other places.

And it was also apparent that all the fuss over Kim David drew attention away from the other woman, whom Pope Francis had held up as an example to the American government and people — Dorothy Day.

Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day

Dorothy who? asked the mainstream media, and many on social media as well.

Unlike Kim Davis she wasn’t a celeb, and nobody knew much about her.

If you’re reading this, and don’t know who Dorothy Day was, read here, and follow the links Love is the measure: Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker | Khanya. I think she deserves more attention than Kim Davis, and I’m pretty sure Pope Francis thinks so too.

As I said, I don’t know much about Kim Davis and her claim to fame. It seems that a lot of people know enough, or think they do, to make judgements about whether she is a good person or a bad person, and think that that is sufficiently important to say so. I’m not saying anything about Kim Davis, and whether she is good or bad, or has done good or bad things. What does concern me, though, is that a lot of people seem to think it is worth making a mountain out of a molehill, stirring up a storm in a tea cup.

And this provides a marvellous distraction from the elephant in the room.

Dorothy Day was no saint, yet she is being considered for sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church. To understand why, you would need to read her biography Goodreads | All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day by Jim Forest:

Dorothy Day (1897-1980), founder of the Catholic Worker movement, and one of the most prophetic voices in the American Catholic church, has recently been proposed as a candidate for canonization. In this lavishly illustrated biography, Jim Forest provides a compelling portrait of her heroic efforts to live out the radical message of the gospel for our time.

Star Wars: catching up with pop culture

Over the last few days I’ve been catching up on pop culture by watching all three original episodes of Star Wars.

Of course I knew some of the characters and their roles, because one could not avoid reading about them: Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, R2D2, Darth Vader — all were household names. The films had quite a pronounced influence on the way people talked, and there were all kinds of direct and indirect references to them. What I wasn’t sure of was their roles, or even, in some cases, how their names were pronounced.

VaderOne of the more memorable cultural references was back in 1980 when Gerhardus de Kock, the Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, was appointed “Director of Constellation Affairs”, a title which, the Natal Daily News pointed out in an editorial headed Star Flaws, would be the envy of Darth Vader, the villain of the movie. Other people referred to it more disrespectfully as “De Kock’s Cock-up”. For those too young to remember it, the “constellation of states” was the current euphemism for the government’s apartheid policy in the early 1980s.

The film series provided metaphors for theologians too. The missiologist Ralph Winter referred to the second film in the series (the 5th, once the prequel had been added), The Empire strikes back, and said that in that story it was referring to evil returning, but that in Christian theology one could use the phrase “the Kingdom strikes back” to tell how the good came back. As Winter put it,

,… the Bible consists of a single drama: the entrance of the Kingdom, the power and the glory of the living God in this enemy-occupied territory. From Genesis 12 to the end of the Bible, and indeed until the end of time, there unfolds the single, coherent drama of “the Kingdom strikes back.” This would make a good title for the Bible itself were it to be printed in modern dress (with Gen 1-11 as the introduction to the whole Bible). In this unfolding drama we see the gradual but irresistible power of God reconquering and redeeming His fallen creation through the giving of His own Son…

So there were all kinds of metaphors that had entered the English language in various fields, and I had only the vaguest idea of where they came from. When the first couple of films came out, we were living in Melmoth, in Zululand. There was no cinema anywhere near, and we didn’t have TV either, so Star Wars passed us by, except for oblique references. So now I’ve learnt something about the roles and the plot, and how to pronounce the names. For 30 years or so I had thought that “Jedi” was pronounced Yay-dee, and not Jed-eye. So now I’ve even got that straight. And it is now also clear to me that, like polar bears and penguins, wookiees and Klingons will never meet in the wild.

School suspends pupil for pretending he had hobbit ring of power

A few days ago there was a story being shared on Facebook about a school that had suspended a nine-year-old pupil for pretending that he had the hobbit “ring of power” School Suspends 9-Year-Old For Pretending He Had Hobbit ‘Ring of Power’:

Aiden Steward had just watched the third Hobbit movie with his family and he wanted to pretend that he had a ring that could make people disappear, just like Bilbo Baggins. But when he brought the toy ring to school, it ended up getting him suspended.

The ring he brought may not have been the true ring of power, but the Kermit, Texas, school where he attended said the pretend Tolkien “one ring” was used in a “threat” against a classmate.

I shared the story too, and commented that it seemed to be yet another example of zemblanity in education — zemblanity being the opposity of serendipity. Serendipity is the knack of making happy, fortunate and unexpected discoveries by accident. Zemblanity is the facility for making unhappy, unfortunate and expected discoveries by design, and seems to characterise much education.

aidenA blogging friend, Yvonne Aburrow, commented “I think the kid kind of missed Tolkien’s point about the Ring, though, but to be fair, he is very young, and will probably get it when he reads LoTR.

Now I don’t know about the films, but in the book (The Hobbit) the history of the ring is unknown to Bilbo, and the only properties known to him are that it makes the wearer invisible, and the not fully appreciated one that it makes the holder possessive. So if the kid was pretending to have that ring it did not necessarily mean that he had ambitions to rule the entire world, and so the school was probably overreacting.

oneringAfter his adventure was over, Bilbo used the ring mainly to hide from unwanted and tiresome visitors, until he staged his spectacular disappearing trick on his eleventy-first birthday. And it was only then that Gandalf revealed to Bilbo and Frodo that there was a great deal more to the ring than invisibility.

And, in thinking about this, I think there is more to this story than just zemblanity in education suppressing the imagination of kids.

We are never told exactly what the ring can do, apart from conferring invisibility on the wearer and possessiveness on the holder. But we are told that what the Dark Lord fears is that some mighty one will get hold of it and come wielding the ring to destroy his power and rule in his place, and the last thing that he suspects are that those who have the ring will try to destroy it.

When Aiden told a student that he could make him disappear since the plastic ring was forged in fictional Middle Earth’s Mount Doom, the school accused him of “threats of violence” against classmates.

“It sounded unbelievable,” Aiden’s father, Jason Steward, said in an interview with the Daily News. But Jason said his son “didn’t mean anything by it.”

He explained that their family had just watched “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies” that week, and the elementary school boy was just pretending he had a ring like in the movie.

And then I recalled that when I was 7 years old, I was given a policeman kit for my birthday. I forget what else it contained, but there was a truncheon and a pair of handcuffs. The handcuffs actually worked, after a fashion, and were obviously intended for use in games of cops and crooks.

Steve Hayes aged 7

Steve Hayes aged 7

I was staying with an 8-year-old cousin at the time, and it appeared to us a good idea to make use of the equipment in our games, and to that end we abducted a younger kid, handcuffed him, and told him we were arresting him and taking him to the police station, which was about a mile away down a rural gravel road, and we had got a good way down the road before we took him back home and released him. He told his parents what had happened, and they told our parents, who ticked us off for it. Perhaps if we had been at school we would have more than just a ticking off, we might have got a suspension, and it would have been deserved.

Gollum referred to the ring as his “birthday present”, and my birthday present was a policeman outfit, a symbol of authority. And once in possession of this symbol of authority, my cousin and I behaved in an authoritarian way. We used, or misused, this symbol of authority to terrorise a younger child.

The Greek word for authority is exousia (ἐξουσία), and it appears in the New Testament in several places. Pilate had ἐξουσία to release Jesus or crucify him. Jesus had ἐξουσία to cast out demons. In Ephesians 6:12 St Paul says our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against “principalities and powers” (ἀρχάς, πρὸς τὰς ἐξουσίας), which may also be translated as rulers and authorities.

Rulers and authorities, or, if you prefer, principalities and powers, are among the orders of the celestial hierarchy, the angelic ranks. But power, when misused, becomes demonic and evil. The power bearers, the flesh and blood, can become enslaved to the rule and authority that they bear, as my cousin and I became briefly enslaved to a symbol of power, even though it was merely a child’s toy, and used it as an instrument to enslave another.

Power can be used to enslave or set free, to liberate or to oppress, but the temptation is always to become addicted to power, to seek it for its own sake, and this is what Tolkien’s “ring of power” symbolises.

The action of Kermit Elementary School in suspending a pupil for pretending to have the ring of power may indeed have been an instance of zemblanity in education, but on the other hand, children’s games are not always innocent.

 

 

Iconoclasm and the Reformation

A very interesting post by my blogging friend Terry Cowan, on the real meaning of iconoclasm in the Protestant Reformation and in Islam:

Notes from a Common-place Book: Philip Jenkins on the Reformation, both Protestant and Islamic:

For anyone living at the time, including educated elites, the iconoclasm was not just an incidental breakdown of law and order, it was the core of the whole movement, the necessary other side of the coin to the growth of literacy. Those visual and symbolic representations of the Christian story had to decrease, in order for the world of the published Bible to increase. In terms of the lived experience of people at the time, the image-breaking is the key component of the Reformation. In the rioting and mayhem, a millennium-old religious order was visibly and comprehensively smashed….in effect removing popular access to the understanding of faith and the Christian story.

It’s worth reading, as is the article it refers to and quotes from.

In the deep mid-winter

When do the seasons begin and end?

There seem to be various answers, depending on who you ask, and Aquila ka Hecate recently discussed this question on her blog, here.  I wanted to comment on it, but the new Blogger commenting system, which seems to be broken, would not allow me to do so, so I’ll quote the post in full and comment here.

A colleague at my (new! 3 months only!) place of work mentioned this week that there were only 12 weeks until Spring.

Being the new girl in the district, I hesitated to make a ‘thing’ of it – although I was tempted. You see, it’s one of my triggers : how we mark the seasons of the year. It irritates me that many people can’t see how beautifully simple it is.

We have 52 weeks in a solar year, with 4 seasons. That’s 13 weeks per season When each season starts appears to vary from person to person. Here in the southern hemisphere, the Winter Solstice is celebrated on or around June 21st. Now here comes the nub of the whole “season” matter: If you call this day “MidWinter”, you have just fixed a point around which you will have to configure all the other seasons.

I have no idea what’s so hard to understand about “mid” and “Winter” coming together in one word. It’s the mid-point of Winter, right? So in another 6 and a half weeks it will be the end of Winter, right? That’s around the first week in August, and I get to call it Imbolc.

Unfortunately for me, most Seffricans believe that Spring starts either at the beginning of September, or else on the Vernal Equinox, around 21st September. But how can that be? Unless you are counting Winter as starting either at the beginning of June or at the Solstice…which we’ve agreed to keep calling Mid-Winter, OK?

“Mid” does not mean “start”. It means the bloody middle, people. So, figuring from this fairly rock solid premise (and assuming 4 seasons of roughly equal length, unlike the Celts, who really only had Summer and Winter), the Vernal Equinox would be the middle of Spring, the Summer Solstice the middle of Summer (or MidSummer!) and the Autumnal Equinox on around March 21st would be the mid-point of Autumn. That leaves 4 points as ending/starting days for each of the seasons.

And as luck would have it, many Pagans already celebrate on these days – Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnassad and Samhain. The start of each season. So pardon me while I revere the very depth of Winter – when the apparent Sun reaches its lowest point in the heavens as seen from Earth – as MidWinter. That’s in just one week from today.

And Imbolc, the start of Spring, a scant 6.5 weeks later, in the first week of August. Makes frighteningly proper sense to me. More sense-making goodiness here.

My comment, if I had been allowed to make it, is this:

As a child, and until about the age of 15, I thought of the seasons in exactly the way that Aquila ka Hecate describes. Winter was May, June and July. It made logical sense for exactly the reason that Midwinter was just after the middle of June. To be strictly accurate, one should say that winter lasted from 7 May to 6 August, but the May-July reckoning was close enough.

Then when I was about 15 we had a geography lesson at school in which spring was defined as the period whe n the days were longer than the nights and getting longer, while winter was when the days were shorter than the nights and and gretting longer. So winter began in its middle.

So there was the scientific meaning of winter, and the popular meaning of winter, which didn’t quite coincide.

But there are lots of things where the scientific meaning of something and the popular meaning don’t coincide.

CreationIkon1Then, about 20 years ago, people started talking about the first day of September as “spring day”. Well, I think the media started it, and it sort of spread from there.

I’m not sure where that started, because the media must have got it from somewhere. But I accepted that because in the Orthodox Church the church year begins on 1 September, and it seemed quite appropriate that it should be on the first day of spring (though that doesn’t apply in the northern hemisphere). It is linked to the idea of the creation of the world, though I’m surprised that in the northern hemisphere they didn’t pick on February or March for that rather than September, which is the northern Autumn.

CreationIkon2In recent years there has also been a tendency for Orthodox Christians to observe the first few days of September as days to pray about and be concerned for the environment, which also seems appropriate for the beginning of Spring.

But if we are going to regard the First of September as the first day of Spring, then perhaps we should think of mid-winter as occurring on 15 July. That’s probably when it’s coldest, anyway.

But going back to my childhood, when I was 9, 10, 11 years old, June and July were the cold months, when we had chapped hands and legs at school. August was the windy month, the kite-flying season, and we could expect the wind to blow up the first rains.

I used to sit in class looking out of the window and watch the cumulus clouds sailing from north-west to south-east, and grow taller as they moved. I used to daydream about jumping around and sliding down the slopes of the clouds. The teachers thought that that was a Bad Thing, and mentioned it in school reports as Day-Dreaming in Class (DDIC). Nowadays they call it ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and they use drugs to try to suppress it.

Anyway, the clouds would build up on the south-eastern horizon and then come back, towering cumulo-nimbus clouds, and at 4 pm they would drop their load, as rain or hail, with thunder and lightning. From August onwards you could almost set your watch by it, and it was called the civil service rain, because it always seemed to fall when civil servants were leaving work at 4 pm, and stopped by 4:30.

Climate change has changed all that, of course. Now they say “Rain in September, drought in December” and everyone looks for the first rains to begin in October. So perhaps the popular seasons are moving closer to the scientific ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Youth Wage Subsidy

There has been a proposal for a youth wage subsidy in  some quarters. Those who are touting this idea say that it will help to solve the problem of youth unemployment.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) opposes the idea, and has set out its reasons in a paper, which I think all who are interested in the topic should read.

I think that this kind of proposal needs to be considered very carefully. History can teach us something here. If the Speenhamland System had a better record, I might say that a youth wage subsidy was worth considering,  but it didn’t. Actually, if one applied the Speenhamland System in South Africa, it would be more akin to a farm labour subsidy. If the striking farm workers at De Doorns, and others in a similar position, were to have their wages subsidised, it would be a closer parallel, and some of the same constraints apply: if the wages of farm labourers are increased, the money must come from somewhere, and the most obvious place for it to come from is an increase in the price of agricultural produce, which would hit the unemployed poor hardest.

The question of a youth wage subsidy is slightly different, especiqally in urban areas.

One of the things that prevents young people being employed in entry positions in many firms and organisaqtions is that the salary bill is heavily weighted towards top management. In other words, if the bosses weren’t overpaid, there would be more money to employ young people at entry-level positions. So what is presented as a proposal for a “youth wage subsidy” could just as easily be seen as a “fat cat management income subsidy”. Mrs Buthelezi at Nkwalini would be  paying 15c in the Rand on her groceries  in part to subidise the six and seven figure salaries of top management in Gauteng.

This is exacerbated by the so-called Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policy. Among other things, this requires firms to have a certain proportion of black people at top management level. This means that black managers can command (and get) higher remuneration than their white counterparts. So a black person who replaces a white person at top management will be paid more — a lot more — than their predecessor. And that money could have been used to employ several young people at entry level. So BEE could more accurately be termed Black Elite Enrichment.

That does not mean that the white management people were or are underpaid. Far from it. The income disparity between rich and poor in South Africa is one of the biggest in the world, and is still growing, regardless of race. And a youth wage subsidy would simply exacerbate that.

I’m no professional economist, so the views I have expressed are those of an ordinary citizen. Well, a deacon is also supposed to be an “economist” of sorts, and the first deacons practised ekonomia. So I have a proposal.

I would like to see a gathering of Christian economists and Christian theologians getting together to discuss this and other related problems, to try to formulate a possible Christian response. Two that I know personally, who are concered about these things, are Dr Azar Jammine and Prof Tinyiko Maluleke, and I am sure that there are several others. Is there anyone else who thinks such a meeting might be useful?

 

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.

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.

Modernity’s Debased View of Woman’s Equality

Responding to a claim that the equality of the sexes was established by a technological advance, the invention of the contraceptive pill, The Pittsford Perennialist: Modernity’s Debased View of Woman’s Equality quotes St Gregory of Nyssa (4th century):

The gracious gift of likeness to God was not given to a mere section of humanity, to one individual man; no, it is a perfection that finds its way in equal measure to every member of the human race. This is shown by the fact that all men possess ‑ mind. Everybody has the power to think and plan, as well as all the other powers that appear distinctively in creatures that mirror the divine nature. On this score there is no difference between the first man that ever was and the last that ever will be all bear the stamp of divinity. Thus the whole of humanity was named as one man, since for the Divine Power there is neither past nor future. What is still to come, no less than what is now, is governed by his universal sway.

What is a libertarian?

What is a libertarian?

I read the blogs of people who claim to be libertarians, and it’s really hard to tell.

  1. Some sound like libertines.
  2. Some sound like liberals on steroids.
  3. Some sound as though they believe the universe has given them the right to grind the face of the poor into the dirt, forever, and they are just longing for the opportunity to do it.

And some sound like all three, switching from one to the other in as many sentences.

Hat-tip to Ron Paul Is Not a Libertarian | Clarissa’s Blog — I originally posted the above as a comment in response to Clarissa’s post, but thought I would also post it separately as well.

There is a chain or restaurants here in South Africa that advertises by saying “You can’t have too much of a good thing.”

It is an invitation to gluttony, saying, in effect, that over-eating is not a vice.

I am a liberal, and I generally think that liberalism is a good thing.

I think that liberty, human freedom, is a good thing.

But when I read blogs by people who claim to be libertarians, I get the impression that what they are after is not so much liberty as licence. That is why I say that they are like liberals on steroids.

Liberals think that liberty is important, it is an important value, and the lack of it should be remedied as quickly as possible. Libertarians seem to believe that personal liberty is the only value, and that everything else must be subordinated to it.

Someone once asked me how, as an Orthodox Christian, I could say that I was a liberal. They thought that liberalism was the essence of everything that is evil and wrong with the world.

Yet Orthodox writers assume that freedom and love are essential characteristics of being human. For example, Christos Yannaras (1984:33) writes


Man’s insistence on his individuality is an indication of his failure to realize his personal distinctiveness and freedom, of his falling away from the fulness of existence which is the life of the Trinity, personal coinherence and communion in love. This falling away is sin, amartia, which means missing the mark as to existential truth and authenticity. The patristic tradition insists on this interpretation of sin as failure and ‘missing the mark,’ as the loss of that ‘end’ or aim which for human nature is its existential self-transcendence, taking it into the limitless realm of personal distinctiveness and freedom.

But making freedom the main thing, or even the only thing, as libertarians seem to do, is to turn freedom into an idol. It turns liberty into an ideology, a kind of binding principle, so that in embracing the idea of freedom, and bowing down and worshipping it, one actually loses one’s freedom. When one makes liberty a principle and a rule by which everything is judged, one loses one’s freedom to live and to act; freedom as a false god is anything but free.

______

References

Yannaras, Christos. 1984. The freedom of morality. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

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