Another Saturday edition of the weekend paper and another article which makes one wonder if sanity is busy leaving through the back door. It is our collective sanity I’m talking about, and more specifically that of the once mighty, now ever-stumbling Western culture. This time around the evidence of this cultural, or rather intellectual, decay is personified in an article by a man called Rian van Heerden. Rian is a well-known, controversial figure in South Africa. He is a talk show host, journalist and general commentator on the issues of the day. This is not to pay out on Rian, he is merely one of many prominent people who regularly voice what many others think and believe. I must admit, I enjoy his writings which appear in our local newspaper from time to time. He is witty, stands by his opinion and from time to time makes me realise something I might otherwise not have. However, on many occasions, such as last Saturday, his arguments are quite weak and stray from reality a fair bit. Although some of his arguments seem sincere, he has a strong disregard for facts and the possibility that the people reading his work also think for themselves.
Before I get to the substance of his article I will explain how I perceive him. He grew up in the culture through which the concept of Apartheid was introduced into the South African law system. Christian nationalism, not Biblical Christianity, played a huge role in the traditions and thinking of members of this culture. Many of us from the next generation now live with hatred (maybe a valid one even?) towards the wicked ways of our fathers and a general reaction is rebellion towards anything that seems to stem from it. One such case would be that many younger people in South Africa still hate the church or anything Christian because of that. I also had some major issues with my parent’s generation at one stage but came to the place where I could see things in perspective and start judging ideas and opinions separate from its perceived source. In my opinion Rian still has this intense dislike towards moral claims stemming from the Judeo-Christian worldview because he still connects it so deeply to the unchrist-like Christian Nationalists of yesteryear.
I was wondering though, is this not a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water and a rejection of facts and reality because of personal opinion? Now getting to the article, Rian mentions that two other articles he read recently made him stop dead in his tracks. The first one caused quite a stir across the country and was about a photo of two men kissing (taken at a traditional campus event where a multitude of student couples kiss each other at the same time) which appeared on the front page of the campus newspaper at Stellenbosch University. He was a bit disgusted at people’s negative reaction towards the picture. Secondly, he found fault with the negative reactions of a Christian evangelist who commented on the sinful deeds he witnessed being practiced at a music festival (Oppikoppi) held annually in the Limpopo Province.
Of course Rian is free to criticise whoever he wishes but surely so is the readers of the campus newspaper and also the evangelist. If people find two men kissing disgusting they have the right to say so and if a man deems debauchery and fornication to be sinful it is his duty to complain about it. Maybe the complaining readers and the evangelist did act out of line even, to give Rian the benefit of the doubt, but from Rian’s response to the people who upset him I form my perception of him. He made them out to be absolute idiots, people who are stuck in old ways of thinking which is not valid any longer (according to Rian of course). He considers people with certain similar opinions to those of the ‘hated generation’ as dumb and narrow-minded. He focuses on the people but not on their arguments and where it stems from.
Their arguments stem from the Christian Bible. Are they sincere when they argue? Do they, critisising others based on Biblical teaching, even adhere to the Bible themselves? Maybe, maybe not. The point is however that the Bible is the basis upon which the free Western society was built, it shapes our laws and through it we enjoy privileges as human beings. Ideas such as tolerance and equal rights stem from it and it is the most accurate historical document available to us from the ancient world and many who tried to disprove what is written in it have become committed followers of the truth communicated through it. It is because of the laws and codes in the Bible that Rian lives in a country where he is free to criticise both it and also those who claim they agree with it. And I agree, it is his and those who speak as he speaks’ God-given right to do so. But no man who claims to make use of his intellectual abilities merely mocks a book which has played such a huge role throughout history and no writer should mock his readers by writing such irrational and illogical things.
Here is his final conclusion: he counters the Biblical opinion on moral law with a line from a song written by a woman born in 1962 in Missouri, USA. “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad!”
Thus, his implied advice: ignore your healthy mind, ignore your ability to derive logical conclusions, ignore your conscience, if it makes you happy (temporarily and can potentially ruin your life), do it!
“Sadly, as the experience of ancient Rome showed and as modern sensate cultures are again coming to see, a culture cannot long endure when there are no higher standards for human behaviour than the appetites and tastes of the moment.”
– OJ Brown
“You don’t have to be a religious believer to understand that if religion – more specifically, the Hebrew Bible and the Christianity that built upon it – underpins Western civilization and the codes of right and wrong – putting others above yourself, freedom and equality, and belief in reason – that form the bedrock of that civilization, then eroding or destroying that religion will erode or destroy those virtues and the civilization they distinguish.”
– Melanie Phillips, journalist and professed agnostic