Through the hole in the hedge

“Any thoughts?”, asked a friend on facebook. On whether we should, instead of worshipping some system or trusting it to heal our land, rather focus on “fortifying people from the problems created by the systems that direct their lives and movement?” When she asked this, an article by Peter Bruce has already been stirring thoughts in my head for a few days and thus I answered it based on those initial thoughts. Perhaps not as accurately as I could but answered it nevertheless. Herein, Bruce suggests more effective economic measures and wealth redistribution as the door through which the problem of racism in South Africa could be fixed and a divided South Africa could enter a shared future. His vision of a South Africa with a growing economy and greater participation in it is desirable and the idea of it exciting. What excites me less, however, is that he starts off his article with a theological problem to which he appears to suggest an economic or materialist solution. Did he realise he was opening up a theological problem?

Hole in hedge_2He describes the impact things like the slave trade or wars can have on groups of people as it had on both black and white South Africans. How people think of themselves or others as commodities rather than human, or imprisoned rather than free. His focus is, however, more specifically on how slavery affected South Africans. Bruce considers slavery an unavoidable outcome of economic necessity and later states that “you cannot commercialise human beings you respect”. The logic, in short, appears to be that a purely economic system led to slavery which in turn led to the racist white (Western) mind suffering from a superiority complex with the abused black (African) mind as the inverse side of that same coin, and thus the obvious way out has to be: a purely economic solution. But did a belief system or an economic system cause people to commercialise other human beings? One does not simply begin selling people as commodities. What makes parents who struggle financially sell their own daughters as sex slaves in certain parts of the world today? A certain worldview or logical jump has to allow for people to be treated in that way.

Bruce presents practices based in dehumanised views of the other and ourselves – thinking of people as either lesser or more than human, animals or gods, belonging to animal-like or god-like cultures – as foundational to racist attitudes. He considers the system of slavery as problematic and acknowledges its influence on the psyche of all parties involved. I understand Bruce wrote his article for a financial publication and thus presents economic solutions to South Africa’s inequality problem but he does start from a problem in the theological sphere of personhood and identity, which in my opinion cannot be solved through a redistribution of resources and further class categorisations. It requires not an economic solution but a theological one. One found not by entering the door suggested above but through the ‘hole in the hedge’.

The question of personhood is always a theological one, shaped by the narrative in which we believe we exist, regardless of whether that narrative flows from a faith based in history or in the fiction created through our thoughts. We derive our understanding of who we are from our understanding of the divine. Could God be bought and sold? Does our God dominate their god? Are we ourselves gods? Are we all without gods? Are we all subject to and held accountable by the same laws based in the same Truth of the same God? Is God relational? Does God have volition? If God does wage war and conquer, by which means? How vulnerable is God in the face of opposition? If God is conquered, how does He respond? Is God just? Does He show mercy?

It requires a certain understanding of God and oneself to treat another person as something other than human. It requires a certain understanding of God and others to consider oneself as something other than human.

man brotherThe slogan coined by Josiah Wedgwood (ironically, the grandfather of Charles Darwin), “Am I not a man and a brother?”, played a critical role in the cause of abolishing slavery in Britain in the nineteenth century. This appeal asked the question “Am I not a fellow human being made in the image of God (man) and did Jesus Christ not die for the African just as He did for the European and people of all ethnicities (a brother)?”[1]. The same could be said of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s appeal to the American people through her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Was it simply because it appealed to the public conscience of that day or because there was no rational alternative to which the abolitionists could turn?

Without God there is no Truth, only perceptions and rationalisations. Without Truth all ideas are equal, people only as far as they are useful, convenient or necessary. Without the inequality of ideas, racism is a rational inclination which might inconvenience some while granting convenience to others. We cannot appeal to an authority but instead become authorities ourselves. Justice not based in God is justice based in him who best mimics God. Can such justice restore or will it be ever rectifying towards ‘heaven’ as it is proposed by the latest god? These heavens, Roger Scruton argues, are, despite noble intentions, too often much like the world dreamed up and imposed in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: places where the imperfect individual is replaced with the pure abstraction, where the human world is rewritten as though composed of forces, movements, classes and ideas, all moving in a stratosphere of historical necessity from which the messy realities have been excluded. These “good intentions can never be questioned since nobody knows what it would be like to achieve them”, states Jean-Francois Revel. Or as Joe Boot, speaking at a recent seminar I attended, mentioned (paraphrased): “social justice is a term often used but no one in a strictly secular world really knows what it looks like”.

I am, however, not completely correct in referring to Bruce’s response as non-theological. His response is not too dissimilar to that which flows from a secular humanist theology. Personhood is relativised along with Truth into individual expressions and desires. This is an unfortunate effect of ‘human rights’ no longer derived from God as source: people end up less or other than human. People are reduced to ethnic or cultural groupings, gender categorisations, economic classes and so forth. As most of us hold to some or other ‘doctrine of salvation’ for mankind, there is no longer one ‘true person’, or God, through whom salvation is found but we become ourselves the mythological gods of old, continually at war, looking to subject others to our divinity.

These wars are fought in the name of human rights and in pursuit of the ever elusive, very vague ‘progress’. Scruton recognises this consequence of secular humanism, calling it “the new secular religion of human rights” as it seems to “occupy the place vacated by faith and with it humans have become gods”. “It tells us that we are the centre of the universe, that we are under no call to obedience, but that the world is ordered in accordance with our rights”. Immorality is thus that which infringes on perceived rights and the result of this religion of rights is that “people feel unendingly hard done by. We have made an idol of progress. But ‘progress’ is simply another name for human dreams, human ambitions, human fantasies. By worshipping progress we bow before an altar on which our own sins are exhibited. We kill in ourselves both piety and gratitude, believing that we owe the world nothing, and that the world owes everything to us. That is the real meaning it seems to me, of the new secular religion of human rights. The triumph of sin thereby comes with our failure to perceive it”. In the name of ‘reproductive’ or ‘women’s’ rights, for instance, we legally disallow persons to enter otherwise ‘free’ societies on a daily basis through abortion. This is quite evident in NARAL’s denunciation of Doritos for wrongly “humanising fetuses” in a recent Superbowl commercial. Everything becomes an injustice as these rights pull us apart from, instead of restoring us toward, one another. The solution is not sought in the pursuit of Truth and obedience to One greater than us but in the continual division of people into opposing groups and classes. Is this not also dehumanisation?

It appears that human relations and a commitment to clear thinking on personhood are not central in such pursuits towards progress. Trust in fallen human beings’ ability to meet face to face in a broken world to build systems from the ground up and create flourishing societies is weak or non-existent. We rather look to perfect systems, designed by the gods, to compensate for imperfect human relations and negotiations. Lacking a clear definition of personhood to strengthen human relations, materialist attempts to redistribute financial resources among people seems to depend on a redistribution of personhood among people categorised along different identities.

Steve Biko foresaw a South Africa in which “there shall be no minority… no majority; there shall just be people”, while President Nelson Mandela also spoke of a “people-centred society”. Is such a society attainable when personhood remains a largely undefined concept, not eternally fixed but always at the mercy of those in power? Is the creation of material equality helpful if the rich and poor are equally greedy, suffer from the same sense of entitlement, and have the same skewed views on personhood and neighbour?

Proposing a solution would mean appealing to Truth once again. Truth, not originating from among men but which became human, modelled what being human looks like, and calls all – those considered less and more than human – to become properly human. Truth, so primary and universal, it requires us to extend both our love and judgement across religious, ethnic and familial boundaries – yet, recognising the otherness of others, from this gracious Truth developed a social preference for “neighbourhood and mutual freedom rather than brotherhood and shared submission”[2].

I turn again to Scruton[3] and summarise his thoughts on escaping from the secular hole we dug ourselves into. He argues we return through the ‘hole in the hedge’, as proposed by the Psalmist (Ps. 100), rather than a door towards elusive progress:

‘Be ye sure that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves’. This sentence contains all theology. It reminds us of three truths: that our knowledge of God is a kind of personal acquaintance, summarised in a statement of identity, knowing God by knowing that God is the Lord and the Lord is God; that we did not create ourselves, nor the world in which we live; and finally, that God created us.

When we ask for the ‘why’ of the world – who we are and how we ought to live – we are not turning to scientific projects which answer the ‘how’ questions. We are seeking a point of view outside all time and change, from which we can view the world as a whole. Only God can obtain that point of view. Hence it is to Him that we must look for an answer.

The right course for ‘his people, and the sheep of his pasture’ who have strayed into the unknown territory, is to go back through the hole in the hedge. After a long history of human pride and arrogance that has sundered us from nature, we need to return. This is the essence of the religious life: not progress and experiment, but the journey back to the place that protects us. It is a mark of our sinful nature that those who advocate this course are often sneered at. Yet, there is a way back to those cooling streams, which can be rediscovered at any time.

The psalmist charges us to direct our thoughts outwards, in praise and gratitude: ‘O go your way into His gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and speak good of His Name’. Only those who give thanks are able to rejoice, for only they are conscious that life, freedom and well-being are not rights but gifts. A gift is a reminder that others care for us. The doctrine of human rights is prompting us to forget that truth and that is why it is leading to a world without joy. For if the good things of life are mine by right, why should I be grateful for receiving them? Where there is no gratitude, there is no love. Conversely, a world in which there is love is a world in which the good things of life are seen as privileges, not rights. It is a world where you are aware of the good will of others, and where you respond to that good will with a reciprocal bounty, giving what is in your power to give, even if it is only praise. Even in the midst of suffering we enjoy the free gift of life while we might not even have existed. God’s ‘everlasting mercy’ is not the constant forgiveness of sins, but the maintenance of an order in which free choice can guide our conduct even through suffering and hardship. His commands are a great endowment of good will that only free beings can obey.

The psalmist concludes by telling us of God that ‘his truth endureth from generation to generation’. Discovering this truth, we encounter what is permanent – or rather what is beyond time and change, the eternal peace that serves as the divine template, so to speak, for our brief homecomings here on earth. When we take those tentative backward steps that I mentioned earlier, trying to restore this or that little precinct of our mutilated Eden, we are creating icons of another pasture, outside time and space, where God and the soul exist in dialogue. We are prefiguring our eternal home.

“Any thoughts?” Should we, instead of worshipping some system or trusting it to heal our land, rather focus on “fortifying people from the problems created by the systems that direct their lives and movement.”

 

Serv.

 

 

“Should we women [and surely we men can follow suit?] who belong to different racial groupings, not reach out to one another, make the journey to one another’s heart, so that our children and grandchildren may inherit a future of peace in this beautiful country of ours? Should we not seek opportunities to work together? Establishing proper starting points among a people, a multi-racial country, a miserable world, lies to a large extent in the hands of women. There are enough of us willing to do it because we are open to undertaking the longest journey, from heart to heart, person to person.” –Alba Bouwer speaking at a women’s gathering in Johannesburg, 1982

[1] The ‘image of God’ and ‘incarnation of Christ’ concepts thus guided their reasoning.

[2] Scruton R 2014. How to be a Conservative. Bloomsbury: London, UK.

[3] Scruton R 2005. Gentle Regrets: thoughts from a life. Continuum: London, UK.; p. 234-239.

*’Hole in the hedge’ photo from vancouversun.com
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Stellenbosch, Afrikaans and South African identity

These are one of those ‘one paragraph’ facebook posts which became a blog post as my thoughts developed while I wrote and am looking forward to hear your thoughts.

What do these TEDtalk presentations (see links below) bring to the current discussion around language at Stellenbosch University? English as official language provides access (to some in their first language, to many in their second and others in their third) and connects more people to one another, but that may not be the only effect it has. The simple argument that Afrikaans ‘excludes’ is simply too simple, and incomplete.

Don’t Kill Your Language – Suzanne Talhouk

Don’t Insist on English – Patricia Ryan

The World’s English Mania – Jay Walker

Die Ander Kant (The Other Side) – A South African ‘Coloured’ perspective

When we say Stellenbosch ought to be a ‘South African’ university as opposed to say a White University or a Cape University or an Afrikaner University or an Afrikaans University, are we actually able to define ‘South African’? When we do define something we make it exclusive. It is ultimately impossible to move away from exclusivity.Taal

I won’t die if everything becomes English and neither would my children. I am an eighth generation South African (from before it became South Africa with its current borders I believe) who are currently operating in our third home language since: German, Dutch, Afrikaans… English? My first known ancestor to arrive in the Cape was German ‘Johann Heinrich Hoffmeister’ but was soon registered and ‘Dutchified’ as ‘Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr’ to better fit the culture – I assume his mother tongue was German, although he arrived from a region which was under Dutch rule at times. I am thus not of the opinion that my language is that which ultimately defines me (the one Arab lady in the video might be of that opinion though) but think that the TED speakers might be correct in saying that the country will get poorer, or at least lose a part of its collective mind and diversity should English become mainstream. Not my death but perhaps the slow death or transformation of its cultures. Not the end of the world but a move away from diversity towards uniformity. Away from local cultures towards a global one.

My understanding is that apart from political agendas, a major factor in language changes within (white/Afrikaans) South Africa has been the desire to transfer truth on ground level. I have not read extensively on any of this but it appears that a great influence on the Afrikaans transplantation of Dutch as written language among the people, was the need to serve the less educated and often illiterate (white and coloured) with the Gospel, as they struggled to partake in its fullness while Dutch alone was the official Church language[1]. Assuming the University of Stellenbosch does possess a great ‘truth’ to which more people want and need access, Afrikaans seems to be portrayed as the ‘Dutch’ (or ‘Latin’ in Catholic Europe until Bible translators began making the Word accessible to the masses in their mother tongue so that they may know God and freedom through their own tongue and culture) and English as the national vernacular (or ‘old Afrikaans’ as per above example), despite it being so as a second language.

Language can indeed be a barrier but the former trend referred to seemed to cross that barrier by expanding the choice of language from the position that truth is universal, transcending and celebrating diversity of cultures. Our current approach appears to contract choice into a single language option. The question following is how well our various cultures can continue to exist within an English framework – again, assuming they have to continue to exist in the way they currently do, at all.

The question we have seemingly grappled with from the start is how to live as a diverse people while pursuing a single national identity. Is the idea that we remain a rainbow with separate colours moving in the same direction or that the State mixes all the colours together and the end result is ‘South African’?*

If the rainbow is the goal, it would make sense that institutions displaying various cultures would co-exist, regardless of whether they are public institutions or not. If the melting pot is the end goal with only one official language in mind, English makes sense.

Taal_mother tongue

The following is based on the 2011 SA Census and serves as an estimate:

English is the most commonly spoken language in official and commercial public life – but only the fifth most spoken home language representing a mere 8,2% of the population. South African creativity has developed its own version of English. Combining the influences of the many other languages spoken in the country. The traditional Oxford Dictionary incorporated many South African words which have become common usage, such as kraal (village of huts) and trek (travel by ox-wagon).

Afrikaans is the second most spoken language in South Africa. There are approximately 6 million people who can speak [Afrikaans]. The language is only 90 years old, it is officially the youngest language in the world.

Zulu is the most commonly spoken mother tongue (23,8% ), followed by isiXhosa (17,6%) then Afrikaans (13,3%), Sesotho sa Leboa (9,4%), English (8,2%) and the rest made up by the remaining six languages.[2]

*If I’m not the only one asking, “What does it mean to be ‘South African’?”, then perhaps that is a good question to we ought to engage with.

[1] Any historical insight on the development of mainstream languages in South Africa is welcomed; this is merely something I have noticed in works I’ve read. I do recognise it as the typical approach by Bible translators beyond South Africa and even Europe though, and that it did play a role in the development of more languages.

[2] Source: http://www.awesomesouthafrica.co.za/2014/06/south-african-languages/

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Theology as Deliverance

As odd as it may sound, theological studies – man’s study of God and how to relate to Him as human persons – is often thought of as a “faith killer”. This is the case within certain Christian circles at least. Elspeth Barnett, a theology graduate from Kings College London, tells of how she held this ironic fear. She recounts how, before embarking on her degree in theology, she received her “fair share of Evangelical warnings”, reminding her to be cautious of having her ‘faith’ undermined. Barnett goes on to tell of how, despite a good Christian grounding (a Christian upbringing, cross-cultural mission work, serving within her local church setup) and the forewarnings, studying theology ended up being the biggest trial her faith endured up to that point.

I have begun walking a similar journey a few years ago. My entrance into theological studies was not accompanied by a specific fear or list of warnings attached to it. I have, however, held this suspicion towards academic theological institutions and was aware of the notion that “the more advanced a person becomes as a theologian, the less eager evangelist he becomes”. I pursued these studies primarily because I had the hope of eventually studying philosophy. Theology would provide me with an academic qualification more conducive to philosophical studies than that of my qualifications in commerce at the time.

theologian_bookRegardless of my intentions for pursuing theological studies, the experience was in many ways similar to the one described by Barnett. Both of us had our personal faiths challenged, both experienced the process as frustrating at times and both concluded it (theology) to be a necessary part of growing as members of the Faith.

I believe the suspicion among both Evangelicals and evangelistic-minded Christians are mainly based on three theological positions. Yes, even those who may be suspicious of the ‘intellectual theological’ pursuit of God hold theological positions! Before we consider the first position, it is important that we acknowledge that all people are theologians in the broad sense of the word while Christians are all theologians in the narrow sense. All people interact with their experienced reality from a belief system which includes a view of ‘ultimate reality’ (God) and a doctrine of man. Christians too, define God in certain terms and consequently view themselves in light of that understanding of God, regardless of the source(s) for their interpretation of these.

The Christian mind

What is the role of intellect in one’s relational pathway to God? Can God be known through the mind? It is impossible to deny the contribution Christian thinkers made to theology and church tradition through the ages. Augustine of Hippo (AD354-430), arguably the most influential theologian to date and often referred to as “the second founder of the Christian faith”[1], was also renowned for his philosophical work, some[2] of which dominated the intellectual life in Europe for more than a thousand years.

As a student of Greek philosophy, Augustine was familiar with the Aristotelian notion[3] that knowing or agreeing happens not only on an intellectual (logos) level but simultaneously on psychological (pathos) and social/ethical (ethos) levels as well. He argued that the integrated person should practice integrated worship by means of his “head, heart and hands” along the biblical command to love God with one’s whole being, including mind, heart and strength (Matt. 22:34-39; Mk. 12:29-31; Lk. 10:26-28). His philosophy on music is the foundational reason behind much of the sophisticated music which was developed and written through the European church leading up to and beyond the Protestant reformations and is still evident in modern musical pursuits within Western culture. This is a good example of how heart worship, often associated with music and hymns, is dependent on head worship.

Another church father, John of Damascus (ca. AD 676-749), who continued in the tradition of Augustine and Boethius (AD 480-524) to integrate Greek insights into Biblical revelation (also visible in Paul addressing the Areopagus, Acts 17), taught that “to be spiritual is to cultivate the life of the mind”. The Greeks gave up on rationality while the Biblical teaching that “eternal life was to know (the rational) God and Jesus Christ” continued the case for it. The later mass-awakening of the European mind continued through the works of reformers such as Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther and Calvin, who made it their business to make the Bible available to all people, that they may discover Truth for themselves. It is said that most every European alehouse and tavern at the time became a debating society as the people developed a critical mind, questioning traditions of the church and decisions of kings. They knew then that the Word of God was an authority higher than that of church and state combined. In the noble Berean spirit (Acts 17:11), studying and discerning the Word became a daily pursuit to many; the means to their liberation[4].

Not only were the people liberated from oppressive authorities, but in developing a Biblical worldview they became liberated from pre-Christian worldviews (pagan animism, Greco-Roman monism, and Islamic fatalism) still active within church culture at the time. History shows that Christian societies only develop a Biblical worldview and see its effects over time, as the minds of its people are transformed.

While the head is of no use apart from the heart and hands, it remains central and irreplaceable in the experience and on the journey of knowing God.

Salvation, faith, and doubt

What does Barnett mean when saying, “theological studies put my faith on trial”? She could mean one of two things.

First, she was in danger of “losing her salvation” and becoming an unbeliever. This will depend on how salvation is defined and the role worldview-altering ideas play in becoming ‘saved’. Important questions which follow are whether she is saved due to her beliefs or believes because of her salvation, and whether salvation is a process or an event?

If salvation is obtained through human effort or belief, it follows that exposure to and engagement with ideas is the ultimate basis from which salvation is obtained or lost. We are left to face a multitude of ideas on a daily basis and destined to believe the most convincing ones. The ‘gift’ of salvation is thus only for those able to obtain and hold on to it. From this perspective it would make sense to engage only with those ideas which lead to one’s salvation in the first place and avoid any alternative which may result in the loss of salvation. If salvation is in fact the gift from God which resulted in Barnett’s belief in Christ as the Messiah, contradictory ideas could be engaged in more freely without the fear of losing her salvation because of it.

Salvation ‘obtained’ allows us with the possibility of one to multiple salvific events and a process of moving towards a possible, eventual obtaining of salvation. Salvation ‘bestowed’ by God would argue for an initial event which is inevitably brought to fruition through a process.

Second, it may very well be that, instead, Barnett’s personal faith was challenged – her view of who God is and how she relates to Him was challenged by the Bible. If salvation does indeed contain a procedural aspect, misunderstandings about God, one’s salvation, and relationship with Him are to be expected along the way. Waves of doubt and belief are part of the salvation process as much as attraction and the desire to love are part of a marriage union. The covenant determines the status, not the beliefs, feelings or actions of those bound by the covenant.

Evangelistic zeal

Looking into the effect of theological studies on evangelistic tendencies, evangelism should first be defined. All would agree that the expected fruit of evangelism is people professing their belief in Christ as Lord and being added to the Church. But is evangelism primarily the proclamation of Good News or rather an invitation to respond to Good News? One may argue that it is both but should one emphasise either one, evangelistic zeal and success are likely to be measured differently. The former may argue evangelism is successful as long as the Good News is accurately proclaimed while the latter is more likely to measure evangelistic success based on the response to the Good News.

Theological studies may lead to the proclamation of a false gospel but may also help churches reach more people more effectively with the Gospel. I am familiar with organisations that are very committed to an intellectual pursuit of God through the study of the Word while being very committed to operating among unbelievers in order to share the Good News with them. How would one measure whether such organisations act as effective evangelists?

A personal journey

Many of my personal beliefs were challenged as I began to engage not only with current theological debates but also with Church history and the contexts in which many of our modern beliefs developed. I found that, as is the case with societies, even though I was a Christian operating within a predominantly Christian culture, my worldview contained animistic, fatalistic and also Gnostic elements. Theological studies helped me develop a more Biblical worldview and thus had a positive impact on my faith life.

Much of this began with a move away from the postmodern notion that we are individuals detached from community, history and a grand narrative. In a humbling way I rediscovered the fact that we are called to be custodians of the Gospel handed down to us by communities of faith who lived in contextually different cultures. Grasping the covenantal Biblical narrative and understanding the Old and New Testaments in light of this story made the Bible more readable to me than before. My faith became more logical and liveable as I understood more clearly how I fit into history and related to God and the world as someone saved by His grace. I am now able to read the Bible in order to come to terms with my salvation and have God work in me both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

Theological studies liberated me from a mind prone to strive for God’s favour, an animistic one that tried to control God’s hand, but also one that often led me to passivity as I resigned to fatalism. God is sovereign and I cannot control him but He created us to imitate him in community, fulfilling our creative mandate of shaping and sanctifying space and time that His Glory may dwell among us.

In light of Barnett’s conclusive quote by Sir Francis Bacon, “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion”, I conclude that it is only improper, half-hearted, or dishonest theology that paves the road to faithlessness.

Vishal Mangalwadi tells of the Indian mystic, Osho Rajneesh, whose teachings are peppered with phrases such as “Intellect is the chief villain” and “Do not use your mind” while his religious philosophy aims to achieve “a point in (one’s) mind where there is no thinking at all”. He encourages his followers with a sign which reads, “Please keep your shoes and your mind outside the temple”.

May Christians ever involve their minds and feet as they engage with God and share that experience with others. Whether it is for the sake of personal mind renewal, deeper relationship with my Church community, or to better proclaim the Gospel to others, I intend to continue engaging seriously with the Word and other people’s understanding of it. I do this knowing that my salvation is secure in the hands of Him whose perfect, finished works I have been called to walk in.

[1] McGrath AE 2011. Christian Theology: an introduction. Oxford, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell.

[2] City of God and Confessions.

[3] Dickson JP 2014. Top 10 tips for Atheists this Easter. Online article. Accessed via www.abc.net.au.

[4] Mangalwadi V 2011. The Book that made your World: how the Bible created the soul of Western civilization. Nashville, TN.: Thomas Nelson.

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The Bible, Music, and the Western Soul

Thoughts and quotations from a book I am currently reading…

“Criticisms of the Bible are recognition of its unique cultural power. Contrary to what my university taught, the Bible was the force that had created modern India.”

“Western (education) can make good robots but it cannot even define a good man… The postmodern university can teach one how to travel to Mars but not how to live in one’s home or nation”

Vishal Mangalwadi wrote The Book that made your World in response to criticism by politicians of the Bible’s effect on Indian culture. It acts primarily as a warning/reminder to the West of what they are sacrificing along with their biblical heritage.

He surprisingly begins with the topic of music, stating that “Those who think that the universe is only material substance and the soul is an illusion find it hard to explain music.”

church music_3He goes on to tell how music was always held in high regard, after theology only, at the educational core of Biblical (‘Western’) cultures, as it was seen to consist of mathematical harmony and associated with a rational, eternal, unchangeable, meaningful and objective reality under a monotheistic, intelligent designer. Much of this was due to St Augustine’s philosophical works on music and the influence it had on Europe. The pipe organs in church was the world’s most advanced machine until the mechanical clock and stood as emblems of the West’s unique desire and ability to use the arts, science, and technology for the glory of God as well as for the relief of humanity’s suffering and toil.

While top modern/postmodern music artists are so attractive because they capture human suffering in their lyrics, those who have gone before saw hope through the pain, as is still the case within the Christian musical tradition. Kurt Cobain is held up as the musical symbol of the West’s state under the post-Augustinian Nietzschean world. While Augustine affirmed every human being as a trinity of existence (being), intellect, and will, Cobain bought into the Nietzschean idea that God is dead and thus the self too is dead. This is aligned with the Buddhist idea of the self as illusion. Cobain is, however, held up as a legitimate icon because he lived by what he believed. Only a few followed his example of suicide but most follow that of Sartre and Camus who advocate for choice in spite of the nihilism they embraced. Suicide is not necessary because an own reality could be created through choice – Cobain did not create such a reality for himself.

Golden Pipe Organ - Granada, Spain

Golden Pipe Organ – Granada, Spain

Music did exist within non-Christian cultures but was hardly ever treated in a similar manner and developed to the same level of complexity and, states Mangalwadi, universities with a Christian heritage tend to still hold music in a much higher regard than most universities founded upon secularism during the twentieth century. Within the church, music is also less developed where St Augustine had less influence.

This is mainly based on and quoted from the first chapter ‘The West without its Soul: from Bach to Cobain’ from Mangalwadi’s The Book that made your World: how the Bible created the soul of Western civilisation.

 

Serv.

 

photo of organ via canvas-of-light.com
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“Trust me.”

God’s most typical and ever inconvenient response to my most pressing and recurring questions: “Trust me.”

Amidst the confusion, frustration and occasional panic in which this ‘clear’ response leaves me, I remember to constantly remind myself about the fact that there is valid reason to trust, and continue to trust. As unclear as my journey ahead seems, so unclear it has been for the past few years (and truly all my life, although I enjoyed the comfort of assumed certainty until fairly recently) and yet God has been guiding and providing and, above all, remained himself. Deeper and more distant than God’s works in my own life that speaks of his faithfulness or trustworthiness, is a historical narrative of him calling and reminding people to trust, in light of who he is.

Lighthouse-in-the-stormAs God gave to Israel the Sabbath to keep as part of the Law, he revealed and reassured them of who they are dealing with. It answered for Israel the “Who is YHWH?” question, identifying their Redeemer God with Elohim the Creator, who instituted the original sabbatical creation tradition in Genesis (2:1-3). To behold God as Creator, man, like Adam was, is confronted with God’s claims that his world is a covenantal order under the sceptre and protection of its Creator. These claims call for confession, commitment and doxology, and serves as invitational proclamation and reminder of the creational covenant[1] . Later covenants so too are made while recognising the original Creation Covenant and its Initiator. (Kline 2006, Kingdom Prologue)

Is this not also the answer to the disciples’ question which left them “filled with great fear” (Mark 4:41): “What sort of man is this (Jesus), that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matt. 8:27)?

That this Jesus is YHWH the Redeemer God and thus Elohim the Creator?

 

“So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name”
– Kristene DiMarco

“Still”… He who initially created order from chaos is also He who came in the flesh to recreate order from our chaos. He is creating order from my chaos.
Trust in Him, for there is no other way.

Perhaps some future day, Lord,
Thy strong hand will lead me to the place
Where I must stand utterly alone;
Alone, Oh gracious Lover, but for Thee.

I shall be satisfied if I can see Jesus only.
I do not know Thy plan for years to come.
My spirit finds in Thee its perfect home: sufficiency.
Lord, all my desire is before Thee now.
Lead on no matter where, no matter how,
I trust in Thee.

Elisabeth Elliot

Serv.

[1] Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-9:6 is also presented as ‘legitimate’ or ‘worthy to pursue’ on these grounds.

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Why Beauty Matters

The idea of beauty as a moral proclamation is one I’ve been confronted with over the past few months. Beauty is more than a simple matter of taste. There is a place where beauty and truth intersects and, following from that, a place where perverting beauty or treating it as something profane is actually immoral.

vineyards tiffany
This then from Gunton, his thoughts on this in his book Christ and Creation (paraphrased), which I read as I’m preparing for an essay on the imago Dei:

Of the oddest features of our modern world is its divorce of the worlds of work and that of art, function and beauty. The pursuit of work is for the most part conceived in economic terms and the world of aesthetics treated quite seperately, often in terms of high culture or recreation (‘leisure’). This, in general, is a form of fragmentation of human experience that replicates the structures of fallenness rather than those of the teleology of creation…

…What we can and should offer is a vision of what it is to be in the image of God and a consideration of how we should seek to embody it in our communities of worship and life.

The blog title was taken from Roger Scruton’s documentary on the subject and its importance Why Beauty Matters (59 min – worth a watch)

scruton beauty

“Beauty is the remedy for the chaos and suffering in human life…The beautiful work of art brings consolation in sorrow and affirmation in joy.” —Roger Scruton.

Serv.

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The power of a statue

SONY DSCWhy on earth am I writing about a statue again? What is so powerful about a statue that it deserves my time? These are some of the thoughts bothering me this morning. Much of South African (and other) internet has been abuzz with talk and debate around statues – one specific statue and statues in general. Why is this statue thing getting to me? Which nerve is it touching? I can simply say, “I’m reacting normally to the sight of protestors and people wanting to ‘tear down’ (and busy doing so) historical monuments throughout the country”, that my sense of disgust and confusion is a natural one. But then again, the Rhodes statue, which has been the central talking point and which removal brought me to write this post, is a statue on a university campus I have nothing to do with. I’m a Matie for goodness sake! Who cares what the Ikeys (this could be looked into as an anti-semitic slur and a call to change the name to something like ‘Tigers’ could be launched) are doing up against the mountain!? But watching the video of the Rhodes statue being removed did stir something in me which deserves introspection. The question I’m asking myself this morning is where my reaction to events surrounding the statue comes from. This blog post is not an argument for a position on the matter but one of me doing introspection.

If you are not familiar with the great statue ‘debate’, google ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ or follow #RhodesMustFall on twitter. You will then encounter any possible opinion on the matter that exists under the African sun. I could recommend the following articles, which would reveal my position on the matter to some extent: Must Rhodes Fall? How Should I Know? I’m Just Another White Guy and A Christian response to race issues on campus.

The question I’m asking myself is why I dislike the behaviour I’m seeing on the video of the statue being removed? I’m not against the idea of removing a statue, and agree with Robin Gilbert-Jones that “students do have a say in what symbols are represented on their campus”. History has seen many statues rise and fall before. I get that our country is still largely draped in white history and think it is good for different peoples within our country to put themselves in one another’s shoes and think through why the ‘other’ reacts the way they do in given situations. I agree that symbolism is powerful and can influence the psyche of a people. The one thing I appreciate about these situations though, is the fact that we are forced to think things through – if we don’t jump to the defensive straight away, that is.

I have no specific admiration for Rhodes, as he is considered an ‘enemy’ from both my ‘Afrikaner’ and ‘Christian’ perspectives – being a colonist who has driven exploits against all peoples in the land, and his agenda considered un-Christ-like, on the one hand, and even tied to the occult through masonic initiatives on the other. But then again, one might argue I’m a Cape Afrikaner who has a more favourable view of British rule than some others. I am somewhat of an Anglophile at times, as so much good has come from Britain and they have influenced my culture in a positive way. I cannot but view the video from my own cultural perspective, and even more so from the family values under which I was brought up along with my own personal characteristics. Besides that, I also pursue a biblical worldview and have certain expectations of others because of that too. I am thus an introverted white Afrikaner, brought up in a relatively tame family environment, who came to faith in Christ just over ten years ago, and from this perspective I watch the scenes of the statue being removed play out in front of me.

I feel the excitement. I experience the joy. There is something powerful in seeing history happen, something beautiful in seeing ‘the people of the land’ having a voice in the land. There was also something ugly in how it was done. This is where people might accuse me of ‘not understanding’, or viewing it from my ‘white’ or ‘Christian’ or ‘Servaas’ perspective. There was something ugly in the boastful, self-righteous manner of the ‘chant-leader’. There was something disrespectful in the manner a person in the wrong was treated, even if it is only the symbol of his legacy. Just like there is something ugly about people hoping for the Boston Marathon bomber, who was recently found guilty on all charges against him, to ‘suffer’ and ‘endure torture’ for the ‘animal’ that he is. We want justice, but too often we want to achieve it by making someone ‘pay’ for it instead of living just lives ourselves, lives worthy of statues. We have the freedom (always, even within prison – ask Mandela, ask St Paul) to build, but too often we think of ‘tearing down’ as ‘building’.

DR_ALBIE-SACHS_RHODESI am also very guilty of this myself. I am quick to criticise rather than provide a better way. If I stood on that statue rubbing his face like that, cheering like that, I would guess my dad would confront me about it somewhere along the line; in the quiet, calculated way he has confronted me about things in the past. Like this past December holiday when he dropped, “the real wise people are the ones who don’t always speak their mind but sometimes listen and speak only when it is the right time, even though it seems wrong not to speak”, on me. In saying that, he confronted my own foolishness, and I had the privilege to admit where I so often go wrong and could begin to change that bad trait of mine. I don’t know what the guy in the white shirt on the statue would think about his actions in years to come and I don’t know what his dad would have to say about it – older people tend to think differently about these things, I’ve learned. Does he even enjoy the privilege of knowing a dad who guides him? Any person who can restore families, and fathers to families, in this country, that person deserves a statue, a statue and a Bell’s.

The Christian response, though, would be to take note of and listen to actions and cries for help, regardless of whether they are made in a helpful or destructive manner, and consider how reconciliation of people to one another, in God, could be achieved. It could mean removing a statue or telling people that no statues will be removed. While I value history and its monuments and do become attached to earthly things, I must often remind myself that I am not of this kingdom, and that those who are from this kingdom will cling to monuments (or the lack thereof), for it is all they have. I am, however, tasked to help usher in the Kingdom of Heaven into this earthly one. This is the challenge to me as a Christian; what does this look like and how do I do it? I know the solution begins by having meals together. Traditionally, reconciliation happened through the eating of meals together and I believe there is great merit in that. I don’t do that, but I should.

Serv.

PS – another thing I hope to see people understand, is that both white and non-white South Africans are coming to terms with the New South Africa, which inevitably means both will act ‘racist’ towards one another in their attempts to do so, even the noblest ones. I recently, for the first time, realised that many whites and non-whites ascribe different definitions to the word ‘racist’, and therefore cannot even agree when it is linguistically correct to shout “that’s racist!”.

Rhode trip

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