RECENT pronouncements by the Judge President Mogoeng Mogoeng to the effect that South Africa’s constitution needs a Christian makeover, unleashed a storm of commentary from online media. The Christian Democratic Party who don’t even have a seat in parliament were quick to thank him for his kind words in their favour.
That the country has problems giving effect to constitutional guarantees of the separation of powers and religious freedom is clear. Having experienced an 8-year-long legal battle in which my rights to a secular Jewish identity as a journalist have been denied by the Labour Court, I can certainly testify to the many problems faced by South Africans in the aftermath of apartheid theocracy. Secularism is not, as many people commonly hold, the absence of religion, but rather the “principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries.”
“One manifestation of secularism is asserting the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, or, in a state declared to be neutral on matters of belief, from the imposition by government of religion or religious practices upon its people.” One may quote the coiner of the term, George Holyoake in this regard. “Secularism is a series of principles intended for the guidance of those who find Theology indefinite, or inadequate, or deem it unreliable.”(1)
Will constitutionalism prevail now that the bases are loaded in favour of Christianity?
Although the far right appears to have lost support during the past election, with some notable exits from parliament amongst Islamic-orientated parties, and a decrease in support for the ACDP, the problematic conflation of Church and State remains.
Interestingly enough, our Judge President starts by quoting Thomas Jefferson, no problems there, (Holyoake who is also the coiner of the term “jingoism” would most certainly have agreed with Jefferson) but then he proceeds to quote Lord Denning on the impossibility of there being “morality without religion”, and it is sadly all downhill, surely it is enough to believe in the golden rule of reciprocity that is common to all religions and philosophies? One need not even possess a religion in order to possess ethics. Science itself is not based upon any religious creed. The no-harm principle common to medical practitioners is worth raising in this regard.
Aside from the obvious inferences one may draw from current debates on legal positivism and the scientific method and its effects on the development of law, (or lack thereof) and the post-positivist assumptions of Karl Popper, the judge president appears totally lost in obscurantist Roman Scripture and the Christian conception of the State as some kind of evocation of God’s Will as per St Augustus (aka Augustine of Hippo).
One juicy piece from his address: “”Our safety and well-being as nations equally depends on the realisation and acceptance of the fact, that just as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are co-equal Personalities of the Trinity, so should the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Arms of the State be co-equal partners in the governance of any democratic country. ”
Dangerous stuff for secularists, it would have been better if Mogoeng had simple remained silent and inert, or rather if he had plucked up some courage and embarked upon the clear-headed path of delineating exactly what pluralism and secularism means for the nation’s founders, this in the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the 1995-1996 constitutional assembly, the one which was tasked with drafting our nation’s Bill of Rights and which delivered an emancipatory civil rights-based document sans the need to possess religion or religious rule. Instead we end up with a moral canard against everyone who is not a Christian, or at least, not a co-religionist, this despite the rather glib and feeble attempt in his introduction to distance himself from the invariable ruminations of his own liturgy-filled address — one would hazard to pronounce on the problematic introduction of Medieval logic, but there it goes, see the bench’s recent attempts to rebut criticism and the ensuing fall-out.
The Stellenbosch address is thus a sad and sorry peon to cater to current legal dilemmas faced by the judiciary — instead of pronouncing on pluralism within the concept of a Holy Trinity and presumably, the Christian Normative legal system, Mogoeng throws away a sterling opportunity to engage in more appropriate and less divisive discussion on normative pluralism and the common law.
Read Richard Poplak’s piece God Help Us as Mogoeng Moegeng takes the constitution to Church
and a follow-up piece Mogoeng Mogoeng wants God to govern. This time, he’s serious.
Chris Roper’s Christianity is the enemy of Christianity
Ryan Peter’s Thought Leader post Are Today’s Secularists really Secular?
George Devenish, professor emeritus at UKZN who “helped draft the interim constitution in 1993”, I repeat, interim, decries Mogoeng lack of independence, ‘failed to maintain impartiality, independence‘
Vinayak Bhardwaj Religious sentiments can’t be allowed to override our Constitution
Zama Ndlovu Mogoeng’s point is best left to others to debate
Pierre de Vos The law vs. religion: Let’s try that again
Here is another choice quote from Holyoake: “”A Secularist guides himself by maxims of Positivism, seeking to discern what is in Nature — what ought to be in morals — selecting the affirmative in exposition, concerning himself with the real, the right, and the constructive. Positive principles are principles which are provable.”
A number of computer visualisations explore the Bible. Not all of them are particularly attractive, but these three are among the best I’ve seen and reveal an aesthetic sensibility that is bordering on the sublime.
The Gospel Spectrum explores the convergence of technology and theology by examing how computational media can be applied to narratives using principles of data visualization and data-mining to deconstruct and then visually reconstruct the story of Jesus as presented in the Bible.
As the site says, rather admirably: “God is in the details.”
Visualising the Bible takes a similar approach, and one is reminded of Umberto Eco’s novel Foucault’s Pendulum which speculated on the problems associated with revealing God’s plan inside a computer.
Exegesis is another project which includes the Hebrew Bible and has a quaint running narrative, useful for exploring the text while working.
SECULAR Judaism has failed. Essentially, converting Jews into just another ethnic group that can be displaced by wars and conflicts over land, power and resources. As an ethnic Jew I am forced to recognise the logic of my own displacement, to argue for a place within the greater diaspora of Jewish thought, which of necessity recognises the right of Israel to exist, and Jerusalem to maintain its centre of focus for a religion which is one of the three Abrahamaic offshoots of monotheism.
Although I disagree with many of the fundemental tenats of Jewish teaching and hold out for a more encompassing and expansive wisdom, I see the error of holding to a doctrine that reduces the significance of the state of Israel and merely perpetuates the source of conflict in the Middle East of today.
Secular Judaism has failed to arrive at peaceful coexistance with its neighbours, and however radical this may sound, the only peace that is likely to arise out of an untenable situation in which a perpertual state of war, a war of attrition and siege is being waged on either side, is to examine the illogic of violence and mayhem wrought by friend and foe alike, which must be assuredly gurantee at some point, mutually assured destruction, of the type often talked about during the Cold War era.
For fundementalists, the price of surrendering East Jerusalem is too high, as most religious Jews can tell you, the wailing wall is one of the last vestiges of King Solemon’s temple, and is part of this territory now claimed by Palestinians. To allow a Palestinian authority to guard access over this sacred place is a bit like allowing Jews to control access to St Peters’ square in Rome. Would the descent into complete madness entail and even greater madness? A first-strike against the Kaaba in Mecca? A pre-emptive battle or secondary strike over the ruins of the Vatican? To think like this is to question ones own sanity — why would one want to wage such a war, to utter such thoughts, if only to prove that religious dogma is insatiable and that organised religion is the opiate of the masses?
Instead of accomodating Muslems and Christians and their plans for the partition and seperation of Jerusalem into various parts, what Israelis need to do now, after the withdrawel from Gaza, is to persuade the world of their plans to defend themselves and other holy sites on either side. If this fails, then they must persuade the world of their resolve to insure that nothing holy remains. A demonstration of purpose and resolve to assure that if Israel cannot exist, then destruction must be wrought on both sides, without favour. Surely such a religious war is unwinnable, and not worth fighting?
Where would Moslems be without their Mecca? Where would Roman Catholics be without a Vatican? The disappearance of Jerusalem along with these other places of religious worship would be the tragedy of the human race meted out by madmen in their insatiable thirst for power that can only be met by similar atrocities, as the whole world suffers from its lack of reason, as this conflict has proven time and again.