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.”
THERE are a number of things which need to be said in regard to the recent action against Reggies, a Jewish-owned business operating in South Africa. Firstly it would appear that children are now being used as political pawns in a war being conducted by adults. Secondly, a boycott of Jewish Toys is ill-considered. It is one thing to tackle an adult beauty product on the basis of a dispute over the borders facing the Dead Sea, but another thing entirely to boycott toys for kids, on the grounds of a businessman’s apparant support of a fund ostensibly being used to plant trees in greater Israel.
The Open Shuhada Street Campaign against AHAVA which conducts some of its business in territories occupied by Israel and which are disputed in terms of international law, is most certainly a well thought out action aimed at bringing the territorial dispute to the attention of the general public.
The Reggies Boycott on the other hand fails to consider the ramifications of a broad boycott against Jewish business. Horwitz’s rationale behind the action is apparently due to Reggies owner Issy Zimmerman’s support of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The fund is accused by the group of “being used by the Israel government to cover over the villages from which Palestinians were forcibly removed from land they’ve owned since the Ottoman times. And that continues we cannot allow this ethnic cleansing.”
Aside from the vigilantism inherent to this type action — there are legal options which have not been fully explored — the case against the JNF has by no means been decided in South Africa. The evidence referred to by Horwitz in his supposed correspondence with Zimmerman, has not been tested and has not received anywhere near the kind of open intellectual inquiry that would be needed to determine whether or not there is any veracity to any of the claims.
To give an indication of the kind of claims that would need to be tested in a court of law. The Stop the JNF website refers to trees planted on Mount Carmel in the District of Haifa, which is in the State of Israel. A booklet published by the campaign quotes Max Bluthenthal’s description of ” the environmentally destructive role of the JNF-planted pines in last year’s fire in Northern Israel that killed 42 people.”
“The JNF planted hundreds of thousands of trees over freshly destroyed Palestinian villages like al-Tira, helping to establish the Carmel National Park. An area on the south slope of Mount Carmel so closely resembled the landscape of the Swiss Alps that it was nicknamed “Little Switzerland.” Of course, the non-indigenous trees of the JNF were poorly suited to the environment in Palestine. Most of the saplings the JNF plants at a site near Jerusalem simply do not survive, and require frequent replanting. Elsewhere, needles from the pine trees have killed native plant species and wreaked havoc on the ecosystem. And as we have seen with the Carmel wildfire, the JNF’s trees go up like tinder in the dry heat.”
South Africans have no doubt witnessed similar debates about our local fynbos, in particular the controversy over Cecilia Forest, in Cape Town which has now been cut down and replaced with indigenous trees in a programme that aims to rectify water shortages and some of the supposed excesses of colonialism in Southern Africa. Unfortunately, the problem in Israel has absolutely nothing to do with British colonialism. Underlying the environmental issues, is the controversial issue relating to the recapture of land gained during successive periods of conquest.
To make a comparison, an equivalent scenario, would be if a group calling itself the Front for the Return of the Phoenician Empire, were now demanding that all land in the Cederberg be returned to the Phoenicians, since it is clear from historical data, that Phoenicians planted ceders there during their journeys around the African continent. There is a very good reason that people calling themselves “Palestinians” have been removed from Carmel. For starters, the land was gained through acts of colonial conquest, infanticide and outright murder.
Where did it all start? With slavery in the land of Egypt and an Egyptian Empire that murdered workers in order to prop up a tyrannical family posing as Gods? Or the Roman Empire which proceeded to destroy the Jewish State through acts of cultural genocide and expulsion? The province of Syria-Palaestina created by Herod following the defeat of the Bar Kokbah Revolt in 135CE was a concoction of the Roman bureaucracy which sought to destroy Judaism, lest its ideas of tolerance and egalitarianism be allowed to overthrow the Empire. In the end, an offshoot of Judaism known as Christianity succeeded where the Maccabees failed.
The State of Israel keeps reappearing throughout history. A map of the Kingdom of Israel shows the state on both sides of the Jordan River. This state was replaced by the Crusader Kingdom, which was destroyed by the Ottomans and then regained during World War 1. After the genocide of six million Jews during World War 11 and the murder of 100 000 Jerusalem Jews by the Ottomans, demands for the return of Israel to the Jewish people became hard to deny. Despite the Balfour Declaration and attempts by politicians to carve up the land of the British Mandate of Palestine into unequal pieces, with the vast majority of land being given to the Jordanian-Palestinians, the State of Israel was eventually regained by the Jews though a war of Independence. It is this war which Horwitz seeks to undo, in his ill-considered attempt to repatriate property to an illegitimate entity which seeks to destroy the Zionist State by replacing the narrative of Jewish Independence, with an Hamasist fable that ignores the existence of Jordan and other Palestinian entities.
He could do a lot better by simply demanding that Jews and Arabs receive equal treatment in a new dispensation which puts an end to the strife between Palestinian and Jew, and which seeks reconciliation in a new entity based upon fundamental human rights. Furthermore, there is no reason why Palestinians, under the current system should not be treated equally either as Israelis, or receive citizenship as Jordanians, in the land given to them by the British Empire.
UPDATE: An article carried by the M&G now refers to the judeafication of the Negev Desert, as if Jews do not have any right to the land granted in terms of UN Resolution 242. Whatever ones feelings about the plight of the Bedouin, who are now threatened by housing projects, the fact remains that Arabs already have over 75% of the British Mandate of Palestine. This fact is conveniently omitted in the propaganda war, which seeks the delegitimization of the State of Israel, on the basis of previous Empires acquisition of property via acts of conquest, as well as the removal of Jewish rights in the diaspora. Such conquests are specifically outlawed under international law, and is the basis for the dispute over the West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.
NOTE: Lewis is an anarchist and progressive Jew, he does not support the state, but rather the idea of universal human rights. He is thus opposed to any dispensation which lacks a Freedom Charter. He wishes to express his outrage at having to reiterate common knowledge merely in order to demonstrate why statism on either side is bound to fail.
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.