Phrasing it better than myself, my co-speaker and -thinker Jacques Rousseau succintly highlights the debacle which we had to endure.
South Africa’s political arena has withdrawn its metallic edges, lowered walkways and pushed back the lions and replaced it with side-stalls, parlour tricks and illusionists as the circus called the South African government rolls into town. Roll up, roll up! Get a fresh side of hypocrisy with your medium-rare dogma, a side-order of demagoguery and Puritanism mixed with a fresh batch of blood-dipped ideology. We have the world-class clowns and puppet-master The Magical J Zuma with his little, wooden friend Mini-Malema who sits neatly on Zuma’s lap of luxury. Step right up and watch all that liberty, all those rights fade into obscurity as we fearfully give way to those too inadequate to rule but who are louder than the rest; those who can pull the magical race card out of the deck, with their gloved fingers shoved so far up the behinds of South Africans enough to poke the back of their eyeballs, turning them to see what is preferable. Please take your seats, ladies, gentlemen, children, “citizens” or slaves in neatly-lined rows as we watch both a circus-performance and a funeral, at once dressed in white to usher in the clowns and black to wave goodbye to our dignity, buried beneath the soil of our own failure to live up to the standards we had set ourselves. And behind us, the cars load up all that had created a democratic arena, some shake their heads as they grip the steering-wheels to focus themselves on a horizon that is slowly quivering into a twilight of obscurity.
I say these things out of love for a past I will never know but whose hand wrote a future I was meant to be part of. At this moment, the ANC has won. There can be no doubt. Zuma has ascended the throne of unquestionable leadership, as he also claims to know the Divine is working behind him. One must remember that with the claims of a god, the “knower” of this god can claim ineffable justification and can forgoe any sense of reason – since reason peels back and reveals an empty shell of human desire then coated within the frame of divinity, against which nothing can penetrate. Already a homophobe, consider this profile by The Times Online:
He has advocated tackling crime by reintroducing the death penalty and forbidding legal aid to those accused of serious crimes. South Africa’s gays would also be disturbed by a president who describes same sex marriages as “a disgrace to the nation and to God”, adding: “When I was growing up, an ungqingili (a rude Zulu word for homosexual) would not have stood in front of me. I would have knocked him out.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu claims “the country would be ashamed” of a President Zuma.
Zuma, already having faced rape charges (amongst currently others), is set to do a grave injustice to something else which is considered important: our sensibilities. His past conduct and his current statements are testament to a mind overthrown by egotistical despotism, nepotism and dogmatic irrationality in the teeth of a law meant to be blind, but whose blindfold is shifted ever so slightly to gaze away.
It is no fault that this is a man who sues a cartoonist – one who I consider the best living-satirist, Jonathan Shapiro AKA Zapiro. Says David Blair from The Telegraph: “No other ANC leader since apartheid’s downfall has taken legal action against a journal.” I met Mr Shapiro the night he received this notification. He simply shrugged and took it in his stride, whilst buying a beautiful Art Spiegelman collection.
Mr Shapiro is a rising voice of reason, along with the Mail & Guardian, Desmond Tutu – and others, lesser known to the public, such as the philosophers David Benatar and my co-thinker Jacques Rousseau, and the chair of my society, the physicist Gareth de Vaux. There are others I have not indicated – for which I apologise – but at the moment these are sharpest in my mind. I hope that readers take care to read their writings. As writing is currently not viewed with any love by our new president.
Consider his case against The Guardian. A brilliant article – now removed but which can be found in full here – by Simon Jenkins has three paragraphs worth quoting in full:
Despite appearances, South Africa has long been one of the few “third world” states to pass this test. Apartheid never stamped out a free press or political opposition. Its ruling oligarchy was sufficiently open that, when the time came, it negotiated its own dismantling. Under Nelson Mandela and Mbeki, the ANC was boorish and corrupt, but rarely dictatorial. When Mbeki lost the confidence of his party in 2008, it ruthlessly but constitutionally removed him.
Thus all eyes turn to Zuma. To the sceptics he is the harbinger of Armageddon, whose slogan is “Bring me my machine gun”; he is a polygamous, leopardskin-draped, Zulu boss, an unschooled former terrorist, Communist sympathiser and rabble-rouser. Already his ANC youth movement is disrupting meetings of Cope, with blood-curdling slogans worthy of Robert Mugabe’s thugs.
South Africa’s politicians can cas-tigate [sic] ministers. Judges can sentence, journalists can write, academics lecture and businessmen can trade without being shot or kidnapped. The finance minister, Trevor Manuel, is a respected figure, and the reserve bank has avoided the reckless negligence of its British counterpart. Despite a horrendous crime rate, this country is in no sense a failed state.
This article, which gives a critical, thorough and truthful assessment of Zuma, was found to be insulting to Zuma and thus he sued the Guardian. Keep in mind that this is the same mindset, which splinters off into the mouth of Zuma’s main circus act: Mini-Malema. Having said that he would “kill for Zuma” and renowned for his display of outright idiocy, ignorance and repugnant dogmatism, Malema controversially arose to the leadership of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). Visiting my alma mater, UCT, he said that the entire education at UCT needed a restructuring. To quote him:
“We must transform this University!
We must change the council of this University!
We must also change the lecturers of this University!
The Cape Times also reported further instigations to change, to “reflect” South Africa. This man seems to have no conception to formulate coherent arguments. Stating that it must reflect South Africa does not mean it would be a “good” thing. Surely we need a tertiary institution based on the work, intellectual excellence and capabilities of its lecturers rather than the colour-palette of skins? A misreading may be my fault but essentially he is pressing for further transformation via the erroneous notion of “affirmative action”.
And consider Malema’s statement:
Don’t provoke us, it is us (ANC) who brought the nonsensical apartheid regime down. No opposition (party) will ever defeat the ANC.
We want them all to combine so that we can defeat them.
His blood-thirsty sentences are now so common that I shudder that we have become so complacent to such bullying, from one who appears to know so little. Democracy works on the principle of opposition and furthering the necessities of the people. The government is for the people – not the other way round. It is not about “defeating” other parties, or bringing them all together (as if to put all our enemies in a room, ignite the curtains and lock the door) to “defeat” them.
Perhaps if the Guardian had not withdrawn the article, Malema could have read the following from Jenkins: “The key is not the holding of elections. It is a capacity to entrench enough pluralism and dissent to enable peaceful changes of government to take place, to render power permeable.” We should be worried about such preachers for their own power, rather than the old South African slogan of “power to the people!”.
And if Zuma ascends to the heights of power, might not all charges against his dubious background simply fade into said space? As has already occured with the National Prosecution Authority (NPA), might we not see other claims find no ending sentences, empty authority, empty chairs and papers? Are we not entering a country of the blind, like the characters from Jose Saramago’s book Blindness? Though in this book, blindness is a disease and one that is spreading rapidly amongst the populace. “General,” says one character, “this must be the most logical illness in the world, the eye that is blind transmits the blindness to the eye that sees, what could be simpler.” It seems though that with blindness, we are also being inundated with silence. As Edmund Burke said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” And so with blindness, we are becoming silent. Though blindness is a lack of sight – or perhaps a severe enough amourasis – it is constructed as a disease. Similarly there is no reason why silence could not be thought of a disease, slowly spreading through my country.
As the characters say, Not all blind men are dead – but all dead men are blind. Similarly, they are silent. We are not corpses over which any machine powered by the hot air of egotism can trample over. The mission, the goal and the foundation of modern South Africa must continue to prevail if we are to enter a period ruled by this racist and demagogue. Silence must not fall and blindness must not spread. We can see and we can hear and we can speak. The tools we used to liberate our selves, which ironed out the rough road leading to the future, must now be gripped by those of a vision for all people – not black, not white, not ANC, not DA. Simply the citizens of the country who all walk the same paths and want the same fulfilment. We are a people, not peoples. Zuma must realise this – but more importantly, an opposition and those who stand against him must remember this. Pluralism, resting in the interest of open discussion. This can not happen if the ANC pulls out of constitutional debates.
As Sipho Seepe said: “Democracy is safe when the citizens are eternally vigilant.” Entering the public, plural and free society, public figures must expect to be mocked and scorned. Especially, when we have a Minister of Health who condoned vegetables as an alternative to medicine to fight AIDS; or a past-president who denied the link of HIV and AIDS. Even when television shows, which discuss nearly all the political big-wigs, are pulled we need to fight for the right to broadcast something which is satire, mockery and therefore a criticism. We are not going to bow down to anyone, no matter how big their machine gun is.
So, go ahead, Jay-Zee. Call for your machine gun and I will call for my pen. With your bullets ringing hollow in the temple of reason, we will continue to fight for liberty and freedom and equality. Things we seem to be forgetting, as we get progressively more silent, as Zuma’s machine gun makes us go progressively more blind.
“If you don’t matter to god,” says this advertisement for Answers in Genesis, “you don’t matter to anyone.”
Let us break down this non-sequituur. It states the following:
1. God determines whether your life has meaning
2. You must matter to god so you matter at all
C: Matter to god, or else you won’t matter at all.
I’ve chosen “at all” instead of to anyone for the present. But the underlying connotation of the video itself is one of a gun to the head, god being the bullet and meaning is the barrel. The entire project is riddled with cracks from a shaky foundation: a child with a gun? Pointing it at the camera? Shooting? And this is meant to confirm that life only has meaning with the god of the Bible.
It is an extension of the dangerous mindsets it allows to slowly boil over into the realms of madness. One need only think of cases like Paul Hill, who killed John Britton; or mullahs who beat women in Islamic countries. This disgusting affront to human sensibilities really rubs itself in the blood of the past to draw a crimson case for the present.
It is a threat, pure and simple. If you don’t matter to god, your life becomes meaningless. It means anyone, like this child in their advert with the “wife-beater”, can kill you – and no one should take a stand. Why? Because, well, you don’t matter to god, you evil amoral atheist. Adverts like this can only advocate discord in the echoing minds of the faithful. It can add and increase and reach a crescendo of violent actualisation, where someone takes this as a culpable inference to duty. It states that this person does not matter to my god, therefore, I can do what I want to him. Why? Well god obviously does not care about him – so why should I?
How can anyone watch this and not see this is almost reminiscent of racist propaganda? We don’t need this arbitrary god to be the one deciding what and who matters. How on earth can Christians have access to the mind of an ineffable deity?
We don’t need this tripe to decide for us, we need open mindedness, open dialogue, compassion and respect for each other. I don’t care about your views on god and you shouldn’t care about mine – that should not stop us from being able to engage as human brethren on the basis of our DNA, our fingers, our navels. When can we start laughing at the stupidity of our past, in a mutual clutching of glee, instead of clutching the myths and scavenging in the shadows of falling idols as most people do.
Answers in Genesis is no more disgusting than its advert, so perhaps for coherence’s sake the advert actually works. Gazing through this attempt at nonsense – because even nonsense will at least have the decency to not attempt to be science – one finds such nutshells of intelligence with: “evolution is actually contrary to the principles of science.” They constantly brandish their weapons of abstract bluntness against the side of evolution, never bothering to say how they plan on explaining what evolution does. See, one can not just poke holes in a theory – an entirely human theory and therefore fallible but one backed by what Richard Dawkins calls “mountains of mutually supporting evidence” – one also must establish ones own way of explaining the mechanisms involved. Thus, the Einsteinian revolution over the Newtonian; how astronomy seceded from philosophy and became its own brand of evidence based science; and so on.
Luckily, there are great websites fighting the attempt at nonsense, such as No Answers in Genesis and Answers in Genesis BUSTED! However, the important point to note about Answers in Genesis is their proliferation of the blood-in-the-mouth violence that can easily be given a spark from such an advertisement, how incredibly threatening and insulting it is, and, finally, how completely illogical the entire endeavour is.
And if I’m wrong, forgive me.
This is in response to Steve de Grouchy’s article, found here.
For my co-thinker Jacques Rousseau’s response, click here.
Steve de Gruchy in “Taking aim at the atheists” (Mail & Guardian, April 9) commits a number of fallacies in the short space provided to him. This firstly gives the lie that the M&G are “Dawkinite” in their view, which he claims has been the common denominator in M&G‘s treatment of religion. Forgetting that we have been exposed to only one view – that of believe or burn – for the majority of modern times, it is at least refreshing to see something new reprised in the public sphere. De Gruchy also does not list what he calls a “disproportionate amount” given to Dawkins views – since I only recall a few interviews myself and perhaps a book-review.
Like Russell and Lucretius, I view religion as a virus to our species – but I do not accept Dawkins as some prophet or harbringer of the “atheist apocalypse” (as de Gruchy call it). De Gruchy does not so much focus on the ideas as on Dawkins himself, stating that Dawkins and “born again atheists” “blindly ignore what is going on before their eyes”. Presumably, de Gruchy has set himself the myopic injunction to clarify my views. Of course, saying that one is mistaken is not the same as saying why. Not once in his entire article, does de Gruchy highlighy why Dawkins’ views are wrong. He simply makes ad hominem attacks (“arrogance”; “naive”) and incorporates all those who do not believe in his particular brand of religion and his one true god as mistaken.
Very well, professor. But why are we mistaken? Why is the use of scientific rationalism a mark of myopic thinking, rather than invoking an arbitrary deity based on no evidence whatsoever?
But perhaps the biggest fallacy is one you would expect a theologian to ignore. De Gruchy lists various machinations within the turgid engine of religious groups – their funding, their associations, their good work – and indicates that it is very much a part of our society. All good and well, but so what? The point that critics of religion like myself indicate is this: no one can deny the power and might of various religious groups, nor the good work they do. But this in no way makes religious claims of the divine, Jesus walking on water and Heaven true or valid.
De Gruchy then pulls “the charity card”. There are two ways to go against the notion that – to summarise the view – “lots of charity is done by people of faith. See how good faith is?” Well, lots of carpets, tables, benches, and most prisoners are of the faithful. Does that at all indicate that if you are faithful, you will commit crime or be prone to making tables? Of course not. So why does it indicate that faith is the cause for altruistic behaviour (this, however, does not repudiate that there could be one)? I personally know many volunteers who do not believe and who are hard at work to save Africa’s people. Does this make atheism any more legitimate? Of course not. The second way to oppose the intermingling of faith and charity is to ask the question: “Would you rather be under the care of someone who does it for goodness’ sake? Or does it to win some higher power’s favour?” I find it abhorrent to think there are people who do good out of the need to get into Heaven. Goodness should be done for the sake of our fellow man and not for the sake of an imaginary one.
De Gruchy invokes the intelligent appearing but rationally unsound claim of atheists confusing “questions about God and questions about religion”. Well, no, professor. You have. Whilst we continue to see no evidence for the existence of a deity – and since you can provide not a single good reason to believe – you instead go on to talk about religious groups and their activities. But that is not the point. The point is, religious claims are false and these groups are premised on false beliefs. We can then talk about religious groups – but we have not confused the two. Religious claims and religious groups are two different things – the former being untrue, whilst the the latter being unimportant in repudiating our counter-arguments.
And if the professor wants to invoke the good of religion, he must accept the bad. Is it any wonder that Joseph Khony invokes the Ten Commandments as his reasoning for gathering child-soldiers and massacring innocent people? Is it any wonder that the Pope can say that condoms promote AIDS, rather than prevent it? What about the Bishops who lured people into churches, only to burn them down in Rwanda? Now, none of this tells me anything about whether god exists or not. It does tell me the awesome arrogation of knowledge and power that people can invoke when they believe they have a divine backing.
De Gruchy patronisingly calls our views arrogant. He says: “Like latter-day missionaries, catechists of European secularism think they know better than the “natives”. The arrogance is astounding.” The professor should know that modern secularism is not European but American – as the beautiful First Amendment indicates. But, ignoring semantics, why is it arrogant to suppose people can cope without a god, live fruitful lives without petty fairy-tales and magic books? It is because we secularists think we are all equal, capable of such thought and thus capable of relieving themselves of a god. That is to look at people face-to-face. De Gruchy is patronising to think the so-called “natives” are not ready for secularism. Shame, he would say, leave them to their silly beliefs. If we did not care about others, I personally would not be writing this letter. It is because we feel so passionately about helping people live better lives, devoid of supersition, to grasp reality by the throat instead of by the lapel, that we are so strident in opposing bad ideas like religious claims.
De Gruchy also believes we will get there through religious “solidarity”. People of various faiths should be able to interact and atheism, according to de Gruchy, is creating discord where there was harmony. Harmony, like between Shi’ite and Sunnii Muslims in Pakistan – both of the same faith, notice but just different branding – who slaughter each other every other day? How can their be harmony between completely opposing religions, each believing their particular brand is the right one, and whose infallible books contradict each other? Being a Christian requires you believe that Christ is Lord and God. Being Muslims means only viewing Allah as the divine. You can not be both nor can either view be reconciled, or else they lose the very definitions of their faith.
And this was news to me: Apparently, “we are not a secular nation but a religiously plural one”. The professor has failed to remember that there is freedom of religion (plurality) and freedom from religion (separation of Church and state, and the privacy of faith practice should one choose to indulge), both in our secular society. Our constitution rests in having no faith-based interference, but allowing everyone to practise his beliefs in private. That is secularism. If it were not, it would be tainted by the theocratic justifications and arbitrary expulsions. As much as the faithful do not like it, we are secular.
De Gruchy also says, to solve societal problems we need “more theology, not less.” Gazing into ancient words and pretty imagery is not going to solve the problem of water-shortages in Africa; it will not solve AIDS; it will not ground our governments decisions; it will not allow us to lower the crime rate. Theology will only add to discord, since, as I indicated, we are plural and that means that different faiths have completely opposing theology but premised on the fact that each is infallible. De Gruchy uses the following analogy: “If people sing badly, we do not shut down music schools. We train better teachers”. Ignoring what a terrible analogy this is to religion, I have one to offer against it: “If a certain drug is distributed to people that harms them, we do not kill the people or doctors. We get rid of the drug.”
Finally, in a display that proves he wants to go out with a bang, like an abstract suicide bomber, de Gruchy says that atheism causes fundamentalism! One would think, according to de Gruchy’s view, that atheism is having a large impact on society, forcing people to stop talking about their faith lest the scary atheist-police silence them. And, because atheism is the ruling view, the faithful must take their views underground where, apparently, it becomes dangerous. He gives no justification for this and, like most faithful invocations, simply asserts it as true. It certainly can be attributed to the rise of secularism and Western thought into societies – but there is no legal claim to dismiss religion. Nor are all secularists nonbelievers. The only legality involved is that it must simply be a private affair and one that is not influencing major societal decisions. Is it the Allies fault that they were hated by the Nazi’s, when the Allies fought to dissolve Europe from the darkness of Nazism? No. So it is not the fault of secularists that there are toxic agents in the already murky stream of religious thought. We simply want to be rid of the whole stream altogether. Secularists did not cause the Inquisition, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, or the death of 15 girls in Saudi Arabia for not wearing abayas. The religious are perfectly capable of poisoning themselves with the most potent drug of all: god. Whilst they are overdosing, or trying to justify elements of obstruction (called religious apologetics), we are trying to focus on the present life we have.
De Gruchy then has committed a number of fallacies. The only area in which both our feet are squarely set is in the public: that is, religious people should take their claims to the public sphere and let it be judged as such. This means that the religious can not talk about “offense” since they are bringing ludicirous claims to a public sphere, or agora (as the Greeks called it) where this open market-place of ideas will decide which ones are the victor: the claims for god or those for reason.
The idols of our self-assurance are made of the bones of dead ideas and tightened by the skin of irrationality. Kneeling before it, we mumble mantras in “a defense of custom” as Tom Paine highlighted. Sharp, new, edged weapons of reason must not touch the flammable wooden god before whom we bow. His shadow falls over us and we defend him, even while the light swings and his shadow flies away. The acquisition of knowledge and the usage of cool reason is almost unheard of to many – instead of embracing the open landscape, leading into unknown avenues in their own imagination, most would cling to the idol, who is tethered by fraying ropes to their own fading dreams.
Matters of taste certainly are vexing when one is forced to endure the debased taste of others, who claim higher authority on matters which stir ones subjective creativity. Someone who claims such a salient title is much like the man who pours oil into lanterns but fails, constantly, to light it – thus he misses the entire point of such an endeavour. The sound of a snapped matchstick follows his footsteps, as he empties boxes in a failed attempt to put wood to flame. Music matters no more than other ART. Tears can be raised from frozen veins to leak down the wooden cheeks of any beast, with the right chords of Bach, Rachmaninov, or Metallica. The heart itself is unseen and thus subjected to an onslaught of prerequisite knowledge which are jumbled keys in a pot, poured over ones head after facing a locked door. It will click, it will turn and suddenly the light of beauty will wash over. There is no requirement to unlock the door, only that the chord and the key are found, that the mind is willing and all claims to “knowledge of beauty” be positioned alongside astrology, alchemy and other quackery.