Sunday 12 May 2013 – Thomas Sunday
At 6:30 we went for a walk round the Avis Dam with Enid and Justin Ellis; they take their dogs for a walk there every Sunday morning with their friend Helen Vale, a retired English lecturer from the University of Namibia.
After breeakfast we went to Helen’s house with Enid and Justin for their Quaker meeting. Enid had thought there was an Orthodox Church in Windhoek, but it turned out that it was a Coptic one, so we went with them to their Quaker meeting instead.
I was reminded of something Fr Alexander Schmemann once wrote, about attending Western Ecumenical meetings, and the organisers regarded the Orthodox Church as belonging in the “liturgical” category of their categorisation of “liturgical” and “non-liturgical” denominations. But Fr Alexander felt uncomfortable with the categorisation, and said that he would have been more at home among the Quakers. The Orthodox tradition of hesychasm has a lot of similarity to the Quaker understanding of worship, and so we sat for an hour in silence, and I silently recited the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.
I have long had an interest in Quakers, and several of my friends who had formerly been Anglicans have become Quakers. I attended a couple of Quaker meetings with Arthur Blaxall, an Anglican priest who had been secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in South Africa. One was at Wits University in johannesburg, and another was in London. The second is perhaps worth describing more fully, from my diary of Sunday 31 July 1966:
I went to Mass at St Leonard’s [in Streatham], and then to Westminster to see Arthur Blaxall, who is staying at the Royal Commonwealth Society. We went for a walk along the Embankment, and then up to Quaker meeting at 11:00. Peggy Smith was there, and at the meeting spoke about our procession yesterday. Arthur said that in the old days many would read a passage from the Bible or say prayers, but now there were mostly little accounts of experiences, and there were several more today, mostly about our procession  and the World Cup soccer match, which had caused great rejoicing among the English. The Quakers were concerned that sport should be a means of generating international goodwill, and not hostility, as the world cup matches had at times shown. I had lunch with the Blaxalls at the Commonwealth Society. Mrs Blaxall had been to Mattins at Westminster Abbey, and then came home and to work on the 95A [I was then driving buses for London Transport], between London Bridge and Tooting.
Later Enid took us on a drive around Windhoek, to see how the town had grown, and how things had changed. There were new suburbs, new industrial areas, and many new buildings.
In the late afternoon we went to see my old friend Hiskia Uanivi, whom I had known forty years ago as a seminary student at the Paulinum in Otjimbingue. Now both he and the Paulinum are in Windhoek, and he is leader of a church called the Archbishopric of the Divine Word. When he registered it with the government they told him that the name should not look anything like that of the Assemblies of God, and it sohuld not have God in the title, so as a result he became a kind of archbishop by default. He told us something of his life since I had last seen him, and also some of his early life, and it was really good to see him again.
After completing his course at seminary Hiskia went on a communication course in Kenya, and then acted as a liaison between those engaged in the liberation struggle both inside and outside Namibia. He later moved to Angola, and there was a confused period when Swapo was looked upon with suspicion by the MPLA government in Angola, because they had fought alongside Unita gainst colonialism, and suddenly Swapo fighters against South African rule in Namibia found themselves allies of a sort with the South African government, which supported Unita. Eventually Hiskia thought he was in danger from different factions in Swapo, and sought and obtained political asylum from the Angolan government.
This is part of the blog of our holiday trip in Botswana and Namibia, continued from Books and worms and things | Notes from underground, and the next instalment is here.
The procession had been organised by the Christian Committee of 100, from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey to the United States Embassy in Grosvenor Square, to protest against the war in Vietnam. Perhaps that too deserves a fuller account.
From my diary for Saturday 30 July 1966:
I went to work, did 8 on the 95s again, having asked for a change to an early job so I could go to the Committee of 100 demonstration in the afternoon…
In the afternoon after work I went to Westminster Abbey and started to look for the Christian Committee of 100 group, wandering around the abbey cloisters among crowds of tourists who had just come out from Evensong. Eventually I saw them going in, and they stood around the tomb of the unknown soldier in a vigil of silent prayer, while crowds of people were led over and around and were taking photographs and were listening or ignoring countless explanations of what this was. Then in the end Peggie Denny said, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. We ask you to remember in your prayers not only this man, but all who have been killed in the war in Vietnam”.
Then we went outside. There were about 30-40 of us, and all carrying white crosses set out around Parliament Square and up through Whitehall. I carried a big cross in front, with a wreath on it, until we reached Regent Street, when someone else took it over. There was a policeman going ahead of us, and another marching alongside, and they stopped the traffic and all. The one marching next to us said he would rather be watching the final football match in the World Cup series, in which England was playing against Germany. We asked the score from various people as we went along, and finally, as we were going along Oxford Street towards the United States Embassy, a police car drove up alongside and told us that England had won. When we got to the embassy we all stood in a line on the pavement outside and sang a hymn
Thy kingdom come O God
Thy rule O Christ begin
break with thine iron rod
the tyranny of sin.
the main reason for singing it was the verse:
When comes the promised time
that war shall be no more
and lust, oppression, crime
shall flee thy face before?
Peggie Denny and two other women went into the embassy and gave them a letter for President Johnson. They would not accept the wreath, however, suspecting there might be a bomb in it, so we took the wreath around the corner after we had dispersed, and hung it on the railings outside a church which was the US Navy Protestant chapel. Then four of us went and had coffee at a place in Charing Cross and afterwards I went home with Peggie Denny, and a girl Jean who is a rather fundamentalist Methodist, whose parents said she was Judas Iscariot after she had taken part in the Billy Graham affair. Peggie Denny said the police were very cooperative this time, far more so than they usually are, and it was quite unprecedented to be allowed on to the pavement right in front of the Embassy. They had even arranged for somebody to be at the Embassy to receive the letter.
After taking two days to travel to Windhoek, Namibia along the Trans-Kalahari Highway (which you can read about here and here), we spent our first couple of days (8 & 9 May) looking up old family in the archives, and seeing old friends.
We are staying with Val’s cousin Enid Ellis and her husband Justin in Klein Windhoek, not far from the house where I lived over 40 years ago.
We spent much of Wednesday 8 May in the archives, now housed in a new building a little out of the centre of town, looking for information on the Green, Stewardson and related families. We took a lunch break with Enid and Justin, and tried to unravel the mysteries of the Namibian cell phone system.We had bought SIM cards for our cell hpones at the border, but were having difficulty in getting them to work.
Windhoek has grown a lot — I suppose that is only to be expected after 40 years. A lot of the old familiar land marks are there (the city council seems to have good policy of preserving historic buildings, or at least their facades), but there were a lot of new tall buildings in the background in some places. Some scenes remained familiar though, like these:
Thursday was Western Ascension day, and a public holiday in Windhoek, so the archives were closed. It was also nice to have a public holiday where, unlike South Africa, many of the shops and places like the Archives are closed, and there is much less traffic on ther streets. In South Africa public holidays tend to turn into a shopping frenzy.
We spent the early part of the morning with the Ellisd family, where Justin was making bread, chatting and having a leisurely breakfast of pancakes.
Then we met two old friends, Assaria Kamburona and Kaire Mbuende, whom I hadn’t seen for forty years, and Val had never met them. Assaria Kamburon as now bishop of the Oruuano Church. Kaire Mbuende’s father Gabriel Mbuende had been secretary of the Oruuano Church when I lived in Windhoek, we sometimes travelled together to Goibabis, where Assaria Kamburona then lived.
Assaria told us something of his life story, which i won’t reproduce in full here, but he was born at Mosita near Mafeking in South Africa in 1932, and attended a school there run by the London missionary Society. In 1942, when he was ten, his family returned to Namibias, and the lived inj Epukiro, north of Gobabis. He had difficulty at first, as he spoke only Tswana, Sotho and English, and in the school at Epukiro thjey used only Afrikasans and Otjiherero. He arranged with some of the teachers to teach them English, and in return they would teach himk Otjiherero. One of his teachers was Gabriel Mbuende.
He left school after Standard 6 (Grade 8) and worked as a cleaner and mail sorter at the Gobabis post office, and three years later, when the Standard Bank opened a branch in Gobabis in 1954, he went to work there. As a young man he became involved in politics, and after the massacre of people protesting against the forced removal of the Windhoek old location in 1959, he was sacked as a potential trouble maker, and made his living selling bread, sweerts and liquor. The main politically active organisation in those days was the Herero chiefs council, but this was regarded by the Unioted Nations as too tribal, and they would prefer to deal with wider political organisations. So the South West Africa National Union) SWANU and the Ovamboland Peoples Organisation (which later became Swapo) were foremed, but they all worked together. In those dayus Assarias was quite active in smuggling political activists (including Sam Nujoma, who later became president of Namibia) across the border to Botswana. He himself wanted to go with them, but the Herero chief, Hosea Kutako, said that his work should be spiritual, and he should stay and be a minister in the Oruuano Church.
`When we arrived at Kaire Mbuende’s house on the outskirts of Windhoek, Assaria had what Val called a “Simeon moment” — “lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace”, because a black man like Kaire Mbuende could live in a nice house with a nice garden.
Kaire Mbuende also has a very biblical garden. He loves gardeningm and there are rows of vines and olive trees, and also clementines (which are related to naartjies).
When I met Kaire Mbuende 40 years ago he was a young student. Since then he has been active in academic and public life, and is also a historian. His life story is easily accessible on the web.
We, and our Mamelodi congregation, were invited to St Thomas’s Orthodox Church in Sunninghill for Vespers of Lazarus Saturday/Palm Sunday. Fr Pantelejmon arranged with one of his parishioners, who runs a taxi business, to send a 16-seater Toyota Quantum to fetch people from Mamelodi, and some brought members of their families who had never been to an Orthodox Church before.
At the end of Vespers the children were given bells to hang around their neck, a reminder that it was children who welcomed our Lord in Jerusalem.
At the end of Vespers there was a procession around the church. In Serbia palms are rare, so people carry willow branches instead of palms, even though in Johannesburg there is a palm tree in the church garden.
As we go in procession around the church, we sing the Troparion for Palm Sunday
By raising Lazarus from the dead before Thy passion
Thou didst confirm the universal resurrection, O Christ God
Like the children with the palms of victory
We cry out to Thee, O Vanquisher of death
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!
When we were buried with Thee in baptism, O Christ God
we were made worthy of eternal life by Thy resurrection!
Now we praise Thee and sing:
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!
And one of the other hymns explains the meaning of the feast:
O gracious Lord, who ridest upon the cherubim,
who are praised by the seraphim,
now Thou dost ride like David on the foal of an ass.
The children sing hy7mns worthy of God,
while the priests and scribes blaspheme against Thee
By riding an untamed cols, Thou has prefigured the salvation of the Gentiles
those wild beasts, who will be brought from unbelief to fraith!
Glory to Tee, O merciful Christ
Our King and the lover of man.
Afterwards we went to bless a new small meeting room that had been added to the hall. The hall is far to big for small meetings.
The branches are supposed to be taken home and put above the door of one’s house.
This year Palm Sunday fell on 27 April, which is Freedom Day, and we celebrated the 19th anniversary of our first democratic elections in South Africa. Nineteen years ago South Africa came forth from the tomb like Lazarus. Let’s hope and pray that we don’t creep back there.
There’s an interesting debate going on in and about the Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK), the largest of the three white Dutch Reformed Churches in South Africa. It won’t make much sense to you if you don’t read Afrikaans, but if you do you can follow it more closely by clicking on the links.
It started off when Professor Jonathan Jansen, of the University of the Free State, wrote a column headed “Break down this unrepentant…” in which he pointed out that the NGK is still largely a white institution, which clings to its whiteness.
To this, Neels Jackson responded that the NGK is not a white volkskerk, it only looks like one. In synodical decisions it has rejected apartheid and most of its dominees (clergy) and members also reject apartheid. It’s just that, with a few exceptions, most of those who come to the services are white, and to imply, as Jansen does, that that is the result of a deliberate policy, is at best a sign of ignorance, and at worst a sign of stubbornness or stupidity. That’s quite something to say about the man who has probably done more to transform education in South Africa than any other single person.
And blogger Cobus van Wyngaard (himself a dominee), questions whether one can make such a distinction between what something looks like and what it is. I’m paraphrasing here, but he is basically saying that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck.
Why should this discussion interest me, when I’m not a member of the NG Kerk? Why should I take such an interest in the internal debates of a Christian body whose theology and ecclesiology are so far removed from mine?
There are two main reasons.
The first reason is historical.
Until 1994 most members of the ruling party in South Africa were members of the NG Kerk, and so its theology profoundly influenced, and in turn was influenced by, the ideology of the government. What the NGK was thinking was not the concern of that denomination alone, but affected all Christians (and those of other religions or no religion) in South Africa as a whole.
One of the concepts that was central to the way that influence was felt was the concept of the Volkskerk.
The nineteenth-century German missiologist Gustav Warneck saw Christian mission primarily as “Christianisation of peoples”, so that they would have their own ethnic church, a Volkskerk. This model was adopted by the NGK in its own mission, so that it set up “daughter” churches to be the Volkskerk of the converts. This fitted in well with the apartheid policy of the National Party, which tried to impose the same model on other denominations, even when it clashed with their ecclesiology.
English-speaking Christians have a language problem here too, since the notion of a Volkskerk is difficult to translate into English. Literally it means “people’s church”, but the meaning of “people” was split in two in the twentieth century by the warring ideologies of Nazism and Communism. Hitler spent several pages of his book Mein Kampf discussing the meaning of Volk.
In South Africa there was a bank, the Volkskas, the “people’s bank”. But the connotations of “people’s” in Volkskas were vastly different from those of the contemporary Moscow Narodny Bank — the Moscow People’s Bank. “Narod” is the Russian word that corresponds to “Volk” in Afrikaans and German. The distinction perhaps becomes clearer if one goes to Greece or Cyprus, where you can kind two kinds of “people’s banks” — a Laiki Trapeza and an Ethniki Trapeza. I think the missiological concept propagated by Gustav Warneck, and adopted by the NGK, was of a Volkskerk as an Ethniki Ekklesia rather than a Laiki Ekklesia.
And when people have been indoctrinated with this concept for a couple of generations or longer, it is going to take more than a couple of synodical decisions to get it out of their minds and thinking and conceptual universe. What is the theology and ecclesiology that you are going to replace it with? But that is not my problem, and it is not for me, as an outsider, to tell the NGK how to solve it.
And that leads to my second reason for being interested in the debate going on in the NGK, because the same debate is taking place, or needs to take place, in the Orthodox Church, which is also often seen, both by many of its members and by outsiders, as a Volkskerk.
People sometimes ask me what church I belong to, and when I say “the Orthodox Church”, they at first think I must be Jewish. Then when I try to explain, the light dawns, and they say, “Oh, you mean the Greek Orthodox Church“. And I try to explain further, and say no I mean the South African Orthodox Church, or rather the African Orthodox Church because the Church was planted in Africa by St Mark in the first century, in AD 42 or AD 62, depending on who you talk to.
Orthodoxy was indeed brought to South Africa by Greek immigrants, but we have Greek, Russian, Serbian, Romanian and Bulgarian parishes. And if I get that far in explaining it people then say “Oh, you mean you’re Russian Orthodox“. No, that’s not it either. I’m non-ethnic Orthodox. But when I go to a Greek parish, sometimes someone who is an immigrant from Greece will refer to me, born in South Africa, as a xenos, a foreigner.
Once a Tswana-speaking seminarian, who had been studying at the Orthodox Seminary in Nairobi, was being interviewed on the Greek radio station in Johannesburg, and the announcer asked him, “And what made you interested in our Greek culture?” He was gobsmacked, and didn’t know what to say. He knew nothing about Greek culture, he’d been studying Orthodox theology in Africa, among fellow-Africans from all over the continent. Greek culture didn’t enter into it.
Though Orthodox missiology has probably never been influenced by Gustav Warneck, there is, however, something in it that resembles the Volkskerk — not in the manner that I have just described, but Orthodox missionaries did try to plant local churches. St Nicholas of Japan, a Russian missionary, went to Japan in 1861, and he aimed to plant a Japanese Church, not a Russian one. Thus there are various “ethnic” in the sense of “national” Orthodox churches – Greek, Russian, Bulgarian etc. But there is also an essential ecclesiological difference. Though the Bulgarian Church, for example, was in a sense a “daughter” church of the Church of Constantinople, and eventually became autocephalous, meanintg choosing its own head, it was not a daughter church in the same sense as in the Dutch Reformed Churches, where the “daughter” churches were for black people and the “mother” church was for white people. But when Bulgarians went to Constantinople they didn’t always understand this. Some of them wanted to establish a Bulgarian ethnic church there, and a synod was called that denounced that as a heresy, which they called “phyletism” — that’s the Greek word for racism, in case anyone was wondering.
But Gustav Warneck was influenced in his thinking by German romanticism, which also gave rise to central European romantic nationalism. This was a largely secular movement, but it had a huge influence in central and eastern Europe and the Balkans. It contributed to the rise of Balkan nationalism, which in turn led to the struggles for independence of countries like Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania. The links with German romanticism were strengthened when most of the newly independent countries got German monarchs.
Thus in the predominantly Orthodox countries there was a mixture of Orth0dox theology with a secular romantic nationalism and some people confused the two. So you sometimes hear Greek people saying things like “Hellenism is Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy is Hellenism”. St Basil must be turning in his grave!
It was the same romantic nationalism that gave rise to Zionism, which exists in much the same relation to Judaism as Hellenism does to Greek Orthodoxy. I have dealt with this in more detail in an article on Nationalism, violence and reconciliation — so I’m just giving a very brief summary here.
It was the same romantic nationalism that contributed to the rise of Afrikaner nationalism in South Africa, and led to an analogous relationship between the Dutch Reformed Churches and the secular ideology. And that is why the discussion in the NGK interests me, because among us Orthodox too, though we may not be a Volkskerk sometimes it certainly looks like it.
And yet in a sense we are a Volkskerk too, both ethniki ekklesia and laiki ekklesia, for, as St Peter says (I Peter 2:9):
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (ethnos agion), God’s own people (laos is peripisin), that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were no people (laos) but now you are God’s people (laos Theou); once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
But in this Volkskerk there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither Boer nor Brit, neither Bantu nor Bulgarian, neither Serb nor Sotho, and the only xenos is the devil himself.
When the most High came down and confused the tongues,
He divided the nations;
But when he distributed the tongues of fire
He called all to unity.
Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-holy Spirit!
Here is a very good article, which notes that many of those those saying we should not speak ill of Margaret Thatcher because she is dead did not show such restraint themselves on the death of Hugo Chavez. It also notes the fatuousness of US President Barack Obama’s calling her a great champion of freedom and liberty when she supported the apartheid regime in South Africa and the Pinochet regime in Chile and a few other dictators as well. Margaret Thatcher and misapplied death etiquette | Glenn Greenwald:
Whatever else may be true of her, Thatcher engaged in incredibly consequential acts that affected millions of people around the world. She played a key role not only in bringing about the first Gulf War but also using her influence to publicly advocate for the 2003 attack on Iraq. She denounced Nelson Mandela and his ANC as “terrorists”, something even David Cameron ultimately admitted was wrong. She was a steadfast friend to brutal tyrants such as Augusto Pinochet, Saddam Hussein and Indonesian dictator General Suharto (“One of our very best and most valuable friends”). And as my Guardian colleague Seumas Milne detailed last year, “across Britain Thatcher is still hated for the damage she inflicted – and for her political legacy of rampant inequality and greed, privatisation and social breakdown.”
and goes on to say
To demand that all of that be ignored in the face of one-sided requiems to her nobility and greatness is a bit bullying and tyrannical, not to mention warped. As David Wearing put it this morning in satirizing these speak-no-ill-of-the-deceased moralists: “People praising Thatcher’s legacy should show some respect for her victims. Tasteless.” Tellingly, few people have trouble understanding the need for balanced commentary when the political leaders disliked by the west pass away. Here, for instance, was what the Guardian reported upon the death last month of Hugo Chavez: “To the millions who detested him as a thug and charlatan, it will be occasion to bid, vocally or discreetly, good riddance.”
Margaret Thatcher and Hugo Chavez actually had quite a lot in common, and perhaps that too needs to be recognised. Both were, in their own way, exponents of Realpolitik, and put their country’s national self-interest first. Above all else, they did not want their country to be pushed around by foreigners, whether those foreigners were offshore oil companies (in the case of Venezuela), or a jumped-up military junta in Argentina (in the case of Britain).
There were also significant differences, however. For Maggie Thatcher, the Britain she represented was the Britain of the rich, whose interests must take precedence over the rights of the poor. For Hugo Chavez, at least in his rhetoric, and sometimes in reality, the rights of the poor must take precedence.
And I agree with the sentiment expressed by Mehdi Hasan, who tweeted (
@mehdirhasan) “Like many lefties I loathed her policies but I can’t help but admire her conviction politics, her willingness to lead not follow.” And I would say exactly the same of Hugo Chavez too.
Both tended to support unpleasant dictators too uncritically — in Margaret Thatcher’s case Pinochet of Chile, and in Hugo Chavez’s case Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
Margaret Thatcher also supported the apartheid regime in South Africa, and the right-wing of her Conservative Party were fond of saying things like “Hang Mandela”. Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher: the meeting that never was | World news | The Guardian:
The Conservative prime minister had dismissed the ANC as “a typical terrorist organisation” and refused to back sanctions against the apartheid government, pursuing instead a policy of “constructive engagement”. South Africa was then seen as a vital ally in stemming communist expansion.
Though Margaret Thatcher didn’t have much time for the ANC, when the ANC came to power it wasted no time in applying her policies of privatisation, which was probably the greatest compliment it could have paid her.
I suggest that when the Gauteng freeways are turned into toll roads, as has been threatened for several years now, they should be officially renamed the Margaret Thatcher Highway, as that would be the most fitting monument to her policies, and the most outstanding example of how they have been applied by the ANC government in South Africa.
It’s ironic that, when the freeway between Johannesburg and Pretoria was first opened in the 1960s, it was named the Ben Schoeman Highway, after the the National Party Minister of Transport. That was before Maggie Thatcher, before the privatisation mania of the Reagan/Thatcher years, and the roads and railways were still state owned and state run. With the change in policy, it would really be most fitting to rename it “The Margaret Thatcher Highway” the day e-tolling begins.
When I was a teenager I read books that turned me into a convinced individualist.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave new world made a deep impression on me, and perhaps revived memories of a book I had read when I was about 7 or 8. It was about a society in which there were three kinds of people: square, round and triangular. One day the squares took over the government, and decreed that the proper shape of people was square, so they built a machine that would turn the round and triangular people into squares, and forced the round and triangular people into it to turn them into the proper shape.
The round and triangular people resented this, and had a revolution, where they seized control of the state and put the machine into reverse, to turn people into their proper shapes again.
Now, with a bit more historical understanding, I can recognise that the book was a bit of liberal indoctrination, a reaction to the totalitarianisms of left and right, communism and fascism, which so dominated the world of the 1940s.
But even though I recognise it as indoctrination, I remain indoctrinated. It set me on the path of liberalism, and I’ve been a liberal ever since. Reading Brave new world nine or ten years later simply confirmed it. Society likes to force people to conform to its dictates, and when society does that, individuals should resist.
This was perhaps a good preparation for university, where in Sociology I we learnt, from the then-fashionable American functionalist sociologists, that society was all, and that the purpose of all social institutions, including churches and schools, was to help individuals to “adjust” to society. It was a view I rejected, quite strongly. I was attracted to writers like Søren Kierkegaard, who wanted his tombstone to have the inscription “That Individual”. The English Department at Wits university also helped to undermine the Sociology Department by prescribing books like George Orwell’s 1984.
I read the Enlightenment philosophers, or at least the bits of them that supported my individualistic viewpoint.
My favourite Bible verse was Romans 12:2: Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Attempts by society to make individuals conform to its norms and mores and folkways (those were terms used by sociologists in those days) were, in my view, to be resisted and rejected.
Then I read a few other books that made me have doubts about my rigid individualsm.
One was The roots of heaven by Romain Gary.
It was set in a French colony somewhere in Central or West Africa, and in that period African colonies were struggling for independence. The French were probably more influenced by Enlightenment rationalist values than the other colonial powers, and the Africans struggling for independence generally accepted those values. They just thought that they could embody them in society better without French paternalism. And the book concerns a few white eccentrics who question these values. One is embarked on a crusade to save the elephants from extinction, another thinks that African values (such as ubuntu) will be lost in the Gadarene rush to modernity, and hopes, when he dies, to be reincarnated as a tree.
It wasn’t a very good book, and when I tried to read it again a few years ago, I didn’t manage to finish it, but it did make me question the value of pure individualism, and see that there was some value in community.
Then someone sent me a copy of The Catholic Worker, which introduced me to Dorothy Day’s communitarianism, which somehow seemed more Christian than either collectivism or individualism. This was reinforced by reading a book called The primal vision, on Christian presence amid African religion, and described Christianity, as brought to much of Africa by Western missionaries, as a “classroom religion”, cerebral and intellectual, and out of touch with the real life of most African people.
So I passed through the most of the 1960s with an unresolved conflict between individual and community. Which took priority? Was there a happy medium? But if so, what could it be?
For me the conflict was resolved when I discovered Orthodox Christianity. Orthodox anthropology makes a distinction between the individual and the person, and a person is always a person in community. In that it is similar to the kind of African anthropology espoused by The roots of heaven and The primal vision, summed up in the Zulu proverb Umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu — a person is a person because of people. Feral children, raised by wolves, never actually become human persons.
All that I have written above is by way of introduction to the following article. The way in which Orthodox theology, and in particular Orthodox theological anthropology, solves the problem I had in the 1960s has been very well expressed in this article by Fr Gregory Jensen:
He has written for an American context, but much of what he says can be applied, mutatis mutandis, to other settings as well.