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Is Nick Clegg clairvoyant? So am I

28 June 2016

Someone shared this article on Facebook this morning, Nick Clegg predicted the future with stunning accuracy. I thought it was a pity that his clairvoyance developed only after his disastrous coalition with the Tories.

But when I read my diary of 50 years ago, perhaps I had a bit of clairvoyance of my own. I was far from home, in London, sitting in Brixton bus garage in a break between driving buses between Croydon and the Embankment, under western eyes, and I was reading Joseph Conrad’s Under Western Eyes. And when I finished my shift at 8 pm I stopped at the “Horse and Groom” in Streatham High Street for a sandwich on my way back to my gloomy bed-sit and read this:

In real revolution, not a simple dynastic change or reform of institutions — in a real revolution the best characters do not come to the front. A violent revolution falls into the hands of narrow-minded fanatics and tyrannical hypocrites at first. Afterwards comes the turn of all the pretentious intellectual failures of the time. Such are the chiefs and the leaders. You will notice that I have left out the mere rogues. The scrupulous and the just, the noble, humane and devoted natures; the unselfish and intelligent may begin a movement, but it passes away from them. They are not the leaders of the revolution. They are its victims. The victims of disgust, of disenchantment, often of remorse. Hopes grotesquely betrayed, ideals caricatured, that is the definition of revolutionary success. There have been in every revolution hearts broken by such

And when I got home I wrote in my diary:

And I think that will be the same in the South African revolution. The great men: Albert Luthuli, Bram Fischer, J.H. Hofmeyer, Alan Paton, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Peter Brown and many others the champions of freedom and justice, they, like Moses, will not live to enter the promised land. And when the promised land is entered at last, the promises will be betrayed, hopes destroyed, ideals caricatured. This is almost inevitable, but we carry on just the same. The Lord will provide.

And so it has turned out.

Under Western Eyes (Penguin Classics)Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad

I finished reading the book the following day and read the old man’s description of Natalia Haldin, “It is hard to think I shall never look any more into the trustful eyes of that girl, wedded to an invincible belief in the advent of loving concord, springing like a heavenly flower from the soil of men’s earth, soaked in blood, torn by struggles, watered with tears.”

And that put me in mind of the Ascension Day hymn:

He shall come down like showers upon the fruitful earth;
Love, joy, and hope, like flowers, spring in His path to birth.
Before Him, on the mountains, shall peace, the herald, go,
And righteousness, in fountains, from hill to valley flow.

And so every revolution betrays its children. While we live in this world, this secular age, we can never rest and think that because we have won our freedom we will remain free. The struggle continues. A luta continua. Die stryd duur voort.


The winter of our discontent

26 June 2016

This morning we went, as we usually do every second Sunday, to Atteridgeville, for the Hours and Readers’ Service. It’s All Saints Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost. We come mainly to help the readers, Demetrius Mahwayi and Artemius Mangena to sing the service and learn the music. Artemius lives furthest from the church, so we go round to give him a lift.

Atteridgeville streets, quiet on a Sunday morning

Atteridgeville streets, quiet on a Sunday morning

On the way Artemius told us about the previous Tuesday, when these quiet streets were scenes of violence and looting, because of dissastisfaction among members of the ANC over a mayoral candidate for the municipal elections who had been parachuted in from outside. The incumbent mayor lives in Atteridgeville, and so dissatisfaction there was particularly strong, and several ANC supporters have said they will switch their votes to the DA, a rival party whose candidate happens to live locally in Atteridgeville.

JacuzziArtemius lives in Phomolong, an “informal settlement” in Atteridgeville West, where most of the houses are wood and corrugated iron shacks. He said that when the violence started, local residents there gathered round the shops to protect them from looters. They didn’t want any trouble where they were, and when the troublemakers arrived, they chased them away. That is possible in the narrow lanes of Phomolong, but not so much in the wider streets of Atteridgeville and Saulsville. From what Artemius said, the troublemakers came from outside, just as they had in 2008, during the xenophobic violence then. And now, as then, it had started in Mamelodi, and then spread to Atteridgeville, and then to other places. It made me wonder whether the same people were behind it. This time it started with shops owned by foreigners, and then seems to have turned into a general free-for-all crime spree.

As we drove through Saulsville we noticed that all the shops were closed, barred and shuttered. I suppose there was no point in their opening if all their stock had been looted, and most of them were small shops. Perhaps their owners couldn’t afford to restock, or perhaps the wholesalers weren’t making deliveries for fear of further violence and having their lorries burnt.

Closed shops in Atteridgeville

Closed shops in Atteridgeville

After the service, when we gave Artemius a lift back, there was the same thing. All shops closed. Usually there are people outside, chatting after doing their shopping, but today they were deserted.

Closed shops

Closed shops

We were told that many vehicles had been burnt, buses, cars, delivery lorries. But since Tuesday they had all been cleared away — by the owners, the municipality, the insurance companies?

But the signs of the violence were not all erased. As we turned into the main road into Pretoria, there was a stain in the road, like an ominous dark shadow being cast over the future.

A shadow over the future?

A shadow over the future?

When we reached Villeria, we drove through an avenue of jacarandas. Most people take photos of the jacarandas in spring, when they are all over blue flowers. The jacarandas are always the last to bloom in spring, and the last to lose their leaves in autumn, and they were just beginning to show tinges of yellow.

Jacarandas in Pierneef Street, Villeria

Jacarandas in Pierneef Street, Villeria

But it’s not autumn any more. It’s winter. The winter of discontent?



Founding of a hippie commune

24 June 2016

The Glade Within The GroveThe Glade Within The Grove by David Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book about the establishment of a hippie commune in 1968/69 in southern New South Wales.

The story is told by a retired postman, who discovers the manuscipt of an epic porm on the topic in the bottom of an old mail bag, The Ballad of Erinungarah . He asked a friend, Kimberley Moon, about the poem, and tried to follow up the events of 27 years previously, when the members are scattered or dead, and the children have grown up,

I found it an interesting and good read, and found it particularly interesting because the people involved in starting the commune were about my age, and in the same period I was involved in starting a commune, though of a rather different kind. Another reason for finding it interesting is that, though the location was fictional, the general area was at one time the home a relative of my wife Val. Her name was Agnes Green, and she lived a very interesting life, part of it in Southern New South Wales. Her first husband, William Wilson, was drowned in the Tuross River there, in 1852, when it was the scene of a gold rush.

In addition to starting the commune in a very isolated valley, the inmates also developed a neopagan cult, in which several of the males of the group emasculated themselves. The narrator, the eccentric retired postman D’Arcy D’Olivera, interprets this in the light of James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, and sees parallels with the ancient cult of Cybele.

The style reminded me of some of the books of Peter Tinniswood, such as A touch of Daniel, which give a vivid picture of life in the vicinity of Manchester in England in the same period. Tinniswood’s writing was contemporary, while Foster’s book was written nearly 30 years afterwards, and occasionally makes remarks about not meing sure whether some things were true to the period. I’d be interested in knowing what people from Australia who were alive at that time think of its authenticity of description.

I enjoyed it, but perhaps younger people, who have no memories of that period, might not like it so much. Whether the descriptions of life in Sydney are accurate to the period, a lot of the things that went into the starting of a commune, the disparate aims and unfocussed discussions about its purpose, sounded very familiar.

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Pan-Orthodox Council

10 June 2016

For years people have been talking about the coming Great and Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church, but as the date approaches it seems to be shrinking, to be neither great nor holy. It gets less great as more and more churches say that they will not participate, and less holy as more and more object to the way it is being planned and run.

Here are some comments that are worth reading Some Reflections on the Approaching Great and Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church | Public Orthodoxy:

It seems to me of paramount importance that the Synod, as His All-Holiness asserts, should show that the Orthodox Church wants genuinely to communicate with the world. We have treasures to share, in the Gospel, and the wisdom acquired through many centuries of believers following in our Lord’s footsteps and living in the grace of the Resurrection. It is also true that many in the West want to hear our voice, what we have to tell them of Christ. It will be a betrayal of everything we hold dear if the result of the Synod is that the world perceives the Orthodox apparently concerned solely with themselves in a fearful and introspective way.

I’m not sure that I agree with that.

It seems to me that synods and councils are introspective. They are not the means by which the church communicates with the world. They are essentially the Church looking at itself, and perhaps in relation to the world, but for its own sake, and not for the sake of the world. It is in other activities that the Church interacts with the world, not through synods and councils.

Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council

Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council

When the fathers of the first Ecumenical Council met in Nicaea in 325, the world was not desperately anxious to know whether the Son was of the same essence as the Father, or only of similar essence. That was an issue that was really internal to the Church, though of course it would affect the way the Church approached and saw the world.

I suppose that is one reason that the coming Great and Holy Synod has hardly made any impression on me until now. There hasn’t been any burning issue of dogma that has needed to be resolved. I was content to wait and see what the Synod came up with, and then discuss it. And that is where Dr Andrew Louth’s paper gets interesting — as he points out, the discussion documents came out late, and there was no time for discussion, and that is the main reason that some churches are withdrawing. Instead of being a Pan-Orthodox Council, as many had hoped, it seems to be turning into a Constantinopolitan Council to which some other churches have been invited.

Among the reasons given for not attending the council is this one 11 reasons not to participate in the Pan-Orthodox Council | Katehon think tank. Geopolitics & Tradition:

The draft document “of the Orthodox Church’s relations with the rest of the Christian world” provoked the greatest debate and criticism in the various Local Churches. It is of great concern that Christians, who have fallen away from the Church, are not called by traditional theological terms as heretics and schismatics anywhere in the project, and only the “Christian churches”, “confessions” (p. 6), “near and far” (p. 4).

And that seems odd to me, because that is one issue where things differ notably between the times of the Seven Ecumenical Councils and now, and so it really needs to be discussed by representatives of all the Orthodoc Churches. The Seven Ecumenical Councils dealt with heresies, and there were schisms, and so it was appropriate to speak of heretics and schismatics. But today there is a phenomenon that was entirely unknown to the fathers of the Seven Ecumenical Councils — denominationalism.

While it still makes sense today to call those who contumaciously reject the teaching of the Church “heretics”, and those who contumaciously reject the fellowship (kinonia) of the Church “schismatics” (cf Acts 2:42), it makes no sense, it seems to me, to use those terms to refer to those who have never been members of the Orthodox Church. Those are people who belong to denominations that may have been schismatic in their origin, and are often schisms from schisms from schisms, but those who belong to such denominations today, and have never been members of the Orthodox Church cannot be regarded as “heretics” or “schismatics” in the sense that the fathers of the Seven Ecumenical Councils used those terms. Many such people have never heard of the Orthodox Church, and have no idea of its origins, teachings or even its existence. There are more than 10000 Christian denominations in South Africa alone — nobody knows exactly how many, and new ones are being formed every week. Some of their teachings might be heretical from an Orthodox point of view, and if members of the Orthodox Church propagated any of those teachings they could indeed be called heretics, but the same term loses its meaning when applied to people who are not members of the Church and are not, in many cases, even aware of its existencve.

Perhaps the Pan-Orthodox Synod/Council needs to consider denominationalism, and to define the term and decide on how to approach it, but if it should, the preparation for it seems to be very inadequate. And those who are calling for a postponement are probably right.

For more on the synod and its background, see As Pan-Orthodox Council Approaches, Conflicts and Uncertainty Intensify | Catholic World Report – Global Church news and views




Blessed are the sarcastic, for they shall succeed in business

7 June 2016

I have sometimes suspected that the phrase “Christian Businessman” was an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, and that suspicion was reinforced by an article I have just read on the Web. Harvard Study Shows that Sarcasm is Actually Good for You:

Data from a recent study entitled, The Highest Form of Intelligence: Sarcasm Increases Creativity for Both Expressers and Recipients, suggests that the delivery and deciphering of sarcasm offers psychological benefits that have been largely underappreciated and long overlooked.

The article tells us that the research was sponsored by Harvard Business School, Columbia Business School and INSEAD (“The Business School for the World”).

For as long as I can remember, I have been aware of the saying “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.”

The article I just cited tells us that people who believe that are stupid and uncreative.

So what is sarcasm, and why is it something that Christians should avoid if possible?

sarcasm n. Bitter or wounding remark, taunt, esp. one ironically worded [1]

sarcasmThe English word sarcasm is derived from the Greek sarkasmos, which suggests the image of a predator devouring its prey. So if, as the article, suggests the people most likely to succeed in business are those who habitually go around making nasty remarks about others, and the most effective bosses are those who habitually tear strips off their underlings, the term “unscrupulous businessman” is a pleonastic redundancy.

Well what’s new? I think most of us knew that.

I think we all knew that “business ethics” was a contradiction in terms. I recall seeing a cartoon in Mad magazine that had some tongue-in-cheek suggestions for commemorative postage stamps (remember them?), and one showed two people hugging each other, each with knife in hand, stabbing the other in the back. That was to commemorate 100 years of business ethics.

What’s new in this article is a kind of psychological proof that nastiness works, that being sarcastic gives you the edge in business. So sarcasm is a virtue to be inculcated and cultivated. Yet it is the very opposite of ubuntu and Christian values.

Nearly every Sunday in Orthodox Churches we sing the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).

Why so often?

Perhaps because of the frequency with which we are bombarded with propaganda to do the opposite.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy, but being sarcastic is the very opposite of being merciful.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Wrong, say the business gurus. Blessed are the pushy.

It is perhaps easier to find Christian values among the scruffy beatniks and drop-outs from society than among the business leaders.

As one beat generation writer said to the square who offered him an advertising job: ‘I’ll scrub your floors and carry out your slops to make a living, but I will not lie for you, pimp for you, stool for you or rat for you.'[2]

It is the worshippers of the bitch-goddess Success who hold out sarcasm as a virtue and a behavioural ideal.


[1] Concise Oxford Dictionary, Fifth Edition.

[2] Lipton, Lawrence. 1959. The holy barbarians. New York: Messner.

Home thoughts, from Abroad: Euro-African or Afro-European?

6 June 2016

Venture to the InteriorVenture to the Interior by Laurens van der Post
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is 50 years since I read this book, so I am reliant on my diary for what I thought. It was quite a thought-provoking book. When I read it, I had been in Britain for four months, I was living in digs in Streatham in South London, and driving buses for London Transport, and feeling homesick for South Africa, and rather alienated in Britain. That was why i bought the book and read it, and that coloured my attitude to the book.

It provoked two thoughts in me: first, that Laurens van der Post, though born in Africa, wrote about Africa like a European. That annoyed me, particularly because of my own circumstances at the time. Secondly, he wrote about forgiveness in a way that may have been reflected in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa thirty years later.

So this is what I wrote in my diary on 6 June 1966:

I read more of Venture to the interior and came to the conclusion that van der Post is above all things a European. He may have been born in Africa, but to him Europe is home. He writes about and sees Africa through European eyes. Alan Paton is one South African writer I know who writes as an African, as a non-European. There may be others, but I haven’t read them. Much of what van der Post says is true, though, particularly about air travel. There is something about an international airport that is unlocated, almost like the in-between land of pools in The magician’s nephew. It is neither here nor there. It is not a part of the world at all. A strange unreality pervades it, and an atmosphere that both attracts and repels. One is no longer located in time and space. One is not anywhere, but everywhere is a possibility. The possibilities are exciting. It is a sort of cocoon transitional stage, only here, you feel, can you make the choice. I am nowhere – where shall I be? London? Nairobi? New York? Karachi? Paris? Entebbe? Johannesburg? Rome? Salisbury? All are possibilities.

It bugs me, this European outlook, the assumption of European superiority. Even he, born in Africa, writes in terms of England as if England is the almighty bloody absolute from which everything
else in the world is to be judged. It is understandable in an Englishman, who must describe new things in terms of what he already knows, but not in someone brought up on a Free State farm.

He writes very well at times, but I can’t help feeling that he is a traitor to the land of his birth. He has become an Englishman. And what is this England, this soft land, where the corners of everything are rubbed off? Where so many things are blurred and ill-defined? The climate and geography are strange to me.

I have just been through an English spring, but it is completely different to spring back home. England in spring is like a great fat lazy cow chewing over the cud. It is not, as in South Africa, a sudden awakening. A fanfare of wattle blossoms to announce its arrival in August. Then silence.

Then spring, when in a few weeks of September everything turns green. The azaleas and bougainvillias flower. The winter brown turns to summer green, and again there is silence for a space, and then a fanfare of jacarandas to announce that the process is completed — summer is here.

Not so in England. There is a blurring of the edges, a shading over from winter to summer. No
grand dramatic displays and flourishes, but a little bit here, a little bit there. First this turns green, then that. One plant flowers, then another. Bushes blossom while the trees are still all dead. It is a much slower process, an unfolding, like a movie lap dissolve done very slowly, the new picture slowly emerging out of the old. In South Africa it is like a changing of lantern slides — one disappears and the other takes its place. Both are beautiful, but I think I still prefer ours.

6 Jun 1966 – Van der Post on forgiveness

One thing that struck me in the first couple of chapters was his father’s forgiving the British after the Boer War.

It has always been one of the more frightening ironies of Afrikaner life that people like my father, who with Smuts and Botha had fought and actually suffered in the war, could forgive and begin anew, whereas others, alive today, who were never in the heart of the conflict, can still find it so hard to forgive an injury that was not even done to them, and how can there be any real beginning without forgiveness?

I noticed something similar in my experience with war crimes officers, who had neither suffered internment under the Japanese, nor even fought against them. They were more revengeful and bitter about our sufferings and our treatment than we were ourselves. I have so often noticed that the suffering which is most difficult, if not impossible to forgive, is unreal, imagined suffering. There is no power on earth like imagination, and the worst, most obstinate grievances are imagined ones.

This seems to touch on the core of a rather big question of human behaviour, One is that we so often find it easier to forgive those who injure us than those who injure others; and this imagination business. Reading about life in Nazi Germany conjures up all sorts of horrors, but they are imaginary horrors, I have never experienced them. In South Africa there are probably the same horrors, but one gets used to them. This is why so many people emphatically deny that South Africa is a police state, because it does not fit their mental image of a police state. But Germans probably felt the same 30 years ago.

I seem to recollect Trevor Huddleston in his book Naught for your
saying how much harder it was to forgive things done to other people, because one can only imagine how they feel. And ]those who questioned] the value of Liberal Party rural meetings, because you know that you go to encourage them in the face of SB intimidation, but by going you only encourage the SB to step up their campaign of intimidation. But it is a selfish martyrdom attitude — a sort of “I alone can bear the suffering” kick. But they too must bear their share of suffering — we are not the ones to deny it to them. It is their privilege as members of God’s kingdom.

Now my 75=year-old self looks back at my 25-year-old self, and I look at the last paragraph in the light of current debates about racism. In another blog article, How racist are you?,  I suggested that one of the measures of racism was how often one used words like “we” to refer to people of the same skin colour, and “they” to refer to people of different skin colour. And in the last paragraph quoted from my diary the “we” were undoubtedly white, and the “they” were undoubtedly black. Does this mean that liberals are ipso facto racist, as the proponents of “Whiteness Studies” seem to maintain?

Perhaps they are right.

But perhaps we need to realise that race isn’t everything, and wasn’t everything, even in South Africa under apartheid. It was the proponents of apartheid that wanted us to believe that race was the most important characteristic of a person, and the liberals (white and black) who were hammered for saying it wasn’t, and wanting a non-racial democracy. And the “we” and “they” in that paragraph were just as much, if not more, about class than about race. “We” were white urban bourgeois intellectuals from Pietermaritzburg, mostly university students and lecturers, while “they” were black rural peasants, under threat of being removed from their land and deprived of their livelihood because the place where they lived constituted a “blackspot” on some Pretoria apparatchik’s map. .

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Theory as a disease of the modern world

1 June 2016

Sergei Chapnin, an Orthodox journalist in Moscow, sent me three questions related to the Pan-Orthodox Council being held next month. I think he is collecting responses from quite a number of people, and I think he hopes to collate and publish them on the web. Here are my responses:

1) What trends (both positive and negative), in your opinion, determine the life of the Orthodox Church on your local level (parish, diocese) and worldwide?

The power of the media in shaping people’s worldview means that they often fail to use Orthodox criteria in evaluating things that are happening in the world around them. Locally, Orthodox are a small minority, so this is even more significant. The Orthodox Church is seen as just one of 10000 different Christian sects, and it is very difficult to develop an Orthodox fronima.

2) What is the practical need for cooperation between the local Churches? How important for you personally is this problem and why?

For us in Southern Africa one of the things we lack is monasticism. It would be very good if local Orthodox Churches with a strong monastic life could help us by sending some monks to help establish it here. I would like to see a monastery with monks from one each of several different countries — one Greek, one Russian, one Romanian, one American, so that they would be forced to communicate in English and help to develop an indigenous South African monasticism with local people.

3) What hopes do you have for the forthcoming Pan-Orthodox Council? (Will it become a significant event for the whole Church, or an event primarily for the church administration, etc,?)

One hope I have is that it will recognise other minsistries than ordained clergy (bishops, priests and deacons). These are important, but we also need evangelists, catechists, lay pastors and teachers. In the past the church had ways of recognising these, and while there should be scope for local variations, the council could lay down general guidelines.

In this post I’ll mainly be discussing the first of these — what are the things that shape our worldview, our mindset, our frame of reference, our outlook on life? Apart from Sergei Chapnin’s questions, several other things have happened recently that have made me think about these a lot.

One of the things that made me think about it was this article Gary Saul Morson on Crime and Punishment at 150.:

We wonder how Raskolnikov manages to hold such contradictory positions. Perhaps, as he surmises, he simply can’t shake the “dead weight of instinct” inculcated by religion in childhood. Or maybe his extreme sensitivity to suffering when he is powerless to alleviate it makes a doctrine denying evil’s existence attractive. From extreme moralism to absolute nihilism is but a step.

In my answer to Sergei Chapnin, I had South Africa in mind, where Orthodox Christians are a tiny minority. Dostoevsky was writing in 19th-century Russia, where Orthodoxy was the religion of the majority, and was highly visible, but had little influence on the thinking of the intelligentsia, most of whom self-consciously rejected it. Well, when I say it had little influence, it had quite a lot of negative influence, in that the rejection was self-conscious. People had to be aware of it to reject it.

In South Africa there is barely any awareness. A couple of months ago an airliner was hijacked in Egypt, and it took several days for the South African media to twig that the Orthodox bishop of Johannesburg was aboard the plane, as well as the priest of a fairly prominent parish in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg who had just been made a bishop. The fact that he had been made a bishop didn’t rate a mention in the news until several days after the plane had been hijacked.

Go back 10-12 years earlier, when the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria was killed in an air crash. That barely rated a mention in the South African media, even though earlier in his career the Pope had been parish priest of that same Johannesburg parish, whereas every time the Pope of Rome sneezed there were articles in the mainstream media speculating about his health.

DostoevskySo Orthodoxy doesn’t really register on the media’s radar in South Africa, and Orthodox Christians are exposed to just as many theories and social currents and worldviews as Dostoevsky and his protagonist Raskolnikov in Crime and punishment.

There are many sources of such influence — from our parents, teachers and friends at school, books we read, films we see, watching TV, social media “influencers”, and so on.

When I read the article on Crime and punishment one of the first things that came to mind was Tony Blair. In the book, the prominent mass-murdering politician is Napoleon, whose activities were still within living memory. In our day when we think of warmongering politicians one of the first people who comes to mind is Tony Blair. See this article  — Most British people say they ‘will never forgive’ Tony Blair:

More than half the public say they can “never forgive” Tony Blair for embroiling the UK in the war in Iraq.

A survey carried out by the pollsters YouGov ahead of the publication of the Chilcot Report at the start of July found only 8 per cent think he did nothing wrong.

Yet when Tony Blair wanted war, it was the media that egged him on, and drummed up public support for the three major wars he participated in — Yugoslavia 1999, Afghanistan 2002, and Iraq 2003-?

On my other blog I recently wrote about the media manufacturing news rather than reporting it, and though this goes back a long way, it seems to have been getting worse recently. Nearly fifty years ago a group of academic researchers made a case study of media reporting. They chose an event that had been planned long in advance, and studied how the media handled it, before, during and after. The event was a protest demonstration against the Vietnam War, with a march to the American Embassy in London. The researchers tracked two TV stations and four newspapers, how they prepared to report the event, and how they actually reported it. The findings were published in a book called Demonstrations and communication: a case study, in which the authors analysed the way in which the news media determined the quality of the event and then were compelled to find incidents to fulfil their prophecies.

When it comes to advertising, the message is even stronger. Advertising provides role models. The role models depict what  the media assume people want to be, or what the media  think people ought to be — good consumers. Take the time to look at some TV ads some time, from the point of view of what they are presenting as role models. Then compare them with Christian saints. What are the similarities and what are the differences. Is there any overlap at all?

BlessedSome Christians try to mitigate this bombardment of one-sided propaganda by posting graphical illustrations with sayings of the saints on social media. It is not my intention to belittle their efforts, but I wonder how effective this is when people cannot see living examples in monasteries. Hence my answer to Sergei Chapnin’s second question above, about the need for countries with a flourishing monastic life to help those who do not have such a thing.

I was once told by a monk of Mount Athos that more people go to hell from monasteries than from anywhere else in the world. It is so easy for a monk to lose his (or her) nipsis (watchfulness).

But monks in monasteries at least know what to watch for.

At the moment we in South Africa are being bombarded with rival TV ads for Jamieson’s whiskey and Hennesey brandy.  One ad presents the role model of a man who is a big success, driving a flashy car, and receiving a prestigious award. The other ad partly deconstructs it: it’s an actor pretending he owns a car, pretending to receive an award, but strip all the props away and what do you have left? Character, that’s what. And, of course, the rival drink. But what constitutes “character” is not explained.

ForgivenessAnd what Orthodox Christians need in this kind of world is the tools to deconstruct these role models and the rest of the propaganda, using rather the lives of the saints to have role models based on Christian values.

Christian role models will show the Christian virtues: modesty, humility, patience and love. The role models in advertisements usually display the contrary. So Christians need the tools to deconstruct these.

But then most advocates of deconstruction also reject  “foundational narratives”, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is just such a foundational narrative. Take that away and what is left? Character, as the whiskey ad days? But what sort of character? Nothing really.

And that brings us back to Dostoevsky and crime and punishment.

Advertisements, and the media generally, deal with popular culture, but the intelligentsia prefer to deal with theories to explain these things. That is perhaps why Gary Saul Morson gives his article on Crime and punishment the sub-title “the disease of theory”. He writes about “theory’s deleterious effects in Crime and Punishment.”

If anyone has read this blog regularly, they will know that I have been quite critical of “critical race theory”. My initial response to it was based almost purely on prejudice. I lived for 47 years of my life under apartheid, which was a race theory. The proponents of critical race theory say that this is different, because it’s a critical race theory, but it’s still a race theory. And they don’t seem too happy when people are critical of it.

Morson’s article goes further, and is critical of theory as theory. And I can go along with that too. I’ve always been a bit suspicious of academics who describe their research as having a “rigid theoretical framework”, and criticise the work of others for lacking such a rigid theoretical framework. It seems to me that they will end up like the news media covering protest demonstrations, and only seeing what they want to see. Fundamentalists, too, have a rigid theoretical framework.

I don’t expect the Pan-Orthodox Council to deconstruct modern culture in one gathering, and I hope they don’t try to come up with a rigid theological framework, but I do hope that they will encourage the Church to work on developing the tools for deconstructing some of the idols of the secular world.


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