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Blogiversary: Khanya blog is 12 years old

13 February 2019

Twelve years ago I started Khanya blog. Here are some stats:

  • Best ever post

    12,094 views

  • All time

    678,905 views 5,034 comments

 

Over those twelve years, these have been the most popular posts:

Title Views
Home page / Archives More stats 96,971
What is Google installer, and why is it trying to access the Internet? More stats 42,782
The appearance of Jesus Christ: redux More stats 21,203
Three popes and a patriarch More stats 21,163
Nicene Creed: old and new translations More stats 20,606
About me More stats 14,212
What is African? Race and identity More stats 12,990
Zionist Christians and Christian Zionists More stats 12,678
Stuff to do on Sunday if you’re bored More stats 9,524
Makwerekwere More stats 8,649
Izikhothane: a new word for an old fashion? More stats 8,312
Tales from Dystopia More stats 7,290
Fighting crime — proactive or reactive? More stats 5,200
Charismatic Renewal More stats 4,915
The end of an era — Anglo-Catholicism rides off into the sunset More stats 4,578
Witchcraft, African and European More stats 4,274
The legacy of apartheid and the culture of violence More stats 4,218
Bad theology: Vassula Ryden and Benny Hinn More stats 3,682
The Church as the Liberated Zone More stats 3,664
The theology of Christian marriage More stats 3,535
Kitchen implement More stats 3,448
Ethiopian Orthodox Church More stats 3,236
More stuff to do on Sunday if you’re bored More stats 3,108
WordPress promoting porn? More stats 3,097
Khanya Blog More stats 2,945
Christianity and shamanism More stats 2,920
The youth of today, and yesterday More stats 2,762
Love is the measure: Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker More stats 2,583
Who stole Halloween? More stats 2,535
Holy Glorious Great Martyr, Victorybearer and Wonderworker George (303) More stats 2,487
Angels and demons and egregores (book review) More stats 2,285
Squeezel? Squeeza? What does it mean? More stats 2,273
The Hunger Games (book review) More stats 2,226
Constants in context: A theology of mission for today — Book Review More stats 2,213
Inculturation, indigenisation, syncretism and cultural appropriation More stats 2,213
Salvation and atonement More stats 2,191

It’s interesting that among the most popular, including the one at the very top of the list, about Google Installer, are posts that were quite ephemeral, and probably didn’t deserve their popularity. Another in that category is “What to do on Sunday if you’re bored”, which is a metapost to test what kinds of blog posts become popular. Some more serious posts came much lower on the list, though I think they deserved more views.

So the number of views is not really the best way to judge the quality of a blog post. A much better measure is the number and quality of comments, and the extent to which discussion is carried over onto other forums. Unfortunately there is no way of measuring those things with WordPress statistics. But thanks to the 5034 people who commented. Your comments (well some of them) are what makes blogging worthwhile.

In case anyone is curious the cover picture was taken in the southern Drakensberg, at Drakensberg Gardens resort near Underberg. That part of the world has many memories for me, and it is the setting for two novels I have written — a children’s adventure story Of wheels and witches, and a kind of adult follow-up, The Year of the Dragon. And there have also been some blog posts about real events that took place in that part of the world, such as this one.

So thanks to everyone who has read what I have written here, to those who have commented in it, and to the other bloggers who have linked to posts here, or reblogged them (you can find some of them in the Blogroll in the sidebar). It is responses to ideas that helps one to sharpen and refined them.

 

Climate change, dystopia, history and politics

7 February 2019

Our Neoinklings Literary Coffee Klatsch today was mainly about the kind of dystopia likely to be brought about by climate change, and we discussed some dystopian fiction that followed such themes, and also history, mainly European, and some of the problems brought about by changing borders, with consequent demands for changing loyalties.

But first, David Levey returned our copy of Elidor, which he enjoyed, and said it was more gritty and focused than a lot of Alan Garner’s other books.

I certainly find it the best of Alan Garner’s books. The prose is tight and sparse, and the tension in the story builds up with unrelenting pressure. If that is what constitutes the genre known as “thriller”, then this is the thriller of all thrillers.

Janneke Weidema said she is in a Quaker group concerned about climate change, and David Levey mentioned some books about people who had tried to escape the consequences of climate change. One, whose title I didn’t get, was about people who retreated to spaceships orbiting the earth, and then there was a series about people who colonised Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars being the first of a trilogy on that theme.

Another he mentioned was The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. It was about a girl who lives in a gated community, built to protect its inmates from the angry proletariat outside. Her father is a Baptist preacher, but she finds his preaching irrelevant to the kind of world she lives in, so she creates her own religion and leaves the gated community to go and sow the seed of a new religion about a God whose main characteristic is change.

One of the dystopian novels that I recalled was Earth Abides by George Stewart. It was reading that back in 1961 that introduced me to the word “ecology”, and how the various elements of life hang together and influence one another.

The ecological question led into a discussion of the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, who has a reputation as a “green” patriarch, but I had to try to explain why he is not looked on with much favour by the rest of the Orthodox right now, but that gets of the topic of books, so you can read more about it here.  An interesting sideline on that, however, is that the Roman Pope has been challenged to adopt Orthodox fasting rules for Lent.

Val mentioned a historical novel rather than one dealing with a future dystopia, Tombland by C.J. Sansom deals with a peasant revolt led by Robert Kett in East Anglia, protesting against the enclosure of land by landlords, and that has echoes in the present of peasants at Xolobeni in the Eastern Cape resisting threats to their rights and livelihood by international mining companies.

Perhaps we need to heed the word of the Lord spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth! (Isa 5:7-8 ).

From there the discussion somehow moved to wars and occupations and shifting borders in Europe, and how in the 1870s the European countries met to do the same thing in Africa that they were doing to each other. And that led to a book I am currently reading, Boereverraaier: Teregstellings tydens die Anglo-Boereoorlog. During that conflict the borders were constantly shifting, and a town occupied by one side one week might be occupied by the other side the next, and those who had declared themselves neutral one week could find themselves regarded as renegades the next. Some were accused of high treason, and ended up being shot by a firing squad composed of their friends and neighbours, and even, in some cases, members of their own families.

Social media, generations and me

2 February 2019

Yesterday I heard someone speak on social media, and a lot of it passed me by, and were completely remote from my experience. The main things I took away from it were:

  1. A Millennial is someone who knows what a Millennial is
  2. Millennials use social media almost exclusively for entertainment
  3. Millennials think they are cool and other generations are not.

I’m not going to argue about those points — after all I may have misunderstood them and got them completely wrong. People of my generation (whatever it may be called) tend to be somewhat hard of hearing, and I had to ask the speaker to repeat something three times before I realised  that she was talking about internet trolls, so there may have been a lot of other stuff I misheard as well.

But it did get me thinking about how social media in particular, and the internet in general, have changed the way we live out lives — by “we”, there, I mean those of us belonging to generations that lived at least part of their adult lives without the internet. So what do you call that generation, and those that followed?

I get confused by a lot of this talk of generations, and have no idea what the letters mean. I’ve read it somewhere, but I can’t retain the information, because most of the explanations have to do with US social history. And South African social history is different. and the landmarks are different.

What are the landmarks?

I recall reading in a newspaper that in the mid 1970s sociologists from elsewhere in the world wanted to come to South Africa to study the children to see how they differed from others, because South African children had not grown up with television. So that is, perhaps, a generational marker that differs from the USA.

Another, I would say, is the beginning of apartheid in 1948, and its end in 1994. And the last date happened to coincide with the Internet becoming popular.

Do we have names for those generations, and how do we apply them? And how did those changes affect our generation?

When I was in my late teens and early twenties one of my literary heroes was Jack Kerouac, who referred to his generation as the Beat Generation. Now Jack Kerouac was born in 1922, which is the same year that my father-in-law was born, so I don’t think I belong to the Beat Generation.

And Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac’s buddy, wrote of that generation:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

The generation that followed the Beat Generation shortened the “angelheaded hipsters” to “hippies”, and so was the Hippie Generation, and yes, I do kind of identify with that. So what did our generation, if it can be called the Hippie Generation, experience?

Hemingway, Eichmann, “Stranger in a Strange Land”
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion
“Lawrence of Arabia”, British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson
Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say

We didn’t start the fire (Billy Joel).

Did you see what I just did there? Did you?

That is how my generation uses YouTube (a social medium). Not as entertainment, but as a footnote reference in a semi-scholarly blog post.

I don’t subscribe to YouTube. I don’t follow anyone there. I just use it as a reference, mainly for when the words of a song illustrate what I want to say.

Actually I can’t even watch it any more, because it has recently shut itself off to me, and if I try to watch anything it says “Your browser does not currently recognize any of the video formats available.” It used to recognise them, so what changed? My browser hasn’t changed, so it must be YouTube, catering only for Millennials who will spend five hours on it rather than the five minutes to check on a song.

I watch videos online as little as possible, because doing so chews bandwidth, which is hideously expensive. (“Hideous”, now there’s a generational word. My mother used to use it a lot. The currently favoured one, of course, is “toxic”). My generation is perhaps more economy conscious because we were deprived of things  during the war. It is said the Nats won the 1948 election because they promised white bread.

So much for YouTube. Then there’s Facebook. But to understand my generation’s relationship with Facebook, you need to look at its predecessors. We’re old, remember. We remember the Dark Ages before Facebook came to illuminate our darkness.

Before Facebook there was MySpace, which was graphics-intensive, clumsy, and difficult to navigate. It grew piecemeal, because nobody knew what users wanted, and so they added things in higgldy-piggeldy, and it became a huge mess.

And before MySpace was a site called SixDegrees, which was based on the theory that everybody on earth is within six degrees of relationship with everyone else, and tried to make it possible to trace the links. But it too tried to be graphics-intensive at a time when most people’s internet access was via dial-up modem, and waiting for a page to load was like watching paint dry. The site died.

Then along came Mark Zuckerberg, who learnt from the mistakes of sites like SixDegrees and MySpace, and came up with Facebook, which was uncluttered, simple, intuitive and fast. The only problem was that it was only for currently-registered students at tertiary educational institutions. Even amumni of those institutions could not apply. Eventually the hoi polloi were admitted and for a time it was social media bliss. Everyone wanted to join, and lots of people did.

And one of the things about people of my generation is that, having lived a long time in a lot of different places, we have lots of friends that we have lost touch with because they are too far away. And the more people there were on Facebook, the more likely it would be that you could reconnect with an old friend there. Millennials don’t like Facebook because they are not really interested in connecting with people. They are only interested in entertainment (so why do they talk about social media, then? Why not “entertainment media”?

And that is perhaps a difference between the computer generation and the TV generation. And that’s where the continental divide comes in. Americans of the hippie generation were part of the TV generation. South Africans of the hippie generation were not.

And having lived though most of these generations, I can recall the wonder, the excitement I felt when, with a borrowed 300 baud Saron modem, I sat in Pretoria and watched letters in amber on a black background coming, line after line, on to my computer screen, and to think that they were coming from another computer far away in Boksburg!

Millennials, who cannot remember a time when such things didn’t happen, can have no idea of the wonder of it, and the possibilities that it opened up. My family used to accuse me of being antisocial — instead of being sociable and sitting and watching TV with them, I was sitting in my study “playing with the computer”. But to think of it like that is to confuse means with ends. While they were sitting watching cabinet ministers opening monuments and being given their one way dose of the propaganda the SABC dished out, I was communicating with people in Boksburg, and soon Kirklees in Yorkshire, and a myriad other places. BBS networks opened up the world.

And the BBS networks that flourished in the late 1980s and early 1990s were different from the monolithic corporate controllers of social media today. BBSs were private enterprise socialism. Shut one down and a dozen others would spring up. There were also dozens of BBS networks. FidoNet was one of the biggest, and was almost worldwide, initially using dial-up networks to connect people on every continent. Fidonet technology was also used by other networks, which could be used for specialist purposes, and nothing since then (late 1980s-early 1990s) has come close to the BBS networks for enabling meaningful many-to-many communication.

The high point of BBS networking was probably in 1989, .that annus mirabilis in which democracy was breaking out all over (including in South Africa — cue to plug Smashwords – The Year of the Dragon – a book by Stephen Hayes), and news of the Tianamnen Square massacre in China and the revolt that followed was carried hour by hour on the ASIAN_LINK conference on Fidonet, and news of similar events elsewhere was carried in other conferences. This was completely under the radar of the mainstream media at the time, who thought it was all done by fax,

In the 1980s I had to attend a lot of church conferences about such things as theological education and mission and evangelism which entailed having to travel at great expense to meet people from all over the subcontinent, spend a few days discussing stuff, and then we would scatter and forget everything we had discussed until next year. It struck me that Fido technology, or something similar, could save an enormous amount of time in preparing and following up such meetings which would enable the face-to-face meetings to be much more productive. Unfortunately no one else seemed to grasp this at the time, and I suspect that most people still haven’t grasped it. Last month as missiology conference was held in Potchefstroom, but no one saw fit to write about it in the appropriate forums.

The point here is that for people of our generation it was all about communication, not entertainment. It meant we could talk to and share ideas with people on the other side of the world.

We also discovered that it wasn’t all sweetness and light. In the TV generation we thought we were living in Marshall McLuhan’s global village, seeing events happening in real time all over the world.  But it was all mediated through journalists, through the news media, not social media. On the BBS networks, and in later incarnations of social media, people in those far-away places started talking directly to each other, and suddenly realised how different they were. Alot [sic] of people weren’t used to communicating in writing, wed we discovered that many did not know how to spell. A “waist of time” was quite common, for example. So that was another big change between the TV and the computer generations.The TV generation people lost the art of communicating in writing, the computer generation reclaimed it.

But people also encountered opinions they had never encountered before.

On another social media site, Quora, people just ask questions and other people try to answer them. Someone asked recently “What has been the root cause of our hyper-offended, angry culture in America? When did it start?” and my answer was that the cause may have been the Internet, when people discovered for the first time how the opinions that they would never have been likely to meet differed so radically from theirs. So communication has its drawbacks as well.

Another social medium is Instagram. I have never understood Instagram. I’ve seen tweets on Twitter and posts on Facebook telling me that someone has posted something on Instagram, but when I go there Instagram wants me to log in or sign up. What is Instagram, and why should I sign up for it? It says sign up to see photos and videos from your friends. Well I can do that on Facebook. Next site?

PInterest. That seems to be much the same sort of thing as Instagram. Never seen the point of it. I’ve put a few things on there, I wonder if anyone looks at them? Would I know if they did? Not much social about it that I can see.

Then there’s Twitter. I found out about Twitter from a site called Technorati, which used to be a kind of guide to blogs — you could look up a topic you were interested in and find out who had blogged about it recently. That was a useful service, but then they lost sight of their core business and lost the plot. But in the days when Technorati used to work, one of the topics that was trending was Twitter. So I had a look at Twitter.

On Twitter you were supposed to say what you were doing right now in 140 characters or less. The only thing that I could think of to say was “I’m typing this in Twitter”. The only use I could see for it was to get members of my family to join it, and then say things like “I’m going to be late for lunch.” Except that I never did manage to persuade members of my family to join it, and now WhatsApp does the same thing better.

Eventually they added features like shortening long URLs (to fit the 140-character limit), and then they added the capacity to link pictures (which made nonsense of the 140-character limit, so it was increased to 280). They also changed the prompt from “What are you doing right now?” to “What’s happening?” which enlarges the scope a bit.

Another improvement was #hashtags, which enables you enter keywords to show what your posts are about, which makes it easier for people interested in those topics to find them. For example, if you are interested in children’s books, just search for the hashtag #kidlit, and you will find articles about children’s books, reviews of books, articles about children’s reading tastes and habits and more. There’s an ancillary service called paper.li, which picks up all the tweets that link to articles with a certain hashtag, and produces a daily digest of such tweets called The #kidlit Daily. Go on, check it out.

And if you ever tweet a link to a theological review or article or web page, please, pretty please, use the #theology hashtag so it will get included in The #theology Daily. I am so tired of seeing links to “His Kingdom Prophecy”. You can follow me on Twitter (@hayesstw), or get a digest of my tweets at The Steve Hayes Daily.

And then there are the other drawbacks to social media.

One is that the interests of the users and the site owners rarely coincide.

Users (of my generation anyway) are interested in communicating with other people. If the site enables them to communicate more easily, they will go to it. And communicating more easily means using different channels. Not everything I want to say to my great aunt Ruby or my old school friend Dave can be said on Facebook, so I want to be able to e-mail them, read their blog, perhaps phone them or visit them. Facebook in its halcyon days enabled all these things (perhaps it is significant that “enablement” seems to have gathered negative connotations these days). But Facebook wants to keep you on its site, as do many of the other social media sites, so after first enabling you to do these things, they then disable you.

Facebook doesn’t want to leaving your web browser for an e-mail application (“client”, as some like to call it). So what did they do — they changed everyone’s e-mail address, without telling them, to an address on Facebook in order to keep them from leaving Facebook for another site, or another app. There are some things, like this blog post, that are easier to say on a blogging platform than on Facebook, but the monopolists at Facebook don’t like that. Back in the halcyon days (roughly 2007-2010) they used to automatically show blog posts in the timeline/status/wall. Now they have stopped that, and you have to post a separate link to a blog post. But if you do that, Facebook puts it low on the priorities of what it shows people, because if they click on  the link to this post it will take them out of Facebook, and they won’t be exposed to the ads on Facebook. Unless lots of people “like” it, or react to it. Then the algorithm might let a few more people see it.

So I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook and most other social media. They entice you to join because of the possibility of communicating with your friends, and then obstruct that communication as much as possible unless it can be channelled into the things that are most profitable to them. So you know you are talking to your friends, because they are there, but Facebook has blocked their ears. So it’s a perpetual battle of bait and switch. Facebook shows you your friend in the distance, so you can communicate with them, but doesn’t show you the obstacle course that lies in between.

The same thing applies to Twitter.

It used to be simple. Follow someone on Twitter, and see their tweets in chronological order. Until Twitter decided to do a Facebook, and improve your “experience” by showing the tweets they want you to see rather than the ones you want to see. And that means that it will show you more tweets from people who have lots of followers than those who only have a few followers. I used not to care how many followers I had on Twitter. It didn’t matter — many or few, as long as they were people with similar interests to mine, we could communicate. Only now we can’t, because if I have few followers and my friend has few followers, then we will rarely see each other’s tweets, because Twitter privileges to tweets of those who have lots of followers.

And this is what contributes to the kind of hyperoffended angry culture mentioned earlier.

A recent example of this is a picture that went viral on news and social media recently, which shows how both the news media and social media are used to manipulate public opinion in the interests of profit.

I suspect that whenever this picture was posted on Facebook quite a lot of people clicked the “Angry” button. And each click made it more likely that Facebook’s algorithm would show it to other people who were likely to click the “Anger” button, and so the anger grew. and many people did not realise how their anger was being manipulated by Facebook in the interests of profit. In South Africa we seem the same thing with the “white genocide” meme. Recently a couple of employees of Unisa were found to have six fake news sites exploiting the “white genocide” and similar memes for profit.

But it went so far that even some journalists began to have second thoughts, as in this article, which is well worth reading in its entirety How We Destroy Lives Today – The New York Times:

…these days the social media tail wags the mainstream media dog. If you want your story to be well placed and if you want to be professionally rewarded, you have to generate page views — you have to incite social media. The way to do that is to reinforce the prejudices of your readers.

and this The Real Story Behind the ‘MAGA Kid’ Video That the Media Isn’t Telling:

what this case illustrates is the media’s power to manipulate outrage among those who blindly consume it. By failing to tell the entire story, preconceived stereotypes are used to stoke a divisive picture that is destined to get clicks and views.

Society’s own biases are being used against us to sell false hatred and it’s making these companies billions of dollars.

As someone once put it, we live in an age of communication without community.

The TV generation in the USA, which was the pre-TV generation in South Africa but perhaps the hippie generation in both, could watch on TV how bombs were dropped on Vietnam, and some would go to fight there, while others would protest against the fighting. But in the computer generation, perhaps, the Vietnamese (or their modern equivalent) are tweeting right back. Perhaps, if this process were allowed to continue unchecked it might be possible to build bridges, but that would not be profitable for the owners of the social media sites. It’s better to herd the supporters of each side into their own corral, where they can stoke each other’s anger, and keep the clicks coming.

Well, that’s a view from the Hippie Generation.

I’m not sure what the other generations are. I’ve heard that there’s a Generation X, a Generation Y and a Generation Z — presumably a Generation Zed in South Africa and a Generation Zee in the USA. What’s next? The Millennium, and then Generation A for Apocalypse.

 

Logres, Azania, Wakanda and the Inklings

26 January 2019

King Arthur And His Knights of the Round TableKing Arthur And His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Roger Lancelyn Green was one of the lesser-known members of the Oxford Inklings, the literary circle of whom J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams and perhaps Owen Barfield are the best known.

Many of them seemed to be drawn to the stories of King Arthur and the Matter of Britain, and there are several references to those in their works. Many of those references passed right over my head when I read them. I knew about King Arthur from childhood, and still have a book of stories that I read that were drawn from the Arthurian cycle, but it was an eclectic collection, and was of little help in understanding some of the Inklings’ references.

I read bits of Tennyson and bits of Malory, but I could never remember who the characters were, and which ones did what. Epic, it seems, is just not my style.

But this book was on our shelves — how it got there, I don’t know. So I thought I’d read it to try at least to get a sense of the characters and what they had done. It was no epic, it was prose written for children, so I ought to be able to follow it.

I read it about 12 years ago, and it at least helped me to get the bigger picture. When I picked it up again last month, however, I discovered U had forgotten much of it. What was the Dolorous Blow and who struck it? Was it Sir Percivale or Sir Galahad whose rightful place was the Siege Perilous? I had just forgotten. I had forgotten all about Sir Launcelot and Elaine, and reading it was like reading a new story (I did remember about Launcelot and Queen Guinivere). Now I must go through it again, taking notes.

But the thing that struck me most this time around was the relationship between Logres and Britain.

It seems that in the early Arthurian stories Logres was just a pre-English name for what is now England, before the English arrived to turn it into England. But the Inklings seem to have invested it with a special meaning, which is referenced in their books, and which Roger Lancelyn Green seems to be at pains to explain here. Logres , for the Inklings, seems to have been a kind of Platonic ideal of Britain (an Idea I might try to expand on in my blog).

So this seems to be more than just a children’s book, a retelling of the Arthur mythos for children. Roger Lancelyn Green, perhaps realising the weakness of the epic, adopts a prose style very similar to The Mabinogion. Perhaps the oral originals of the Mabinogion had been epics, but the written form was prose, and the style of this reflects that. Could be the key to Charles Williams’s epic poetry? Perhaps, though there is no mention here of Broceliande.

View all my reviews

Perhaps there is more that can be said about Logres and the Inklings.

It was in one of our monthly Neoinklings gatherings where we were discussing the current situation in South Africa, that the conception of Logres in this book, and among the Inklings generally, struck me — see South African Camelot | Notes from underground,and it was that discussion that got me seriously re-reading King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

It was a link that had struck me earlier, on re-reading That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis a couple of years ago — see here That hideous strength and Rhodes must fall | Khanya. Roger Lancelot Green was not just a member of the Inklings, he was a student of C.S. Lewis at Oxford, and they may have discussed some of these questions in tutorials. So I don’t think it is too far-fetched to think that, since That Hideous Strength was first published in 1945, and King Arthur eight years later, that RLG incorporated some of the elements of those discussions into his description of the relationship between Logres and Britain.

When I read King Arthur 12 years ago I didn’t really pick much of this up, and did not really see the parallels with South Africa. It was only a few months later, in December 2007, that the ANC Conference at Polokwane elected Jacob Zuma and his supporters to the ANC’s top leadership and the National Executive Committee of the ANC, signalling the disapperance of South Africa’s equivalent of Logres. Reading it again post-Zuma leads me to see the period between 1994 and 2004 as South Africa’s Logres moment.

What shall we call it, that South African Logres? A mythical country that represents all that is best about a country. The PAC called it Azania, and perhaps that is appropriate as a semi-mythical realm, but because of rivalry with the ANC the ANC would not, of course, accept it. A more recent candidate might be Wakanda — see Black Panther and the values of Wakanda | Khanya. But the symbolism of Wakanda is wider than just South Africa. One could say that in a sense Wakanda is the Logres of Africa, or at least sub-Saharan Africa.

I discussed individual guardian angels recently in relation to another book I had read, and the extent to which one’s guardian angel resembles the old Roman notion of the genius. But in addition to individual guardian angels there are also the angels of the peoples. See Deut 32:8-9 — When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the people according to the number of the sons of God. For the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. In the Septuagint “sons of God” is rendered “angels of God”, and this implies that each nation has its own god, a national spirit, almost the equivalent of a guardian angel in a person. This was the “genius of Caesar” that early Christians refused to worship, and the film Black Panther implies a similar genius for the King of Wakanda.

Psalm 81/82 (which in the Orthodox Church we sing with great gusto on Holy Saturday, banging the chairs and stamping on the floor) says that the gods of the nations have messed up, and the Psalm ends with a prayer that the Lord will judge them and toss them out — something which Jesus claimed to do at his crucifixion (John 12:31).

The theological question here is does each nation have one national spirit, or two? Is there a good one and a bad one, like the guardian angel and the tempting demon of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters?

According to Charles Stewart in his book Demons and the Devil (p 48) “The main doctrinal point is simple: NO DUALISM. Satan is not to be regarded as a power equal to God. He is God’s creation and operates subject to divine will.” In addition Stewart notes that Satan is strictly and intrinsically evil. The Church does not accept the existence of intermediate or ambiguous fairy-like creatures such as neraides, gorgones and kallikantzaroi; Satan is singular. He is the leader of demons who are fallen angels of the same order as himself. There is no real concern for the names of demons.

C.S. Lewis has a slightly different view of intermediate or ambiguous fairy-like creatures. Professor Dimble, speaking to his wife, says:

“Well the word ‘angel’ rather begs the question. even the Oyeresu aren’t exactly angels in the same sense as our guardian angels. There used to be things on this earth pursuing their own business. They weren’t ministering spirits sent to help humanity, but neither were they enemies preying up[on us… all the gods, elves water-people, fate, longaevi.”

“You think there are things like that?”

“I think there were. I think there was room for them then, but the universe has come more to a point…. The things weren’t bad in themselves, but they were already bad for us. They withered the man who dealt with them.”

This section is interesting, as one of the places were Lewis explicitly discusses the differences between modernity and premodernity.

When St Paul discusses the principalities and powers, or rulers and authorities, it seems that they are not strictly and intrinsically evil. Our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers and authorities, the world powers of this darkness (Ephesian 6:10-12), yet in Romans 13 he says the rulers and authorities have been instituted by God.

Walter Wink has also recently expounded some of these ideas, as we discussed at another of our Neoinklings gatherings. But in all these discussions the niggling question remains: one or two? Is there one genius, or egregore, or exousia, which can sometimes be good and sometimes evil? Or do we have a good genius and an evil genius? Is Britain sometimes temped to follow Logres, and sometimes tempted to go over to the dark side? Or is Britain, like Satan, strictly and intrinsically evil, and Logres strictly and intrinsically good? Or can we see them sometimes in one way, and sometimes in another?

Another thing about Roger Lancelyn Green’s King Arthur is the strange abstraction of three eras. It is a twentieth-century view of a twelfth-century view of the fifth century. It is abstract. There are no towns and villages, only castles, hemitages and monasteries. There are wandering knights, hermits and damsels. There are no farmers or artisans. The knights, of course are a military order, and so there is lots of violence and bloodshed, with plenty of heads being chopped off, and people dying of wounds, yet this is also contrasted in the same text with the virtues of love and forgiveness. The decline of Logres is caused by lack of forgiveness, which leads to the break-up of community and fellowship.

The quest for the Holy Grail seems to have made an appeal to the 12th-century imagination, though Charles Williams picks it up again in his War in Heaven for the twentieth century. But why did it become so popular in the 12th century? One possibility is that in the 11th and 12th centuries there was a huge change in Western theology (it did not affect the Orthodox Church, since the great schism had already taken place by then). It was a change in Eucharistic theology, and I suspect that this change led to the popularity of the Grail stories in that period. See here: Eucharistic theology and witchcraft | Khanya.

About 25 years ago, which South Africa was about to enter its Logres period of 1994-2004 an old friend, Graham Pechey called for “a new symbiosis of the sacred and the profane, the quotidian and the numinous” that would explore some of these issues. Is Black Panther a 21st-century vision of an African King Arthur, and is Wakanda an African Logres, or at least one seen through American eyes?

I tried to do that quotidian and numinous thing in my novel The Year of the Dragon, but so far no one seems inclined to discuss it, or even to read it, much less review it.

But perhaps the time is ripe for someone to write an epic in which the idlozi of Jacob Zuma plays Mordred to Nelson Mandela’s Arthur.

The Stranger Diaries (review)

21 January 2019

The Stranger DiariesThe Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A rather good whodunit wrapped in a ghost story.

One of the problems with reading a good book immediately after reading a bad one is that one is likely to see the good one as better and the bad one as worse than it actually was. When I started reading this book my relief was enormous because it was so much better than the one I had just finished reading. Since they are of similar genres I can’t help comparing them.

The bad book was The Seal by Meg Hutchinson writing as Margaret Astbury and my main review of it is here: Foiling a satanic plot to destroy the world.

My reason for writing a comparative review is not simply that I read them consecutively and the contrast in quality, but they also shared a similar overlapping genre, what one might call the “supernatural thriller”, though The Seal failed to thrill where The Stranger Diaries succeeded.

In both books there is a murder investigation by the police, and in both there is a supernatural agent of death that, once summoned, will not depart without killing someone.

In The Stranger Diaries high school English teacher Clare Cassidy is upset when her friend and colleague Ella Elphick is murdered, and in her hand is found a note with a quotation from a horror story which was written by R.M. Holland, whose house forms part of the school where they both taught, and where the ghost of Holland’s wife Alice is said to walk. Clare Cassidy is collecting material to write a book on Holland, which makes this a literary whodunit,

The story is told from the viewpoint of three narrators: Clare Cassidy, Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur, who is investigating the murder, and was herself a former pupil at the school. and Clare’s teenage daughter Georgia Newton, who is a pupil at the school where her mother teaches.

What was immediately refreshing when I started reading it was the clear prose of Elly Griffiths, especially when contrasted with the turgid and turbid prose of Meg Hutchinson writing as Margaret Astbury. When Griffiths mentions the characters eating or drinking, it helps to create a picture of how the character is feeling or relating to other characters at that moment; when Hutchinson writing as Astbury mentions characters eating or drinking, it is a hiatus, a break, an interruption in the flow of the narrative. It contributes nothing to the story and looks as though it was inserted merely to increase the word count.

Griffiths writes about three-dimensional characters, partly through the device of having three narrators, so the three main characters are seen through their own eyes as well as through the eyes of the others. The way in which the three narrators see other people also tells a lot about their own character. Hutchinson writing as Astbury, on the other hand, stresses one characteristic of each of the main characters, all from the point of view of the omniscient narrator.

If The Stranger Diaries has a weakness, it is perhaps that it is too much embedded in time and place. If anyone reads it in 50 years’ time it might be possible to overcome some of this with a glossary to explain what Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are (I must admit that though I use Facebook and Twitter, I don’t really know what Instagram and Snapchat are for). But even a glossary could not really explain all the character by TV show references. I have seen Strictly come dancing and even “got” it when it was was originally referred to as “Strictly…“. I’ve also seen University Challenge, though not enough to have got the reference.  But I’ve never seen Friends, and have no idea what watching it says about a person’s character.

There were one or two odd uses of language.

I don’t think a Victorian writer of ghost stories would say that someone was “devastated” by the death of someone else. Elly Griffiths (and her editor) might also like to check on the difference between an epithet and an epigram.

But apart from these minor niggles it was a very enjoyable book (and yes, I’m aware that all the best writing how-to columnists tell you it’s very bad form to say “very”).

View all my reviews

Foiling a satanic plot to destroy the world

18 January 2019

The SealThe Seal by Meg Hutchinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A disappointing read.

It’s written by Meg Hutchinson writing as Margaret Astbury, writing as Meg Hutchinson.

It has the ingredients of an interesting plot, but they are badly handled and it is badly written.

A bad-tempered autistic unemployed ex-commando and a chain-smoking journalist on a local newspaper live in a small town in the English Midlands, where the journalist is sent by her editor, under protest, to report on a scene of vandalism in a local cemetery, where the jobless man sees a ghost. The journalist suddenly gets interested in the story of the cemetery, which her editor has lost interest in, and she and her jobless buddy want to keep it secret from a dyspeptic detective with whom they had had some sort of run-in in a previous book.

The cemetery incident, the reader is informed, was the work of a local coven of satanists who seem to have stepped straight out of the pages of a novel by Dennis Wheatley, and for the first 30 pages or so I thought I was reading a piece of Dennis Wheatley fan fiction, but Wheatley writes much better than this — at least he has a coherent narrative in novels like The devil rides out.. But we are never told what the Satanists were actually doing in the cemetery, or trying to do, only that they thought they had made some kind of mistake while they were there.

The reader is presumed to know what happened in the previous book in which these three characters appeared, and the reader is also presumed to be familiar with their relationships with some of the other characters in the earlier book who don’t appear in this one.

The characters are flat, and each seems to have one main characteristic that gets emphasised out of all proportion. The journalist has a capacious handbag in which she carries cigarettes by the carton, and quite a lot of the narrative is devoted to her search for places in which she is permitted to smoke them, and the frustration caused by her failure to find them quickly enough. The jobless ex-commando behaves inexplicably rudely to people when he is supposed to be trying to win their cooperation. The detective is as addicted to stomach tablets as the journalist is to cigarettes.

I kept falling asleep in passages where one or other of the characters is agonising over a decision, where the reader has to wait three or four pages to discover what courses of action the character was trying to decide between. Should I tell him? Shouldn’t I? On the one hand…. On the other hand…. Tell him what? the reader wants to know.

There are curious convolutions of language, like “bodyguards, who bothered to make little secret of the fact they were armed”. As characters are always saying in American soaps, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

There is the newly-recruited satanist who enjoys the rituals and consorting with the idle rich and with evil spirits, but draws the line at murder, but the book opens with him being recruited by the satanists because they helped him to cover up a murder in the first place.

The ingredients for a good story are all there: the evil satanists doing the devil’s work of sowing discord and conflict among the nations of the earth, the international arms trade, the ordinary people like the journalist and the jobless man (who eventually gets a job with one of the satanists, and is threatened by them) who foil the plot. but in the telling of the story the author makes a complete hash of it.

View all my reviews

So much for the review of this book, but it also raises the issue of evil, the devil and political conspiracies that go beyond this particular book. As I’ve noted, the notion of satan and satanists and satanic conspiracies in this book seems to be lifted straight out of Dennis Wheatley, who was a contemporary of C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, both of whom wrote about related topics, Williams in War in heaven and Lewis in That Hideous Strength. The difference is that Williams and Lewis had a theological point to make, while Dennis Wheatley was just trying to write potboilers to make money. So he mixed up a lot of eclectic notions of devil worship, satanism and black magic to make the scariest combination that he thought would thrill readers and thus sell his books. The result is a rather crudely materialistic notion of spiritual power.

Lewis and Williams are more subtle, and Williams himself moved in occult circles, and so could be said to be writing from personal experience in his descriptions of such things. I have tried to explore or at least allude to them in a small way in my own novel The Year of the Dragon, It is historical fact that the South African security forces put hexed nails in Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s driveway, and at least considered doing something similar with a bewitched baboon foetus.

What were they thinking?

Were they expecting some kind  Dennis Wheatley/Meg Hutchinson swirling mist to consume the Archbishop, caught in his driveway where he would not have time to surround himself with a circle of salt? Or what?

I’ve discussed some of these things in other blog posts here, here and here, for anyone interested.

Third-World Africa — again!

8 January 2019

Most of us thought that the Cold War ended back at the end of 1991.

Even if we thought that Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History” thesis was over-oprimistic, it did seem that the day of the three-worlds paradigm was over. For over forty years the world had lived in the shadow of nuclear annihilation. As one parody of a Western hymn put it:

The Day God gave thee, man, is ending
the darkness falls at thy behest
who spent thy little life defending
from conquest by the East, the West.

The sun that bids us live is waking
behind the cloud that bids us die
And in the murk fresh minds are making
new plans to blow us all sky-high.

Samuel Huntington, rather less optimistic than Fukuyama, predicted that after the end of the Cold War, international conflicts would be intercivilizational and would be religious rather than ideological. Instead of three “worlds” — the West (First World), the East (Second World) and the Rest (Third World), there would be nine civilizations, divided by religion.

But even Huntington did not foresee that the Cold War would revive as a result of the manipulation of the Orthodox Church by political leaders. But it happened in 2018, when the new ecclesiastical Cold War started.

First World Church

President Poroshenko of Ukraine and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople agreed to establish a new autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine. It seemed to many that the deal was facilitated, or even brokered by the CIA.  And so the old First World was visibly reestablished in ecclesiastical form.

President Poroshenko of Ukraine and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople

In this Poroshenko was following historical precedents.

King Henry VIII of England wanted his own national church, independent of Rome, and so he nationalised the Church of England, and made life very difficult for clergy who would not go along with his new nationalist church.

Perhaps not as well known, outside South Africa, is the fact that Kaiser Matanzima, ruler of the Transkei “homeland”, did the same thing with the Methodist Church. Matanzima nationalised the Methodist Church in Transkei in 1978, and banned the Methodist Church of South Africa, from which it was forced to secede, in almost exactly the same way as Poroshenko has treated the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

Second World Church

In the same way as the new Ukrainian body is being seen as a creation of the CIA, so the Russian Orthodox Church is said to be linked to the KGB. and to be under the thumb of the state in the person of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is said that President Putin wants the Church support his vision for a Russi8an World (Russkiy Mir).

And so the First and Second Worlds have been revived by political manipulation of the Orthodox Church, and the secular media on both sides see whatever happens as either to the advantage or disadvantage of the political leaders. So, in the Western media, the most significant and important thing about the the formation of a “Ukrainian Autocephalous Church” is that it will be “a blow to Putin”, never mind that it is a blow to Orthodox unity. They rejoice to see the Orthodox Church destroyed, as long as Putin is humiliated in the process.

Third World Church

The rest of the Orthodox world is dismayed by these political rivalries, and cannot understand the behaviour of the Patriarch of Constantinople (it is hard to think of him as the “Ecumenical” Patriarch any longer, because his unilateral actions certainly don’t represent world Orthodoxy — he’s gone out on a limb and seems to be sawing off the branch he’s sitting on). And so the rest of the Orthodox have become a kind of ecclesiastical Third World. This was perhaps best expressed by the Patriarch of Antioch when he said “It is unreasonable to stop a schism at the price of the unity of the Orthodox world”—Pat. John of Antioch / OrthoChristian.Com:

Pat. John emphasized that the events surrounding the creation of the new church cause concern not only because of the disunion they create in the Orthodox world, but also because the opinion of the Local Orthodox Churches was not taken into account by Constantinople, reports the official site of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Synods, primates, and hierarchs of the Orthodox Churches from around the world continually warned Pat. Bartholomew that unilaterally creating a new church would have disastrous consequences and they called on him to convene a pan-Orthodox council to resolve the matter, though he repeatedly refused.

“We want to see the unity of the Orthodox world strengthened and consolidated,” Pat. John writes. “From your letter, it seems that you have decided to continue the process of granting autocephaly… Therefore, we call upon you to not make any decisions not supported by the consensus of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches. It is unreasonable to stop a schism at the price of the unity of the Orthodox world.”

The Patriarch of Moscow no longer commemorates the Patriarch of Constantinople, so there is a schism right there. But if the Patriarch of Constantinople is the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria is the Ecumenical Judge, and perhaps he should be called in to judge between them and act as a mediator. And what does the Ecumenical Judge have to say? He recently visited Ukraine.

“The Church does not bow to politicians”—Patriarch of Alexandria / OrthoChristian.Com:

The Alexandrian primate again offered words of support and consolation to the Ukrainian faithful, as he had during the services he celebrated in Odessa, noting that he came to Ukraine to bear witness to his love and to the fact that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is the only canonical Church in Ukraine, reports the site of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

“Here I lived and shed tears for this country,” the patriarch said. “I have come here to say that I am always with you.”

And he went on to say more — “The Church does not bow to politicians”—Patriarch of Alexandria / OrthoChristian.Com:

Pat. Theodoros also reiterated that he would speak to the primates of all the Local Orthodox Churches about what he “has seen with his own eyes” in Ukraine, as he promised in Odessa, here adding, “I will also tell all the patriarchs that the Church does not bow to politicians. The Church has the Apostolic rules… The canonical Church is guided by the canons. It lives by and will live by the canons.”

Hierarchs from around the Orthodox world have criticized Ukraine’s political interference in Church matters, and a Kiev district court recently decided to hear a case on President Poroshenko’s competency to interfere in Church affairs.

A century of persecution

So it seems that the Orthodox Church has been undergoing a century of persecution by secular politicians, from 1918-2018. In the first period, from 1918-1990, it was by the Bolsheviks and their allies, and from 1991 to the present it has been from the Western Civilization, most notably by the USA, which, in spite of speaking of “separation of Church and State” has actually been working for the destruction of the Church by the State.

Ukrainian security services have been searching church property and interrogating priests just as Stalin’s OGPU and NKVD used to do, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is being threatened with the loss of its property to the new state church, again as happened under Henry VIII in England with the dissolution of the monasteries, and in the Methodist Church in the Transkei under Kaiser Matanzima.

The Western media like to spin this by referring to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as “priests loyal to Moscow” — As Ukraine and Russia Battle Over Orthodoxy, Schism Looms – The New York Times:

Ukraine’s security services have in recent weeks interrogated priests loyal to Moscow, searched church properties and enraged their Russian rivals.

“They just want to frighten us,” said the Rev. Vasily Nachev, one of more than a dozen priests loyal to the Moscow patriarch who were called in for questioning.

But the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is autonomous, and not subject to Moscow. The problem the Ukrainian Security Services have with the priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is that they are loyal to Christ, and to canonical church order rather than to the genius of Poroshenko.

Point of view of the author

In this postmodern age it is recognised that everyone has an axe to grind, and that there are no “neutral” or “objective” reports, so authors need to say “where they are coming from”. Therefore  I shall try to explain my point of view in writing this.

I have no objection, in principle, to the idea of autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and I have no desire at all to see it as part of a political project for a Russian World (Russkiy Mir). What I do object to is autocephaly arranged at the behest of secular politicians as a political project, at least some of whom do so with the deliberate intention of dividing the Orthodox Church throughout the world, and others of whom seek to make the church simply a tool for their political ambitions as Henry VIII and Kaiser Matanzima did.

There may be some cultural differences here. It seems that some Ukrainians feel that their country is not independent unless their church is independent as well. I just don’t get that. The Kingdom of God is not a secular state. Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world. As a South African I don’t feel that my country is not truly politically independent because our Patriarch happens to live in Egypt. In fact I’m rather happy to belong to the original African Church, founded by St Mark around AD 44, long before the Russian Church or the Ukrainian Church.

I’m also concerned about the Patriarch of Constantinople’s reckless attempt to divide the Orthodox Church at the behest of politicians, and the way in which this could affect the Orthodox Church in Africa.

In our Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria we have Greek, Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian and Romanian parishes,  many of which have priests seconded from those countries. If some of those churches excommunicate each other because of this incident, what happens to the churches here? At the moment, for example, we go once a month, with the blessing of our Archbishop, to an English service in the Russian parish. What happens if our Patriarchate is forced to take sides in a dispute brought about by a unilateral action taken by the Bishop of Istanbul at the behest of politicians, some of whom have made no secret of their desire to divide the Orthodox Church? Those decisions could affect our church life here too.