God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

The attack in Nice and the choice of words

Language is a powerful tool and language creates realities. That is the reason why how we talk about events and things is critical.

The terror attack in Nice that killed three people last week left France increasingly unsettled and once again, the phrase Islamist extremism or Islamist terror was used.

While all religions without doubt have also a violent past, human mankind has moved forward and recognized that religion per definition can’t be violent, but must be a peace enhancing force for good. And this should reflect also in the way we talk about such brutal violence which the perpetrator tries to put into a religious context. We simply should not allow for this any more.

Killing innocent people is simply terrorism – and we should not grace any such act with an association to any religion. We should not allow in our vocabulary to link ideology with faith. Our news headlines should not indicate that murderers and terrorists are allowed to justify their violence with religious terms; we should reject any attempt to create a space where others could have a sense that violence can in any circumstances be connected to religion.

Terror is terror, terrorism is terrorism and ideology or political madness should in our language have no bearing on religion. Not allowing this association is an important tool to diminish such awful acts and to make it clear that in our times, religion and violence never ever go together again. Period.

Language is an underestimated tool in the fight against terror and violent ideology.

Filed under: General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , ,

Covid-19 Lockdown & Trauma


Trauma100 days of Lockdown, I have written and tried to summarize it in my last blog – but one topic, which needs to have its rightful place in an extra blog entry is something, most have not spent too much time on:
The trauma, this crisis and the lockdown has caused for most of the people, and the trauma-related consequences as an individual or as a society – in the case of South Africa anyhow adding to all the burden of a past still not healed.

Being threatened by an invisible enemy is already difficult to comprehend for many – but taken out of normal life completely is a complete other category of trauma:

Think of those living alone and suddenly for weeks without real social contact and maybe nobody to turn to;

think of those whose security was family and suddenly they were not allowed to see them, visit them, be with them, when they became sick or even died;

think of those who were exposed to police or military brutality, suddenly made a criminal after a life without any running into trouble with the law.

Think you those who had been forced to live in an abusive relationship for weeks without being able to run away;

think of the nightmares of the kids not really understanding why all is suddenly so different;

think of the people in townships who were asked, often without real explanation to distance themselves from each other, to stay home in a dense environment without income, food or perspective.

Also think of the people in the health sector fighting every day to keep patients alive and feeling at the same time threatened by the small little virus themselves and consequently their loved ones.

Life, as it has been for many born as “free” suddenly changed in a way, they never could have imagined; and those who have lived through wars and famine – how much déjà vu have they experienced in the last weeks. And not to forget here in South Africa all the limitations during apartheid times – again confined, berated, told what to do by politicians so far away from reality and enforced by a security cluster resembling in parts past experiences.

Being helpless and having to surrender to an apparatus run by people who have allowed, willingly participated or gained from the so-called lost years of state capture and corruption in South Africa creates another trauma.

And for those following world politics there is another trauma to add in the shape of a Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Victor Orbán, Rodrigo Duterte and others, showing that human mankind has certainly not reached the point of reasonable development, most of us would have thought we have developed. It’s shocking…

TraumaTrauma must be addressed and worked through – and here would be normally also religious institutions coming into the picture besides the professionals – but the mere absence of leadership in this sector in this time of crisis in so many countries created a trauma itself, but that might be a topic for another time.

Individual and collective traumata – this crisis is so much more than just a health or economic crisis…

 

Filed under: Africa, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

GBV horror

stop-gender-based-violenceIt seems to explode after easing the lockdown a bit in South Africa: Gender based violence. So much so that President Ramaphosa used his last address on national TV to call it a war against women, not to forget children.
The news of victims being raped, killed, burned, thrown away next to roads and motorways are piling up while social media is used by the police to celebrate having arrested another load of cigarettes on their way to the consumers during prohibition of sale.
It is a fact we also know from other instances:
While stealing millions gives you a free pass surfing the waves in lockdown sets whole cohorts of policemen in motion. More than 250 000 South Africans became criminals during the first weeks of lockdown while thieves enjoy their time as Members of Parliament seemingly untouched.
And there lies also the problem with Ramaphosa’s appeal to wage war against the war on women: he lacks meanwhile often the political authority let alone moral credibility to be really heard and listened to.

The South African society has first to start much more reconciliation and healing before this war can be won – and for this to happen it needs credible leader and generally a leadership which does not use the past as a weapon to keep wounds open, BEE as a Ponzi scheme to enrich the connected and allow for corruption to fester and poison further an anyhow potentially volatile situation.

South Africa’s past lingers unhealed in the presence, not only apartheid, but the Boer war, the British concentration camps and not to forget the influence of faith and religion as a driver for freedom and injustice at the same time. South Africa is in so many ways a concentrated and painful mirror and an example of the woes and traumata societies and countries are going through looking at their suppressed past. A global phenomenon so visible at the moment.

Now add to this poverty and desperation and the feeling of powerlessness of many South Africans to change their situation.

This mix of unhealed historical burden and current impotence to escape renders the problem of alcohol in our society  explainable – alcohol is a very human way of trying to sooth the pain and relax the mood, but it is also a way of trying to escape reality and at the end it leads to irrational behaviour and dependency. Or addiction which is close to unruly behaviour and often violence.

To overcome, to heal, to reconcile, to move forward as humans, as society, as a human race we need moral and impeccable leadership, fellow humans whose interest is the well-being of all instead of a few and whose actions bring people together. People who then see themselves as equal, who thrive on the idea of complementing each other to move forward for the benefit of all.

To end GBV does not come cheap – but it is worth every effort and sacrifice.

Filed under: Africa, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Prayers needed! Really?

It seems that prayers are in high demand in our days:
In South Africa ANC representatives are making the round in churches and asking for prayers to get their house in order.
In the USA politicians are praying for the victims of Las Vegas and on Facebook and social media the call for prayers is all over, from Orlando to Paris and now back in the USA we are called to pray again. Prayers are needed indeed when one sees the state of affairs in many parts of the world, when one notices the despair of people and the craziness of terror and politics and sometimes it seems terror and politics are exchangeable in the sense that people are hurt, lives cut short and common sense buried.

Maybe it is time to mention that prayers without the appropriate action will fail to do anything good except comforting those trying to  escape responsibility. Contemplation and action, prayer and deeds are interlinked as human mankind is interlinked in the spirit of Ubuntu. Sending good thoughts only work when there is the reflection what I can do to change a situation.
We could pray for hours for the well-being of the ANC here in South Africa – as long as those in charge allow for corruption, state-capture and stealing in their own midst without acting against the perpetrators no prayer will heal this situation. We can pray for hours for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting but as long as those in charge in the USA refuse to take action against the gun lobby being able to do business as usual those prayers are empty and the expression of sympathies a blunt lie.

And it is not only those who are in office – those who have elected people into office are equally guilty if they only pray instead of making sure that those voted in power are doing their work correctly and making responsible decisions. No one, not even the ANC in South Africa has a privilege to be in power – and Jesus might come earlier than expected to Mr Zuma (my South African friends will know…)  – all those in higher offices are there for a time and with a responsibility. And in a democracy the power lies with the people.

Prayer can bolster this responsibility, prayer is making this responsibility more visible as it connects to the divine, to the source of humanity and to the foundation of why we have rules and regulations and a political and social system with certain values and ethics. It is not a fix for failures, the divine does not pop in to plaster over ignorance. But prayer can be the beginning of redemption and turning around a situation. It is certainly as a connection to all beginnings a means to reflect, if necessary repent and try to do better.
Let’s hope that is meant when politicians ask for prayers or pray themselves in the public space and in front of TV cameras. And that people asking for prayers on social media also turn into themselves to look where their responsibility lies besides sharing a call for prayers.

Filed under: General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

The broader picture…the deeper questions

It was quiet a quick process after years of discussions in society and political circles: two weeks ago the German Parliament decided to allow the marriage between two adults of the same-sex and with it all the rights and duties of a married couple. Obviously churches were not impressed and until the very last moment, arguments were exchanged and traded in an effort to hold the vote or to convince members of Parliament to vote either in favor or against it. It was an open vote – and a sign of mature democracy that everybody could vote openly according to his or her conscience. As a church we have to deal with realities, and obviously not only the majority of parliamentarians but also public opinion in Germany was in favor of marriage equality.
Historically the question of marriage and its value for the state has been again and again a question of fierce debate between state and church. Ulrich Sander from the FAZ (German Newspaper) summarized from his point of view this debate in Germany in a piece published on 11.07.2017 and here is a loose translation*:

“The character of marriage and the family as a legally protected community of life is no longer adequately ensured by the present reform. “
This sentence of a Catholic bishop did not aim at the Bundestag vote of 30 June 2017 on the admission of same-sex couples to the legal form of marriage. It fell during the discussions about the change of the marriage and family law four decades ago, at the end of 1977 when the state divorce law was changed from guilt principle to the breakup principle.
The church protest had been even more severe when, in 1953, when the legal entity of the male as “head of family” (Familienoberhaupt) was abolished. Until then it had been stated in the Civil Code: “The man is entitled to the decision in all matters concerning the matrimonial life; He shall in particular determine residence and dwelling “(Paragraph 1354 of the Civil Code). Article 117 of the Constitution had given the legislator a period until 31 March 1953 to abolish or amend the legal provisions being in contrast of equality between men and women. The deadline passed without the legislator having sufficiently redrawn the marriage and family law. Thus, in December 1953, the Federal Constitutional Court stated succinctly that “since the expiry of the period laid down in Article 117, men and women were equally entitled to marriages and families.”
Prevent the destruction of the family
Representatives of the Catholic Church responded by proclaiming the “hierarchical assignment of women to man as their head” grounded in sociological and legal reasons. Although in the sphere of sexuality the husband and wife were equated with the permanent exclusive right to the body of the other, it was necessary to maintain the authority of the husband and father of the family in the sphere of life, for it was vested  in the nature of the conjugal communion.- And that this authority belongs to the man as the “first created” (before the woman): the first pages of the Bible contained – in its church official reading –  the doctrine of the irreversible, imperative dependence of woman on the man. To abolish this is not a legitimate equality of women, but “egalitarianism” and contradicts the divine natural law.
Episcopal commentaries saw the implementation of the basic principle of equality by the abolition of the male head of family as the destruction of the “Western order of marriage and family”. Therefore, the chairman of the Fulda Bishops’ Conference, the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Frings, wrote to Federal Minister of Justice Thomas Dehler that the protection of marriage and family guaranteed by Article 6 (1) of the constitution would be undermined if the concept of equality was too much aligned to an individual understanding and so unequal was compared with equal. It is only when the equality of woman is limited to treat equal with equal, but unequal differently, then the destruction of the family can be prevented.
Marriage as a self-purpose
Theologically, such an objection was very ambitious reasoned: both revelation and natural law teaches the hierarchical model, and therefore fundamentally withdrawn from any legislature’s access. Friedrich Wilhelm Bosch, since 1950 full professor for civil law at the University of Bonn, saw now “anarchy” moving into the matrimonial home instead of the natural “hierarchy”. A glance into the “textbook of natural law or the philosophy of law” of one of his predecessors would have helped: “Natural law does not recognize an exclusive paternal power, although such a right is possible by natural law through positive law,” Clemens-August Freiherr Droste zu Hülshoff proclaimed as early as 1831 , Dean of Bonn University and nephew of the great poetess.
Similar argumentation such as 1953 is now introduced in the process of the implementation of the prohibition of discrimination with regard to sexual orientation in family law. “The equality law of the Constitution requires us to treat equality equal and inequalities unequal,” we read from the episcopal press. And the fact is stated that the marriage is not protected by the Constitution “because husbands stand in for one another and accept mutual obligations, but because they are designed to produce and educate children.” Thus the classical Catholic doctrine of marriage is made secretly a constitutional principle, but without its correction by the Second Vatican Council. Klaus Lüdicke, Professor at the Institute of Canon Law at the University of Münster since three decades, summed up the core of the transformation initiated by the Second Vatican Council: “Marriage needs no other purpose than to bind the lives of two people together. Marriage is an end in itself.

He ends of in asking what do we learn out of it – and he concluded that the term “nature” is a very expandable word. I guess there is more to learn if I take this question and bring it down to a more general debate, so the following thoughts are not arguing the case of marriage equality but underlying considerations:
Church has to engage with the modern world and its diversity in a constant and serious way. Church has to acknowledge and reconcile developments in academic research and teaching and faith – bearing in mind, that it was the very church now opposing or ignoring some of its findings has been historically the inventor and guardian and the driving force behind academics.
The world has become more complicated, the questions asked and debated through social media have been more demanding and rushed and time is of essence. On the other hand traditions are important – not so much the form but the content and the rush of the time can hurt the translation and passing on of core values to the next generation. It is a question of striving a balance between action and contemplation; it is a question of unveiling the inner core of a value and the finding of appropriate means to carry it over in changing times. It’s also acknowledging that an honest debate always sees all the grey attached instead of insisting in having only black or white. There will be matters ongoing and relentlessly debated: the relation between state and religion, the question of democratic decisions and liberties of faith communities. Those discussions must be robust, but with respect – while acknowledging the past the argument that it has been so since ages can’t be an argument anymore, but at the same time we have to have an awareness where we are coming from and where we are wanting to go and develop towards. Equality, human rights are never topics to be concluded, the mystery of human life, human love and the mystery of the divine demand that we continue to engage with each other, learn from each other, accept diversity amongst each other and allow for a tolerance and a legal framework which protects and celebrates love and life as much as possible and guarantees the liberties needed to live life to the fullest (John 10.10)

* Source: Katholischer Protest mit langer Tradition

Filed under: Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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