God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

Reflections / Gedanken

Turn of an era?

We are living in interesting times; we also could say we live in dangerous times or exciting times. However, one defines emotionally current times, it is increasingly becoming clear that humanity faces difficult decisions to make on a variety of questions flocking together in one moment in time.

The Coronavirus has brought us the message, how quick our big and small seemingly stable world can crumble because of a small little virus taking over the world. The way we densify areas to accommodate more people in spaces and the way we extend our habitat into the last pockets of real nature should be reflected on if we as the human species want to have a future on this planet.

Add to this the climate change which becomes increasingly dramatic looking at the so-called eternal ice, the glaciers, the weather patterns which will not go away while elected or authoritarian politicians try to make sense of it – always having in mind that the sacrifices must be on the other site of the fence.

The Ukraine war has shown the people on the “island” Europe the realities of the rest of the word, where violence and war is a much more frequent occurrence. But it also shows how interconnected the world is now and people all around the world are suffering because one leader runs amok for reasons one can analyse, but it does not mean they make sense.

Trump, Johnson, and their likes have brought a culture of lies and fake news to the table. Amplified by social media and as predicted by warning voices, that the amount of information and communication will overwhelm our brains, we have created the best environment to create a fictional reality besides the real reality. And millions, overstrained and anxious, flee into the madness of such fictions. Looking at the USA and its current affairs – the plan of the Christian right together with those wanting to keep the white macho monopoly comes dangerously to conclusion: racism, the upcoming decision “Roe v Wade” has ramifications far beyond the USA. A country and society which is at war with itself and therefore giving rise to others like China, which is posing the biggest threat to human rights, civil rights and civil liberties.

Looking at the overall politics, many democratic systems need an overhaul to arrive in the 21st century, but it is impossible to do with the culture of professional politicians who would never survive in the real world and who have mostly their re-election at heart instead of the people. Our democracies are a shadow of what it meant when the idea was born. It is still often the best we can, but it will not be sufficient to move forward in the next years to come.

And this applies also to international organisations like the UN, being stuck in a post II World War idea and clearly not being able to develop into a tool needed in our times. Alone the fact, that a country, being the aggressor and committing war crimes has a veto power is on all imaginable levels simply wrong.

Social media and democratic structures are also more and more in competition – reading Elon Musk’s announcement that he most likely will unban Donald T from the newly purchased Twitter, looking at the power of a company like Facebook to determine what you are allowed to say or not, the logarithm and AI increasingly and often silently starting to manipulate our lives: we are at a point in time when we collectively need to come to decisions how to proceed as human beings and what values we put first.

There would be so much more to list – the role of religious institutions and their failures, questions of how the global economy is working, questions of the interaction of so-called “developed / developing” countries in relation to the so-called “first world” – whatever that really means when looking at it more in detail.

We need to have more conversations – and when I say conversations I mean really engaging with each other, listening to each other and recreating a culture of engagement. Social Media should assist and stop creating millions of keyboard warriors and bots pushing their point of view in a way which defies the word “communication” and triggers rather aggression and violence.

We need to realise that putting average or professional politicians on pedestals because there are no better ones, or because they have a specific gender, sex or skin colour does not really help but often obfuscate the wanted outcome.

The world of our days offers so many tools and possibilities to reach out and connect; we need to make more out of it, and we have to learn to use it wisely if we really want to come out with a perspective for us humans as part of this world we are living in. We owe it to the next generations that we turn this obvious transition time into something which is worth living.

Filed under: Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Truth, facts and lies

Living together as society means compromising on the way, we want to live together; it means tolerance towards the life design of my neighbour and to acknowledge the boundaries of what is still acceptable and what not.

For this to happen and for society to function we need to agree on some facts or truth, which build the base of every exploration of boundaries and limitations, freedoms and expectations.

The advent of social media and global connectivity via the internet has given rise to an ugly side of these advances which we call fake news, conspiracy theories or simply lies. This has brought us as societies, but also as human mankind in a danger zone.

For example Donald Trump lies regarding election results jeopardizes the US democracy with consequences for other countries and their safety and well-being. His lies and fake news about climate change has serious consequences for Mother Earth and the future of human mankind. His denial towards Covid-19 costs thousands of human beings their lives.

The denial of truth and the ignorance towards facts is not only in the political arena dangerous, also other organisations weaken themselves because of it. Look at the Catholic Church and its dealing with the topic “abuse”. Not acknowledging the facts brings besides pain and hurt also disrepute and a silent withdraw from many, looking for a new home for their belief system or drifting into the fake news corner and hoping that denying facts and changing the narrative rescues somehow their faith. We see this in so many instances in the USA even much broader than only in the cases of abuse or only the Catholic Church, looking at the Evangelical churches and major parts of the Catholic Church where meanwhile ideology, focusing on one aspect while actively ignoring or fighting all other not so convenient parts of reality trump (in the real sense of the word with a big T) religion and transform it into a blindly followed ideology.

Obviously fake news, lies, blind ideology have a shelf life, which is definitely prolonged by the use or better abuse of social media, the bitter flip side of something which was aimed to connect people and ended up to divide them in ways we never thought we will see. Do you recall the enthusiasm of entering a new millennium, the dream of a global village, the possibility to communicate and foster peace and dignity around the globe and the belief, that digital communication will bring all the positive goodies to the world we live in?

We are doing a detour now regarding truth and common grounds – and maybe as human mankind we are allowed to do so. But I would argue that the silent majority has now seen enough to determine the dead end and the destruction caused. Now is the time to stand up for the truth, for valid discernment and reasoning and I believe that especially religion – and religion does not mean necessarily church institutions – has a major role to play: the tradition of mystics (think Karl Rahner) and Global ethics (think Hans Kueng) and yes, the encyclicals and universal writings of Pope Francis are waiting to be more – or again – discovered and put into practice.

At the end truth will prevail – the costs to get there – that is the only thing we can determine as human beings and influence as part of societies.

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

Prayers with hands and feet?

I am not sure I see the whole picture or maybe most is hidden in broad daylight, but entertaining Facebook, Twitter and other social media I simply fail to see much activity of local churches here in South Africa in the times of need.
Yes, I see streamed services and appeals to pray the rosary, links to the Holy Father and his impressive messages of hope – all good, but I somehow miss in the times of CAN and neighbourhood initiatives here in South Africa the strong practical voices of the church.
I miss a stronger voice of churches being an essential service in practical ways, organizing and streamlining their response to the hunger of the people, to the empty stomachs and the despair in being often confined in questionable human conditions.

Maybe I don’t look at the right places, maybe social media is not a mirror of reality, maybe churches are too humble to advertise their concerted efforts of a structured approach to the life crisis, COVID-19 is bringing to the people.
Praying with your hands and feet is part of a theology, I have favoured throughout life and especially in times like these we should see strong leadership and courage trumping those at times no-sense making rules imposed on us. And as digital media and internet in the times of distancing is an important way of communication, I would wish for more traces of a Catholic or Christian response which sees itself as an essential service in so many ways.
We can’t expect higher powers to do so – in times of crisis necessary actions are not made by proclamation but by giving belief and conviction a pair of practical hands.

As said, maybe I look at the wrong places to witness all the action done under the radar – if so, then this post should encourage everybody to come into the open – to give witness of compassion and empathy not only with holy words but also with holy – whole making in the real sense of the word –  deeds here and now.  This unprecedented crisis is a ‘kairos” – a defining moment yearning for well organized action with and between churches and faith based organisations.

As said, maybe I don’t see the whole picture, and then forgive me for shouting out,
maybe I ask too much when looking at own fears and limitations, also that would be human,
but the nagging question remains:
Where are the churches visible in this crisis as a place of structured and systematic response?

 

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , ,

One of those days…

Preparing for my flight to Europe and the airline already now know that there will be a more than 4 hour delay. Nevertheless they insist of being at the airport and check in at the normal prescribed time. Not really enhancing the mood.
Following the news also does not help – the Khashoggi case seems to develop slow but steady – to imagine that in a NATO country an embassy is used to kill a journalist and then cut him in pieces is not only appalling but it was one of the things I could not imagine – like so many developments in our current world affairs. USA, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Italy – the amount of countries which seemingly fall into the trap of authoritarian rule or xenophobic attitude  – weakening democracy and darkening the horizon of the new dawn of freedom, liberty, human rights and decency among countries most of us have had in the beginning of the millennium – seems to be growing.
Social media and modern technology hailed to bring people together are dividing and causing anxiety on all fronts of societies – in the moment one has the impression that the negative effects of possibilities to connect are clearly winning the day. And so do all those politicians with simple populist answers knowing perfectly well that disaster is looming when they gather enough followers. Populism is self-destructive – history has proven it over and over again.  And social media are weapons of choice for trapping those who are vulnerable to propaganda and easy solutions.

Maybe that is the reason why I believe that beaming people via SKYPE and conference call and Whatsapp are not enough to really engage with each other. I prefer the surely more expensive and time-consuming way of meeting the people, share some time with them and discuss matters relevant in person.  It is then and there that real conversation is happening – encounter in the real sense of the world. And if you can’t hide behind a slogan or a screen or a party or an ideology but one is looking into the eyes of the person sitting opposite – real communication, real problem solving is happening – real understanding is given birth.

I am convinced we have to stop being computer screen warriors and instead really engaging with the world. Clicking “like”or any other emoji might give a feeling of having done your bit – but this is self-deception and fooling oneself. It is also the only way that we can stem the non-sense of populism, bad right-wing politics  and – in the case of the USA – anti-academic attitude like denying climate change. Otherwise we are playing with our future – but maybe Mother Earth is happy to continue to exist without human beings – maybe it is not a great loss if the human race is failing and fading away.

Be it as it be – I am preparing for flying out today and I am looking forward to meet all those in the next days and weeks who are part of the HOPE Cape Town family or interested to know about it and maybe join those spreading hope and engaging with real people. Real people, who want to live with dignity striving for decent prosperity and who want to create a future for the next generation to come.

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

H&M racism observations

I am aware that for some in South Africa the mere fact that a white person is writing about racism is seen as inappropriate – but I am also aware that in the madness of emotions and seemingly permitted violence by a political leader and self-styled revolutionary one cannot stay silent on this topic. Therefore – even knowing the danger of being misunderstood and attacked some observations on the matter who made headlines in South Africa’s news the last day.

H&M’s advertising of a “black” boy from the North of Europe wearing a hoodie with the slogan “Coolest monkey in the jungle” caused consternation and mood swings in South Africa – culminating in trashing some outlets by brave EFF fighters supported by their political leaders who conveniently forgot that upholding the constitution is their duty as Parliamentarians.
There were also voices who saw the ‘racism’, but called for other means of protests while others could not see the “racist” point in this advertising.

As we have the freedom of expression in this country I dare to say that I personally don’t see racism in this hoodie story – but I see an insensitivity of the company looking into the South African markets. The question of race triggers here on the Southern tip of Africa lots of emotions – partly rightly so when we look into the history of country, but partly also clearly abused as a political tool and an excuse not to engage with one another on sore topics.
The accusation of “racism” is meanwhile a convenient tool to justify violence, looting and personal attacks – or, as just mentioned and demonstrated with the EFF’s action and comments of the self-styled “commander in chief” a political weapon to create instability, havoc and protest actions aimed on destruction.

I am aware that looking into the painful history and the question of healing will stay on top of the to-do list of South Africa for the next generations – the question of land and wealth distribution will linger and has to be addressed in the same way. We can only conquer those questions without creating new injustices if we listen to each others pain and guilt, despair and aspirations, hopes and nightmares…

South Africa stood 1994 with Madiba’s dream of a rainbow nation as a symbol of a global hope to lead the nations in overcoming injustice, racism and discrimination in a peaceful and dignified manner – we owe it to him and all those who gave their lives in the struggle that we don’t allow for cheap and quick unjust solutions but to remain an example the world can follow. It is a pains-taking task, the temptation to act out of emotions and to go for the quick fix will not lead to a better world and life for all.

Racism is ingrained into the history of humanity – it is a very stupid concept as there is only one race, the human race. But as a Catholic theologian I am also aware that history is full of those errors of judgement which lead to unspeakable terror – 100 years ago in my church democracy was from the devil and who ever advocated religious liberty was quickly outside the church. In the Middle Ages you lost your life using common sense not compatible with the church.
So looking into the past and acknowledging the unspeakable is the first part – accepting painfully also that for those gone there will never be a chance to compensate or to make it right. But we can learn out of it and make it right for our generation and more important for the generations to come – but abusing this past to great havoc and to continue to bring renewed separation to those living now means to prevent them to live their lives to the fullest. Instead of hate and division we have to forgive others and ourselves and work much harder to overcome inequality, discrimination and  all other stumping blocks for a brighter future for all.

Yes, there will real racists still be out there  – but let us leave them stand in the cold of their own hearts and dark corners – social media shit-storms just elevate them unnecessarily and make them heroes in their sick constituency. Some thrive of it like you can see with Donald Trump and other right-wing white machos.

South Africa – the cradle of mankind – let us work hard to make it a place where the human race started to acknowledge and to live as one – all equal under the sun.

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

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