God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

Reflections / Gedanken

Only those who live the Torah… observations from a sommer study

Summer academy in Tabgha and Jerusalem – refresher course on bible history, Islam and Judaism and as always something new to learn.

To speak about Israel is a minefield, especially for a German. The Holocaust lingers constantly over all discussions, and the trauma somehow continues. To criticise Israel, whose politicians have cleverly conjoined the State of Israel and the Jewish faith, is consequently made difficult. How easy is it to be called an antisemite while criticising Israel’s politics towards the Palestinians.

The wilful ignorance towards the original plan to keep Jerusalem under UN administration has added to the woes. The trauma of the Holocaust has obviously also caused Israel to use massive force against Palestinians in a way which clearly hinders any political solution and kills also innocent bystanders. The violence on the part of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups does not help either. It is a poisonous circle of violence, madness pure and not leading to any solution.

Visiting a Jewish service in a synagogue to welcome the Sabbath is touching, observing the ritual joy of welcoming the day of rest. It is admirable to see how traditions are kept and hopes are lived while having endured so many changes in their history from the deportation to Babylonia, the destruction of their sacred temple via the murderous crusades till the Holocaust and all the Antisemitism growing again in our days.

Having Jewish lecturers for the topic of Judaism, it was interesting to be reminded, that ultra-orthodox Jews oppose the State of Israel. A man-made state is not acceptable because at the end only God can establish the new Israel.

Besides this, we learned that the promised land is from a religious point of view only for those who live the Torah – and looking at the modern Israel on a Sabbath shows that Israelis are not per se living according to their holy books.

Another observation is that obviously the stretch of land has a history before the promised land was occupied by Jewish clans – and there are historians indicating that the people led by Moses originally have been from the same background as the Canaanites they battled.

Living in South Africa, there comes the same thoughts: What a beautiful country, and how magnificent could it be if only the people living there would keep peace. My stay here has reminded me how intertwined the problems of trauma on both sites of the fence are. Judging becomes a difficult task, but there is something I believe in:

Jerusalem, the holy place for the three major monotheistic religions, should be an open city under the UN, belonging to nobody than human mankind – to be a witness for the peacefulness, all three religions somehow claim. It is a failure of the UN not to have followed the original plan; and it is a failure of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faithful not to create a location where love, hope, tolerance, goodwill and peace are liveable and touchable in this space and place.

Shalom, Salam and Peace

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

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Change in the world in lightning’s speed

We have to be honest: The world has changed now twice in the last two years with the speed of lightning, and what was considered normal is now the good – or not so good – old times. And most people struggle to run behind and catch up with what’s happening.

There was first the Covid-19 pandemic – lockdowns, limitation of movement, the advent of virtual meetings as a new normal, civil liberties put on hold and countries punished and isolated because they were considered a threat – often more a gut-feeling of politicians or anxiety of political decision maker.

The threat for the human race already lurking in form of the climate change at every corner humanity passes, got an add-on in a small little virus, who loves the density of humans living closely together and expanding into nature in a speed unimaginable 100 years ago.

Now the bloody war against Ukraine – and our world-view changed overnight again:

Looking at Germany or the EU:
Having had a hard-line approach against immigrants and refugees coming from East Europe; looking down at that time on Ukraine as almost a failed and corrupt state with a comedian as president – rather only interested in certain aspects pertaining to the country – we now celebrate the bravery of the Ukrainian people and even sending buses to get as many refugees as possible for free into the European Union.

And suddenly the Johnsons, Orbans and all the other questionable politicians are out of scrutiny; such crisis situations lift suddenly even average politicians and the realisation of the political ignorance towards Russia in the past overrides finding the time for proper analysis and judgement.

Add to this the feeling of powerlessness of people including politicians and their emotional state coming out of a pandemic, we have to watch out not to miss out the balance between what is needed to be done and what is needed to be avoided in the future.

The changes of stopping a mad-man like Putin are slim or almost non-existing. The naivety of the EU (or better wanting to keep and eat the cake at the same time in respect of Russia) and obviously the poison of the Trump years and the downfall of the USA as the world policeman with dark shadows triggers more questions of how international relationships will be governed and organised in the future.

Looking at China’s hunger for power and its relationship with Taiwan, the next big drama is waiting to unfold. And there is Africa with all the aspirations and projected failures in the years to come while being one of the biggest economic markets in the future. Not to forget the reorganisation of the UN – the order established after World War II is coming to an end. The veto powers of some nations will have to be abolished in the current system – and this will not go without a fight.

So more dramatic changes are on the horizon. We have just to watch out, that we can digest as people and as societies what is happening. And not lose hope on the way to other new normals. An one encouragement in this respect is certainly the overwhelming willingness to help the victims of Russian aggression, as seen almost everywhere around the globe.

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

A human “mea culpa” needed – and then action

Hurricanes, heat-waves, fires destroying big chunks of nature and habitation in California, Turkey, Greece, Russia and so many more parts of the globe. And looking at Germany, the big floods still are making headlines, destroying the livelihood of so many while having killed others in their way of destruction.

In all the tragedies, with all the sympathies and with not stopping to help and assist those in need and those having suffered or mourning the loss of a loved one or their sheer existence; we have to ask the hard question about responsibility in particular cases and wider scenarios.

I recall as a youngster, scientists left no doubt that the way we treat nature, the way we get closer to the rivers while at the same time straightening them out to serve our purpose, will hit back. We know since ages, the way we live is unsustainable; we know that climate change is happening and will, if not tackle, destroy us as the human race. Earth will not care about it – the small little ball within the universe will continue without us until our solar system will change dramatically in ages to come.

Additional, there is a clear limit to what earth can take on human population – the verse in Gen 1,28 of the bible “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” might find a line drawn into the sand now.

We not only have allowed to continue our path of destruction – millions of people elect and support politicians and leaders worldwide, who simply deny climate change – who simply ignore the well-being of nature for greed and power reasons. And this ignorance is entangled in the whole question of white male dominance, which makes it even harder to tackle. Add to this the birth control debate within, for example, a church with 1.2 billion faithful: then you get a full picture of what we are facing.

Much of it applies to Covid-19 and other virus related incidents, where transition from animal to human occurs. We are all aware that nature has its own life full of bugs, not really hurting their animal hosts. We come closer, we destroy their habitat and ignore their rightful place in our world and force them to find another place to live – with deadly consequences.

We as humans are our own worst enemies – no other creature in this world is more destructive, more ignorant and more willing to go the extra mile on a path which will end with a new dawn without human beings. Those who have the most maybe will survive a bit longer – but all money, all greed, all power of the world will not prevent the final outcome.

The alternative is really to change course dramatically and radically – but not naive, as one hears it sometimes from younger activists who mean good but don’t overlook always the whole picture. But the mix of young and not so young activism with the wisdom of more matured and experienced professionals can open a new chapter for humanity. It can end the “keep it up” strategy and turn lots of words and promises from political and economical leaders into meaningful actions.

We are as humanity in this together – no country can go it alone, no government can solve it alone – which also means to strengthen political bodies like the UN and other international entities. We need a universal “mea culpa” and the intelligence to choose our leaders wisely in this respect. Furthermore, we can’t afford to have those proclaiming their country first, we can’t allow for those more concentrating on stealing from the public purse, and we can’t allow any more for those in charge, who prefer ideology and “the party is always right” instead of a public discourse allowing all meaningful voices to be heard.

And we need the buy-in of churches and religious institutions – make no mistake: Most of them are more involved in the economic deals of current times than we want to admit and acknowledge. Amassing wealth is certainly an important goal of many so-called “prophets” and prosperity churches; and also the mainstream churches are not immune when it comes to investments. Here also, a “mea culpa” would be appropriate and a new outlook needed.

Whatever the future will hold: nobody can say, we have not been warned many times.

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

HIV – curse or blessing?

For most people, on first side a pandemic is surely seen as a curse translating into sickness. In the case of HIV- without treatment – it turns into full-blown AIDS and consequently death. Who does not remember the eighties: a quick and cruel death for young people, killed in the prime of their lives.
HIV also means evolution: a small little bug jumps onto a different host and kills the host. Not intentionally of course and it will take a quite some time, maybe a couple of hundred years to develop into a symbiosis which lets bug and host live peacefully together. Otherwise it’s a dead-end for evolution and will at a certain point cease to exist.
HIV is a challenge: In the 1980’s the scientific world raced to find an answer what causes the syndrome. To isolate the bug, to find anti-bodies and consequently a test to determine infection and last but not least to develop first medications working to prevent full-blown AIDS took its time and toll. But HIV is also a challenge for every human being: transmission via bodily fluids means it touches on one of our strongest drive and urge: sexuality. And who controls this desire controls humans – just look into the history of religion and the significance of the control of sexuality via faith.
HIV mixes categories normally separated in society: youth and death. Death is anyhow so often hidden in modern society; now associated with youth and radical eradicating the beauty of it destroys the unspoken view how society works and develops. It changed the rules of engagement on that level dramatically and still does it in developing countries.
HIV means to open up to people living and loving in same sex relationships. Coming from the dark and hidden corners of social life gay people suddenly stood in the limelight of society. HIV and AIDS was part of a sometimes cruel outing process. In our days HIV is globally not anymore associated with homosexuality but the pandemic, almost as a side effect, opened up society to look at different life styles. And without any doubt the solidarity in gay circles in the beginning of the pandemic for their infected friends and partners was an impressive show of compassion and left traces which transformed into signs of normality and acceptance for gay love in the Western hemisphere. Obviously this triggers an antidote from the radical – fundamentalist side of society, mainly coming from the USA in an evangelical form even telling Africans what African culture means in Africa.
HIV is clearly a challenge for politicians and it was HIV which was put on the agenda as the first medical condition dealt with by the UN. This opened doors for other discussions on a global base like on Malaria or TB or all the other forgotten sickness of Africa and South America. We were reminded that they also kill millions a year and that they are in need of being addressed properly. The Global AIDS Fund was a first instrument of tackling a medical challenge on a global scale and not via bi-lateral negations which normally don’t’ see the full picture and are rather small –minded.
HIV means a challenge for society. While in Germany the campaign “Give AIDS no chance” with the commitment of the entire government prevented the pandemic to get into full swing, other countries and governments did not wake up to respond to the treat timely. The bible is right, that the sin of the fathers, in this case the sin of neglect comes onto the children and grandchildren. South Africa, but also Swaziland, is an example of failure with the result of hundred thousands of death and a generation born and plagued by HIV. What a challenge for the social coherence of society.
HIV translates into a challenge for religion, for our faith. Just a look at Ronald Reagan, who refused to act on the first reports of the new disease as it seemly “only” targeted gay people. His faith told him that they anyhow did not live according to God’s moral code; somehow no real action was needed. It reminds us also in this context of all those clerics calling the HIV pandemic the punishment of God for Sodom and Gomorrah in our times.
HIV is not a punishment but a clear sign of the time to reflect on our Christian theology – it has shown clearly that answering new questions with old answer do not serve humanity. The opposite is true: it endangers life. The question of protection cannot be answered with the reply given by authorities quite some time earlier on the question of procreation.
And how about the single human being infected with the HI Virus?
The challenges and reactions are as different as people are different: shock, disbelieve, despair, give–up mentality, defiance, hope….
What is indeed an almost general rule I discovered with people living positively is that after the balance in life is found again, there is a new sense for health and the value of life. HIV has shown how fragile life is and treatment has given almost the opportunity for a second chance in life. People infected mostly have a peace treaty with their boarder – always present even when tested undetectable. There is also the sense of gratitude and somehow, even if it sounds absurd, it changes from being a personal curse into a blessing. And I strongly believe that church should be and could be promoter of this transition, personal and in communities where stigma could be transformed into a blessing. The Catholic Student organisation of South Africa maintains in one of their publications that people living with HIV cannot live life to the fullest as stipulated in John 10.10.
They are wrong: God is giving everyone in his unconditional love the possibility to life their life to the fullest – for him, sexual identity or preference is not a hindrance nor is race or income or any other ability or disability or HIV or AIDS.
You will be a blessing for others – this promise of God applies to everybody who lives and loves with or without HIV.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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