Jy blaai in die argief vir 2010 Februarie.

Godsdiens en die media

Februarie 23, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

Ek het gisteraand deelgeneem aan ‘n gesprek oor godsdiens en die media wat deur die Kaapstadse Intergeloofsinisiatief georganiseer is. Ek was veronderstel om as teoloog en voormalige joernalis te praat. Hier is dit dan. Laat hy val waar hy wil!

 

“Ethics in Print Media: How Can Faith  Communities Encourage Ethical Coverage?”

 

(Cape Town Interfaith Initiative, 22 February 2010)

Ethical discussions about religion and the media usually deal with how the media should approach religion (a topic on which my esteemed co-panellists will, no doubt, provide valuable insights), but tonight I’d like to turn the question around by asking how religious communities should approach the media.

This is a theological question, which does not arise for all media managers and practitioners, but only for those who themselves belong to a religious community, and of course for other members of those communities. It is a question that I can only address in a relatively informed manner from the perspective of my own religious tradition, the Christian tradition, and within that tradition as someone largely shaped by the Protestant, and more specifically Reformed, tradition. Other Christians and adherents of other faiths will have to judge whether or not what I have to say is at all helpful to them.

Let us begin with a question asked by the character Judas Iscariot towards the end of the classic rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Judas, speaking (perhaps surprisingly) from heaven, and looking back on the events of Jesus’ life and death, poses the following question to Jesus:

Everytime I look at you I don’t understand

Why you let the things you did get so out of hand

You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned

Now why’d you choose such a backward time and such a strange land?

If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation

Israel in 4BC had no mass communication …

Why indeed? Did Tim Rice have an answer in mind when he wrote these lyrics? Is it a coincidence that it is precisely the traitor Judas who struggles to understand why Jesus opted for such a disastrous marketing strategy? Are we to understand that the value of a free media so often celebrated in modern liberal discourse – the media’s supposed contribution to democracy and thereby to human dignity – can be questioned? Would Jesus, with his philanthropic, humanist proclamation of God’s rule have found an ally in the modern media?

The Gospel of Matthew (4:1-11) relates how the Spirit of God drove Jesus into the dessert, and gave him the strength to withstand the temptations with which the Devil taunted him: turn these stones into bread; jump from the highest pinnacle of the temple, God’s angels will carry you down safely; all the kingdoms of the world I will give to you if you bow down and worship me …” In the film Jesus of Montreal this last temptation is illustrated powerfully when Daniel, who plays the role of Jesus in the local parish’s Easter play, and subsequently identifies radically and dangerously with that character, is taken to a wealthy film maker’s lavish office, which looks down from up high over the city of Montreal, and told that he could have the world under his feet if only he would sell the rights to the play to the film company. Clearly, an impressive show of power and fame, effective brand building – what Martin Luther called a theology of glory, as opposed to a theology of the cross – is not what Jesus is about.

The enormous power of the media, so coveted by all who want to make a name for themselves, is a temptation to Christians from two opposite perspectives.

First, there is the temptation to try and harness that power for the sake of promoting the church – of making it more attractive and popular, more acceptable within the reigning culture. I use the word “reigning” advisedly, for believers can thereby be enslaved by the power that they so covet – by the values and priorities of the media machine. Many forms of televangelism, religious advertising, ecclesial communication strategies, mass evangelistic crusades and Christian publishing inisiatives illustrate this abundantly.

Yet it is not only in our worship of media power, but also in our hostility and opposition towards it, that we Christians often lose perspective and stray from our calling as followers of Christ. This happens, inter alia, when publications are threatened with all kinds of sanctions because they publish articles critical of religion – as happened some time ago to the Sunday newspaper Rapport, which forced the editor to get rid of a columnist for the sake of preventing massive financial losses to his publication. Or when perceived “enemies” of the faith are personally insulted and condemned publicly in the most undignified manner, as happened recently to my former colleague prof. George Claassen when he dared to ask critical questions about religion in schools.

Granted, critics of religion are also sometimes guilty of crudely insulting and deliberately misrepresenting and stereotyping Christianity and other religions, but surely that should not serve as an example to be emulated by the followers of Jesus? What happened to “turn the other cheek”, “love those who hate you” and “don’t repay evil with evil”?

The theologian David Bosch once wrote that Jesus as he is often presented by Christians has such impressive muscles that one does not notice the marks of the cross. These kinds of power play – whether harnessing the power of the media in a manipulative way, or fighting fire with fire – ultimately rest on a deep seated fear and insecurity, a lack of faith, among those who call themselves believers. After all, according to the Bible, it is not by force that Christ rules, but through the apparent weakness of self-denying sacrificial love.

Linked to this is the question of perception. Because, in our culture, visibility has become an ultimate concern, religious people tend to do everything in their power to increase their visibility and to manage perceptions. Even concrete projects, such as those relating to helping the poor, are often chosen and conceptualised consciously with an eye to how it may help give the church a more positive image. One of the most common complaints about the media from religious circles is that religion does not get enough attention, followed by the complaint that when religion is reported on, it is in a one-sided or misleading way, or focussed only on sensational stories, rather than also pointing to the many positive things coming out of religious communities. In this, religious people do not differ from politicians and celebrities in general! But is this obsession with how we come across, with how others perceive us, Christian?

A constant theme in Mark’s Gospel that has puzzled Christians through the centuries is the so-called “Messianic secret” – the fact that whenever someone concluded from Jesus’ miracles that he is the promised Messiah, he did not encourage them to go out and declare this to the world, but ordered them not to tell anyone. The most widely accepted explanation of this is that Jesus was well aware of the mistaken ideas associated with the title of Messiah in the mind of his followers and others. It was only after his crucifixion that the disciples understood what this title meant when ascribed to Jesus as the suffering servant.

John’s Gospel (6:66-67) recalls how, after Jesus had made some particularly unpalatable utterances, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him”. To the few who were left behind, he asked: “You do not want to leave too, do you?”

When “great multitudes went with him,” says the Gospel of Luke (14:25), Jesus did not regard this as a welcome marketing success, but warned them to “count the cost” (27, 28, 33): “whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple … whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

No wonder, then, that, according to the Gospel of Matthew (6:1-2, 5), Jesus counseled those who would follow him: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do … to be honored by men … And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing … on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

This is the very opposite of the value system mockingly sketched in the film My Favorite Year when the character played by Peter O’Toole, a celebrity actor, attends a party to his honor, and replies to someone who greats him with a “Nice to see you!” with the quip “Nice to be seen!”

Jesus’ ethic of invisibility is based on his understanding of God: “No-one has seen the Father,” he says (John 1:18, 6:46). In the Biblical witness power and glory, like “being seen”, have a mysterious and unexpected character. As Paul puts it in 1 Timothy (6:15-16): “God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal”, “lives in unapproachable light” and is the one “whom no one has seen or can see”. This reminds one of Isaiah 45:15: “Truly you are a God who hides himself.” What does it mean, then, when believers are called to “be holy as (God) is holy” (Leviticus 11:44, 19:2)? Surely not that they should aim to steal the show?

A final observation. Christ’s victorious struggle, according to the New Testament, “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). These and similar words are often wrongly understood as referring to some esoteric mystery, but in the context in which they were written they were aimed at very tangible and visible powers – specifically the seductive military, cultural and ideological power of the impressively visible Roman Empire.

Paul and the other New Testament writers, like their prophetic predecessors in the Hebrew Scriptures, understood very well what we, in a post-modern society, are only beginning to learn: that public discourse is not merely a carrier of information, but also a power that can oppress. This also applies to the discourse of a free press in an exemplary liberal democracy. Paul’s reference to what cannot be seen – to “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” – expresses the insight that the dynamics of social structures have a mysterious life of their own and are stronger than the power of individuals. If you don’t believe me, ask the editor of a bestselling newspaper who would like to publish serious news on the front page, but knows from experience that any such reckless adventure will result in immediate loss of revenue and could result in her losing her job.

Faith communities can serve the media best by critiquing it, by demystifying and desacralising its assumed values, by exposing the many ways in which it can and does go wrong, and the way in which it so often functions as a power beyond human control. Prophecy, in the Bible, precisely as merciless unmasking of the truth, functions as the judgment of God, which then turns out to have been merciful because liberating.

There is a power that is stronger than the “rulers”, “authorities” and “powers”. That power is neither us as individuals, nor the political and economic structures we create. It is the liberating power of truth – not the factual, empirical truth for which some journalists rightly strive, but the prophetic truth of which Jesus spoke when he said (John 8:32): “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

What the media needs in order to report ethically and in the service of humanity is to be freed of romantic illusions about their craft by hearing the unpalatable truth about the powers by which they can so easily be enslaved. It will be a blessing to the media and to the communities it seeks to serve. This liberating message religious communities can only bring if they themselves put their trust in the God who hides himself, and not in the frantic quest for visibility.

Rian Malan se boek

Februarie 23, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

Vandeesmaand se miniseminaar gaan oor Rian Malan se boek Resident Alian. Die eerste bydrae is deur die mediakenner Gawie Botma. Hy stel ‘n hele paar kritiese vrae. Nog reaksies op die boek sal later volg. Lees dit en kom gesels hier verder!

Die volledige miniseminaar kan nou in die Seminaarkamer gelees word.

* Stuur ‘n e-pos met die woord “Ja” in die onderwerpveld na dinknet@litnet.co.za om oor nuwe inskrywings op hierdie blog ingelig te word.

Om transformasie te transformeer

Februarie 22, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

My jongste Kerkbode-rubriek:

 

Wanneer ons die evangelie onder woorde bring, het ons geen keuse as om gewone taal te gebruik nie – die einste taal wat as ’t ware besmet is met die verwronge aannames en waardeoordele van sondige mense soos ons. Dit geld reeds die taal van die Bybel waardeur ons telkens weer die evangelie hoor: Die apostoliese getuienis is deurspek met begrippe wat aan die Joodse en Romeins-imperiale kultuur ontleen is. Woorde soos “Here”, “koninkryk”, “offer”.

 

Maar hoe revolusionêr word hierdie woorde nie gebruik nie! Hulle word op hul kop gekeer, ’n teenoorgestelde betekenis gegee, oop gebreek soos ou sakke waarin nuwe wyn gegiet word. Die Heer word dan die een wat dien, die koninkryk regeer deur ’n opstandeling, offers lewegewend.

Wat van die begrippe wat óns openbare diskoers domineer? “Transformasie”, “regstellende aksie”, “bemagtiging”. Kom ons in die kerk ons roeping na as ons die betekenis van hierdie woorde op gesigwaarde as vanselfsprekend aanvaar en dan bloot ’n standpunt (instemmend of afwysend) daaroor formuleer? Of moet ons nuwe wyn in daardie woorde giet? Durf ons sulke woorde gebruik op ’n manier wat aanstoot gee? Is ’n kerk wat nié met haar taal (en haar manier van doen!) aanstoot gee nie dalk soos daardie profete wat “vrede” sê as daar geen vrede is nie?

Dis so aanloklik om aan die profetiese hervorming, die “reformering”, van taal, waartoe ons geroep is, te ontsnap (soos die klaende Jeremia so graag sou wou doen!). Enersyds deur ons nie met die openbare diskoers te bemoei nie, maar in ’n individuele, vergeestelikte godsdiens op te gaan. Andersyds deur met groot entoesiasme aan die nasionale projek deel te neem en die taal van dié projek net so te gebruik om ’n plekkie, ’n “bydrae”, vir die kerk as “faith based organisation” binne die groter projek af te baken.

Watter een van hierdie twee vorme van ontrouheid ons verkies, sal dan afhang van hoe ons polities teenoor die ou en nuwe bedeling onderskeidelik voel. Maar het ons dan nog die evangelie nodig?

Die Bybel praat ook van transformasie – van die “nuwe skepping” wat ons word wanneer die Gees van Christus ons eers beetkry. Nie net individueel nie, maar ook – eintlik primêr – in die gemeenskap van gelowiges. Ons kan Breyten Breytenbach se frase “saam mekaar anders maak” (op sy beurt aan Jan Rabie se Die groot andersmaak ontleen) hiervoor gebruik en dit sodoende ’n nuwe betekenis gee. Maar Bybelse transformasie is nog radikaler, want dit gaan nie net oor ons mense nie, maar oor “’n nuwe hemel en ’n nuwe aarde”.

Wat ons dikwels as transformasie beskryf, is nie té radikaal nie. Dis eerder nie naastenby radikaal genoeg nie. Het transformasie plaasgevind as die buit herverdeel, die sitplekke gereorganiseer, ou scores ge-settle is? Is transformasie ’n saak van strategie, van siniese politieke maneuvrering, of behels dit bekering, metanoia, omkering (in albei betekenisse)? Kan ons transformasie van die staat verwag, of van die korporatiewe wêreld? Is ons geloof in hulle dan só sterk?

Transformasie gebeur juis wanneer ons die “owerhede en magte” op hul plek sit, hulle “de-sakraliseer” (Kwame Bediako), hulle hul beskeie taak – om orde te handhaaf en die swakke teen die sterke te beskerm – laat verrig, hokaai roep wanneer hulle hul grense oorskry deur heil te wil bring. So hou transformasie ook oordeel, en daardeur genade, in. Dit gaan – soos die Kwakers dit dikwels stel – oor “die waarheid praat teenoor mag”.

So lank as wat ons ingenome met ons nasionale projek is, of met ons private projekkies wat niks aan die wêreld rondom ons verander nie – solank ons hierdie banale luidendesimbaaltaal besig – moet ons nie transformasie, kollektief óf individueel, verwag nie.

* Stuur ‘n e-pos met die woord “Ja” in die onderwerpveld na dinknet@litnet.co.za om oor nuwe inskrywings op hierdie blog ingelig te word.

Johann Roussouw skryf oor Afrikaners

Februarie 17, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

In die jongste maandelikse LitNet-essay skryf Johann Roussouw oor “Afrikaners se plek en toekoms?”. Dis natuurlik ‘n vraag wat nie ontwyk kan word nie, maar wat terselfdertyd ook self vrae oproep: Wat is ‘n Afrikaner? Hoe staan die begrippe “Afrikaner” en “Afrikaanssprekende” teenoor mekaar? Kan die Afrikaneridentiteit wyd genoeg oopgerek word om vir alle Afrikaanssprekendes bruikbaar te word? Indien nie, kan dit sommer so afgeskud word? Skuil daar nie ‘n goedkoop ontsnapping uit ‘n onder meer problematiese geskiedenis in laasgenoemde nie?

Maar wag! Moenie op my vrae reageer nie. Lees Johann se essay en gesels daaroor.

* Stuur ’n e-pos met die woord “Ja” in die onderwerpveld na dinknet@litnet.co.za om oor nuwe inskrywings op hierdie blog ingelig te word.

’n Nuwe Vrye Universiteit

Februarie 17, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

Die Kaapse onderwyskenner en taalaktivis Christo van der Rheede het onlangs wat hy self ’n ‘mal idee’ noem op die gesprekstafel geplaas: die oprigting van ’n gratis Afrikaanse universiteit …

Klik op die skakel hierbo om my jongste Brandpunte-rubriek in die Nederlandse Maandblad Zuid-Afrika te lees.

* Stuur ’n e-pos met die woord “Ja” in die onderwerpveld na dinknet@litnet.co.za om oor nuwe inskrywings op hierdie blog ingelig te word.

Zuma, seks en dit wat smeulend is

Februarie 17, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

Hoekom is almal so op hol oor Zuma se sekskapades? Ek keur sy seksuele gedrag ook nie goed nie, maar ek ken hom nie persoonlik nie en dit het dus weinig, indien enigiets, met my uit te waai.

Wat baie met my, en met elke landsburger, uit te waai het, is dat Zuma, gesien die wolk wat myns insiens nog steeds rondom die wapentransaksie oor sy kop hang (hy het hom nooit in ‘n hof teen die klagtes verdedig nie), hoegenaamd president is, dat die gesag van die regbank weens die gebeure wat daartoe gelei het ernstige skade berokken is, dat Zuma ooglopend mense wat deur die korrupsieklagtes heen onvoorwaardelik lojaal teenoor hom was en hom onkrities bly steun het met sleutelposte beloon, en dat hy en sy party totalitêre magsaansprake maak deur te beweer dat God aan hul kant, en Zuma die een of ander soort messiasfiguur, is.

Zuma se presidensie bedreig Grondwetlike demokrasie in Suid-Afrika. Daarteen gemeet, weeg selfs die ondoeltreffendheid van sy regering en Zuma se swak leierskap taamlik lig. Party regerings kry meer reg as ander, party maak meer foute as ander, maar hier gaan dit nie net oor suksesse en mislukkings nie, maar om iets baie meer fundamenteels: ‘n gebrek aan respek vir die demokratiese spel as sodanig. Deur op Zuma se sekslewe te konsentreer – wat op voorspelbare wyse weer tot “onthullings” oor die sekslewe van opposisielewe gelei het – trek net die aandag af van dit wat regtig polities belangrik is.

Interessant ook dat die kritiese reaksie deur die kerke veel skerper is wanneer dit by Zuma se buite-egtelike verhoudings kom as wanneer dit oor sy en sy party se magsmisbruik en totalitêre aansprake gaan. Selfs daardie skokkende uitsprake oor die ANC se “mission from God” (om die Blues Brothers aan te haal) het maar ligte reaksie van die kerke uitgelok, en baie kerke het selfs daardie aansprake entoesiasties beaam. Hier gaan dit nie oor enkele oortredings nie, maar oor ‘n soort afgodery. Tog reageer die kerke skerper op eersgenoemde as op laasgenoemde.

Ons Suid-Afrikaners se preutsheid gaan ons nog duur te staan kom. Terwyl ons die spreekwoordelike viool speel (dis nou om ons in Zuma, Steve of Joost se sekslewe te verlustig), is Rome al goed aan die smeul.

* Stuur ’n e-pos met die woord “Ja” in die onderwerpveld na dinknet@litnet.co.za om oor nuwe inskrywings op hierdie blog ingelig te word.

Die taal wat God self praat

Februarie 5, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

(Hieronder volg die jongste aflewering van my tweeweeklikste rubriek in die Kerkbode)

 

Die God van die Bybel is ’n God wat praat, skryf N.T. Wright in The Last Word. Maar watter taal praat God dan?

Umberto Eco vertel in sy La ricerca della lingua perfetta nella cultura europea (in Nederlands: Europa en de volmaakte taal) oor die lang soeke na die “volmaakte taal”, wat in die moderne era die vorm aanneem van ’n versugting dat één taal, byvoorbeeld Engels, die enigste wêreldtaal moet wees, dikwels omdat dié taal as inherent superieur beskou word. Andere wil ’n nuut geskepte taal vir internasionale kommunikasie, soos Esperanto, bevorder om sodoende taaloorheersing uit te skakel.

In die premoderne tyd is die volmaakte taal volgens Eco as die taal van God, die hemelse taal, voorgestel. Dit sou Latyn kan wees (die Latynse Bybelvertaling is as die kerklik gesanksioneerde weergawe gesien), of Hebreeus (die taal wat Adam en Eva vermoedelik sou gepraat het), dalk ’n taal wat weens die sondeval (dink aan die verhaal van die Babelse verwarring) verlore geraak het, of selfs ’n natuurlike taal waarmee mense as ’t ware gebore word, maar wat hulle dan mettertyd afleer. Om laasgenoemde te ontdek, het een vors selfs gereël dat die vroedvroue onder sy beheer ’n aantal pas geborenes isoleer en glad nie met hulle praat nie – om dan te kyk watter taal hulle spontaan sou besig. Die eksperiment het misluk, want die baba’s het gesterf …

Eco self meen die inheemse taal van Europa is eintlik vertaling: Wanneer kommunikasie tússen tale plaasvind, kom die wesenlike identiteit van Europa tot uitdrukking. Hiermee kies hy teen die romantiese nasionalisme, waarvolgens volk, taal en grondgebied as identiteitsbepalers móét saamval.

Is vertaling dalk ook God se taal?

Lamin Sanneh lyk dit in sy Translating the Message te suggereer. Navorsing het getoon dat die Christendom in Afrika die vinnigste gegroei het in gebiede waar die Bybel in die plaaslike taal beskikbaar was, en dat inheemse Afrika-kerke soos die ZCC ook juis in daardie gebiede ontstaan het. Dit dui daarop dat verinheemsing van die geloof deur vertaling van die boodskap aangewakker word – dikwels teen die bedoeling van die sendelinge in!

Daar is Christene, veral in behoudende evangelikale kringe, wat die inspirasie, gesag en onfeilbaarheid van die Bybel streng gesproke slegs aan die sogenaamde “oorspronklike manuskripte” toeskryf. Hiermee stem Sanneh nie saam nie. Hoor ons dan nie die Woord van God wanneer ons die Bybel in ons moedertaal lees nie? Volgens Sanneh is ’n wesenlike onderskeidende kenmerk van die Christelike geloof dat sy heilige skrif ook in vertaling Woord van God bly. Hierin verskil die Christelike geloof van onder meer die Islam, waarin slegs die Koran in Arabies as Gods openbaring beskou word.

Sanneh wys daarop dat die Nuwe Testament, as Christelike basisteks, reeds ’n Griekse vertaling is van ’n evangelie wat die eerste keer in Hebreeus of Aramees verkondig is. Deur die eeue het die evangelie telkens by wyse van vertaling – talig én kultureer – deur die wêreld versprei. Reeds in God se selfopenbaring aan Israel word die ewige Goddelike Woord in mensetaal vertaal, en – nog tasbaarder – in Christus word God self in ’n mens “vertaal”. G’n wonder nie dat, toe die Gees op die apostels uitgestort is, hulle in al die tale van hul toehoorders begin praat het (Handelinge 2).

Net soos “heidene” nie besny hoef te word om tot die liggaam van Christus te mag behoort nie, hoef hulle ook nie ’n nuwe taal te leer om God se Woord te kan hoor nie. Voor God maak geen taal jou meer mens as ’n ander nie.

Wat beteken d?t vir hoe ons in die kerk en die breër samelewing mekaar se tale behandel?

 

* Stuur ‘n e-pos met die woord “Ja” in die onderwerpveld na dinknet@litnet.co.za om oor nuwe inskrywings op hierdie blog ingelig te word.