When the Judicial Service Commission hearings on Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng were being held, I expressed significant doubts regarding his suitability for the role of Chief Justice. Among my concerns were his views on homosexuality, his reasoning in certain judgments related to sexual assault, and of course, his religious views and whether they would impact on his rulings.Continue reading “On Chief Justice Mogoeng calling for prayer in Parliament”
A month or so ago, I wrote about Deirdre Carter’s Private Member’s Bill that seeks to remove Section 6 from the Civil Union Act. Section 6 allows government officials to opt-out of officiating gay marriages on grounds of “conscience”.
The call for public comment on this Bill has now gone out, and you have until 4pm on October 23 to send your comments to Mr Eddy Mathonsi [email]. We can be sure that the likes of Errol Naidoo and other homophobes will be writing in to object, so please consider indicating your support for this Bill.
What follows is some text that you are free to copy-and-paste, or amend as you see fit, in order to make your submissions as painless as possible. The text is a variation on the blog post linked above, so if you read that, none of the content will be new to you.Continue reading “The Civil Union Amendment Bill”
In addition to her Private Members Bill on Advance Directives, which I wrote about earlier this month, Deirdre Carter of COPE has also been pushing for changes to the Civil Union Act, and I’m pleased to report that the Parliamentary committee meeting (15/08) seems to have gone well, with all present agreeing that Section 6 of the Act needs to be reconsidered.
Section 6, for those not familiar with the Act, is the clause that allows for Department of Home Affairs (DHA) officials to opt-out of officiating same-sex marriages. It reads:Continue reading “COPE and the Civil Union Act”
As much as being religious can interfere with peoples’ ability to think objectively about moral issues, it’s sometimes the case that antipathy to religion can do so, too.
The former problem arises because people can approach moral problems with unquestionable fundamental rules in mind, given to them by a divine force, and the latter because we should really only care about other people’s values when those values might result in harm, and not simply because we find them silly. Continue reading “Blasphemy and the South African Film and Publications Board”
Hans Pietersen has been working towards getting the matter of religious bias in South African public schools heard by the courts since 2009. This week, it finally happened.
OGOD is the name of the organisation he founded and chairs, and who brought the case to the Johannesburg High Court. But don’t let that bit of blasphemy in the name fool you. Even though there are many atheists in the organisation, their cause is a secular rather than atheist one, and as I’ve argued before, the difference is crucial. Continue reading “OGOD finally has its day in court”
Well. Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga and I had a rather interesting morning. I was part of the group that drafted a charter on rights and responsibilities for religious conduct at schools, and today we (and other interested parties) gathered to discuss the charter, and to hear the Minister’s thoughts on “harmful religious practices” in schools.
Instead, what we mostly got was lessons in how many demons are out there, hungering for your kids’
brains souls, and how only Jesus can save them. Continue reading “Basic Education in Demonology”
Charismatic pastors have long been abusing the loyalty and faith of devout Christians, and I’m sure this happens in other religions also. In South Africa, though, we’ve recently heard of some quite bizarre examples.
Penuel Mnguni telling people they should eat snakes and Lesego Daniel making a sacrament of grass and petrol come immediately to mind. And then there are the more traditional forms of exploitation, like Pastor Mboro telling parishioners that he can get them to heaven for R 10 000 (or, secure them a VIP seat next to Moses, Abraham and even Jesus for R 30 000). Continue reading “(Detective) Lethobo: the Profits from Doom”
Originally published in the Mail&Guardian.
Religion matters as much today as it ever did. It matters to a slowly but steadily increasing proportion of the world’s population, even though it is in decline in Japan, the United States, Vietnam, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Everywhere else, religious adherence is increasing, with Pew Research data identifying Islam as the fastest-growing religion, expected to catch up with Christianity in 2050. Continue reading “Humanity before religion”
Gateway News, the ‘South African Christian News Portal’, is always a good place to find over-reaction, misrepresentation, and unfounded panic, for example this account of ‘militant atheist groups‘ that are (shock, horror!) trying to stop Joshua Generation Church from endorsing corporal punishment.
A recent Gateway News post by Adv Nadene Badenhorst, legal counsel of FOR SA, catalogues some of the ways in which religion will find itself “in the firing line” during 2016. But a cursory look at the cases cited reveals the opposite, in that it’s religious privilege that she’s concerned about, rather than religious freedom. Continue reading “Religious freedom in the firing line”
If part of your spiritual “healing method” involves having your parishioners strip naked, it’s pretty likely that you’re a charlatan. Not only in the sense that you’re selling fake goods – because that’s the case for most religious activity – but more importantly also in the sense that you know you’re doing so.
If you add making your parishioners eat snakes, and trying to have them eat rocks that you’ve transformed into bread to the mix, I think there’s no room left for doubt – you’re not only a charlatan, but you’re also an exploitative one, willing to leverage the desperation of others into personal financial gain.
Your name in this case is Penuel Mnguni, and you appear to have learnt these tricks from Lesego Daniel, who chose to make his followers eat grass and drink gasoline rather than consume snakes and rocks.
Mnguni was arrested for animal cruelty for feeding his congregation live snakes (which would apparently turn into chocolates – praise the Lord!), and later released on bail. But the examples of him and Lesego Daniel are perhaps two among many, and this possibility has led the Commission With An Improbably Long Name to launch an inquiry.
The Chairperson of the commission otherwise known as the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) says:
We’re not saying that the commercialisation of religion is a bad thing, but we want to understand how and what it is,” said commission chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.
When churches start selling pap, T-shirts and water after services… or when people stop taking their HIV or blood pressure medicine because traditional healers say ‘drink my water, it will heal you’, and charge people for it, it becomes problematic.
We need to look at these various miracle claims and see what form of legal structure is in place.
And if any of you are wondering how you’re supposed to tell the difference between a miracle claim such as the one “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16) and snakes turning into chocolates, the CRL Commission shares your concern.
If you listen to this interview with CRL Councillor Edward Masadza, you’ll hear that they are very aware of the need to “distinguish miracles from magic“, which sounds about as difficult a task as distinguishing acid from LSD to me.
But that’s partly because from a secular and skeptical point of view, all these sorts of claims sound equally implausible to me – and this brings me to the main point of this post. If we are going to investigate the potential harms of religion, “traditional” or “established” forms of it can’t get a pass on scrutiny.
For example, an earlier interview I heard on this topic was very concerned with the agency of the parishioners, and how they might have been duped rather than being willing participants in snake-eating or gasoline-drinking.
Yes, that’s a vital concern, and a concern I share. But if you are going to take that concern seriously, should the investigation not also include thinking about whether we should ban religious circumcision? An 8 day-old can hardly be a consenting party, after all.
Or what about the prosperity gospel of Ray McCauley and others, who encourage people to impoverish themselves in exchange for hypothetical future financial blessings from God?
But I don’t think the establishment churches have any reason to be concerned, no matter whether they endorse genital mutilation or financial exploitation. Because:
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva was at pains to explain that the investigation would be done in accordance with the SA Charter of Religious Rights and Freedom. She said they were not doing this to infringe on the constitutional right to freedom of religion.
Notice that Charter she mentions there? It’s madly conservative, and has absolutely zero legal standing. This is the second time I’ve encountered a government agency thinking that it’s official policy, but last time I was fortunately enough part of the conversation, and able to correct the misconception.
Despite this, the Charter is perceived to have standing, and investigations like the one the CRL is embarking on begins with the premise that religious practices need to be treated with a default attitude of solemnity and respect. And that’s not true – or rather, it shouldn’t be true – they should be as open to criticism, ridicule, and legal action as, for example, a gym should be for throwing out a member who makes a political statement.
At some point, South Africans will need to have a serious and long-overdue conversation about a different sort of privilege to the one we talk about every day – namely white privilege. And that is the privilege of religion, when set against documents like the Bill of Rights.
White privilege is real, even if the concept is itself sometimes abused to drown out criticism. Religious privilege is real also, and manifests in cases like a court allowing a church to fire a gay pastor after she married her same-sex pastor, or in student leaders being able to argue that homophobia isn’t homophobia if that homophobia stems from religious conviction.
Here’s Pierre de Vos with more examples and analysis of religious privilege in the law, in case you’re interested. But to get back to the CRL Commission: here’s hoping that they are objective in their work, and treat all religions with equal respect – but also that they respect agency, common sense, and sound ethical reasoning most of all.
[Postscript: this week’s episode of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” is a natural fit on the theme of the prosperity gospel.]