For my international readers, I thought I’d sketch some background information on the South African religious context. I’m talking mostly from the perspective of an outsider, so I will appreciate any further contributions in the comments.
There seems to be a debate amongst evolutionary biologists between “group selection” and “standard selection”. A quick glance at the Wikipedia page for group selection seems to indicate it is mostly a matter of how much group selection contributes to evolution, rather than whether it does. Sure, I seem to be digressing, so let me get back to the point: in human culture, our memes have a very significant contribution to selection, and religion is a key factor in survival of a particular tribe. (I’m referring to a book titled The White Tribe of Africa, which I’m interested in reading if I can find the time.) Whether group selection happens amongst other animals or not, humans are clearly meme machines, governed as much by their memes as by their genes.
Just over a century ago, this country saw a war between the British Empire and two independent Boer republics. Among South Africans, this war is known as the Anglo-Boer War. At times of war, religion, being a shared world-view, plays a very significant role in encouraging humanity and giving them hope and unity. During this time, the Dutch-Reformed church and politics got welded together, setting the stage for the rest of the twentieth century.
Enter Apartheid, another originally noble but ultimately misguided idea (similar to the versions of communism/socialism that have been implemented so far), for it did not take human nature into account. The wedding between the Dutch-Reformed church and the state resulted in a deadlock situation that was resolved largely thanks to outside influence (sanctions, international pressure, etc). This experience has left many South Africans aware of the dangers of fundamentalistic dogma.
The Dutch-Reformed church is doing what it can to make amends. A large percentage of those in charge are truly “very good guys”, carefully considering the problems and weighing the odds, in an attempt to find the best path forward. This is not an easy job.
Like any large community with a modernistic creed or culture, like any large community or organisation not consciously embracing diversity as a whole, there are various forces and undercurrents at work. Some of these undercurrents seem dangerous, some seem misguided, and some are truly focused on building bridges and engineering peace, prosperity and mutual understanding in this diverse rainbow nation of ours.
Over the next few weeks, I hope to investigate and examine some of these undercurrents, and attempt to share what I learn about the current state of affairs as well as what I see with regards to a possible future. During this discussion, please contribute what you know. Please share your knowledge, ideas, criticisms and questions, and let us have a friendly conversation about the state of affairs. Please question and contradict my statements. Please maintain your critical thinking faculties.
Everyone is welcome. May I request of all militants, extremists, fundamentalists and polemicists, of all sorts and flavours, including those that refuse to accept the militant, extremist or fundamentalist labels: Please lay down your torches and axes for the purpose of these discussions. On this blog, in this church of diversity, we are interested in cross-cultural understanding and peaceful coexistence. Thanks.