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Pondering the South African Memesphere – Looking for the Good in Everything

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The Dutch-Reformed Church in South Africa

December 14th, 2007 · Posted by Hugo · 4 Comments

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.

Categories: NG Kerk
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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Gericke Potgieter // Dec 14, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    I must be honest, I am not quite sure where you want to go with this. Are you looking to explain why the DR Church is what it is today? Or maybe how culture brought it forth?

    You tread carefully and on the surface without clear purpose. Looking for trouble maybe ;)

    I grew up in this church and I am a devout Christian (note: not everybody in the church are Christians). I can tell you that the DR Church, like any other organisation, has its good guys and its bad guys. It has a large variety of individuals that all try to make sense of a world that is changing faster than toilet paper in the girls’ bathroom. What is missing from what you are saying is the time context in which these things happened, and more importantly how these contexts are influencing what is happening today.

    The church as it existed way back when served, as you rightly say, to preserve the Afrikaner and even encourage the development of its culture. This is a good thing – looking at your name I can only guess that you are indeed from this very same background, at least to some extent.

    As much of the bad ideas and implementations the Afrikaner perpetrated throughout its short history, there are numerous examples of the brilliance, tenacity and integrity of our people.

    Somehow it became a bad thing to have a specific culture and it seems as if the most vocal of academics these days point a wild finger at those WITH identity in order to validate the virtues of the liberalist view that “we are all the same”. Which, of course, is silly. We are not. Being different however doesn’t imply one being better than the other of vice versa.

    As for your idea that we are “meme machines” – it is a fallacy. It often happens when one discovers a new theory of how people work that you cannot other than fit the whole of humanity into it. This is a rather tricky bias that may inhibit your discovery of whatever your question is.

    So yes, since I am unclear as to the purpose of this discussion I too digressed immensely and commented generally.

  • 2 Hugo // Dec 15, 2007 at 12:34 am

    No, great contribution! Thanks Gericke.

    This post had no purpose other than to try to fill in some history. I have some international readers that have no idea what the religious context is in South Africa, and further posts will want to assume some awareness of context. That was the aim of this post.

    I was born in South Africa, but spent a number of years in The Netherlands. Returning to South Africa as a teenager, I was not used to traditions found in the Dutch-Reformed church. That is what I mean by “outsider”. The experience is different to those that have grown up inside the church, and those that look at it from an outsider’s perspective with no experience of the traditions. A Sunday sermon is quite an interesting experience, at some locations. ;-)

    Thanks again for your contribution. And yes, we are not all the same, except that we are all different, and in that sense, the same. Hehe. Or something like that. (Meaningless words, some would say.)

  • 3 Hugo // Dec 15, 2007 at 12:36 am

    I will try and pay more attention to time context. This post covers a time-span of what, more than a hundred years? And all that squeezed into a couple of words, by someone effectively uninformed…? Madness!

  • 4 Dutch-Reformed Homosexuality // Jan 14, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    [...] a previous post, I provided some of the South African context with regards to apartheid and the Dutch-Reformed church. Being wedded to the state (mixed [...]

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