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The Last Straw Drove the Camel Mad

June 4th, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 29 Comments

As I was trying to finish my thesis last year, a number of things came together in a tumultuous mess. Trying to point to one particular cause would be incorrect. It was a concoction of, amongst other things, intense anxiety and stress (the thesis serving as catalyst to dig up material for an early mid-life crisis or quarter life crisis or something), generally too much thinking, too little sleeping, and too much grappling with humanity’s madness. And the result was brief personal madness.

There are many things I can call it, anything from a religious experience or “a meeting with God”, to a “nihilistic experience”, or maybe a particularly vivid and high-impact existential crisis, or we can use psychological terms and say I went a little crazy. A few days afterwards, I was already thinking of myself as a post-nihilist (not a label for a particular philosophical position, rather a statement claiming recovery from nihilism, by whatever method, having had a physical experience of nihilism). Now I guess one should be careful to not do a disservice to the truly insane by willy-nilly claiming insanity for whatever weird thoughts crosses one’s mind, but I suspect calling it a brief psychotic episode might be rather accurate.

Despite it being a bad idea to try to identify any particular cause, there was one particular “last straw” that I think was instrumental in tipping the scales. It was on a Thursday. I went to speak to the post-graduate coordinator of our department, about overshooting my “final deadline” by a few days, and also to discuss my experience as post-graduate student (on encouragement from family members that were deep into the academia in the past).

Now much of my delays in getting my thesis finished were related to my grappling with religion and the problem of fundamentalism in Stellenbosch. For my personality, the problem may be that I worked myself into the wrong social circles: the most healthy for me and my thesis may have been to break contact and ignore fundamentalism’s existence, but due to the particular place I found myself in society, that didn’t feel like an option. The post-graduate coordinator is a very, very nice person, I felt comfortable talking to him. I felt a sense of trust, to the point that I wanted to open up a bit… Taking one step in that direction, I got crushed by a tonne of bricks. Not that that’s really the ideal metaphor. The better one, for those that know what I’m talking about anyway: it was a total twilight-zone experience: it turned out the coordinator was himself in Shofar…

I don’t know how exactly to share the psychological impact of that particular revelation… the similes I can come up with from fiction I can think of, are simply too negative: the focus should be on the experience of the character in question, rather than the exact nature of the revelation. I suppose I could write a short story some time in an attempt to sketch it out, creating a situation in which the main character has a similar experience that the reader can identify with. Pity it’s hard to justify spending the time. In any case, at that point, the nature of human culture/reality as an insane loop of circular reasoning with no hope of escape started spinning around in my head.

Any somewhat successful attempt to make complete sense of it all, other than accepting that humans are just plain weird and irrational creatures and pretty much wrong most of the time, necessarily results in a conspiracy theory of some sort. But that’s where my mind started heading, recognising patterns throughout human culture, making strange connections between what ordinary people said to me in the following 36 hours… my mind made connections all over the place, in places there shouldn’t be connections, reading “between the lines”, working itself into a new narrative for reality that draws on pretty much every story it could remember. (Little fragments of this process is demonstrated in the posts I made around that time.) Chances are, if you said something to me during that time period, I read something else into it.

It culminated in a paranoid delusional climax on the Saturday, which was actually very exciting and exhilarating. It was like living in one of a number of movies. The main narratives my mind drew on for the connections/patterns/metaphors, were probably The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix. (Don’t read too much into it: they’re not ideal examples to the completely rational mind, you’d need to share or at least understand the delusion to fully understand the connections and metaphors they’d represent. 😛 )

Choose Life

Through all this, one particularly inspiring part was the rigours of the scientific method: it was one of the things that pulled me through. The scientific portion of my mind proved unsquashable, a piece of doubt shined as a shimmering light of hope: throughout, I also knew I might be in A Beautiful Mind, rather than The Matrix, and that I needed to remain skeptical, continually collecting evidence and testing my conspiracy theories. The first thing I did was to send off sms’s to likely candidates, with only the words: “Are you a ring bearer?”

Yay, science triumphs? Hmm, no, it’s not quite that simple when you’ve been pondering philosophy and things like solipsism and nihilism. (An interesting discovery as I was Googling to find the wikipedia link for solipsism: Solipsism syndrome. Maybe not a high quality article, with enough warnings for the reader, but interesting nonetheless.) Science is as dependent upon some fundamental axioms as any other philosophy, and solipsism is effectively internally consistent. It isn’t possible to test or disprove it, so science per se is not the way out. What eventually grounded me? A leap of faith, a choice to accept my senses, to accept empiricism.

As such, I know I still can’t disprove whether there was another choice (a choice other than choosing to accept my senses and empirical reality, i.e. other than take the blue pill). The paranoid-delusional idea as to what the effects of taking the red pill would be, was this: “they” would come fetch me — my mind, my conscious self, anyway — so my mind would leave this reality, to go to the next. In this reality, my body would most likely remain behind in a catatonic state…

Why did I choose blue (this reality), rather than red (some other reality, observed as “going insane” to the people I leave behind)? A number of things… Partly because of what it would do to the people I know and love and leave behind (my mother, my sister), partly because of the question a voice “boomed in my ear”: “What more do you want, mortal?! Is this reality not good enough for you? What makes you think the next is better? Why the dissatisfaction? Will you ever be satisfied?” (No, there weren’t any real hallucinations, I was quite aware that this was just an idea in my own mind, ‘scuse the poetic license.) And then Ewan McGregor advising Choose Life. (I didn’t choose something else.)

Accepting this reality rather than continually looking for another in perpetual dissatisfaction, was advice I had picked up from numerous sources. One was a stupid joke where a guy was climbing a ladder to “seventh heaven” or something, which turned out much worse than any of the preceding six — the first six were all wonderful. Another was The Matrix trilogy et al — so NB the sequels (echoing ideas from The Thirteenth Floor, or any similar recursive-reality story). Besides, in terms of “another reality” being detached from this one, I decided it would not share this reality’s time axis either, so there’s really no rush to go there anyway. The “Choose Life” quote of course comes from Trainspotting (a movie I still want to see… who wants to watch it with me?).

Finishing the Thesis

I got myself grounded in reality again on Monday. I maintained some sense of apathy and indifference, potentially a latent effect of Solipsism syndrome, but it was useful: it helped me to not care too much, to reject perfectionism, resulting in a highly productive final spurt to finish my thesis that week, aided by trance music (Infected Mushroom) that I found particularly humorous, due to it’s echoing of a number of the ideas that ran through my head with regards to recursive reality, choosing peaceful coexistence (with reality et al), etc.

Reality Recap

Of course, this choice between this reality and another is all a battle in the mind of a person about-to-go-insane (or perceiving himself as such, that being part of the delusion, probably). This post is written from that perspective, describing what led to the choice for sanity (as if that was a choice) — this post is not suggesting that there is any other reality.

My epistemological position is a thoroughly scientific one. While the solipsist says all that he can know to exist is his own mind — a position that correctly recognises the unreliability of senses — that’s no way to live a life. It gets you nowhere. So I accept empiricism, “try it and see”, and I use the scientific method to get around the problem of untrustworthy senses (and interpretation is an integral part of sensing).

To the Woo’s

So that then describes the reality that now governs the world in my vicinity: if my acceptance of evidence and scientific method manifests as “skeptical energy that kills your magical powers when you’re in my presence” (like some claimants of paranormal powers complain, as an effective excuse to avoid being properly tested and thereby debunked), I must apologise, but I’ve found this approach serves me well. And if your reality can’t beat mine, why not then rather join me in mine? I find life to be quite sweet in my reality.

So that’s probably the first more detailed account of my interesting experiences late last year. The first post I made about it was Psychological Wierdness. Read that for the first take on this episode.

Categories: Religion and Science

29 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Hugo // Jun 4, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    Another one of those posts that makes me wish I had some sort of editor or “beta tester” to read the post and give an impression before I hit the publish button. Oh well. There’s been so many posts in the past that were in dire need of a second opinion prior to publishing, but they’re out there. Published. This probably goes for many of the posts leading up to the time described above, and during that time. And then a couple during some of the aftershocks in January (in the post-thesis elation period). But anyway, such is life.

    BTW, A psychiatrist I ran into suggested a couple of words/labels, something along the lines of some sort of “disassociative condition”. That doesn’t sound right to me at all, based on this page on disassociative disorders.

    Incidentally, at the time, I willy-nilly abused the “schizo” label, which is wrong, but somewhat related: by the sounds of it, schizophrenia can have similar symptoms. And I did not confuse schizo with a “split personality” aka “disassociative identity disorder”, as one commenter suggested. I understand the suggestion though: due to the weirdness I let spill onto my blog, and my awareness of the weirdness, I started using various pseudonyms, considering continuing the blog anonymously from there. If you see old posts written by “Who Knows?”, that’s still an after-effect of not wanting my name attached to strange old posts. The idea was, and kinda still is, to go and distinguish between the posts I don’t mind having my name attached to, and those that I want to distance myself from.

    Hmm, and Derealization also looks interesting, and somewhat related…

  • 2 Clare // Jun 4, 2008 at 11:49 pm

    When you do get round to watching Trainspotting, be sure to think of us in Edinburgh! It’s filmed here, so you get to see some of the streets that we walk in our everyday lives. I also wanted to say that I appreciated your explanation of what you were going through last year. It sounds like you were in a pretty intense and difficult situation there. I’m definitely glad that you’re still here communicating your ideas.

  • 3 Hugo // Jun 5, 2008 at 12:33 am

    Thanks. I’m glad that some of the readers I had collected last year are still around, despite all the madness. 😉

  • 4 George Maru // Jun 5, 2008 at 6:55 am

    Infected Mushroom rocks.

  • 5 Pienk Zuit // Jun 5, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Never underestimate the symptoms of a panic attack. You can feel strangely removed from the real world, as if you’re observing the world through someone else’s eyes. It makes you think you’re going insane, and fear the oncoming insanity. You might even think you’re schizo. All of that just plain panic, nothing serious or permanent. Not saying yours was a panic attack, but it might have been.

  • 6 Hugo // Jun 5, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    I could share more details, but I don’t know how smart that is. This is the internet… 😉 The symptoms described at the “brief psychotic episode” link are relatively accurate, not that one should ever trust a self-diagnosis. The derealization stuff sounds particularly interesting as well.

    The experience was more than just a feeling, I did climb into a fictitious world and view the world quite differently, but that was indeed quite exhilarating, and I felt, and still feel, that through the experience and the thoughts I had at the time, I gained some profound insights into certain aspects of certain religious traditions, certain concepts, etc. E.g. karma was one of my favourites for a while.

    A little bit more on the thesis stress that played a very big role: my course choice was such that I receive my B.Eng and my M.ScEng together, when my M was finished. At that point, the deadline pressure and my pessimism was such that I doubted I would be able to finish on time. And this was a pretty final deadline, by the sound of things, having pushed it back already. Fail at getting the M finished, and I’m left with what? A high school diploma: matric… when I’m used to being a top performer, having achieved >90% for my good subjects, and typically between 75% and 90% for my bad subjects… I’d walk away from it all with absolutely nothing. And at the same time, the look back at social life in high school (or lack thereof), the endeavours to rectify that situation in university left me with a particular circle of friends, but on the other side of a religion chasm, I felt quite disconnected. (There were and are still a couple of friends that think like I do, but the experience of loss of a number of prior friends was there.)

    Now I had grappled with fundamentalism and religion, wondering what to do about the “Shofar problem” (any Shofar people following, bear with me. This is how I felt at the time, irrespective of how I feel now). That contemplation and analysis and study (amateur theology, history of the Bible, etc) in order to try to figure out how one could help, was a large part of it all. Talking to the post-graduate supervisor, I wanted to mention that, for either a piece of sympathy (something like: “yea, tough one that, we know of the problem, but there’s not much one can do”) or a piece of advice (“don’t get involved, there’s not much you can do, rather just learn how to accept it and move on”)… that was what I was hoping for and expecting. Instead? “I’m in Shofar.” And I was there to beg for a couple more days. I felt my future was in the guy’s hands, and here I suddenly felt he might think I’ve been wasting my time fighting his worldview aka “truth” instead of finishing my thesis, that I’m clearly a doomed youth, that has lost my way, and there’s not much one could do for me but pray… or something like that. Instead of sympathy or advice, it might suddenly turn into “Aha! yea, see, the whole problem is you lost your faith, lacked commitment, didn’t do your part. And now you’re being punished, and there’s not much we can do about it. Tough…”

    Of course, that’s not what happened, but that’s what crossed my mind… that conversation started with a slightly too passionate “What do you think of Shofar?”, to gauge what approach/wording I could use for describing my experiences. Short pause… “I’m in Shofar…” longer pause… brain whirring in over-time, panic, thinking how does one recover having just put your foot right into it… So from there I was back-pedalling like crazy, went to fetch my story at the fact that the experience you have in any church depends very much on your past, on the baggage you bring with you, and my baggage was such that my experience with Shofar kinda derailed me. Something like that. He asked me what church I attend… whether I attend church… luckily I could answer I attend Stellenbosch Gemeente. That might have helped, I thought. It was messy, but it was half-decent. But then I felt all isolated, like the whole world was against me.

    That was Thursday. The experience on Saturday was much more of an existential crisis than a “panic attack”. Of course one does, in a sense, panic about certain aspects of reality, when you ponder that kind of thing. I’ve another friend periodically going through related craziness (not quite craziness) pondering the very impossibility of existence. We ponder if this is maybe one of the hurdles for people deconverting, coming to grips with the craziness of our very existence. Merely the experience of having called that craziness “God” and now no longer having a name for it, might drive people to experience a rather rocky ride. It’s effectively nihilism I guess. One of those things you go through, on your way out the other side… regrouping your thoughts and attempting to re-establish meaning in your life, having just realised the potential meaninglessness of it all.

    I reckon we need some more philosophy. Science philosophy, ethics and “culture philosophy” might have been useful, to us engineers, but this friend and I could have done well to have some exposure to some of the existential philosophers. And so I wish I could read more philosophy, but I need to find the time, and justify spending it. Priorities…

  • 7 skoembs // Jun 5, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    You have got to tell me who your supervisor was before I suffer the same fate… I’m also doing DSP stuff for my MScEng and can relate to a lot of what you’re describing there. Existential crisis’s ftw! 😉

  • 8 Hugo // Jun 5, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    Supervisors are fine, and the guy I’m referring to was not a supervisor, and he’s not at DSP. (Post-graduate coordinator is a very particular person. And while I don’t really want to name names, I’ve thereby effectively already identified him.)

  • 9 Werner // Jun 8, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    I read your posts and can definitely tell you that you can never think too much. It’s just too sweet. With regards to your thesis and such: Don’t fall into the same old trap that all humans do. And that is… local optimums.

    Let me explain. You are trying to thinktoomuch now and this might be why your studies are not going so well. If, however, you can put thoughts aside and finish the job of fitting into this world you can think so much later without having to worry about materialistic survival.

    Not easy to do but the global maximum is what we are all after! Does that make sense?

  • 10 Hugo // Jun 8, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Yup! But no worries, this post is all about the end of last year, which was also when I finished my thesis.

    In terms of global maximum, there’s the philosophical question of whether there is such a thing, and what metric one would use to measure the supposed “optimality” of any particular “place”. 😉 But yes, there is a globally more optimal “place” to be than getting stuck in a local optimum.

  • 11 Werner // Jun 8, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Yea sorry about some of the assumptions I made about your situation. I thought I was confused about timeline issues there when I was posting. I only really started taking interest of your blog now although I have ended up here looking for “answerers” more than just a few times. So I was not too sure about whether or not you have finished etc…

    Good point about quantification. I guess then you can argue against me and say that looking for this “best” optimum could require a life of sacrifice. You’d never know when to stop sacrificing… I don’t like this realization.

  • 12 Hugo // Jun 9, 2008 at 12:22 am

    Hey, no apologies necessary for a misunderstanding. I appreciate the advice. 😉

    “Looking for answers”, or looking for “answerers”? I’m rather curious what you were looking for, or are looking for, or specifically, what you find useful about this blog. If you care to share your thoughts.

    In terms about arguing about quantification, hmm, that would just be being irritatingly pedantic. I’m just musing out loud about meaning in life, and human diversity and choice in that regard. (From an existentialist perspective, our ways of “quantifying” are rather subjective and personal…)

  • 13 Hugo // Jun 9, 2008 at 2:22 am

    If I wanted to be pedantic, I could tear apart my own claim: “Hey, no apologies necessary for a misunderstanding.” But I hope you can understand what I meant to say based on the context. 😉

  • 14 Werner // Jun 9, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    I understand fully.

    I was just looking for some good objectivity regarding Shofar as presented by someone that is unbiased. I landed here again when searching for some discussions around Hillsong Cape Town and Shofar. In particular, I am interested in Shofarian’s view about Hillsong coming to cape town ( or South Africa ) on their xenophobia mission.

    As far as I can see Hillsong Cape town comes with substantial monetary support and that is enabling them to get right down into the thick of things. This might make some local churches look less involved/interested in these attacks and you know how it goes from there.

    I was wondering if you could maybe share your thoughts on that in a different blog entry. I would really like to hear what someone has to say about it.

    For example… I know how people are and this “move” by Hillsong Cape town might cause some form of “xenophobia” (as in the meaning of the word, not the violence) from local churches.

    I think this might make an interesting discussion, but first we need you to start it off with one of your insightful blogs.

  • 15 Hugo // Jun 9, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    You mean some “xenophobia” from some local churches towards Hillsong maybe? I’m not sure exactly what you’re suggesting, and I don’t know enough about this to comment or blog about it. But I’ll keep my ears peeled, if I hear something interesting, maybe I’ll be able to write about it.

    In terms of ideals, why can’t everyone just work together in their diversity… sigh. Because they fight about the things they’re diverse about, rather than working together on the things they agree about.

  • 16 Hugo // Jun 9, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    And I’m also guilty on that last accusation. So I ponder how to balance the disagreements with the cooperation. I’m going to try to set some kind of example of how one could try to respectfully disagree and still work towards a common goal where possible.

    It would be a rather interesting state of “tension”, when you’re working together with people on one mission, with both knowing there are other missions on which you are in direct opposition. (Science education, for one.)

  • 17 Post-graduate coordinator // Jun 11, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Ah, Hugo. I think we should have a chat again.
    Just think what story I can tell from my perspective!
    (The conversation was not messy, but decent.)

  • 18 Hugo // Jun 11, 2008 at 11:49 am

    I’m not completely sure what exactly I was referring to with “it was messy”, but I think it was mostly with reference to my side, my handling of it. It felt messy. 😉

    As much as I would love to have a chat again, I suspect “Post-graduate coordinator” is possibly an impostor. (Email address given was likely fake. Source IP was the university proxy, can’t tell more from that.)

  • 19 Post-graduate coordinator // Jun 11, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Ek wou nie regtig my email adres op enige website sit nie…

  • 20 Hugo // Jun 11, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    OK… I maintain some skepticism (I know I have funky friends — not sure if I can trust them 😉 ), but I’ll be sending an email to check if this is genuine.

    I’m curious about a number of things, trying to prioritise in my mind. One of the things I found particularly interesting, was the mention of “weird things in student cell groups”, implying that some students took things too far or developed weird ideas, which were not representative of Shofar’s views and/or doctrines. (Now there’s a potential rationale for clause 11 — the authoritarian clause.) I’d love to hear more about such things, and what the leadership does to solve such problems. (Outsiders would still find fault with the doctrines that make people vulnerable to such “weird things” — pointing out that that is one of the problems with authoritarian morality, suggesting people really need to develop the skills to think for themselves.)

  • 21 Broken // Jun 11, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    I have seen this phenomenon first hand. That is, students taking things too far. These things are so absurd that if I mention them here I will be identified (which I don’t want to be duh ). Not only cell groups, but in their lives in general.

    However, Shofar knows this. I have heard many of the “elders” say that most damage done to the church are by new born Christians. That does not take away the fact that in some cases they might be seen as “responsible” for not preparing these people properly. These people completely and utterly loose all sense of reality. They embrace the spirit world with such zeal that they are impossible to get along with.

    Everything becomes spiritual to them. Physical illness, tsunamis, theft; I can go on for days. The only way to be able to get to the point where you can observe the absurdity is by playing along and agreeing with what is being stated. Because, as soon as you disagree you are a heretic end of story.

    This deeply concerns me.

  • 22 Hugo // Jun 11, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    Broken, I would love to have a conversation with you, if you’d let me.

    Much of what I’ve wondered about the religion thing is along that theme. Very much a case of “take it seriously, but not too seriously”. Aka “don’t take it too far”. It is a hard line for someone to draw, because the line seems rather arbitrary?

    (From there the secular humanist’s conviction that belief in the… um… “spiritual” (I use that word differently usually)… is already “going too far”.)

  • 23 Broken // Jun 11, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    That is just it. It is not arbitrary to them. It’s all “written” in the bible. And I am not talking about being spirit filled and praying in tongs, driving out demons or anointing someone. I’m talking about worse made up things which goes, from all angles, along the lines of: If something bad happens to an unbeliever/neutral (like a building because it was not consecrated to God) it is justified because “Insert random scripture here”.
    That’s why I quoted “written” before. I argue: It’s rather difficult to understand what scripture means in the bible in its particular context when you are just ripping it out when facing an argument. Constantly sentences are taken out of context and combined with other sentences to form a conclusion. Since it is written, it is infallible!
    It is with that kind of approach that the new baby spirit filled Christians are completely losing track of even biblical reality. The kicker is, other people around them realize this but do nothing. No one would say a word. The reason for this is I believe is; It is thought that instead of alienating these individuals (because they are crazy) they “agree” with them because most of the time little harm can come of warped reality beliefs. Therefore, no arguments, no thinking, these people make up their own story.
    But harm does come. These people start having trouble coping in society. They can’t watch movies anymore (demonic influences), they can’t watch news (negative), they can’t find themselves among non-believers (prejudice), they cannot hold a job (God is not at the forefront of business decisions which causes rebellion), and the list goes on and on. They start isolating themselves from reality and the world and I believe this can lead to a catastrophic depressive state.
    The other day I was so amused. I watched The Golden Compass. The church rebuked that movie and so I did not go watch it. Then later on when I came to my senses I went to watch it. The irony regarding what the film is about and how the church acted towards it, blew me away. I could not believe that people can be that ignorant (Granted I was too at the time which makes this rather embarrassing). How on earth can they guarantee that their children will never see that movie? On top of that, the damage done by the movie is so much greater to a child who was specifically instructed not watch it. It is that kind of bending of scripture that is messing people up. “Hey the church rebuked this movie… well I rebuke all movies because 99% of movies are ungodly”. Things they make up.

  • 24 Broken // Jun 11, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    Sorry I messed up my paragraphs…

  • 25 Hugo // Jun 11, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    Now this sidetracks the discussion a little. I’m hesitant to ask, because I don’t really want to get stuck into any kind of debate. I’m asking purely in an effort to understand the Shofarian approach.

    What does “Biblical infallibility” mean when interpretation is so fallible? (That’s not the question, that just sets up the context for the rest of this comment.) OK, well, if we wanted to “get at” the supposedly “infallible message”, we’d need to understand the context as best we can, i.e. we’d need good Bible scholarship to get maximum knowledge of context. We’d need good exegetical work… or what about hermeneutics? (An exegesis is the interpretation and understanding of a text on the basis of the text itself. A hermeneutic is a practical application of a certain method or theory of interpretation, often revolving around the contemporary relevance of the text in question. — wikipedia on exegesis.)

    Now the question is, there are different approaches to Bible scholarship/study. In Stellenbosch, there’s the theological faculty of the university, and then there’s Shofar’s own Bible School. In particular, I’ve heard, on multiple occasions, serious doubt or distrust expressed by Shofar or EveryNation members and/or leadership about the theological faculty. Not sure about terminology, but drawing from your comment, they might complain too many theologians are not “spirit filled”? Or that there are “atheists” at the theological faculty? (I’ve heard that relatively recently, and I also recall a Shofarian telling a story about some theology student that actually got “saved”, told in a way to imply “that’s so rare and special when that happens”.)

    In the light of such comments about the theological faculty, and in the light of people ripping things out of context, what is your (or Shofar’s) convictions (not sure how identical those two are?) with regards to what “context” is good and what is not? Is a thorough and rigorous theological training, a degree, at the theological faculty an asset, or a liability, given your particular world-view or approach to the Bible?

    (I suspect you have a relatively conservative approach to scholarship, which typically rejects the findings of higher criticism with respect to e.g. authorship of the books in the Bible? Going back to the origins of the term “fundamentalism”, prior to numerous redefinitions that ended up with a strong negative connotation, the “fundamentalist” stance — from Wikipedia on Fundamentalism:

    The term “fundamentalism” came into existence at the Niagara Bible Conference which defined those things that were fundamental to belief. The term was also used to describe “The Fundamentals”, a collection of twelve books on five subjects published in 1910 by Milton and Lyman Steward[10] [11]

    Fundamentalism as a movement arose in the United States starting among conservative Presbyterian academics and theologians at Princeton Theological Seminary in the first decade of the Twentieth Century[10] [11]. It soon spread to conservatives among the Baptists and other denominations during and immediately following the First World War[10] [11]. The movement’s purpose was to reaffirm orthodox Protestant Christianity and zealously defend it against the challenges of liberal theology, German higher criticism, Darwinism, and other “-isms” which it regarded as harmful to Christianity[10] [11].

    Bold emphasis mine, pointing out the source of my understanding of your views on what context is good and what is not.)

    To summarise my beliefs about Shofar, which calls themselves a “Bible believing” church, the difference between the theological faculty and Shofar’s Bible School is that the former believes the Bible contains human fallibility, as human hands wrote it… while the latter rejects this idea?

    Is that about right? Apologies for the verbosity.

  • 26 Broken // Jun 12, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    That is correct. No worries about the verbosity.

    So how do Shofar get around this infallibility issue. Simple answer: The holy spirit. The holy spirit extracts the correct meaning at the correct time for them. The bible acts as a “medium” through which they hear what God has to say.

    Therefore, the same scripture has unlimited meanings and is always correct because that is what the holy spirit is convicting the reader of. What they fail to notice is that if it is indeed the holy spirit guiding them, why is the church so divided!? Surely the holy spirit should guide everyone to the same set of truths. But its not working. What are the chances that Fred is the only person getting the correct convictions from the holy spirit. And why now. Why not 20 years ago when there weren’t so many Charismatic churches. Does God change his tactics over time? Not according to Shofar bible school.

    This leads to some disturbing thoughts. Christianity can never be proved wrong or ridiculed against. In fact, doing so only makes them stronger in their beliefs. The more attacks a denomination gets from unbelievers the more they read it as “We are on the right path” because the devil is now giving extra attention to them. I personally have heard Fred say this. And it worries me deeply. They are in a sense using immorality as a moral compass. It is completely messed up in my opinion.

    Immorality!? Strong word. Maybe to strong. But you get the idea.

  • 27 Hugo // Jun 12, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    Yea. I’ve heard a Shofarian explain that, if he goes to a new town or city, he will look for the most controversial church, the one that evokes the most criticism from the rest of the population, “because that’s where the holy spirit is”. Yikes…

    The holy spirit extracts the correct meaning at the correct time for them.

    Like you say, “except when they get it wrong…”, when everyone else just “smiles and nods”.

    And Bible study groups in the Dutch-Reformed church, that are also informed by liberal theology and science and “higher criticism”, they also talk about guidance by the holy spirit, but not in the same way as the charismatic churches. The general impression I get from the so called “born again” or “Bible believers”, is one of “we have the spirit, yes we do… we’ve got the spirit, and you don’t…”

    Which might not be an official stance, of course.

    And I wonder about my interpretations then… are my interpretations also inspired by the holy spirit? When my interpretations differ so much from the Shofarian’s? I mean, I do consider myself deconverted from fundamentalism, but I never did chase out the holy spirit. Pastor Sias himself (iirc) “baptised” me in the holy spirit… um… so, who am I to question? That’s an unforgivable sin, isn’t it, if I inadvertently deny that my interpretations of the Bible were not inspired by the holy spirit, if they actually were? So at that point, … ah… I guess it’s all a moot point. I’m just playing word games here. (I guess the problem the typical Shofarian would point to, is that I don’t exactly pray and ask for guidance. I have an intellectual and academic approach to the matter.)

    So… we’d have to agree to disagree and move on. Your world view is yours, and mine is mine, and we can only really speak for our own world views…

  • 28 // Jun 12, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    The irony of my world view is that Christianity is measured by the love we find a place to share with someone who is unable to return that love, because we know we are loved perfectly. The easiest place to find and give that love is to the poorest of the poor.

    My initial argument with Fred May was that God was not interested in demons, he was heartbroken for the poor little children and youth of Stellenbosch.

    I’ve preached it every way I know. I’ve preached it to all the churches of Stellenbosch, and yet those youth are so far from love and know only hunger and despair to a degree that they will attack people fleeing war.

    You quite simply get what you pay for. Hillsong can come to SA, get down on their knees and each personally give old Fred May a Bill Clinton – and the thirty children under the Kayamandi Railway bridge will still sleep in their own little corner of hell that night.

    Why, because Jesus Christ is just some doos whom we can get what we want from. Even in the advertising blurb – He’s your “personal” saviour. And he comes cheap, 10% or 20% if you really raise the bar.

    See, and still not one Fred May Worshipping Shofarian, Every Nation Fuck Every Nation Starting With The Pastor … type cash-paying meme will go under the railway bridge and rescue those children – but folks they will be there in their mascara streaked masses when Hillsong tunes up to put on their lukewarm brand of super-commercial Christian crap. With tasty video and sound bites for marketing.

    Look on their Facebook group, These People or Shofarians …. want to be in Aspen, or Gstaad or St. Moritz with the uber-riche and the media darlings of the world on the ski-slopes. To go under the railway bridge just once, would force them to look at the horrible truth for once, the glaring nauseating truth – and realise everything about the May’s and their “ministry” is a lie.

    Read Matt 18, then read John 21 and watch Jesus do it. Now, buy tickets for Hillsong OR go under the bridge to the children – Personally? I would choose life…

  • 29 Abusing the Story of Job // Jun 30, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    […] I would like to draw some parallels to my own experience towards the end of last month. (The Last Straw Drove the Camel Mad.) I have described that as my “meeting with God”: that is how I describe it if I enter […]

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