Why I Hate Christmas and Easter (and You Should Too)

Everyone’s writing about Easter, God and religion so here’s my FOMO-inspired contribution.

Don’t misunderstand: I am a bible-thumping Christian. I revere Passover (I don’t call it Easter) and I’m glad Jesus was born. I don’t attach theological significance to Christmas because he wasn’t born on what we now date as December 25.

There are other reasons I hate the commercialisation and commodification of Christian holy days. These reasons go beyond the fact, much discussed on Facebook, that these festivals were stolen, rather non-biblically, from pagan cultures over the centuries. Our church-political decimated peoples on its bloody ascent to cultural supremacy and civil power, and we, the congregants, looked on smugly and said Amen.

If I understand my New Testament correctly, the church was supposed to embody what theologian Greg Boyd has described as “power under,” “power with” or “alongside” others. The group clout to jab at a calendar date and have the lives of Moslems, atheists, Hindus, hipsters and agnostics affected by one religious bloc’s decision power over and the othering of others. It also makes me wonder what role our constitution plays in our day-to-day reality and whether others really have as much right to religious freedom as we tell ourselves they have.

Vast numbers of voters here and in the U.S have a greater expectation that their president will have a pastor than that s/he will have a sound economic plan. I was recently on a PowerFM talk show where I spent the better part of an hour persuading host Thabo Mdluli and co-panellist Pastor Paul Msiza (Baptist World Alliance President) that religion should be kept as far from political discourse as possible. While many theologians have the time and skill to turn social and religious issues’ impact on politics around in their heads, many Christians haven’t and won’t. Secular politicking is not anti-Christian: it is pro-everybody. Religious politicking uses populism to win votes.

Just as political parties become corrupt when they’re guaranteed a huge percentage of votes, religious caucuses tend to trample over the rights of minorities and individuals when enough people have agreed that a religion is the correct one and it’s okay to translate this consensus into political power. They say they will not impose on others but they do, and it is very difficult to check or protest it. I would like to know of one theocracy in which no one suffers as a result of religious and systemic injustice. How do we square such obscene religious power with the vulnerability of the cross or the beauty of the Beatitudes?

Christian triumphalism and privilege have a funny way of desensitising Christians to the oppression suffered by those on the wrong side of the tyranny of the majority. Christ’s self-surrender arose from his commitment to relinquish privilege and show solidarity with the othered. Religious power’s perversion of the cross implicates Christians – #YesAllChristians – in history’s authoritarian systems of religious oppression. It is the nature of groups who gather on the basis of being in the right to put outsiders, questioners and dissenters in the wrong. Again, our cross symbolises being put in the wrong by mobs who believe they are right. Yet we turn around and use that as a symbol of power, and inevitably, of power over others. I think this is an abomination greater than those some of our Christians point out, picket and protest over.

You can be intersectionally oppressed in every way and still participate in an unjust system by virtue of the faith you hold, even if holding the faith doesn’t translate into directly oppressive actions. Even if holding the faith translates into resisting the oppressiveness that has been done in the name of that faith. All Christians have a responsibility to account for the contribution of Christianity to injustice.

It would be convenient for me to split my faith, owning its good and distancing myself from its bad, going to heaven but leaving a trail of hell on earth. None of us gets to clock out of being labelled an oppressor until that oppression is done with; until a critical mass of Christians have pushed the system past its tipping point. And there is no wokeness without interrogating the role Christianity has played in shaping the world we have today.

Under article subtitle “The Links Between Christianity and Other Forms of Privilege,” Jewish feminist Ellen Kate writes that “Christian privilege has a lot in common with its bedfellows: white privilege, cis/hetero-privilege, and male privilege.”

But of course it does. If God is a heterosexual white man, then straight white men are at the top of the totem pole. When I bought a bible, I gave money to a group of people who unknowingly champion oppressive beliefs, and I am responsible for giving them that support. If this sounds like a form of conscious Stockholm Syndrome, it probably is.

“Like members of these groups, Christians don’t really have to think about their environment because, for them, that environment generally caters and conforms to their needs and practices. A Christian can casually mention going to church or celebrating a holiday without considering how others might respond. Conversely, they can make a disparaging remark about their faith without worrying that doing so will either make them seem strange or will reflect badly on their religion as a whole.”

Many fellow Christians say I shouldn’t highlight the church’s dirty laundry because it gives nonbelievers ammunition against Christianity. But my conscience says to air out the dirty laundry before our blind eye to it is used as ammunition. It is a grossly unchristian order of things that has led to this world in which “Christians can feel safe in their space” at the expense of other people’s access to that space. Kate goes on to say that, “much like members of other privileged groups, many Christians don’t want to acknowledge their privilege and go so far as to bristle when it is pointed out.”

Austin Cline, atheism.about.com’s Agnosticism and Atheism Expert, adds that, “Members of privileged groups don’t have to think about their environment because, for them, that environment simply is. They don’t have to be concerned about others’ opinions because it’s safe to assume that most think like them.

“Those who don’t benefit from such an environment do have to think about it all the time because they are so susceptible to being harmed by it. For members of less privileged groups, what others think matters a great deal because their opinions and actions control access to the larger benefits of society.

“Fish don’t have to think about the water; mammals must remain conscious of it at all times lest they drown. In most of the examples here, we can replace Christian/religion with male/gender or white/race and come up with the same results: examples of how our social, political, and cultural environment reinforce the dominance of one group over others. Male privilege and white privilege are closely related to Christian privilege because they have all been undermined by modernity and have all become part of America’s Culture Wars.

“Christians realize that many of the above privileges are in decline. They interpret this as persecution because privilege is all they have ever known. The same is true when men complain about the decline of male privilege and whites complain about the decline of white privilege. The defense of privilege is a defense of dominance and discrimination, but for those who benefit it’s a defense of their traditional way of life. They need to become conscious of their privileges and realize that in a free society, such privileges are inappropriate.”

If we are to break harmful hegemonies, we need to come to grips with the role religion has played in bringing us the slave-trade, institutionalised racism and sexism, colonialism and apartheid. There is no dismantling of unfair, harmful privilege (male, white, straight, CIS, able-bodied) without dismantling the ideology and thought system used to rationalise the irrational. Christendom as we have it in this country still does funny things – we have congregants being convinced to drink petrol and eat snakes. Some of those congregants can then easily be persuaded to harm other people. This is considerable power and yes, it is leveraged by politicians because whether you are there to listen or not, pulpits are platforms.

When 7de Laan introduced an interracial romance storyline, there was a furore. One of my Facebook friends shared this gem of a comment:

“The WHOLE ENTIRE BIBLE teaches us to NOT mix our seed. From Genesis right through Revelations. If you don’t see it you are NOT reading your Bible correctly…”

For me, though, the greatest argument against cultural Christianity can be derived from the bible. When we have religions that have justified systems that “oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts” (Amos 5:12), scripture says of our public holidays and assumed religious correctness:

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (21 – 24).

When religious teachings are oppressive, even churches’ social justice programs won’t mitigate against the damage.

“When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer,I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!” (Is. 5:12 – 16).

There is no dismantling prejudice without de-privileging the Christian ideologies that Trojan-horsed them in. I have written a book that gives one perspective on how this would work. Keep an eye out for it.

Thank you

Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex; he has also written a book (#TheUnveiledFacesProject coming soon).

Please share and follow @SKhumalo1987

Contact on SKhumalo1987@gmail.com

Why ANC is Unlikely to Recall Zuma Now

Thabo Mbeki was sincerely flawed — but he was sincere.  His deliberate sins were few, obscure, and (to many people) forgivable.  Withdrawing him was ANC’s admission that his attitudes on HIV/Aids and many other issues were a deadly error in judgment, but not malicious or motivated by greed.

Not so with Jacob Zuma.  Recalling him in the midst of so much pressure to do so would be an admission that the ANC stood behind a deliberate sabotaging of government.  They could recall Zuma quietly if there weren’t pressure to do so from society and opposition parties.  They can’t be forced to recall him as long as they have the voters’ consent to keep him.  All the pressure will do is make them dig their heels in and gather ranks around him more fervently.

It would take a proper, physical upheaval — a coup — to get Zuma removed.  Anything between dead silence and physical action will be a waste of time; worse, it will make ANC dig their heels in deeper; it will push the intended result away.  A protest could have removed a Mbeki but won’t work with a Zuma.  They’re wildly different in strength and in error.

When the ANC does recall Jacob Zuma, it will find a distraction for everyone to focus on.  While that trends, they’ll take steps to secure amnesty for Zuma and those he worked with so the whole party doesn’t burn with them.  They’ll methodically take his office apart, get a few foreign governments in on it to make it look like a planned change.  They will then manoeuvre someone else in Zuma’s place.  Alternatively, they’ll make him more of a toothless president than he’s already become and run the country from Luthuli House behind Union Building’s back.  Either way, they’ll regain control of the narrative and secure what little is left of their legacy.

Because that’s what they do: they control the narrative.  They don’t do it on social media but on the streets.  ANC-voting chanters and the toi-toiers are the final authority in this country; that they don’t know how to use it is doesn’t change that they have ultimate power.  ANC could sell the story to their constituency that they’ve been presented with uncontestable evidence that Zuma is bad, and that it was the ANC that immediately did the right thing and purged him out of the presidential office.  And that everyone else was running around in racist circles trying to prove something that wasn’t there.

The recent focus on racism served to give ANC common ground on which to stay in touch with their voters.  Am I saying racism isn’t real?  I’m saying the ANC doesn’t play all its cards at once.  It will sit there, watching racists being racist, bias being bias – in other words, social and mainstream media being social and mainstream media – and then one day when pressure is at its worst, present Zuma to black people as the lamb being martyred by the blatant racism that defines South Africa.

Make no mistake what the narrative has been: Zuma and his ANC have been devotedly trying to manage this racism scourge.  Never mind that it is they who are benefitting from inequality and structural racism.  They’ve done the most to fight these evils even if they’ve also benefitted from those evils themselves.  Forgive us, we are black like you; why are white mistakes forgiven so easily.  They’ll play this game until you don’t know which happened first: Zuma’s badness or Zuma’s blackness.  Because to racists, blackness is badness and that idea filters through and is read back into seemingly innocuous media reports.

As long as social media’s response to mainstream media is peppered (as intended, so white people choose DA over ANC though they’re different-race versions of the same party) with intimations of “we told you they couldn’t govern” and “we told you they would be corrupt and lawless,” the ANC can scream, “racist conspiracy,” “media bias,” “double standards,” and their voters will flock to the polls to defend them as their own.

Nothing has been found to convince ANC voters that they should vote differently.  The Guptas?  What’s that?  A set of islands off of Madagascar?  Nkandla?  He never asked for those upgrades and he’s agreed to pay back that “reasonable portion” everyone keeps talking about but nobody’s worked out, so what’s the problem?  Poverty, unemployment and inequality?  White capital with power to change these things is complaining about them as though they are the ones suffering; who are they trying to fool?  They are just trying to use the situation they benefited from for years to bring about a regime change.  And spy tapes?  Right to privacy, nobody is perfect, please.  700+ corruption charges?  Racist white counterrevolutionary tendencies.

Deflect, deflect, deflect.  Deny, deny, deny.

A week or so ago, Simon Lincoln Reader wrote a piece titled, “The day London saw through Jacob Zuma” in which he pointed out all the ways British economists and politicians had not been fooled by Jacob Zuma’s tactics.  “Zuma spoke like someone convinced that, whatever he was, whatever he had done or was going to do, the British had already done far worse,” Reader said.

But hadn’t they?

Having discredited Zuma’s many tactics, Reader did not take the trouble to concede this point.  He did not even dignify it with an attempt at a refutation.  To him, it doesn’t matter whether Britain has violated South Africa more than Zuma or not; it’s only black lives and those don’t matter.  All that matters is the economy and the way Britain sees it.  Why, then, should black people trust social and mainstream media voices on Zuma when those voices (speaking to and for white supremacy) have barely started describing the very evident inequality caused by apartheid, which they benefitted from?

Short version: if you are black, you must protect Jacob Zuma at all costs.

Racial oppression is the biggest reality in black people’s lives.  Racial oppression is something white people hear about and are tired of hearing about.  If they’ve more than heard about it (that is, experienced it) they see those isolated instances as reason enough for black people to stop seeing their experiences as uniquely horrendous and ongoing.  “You’re not especially victimised except in your minds” is the constant message.

If the ANC wants to get rid of Zuma, they will have to drum up a charge that their voters will relate to, and then very regretfully ask him to resign.  Then they’ll be the good guys all over again, continuously fighting for equality and non-racism though benefitting from inequality and structural racism in full view of their voters.

When Reader failed to give Zuma’s point about the British having done worse any credit, he wrote about what he’d probably only heard about.  To a black reader, Reader glossed over what colours and defines a huge part of their life experience.  You tell me whether black people care, then, what London thinks about Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma.  Keeping Zuma would be their way of saying Screw London and their access to South African minerals, resources and labour.  Rather have it stolen by one of our own than them who will turn around and be holier-than-thou.

The EFF is the only party that promises to do now what the ANC has been promising the black majority for the past 104 years – to deliver black people from tangible white supremacy and ongoing apartheid.  The question, then, is who is funding the EFF and what will those funders do once the EFF grows enough to pose a threat to other parties’ caucuses?  For all we know, the EFF could continue to be be bankrolled only on condition that it someday merges with one of the other parties – and it could truly be any of the other parties, economic policy differences be damned.  If racial and racist policies could be swept aside in the 1990s, nothing is sacred; it’s only being sold as sacred.

And that’s why the ANC cannot let the EFF win this battle because if it does, EFF will go on to win the war as completers of the black liberation project.  If Jacob Zuma is recalled, it would be the second time that the ANC’s youth, whether in Julius Malema, now EFF leader, or Ronald Lamola as another Youth League leader, would have confirmed the impression that the ANC is no longer there to liberate black people but benefits, through Zuma and his connections, from the exploitation of the country’s resources.

The ANC could create a distraction; Gwede Mantashe could pick up the phone and tell every news editor to focus on that or kiss state advertising goodbye.  Watch ANN7 and The New Age break it first and the Guptas leaving Saxonwold at their own leisure.  Money always wins; The House always wins.

Alternatively, we the people can focus on something else and give the ANC the space to give Zuma a dignified, peaceful exit.

Or, third option, the people themselves can take on the black-and-everyone-else liberation project, removing government’s supposed monopoly over the task from it.

But the head-on “Zuma Must Go” approach is moralistic grand-standing for opposition parties that will achieve nothing except the opposite of what’s intended.  It will simply continue the game.  The DA will always be there to rescue white people from Zuma and the ANC; the EFF will always be there to complete what the ANC started, and the ANC will always be the party that’s done more than any other to alleviate the inequality it also benefits from.  Whether it is sincere or not, the EFF is the fastest-growing party because it most directly speaks about the issues that visibly, physically make South Africa what it is.  Open your eyes.

If you want Zuma gone, sit back.  Conserve your energies for the time you go to physically remove him from presidency.  Which you will only do if you have nothing left to lose.  You only have nothing left to lose if you have not been benefiting from the status quo.  Which is exactly who the EFF has been speaking to.

But hash-tagging that he must go may simply serve to keep him in place and all these political parties fed and relevant.  It will give the ANC something else to spin and channel and re-narrate.

Have you not had enough of that?

Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex; he has also written a book.

Please share and follow @SKhumalo1987

Contact on SKhumalo1987@gmail.com

For South Africa’s Sake, Please Don’t Say These Words

The government is vulnerable.  The ANC may have to recall its president.  Many South Africans want this, but it seems we can’t get together long enough to make it happen.

Many of us are on the verge of intuitively saying, “It’s time for all races to rise up and unite as South Africans.”

For our country’s sake, I am going to ask that we do not think, post, tweet, retweet or say these words at this time.

This is rather counterintuitive; while the intention behind unity and rainbowism is good, the effect is racial alienation.

Our eventual unity lies in letting go of the lie that we’re united by common causes right now.  While many of our struggles and priorities are the same, and while many people will complain about being categorised or lumped in groups, the general reality is that

  • The black majority is still fighting the effects of apartheid, which the ANC left unresolved to its immediate members’ benefit – though many black people believe the ANC is rescuing them from the apartheid the ANC now benefits from
  • A lot of white people have not fully come to terms with their unfair position in the status quo.  Many support the DA, which many black people perceive as offering to polish the neoliberal status quo (which implies little to no redress for colonial and apartheid losses) instead of overhauling it
  • A lot of coloured people feel like the South African racial discourse is black and white without shades in between, though by their vast support for the DA they have mostly aligned themselves with a side anyway, and
  • Having been away from Durban for some time, I can honestly say the last time I spoke in real life with Indian individuals was probably October last year.  I’d be lying through my keyboard if I claimed to have an inkling what their group priorities are.

There is nothing racist or intellectually lazy, by the way, with generalising about what racial groups are out to get.  Nor is there something necessarily bad with racial groups wanting different things at any given time.  This is normal.  As long as what people want lies within the boundaries of the constitution, it should be fine (not that the constitution is the unquestionable standard of right and wrong*).

We want different people to want what we want because if they do not want it or affirm its rightness, their priorities could make ours look selfish in comparison.

The point is that if we “unite,” all that will happen is that black people will use their political majority to force one political agenda while white people use their greater access to technology, media and money to force a contrary agenda.

In the end, this will benefit white people more than black people because ongoing economic apartheid not only enriches members of the ruling elite, but gives the ANC something to campaign and make promises about.

Trying to make the groups cooperate is pretending that we’re starting on footing that’s more equal than it really is.  If white people are oblivious to where black people are or what they need, it’s because they can’t face the systemically imposed difference between black and white people’s starting points.  To face that would be to face history.  That is why many white individuals insist on being dealt with as individuals.  I think this does more harm than good.  “I am an individual” and “Let’s all unite” whitewash these differences and drown out voices that implicate white people in socio-systemic injustice.

Our reasons for wanting the ANC gone are more diverse than they are similar.  Crushing those differences thwarts the resolve to revolt.  Black people will see a “united” revolution as a step back into a pro-white world.

Regime change needs a shift towards Black Consciousness to work.

As Julius said, for something this big to work in South Africa, it needs to be black-led.

Does this mean we literally and ideologically cannot unite?

I don’t think so.  It does mean being conscious of why someone else would want a regime change, and giving that reason room to breathe without stifling it or denying the justifiability of that stance.

Since #FeesMustFall began, we have seen white students forming “human shields” around black students; we have seen law enforcement treating black bodies and voices with more violence than any others.

The fact that we should be equal before the law doesn’t erase the reality that the colour of your skin comes with baggage; “let’s unite” is an attempt to deal in insurgency with what should have been dealt with in quieter times.

While anticipating racist responses precipitate them in some instances, more often than not racism happens all by itself and is entirely the racist’s fault – even in instances where the person swears up and down that he’s not racist.  In fact, racism is always there because it is systemic; blaming black paranoia does not change that.

To say, “I don’t see colour” often shows that the speaker has been sheltered from racism either by money or by his own race.  A person who cannot see the world as it is has no business trying to change it to what it should be.

If we try to affect a regime change as though racism is not real, then racism will keep getting in the way.

Please let’s pre-empt that problem by not trying to hold hands and sing Kumbaya.

Thank you.

*(The Constitution is the highest law in the land, but it gets interpreted and amended as and when necessary)

Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex; he has also written a book (#TheUnveiledFacesProject coming soon).

Please share and follow @SKhumalo1987

Contact on SKhumalo1987@gmail.com