I was asked to give a lecture on the above-mentioned topic at a local film & media college called AFDA in Observatory Cape Town. This is my transcript. It in no way is a reflection of the views of AFDA but I’m making it available as a few of you have asked me for it. Hope it stirs some thought.
I want to introduce a big idea that makes tolerance hard, then chat about tolerance & racial diversity, then tolerance & homosexuality, and maybe leave 5 min for Q&A. 10.10
1.RELATIVISM & TOTALITARIANISM
This my family (I had a picture of my family). We’re super diverse. Sachi is half Japanese. Her mom is full on Japanese. Her mom owns a Samurai sword and often swops her ‘Rs’ & ‘Ls’ which makes talk about the elections very awkward. I’m a thoroughbred Cape Coloured. I like tongue at Christmas and I have family members who could steal the milk out of your coffee. And our son Jude is, well, I’m still working it out. He has a big blond Afro and stormy blue eyes. But I don’t like being left alone with him in public because I’m going to have some old lady stare at me puzzled with that look ‘put that white baby down’.
I know from first-hand experience that along with racial diversity comes plurality – different world-views coexisting & sometimes colliding. Therefore we need tolerance. I’m thankful for pluralism because in Cape Town you can eat Chinese food, Thai food, Sushi even though most times it’s the same Indian guy who makes it all.
But there seems to be a cultural shift from pluralism to relativism – the idea that there is no absolute truth. What’s true for you is true for you; it doesn’t have to be true for me. This way of thinking started to develop after the Second World War, which was really a war against fascism. Hitler, Mussolini and Franco; all totalitarian leaders held the view that everyone must conform to their ideology and they used violence to achieve conformity. This led many philosophers of the 20th century such as Karl Popper to develop the idea that any claim to absolute truth is inherently totalitarian and threatening. Isaiah Berlin who also lived through the atrocities of Nazism argued that the enemy to freedom was monism, the conviction that there is one single belief into which all other beliefs must fit. Culture therefore became critical of anyone who claimed knowledge of absolute truth. Hence pluralism – freedom of religion, speech, etc but this morphed into relativism – a complete rejection of absolute truth. I get it. Pluralism is hard. But is truth the real problem? And is there a middle road between relativism and totalitarianism? Besides you cant have tolerance – that is disagreeing agreeably when everything is relative. Relativism is both/and philosophy. The law of non-contradiction. No absolutes. So there is no need to disagree. And totalitarianism on the other extreme which is either/or. Do this or …. Has no room for tolerance too. Is there a middle way? This has implications for diversity and sexuality.
2.TOLERANCE & DIVERSITY
If you don’t really believe in anything you can’t stand for anything and today we need a youth revolution for racial unity. The map of apartheid is still the map of the Western Cape. People still live in the same places, go to the same schools, hang out in the same class groups. We have been politically desegregated for 21 years but functionally still live segregated. And the ‘youth’ who are doing something, are doing it in such an immature manner that it shames those who dreamt and fought for a new South Africa. G.K. Chesterton speaks of the power of relativism.
The new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never really be a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. . . . As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. . . . The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.
Is this descriptive of our relativist generation, a generation of Millennial who are into controversies for controversies sake and the flavour of the month with no deeply held convictions? You know who wasn’t a relativist? Nelson Mandela:
I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Here we see the third way emerge. He had a conviction of truth but it was wrapped up in grace! I once witnessed Mandela walk into a crowded room on his way to give a public speech. Instead of hurrying to the podium he stopped at the door and proceeded to shake the hand of every single person in the room. Here we see the third way emerge. Mandela won the heart of South Africa through truth & grace. Martin Luther King had a conviction of truth when unscripted Mahalia Jackson shouted from the crowd “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” and from his heart, from deep within his bones he waxed lyrical:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and we will live out the true meaning of its creed: “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”… I have a dream that my four little children will one day be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King
Truth has never been the problem but its been thrown out with the proverbial bathwater. Men & woman changed the world by believing and loving deeply. I can’t speak about tolerance if no one cares; if there is no right and no wrong. Let me tell you what’s wrong.
List Facts About Poverty
- If South Africa was this class then half of you are probably going to bed hungry despite the country producing more than enough food.
- If South Africa was this class then 1 out of every 4 of you are starving.
- If South Africa was this class then richest 10% of South Africans own 75% of its wealth. While 50% own 2.4% of the wealth.
Get Personal – stand up if:
- If your family earned R12000 or more last year. You are in the top 20% of the worlds wealthiest.
- If your family has sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house or apartment and have reasonable means of transportation. Please stand. You are among the top 15% of the worlds wealthiest.
- If you have any money saved, a hobby that requires some equipment or supplies, a variety of clothes in your closet, two cars, and live in your own home, you are in the top 5% of the worlds wealthiest. (everyone was still standing at this point)
There is something wrong with our country and you are the ones who can fix it. Instead of only asking you to speak nicely, I want to envision you. The Biblical vision has no mention of tolerance. Because all monotheistic religions believe in the Imago Die that is that we are made in the image of God and therefore irrespective of how young or old, rich or poor, we are equally valuable. In Genesis 1 God made Adam and Eve and he said they were ‘very good’. In Psalm 139 the Psalmist says I am fearfully and wonderfully made and in Revelation the last book of the Bible the writer has a vision of heaven and he sees “every tribe and every tongue worshiping God”. This means that God so values different cultures that I will retain some of it heaven, my characteristically coloured grammar will be there in heaven – ‘Yous guys! Come check this out; all my teeth is back’.
It’s wrong to just amass wealth when half our country is starving. God cares about every cultural group. People call it capitalism, I tell you it’s wrong. And over the next three years of your life at AFDA will your time and your money be spent on you alone, on having fun only, or will you invest in making a difference in somebody else’s life?! Will you speak and engage in a proud egotistical manner or will you learn from others. Point number 1 in life you will not find ultimate happiness in the things you accumulate but in the people you appreciate. Practice tolerance. Persue truth with grace. Make a difference.
3.TOLERANCE & HOMOSEXUALITY
I’ve spoken to loads of people about social justice and they applaud it, but the underlying scepticism emerges when they say to me; ‘why is that you speak so passionately about racial equality but then discriminate against gay people!?”. And I know that’s the question that many of you have; ‘What is your churches view on homosexuality? And are you truly practicing tolerance in this area?’ So, here are three things that we believe the Bible says about homosexuality.
Christians must not only tolerate & respect people who differ in culture or creed or sexual orientation, but they must love their neighbours. Jesus told a parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10). There’s a man lying beaten by the side of the road the religious people walk by and the person you least expect; a Samaritan; like a taxi driver, stops to help. What’s the point? You’re spirituality is worthless if you cant show love. It was Frederich Niche, the atheist philosopher who said that love & power are inversely proportional. The more power you exert in a relationship the less you love. Jesus tells this story and then he lives out the story by being undressed, tied to a pole, face down and then brutally whipped by Roman Lictors with flagellum whips made from lead balls and shards of glass, that systematically tenderized and ripped his body apart and then he died on a cross literally from a broken heart. At Jubilee we welcome anybody, LGBT whoever you are, straight from the clubs and you will be welcomed. You can belong before you believe because we follow the example of Jesus.
The Gospel pulls the self-righteousness out of a Christians. Because often it’s not what you say about homosexuality but it’s the way you say it. So many gay people have been hurt by Christian’s who don’t get the gospel because of self-righteousness.
A Christian who understand the gospel cannot be intolerant.
Lastly, the plain teaching of the Bible is that marriage consists of one man and one woman providing mutual comfort & love in a complimentary fashion for as long as they are alive. That means no sex before or outside of the husband-wife marriage covenant. So homosexuality along with loads of other heterosexual behaviour is not only a violation of God’s will but of oneself. It’s like the car manual that you get with a new car – it says change the oil every couple of months, don’t drive the car in the red, it’s not busy work its living in the way you were designed to live. It’s being who you are, everyone else is saying ‘be who you want to be within the realms of the law’ but the Bible alone says be true to yourself. So the question really isn’t what does the Bible say about homosexuality, the question is ‘did Jesus raise from the dead?’ If he did, he is God, and he knows you better than you know yourself.
Is this intolerant. No. Tolerance by definition means disagreeing agreeably. Is this another form of totalitarianism? No. Its truth comingled with grace. There’s no coercion into conformity. It’s an invitation to a relationship with a person – Jesus Christ. Pursue tolerance but don’t settle there. Move on to love, humility and the pursuit of truth. And may many of you come to know the unconditional, identity changing love of God that he lavishes freely on any who would believe in Jesus.
 That’s 46% live off R20 a day. That’s 23 million is at risk of hunger.
 That’s 20% live below the food line which is R10/ day and are not able to feed themselves. That’s 10.2 million starving people.