An Odd Take on Religion

I’ve been incredibly busy of late studying for a huge exam, so do accept my apologies for my silence. My blogging will be picking up again, which will hopefully be a good thing for everyone.

Back to the main point: Our on-campus Christian Fellowship ran a very interesting quiz/poster/stand thing in our campus centre this week. The stand, for want of a better word, was titled, “How much of an atheist are you?” On our campus, which is quite liberal and outwardly a-religious, I find this to be a very novel approach to religion. Instead of asking questions about whether people are Christian, the idea was to look at how much people are opposed to religion. It was interactive, and you had to respond to statements according to how much you agreed with them. The statements were all quite interesting, including ones from Martin Luther King (“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”) and Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion. There were also simple barometers of how people felt about life and spirituality, making it a really interactive experience.

On the whole, it was a thought-provoking experience, which was a very good way for our Christian Fellowship to approach students on campus. Instead of putting students on the defensive, it made it really easy for people to voice their opinion, even if they were rabid atheists. I think it says a lot about our campus that these tactics are quite acceptable: in other, more Christian, places, I don’t know how well the quiz would have been received. What would you do if you saw people asking strangers how much of an atheist they are?

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Politics and “National Interest”

How does one define the “National Interest” for any country? (Does such a thing even exist?) And how does the “National Interest” differ from humanitarian interest? My interest was piqued a while ago by an article in the NYT about how increased regulations regarding proof of citizenship resulted in fewer US citizens receiving Medicaid and other federal benefits. The measures sounds like the result of a wonderful politico-bureaucratic idea: let’s exclude illegal aliens and spend less money by ensuring we don’t give Medicaid to non-US citizens: they must, for some reason, be less deserving. So everybody wins, no?

No: poor people, whether US citizens or not, lose out if they don’t have proper ID. And being a US citizen (which clearly makes some people more worthy than others) helps not a jot if the paperwork isn’t there to prove it.

In this case, it’s fairly clear that humanitarian interest lags way behind the “national interest” touted by politicians. While it’s fairly easy to claim that the moves taken to limit Medicare provision to non-citizens are beneficial to the US, they are not necessarily beneficial to the service’s intended recipients, the poor.

It annoys me no end when political expediency takes precedence over the needs and demands of people. (And it happens all the time at home: I need to be more in touch with news from home before I can comment on it, though.)

Zimbabwe

The situation in Zimbabwe has been deteriorating even further of late, culminating in well-documented state brutality. But the diplomatic “effort” of other countries have yet to make any impression on Mugabe’s rule. I don’t want to say too much, but will rather let the following video, put together by the Sokwanele Civic Action Support Group and first aired on their blog say more than I ever could.

Spread the word. Increase the non-governmental pressure.

Somewhere in Translation

I’ve not posted for a while and I apologise for that: I would prefer to post far more frequently. Of late, however, I’ve been thinking about my posts even more than normal. (I chose “Slow Thoughts” for a reason.) If you would prefer not to deal with postmodern angst, you should probably stop reading now.

The long and the short of my thoughts is that I’ve been contemplating the nature of my posts and the relationship they (and I) have to South Africa. There are two main issues that have been bothering me. The first of these is the tone of my posts. I find I have a very didactic, supercilious tone that implies something like omniscience on my part. (As postmodern readers, you should automatically find a tone like that suspicious. But many of you probably don’t, so I need to try something else.) The second issue is somewhat tied to the first in that my posts claim a closeness to South Africa that isn’t necessarily there. While I love the country, four years in the US has meant that I am not quite as in touch with home as I’d like to be. I’ve found some South African blogs that have highlighted my distance from life in South Africa, and it’s made me question my approach to writing about South Africa.

I am not going to be reactionary, though. I am still going to post about home. Because I’ve come to accept that my voice is (currently) not a voice from the inside. For the time being, it will have to be a voice from the outside, which will have to reflect the distance I do have to South Africa as well as some of the persepctives I’ve gained from being away for so long.

So stay tuned. There will be more to come. (And if you want to read some REAL South African blogs, I recently added a few to my blog-roll. Feel free to peruse them for slightly different perspective on SA.)

Conundrum

I got an email about the BRICK Awards earlier today because I know one of the nominees. The awards are for outstanding individuals making a difference in the world and the twelve recipients of the Brick Awards seem to be making a serious difference. I know that Kimmie Weeks, the guy I know, has been doing amazing work in Liberia and Sierra Leone for years, and I think he fully deserves the award for his efforts. All twelve Brick Award recipients are finalists for the Golden BRICK Award, which involves another $15,000 prize to go towards their causes. I fully support what Kimmie is doing, so I wanted to cast my vote in his favour.

But when I got to the BRICK Awards website, I noticed something that got my hackles up. In order to vote, I needed to have a Yahoo! ID. I do have a Yahoo! ID, but I don’t know how I feel about Yahoo!’s need for voters to log in to their system. I really appreciate their support of the BRICK Awards, but I am not comfortable with the login situation. I can understand their desire to ensure the integrity of the votes they receive, but the true cynic in me sees the possibility that Yahoo! may be using the competition as a means of garnering more users. Once someone has a Yahoo! ID, he/she is in some way bound to Yahoo!. (Of course, he/she may never use it again, he/she will still be a Yahoo! member if he/she doesn’t close or cancel the account.) I can’t say that I think Yahoo! is being unethical or doing anything wrong, but I am definitely made uncomfortable by the necessity of using a Yahoo! ID to validate all votes that are cast.

Am I alone in feeling a bit put off by the situation? Does anyone else have a similar response?