Friday, December 6, 2013


'Our great fear is not that we are powerless,
but that we are powerful beyond measure.'
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013).

That great liberator and beacon of light, Nelson Mandela [pictured above, and below centre], whose death is being mourned and life is being celebrated around the world today, is enough evidence for me---not that I needed any more---that people are … basically good.

There’s an inspiring and greatly moving song in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific entitled You've Got to Be Carefully Taught (sometimes referred to as ‘You've Got to Be Taught’ or ‘Carefully Taught’). Here are the lyrics of that song:

You've got to be taught to hate and fear,
You've got to be taught from year to year,
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear,
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

Nelson Mandela said something similar:

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

Yes, you have to learn to hate, and in order to learn to hate, you’ve got to be taught to hate. I reject, in its entirety, the Christian doctrine of original sin, namely, that people are born … totally depraved. Yes, the words ‘total depravity’ belong to Calvinism---even though they are derived from the Augustinian concept of original sin---and not all Christian churches have a Calvinist theology, but even the Roman Catholic Church---which is hardly Calvinist---accepts the doctrine of original sin. (Interestingly, the idea of 'original sin' is not a teaching of Judaism. Jews cannot find the idea in the Hebrew Bible ... because it isn't there.) It’s a monstrous and most silly idea, and it's done a lot of harm over the centuries, and it is an idea that has to be learned, and in order for it to be learned, it has to be taught. You know, almost all, if not all, Christian doctrines depend upon the notion of original sin. The spiel goes like this ... if there were no original sin, then there was no need for Jesus to come into the world in order to die to save us from our sins, etc, etc. No wonder I reject the lot of it---except the ideas of education, changing attitudes and perceptions, and the development of character based on following the teachings of Jesus (and other great way-showers). That’s why I am an inclusive Unitarian minister of religion. I embrace people of all religions and none, provided there is genuine love in their hearts. 

Now, I can hear readers say, 'Ellis-Jones, are you blind to all the evil and suffering in the world? Were not Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and so many others, evil beyond belief?’ Yes, dear readers, they were indeed evil beyond belief, and there are many like them in the world today, but they learned to be evil, and to do evil, because they were taught to be evil. My approach? I remember some words from the Bible, 'Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good' (Rom 12:21). That was also the approach and philosophy of Nelson Mandela. Non-resistance. And non-violent protest. (Yes, he did support armed struggle---against, relevantly, the grossly immoral and sinful apartheid regime (which regime was an appalling and veritable 'crime against humanity')---at times throughout, and perhaps even before, his imprisonment, and perhaps also on occasions thereafter, but only in rare situations where violence was inevitable and overwhelming in its intensity and brutality, in circumstances where governments or other instrumentalities continued to meet peaceful demands with brutal force, and even then only when 'all other forms of resistance were no longer open.')

Nelson Mandela suffered terribly beyond belief, yet he did not turn to hate. Instead, he loved … and forgave those who treated him so wrongly. Yes, he forgave---totally. Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke today described Mandela's philosophy and acts of forgiveness as 'rational forgiveness.' I like that. It's very much consistent with the philosophy of rational humaneness to which I try to adhere. Back to the subject of forgiveness, here's another gem from Mandela: 'Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.' Mandela was truly unique. What a noble, decent, dignified, upright, compassionate, courageous, and inspirational human being! His likes we may never see in our world again. He's irreplaceable.

One Christian minister I loved and admired greatly was the late Dr Norman Vincent Peale [pictured right]. Some say he preached a 'theology of man,' and to a considerable extent he did, although it was always in the context (sometimes more implicit than actually or fully expressed) of a spiritual worldview presided over by God and Jesus whose help was always available to those who humbly sought it and who surrendered to the Divine Will. Even the power to believe was predicated upon the surrender of one's life to God, wrote Peale. Anyway, to the extent that Peale preached a 'theology of man,' it is, in my considered view, the only theology worth preaching. Now, for that, and other, reasons, Dr Peale was, and remains for more than a few, a controversial figure in Christianity---especially for those narrow-minded, blinkered and dogma-bound conservative Christians who have been taught in their homes, schools and churches to hate and fear.

Why mention Norman Vincent Peale in this particular post? Well, it's like this. Dr Peale was once asked if people were inherently good or bad. He replied, 
They are inherently good---the bad reactions aren’t basic. Every human being is a child of God and has more good in him than evil, but circumstances and associates can step up the bad and reduce the good. I’ve got great faith in the essential fairness and decency---you may say goodness---of the human being.’ So do I … and so did the societal and moral transformationist Nelson Mandela. Rest in peace, Madiba.

Yes, you've got to be taught to hate and fear. You've got to be carefully taught.

Postscript. Shock, horror! Today, in Roseville, New South Wales, Australia, not far from where I live, the minister of St Luke's Presbyterian Church, the Rev Cornelius P. J. Nel, an Afrikaner Australian (I assume the latter, the former is beyond doubt), stated in an address to his congregation that, despite all the good that Nelson Mandela did---Mr Nel did mention that---we gloss over the fact that he (Mandela) was a 'convicted terrorist.' OMG! Did I hear you right? You must be kidding. That's like saying Lindy Chamberlain was a 'convicted murderer,' without telling the rest of the story (namely, that, among other things, the poor woman was wrongly convicted). Yes, Rev Nel, Mr Nelson Mandela was indeed convicted of terrorism---assuming, for the moment, that it was a lawful charge and offence, which it certainly wasn't---for his strong opposition to a monstrous crime against humanity (immoral and sinful apartheid) which far too many Afrikaner South Africans (and the Dutch Reformed Church) shamefully, indeed wickedly, supported for far too long a time. (As an aside, it's amazing how many Afrikaners have left their beloved country and come to countries such as Australia---after their country became a democracy. Funny, that ... and quite unique.) Now, back to Mr Mandela, I see his purported 'conviction' as a badge of honour, Mr Nel. Yes, a veritable badge of honour. His conviction was as grossly wrong and false as the horrible, evil apartheid regime as well as the illegitimate, oppressive, brutal and violent white minority government he so rightly, morally and lawfully (yes, lawfully---under international and human rights law) opposed. Thank God Mr Mandela did what he did---and if he was a terrorist then so was George Washington and a hell of a lot of other people we remember and revere. Come, now! As I say, did I hear right? I'm afraid I did. Jeez, you've got to be taught to hate and fear. You've got to be very carefully taught, but it seems to come easier to some than others. Ian Ellis-Jones, Lawyer and Minister of Religion. Sydney, Australia, 8 December, 2013.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.