Christianity is the enemy of Christianity

The enemy is back. In truth, he never went away. He was lurking in Jacob Zuma’s proud boast that the ANC will rule until Jesus comes. He was gleefully skulking in the shadows of Zuma’s mischievous assertion that people who don’t vote for the ANC are destined to spend eternity in hell. And he was triumphantly parading his smug entitlement when Mogoeng Mogoeng told the Judicial Service Commission that God wanted him to be appointed chief justice.

The enemy is religion, all religions, and in the case of Mogoeng Mogoeng, the specific enemy is Christianity. In his speech to delegates at the Law and Religion conference on May 27, Mogoeng said, “I believe that we can only become a better people if religion could be allowed to influence the laws that govern our daily lives starting with the Constitution of any country.”

Mogoeng would have us believe (and I use that word advisedly) that “the levels of maladministration, crime and corruption, the extremely low levels to which morality has degenerated, the lackadaisical attitude of many government functionaries in the execution of their duties, the dishonesty as well as injustices that have permeated all facets of society, price-fixing and fronting included, would in my view be effectively turned-around significantly, if religion were to be factored into the law-making process.” 

He also tells us that “theft is the semen that breeds fraud and corruption”, which perhaps gives us uncomfortable insight into how his Christianity would conflate issues of sexuality, morality and the law.

Ah, Christianity. The religion that helped bring you, inter alia, slavery, colonialism, apartheid, Rwandan genocide, Ugandan homophobia, and fellating choirboys. To be fair, it’s also the religion that helped bring you the end of slavery, the downfall of apartheid, the ongoing battle against colonialism, priests dying bravely while fighting injustice, countless humanitarian interventions in disaster areas, and, well, choirboys. But this is the problem with Mogoeng’s desire to have religion inform our legal system: which Christianity is going to turn up? Which Islam is going to turn up, the Islam of Boko Haram, or the Islam of Malala Yousafzai? Which Judaism is going to turn up, that of the West Bank Wall, or that of Hannah Arendt?

This is the fundamental problem with trying to infuse the laws of a secular state with the prescriptive moralities of religion: secularism is designed to protect religious freedom, whereas religion is designed to oppress other religions. The worst enemy of Christianity is Christianity, in the same way that Islam’s biggest threat is Islam. These are gross oversimplifications, of course – the great and powerful goodness of religions is that they are designed to always produce the seeds of their own rebirth – but they hold an inherent truth. History, recent and ancient, has shown us again and again that religions always eventually devolve into their worst possible manifestations. In this, they operate almost exactly like other political systems. 

As the chief justice said in his speech: “The law influenced by a dominant faith has at times been adulterated to serve as the tool for the extinction of smaller religions.” He also said, when making his case to have Christianity influence the law (with specific reference, oddly enough, to revenue collection): “I want to believe that other religions also espouse equivalent principles in this and other respects discussed elsewhere in this paper.” The “I want to believe” is, I fear, a warning. If the chief justice has doubts about the equivalence of the morality of various religions, we already have the seeds for conflict in his convergence of religion and law. Whose morality system will win out? 

To paraphrase the usual Christian apologia for homophobia, St Augustine’s much-mangled “Love the sinner but hate the sin”: love the Christian, hate the religion. As a belief system, religion is of course as viable as any other. But if we were to allow religious people to mess with our country’s secular Constitution, we will encourage human rights abuses, corruption, and ultimately the intolerance of religious freedom. Mogoeng would have us believe that, although “the resistance for allowing the legal content to be constantly fertilised by religion is understandable … many could justifiably argue that it is based on a misapprehension of the true nature of religion.” I would argue that it is based on an entirely accurate understanding of the true nature of religion.

When Chief Justice Mogoeng presided over Jacob Zuma’s inauguration last Saturday, did he look at his “What Would Jacob Do?” bracelet and wonder at all how the moral compass of Zuma’s avowed Christianity led us to the excesses of Nkandla? In his conference speech, Mogoeng quoted the book of Romans: “Render to all men their dues, pay taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due and honour to whom honour is due.”  All I can think of is Mark 12:17, “Render to Zuma the things that are Zuma’s, and to the Guptas the things that are the Guptas’s.”

The enemy is back, the enemy of democracy and the enemy of religions. To his credit, Mogoeng has not, to our knowledge, allowed his Christianity to interfere with any of the judgments of the Constitutional Court. This could be because he is a man of high moral fibre, a morality derived in part from the religion he loves. But can he guarantee that all religious people will be as professional if they are freed to impose their belief system on the law? Not even Jesus could guarantee that his own disciples wouldn’t betray him, and one assumes that he had a more encompassing grasp of reality than even our chief justice.

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Chris Roper
Chris Roper

Chris Roper was editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian from July 2013 - July 2015.

Related stories

Hlophe says ‘assassination plot’ is a bid to sully his name

Allegations that Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe planned to assassinate his deputy, Patricia Goliath, are leading to further instability on the Cape bench

Fight over chief justice’s Israel comments grows

Last year South Africa closed its embassy in Jerusalem and Africa For Palestine alleged in its complaint that Mogoeng “expressed, or at least unambiguously implied” that this “political posture” was not right

Review: ‘Ikhaya Likamoya’ by Sethembiso Zulu — Ties that bind us all

Multimedia journalist and healer Sethembiso Zulu’s debut solo show embraces a fierce, raw and broken timelessness that encapsulates what it means to be human

Mogoeng’s Palestine stance calls into question his role at the ConCourt

We can only conclude that he ‘willingly and knowingly lent his personal credibility — and that of his office — to a white-washing of Israeli crimes’

Mogoeng on Israel: Bad faith and ‘impunified disregard’ for international law?

The chief justice needs to publicly account for his comments, by either walking them back or explaining his change of heart on international law and its institutions

Judicial Conduct Committee finds prima facie gross misconduct by Judge Mushtak Parker

The committee says if two complaints against him are found to be true, they are “extremely serious”

Subscribers only

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

Q&A Sessions: ‘I think I was born way before my...

The chief executive of the Estate Agency Affairs Board and the deputy chair of the SABC board, shares her take on retrenchments at the public broadcaster and reveals why she hates horror movies

More top stories

Between dark and light was Maradona

The life of Diego Armando Maradona, who died this week, will always remind us that the smell of shit is as important as the perfume of flowers, writes Niren Tolsi

Public protector’s ‘mistakes’ were made to nail the president, court...

Busisiwe Mkhwebane discarded facts that were inconvenient to her when she investigated the CR17 campaign, Cyril Ramaphosa’s lawyers argued

Student funding scheme gets new chief executive and board

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme has been under administration for two years after its board was dissolved and its boss resigned not even halfway through his term

General Council of the Bar slams Zuma Foundation

Another summons has been served on Jacob Zuma at his Nkandla residence, requiring the former president to appear before the Zondo Commission next year

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…