Opinionista Siya Khumalo 6 August 2019

The world’s problems are theological

Once someone can pass redistributed political power (sans economic power) off as ‘justice’, he can also pass a ‘negotiated settlement’ off as ‘liberation’. We did this in 1994. As a result, the law and its power exists against black people while justice exists for white people.

Cornell West said justice is “love made public”. I’d add that it’s a power exercised beautifully. But these descriptions are partly quantitative and partly qualitative.

We can predict and measure the quantity of power that changes hands over an election for the National Assembly: one party gains as many seats as another loses them. But the qualitative side — the question of whether the party is using its power well or not — is where the argument lies.

Colonialism first arranged the world and its wealth according to race and sugar-coated its violence by saying such was God’s will. When that was questioned, the God who demanded racism stopped existing (though the economic status quo his racism brought about was hardly reversed): from that day, the rational consumer, the efficient markets, self-determination and free will became the language of economics, and economics was entrusted with achieving the social justice that had been postponed.

But it’s only in a theistic worldview that self-determining consciousness is a fundamental given, and now atheists are saying there’s no free will. Yuval Noah Harari and Dale DeBacksy have written on the need to know and embrace our deterministic natures so as to inoculate us from institutions and governments that seek to control us.

But a) unregulated free-market consumer capitalism presupposes free will and b) any insights we would gain from learning about ourselves would also result from deterministic processes: the eyeball can’t turn around and study itself. I submit the dominant belief of any given day is sponsored by those who stand to gain the most economically from its propagation.

In the near future, this will mean that since people ultimately emerged from accidental causes it’s difficult to account for why their economic contribution deserves remuneration as though it were given deliberatively and deliberately. Can effects which do not come from an ultimately deliberative cause be trusted to deliberately cause anything? If you want to know why the cost of living is increasing, but the average earner’s income isn’t, you need look no further than the effect that this question would leave in the minds of those who are, in effect, the gods of our economy. The next war is the definition of (and the distinction between) artificial intelligence and human intelligence: it’s metaphysical.

It took Jesus 300 years to free his followers from oppression by the Roman Empire; he did it by gaining the moral higher ground and yielding himself to crucifixion at its hands. His followers fought every emperor that came against them “by the power of his blood and the word of their testimony”; they divinised his underdog status. And when the Roman Empire saw it was looking illegitimate next to the sect of the crucified Nazarene, it absorbed the sect the way our old government absorbed the ANC.

In the words of François de La Rochefoucauld, “Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.” If you want actual virtue or justice, then you must admit that as long as it’s about my notion of justice or love conflicting with yours we are just fighting for redistributed power or maximal agreement and calling that justice. Once someone can pass redistributed political power (sans economic power) off as “justice”, he can also pass a “negotiated settlement” off as “liberation”. We did this in 1994. As a result, the law and its power exists against black people while justice exists for white people.

So, who decides what the beautiful exercise of power looks like? The early Christians turned power relations with the Roman Empire on its head by saying the crucified Christ was the supreme demonstration of justice; likewise, the old guard guided the turning of its power relations with the liberation struggle by saying the incarcerated but forgiving Mandela was the supreme demonstration of justice. There isn’t room to go into why the language of power is proper to humans while the language of justice is proper to gods; it must be enough to say that defining justice isn’t the most important game there is, but the only game there is.

If there can be such a thing as lawfare, then the worst assumption black people can make is that the outcome of a legal battle will bring about justice for them. Ramaphosa and Co versus Zuma, Magashule, Mabuza, Mkhwebane and Co may at best deliver a marginal redistribution of power. There are three levels of war running parallel to one another:

  1. A literal war, physical battle: it causes unrest, displacement and chaos;
  2. The level above that is legal warfare: it’s fought in courts, media and party politics; and
  3. The level above that is philosophical or spiritual warfare: whoever defines the terms wins at the lower levels. This is the subtlest level of war.

If you buy into a definition of justice that suits your preferences but isn’t philosophically coherent, you’ll be short-changed. It’s a scam. The only being who can say what justice would look like in the world is the source of the world and all the power delegated to its various agents.

Personally, I choose to trade any other definition of justice in for an opportunity to hijack the theological discussion instead. As I’ve explained in this video, the face-off with powerful conservatives comes from and will eventually come back to that discussion. DM

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex. He is the author of You Have To Be Gay To Know God (Kwela Books, 2018), which won the Desmond Tutu-Gerrit Brand Literary Prize. Follow him on @SKhumalo1987 (insta and twitter), or like his Facebook page With Siya Khumalo.


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