Will he leave his church at the court’s door?
KARL Marx said that religion is the opium of the masses. September 5 was the bluest Monday we have had in postapartheid South Africa.
The appointment of Mogoeng Mogoeng signals the interpretation of religion has the potential to be the opium of our justice system.
We naively believed the majority on the Judicial Service Commission would not vote in his favour and senior members of the ANC might break their silence on his potential appointment.
We believed that the ANC would realise South Africa’s chief justice could not be a person whose philosophy fundamentally contradicts core values of the party and the constitution, regarding homophobia and gender equity.
Our argument has nothing to do with experience. Nelson Mandela had no experience of government; nor did Thabo Mbeki. And that applies to many leading our country and its institutions.
We believe he has the necessary experience to be appointed. However, his interview for the post revealed an ideology that is problematic for our democracy.
Psychologically, we were uncomfortable at the line of questioning about his temper. One of us felt that the question put to him about his temper was patronising and as a psychologist understood his outburst and accepted his apology. And we agree too many white male counsel are being briefed, and that needs to change. So, on a number of issues, we have no problem with his views.
We have issues, as Cosatu has pointed out, about his role in the Bophuthatswana government, but then we have worked with many individuals who, posthomelands and after holding conservative political spaces, have made a meaningful contribution to this country. So, even on that score, we will give him the benefit of the doubt.
However, we wonder how he can use the same biblical text (Romans 13) that was used by the apartheid government to justify the view that citizens have to obey the government because it has been installed by God and we have no doubt he means the Christian God.
He has let the nation and the world know that he has been instructed by the Bible to do and think the way he does. One of us, an atheist with a PhD in psychology and another with a PhD in theology have both been left wondering how to make sense of his arguments, which are psychologically and theologically flawed.
Mogoeng’s ideology is a problem, but equally worrying is that he represents a large number of South Africans of all colours, genders and political backgrounds who in their daily jobs have to be sensitive to gay and lesbian “issues” but on Sundays engage in practices that are homophobic and not in the spirit of the constitution.
So, on a Sunday morning he or individuals with his view will be counselling and trying to “rehabilitate” people who identify as gay and lesbian.
Mogoeng argues that God wants men to marry women and it is not homosexuality that he and his church are against – they are counselling men and women to become heterosexual so that they can partake in “God ordained” heterosexual marriages.
We know his views on the consequences of rape and imagine what his views are on the termination of pregnancy, which is another right women in this country, with ANC support, have fought for.
Are we saying that one needs to have no religious values or beliefs when one is a member of the judiciary?
Of course not, but when such beliefs are at odds with the values of the constitution they need to be interrogated and transformed.
Justice Mogoeng has chosen a particular type of religion to follow – which is not in line with the religion that helped usher in freedom to this country. It is a type that enslaves.
Unfortunately, the radical justice principles espoused by liberation theologians such as Desmond Tutu and Allan Boesak during the apartheid era have been replaced by “leave your brain at the door of the church or place of worship” principles in contemporary South Africa. The principle is foundational to many of the mega-churches that stress a reliance on the spirit and condemn rationality and intellectualism.
Many of these churches supported apartheid and condemned Boesak and Tutu as heretics. Such religious adherents often assert “the Bible says it, I believe it and that settles it”.
Judging by his allegiance to such a church and his flawed arguments on gender justice, it might be safe to conclude that Justice Mogoeng may leave his brain and aspects of the constitution at the door when he goes to church, but he may not leave his church at the door when he sits on the Bench.
For us, it is not only about him leaving his conservative views at the door of the court. What is worrying is that he has these views.
His “biblically inspired” views on homosexuality and the psychological consequences of rape represent the views of many “God-fearing” South Africans.
These views and the behaviour that accompanies them have been tacitly reinforced by a public figure who thinks “just like them”.
As African-American writer Verna Dozier says: “The question to ask is not what you believe, but what difference it makes that you believe?” Ideology has consequences.
Cheryl Potgieter is dean of research and a professor in Psychology at UKZN. Sarojini Nadar is associate professor in and director of the Gender and Religion Programme at UKZN. They recently published articles for an academic journal on the rise of conservative religion and patriarchy in South Africa.