Sunday Tribune

Will he leave his church at the court’s door?

ACA­DEMIC Per­spec­tive


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.

 ?? Pic­ture: NEIL BAYNES ?? Mo­go­eng Mo­go­eng… on the way to his in­ter­view for the post of chief jus­tice. There are clear reser­va­tions about his ap­point­ment.
Pic­ture: NEIL BAYNES Mo­go­eng Mo­go­eng… on the way to his in­ter­view for the post of chief jus­tice. There are clear reser­va­tions about his ap­point­ment.
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