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Character vs Competence

These two skills-to-be-developed have been on my mind of late. Ever since I heard a SITC lecture by Os Guinness in which he mentions that character - referring to a virtuous character, consisting of traits such as honesty, loyalty, patriotism – is considered unimportant by many today who see competence as all that is necessary in leaders.

In posting the ‘Character vs Competency’ thought as my facebook status, the first repsonses questioned whether the two should be considered as opposing concepts, if they do not enhance one another rather?


“Its like the chicken and egg thing! Cant have the one without the other.”

“…why "VS" though? Surely both at the same time is first prize? Are you thinking of the situation where if you can't have both and you are forced to choose only one of the two, which one is most NB?”

“Character first, but competency breeds excellence. A good/strong character will per definition hunger for competence - thus, inseparable if character is put first.”


I presented it as 'vs' as a way of expressing the two traits being considered but also, because there exists this notion that competency is enough, as Guinness pointed out in his lecture.

I tend to agree that character is to be the foundation guiding competency, being the moral foundation from which power is exercised. The All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team, is statistically the most successful elite sports team in any code and revealed some of their secrets to success which seem to support this notion. One of these secrets is the recognition and implementation of a Maori concept known as whanau, which means 'extended family' and is symbolised by the spearhead. “Though a spearhead has three tips, to be effective all of its force must move in one direction. Hence the All Blacks mantra 'No D*******s', a term shamelessly stolen from the Sydney Swans. The All Blacks select on character as well as talent, which means some of New Zealand's most promising players never pull on the black jersey – considered d*******s, their inclusion would be detrimental to the whanau.” Similar conversations are happening around the sacking of Kevin Pietersen, a very competent and experienced English cricketer. Is it because he was not good for the whanau or is it because of reasons currently unknown to the public?

I recently came across a statement by James Madison, fourth President of the United States and chief architect of the U.S. Constitution, saying, “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God”. It could be argued, however, that one of the major contributors to many social ills today is that fact that people demand the right to be autonomous yet are unable to practice self-control; thus, want to be left to freely exercise their will while lacking character.

But which is more attractive to us and why? Character or competence? Not in retrospect but while it is being exercised. Which will make us oversee a lack in the other? Sport is such a useful example, so let’s think clichés like a ‘Tiger Woods’. We very easily forgive bad character as competence overshadows it. And besides, we are interested in his ability to hit a golf ball and display the nerves and concentration to do so consistently and under great pressure. We are not interested in what happens in his bedroom. Are we also not interested in what happens in the bedrooms of Bill Clinton, Jacob Zuma and Francois Hollande, as long as they are competent? But they are leaders in decision-making positions; of course we want to know whether we can trust their character or not; their character trickles down to all the rest of us. Am I busy comparing apples with pears here? Do the character traits of sport stars or entertainers, who are extremely influential culture shapers, not trickle down to the rest of us too?

Do we ever find that incompetence is overshadowed by an excellent character? Perhaps someone like a 'Pierre Spies' (South African rugby player) serves as a good example. He has become an ‘incompetent’ Springbok player over the years but portrays great character (thus far), yet, we do not hesitate condemning him to the ash heaps, simply because he sucks at Duane Vermeulening his way around the field. We miss the fact that the Bulls' season seemed to crash last year when he as their captain got injured, despite the fact that his own performance weren’t worthy to have him re-selected as starting Springbok eighth man. Being a nice guy surely won’t win you any trophies and that's what these guys are paid to do but are we not over-celebrating competence while under-celebrating character? I often see how people I would typically consider ‘(at times childish) troubled individuals’ (or “d*******s” in New Zealand) are hailed for how ‘brilliant’ they are (be they sportsmen, musicians, actors, businessmen etc.) while the mediocre ‘good guys’ are often ‘useless’ or ‘pathetic’ or ‘should be killed’.

Why is this so that competence excuses bad character more easily than the other way around? I suggest: Competence entertains us, character challenges us. The former is often more attractive, less confronting. I used oversimplified examples perhaps but I believe my general point may stand.  Or is it simply a result of our entertainment and consumer culture in which these 'characters' function?


"If you are smart but do not have a strong character, you cannot do much." -Nicolas Chamfort


“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.” –Abraham Lincoln


“It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.”-Mark Twain


On Biblical Slavery - Oliver O'Donovan

From time to time I come across an article, speech or writing  which just has to be shared. Not necessarily reported on or disected, just shared. This is one such article which is filed under the Verbatim section.


I have in the past often come across those who accuse the Bible of “being in favour of”, “propagating” or “accommodating” slavery. It is typically spoken in judgement over the Bible and, in effect, God. It is assumed that we all agree slavery is bad or immoral. The fact that so many modern fundamentalist and/or evangelical Christians lead the fight against the so-called ‘modern day slavery’ (human trafficking) and why they played leading roles in the abolition of slavery in both Britain and the United States, is rarely questioned. Or it is questioned and then simply concluded that Bible-believers adopt ‘non-Christian morals of the day’ at the cost of Biblical moral teaching. Or it is acknowledged and for that very reason perceived as confusing.

We might ask though whether Christians are against ‘slavery’ regardless of what the word entails at any given moment in time, or if they are more likely opposed to the inhumane treatment of fellow human beings?

I believe this section from Oliver O’Donovan’s The Desire of the Nations may serve to be helpful, even if only in an introductory sense:

“The codes in which these two Epistles (Ephesians and Colossians) then address the attitudes of wives to husbands and husbands to wives, of children to parents and parents to children, and, most disconcertingly to modern readers, of slaves to masters and masters to slaves. All have in common an element of hegemony and subordination. The purpose of the catechesis is to defend that order, while stressing three qualifying factors: the mutuality of the duties; the fundamental equality of the persons; and the practical difference that these two factors make to the way the relation is interpreted…”

“It is worth exploring this interpretation further in the case of slavery, since it is commonly said that the church simply settled for compromise with this institution. That underestimates what the church believed it was doing and the concreteness with which it made the claim that the slave called in Christ was Christ’s freedman, and the freedman called in Christ Christ’s slave (1 Corinthians 7:22). The misunderstanding rises in part from the word ‘slave’ itself, which to us denotes a social institution altogether apart from the normal structures of economic organisation and exceptionally oppressive in the terms on which it governs the exchange of labour for livelihood. ‘Slavery’ has existed, for most of the last millennium, only on the fringes of civilisation, as a colonial indulgence or as a sub-political pathology. To the ancient world, on the other hand, it was central to any imaginable economic organisation, providing the only skilled labour-market for the chief unit of production, which was the household business. So the word douleia appears in contexts where we might speak not of ‘slavery’ but of ‘domestic service’, or quite simply of ‘employment’.

What the apostolic church wished to affirm was the possibility of reconceiving the traditional household economic organisation in such a way that its participants stood on a new footing of equality. They were both employees of Christ; they owed Him the conscientious performance of their respective duties. The master had to ensure that the servant received ‘justice and equity’ (Colossians 4:1), and was not entitled to use threats (Ephesians 6:9). The servant had to conceive his service as a benefit he was free to confer upon one to whom he was bound in a covenant of mutual love and trust (1 Timothy 6:2).

It is wrong to think of the church as simply tolerating slavery because it could not abolish it. It believed that Christ had abolished it. The modern conception of what the early church failed to do is dominated by the thought of legal reform; Wilberforce’s battles in the House of Commons become the norm by which the early church is implicitly criticised (and, perhaps, indulgently forgiven). Undoubtedly, the early church had no direct power over the law. But it might have claimed to have taken a more direct route. It knew something about law and liberation from it. With this law, as with all law, the key to freedom was the way in which one understood oneself in Christ. It was the slave-mind which produced unfree behaviour, and Christ had abolished the slave-mind. Slaves who were ‘called’ were now his servants and therefore no one else’s. ‘You must not be slaves to men!’ Paul exclaimed (1 Corinthians 7:21). Did Paul hint to Philemon, it is sometimes asked, that he should free Onesimus? No: because Christ has freed Onesimus without consulting Philemon. Paul makes it clear that he feels under no obligation to send Onesimus back, and does so only that Philemon may be party to the mutual charity which affirms the former slave’s status as a brother. There is no place for punitive measures (18). (Paul’s letter is not as clear as its commentators sometimes are that Onesimus was converted after leaving Philemon’s house. Possibly it should be read as a rebuke to Philemon for having failed to treat his Christian slaves as brothers hitherto.) Did legal status count for nothing with the early church then? Not for absolutely nothing, since Paul is prepared to  recommend to Christian slaves that they take any opportunity that comes their way to change their position (1 Corinthians 7:21). Yet the essential element of freedom is already there. They have been liberated by the call of Christ, and they occupy their economic and social position with an altogether different standing, and as members of a community which affirms their standing. Slaves and free are differentiated in the church only as Jew and Gentile are, or as married and unmarried are; it is a difference of social role without concomitant difference of dignity or freedom. ”


The focus here remains largely on New Testament (more specifically post-resurrection and -ascension) responses and references to slavery while the Old Testament contains references of its own with regards to slavery and the treatment of slaves. A few possible considerations once again: what a ‘slave’ was then compared to our current idea of both ‘slave’ and ‘employee’, how Israel operated among the nations, and in which capacity it was to be governed.


Serv via Oliver O’Donovan


A Tangled Web: Don Jon Highlights Real-life Effects of Internet Porn - Mary Rose Somarriba

From time to time I come across an article, speech or writing  which just has to be shared. Not necessarily reported on or disected, just shared. This is one such article which is filed under the Verbatim section.

The original article which appeared on


Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s new film raises a good question: Does our culture have an unhealthy relationship with porn? Mary Rose Somarriba gives an answer.

“How do you watch that s***?” exclaims Scarlett Johansson in what is possibly the best minute of acting in her career. She’s playing Barbara Sugarman, the flame of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his recent film Don Jon.

Barbara is livid with rage and baffled; she found a string of porn sites in her boyfriend Jon’s browser history. They had a good relationship, she thought. Why did he need to look at other women?

“Everyone looks at porn,” Jon retorts. As he sees it, porn is as American as apple pie. While he may keep it private—the only real person he tells is his priest in the secrecy of confession—porn is a big part of his life, something he needs on a daily basis. Gordon-Levitt’s first written and directed feature film, Don Jon (which sensitive viewers should know is filled with porn clips) raises a good question: Does our culture have an unhealthy relationship with porn? Has it diminished our view of women, relationships, and sex in general?

Don Jon is a bold contribution to a recent trend in entertainment, giving audiences a real—and grim—snapshot of 21st-century relationships. Call it post–Sex and the City realism. There’s the recent film Lovelace, contrasting the exciting story, as we were told it, of Deepthroat star Linda Lovelace, and the completely un-sexy version as it really was. There’s Girls on HBO, known for showing ugly, lifelike sex scenes. There’s Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, managing to make ultra-risqué performances devoid of any sex appeal. It’s as if sex is no longer sexy in pop culture. What was once a warm and alluring mystery is now a cold, anatomical display. If intimacy is dead, porn may have killed it.

Still, many think porn has mostly good effects. Porn helps people express their sexuality, some say. It helps men live the fantasies they can’t with their partners. It’s an escape. It can even add spice to tired relationships, Oprah and Dr. Ruth suggest.

But in reality, porn can make it harder to appreciate real sex. As Pamela Paul documented in her 2006 book Pornified, dozens of men whom she interviewed anonymously revealed, “I used to view porn online, but I began to find it more difficult to stay aroused when having sex with a real woman. . . . Real sex has now lost some of its magic. And that’s sad.”

How Porn Affects Women

That sadness comes through the many laughs of Don Jon. It was sad, for instance, to see the way the men treated women. How Jon and his clubbing buddies constantly sized them up—comparing each to the fantasy women in porn. An all-around attractive girl was a 10, also known as a “dime” (Scarlett Johansson qualified). But most girls fell short of the ideal, so the boys resorted to zeroing in on different body parts. One woman’s breasts were a 4, for instance—hardly worth their time.

Here the film offers a glimpse of reality. In a 2004 Elle/ poll of 15,246 Americans, one in ten men admitted that porn had made him more critical of his partner’s body.

Not surprisingly, many women feel deficient next to porn-star competition. According to Paul’s commissioned nationwide poll conducted by Harris Interactive, six out of ten women “believe pornography affects how men expect them to look and behave.”

Of course porn isn’t the only avenue through which unrealistic expectations of beauty can make women feel inadequate. Major motion pictures, television shows, even commercial advertisements have long employed sex appeal as an effective draw. But the mainstream acceptance of porn has no doubt influenced other media; content once considered too explicit is now regular fare on network television. And, while television networks may deal only in Porn Lite, it’s no less disruptive to our perception of women.

Don Jon captures this well in a family-dinner-table scene. With the large-screen TV playing in the background, a bikini-clad model suddenly steals the conversation. Jon and his father (a cringe-inducing and convincing performance by Tony Danza) are mesmerized by the suggestive ad, while Jon’s mother and sister (Glenne Headly and Brie Larson) avert their eyes and wait for it to be over. Within seconds, the tableside dynamic is shattered—something that could have been avoided with just a click of the TiVo-fast-forward button. But of course the boys are oblivious, both to how the ad affected them and to how it affected their female counterparts.

Later in the film, the television once again serves as the women’s antagonist in a climactic scene. Brie Larson’s character, who thus far hasn’t uttered a single line in the film, opens her mouth to share her feminine intuition about Jon and Barbara’s relationship. But no one can hear her over the television.

This is where Gordon-Levitt gets it. His nearly seamless script reveals remarkable acumen for a man of his generation. He’s done his homework on the porn issue, and he tackles it extremely well. He loosens up the audience with laughs, all the while sprinkling the film with digestible insights.

How Porn Affects Men

Does our culture have an unhealthy relationship with porn? Don Jon’s portrait of a porn user suggests at the very least that we might not be aware of its overall effects.

The Don, for example, never stops to consider the seeming strangeness of his behavior. Why does a man who has no trouble getting attractive women to sleep with him on a regular basis need to sneak out of bed after each encounter to follow it up with porn?

The answer is that porn-using men aren’t exactly feeling fulfilled in bed. In the Elle/ poll, 35 percent of men said real sex with a woman had become less arousing, and 20 percent admitted real sex just couldn’t compare to cybersex anymore. Porn, on the other hand, is exciting more men than ever.

As Gordon-Levitt’s character put it, “I lose myself. . . . Nothing else does it the same way.” Girls in porn will do things real girls won’t. And the shock-value element can be addictive.

Many young men today become porn junkies, making a daily habit of visiting porn sites, hiding it from their partners, and having trouble stopping. Those who try to stop as an exercise in self-control, as Jon does later in the film, often cite feelings of withdrawal and increased difficulty maintaining their resolution if they so much as have Internet access.

Jon’s quirky, middle-aged night-school classmate, played by Julianne Moore, aptly (and rather jarringly) captures the experience of the porn addict after listening to him describe his addiction: “So you like porn better than sex.”

When the imitation of a thing becomes more desirable than the thing itself, what does that mean? To put it lightly, it means that these men have been sold a bill of goods. To put it gravely, it means these men are facing the irrationality that is addiction. Sure, the experience porn offers may feel exciting while it lasts, but it’s often followed by feelings of guilt or disappointment. There’s something unsatisfying about being alone seconds after you just had a woman looking utterly enthralled by you. And there’s something universally depressing about seeing that hours of time have passed on a rewardless activity.

As one man interviewed for Pornified put it, “A man starts to feel like a computer himself when he realizes that he’s dependent on computer images to turn him on.”

Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, described in his best-selling book The Brain That Changes Itself how pornography consumption can rewire men’s brains, restricting their free choice. As he put it, “Those who use [pornography] have no sense of the extent to which their brains are reshaped by it. . . . The addictiveness of Internet pornography is not a metaphor. Not all addictions are to drugs or alcohol. People can be seriously addicted to gambling, even to running. All addicts show a loss of control of the activity, compulsively seek it out despite negative consequences, develop tolerance so that they need higher and higher levels of stimulation for satisfaction, and experience withdrawal if they can’t consummate the addictive act.”

Doidge describes this pattern as a sort of urgent thrill-seeking. “Porn is more exciting than satisfying,” he explains, because of the “pleasure systems in our brains. . . . Porn viewers develop new maps in their brains, based on the photos and videos they see. Because it is a use-it-or-lose-it brain, when we develop a map area, we long to keep it activated.”

For many men, Internet porn is a gateway to strip clubs, escort services, and prostitutes—real, live women who are paid to feign enjoyment and perform acts similar to those in porn. Norma Ramos, head of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, finds this a disturbing trend. “Porn is corrupting male sexuality by moving it in the direction to buy prostituted sex,” she told me in an interview. “Johns are not born, they’re made.”

One man revealed in Pornified that he too developed interests he previously didn’t have, like the day he stumbled on child porn. “It was scary for me because I was turned on and also because it obviously depicted kids who had been abused and tricked.” Another man said, “I would see some young girl in porn and then read a horror story in the newspaper about sex trafficking in Eastern Europe, but I just mentally discarded the connection. . . . I couldn’t let myself feel anything toward these women other than the means to satisfy my desires.”

All of this can further a false sense of what is pleasurable for women. As one sex therapist in Paul’s book explains, “In pornography all a man does is touch a woman and she’s howling in delight in two minutes. If men think this is how real women respond, they’re going to be horrible lovers.”

What Porn Does to Us

In 2009, I attended a conference at Princeton University, sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute and the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. The findings, later compiled in the book The Social Costs of Pornography (2010), include papers from nearly a dozen experts. But the words that have stuck with me most are Roger Scruton’s concluding remarks: “Psychologists and psychotherapists are increasingly encountering the damage done by pornography, not to marriages and relationships only, but to the very capacity to engage in them. . . . This, it seems to me, is the real risk attached to pornography. Those who become addicted to this risk-free form of sex run a risk of another and greater kind. They risk the loss of love, in a world where only love brings happiness.”

And there’s the rub. If porn affects individual men and women, then it affects relationships. It prevents the possibility of an us. Porn sells the idea that you can, literally, put a person on pause, fast-forward through the messiness of human feelings and foibles to the “good parts,” and, when you are through, discard him or her for another. The tragedy, Scruton recognizes, is that while glutting a person’s sexual appetites, porn risks thwarting another human desire: to give love.

This is what is captured in the poignant line from Moore’s character in Don Jon: “If you want to lose yourself, you have to lose yourself in another person. And she has to lose herself in you. It’s a two-way thing.”

This line comes just moments before the most awkward sex scene in the movie. While the rest of the film’s slapstick sex references filled the theater with uproarious laughter and crack-ups, at this moment you could’ve heard a pin drop. It was the kind of encounter that was as special as it was private—the kind that makes you feel as if you shouldn’t be watching, as if it was just for the two of them, as if they are just for each other. Despite the film’s many porn-infused snippets, this one offers something much more powerful: intimacy.

When You’re At the Bottom, the Only Way to Go Is Up

Does the prevalence of porn use among today’s young men mean we’re all doomed to pornified love lives where intimacy is dead? No. If there’s a lesson to the fable of Don Jon, it’s that it’s possible to get beyond this.

Porn is not the only way in which we can poison our relationships—a point that Gordon-Levitt expertly weaves into Don Jon. One could easily add possessiveness and jealousy to the list, or impatience with others’ flaws, or the all-too-common temptation to try to manipulate and change the other to our liking. The popularity of pornography has been fostered, perhaps, in part by a larger cultural tendency toward individualism, a perception that relationships are primarily tools used by an individual on his or her solo journey of self-understanding and satisfaction.

Don Jon responds to the question of pornography not through statistics (although, as we have seen, they’re there) but, ultimately, through a simple assertion, powerfully made through the stories of the characters: Like it or not, authentic relationships are not one-sided. “If you want to lose yourself, you have to lose yourself in another person. And she has to lose herself in you. It’s a two-way thing.”

Mary Rose Somarriba, culture editor of Verily Magazine, is completing a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship on the connections between sex trafficking and pornography.


Darkness can Light not comprehend

George Orwell stated, "In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act." Together with that, I find exposure to those who unashamedly fake their own deception to push various political agendas troubling and difficult to swallow - it lead to this 'scribbling' or 'written revolt' of mine.


Tempted daily to initiate or partake in a fleshly revolt

against the world system and its proponents

but by grace I choose to actively hope in the One

who dismantled powers and principalities, instead;

He who grants a greater wisdom

an incomprehensible peace to my restless heart.

Their mockery fallacies and illusions, His promises sure.


As a lamb 'lead' to the slaughter;

spitting, slapping, mocking He endured.

The Enemy sensing victory, of that he was so sure.

But the Lamb was too crafty, busy conjuring up the cure.

The Enemy had his puppets,

asking for a sign they mockingly carried on.

Death was yet approaching, the Enemy snickering at the expected roasting.

Demolished from the earthly domain, this prudent One back to His Father's house will return.

His creatures despising His holiness, so much better the Enemy's earthly bliss.


But this One so pure, so clean, will soon through Hell's gates stumbling be seen.

For the only sign He's willing to show is that of Jonah.

In death, in decay, in all the world's sin,

He will be clothed in the proper attire

so that into the depths of Hades He may be swallowed in.


The Descent into Hell - TintorettoThis is not right, the Enemy panics.

"Has the Holy One been defeated, or have I just been cheated?!"

The sin, the decay, the whole filthy attire;

it was shed at His feet, exposed who He was.

Light came down into darkness. Darkness could not comprehend. 

A struggle pursued. Hope suddenly renewed.

Darkness revolted and vomited Him out, and even some with Him.

Death was defeated, a mission completed, now at the right hand He's seated.


As did the whale, so too did Hades,

so too now this earth and all creation, so too my flesh.

Darkness can Light not comprehend.


All said should not necessarily be taken as Scripturally accurate, as some of it are mere possibilities of a situation not too clearly communicated or otherwise understood by me at this stage.





Sam, in the Lord of the Rings, upon discovering Gandalf is alive: "Is everything sad going to come un-true?" Timothy Keller suggests the Christian answer in light of Revelation 21 is "Yes".

Related film suggestion: The Second Day by Love Bombs - watch trailer


Abortion - a Courageous Conversation

In his welcoming message, the host of the 'Courageous Conversation: Abortion' event I attended this past Tuesday requested the audience to operate along the value of 'human dignity' when interacting with the various speakers hosted on the night. The 'conversation' was hosted by the Stellenbosch Theology Faculty who aims to operate in a manner which affirms dignity to humans. I cannot confirm exactly what the Theology Department means when using the word 'human' in that phrase but fittingly, our understanding of what a human is will greatly influence our stance on the abortion issue which was about to be discussed. I provide below a summary of the discussion presented at this conversation with some of my own thoughts and questions (in cursive) added along the way. I hope to present what was discussed as accurately as possible and would ask any reader who was present at the event themselves to add or contradict what they feel necessary in the comments section below.


The idea of this conversation, as I understood it, was to put the 'abortion debate' or 'abortion issue' into perspective in order to provide the audience the opportunity to participate in discussions around this matter from a more informed position. ('STUDY LOVE.' image belongs to US Theology Faculty and was used for Courageous Conversation event)


First to share on what he calls 'the three main arguments' found when investigating opinions on abortion, and eventually also his own thoughts on the matter, was Prof. Anton van Niekerk who is chair of the Philosophy Department and Director of the Centre for Applied Ethics at Stellenbosch University. His research is mainly concentrated on the areas of bioethics, the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of the human sciences.


He opened with presenting the audience with a concise summary of how the practise of abortion is dealt with within the South African law. Up to 12 weeks after conception, a woman may request (so-called 'abortion on demand' according to my understanding) the abortion of her foetus and up to 20 weeks she may request an abortion should she be socio-economically impaired due to the birth of a child. Van Niekerk affirms that in effect that means that our law allows 'abortions on demand' up to 20 weeks seeing that socio-economical impairment is the typical outcome of having a baby. He also added that South African doctors are not forced by law to conduct abortions as long as they refer patients to a willing doctor or institution. He then states that he has never personally met a respectable medical practitioner, as he often interacts with them as a medical ethicist, who is willing to conduct abortions. This made me wonder where most women who go for abortions end up and into whose hands they entrust themselves.


He continued discussing what he considers the three main arguments, namely theological, human rights-based, and utilitarian.


The theological argument is the one typically but not exclusively associated with the Abrahamic or monotheistic faiths (although I am unable to confirm the exact stance of Islam on this matter?) which holds to the notion of human dignity or sanctity of human life. Basically, people are sacred beings as they are created in the image of God Almighty, or at least as higher and sacred life forms. From this perspective, abortion is no different to any other act of killing of an individual in a situation other than self-defence or war. Humans are sacred beings and therefore they ought to be treated from a position of reverence towards the God who's image they bear.


The human rights-based stance holds a women's choice and sovereignty over her own body (or that being which resides therein) as the point of departure and only thereafter the rights of any other parties involved are considered. The foetus has no rights in terms of the South African law. I'm not sure on which basis 20 weeks as cut-off date is supported by this stance.


The utilitarian approach took me back to the days I completed a few courses in economics at the university myself as it comes down to the notion that 'the aim is to promote happiness and prevent suffering as far as possible for the most people involved', basically optimisation of human resources in a scenario where all humans are equal while all humans have no intrinsic value other than that ascribed to them by any 'more equal' human in a position of greater power and influence. This view would for instance argue that a baby/foetus/human (choose your own definition) who cannot register pain and thus cannot suffer or experience happiness for that matter may be killed as only the mother (or do they also consider the father, extended family, society as a whole – for it is about the most people involved, remember – in which such practises occur) should be considered when measuring potential suffering and happiness. This view is said to further hold that it ought to be illegal to kill persons but not necessarily so for humans. Thus, whoever is able to ascribe personhood to a human holds that human's dignity, value and fate in his hands. It is for this reason that abortion is often compared to slavery and even Apartheid or the Holocaust, as the stripping of personhood from certain human beings allows persons to legally treat them as lesser beings. When considering the arguments of those who take the human rights-based or pro-choice stance, it is to a large extent intertwined and operating along similar principles than the utilitarian approach. Utilitarians usually define a person as an entity which has developed an interest in its own survival but, adds Prof. Van Niekerk, certain animals have this ability as well, and he mentions higher primates, elephants, and other mammals amongst possible others. Could it be along similar inconsistent reasoning that Spain granted 'human rights' to great apes such as chimps, gorillas and orangutans a few years ago while allowing people to abort their children?


Into play comes the 'potential person' argument which members of the pro-life groups use to argue that even if we kill 'potential persons' (this assumes the utilitarian view is accurate in its definition of persons as opposed to mere humans) we kill actual persons in effect. Apparently, this argument is not very popular (considered weak) among ethicists and philosophers, seeing that they are of the opinion that not all potential things must (or ought to) be developed. Two examples are mentioned: an acorn is a potential oak tree but we ought not fight to see all acorns developed into trees while it is good to fight for the protection of the beautiful oak trees lining the streets of Stellenbosch (which adds to the town's reputation and living standard of its inhabitants); further, if we recognise our child's superb hand-eye co-ordination we ought not develop his ability to become a brilliant pick-pocket.


If ethicists and philosophers truly use this as a counter argument they should perhaps re-evaluate their definition of what a 'weak argument' truly looks like. They immediately operate from the assumption that an acorn and a foetus, or a human and a tree ought to be considered equally – which I guess from a utilitarian perspective is fair, seeing that a human is not necessarily of any more value than a tree, or a piece of rubber for that matter, depending on the purpose and use of that tree or piece of rubber. Secondly, I believe they operate in an inconsistent manner, appealing to moral laws consistent with theological views in using words such as 'ought', 'must', etc. If they are willing to define exact end goals, it would be fine for them to use such words but I would still pose the 'why?' question and expect of them to communicate the broader moral framework within which they believe we are functioning, and with whom the decision of what true and greater happiness and suffering is, lies? They condemn pick-pocketing but on what basis? Also, if pick-pocketing is found to be 'wrong' for whichever reason, can they consistently argue from that basis that it is better not to let a 'potential' human become an 'actual' human person? It is as if they make their argument in a vacuum, not looking at the complete influence their reasoning will have on society while borrowing a moral framework from a position which they oppose to justify what they propose?


After sharing these main three arguments, Prof. van Niekerk continued to share his personal stance. He believes a debate on whether the embryo deserves 'rights' is perhaps redundant or unnecessary but prefer to argue that the embryo ought to be viewed with respect – as it is human in nature. Should all persons be viewed as such or does he too distinguish between mere human entities and actual persons? Do we only respect foetuses as the 'offspring of persons' or are they themselves persons? He believes respecting human life is a mark of and necessary for the maintenance of civilised communities. He does thus acknowledge the way we go about this issue has wider reaching consequences and does not only involve the mother or baby involved, it sets a standard for how we view and treat one another. He states further that he believes human life to be valuable but not absolutely valuable, referring to the example of war and his non-pacifist position, that taking the life of another may at times be a just act, eg. a soldier killing a terrorist or an opposition soldier threatening the lives of others. The institution of the death penalty may be another example? He is in favour of abortion in instances where the mother would otherwise 'probably' die. He did not say so but is it necessary to 'legalise abortion' or is adherence to standard and proper medical practise, which has as its end goal to save endangered lives, not sufficient in itself? He is also open to the idea of aborting in cases where 'congenital defects' are detected in foetuses, more specifically in cases where scientific methods are able to detect it earlier and earlier nowadays. I am unsure whether he mentioned any such disorders in particular but he did mention that there are 'tragic' cases. Tragic for the person-to-be or tragic for those whose responsibility that person will become? Or does he mean any and all such potential disorders, if it is detected at a certain stage that is? He does mention hereafter that abortion on demand ought to be discouraged as strongly as possible and also that he must always remain open to the fact that he might be wrong, expecting then of others to logically convince him of his erroneous ways.


I agree with Prof. Van Niekerk to a great extent but believe his willingness to make the exceptions he does has a high probability of undermining all the grounds on which he does oppose abortion. As already mentioned, as soon as one does legalise the practise of abortion (as opposed to trusting and monitoring current medical practises) under special circumstances, human dignity and the sanctity of life is no longer the point of departure from which one argues. It sets the stage for a culture where those who have reached their potential and developed into persons, decide on behalf of those who haven't what is best for them and how 'livable' their lives could possibly be. The 'healthy' decide on behalf of the 'sick' that it is better not to enter life but to have its life ended. The alternative is a culture which celebrates the weak, where the strong considers it a virtue to serve the weak and to honour their existence. And where and how would we draw the line in deciding who will have a 'tragic' life or not? This notion should also be considered within the broader culture in which outward 'perfection' is worshipped and strived towards as opposed to one celebrating great character. A consumerist culture which desires convenience before self-sacrifice. This proposes a culture where aborting one's potentially 'congenitally disordered' child is considered a compassionate act while footage of a dad or a brother giving themselves for the joy of their congenitally disordered son or brother could be demeaned to a 'good on you for taking that strain on yourself or choosing that road' act.


After Prof. Van Niekerk a psychologist shared on the reality faced by women who find themselves before the decision to abort their babies and the intense emotional ride it is for them and also how they are often condemned rather than supported during this dramatic time of decision-making, followed by another lady from Seasons Pregnancy Centre sharing a bit more on the reality they also encounter on a regular basis. The question asked here is basically, while our national laws do allow the killing of foetuses, how will we deal with those people who see abortion as their most viable option? I believe it is possible and necessary to draw a distinction between valuing human life and opposing all that which demeans it, and dealing respectfully with those pressured or tempted into demeaning it. One can argue against inhumane laws while supporting those who opt to operate within those laws from a place of desperation, and many organisations do assist women in that way. Abortion can be discouraged and argued against while respecting such a mother's decision and valuing her as a human being too. In saying that, I believe as respecters of persons who esteem human dignity we must also acknowledge one another as morally responsible beings and hold one another accountable to act in a moral manner.

I would argue that it is ultimately one's view on personhood and moral responsibility which will determine your stance on this. It is therefore necessary to test the worldviews people operate from when engaging these matters and see if they posses consistency, coherency and logical continuity. To paraphrase philosopher Ravi Zacharias, a good worldview should be able to answer the particular questions surrounding the issues of origin, meaning, morality and destiny of all things, and do so in a consistent, coherent and logical manner. Otherwise we easily find ourselves in the situation of the utilitarians and likewise the humanists who selectively borrow concepts from other worldviews in order to properly answer these four questions. If a worldview is found to be all that, it would be good for those who adhere to it to properly engage the issue through that view.


I have found the biblical worldview to be the most consistent one, which does not need alternative views in order to express itself and answer these fundamental questions. But how then must I, as someone who believes Christ Jesus to be the source of Truth respond to abortion? believe a person is any being which form part of and is the offspring of members of humankind and therefore deserve the right to life. I believe it is wrong to actively take the life of such a person for the mere sake of convenience of another person. I believe I ought to oppose any law which deprives certain humans of their human dignity. I believe that expecting people to act in a responsible manner is ascribing dignity to them. I believe that second to the actual babies aborted, women are more often than not the victims of the practise of abortion and therefore we ought to communicate the dangers of abortion to them and encourage them to choose against this procedure, as we ought to with any other destructive practises people engage in. We ought to offer viable alternatives to abortion to them. We ought to comfort those who choose abortion and suffer from that choice. We ought to oppose cultural behavioural patterns and norms which causes women to end up in a position where they choose abortion above other alternatives. We need to take care of widows and orphans despite the fact that their own foolishness or the wickedness of others may have brought about the desperate position they find themselves in. I believe this view to be consistent with that of the so-called 'abolitionists' who lived in the first to fourth century in the Roman Empire, who were dissidents of their own culture of death where it was legal or normal to abandon unwanted children to the elements, practise infanticide and also herbal and surgical abortions. Christians opposed these practises on the basis that all men were created in the image of God, as they did in the eighteenth and nineteenth century when the opposition to the human slave trade was opposed primarily from a theological perspective, asking on behalf of the slaves "Am I not a man and a brother?". Am I not a man (a fellow human being made in the image of God?) and a brother (Jesus Christ died for the African just as He did for the European) – thus, the image of God and the incarnation of Christ guided their reasoning.


I am aware that there are non-Christians and non-theists engaging in the fight against abortion as well on the basis of conscience and conviction. I am also aware that many who oppose abortion from the theological perspective do not necessarily oppose root causes which ushers women towards opting for abortion, and that Christians do not readily offer alternatives to abortion to those willing to consider alternatives. That is an inconsistency which does exist in the theological approach.


An initiative I'm involved with which aims to operate along the principles I mentioned above - opposing abortion and assisting women, or being "pro-life and pro-women" as one lady put it - is ProLife Generation which you're welcome to learn more about.



"...Did not He who made me in the womb make him/And the same one fashion us in the womb?..." -Job 31:15


"The Biblical word for justice means "making things right." If all we do is take care if symptoms, we're not making things right." -tweeted by Jim Wallis