moral regeneration

I was recently asked my opinion (in lieu of an article for a popular magazine) on the Moral Charter Campaign launched by then Deputy-President Jacob Zuma in 2003. Concerning the Charter Zuma reportedly stated: “other factors, which are not values but which help to encourage good ethical behaviour, are the senses of fear and shame. I believe that as a person, you need to have that fear of something above you, which prevents you from doing something that is wrong. It could be a fear of God or ancestors, fear of authority or the law and fear of other people and how they would react to news of your misconduct”. The question then followed as to how we improve our morals and values in South Africa. My short answer included the following.

First, it seems to me that ‘moral regeneration’ suggests the idea of re-gaining clarity, of rebirth unto good. Fear and shame however, are signifiers of questionable mores vaguely attached to the capriciousness of an animistic worldview. [The point being, that contrary to appearance, Zuma’s argument stems not from Christian morality, but from the values of a worldview with a proven track-record for immorality of the worst kind.] Furthermore, even secular works such as Adam Ashforth’s Witchcraft, Violence, and Democracy in South Africa, have shattered the myth of a country emancipated from its spiritualist past. This same work has equally proven the precariousness of our young democracy in the light of the fear of the spirits—even in a ‘city’ such as Soweto. The question we have to ask ourselves in this instance is; whose morality and what kind of morality are we talking about?

Secondly, the opposing secular argument that moral judgement is made on the basis of human determination is similarly unhelpful. Human determination (alone) has proven itself an equally dubious guide, as world history shows repeatedly. The question remains if we can actually be good without God. The real God that is. A sailor navigates by the stars, not by the ‘light within’ nor the considered opinion of his crew. The idol on the bow has no voice with which to speak. It seems quite clear to me that without God, humanity sets sail on the open ocean without a fixed point. Improvement is a moot point without reference to a standard or an absolute.

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