Guest Column

Faith communities and our moral crisis

2017-04-16 06:03
Faith-based leaders at the funeral of struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada Picture: Lucky Morajane

Faith-based leaders at the funeral of struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada Picture: Lucky Morajane

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Martin Prozesky

Who can doubt that South Africa is in the midst of a worsening moral crisis through the abuse of power, greed and the spreading of lies at senior levels of authority and elsewhere in our society. Who can doubt that people of conscience in every sector of our society need to defeat this creeping cancer once and for all and do it now.

We all want wellbeing and we certainly want it for our children and grandchildren. What must be emphasised is that this natural desire for happy, healthy, safe and fulfilled lives cannot long be had without strong ethical values such as integrity, kindness, justice and honesty. These are not merely “nice to have” – they are absolutely fundamental.

Here are a few examples. A culture of lies and misinformation destroys trust and robs us of the truth we need in order to act wisely and well. That is why we consult our doctors when we suffer from a worrisome medical complaint. We need the diagnosis to give us the truth about what is wrong, so that healing action can follow and restore our wellbeing.

A culture of greed breeds resentment and the anger and opposition of decent people, opening the door to disruptive action and unrest, when we want peace and stability. A culture of injustice where the corrupt go unpunished because necessary prosecutions aren’t done or done properly breeds social discontent which easily turns into unrest, as we already see in the violence against poor service delivery.

Make no mistake, damage to the moral fibre of the nation harms us all, even if in the short term the culprits get away with their wrongdoing.

Religions can be a massive force for good

To defend and strengthen our moral fibre, we need the commitment and active support of our faith communities, even though moral strength and depth are not the exclusive domain of religion. Here is why our religions can be a massive force for good at this time of moral crisis, provided they act and act now.

Together, our Christians, Hindus, Muslims, members of the traditional African religions and all our other faith communities make up the great majority of our population. That means that their votes can be a massive force for good. All of them teach the importance of ethical behaviour involving active concern for others, truthfulness, respect, justice and responsibility, along with the core business of spiritual formation, support and worship.

They have organisational resources, some of them national in scope. They have leaders and ways of communicating with their members. Mostly they share a faith in a God of perfect goodness. Many also have a brave prophetic tradition of speaking truth to power and both demanding and practising high ethical standards themselves, as we saw in people like the incredibly brave women of faith who were and are part of the Black Sash, as well as Albert Luthuli, Mahatma Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, Beyers Naudé, heroic Jewish members of the struggle to defeat apartheid and Islam’s Imtiaz Suleiman of Gift of the Givers.

These important ethical resources must be activated if they are to help us defeat the culture of lies, corruption and abuse of power we see around us. Here is what could be done by people of faith right now. They can demand visible, effective moral leadership against the evils mentioned above of those in authority in their organisations. They can form discussion groups to plan actions of their own with fellow believers. They can create networks of opposition to political evil using their existing membership channels and methods of communication.

Maybe they can even create a United Faith Movement for ethical change, remembering that spiritual leaders were prominent in launching the United Democratic Front against apartheid some 30 years ago, but such a step will call for much greater prophetic leadership by those at the heads of our most prominent religious communities than we are seeing at present. Above all, it must surely be understood that a God of perfect goodness is ill-served by a spiritual ethic that stays indoors when outside the need is critical and worsening.

Professor Prozesky is an ethics writer and trainer based in KwaZulu-Natal, working under the banner of Compass Ethics, and is a former academic

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