Thursday 30 April 2015

Judge authorises killing of lawyer... doctors might still be prosecuted

A Pretoria based judge has authorised the "mercy killing" of a Cape Town based lawyer... the lawyer's doctors might still be prosecuted.

The life of a Siamese twin depended upon the killing of their sibling. In Great Britain, the courts were asked to authorise the slaying of the marked out sibling twin. The courts created something never attempted before, in authorising the killing. The judgement set out a judgement without precedent, a judgement that future cases could not reference as a binding authority. This is something the courts attempted, in an authorised, legal murder of a little child, to save the life of an equally little child.

The standing law in South Africa is that if you kill a person out of feelings of mercy to the victim, you are convicted of murder, but are given a minimal sentence.

A Pretoria judge, Hans Fabricus, has authorised the euthanasia of a lawyer, 65 year old Adv. Robin Stransham-Ford, who practices law in Cape Town. The judge attempted something similar to the British court, setting out that each future case must be decided on its merits.

News report that the judgement set out that the doctors would neither be prosecuted nor convicted, nor held civilly liable for their intentional killing of a cancer patient.

Therein lies the problem. It is set out by our system of government that it is the role of the National Prosecuting Authority to decide whether to prosecute. The law furthermore states clearly, through precedent, that euthanasia is still murder, that is to say, no matter your motive, you may not intentionally kill another human being without justification. Cases where people have sought legal advice and acted in accordance with it, while still breaking the law, have found the violator of the law still guilty.

Can a judge authorise a battered wife to kill her husband? Can it authorise a police team to assassinate a kidnapper or criminal? The problem with the judgement authorising the killing of the lawyer, is its shady quality. The real precedent if it comes will occur if the prosecutor decides to prosecute the doctors. Then, the courts will need to decide whether a judge can issue a death warrant by authorising killings which oppose standard law. Further, the facts are not at issue yet, the killing is not yet done, the judge might well have pre-empted an issue, and further his decision could be viewed by courts as merely legal advice, and thus not binding.

One would have expected a Capetonian judge to adjudicate such a matter, of note is that the judge is question is a Pretoria based judge, and yet, he is deciding on the fate of a Capetonian. Perhaps there is also an issue of physical territorial jurisdiction beyond that of basic concepts of jurisdiction. It would take a brave or reckless doctor to be willing to be the test case in this matter. Otherwise, we might find ourselves in a country where any odd member of the judiciary issues authorisation for any number of usually illegal activities, from killings, to burglary, to any number of cases. An attempt to pre-judge or authorise a series of events, certainly may not stand the test of time.

Ultimately the real case is yet to come. It will likely follow on police sirens, and the injection of a green substance resembling Spar Letta Cream Soda.

Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice.

Saturday 4 April 2015

A statue of Rhodes is set to fall, but a history cast in stone, persists...

Statues have a strange effect on the human psyche. Their stone absurdities haunt mankind, or comfort men and women, as though their strange figures still breath, walk and sprint upon the far-flung hinterlands of the mind. The fall of the statue of a somewhat unfortunate dictator, a Mr Saddam Hussein, seemed a perfect signifier of sentiment in Iraq, as the very glorious westerners brought lifelong democracy and eternal salvation with them... That the CIA orchestrated the event in question, was not immediately announced, but subsequently hit page 9 of some newspapers, years later.

Statues make us think. In Europe, the way a statue is crafted can tell you how its namesake died.

In a little mineral based economy at the southern tip of a largely unnoticed little continent called Africa, a statue of a man who died ages ago is causing a bit of a hiccup.

The man in question was the great, and terrible industrial businessman of his time. He acquired abundant wealth, and lived in luxury. Like most wealthy monopolists of his time, his wealth and conditions of life were quite opposed to what his workers and employees could expect from their own second hand cradle and soon to be dug grave. He insisted people wear trousers, which caused great hardship to people who farmed for a living. His egregious must-wear-trousers  scheme gave him cheap labour to extract minerals within the devil's mouth of his mines.

Make no mistake, many of the most essential parts of South African infrastructure exist today because of the man in question. Our economy and business world owe certain amounts of their profits to the business acumen of the ruthless man Rhodes.

He set up the University of Cape Town, and is the namesake of Rhodes University (which in modern times owes more to its name than to any current reputational gap with its competitors).

Rhodesia quickly became Zimbabwe when its colonial rulers were militarily thwarted. South Africa has also taken upon itself to change the names of landmarks, even those which are quite neutral, poetic, and known across the world (or were until their names were changed).

The ancient Egyptians had a poetic curse. Those who were most particularly worthy of infamy, where wiped from the historic record. Their monuments were destroyed, and their name was pencilled over. The most monstrous of people, or the least liked were erased.This approach is distinct from the approach of the Chinese dynasties, which had history rewritten to blacken the names of their predecessors. The approach of that fearless thing, democracy, has been slightly different. Rather than fear the ghosts of yesteryear, an approach has emerged, that seeks to preserve history, both good and evil. History, is a lesson according to such an approach. It is a hard fought knowledge that must be heard, and must be remembered, with tales of caution, and carefulness to study from the ruin of others.

Napoleon might have mercilessly pursued his opponents, but the French would not dismantle his statues or his monuments. Even those who believe him akin to a secular anti-christ, would hardly dare desire to lay ruin to his statues. His monuments, remind them of both his terrible wrath and madness, and of the great feats he achieved in other areas.

Statues make us ask about history, they bring it to life in a way that writing alone will not.

Ghandi, had some very racist things to say about black South Africans, when he was still walking the earth. From his horrendous statements, one might think he believed his fellow human beings to be below the basic dignity of human rights.

We do not remember Ghandi for this reason however. We remember him for his pursuit of peace. We do not tear down his statues, and demand that the world view him by one context only. In fact, we recognise that his views were more a product of his social upbringing at the time, a defect, than something that is connected to his greatness. We view Ghandi as a whole human being, we view the good with acclaim, and we view the bad with sadness.

A poll conducted around the time UCT decided that they would be moving or removing the statue, found that the vast majority of students opposed such a move.

The 'debates' held, involved black African students chanting 'k*ff*r', and shaming white students in general, according to media reports. The white students who attended, shared how ashamed they were to be white, because certain white people had been evil towards black people in the past. Whether race shaming is acceptable if the person doing it is the skin colour, or whether it is still the judgement of a race based on the actions of individuals is another issue entirely. The whole thing started with vandalism of the statue, with a student proudly taking responsibility for dumping human excrement upon the stone-faced image. The students campaigning against the statue placed Nazi swastikas around campus, and did other disruptive things. Beyond the statue, they announced that they wanted more black lecturers, and inevitably less white ones.

An early industrialist, who was expert at business, and lacking in respect for human dignity, has become the centre of a storm. A lynch mob, at odds with the majority of students at UCT, shouting and plastering up offensive symbols, has succeeded in calling for the removal of a statue.

The ANCYL now wants the statue of Paul Kruger to be removed. He too, like Ghandi and like Cecil John Rhodes, was a product of his times. His faults were almost inevitable, given the society he was raised in, in a world that had no concept yet of civil rights. He is also one of the shaping forces which made South Africa what it is today.

Students who want Rhodes University to change its name will succeed in graduating from a university that no one has heard of, rather than from one with a reputation spanning many years, a reputation no longer linked to Cecil John Rhodes, but to academic excellence.

Wiping Cecil John Rhodes from textbooks, and from public spaces, will deny those same students the opportunity to teach their children about what good, and what evil Rhodes did, there will be no reason to ask about him, or his role in shaping South Africa.

Take away the Voortrekker monument, and there is no longer a reason to ask why the Afrikaners fled the cape, or what role rivalry between English and Afrikaans South Africans played in the lead up to Apartheid. The main English language party at the time gained many votes from coloured South Africans, denying them the vote, was a pragmatic move for the Afrikaner nationalists, in their political war against the British. Political opportunism caused what today is called a crime against humanity. Opportunism based on hatred of another culture, born from wars between the four colonist nations that once formed South Africa.

When we finally stop seeing the world in black and white, and instead see people who offer us lessons with their good and ill judgements, perhaps we can be comfortable with history.

Insisting white lecturers be replaced, will only mean that the standard is no longer that the best lecturer gets a job, but rather another criteria, which can then become one of a vast list of criteria. The result is that the students in question are no longer guaranteed the best education they can afford. Instead, they are offered something less, something yet still more befitting their comfort zone.

There are two ways of viewing history: objectively, as that which really has happened, or, subjectively, seeking to destroy the fame and infamy of the long dead, who neither benefit, nor lose any sleep, either way. It is we who lose, when the hard learned, deeply painful lessons of history are erased for the sake of staying within a false comfort zone.

Friday 3 April 2015

Because, heaven doesn't exist... yet... according to the early Christian writings

Ancient writings make a peculiar read. They can subvert our preconceptions, revealing that what we hold to be sacred modern knowledge, is ancient. It can shock the spirit to discover that the ancients believed in a spherical globe of an earth. It can unnerve the inner form, to discover how close the mind of some writers is to the essence of our so-called Western civilization. Augustine's City of God, is often credited as a founding force in our modern world. Virgil's poetry teaches us values such as duty and family, which the ancient Greeks had no concept of.

The early Christian writings are particularly fascinating in their literalism.

The followers of the All Encompassing Church, as early Christians called themselves (even those who disagreed with each other, and formed their own denominations), the 'Catholic' church, to use the modern phrase, which still holds its place even in the creeds of protestant churches... these followers believed in a physical death and a physical resurrection.

The fact Jesus came back from the dead, not as some disembodied spirit, but as a physical creature with real wounds, is definitely of great importance to these early Christians. Roman Catholics even today believe that it is real, living human blood, and human flesh that they eat during communion, the blood and flesh of Jesus as he hung dying upon a tree, a cross as modern language labels the instrument of the death of God.

The dead are only raised, and judged after the death of the universe in the bible. All is destroyed, and human beings are raised and judged. The good inhabit a physical city, with physical bodies, made anew, perfectly made.

The New Jerusalem, Zion, is created after the destruction of everything, and this is where the early Christians believed they would spend eternity, in physical bodies, accompanying their deity.

Heaven, in the sense of the rule of God, of course existed to Christians. Where goodness was on earth, there was heaven. Heaven as a place inhabited by the risen dead however, was a place yet to exist.

In fact, the Catholic church, for centuries has taught that the soul is not separable from the body. It is the blueprint of our body through eternity.

In recent years, as philosophies have changed, these philosophies have influenced religious beliefs also. The idea of an abstract heaven emerges from poetry and philosophy, the concept of saints walking around on clouds, and a hell where the damned are already punished.

These concepts however are modern concepts.

Early Christianity believed in a heaven to come, and in an earth fading away.

The Council of Vienna, in discussing beliefs that the soul was separate from the body, in 1311-1312 stated:

'Moreover, with the approval of the said council, we reject as erroneous and contrary to the truth of the catholic faith every doctrine or proposition rashly asserting that the substance of the rational or intellectual soul is not of itself and essentially the form of the human body, or casting doubt on this matter. In order that all may know the truth of the faith in its purity and all error may be excluded, we define that anyone who presumes henceforth to assert defend or hold stubbornly that the rational or intellectual soul is not the form of the human body of itself and essentially, is to be considered a heretic.' (EWTN | COUNCIL OF VIENNE (1311-1312))
The human mind, is essentially a mix of electricity and the reactions of various chemicals. It can be affected by substances, circumstances, even fatigue. To suggest that the mind and the soul are the same thing would seem highly irregular. The soul, if it is inseparable from the human body, can surely then be the blueprint, the writing in of the plan of God for a person. The Lutherans thought this to be an absolute plan, where we are born good or evil. The Catholics however held that choice must be involved, even if God might know the choice that will be made. To the Catholic, mortal sin damages the soul. If the soul is the blueprint of the person written by God, and sin is disobedience against God, then this makes a deep amount of sense. It links with the idea voiced by Jesus in the Christian gospel, that man does not live by bread alone but by the words of God, and to the idea that opens that famous book in the bible, that through the word God made everything.

It's wrongly, but perhaps not unexpectedly suggested by a reader that I was advocating the advent of soul sleep in my analysis. Such a belief, is not what I was suggesting. An interesting article on the controversy over the idea a few centuries ago, also sets out the Catholic position, as I shall quote it:

'We, with apostolic authority, define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints […] already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment, have been, are and will be with Christ in heaven […] and these souls have seen and see the divine essence with an intuitive vision and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature' (Rorate Caeli | A POPE WHO FELL INTO HERESY, A CHURCH THAT RESISTED: John XXII and the Beatific Vision)

However, Christianity from earliest times has held that the spiritual is not physical. The soul, is spiritual, in the same way that the writing which forms the pages of a book is not a part of the story created by the book, but its governing foundation. Heaven in the sense of the presence of God has, as I was aware before the debate, was widely believed by Christians from the start. However, the sense of a heaven that includes any sort of moving about in a body, must be restricted to a heaven to come, for the soul is spiritual.

Spiritual things, like the rules of the physical universe such as gravity, certainly can interact one with the other, just as mathematical formulae interact in the real world. In this spiritual sense, heaven certainly can be said to exist, even in the early Christian writings, it is the presence of God, into which the spiritual soul is governed, awaiting its body, and the heaven to come.

However the concept of heaven as another dimension, or a present physical place existing just out of view does not correlate with the concept of something being spiritual. Spiritual in the sense carried through centuries relates to that which can neither be touched nor seen. The words which create a novel, the code which runs a computer. The writing of God which creates all things.

The modern sense of heaven however, where an alternative realm exists, or people wonder around the lofty heights cannot be said to exist in analysing the ancient writings. That sort of heaven is only something early Christians expected to come about in the future.

Except in the concept of purgatory, where the soul is said to be readjusted before heaven due to slight deviances from God's plan, after the death of a person, in analysing the beliefs in question, their soul cannot be said to change. It, in that sense, of time being the measurement of before and after in change, cannot be said to interact with the divine writing that is considered the soul. Yes, the soul, if it were said to be exposed to time might interact with it in sequence, but could not be said to be changed by the physical world any longer.

However you define the spiritual heaven early and later Christians believed in, the one pre-dating the establishment of a physical heaven, it does not match the concept of heaven the modern world holds. That concept is a mash up of the ideas of a physical heaven, with a cultural shift that envisages almost another dimension, and elysian fields, a mount Olympus, an Avalon. These ideas are foreign both to the bible, and to the early Christian writings.

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