Thursday, March 21, 2024 #38

 The ‘story’ of women and Gandhi is a complicated and somewhat confusing one. On the one hand, his biographers note that he always included and championed ‘non-violence’ as much more a female approach than a masculine approach. Yet on the other, in despising his own sexuality, and maintaining his own celibacy, keeping the decision secret even from his wife, he had despairing views of the sexuality of women. In a very compelling piece in The Guardian, January 27, 2010, by Michael Connellan, entitled Women suffer from Gandhi’s legacy, Connellan writes:

(Celebrating the anniversary of his death) He was an amazing human being. He led his country to freedom and helped destroy the British Empire. Little wonder India worshipped him, as the Mahatma-‘Great Soul’. In the west he is views as a near-perfect combination of compassion, bravery and wisdom….
But Gandhi was also a puritan and     a misogynist who helped ensure that India remains one of the most sexually repressed nations on earth-and, by and large, a dreadful place to be born female. George Orwell, in his 1949 essay, Reflections on Gandhi, said that ‘saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent.’ If only.

Gandhi despised his own sexual desires, and despised sex in any context except for procreation. He preached that the failure to control carnal urges led to complaints including constipation. He believed that sex was bad for health of an individual, and that sexual freedom would lead Indians to failure as a people. He sought to confine his nation to what Martin Luther called ‘the hell of celibacy’. He took his own celibacy vow unilaterally, without consulting his wife.

Both Gandhi and his hagiographers claimed he viewed women as equal to men, pointing to his inclusion of women in India’s independence struggle. He celebrated non-violent protest as a ‘feminine’ principle, neutralizing the brutality of British rule. But his sexual hang-ups caused him to carry monstrously sexist views. His view of the female body was warped. As accounted by Rita Banerji, in her book, Sex and Power, ‘he believed menstruation was a manifestation of the distortion of a woman’s soul by her sexuality’.

During Gandhi’s time as a dissident in South Africa, he discovered a male youth had been harassing two of his female followers. Gandhi responded by personally cutting the girls’ hair off, to ensure the ‘sinner’s eye’ was ‘sterilised’. Gandhi boasted of the incident in his writings pushing the message to all Indians that women should carry responsibility for sexual attacks upon them. Such a legacy still lingers. In the summer of 2009, colleges in north India reacted to a spate of sexual harassment cases by banning women from wearing jeans, as western-style dress was too ‘provocative’ for the males on campus. Gandhi believed Indian women who were raped last their value as human beings. He argued that fathers could be justified in killing daughters who had been sexually assaulted for the sake of family and community honour. He moderated his views towards the end of his life. But the damage was done and the legacy lingers in every present-day Indian press report of a rape victim who commits suicide out of ‘shame’. Gandhi also waged war against contraceptives labelling Indian women who used them as whores……

In the words of the Indian writer Khushwant Singh, ‘nine-tenths of the violence and unhappiness in this country derives from sexual repression’. Gandhi isn’t singularly to blame for India’s deeply problematic attitudes to sex and female sexuality. But he fought, and succeeded, to ensure the country would never experience sexual freedom while his legend persevered. Gandhi’s genius was to realise the great power of non-violent political revolution. But the violence of his thoughts towards women has contributed to countless honour killings and immeasurable suffering. Remember there is not such thing as a saint.

How are we to confront the obviously divided self, in Gandhi? The legacy of his misogyny, and his obviously sexist perception of women, and his elevation to mythical status among his countrymen, lingers not only over India, but, the same ‘divide’ exists, (it says here) in all of us. Not specifically, of course, but psychically, metaphorically and inescapably.

James Hillman writes of a culture embedded in the throes of literalism, empiricism, nominalism, diagnostics, statistics and the logic and rationalism that support such a perception and the concomitant attitudes, beliefs, and even moral distinctions and discernments that come with that orientation. He urges a poetic basis of mind, in and through which we see ourselves, and others, differently. Pragmatic, realistic, empiricism, while valid for many of the transactions, medical diagnoses, legal framing of both charges and defense arguments, has the ‘down side’ of missing those attributes, character traits, and the ‘essence’ or the sine qua non of what is it to be a human being….to perceive the world, and ourselves, ‘between’ the idealism of non-violence and the terror and abuse of misogyny, for example, offers us another both place from which to perceive, and lens through which to visualize. Connellan’s last sentence above, ‘there are no saints’ has relevance, not only for our perception of Gandhi, but for our orientation to and perception of our own lives and world. It is not that Gandhi must be ‘trashed’ because of his misogyny, although many will seek to accomplish that ‘eradication, but rather than, in a non-violent manner, we can embrace a lens ‘from the middle’ from the ‘in-between’ of our extremes. Hillman’s proposal is that we attempt to tease out mythical figures, voices, gods and/or goddesses whose voices may be playing out in our moments that he dubs, ‘in extremis’….

Not only are there more than ‘two’ Gandhi’s (idealist heroic prophet of non-violence, and deep misogynist) as we can agree; there are also more than two different ‘characterizations of each of us. And yet, for the purposes of perhaps managing, and understanding, and developing coping strategies for wandering through our ‘extremes,’ based on the writing, thinking and reputations of scholars, like Descartes, Aristotle, (and others) we have shared in the propagation of a binary kind of perception, along with the attitudes that accompany that perception and metaphysic. Morally based, as well as logically and rationally based, we have been complicit in neglecting a potentially leavening agent of the imagination. For purposes of attempting to understand, diagnose and then ‘treat’ our various ‘conditions’ and actions, words and behaviours, especially those considered to be ‘strange’ or ‘outside the norm’ we have generally categorized them as ‘legal’ (criminal) or ‘sick (medical). And Hillman is attempting to restore a more nuanced perceptive, through the ‘dig’ into the image of the moment, as the multiple, complex and often hidden meanings/iterations/interpretations/voices that are being enacted. And this process, for Hillman, begins prior to a moral assessment. By placing a psychological perspective at the inception of the ‘moment’ or crisis, even a moment that seems to contain the energies and motives for self-suicide, rather than our immediate intervention to ‘prevent’ or to ‘heal’ or to ‘cure’ or to ‘charge’ or to ‘prosecute,’ Hillman posits that whatever needs to be attended to, heard, listened to, and even embraced, no matter how difficult that process is both for the ‘actor’ and any ‘empathic friend,’ warrants our psychological, profoundly patient, without judgement, presence. Furthermore, as Kierkegaard reminds us, we much live life ‘forward’ and then reflect on it ‘backwards’.  

And rather than immediately searching for a psychiatric/scientific label, or a criminal or miscreant accusation, we pause to ‘hear out’ the deep meaning of the images that are flooding this moment. Revolutionary, yes, especially in an ethos fixated on the empirical, literal evidence! And yet, so many of our ‘knowings’ and diagnoses, and prosecutions are fraught with both contextual fog and intellectual uncertainty. One has to wonder if it is not those ‘fogs’ and ambiguities, and uncertainties that make us so uncomfortable, simply because we sense we are not in control. And yet, we all know, that for every ‘precise’ and detailed diagnosis, or prosecution, there is a compendium of other/unknown/unacknowledeged messages that we are neither taking in to account, nor fully appreciating.

Attempting, through the agency of the poetic imagination, to find some kind of ‘example’ of a similar ‘pattern’ or ‘voice’ among the various mythic voices to which we all have access, from a polytheistic, rather than a monotheistic, lens, offers a more ‘resonant’ if less ‘precise’ appreciation of our moment ‘in extremis’. There is, by the way, no negative implication on a monotheistic religion, if we use a polytheistic lens as a psychological instrument. Imagining multiple voices/figures/gods/goddesses/myths being on stage in moments of our psychic life, does not either negate nor disparage a faith in a single deity.

Nevertheless, while such ideas have an easy and ready application in psychological terms, they pose a serious threat to the ‘way’ we study both history and especially biography. The evidence from documents, from hieroglyphs, from papyrus, and especially from sacred texts, while perhaps read and digested, and exegeted originally by mostly men, themselves acting out a perspective, have come to us as ‘gospel’ depending on the stream of theology and philosophy in which it was originally examined.

Hillman’s ‘images,’ are never either sought or discovered as another ‘absolute’ in the search of another form of psychic tyranny. Indeed, Hillman, through a  a starting point of a ‘soul’  (a way of seeing, and not a thing, or a psychological construct), posits that each ‘soul’ like a poetic ‘heart’ beats and pulses the very meaning and identity of each person, place and thing. And he also posits that images continually emerge and disappear in our imagination, our fantasy, our dreams. ‘Ensouling’ the world, for Hillman, includes observing, addressing, assessing and identifying those mythic voices that fill the ‘ethos’ of our imagination at a particular place and time. Humans, animals, buildings, and the various expectations of commerce, politics, entertainment, talent, and, yes, perception itself, together comprise this ‘ensouling’… in homage to those Platonic ‘ideals’ which have been resurrected by several writers and thinkers since Plato.

Rather, for example, than dividing Gandhi into a mythic hero as the prophet of non-violence, or the goat of heinous misogyny, might we try another approach.

From The, written by Scott McLaughlan, PhD Sociology, on May 21, 2022, we find:

Mahatma Gandhi was a remarkable man. He led a mass movement of Indians to freedom and helped bring down a mighty empire. A self-declared ‘non-violent revolutionary’, Gandhi was a master of political strategy. Yet his politics and philosophy were not without their contradictions. Gandhi was a complex and contradictory character. His relationship with India’s Untouchables was riddles with paradoxes, he was a misogynist and he held undeniably racist views…..Gandhi developed the concept of Satyagrapha, which means ‘holding onto truth,’ to express the practice of fearlessly, buy non-violently, engaging in civil resistance. Even as a young man, Gandhi had a remarkable aptitude for politics. Armed with his method of Satyagraha, he became a formidable activist and organizer…..Though Mahatma Gandhi was a tiny, old and frail man, he had an iron will.  Satyagraha, Gandhi’s form of non-violent civil disobedience, was his most potent weapon…..Gandhi launched the famous Dandi Satyagraha, or ‘salt march,’ on 12 March 1930. The 1882 Salt Act in British India banned Indians from collecting, producing, or selling salt. Indian citizens thus had to pay the high prices dictated by the colonial authorities, or risk punishment/imprisonment. The choice of salt was masterful and the effects of the Dandi Satyagraha were felt all over India. Everyone from the peasantry to the Indian nobility understood the importance of salt in everyday life. Thus, in a political masterstroke, Gandhi set out from his Ashram in Sabarmati with 78 satyagrahis on a 241-mile trek to the Arabian Sea. Thousands joined the march, and on 6th April 1930, Gandhi openly defied the law by collecting a small amount of salt in front of a group of journalists assembled at Dandi Beach. In the end, tens of thousand of Indians joined Gandhi’s lead, and over 60,000 were arrested—including Gandhi himself. (Adopted by Dr, Martin Luther King later),
Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha thus changed the face of protest forever….Mahatma Gandhi famously set out to champion the cause of India’s Untouchables. Et, it would be incorrect to call him a hero of the struggle against caste oppression. Untouchability entails the segregation of people considered to be outside of the caste system. The lowest groups in the system, the Untouchables, or Dalits, are forced into jobs seen as ‘polluting’ to upper-caste Hindus, such as manual scavenging (the manual collection and removal of human waste) and clearing away dead animals. Gandhi explicitly recognized the ‘calculated degradation’ to which upper-caste Hindus had subjected ‘the depressed classes’ for centuries. However, at the same time, he saw the caste system as the divinely mandated social glue of Indian society. For Gandhi, the unity of Hindu society was more important than equality for the Untouchables….At the same time, he was also clear that the duty of the (upper caste) Brahmin was to ‘look after the sanitation of the soul’. On this logic, Gandhi set out to integrate Untouchables further into the Hindy8 fold, and at the same time lock the caste system in place.

Let’s speculate, imaginatively, on another way of writing, speaking and thinking about all of this:

From, in a piece written by Michelle Konstantinovsky, entitled, Dionysus Was the Greek God With a Dual Personality:

‘Dionysus is a complex god,’ Richard P, Martin, Antony and Isabelle Raubitschek professor in classics at Stanford says via email. ‘He had the power to transport his worshippers into ecstasy, and to drive his opponents mad. He seems to come form outside and to invade the consciousness. Of course, that’s probably primarily due to his connection with wine and its effects…from the very first mild and pleasant buzz it gives you the wretched morning-afters when you have too much….’He’s more than a symbol, which implies a kind of bloodless or ever-intellectual pigeonholing; instead, he was a deeply-felt personal and social reality for the ancient Greeks,’; Martin says. ‘He’s associated with joy and terror, at once, which is why he always appeals to artists, philosophers and poets who are interested in the boundaries of consciousness and how emotions work.

Surely, too, in keeping with the mantle of Hillman’s ‘ensouling,’ we can imagine another Greek god having considerable impact on the life of Gandhi. Apollo. From, we read:

Though his original nature is obscure, from the time of Homer onward he was the god of divine distance, who sent or threatened from afar: the god who made men aware of their own guilt and purified them of it; who presided over religious law and the constitutions of cities’ and who communicated with mortals through prophets and oracles his knowledge of the future and the will of his father, Zeus. Even the gods feared him, and only his father and his mother (Leto) could easily endure his presence.

It seems also worth imagining an interior tension of the opposites of ‘puer’ and ‘senex’ in the mirror reflecting Gandhi’s life. In his paper, ‘Senex  and Puer’ reproduced in A Blue Fire, p 239-40, Hillman writes of puer:

(T)he puer attitude displays an aesthetic point of view: the world as beautiful images or as vast scenario. Life becomes literature, an adventure of intellect or science, or of religion or action, but always unreflected and unrelated and therefore unpsychological….The puer in any complex gives I tits drive and drivenness, makes it move too fast, want too much, go too far, not only because of the oral hunger and omnipotence fantasies of the childish, but archetypally because the world can never satisfy the demands of the spirit or match its beauty…..(T)he puer eternus figure is the vision of our own first nature, our primordial golden shadow, our affinity to beauty, our angelic essence as messenger of the divine, as divine message.

Similarly, and in psychic, imaginal counterpoint, we also read, (A Blue Fire, p. 208-9):

Senex is the Latin word for ‘old man.’ We find it still contained within our words senescence, senile, and senator…..Personifications of this principle appear in he holy or old wise man, the powerful father or grandfather, the great kind, ruler, judge, ogre, counselor, elder, priest, hermit, outcast, and cripple. Some emblems are the rock, the old tree, particularly oak, the scythe or sickle, the timepiece and the skull. Longings for superior knowledge, imperturbability, magnanimity, express senex feelings as does intolerance for that which crosses one’s systems and habits. The senex also shows strongly in ideas and feelings about time, the past, and death. Melancholy, anxiety, sadism, paranoia, anality, and obsessive memory ruminations reflect this archetype. Moreover the main God in our culture—omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, seated and bearded, a rule through abstract principle of justice, morality and order, and faith in words yet not given to self-explanation in speech, benevolent but enraged when his will is crossed, removed from the feminine (wifeless) and the sexual aspect of creation, up high with a geometric world of stars and planets in the cold and distant night of numbers—this image depicts a senex god, a god imaged through the senex archetype. The high god of our culture is a senex god; we are created after his image with a consciousness reflecting this structure. One face of our consciousness is inescapably senex. The temperament of the senex is cold, which can also be expressed as distance, Senex consciousness is outside of things, lonely, wandering a consciousness set apart and outcast. Coldness is also cold reality, things just as they are, dry data, unchangeable cold had facts. And coldness is cruel, without the warmth of heart and heat of rage, but slow revenge, torture, exacting tribute, bondage.

These images/voices/figures are not intended as diagnoses, merely images that seem to have been represented in the life of Gandhi. Similarly, we are all, is we consider the implications of archetypal psychology, a flowing ‘melange’ or river of images that flow in and out of our psyche, attempting to ‘relate’ in a world of essentially cardboard cut-outs of the superficial, reductionistic, morally divisive caricatures of our psychological beings. Perhaps, through an elementary, and tentative, and somewhat tenuous attempt to imagine voices in Gandhi’s life, we might better appreciate the many and perhaps even conflicting voices in our own psyche, especially at moments of considerable tension, and confusion, ambiguity and anxiety.

Friday, March 15, 2024 #37

 History traditionally has been both executed and documented by men, from a masculine perspective. Nevertheless, there is another aspect to the history of each man’s biography, that cannot be reduced to those archaic words, ‘help-mate’…the woman or women in his life. March 8, this week, the world celebrated International Women’s Day, and at the risk of being accused of tokenism, this piece is an attempt to identify and to elaborate the significant contribution of women, especially to the lives of Mandela, Gandhi and Tutu. We start with Mandela.

Clearly, the longest and most impacting relationship with a woman in Mandela’s life was with the woman the world knows as Winnie whose full name was Nomzamo Winnifred Madikezela, a graduate in Social Work from the Jan Hofmeyr School of Social Work. And while the relationship began prior to his divorce from Evelyn, his first wife, Mandela writes about their courtship:

I was both courting her and politicizing her. As a student, Winnie had been attracted to the Non-European Unity Movement, for she had a brother who was involved with that party. ….After (their first lunch), I took her for a drive to an area between Johannesburg and Evaton, an open field veld  just past Eldorado Park. We walked on the grass, grass so similar to that of the Transkei where had both been raised. I told her of my hopes and of the difficulties of the Treason Trial*. I knew right there that I wanted to marry her –and I told her so. Her spirit, her passion, her youth, her courage her willfulness---I felt all of these things the moment I first saw her…..The Treason Trial was in its second year and uit put a suffocating weight on our law practice. Mandela and Tambo (Law Firm) was falling apart as we could not be there, and both Oliver (law partner) and I were experiencing grave financial difficulties…..We had gone from a bustling practice that turned people away to one that was begging for clients. I could not even afford to pay the fifty-pound balance still owing on the  plot of land that I had purchased in Umtata, and had to give it up. I explained all this to Winnie. I told her it was more than likely that we would have to live on her small salary as a social worker. Winnie understood and said she was prepared to take the risk and throw her lot in with mine. I never promised her gold and diamonds and I was never able to give them to her. (Mandela, LWTF, p 214-215)

At the wedding reception, Winnie’s father put the relationship into perspective, as the father of the bride:

He took note, as did everyone, that among the uninvited guests at the wedding were a number of security police. He spoke of his love for his daughter, my commitment to the country, and my dangerous career as a politician. When Winnie had first told him of the marriage, he had exclaimed, ‘But you are marrying a jailbird!’ At the wedding, he said he was not optimistic about the future, and that such a marriage, in such difficult times, would be unremittingly tested. He told Winnie she was marrying a man who was already married to the struggle. He bade his daughter good luck and ended his speech by saying, ‘If your man is a wizard, you must become a witch!’ It was his way of saying that you must follow your man on whatever path he takes. (LWTF, p.216)

Mandela writes a kind of confessional, on the days following the wedding:

There was no time or money for a honeymoon, and life quickly settled into a routine dominated by the trial. We woke very early in the morning, usually at about four. Winnie prepared breakfast before I left. I would then take the bus to the trial, or make an early morning visit to my office. As much as possible, afternoons and evenings were spent at my office attempting to keep our practice going and to earn some money. Evenings were often taken up with political work and meetings. The wife of a freedom fighter is often like a widow, even when her husband is not in prison. Though I was on trial for treason, Winnie have me cause for hope. I felt as though I had a new a second chance at life. My love for her gave me added strength for the struggles that lay ahead. (LWTF, p. 217)

Never one to be surprised by the opinions and determination (stubbornness) of another, Mandela recounts Winnie’s response to the proposal to give their daughter, Zenani (‘What have you brought to the world’?) a Xhosa baptism by calling in an inyanga, a tribal healer, to give the baby a traditional herbal bath. But Winnie was adamantly opposed, thinking it unhealthy and outdated, and instead smeared Zenani with olive oil, plastered her little bod with Johnson’s Baby Powder, and filled her stomach with shark oil. (LWTF, p 226)

A similar kind of narrative unfolded when Nelson attempted to teach Winnie how to drive.

Driving, in those days, was a man’s business; very few women, especially African women, were to be seen in the driver’s seat. But Winnie was independent-minded and intent on learning, and it would be useful because I was gone so much of the time and could not drive her places myself. Perhaps I am an impatient teacher or perhaps I had a headstrong pupil, but when I attempted to give Winnie lessons along a relatively flat and quiet Orlando road, we could not seem to shift gears without quarreling, Finally, after she had ignored one too many of my suggestions, I stormed out of the car and walked home. Winnie seemed to do better without my tutelage than with it, for she proceeded to drive around the township on her own for the next hour. By that time, we were ready to make up, and it is a story we subsequently laughed about. (LWTF, p. 226)

Nevertheless, throughout his trials, imprisonments, and detentions, Winnie was always ready to visit, to comfort and to support and sustain her husband, until near the end.

On April 13, 1992, at a press conference in Johannesburg….I announced my separation from my wife. ….I read the following statement.

The relationship between myself and my wife, Comrade Nomzamo Winnie Mandela, has become the subject of much media speculation. I am issuing this statement to clarify the position and in the hope that it will bring an end to further conjecture….Comrade Nomzamo and myself contracted our marriage at a crucial time in the struggle for liberation in our country. Owing to pressures of our shared commitment to the ANC and the struggle to end apartheid, we were unable to enjoy a normal family life. Despite these pressures, our love for each other and our devotion to our marriage grew and intensified…During the two decades I spent on Robben Island she was an indispensable pillar of support and comfort to myself personally…Comrade Nomzamo accepted the onerous burden of raising our children on her own…She endured the persecutions heaped upon her by the Government with exemplary fortitude and never wavered from her commitment to the freedom struggle. Her tenacity reinforced my personal respect, love and growing affection. It also attracted the admiration of the world at large. My love for her remains undiminished…However, in view of the tensions that have arisen owing to differences between ourselves on a number of issues in recent months, we have mutually agreed that a separation would be best for each of us. My action was not prompted by the current allegations begin made against her in the media…Comrade Nomzamo has and can continue to rely of my unstinting support during these trying moments in her life. I shall never regret to life Comrade Nomzamo and I tried to share together. Circumstances beyond our control however dictated it should be otherwise. I part from my wife with no recriminations. I embrace her with all the love and affection I have nursed of her inside and outside prison for the moment I first met her. Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you will appreciate the pain I have gone through. (LWTF, p 599-600)

In the words that following the transcript of his public statement, however, tell a deeper and more personal story:

Perhaps I was blinded to certain things because of the pain I gelt for not being able to fulfill my role as a husband to my wife and a father to my children. But just as I am convinced that my wife’s life while I was in prison was more difficult that mine, my own return was also more difficult for her than it was for me. She married a man who soon left her: that man became a myth; and then that myth returned home and proved to be just a man after all…s I said later at my daughter Zindzi’s wedding, it seems to be the destiny of freedom fighters to have unstable personal lives.  When your life is the struggle, as mine was, there is little room left for family. That has always been my greatest regret, and the most painful aspect of the choice I made. (LWTF, p. 600)

Is it reasonable to conjecture that our public acclaim, achievements and accolades can and will never either erase or even outshine our most profound regrets? Our public lives, however exemplary, honourable, and even admirable to some extent, are always profoundly compromised by those ‘inner’ caves of regret, depression, anxiety and feelings of worthlessness and emptiness. And whether our struggles are political or psychological, those struggles consume the vast proportion of our time, energy and even our identity…whether or not we are conscious of that consumption in the process. Indeed, it may well be a that a paradox of ‘over-achievement’ is a mask that both covers and helps us to avoid, deny and take responsibility for our other ‘responsibilities’.

Especially as men, we are indoctrinated to go away on our ‘adventure’ of discovery. And the ‘hero’ option, irrespective of its specific domain, narrative structure or outcome, comes with the ‘territory’ of being an ambitious, self-respecting and courageous man. Mandela, while his ‘heroic’ story is considered epic, globally, nevertheless bears all the hallmarks of the profound price he paid.

*in 1956, the whole executive of the ANC were arrested, along with some one hundred plus, all of whom were being arrested on charges of high treason and an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the state. LWTF, p. 200


Next, we plan to take a look at the contribution to his life that women made to Gandhi.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024 #36

 To some whose eyes have passed over these spaces lately, it must seem that a kind of idolatry of three men is both the motive for and the result of these scribblings. And while I acknowledge that the kind of story that the lives of these men tell is highly inspiring, and motivating, it is not to idolize nor to fail to note that these men, for all of their honourable traits and continuing global influence, were and remain basically ordinary, and yet uncovered and deployed their best instincts, learnings, mind, body and spirit in the service of their people. And yet, to reduce their lives to ‘altruism’ or even heroic altruism would be such a reduction as to dishonour them and their legacies.

Far from writing a cheque, or holding a protest march, or writing letters to the editor and even editorials themselves, or even joining a religious organization determined to ‘minister’ to the needs of a neighbourhood, or even a town or city, the lives of these men, while continually beset with threats, hatred, criminal charges and time served in both courts and prison, as well as attempting to evade, deceive, confront and ultimately endure in order to dismantle various edifices of oppression, and the reconciliation that needed to follow wrote their own public historic and psychic histories, while they carried the hopes and dreams of their people on their shoulders.   

Indeed, history, supported and sustained by the public dialogue, the media, the education superstructure, and even the professions is contained within a framework of ‘literal,’ ‘empirical’ and formerly agreed-upon data. And while there is a ‘kind of reality and truth’ to the data, such as birthdate, birthplace, income numbers and sources, address, academic degrees or certificates, number of children, number of marriages, titles and ranks, memberships, and other informational evidence of one’s biography, there is another dimension to each of us. None of us can either be summarized or even characterized by a biography. Of course, we look for adjectives, usually from acquaintances, family members, enemies to help us fill in the gaps behind the literal, empirical data. Our medical and legal fraternities depend heavily on the configuration of the lines that connect the dots of our physical ‘condition’ or ‘action’ (depending whether it is a medical diagnosis or a legal defense that is needed).

Churches, too, as well as political parties, attempt to imbue adherents with a set of principles, or perhaps even creeds, to which submission and commitment determine admission and the privileges that accompany membershccip. And while all of these ‘normal’ depictions of an individual are going on, there is another dynamic at play, within the person. It is to depth psychology that we have turned, in looking into ‘souls’ in extreme circumstances where they/we find the suffering and abnormal and fantastic conditions of psyche. Our souls in private to ourselves, in close communion with another, and even in public, exhibit psychopathologies. Each soul at some time or another demonstrates illusions and depressions, overvalued ideas, manic flights and rages, anxieties, compulsions and perversions. Perhaps our psychopathology has an intimate connection with our individuality, so that our fear of being what we really are is partly because we fear the psychopathological aspect of individuality. For we are each peculiar; we have symptoms; we fail, and cannot see why we go wrong or even where, despite high hopes and good intentions. We are unable to set matters right, to understand what is taking place or be understood by those who would try. Our minds, feelings, wills, and behaviors deviate from normal ways. Our insights are important, or none come at all. Our feelings disappear in apathy; we worry and also don’t care. Destruction seeps out of us autonomously and we cannot redeem the broken trusts, hopes, loves….The study of lives and the care of souls means above all a prolonged encounter with what destroys and is destroyed, with what is broken and hurts—that is, with psychopathology. Between the lines of each biography and in the lines of each face we may read a struggle with alcohol, with suicidal despair, with dreadful anxiety, with lascivious sexual obsessions, cruelties at close quarters, secret hallucinations or paranoic spiritualisms. Ageing brings moments of soul, moments of acute psychic pain, and haunting remembrances as memory disintegrates. The night world in which we dream shows the soul split into antagonisms; night after night we are fearful, aggressive, guilty, and failed…These are the actualities—the concrete mess of psychological existence as it is phenomenologically, subjectively, and individually…(James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, pps.55-56)

These observations, without the benefit of clinical assessment and diagnosis, attended the lives of Mandela, Gandhi and Tutu, in various degrees. These men were engaged in an epic struggle to destroy an evil, degrading, racist, bigoted and hateful attitude, and the laws and systems that instilled and sustained it. And the resistance to their efforts proved both their justification and eventually, with its own demise, their modest and complicated achievements. Nevertheless, all these decades later, vestiges of racism, imperialism and the abuse of power persist and seem to be finding new voices to retake their heinous ascendency.

 The self-reflection, prayer, humility, fasting (for Gandhi) and laser honesty of these men,  with their assessment and diagnosis of their personal and the larger circumstances, the purpose of their dedication to liberating their people shines through even in the darkest and most dangerous circumstances. Mandela’s account of his view of deploying a hunger strike, while in prison, provides evidence of his clarity of mind, under extreme duress. Following a food boycott by the warders in Robben Island, who demanded better food and improved living conditions, after prisoners in ‘F’ and ‘G’ sections had been on a hunger strike, Mandela’ section followed the next day. However, in Mandela’s own words:

For me, hunger strikes were altogether too passive. We who were already suffering were threatening our health, even courting death. I have always favored a more active, militant style of protest such as work-strikes, go-slow strikes, or refusing to clear up; actions that punished the authorities, not ourselves. They wanted gravel and we produced no gravel. They wanted the prison yard clean and it was untidy. This kind of behavior distressed and exasperated them, where I think they secretly enjoyed watching us go hungry. …But when it came to a decision, I was often outvoted. My colleagues even jokingly accused me of not wanting to miss a meal. The proponents of hunger strikes argued that it was a traditionally accepted form of protest that had been waged all over the world by such prominent leaders as Mahatma Gandhi. Once the decision was taken, however, I would support it as wholeheartedly as any of its advocates. In fact, during the strikes I was often in the position of remonstrating with some of my more wayward colleagues who did not want to abide by our agreement. ‘Madiba, I want my food,’ I remember one man saying. ’I don’t see why I should go without. I have served the struggle for many years.’ (Mandela, LWTF, p.423)

From, we read the words of Gandhi on fasting:

When human ingenuity fails, the votary fasts. This fasting quickens the spirit of prayer, that is to say, the fasting is a spiritual act, and therefore, addressed to God. The effect of such action on the life of the people is that, where the person fasting is all known to them, their sleeping conscience is awakened. But there is the danger that the people through mistaken sympathy may act against their will in order to save the life of the loved one. This danger has got to be faced. One ought not to be deterred from right action when one is sure of the rightness. It can best promote circumspection. Such a fast is undertaken in obedience to the dictates of the inner voice and, therefore, prevents haste. (H,21-12-1947, p.476)

 Writing to celebrate Archbishop Tutu’s 80th birthday, on, on October 06, 2011, in a piece entitled, Tutu and the curse of self-doubt, in Ideas By Brendan Boyle:

It is easy today to forget how much white South Africa hated the little bishop who went around the world campaigning for sanctions against his own country. He was denigrated in dinner table conversation then in much the same way that Julius Malema (founder of the Economic Freedom Fighters, a populist far-left political party) is now…Graffiti on suburban walls urged him to emigrate, criticized his modest wealth and called sometimes for physical harm to be done to him…..(On Tutu’s anger at Jacob Zulu) It might be an  important moment if it finds somewhere within the party machine that quality which, for me, has always set Tutu apart from Mandela-the curse of self-doubt. Mandela has seemed always to me to have the perfect pitch of a political prodigy. He instinctively knows that right thing to do, the appropriate response to wring the best from an opportunity or to rescue a situation as dangerous as the assassination of Chris Hani (fierce opponent of apartheid, assassinated by Janusz Walus, a Polish immigrant and sympathiser of the Conservative opposition on April 10, 1993),. Tutu pits his wits against the challenges that come his way, prays to his God for guidance, worries about the possible consequences and then plays a hand he sometimes regrets. Travelling with him for a few days in 1986 to research a profile for United Press International, I saw him snap at a middle-aged woman who was asking for assurance about some aspect of being a white person in an apartheid state. She cried as he stalked off. Hours later, in the car heading back to Port Elizabeth, he broke his own call for silence and said, almost to himself, ‘I shouldn’t have done that.’ Once his chaplain had discovered what he was talking about, they started working out how to find the woman and apologise. I don’t know if he managed, but was visibly bruised by his own mistake. If more of us could have Tutu’s courage to do what we think is right and yet to think it possible that we might be wrong, surely ours would be a better world.

Political and personal strength, courage, activism and accomplishments are hallmarks of history. They are, rarely, if ever, accounted for through a deep and penetrating examination of the ‘inner voice’ the ‘inner life’ the ‘inner self-talk’ and the psychic sinews of vulnerability, self-doubt, self-effacement and withdrawal. Indeed, while we live in a primarily masculine-defined and designed culture and psychic superstructure, such attributes are perpetually disdained, denigrated, and even dismissed. Heroes are ‘birthed and celebrated on the merits of their literal, visible, measurable and demonstrated ‘achievements.’ Regrets, self-doubt, failures, and even inexcusable errors in judgement are deployed by enemies as evidence of moral depravity, ‘gutlessness,’ ‘weakness,’ and justification for alienation, separation, and even isolation. Let’s not forget, the solitary confinement imprisonment cell was devised and designed by Quakers, the most ‘passive’ and peace-seeking among Christian faith groups. Mandela regarded this as the most heinous of all possible treatments of offenders.

From, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, we read:

Dr. Benjamin Rush and Benjamin Franklin and several Quaker leaders first instituted solitary confinement at Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia in the late 18th century, believing that total isolation and silence would lead to penitence, hence the term ‘penitentiary’ was coined. That led to the building of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Penitentiary in 1829, which only had solitary confinement cells. However, instead of becoming penitent, the prisoners developed serious mental health problems. The Quakers recognized that solitary confinement cause severe psychological harm and apologized for their use of solitary confinement. Unfortunately, the U.S. has let history repeat. In the 20th century, some U.S. prisons had a limited number of solitary confinement control units within their facilities; however, in 1983, Marion prison in Illinois instituted a permanent ‘lock down’ of their entire facility, in which inmates were confined alone in their cells for 23 hours per day. The use of solitary confinement has increased dramatically since then.

From, January 18, 2022, in a piece entitled, ‘The use of solitary confinement continues in Canada,’ we read:

According to the Canadian government, November 30th 2019, marked the end of solitary confinement in Canada. Yet, people in prison continue to be placed in solitary confinement in a variety of ways, in contravention of their Charter Rights…..Reports released by researchers Jane Sprott, Anthony Doob, and Adelina Iftene as well as the Office of Correctional Investigator—in addition to our own experience monitoring the conditions of confinement in the federal prisons designated for women—make it clear that solitary confinement is a form of punishment that is disproportionately used against Black people, Indigenous people and people with mental illness. This is yet another violation of section 15 of the Charter.

The cliché that nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished without sacrifice, while warranted, tends to gloss over the details of suffering, threats and self-doubt that accompany these three men, and all of us, daily, hourly, and over our life-time. It is our fixation with the ‘light’ in our multiple historic and psychic and cultural landscapes, to the avoidance and denial of the ‘darkness,’ that we do and will continue to owe our repeating oscillation around the serious issues we are challenged to face. Suffering, pain, depression, anxiety, and even desperation are all an integral part of each of our lives, And these men were certainly not immune from their scars.





Monday, March 11, 2024 #34

 He who loves the bristle of bayonets only sees in the glitter what beforehand he feels in his heart. It is avarice and hatred; it is that quivering lip, that cold, hating eye, which built magazines and powder-houses. (Ralph Waldo Emerson from The Virginia Center for Public Safety)

There is a radioactive paradox that has been rumbling around in my head for some time. While reading and reflecting on the lives, the thoughts and inheritances of men such as Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and their commitment to and honouring of nonviolence in the conduct of their epic struggles to end the oppression of their people, their impact on their time and people, as well as on the world generally, I am struck by the headlines of war, insurrection, terrorism, revenge and retribution, domestic violence and mass murders. Much of the violence in the world has to be laid at the feet of men. And, it is both clear and disconcerting to note that the disconnect between these two polarities cannot be lost or avoided by men of the twenty-first century. Living in the ‘middle’ of these poles, one is prompted to reflect on several questions.

·        Is the deeply embedded seed of faith and a religious discipline an essential for men to embrace fully a commitment to non-violence, and to an abstention of the abuse of power in all of its many forms and faces?

·        Are the male leaders (Mandela, Gandhi, Tutt, and King among others) of a special genetic or psychological nature that sets them apart from the rest of us?

·        Were these men so committed to a cause to which they dedicated their lives, that the strategy and tactic of non-violence became and remained essential for their ultimate success in dismantling, or at least remediating, apartheid, imperialism, racism?

·        Has the way we have ‘done’ history, through the factual, literal, date-filled documentation of the events, encounters, speeches, writings and their ‘heroic’ accomplishments either shielded or passed over the ‘inner lives’ of such men, and the daimon that ‘moved’ them?

·        Is there a divide, based on evidence, and transmitted through popular culture that separates the pursuit of high ideals (such as the dismantling of apartheid and imperialism and racism) from the work-a-day perspective, language and attitudes of the mechanic and the carpenter and the plumber all of whom must make a living with their hands?

·        Is there also a divide between these ‘epic heroes’ and the theoretical scholars whose books and philosophies, principles and experiments have filled the stacks of university libraries and lecture and seminar rooms on one hand, and on the other hand, those ‘blue-collar labourers’ on whose hands and brains and morals we place our trust?

·        Have we so elevated, glorified, pedestalled, and virtually ‘worshipped’ the ideals and the accomplishments of men like Mandela, Gandhi, Tutu, and King, (and others) that we have lost sight of the reality of their vulnerabilities, their dark sides and their often-monumental screw-ups?

Men of all political, economic, academic, professional, political, theological, philosophical, geographical and psychological strains and strata have been, and continue to be in search of their identity, their purpose, their modus operandi. And, for many, if not most men, the resume, or curriculum vitae summarizes their ‘identity’ for the purpose of attempting to identify ‘ourselves’ to a prospective employer. Such a document, regardless of how detailed, comprehensive or ‘personal’ it might be, is a seriously reduced and simplified depiction and description of who we are. And while it is also reductionistic to reduce the purpose of the resume to a catalogue of skills, it is also true that we present ourselves as a “role-player, function, in the design and strategy and purpose of some piece of “work” whether that be for an employer, as an entrepreneur, or even as an artist or professional. Performing actions to accomplish an end goal is the frame and lens in and through which we conceptualize our lives, especially as men. Even as fathers, we see ourselves as ‘bread-winners’ and ‘husbands,’ and ‘role models’ and advocates/protectors of our children and family. “Doing” is our way of relating, and comparing is our way of assessing our relative “place” and “value” in our circle. “Extrinsics,” those literal, empirical, measurable pieces of data of our existence are listed, highlighted and valued both by the one presenting to an employer/examiner/admission officer and hopefully also by the assessor.

As James Hillman writes in The Soul’s Code, a premise that grounds much of his thinking about contemporary (American) culture:

At the outset we need to make clear that today’s main paradigm for understanding human life, the interplay of genetics and environment, omits something essential—the particularity you feel to be you. By accepting the idea that I am the effect of a subtle buffeting between hereditary and societal forces, I reduce myself to as result. The more my life is accounted for by what already occurred in my chromosomes, by what my parents did or didn’t do, and by my early years now long past, the more my biography is the story of a victim. I am living a plot written by my genetic code, ancestral heredity, traumatic occasions, parental unconsciousness, societal accidents…..We are victims primarily of theories before they are put into practice. The current American identity as victim is the tail side of the coin whose head brightly displays the opposite identity: the heroic self-made ‘man,’ carving out destiny alone and with unflagging will. Victim is the flip-side of hero. More deeply, however, we are victims of academic, scientistic, and even therapeutic psychology, whose paradigms do not sufficiently account for or engage with, and therefore ignore, the sense of calling, that essential mystery at the heart of each human life…..We dull our lives by the way we conceive them. We have stopped imagining them with any sort of romance, any fictional flare. (p. 5-6)

What kind of hero, then, is a question that has beset generations of men for centuries.

“From Hercules through St, George to the hero role in Freud and Jung we have had a hero archetype moving us, the ego. We believe the ego should be strong and just and overcome death, depression and decay and stand for culture and civilization’. (Dick Russell, The Life and Ideas of James Hillman, Vol. 2, Revisioning Psychology, Hillman’s notes on lectures at the Jung Institute, 1971, p. 94)

Indeed, contemporary vernacular is replete with the word and notion of ‘self’ (as if self and ego were identical).

The New Oxford English Dictionary—the shorter edition!—gives ten columns in its small print to compound of ‘self’: ‘self-satisfaction,’ ‘self-control,’ ‘self-defeating,’ ‘self-approval,’ ‘self-contempt,’ ‘self-satisfied,’ and maybe five hundred more.  (Hillman, The Soul’s Code, p. 257)

Against and in place of the self and the ego, dominating both our language and our perception of human identity, Hillman poses a different lens through which to open the door and window to identity: the daimon---calling, fate, character, innate image ….together they make up the ‘acorn theory’ which holds that each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived (TSC p.6)….Daimon as genius and then (in) more modern terms such as ‘angel,’ ‘soul,’ paradigm,’ ‘image,’ ‘fate,’ ‘inner twin,’ ‘acorn,’ ‘life companion,’ ‘guardian,’ ‘heart’s calling,’ ….Among native peoples on the North American continent, we find a parade of terms for the acorn as an independent spirit-soul: yega (Coyukon): and owl (Kwakiutl); ‘agate man’ (Navaho); nagual (Central American/southern Mexico); tsayotyeni (Santa Ana Pueblo), sicom (Dakota)…these beings accompany guide, protect, warn. (TSC, p. 257)

A daimon in the ancient world was a figure from somewhere else, neither human nor divine, something in between the two belonging to a ‘middle region,’ (metaxu) to which the soul belonged. The daimon was more an intimate psychic reality than a god; it was a figure who might visit in a dream of send signals as an omen, a hunch, or an erotic urge. (TSC p 258)

Contemporary history is filled with the biographic details of Mandela, Gandhi, Tutu, as well as details of the kernels of their respective faith and/or belief systems. Common to all three is the well-documented and oft-repeated adjective, ‘selfless’. And in a period in history in which the alpha male (‘ego’ and ‘might’ and ‘power’ and ‘strength’) is on display in political and journalistic rhetoric, as if those details were the prime causes and motivators of whatever current political and military actors are doing, the concept of selflessness remains, in the vernacular, an epic indication of weakness. Unfortunately, we have a parade of what Hillman might call ‘titanism’ a human trait he considers worse than narcissism.

In the preface to his monumental work, Re-Visioning Psychology, James Hillman writes:

I would not encourage Titanism, a menace far greater than Narcissism, which presents only a pensive pretty-boy compared with the titanic grandiosity of Self. …..Self can be defined only from within itself by its own representations. Principal among these are the irrefutable truth of personal experience and the inflating feelings of personal significance. Utterly self-referent, it knows no God greater than itself. Now most psychology takes all this quite literally, so that behind psychology’s devotion to the personal stands neither humanism nor individualism, but rather a literalism of Self like an invisible nonexistent God absolutely believed in. Absolutism is either fundamentalism, delusion, or literalism—or all of the Above. Perhaps it’s right then to say there is no greater literalism in psychology than its idea of Self, a literalism that converts our supposedly investigative field into a branch of mystic fundamentalism. This leads me further to think that our culture’s omnipotent and omniscient Godhead who supposedly replaced the mutually limiting pagan beings on myth is none other that a Titan returned from Tartaros (the infernal region of ancient Greek mythology, the underworld) to a too high place, and, worse, all alone. (p. xii)

It was the ‘cause’ the purpose, and the calling of Mandela, Gandhi, Tutu, and not their personal ‘ego’ that drove their lives….and not their own self-aggrandizement. Indeed, all three suffered considerably, at times almost inexplicably and tragically, in order to sustain the cause of their efforts. They, likely without a single second dedicated to the notion of what the history books would say about them, submitted themselves to the movement of alleviating oppression of their people. And, to those of us reflecting backward on their lives, we can readily see a ‘calling’ a ‘genius’ and an ‘angel’ that both came from within and drew them onward, without even flinching or failing insofar as they had both energy and consciousness.

There was nothing ‘fundamental’ or absolute about their methods, their relationships, and their perspective on themselves as well as on their ‘situation’. They sought and deployed multiple options in strategies, tactics and human supports. They spent hours in deep reflection, not merely in strategizing and planning, but also in learning, remembering, tolerating others and indeed in supporting others of a similar commitment to their respective cause. There was no delusion, and certainly no minimalist literalism to their perspective, the ideology or their discernment of their respective roles and histories. Lacking almost completely in inflated feelings of personal significance, it was their dedication to nonviolence, to reconciliation, and to the freedom of their people in their pursuit of the almost insurmountable and epic outcomes.

Today, by contrast, we have a culture drowning in images of ‘self’ as if personal significance, expressed in the latest microscopically parsed ‘word’ or phrase, indelibly inked into the public consciousness, as a convicting piece of evidence of some psychic or genetic abnormality and justification for ‘unworthiness’ for office. Not only are the actors on the stage under highly inflated moral, ethical and psychological and religious microscopes, so too are the messengers. And both groups have lost sight of the shared responsibility not merely to preserve democracy, but to deploy its strengths to enhance the lives of their people, through the reduction of those things than enshackle them: fear, alienation, anxiety, homelessness, statelessness, war, terrorism, famine and existential environmental threats.

Just because the “oppression” is not so narrowly defined, and just because the oppression is not confined (nor confineable) to a single nation or region, and because everyone on the planet is aware, in real time, of the ravages and the murders and the rapes and the bombed hospitals, schools, apartment complexes and city squares, not the mention the nuclear reactors on the verge of meltdown…the kind of selflessness, and ‘calling’ that lay in the hearts and minds of at least the three men in our view, is more needed and more absent, than at any time in the lifetime of this scribe.

Were these men, and others, legitimately and authentically, ‘ahead of their time’ in the sense that they saw beyond the immediate, the literal, the egocentric to the ‘vision’ as an integral part of their own ‘daimon,’ or ‘inner angel’….

Joseph Campbell, in his work, Myth and Meaning, (202) writes about the time we are in:

We’re in a period, in terms of history, of the end of national and tribal consciousness. The only consciousness that is proper to contemporary life is global. Nevertheless, all popular thinking is in terms of loyalties to the local communities to which all are members. Such thinking is not out of date.

What we face is a challenge to recognize one community on this earth, and what we find in the face of this challenge is everybody pulling back into his own group. I don’t want to name the in-groups, but we all know pretty well what they are. In our country (the U.S.), we call them pressure groups. They are racial groups, class groups, religious groups, economic groups, and they are all tangling with each other.

For any people to say, ‘We are it and the others are ‘other—these are dangerous people. And there are religions still doing this. The new thing that is very difficult for people to realize I sour society is the human race. And out little suburb is the globe. Spaceship Earth.’ (https://www,jcf,org/product-page/myth-and-meaning-conversations-on-mythology-and life-ebook)

Such a perspective, whether or not actually read and studied by Mandela, Gandhi and Tutt (and others), would have easily compiled, even sustained the work to which these men dedicated their lives. There seems to have been a connecting ‘bridge’ between their ‘daimon’ and their moment in history. The sophomoric question of whether history makes the man, or the reverse, the man makes history, notwithstanding, there has to be an intimate, sentient, sensitive and imaginatively courageous perspective both of the identity of the individual and the inherent and seemingly natural ‘integration’ of the man and his moment that defies science, and perhaps theology.

The capacity to withstand the onslaught of continual pressure, continual betrayal, continual defiance, and misinterpretation of both personal identity and motive, of ideology, morality and ethic, of a determined resistance to defend, at all costs, the ‘it’ and to make them (and their comrades) ‘the other’ is a theme which has defined much of western history. In the case of South Africa, the ‘it’ comprised the apartheid system of white supremacy, and the ‘other’ were the blacks, and coloureds and Indians. In the case of India, the ‘it’ were the British imperialists, while the ‘other’ were the Indian people. Campbell’s insight that ‘in-groups’ define the manner in which the political and cultural systems are being manipulated, can apply internally to each nation, as well as to the geo-political stage. In each and every town, school, college, university, and corporation, there is a dominant “it” and a recessive “other” so defined and determined and sustained by the power of the will of the ‘it’.

And, from one perspective, these men, Mandela, Gandhi, Tutu, all considered themselves intimately connected to ‘other’ and determined to oppose the granite establishment of the ‘it’. Doubtless, they would all argue that their perspective was not what defined them, so much as how they were determined and enabled to enact their beliefs, principles, values and both strategies and tactics with others of like mind and determination. And in the course of their ‘living out’ their work, they adopted the principles of ‘nonviolence’ and respect for the ‘other that was missing from those who considered themselves the ‘it’.

We do know, for example, that one of these men, Mandela, regularly recited the poem Invictus during his imprisonment (Charle LaMonica, Invictus  A poem frequently recited by Nelson Mandela, from Invictus, meaning unconquerable or undefeated in Latin, was written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley.

Out of the night that

covers me,

Black as the pit from ‘

pole to pole

I thank whatever gods

may be

For my unconquerable



In the fell clutch of


I have not winced nor

cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings

of chance

 My head is bloody, but



Beyond this place of

wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of

the Shade,

And yet the menace of

the years

Finds and shall find me’



It matters not how strait

the gate,

How charged with

punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my


I am the captain of my


Indefatigable, selfless, deeply committed, not only to the ‘cause’ but also to a deep and profound awareness of the limits to one’s power and influence, and a determination to exercise a discipline on himself, …..clearly these attributes apply to all three.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024 #33

 Influenced by his father’s tribal priesthood, his mother’s conversion to the Methodist faith, the regent whose tutelage and home were his for a period, his attendance in Methodist-operated educational facilities and also by the writings and teachings of Gandhi, Mandela seemed destined for a significant role in the evolution of South Africa throughout his life.

And his activism, along with his colleagues in the ANC, was clearly echoed, reverberated and trumpeted by the man to came to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Committee following the demise of apartheid. Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Stories that Tutu ‘was not officially invited to Mandela’s funeral’ notwithstanding, (some report that in South Africa, invitations are not issued for funerals), the two men have left an indelible imprint not only on the men and women with whom they worked and fought, but also on the government and its policies in South Africa. Indeed, their circle of influence extends in various ripples across the globe.

(Personal note: I had the opportunity to attend an event at which Archbishop Tutu was the keynote speaker, in the then “Pepsi” Centre in Denver Colorado. Invited to support the work of those engaged in youth projects, the event featured a stage filled with church leaders from almost all denominations, sadly excluding the Episcopal Bishop of Colorado, whose absence was noted by many. Immediately following the event, like a young boy at a rock concert wanting to ‘meet’ and shake hands with the Archbishop, I found my way through the maze of hallways in the arena to the loading dock where the venerable Archbishop was already seated in the rear seat of a van. His eyes, as always it seemed, sparkled, his smile beamed, his hand stretched out as I breathlessly blurted, “Archbishop, I bring greetings from “A.W!” (New Testament Professor who had previously worked in Africa and knew the Archbishop personally.) I had been surprised and grateful that the opportunity to listen to him speak and even more energized that I might meet him face to face. Words to be spoken, unrehearsed, were the last thing in my mind as I raced through the concrete halls. Only the moment, if possible, seemed important! And, these three decades later, the moment remains etched in memory, in indelible ‘ink’.)

 Both Mandela and Tutu were born of Xhosa parents, and were educated in mission schools, Tutu in those where his father taught, Mandela in Methodist mission schools. Tutu though he wanted a medical career…was unable to afford training and instead became a schoolteacher. Ordained an Anglican priest in 1961, he obtained an M.A. from King’s College London (and) from 1972 to 1975 he served as associate director for the World Council of Churches. He was appointed dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg in 1975 the first Black South African to hold that position. From 1976 to 1978 Tutu served as Bishop of Lesotho. In 1978 Tutu accepted an appointment as the general secretary of the South African Council of Churches and became a leading spokesman for the rights of black South Africans. During the 1980’s he played an unrivaled role in drawing national and international attention to the inequities of apartheid. He emphasized nonviolent means of protest and encouraged the application of economic pressure by countries dealing with South Africa. The award of the 1984 Nobel Prize for Peace sent a significant message to South African Pres. P.W. Botha’s administration. In 1985, at the height of the township rebellions in South Africa, Tutu was installed as Johannesburg’s first Black Anglican bishop, and in 1986 he was elected the first Black Archbishop of Cape Town, thus becoming the primate of South Africa’s 1.6 million-member Anglican church. In 1988 Tutu took a position as chancellor of the University of the Western Cape in Bellville, South Africa. During South Africa’s moves to democracy in the early 1990’s, Tutu propagated the idea of South Africa as ‘the Rainbow Nation,’…In 1995, Nelson Mandela appointed Tutu head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated allegations of human rights abuses during the apartheid era. (from

Here is a quote from Tutu’s Rainbow People of God (p.121) that expresses his theology:

If we could but recognize our common humanity, that we do belong together, that our destinies are bound up with one another’s, that we can be free only together, that we can survive only together, that we can be human only together, then the glorious South Africa would come into being where all of us lived harmoniously together as members of one family, the human family, God’s family. In truth a transfiguration would have taken place. (from Denison Journal of Religion Volume 7, 2007, in a piece entitled, Desmond Tutu: A theological Model for Justice in the Context of Apartheid, by Tracy Riggle, Denison University)

 Such thoughts and aspirations may not have reached Mandela directly while in the crucible of the crisis of his fight to dismantle apartheid. He would, however, have been somewhat familiar with Methodist teaching, thinking and theology, from a very early age. Not only was his mother a member, and his schools operated under the Methodist ‘banner,’ but the theology would have been inculcated deeply into his mind, heart and body.

From (resource United Methodist Church), we read:

United Methodists believe in actualizing their faith in community---actions speak louder than words. The three simple rules are: ‘Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.’….United Methodists serve the world over, showing Christ’s love through tangible meant. From sustainable water systems, to health care, micro-lending, advocacy and helping eliminate malaria deaths….Ums believe: ‘The gospel of Christ knows no religion but social.’ United Methodists believe: ‘All creation is God’s, and we are responsible for the ways we use and abuse it. ‘United Methodists believe: Christ hosts Communion and all are  welcomed by him.

And from, under the title, Our Mission in the World, we read:

‘As servants of Christ we are sent in to the world to engage in the struggle for justice and reconciliation. We seek to reveal the love of God for men, women, and children of all ethnic, racial, cultural, and national backgrounds and to demonstrate the healing power of the gospel with those who suffer.

Imagine being reared in the ethos of such thoughts, aspirations, prayers, hymns and role models!

There is a cogent and insightfully reflective piece about Tutu’s legacy, from Notre Dame, ( that sheds light back on the life and legacy of Mandela’s South African peer, friend and colleague (Tutu):

While perhaps most remembered for his work fighting against apartheid in South Africa, and following its dismantling his leadership of (the) country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Tutu’s advocacy for the marginalized was not limited to his home. Indeed, he addressed issues of injustice in contexts across Africa, in Israel/Palestine, and in Northern Ireland. In this series of posts, which were first presented at the 2022 Academy of  Religion Annual Conference in Denver Colorado, scholars across religious and geographic difference grapple with Tut’s legacy in the international arena, focusing especially on  Israel/Palestine. Together, they suggest that Tutu’s voice remains a prophetic one that is needed now as we navigate the rise of religious nationalism populism, and demagoguery….In these reflections, Hilary Rantisi draws on her own experiences growing up as a Palestinian under Israeli apartheid to illustrate the impact of Tutu’s work o both her and her community.  She argues that Tutu was a joyous yet fierce warrior in the Palestinian cause, and that his theology guided him to stand up to those who were marginalized not only in his own community but in communities around the world. In these reflections (also), Farid Esack, under the title, Desmond Tutu: A Much-loved, Deeply Disturbed, and Offensive Prophet, writes: (Quoting Mandela) ‘Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humour, Desmond Tutu’s voice will always be the voice of the voiceless.’ And (quoting Tutu himself) ‘This God did not just talk. He showed Himself to be a doing God. Perhaps we might add another point about God. He takes sides. HE is not a neutral God. He took the side of the enslaved, the oppressed, and the victims. He is still the same even today. He sides with the poor, the oppressed and the victims of injustice. (From Sparks and Tutu, 73)

And Esack who worked with Tutu, writing in his own words:

Tutu was a Christian, a mensch, and a prophet. I use the word prophet in the sense given to it by liberation theology as someone desperate to challenge power and  injustice. (Referencing Tutu’s work, God is Not a Christian, Esack offers a quote from a Tutu interview with Allister Sparks:

I am a Christian, but the books  that we hold to provide for how we should be thinking about God…I mean, right at the beginning, the gospel of John tells about ‘the light that lightens everyone’: it does not say ‘the light that  lightens those who become Christians’; it says ‘everyone who comes into the world.’ (113) And from another Tutu interview with Sparks, on June 16, 2020, Tutu is quoted as saying during a conference of interfaith leaders:

Don’t insult people of other faiths by saying, ‘Oh, actually our God is your God too; You are a Christian too without knowing it. Don’t insult people by reducing their faith to that.’ (313

Esack continues: While the God that Tutu worshiped was decidedly not a Christian, Tutu certainly was one, as demonstrated in his love for and agonized relationship with the Anglican Church. He was concerned with all its Anglo ceremonial and hierarchical trappings and doctrine and sustained a relentless critique of its positions on the ordination of women and the recognition of gay rights among others…..Sometimes we would spend many hours debating the wisdom of marching to Parliament, starting from St. Georges Cathedral in the Cape Town city centre, literally a stone’s throw away from Parliament. We were fully aware that we would be confronting the police and end up being arrested if we did. On a few occasions just before the march, Tutu, who was never a signed-up comrade of any of our political formations, would go to his sanctuary to pray for guidance, only to emerge from there saying something to the effect that this is not what he was moved to do by the spirit!

Although the two men were born some fifteen years apart, (Mandela in 1918, and Tutu in 1931) their lives not only intersected over apartheid, but doubtless, enhanced and supported the work each was doing throughout their shared time on the South African political/cultural/religious/social justice stage.

Theology, the teachings of the churches, not only its theory but also its praxis, has been a heated topic of consideration among political leaders, both practitioners and theorists, for many years, The dynamic of one’s personal theology, called by many names including the search for and relationship with God (in whatever name), and one’s political and philosophic views are two intersecting dynamics whose separate identities are rarely, if ever, disentangled. Indeed, there is a substantial argument/case to be made that they are unable and unwilling to be dis-engaged from each other. We exist in a world in which we can all see, as well as experience, injustice, whether of a legal, or an ethical or a professional or even on a social level. Certainly, it is feasible and perhaps even necessary to begin to unpack the potential and extant links between all forms of injustice with the politics and the current ethos (anima mundi) in which those politics are being practiced. Institutional churches, of whatever faith, continue as the reservoir, the tablet, the sanctuary, the rituals, the hymnody, the dogma and the promise, the prayers and the history and tradition of each of those deeply embedded traditions. Tutu’s ‘God is not a Christian’ rings harmoniously for some, as a profound dissonance, even heresy, for others.

Anyone who has been accompanying this blog-pilgrimage will already intuit that I stand with Tutu, and many others, in the non-denominational, and non-creedal and non-institutional notion of God. And while this notion leaves out the specific faith community that holds to a specific set of beliefs, it also affords a perspective that remains open to striving to embrace and to support and to foster all efforts, images and art that point towards a different and more just world. Mandela and Tutu are two of the many male role models, not merely in their actions but also in their thought, prayer, theology, struggles in their personal crucible as well as in the public sphere, for the effective, challenging and almost impossible option of marrying one’s life and actions to one’s theology.