Vol. 20 No. 2 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. -
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Superstar Skeptic Makes Waves in South Africa
Please, a Spiritual Truth and Reconciliation Committee for South African Singers, Mister Tutu!
South African superstar Steve Hofmeyr, a popular musician and actor, created shockwaves when an article appeared in the January 12 issue of the national Sunday newspaper, the Rapport, which quoted him making some mildly skeptical comments about religion.
Cancellations and threats of cancellations of concert bookings followed, although as you will read below, the worst seems to be over.
"This last month has been a barrage of mail from some fans disclosing how other fans refuse to speak to them simply on grounds they are mailing me! I have had to face theologians, philosophers and evangelists on various radio stations and in print," he reports.
It turns out that Foundation staffer Dan Barker inadvertently played a role in the raging controversy. Steve listed Dan's book 'Losing Faith in Faith' on his personal website as among the "top ten books that influenced my current opinions on religion," Steve writes.
"Dan's book is very prominent, as one of only two skeptic works. My site was raided by public and press, as this info aided them in profiling my doubts and sins. Dan's arguments come in extremely handy. 'Losing Faith' is great for the everyman debate, right there where the doubts are."
By Steve Hofmeyr
Well. There I was, making music, minding my own business, chatting away on an Afrikaans literary debating forum, when I woke up to find on the front pages of the Sunday papers two lines selectively picked from a three-month debate on the merits of religion, God and Bart Simpson.
"I do not want to believe, I want to know."
Unlike Sagan, I added that "I did not know," but this was not printed because why should a journalist forfeit a front-page story?
Line 2 read:
"God created a world Bart Simpson could improve on."
Okay. Granted. A slightly harsh metaphor, but no less accurate. If the traditional God existed, He'd surely agree with it, as He himself cowered in shame and regret at His lowly creation. More than once (Gen. 6:6, Ex. 32:14, 1 Sam. 15:11)!
And I didn't even claim that I did not believe in God. I merely asked "which One?"
It is very hard to follow the South African Synod meetings of this millennium, when they still entertain consensus on aspects of God's will in everybody's lives and that woman shall not preach, gays shall not be included anywhere, evolution shall not be taught and former archbishop Desmond Tutu shall not receive accolades for his indefatigable work for his God.
This they round off with a consuming debate over the type of cup, goblet or chalice acceptable for use during Communion. Is it hard to see how these church fathers could sanction and justify Apartheid from the Word of God? It is not.
White Theology is alive and well in Africa. I'll have you know that my name was on the very same hit list that brought about the assassination of struggle leader Chris Hani. A list compiled by my own people. And I thought notes and bars and measures was my business.
I perform in Afrikaans, mostly for Afrikaners, a vague demographic these days, as it includes many coloured folk alienated by that very Biblically-based model of exclusion, Apartheid. One needs to be (very Chosen and) extremely sure that one owns the only God and Truth to qualify as the architect of the big A. I give credit today to my culture, the black and white, tolerant and friendly Afrikaans South African folk, but not for the clammy residue of religious arrogance still hanging in the air almost a decade after our Mandela-esque transformation in 1994.
What am I saying? That the true genesis of Apartheid is alive and well as long as you can claim that your (white or Muslim) God is the only God and that He chronically whispers in your ear His will that you should fly Boeings into buildings or burn the CDs of heretic singers.
Apartheid is a religion thing and therefore almost entirely un(ad)dressed in South Africa.
With my new CD on the shelves and my suitcase packed for the national 2003 tour, I prepared to do what I have diligently done for 14 years. Family concerts in the city halls of the beautiful places I grew up in. The Karoo, the Free State, Johannesburg and Cape Town. And then it happened.
Management phones. My agent whispers to me the befuddling news of the first concert cancellations. This has never happened. Not on grounds of religious disposition. Fans want to lay hands on me after concerts. Priests warn against the moral decay I am subjecting the nations to. And entire sermons are preached on the proverbial Dwaas (the Fool) I have become. All this for merely claiming that our Christian God created a world Bart Simpson could improve on, and that our synods surely did not represent a God anyone should be associating with. That we should edit out the statements in our Bibles that make our Gods look funny and sound ridiculous. That the mustard seed is not the smallest seed "on earth" and that God need not send two bears to annihilate 42 kids to show off His omnipotence.
These statements reached our Afrikaans press in a controversy of Spanish Inquisitional proportions, raging through all media, radio and TV. I have had to defend my spirituality on all our secular and gospel stations, often against boxers-turned-preachers who can hardly read. My 14-year successful recording career seemed blown, culminating now in CD-burning sessions countrywide and in local evangelists, who drive Japanese vehicles and watch Scientologists' movies, encouraging bully-boycotts at the proposed venues I perform at. I have since managed to sue clients that have cancelled shows on account of my "religion," as we really have the most liberating constitution in the world, which ironically accounts very little for the true sentiment out in the real South.
Do all countries need a Scopes trial first, or can we learn from the mistakes of others? Are we the only sicko fundamentalists left or does the modern West still suffer its fair share of Flat Earthers and Bruno-Burners? Why have Thomas Paine and Dan Barker been banned from our public libraries and why don't their Christian adversaries know that Satan can come disguised as an Angel of the Light (2 Cor. 11:14)? I have a notion that the antichrist will not come as the marked beast, but as something more subtle; something we're all extremely comfortable with; something we're even very sure of: our religion.
But I won't hold my breath.
Well, sales are picking up again, but not in church venues, often the only fitting place to give a family concert out in the platteland. I don't make loud music, I can't rap, don't use foul language and take care of everyone, 4 to 84 years of age. My mailbox is cluttered with national prayers for me and notes warning me that I should stick to singing.
Like music, spirituality is afforded everyone. Choices too.
Even to rappers.
Singer, songwriter and actor Steve Hofmeyr, 38, of Johannesburg, is a South African superstar, whose albums have sold over half a million and whose songs are recorded internationally. He has written three anthologies of poetry, movie scripts and novels.
He graduated from Grey College in 1982, and did Army and Border duty for two years. After graduating from drama school, he went on to star in a number of stage and TV productions. He exploded on the international music scene when he recorded the duet "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" with Belgian singer Dana Winner in 1997. He met his wife Natasha Sutherland in the international TV soapie "Egoli," playing a character who falls in love with her. Life imitated art, and they married in 1998 and have a son, Sebastian, born in 2001. That year he embarked on a tour, "Beautiful Noise," about the life and music of Neil Diamond, and released a new CD with the same name, his 14th record for EMI. He is researching the life and music of Kris Kristofferson.
Steve wrote this piece for Freethought Today in February while on tour: "I've had the opportunity to test the waters of condemnation and the reception is wonderful," with his new CD selling well.
March 2003 Excerpts