Two central pillars for this book are encapsulated in the words of Martin Luther King and Zechariah Keodirelang Matthews.
In his analysis of what is wrong with our world, and why we continue to fail in addressing these wrongs, King writes:
Nor would I minimize the importance of science and the great contributions which have come in the wake of the Renaissance… But the exalted Renaissance optimism, while attempting to free the mind of man, forgot about man’s capacity to sin.
When grappling with this failure, Matthews reminds us of the advice he recorded in 1925 when he went off to become the first black Headmaster of Adams College:
You may be tempted into facile views of the difficulties around you … You may be tempted to cut yourself off from the rest of your people, or on the other hand to an unthinking advocacy of what the mob clamours for.
But I am sure you will examine all things with a clarity of intellectual vision, free from passion unless it be a moral passion for the good, and when you have thought things through to present your views with temperate courage.
In this book the Emperor is the South African Constitutional Court. Given its present huge popularity amongst most South Africans, saying that it has no clothing would seem to be either a brave, or a foolhardy exercise!
Keith Matthee sets out succinctly why he is of the view that the Emperor has no clothing. Central to his reasoning is the recent ruling by the Constitutional Court concerning whether or not unborn human life is human life worthy of dignity.
Given the sheer numbers of unborn children and their mothers in crisis affected by this ruling, as a society we ignore the challenge by the First Applicant in her Foreword at our peril: “At times it is not an easy read, but I believe it is a crucial read if we are to begin to regain our soul as a nation.”
As Professor Forstchen observes in his review on the film “Downfall”, which exposes the evil of Adolf Hitler and his social Darwinism, “The true form of evil rarely looks evil on the surface, it seduces us with fair face as it leads, sometimes an entire nation, into damnation.”
In this book the author quotes a verse from a Pink Floyd song “Comfortably numb.” At one point it goes:
“My hands felt just like two balloons
Now I’ve got that feeling once agin
I can’t explain, you would not understand
This is not how I am
I have become comfortably numb.”
The challenge of this book is to all people, whether they accept or reject Jesus, whether they are inside or outside the church. It poses the question to them whether in their picture of and response to Jesus they “have become comfortably numb” as a strategy to avoid radical consequences to their lifestyles of following the Jesus of the Gospels.
Dealing with some practical issues a refrain of the author is, “This is a hard teaching of Jesus, but it is not complicated.” This lies at the heart of the challenge of Jesus.
In 111 AD, referring to his belief that he could not stop Christianity in its tracks, Pliny wrote to Emperor Trajan: “For this contagious superstition is not confined to the cities only, but has spread through the villages and rural districts; it seems possible however to check and cure it.”
At the heart of this ‘contagious superstition’ was the alleged resurrection of Jesus. Writing nineteen centuries later the former Chief Justice of England, Lord Darling, wrote: “The crux of the problem of whether Jesus was, or was not, what He proclaimed Himself to be, must surely depend on the truth or otherwise of the resurrection.”
In the Foreword to this book, Professor Rose commenting on the legal case for the resurrection writes: “Keith Matthee’s excellent short book provides some of the raw legal data and the juristic argument on which the case is built. It makes compelling reading and it is a great pleasure and privilege to introduce this work.”
Keith Matthee is at the Cape Town Bar. He was appointed as Senior Counsel by President Mbeki in 2002.
This thesis was written by Keith in 1987 as part of the requirements for his Bachelor of Divinity degree. Part of its usefulness lies in reminding the reader of something of the context of the Church in South Africa in 1987, not only from a historical point of view, but with a view to help us decide today whether the underlying challenges facing the Church presently, in any meaningful way is different to that in 1987. Chapters 1 and 4 are germane to this consideration.
Chapters 2 and 3 present us with an ever present challenge of Christ’s chosen method of ministry in the world, not least of all in a Covid 19 era.
Keith argues that as long as the Church does not grasp the validity of the hypothesis of this dissertation, her prophetic ministry will be significantly diminished and circumscribed by what the 11 women and men on the Constitutional Court rule. That then the Church’s only role would be to implement what the Constitutional Court rules, and not to engage the Constitutional Court Justices, ethically and philosophically, about what it should rule.
His conclusion is reached after traversing general and legal philosophical arguments, followed by an in depth analysis of seminal Constitutional Court judgments dealing with issues of a profound moral character, such as the death penalty, what is human life, marriage, parenting, adultery and the content to be given to ubuntu.
The two page abstract at the beginning of the dissertation succinctly summarises the hypothesis of the dissertation and the implications for the Church if the hypothesis is sustained by the research.