Desmond Tutu will need little introduction – the first black Archbishop of a Cape Town, when South Africa was undergoing a period of lengthy trouble, change and adjustment around apartheid.
This book is a collection of extracts from sermons, interviews, letters and other writings, drawing out his thoughts on issues as wide as tolerance and respect; justice; voice for the voiceless; conscience. A large part of the focus is a South Africa, the context of the thoughts, but they are of universal application, and indeed Tutu is recorded speaking out on other African trouble spots and troubled places like Northern Ireland, Palestine and Central America.
A recurring theme is “ubuntu” an African word meaning “A person is a person through other persons” – put simply our humanity is defined through our interactions with others. How we interact shapes us.
One chapter is titled “God is clearly not a Christian”, and in here Tutu talks about accidents of birth and geography shaping our faith:
“The chances are very great that if you were born in Pakistan you are a Muslim, or a Hindu if you happened to be born in India, or a Shintoist if is Japan, and a Christian if you were born in Italy. I don’t know what significant fact can be drawn from this – perhaps that we should not succumb to easily to the temptation of exclusiveness and dogmatic claims to a monopoly of the truth of our particular faith. You could easily have been an adherent of the faith you are now denigrating, but for the fact you were born here rather than there”
“To acknowledge that other faiths must be respected and that they obviously proclaim profound religious truths is not the same thing as saying that all faiths are the same, however. They are patently not the same. We who are Christians must proclaim the truths of our faith honestly, truthfully and without comprise… …but we must grant to others the same right to commend their faith…”
Looking back I’ve turned over many corners of this book with thoughts to come back to: I won’t expound them all here, save to say this is a book for anyone interested in thinking critically about the interaction of faith and social justice; it’s not a book to agree with necessarily, but one to provoke some thoughts.
I’ll give the final word to Tutu himself, “improve your argument, don’t raise your voice”.