In this post I continue my
reflections on Biko’s address, “
The church as seen by a young layman”.  In the previous post I commented on how
this essay is potent because it was delivered by a young non-professional, what
adds to this potency is the fact that Biko spoke as a black person in Apartheid
South Africa.

Bikos states that,

one can make the claim that most religions are specific and where they fail to
observe the requirements of specificity then they must be sufficiently
adaptable to convey relevant messages to different people in different

What Biko calls the ‘requirements
of specificity
’ is what we read about in John 1:14 when John tells us that
Jesus moved into the neighborhood. 
Specificity can only come from the ground up.  One cannot become specific in abstraction, removed from the
actual people and situations the ‘requirements of specificity’ become a blurred

Biko contends that in the
South Africa of his day the church has lost this ‘requirement of specificity’.  He says that,

at this late stage, one notes the appalling irrelevance of the interpretation
given to the Scriptures. In a country teeming with injustice and fanatically
committed to the practice of oppression, intolerance and blatant cruelty
because of racial bigotry; in a country where all black people are made to feel
the unwanted step-children of a God whose presence they cannot feel; in a
country where father and son, mother and daughter alike develop daily into
neurotics through sheer inability to relate the present to the future because
of a completely engulfing sense of destitution, the Church further adds to
their insecurity by its inward-directed definition of the concept of sin and
its encouragement of the "mea culpa" attitude

this paragraph he mentions two ways in which the ‘requirements of specificity’
has been lost.  The first is in its
interpretation of Scripture that leads to the second, a very individualistic
definition of sin.  On top of that
he notes that people’s destitution is attributed to their own mistakes.

is this individualism and interpretation of Scripture that Biko challenged in
the 70’s.  Is it any different
now?  Do we have interpretive models
that engage us with the specifics of South Africa in 2009?  With poor people, HIV/AIDS, inequality,
rape and unhealthy models of manhood?

Biko notes some of the requirements of specificity in the South Africa of his time:

  •  Teeming with injustice
  •  The practice of oppression
  •  Intolerence and blatant cruelty because of racial bigotry
  •  Making people feel like step-children 
  •  Destitution in families

do you think is the ‘requirements of specificity’ in South Africa today?