Darcus Howe (fwd)

jenyan1 jenyan1 at SPAMuic.edu
Fri Dec 22 19:56:37 MST 2000

To those of us who are able to take for granted a (fairly) secular
education, freedom of thought and inquiry, and other enlightenment
goodies, what Darcus Howe describes in the article below might appear
extreme or at least out of the ordinary. I assure you, it's not.
How the European God took disaster to Africa
Darcus Howe
New Statesman
27 March 2000

The church of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments it is called, a
consecrated building surrounded by banana farms, heads of cattle and
schools for infants. It sits in the fertile savannahs of Uganda.

The pastor-in-chief experienced a visitation from God, who informed him
that in the year 2000 the world would come to an end. He could have kept
this to himself, but he chose to tell his flock. As a result, 500 of his
4,000 followers joined him in the church and immolated themselves and
their children in balls of fire.

These evangelists exist on a large scale throughout Africa, alongside the
orthodox religions, particularly the proselytisers from the Vatican. The
Bible was at the heart of the colonial mission and it was the principal
source of education in Africa. Almost all of the anti-colonial leadership
was educated by missionaries from Europe.

Tribal Africa lived uneasily with the missionaries. Africa accepted
European religion and its educational benefits without yielding too many
souls. The tribal system, with all its values, remained largely
intact. Now, modern evangelism has pierced Africa in its heart, disrupting
a way of life established over centuries. Since independence, it has
captured the minds of the peasantry deep in the African bush as well as
the city dwellers.

Africans today are required to imbibe the most simplistic versions of
religious thought. In a recent Channel 4 documentary, filmed at Lagos
airport, a young counter clerk had ambitions to be an air hostess. She
joined a church of hundreds of thousands of happy, clapping Nigerians in
order to achieve her ambition. She was required to pay one-third of her
meagre wages to the pastor who had convinced her that this was a condition
of the miracle which would take her from clerk to air hostess. She was
filmed in church virtually in a trance, seduced by this desire to lift
herself out of poverty. Tribal Africa had to be discarded because, under
its system of values, it failed to exalt the meek.

Orthodox missionaries are no different. "Join me and you prosper", so the
saying goes. And the competition for souls is immense; every godhead has
its own advertising billboard and everyone from Il Papa to Billy Graham is
engaged in the hunt for souls.

Gullibility is not confined to Africa. Only a few days ago, I was
travelling in a mini-cab on my way to west London. Two or three minutes
into the journey, the driver pressed in a tape and the religious music
crooned out of the speakers. Then came the spiel. God the provider was the
theme. Since the driver had attended a particular church and paid his
dues, he had acquired a Mercedes Benz. Soon, he added, he would own a
whole fleet of escort cars and become a millionaire.

But it is in Africa that we find the grimmest consequences. As the
continent is plunged deeper and deeper into crisis - economic, social and
spiritual - the need for alternatives to the old systems and values will
intensify. In Uganda, where this recent tragedy took place, the Aids virus
has brought death on a scale never experienced before in Africa. No wonder
a pastor and his flock are at ease with mass suicide. The religion of the
trance relieves the suffering brought about by drought, tribal conflict,
disease and floods.

Every day, we are faced by the horrors of Africa: religious conflict in
Nigeria, floods in Mozambique, a kind of madness in Zimbabwe, mass
self-incineration in Uganda, Aids everywhere.

If, as the historian Mark Mazower has suggested, Europe was the dark
continent for much of the 20th century, Africa deserves the title now. But
what it does not need is the light of the European God, which disturbs the
spirit, takes away what is native and puts in its place a potent mix of
sin and punishment.

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