The Seedy Religious Underbelly of South Africa

In the last couple of years I have experienced a gradual but rude awakening to the grizzly, spine-tingling reality of South Africa's religious situation.

The existence of Bible translations into KiSwahili, isiXhosa, Zulu, Chichewa, Tswana, Shona etc is frightening. African cultures notoriously cling to superstitions as well as ancestral and tribal beliefs. Combining this with Christianity is resulting in an ongoing history of bad ideas. I have covered many of these issues before, but I'll recap very briefly:
Witchcraft accusations of children by pastors in other African countries.
The Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which you can learn more about in this online documentary, Missionaries of Hate.
The role of evangelical American Christians in pushing the bill by spreading anti-gay hate in Africa.
The role of the Catholic church in both Mugabe's reign of terror in Zimbabwe as well as in the Rwandan genocide.

Needless to say, I'm sure these stories speak for themselves regarding the damaging effects of the horrific Biblical text when left open to interpretation in developing countries, although I will go as far as to say that this is the case in all countries, regardless of economic status.

The distribution statistics of these translated texts are both frustrating and worrying.

However, disregarding the role of Christianity and religion in general in the greater African continent I would rather like to focus on South Africa specifically. This mixture of religion and superstition, although the line between the two may be blurred, is prevalent in SA as well. The role of organised religion specifically, though, is a frightening one.

According to the latest census 8% of South Africans are not affiliated with any religion, whereas 79% are Christian. When looking at all of the information available, such as the links in this article, anecdotal evidence and the vast number of packed charismatic mega-churches on Sunday in Cape Town alone I am shocked to admit to myself that I live in a frighteningly evangelical, scientifically narrow-minded community.

This isn't even considering the Afrikaans community which has always stood at the forefront of radical Christianity in South Africa (see my post on the realities of Christian terrorism: Apartheid, AWB, etc). the NG Kerk and Dutch Reform Church have always been outspoken and blunt about the dominance of God over society.

A recent article in the Beeld, Godsdienstige waarheid voor ’n kruispad, has received more criticism than I could have possibly imagined, with unscientific Christians crawling out of the woodwork in alarming numbers to bash the writer of the article for saying things like:
"Dit is hartseer dat ons in ons tyd sien dat die kerk begin agterbly in sy denke en verstaan van die werklikheid waarin ons lewe."
"It is heartbreaking that in our lifetime's we are seeing the Church falling behind in it's thinking and understanding of the reality in which we are living."

"Dit is ook hartseer dat die kerk vashou aan ’n voorwetenskaplike wêreldbeeld en dit krampagtig probeer verdedig."
"It is also heartbreaking that the Church is clinging to a pre-scientific world view and narrow-mindedly trying to defend it.

He still gets attacked even though he adds a theistic disclaimer, saying:
"Ons is nou in ’n tyd waarin godsdiensleiers die geleentheid het om die nuwe kennis en ontdekkings wat deur die wetenskap en tegnologie beskikbaar gestel word, te gebruik en in hul geloofsraamwerk te integreer."
"We are now at a stage where Church leaders have the opportunity to share the new knowledge and discoveries being made available in the field of science and to use this information in their faithful work in an integrated way."

I have heard stories via friends who are private tutors for high school pupils of having to tutor for Muslim families. The boys go to a different school to the girls and the boys are the men of the household, ruling over their sisters with an iron fist. It is clear to me from the circumstances described that this is because of the gender divide common in Islam. The girls' textbooks are different to the boys' because it is clearly thought that they have different futures and therefore different skill requirements. The girl apparently complained regularly about how she felt her religious studies took up too much of her time, with her spending most of her studying hours reading the Qur'an with the result that she didn't know how she would pass her final year of high school.

Another story I heard recently was about a "hippie Christian family" who, when my friend mentioned "Evolution" to them they replied that they don't talk about the "E" word.

There are two Christian Creationists in my immediate family, with God-fearing computer wallpapers of sunsets, gospel music, Sunday service, weekly Bible-readings at friends' houses, radios tuned to Christian stations, and pamphlets lying around the house telling them why Evolution couldn't possibly be true and books telling them how God says they should live their lives. This is not even mentioning the exorcism of my brother's room when we were still children because of his evil computer games, the daily praying over the dinner table (even at restaurants), and the adamant refusal to think stem cell research, Craig Venter's synthetic cell, or decoding the human genome are positive realities.

Christian "science" or Christian healing services are commonplace and extremely worrisome. This article discusses a Christian church currently facing action from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in South Africa after repeatedly claiming to heal the blind, the lame, and people with HIV Aids or cancer. They're on the chopping block for making repeated unsubstantiated claims about their healing services. As usual, the Christian zealots fall back on anecdote and irrational rambling to support their outlandish claims rather than proven science and non-alternative medicine.
Superstitions surrounding health issues in SA are not uncommon or limited to Christianity, however. There's also The South African Faculty of Homeopathy and of course let's not forget the use of muti, which has resulted in murder and madness through children being killed so that their body parts can be used and people selling sacks of muti to thieves who then think they're invisible and end up getting shot.

Teaching Creationism is a very real but surprisingly quiet issue in South Africa. There is a school franchise in SA (I think it's an international school) called The Kingdom School, which teaches the "facts" of Creationism over science. I know this because I know people who were sent there as children. In fact, a survey in 2009 came away with the result that South Africa is a Creationist paradise.

I realise that many Christians, Muslims and apologists reading this will consider themselves supporting or falling into the category of moderate/s. I would like to point out that, in my mind, there is no such thing. Dawkins once pointed this out and I strongly support his opinion on the matter since it echoes my own sentiments: so-called moderates are merely paving the way for the extremists by perpetuating superstitious beliefs, unscientific thinking, and the blatant and dangerous lie of the existence of supernatural deities. With that incorrect and unjustified thinking as the basis of society, all manner of irrational, false, and dangerous ideas are possible.

Visiting a Christian bookstore recently (I was on the hunt for a new leather-bound NIV Bible) I took the time out to browse the racks to see what else they had to offer. Some titles were amusing such as "Ten things I wish Jesus never said" and a book discussing "Christian Atheism: People who believe in God but live as though he is not there," or "Facebook Christians," as a friend of mine wittily remarked one day (i.e. people who just click 'Christian' for the sake of convenience). However, there was a wide range of books that seriously bothered me, and I did not just notice them in this bookstore but also at Exclusive Books in the religion section (which is not only a regular bookstore but also has a religious, spiritual and mythology section easily five times the size of the science books section). These books had titles such as Who Am I and Why Am I Here: Eight Reasons God Created the Human Race by Bill Hamon, Justified by Faith Alone by Sproul R C, along with a few other books discussing why you are the way you are and why you have the personality you have, all easily explained in Godly terms. Of course, the bookstore was still further divided into books for women and books for men, with the women section replete with books such as The Strong-Willed Wife: Using Your Personality to Honor God And Your Husband by Debbie Cherry and Wife After God's Own Heart by George E.

Of course this gender divide is notable in any self-help section of any bookstore, I just think that the added Christian element to it is annoying and ultimately unstable.
Regarding the books involving God explaining why you are the way you are, this is simply not encouraging any form of scientific thought or psychological inquiry such as Daniel Dennet's books on consciousness and the scientific, neurological and biological explanations for free will. This is going to be dangerous in the long run, and has already proven dangerous in the world of fringe radicals, prevalent in all religions. Books such as these, schools such as the Kingdom school and the Muslim schooling system I mentioned, along with any system which perpetuates an irrational belief in unfounded superstitions and, in some cases, faith (which is by definition a belief in something without any evidence) grating painfully but forcefully against scientific fact is going to have violent consequences one day. Society is busy shooting itself in the foot one paperback at a time, leading to stunted societal growth and stagnant cognitive development and ultimately a complacency with not understanding the basic workings of the world around us.

People like the self-proclaimed spiritual agnostic author of the Beeld article, Dr Abel Pienaar, and outspoken non-religious and atheistic celebrities in SA such as comedian and actor Casper De Vries and radio personality Gareth Cliff need to hang in there despite their obvious suffocation in an overly religious country. With people speaking out against the dangers of religious thinking we are an overtly religious nation. It is when we let the existence of unscientific superstitions slip below our radar that this country becomes a covertly religious nation, which it has been to me for many years, and we can not afford to let this happen.

Views: 301

Tags: Africa, SouthAfrica, Uganda, Zimbabwe, creationism, education, feminism, schooling

Comment by Reggie on July 20, 2010 at 9:07pm
so-called moderates are merely paving the way for the extremists by perpetuating superstitious beliefs, unscientific thinking, and the blatant and dangerous lie of the existence of supernatural deities

I also strongly agree with that!

Great post!
Comment by kelltrill on July 21, 2010 at 2:16pm
Thanks for the feature! That's awesome :)
And thanks to both you (Adriana) and Reggie for the kind comments.
Comment by Southern Skeptic on May 6, 2011 at 4:18pm
The Kingdom school spewed their poison in my extended family as well, I now have a niece by marriage who refuses to acknowledge evolution. she "believes in Micro evolution" Which is an unscientific abomination.

South African people have been brainwashed by their churches that Evolution = Evil, and this blatant denial of scientific truth sticks in my craw.
Comment by kelltrill on May 9, 2011 at 4:28am

Exactly! I will never understand how people can claim to understand and accept micro-evolution but not see the bigger picture. In my mind this simply means they actually don't understand it at all, not to mention misunderstanding genetics and some much equally expansive scientific fields. Nevertheless, I've heard that from several Christian friends before.

 

This country is so riddled with anti-science religionists that I really feel quite overwhelmed by it sometimes. Even just commenting on News24 articles makes me feel like I'm being ganged up on and exhausted.

Comment by Southern Skeptic on May 9, 2011 at 12:08pm

The fundies have quite a clever argument for micro evolution.

 

It goes like this:

No-one as ever seen evolution change anything from one "kind" to another "kind"

Therefore god allows small changes (within a kind) through evolution

Changes from one kind to another don't occur, because god initially created all of the different "kinds", and he won't allow new ones to be created

 

The obvious problem with this is that the concept of a "kind" is completely unscientific and nebulous, and the only reason (from their point of view) for the concept of micro evolution at all is that they can't deny things like dogs, which have massive variation

 

So when you debate a theist there are some good questions to ask:

- What exactly is a "kind"? (Normal answers relate to something like "creatures that can interbreed")

- What about dinosaurs?

- What about the entire new species of mosquito that evolved in the london underground in the last few hundred years, that can't breed with the surface mosquitos?

- How about the Lenski E Coli evolution experiments that resulted in entirely new forms of bacteria?

 

Of course people will delude themselves into whatever makes sense to them

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