Africa Needs God? Like a Hole in the Head!

Posted by on February 13, 2012 in Featured, Thoughts | 6 comments

I saw this article on the RDFRS ( website and at first was wondering whether the ideas presented had any merit. In short it suggests Christianity as a stop-gap step from magic-based tribalism (which we all know can be extremely harmful) to some form of self governance, and eventually toward a secular future for these African nations.

What had me wondering was the statements by¬† the self-proclaimed “atheist”, Matthew Parris, that he had seen an improvement in people’s lives when they had Christianity in their lives, improvements in social order, improvements in sanitation, improvements in quality of life, and sense of well-being and camaraderie that had been absent before. Parris says that Christianity has grown up enough in the past few centuries that it is basically only beneficial, and much of the harmful dogma that the religion has within its books are no longer to be believed, so become moot.

In the article he writes:

” Anxiety – fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things – strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won’t take the initiative, won’t take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.”

But think about this for a minute. Is replacing one form of mythology with another really helpful? Is it wise to teach a dogma to a people that, while on the surface may be beneficial, is just another form of delusion? And who are we to tell them that their superstitions and beliefs are wrong, only to impose “our brand of superstition” upon them? Is this not just another example of religious colonialism?

It would seem to me that replacing the “great weight” of tribal witchcraft, and replacing it with the just as “great weight” as the threat of damnation and hell would hardly be a helpful situation. At best, taking the fear from the anthropomorphic spirits of trees, animals and omens and replacing it with the thought that “God can see your every move” is just displacement of the fear of magic.

I propose a solution which involves no religion whatsoever. A secular solution, which involves¬† teaching children the basics of hygiene and self-care, reading and writing, mathematics and a solid grounding in science. Teaching adults about safe-sex practices, and giving people access to contraception. Empowering women within communities to become educated, and encouraging them to pass this on to their communities. Teaching that the real value of human life lies in the way we treat each other, and is not governed by invisible magical powers. Clean water, clean housing, agricultural basics. These are the things that bring about well-being, and help foster a sense of community. Religion in this sense may be seen as the conduit for the education and action, but so much of the dogma can be reinterpreted, misinterpreted and taken “too literally” that it may actually get in the way of progress.

There’s no need for a god in this solution, but at the same time, if people wish to embrace one, there’s no reason they can’t. I just think that to use a religion, any religion, as the reason behind the betterment of any society or culture is disingenuous.

His conclusion reads:

“Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow[sic] that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

“And I’m afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.”

So without God in the equation, Africa becomes a haven for brand-names, magic, technology and violence? Well I’m sure the people of the north African nations are just loving what the use of religion as a way to divide the people is doing up there. Is it not possible, nay probable, that given the right kind of education, a kind that promotes deductive reasoning over omens and superstition of any kind, that African nations can help themselves to some kind of betterment?

I’d like to hear your take on the article, and help to propose any further ideas to further these people, or problems that you see

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  1. Throughout history Christianity has absorbed whatever if felt necessary from local beliefs in order to usurp control. This will be the case in tribal Africa too so the perceived benefits of switching paranormal belief is dramatically reduced. I’m with you; a secular, scientific approach with clear understanding of cause and effect is the way forwards. Prayer won’t help Africa.

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  2. How can Mr. Parris promote his religious agenda if he’s an atheist? Saying Christianity will help the Africans is analogous to telling them to self-flagellate in order to drive the demons out of your body that are making you ill ! What’s the point of replacing one set of fairy-tales with another one? Does he believe that mankind cannot understand any concept that is not based on some kind of magical thinking?

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  3. I too was shocked by this article however, for myself as a christian it was a pleasant surprise. It is bizzare to me though, that anyone would propose something they foundationally believed was a lie as a plausable solution to anything. As a christian i dont think i would ever see a global or social problem that i would suggest Islam for example as being the best answer. Obviously we all hold to the world views, beliefs and religions we have because hopefully we genuinely believe they are true and the best way to live personally and as a community. Perhaps the author holds a basic “i dont believe in any god.” conviction compared to a “i beleive faith/religion is a cancer upon humanity” type conviction? Is anyone else familiar with this guy?
    it was refreshing to hear a possitive affirmation of the good work done around the world by christians in comparison to the horror stories and hypocritical tradgeties often highlighted (and justly condemmed) by those who are antagonistic to Christianity. As someone who wasnt raised as a christian it resonated with me when he made the statement that “In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good” because that has been my expeience and from a personally pure/genuine motivation why I believe Christianity to be the best thing for others. Including those in Africa. (as im sure all people say about their own convictions)
    I have many friends who’s lives are extreme examples of passion, sacrifice and generosity all inspiered by their faith. Im not suggesting only christians do this at all but just as a couple of examples of how Christian charities can come about and be a catalyst for progress and positive chance.
    One family (the wilcox’s 2 adults and 4 kids) uprooted their entire lives to build a home where they look after orphaned H.I.V. possitive babies/children in thailand. Penny the mother of the family and founder of the project has been battling cancer for 11 years and should have died a long time ago but has suck a strong sense of conviction and love for these otherwise neglected infants that her own extreme personal suffering is just a minor speed bump of kemo and specialist and sickness that she pushes through to essentially give her life away for these babies. All so far have reverted back to H.I.V negative through thier care.
    Another friend of mine Kate (mother of 3 boys house and house wife at the time) 10 years ago as a result of time in prayer thought that she should go to cambodia even tho she knew nothing about it or where it was or why its would be a place she should go to. 10 years later she has got her mid wifery degree and takes teams over to cambodia to train traditional birth attendants because the mortality rate during labor is extremely high, she has also pulled some strings and made contacts so now her organisation performs for free i think its like 40- 60% of the cataract surgerys in cambodia restoring sight to the blind. they also own a few hectares of farming land which they use to stimulate income to give interest free loans to cambodian families in extreme poverty so they can keep their families together and become self sufficient, she also convinced the rotary club of south australia to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars (i think it was) in hospital supplies and equipment to fully deck out a hospital over there because they were so poorly equiped, they are just about to open a vocational training center in an area of cambodia that all other aid organisations have written off as impossible to help because nothing else work that again will keep families together and keep them fed. After that she is planning working on strategies to rescue women out of the sex trade and educate western men particularly about the oppression and destruction it causes. Im actually going along at the end of this year myself and taking a bunch of young people. I know this is a concept that we cant see the same way but she will have no problem telling you that yes she is a driven hard working compassionate person but apart from her faith she would not be doing what she is doing now. (all unpaid as well she works here as a wid-wife and her husband works to survive) She would also tell u stories of coincidence after coincidence of seemingly impossible doors and avenues being opened to her even to governmental officers in answer to prayer to make all this happen.
    I dont expect any athiest to accept the answer to prayer explanation so let me say this objectively- her belief that she wasnt just doing this on her own but that the God of the universe had her back at very least gave her the boldness and confidence to do something as your standard house wife and mum, that to most of us including her self would never dream were possible. I would suggest many others who do great works out of religious convictions find a courage to do the “impossible” and make a great sacrifice. We all have seenwhat radically religious convictions can do in a negative light but might i add imagine that same fever enthusiam and willingness to go to the extremes focused on the goal of helping others which i believe is true biblical christianity.
    These are just two examples out of 5 or 6 projects i am closely associated with of very regular mums dad and families going to extremes to help those in need not as an event but as a life style because of the foundational christian belief that “greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.”
    sorry for the mega rant hope this isnt offensive to anyone i was quite hesitent as to if i should make a contribution or not. keen to hear your thoughts.

    ps the cambodian thing doesnt overtly share any religious convictions or require participants to be christians so if anyone ever wants to know more and get on board for a trip let me know all who care are welcome!!!

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  4. The negative effect of abstinence only education with HIV/AIDS has cause unbelievable horror and suffering for the people of Africa. If we look past this official doctrine we could look towards Catholic leaders saying that the west is putting AIDS in condoms to deceive its partitioners into not using condoms or the baptist insistance that AIDS is actually a gay disease, the examples of suffering propagated by religious proponents of misinformation causes easily avoidable suffering and death on a scale I do not honestly believe any individual can comprehend. (Citations available on request.)

    If you want to identify the organisations doing the most in Africa, I would point towards both The Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation and Doctors Without Borders.

    I note that neither is tied to a government or a religion.

    The most immediate needs in africa are the combating of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and what have been titled “The Neglected Diseases.”

    I had a rather scathing critique of Mr. McPhee’s comment but I deleted it. You lose this round, late night wine!

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    • feel free to.scathe im always keen to hear more and learn and reconsider. its why i enjoy these articles and discussions. if we arent willing to hear the best arguments against us rob our selves. id totally agree with you that abstinence only teaching is a bad move. i dont know of as denominations beside the roman catholic church that hold a united view on christian who holds that view including baptist. the groups i know who are personally at work dont have that as part of their agenda at all. im sure many individuals might but to generalise all christian denomination and charities may be simply false. i think its alsom important to consider that the author in question is a first hand eye witness not one coming from first world speculation. what he has witnessed on the ground is a possitive thing. if u dont think christian charities are capable of possitive influence id challenge u to come to cambodia so
      u can have an eye witness account of either the horrors or the benefits if a

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  5. When my wife (Christian – African American) is praying it often sounds to me like incanting spells. Also all of the superstition of ghosts and demons and whatnot is still there, just dressed in a Christian dress.

    I see no difference between either form of superstition. And no Christiantiy doesnt make people more caring either. I just need to look how people with Christian stickers drive every day …

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