Sunday, April 05, 2015

africa's opium is the religion of others...,


mail&guardian |  For much of this week, our roads will overflow with cars, buses and minibuses full of pilgrims en route to African Zions and Jerusalems. Many local rivers will become Jordans in which the recently converted will be born again. Country valleys will echo with songs of gratitude from wretched souls singing: “Jo, ke mohlolo ha ke ratwa le nna [what a miracle it is for someone like me to be loved].”

Innocent villagers will be battered with amplified sermons on loudspeakers in all manner of fake American accents. With their stomping feet, the dancing masses will convert ordinary mountains and hills into sacred spaces. And the goats will catch hell on several fronts – they will be slaughtered either in celebration or in libation.

For more than 170 years, Karl Marx’s brief reference to religion as the opium of the people has proved hard to forget and harder to forgive. He probably did not have Africa in mind when he made the statement, but nowhere is this Marxist “dictum” in sharper focus. This is the continent whose people respected scholar and academic John Mbiti’s described as “notoriously religious”.

Nothing captures the tragedy and the wonder of the African continent better than the coexistence of poverty and religiosity, both in their most extreme forms imaginable. The question is whether the coincidence is merely casual or causal – and in which direction. Are Africans poor because they are religious, religious because they are poor, or religious in spite of being poor?