“The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots” –Henry Louis Mencken
I am writing this piece knowing pretty well the irony of religion. If there have been great wars on earth with massive loss of life, religion claims a fair share as the cause. We have read about crusades and jihads – wars sponsored by two great world religions, Christianity and Islam, respectively.
Matters of religion and faith can be contentious and touchy-feely. That said, let me declare, for the record, that although I may not congregate with other worshippers as much as I should, I am nowhere near the “faith” of our man without faith, George Thindwa.
And my knowledge of the Bible, well, the text of the Bible (perhaps not its interpretation) is above average because in my youth I was an ardent reader of the Big Book. I liked those mythical stories, Jonah and the big fish, Moses and the burning bush, Mary and the virgin birth…you cannot beat that!
Anyway, I have always been fascinated by the celebrity status of the self-styled prophets, apostles, pastors and people- often men – of such ilk, both local and international.
And I have always held the view that poverty and desperation force people into following and believing these so-called men of God because these categories of people are susceptible to manipulation. I have seen people who struggle to make ends meet making handsome contributions to causes of some church or fellowship in the hope that their fortunes would be turned around…somehow.
Others, not exactly poor, but desperate in one way or the other, have also been seen making obscene contributions to some pseudo-churches or fellowships just because they think some luck will befall them. (Things like finding ideal marriage partners, conceiving babies or getting cured from some seemingly incurable afflictions top the list for such desperation).
And these so-called men of God have mustered the art of exploiting this poverty and desperation, if not gullibility, to mint money out of these poor or desperate souls.
For some reason, none of their followers is bothered by the affluence they exude.
People who do not question the obvious are, however, either indoctrinated or radicalised, if not fundamentalist.
That is where the problem begins.
Fundamentalists or radicals are often not rational when doing things. Further, these people are often manipulated (almost hypnotised). They would do anything – and literally everything – that their ‘prophets’ tell them without question.
Have you not heard of those people who massacred themselves in Uganda believing their preacher thatArmageddon was nigh or, closer home, that family in Ndirande that barbecued itself in the name of the Lord? To say nothing about those who allow their children to die of otherwise curable conditions simply because their beliefs bar them from seeking medication.
It is in the same vein that I am getting rather uncomfortable, if not apprehensive, with President Joyce Banda’s apparent obsession with Temitope Balogun Joshua, who trades as Prophet TB Joshua.
Certainly, Abiti does not come anywhere near poor. (How could she burn jet fuel just to ‘worship’ in Nigeria?) Desperate, perhaps she could be; what with all the litany of ills besetting her government less than five months to a crucial do-or-die election?
Ama calls TB Joshua her ‘spiritual father’. She could as well be turning to him for guidance and inspiration as her political world threatens to implode from the cashgate fall out.
And, being the shrewd businessman he is, TB Joshua seizes the opportunity to exploit the presence of the whole president of a country to market himself. Did you not see how Emmanuel TV of his Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) gloated over President Banda’s visit?
Now, get me right, I have no qualms with how the President chooses to live her spiritual life. After all she is Joyce Banda the person first before she is Joyce Banda the president.
But I am worried we just might have a president that is getting unwittingly radicalised. We might realise rather too late that our country is being run on the power of some prophesies whose veracity we may not ascertain. Indeed, some big decisions may be made based on prophesies our leader may be too indoctrinated to question.
I mean, how does one fly thousands of kilometres just to pray at some prophet’s synagogue? My quick check with regular airlines tells me a round trip for three people flying business class to Lagos costs no less than K4,900,000. (That is enough for some 980 bags of 50 kilogrammes of maize selling at K5,000 each to save the starving people of Dedza!)
And that is before we factor in lodging, local travel, security and, of course, the little issue of the offering to the temple!
Now, come to think of it, why should an honest prayer to God be that expensive? That surely must be the power of manipulation and a tell-tale sign that someone is being radicalised.
The prophets of old emphasised the existence of one God and warned people of the punishment that would befall them should they depart from God’s ways. And God’s ways were simply sanctity, justice and mercy to one another, especially to the oppressed.
Fidelity to God and averse to obsession with the material earthly things were also central to the prophets’ teachings.
I wonder how the latter-day ‘prophets’ like our TB Joshua measure up, suffice to say their obsession with earthly wealth and Armageddonic prophecies is scary.
The prophetic ministry ought to be concerned with the consequences of “sin”. But woe betide us if we begin to revel in predictions of death of leaders, loss in elections, accidents or results of football matches! I mean, a loss in a game of soccer is expected and has nothing to do with sin or the establishment of the kingdom of God.
And what has a plane crash got to do with sin?
I would not be surprised if my reflections above would anger quite a few people. But, like I said, major wars of the world were fought on religious beliefs.
Suffice to say that I am in no way suggesting that Abiti should cut her ties with TB Joshua, no. If she finds spiritual purity after interacting with him, so be it.
But she must remember she is president of a country. And the presidency brings with it some dignity.
In my book, it is embarrassing for my president to be seen in a trance before some prophet live on international TV. When you are in a trance (malilme) you are possessed by some powers and therefore you are not in control of all your faculties. Can that not qualify as some form of incapacity?
As my senior colleague Zebedee would put it, let us think of these things.
- This article appeared in the Sunday Times Muckracking column