Recently Times Online columnist Matthew Parris, who is an atheist, wrote an article based on the idea that Africa needs the Christian god.
It is true that Christian missionaries do good and important work in many countries around the world, and that Christianity can lead to some positive changes in people’s lives. What Mr. Parris seems to be missing is that there is not simply a choice between doing nothing and promoting Christianity.
In his world, where this false dichotomy appears to be accepted as real, conversion to Christianity may seem like a far better choice, but is Christianity really what Africa needs?
- Does Africa need disinformation about condoms in the face of an AIDS epidemic?
- Does Africa need endless apocalyptic sermons from one of thousands of Christian-based cults giving them fear (or worse hope) that the world is about to end?
- Does Africa need a Christian counterpart to its growing Muslim populations so that one day they can fight a holy war against each other?
While it is true that the majority of Christians in the world don’t preach about the imminent end of the world or disparage condom use, in Africa today there are disinformation campaigns and condom burnings being carried out by African churches and foreign evangelists, and Christian doomsday cults have become all too common.
Simply convincing people to believe in a god or religion or another is not enough. Putting an even higher but invisible and intangible authority over people does not teach them how to live happily and peacefully with each other, it simply gives their leaders a more powerful way of inspiring or cowing them into doing what they’re told. In some cases this includes suicide, war or other atrocities as horrible as any in the world.
Africa needs change, but like every other place it needs the truth. Of course each region of the world is best served by having things presented in the way that is most effective for its people, but ultimately the truth is the truth. To say that the people of one specific continent just can’t handle living without a belief system based on lies is to say that they are less than the rest of us.
The majority of Africans may not be well served by missionaries passing out translations of The End of Faith and The God Delusion, but hope, joy, self respect and knowledge of the importance and fragility of the world we live in and of the lives we are living now can all be found by looking at the world for what it is. We just have to find the right way to present our case to them.
As evangelical Christian warlord General Laurent Nkunda shows, conversion to Christianity does not necessarily change a person’s way of life. Converting portions of the populations to Christianity and Islam may lead in the end to nothing more than a new and even more bitter division for further generations of war and genocide.
In place of the traditional strong man, Africa does not need a new crop of the same people whose only real difference is that they’ve got God on their side. Africa does not need millions of deluded AIDS orphans fighting for scraps of food while they listen to preachers rant about the imminent end of the world and the evils of condoms, what it needs is self sufficiency and well educated populations who know the truth about the world.
This is not something that can be accomplished over night, and it make take several generations to complete even if we make it a priority, but Africa is an important and all too often overlooked or abused continent. Again we have a clear choice to make in how we deal with the African people, and to look down on them as subhuman and incapable of attaining the levels of knowledge and understanding that we possess, as we did for centuries in the past, is to continue and compound those errors which were born out of racism and can only survive in the more subtle veins of racist thought that still creep into our minds today.