Religion has limits in the secular world

HARARE - One would be forgiven for thinking that Zimbabwe is caught up in some sort of national religious frenzy.

Pastors, prophets, politicians-come-pastors-messiahs, business people are regularly making reference to God or Jesus in relation to what should essentially be secular spheres of our national social life. It should have all reached its fever pitch by the time we held elections that had two religion motivated campaign themes. Namely “Voice of the People is the Voice of God” (Zanu PF) and “God’s in it” (MDC Alliance). 

It turns out that a good number of clergy persons were thinking beyond the electoral period and looking at consolidating their stay on the national stage.  And commenting on what are secular issues.  Or issues that are fundamentally beyond their religious purview. 

Two recent incidents come to mind.  Firstly, some pastors have been commenting on the state of the economy and what they perceive to be political or economic solutions to current problems. 

Apart from again calling for a transitional authority or government of national unity (whose calls were rejected by the incumbent government), through to other relatively abstract comments about how the government must move to cushion the poor.  This is all well and good.  And their opinion is to be respected.  So long it does not appear to be an attempt at messianic tendencies via articles of faith over what are essentially structural aspects of our country’s political economy.  With or Without God’s intervention (I will come back to this point later).

The second and perhaps most astounding attempt by the clergy into the realm of the secular was this weekend’s unsubstantiated claim by Walter Magaya (also referred to as a prophet) that he has discovered/found the cure for HIV/Aids.  And by doing so challenged any doubters to come and do the relevant scientific tests after the event/announcement. 

We now all know that these clergy men have a similar template across the continent (via TV’s and congregations with ‘overflows’’) to try and combine mysticism and dramatic public performances (almost like secular magicians) to persuade those that are desperate as a result of poverty or a wanton desire for the material that they indeed are “prophets” of sorts. 

This HIV/Aids cure claim is one too many.  Such attempts by religious and in some cases political leaders to claim such powers for cures have ended in national health disasters and the needless loss of life. Anyone remember former Gambian president Yaya Jammeh and his ridiculous but more significantly tragic attempt at the same.

Closer to home there was one Burombo who also claimed the same.

Prophets and clergy men who make such claims to their thousands of supporters must be brought to public account. 

And they must be told of the limits to which they can go with claiming the superstitious as being superior to contemporary modern science.  Even if the latter has challenges of access, affordability for a majority poor of our country’s citizens in this age of neoliberalism.

But there are other more important factors to consider about the role of religion in contemporary Zimbabwean (and African) societies. 

Knowing full well that any attempt to reign in pastors and their followers will lead to them claiming persecution, it is important that secular Zimbabwean society begins to be much more apparent in everyday national consciousness.

The secular simply has to hold fort against these alarming levels of superstition and religiosity in our country. 

Not that there is any need for anyone to undermine the right of all Zimbabweans to assemble as well as their freedom to worship, but there are such things as shouting fire in a crowded hall that may lead to a tragic stampede. 

Or as was the case in the recent past, members of some apostolic churches refusing their children early medical treatment in the name of one god, prophet or the other.

It is the Zimbabwean state that has a social contract with all the people of Zimbabwe for their health and safety.

God’s or religious interventions via their “representatives” prophetic or otherwise should be reminded that the secular world, for now, best serves the democratic public interest.


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