And although I still do agree with the principle of the right to defend ourselves, the armed conflict must be the absolute last resort. So, on Remembrance Day, I will stop, reflect and remember the lives of those I knew, and also on those I never had the chance to know.
Religion has played an integral part in the development of most civilizations. It was the forebear of nationalism before there were nations, giving people a collective sense of identity that fostered cooperation. Leading progressive societies of today have since progressed however, replacing religious scriptures with liberal constitutions that embrace humanity rather than subjugate it. A culture of free inquiry and skeptic review has also replaced religious dogma and unlocked numerous opportunities for society outside the limits of our default cognitive capacity ever since Sir Francis Bacon came up with the scientific method. Religion was a necessary baby step and it was far from perfect as modern day progressive trends continue to show. Taking just one of the Nordic countries for instance: Sweden; studies have shown that 85% of their population is non religious today. Their churches are now museums, science and progress characterizes their modern culture. As a result, their standard of life is ranked amongst the best today and the same is true for Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Czech Republic, Estonia, Japan, Taiwan, Uruguay and many other countries. The only first world country that still has high religiosity is the United States of America, and the reason for this is simply conservative politics. Republicans have successfully nationalized Jesus making Mississippi the new Jerusalem. Third world countries on the other hand are stuck with religion, thanks to a colonial legacy that saw imperialists coming with the Bible or Quran in one hand and a gun in the other.
Most third world countries had their own religions before the colonial Era. Africa in particular which is the most religious yet poorest continent in the world today had numerous religions that differed from tribes to places. These traditional religions, though limited in perception, reflected the African experience and a necessary stage in the evolution of their societal and intellectual discourse. The process of religious relativism was in their control and African pride was at its core. Islam and Christianity came to Africa as a result of imperial conquest and these new religions detached Africans from their social evolution and experiences. The mission to “civilize” Africa by European Imperialists saw various missionary societies proselytizing to natives and in some cases such as the London Missionary Society in Southern Africa, committing genocide against African societies that refused to leave their traditional religions. The colonized African lost his or her experience, identity and freedom. Fast forward to the post colonial era, most African countries are in such a confused state. Most Africans cannot relate to how their current society evolved. Their constitutions are modeled after the European experience yet their society never went through the same processes for them to wholefully own it. The colonial religions were never given a chance to undergo relativism like they did in Europe and so they are still intact with their feudal status. Religion is at the core of the problem that slows down progress in Africa. The average African is more religious than the average European, Asian or American today. Africans are stuck in the past of Western civilization. The same building that is a museum in Prague would be at the heart of the society in Harare. As the first world adopts the scientific world view that has been proven to work, Africa is stuck in the religious world view; a babyish attempt at understanding the universe by bronze age nomads as the late Christopher Hitchens once said.
Consequently, scientific literacy is the lowest in Africa. This has cost the continent a great deal in the global free market enterprise. There hasn’t been room for innovation or invention as most African countries continue to depend on the first world’s scientific progress. Religion has crippled African education especially when it comes to science. Crucial topics like the biological evolution of species come to mind. Human understanding of evolution has led to the discovery of DNA, antibiotics, CRISPR and it is at the heart of modern medicine. The average African biology class teaches evolution with a disclaimer that it’s not true… because Adam and Eve were in a magic garden with a talking snake. One would wonder how a biology teacher would think snakes can talk when they don’t even have vocal codes. Most syllabi especially in Muslim countries don’t even mention scientific subjects that contradict religion be it evolution or astrophysics. It will be a while until Africa starts its own space program or innovates its industry.
Religion has also corrupted African culture especially with regards to morality. Morality has nothing to do with religion, but rather empathy. Religion has however taken a central role to Africa’s moral campus. It has passed off its repressive and dehumanizing medieval values as moral ones. 21st century Africa reflects 17st century Salem. Witch hunts, exorcisms and even paying indulgences are still a thing! Maybe these medieval references downplay the reality of religion in Africa today because it is actually worse. Religion was in a similarly bad place during the crusades and inquisitions in Europe but Africa is worse off today because it’s not just any religion, it’s colonial religion. Colonial religion comes with a certain air of authority while banking on absolute ignorance. Neither Islam nor Christianity originated from Africa, and so the evolution of the Christian and Muslim narrative is never in sync with the African experience. Fraudulent, dubious prophets like Bushiri, T.B Joshua and Magaya are a more crooked version of the Borgias today, making profits out of gullible Africans and giving them false hope. They are at the forefront of witch hunts and exorcisms, spraying toxic insecticides at their followers, making them eat grass and taking advantage of women. Homophobia and misogyny is also at its worst in Africa because of these colonial religions. Unlike in other parts of the world were people learn and change their beliefs, Africans look to the Pope in Italy or Imams in Mecca to form their own opinion about their culture or moral campus. That’s how the Pope discourages condom use in AIDS infested Africa so easily.
In order for Africa to have a chance at progress, there is need for cultural reform and it is next to impossible with colonial religion dominating power structures and legislation (which is also heavily influenced by colonial laws). Secularism will do a lot for African education, harmony and progress. Most importantly, putting the African man or woman at the Centre of the moral outlook will give the continent a chance at progress and social evolution, taking off the shackles of obsolete and oppressive ideals that come from a dark era in our history.
By Takudzwa Mazwienduna