Chronicles from the land of the happiest people on earth

Is a novel by Wole Soyinka which I highly recommend. The mix of corruption, officialdom and religiosity has been done so masterfully that occasionally one finds themselves laughing out loud. There is a place in the book he talks about choice and the example he gives is so riveting. I will quote it here verbatim.

[…]You see, you are sitting on top of this mud hill, and they are swarming all over you, crawling, rushing, racing with one another, columns and columns of them, getting more and more disturbed. When you disturb them, they begin to sting. You climb higher and higher, and finally there is nowhere else to go. And could they sting! The soldier ants, and the ones we call fire ants, who not only sting and bite but leave a painful red blister behind- yes, they begin their work. All that so called man courage is gone. The fire ants, you didn’t know, they had already traveled up your trouser legs….

So what choice you get? Nuttin’ at all. First you take off your trousers, but it is already too late. The soldier ants are already entangled with the hair of your blockos! You simply must take off your trousers, then the underpants. This is not in one corner-corner place where you can hide yourself, it is in public of other people, men and women, even children. But you must take off those trousers… so much for the neighbour you once slap for poking her nose in your family affairs! She’s looking at your real family affair and there is nothing you can do about it.


But the ending of the story reminded me of the dispute between a man and his ego/soul following the betrayal of the gong o four by Farodion.

Our schools have a religion problem

And I think it can be traced back to the beginning of the nation state. But more on this after a slight digression. The constitution of Kenya under Chapter 4 and article 32 provides for the following

  1. Every person has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion
  2. Every person has the right, either individually or in community with others, in public or in private, to manifest any religion or belief through worship, practice, teaching or observance, including observance of a day of worship.
  3. A person may not be denied access to any institution, employment or facility, or the enjoyment of any right, because of the person’s belief or religion
  4. A person shall not be compelled to act, or engage in any act, that is contrary to the person’s belief or religion

and I argue that these rights are absolute. They apply to a child or to an adult and as such any regulation by a private body that contravenes any of the provisions above is acting in violation of the supreme law and should be compelled to comply.

Formal & Western education in Kenya has its beginnings in mission schools run by the religious arm of the colonialists- or we shall just call them missionaries. The goal of this education- if we can call it education- was to create Christians out of Africans who hitherto had no religion, that is, no codified belief as seen in Christianity or Islam or any other ancient religion that codified their beliefs. When the colonial administration expanded the education curriculum, it was meant to create a semi educated labour force and administrators, but never thinkers. The curriculum included religious education/ instruction which I think we should call correctly as religious indoctrination. This did not change even post independence.

The religion problem in our schools and our education system in general is borne from the mistaken belief that religion is important in ethical formation of young people, that without it they will be lost to the devil or something close. Or maybe even join a cult. To address the religious discrimination going on in schools, it is not enough to quote the law, the root cause must be addressed. Those responsible for the formation of our children must first be made aware that religion is not a prerequisite for ethical behaviour. And on the contrary, religion provides a cover, many times for unethical conduct. Take the case of the president who does not miss an opportunity for public display of religiosity but I am not many people consider him an example of a virtuous man.

Why is this important? The Court of Appeal has ruled and I agree that learners shouldn’t be compelled to follow a school’s faith. I think this ruling has been long overdue. I recall having to attend Sunday service which was compulsory and one could be punished for dozing off during a boring sermon or for forgetting to bring a hymnal to the service regardless of what faith one belonged to. It was unjust. Still is unjust to force students to attend a prayer service. Attendance to church service should be optional and those students, who like me, don’t want to go to church should be left to their own devices, like private study or catching up with badly needed sleep!.

And I find the school’s demand, in the above case, to be outrageous. By arguing that it would have granted the nine learners reasonable religious accommodation by exempting them from the Friday Mass if they could prove that their faith was a genuinely held belief, the school administration is arguing that only their faith is a genuinely held belief and any other must be subject of proof. And one wonders where they got such powers? Being of no faith or of a different faith is not a subject of proof. It should be accepted prima facie.

There is need for civic education right from primary school. Children should grow up not only knowing algebra but also what rights and freedoms they have as citizens of the republic. What protections the constitution guarantees among other things. If we are going to address cults, then educational institutions cannot be grounds for indoctrination but must encourage free enquiry. Religious indoctrination should be removed from the curriculum and replaced with philosophy- age appropriate philosophy-. Let religious instruction be done in the hearth of the family home. And our schools be bastions of free thought and secular education. Or maybe I am wrong.

Who knows?

where do we go from here

This song has nothing to do with this post. But it is Sunday so any song can do.

The here I am talking about is the hot debate currently trending this side of the ocean regarding the starving to death of 100s of worshipers in the coastal town of Kilifi. This post, like the one before it, is a commentary on an article written by Dr. Reginald Oduor. He says there are three vital questions that have yet to be answered, these are

  • How do rogue preachers thrive in their deception?
  • Is there an essential difference between religious fanaticism and political fanaticism?
  • What is the correct balance between respect for freedom of worship as enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya 2010 and the warranted limitations to that freedom through subsidiary legislation necessitated by rogue preachers?

To the first question, he proffers three responses: poverty- religion flourishes, mostly, among the poor; channeling Platinga, his second response is we humans have a hunger for the spiritual and that we have a god shaped hole in our hearts- this is easily falsified- there are many people among us who don’t have this hole; and lastly, he says these people didn’t study the bible well. I have no issues with the first claim, though we see even rich people taken in by churches but not in the same magnitude as the poor. To the second and third responses, I disagree with the good doc. First, quoting Cotta from the disputations of Cicero

You have said that the general assent of men of all nations and all degrees is an argument strong enough to induce us to acknowledge the being of the Gods. This is not only a weak, but a false, argument; for, first of all, how do you know the opinions of all nations?

The argument that we all have a god shaped hole is not only weak but it is also evidently false. Platinga didn’t offer any demonstrations for it. Nor did Augustine. They just threw it out there hoping it will stick.

On the third response, that they didn’t adequately study the bible. He offers the following verses Matthew 24:24-25, 2nd Peter 2:1-3, and Acts 20:29-30. The problem with all these verses, including Matthew 7:15-16, is they offer no way of distinguishing the false and true prophets. Is profit Owuor a false profit? Or Joel Osteen? Maybe they should read Ezekiel 13:1-7. Or maybe we should read 1 Kings but even then we would still be lost. There is no definite criteria for distinguishing a false from a true profit.

We move to the next question, that is, is there any difference between political and religious fanaticism? My answer is unequivocal yes. Reginald goes farther to show the unholy marriage between the church and politics in Kenya where each side uses the other for her means while screwing the masses.

And finally, when we come to the last important question of what is to be done, the good doc has no answer. He recognizes the protections in the constitution on religious freedom that wouldn’t allow the government to meddle in religious affairs. He proposes self regulation which I don’t know how this would work. As an academician, he fails to suggest as a possible solution education that encourages critical thinking, discourage indoctrination of children till they are mature enough to question religious teachings, and ridicule. I like ridicule. I know it is counterproductive but some religious beliefs can only be addressed through ridicule.

Or maybe I am being too harsh and the good doc has provided us with solutions on where to go from here now. Let me hear your thoughts.

Trouble with religious freedom

Prof B Ndemo has written something on the recent religion related deaths along the Kenyan coast. I am not sure I understand his solution to the problem, if it is a problem in the first place.

The good doc writes

It would be great if there were no manipulative persons who would take advantage of the legal provisions and the vulnerability of poor people in our society.

and I ask, give me a religion that doesn’t do this.

He then asks what should the government do to protect its people? He falls back to the restrictions the state has or can put on freedom of expression when it concerns matters of public order, national security, public health or public morals- for example the Fed prohibiting distribution of obscene material by any means. In fact, obscenity is not protected under the 1A. What type of restrictions would the state put in dealing with religion observance? Can it say you can fast but not till you die?

He writes, emphasis mine,

My objective, therefore, is first to precipitate debate about formalising a self-regulatory mechanism of religious groups and to create awareness of the strategies employed by cults such that society can exercise caution around any organisation that requires unquestioning submission or promotes harmful behaviour.

and i am confused really. Political parties, religions most often require unquestioning submission. In more than 98% of the churches I know, there is no QA. There is no discussion on how we know what we believe is true.

Oblivious to the implicit bias in his recommendations, the good prof writes

Religious cults are known for their ability to manipulate and control their members, often convincing them to do things that are harmful to themselves or others.

and I ask again, what does religion do if not social control and manipulation.Which reminds of the Seneca quote; the common people find religion as true, the political class as useful and the philosophers/ wise as false.

I think in this next statement, our good prof has ceased to be serious. He writes, and I hope, he didn’t mean this seriously

Some tactics include manipulating emotions, isolating their members from family and friends who might challenge the groups and offering false hope such as promising their members salvation and enlightenment.

because if he has watched a religious crusade on TV or this, he would have seen manipulation is the game on offer. On false hope, is that not the only thing that binds almost all the religious groups together? That there is a heaven policed by a god ready to damn to eternal damnation the happy of this world and to promote to eternal life and glory those who confessed belief without question, even if occasionally they were total assholes? If these are not forms of emotional manipulation and false hope, then i don’t know what is.

He continues

How will someone owe anyone the duty of justice if he/she believes or mischievously thinks that death takes you to heaven?

and i wonder if there is another way to heaven except via death? Unless one believes in the story of Elijah or Mo riding to heaven in a chariot of fire or a pegasus respectively.

In giving credit where it is due, the prof returns to lucidity with his final paragraph when he writes

The best antidote to religious abuse is education, media literacy, and helping people to recognise the manipulative behaviour they are using. For example, in Europe, they benefited from education and scientific advancements.

which makes me wonder, though, if he is aware of the many periods of religious madness in Europe? But one thing we can all agree on, is critical thinking is an antidote to this madness. Education is not sufficient. There are educated people in these cults and religions. And they hold very important positions of power in our society.

the hidden face of god

is a book by Friedman which i read a while back and this post has reminded me of the book. Friedman’s argument, iirc, is that god- of the bible- has been receding from his subjects. He starts off in genesis by lively walks in the garden of Eden to showing only his ass to sending representatives. In this recess, we have an opportunity to take care of our shit, the best way we know how.

And that brings us to the linked article in which Alan writes

However, there is something relatively new in our civilisation; the retreat of God into a quiescent state, which should be a welcome development. Why; because if God, or the gods generally, can deliver nothing on their own, their role in human affairs is at best dubious.

which again reminds me of a book i read where the author wrote the gods are nothing to us. Only we can help ourselves.

He continues to write

Recognising that God is in a state of rest greatly clarifies the human condition, making men squarely face their world. Carry your burdens with intelligence and earn all the credit, or stumble and fall in the dust as degraded creatures.

and here, we can say most of us don’t carry our burthens with intelligence. We still believe that the gods who have gone to sleep care about our troubles, our fasting- or as the case maybe- starving to death. Many believe they can earn the favour of their favorite god by saying a few words and performing some rituals.

Alan writes

Many people, especially Africans, still pray until they are hoarse, turning their faces and stretching their arms upward. They scream like wild animals. They howl and twist their tongues like witchdoctors, conjuring supposed effects of an invading Holy Spirit and the death of demons. In extreme weirdness, they see the Divine. When God is quiescent, they peddle the exact opposite about His condition, telling the gullible that He is in a state of super-activity.

And boy, don’t I like him!

His, Alan’s recommendation that The quest for rational thinking is more effective than government laws is a reminder that we must invest in teaching critical thought. Laws cannot cure this madness.

Happy Labour day/ May Day

News coming from home

If you read the BBC, Reuters or any such publication you must have read of the guys who starved themselves to death in the hope that Jesus will come for them or something like that. That 70 bodies have been exhumed is a painful thing. One wonders though how do you, as an adult, starve to death? And why take children into a cult?

Every time something this crazy happens, I ask myself what happens to their brains under religion. How do you not see that you are going to die and maybe your cult leader is wrong, that he knows shit? And can we let the children out of it?

In another of those jokes that tell themselves, the president is set to appoint a Bishop of an evangelical Church to head the ethics and corruption cover-up commission. The last head was another Bishop who managed to successfully cover up corruption. In fact, going by the performance of this body, there is no corruption in this nation and whoever is saying so should have their tongue slit.

Is Pink attending the coronation? Last I checked he was his highness Pink

We stop here for now.

The best religion

“A religion of just being kind would be a pretty good religion, don’t you
think so? But a religion of kindness and useful effort is nearly a perfect
We used to think it was a man’s belief concerning a dogma that would fix his place in eternity. This was because we believed that God was a
grumpy, grouchy old gentleman, stupid, touchy and dictatorial. A really
good man would not damn you even if you didn’t like him, but a bad
man would.As our ideas of God changed, we ourselves changed for the better. Or, as we thought better of ourselves we thought better of God. It will be character that locates our place in another world, if there is one, just as it is our character that fixes our place here.
We are weaving character every day, and the way to weave the best
character is to be kind and to be useful.

Elbert Hubbard

There’s nothing to add to this.

We take a break from regular broadcasting for a PSA

The quote below reminds me of the religious crusades I have seen over the years. Some church services even take this form. Elbert Hubbard was right on the money on this.

“The basic element of the revival is hypnotism. The scheme of bringing about the hypnosis, or the obfuscation of the intellect, has taken generations to carefully perfect. The plan is first to depress the
spirit to a point where the subject is incapable of independent thought.
Mournful music, a monotonous voice of woe, tearful appeals to God,
dreary groans, the whole mingled with pious ejaculations, all tend to
produce a terrifying effect upon the auditor. The thought of God’s
displeasure is constantly dwelt upon—the idea of guilt, death and
eternal torment. If the victims can be made to indulge in hysterical
laughter occasionally, the control is better brought about. No chance is allowed for repose, poise or sane consideration. When the time seems ripe a general promise of joy is made and the music takes an adagio turn. The speaker’s voice now tells of triumph—offers of forgiveness are tendered, and then the promise of eternal life.”

Excerpt From
Love, Life & Work
Elbert Hubbard
This material may be protected by copyright.

Have you been a victim of this con?

it’s too early to comment on this

but i think this will be interesting. When I read it, I was reminded of my other readings into the works of the anthropologists who came to Africa with Christian missionaries in tow to find out whether my ancestors believed in a creator, monotheist god and then interpreted the names the Africans based on their biases to mean what they wanted. For example, while being taught catechism as a child, we would be asked ngano mano chweyo piny gi polo? This is translated as who created the earth and the heavens?. But this translation is misleading. There is no concept of ex nihilo creation in Dholuo. And the right meaning would be who moulded the heavens and the earth. In this second interpretation, the subject is working with available material to mould a world out of it. A creation out of nothing wouldn’t make sense to my ancestors. It doesn’t make sense to me either. That looks like the same thing with the Egyptian mummies. But as a good student, I suggest we wait for more researches into this matter. Unfortunately, we will have to rely on conjecture and speculation and we will take the solution that makes the least assumptions and marries well with the data we got until we are lucky one day to resurrect one of the dead Egyptian embalmers.

Did I miss something? What do you think of the article? But you can also talk about anything your fancy drives you to. We can call this a new year open comment post. You can also suggest what you would like your host to write about this year. I promise to take these suggestions seriously.