Watched Cherie Blair presenting last night’s edition of the History of Christianity, or whatever it’s called. Question: Why is her perennial expression one of eyebrow-arching disgust, like as if she’s looking at what plopped out of a dog’s arse?
Anyway, while bemoaning the ‘loss of faith’ (i.e. the emergence of rationality – faith means believing in something you know to be untrue) she sees hope in the spectacular growth of the Church in Africa. She then speculated about reverse colonization, i.e. Africans re-igniting ‘The True Faith’ in Europe.
I wouldn’t hold your breath, mon Cherie.
In any event, this ‘spectacular growth’, constantly dragged up by dead-enders as they survey the mouldy carcass of the European model, is a chimera. Sure, there are huge numbers of whooping primitives partaking of the rituals, but these have only a nodding acquaintance with official Christian dogma and liturgy.
Take this for example (and this represents the norm, not the exception) from Der Spiegel.
Frequently the pagan rites have fused with a faith in Jesus Christ. Six men in flowing white robes stride across the square in Maryal Bai. One village elder, his features gnarled, is wearing a leopard-skin hat. Akoon Duong is an ordained priest, as are his five companions. To demonstrate his spiritual power the old man brandishes an elaborately carved spear, as do the other "spear masters" - the high priests of pagan nature worship. Akoon Duong has inherited these trappings of power from his grandfather, who in turn had received them from his own grandfather.
The men thrust their spears into the muddy ground and dance. One of them pounds out the beat on a bush drum. Scrawny arms flail upward, quivering in ecstasy. They render their songs in high, reedy voices. If there were a drought, they would have had to invoke Deng, the rain god. But this is the wet season; malaria can strike at any time, so they pray for deliverance from disease.
In truth, religious distinctions have long blurred, indeed evaporated, in Africa. Someone who attends church in the morning and the mosque at midday might easily invite a voodoo priest over in the evening to read the kola nuts.
In Benin City, Nigeria's human trafficking hub, where the women from the region's slums begin their journeys to Europe's red-light districts, the path to the gods of nature runs through a backyard reeking of urine. The voodoo priest Chief John Odeh receives his flock in a white gown. His upholstered throne is trimmed with red satin. Ape skulls, amulets and shells are laid out on the concrete floor of the adjacent garage. Figures of Ogun, the god of iron, Orunmila, the god of wisdom, and Olokun, the god of waters, adorn this unusual shrine.
"Pastors go to church in the morning and preach Christianity," says the voodoo priest. "And in the evening they come to me and speak with their forefathers."
Can't see that catching on in Stockholm, somehow
The Devil's Children
Then we have the phenomenon of the devil's children. These unfortunates are "identified" by powerful religious leaders at extremist churches where Christianity and traditional beliefs have combined to produce a deep-rooted belief in, and fear of, witchcraft. The priests spread the message that child-witches bring destruction, disease and death to their families.
And they say that, once possessed, children can cast spells and contaminate others.The religious leaders offer help to the families whose children are named as witches, but at a price. Of course. The churches run exorcism, or "deliverance", evenings where the pastors attempt to drive out the evil spirits. Only they have the power to cleanse the child of evil spirits, they say. The exorcism costs the families up to a year's income.
But well worth it. How would you like to have a witch in your family?
During the "deliverance" ceremonies, the children are shaken violently, dragged around the room and have potions poured into their eyes. The children look terrified. The parents look on, praying that the child will be cleansed. If the ritual fails, they know their children will have to be sent away, or killed.
Many are held in churches, often on chains, and deprived of food until they "confess" to being a witch.However, there remain strong associations with the West. According to one source “the ceremonies are highly lucrative for the spiritual leaders many of whom enjoy a lifestyle of large homes, expensive cars and designer clothes.”
And the adaptation of African Catholic priests to animism and fetishism is increasing greatly. Priests are frequently using practices of voodoo: the appeal to ancestral spirits, the recourse to mediums and possessed spirits, the use of its healing methods, divination, ritual magic and identification of enemies.
The situation was described by the Bishops of South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland, in a joint pastoral letter issued August 11, 2006. They depicted a picture of a large part of the clergy of their countries participating in the mentioned animist and fetishist practices. The African Bishops expressed “concern” and told the priests to “desist from the traditional healing practices involving spirits” (America, August 28, 2006, p. 8).
“As everyone knows, the practices of animism and fetishism include devil worship. So, we have this paradox: Following a norm of Vatican II – adaptation of the liturgy to the cultures of different peoples – a significant part of the African clergy ends by directly or indirectly worshipping the Devil”.
Maybe this is what the Vatican means when they refer to ‘innovative practice of the Faith?’
Then take this story from Nigeria. In fact, take Nigeria as you’re at it.
ENUGU, Nigeria – Ejike Mbaka is telling a story. The 20,000 Nigerians gathered around him in the red-dust lot have gone quiet
"Last week, there was a man who was mad, insane," he begins, standing on a rickety stage. "For years, the doctors attempted to heal him. But the infirmity continued. He came to me for help.
"I gave him some healing water" – and here, some in the audience hold up the small plastic packages of water he sells, 45 cents each – "and told him to pour it in his ear on Sunday. Then pour it in his other ear on Monday. He did exactly that. And on Tuesday, a large frog crawled out of his ear. And he was cured."
Appreciative cheers from the audience. "Such are the things God can do," he says. It's about 10 p.m. When the sun comes up in the morning, the crowd will still be here – except for those injured thrashing on the ground under the Holy Spirit's spell.
What's remarkable about the scene isn't what Ejike Mbaka says. It's who he is. He's not a witch doctor. He's not a Pentecostal preacher. He's an ordained Catholic priest!
In 2000, a South African archbishop, Buti Tlhagale, advocated adding animal sacrifice to the Catholic Mass as a way of venerating ancestors. "Animal sacrifice has a special place in the scheme of things and is celebrated in almost all African families," he argued. "We have kept it out of the church of God for too long."
Maybe so. But somehow I don't see it exactly taking Europe by storm.
In essence, this whole nonsense of the ‘youthful, vigorous, vibrant, rapidly-growing African Church is just that. Nonsense.