Commercialisation of Christianity: Religion for sale?

HOPE Nyambe.

THE perils of writing on a people’s religion are well documented across the globe. In 1988, Salman Rushdie published a novel called “The Satanic Verses” largely inspired by the life of the Islamic Prophet Muhamad. Most Muslims felt the content of the novel was an insult to their religion. In 1989, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie on sight and anywhere. He has been in hiding ever since.
I embarked on this venture well aware of the possible backlash from the ‘faithful followers’ of the various mushrooming Christian sects, groupings, dominions or whatever term you decide to refer to them. Zambia being a declared Christian country as well, it is easy for emotions to cloud objective discussion regarding the emerging new traits of Christianity. Furthermore, the interpretation of Christianity and its values is dependent on who is doing the interpretation. This is evidenced by the recent happenings within the Christian circles.
To catalogue a few miracles recorded recently, we had a pastor Alph Lukau in South Africa allegedly resurrect a dead man. Another pastor, Lethebo Rabalago in Zimbabwe, sprayed a household insecticide on his congregants as a way of healing them of medical ailments. Another pastor was recorded on video flogging his congregants. There are various claims of miracle money being dished out by usually flamboyant and self-proclaimed ‘prophets’. Notable also is that there is seemingly a huge number of people following and believing in these prophets.
It’s these recent happenings that have led me not only to seek a rationale behind these happenings, but also the gullibility of their followers. The underlying impetus of most religions is to offer some sort of comfort or solution to things that people fear the most. This could be things like death, poverty and illness, to mention but a few. In developing countries where death, poverty and illness are the bedrock of society, it is no surprise therefore that religion is very prominent in the lives of the people. Most devout Christians will therefore see and use their faith as a conduit out of the aforementioned ills. To mention, for instance, when the late republican President, Dr Frederick Chiluba declared Zambia as a Christian nation, it was under the premise that a nation whose leader fears God prospers economically. He famously quoted 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn form their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and will heal their land”, in his declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation.
So if religion and Christianity in particular is a solution to the existential angst and hardship, why is there a rise in fraudulent religious activity? The answer lies in examining the economic motive and the ‘merchants of religion’ (or papa as they are famously referred to).
The common doctrine peddled in modern-day Christianity is that there has to be some sort of sacrifice or effort in order to receive blessings from God. These blessings to a great extent all translate into commercial success of some sort. Some ‘papas’ request for financial donations in exchange for blessings or greater financial success. The more subtle ones will include invitations where the congregants have to pay or contribute money in forming tithe. The logical analogy therefore is that, in a country with high poverty levels, there is a resultant religious enthusiasm, and therefore more money to collect from congregants. Simply put, there is a high commercial motive in religion.
So if there is a commercial motive in religion, there has to be a merchant of religion too. Who is selling religion? Recently there has been calls for the vetting of anybody practising religion, with a minimal qualification required before anybody can call themselves a pastor, prophet, etc. At the moment, anybody can stand up and call themselves whatever they like and practise religion. In a society engulfed by a culture of corruption and get-rich-quickly mentality, Christianity hasn’t been spared, and has actually become a conduit of fraudulently obtaining money from desperate congregants. This is exacerbated by lack of accounting and auditing mechanism in some of these churches. The winner gets all, and it is usually the pastor and his cronies.
The solution to this lies in the strict regulation and accreditation of religious leaders to umbrella organisations affiliated to that particular religion. This will allow for religious leaders to be vetted before being allowed to lead a congregation. Obviously there has to be some sort of minimum qualification or trained requirement. Furthermore, strict regulation and accreditation will help reduce tax evasion, which is so rife among religious practitioners. Finally, the final safeguard really lies with the congregants themselves. A wholesome consumption of any doctrine without any critical analysis normally results in a brain-washed, fanatical follower. Don’t be afraid to ask your papa how spraying you with insecticide will heal your ailment.
The author is a communications expert at Stimuli PR.

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