By Takudzwa Mazwienduna
The first Sunday service in Zimbabwe was probably conducted by Father Goncalo Da Silveira some time in the 16th century. The Portuguese Catholic priest baptised a considerable number of Karangas under Chief Gamba and gained influence in the Munhu Mutapa empire. The significance of his mission was not as much as that of Robert Moffat and the London Missionary Society whose campaign established Sunday service a few hundred years later. Why these missionaries thought it was okay to go around the world telling everyone to follow their way is a story for another day. The power politics that encouraged Evangelism however is an intriguing aspect of any religion.
The African Traditional Religion; centered on families’ patriarchal lineage, has shaped societal norms and views long before The Portuguese Catholic priest or the English evangelist set foot in Zimbabwe. Most of the traditions catered for patriarchy in the same way Christianity served imperialist interests. Customs like lobola (bride price) or gupuro (divorce ceremonies where the woman is shamefully dismissed with the least valuable farewell token from her husband who controls all the resources) shows the extent to which patriarchy was a sacred aspect of its doctrine. The Abrahamic religions obviously had the same catch before imperialism fuelled their world wide evangelism. Hinduism and Jainism came with the caste system; a dehumanising aspect of the religion’s doctrine that dehumanised certain classes in society while elevating others.
Organised religious organisations almost always ended up teaming up with those in power. In fact, religion was the utmost authority in the feudal system with the ability to appoint kings while witch hunters or street prophets dismantled monarchies by claiming that invisible gods or spirits were not happy with the establishments. Millions of people died fighting for Islamic or Christian influence during the crusades, people whose ideas posed threats to the relevance of religious ideas were labelled heretics and jailed or killed during the infamous inquisitions, the list goes on.
Religion is the only institution from feudal times that has retained widespread dominance because of the propaganda mechanisms it put in place; childhood indoctrination being the biggest. While monarchs and other “divinely appointed” repressive institutions have almost gone extinct to give way to progressive nations, religion has simply evolved from family shrines to big churches.
“Evolved” is a bit of an overstatement because that would imply that there are significant changes to religion. Religious establishments are still based on dogma, rely on human ignorance, facilitate for mass manipulation and bigotry amongst the masses. Modern politicians use religion just like Kings did in feudal times when they don’t have a good argument. Just like every establishment from our feudal past, religion is still an enemy to reason and progress.
Reason, free inquiry and scrutiny has progressed our society from feudal monarchs to the liberal and just democracies we enjoy today. We had the chance to question despotic kings and repressive practices like slavery, but we let religion off the hook and only raised our eyebrows when it was extreme cases like 9/11. Religious atrocities in Africa don’t even get that much attention as an attack on the capitalist centre of the world got back then. The Lord Resistance Army produced numerous child soldiers, the Seleka and Anti Balaka in the Central African Republic (Muslim and Christian political groups) have caused years of war and chaos, Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Somalia’s Al Shebab have caused so much terror it is difficult to keep up.
Despite this poor record, religion still gets respect from governments and societies. People casually condemn religious fundamentalists without acknowledging the problem with the religion’s fundamentals. We can only pave the way for more progress in our society if we ask the important questions