Witchcraft, The Money-Spinner

charismatic worship

God is BIG business. If you don’t believe me, ask any preacher or prophet or son of God in any charismatic denomination and you’ll have your answer. You can also look no further than Mfonobong Nsehe’s profiling of the Five Richest Pastors in Nigeria . Theirs are religious franchises- think Chris Oyakhilome’s Christ Embassy, David Oyedepo’s Living Water World Outreach Ministry, etc.

The former reminds me of my varsity years when fellow-students had a knack for doing that distinctive hairstyle that looked like an entire jar of gel was used on the hair (to mimic Oyakhilome’s, I suppose) and with the latter I recall the period just before Y2K when some were happy to swap their frilly Sunday skirts for jeans to church.

The age of men and women of the cloth living near-pauper existences seems to be a thing of the past. Nsehe sums it up nicely by writing, “…while the Bible expressly states that salvation is free, at times it comes with a cost; offerings, tithes, gifts to spiritual leaders…”

For me, this brings memories of sitting in church a few months ago with about twenty Rand in my purse-my last money- wondering if it would be enough to pay for the second of two offerings in one service (plus tithe). There were also subtle threats that one’s blessings would be locked up somewhere if tithe is not paid.

On about two occasions that I sat in that church, one couldn’t help but feel as if we’d just switched on to a sales channel as the prophet brought out the big guns: A bottle of ‘holy’ perfume that he endorsed for being able to help one attract a divine partner and any other opportunity one desired. He also brought out a bottle of anointed oil, originally bottled as a combination of olive & other essential oils from Checkers. Yep, that green bottle behind the pew. No less than R 100 a pop.

As the witchcraft trilogy comes to conclusion, I am reminded of Newton’s third Law of motion; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In this instance, the belief in witchcraft, -while for years has filled the coffers of traditional/witch-doctors through individuals who sought to ‘protect’ themselves and/or cause harm to others- also created a gap in the spiritual “market” which continues to be exploited by charismatic evangelists.

Sitting among a group of people during deliverance and hearing some bizarre testimonies, as well as a conversation with a very religious friend of mine proved just how seriously witchcraft is taken. Since I couldn’t point a finger at anyone specific for my apparent ‘misfortune’ (nobody had been killed by my prayers) I had to wonder if witchcraft mechanics fear big city lights; whether they prefer to roam around in the still darkness that characterizes most villages instead.

An article by BBC Africa Live states that witchcraft has, for many years played a role in rebellions, fighting wars and possibly found its way into every nook and cranny of society. This has made the success of charismatic churches an easy one, as they laugh all the way to the bank for commodifying God and identifying a spiritual gap that conventional churches seemingly can’t fill.

Most importantly, the charismatic movement continues to appeal to the need for instant gratification that a lot of people have. For some, money is no issue if they can get their divine partner, marriage, money, or if they can get those haters off their backs. Many are attracted by the idea of attaining things they haven’t worked a day in their lives for; many are desperate for miracles. Are they any different to a person who visits a traditional doctor to achieve the same result? Is it a case of the kettle calling the pot black?

I believe that a lot of people cannot deal with their reality, especially if it turns out to be less than desirable. I also believe that one’s overall perception can be affected by that. Some resort to extreme measures, others look to faith and others remain despondent. In all situations every action has consequences.

It would be naïve for anyone to assume that there aren’t things bigger than us-(good or bad) or people who always stand to gain from others’ misfortune – yet we must always remember that the universe works in our favour once we learn to be the masters of our individual destinies.

In closing, consider this Bible verse: Matthew 7:15

 

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Keeping the Faith

There is nothing as conflicting as being at a crossroads. That point in one’s life when you are not sure whether to go right, left, backwards or forwards-or to simply remain grounded. A few months ago I criticized religion and Christianity in particular for holding many Africans to ransom. I’m not planning to write a retraction because I still have reservations.

After sitting down with my colleague who is a staunch Christian, she left me with ample food for thought and a stern reminder-if not warning, that sitting on the fence for too long has its consequences. I pride myself on being a fair person who neither favours nor fears but I reckon a lot of the time I have simply sat on the fence, appeasing others from the sidelines. In reality, it is a very thin line to tread.

Our conversation opened my eyes up to a myriad of things like the meaning of faith, of standing firm for one’s values, morals, beliefs, ideals, etc. What am I really about? What do I stand for? For a long time I have comfortably settled under the label of “liberal”-arguing that people should live their lives the best way they know how, as long as it makes sense to them. I still stand by that though I now realise, in more ways than one, that I was somewhat a…drifter: Neither here nor there.

 

It has been an extremely testing, if not frightening couple of days. Having to choose the unknown always elicits great fear and doubt. There really is no sense in standing for two things that completely contradict and repel one another, like Christianity and the practice of African culture. According to wikianswers.com the term Secular Christian refers to people who “believe that Jesus was the son of God, but are [the] opposite of the spectrum when compared to fundamentalists and extreme conservative Christians. Furthermore, “they tend to believe in equal rights…”

Having observed the negative perceptions towards cultural practices from some black Christians one wonders whether those that practice both are bigger hypocrites. Are they nothing more than fence-sitters? Are they commitment phobes? Is there really a conflict of interest, seeing that one is religion and the other culture? What about insinuations that that those who believe in ancestors are ultimately without God? Does it matter what the perceptions are? Yet more questions.

Religion and politics are two things that individuals are constantly advised to avoid when conversing in social circles. Both are especially volatile because of the level of emotion that people attach when referring to them. Perhaps therein lies the lesson that people who have strong beliefs aren’t afraid to fight for whatever it is that they believe in.

I don’t know much, but I know that there have been numerous times when I flirted with danger and I came out unscathed. I do know that I have some foresight that is encrypted in my dreams and countless moments of dé jàvu. I do know that I feel some energy around me sometimes. I do know that there are things beyond my control, beyond my reach…and frankly, it scares the shit out of me! Of course it might just be a superstitious mind in overdrive-or a sign that I’m deeply connected to my roots, my ancestry. Yet I still don’t know how acknowledging all of this equates to some kind of distance between myself and the Creator in one way or the other because I still believe in Him.

I was raised to be a kind, giving, thoughtful and respectful individual. If they deviate from religious teachings for the mere reason that I have a lineage of ancestors that communicate with me once in a while, then I don’t have a clue. While they are a way of life for me, I have realised that Faith is a far more complex thing-it is a work in progress. Perhaps one day I will be able to decipher the meaning of all my experiences, perhaps I won’t. Maybe the easiest way is to remember Rex Rouis’ words- “Seeing is not believing. Faith comes by hearing, and seeing comes by believing and acting what you heard.”