Dogma, religion, and South Africa


Reason is sacrificed at altar of pious assemblies. Business Day. 9 September 2011. Anthony Butler

In these troubling times many South Africans have embarked on a spiritual quest for a higher authority to guide and protect them.

A first significant congregation believes that the African National Congress (ANC) will be their provider and protector. False gods, they claim, are not needed to explain why the sun rises, the seasons follow one another, or the national economy grows: such phenomena are brought about by resolutions adopted at ANC conferences.

The holy spirit of the national democratic revolution moves among us, its meaning partially revealed in the sacred liberation scrolls of the ANC’s “strategy and tactics”. Although the spirit acts as the source of strength of all mighty men (Judges 14:6) we must not be afraid when it produces unexpected results (I Kings 2:16 and Book of Joel (Netshitenzhe) 2:18).

The power of the spirit enables the ANC to work its renowned holy miracles, such as building houses without engineers, generating electricity without power stations, and distributing wealth without first creating it.

A second devout assembly believes that God is an eternal and supernatural Being. The Lord God, they claim, is the only true god, and his guidance to us — even on the practical affairs of man — is revealed in the Holy Bible. In this great book, for example, we learn to eschew astrology and divination, and so to reject the findings of the National Planning Commission.

In previous decades, national leaders were transported from the Church into the practical world of politics. Today a reverse pilgrimage is gathering speed. President Jacob Zuma took the first steps in this collective spiritual journey of evasion when he allowed the eThekwini Community Church and the Miracles Gospel Church to confer upon him the honorary title of Pastor.

Last weekend, ANC Youth league leader Julius Malema was similarly blessed at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Pimville, Soweto. This event, which moved many observers to tears, prompted speculation that Malema will require divine intervention to prevail over Godless ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.

A third pious assemblage, made up primarily of pilgrims to the Western Cape, insists that every soul is subject not to a Supreme Being but to a Supreme Law. Adherents of this cult of “constitutional law” are known to dress in dusty robes, to speak in indecipherable tongues, and to meditate devoutly on their sacred scrolls of “professional fees”.

A veritable theological schism has recently opened up between cult leaders such as the Venerable Hoffman, who believe in the supremacy of The Law itself, and those, such as the current Chief Justice designate, who believe that God Himself directly determines the truth and who shall be chosen to arbitrate upon it.

A final religious congregation consists of the devotees of a Supreme Being whose name is never openly spoken. This “unspeakable” former state president was once believed to have set South Africa on a hazardous route towards personalised power and the suppression of democratic politics. His followers now claim that His actions were motivated by a Godly yearning to avert the fragmentation, factionalism and corruption that have plagued the country since His forced departure from office.

It is in some respects admirable that citizens continue to display a profound respect for the life of the spirit. It is troubling, however, that members of an avowedly democratic society still wish to rest on the crutch of an absolute authority when deliberating upon basic moral and political choices.

These four Supreme Authorities brook no competition: each claims an immanent authority over the others. Conflicts over the proper dominions of God, the law, secular leaders, and the liberation movement cannot be brought to any conclusive earthly resolution. The dogmatic assertion of absolutist doctrines can lead citizens to overlook the responsibilities that truly matter — to reason and to their own hearts.

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