My criticisms of religion specifically center around what I think are dangerous beliefs they promote. Beliefs, when taken seriously, have deleterious effects upon society.
My recent talks in the UK focused particularly on the dangerous beliefs that were being promoted by the charismatic Christian belief system (Born-Again/Pentecostalism/etc).
I have always contended that charismatic Christianity plays an IMPORTANT role in promoting and reinforcing beliefs about the efficacy of witchcraft in this country. In this post, I am interested in presenting direct evidence of this contention. I will look at two widely read charismatic Christian books in Uganda (and sub-Saharan Africa).
Snatched from Satan’s Claws:
The book, “Snatched from Satan’s Claws”, was given to me by my mother two years ago. She felt that, being an atheist, I needed to be reminded of the threats we face as humans in this demon haunted world. Being reminded of these threats, she thought, might make me think twice about not accepting Christianity. She implored me to take seriously what was written in it.
Reading this book, I concluded that the authors of this book must either be deliberate liars or fraudsters; or they are insane and in need of psychiatric help. There is simply no other way to make sense of the blatant and outrageous assault on rationality that emanates from this book.
The book, co-written by Pastor D. D. Kaniaki and Evangelist Mukendi (from the Democratic Republic of Congo), is about Mukendi’s alleged ordeal as a former sorcerer, who later converted to Christianity.
Here is an excerpt from the first chapter:
I was not the first born of my parents, but my father, a sorcerer and a witchdoctor, had had 13 other children, and he sacrificed them all, one by one, to the devil. When I was born mysteriously, it was not my mother who brought me up, for she was not allowed any access to me; I was breastfed and brought up by a mermaid.
In fact my conception and birth were through magic, and my Aunt Ndaya had helped my father in this. My mother had had difficulty in conceiving until my aunt met with someone who had obtained magical powers from a white man who brought them from Mount Calvary is Israel. He gave them to my father with a doll, a cross, and a long chaplet with instructions on how to speak to those flowers when he needed help, and that is how I was concieved.
Those magic items enabled my father to get connection with the mermaid who was to breastfeed and bring me up in the first few years of my life.
With those items, my father could perform great magical tricks. He could sever his arm from the rest of the body, and it would bleed, but he could easily put it back again. He could also drop himself on a pavement, divide himself into small parts, and reform his body again. He could become a goat with a human head, and walk on a bicycle, and so on.
Mukendi elaborates on what some of his abilities were, as a young sorcerer:
By the time I was an adolescent, I could fly abroad to any country where Lucifer commissioned me. I could make a helicopter out of a stick or my shoe and fly off to India, America, and back home. I could also change in to a fly and a take a rid on someone’s shoulders. The man would carry me for some distance, only for me to drop and walk in front of him without his knowledge. The following day, the person would feel sick and listless with pain in his shoulders because of my actual body weight on him.
I could also enter any house day or night and spy on people’s activities as I chose. I knew every open bedroom in homes. I could turn my self into a cockroach and rest near the fire place. I also knew how to transform one thing into another. I could turn a man into a goat for slaughter and eat him with a clear conscience. I was also skilled in using someone’s spirit when they were asleep to ride on as a horse all night long. By the time the man got up in the morning, he would feel plain all over the body because he acted as a human buffer or human shield for all the arrows aimed at me in the spirit world. This was particularly so if he was physically strong in the physical world. Even in the spirit world, he would appear strong and masculine. The victim would either fall sick or even die.
Yes, you heard right. Evangelist Mukendi claims that he could magically turn his shoe into a helicopter and fly to India, America and back home.
The Lord Jesus Christ has saved me, and I wish to let you know how deep I had gone with Satan, as a lesson to deter others from falling into the same pit, and to show you Jesus is the only “Way, the Truth and the Life”.
I know there are many who are involved with witchcraft. If you are involved in any of the things that I will mention, repent and open your heart and ask the Lord Jesus Christ to save your soul.
Throughout this book, great emphasis is placed on how purportedly REAL the threat of witchcraft is, and how believers can protect themselves from its ill effects. He talks about his various adventures with Satan and his demons that were determined to keep him on the ‘dark side’. He also talks about how Satan has built a network of underground cities located in the former Zaire (modern-day Democratic Republic of Congo), one near the Inga dam and another near Matadi. It is stuff of pure fantasy, and yet it is swallowed wholesale as infallible truth, by millions of born-again Christians across Africa.
Delivered from the Powers of Darkness:
In it, he also discusses his alleged life in the occult (as a witch) prior to his conversion to Christianity and a life of ministry thereafter. I first encountered this book when I was 15 years old when almost everyone in my high school was reading it. It is just as bizarre as Kaniaki and Mukendi’s – and also very widely read in Uganda.
Here is an excerpt from the chapter The Underworld Laboratories:
I stayed in Lagos for a week and went back to the sea , this time for two months . I went into the scientific laboratories to see what was happening. I saw psychiatrists and scientists all working very seriously. The work of these scientists is to design beautiful things like flashy cars, etc., latest weapons and to know the mystery of this world . If it were possible to know the pillar of the world they could have, but thank God, ONLY GOD KNOWS.
I moved into the designing room and there I saw many samples of cloth, perfumes and assorted types of cosmetic. All these things according to Lucifer are to distract men’s attention from the Almighty God. I also saw different designs of electronics, computers and alarms. There was also a T.V. from where they knew those who are born again Christians in the world. There you see and differentiate those who are church goers and those who are real Christians.
I then moved from the laboratories to the ‘dark room’ and ‘drying room’. The dark room is where they kill any disobedient member. They kill by first draining the person’s blood and then send the person to the machine room where he/ she will be ground to powder and then send the dust to the ‘sack room’ where they will be bagged and kept for the native doctors to collect for their charms.
There were more things which are hard to explain in writing. Despite all these powers in me, I was not yet qualified to meet with Lucifer but only qualified to be his agent.
A PDF of the book can be found here.
(Emmanuel Eni even has a Rational Wiki page devoted to him.)
Books like these bring to light an interesting phenomenon within charismatic Christian circles. There seems to be a correlation between a pastor’s claims of a dark and sinister past, and his perceived credibility and popularity among believers. Since most believers are in perpetual anxiety about witchcraft, it is easy to see how a pastor who claims to have once been a witchdoctor might appeal to them. Such a pastor would be seen as a person experienced with the inner workings of witchcraft, thus, in believers’ minds, qualified to prescribe appropriate courses of action to deal with the various problems they experience that they attribute to witchcraft.
By positioning themselves as the bearers of the solution for these alleged witchcraft-related problems, they gain influence, prestige, larger congregations, and – of course – more money.
And this is perhaps why these pastors talk and write books about witchcraft so much. By promoting and exaggerating the threats of this imaginary problem (witchcraft) they reap big from selling the imaginary solution (Jesus). Indeed they reap big. One only has to look at the kind of wealth accumulated by the purveyors of this form of quackery on this continent to see just how much they reap from their desperate, impoverished, followers.
A Growing Industry:
In their paper Religion and Politics in Sub-Saharan Africa, published in the Journal of Modern African Studies, researcher/historian Stephen Ellis and scholar of religion Gerrie ter Haar describe this growing cottage industry of highly mystical Christian books and pamphlets being published in Africa:
There is a thriving literature of religious tracts in Africa. The few formal bookshops, and the far more numerous market-stalls and itinerant hawkers who sell books, offer for sale pamphlets and popular works on religious subjects in every country of the continent, it would seem. Some are theological inquiries into aspects of the Bible or the Koran. Others contain moral lessons derived from these sacred books. Perhaps the most common category, however, is testimonies of personal religious experiences. Much of this literature hardly makes its way outside Africa and is only rarely to be found in even the finest Western academic libraries.
The most puzzling genre, at least for anyone educated in modern Western academies of learning, is that of the numerous works on witchcraft and other perceived forms of evil, sometimes in the form of a description of a personal journey into a world of spirits. While many pious works on Christianity on sale in Africa are authored by American evangelicals and published in America, popular books on witchcraft and mystical voyages are almost invariably written by Africans and published locally. Similar material is circulated through churches, sometimes in the form of video recordings. This is also true of African-led churches in the diaspora, among African communities on other continents. It is impossible to know with certainty how many people give any credence to stories like these, but the indications are that very many do so. Not only do pamphlets describing mystical journeys appear to circulate in large numbers, but such accounts may clearly be situated within an older tradition of stories about witchcraft and journeys into the underworld which is to be found in collections of folklore and even in the literature of high culture. Studies of churches and of healers in almost any part of Africa indicate that incidents of perceived witchcraft and of shamanism or near-death experiences are relatively common, and probably have been for as long as it is possible to trace.
Such evidence may be drawn not just from studies of the Pentecostal churches which have attracted so much scholarly interest of late, but also of many other sorts of church including African independent congregations, of Muslim communities and of indigenous religious traditions. Thus, the popular literature written by people who claim to have experienced spiritual journeys or to have expert knowledge of witchcraft is not, we believe, an ephemeral genre but rather represents a modern form of an important tradition of mysticism in Africa.
The obvious result of the pervasiveness of beliefs popular books like Snatched from Satan’s Claws and Delivered From the Powers of Darkness perpetuate is that it helps to sustain a state of constant anxiety and paranoia among believers, who fear that they are constantly being besieged by demons or evil spirits courtesy of witchcraft.
What is unfortunate, of course, is that whereas reason and science could otherwise be brought to bear to steer Africans away from this kind of thinking, the beliefs that inform this kind of thinking are being reinforced everyday by charismatic Christian churches, who have the means and the resources to promote their brand of extreme irrationality to an already gullible and superstitious public. Traditional animist beliefs thus end up being reinforced, rather than fazed out over time, which they should, given advances in science that explain a lot of the phenomena formerly attributed to evil spirits.
That said, it is quite likely that in the short term, the harsh economic and social realities on the ground will continue to keep Ugandans (and Africans everywhere) predisposed towards holding irrational beliefs about what causes their problems, and what they might do about them. Research does indicate a strong correlation between poverty, economic insecurity and religiosity, after all, so this is not surprising.
When desperate people are short of options, they will opt for whatever offers itself as a solution – and the less educated they are, the more irrational their preferred solutions will be. That’s probably why charismatic Christianity (Pentecostalism, in particular) is growing so rapidly across sub-Saharan Africa – and why belief in the efficacy of witchcraft thrives even today.
This is starting to make me wonder whether the cure for Africa’s obsession with mysticism might instead be economic and social empowerment, rather than sensitization campaigns by rationalists like myself and others at Freethought Kampala.
Food for thought.