Anyone familiar with charismatic expressions of Christian belief in Uganda (mainly through Pentecostal/Balokole/Born-Again/Evangelical churches) knows that emotions and fanfare play a large part in the proceedings.

Typically struggling with everyday problems and desperate for divine intervention, every week (and sometimes more frequently) millions of believers flock to these churches in search for their ‘miracle’. Problems such as unemployment, marital trouble, poverty, and illness are deferred to Jesus Christ who they believe will solve those problems, or give them the strength to persevere through them.

In Charismatic Christianity in Uganda (Part 1 – Introduction) I wrote that:

The popularity of this form of Christianity has exploded over the last few decades because the doctrine promises poor, under-educated believers miraculous solutions to their everyday problems. Understandably, on an impoverished continent like this one, a religion that offers quick fixes to all the pressing problems in life will be immensely popular, and that is exactly what we see happening. Among charismatic Christians, things like unemployment, failure of business, failure of marriage, sickness, corruption in government… all the problems an individual or society could possibly face… are attributed to Satan, demons and other evil spirits – and Jesus is presented as the antidote.

Such an iteration of Christianity fits perfectly well with the mindset of most native Africans, most of whom have, since time immemorial, taken seriously the perceived threat of curses inflicted upon them by spirits and other bad omens. This is probably why charismatic Christianity has proven to be a raging success in sub-Saharan Africa.

This has literally created a cottage industry of make-shift balokole churches all over the country, typically run by  unscrupulous, opportunistic individuals looking to earn a living from the lucrative business of ‘selling’ Jesus.

Competition is fierce among pastors of rival local balokole churches, after all, having more worshippers usually means bigger collections.

Indeed, this competition for ever bigger collections has produced a crop of what can best be described as showmen, rather than clergymen – evangelists, who, using their knowledge of human psychology are able to enthrall the masses with charismatic styles of preaching. By also knowing which emotional buttons to press, they are able to compel hordes of their desperate followers to part with their meager earnings in exchange for the promise of a miracle. Many of them are now also televangelists, recording their sermons and broadcasting them on television to broaden their reach.

It is difficult to tell who among these characters actually believes in the things they teach, and who are just doing it as a business. What we are seeing is probably a combination of both. Perhaps they see themselves as providing encouragement to their desperate flock, and feel that the ends justify the means. So whatever it takes to get the the people excited and motivated, is what they will do. People want spectacle – and the evangelists supply it by the truckload. Speaking in tongues, casting out demons, slaying the spirit, shouting, yelling, ‘healing’ and singing – all of it working up the flock into a frenzy, almost to the point of hysteria.

These kind of evangelists are not unique to Uganda, or Africa.

Evangelists like these have been in business in the United States for years, and many of the successful ones are even well known to Ugandans.  Lighthouse Television, which is the local Trinity Broadcasting Network affiliate, on a daily basis broadcasts sermons and crusades by such televangelists as Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, T.D Jakes, Creflo Dollar and others.

Ever stopped to ask yourself how they pull it off?

Marjoe

This Freethinkers’ Night, we will be screening the Academy Award winning 1972 documentary titled Marjoe:

Part documentary, part expose, this film follows one-time child evangelist Marjoe Gortner on the "church tent" Revivalist circuit, commenting on the showmanship of Evangelism and "the religion business", prior to the start of "televangelism".

In this film, Marjoe Gortner (his real name) takes us behind the scenes to show us the ‘tricks of the trade’ in modern evangelism. After watching this, you’ll never look at a church service or revival the same again.


The February 2012 Freethinkers’ Night will take place on Thursday, 23rd February, at 4 Points Bar & Restaurant, Centenary Park, Kampala, starting 6PM. Entrance is FREE.

If you are an open minded person whose opinions are formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason and are interested in meeting like-minded individuals – you are more than welcome to join us.

Yesterday marked two years since launching the Freethought Kampala blog!

second anniversaryThe very first blog post was published on January 30th 2010. Since then, there have been 222 posts published (not including this one).

As of this writing, the blog has attracted 97,953 hits.

The following were the most read posts over the last 12 months:

Other highlights:

Let’s see what 2012 has in store for Freethought activism in Uganda.


Related Posts:

La Raison is a monthly magazine published by the Fédération Nationale de la Libre Pensée (National Federation of Freethought) in France.

We were interviewed for the January 2012 edition. 

critical-thinkingMany of us understand the importance of thinking things through when it comes to forming beliefs about how best to deal with different aspects of our lives, such as when it comes to making important decisions.

Examples:

  1. Should I invest in this business scheme?
  2. Should I buy this car?
  3. Should I vote for this politician?
  4. Should I try this herbal treatment for my illness?
  5. Should I pray for a miracle?

Still, we often make bad decisions. Why?

It could be because there are roadblocks we’ve erected in our minds that prevent us from examining all the evidence objectively, or impartially, prior to forming beliefs. These mental roadblocks might be pre-existing beliefs that have been informed by culture, religion, political/social ideologies, personal prejudices, peer pressure, etc.

road blockHaving these mental roadblocks is one problem; the other problem is not knowing that you have those mental roadblocks. But perhaps the worst problem of all is not acknowledging that as human beings all of us are susceptible to having these mental roadblocks, at any given time. Acknowledging this should compel us to structure our thinking in such a way as to minimise, as much as possible, the degree to which these mental roadblocks might impede our ability to think objectively.

We should be willing to evaluate all kinds of information, including information that might go against what we currently believe about something, without allowing our mental roadblocks to interfere with that evaluation process. We also need to train ourselves to be able to use logic effectively – and to consistently use it when trying to make inferences about what it is we are forming beliefs about.  We must also question our methods of reasoning. This, in a nutshell, is what it means to think critically.

Edward M. Glaser in his 1941 book  “An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking” describes critical thinking as:

A persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends.

Youtuber Qualia Soup explains what critical thinking is in this video:

As a freethinker, I advocate for the application of critical thinking across the board, on all issues, and I also encourage people to be consistent in their application of it. Indeed, I often have to remind myself to be consistent as well, because I know that mental roadblocks can pop up anytime, and unbeknownst to me, some might already be lurking about in my mind.

It is not easy to consistently apply critical thinking – but there is great value in striving to be as consistent as is humanly possible in our application of it.

THE DISCUSSION

In a world where all kinds of people are offering all kinds of get-rich-quick schemes or miracle cures for all kinds of ailments, it greatly helps to be a critical thinker. A person who applies critical thinking will be less likely to lose money to professional con-artists or fall prey to medical quackery. He or she will also be able to do a better job of analyzing problems and finding solutions to them. People who think critically will probably make better  business/investment decisions as well, as compared to people who don’t.

From a social perspective, a good critical thinker is also less likely to hold prejudices that would prompt him or her to discriminate against people on the basis of race, tribe, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. He or she will also be less likely to engage in extreme forms of religious expression that are detrimental to their well-being, and the well-being of others.

What we’d like to discuss at the upcoming Freethinkers’ Night is HOW to communicate CRITICAL THINKING to the general public.

How do we encourage people to apply critical thinking, and to apply it consistently, in their lives? How do we get people to recognize that their mental roadblocks might be preventing them from thinking objectively?

Let’s discuss.

This is a crucial issue for us, as it touches on what we consider to be our mandate as Freethought Kampala, which is:

Promoting Reason in a Highly Superstitious Society

Much of our focus for the last two years has been mainly to apply critical thinking in the evaluation of popular mystical/religious claims that abound in this country’s spiritual landscape – because there was simply nobody doing it. We acknowledge that the scope for critical thinking is much wider than this, but for strategic reasons we initially chose to narrow our focus to an area that we felt was being completely neglected in the national discourse. Perhaps at this meeting we might also talk about this focus, and whether or not we should broaden it.


The January 2012 Freethinkers’ Night will take place on Thursday, 26th January, at 4 Points Bar & Restaurant, Centenary Park, Kampala, starting 6PM. Entrance is FREE.

If you are an open minded person whose opinions are formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason and are interested in meeting like-minded individuals – you are more than welcome to join us.

Oh, and we’ll also be marking 2 years of Freethought Kampala as well!

let's partyThursday, 29th December, at 4 Points Bar & Restaurant, Centenary Park, Kampala, starting 6PM. Entrance is FREE.


If you are an open minded person whose opinions are formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason and are interested in meeting like-minded individuals – you are welcome to join us for our end of year party.

Just one thing, though…

Read the rest of this entry »

I dug up some photographs from my recent trip to the UK. I thought I’d share with you some interesting things I saw in the city of Cardiff while I was there.

From afar it looked like a church:

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Closer inspection revealed that it was actually a shop!

SDC11844SDC118482

SDC11846

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Care for Durex condoms? No problem…

SDC11850  

…just check right below the hookah (sheesha pipe).

This shop actually used to be a Presbyterian Church, once upon a time. People stopped going, and it got sold off.

Now it’s a shop.


Related posts:

I work at Sanyu FM, a radio station catering to the the 18-35 English-speaking urban middle-class male/female demographic, as host of the morning show.

Our news department had the idea of doing some kind of ‘special’ for Christmas during their news bulletins – where they’d present some background to the origins of Christmas, analyse its significance for Christians, and ask various people how they plan on celebrating it.

Today they aired the first in this series of specials, and their first interviewee was an atheist you might know. He talks about his understanding of the origins of Christmas, and why he plans on joining in the celebrations, even though he is a non-believer.

I’m in the mood for sharing; it’s Christmas, after all, right? So here’s the audio, just for you 🙂 .

Last Sunday, the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi, wrote an article in the Monitor called Uganda needs Jesus to end corruption.

The article deviates from the familiar defeatist attitude many religious leaders in Uganda have about corruption, where they urge Ugandans to rely on ‘God’ to save them from corruption, since, in their minds, all other approaches seem to be offering no solution because ‘Satan’ probably has his hand in it. The Archbishop instead appears to call for religious introspection:

The best our government can do – the IGG, the Anti-Corruption Court, laws passed by Parliament and enforced by our police and other agencies – is to give us moral and civil speed governors, external rules that are followed by us only because the police force or parliamentary investigative committees have been expanded to put fear into our hearts and ensure our compliance and proper behavior.

But, God said through the Prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament, “The time is coming when I will make a new covenant…It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers….This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel…I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.”

In other words, my fellow Ugandans, we must acknowledge that the problem beneath our rampant corruption, witchcraft, child sacrifice, domestic violence, and immorality is the problem of a sinful human heart.

Only Jesus, whose laws of love are written on our hearts because he lives in our hearts, can solve this problem Only acknowledging our human problem of a corrupt heart will lead us to the ultimate and true solution to our problems – Jesus – because his name still means “he will save people from their sins.”

I guess what he’s trying to do here is to appeal to Christians to clean up their act by recognizing that they are ‘sinners’. Corruption is ‘sin’. So by accepting Jesus and turning away from such ‘sin’, then everything will be okay and there will be no more corruption.

Of course this is a rather simplistic approach to dealing with the problem of corruption in Uganda – one that does not take into account the cultural and economic realities on the ground (vis-à-vis our all-too-rapid transition from a historically traditional African society to a pseudo-democracy) that give rise to the conditions that make nepotism and patronage inevitable.

As for witchcraft, the Church is doing a rather fantastic job of promoting, and reinforcing extant cultural beliefs about its efficacy, isn’t it? With magical thinking as the driving force of Christian theology (and more so among the charismatics/born-agains), the church is very much complicit in validating the irrationality that is witchcraft in this country.

Anyway, this post isn’t intended as a point by point critique of Orombi’s article, but rather to bring attention to the fact that Peter Kisirinya, chairman of the Uganda Humanist Association, wrote a response that was published three days later, also in the Monitor, titled: Uganda is a Christian-dominated nation but why the corruption?:

The Archbishop suggests that belief in Jesus as Saviour is the only important thing. But evidence shoes that this belief alone is neither necessary nor sufficient to improve our society. The Archbishop says of Jesus that “he will save people from their sins”. But we are the ones who must save ourselves. If we pray, that is fine, but we must also act. If we believe, that is okay, but we must also be good. If we worship Jesus, fair enough, but we must also respect our fellow humans beings regardless of their religious beliefs.

Anyone can say they believe in any religion, but what matters is their personal integrity. Do they respect what is fair and just? Do they want to empathise and understand other people? Do they contribute positively to society? The world is learning that these are the important questions.

Whether we happen to believe in the divinity of an ancient Nazarene preacher is one thing and it is easy to say that you do. But can you truthfully answer “yes” to these questions? Would the people that know you answer “yes” on your behalf? It is not our faith which make us, it is our values and actions – and that is what Christmas is really about.

I have frequently been asked about the Uganda Humanist Association. I must confess that at this juncture there is not a lot that I know about them. They have a cool website – check it out.

christopher hitchens Author Christopher Hitchens dies after battle with cancer.


Related Post:

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.

snatched from satan's claws

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:

Read the rest of this entry »

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