My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
Because my parents were members of the Dutch Reformed Church, I had to attend the church service and Sunday school every week. What fun! The dominee (minister), speaking in the ridiculously pretentious accent learnt at the kweekskool (seminary), usually warned in apocalyptic terms against the evils of sex before marriage (or sex with an Engelse meisie or a black woman – after marriage), Satanism, masturbation, homosexuality and the twin evils of communism and majority rule.
Sometimes the dominee also warned us that one had to pay at least one tenth of one’s income to the church to demonstrate one’s love for Jesus our Lord. (Loving Jesus was not too difficult for me, as the pictures in my Children’s Bible of a semi-naked Jesus on the cross, his six pack rippling, his long blonde hair styled in the way that was so popular amongst hairdressers in Benoni and Brakpan in the nineteen seventies, was almost as sexy as the adverts for Jockey underpants in Huisgenoot.)
The Dutch Reformed Church, whose dominees almost all belonged to the secret and shadowy Afrikaner Broederbond, was all-powerful – the National Party at prayer – and played a pivotal role in legitimising and defending apartheid. It also ensured that a narrow, bigoted, morality was enforced on society as a whole: there was no movies or sport allowed on a Sunday and even at the Hennenman swimming pool (which was only open from 2-5 pm on a Sunday) one was not allowed to dive from the diving board on a Sunday out of respect for the Church and perhaps even for God.
After 1994, Afrikaans Churches pretty much lost their moral authority as more and more white Afrikaners faced up to the fact that the church had supported an evil and immoral system under the guise of high moral principle. In 1998, staying at the Parktonian Hotel in Braamfontein, I was therefore not surprised when I looked out of my hotel window across the street and spotted the face brick Dutch Reformed Church, now all boarded up with a huge “For Sale” sign in the front.
The church and its particular brand of bigoted and racist moralism had become truly bankrupt and was now completely delegitimised. From now on, I thought, we will look towards the Constitution as a guide for ethical living – not towards any church or the teachings of some odd men in Penguin suits.
But in the moral universe of President Jacob Zuma (in which it is perfectly acceptable to take more than a million Rand from a crook, to do favours for that crook and then to submit a fake loan agreement to Parliament to cover up your tracks) and some (but luckily by far not all) of the members of the ANC, churches and a particular brand of narrow minded and bigoted morality is making a comeback. Hey, in this world, it is ok to steal other people’s money and to be corrupt – as long as one prays to God and hates homosexuals and woman equally.
Recently the shadowy and far-rightwing group called the Family Policy Institute (FPI) teamed up with the Film and Publications Board (the predecessor of the censor board who, under the guidance of the Dutch Reformed Church, “protected” apartheid South Africa from the “immorality” of being shown woman’s naked breasts and the “dangers” of the speeches of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Thambo) to hold a seminar warning against the so called dangers of pornography.
This was not, let’s be kind, an event where scientific or academically plausible research was shared or discussed: it was a progapaganda exercise promoting narrow and very particular religious views.
For some scary entertainment on the laughable and unfounded views of the FPI, one can peruse their website which warns that pornography destroys the human soul (if one can find the soul at all) and morality (as defined by some people who believe that if we only fear a god we cannot see and whose existence we cannot prove we will all live happily ever after in a heaven where we will all love each other, sing Kumbaja while holding hands, before retiring to bed to recite Amore Vittone songs backwards to make us go to sleep). The document also warns that pornography is so strong and evil that it destroys marriages (the heterosexual and non-polygamous kind, of course) and also causes poverty and corruption. (Well I lied about the poverty and corruption, but you get the drift.)
The fact that a state body like the Film and Publication Board, with the assistance and support of the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, teamed up with a very reactionary, homophobic, anti-abortion, religious group, is truly shocking as it sends a signal that a state institution has chosen sides against the values of openness, respect for difference, freedom of religion and opinion and human dignity ensrined in the Constitution.
It suggests the Department of Home Affairs and the Film and Publication Board have decided to endorse the mad ramblings of a reactionary group who feigns interest in saving our soul while eying our wallets. What do all the many strong and progressive woman and men in the ANC think of this, I wonder?
Another such scary group now gaining in influence amongst members of the new elite in the Eastern Cape is an outfit called the “Godly Governance Network” (lovely name, not such lovely people). In an email advertising its “prayer focus” for the next two months, the Network states:
Repent before the Lord for the sexual immorality and adultery that is filling our Province resulting in unwanted pregnancies (and often abortion), break up of marriages and the rapid spread of HIV/Aids. Repent on behalf of the government’s policies that have encouraged this…..
Pray for the re-education of this generation on family values according to the Word of God, i.e. a man shall be a husband of one wife (Titus 1:6); sex outside of marriage is sin (Hebrews 13:4); homosexuality is sin (1 Cor 6:9); divorce is not God’s will(Mark 10:6-12); husbands should love their wives (Eph 5:25,28); wives should respect and honour their husbands as head of the home (Eph 5:22-23, 1 Pet 3:1); children should honour and obey their parents ( Ex 20:12; Col 3:22)
The Network is also trying to resist the teaching of evolution in schools and argues that evolution is “Satanic”. These people are crackpots of the first order and they make those omies of the Dutch Reformed Church almost look kind and reasonable. In one of their “Concept Documents”, published in 2008, they write:
Hence most organizations and political parties, from the recently liberated countries find themselves controlled and manipulated to implement the secret agenda of the New Age Movement by adopting constitutional models and systems of government that are aimed at installing the fascist Luciferian World Order and Government. South Africa, the African National Congress and other parities are not immune to this global conspiracy. It is not a surprise to discover that most of its social and economic transformation policies and legislative framework are so alien and foreign to the general citizens of the country. The agenda is to control and manipulate people to adopt Illuminati Policy Agenda through a centralized system of government.
Of course, section 15 of the Constitution guarantees for everyone the right to make a fool of him or herself and proudly to display his or her ignorance and bigotry for all to see. Well, that is not exactly what section 15 states: it says that everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion – but you get the drift.
While people have a right to hold religious views, no matter how scary or hateful (just as they have the right to believe that religion is a lot of codswallop), it becomes rather troubling when religious groups like those mentioned above attack the very basis of our democracy: the Constitution. Even more troubling is the fact that they seem to have some official sanction from elements in the government. If these people were journalists they would long since have been arrested. The Constitutional Court has made clear that the right to freedom of religion prohibits the state from enforcing the religious views of some onto society as whole. But that is exactly what the groups mentioned above is agitating for.
Why is it then that in the email I received from the Godly Governance Network, I am told I can contact the Eastern Cape Legislature where the Speaker’s Office will assist me with information about a prayer service conducted in the legislature every Thursday between 4:30 to 6:00 in the Speaker’s Conference Room? Surely, no self-respecting ANC MP would want to be associated with these crackpots?
Or are we seeing a gradual move back to the pre-democracy era where the government of the day, trying to regain some of the legitimacy it has lost through its immoral and greedy actions, endorses censorship of the press and embraces ever more reactionary religious groups in the hope that ordinary people will be blinded by a misguided moral righteousness and will therefore forget that they are suffering because of the actions of incompetent or corrupt government officials?
How long before Ministers (of the church and of the government) starts warning us again the evils of homosexuality, Satanism and masturbation? How long before a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion is taken away and pictures of naked women and men are banned – along with novels like Lolita, Lady Chatterleys Lover and Chinua Achebe’s When Things Fall Apart? Is this not the way that government’s go when they run out of ideas and have to admit that they are incapable of creating a better life for all?BACK TO TOP