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Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Zambia as a Christian Nation (Guest Blog)

The question of Zambia declaring itself a Christian Nation is becoming a hot topic in some circles. Notable among those, is a piece posted on popular UK Zambians’ website (26th February, 2010) by Malama Katulwende (MK) – one of the site’s columnists.

Another discussion has erupted from the Zambian Economist review of Mark Burke’s book Glimmer of Hope. In his book – kind of his memoir from his stint as a volunteer teacher at Chasa Secondary School in the Eastern Province, Zambia - Burke makes some sarcastic comments on Zambian Christians.

To paraphrase Burke: - he is basically lamenting the double standard morals of these, supposedly people of God have. He claims that they begged for money from him, are sinful and don’t seem to care much about the suffering masses especially those in rural areas. According to him, if they did, actions spoke a different language. For had they really cared, they would have assisted the country to inculcate higher moral standards, which in turn would have minimized vices like corruption, HIV/Aids, STDs and so on.

It was a surprise for him to see so many prostitutes, drunks, beggars and the abundant poverty in such a Christian nation. In short, Zambia being a Christian country is like a joke.


In this debate, of course, there are some points which need to be qualified by him, but to accuse him of expressing racially tinged statements, as some of us have done, would be going too far. What is clear though is that – Burke lacks full understanding of the whole concept of “Christian teachings and its culture” imposed on us by the Euro-Westerners where he hails from. More on this later.

And when it comes to Katulwende’s article, this one has more serious, and in my view overblown condemnations of Zambia as a Christian Nation. For instance, even though Christianity might become a norm amongst a people – it is not true ‘that everyone opposed to it becomes a criminal’. Where is it written that – if you are not a Christian in Zambia you would be arrested?

I cannot possibly fend for what Charles Kachikoti said about Zambia being declared as a Christian Nation and the defence he put on – on behalf of Zambian government. But myself as a free thinker and Zambian at the same time; I am appalled how Katulwende tried to demean or denigrate Zambian Christian Nation status.

I was in fact chagrined at the ignorance and even denial by MK of the value of Zambia being a Christian Nation. Worse of all, to talk sarcastically the way he did – pouring scorn on the Holy Bible, basically shocked me. The tone was as if someone was being paid to say those things. I am not a practising Christian, but I detest Christians being castigated that way.

To tease or mock Christians that – “Jesus is not God”, or that “Mary had sex with Joseph” and that the book of Bible “contains thousands of fallacies” – is provocative to those who hold these beliefs dearly. Katulwende is free to sin and be prepared to go to ‘hell’, but let him speak for himself. And if he does not believe that God exists, he can continue to practise atheism. Should other Zambians do likewise? The numbers (80-90%) of Zambians who are Christians immobolizes his sinical thinking.

Further, I do recognize the mistake we writers – columnists, pundits, journalists and others, make. We all seem to believe that anything we write readers would simply swallow. Only dumb readers can do that. Hence, on behalf of all those passive ones, who may have a tendency to accept information as is presented – let me take Katulwende on.

There is nothing strange about the State and Religion being compatible. United States, a very successful State has been built under the close watch of Christians. The most vocal Christian fundamentalists come from USA. United Kingdom which is also closely knit with the Church of England – formed the foundation of Protestant work ethic and other guiding principles in the Caucasian-led World. Even secular Sweden has had some indisputable connection with Churches. The list goes on. Why not Zambia?

To try and persuade or rather inflame readers that – Zambia being a Christian Nation implies that: - a) there is no room for non-Christians in Zambia; or b) that those who are not Christians would be persecuted or denied rights – is laundering the truth. That is not accurate.

Zambia becoming a Christian Nation does not imply either, that other religions are banned. Muslims, Budhists, Silks, Hindus, Communists, atheists, traditionalists, Jehovahs or gays have a legal right to be who they want to be. In Zambia it is not ‘compulsory’ to be a Christian. There is no hindrance to be anything else or nothing. Their basic rights are enshrined and protected by even the existing Zambian Constitution. To try and present the situation the way Katulwende did, is basically trying to craft a negative public opinion which is non-existent.

Perhaps only a minority is bitterly against the principle. That is in spite of the fact that it was introduced by Frederick Chiluba who is now, not particularly popular. Christian national hood simply describes the moral compass of the majority of the people. The mode of conduct many people want. For without it – there would be no universal moral guidance. This is precisely the argument Mark Burke is making. That, if we have these Christian principles we should then try and follow them.

You must also remember that an immoral nation, the one bankrupt of any human values spells danger. We can’t live like animals. As soon as evil acts or decadence sets in – sovereign nations fall. The decline and fall of all major Empires: - Egyptian, Roman, Ottoman, Chinese, Japanese and others happened because of moral decay which took over the behaviours and thinking of people. That is, people’s minds, thoughts and character became polluted. Is that our goal? No!

For this reason, that is why many Africans are particularly irked by this practice of homosexuality which is popping up every where. There is nothing normal or African about this – and is essentially something which, like many other things has come through cultural imposition from the West. Therefore, I personally support that clause which has been proposed by NCC against same-sex marriage in the new constitution.

While we are ready to relax sex code to go beyond simple procreation, but extending it to include homosexually is the fastest road for the extinction of an African race. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was part of a sublime agenda by the West. Defending it under the prism of discrimination or human rights, does not cut it.

Therefore for Zambians (and Africans at large), the challenge is even greater, because we do not want to encourage ‘our species obliteration’ – which would be inevitable, as for sure, the birth rate would plummet below survival rate due to man-to-man or woman-to-woman sex. Who is looking for lab babies? For Africa, already we have been hit hard by HIV/Aids, other health pandemics and poverty. Hence, if we want to see an African standing on the continent, we need to be careful.

So Katulwende can despise the Bible all he wants, but at least there is some merit in having people’s morals disciplined according to the Bible way. I am aware that some may hit back and accuse me instead of encouraging Western or simply foreign life styles. Possibly. But let us put all these things in a context. But since our traditional (African) values and customs have been tainted, some even beyond recognition – let us at least select and adopt from the foreign value-bundles those values and habits which are not counterproductive.

We can cherry pick, i.e. to select the good ones. Katulwende’s methodology of simply cursing the Bible will not save the day. It is almost like a child who is asking the mother to set the house on fire because it is cool to watch.

In his review of Burke’s ‘Glimmer of Hope’, at least Chola Mukanga  offers some mild criticisms of Zambia as a Christian Nation. On the other hand, The Post in their editorial of March 17th, 2010, they extensively seek the support of Christian principles in their search for someone to come and save the Nation. The Post believes that our nation has deteriorated primarily because of hate, violence, corruption and other such undesired vices.

I always accommodate dissenting views. But when I come across something that I don’t agree with, I question it like I am doing in this case. So brother Katulwende, even though you are fully entitled to say what you said about the Bible and Zambia being a Christian Nation – you must remember that the idea came from people – the majority ones. Pentecostals did not force it down the throats of Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Hindus and many others. Had these people not wanted it, they could have blocked it. At the bottom line I know, you are just attacking ex President Chiluba. Be my guest!

The ball is now in the court of other readers. Cheers!

Kaela B Mulenga (Guest Blogger)
zbia@hotmail.com

5 comments:

  1. I will make a quick and simple comment, I do believe part of the religious points of criticism come down to a simple difference of intrinsic vs extrinsic relationship with religion. An extrinsic relationship, which I believe Burke was describing, is an issue anywhere, and one best to be acknowledged.

    I have to say, and i apologize for saying so, your paragraphs on homosexuality were somewhat random. Even if homosexuality was accepted by an entire society, the entire nation would NOT turn gay. Therefore birthrate decline would not be an issue, I think you should look up some statistics on that before making such a statement. It was resonant of far reaching deductions researchers used to come to before they became accountable for their statements.

    For the record, I'm not homosexual, I simply prefer more logical (and realistic) deductive reasoning.

    Valeria Sosa

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  2. Dr. Kaela B Mulenga:

    You wrote: "You must remember that the idea came from people -- the majority ones. Pentecostals did not force it down the throats of Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Hindus and many others. Had these people not wanted it, they could have blocked it."

    I take this to mean that the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation came from the people. But my understanding is that the Declaration was actually made personally by Dr. Frederick Chiluba at State House on 29th December 1991, and was later incorporated into the Peamble of the 1996 Republican constitution.

    I do not believe any one suggested to Chiluba that he should make the Declaration; rather, the idea was conceived by Chiluba himself.

    And I do not think any religious grouping could have blocked a Declaration that was made by Presidential Decree.

    But as I have often maintained, it is important for leaders to guard against the imposition of any particular religion on the entire society. The Republican constitution should be a neutral document that does not discriminate against atheists or pagans, or those who believe in Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Jainism.

    In the long run, the Declaration is, therefore, likely to make non-Christian Zambians to feel that they are second-class citizens.

    Clearly, the Declaration was made by a president who could not understand the dangers of dragging religion into politics and public affairs. Religion is deadly if it is not handled with utmost caution. The precarious problem currently facing Algeria, Nigeria, the Sudan, Afghanistan, and a host of other countries around the world which are beleaguered by religious conflicts should serve as a clear warning to each and every peace-loving Zambian to refrain from creating a similar situation that will dog our beloved country in perpetuity.

    We should not be blinded by our having experienced no serious religious conflicts so far, but as our country’s population and the membership of each religious denomination swells, we would be short­sighted not to anticipate and make an effort to forestall the occurrence of such conflicts. [Continued ...]

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  3. [Continuation ...] We need to act proactively. To wait until the consequences of our failure to reason are upon us is to leave serious problems for future generations to grapple with. And such failure will eventually prove to us that experience, in relation to this issue, teaches fools, since we have thus far not been able to see beyond our noses.

    What Zambia needs, therefore, is a secular state that genuinely recognizes and safeguards each and every individual’s freedom of worship and the freedom to choose one’s religion. At the same time, we should actively DISCOURAGE the following in a deliberate effort to forestall the potential disruption of public order and socio-economic activities by cliques of fanatics from any of our country’s religious denominations:

    (a) The use of public funds by a local or national government to set up a church or mosque, and/or to provide any form of support to any given religious group, institution or activity;

    (b) Official participation by government leaders in the affairs of any given religious group or institution, or official participation by any given religious leader or group in political or governmental affairs;

    (c) The use of a religious platform by any individual or group of individuals to form a political party;

    (d) The use of a religious platform by any individual to seek a leadership position in any of the three branches of government—that is, the legislature, the judiciary and the executive;

    (e) Inclusion of denominational religious subjects in the curricula of schools funded by the government; and

    (f) Religious sermons which are contemptuous to, or are designed to slight, other religious groupings or denominations.

    In countries where government leaders have not provided for these kinds of safeguards mainly due to lack of foresight by leaders, violent clashes among religious groups in their quest to dominate the political sphere, and to impose their religious laws on the citizenry, have become exceedingly difficult to contain.

    A lot of people have written about the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation, either in support or against the Declaration. For the purposes of this discussion, however, I have provided the following statements from two authors which are apparently against the Declaration:

    Fr Peter Henriot:
    Paraphrased from "Being a Christian in a Christian Nation," Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection: http://www.jctr.org.zm/, December 2, 1998:

    Theologically, what does it mean to say that a political entity such as a nation is declared to be Christian? Certainly, you cannot baptize a nation. And we cannot expect the profession of the Apostle’s Creed to be made by a nation, nor can a nation perform a liturgical act of Christian worship!

    Constitutionally, does this legally establish a formal state religion? Does the inclusion of the declaration in the Constitution thereby preclude a non-Christian from becoming President? After all, the oaths of elective public offices require incumbents to uphold the Constitution, and would we be asking non-Christian candidates to put their consciences to the test of Christian support?

    Prof. Venkatesh Seshamani:
    Paraphrased from "A Hindu View of the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation," http://www.sedos.org/english/seshamani.htm/, Ref: JCTR, Number 46, 4th Quarter 2000:

    By virtue of their religion being uniquely accorded constitutional status, a feeling of religious superiority can develop among Christians in the country. The greater danger would be if this feeling of religious superiority degenerates into bigotry that prompts one to look at all non-Christians as lost souls that need to be saved. One can recollect the attempt to ban Islamic programs from television and radio soon after Chiluba made the Declaration. Besides, one cannot forget the Livingstone episode in which the Hindu temple and the Islamic mosque were destroyed. [Continued ...]

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  4. The danger that all non-Christians may be branded as dangerous or as satanic cannot be ruled out. Although no material change has occurred for the Hindu community so far since and as a result of the Declaration, what assurance is there that this will be the case in the future as well, especially when the present leaders are no longer there?

    THE SECULAR STATE
    (Source: Excerpted from Wikipedia.)

    "Secular state" is a concept of secularism, whereby a state or country purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. A secular state also claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and claims to avoid preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular religion / non-religion over other religions / non-religion. Most often it has no state religion or equivalent.

    A "secular state" is defined as one that honors freedom of religion as pursued in state secularism. It is also described to be a state that prevents religion from interfering with state affairs, and prevents religion from controlling government or exercising political power. Laws protect each individual including religious minorities from discrimination on the basis of religion.

    A secular state is not an atheistic state in which the state officially opposes all religious beliefs and practices. In some secular states, there can be a huge majority religion in the population (e.g., Thailand, Turkey, etc.) and in others there may be great religious diversity (e.g., India, Lebanon, etc). Some may have de facto official religions, in which even though a government doesn't support or deny religion, it may require some members of its government to be a certain religion (e.g., Indonesia, Peru).

    Secular states become secular either upon establishment of the state or upon secularization of the state (e.g., France). Historically, the process of secularizing states typically involves granting religious freedom, disestablishing state religions, stopping public funds to be used for a religion, freeing the legal system from religious control, opening up the education system, tolerating citizens who change religion, and allowing political leadership to come to power regardless of religious beliefs. Public holidays that were originally religious holidays and other traditions are not necessarily affected, and public institutions become safe from being used and abused by religion.

    (The "secular state" is what Zambia needs!)

    ReplyDelete
  5. [Continuation ...]

    The danger that all non-Christians may be branded as dangerous or as satanic cannot be ruled out. Although no material change has occurred for the Hindu community so far since and as a result of the Declaration, what assurance is there that this will be the case in the future as well, especially when the present leaders are no longer there?

    THE SECULAR STATE
    (Source: Excerpted from Wikipedia.)

    "Secular state" is a concept of secularism, whereby a state or country purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. A secular state also claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and claims to avoid preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular religion / non-religion over other religions / non-religion. Most often it has no state religion or equivalent.

    A "secular state" is defined as one that honors freedom of religion as pursued in state secularism. It is also described to be a state that prevents religion from interfering with state affairs, and prevents religion from controlling government or exercising political power. Laws protect each individual including religious minorities from discrimination on the basis of religion.

    A secular state is not an atheistic state in which the state officially opposes all religious beliefs and practices. In some secular states, there can be a huge majority religion in the population (e.g., Thailand, Turkey, etc.) and in others there may be great religious diversity (e.g., India, Lebanon, etc). Some may have de facto official religions, in which even though a government doesn't support or deny religion, it may require some members of its government to be a certain religion (e.g., Indonesia, Peru).

    Secular states become secular either upon establishment of the state or upon secularization of the state (e.g., France). Historically, the process of secularizing states typically involves granting religious freedom, disestablishing state religions, stopping public funds to be used for a religion, freeing the legal system from religious control, opening up the education system, tolerating citizens who change religion, and allowing political leadership to come to power regardless of religious beliefs. Public holidays that were originally religious holidays and other traditions are not necessarily affected, and public institutions become safe from being used and abused by religion.

    (The "secular state" is what Zambia needs!)

    ReplyDelete

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