Africa Needs More Human-Centered Thought and Activism

January 7, 2009

On December 27, 2008, the self-professed atheist Matthew Parris argued for religion in Africa in   The Times Online , headquartered in the UK. In his article titled “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God,” he spoke glowingly of “the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa….”

I readily admit that missionaries have done some great work in Africa—building roads, clinics, schools, etc. However, missionaries in recent years have also enriched themselves while exploiting the masses, discouraged millions of Africans from using condoms, thereby increasing unwanted pregnancies and the spread of Aids, promoted sexism, contributed greatly to the persecution and deaths of alleged witches, etc. Indeed, Africa provides the perfect example of what Robert Ingersoll said about the historic role of the Catholic Church: “In one hand she carried the alms dish, in the other, the dagger.” The same could be said of organized religion in general.

In Rwanda, Christians were complicit in the genocide that occurred there in the 1990s. Many people were brutally murdered in churches. In Nigeria, Christians and Muslims have been killing each other by the thousands. Throughout Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and many other African nations, Bible-based homophobia plays a major role in the persecution, and in some cases, murders, of LGBTs.

What Africa needs is what Ingersoll called “a caring rationalism.” The Bible simply contains too many ultra-reactionary and inhumane messages to be blindly embraced by believers. Christian ideas of tolerance are inconsistent with the biblical notion that acceptance of Christ is the only way to reach heaven. The Prince of Peace said he came to bring not peace, but a sword. It is no wonder that there are so many different conceptions of Christianity, not all of them benign.

A humanistic life-stance is the best way to approach the many divisive religious and ethnic conflicts that plague Africa. Human-centered thought and action offer much more for African uplift than piety and prayers ever could. Christian charity is, indeed, commendable. However our appreciation of the missionaries’ alms dish must never blind us to the dagger that so often accompanies it.



#1 Personal Failure (Guest) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 at 10:31am

I just don’t believe Matthew Perris is an atheist. Not buying it.

Christians in Africa have behaved shamefully for many, many years. Nowadays, it is popular to help those with HIV/AIDS in Africa because they are “innocent”, unlike those dirty gays in the US who deserved to have HIV/AIDS.

Is that what Mr. Perris finds so admirable? That these asshats smile with an inner light as they spread hatred and bigotry?

#2 Benjamin Radford on Wednesday January 07, 2009 at 10:47am

Excellent piece! Having been to Africa several times, I can attest to much of what Norm writes. Africa does indeed need an Ingersoll; the closest we have is Leo Igwe, who does a great job of reaching out and fighting superstition.

#3 Michael Meadon (Guest) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 at 4:48pm

Agreed… I hate to self-promote, but I have a lengthy critique of Pariss’ piece on my blog:

#4 JerryW (Guest) on Friday January 09, 2009 at 2:18am

Matthew Parris is a strange man. I wish I knew what Africa needs, but I doubt it’s religion. “Religion” simply manifests the actions of the humans who engage in it, ie some good, some bad. Finding either outcome proves nothing, and anyway you will soon find both. Placing relatively wealthy white westerners in Africa with an instruction to do good may indeed have that result, on balance. More interesting would be a straight comparison of whether you would be better off giving them your money, or Unicef..

#5 albert rogers (Guest) on Thursday January 15, 2009 at 11:51am

Although Ingersoll is right, and Christian imperialists have been the bane of Africa, and religious conflict is at least as bad there as anywhere else,
I have to offer a word of praise for some of the Christians in Africa. In some cultures, to my definite knowledge Kenya, the practice of female genital mutilation (“female circumcision”) is traditional and persistent. The Christian missionaries have been fairly united and even brave in their opposition to it. I know personally one young Maasai woman who has been spared it, because her mother is Christian.
Come to think of it, the famous Scots missionary, David Livingstone, was totally unlike Mother Teresa. He concerned himself more with fighting disease, and the Arab slave traders, than with evangelism.

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