That’s the headline of an editorial written by Matthew Parris of the U.K. Times, who argues that on a continent plagued by violence, infectious disease, famine, war, and every other form of pestilence know to humankind short of a deep freeze.
Parris is an atheist who insists that while his own nonbelief is secure, it can bring all sorts of joy to the hearts of people who have nothing to look forward to but misery. Yes, by all means, let’s infect the primitives with the white man’s god!
Okay, so maybe he’s not being that paternalistic. On purpose. And he goes to great lengths to assure readers that, just like so many other atheists, he once hoped that the unquestionable human good done by missionaries could become uncoupled from the faith-in-invisible-beings aspects of this sort of charity, but now understands that the faith element is just as important.
Anxiety – fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things – strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won’t take the initiative, won’t take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.
Introducing gods, this context, constitutes nothing more than exploitation of this alleged fear. It’s not a solution or even a band-aid; it’s an addition to the problem. It’s no different than the childhood indoctrination seen in the Western world.
Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.
I find it strange, and admittedly a little difficult to believe, that a genuine and thoughtful atheist would be this cynical. What would result if Christian evangelism were removed from the U.S.? A malign fusion of obesity, corporate and political corruption, text-messaging, and the semiautomatic pistol. What of it? This shit isn’t going away overnight in any scenario, begodded or otherwise. God won’t keep cigarettes out of Africa, given His apparent rooting for HIV and malaria there.
It’s an interesting read, anyway, and as heartfelt as it is misguided in obvious ways. I don’t see people like Parris preaching the value of yoking God to feeding the hungry in Europe and the rest of the non-“dark” world, and I also think he forgets to mention what Africa needs far more than notions of a benevolent sorcerer who can grant them an afterlife: