As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

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.
He writes:

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:
CONDOMS.

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  1. #1 by Trin Tragula on December 29, 2008 - 3:15 pm

    Also in the news:Ugandan LRA ‘in church massacre’Where LRA is the Lord’s Resistance Army.
    From Wikipedia:

    The group was formed in 1987 and is engaged in an armed rebellion against the Ugandan government in what is now one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts. It is led by Joseph Kony, who proclaims himself the “spokesperson” of God and a spirit medium, primarily of the Christian Holy Spirit which the Acholi believe can represent itself in many manifestations.[6] The group claims to be establishing a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments and Acholi tradition.[6][7]

  2. #2 by Trin Tragula on December 29, 2008 - 3:18 pm

    Over at Ed Brayton’s blog:More on Rick Warren and Anti-Gay Views

    Bruce Wilson has an important post at Talk2Action with another big piece of evidence about Rick Warren’s anti-gay views. I’ve written many times about the barbaric treatment of gays and lesbians in Nigeria, backed by both Muslim and Christian leaders there. I wrote two years ago about the draconian law in Nigeria that strips gay people of all rights and puts them in prison or even to death in some parts of that country.
    .
    I also noted that these laws had the support of Peter Akinola, the Anglican archbishop of Nigeria, who has been publicly praised by the religious right in this country. And Wilson notes that the law he supported was actually worse than the law in Nazi Germany. And no one has heaped more praise on Akinola than Rick Warren.

  3. #3 by phisrow on December 29, 2008 - 3:19 pm

    Hmm. I guess I’d better go take up the white man’s burden…

  4. #4 by Rose Colored Glasses on December 29, 2008 - 4:15 pm

    Anybody who advocates a policy of lying to children and terrifying them is a menace.
    Encouraging christian evangelism very well may increase christian evangelism, but certainly it will be modified to suit local traditions such as female genital mutilation, hunting and killing witches, and infanticide.

  5. #5 by Warren on December 29, 2008 - 4:43 pm

    The thought occurs that this might well be how religion (as a political tool) was invente3d in the first place: Cynical people with delusions of grandeur — and an overweening sense of their own rectitude — imposing their will on others in the name of a deity.
    In fact I’m proximally certain this is how religion-as-government came into being. And this jackanape wants to propagate it? Shame on him.

  6. #6 by Russell on December 29, 2008 - 5:58 pm

    Please stop acting as if atheism were a religion. There is no reason at all that an atheist must think that the ill effects of a religion in a particular region and circumstance outweigh the beneficial effects. Thinking that has to be the case just because the religious belief in question is false is precisely the kind of magical thinking we attribute to the religious. And saying that an atheist should believe that is precisely the kind of faith whose absence is what we mean by atheism.
    It’s fair to disagree with Parris’s assessment of the situation. That is an argument of sociology and in predicting the course of a culture.
    But to fault Parris’s atheism for that assessment is to practice the same kind of idealization of belief that the religious do.

  7. #7 by Kevin Beck on December 29, 2008 - 6:28 pm

    “There is no reason at all that an atheist must think that the ill effects of a religion in a particular region and circumstance outweigh the beneficial effects. Thinking that has to be the case just because the religious belief in question is false is precisely the kind of magical thinking we attribute to the religious.”
    I’m not sure if you are addressing me or a commenter, but I don’t contend that atheists must see all invoking of religion as bad. I do think it is less than helpful in this case, or at best is a suboptimal solution to a series of complex problems, and I believe this for the sociological reasons you describe, not owing to a categorical dismissal of the side benefits of “faith.”
    I also admit that religious missionaries are doing a lot more to relieve human suffering than I ever will.

  8. #8 by Ken Shabby on December 29, 2008 - 6:58 pm

    Religious missionaries aren’t do-gooders. While they may help with some things, like medicine, they also siphon off resources for religious exercises, and they are almost universally against planned parenthood, and are against the use of condoms for prophylaxis. By helping spread disease and famine, they are not helping at all, they’re helping the suffering.

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