Religious fundamentalism in Kenya: Fuelling human rights abuses?
2010-06-10, Issue 485
Fundamental religious doctrine, executed by more than a single religion, is a threat to individuals who lose their lives to the dogma, and to the peace and stability of the whole of society, writes Audrey Mbugua. Laughable literal interpretations of holy books lose their humourous sheen as religious leaders proselytise fundamentalism. In the Kenyan context, the danger of pandering to such doctrines looms before the constitutional referendum in August. Instead of gagging before the implacable wall of religion, citizens of Kenya should speak out against the alternative – persecution of minorities.
‘To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.’
In February 2010 we witnessed what would have been a fête at par with Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Two priests from Kingdom Seekers Fellowship in Kenya died in a road accident. An ‘apostle’ from the same sect heard a voice of God in his head revealing that the pastors were not actually dead but merely sleeping, or hibernating. God gave him strict orders to have the burial arrangements put off and for the church to pray for their resurrection – apparently God told him the two had not completed their homework here on Earth before their untimely departure. The faith heads in this church fasted for three days and on the D-day, 21 February 2010, two caskets bearing the remains of the two sleeping priests were brought forward. The apostle first rebuked Satan for trying to stall the work of God, then went ahead to ask God to raise his disciples from their ‘sleep’. After fervent prayers, nothing out of the ordinary had happened. They tried harder and louder; maybe God was running other errands like curing cancer patients. After an eternity of negotiations with God, the apostle threw in the towel and the circus was over.
This is not a platform to argue whether God exists or not. First, it’s one of those many incidences when religious people are not right – or extremely wrong. This apostle heard a small voice in his head telling him the two were not dead and if prayed for, would wake up and move on with their lives. That didn’t happen. What other scenarios are these clowns wrong about but they don’t have the decency to admit to?
Secondly, it’s a wake up call for everyone who is tired of having some particular brand of religious rubbish shoved down their throats by some self-anointed God’s sidekick. Religions in Kenya play a vital role in the orchestration of gross human rights abuses against minorities like transsexuals, impeding effective realisation of socio-economic development in such sub-populations. It’s time to end this morbid and divine charade.
It’s not going to be easy. One of humanity’s greatest follies is to surrender their ability to query long-held, pre-medieval superstitions and myths simply because they fear something bad will happen to them – or because they are too caught up in their faith. The few rationalists who are quick to point out the ludicrousness of these superstitions don’t speak too loudly, mostly because they would loose their income or would be torched in their neighbourhood. The religious community in Kenya is one such sad lot and it would behoove us if someone was to challenge the assertions and mediocrity propagated by these faith heads.
In tandem with this tragedy, we have witnessed a collapse of democratic rule and the respect of human rights in Kenya as a result of people imposing their religious beliefs on others. This is how it goes – you people are not supposed to do a list of things: you are not supposed to change your sex (god was not a fool to have created you the way he did), you are not supposed to terminate a pregnancy (that is murder and you will burn in hell), Steven, you are not supposed to love Adam and Jane is not supposed to love Anita (its unbiblical and every time a man mounts on another the throne of god shakes), and you women need to be submissive and not question your husbands (if he slaps you, its because you are not acting the role of a woman written in the Bible).
It’s time to stand up and challenge this nonsense and the assumption that the respect of human rights comes second while first, my religion has to validate your existence. If you don’t meet my standards of a good person, I have the obligation to chop your head off and gladly hand it over to you. A time has come when the sane and rational ones have to do something and end human rights abuses inflicted on people just because their actions are sins to Jehovah.
It’s time to trash that small voice inside our heads that tells us we cannot do without ‘the alpha and omega’; a voice that tells us to kill anyone whose practices are unworthy in the eyes of a big daddy in the sky. Religion seems to be protected by a thick wall of undeserved respect. An Arsenal fan is free to criticise a referee’s decision to award Manchester United a penalty but religious matters are not to be subject to criticism. Members of the queer and transgender community in Kenya have often criticised my intolerance to religious fundamentalism. Apparently, the argument is that people have the right to have an opinion. Also, one was quick to remind me that just because religion has sponsored all the suffering that sexual minorities in Kenya have faced, it does not make religion a terrible bed fellow.
I have a problem with that: First, that’s not the sole reason why I don’t have the capacity to tolerate Stone Age superstitions. The Bible says that snakes can talk with human beings. Well, that’s a lie. The Bible says that people can walk on liquid water. That’s a lie. The Bible says that the universe was created in six days; that is also a lie. The Bible says that a walking stick can turn into a snake; that’s a fundamental lie. But, I guess one could say that you don’t interpret the Bible and Koran literally – but then which parts do you interpret literally and which are symbolic? Could it be that Adam was a transgender man and Eve was a shoe? Who sets the rules of engagement for the Bible?
If we are to base our lives on them, and allow religious books such as the Bible and Koran to be our operating manuals, humanity stands to loose its dignity and its existence. The Bible is littered with acts of genocide that any rational Kenyan would agree makes our post-election violence death list a pale shadow. Samson the Nazirite is one person who didn’t give much thought to his murderous proclivities when it came to people of divergent views and tribe. On one occasion, Samson kills 30 Philistines for their clothes. When a damsel turns down his demands for marriage, he captures 300 foxes and sets their tails on fire. As they scatter for fire extinguishers, they end up burning all the wheat fields of the Philistines, resulting in a famine. Afterwards, he kills an ass and uses one of its jaws to kill over 1,000 Philistines. Superman in action.
A religion such as Christianity practices very disturbing if not morbid rituals. There is the crucifixion of people in the name of marking the crucifixion of Jesus the Messiah. Then, there is the Holy Rosary with the crucified Messiah attached to it. Then a devout Christian has to chain him/herself to that rubbish. Once again religion abusing the human rights of Jesus and others who go through the same rituals occurs during Easter holidays. Dawkins once mentioned that had Jesus been killed during the 20th century, these Christians would have tiny electric chairs chained to their necks.
Not to forget Islam. A recent incident set Islam apart as one of the most intolerant, idiotic and murderous institutions in the world. A South African news paper recently published a cartoon of Mohammed. Hell broke loose and management at the media house were receiving threats (‘you've got to watch your back’ and ‘this will cost him his life’). A few years ago, a Danish newspaper published cartoons of Mohammed and it’s a tragedy lives were lost – people who would not even have a clue there was a country by the name Denmark. We saw people carrying slogans like ‘slay those who insult Islam’ and ‘behead those who insult Mohammed’. What is the world coming to? Would I get away with ‘behead those ethnic tribes that don’t circumcise their girls’? I have the right to an opinion, don’t I? This is the kind of oppression we reap for granting religious beliefs undeserved respect.
At the moment, Kenyans are polarised in the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ Constitution referendum camps. The ‘No’ campaign is spearheaded by the church and in a dramatic move, Christian applicants succeeded in having the Kadhis’ courts declared unconstitutional. Reason? They extend preferential treatment to one religious group – Muslims. This is a remarkable and commendable move; a move towards separating the church from the state. But, it would have been exemplary if they had also declared our national anthem unconstitutional. It has the word God littered throughout and of course on page five of the draft Constitution there are the words ‘God bless Kenya’. Why should we have such rubbish in state documents? Why should my tax be used to proselytise a particular brand of a god? And is God that desperate? Isn’t it enough to have his name in some 2,000-year-old scrolls? Why does he need his name to be inserted in a Constitution? The faith heads of this country will never cease to amaze me.
The there is the thorny issue of abortion. The draft Constitution gives room for the termination of pregnancy if a medical practitioner can prove a pregnancy is a threat to the health of the mother. The church doesn’t like the smell of that. Life begins at conception and abortion is murder of babies. This is an epitome of hypocrisy considering that these faith heads have actually murdered sexual minorities in Kenya. They have incited the members of the public to attack sexual minorities simply because their holy books don’t agree with one or two things sexual minorities do, but that doesn’t cause harm to anyone. Changing sex is unbiblical – but so what? It’s my body and my choice. If God does not like it then he should share his views – in person. If he doesn’t like who Joan dates, then let him argue his case. If God deems death to be the wage of people changing their sex, he would better do it at a personal level – a heart attack or an electrocution will do. Why do Christians have to attack transsexuals, raping them before hacking them to death? Do we have to accelerate their journey to Hell?
If you look carefully at the history of religion you would realise that religion is the most wicked and useless institution on our planet. Under the guise of salvation, religion works well by intimidating the gullible mass and numbing the ‘sheeple’ from any feelings of compassion and pity. Kiefer said it better:
‘Fundamental Christianity with its defilement of self-image, unwavering demand for obedience to authority, and sole reliance on faith diminishes the individual by eating away at the heart of human dignity. It entraps its followers by obliquely instilling in them a sense of powerlessness under the guise of salvation, and it holds them fast to the fold through intimidation of the soul.’
Religion is inconsistent with the human rights concept. Human rights apply to all irrespective of color, gender, sex, religion, health status, dress, socio-economic status and any distinguishing attribute among human animals. On the contrary, religion caters specifically for those who want to control the dimwits of this world. Those with the cajoles to question ‘orders from above’ – by word or by action – don’t deserve to live dignified lives. The human rights discourse does pull the rug from under the feet of the privileged religious mouth piece out there. I guess that’s why several human rights organisations championing the rights of sexual minorities in Kenya are an anathema to these apostles.
I urge Kenyans to change their mentality. We need to respect the human rights of others whether we – or our holy books – agree with how they live their lives or not. At the end of the day, the important question is whether the other person’s acts cause harm to others or not. Religious people need to stop listening to those diabolical voices in their heads telling them to kill innocent civilians just because their acts contradict some Stone Age shepherds. There are 100s of documented gods and you could imagine if all humans were eager to create pandemonium and murder innocent people just because a god was unhappy with their mating partners or similar harmless peccadillo such as pulling a donkey out of one of our many potholes on a Sabbath. Our planet would be like a bar full of drunken monkeys.
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* Audrey Mbugua is a member of Transgender Education and Advocacy, a Kenyan organisation formed to address social injustices committed against the country's transgender community.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 Richard Dawkins, 2006: Religion’s Misguided Missiles,http://richarddawkins.net/articles/97
 Kiefer, J., 2000: The Strategies of Christian Fundamentalsim,