My first experience of organized religion took place in my first year of school. Up until then I had always understood religion from a distance, something other people do and not as a lived experience. I prayed our father at school when I remembered but that was as far as it went. I was five and curious about this church next to my school, Thloreng Primary School in Orlando West Soweto. I told my grandmother one Saturday that I was going to church the next day. My demand aka request came out of no-where for her, since going to church was not a part of our lives as a family. She asked me why I wanted to go to church when no one went to church in our family. I told her that I wanted to see what church was like since I had never been. She asked me who will take me there. I told her that I would go on my own. I wanted to see what happened inside a church. She said fine, you’ll find me right here when you get back. I still remember that day as if it was yesterday. I went to the Roman Catholic Church next to my school, and saw there were many children outside who I didn’t recognize from school. They were all strangers. I went in anyway and said I was there for Sunday school. Later we went inside for mass… and I now remember my tiny little fingers perched on to the shiny wooden pews. They sang songs I didn’t recognize and then it was time for the offering. I didn’t have a single coin in my hand a fact which raised concern from adults for the first time, who asked me where my parents were and why I had come to church alone and without money. I will never forget the song they sang during the offering, it was quite catchy: “droppings, droppings, droppings, droppings, here the barn is full, everyone for Jesus, he shall save them all, when the barn is full, he shall save them all” sung beautifully in tune with the piano which I had never heard before.
The service was of course too long for a child my age and I was thoroughly bored and eager to go home and tell my grandmother about my experiences when I got home. I had mixed emotions about the whole experience, but was evidently more excited about having seen and heard before. Then, church was nothing more than just an adventure for me. It was a hot Sunday, and I arrived home to the delicious smell of rice boiling on my grandmothers’ two plate electric stove. Behind the door a white plastic jug with iced blocks of flavoured water in plastic … was just what I needed to quench my thirst. My grand-mother took one look at me and said “ no ice before you eat, I don’t know who told you those are for you… So what did you find at church?” I proceeded to tell her about the song, I sang it for her, and told her the mean remarks by the older folk who rebuked her in her absence for letting me go to church on my own and without money. I never went back to that church again, and much preferred my grandmothers’ way of spending Sunday drinking beer and smoking cigarettes with her boyfriend and siblings amid clouds of laughter and talk about the latest news in the family. I returned to my favourite past time of hanging on my favourite one and only apple tree and observing leaves, ants, rotting raw apples and making up stories with my older sister. Through that experience I was given a first-hand lesson in the intricate, sometimes subtle but always inseparable link between religion and money. The state of any economy.
Two years ago, I had a similarly vivid and unforgettable experience of organized religion in Dakar Senegal. It was a hot Friday, midday, and I was on my way back to my flat after having breakfast with friends. As I walked down the sandy streets of Ouest Foeis I marveled at its emptiness. Where had all the people gone? Soon I found my answer, when I realized that I was the only person walking amidst a sea of bodies kneeling in prayer. It was one o’clock. And every knee was bowed towards the sun everywhere I looked. On the sides of the street, on pavements, shops etc. in worship of Allah the most high. It was the most surreal experience of my life. I had read that story in the bible of the three men who refused to bow to a God and were sent to be burnt at the stake or to be eaten by lions. I realized then that I was the only one standing and could easily be burnt at the stake for refusing to acknowledge Allah as the only true and living God when an entire nation bowed in worship –what I experienced was a mixture of adrenalin, fear and excitement. I didn’t quite know what to do, or how to walk anymore but continued anyway because it was too hot to do otherwise. I was often asked the question “are you Muslim or Christian?” to which I always answered – neither. Many responded that it was impossible to live without faith or religion.
I had a number of tense discussions with my best friend in Senegal about Christianity and Islam and sexuality. It didn’t make sense to me why I would convert to Islam if I didn’t agree with Christianity, religions which in my mind are different variations of the same concept. One gives a more solid structure to how you live your life on a daily basis, it is written… you must pray five times a day, marriage is pre-determined as is sex, what you eat, what you do with your day, what you wear, who you hang out with, is all there in the holy book. You don’t have to think about it – just do. While the other has the same rules which are flexible depending on which denomination you belong to. One has never changed the other changes and continues to be updated each year. Both are meant as a manual from which to live your life. A way of life to organize society into a well-oiled, productive functioning machine; where there’s order and generally accepted rules and regulations to create a coherent society. Both serve only ONE GOD.
WHY GO AGANST THE GRAIN.
When the colonisers arrived, they told our ancestors that their way of life was wrong. They had better technology and a better way to form a functioning society. First they introduced the Bible or the Koran depending on where in the world you live. They said, this is how God wants you to live. By going to Church a new form of faith was introduced which vilified every aspect of life of the original peoples. Through the education system which entrenched the principles of religion they were able to produce a compliant work force which would entrench and spread the gospel of the good news. There is only one God. And the God of the bible or Koran required people to make endless offerings and sacrifices. Through religion the concept of money was easily introduced as a form of trade or exchange for goods and services.
MONEY: THE GOD OF ALL THINGS.
They arrived and introduced a new belief system of a ONE man ONE savior. Money saves. You need money to live, how you get it is a matter to be fought over in courts or through bullets. You must pay for your existence. You needed to pay for the hut you lived in that you built yourself with your family using the soil on which you were born. You needed to pay because it’s in the bible, It is written…GOD said – it is written you must pay ten percent of your monthly income. First he wanted human sacrifices; your first born to be burnt at the stake, then your fattest cow, then ten percent of your money which you have to pay in order to live. You needed money and or paper and since you didn’t have any you were required to go work at the mines in order to pay that ten percent. If you refused, you were evil and you will die in hell, and life became hell for many people making it simply illogical to live otherwise. Send us your first born or strongest, healthiest, cleverest child as an offering. God will be merciful to you and your generation. Disobedience, aka sin, aka lack of payment results in disease, poverty and ultimately death. Who in the world would choose otherwise?
THE RULE OF LAW: GOD IS MERCIFUL
But if you change your ways, aka mind, aka the way you think and abide by my word, you shall prosper. You must be like sheep. Unquestioning, just follow my rules you will be fine. All your sins (non-payment) will be forgiven. I have given you a choice. But if you choose anything other than what I tell you to choose (credit) you will surely die; of hunger and poverty and disease. Doesn’t matter how good you are.
POLITICS. RELIGION. GOD AND MONEY.
Go hand in hand. Those who tried to fight against this new system, were killed mercilessly, or died of hunger, loneliness and disease. The new system requires one to have money in order to live and buy food. We are still living in the same system today. We’ve lost the means of production, we don’t own the land on which we live, and in order to live we must trade our lives for money. We need to work for the money that will enable us to buy food and have a roof under our heads. We have to be only yes men and yes women. Don’t THINK. It makes perfect sense. So why not eat grass if God will smile on you for your obedience and give you a job and money and a car and everything you need. Why not? “I will not lose my job because of principles, I have a bonds to pay” A friend said once upon a time.
No one wants to suffer, and live in pain and anguish or poverty. And for as long as you are obedient, abide my rules, you’ll be fine. Those who are not: domestic workers, miners, cheap labourers, unemployed or unemployable etc. Must have done something wrong – they didn’t abide by the rules of the only One True God… Hey, it’s not personal, it’s just business, leave your “emotions” at home. “I don’t care about your personal issues”. Those who suffer deserve it, they don’t deserve any mercy … they must have disobeyed, ” we managed to work our way out of poverty! so can they!” if they can’t well…. I mean…therefore they deserve every inch of suffering and pain that comes their way. Why walk when we’re all kneeling down in prayer and worship? Why come to church if you don’t have an offering? Money is the way the way, the truth and life, without it you shall surely die.