Ugandans could do better without their pastors

To the old biblical Ten Commandments, our pastors could add this one: You shall not have carnal knowledge of a member of your own sex, or of a goat, or a cow or sheep in your flock, or from your neighbour’s flock, or any domestic or wild creature. It is an abomination.

In the first commandment, Moses (or his impersonators) wants the Abrahamic God to be the only supernatural being with power. So, as the edict says, you shall not worship other gods. It would be a bit like our presidential and NRM functionaries writing about Mr Museveni’s vision. Hence, no other citizen has a vision like Museveni. But of course we know better; we know that every culture invented its gods, and all were thought to be very powerful gods.

Similarly, every autocratic ruler who jealously guards his power has his blinkered functionaries, who earn bread and favour by preaching tirelessly about his inimitable vision. Now, if we remove only that first commandment, we still have ten laws, having introduced the new (and controversial one) forbidding eccentric sexual behaviour.

Using these ten, I am absolutely sure that ordinary unassuming godless humans would score better than the bunch of Uganda’s Born Again Christian pastors. As the current “struggle” between these clerics rages on, the amazing thing is that many otherwise smart Ugandans have always taken these pastors seriously; not just as specimens for sociological observation, but as legitimate sources of spiritual help; although of course the illiterate and semi-literate form the bulk of their congregations. Perhaps because of an innate fear of those who dabble in the occult, the media glorifies the pastor, sometimes in the same breath as it debunks their practices. Even our more serious newspapers too often use expressions like a pastor’s “power” or his “anointed” state, not in the context of the pastor’s pretentiousness, but as attributes that he had already demonstrated beyond question.

For its part, the State looks on impotently or even with gratitude; because, after all, the freedom of worship guaranteed by the Constitution can be stretched to include the freedom to lie and cheat openly, as long as the fraud is expressed in religious language. Secondly, the State – especially a fraudulent state – must surely thank anyone who helps to turn the citizens into a gullible populace.

Just as many seemingly normal people think the pastor’s prosperity gospel is for them, there are those who take seriously the president’s slogan, Bonna Bagaggawale (Prosperity for all). In reality, the pastor strips his flock through the tithe and the sale of “miracles”, and the president strips them again through the tax collectors. The pastor gets his General Motors Hummer and the president his Gulf Stream jet.

But there is another lie the serial victims are told to buy, the lie that they cannot be upright people if they live outside the sphere of religion. This misconception arises from a failure to understand that the wisdom and moral law “revealed” to the prophets in the great Abrahamic faiths were in fact products of “inspired” human thought, not literal divine dictation. Many of these laws are rooted in principles so universally settled in the human heart that they are still valid today, whether in a redefined histo-religious narrative or in an entirely secular context.

The notion that the human mind and society cannot find their moral bearings when organised religion is in decline implies that man is essentially an unreasoning unethical brute, which undermines his “will”, the very attribute through which even organised religion hopes to gain access to the hearts of ordinary mortals. The Nordic countries show us that peace, charity, humaneness and social justice can in fact increase as religious practice declines. With our noses choking, Uganda’s pastors show us that the servants of God can lead their flock to moral years in jail.

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