Religion and the Namibian Secular State

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By Olimpio Nhuleipo

ARTICLE 21 of the Namibian Constitution makes provisions for fundamental human freedoms including that of religion and as a result the country has observed and experienced a proliferation of religious institutions since independence in 1990.

Despite the constitutional provision for freedom of religion, it seems that Namibia lacks an effective legislation or act of parliament regulating the operations of various religious institutions in the country apart from a blanket code on non-governmental organizations. Though at times the constitutions of individual religious institutions are checked for constitutional compliance, this appears to be insufficient in addressing financial mismanagement, discrimination and the abuse of citizen’s rights by the clergies at institutional level.

Most religious institutions are communist, highly centralized and bureaucratic organizations where decision-making is often not a result of consultations between the leadership and members, but by a few cliques whose appointments to church committees are often questionable. Decisions affecting the entire church community are taken by a few high ranking church officials without any voting at branch level churches, and abuses and discrimination are likely to happen in most cases.

Religious institutions are social institutions and part of NGOs or non-profit organizations providing spiritual services to their respective constituencies and for that matter they ought to be run on democratic principles by responsible and caring people. However, in Africa, with poverty and unemployment, it is hard to differentiate between the genuine practitioners who went into the field through a calling, from opportunists and greedy folks who are in the field to improve their lots rather than serving God and their fellow citizens. The churches also provide social services such as health and education to society which is done to complement the secular state. Basically, the church is responsible for the spiritual aspects of citizens and can also contribute to the provision of other basic social services such as housing for the poorest of its membership, while the state is responsible for the fleshly needs of all citizens.

The state is there to ensure law and order, protect citizen’s life, property and provide basic social services. The reality is that honest religious institutions play a crucial role in human life and society, because they are responsible for the spiritual aspects of citizens. It is also a fact that spiritually well cared for and educated citizens and true believers are good patriots and hard working citizens as opposed to most of the wild guys (the theists).

In the Namibian context and in terms of services provision to society, much credit goes to some of the old churches which came earlier into the country before independence, and they have indeed done a good deal in terms of providing quality education and health services to the Namibian people during the apartheid era.

However, since independence the country has experienced a glut of new churches and at times individual citizens and residents have expressed their concerns and complaints about mistreatment, exploitation and misleading by some religious institutions. There have also been some sort of inter-religious institutional squabbles and disputes over which institution is right or wrong as far as serving God, by earning him more converts, is concerned. However, it seems that much of the inter-denominational disputes were due to loss of membership by the conservative churches to the new, dynamic and appealing churches. The new churches seem to have been making a difference not only in the spiritual well-being of their members, but also in material aspects of their lives through mysterious and unexpected positive developments after visiting or joining them.

However, at times the new churches stand accused of misleading people, but the centre of the dispute seems to have been the loss of members to new churches and diminishing revenue on the side of the old churches, though in most cases complaints by individual members of churches were genuine. But what the participants in the whole inter-church squabbles seem to have forgotten is the fact that the changes and reforms of the 20th century were not confined to the political realm alone. The world of religion has undergone a lot of transformation since the Martin Luther revolution.

Today, the new churches are experiencing similar criticisms that Martin Luther met when he dared to challenge the Roman Catholic papal system by propagating liberal reforms in the service of God.

Today, there are many more Christian churches that branched out of Catholicism, Lutheranism and so forth, some of them performing miracles, believe it or not. What we are responding to today are the effects of the global evangelical revolution and this religious revolutionary movement is bound to continue and will surpass political parties in citizen mobilizations and will encroach on the state realm.

It is obvious that most citizens of the world are not only losing faith in the old church establishments but also in secular organizations such as political parties and the state due to corruption, lack of care and compassion for each other in these institutions amid problems in the struggle to survive. It is also obvious that in the future political parties will be dependent on the clergy for approval and blessing in order to get the majority vote to power, as was recently experienced in some countries of the occidental world, while in the oriental world there is a mixture of secular and theocratic regimes, and Islam as a religion has intensified its attempt to capture the state domain and introduce theocratic regimes of the type of Iran, the former Afghanistan’s Taliban and Somali’s Islamic courts. Communism, religion and theocratic and or sorts of command and control institutions are associated with law and order resulting in less crime and corruption cases and are often preferred by many due to their theoretical message of common resources and common destiny at times distant to realize.

The fact is that the waves of change in the religious world have induced a global pious movement that is highly sophisticated and applies advanced technology to reach new frontiers in spreading the heavenly message on earth. This global religious movement is a diverse one and is indeed making a positive impact and difference in the life of earthly citizens for the good of the world.

Directing attention to Namibia, one indeed observes and concedes to the existence of a serious social decay in the Namibian society. However, one should note that this social decay is not unique to the country but rather it seems to be the case and phenomenon in all Sub-Saharan African countries and the world at large. In fact, there is no society without its social ills and a nation or person on earth without problems or enemies.

However, the advent of modernity with its technological package of cars, electronics, foreign culture manifested in the form of music, movies, entertainment programmes, and some civil societies for the promotion of sodomy of the type male to male and female to female sexual relations and marriages, alcohol and drugs, has both negative and positive effects on social development and caused some degree of Confucianism among Africans. The developments in the world of theism often at times mislead people into denying the existence of God. The technological advancement and developments resulting from the application of the human mind to reason and the production of high-tech equipment by those talented to do so often lead many people to believe in no other miracles than those ones.

Yes, whether there is another form of life apart from ours on planet Earth it will always remain a secret for us to only be revealed by death, lest you will realize it when it is too late.

At the core of earthly developments is globalization, a mainstream that floods all other tiny tributary societies, with the capacity to swallow or engulf weak societies’ culture and languages.

It is indeed unfortunate that Africa in which Namibia finds herself was caught behind in terms of socio-economic and technological advancement. During the advent of European traders and missionaries Africa south of the Sahara, there were no original formally established factories, neither religious institutions of her own apart from kingdoms which were all secular entities.

The African blacksmiths and musicians were seen as useless and the arts were sidelined and totally discouraged and abandoned by Africans themselves and kings never sought to enjoy their services in an attempt to promote them.

What Africans of Sub-Sahara had as established institutions were the family unit, communities or societies linked or interconnected by relative clan members and kingdoms as the highest formal institution.

These elements, the family unit which sometimes can be called tiny villages within a bigger village, clans and kingdoms formed the many pre-colonial African societies.

Africans of Sub-Saharan were caught unable to read and write. They relied on the mental power and capacity to recall and pass on the cultural heritage and intellectual properties through oral tradition. When reading and writing technology came, the radio and the music came, the cotton and fine hide dress arrived and new and better tools came with Europeans and the transformation of Africans and their societies and culture began.

So Africans of Sub-Saharan too learned how to read and write, they dressed as Europeans and Arabs, dropped all of their technologies and finished goods and adopted others’, technologies, tools and instruments and became permanent consumers of others’ technological produce (western and eastern finished products).

About African religion if it existed, again the assumption is that it is African themselves who demonize and condemn those religious institutions and spiritual practices sometimes for valid reasons that they too are not appealing. Worst of all, Africans had no bible of their own and as a result most of black Africa was converted to varieties of foreign beliefs and adopted Christianity, Islam and other imported religions to fill the vacuum. A large number of African societies abandoned what was theirs and were converted and tamed and adopted modern or European institutions, Christianity, Judaism and Islamic religions. Maybe all Africans were theist but what pains is the replacement and abandonment of the only secular African institution the Kingdom with the modern European secular State.

However, there exists scattered informal Sub-Saharan African spiritual healers with the acclaimed art of talking to the ancestors, but these again remain a secret and mystical. This is a hidden religious belief pressed down and buried by Christianity and Islam and the content and services provided by these institutions defy logic and as a result the services are enjoyed in secrecy. In itself, the business of traditional spiritual healing or African ancestral spirituality does not appeal as it is not well defined whether it is a religious institution or spiritual healing practice.

Therefore, there is no point for one to disapprove of Christianity, neither Islam, Judaism, Zionism or any particular foreign religious institution spreading into Africa for the simple reason that we do not have an alternative.

For that matter alone, all the religious institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa are not originally African and all the churches are new churches in a strict and serious definition of what is new and old as far as religion in Sub-Saharan Africa is concerned.

We must take a humanist and universal approach to religion and learn to understand religion and accept its diversity because we are all human on earth, fleshly live and spiritually dead. Fleshly live humans have no capacity and sufficient understanding to judge spiritual affairs for we do not have enough evidence and proof in all of what we do or say. But rather believers to the bone of what we think is right but which might be wrong in the eyes of God. Though some of us dispute the very existence of God, they know how to live a human life, by saying no to stealing but yes to hard work and if in need do ask, and if you have do give to those in need and the point is that some theists are good guys indeed as far as the struggle between good and evil is concerned. On the other hand, positive things are universal and are already in each and every human and just need to be unlocked. If you say or do the right thing everybody will respond positively by saying it is right or it is true – that means truth and righteousness are in each and every human being.
However, call it ignorance or failure, but when it comes to the roots of evil in society, thieves are born and raised in a family unit and at times they are endorsed by the community to inhabit or occupy religious and state institutions. At a family level, a son or daughter born a thief, steals or robs and brings the loot home, but parents receive and praise without questioning the way the fortune was made. Neighbours don’t talk and one cannot discipline somebody else’s child found on the wrong side otherwise it will turn into a fight between parents. Neighbours live in a permanent cold war which is not healthy to the communities and contribute to less and less caring societies.

The way we bring up and educate our children is also questionable. A girl or boy child of less than 16 years you give her or him whatever she or he demands; if he or she says N$500 you give N$1 000. No valid reasons, no explanation from your side as parent. At school poor children are … plotting evil plans or thinking about the food and drinks at the restaurant and at the end of the day failure and blame are to the teachers. Later the love between you and some of your children is a matter of material availability, and if you happen to be broke or are a lost source of income they will hate and hit to kill, or desert you if you are lucky.

Hatred, greed and corruption belong to one basket and grow together in the absence of love and care for each other be it in society or in state and religious institutions. There are few people who think of others first before helping or satisfying themselves. The majority of us are selfish and basically cruel and greedy with a strong desire to harm, control and rob others of their rights, property, dignity and even their life. All of these are aspects of a God-less society where murder and death are seen and assumed as the only way to solve all the problems.

Then there is the Christian church in the community, where people go to get new names, not because of belief, but because everybody wants to be Sakeus and be associated with progress in the community, thus 90 percent of Namibia is Christian by name only not by action and deed. Religion or belief is not really taken as a serious thing not only by church members, but also by some of the pastoral establishment.

Communities are loose not cohesive and supportive. Even religious institutions, which are supposed to be the hearts of moral authority and unifying institutions are discriminating, mistreating and dividing people both in life and death. The churches in the communities, which are supposed to help families in disciplining their children, nobody attends. Apparently the pastors too love some and hate others and in most cases are too corrupt to be servants of God. Pastors and church officials are more concerned with the little money that their unemployed members bring in on a monthly basis and are always busy planning parties and care less about the spiritual needs of their members, but the money raised from bazaars never get accounted for properly. The telephone, water and electricity bills of most churches run by black clergy are cut off, members are being forced to contribute money but the books are never disclosed to them, to explain how the collected money was spent. Church elders punish some and reward others for no valid reasons.

– To Be Continued

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