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Reading the Book of Exodus


After racing through Genesis, I was pretty excited about digging into Exodus. It is, after all, where we get to meet another larger than life man of God, Moses himself, and thus we begin the defining story of Jews (and almost every other oppressed people of the world) – the rescue from slavery and delivery to the promised land.

Exodus can be divided into three subsections: Moses and the Ten Plagues; a brief history of the Israelites in the Desert and; and general law and order, desert edition (with special emphasis on how to build the Tabernacle). A lot of what we learnt about Exodus in Sunday school holds true, but there are a few things they left out. Namely that:

  1. God tries to kill Moses:  In Chapter 4, God has finally managed to convince a very reluctant Moses to go to Egypt and let his people go. Things take a turn, however,as Moses and his wife, Zipporah are heading back to Egypt. As my Bible puts it, “At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched Moses’ feet with it and and said,  ‘surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!’  So he let him alone. Then it was that she said, ‘You are a bridegroom of blood’, because of the circumcision”  After that that little hick up, Moses and Aaron finally get to Pharaoh’s court, where they demand that he let the Israelites go three days journey into the wilderness to pray and make sacrifice to the Lord.
  2. God meddles with Pharaoh’s free will: The story of the ten plagues is one of the most famous stories from Exodus. However, Pharaoh and his people never really had a chance, as the bible mentions several times that God hardened his heart in order to  to show his glory to his people. (But then again, it wouldn’t have been much of a story if Moses and Aaron had shown up, turned their staffs into snakes to the fear and awe of the Pharaoh, who would then promptly release the Israelites into the desert).
  3. Moses uses magic tricks against the Pharaoh: At the very beginning, before God brings out the big guns, he instructs Moses on how to turn his hand leprous and back again; how to turn water into blood and; how to turn his staff into a snake, with the intention of awing Pharaoh with his power. These are not miracles, because they were designed to undermine Egypt’s priests and therefore to compete against the gods of Egypt.  The Egyptian priests manage to hold their own until Moses and God bring boils upon Egypt, and only then do they concede.
  4. The story of the golden calf is suspect: This is probably the third most famous and significant story in the Book of Exodus. After their release from bondage, the Israelites are wandering in the desert of Sinai, and so far, God has taken very good care of them. But then Moses goes up into the mountain to receive the law on the stone tablets and they completely forget about him, and demand that Aaron build them a golden calf to worship. God tells Moses that his people are practicing idolatry, and gets very angry, vowing to destroy them. Moses negotiates God down before proceeding to melt the calf, grind it into powder and force the idolaters to drink the liquid. Then he tells the Levites to kill all the idol worshipers. For good measure he also brings down the plague on them. Aaron, despite the fact that he was the team leader of the golden calf building project and after-party organizer, goes totally unpunished. I just feel like if you just recently witnessed the parting of the red sea, been feasting on heaven sent manna and quail, and you have been walking with God before you as a cloud/ pillar of fire,  you would be able to wait more than 40 days before jumping ship like that.
  5. The ten commandments: Sunday school taught us that the commandments were presented with a bit of flair and were actually the only things written on the famous stone tablets that Moses later destroyed in anger. But there isn’t such a distinction in the text. What we now call the ten commandments are actually the beginning of an extensive set of laws that God dictated to Moses up on Mount Sinai, including:
    1. Laws on slave management: ‘when a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do’
    2. How to handle violent animals: ‘when an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be clear’
    3. When to charge interest rates: ‘if you lend money to any of my people who is poor, you shall not be to him as a creditor, and you shall not exact interest from him’
    4. Bribery: you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right’
    5. How to make sacrifices properly: ‘you shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread, or let the fat of my feast remain until the morning’
    6. Cooking instructions: ‘you shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk’
    7. Dealing with errant children: whoever curses his mother or father shall be put to death
    8. Bonus chapters: exactly how to build the tabernacle according to god’s really, really,  detailed descriptions including type of wood (acacia), cubit measurements (2.5 * 2.5), color of fabric (purple) and the type of incense (only the best) permissible.
  6. The commandments version 2.0: The second time the commandments are recorded, there are some significant changes. God dictates that; the Israelites should not make covenants with foreign peoples; destroy alters to foreign gods;  not worship other gods; not make molten gods;  observe the feast of the unleavened bread; dedicate all first born animals to him (or else break their necks); keep the seventh day as a rest day; ensure that all males appear before him 3 times a year; not  offer any blood sacrifice with leaven and; give him their first harvests during something known as the feast of weeks . It is these commandments that the text actually distinguishes as the ten commandments. (Chapter 34)
  7. The Covenant is pretty xenophobic: God’s covenant with the Israelites is very simple. Keep his commandments in return for blessings and the prosperity of the Israelites, principally the lands of Caananites and other foreign peoples (who are all evil for various reasons, namely that they are not Israelite). And if not, then death and destruction will be upon them.  At least three times, God makes his covenant with his people, and  one version warns especially against fraternizing with foreign peoples,  or as my Bible puts it,  ‘for you shall worship no other  gods, for the Lord, whose name is jealous, is a jealous God, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and  when they play the harlot after their gods…and their daughters play the harlot after their gods and make your sons play the harlot after their gods’. Another part of Exodus records God saying,  ‘Little by little I will drive them out before you…for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land in your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me….’ (the reason the conquest will be gradual is so that animals don’t take over the abandoned lands)
  8. The tabernacle is really important: Whoever wrote Exodus was really focused on the Tabernacle. From Sunday school we remember that the Tabernacle was a pretty box where God rested. In Exodus, Chapters 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30 consist of God’s direct instructions on how to build the Tabernacle, including measurements and materials as well as priestly conduct. Then, to drive the point home, chapters 35 to 40 are almost exclusively dedicated to describing the actual construction, materials and rituals surrounding the Tabernacle. (Spoiler: there is a lot of repetition)
  9. The people kind of disappear: All through Genesis, and a part of Exodus, we are very much involved in people’s daily dramas with characters that are central to the story . Moses, in particular, has a tendency to argue and debate with God and often needs a good amount of cajoling before he commits to God’s plans. The last time he does this is in Chapter 33, where he once again seeks reassurance from God that he does indeed love the Israelites, and if that is the case then can God please show Moses his glory. God obliges but suddenly since no-one can see God’s face and live, God can only show him  his back. (Never mind that they were together on Mount Sinai) After this exchange, the rest of Exodus is almost exclusively God issuing instructions on the tabernacle, priestly rituals and laws. We don’t really hear anything again from the Israelites, Aaron or even Moses.
  10. There isn’t that much movement:  Since this is Exodus,  I expected lots of movement within the story – Genesis is very good at recording the names of towns, regions and even springs, and I always assumed that there was a lot of walking in Exodus. But really, once the Israelites got to Mount Sinai, they just took a long break to build the tabernacle and wait for Moses to record God’s laws.
  11. You can see God but you also can’t:  In Chapter 33, Moses pitches his tent outside the camp, where ‘everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting…When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the door of the tent, and the Lord would speak to Moses.’ Then  it emphasizes that ‘Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.’ Later in the same chapter, the glory incident occurs, and God asks Moses to go to a particular rock, where he will pass by and show him his ‘back’ because no man who sees God can live.
  12. God outsources some work to his new administration: For most of Genesis and parts of Exodus, God takes a very personal approach with his people. He appears to them in dreams, gives direct instructions and intervenes frequently on their behalf. But in Chapter 18, Moses’ father in law, Jethro, advises Moses first to establish courts that will deal with petty disputes so that he can have more time to deal with the bigger picture. Then in Chapter  28 God tells Moses to designate Aaron and his sons as his priests, complete with instructions on their dress, ordination and duties. Then he directs the building of his tabernacle, which he uses as a resting place when he visits the Israelites. (This totally makes sense. Even God recognizes that Laws and strong institutions are necessary when the population grows so large that personal connections are lost/ weakened.)
  13. The concept of God as holy becomes much stronger: so much so that now we are often told that those who see him will die. In this line, God no longer personally gives directions related to quotidian matters, opting instead to dictate laws, issue directives and ordain priests. Once this is done, Exodus closes by saying   ‘throughout their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would go onward; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not go onward till the day that it was taken up. For throughout their journeys the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel. ‘

Exodus was a bit harder to get through than Genesis. It was also less exciting and was really focused on establishing the beginnings of the Israelite codes of conduct. The laws are impressively extensive and I imagine they  reflect the living conditions and culture of the Israelites. If you really wanted to you could actually live like that, and you would certainly be a very responsible citizen (except for the minor issue of your slaves and the occasional stoning of your disrespectful children and/ or harlot daughters).

The story of the Exodus has inspired persecuted people from all around the world, including Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in America. However, the irony isn’t lost on me that God, having delivered the Israelites from oppression,  continues promising them that they can go lay waste on other innocent peoples, because, they, unlike the evil Egyptians, are special. They can oppress other people, but, it’s different because he said so.

We haven’t come far from the desert people who left Egypt, though. Because the villain/ hero in your story depends on which team you are playing for. The ANC, Mau Mau and countless other independence movements were terrorists to the colonizers and heroes to the oppressed.  Today, there are countless battles going on. Between the police and the African American community in the USA. Between ISIS and the rest of the world. Between Iran and Israel. Between Israel and Palestine.

Who is the terrorist and who is the terrorized? The answer depends entirely on who you ask.

 

What I learnt from reading the Book of Genesis


I bought a Bible and decided to read as much of it as I can. I’m not a theologian, but my idea is to read it with an open mind, although I have already been warned that ”the lightning that is about to strike you is doing press ups’, but that’s really neither here nor there.

I’m genuinely curious about what it contains, because I suspect that there is a big gap between the actual contents and  what I think is in the Bible.

I started from the beginning, that is, the book of Genesis. This is what I learnt.

  1. The creation story has caused a tonne of controversy: I don’t know what most Christians think of the origin story in the bible, or how they reconcile it with evolution. I would like to think that, for most people, it doesn’t matter. However Christians are obliged to believe that since the Bible is the word of God, then it is infallible, completely accurate and the ultimate word of God. Various churches interpret this differently, ranging from ultra Conservative Christians that insist  that ‘creationism’ should be taught as mainstream science, to more liberal Churches that  view the Bible as a human witness to the glory of God, the work of fallible humans who wrote from a limited experience, unusual only for the insight they have gained through their inspired struggle to know God in the midst of a troubled world. Unfortunately for the hardliners, science continues to poke some very big holes into what they believe in, and that is causing a lot of anxiety and very weird counterarguments that go to great lengths to prove that the garden of Eden actually existed.
  2. There seems to be two separate creation stories: How God created the earth is explained in Chapter 1 and then again in Chapter 2. In chapter 2, God is a lot more physical, he walks around explains his actions and thoughts. In Chapter 1 he is a lot more powerful and a lot more high level. He issues commands with his voice and they happen. The explanation for this by theologians fall in two camps: the stories are in fact one with no contradiction, or that they are allegorical and should not be taken as fact.
  3. Eve was tempted by a talking snake: We were taught in Sunday school that Eve was approached by Satan disguised as a snake but a very basic reading of the text tells us otherwise. She was, in fact, approached by a talking snake that the text expounds by saying: ‘Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God has made.’ Later the snake is banished to eat dust and crawl on its belly. I was honestly surprised by that.
  4. Punishment seems to be based on whether or not you are the chosen one: Cain and Abel are the first. They sacrifice their harvests to God, he rejects Cain’s, which makes him jealous, which leads him to kill Abel and then he is cursed. We aren’t told why God rejects Cain’s sacrifice. (Later on we find out that God really likes the smell of burnt offering, which never ever include a side of veggies.) Then Jacob and Esau. Jacob tricks his brother into selling his inheritance and then tricks his father into blessing him but that’s all okay. Much later on, Esau meets up with his brother Jacob and he is surprisingly magnanimous despite the fact that Jacob took what was rightfully his. (This surprised me because I always thought that Esau was the evil one, plus no-one names their kids after him).  It happens too with Jacob’s sons; Reuben is denied his birthright because he slept with his father’s concubine, but Judah gets the okay even though he mistook his daughter in law for a prostitute and got her pregnant. Some men, like the unfortunate Esau, are cursed for marrying foreign women, while others, like Joseph, get a pass. So far, morality is subject to whether or not one is considered chosen to build the great nation of Israel.
  5. God seems to be evolving: During the early chapters, God appears physically and has conversations with people, including the time he was walking around in the garden of Eden looking for Adam and Eve after they ate the fruit. He carries out negotiations with Abraham on whether or not to flatten Sodom and Gomorrah. Later on, he starts appearing in visions; and graduates to using ‘men’ and angels as his representatives during critical moments. As the population grows larger and more preoccupied, he disappears for long periods of time, but always comes back to reassure the current patriarch that they are chosen and that they are special and that all of Canaan will belong to them. Sometimes, God has to physically go down and verify what people are actually doing, like with Sodom and Gomorrah. For most of Genesis, people don’t actually pray. They offer up animal sacrifices because the smell pleases God, and they receive direct instructions from him or an emissary.
  6. God doesn’t seem to be alone: After Eve and Adam get expelled from the garden, he says that man has ‘become like one of us’ and protects the garden by placing a cherubim on its eastern side. In Chapter 6, we find out that the sons of God went down to have children with the daughters of men. In chapter 11 (the Tower of Babel) he feels threatened by the unity and ambition of his people, and so says ‘come, let us go down and there confuse their language so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ Later on, we are introduced to angels who go down send his messages, like in Chapter 19 (Sodom and Gomorah) where he sends down two angels to go warn Lot of the impending doom; the time an angel intervenes between Hagar and Sarai’s domestic issues, persuading her to go back to her mistress instead of risking it in the wild and of course when Jacob fights an angel all night without seeming too surprised.
  7. Abraham pulled a low key con using his wife: Twice, Abraham passes off his wife as his sister, and then the king likes her, then God tells the king not to touch Abraham’s wife, and then she is returned to Abraham and then they get land, cattle or both, plus a free pass to live in the new country. For some reason though, Abraham confesses to one King (Abimelech) that Sarah is indeed his sister, because she is the daughter of his father but not the daughter of his mother. This is the last time they did this, at which point Sarah was already past child bearing age and in her own words, very old. (Her husband was already well over 99 years old.) Isaac pulls the same stunt with his wife later on.
  8. The story of Joseph is really nice: Joseph and his brothers take up several chapters. Unlike most of Genesis where things seem to happen for no reason, Joseph’s story has clear direction, good guys and bad guys and ultimate triumph. He is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers (although he didn’t help the situation by snitching on them and then insinuating that he is better than them), but by his own virtue and a bit of help from God, he becomes Pharaoh’s trusted aide and saves the whole country from famine. He also gets reunited with his family and all is forgiven. The only weird thing is that, at some point the famine gets so bad, that most of the Egyptians sell off everything to buy food. So Joseph tells them to sell their land and themselves into slavery so as to get more food. And that is how from then on, farmers must give a fifth of their harvest to Pharaoh. Seems like a pretty raw deal.
  9. Judah and his really messed up family: Right in the middle of Joseph’s story, (chapter 38) we get introduced to Judah’s family drama. Judah starts hanging out with some Adullahmite character, with undertones that he is a bad influence. So he marries a Caananite woman and has three sons with her. Judah’s first born was wicked in the sight of the Lord, so he died. Since he was married, Judah directed his second son, the famous Onan, to go continue his brother’s legacy and have a child with Tamara, said widow. Onan wasn’t having any of it, so he used the withdrawal method. This was not cool, so God killed him. Unfortunately, Judah’s youngest (and final) son was too young to get married, so he sent Tamara back to her in-laws, promising to give her his remaining son as her a third husband once the boy was old enough. However, Judah seemed to forget his promise, and this did not sit well with Tamara. So a few years later, when Judah was in her hometown with his dodgy buddy, she covered her face and waited for him the gate of the city, where he unwittingly proceeded to hire her services as a prostitute with the promise of a goat. Since he didn’t have it with him, he gave her his staff and his signet and cord  as an IOU. (when he sent his buddy to pay her, she was nowhere to be found). Later his in-laws came to report that his daughter in-law was pregnant as a result of her whoring ways. So they dragged her out and were ready to burn her, but then she produced Judah’s staff and signet, proving that he was the father. So he pardoned her and she gave birth to twins, which we later on find out form part of the lineage of Jesus Christ. There are plenty of explanations as to why this story is in the Bible, mostly that God doesn’t appreciate people who break promises, or those who neglect their family obligations and also that he can work through unrighteous men to do good deeds. None of this stops Jacob from lavishing blessings on his son.
  10. The story of Onan could have been taken out of context: Onanism apparently means interrupted procreation, and has been used to claim that contraception is wrong in the eyes of God. However, reading the passage, it seems like God was angry at Onan for disobeying his father by refusing to get his sister in law pregnant, and not because he took offence at semen on the ground.
  11. There is a big focus on resources: Right from the creation story, where cattle are mentioned at least twice, to long passages describing how Abraham solves disputes with foreign kings over ownership of wells, to decisions made to part because the land cannot support the wealth of two men, to Jacob’s shenanigans to outsmart his father in law’s attempts to trick him out of his livestock, you can see  why the promise of the land of Canaan to the  people of Genesis makes sense. Life was tough.

The Book of Genesis reads like an epic tale of struggle and conquest. Its characters face monumental struggles, brother turns against brother, alliances shift, and only the most cunning survive. Knowing what I know about the rest of the Bible, and the New Testament, it feels like some of the passages were inserted to justify what happens in the future. (A good example is Lot and his daughters, because we know the Moabites and Ammonites later become the enemies of Israel).

Nonetheless, I look forward to seeing how the rest of the story progresses.

The Anatomy of a Conspiracy Theory


Conspiracy theories. The real alternative truth. What the media doesn’t want you to know  about what actually happened on 9/11, how the Illuminati control the world, how the West uses political/ gay rights/ human rights activist/ International Criminal Court infiltrate and destroy perfect and morally upright African societies. Look beyond the headlines and see the shadowy forces that really control the world behind closed doors and drawn curtains.

It’s cloak and dagger stuff that can draw out a surprising amount of outrage, anger, and very personal insults during circular arguments that lead nowhere.

Do they hold any merit or  are they simply grown up fairy tales that we tell ourselves to explain away the unbearable anxiety that comes with living in a world with so much injustice, uncertainty, chaos and disaster?

I don’t know. But what I do know is that they offer a fascinating glimpse into the irrational part of our brains, and that none of us are truly immune from them, or other bias.

My thoughts on conspiracy theories:

A good conspiracy theory cannot be disproved: You know why? The person dismissing the link between vaccines and autism as nonsense  is either so deeply brainwashed that they cannot see the ‘truth’ in-front of them,  or they are part of the conspiracy. These people are usually called ‘sheeple’ and need to ‘wake up’ by reading Natural News.net (and how cancer can be cured with peaches) and other dubious websites that come off as ‘scientific’ but in actual fact are elaborate fronts to sell dubious supplements and ‘cures’.

Consider the Catholic Church Tetanus vaccine campaign against the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the nebulous ‘West’. According to the Catholic church, these vaccines are a secret sterilizing campaign to control the population of Africa. Well and good, except that the WHO denies this, and has plenty of science to back this up. However, the church trumps this over and over again by calling on independent labs to carry out tests that are never conclusive enough to settle the matter once and for all, but just convincing enough to keep casting doubt.

The question remains, however, why WHO would want to sterilize people in secret, and yet at the same time provide crucial life saving drugs worldwide in places where the government couldn’t be bothered to. Why save lives and then engage in a convoluted plot to prevent conception?  And although these sterilization scares have been popping up since the 70s,  birth rates in developing countries are still double digit.

Because their goal all along, aside from eradicating preventable diseases and supporting fragile health care systems, is also to sterilize poor people in the most tedious, round about and inefficient way possible.

I would say WHO’s plan sounds a lot like something made up by a cartoon villain,which means it is pretty lousy and ineffective.

A good conspiracy is based on a grain of truth: Back to the WHO / Catholic church saga. This is not the first time these accusations have sprung up, and it will not be the last time. First off, WHO has very well documented experiments on said contraceptive vaccine, except that it failed and is yet to yield any viable result. But the facts are there, regardless, that they did attempt to make such a vaccine.

Another more unpleasant example is the fact that, throughout history, medical experiments have been carried out on populations perceived to be inferior. American doctors withheld treatment for  black people with syphilis without their knowledge to study the effects of the disease. Nazis performed gruesome experiments on Jewish captives in camps. Pharmaceutical companies have been known to dump sub-standard drugs into poorly regulated (read, third world) markets.

This is one reason  why conspiracy theories, no matter how crazy, are so convincing. Because they really could happen. Because there are people out there without scruples and with agendas that could be harmful and the power to execute them. It’s just that their agendas are rarely as sweeping as we would like to believe,  and more often than not, if there are enough people involved in the scheme, someone somewhere with their own motives will blow the whole thing out of the water. (Which is how most nefarious plots have been uncovered.)

A good conspiracy resolves the deep anxiety we have about the world: All conspiracy theories seek to explain seemingly random but unfortunate situations/ events that do not have a clear cut cause. That do not have clearly demarcated good and bad sides.

A very scary example is the current outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil that coincides with a spike in the number of children born with microcephaly. The much vilified WHO, in typical scientist speak, says that there is a strong connection between the two, but stops short of confirming a definite link.

Meanwhile, Monsanto, the evil food corporation that will kill us all with their GMO monstrosities has been blamed for introducing GM modified mosquitoes, and introducing a pesticide to kill mosquito larvae, that could also be blamed for the birth defects. For a while there, there wasn’t much information, and that was enough time for people to conclude that the Zika virus is part of Monsanto’s evil plan for world domination.

Unfortunately, we know very little about how our world works. Well meaning interventions often have unintended consequences.  And especially now, when, more than ever, humanity is interfering with our environment so much that, not only is climate change a given, but also that some scientists argue that we should name this age the ‘Anthropocene’, or the age of the humans. (Who drowned the oceans in plastic, killed off most other animals and suffocated themselves with carbon dioxide.)

This will probably get worse in the coming years, so we can certainly expect more theories about how the Americans introduced Ebola to West Africa (then inexplicably offered help to curb it and played a part in ending the epidemic) and have now moved on to phase 2 of their sinister experiment in Latin America.

A good conspiracy is a quasi- religious endeavor: Defending a conspiracy theory is very similar to defending your religion to a non-believer, and vice versa. It is something that becomes part of your identity, something that you choose to believe in. Once that happens, we move from objectivity to ‘beliefs’.

There is nothing wrong with beliefs, except that you cannot argue with someone about their beliefs productively or successfully. As humans, we are so invested in defending our beliefs that our minds play a trick on us –  we seek only evidence that reaffirms our beliefs and dismiss anything that doesn’t. (The next time you are arguing with someone, track how much you time you spend actually listening and trying to understand what they are saying as opposed to waiting for a space to repeat your counter argument in a louder voice.) It’s okay, we all do it.

So once we move from facts to beliefs, it’s game over. It simply cannot happen because in doing so, you challenge a person’s very essence, leaving the other person with no choice but to double down and scream louder about the lizard people.

A conspiracy theory is like a virus: Good conspiracy theories have so much staying power that they never entirely go away. No amount of scientific evidence, rational discourse or facts can challenge the theory. Why? Because they are not falsifiable. This means that any counter-evidence can be dismissed as ‘you are part of the conspiracy’ or worse still ‘you are a ‘Sheeple’ that blindly follows the West.

Once you are infected with a virus, it cannot be cured. So the answer is to prevent infection. Yet conspiracy theories spread because, unlike boring, hesitant scientists with their ‘it is highly probable’, ‘there is great consensus’, blah blah blah…the theory smacks you in the face ‘WHAT THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT VACCINES AND AUTISM’ or, ‘PEACHES AND CANNABIS OIL CAN CURE CANCER, BUT  BIG PHARMA WONT HAVE ANY OF IT’

Sometimes the most ignorant speak in the most confident tones. How do you prevent infection? Take some time out to do some research. Find out both sides of the argument and you will soon notice a pattern. Avoid websites that use CAPS LOCK to highlight their most important point. If you spot the word sheeple, run away.

A good conspiracy must absolve individuals from responsibility: When you are up against the Lizard people, when all the money and fame in the world is controlled by the Illuminati, when the political and economical situation at home is secretly being controlled by sinister Western forces with even more sinister agendas, what can the mere individual do?

For example, every so often (especially during times of economic hardship) great African leaders (and all dictators in all of history) decry Western (or other) meddling and interference with the goal of imposing western/ foreign values onto our virginal societies, corrupting our morals and turn us into stooges. (Bonus points, they want us all to start practicing homosexuality.) Think Boniface Mwangi, who is clearly being paid by the West to destroy Kenya. Or the ICC, which has long been UNFAIRLY targeting African leaders, including our very own Ruto and Kenyatta. Conveniently forgetting the fact that we dragged the ICC into our own mess in the aftermath of the 2007 post-election violence.

No matter, because these are shadowy Western forces .

This narrative is seductive because, if everything is a conspiracy, if the individual has no agency, then all one’s personal failures can be excused.

So you see, the REAL reason we are poor, or unsuccessful is because THEY won’t let us. Those Lizard People. Or the West. Oh and if you try to fight them, THEY will take you down, because they can’t be having any of that.

Conspiracy theories distract us from very real and very serious problems: Conspiracies are much more exciting than admitting that the vast majority of problems that we have in the world are exceedingly complex, involve an unbelievable number of causes and are very difficult to solve. Questions like why so many parts of the world are so poor. Questions like why some countries are more equal than others. Questions like how much of local policy is controlled by special interest groups (republicans funding abstinence only programmes in Africa to prevent HIV; the role of evangelical churches in the rise of violent homophobia for example.) Questions like why corruption is so rampant and why companies are allowed to siphon resources from developing countries while paying ridiculous baby taxes in said countries. Questions like why the IMF has been offering terrible advice since forever and why no-one has taken them to court yet. Questions like whether our current economic model can reasonably allow all countries in the world to enjoy living standards that the global North currently does. And wondering if there is anything we can really do about it.

It’s much easier and neater to lay the blame at the feet of the Illuminati.

Conspiracy theories can be dangerous: Despite our reliance on science and modern medicine every day, we still insist that our beliefs trump expert research and opinion. People have died as they tried to prove that they can cure cancer with homeopathy, that they can prevent autism by not vaccinating their children and of course by trying to pray away all manner of treatable but dangerous illnesses. It hasn’t worked so far, but beliefs trump evidence and reason far too often.

In a way, this kind of thinking demonstrates just how far the world has come in terms of technology and knowledge.  We have become so far removed from devastating epidemics that we can’t understand why  these mysterious injections are still necessary. We can go to the dentist and so will not die from an infected molar. We don’t consider childbirth as a life threatening event. Surviving childhood illnesses is considered normal.  We are educated enough to ask questions and challenge the book learnin’ people but not invested enough to read past catchy headlines.

Conspiracy theories exist because they fulfill a need to explain disturbing events such as disease outbreaks, disruptive technology and major scandals. They fill in the blanks of our limited knowledge and reaffirm the belief that there is order in the world, and that there is good and bad and that the two are distinctly separate. They reduce the complexity of events that we can scarcely explain, and in so doing, translate our unspecified anxieties into focused fear and anger at specific (although largely non-existent) groups. They help us form a narrative that explains the world we live in, that analyses the random events that happen into neat categories with clearly marked heros and villians.

They give us a sense that we are privy to secret knowledge in a world we find ourselves ill equipped to deal with.

But they also tell us that the world is a messed up place that is brutal and unfair. They tell us that none of us really know what exactly is going on, and that is very scary.

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Open Letter to All My Single Ladies Out There


Hi there single lady, (late twenties, early thirties)

I bet you didn’t see this coming. I bet you thought that by 24 you would have had it all figured out, you would have met a guy who was THE ONE, popped a few babies, made your first million, and now, you would be ready to tie your tubes and retire to raise your family in Malindi where the rest of your days would be spent serving up exquisite meals three times a day, in your awesome bandage dress showing off all your perfect post-baby curves.

Except it didn’t work out that way. In those days, ‘adulthood’ was that far away place where you would  arrive, having magically figured everything out. Preferably before age 23 because back then, old age was basically anything after 25.

Alas, yet here we are. On the wrong side of the 20s or maybe on the nice side of the 30s. Alone. With no prospects and a lifetime of knitting and cats, left with nothing but our dried up ovaries slowly poisoning us from the inside.

So they say.

You see, it took me a while before I realized that being single, despite what anyone says, is not a terminal disease. It’s not like Hepatitis, which makes your eyes yellow and takes away your liver. It’s not like cancer, which has to be lanced through chemotherapy and prayers that your immune system holds up. It’s not even like tuberculosis, which spreads in those matatus where everyone keeps the windows shut because ‘baridi itanipatia homa’.

It is a state of being. Sometimes fantastic, sometimes awful, sometimes permanent, sometimes temporary. Nonetheless, a state of being that has precious little to do with your identity as a person.

And like anything else in life, an opportunity to wallow in self pity or an opportunity to grow and burst and glow and maybe even like Icarius, get so close to the sun that your wings melt off and you fall into the deep blue sea content that, before you crashed, at least you soared.

See, the thing about humans is that we tend to believe that happiness is always over the rainbow. That if only we do this and that and achieve this and that then we can finally be happy. We live in a state of perpetual expectation. It has served us well in the past – but it comes at  a high emotional cost to ourselves.

Being single does not have to be a deplorable state that you need to be rescued from, but can be a time to celebrate the greatest thing that has happened to your life so far, which is the fact that you are still here. That being said, a life in waiting can still be a worthy life. Here are a few key things to remember:

  1. Thou shalt not view thine single-hood as a curse

There are a million perky little articles  on how awesome being single is,  and especially the freedom that the manless battalion have. Typically it means the freedom not to watch a football game, or to care whether or not Manchester United wins a game or not. Or the freedom to sleep in your bed without someone hogging the covers.

Really?

Most of us well adjusted adults know that we can refuse to pretend to like a game because of our significant other. And we would gladly pretend to do so if it meant that much to them.

But being single does give you freedom to focus almost exclusively on yourself.  We tend to imagine relationships based on what we will gain, and how we will feel. We almost always forget that we will have to do the same for another person, and it is not always as wonderful as they show in the movies. Revel in your relatively absolute freedom. Enjoy it and make the most out of it.

Go out there. Fail. Disappoint yourself. Quit your job and go bankrupt. Discover that you suck at photography.  Go through all your ‘what ifs’ because the opportunity cost will never be lower than it is right now.  That kind of selfishness is a luxury that, if all your plans go well, will soon disappear.

2. Thou shalt not mind people’s opinions

Oh wow, doesn’t everyone have something to say about you and your single-hood. According to some, the only thing standing between you and marital bliss is your short hair.  Or the fact that your dresses aren’t  short enough. Because, not feminine, and no-one will marry you. Others caution you on the dangers of  too much independence caused by making too much money. Because that’s intimidating and no-one wants an intimidating woman. Go home and learn how to cook instead. But don’t do that so much that you become too dependent. Because men hate women who sit in the house all day watching telenovellas and waiting for someone else to pay the bills.

If you really wanted a man, you would dress sexy, but not too sexy because then everyone would think that you are a slut. And no-one likes a slut. But they don’t like Mother Teresa either.

And then there is all the grumbling on social media about how women have let society down because we stopped cooking and started talking back. Half of us (apparently) wear ugly green tee-shirts and cover our heads with scarves at night, while the rest of us only care about money and rich fat old men who can buy us shiny weaves and even shinier cars.

Smile and wave girls, everyone has their opinions- some are made in earnest, some are made with malicious intentions and some are just foolish things uttered without much thought. But that’s all they are, other people’s assessments of your current life situation. Most of the time, they don’t matter.

Also, you don’t have to marry Mr loud mouth over there.

3. Thou shalt let go of the idea that thou can control factors outside of thyself

Yes, yes I am the captain of my ship and the master of my destiny. But I don’t control the waves, and I don’t control the sea and I certainly don’t control the weather.

You might be single for a week more. Or a year longer. Maybe get married in a few. Or not get married at all. You know what? it doesn’t matter. If you do get married (because that is the highest ideal for you as a woman) you will wonder why you wasted so many years obsessing about something that would have happened anyway. And if you don’t, you will wonder why you spent so much time being miserable about something you couldn’t control. You will wonder if all the sadness and frustration was really worth it.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter that much.  Worry about life threatening things.  Let life surprise you. Let life delight you. Do anything but hypothesize about your fictional future. Sure, it’s great having a plan and working towards it, but it’s also good to remember that life laughs in the face of your plans loudly and very frequently.

Make memories that are worth remembering.

4.  Thou shalt not wait for people to come and save thee

Taking into full consideration  the above, remember that you are still in charge of your life. So if you don’t like something, go ahead and change it. Do you find yourself increasingly alienated as your friends start talking about diapers and teething? Love them and support them. But go out there and make new friends. Do you find your options limited because you believe that you are shy? It’s fine, almost 50% of the population claims that they are. Want to climb a mountain but worried that you won’t be able to make it to the top? Start working on your fitness.  Whatever failings that you have as a human being, realize that you are not alone and that they are not set in stone.

And then go forth and work on improving them. Because you can, and you will be better for it. That’s what life is about. Incremental changes that lead to bigger, better, more impressive results and things in the long term.

If you don’t like it, change it boo!

5. Thou shalt not indulge in unproductive conversations

A lot of anxiety and sadness comes not from the situation, (that you are single and are on the fast track to being a cat lady) but our response to the situation. Sometimes you just have to block  yourself from negative things. Some of my previous pet peeves that I now happily ignore:

  • Any conversation that starts with ‘nowadays the reason why people don’t get married is because (insert superficial reason/ sweeping statement like they have stopped praying or they don’t cook.)’ I’m sorry, how many of you were dating in the 70s? That’s right, have a seat. Thanks
  • Any conversation around the theme ‘where have all the good men gone’.  (Another variant of this is, ‘Kenyan men suck because…’ – if you’ve never been farther than Mombasa, what exactly do you know about men from other countries anyways?)
  • Declaring how you are a strong, independent woman that don’t need no man.  Or ‘I’m doing me right now’. It might be true, but remember being single is not your defining characteristic. It is not an identity and is therefore not central to who you are.
  • Hypothetical conversations about your future children (or lack of) and your wedding (or lack of). Life is unpredictable. If anything, this is a lack of imagination and will limit the possibilities and opportunities that you could take advantage of.
  • Talking about how happy other people are in relationships and how you wish you had what they have. The Kikuyu say ‘mucie ni ndogo’. It translates directly to ‘a home is smoke’ and communicates the message that you never know what goes on in people’s homes, so it’s not a good idea to imagine that everyone else is happier than you based on their appearances. Work on your own life so that you are not jealous of others. Don’t let envy poison your relationships with your friends.
  • Anything with the words ‘biological clock’

We spend a lot of time thinking about all the things that we don’t have that we don’t actually see what we have and should celebrate. No matter your life situation, there is plenty in your life that is going pretty well.

Back away slowly and do not engage.

6.  Thou shalt approach life (and dating) from a position of strength

Accepting your single status does not mean defeat and resignation. Making the best of your crippling lack of a MAN simply means that you won’t jump and buy yourself an engagement ring the first time someone asks you out for coffee.

It means you won’t entertain losers, fuck-boys and other drainers of your time and energy just because you need a man because you are single and being single means that there is something wrong with you and you really need to settle down with this guy who is okay but kind of mean or boring because this is probably the best you will get.

It means you won’t force yourself to get into relationships just because everyone else around you is. Hopefully it also means that you will not grow bitter as said eggs slowly turn to dust,taking with them any chance of finding your life’s purpose (a man to marry you)  as well as any humor, personality and will to live you may have managed to cling on to this far deep into the game.

Because regardless of your status, what kind of life is that? No one can make you happy, and if you aren’t happy single, chances are you won’t be happy in a relationship.

So go forth my single little butterfly. Fly! Go forth and be fabulous!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kenya is an Immoral Country and We are All Going to Hell


Yesterday the internet went crazy after the release of one steamy video called ‘Same Love’. The video portrays the struggles of gay people in Kenya and Africa and likens it to that of slaves and Jews in years gone by. This is intercepted with some serious guy on guy action and some girl on girl action to sweeten the deal,  footage from epic human rights’ movements and then a suicide.

It’s very emotive, and predictably, brought out the ugliness in Kenyans, re the usual ‘THE BIBLE SAYS HOMOSEXUALITY IS A SIN!’, ‘GAYISM CANNOT BE ALLOWED IN OUR MIGHTY COUNTRY’, and ‘HOMOSEXUALITY IS UNAFRICAN’ , ad nauseum.

The next morning, the topic for conversation on one radio station was the story of a young man who was assaulted by his employer for not meeting his sales target. He was a matatu condutor, and failing to meet his daily quota, was hit on the side of the head by his boss. He fell unconscious, slipped into a coma and was in ICU for three weeks and now is partially paralyzed. Meanwhile, his boss was almost lynched by a mob, before being arrested by the police and thereafter released for a cash bond of 20 000 shillings. A few highlights of his story include:

  • The injured man was taken to KNH and had to wait until a bed was available for him
  • The injured man’s brother ‘was taking care of him and taking him to the toilet’
  • The police initially refused to give his brother a P3 form to report the assault. They insisted that his unconscious, hospitalized brother collect the form himself.
  • The police also said that they could not take the case further because they needed a statement from the injured man (who was unconscious and could not speak)
  • The people trying to report the case complained of harassment from police officers
  • Eventually, after three days of waiting around at the police station, the victim’s brother got the police to agree to visit his brother in hospital and assess the situation. They never showed up.

The discussion also involved a brief on how the matatu industry works, including the system of ‘taxes’ paid to the police while on the road, and how some vehicles are ‘untouchable’ because they are owned by police officers. (Including the vehicle that the the now paralyzed conductor operated.)

The talk show hosts got hold of the DPP, Tobiko, who advised the unfortunate family to follow the ‘right’ channels, and if they had a complaint, lodge it with the Police Oversight Authority.

This is how we ended what has been a very intense week, what with the millionaire hairdresser coming out and damning Anne Waiguru and bringing the NYS scandal back into the spotlight.

But honestly, who can imagine what 790 million, or 900 million or what the guesstimated eurobond millions actually look like? How about the millions that went to buying Tanui and his fellow judges? Who can imagine their impacts, or what they could have been used for? We struggle to grasp such huge numbers. Can you visualize what it means when they say that up to 20% of our budget simply cannot be accounted for?

We became numb to such fantastical figures a long time ago.

In any case, we know we have to save our outrage – a new scandal will erupt soon enough.

Stories like the one I heard on radio, however, make things much more visceral. It’s not an abstract figure , it’s something  that I  can imagine something similar happening to me.

I could be walking home one day and a car hits me from the back, leaving me at the mercy of well wishers and opportunistic bystanders. I could be dumped at Kenyatta Hospital, and before someone identifies me and whisks me away or insists I get treatment,  waste away in the waiting bay. I could be manhandled and a relatively minor injury could turn into a life changing disability.

We can hide behind our high walls and cram ourselves into the right corners of town, but at the end of the day, our lives are just as worthless and as unprotected and as vulnerable as that young man’s.

Which brings me back to my main point. That our society lacks morals and values and for that, we are going to hell.

Not because a couple of artists released a raunchy video on a taboo subject.  Not because our youth have ’embraced’ western values and forgotten their ‘true’ culture.

But because we have allowed ourselves  to completely debase the value of human life. We get angry about corruption, but we don’t call it what it is. Wrong, immoral and a sin before the eyes of the God in who’s name we insult other people.

Stealing is a sin. Corruption is a triple sin because it involves lying, stealing and robbing people of their lives. So then why do we allow suspects with pending  court cases into our churches? Where do we get the audacity to call on the power of God to save suspects from the due process of law? Why do we allow them to speak at the alter of our precious God?

It’s not just the NYS millions, or the yet to be fully disclosed euro-bond saga, or the wheelbarrows or the thousands of little procurement scams no doubt going on as we speak.

NYS scandal

It’s the contempt with which we are treated, everywhere we go. The way we have to supplicate ourselves every time we speak to a police officer. How our precious theses disappear  in the halls of esteemed universities and we are forced to wait for years before we graduate. How we have to haul our own sick up and down halls to the toilet. How we have to beg for services that we pay for. How we know that the police cannot protect us from violent home invasions, and if anything, we are better off avoiding them and their rusty guns and bad breath.How everything is shabby, broken down and neglected.

The rot in our country began a long time ago. It probably took root at independence, festered  during Kenyatta’s golden years, grew ever more potent during the Moi days, quietly simmered beneath the surface during Kibaki’s age and now, seemingly injected with steroids,exploding in our faces as we come full circle with our prince,  Kenyatta  junior. Who knows what the next election cycle will bring? (Hint, probably  not sanity)

We have been sold a lie.

We know that corruption is killing us, but our only response is

this is what you get for voting along tribal lines.

Is it though? Is the answer to corruption voting more intelligently?

I understand that ethnicity can be used to divide Kenyans, and to cause violence and unrest and for political gain, but blaming corruption on voting habits?

I don’t think so.

Our system is rotten. It is so deeply rotten that it has become immoral. It stinks with the corpses of millions of Kenyans who died for the stupidest of reasons. As they were waiting for treatment at a hospital. As they were brutalized in police cells for breaking imaginary laws. As they were run down by drunk drivers  on a busy road. As they were treated with  sub-standard medicine in far away government clinics. As they waited for radiation therapy with a machine that broke down every week.

We are drowning. Not in videos that teach our children to become ‘gays’ but in actual sewage overwhelming a system that was built to service a tenth of what it does now. We are drowning in illiteracy and poor quality education that leaves the vast majority of us semi-literate and, unable to think critically, vulnerable to superstition, magic and propaganda from other half educated fools.

We shout meaningless phrases like ‘culture of impunity’ and ‘tribal cocoons’ that we no longer see what robbery does to our lives. We have become so accustomed to a non-existent police service that we no longer bother to report crimes (unless for insurance purposes) and instead pray to God for our protection.

We have been browbeaten so mercilessly that we have become the perfect victims, defending our abusers. We blame ourselves for this sorry state of affairs, saying ‘how many times have you paid a bribe? Corruption starts with you and me.’ Insisting that, if only we stopped paying bribes, our country would fix itself, and the cartels would disappear. (If only I made sure the food was the right temperature and the kids were quiet, he would not have broken my nose…)

Angered at our powerlessness, we shoot the messengers, turning political activism into an insult, mocking people who try and rally support as attention seekers, wannabes and failed artists needing support from ‘the west’.

And all of this, all of this can be changed just by standing in line for one day and making a few ticks on a piece of paper?

Lies.

Maybe the biggest con of them all.

The truth is, democracy is hard work. Democracy means constantly engaging with your government at every turn. Primary elections in the US. Over the top demonstrations in France. Townhall meetings and public rallies. Lodging complaints with the right channels (if only, at the moment, for show). It means organizing. Joining civil society groups, consumer groups, even political parties. It means getting out there and asking questions.

I hope to live to see the day that Kenya will be blessed with its mythical ‘benevolent’ dictator. The day when we can all sit at home because we have the second son of God leading our country, righting every wrong, and immune to every temptation.

But until that day, let us remember that we are choosing between wolves and hyenas. We are voting in people and political parties with shifting loyalties and non-existent ideologies. People who, no matter how impressive, will likely fail when they try  to fight against the status quo.

I would argue that, with the quality of leaders that we have today, the work does not end after we cast our votes. It only marks the beginning.

 

 

 

On Death and why you don’t need to be perfect


My friend and classmate, Julie, died on 15th November 2015. I found out because I had been idly scrolling my Facebook timeline, sipping a Cappuccino at ArtCaffe, feeling posh and typing away frantically at my computer doing important things. A chill ran down my spine when I saw the RIP message, but I dismissed it and decided to talk to the person who had posted the message to ask for more information.

I was sure it was a mistake.

Of course it wasn’t, and even as I attended her memorial service and held back tears as we sang ‘Amazing Grace’, and tried to say hello to some of her friends, I still felt like I could text her on Whatsapp and tell her that this whole thing is pretty lame and when can we finally do our wine date and moan about it?

I scrolled her Instagram and looked at her pictures. I read everything she wrote on Facebook and googled her name over and over again. I kept repeating to myself, ‘Julie is dead, Julie is Dead, Julie is dead’

It still feels surreal.

I was not a good friend to Julie. I cared about her, but predictably, life happened, and even when we did reconnect, it was in that weird millenial way that allows people to make plans but not really commit. Where it’s okay to cancel at the last minute or simply ignore the fact that you had arranged a meeting. Where following people on social media is a substitute for actually sitting down with someone and being in their presence. Where the lamest of excuses are accepted with a smiley face and a ‘no worries’ text. Where instead of spending time with people, we would rather stay home and troll the internet.

Funerals remind us just how fragile life is. They remind us just how unfair life is. That ultimately, few things matter. No-one will remember what car you drove (even if they do, it won’t be their fondest memory). They will remember you and how you made them feel. Even your mistakes will pale in comparison to all the good you did. They will remember the joy and happiness you brought into their lives.

Funerals remind us that we are failures. That we will never live up to our standards. That we will never be good enough or smart enough, or kind enough or anything enough. But it’s okay, we were never meant to be. We were meant to live as flawed humans, who have little control over what happens. We were meant to live with pain and fear and sadness and then disappear. But as long as we try our best, appreciate our friends and families and everyday that we live, then it will be okay.

Rest in peace Julie.

NB: Sometimes we can never fully understand the struggles that other people go through. Sometimes we can’t understand that there is a difference between soul crushing depression and a funk because something bad happened. Sometimes ‘get over it’ is the worst thing we can say when we are trying to help someone. We just don’t understand, and we can’t. My friends out there with issues they may suspect could be serious, get help. We can’t save you because we don’t understand.

 

Spirituality, Religion and Lies


Jommo Kenyatta, in his book, ‘Facing Mount Kenya’, has a lot to say about Gikuyu traditional religious beliefs:

 No individual may directly supplicate the Almighty…In the ordinary way of everyday life there are no organised prayers or religious ceremonies such as ‘morning and evening prayers’. So far as people and things go well and propser, it is taken for granted that God is pleased with the general behavior of the people and the welfare of the country. In this happy state there is no need for prayers. Indeed they are inadvisable, for Ngai must not needlessly be bothered. It is only when humans are in real need that they must approach him, without fear of disturbing him and incurring his wrath…Further, in our linguistic illustrations, we have: ‘Ngai ndegiagiagwo’, literally, ‘Ngai must never be pestered.’ This is a saying much used in Gikuyu. It has wide implications. In the first place it implies that even if a terrible calamity, such as the death of a child, should befall a man, his attitude must be one of resignation, for people know that Ngai gives ad has the power to take away. The man is not left hopeless- for Ngai may restore his losses- another child may be born to him.’

I bring this up because traditional beliefs are often discussed in the most simplistic terms. We all learnt in school that the Gikuyu pray facing Mount Kenya, where Ngai resides, and that the Mugumo tree is sacred and that sacrifices are made when there is a drought. It  fits well into the general narrative about Africans as backward people with quaint and/or bizarre customs and traditions, but not world views, philosophies and other aspects that make a proper culture. It is also, I suspect, the reason that cultural studies never really dig into ‘African culture’. Africans are relegated to Anthropological studies instead.

This all started because I found myself signing up for the Mavuno Church ‘Mizizi’ programme. I had heard great things about it and I was willing to take a go. The promise of wiping away your old self and transforming into the super you is deeply appealing. (Look at the number of self help books available, the cults around vegeterianism, paleo, veganism and all the rest are testament to this deep need we all have too).

So I signed up and I was willing to listen and learn.

Except that my stubborn brain could not unlearn everything it has decided about how the world works. It could not unsee all the diverse spiritual practices imprinted in India and France and Sicily.

So of course I started picking away at the logic that was being fed to us. Unfortunately it was easier than shooting fish in a barrel.

What struck me the most was the seeming shallowness of the message. For example, our instructor told us that it is important to pray always. To pray if we have had a stressful day and we need to rest. That God will work a miracle and we will get a break.

Really? The Alpha and Omega, the creator of the universe (in seven days, mind you), the dispenser of justice and mercy, he who parted the Red Sea and brought down the 7 deadly plagues to free his chosen people, will work a miracle so that you can rest after a tiring day? This is what should drive my faith?

I couldn’t.

Then I read a book (SELF HELP shoot me please) that strongly suggested that no matter one’s intellectual inclinations, something still drives us to believe in something outside of ourselves. That man needs faith, and man needs religion. Prayer is meditation and meditation helps calm the nerves. Brain waves literally change and you enter a state of hypnosis that some would call the holy spirit, others would call being in touch with the universe and others would call opening the soul to demons.

It’s not just this version of Christianity that promises you a hotline to God with every little crisis that you face that sells this message. The Secret and many other self help books work on the same principle. That if you will something, the universe will realign to meet your needs.

So you are in a full parking lot and you visualize an empty parking space near the entrance (because walking that extra 500 meters would absolutely destroy you) the universe realigns so that you can get a parking space right at the entrance.

They ignore (or downplay) the second part of visualization, which is actually you getting up and doing something. And the fact that the most accessible miracles sound very similar to random chance.

Is this really what we are becoming? Is this how we want to use the power of God/ the Universe? To get parking spaces and to rest at the end of the day? How is this different from basing your life choices on Buzzfeed personality quizzes developed by bored interns? Or from getting life advice from Cosmo?

Are we looking for God or for meaning or are we simply looking for magic? Is this why charlatans like Kanyari can get away with their madness? Is this the reason that we allow overly tanned pastors with suspiciously white teeth to flood our social media with meaningless platitudes?

I am not condemning religion. I am upset that the same cheap psychological tricks are being used to take advantage of people in need of hope and reassurance and a kind word by both the ‘religious’ and the ‘self help’ gurus out there. I am upset that instead of Mark Twain’s reminder that,

Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed down-stairs one step at a time

All we get is  BELIEVE IT AND IT WILL BE TRUE. And if it isn’t then it’s because you don’t believe enough.

Because that is what we are looking for, really- to be better people, to lead better lives, to be inspired and to be inspired. To actually mean something. And of course, to be immortal.

They all cheapen our struggles. They make it seem like , instead of dealing with the very human fallacies we have each been gifted by our parents, we just don’t believe enough in the snake-oil that’s currently in vogue and that the answer is in believing harder. Harder and harder until it finally works.  And if it doesn’t work, guess what, believe harder.

I don’t know. But it seems to me like the Gikuyu, apart from being deeply fatalistic and very pragmatic, were onto something with their concept of God.