Tag Archives: religion

Reading the Book of Leviticus


Ah, Leviticus. No one’s favorite book. Whoever hijacked Moses’ tongue in Exodus is in his element in Leviticus. In Exodus we got a taste of law and order. Here, we have law and order edition 2: blood sacrifice; how to diagnose leprosy; hundreds of reasons why you are all unclean and deserve death and; a sexual code of conduct that makes a heroic attempt at listing all possible perversions that would have been possible at the time.

Exodus set the scene for the priestly takeover. God stops communicating with people personally, instead choosing to perch on Mount Sinai and later, in his tabernacle. He also becomes so holy that people are not allowed to be in his presence or to see him.  The only exception, of course, are the priests, who were selected from Aaron’s family line. So now in Leviticus, we have the Priests consolidating their power, and putting the fear of a distant, angry, all seeing, all knowing God into the Israelites.

  1. God has very specific taste when it comes to sacrifice: The Israelites are told that God accepts male, unblemished animals, birds (for those too poor to offer animals), fine flour with oil, and the first fruits of the land.  It is very important that the flour not contain leaven and that all the offering must be seasoned with salt.  Flour has to be burnt with fine oil and Frankincense. He also likes the fat from the animals  as well as kidneys and the liver. He does not accept entrails, which are known to you and me as matumbo. (Whatever is cooking sounds kind of tasty, actually). I lost count of the number of reasons they had to make sacrifices but I feel like it was for everything – sin, thanksgiving, illness, cleansing, and celebrations of God.
  2. Priests get a pretty good deal: They are allowed to keep the ‘first fruits of harvest’ and any remainders from flour offerings. Priests can also eat sin offerings and guilt offerings because whatever they touch becomes holy. They also get every breast and thigh of animals given as peace offering. Israelites are also not allowed to eat fat or use the blood of animals and if they do so, they will be cut off from the people. (So eating mutura gets you forced into exile).
  3. Ignorance is no defense: God makes it clear that the Israelites can commit offenses that they don’t know about. When that happens, they have to sacrifice a young bull. If an individual commits a sin unknowingly, he has to sacrifice a ram. For commoners, the price is a female goat. (This is a running theme in Leviticus – poverty does not excuse you from paying for your sins, and much like the tax code, every economic class is subject to a different fine/ fee.)
  4. A lot of things can make you unclean: this includes touching the carcass of an unclean animal,touching an unclean person and having an emission of semen (wash in the river and unclean for the rest of the day). I would love to know how this law was enforced- how would the priest know that a man was unclean because he came? Wouldn’t this mean that at any particular time of day, at least half of the male population would be considered unclean?
  5. Sexual conduct: Chapter 18 lists all the people that you are not allowed to see naked, including your parents, siblings, and your extended family as well as a reminder that seeing a woman naked during her period is not allowed. (I’m thinking uncovering nakedness might have another meaning here…) Then at the very end we have the all famous ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.’ Chapter 20 also reminds us to put to death any man who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, and not spare her either, as well as an extra reminder not to ‘see the nakedness’ of a sister from a mother or father.  Priests are expressly forbidden from marrying prostitutes, and if ever a priest’s daughter is found guilty of harlotry, she must be burnt to death.
  6. Aaron’s sons make a massive boo-boo: Not much goes on in the way of direct intervention from God, except for this time that Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, who took his censer, lit it and laid incense on it. (This means they didn’t follow proper sacrifice protocol). God’s judgement was brutal and instant. He sent fire down from heaven and incinerated them. And then Moses forbade their families from mourning for them. Later Aaron has to make a sacrifice, including releasing a goat into the wild to atone for their sins.
  7. An Israelite woman’s son is stoned to death: Our second brief interlude from the law comes when this boy, who’s father is Egyptian, it is emphasized,  gets into a fight and blasphemes God’s name. So they take him to Moses, who consults with God, who then says that witnesses to this event should put their hand on the boy’s head and they should stone him to death. This is where the proclamation ‘When a man causes a disfigurement in his neighbor,as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth… ‘ is made.
  8. All things kosher: This is pretty well known. You can eat animals that have hoofs and chew cud. Birds are okay, except vultures, ravens, ospreys, kites, falcons, ostriches, vultures, pelicans, storks, herons and a couple of other gross birds. Insects are okay as long as they don’t have four feet. No swarming things allowed, like geckos, crocodiles, mice, weasels and chameleons. Actually if they even touch your clothes then your clothes are unclean too.
  9. About the womens: When you have a baby boy, you are unclean for 7 days, then you get him circumcised and then you are unclean for another 33 days. If you have a girl, you are unclean for 2 weeks, and then another 66 days. Your period makes you unclean for 7 days, and anything or anyone that touches you is also unclean, including your bed, your chair, and any man foolish enough to ‘lie’ with you. (So for every year, your average woman is untouchable for almost 3 months for the sin of bleeding from her gross lady parts and she literally can’t sit with you)
  10. Public health: Chapter 13 dedicates 59 excruciating verses on the management of leprosy in all its describable forms. Priests, of course are responsible for diagnosis, treatment and ritual cleansing of these lepers, which also extends to their clothing and property. For example, once quarantine away from the people is over and the person shows no sign of disease, this is what he must do next – ‘ the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two living clean birds and cedar wood and scarlet stuff and hyssop; and the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water. He shall take the living bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet stuff and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water; and he shall sprinkle it seven times upon him who is to be cleansed of leprosy; then he shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird go to the field. ‘  This process must be repeated to cleanse his house as well. And he also has to give a guilt offering to God for being diseased.
  11. Other forbidden things: No witchcraft or consultation with mediums is allowed. Fathers cannot force their daughters into prostitution, and parents are forbiden from sacrificing their children to Molech. Men are not allowed to round off the hair on their temples or mar the edges of their beards. Israelites are also warned against cursing the deaf or putting stumbling blocks before the blind. When it comes to business, you cannot keep a man’s wages overnight,  you cannot tamper with scales and you cannot interbreed your cattle. God also commands that the Israelites treat strangers well, and to not gossip about their neighbors.
  12. Blemished men cannot approach the alter: this includes anyone who is blind, lame, has missing or mutilated limbs, hunchbacked, has eye problems, is a dwarf, or has crushed testicles (huh??)
  13. Disobey at your own peril: The punishment for not following God’s laws is explained several times, but this is the most graphic – You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense alters….and I will lay your cities to waste, and I will make your sanctuaries desolate…and I will devastate the land, so that your enemies that settle in it shall be astonished. And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you; and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. (Can you imagine a Pastor shouting that at his congregation every Sunday? This is the stuff of nightmares. )

Leviticus is ground zero for atheists trying to prove a point about how nasty the Christian God is, expose Christian hypocrisy on the selectiveness of the application of God’s laws as laid out in the bible (why don’t we stone adulterers anymore/ allow for the wearing of clothing with mixed fiber/ not burn our children for harlotry, etc, if we insist on quoting the Bible as reason to condemn homosexuality?) It’s a rich and easy target because a lot of the laws are ridiculous, impossible to follow, excessively cruel and often seem to have no real purpose that somebody living in the 21st century can decipher.

Then we have the Christians, who feel as though they have licence to dictate society’s moral code, and will go to great lengths to justify the use passages from Leviticus to prove their point. Thus we have a nice little deadlock with each side shouting the same thing over and over again to infinity and beyond.

But when it comes to letting the church dictate society’s morals (and then using the bible to justify it), my gut feeling is that the church is forced to evolve along with the rest of society, albeit extremely reluctantly. So eventually, one day in the distant future, I think that the church will eventually abandon condemning homosexuals in the same way it abandoned justifying slavery, and eventually decided that God doesn’t actually condone slavery and that everyone, including the so called sons of Ham (also known as black people) should be free.

Leviticus also paints a picture of a bleak, miserable world with many harsh rules, many of them punishable by death. It paints a society where being a woman is downright horrible, a large amount of time is dedicated to appeasing an angry and vicious God through sacrifice for atonement for multiple sins and death is always around the corner – either as a direct punishment for breaking the law, or as collective punishment for the transgressions of your people. I suppose this is why Christians have a tendency to blame the world’s problems on the decadence and sinfulness of modern society as a whole.

The words written in the bible have always been as clear as day and night. But our interpretation evolves as our circumstances change. Again and again and again. And as long as we become more accepting, inclusive and forgiving, that’s actually something to be proud of.

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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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

why I stopped worrying about whether God exists


For a long time, I was under the illusion that Kenyans are not a particularly religious nation. This was based solely on my sketchy religious education and the fact that my family has never been particularly religious. At home, there were no religious icons gracing the walls. No hour long prayers before meals. No church group meetings lasting all afternoon. Nothing, except my mother chalking up any feeble attempts to be better Christians as a phase motivated by peer pressure. By the time I was 12 years old, my family had almost completely given up any pretenses of going to church or further developing our spirituality.

In high school, there was none of the mass hysteria that apparently regularly sweeps  through girls’ schools, no bible study and no talk of getting ‘saved’. We went for mass once a week, and I played the guitar in order to avoid the crushing boredom of listening to nearly dead priests talk about love and forgiveness.

So I grew up with the attitude that no-one really takes any of this stuff seriously, least of all my age-mates.

At some point, I became curious as to why seemingly rational people could say and believe the doctrine of Christianity. How we could, in full confidence, say that anyone who is not christian will go to hell. Or discuss the miracle of Jesus’ virgin birth and in the same breath discount as nonsense miracles that happened in other religions. How we could gasp at the fact that Hindus worship multiple gods, and yet find it perfectly reasonable that one day, in the near future, everyone that ever lived shall be woken up for the final judgement.

I can think of three experiences that led me to where I am today:

1. India

India is where I first became aware of how deeply ritualistic religions are, and that maybe, we don’t need to take everything at face value. I remember watching a woman perform some kind of ceremony with a cow- she fed it, gave it water, walked around it in circles and touched parts of it with her hands for blessing.

Then I somehow found myself in a Sikh temple, washing my feet before entry, walking around a huge table shaped thing, and being pushed along to kiss something at the front. I also went to a Hindu temple and waited for my friends to offer money and milk to various gods.

All these experiences were very strange for me. But the strangest thing was the amount of devotion and belief that people had in these rituals. We celebrated several ceremonies while I was there, and it seemed to me like people came to the office everyday with fresh marks on their faces from some blessing or the other.

As a christian, I knew that this was called worshiping false gods. As a human, I saw deep devotion to their religion, and the unquestioning belief that is exactly how it is meant to be.

Then it dawned on me, if I find it so ridiculous that people worship statues, how much more logical is it that there is a man in the sky who watches everything we do?

2. France

I remember that when I was in France, I could not go home to visit my family during one Christmas. I was depressed and feeling sorry for myself, and I thought that I needed a little spirituality to start off the year on a good note. So I went for Christmas mass. I have always said I am Catholic because, to be honest, it is a very low maintenance religion. Plus I really can’t stand all the noise and hysteria that other churches seem to encourage.

Maybe it is because I was suffering from some kind of culture shock, or maybe its because I was sad and lonely, but I have never felt so weirderd out in a church before. The mass was beautiful, all in French but with the same rituals that Catholics have world wide. But I looked at the priest, behind his enormous alter, as he prepared the communion and wine, and I wondered to myself, but why? Why are we recreating blood and flesh? And why is this cathedral so huge and unfriendly? Why did Europeans spend so much money and blood to build huge, elaborate churches at the expense of their people? It seemed to me like it was all just a way to tightly control people.

The priest’s message was beautiful. He asked us to love one another, to show kindness and to think of the less fortunate. To be grateful for what we have been given. It all rang true and I wanted to do that. But I couldn’t help but ask myself- why would such a simple, universal message have to be steeped in so much fantasy and incomprehensible ritual? Was I really obliged to identify myself with this stuff in order to follow the teachings?

I think this is when I began to see just how much religion relies on brainwashing to keep followers. That is the day I finally realized that I would never ever feel guilty again for not attending church, for not praying, and for not believing anything the church said.

3. Sicily

Everybody knows about Sicily because of the mafia. But something else about Sicily is that it is a deeply, deeply religious place. There are cathedrals and churches everywhere. There are shrines to Mother Mary, various catholic saints and sweet baby Jesus at nearly every corner. What’s even better is that these shrines are visited by people- who say prayers and leave candles and flowers. In Sicily, it is common to see people cross themselves every time they pass a church or shrine.

An enormous amount of religious days are observed. Processions led by priests, alter boys and a great number of citizens are common place. I even saw one where men and women were passing their babies up a huge chair to touch the statue of someone, for reasons that remain unknown to me. Speaking of which, almost every little neighborhood in Palermo has a patron saint and a festival to commemorate them.

Plus, how come they get to have so much fun, with food and fireworks and partying in the street and days off work? We have Easter and Christmas and Pentecost and that’s pretty much it.

I was baffled because I always thought that Europeans are not particularly religious. Sicily was an eye opener in that respect.

Visiting beautiful churches and cathedrals, decorated with those epic paintings of God and his angels, Mary and her family and all that stuff, I came to the conclusion that most of what we imagine about heaven, God and what it means to be christian is the fertile imagination of Italian artists. We are basically aspiring to the heaven that Italians dreamed of for themselves.

Where do I fit into that narrative? Nowhere, that’s where.

Eventually, I stopped wondering whether God exists, and I became less concerned about uncovering the truth. I found a deep respect for people who are truly religious, no matter what their religion is. I’m not worried about what will happen after I die, because we all have enough things bothering us every single day. I don’t agree with hardcore atheists, especially when they use arguments like the dumber someone is, the more likely they are to be deeply religious. Yeah….no.

I really do not see anything wrong with people who base their values and aspirations in religion. It is difficult to escape the beliefs that were drummed into us by our families and society at large. I think that religion, in any form, probably improves lives, with the exception of fundamentalists, sadists and sociopaths. Freedom from guilt, worry about the future and what exactly it is that you are here for can never be a bad thing.

And like Oprah said, you can’t make it through life if you think that everything is solely up to you.

Guest Post: The Karachi I Know


Karachi is the economic hub of Pakistan. Whoever controls Karachi controls Pakistan, they say. Karachi has 18 million people, that’s 6 times Nairobi, and 10% of the whole Pakistani population.

ECONOMICALLY

Karachi is in a 3rd world country. So expect the gap between the rich and the poor to be colossal. You see extremes here; mansions (they are all very square), and people peeing and sleeping on the road cause they have no homes.(the men pee when squatting, if you ask me it looks very disgusting) If Idi Amin was hired to get rid of the beggars in Karachi, the Nile would be clogged for life.

SECURITY

Living in Karachi, you don’t have to be too concerned about terrorism as defined by the media(ALAR WAKBAR SUICIDE BOMBER). Just be afraid that political violence leaves hundreds of people dead within 3 days. Karachi is controlled by MQM. I still can’t spell what it stands for (too complicated, and I wont google it). The party in power is the PPP (Pakistanis Peoples Party). These 2 are always fighting. One guy from PPP says something bad about MQM, like you guys have itchy scrotums’ and MQM respond by calling for a ‘strike’.

A strike means gunfights between PPP and MQM, hundreds of dead grassroot politicians, scores of innocent people dead (I am afraid to say hundreds), a couple of people kidnapped in the melee, millions of rupees lost because companies stay closed, the working class of Karachi celebrating that they get a holiday, me bored stiff in the flat and the PPP apologizing.

SOCIAL LIFE

There are 4things to do in Karachi, smoke, smoke sheesha/ hashish, shop and eat. There are no clubs, few people play sports, and yes I said there are NO clubs. There is also the beach, if you want to relax with your clothes on (women, don’t dare take them off), your feet immersed in sea-wage and dead fish and the occasional sting ray – a dead one.

Also, sights and sounds of camels and horses running along the beach and shitting everywhere as people pay for rides and people driving on the dark sand in their prandos.

Some women in Karachi have junglitis feveris. Symptoms include lack of any Islamic principles, consumption of alarming amounts of alcohol and/or hashish (comparable to bhangi), good education and old age. Usually, these types are followed around by a hapless boyfriend or husband. They are usually from the ‘elite’ class as they call it; socially that means you can do whatever-the-fuck-you-want cause to some extent you are above religious and cultural barriers.

Guess what, there is an ‘Arte Caffe’-like place in Karachi. i.e nice setting for you to see and be seen. Here the women smoke openly. Possibly it was my shiny bald head, but I’d like to think that the unwavering stares were from women exhibiting symptoms of junglitis feveris. I was there with 3 Pakistani guys, and only one of us was meeting a nervous girl like it was high school again. (more on the dating scene in Karachi later)

INTERSTING OBSERVATIONS

The coolest, absolute coolest thing about Karachi, is the variety in people. There are black skinned, wooly haired people like me, darker skinned people than me with Asian hair, some as fair as Scandinavians, some with green or grey eyes etc and the best thing is that they are ALL PAKISTANI ORIGINO (3rd/4th generation). I think that’s amazing! But I also don’t understand the stares, cause I could be Pakistani anyway. Even the black people stare at me- SMH.

South C aside, Karachi has NO DRAINAGE SYSTEM. 2 hours of drizzling = 4 hours of traffic, a flooded and I mean knee-deep flooded HIGHWAY, and another holiday because the office will shut down. It rains 3 days a year in Karachi. That was the day I observated like 30 rats, bigger than squirrels running away from the water.

Ps, Karachi is better than it sounds.

Of course, Everything Looks better at night