RAILA’S COMMENTS ON RELIGION WERE CANDID, SOBER AND REALISTIC
By Vincent Ongore
Raila Amolo Odinga is in his element, only seven days to his date with fate. For a man who has previously given four unsuccessful stabs at the presidency, one would expect that he gives a wide berth to controversial topics. Not Raila.
Raila has recently raised huge dust with his commentary on religion. He accurately observed that, for selfish reasons, the British colonialists exalted Christianity above all other religions, including traditional African belief systems whose modus operandi the Europeans didn’t quite understand.I know that there are those holier-than-thou Christians who take the position that if it doesn’t come from a Pastor, Evangelist, ‘Prophet’, ‘Apostle’, Priest or Bishop, then it can’t be correct.
When it comes from Raila, a man who is known for many things except religious fundamentalism, then, according to them, it must be wrong. So, why even think about it? In my view, Raila’s statement on religion was as accurate as it could ever be, and it had absolutely nothing to do with faith or spirituality.
Many people tend to confuse faith with religion.
Faith is a personal relationship with a deity. Religion, on the other hand, is a human institution, complete with structures, constitution and regulations, for indoctrinating human beings into a particular belief system.
Based on the foregoing argument, it is possible to be faithful to a deity without being religious.
Faithful people have inner contentment about what they believe in; a deep unshakeable spiritual relationship with a deity. They speak with conviction about their faith. Faith is purely personal, private and individualized. There’s absolutely no yardstick for measuring faith. Of course, I do know that the Good Book says that “they shall be known for (by) their fruits.”
I guess this verse talks about spiritual fruits. What can’t be measured, in my opinion, is the extent of one’s faith in a deity, for the simple reason that there are no lower and maximum thresholds on matters of faith.
However, there’s spiritual growth which moves a believer from one level of faith to another, probably a higher spiritual platform. Men and women of conviction tend to manifest similar behaviours irrespective of their faiths, which probably means that they all recognize a supreme being even if they have different names for that being.
Religion, on the other hand, is a platform or vessel through which people who identify with a particular faith express themselves.
Unlike faith which is highly personalized, religiosity is a lot easier to see in people. Religious people tend to congregate regularly, brought together by the doctrines of their religions, and label other religions as misleading.
These people are given to extolling the virtues and superiority of their religions. More often than not, religious people talk about other religions without ever having peeped into their religious texts. One would say without any fear of contradiction that religious people criticize other people’s religions using their own subjective lenses.
Raila was simply talking about the supremacy of one religion over others.
Put in another way, Raila was talking about theocracy, which is leadership based on the teachings and tenets of a particular religion.
Theocracy at work is best seen in countries that have Supreme Leaders based on religious teachings. Such countries tend to be intolerant of people who have different belief systems. What we see in Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia are typical exemplifications of theocracy at work.
Theocracy is the surest route to religious conflicts and discrimination based on religious doctrines. Women and girls tend to suffer more under theocratic regimes. In many instances, like in the case of Afghanistan, girls are discouraged from attending school and are not allowed to walk with boys in public unless they are their blood relatives.
In some cases, women are not allowed to work, and if they do, they mustn’t hold certain high-ranking positions.
Raila Amolo Odinga is a very well-travelled and exposed man, who spent about one decade of his teenage and early adult age attending school and interacting with different cultures in Europe. Having lived in the then divided Germany, Raila understands what ideological differences can do to a society.
It’s against this backdrop that Raila recently talked about how exalting one religion above others can sow seeds of discord and threaten societal harmony. There are numerous examples across the globe.
It should be remembered that the British used religion to pacify Africans as they dehumanized them, and took their prime land for exclusive use.
Africans were made to believe that their religious beliefs were heathen and repugnant to the morality and spiritual wellbeing of civilized people.
Our people swallowed Christianity (not faith in God) hook, line, bait and sinker, complete with the white man’s nomenclature.
As a teacher, I know that there are young people who are not at all proud of their native African names.
Only two days ago, I met an undergraduate student called Eddner Margaret Lucas. What initially came to my mind was that she was probably an African American.
Upon inquiring, I was shocked to learn that the girl was from Kilifi County, Kenya. That’s an example of what religious indoctrination has done to the African mind.
Surprisingly, the issue of associating religion with naming systems is more an African problem than it is with other non-Caucasian races. For example, Indians, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese and other progressive societies have largely embraced their unique native cultures and defined development around them.
For some inexplicable reasons, Africans tend to believe that those who have European names are more Christian than those who don’t. In this continent, intelligence is defined by the ability to speak good English or French.
In fact, whenever I introduce myself as Ongore, it is not uncommon to hear fellow African people asking me for my first name.
Surely, there can never be a first name that supersedes the name that was given to me at birth! Ongore is my first name. I was taught at Maranda that ‘first’ is that which comes before any other.
Then, there’s the issue of mannerisms. Men who dress in suits, speak European languages through the nostrils, and eat exotic cuisines are considered more urbane, sophisticated and gentlemanly than those who keep it simply African!. So, religion is not necessarily clean with respect to the colonial enterprise.
Let’s go back to our topic for today; theocracy. In my opinion, Raila’s statement on exalting of one religion above all the others was accurate.
Let’s be very clear on this matter. Raila didn’t say that people shouldn’t be religious. No, he didn’t, nor did he insinuate that Christianity is bad. The message was simple; let people practice their religions.
His point was that there are all these religions here. We need to allow people to hold their beliefs and to practice their religious rites provided they don’t interfere with other people. That’s as it should be.
Faith is purely personal. It’s not in the place of the state to force people to believe in one religion and not the other.
It’s however, in the place of the state to protect the right to religion.
The moment one religion is favoured above the others, then discrimination naturally creeps in, and before we realize it, were are in a theocracy.
The makers of our constitution were alert to the reality that unless the religious rights of minorities were protected by the Supreme Law, overzealous religionists and fundamentalists would trample on the rights of those who didn’t share in their religious beliefs.
By courageously talking about religion, Raila was simply emphasizing his faith in the constitution to protect every Kenyan, irrespective of their religious beliefs. What more do we need as a people? Let the Government allow us to pursue our religious beliefs without imposing their choices on us. That makes a lot of sense.
For instance, if today Kenya were to get a Moslem President who goes ahead to introduce Sharia Law, how comfortable would Christians be in that kind of environment?
What about if we got a President who demanded that every Kenyan should go to church? This may be a welcome gesture to Christians, but it would clearly undermine Moslem or Hindu religious practices. That’s precisely what Raila was talking about.
Unfortunately, Raila is in politics. In the political space, it’s not the real meaning of a word or expression that matters; it’s how to create political capital out of it that is of greatest interest to politicians.
Less than a fortnight to the 8/9 general elections, any statement can be turned into political fodder.
It is even more interesting that one of the Presidential candidates has projected himself as a Christian, and portrayed Raila as a non-believer. I am happy Raila never bothers to respond to this baseless accusation. After all, faith is a purely private and personal matter.
With Raila’s latest statement on religion, his opponent’s camp is going on overdrive, emphasizing that Raila’s statement about religion vindicates them on the claim that the man is non-religious.
The other day, a gentleman who’s known to me personally insisted that Raila belonged to Legion of Mary, a sect.
While it doesn’t bother me what religion people belong to, it’s instructive that it was the British who declared the Legion of Mary a sect and created dangerous propaganda about the religious formation. The British claimed that the Legion of Mary adherents believed that the founder of their religion, Simeon Ondeto, was God.
I too believed so until a few months ago when I wrote a foreword to a book on Simeon Ondeto by my friend and undergraduate contemporary, Obiero Afulo.
The Legion of Mary adherents actually believe in Nyasaye Nyakalaga, the ‘Universal God.’
Most people who talk about them harbor the white man’s mentality that ‘if it’s not ours, then it can’t be good.’
On a different note, the renowned Medical Doctor and Scholar, Prof Kihumbu Thairu, writes in his highly acclaimed book “African Civilization” that when the white men came to Kenya, they found well established traditional methods of treating diseases and illnesses.
One such method was the Abagusii Method of treating Migraine. In this method, the patient’s skull would be opened up, and ‘bad air’ released, then it would be closed up. Special herbs would be applied to facilitate healing.
The white man was unable to follow the scientific logic in this method of treatment.
So, the white man declared the Abagusii Method as ‘witchcraft’, and promptly banned it. The banning of African traditional religions and belief systems followed a similar path.
To date, there are Christian and Moslem adherents of African extraction who believe that African traditional beliefs and religions are heathen! Can you believe that? This is self-hate, pure and simple! In a nutshell, black African people hate themselves, and wish they were something else, preferably white! That’s a discussion for another day
For now, let’s just say that the world is much safer with leaders who genuinely speak their minds, and allow people to engage in fruitful discussions, rather than those who seek to impose their beliefs on others.
I tend to trust Raila’s views on management of diversity and peaceful co-existence of religions. I also agree with him that this is an issue that should be approached with total humility and sobriety.
Copyright ©️ Vincent Ongore 2022