“If churches are being shut down for the purpose of saving lives. Was there a need for them in the first place? Even church pastors are waiting for the coronavirus to clear so they can continue healing the sick’,’ said Julius Malema SA politician.
guest column:Miriam Tose Majome
Churches, mosques, temples and other religious meeting places have been closed in order to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Saudi Arabia has advised Muslim pilgrims to postpone bookings for the annual pilgrimage to the Hajj in Mecca.
The situation unfolding in the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has to date killed over 50 000 people and infected over a million people worldwide is unprecedented. It forces the questioning of claims of faith healing in the face of such a pandemic and how religious faith measures up against science-based healing interventions.
While scientists are currently busy working to find a cure for COVID-19 the religious are currently busy praying and sharing sermons and Bible verses on social media platforms in a bid to end the pandemic that way. When a cure is finally found the religious will celebrate and claim victory in the name of whichever deity they subscribe to and be thankful for prayers answered.
Only a few will remember to thank the thousands of healthcare practitioners many of whom died trying to save lives. Almost no one will remember to thank the scientists and researchers who worked tirelessly and silently to find the cure.
Even now no one acknowledges that the social distancing, quarantine and lockdown measures that are helping to slow down the contagion are science-based recommendations. That is just the way of the world.
Churches will fill up more than ever before. Religious leaders will become even richer as the faithful donate even more money to churches and double up their offerings and tithes in thanksgiving for prayers answered. In poor developing countries even more churches will be established and built as the numbers of the faithful swell.
Churches will continue to enjoy tax exemptions while budgets for scientific research and science education continue to shrink. In Africa, schools, especially rural schools will continue to crumble and education infrastructure will be more neglected and dilapidated as people focus more on religious infrastructure and religious education. In the developed world, particularly Europe, churches will continue to close and be abandoned as numbers of religious people decline in preference for other pursuits and entertainment. Spoilt footballers and actors will be more celebrated and earn even more obscene amounts of money while underpaid unnamed science researchers and scholars continue to make the best out of limited resources to develop vaccines and medicines to save the world.
In Zimbabwe, until the late 90’s there were a few traditional churches dominated by the Roman Catholic Church and the mainline protestant churches like Anglican, Baptist and Methodist churches.
There were a few homegrown churches such as ZAOGA, AFM, FOG and religious sects such as the Mapositori. Churches generally conducted their good and bad works quietly. Things changed suddenly post 2000 when local charismatic evangelical preachers discovered the power and pull of television and imitated American TV evangelists. It was a radical departure from traditional Christian values as it promoted a materialistic and self-centred kind of Christianity themed on healing bodily and unspecified spiritual ailments and claims of deliverance from alleged evil spirits.
Almost all the new churches promised financial prosperity, instant gratification and bodily healing in exchange for financial donations to the church. This instant material gratification Christianity resonated with the majority of people who were weary of poverty caused by decades of economic mismanagement by their rulers.
The emphasis on faith-based healing found immediate favour because of the prevalence of social, mental and bodily ills linked to poverty. The promise of quick fixes by glib smooth-talking preachers found many easy takers who were desperate and hungry for any messages of hope they could hear. Many religious followers tend to be gullible and thus lap up anything they are told by their chosen preachers who they call Men of God or Papa. To them these men are infallible and thus they brook no criticism of them and they defend them vociferously. They are, however, unable to explain how their infallible miracle working Men of God have failed to rid the world of COVID-19 despite claims that they have godly powers to heal any disease.
In 2017 the Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries proprietor Walter Magaya shocked the country when he claimed to have found the cure for Aids. The supposed cure called Aguma capsules cost between US$500 to US$1 000 per small bottle. The popular charismatic preacher claimed that he had tested the cure successfully in human trials. There are strict laws regarding clinical trials and experimentation on human beings and animals in terms of the Research Act.
Even qualified doctors cannot just perform medical research experiments on their patients. The case of the disgraced British medical doctor Richard McGown who carried out illegal anaesthetic experiments in the 90’s on poor vulnerable Zimbabwean women is an example of how not to conduct medical research. The Medical Research Council has to approve all human clinical trials using very rigid scientific criteria. After the government directed Magaya’s miracle concoction to be submitted for proper scientific tests it was the last it was heard of again.
Only scientific research will yield the cure or the most effective mitigations against COVID-19 or any illness for that matter. It is time governments, credible churches and other organisations in developing countries invested more in schools and science education and less in building new churches. More churches and faith healers are what Africa needs the least.