Abuse is one of the most commonly used words today. We hear abuse of human and animal rights, and those of minorities.
The most trending today is sex abuse. What is never mentioned and is perhaps taboo in some quarters, is the abuse of God. If he could complain as loudly as some do or if he had a group to do it on his behalf, a lot of people would be in trouble.
Count how many times God is called as witness in even the most trivial things, or how often all manner of actions and motives are attributed to him. Some people purport to save others in his name and for him. Others kill in his name or on his instructions.
There are those who claim to collect offerings on his behalf and curse those who do not give to their satisfaction.
All this is done in the name of religion.
Rwanda has not been spared the treatment of God in this manner. We have seen a phenomenal and rather chaotic sprouting of churches in the last two decades and an equal number of people claiming to be anointed by God to spread his message.
Some of these self-anointed messengers and interpreters of God’s word have often been more at each other’s throats than they have serving him. They have fought over money, property, power and a host of other ungodly things. Others have elevated extortion to a religious obligation.
More recently, some of them have said they are the sole anointed of God and most powerful prophet in this country and on the African continent. Whatever happened to humility as a Christian virtue?
This is not the first time that God and religion are abused in this way. Nigerian writer and Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka wrote a delightful satire on the subject way back in 1964 in the play, The Trials of Brother Jero.
It is, of course, always hazardous to wade into matters of religion or faith as they excite strong passions and lead to extreme positions.
Yet, if it were only a matter of faith alone, this should not be the case. Faith is essentially a private matter between an individual and the creator. It only became problematic when an element of communal worship was added to it because human beings are also social beings with a desire for some form of fellowship
This societal or communal dimension in turn led to the need for organisation and intermediaries and the origin of abuse.
Intermediaries have always existed in all forms of religion as were prophets and other messengers of God. The real ones (as opposed to the fake) did not abuse their assigned role.
They were mostly humble, unassuming people and never made cash, material or other demands on God’s people in order to make their own life comfortable. Nor did they shout their power and special mission from God from the rooftops.
Latter day intermediaries with God, even here in Rwanda, are different. They have made it known that we need their intercession to get to the almighty; that they alone have the ability to link us to him and the authority to interpret his message, and also convey our supplications to him.
They get to wield so much power as sort of God’s assistants. This apparently gives them the right to make all manner of demands on the faithful not very different from gangster extortions or protection fees (presumably from God’s wrath or demons’ clutches).
They then give themselves titles: prophet, apostle, pastor and so on, to go with their estimation of themselves. This self-appellation is at once legitimisation of their self-proclaimed role, confirmation of their elevation above the rest of believers, and assertion of supremacy over people with similar pretensions.
Then, of course, matters of faith and religion are not exactly rational and cannot be subjected to reason alone for explanation. And so because of this, unscrupulous people, like Soyinka’s Brother Jero and a host of today’s prophets and apostles, manipulate their followers.
They prey on their fears, insecurities and ignorance and turn them into creatures that will do anything on the orders of their leaders.
In the extreme, such manipulation, combined with the leader’s claims of a special status above ordinary humans, and a level of fanatical or subservient following gives such leaders enormous power and creates cults. But power alone is not enough. They also crave glory.
The history of cults across the world is such as not to wish they took root in Rwanda.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.