Saturday, January 17, 2009

Response to Matthew Parris from Norm Allen

Source: Africa Needs More Human-Centered Thought and Activism

Norm Allen


On December 27, 2008, the self-professed atheist Matthew Parris argued for religion in Africa in The Times Online, headquartered in the UK. In his article titled “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God,” he spoke glowingly of “the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa….”

I readily admit that missionaries have done some great work in Africa—building roads, clinics, schools, etc. However, missionaries in recent years have also enriched themselves while exploiting the masses, discouraged millions of Africans from using condoms, thereby increasing unwanted pregnancies and the spread of Aids, promoted sexism, contributed greatly to the persecution and deaths of alleged witches, etc. Indeed, Africa provides the perfect example of what Robert Ingersoll said about the historic role of the Catholic Church: “In one hand she carried the alms dish, in the other, the dagger.” The same could be said of organized religion in general.

In Rwanda, Christians were complicit in the genocide that occurred there in the 1990s. Many people were brutally murdered in churches. In Nigeria, Christians and Muslims have been killing each other by the thousands. Throughout Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and many other African nations, Bible-based homophobia plays a major role in the persecution, and in some cases, murders, of LGBTs.

What Africa needs is what Ingersoll called “a caring rationalism.” The Bible simply contains too many ultra-reactionary and inhumane messages to be blindly embraced by believers. Christian ideas of tolerance are inconsistent with the biblical notion that acceptance of Christ is the only way to reach heaven. The Prince of Peace said he came to bring not peace, but a sword. It is no wonder that there are so many different conceptions of Christianity, not all of them benign.

A humanistic life-stance is the best way to approach the many divisive religious and ethnic conflicts that plague Africa. Human-centered thought and action offer much more for African uplift than piety and prayers ever could. Christian charity is, indeed, commendable. However our appreciation of the missionaries’ alms dish must never blind us to the dagger that so often accompanies it.

Stephen adds: Norm Allen does a great deal of work for CFI in Africa.

18 comments:

Martin said...

"self-professed atheist"

Are there any other ways to be an atheist? If Parris says he is one, that's fine by me, but there's a terrible sneering tone to saying he is "self-professed". The weakness in Parris' argument is that he says Africans need a sense of hope and the will to motivate themselves, but he doesn't indicate what motivates him. It's the motivational factor that's missing, which evidentially evangelicals can supply. If he could indicate how he himself is motivated as an atheist, then that's the thing the Africans might be missing.

I must say prescriptions for whole countries to get motivated strike me as nuts. Waffle like "humanistic life-stance" is not much of a diet either. If Africa wants to get motivated, I expect it will when the time is right.

georgesdelatour said...

Who's killed more Africans - the Pope or Rachel Carson?

Actually it's Rachel Carson - massively so. Read this:

http://www.junkscience.com/ddtfaq.html

Personally, I can't understand why people who have a go at the Pope over condoms are usually ignorant of the terrible harm Rachel Carson has done to Africa by getting DDT banned. Remember that the Pope's dangerous, irrational, faith-based position on condoms has no legal force, but Rachel Carson's dangerous, irrational, faith-based position on DDT does.

Paul C said...

Remember that the Pope's dangerous, irrational, faith-based position on condoms has no legal force, but Rachel Carson's dangerous, irrational, faith-based position on DDT does.

The main difference between them being that Rachel Carson died in 1964, 2 years after writing Silent Spring, so she didn't have much chance to change her position in face of any later evidence since she wa dead. The Pope, on the other hand, has no such excuse.

P.S. The article you link to is in the main a crock of shit.

Damian said...

georgesdelatour:

While I don't know enough about DDT or Rachel Carson to be able to evaluate those claims, junkscience.com doesn't exactly fill me with confidence, to be honest.

It's a global warming denialist site, for a start, and Steven J. Milloy — the founder and publisher of the site, who incidentally, is not a scientist — is not somebody who I would be comfortable with as a source of information.

All of the information that I can find suggests that he "has spent much of his life as a lobbyist for major corporations and trade organisations which have poisioning or polluting problems."

If you have another, more reputable source, I would be happy to take another look. Anyone who has looked in to the activities of certain advocacy groups in the U.S, in the service of denialism, and ostensibly as a method of spreading doubt and falsehood in the name of ideology, will understand that evidence based thought has never been so at risk, as it is right now.

Martin said...

will understand that evidence based thought has never been so at risk, as it is right now

It's a shame, but people who make chronological claims for the nature of thought rarely have the time to submit the evidence backing-up their own claim. It is as though they have undoubted faith in the nature of their claim, and cannot see the need to show their own workings. On a brighter note, they do provide excellent test pieces for those who want to develop their own thinking.

jeremy said...

I like what Sam Harris had to say on the matter; I think it complements Matthew Parris' response:

While there is no doubt that Christian missionaries are also moved by a desire to alleviate suffering, they come to the task encumbered by a dangerous and divisive mythology. Missionaries in the developing world waste a lot of time and money (not to mention the goodwill of non-Christians) proselytising to the needy; they spread inaccurate information about contraception and sexually transmitted disease, and they withhold accurate information. While missionaries do many noble things at great risk to themselves, their dogmatism still spreads ignorance and death. By contrast, volunteers for secular organizations like Doctors Without Borders do not waste any time telling people about the virgin birth of Jesus. Nor do they tell people in sub-Saharan Africa - where nearly four million people die from AIDS every year - that condom use is sinful.

(from "Letter to a Christian Nation")

Martin said...

Sadly Harris is struck by the strange delusion that people can waste time. How can this be true? We all have the same amount, after all. I can no more lend you an hour, than you can give me back five minutes. You'll still find your day adds up to 24hrs.

He would spend his time better reflecting on statements like: "So let us be honest with ourselves: in the fullness of time, one side is really going to win this argument, and the other side really going to lose." [ibid p5.] His preceding dichotomy implies to overly rational thinkers that it is a straight true/false statement, when in reality it is no more than his prophecy. I won't be around in the fullness of time, will he?

Damian said...

"It's a shame, but people who make chronological claims for the nature of thought rarely have the time to submit the evidence backing-up their own claim."

What exactly is your point, or are you, as I suspect, simply trolling?

Martin said...

Simply trolling, never. I try to troll with wit, humour and elegance. I try to think quite hard before I write something down, so to call me "simple" is nothing but an insult.

Would you care to address the point which I actually make, or are you just an overblown wind-bag?

Martin said...

Damian, if you are still puzzled, I may be able to offer some help.

In 2001, I wrote a short essay on the nature of time here. If you would like to comment, I would value your contribution.

Damian said...

"Would you care to address the point which I actually make, or are you just an overblown wind-bag?"

Ah, I see, so you are the pseudo-intellectual that I had you down for. That's all that I needed to know, really.

It would appear that clarity is not your strong point, whereas equivocality almost certainly is.

By the way, you made several assertions, which by your own stated standards, don't merit a serious response.

If you were at all interested in an exchange of ideas, you would have asked me to explain further, rather than being pedantic for what appears to be your own amusement.

And, why yes, I am an "overblown wind-bag", since you ask. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

jeremy said...

Sadly Harris is struck by the strange delusion that people can waste time. How can this be true? We all have the same amount, after all. I can no more lend you an hour, than you can give me back five minutes. You'll still find your day adds up to 24hrs.

Martin, my son, are you drunk?

Martin said...

Sorry Dad, not yet. I have three bottles of beer I was given as Christmas gift, I'll crack one open later to celebrate.

Psuedo-intelectual now, at least I am halfway there. The Dalai Lama suggests people should try smiling like a Buddha, because then at least you are trying to be a Buddha, but unfortunately my smile always looks a sneer and people take offence. I shall obviously try to be more po-faced from now on, maybe even for ever.

anticant said...

As one of the long-term pseudo-intellectuals and overblown windbags posting here, I in general refrain from hurling rude epithets at other posters as, po-faced though this may be, I find it facilitates sensible and amusing discussion.

And I treasure the tag of "pseudo-liberal bigot" which was once pinned on me.

So lighten up, Damien and Martin, and grow an extra skin or two. There'a enough ranting and trolling on other sites if that's what you enjoy. What we go in for here is mostly SERIOUS twaddle [sorry, Stephen].

Martin said...

Thanks Anticant, I am working on patience today, so I won't make a reply until tomorrow. I will go and hide under my troll bridge and try to scare the girls as they walk past.

Maya said...

I thought the original article by Mathew Parris was interesting and raised issues that deserve more thought than the knock-about responses it has had.

Perhaps this is down to people arguing with the headline which is a lot more breathelessly in favour of religion as the answer than the actual article is.

Of course it is true about the Catholic church and condoms and about complicity of churches in the Rwandan genocide. But none of this answers Parris's observation that at an individual level, christianity seems to be associated with a sense of possibility, responsibility and individual self-worth which is as crucial to development as roads or electricity.

This makes some sense when you think about religions as competing in the marketplace of ideas -- certainly they can't be winning because of the plausibility or coherance of their claims -- isn't it more likely to be because of the immediate benefits that people gain from the religous experience.

As Parris has observed, in places where people have little access to good quality education, political or economic power or personal automony within their family and community, religious belief can be a liberating, empowering and accessible force for change.

This is not such a comfortable conclusion for religious authorities who are left, like C of E vicars and homeopaths pedling a product which they know is based on placebo, but which nevertheless can be seen as a cheap and chearful way of doing some good.

wombat said...

Maya - Religion as a useful placebo.

Good parallel.

Its cheap. It appears to have some benefit.

Like homeopathy however it risks being used in place of a real cure when one is available, as in the case where homeopaths "prescribe" something where antibiotics are really called for. e.g. for TB

Anonymous said...

Catholicism isn't Christianity, so much of this debate is pointless.