The Dangers of an Exclusively Religious Nation
By Takudzwa Mazwienduna
I was born and raised in Zimbabwe and I never got to witness the struggle that brought my country independence. I grew up enchanted by stories of the liberation struggle and as a child, one of my many ambitions was to become a soldier…apart from being a superhero with super powers.
Like everyone else born after independence, I was referred to as a “Born Free.” It is a title that hints a great degree of privilege: we were born in the right time period of the right country. This is a period where every Zimbabwean enjoys the benefits of the liberation struggle, freedom for all and emancipation from the institutions established by colonial rule. However like most Zimbabweans, I was disillusioned by the reality of the post-independent Zimbabwe. The colonial institutions remained in place and the majority of the nation is up to this day enslaved by poverty.
Various civil societies, non-profits and government agencies have launched various development initiatives up to this day to attempt to bail us out of the failed national dream, but we sure have a long way to go. One area in the neo-colonial equation has however been ignored in all these efforts, and this is religion.
When the Imperialists came to Zimbabwe over a century ago, they had a bible in one hand and a gun in the other. They made Christianity the official religion of the nation and anything other than that was in bad taste. Mbuya Nehanda, a national icon of liberation was killed in the name of Christianity.
She was a spirit medium for the traditional religion and fought for her freedom to death. While in my opinion, her religion was just as dogmatic as any other, including Christianity, her cause was noble and of great significance to secular values. It is unfortunate that upon this independence she died for, the state still endorses Christianity and exclusively this one Abrahamic religion. Maybe it was because Bishop Muzorewa was part of the Lancaster House Agreement or the people in power were all Christians.
So the “Born Free’s” like myself were not born free from religion. We were all born into Christianity and all its vices whether good or bad. We were indoctrinated from childhood and were taught what to believe, what to think and what not to think or believe. If we were born in Saudi Arabia we would be Muslims, Hindus if we were Indians, Buddhists if we were from far-east Asia and we would not be religious at all if we were born in Sweden, the Czech Republic or Japan!
Instead, we were born in a Zimbabwe where we are free from anything except baptism as an infant and the emotional manipulation this institution brought about by the colonial era comes with. Growing up, I realized the title “Born Free” was a mockery and living in a religious community, I had to conform and keep the questions I had about religion to myself.
Now, I know the constitution stipulates that everyone is free to have their own beliefs, but the same document says Zimbabwe is a Christian country! Does this mean that I am not a Zimbabwean because I am not a Christian? Public schools hold Christian prayers, so do parliamentarians and people meeting for council meetings! What does this mean for Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Traditionalists, Atheists like myself and many other religious minorities?
I wonder what the reaction would be if a Satanist does his prayer in public meetings. It is also interesting to note that tax exempt church dignitaries like Ezekiel Guti publicly endorse politicians who put in place legislation that affects even the non-religious population.
I remember watching the documentary “Democrats” (2013) that followed the COPAC constitution making process and I was filled with disgust when the MDC representative (the supposed liberal party that by virtue should embrace constitutional virtues like secularism) went on to say that the constitution (which is supposed to be the most important document in the country with regards to good governance, law and order from the logical reasoning of Zimbabweans and not bronze age Israelite experiences) was the second most important document in the country after the bible!
He must have had a different bible because mine tells me to keep slaves, rape women and pay their fathers fifteen shekels of silver, stone all those who refuse to respect Saturdays (You know, because Saturdays are awesome!) and slay all those who refuse Jesus’ rule (Luke 19:27- the reason why they had the crusades in medieval Europe). That is the book he encouraged everyone to uphold and yes, many Zimbabweans thought this was a wise declaration.
Religion has been given more respect than it deserves in Zimbabwe. The government is turning a blind eye to the various Christian denominations that are denying children basic health care (vaccinations) to children who have no choice but to go with their delusional parents’ wishes despite Zimbabwe being a signatory to the African Charter for children’s rights, which emphasizes on the best interest of the child.
Scientific education is being suppressed because of religious convictions, very few people understand natural history, let alone anything about the cosmos, thanks to CONTENT; that multi-disciplinary subject in primary schools that teaches creationism and science interchangeably in 2016!
Certain denominations also advance issues of witchcraft, mermaids and other unprovable allegations that demonize individuals. While our government and the judicial system have incriminated some of these paranoid religious ones, most of them get away with it nowadays with the various “miracle” entities that are flourishing across the nation. Child marriages are also acceptable in various communities with nothing but unreasonable religious justifications for these atrocities. As Arthur C Clarke said, “The greatest tragedy in human history is when religion hijacked morality.”
We have a lot of people who are living without religion in Zimbabwe and are disgusted by the evils done in the name of religion. Most of them do not have a voice and cannot share their views in fear of persecution or isolation. Zimbabwe Secular Alliance is a group made up of freethinkers who are either Atheist, Agnostic or even religious who are advocating for the separation of church and state. They want a truly inclusive religious country where no one shoves their views or religion into someone else’s throat through legislative authority or using state machinery.
The government should be neutral on matters to do with religion and everyone should be free to hold their beliefs without fear of persecution or exclusion. We also aim to connect and coordinate a vibrant secular community and make a platform to discuss secular concerns while removing the stigma traditionally associated with non-religious people.
My name is Takudzwa Mazwienduna and I am an Atheist, although I used to be very religious. Reading the bible made me doubt, question, and eventually leave the religion of my childhood which was Christianity. I realize many Christians do not know more than 25% of what’s in that book, they memorize a few verses instead that resonate with their natural humanistic selves.
Like and follow our Facebook page: Zimbabwean Atheists, you can also join our Facebook group Zimbabwean Atheists, Agnostics and Free Thinkers and you can raise all your concerns about secularism. Thank you for reading.