Monday, November 7, 2011

Amen in Africa

In my tiny corner of Africa, most everyone is Christian. Not being a Christian is equated with being the spawn of Satan himself and is a statement most often greeted with shock, horror and repeated attempts at conversion.Luckily, I just so happen to be a Christian. There is a Roman Catholic church in the village which I have attended a handful of times and thus, I am not too harassed by Bible-thumping locals. However, I am frequently alarmed and annoyed by life in this uber-Christian environment.

Most appalling is the intolerance displayed towards other faiths. Considering how recently the locals were converted to Christianity by missionaries, I find it bizarre how quick the people are to condemn others with different belief systems. As an American, people often attempt to bond with me over an assumed mutual hatred of Muslims. When they discover that I bear no ill will towards Muslims or Islam at all, people are stunned. "But, but it's bad! It's an evil religion," they stutter. They, of course, know nothing about Islam, but because it's not Christianity it is presumed to be something horrific and awful. If I told someone here that Muslims are cannibals who eat their own children, I would probably be believed as it conforms to the local notion of Christianity's inherent superiority. If I try to explain that Islam is a peaceful, mainstream, monotheistic faith practice, well, no such luck. No one wants to hear that.

Aside from the very un-Christian
attitude of hateful intolerance, the practice of other aspects of the Christian moral code are equally dubious. I recently attended the baptism of a friend's daughter. While I greatly enjoyed the ceremony and was honored to be invited, I could not help but marvel at the irony of the Catholic baptism of a child deliberately born outside of marriage. This is not at all uncommon. People have children before marriage to ensure they as a couple will be fertile, and also because marriages are just too expensive. This itself doesn't frustrate me, but when an unmarried man or woman with multiple partners and children comes along preaching all fire and brimstone, I get a little testy. If being a Christian is oh so important, I wish people would spend a little more time applying its principles and teachings to their own lives instead of shaking their fists in my face.

On the bright side, I do genuinely enjoy many religious services here in the village. While the oratory can be quite bombastic and veer quickly towards the absolutely ridiculous, the singing is always a treat. It's usually upbeat, and always loud and inclusive. You almost can't help but join in. I also like attending mass at the local church. While it's always said in seTswana and I understand very little, a Catholic mass is a Catholic mass all the world over. The service is so highly ritualistic that I'm able to follow right along using mostly muscle memory. It's comforting to participate in something so familiar even when I'm on the other side of the world.

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