Where faith is a healer

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Where faith is a healer

Post by admin » Mon Mar 28, 2005 7:36 pm

Where faith is a healer

The answers to Africa's problems increasingly lie with spirituality rather than politics

Madeleine Bunting
Monday March 28, 2005

Guardian

A recent Reader's Digest survey found that 31% of people thought Easter was sponsored by Cadbury's, while 48% had no idea what the religious festival was about. The 16-24 age group had the lowest level of knowledge. The survey is more evidence of how Britain has been comprehensively de-Christianised in the past 50 years.

What's interesting is how peculiar this phenomenon is in a global context and how blind we are to our peculiarity. As we have become increasingly wedded to our faithlessness, the world beyond western Europe has experienced an astonishing increase in religiosity. We have painfully and slowly been forced to acknowledge this in the US and in the Muslim world - and it completely bewilders the faithless. Secular Europe is losing an ability to speak a language - that of faith. It pretends that faith is simply a personal hobby. When the pretence doesn't work, it peers, fearfully, at a world all around it that has become profoundly foreign.

Nowhere is that more true than Africa. It is another part of the globe that urgently needs to be mapped in terms of its rapidly intensifying religiosity if we are to begin to understand what is happening there. Some argue that the intensification of religious identity and consciousness - evident from the Pakistani madrasas to the Baptist churches of the American south - finds its apogee in Africa. Christianity and Islam are expanding dramatically as they gather new converts, while African traditional religions are experiencing a renaissance.

While Africa may be struggling to integrate into the global economy, its integration into the global religions is gathering apace. The astonishing growth of Pentecostal churches throughout Africa is being driven by US evangelical missionaries and their wallets. Meanwhile, the Saudis and Kuwaitis are pouring huge sums into Muslim communities across Africa. Known Saudi aid transfers to the continent amount to $1bn a year (the real figure could be much higher), which is not far from the British level of aid. Yet this is rarely acknowledged in the west.

Some of the most original and arresting sections of the report by the Commission for Africa deal with religion. It argues that nationalism in Africa is exhausted, and that politicians and state structures have lost almost all credibility or legitimacy. Into the vacuum left by the failure of the nation state has stepped religion. This analysis in the report is largely Bob Geldof's doing. He says that grasping the significance of faith in Africa was "like a light going off in my head". Without understanding faith, he argues passionately, we can't begin to find development strategies that are going to work.

Geldof's position draws heavily on the work of a couple of development thinkers, and his travels in Africa to make a BBC series due to be broadcast in June. "There's not a single part of Africa where the spiritual is not vitally present. For Africans it's as real and tangible as the phone you're holding," he told me. "The spiritual is to be negotiated on a daily basis."

Christianity and Islam have three great strengths over the nation state in Africa. The first is trust. Whereas politics and politicians are synonymous with corruption and lying (in the Senegalese language of Wolof, politig means lying), faith organisations are trusted; they can gather tithes and build up institutions, investing for the benefit of the community. Whether it's mosques in Sierra Leone or churches in Nigeria, they have succeeded where the state has failed.

The second strength is that faith organisations deliver the goods - they account for a staggering 50% of all health and education in sub-Saharan Africa. They are far more effective than any state in reaching the most destitute, and their decentralised structures often prove far more resilient in conflict countries, such as in south Sudan.

In rapidly urbanising Africa, faith organisations are sometimes the only functioning form of institution and of social capital - which explains something of the appeal of the Pentecostalist churches mushrooming in shanty towns. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Catholic church even runs the only semblance of a national postal service.

Third, and crucially, Christianity and Islam offer what Ian Linden described in his paper for Geldof as "a language for change and redress". The issue in Africa often is how to mobilise people to demand and achieve change, and faiths provide the ideology and legitimisation for change in a way that politics no longer can - whether galvanising a community to set up a school or to run a health project.


nThe million-dollar question is whether the changes championed by faiths coincide with western development priorities. Often they do. For example, faith groups have a track record of conflict resolution and peace-making across many troubled regions. Or take another example: the Pentecostalist message of marital fidelity and no pre-marital sex could become a critical tool in the battle against HIV/Aids in urban Africa; imams and pastors have more chance of getting the public health education messages across than discredited politicians (which makes the Catholic church's position on condom use even more shockingly irresponsible).

But Linden has serious concerns on one key issue - how to increase the autonomy of women, which is vital to the achievement of a wide range of development goals such as infant mortality. The faiths, which all promote male authority, are so much "part of the problem, they can't be part of the solution".

Last, the aspect of religion in Africa that provokes most fear and ignorance to the secular European is traditional African religion. Geldof points out that talk of witchcraft, sorcerers and evil spirits is commonplace in Africa. To the rationalist secularist, such things as voodoo and evil spirits are deeply alienating. But Geldof pleads for greater understanding, arguing that we have to put aside the prejudices of imperialism and their manipulation by Hollywood. There is a profoundly benign dimension to traditional animism. The emphasis on evil is a recent distortion, as a system of beliefs struggles to interpret a world that has delivered such devastating suffering as Aids and the uncontrollable violence of AK-47s. For us, evil is little more than a metaphor, he says; to many Africans it is terrifyingly real.

Geldof has astutely blown open a much needed debate: economists and politicians have dominated the agenda of African development for half a century, and look where it's got us. Economic growth is not just about technical knowledge, but also about human behaviour - and that is rooted in beliefs such as what constitutes progress and development. Indeed, what is wealth? These questions are spiritual as much as material in Africa; if we appreciated more of the African understandings of these concepts, we might learn as much from Africa as Africa is expected to learn from the west.

http://www.commissionforafrica.org

m.bunting@guardian.co.uk

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

Gelin_

Re: Where faith is a healer

Post by Gelin_ » Tue Mar 29, 2005 4:57 pm

[quote]...Without understanding faith, he argues passionately, we can't begin to find development strategies that are going to work...[/quote]
I have serious doubt about that one. Africa's history seems to say otherwise.

gelin

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Post by admin » Tue Mar 29, 2005 8:24 pm

What do you mean, Gelin?

Gelin_

Post by Gelin_ » Wed Mar 30, 2005 9:44 am

The writer is trying to say - and passionately again - that they cannot even begin to find developement strategies that will work in africa without understanding faith</B>. It's completely false and historically inappropriate. Do they need an understanding of faith for the deterioration strategies that have worked and still continue to work? I don't think so. What is needed is an aknowledgment of humanity and human dignity, if that's possible at all.

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Post by admin » Wed Mar 30, 2005 10:10 am

[quote]Do they need an understanding of faith for the deterioration strategies that have worked and still continue to work?[/quote]
Gelin, I have noticed that you are unusually tight-lipped these days. You must be on to something really big. A genetically modified higher yield dry bean? ;-)

Come on! Tell us something about "the deterioration strategies that have worked and still continue to work" in Africa.

Either you do that, or I will have to issue a subpoena for your testimony in front of an Ann Pale congressional committee.

Speaker of This House,
Guy S. Antoine

P.S. I am surprised that you, of all people, would argue that an understanding of faith is not necessary for development strategies. It's not the premise that surprises me, but the person in this case who advances it. W ap chanje ideyoloji la sou nou sanzatann?

Gelin_

Post by Gelin_ » Wed Mar 30, 2005 10:45 am

[quote]...I am surprised that you, of all people, would argue that an understanding of faith is not necessary for development strategies. It's not the premise that surprises me, but the person in this case who advances it. W ap chanje ideyoloji la sou nou sanzatann?...[/quote]
Yeah, Guy, I am a bit busy these days but m pa yon mabouya non...:o)

1. m pap chanje ideoloji m ditou ditou monchè. M te di l deja: m kwè nan jezikri jan nouvo kontra a prezante l la - pwenba. Epi</B> m kanpe bò kote laverite nan domèn lasyans, lakilti, ekonomi, listwa elatriye.

2. An understanding of faith may be necessary</B> in some cases, but not in the current african context; I find it funny that the writer would say (with passion again) that they cannot even begin</B> to find development strategies that will work in africa without understanding faith. It's simply not true - historically. In that situation
, they would have to conduct some deep religious studies before digging one single well for fresh drinking water in a remote african village. They'd have to call a pan-african religious conference before providing the farmers with tools, seeds, fertilizers, irrigation systems... Or, they'd have to do a thorough analysis of all the 'sacred' sites in africa before arriving at the famous conclusion that the hungry need food, the sick need medicine, the homeless need shelter - you pick one.

3. In the past how many such studies were conducted before they could begin to find strategies that worked with the slave trade? Did they need an understanding of faith then? Someone says that what man destroys, man again will have to fix/repair.


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Post by admin » Wed Mar 30, 2005 1:30 pm

Thanks, Gelin. I understand and agree with the point that you are making here. But I had to get it out of you. That's hard work, man!

Faith is not only spiritual but it translates as well to cultural practices. I do think that an understanding of culture (including its spiritual attributes) is always important in order to maximize the efficiency of development strategies. I will cite a couple of examples (one spiritual, the other not) . However, there are some universal dimensions to human development that can always be addressed, such as : access to pure or potable water; access to information and general education; modern information and communications technologies; protection and conservation of the natural environment; food production and distribution channels; waste disposal and recycling; containment of epidemic diseases and affordable access to health care (particularly in the case of AIDS in sub-Saharan Afric
a). I agree with you that an understanding of faith is not necessary to begin to address those fundamental aspects of human development anywhere on the planet.

Here are a couple of examples where an understanding of faith or at least that of the general culture will enhance the effectiveness of the development strategies:1) Feeding the population

- A lot of people will say that fast food marketing has nothing to do with human development, and I tend to agree. However, it should be considered that this particular activity becomes part and parcel of the general economy. Consider that a few years ago, McDonald found itself in hot water when people from India discovered that the tasty veggie burgers the McDonald fast food chain had been feeding them were sprinkled with a "secret" spicy formulation which, as was later revealed, contained beef as one of its ingredients. You can imagine the uproar! Many of thos
e Indians, who do consider the cow as a divinity and never kill or (consciously) consume them, had been treating themselves to McDonald veggie burgers for ten years or more.

- After the recent and calamitous Asian tsunami, tons of canned food were distributed in remote villages to a starving population; yet, a lot of it went to waste as people simply would not touch them. Their diet consisted mostly, if not exclusively, of fresh vegetables. The idea of eating "cream corn" and other canned 'western processed' food was just too repulsive to overcome.

2) Solar cooking

- One of Haiti's greatest disasters if the disappearance of our tree cover. One factor (but we should stress, only one) contributing to this is the cutting of trees to produce charcoal for cooking. In one region of the country, a development strategy was put in place with a pilot distribution of stoves which used only solar energy. It was duly explained to our countrywomen how to use those s
toves for cooking. After a time period, data was collected as to the effectiveness of the new technology. It was discovered that in the majority of cases, the solar enerfy stoves were quickly set aside in favor of the traditional method of tree cutting, charcoal burning.

Why did not our brave Haitian farmers take advantage of this admirable new technology and stop once and for all this destructive practice of cutting trees for charcoal? There were a few reasons, such as this method of cooking required several hours of oversight (something our hard-working Haitian countrywomen can ill afford) ; it went counter to their cultural cooking practices (brase, goute, ajoute zepis, goute, brase ankò, goute...goute...goute) ; but above all, Haitians work in the field all day until sundown (there goes the power) and are not exactly thrilled to come home to a cold supper, their main or unique meal of the day. I realize that all of the examples I gave have something to do with food
, which tells you where my mind is at (I wonder if Halle Berry and Garcelle Beauvais can cook too... hmm!) But the larger point that I want to make, if you extrapolate to non food-related development areas, such as family planning, you realize how much development strategies can depend on underlying factors such as faith and culture for effectiveness.

Gelin_

Post by Gelin_ » Wed Mar 30, 2005 4:11 pm

[quote]Thanks, Gelin. I understand and agree with the point that you are making here. <U>But I had to get it out of you</U>. That's hard work, man![/quote]
M ap fè sispann bay moun lavman, tande...:o)

[quote]Faith is not only spiritual but it translates as well to cultural practices.[/quote]
The book I love says that faith without work is dead - that is useless and unreal.

The examples you gave are very good. In the case of the haitian farmer with the solar cooking experience, one thing was probably lacking in that pilot study. It was an appreciation of the changes in the family routine that the new technology was going to bring. As you know, people resent change (look how hard it is for Haiti to embrace the democratic way). Had they provided a way for the farmer to be able to store part of that energy to warm up his meal at the end of the day, it's likely that he wou
ld have embraced the new way.

[quote]if you extrapolate to non food-related development areas, such as family planning, you realize how much development strategies can depend on underlying factors such as faith and culture for effectiveness.[/quote]
Yes, but not for the very basic needs as you just mentioned.

gelin

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