How to win a fair lady
A colleague directed me to an interesting piece this past week by Sam Harris titled “The Problem with Religious Moderates”.
The piece I read was reproduced on the Belief Net website. It was first published in Harris’ 2004 book, “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason”, which I gather from my (inadequate) reading of its synopsis is some sort of mish-mash religio-equivalent of Fukuyama’s “The End of History” and Huntington’s “Clash of Civilisations”.
Allow me to quote from it at some length:
“People of faith fall on a continuum: some draw solace and inspiration from a specific spiritual tradition, and yet remain fully committed to tolerance and diversity, while others would burn the earth to cinders if it would put an end to heresy.
“There are, in other words, religious moderates and religious extremists, and their various passions and projects should not be confused.
“However, religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma: they imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others…
“Many religious moderates have taken the apparent high road of pluralism, asserting the equal validity of all faiths, but in doing so they neglect to notice the irredeemably sectarian truth claims of each.
“As long as a Christian believes that only his baptised brethren will be saved on the Day of Judgment, he cannot possibly ‘respect’ the beliefs of others, for he knows that the flames of Hell have been stoked by these very ideas and await their adherents even now.
“Muslims and Jews generally take the same arrogant view of their own enterprises …”
In essence, for people of a religious bent the world is Manichean.
There is wrong and there is right, there is black and there is white, there is no fine line between truth and error: the two are poles apart.
In short, everyone of a religious persuasion is a fundamentalist.
Despite this, religious “moderates” would have us believe that the different persuasions can peacefully co-exist in mutual respect (even though deep inside all we feel is pity for the poor suffering fools who cling to beliefs that are outrageous or inadequate just because they are not the same as ours).
I like to think of the Church in terms akin to those of a political establishment.
There is right and there is wrong, there is truth and there is error. Everything is so very Manichean and there are no thousand shades of grey.
And perhaps the most effective politicians – like or detest their ideology – have been those fundamentalists who are unambiguous about what it is they want to achieve: Shaka, Napoleon, Hitler, FD
Roosevelt, Churchill, Mao, Nasser, PW Botha, Mahathir Mohamad and Mugabe.
Take Botha for example, that Bright Star of Apartheid.
He is said to have told his cabinet in 1985, as published by The Sunday Times in August of that year, “We do not pretend like other whites that we like blacks.
“The fact that, blacks look like human beings and act like human beings (does) not necessarily make them sensible human beings.
“Hedgehogs are not porcupines and lizards are not crocodiles simply because they look alike.
“If God wanted us to be equal to the blacks, he would have created us all of a uniform colour and intellect. But he created us differently: whites, blacks, yellow, rulers and the ruled.”
It was reported that he opened that address with these words:
“Pretoria has been made by the white mind for the white man. We are not obliged even the least to try to prove to anybody and to the blacks that we are superior people.”
Let’s face it: apartheid was successful because it had people like Botha running it: men who were not ashamed to say where they stood and to act on that.
In fact, so successful were they that today no pretence has been made in South Africa about whose country that is. The images of Marikana tell the whole story, and you can get a clearer view of the situation if you stand atop the tallest tower in Sandton and look down on Alexandra.
It was almost the same with Ian Smith and Southern Rhodesia. Of course, Smith did not have much of an intellect and he was more pig-headed than he was unambiguous. But there was something to his “not-in-a-thousand-years declaration”.
It took in-ambiguity from a certain Mugabe to remove the stains of Rhodesiana from Zimbabwe’s agriculture and mining sectors.
Look at Namibia and you still see the defining marks of the ideological clarity of apartheid and German oppression before that: sprawling estates are home to gentrified folk, mostly of a distinctly European ancestry; while blacks crowd in hovels in Katutura. This is the situation you find prevailing across just about every single bit of Africa.
The tenacity of the colonial project is evident, the clarity of the neo-colonial project is overwhelming.
Do we then expect to undo these and give our people a better life with lack of clarity? Why do we apologise for seeking to empower our people?
When many of our leaders speak of empowerment, they do it in hushed tones and with stern warnings about “investor confidence” and “credit ratings”. They do so with strident calls for us to be moderate in our demands for a better life. If only they could be more strident in empowering the people! As in religious persuasion, there is little or no room for moderates in post-colonial political projects.
Boldness and clarity are needed if poverty is going to be tackled in Africa.
It is a tough job and requires men and women of steel. Inasmuch as faint heart never won a fair lady, feeble ideology never won a battle.