Becoming an illiberal

Dec 14th, 2007 | By | Category: Ireland

A Nigerian pastor in Dublin told a couple whose car had been broken into that this had been the work of Satan.

Really? Not the work of some pathetic, emaciated drug addict looking for a few quid for the next fix? Or some wee gurrier whose mammy didn’t know where he was?

No-one seems to condemn such comments, nor does anyone seem to question claims made by the various ‘new’ churches. There is an odd sort of racism in our attitudes that says that different groups of people may be judged by different standards. There would be loud voices of liberal protest if Ulster Protestants came and established themselves in Dublin and made such claims, but in the name of diversity we seem to allow every sort of fundamentalism and superstition to creep in.

A report from Nigeria by Tracy McVeigh in last Sunday’s Observer outlines the frightening mindset behind what is claimed to be Christianity . The report begins:

Evangelical pastors are helping to create a terrible new campaign of violence against young Nigerians. Children and babies branded as evil are being abused, abandoned and even murdered while the preachers make money out of the fear of their parents and their communities.

Almost everyone goes to church here. Driving through the town of Esit Eket, the rust-streaked signs, tarpaulins hung between trees and posters on boulders, advertise a church for every third or fourth house along the road. Such names as New Testament Assembly, Church of God Mission, Mount Zion Gospel, Glory of God, Brotherhood of the Cross, Redeemed, Apostalistic. Behind the smartly painted doors pastors make a living by ‘deliverances’ – exorcisms – for people beset by witchcraft, something seen to cause anything from divorce, disease, accidents or job losses. With so many churches it’s a competitive market, but by local standards a lucrative one.

But an exploitative situation has now grown into something much more sinister as preachers are turning their attentions to children – naming them as witches. In a maddened state of terror, parents and whole villages turn on the child. They are burnt, poisoned, slashed, chained to trees, buried alive or simply beaten and chased off into the bush.

Some parents scrape together sums needed to pay for a deliverance – sometimes as much as three or four months’ salary for the average working man – although the pastor will explain that the witch might return and a second deliverance will be needed. Even if the parent wants to keep the child, their neighbours may attack it in the street.

McVeigh’s in-depth report reveals a situation where the Christian Gospel has become seriously bad news for thousands of defenceless children. It is hard to reconcile the Jesus encountered in the New Testament with the preaching of the Nigerian pastors.

Bullying and manipulative techniques may be tolerated in Nigeria, in the name of political correctness and tolerance, we are in danger of allowing them here. Sometimes holding onto liberal values means that we must become illiberal, otherwise the very tolerance and diversity we claim to uphold become opportunities for oppression and exploitation.

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