Religion: truth and falsehood

2015-05-29 13:42
Congregants of the End Times Disciples Ministries try to keep warm after the 'prophet' supposedly lowers the temperature. (<a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/End-Times-Disciples-Ministries/351175848381100?sk=timeline" target="_blank">End Times D

Congregants of the End Times Disciples Ministries try to keep warm after the 'prophet' supposedly lowers the temperature. (End Times D

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SOUTH Africans must avoid becoming immunised to new, alarming news of yet another so-called prophet making extraordinary, unscrupulous demands of his followers.

The latest is Pastor Penuel Tshepo of the End Times Disciples Ministries in Gauteng, revealed on Facebook urging followers, women included, to take off their clothes and lie on the floor of the church while he sits or stands on them, ostensibly to impart blessings. He has also persuaded congregants to believe he has commanded the spirit of snakes to enter them, so that they writhe on the floor (The Witness, May 25). While this happens, he calls out “God is with us; to God be the Glory!” claiming these signs and wonders are evidence of divine power, and will deliver them from evil.

It should not surprise readers that Pastor Tshepo regards Pastor Daniel, recently reported to have urged disciples to eat grass and drink petrol to prove God’s power to protect from evil, as his mentor.

The End Times Ministries is an evangelical church preaching that we are living in the final hours before the imminent return of Christ, followed by judgment; therefore the urgent necessity to return to the truth of the New Testament, particularly the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus, rejecting the “false religion and lies” preached by the likes of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Congregants are urged to purchase car stickers which will “break the yoke of the devil”.

A debate has ensued on Facebook about the morality of these seemingly fatuous demands on disciples, but many so-called followers have expressed alarmingly confused justifications for the validity of these claims.

One cannot but feel sympathy for the many desperate, demoralised people, experiencing a sense of hopelessness that their life conditions are unlikely to improve significantly, turning to religion in an attempt to gain what they desire. Many believers come from poor, dispossessed and semi-literate communities, where the pronouncements of religious leaders are generally accepted as possessing unquestionable authority.

Too many self-styled leaders, accorded near-divine status, proclaim obviously dangerous untruths, urging followers to participate in activities inimical to their wellbeing. Blindly trusting preposterous claims of miracles by certain pastors, such as raising the dead, assurances of deliverance from evil, buying “holy oil” guaranteed to cure all manner of diseases (especially Aids), is to espouse dangerous untruths, generating fear and superstition.

Although more than 85% of South Africans claim affiliation to Christianity, it would appear that religion, rather than creating a robust, ethical social fabric, is failing dismally.

This should alert us to the fact that religion has power not exclusively to enhance lives, but also enormous potential for evil. Religious leaders promising material riches and success, and miraculous cures from physical and psychological ailments, create false expectations.

Why does religion, universally expected to have positive, healing effects, so frequently become destructive, misanthropic and inhumane?

Why are so many unable to distinguish truth from falsehood? Are they unaware that the Christian Bible warns against false prophets — wolves in sheep’s clothing?

South Africans have had tragic experience of false prophets who misled their followers to believe in the superiority of the white race, resulting in appalling discrimination against all other racial and cultural groups in this land. Apartheid — all supported by biblical testimony.

Most religions revere an omnipotent divinity, committed to the wellbeing of all creation, particularly humans. Most religions also believe humans are flawed, alienated from their divinely bestowed potential. The troubled, estranged self searches for integration and healing — known as salvation. Salvation fundamentally means deliverance from dysfunction and distress — transformation, regeneration, a path to spiritual wholeness.

Authentic religion offers guidance and support to strive for spiritual goodness — lifting the spirit beyond physical, material desires, to promote universal wellbeing, cultivating altruism, compassion, succour for the suffering.

Followers must ask critical questions, judge leaders by the fruits of their actions, recognise that love and truth are central to the enlightened life of the truly authentic teacher. The life of believers should be distinguished by attempting to heal the ills of the world, working for social and economic justice, spreading tolerance and inclusivity irrespective of cultural, racial, religious, sexual differences, respecting all creation, for the wellbeing of the entire planet.

We need to look around us, take an interest in the world — at what causes suffering and devastation, and ought to be avoided or wrestled against; at what creates peace, joy, goodness, viewing the universe as a wondrous, precious home, rather than a threatening, hostile environment.

Having a grasp of reality, truth as encountered through everyday experience, can set us free from prejudice, fear, ignorance, superstition, being manipulated by the ruthless and greedy misinterpreting the meaning of religion

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