Faith in a secular society or kleinfonteins?

2013-05-31 04:45

WHY DOES GROSS IGNORANCE plague humanity in the 21st century despite amazing advances in knowledge? We live in a world where the mystical cure-all elements in rhino horn – something the experts say is no different from the composition of your fingernails – is believed by some to cure a person from petty aliments such as a hangover to more serious ailments such as cancer (start chewing); where even the ‘educated’ believe that a cheating sportsman was tricked by the guile of Satan; where some idiots believe that if you stare at the sun long enough you will see angels.

Where presumably sexually repressed young men, for the price of being a martyr, are offered the gifts of young virgins awaiting them in heaven; where floods and storms are the work of the divine displaying his anger towards those states supporting same sex marriage; where young girls are forbidden to go to school because the holy scriptures proclaim that women are inferior to men; where a son dying from HIV Aids can be cured by faith in a church opposed to the use of ARVs; where (levitating) magicians, tricksters and confidence men are viewed as living Gods; a world where many global leaders believe that we need to call on the scriptures of three tribes of superstitious sheepherders to help us craft the ethics of the 21st century; and traditional leaders ignorant in the advances in science – and believers in superstitious nonsense – have authority over the lives of many people.

Can we at least stop the torture of our young men with cruel ancient rituals meant to represent a ‘spiritual’ rite of passage to manhood? Do we really have to put young girls through the indignity of virginity parades to prove their virtue? How ironic, absurd, no how hypocritical it is that science (on site medical staff in Mpumalanga) must play second fiddle to backward thinking traditional leaders imprisoned by their past, who thrust our youth into hypothermia and fatal blood loss.

Surely, we no longer need to rely on hopeless aspirations tied to baseless dogmas. The rite of passage into adulthood for young men and women today is passing their grade 12 with mathematics and science, so that they can enter our universities and receive the education required to manage the modern institutions responsible for uplifting our communities. Like it or not, ‘spirituality’ and meaning in life will be found in these organizations. Many of our new heroes will be made here. Many of our legacies will also be made here. This is where the new ‘spiritual’ moments will occur. They are no longer in the past, not in the mountains or deserts, not in pre-war battle rituals, it will not be found in the so-called ‘spirit’ of our ancestors, not among the cows and sheep, not by the voices of fires and skies, and in all likelihood not in the afterlife. It is here and now, in the society we are building.

Science at least insists that any claim to truth that we make must be supported by evidence. That if the knowledge we create is to become part of our belief system, then it must also appeal to reason. That creating new knowledge often means having the energy and courage to doubt, and to inquire earnestly, why we accept the traditional body of knowledge, when it seems not to be confirmable by sensible facts. And despite its weaknesses science is still the best system to free us from the stranglehold of myth, superstition and other limiting traditional beliefs (scientists who mix personal beliefs and ambitions with science are not exempt from stupidity).

Many traditions in South Africa remain unconnected to the day-to-day problems of modern life. Myths and dogmas continue to hold us back, perhaps with greater obstinacy, than colonialism and the apartheid system. What is ironic is how adept most of us have recently become, at embracing the superficial habits of the West – such as their rapacious and ostentatious consumption habits – even as we continue to cling to our archaic traditions (nice Armani, chief!). So far we have all but abandoned humanity’s most potent force connected to our destiny; a force that explains to a large extent the West’s dominance for many centuries and now some countries in the East: Science.

We can still adapt valuable aspects of our traditions into forms of creative expression and cultural enrichment – such as art, dance, poetry and music for their important aesthetic and symbolic value – and perhaps a few of our indigenous knowledge can actually contribute directly to science. And this can provide us with a sense of pride and deeper meaning, which may somehow connect us to what is in truth, a convoluted heritage. How impoverished it must be, for those who placate their vanity, by dismissing a more fascinating story of our origins and shared ancestry, as told to us by the science of DNA for instance.

Meanwhile the views of some of our political leaders and even respectable elders, blinded by a misguided form of romanticism (or is it votes), continue to show a lack of imagination in resolving the problems presented by many of our controversial traditions.

Nevertheless, now is the time for science and rationality to pave the way for us to ‘unlearn’ many of our grotesque traditions so that we can fulfill our utmost potential as individuals. Now is the time for science to provide the main source of intellectual material for solving the problems of the day and guiding our future thoughts and actions.

Would that not be divine?

Or will we be better off enclosed in fictitious beliefs and isolating identities in our own little kleinfonteins?

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