Close down churches to create small haven in EA

A call to prayer or noise pollution? A worshiper mounts loud speakers outside a house of worship in Lagos, Nigeria. PHOTO | AP

Tuesday May 1, 2018

By Isaac Mwangi

East African News Agency, Arusha

Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s administration has once again ventured where his peers in the region wouldn’t dare, closing down more than 700 churches in Kigali and wondering aloud about their relevance.

If only others could muster the same courage, we would be firmly on the way to creating a heaven right here on earth.

Of course, there have been the expected complaints regarding freedom of worship from religious and rights groups.

Unfortunately, few are able to put matters into context or to relate the freedom of worship with other freedoms enjoyed by the whole society.

There ought to be room for discussions and negotiations, but the closure of the churches is definitely a step in the right direction.

Throughout East Africa, so-called houses of worship have turned into dens of crime, noise and annoyance.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. His administration has reportedly closed down 700 churches in Kigali for, among others, causing noise pollution. PHOTO | AGENCY

Many congregations have their church buildings smack in the middle of residential estates, where they conduct noisy worship sessions any time of the day or night without a care in the world for babies, the sick, students studying for examinations, or anyone wanting a quiet time of rest in their homes.

In fact, even fairly small congregations that would have no problem fitting in a small living room try to magnify their impact by putting loudspeakers outside their meeting premises, booming their worship services to all in the neighbourhood.

The cacophony of deafening sounds from competing churches can be deafening and try out the patience of even the most sane in such neighbourhoods.

It is telling that many of the rich pastors – or apostles, bishops, reverends, prophets and whatever other titles they fancy to call themselves – live in posh suburbs where noisy services and the beating of drums would not be tolerated by the rich elite comprising the who-is-who in society.

They however do not have any qualms visiting chaos on their congregants, perhaps with the promise that the more they make a “joyful noise” unto the Lord, the greater will be their reward in a heaven somewhere up in the sky.

Freedom of worship, then, should not be construed as a right that may infringe at will on other rights enjoyed by other people in society. These include the right to an environment devoid of noise pollution.

Al-Omeri mosque in Lod, Israel, a city of Arabs and Jews. A proposal backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would authorise the government to ban the use of loudspeakers by mosques and other houses of worship across the country. PHOTO | THE NEW YORK TIMES

But because many religious maniacs are convinced that they have a God-sanctioned mission to win lost souls using any means, they will misuse their own religious freedom by putting loudspeakers outside other people’s homesteads in the hope of winning them over with the messages and songs being blared in the neighbourhood. That cannot possibly be right.

In fact, even previously quiet public parks and spaces where one could previously visit for some quiet moments have not been spared.

Everywhere one turns, there is a self-styled preacher standing at the street corner shouting himself hoarse, with the obvious intermittent calls for cash offerings.

Indeed, while die-hard Christians are no doubt displeased with President Kagame, they conveniently forget that Islam and Christianity have always been spread by the sword.

Our grandfathers were coerced in many ways to give up their traditional ways of life and religion, their freedom of conscience violated.

Of course, two wrongs don’t make a right, but Christians (and Muslims too) will rarely acknowledge that their methods of spreading their faith have quite often been unethical and hurtful to the people they seek to change.

But there have been even more serious challenges of late. Fraud has become commonplace, with Christian leaders concocting miracles to enhance their statures and increase their following.

Gullible believers have been under a near-hypnotic spell not to question any teachings from their leaders, who abuse them at will.

Bow bells are also blamed for causing noise pollution. PHOTO | AGENCY

Sadly, inordinate resources are spent on building religious sanctuaries and keeping the priestly elite happy.

All this is done as a way of keeping God happy, with the purported assurance of a nice place in paradise as people struggle with the basic necessities of life on earth. But, really, should the construction of cathedrals take precedence over schools and other educational facilities for our children?

Should pastors be pampered as doctors and nurses are made to do with poor salaries and obsolete equipment?

The time has come when issues of religion must be tackled head-on without fear.

While freedom of worship has its place, there is also a place for common sense – and that place needs to be reasserted.

President Kagame has barely scratched the surface, but he has courageously given us a beginning point. We must all snatch that opportunity to deliver our societies from the demons of established religion and its many fallacies.

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