Under the Neem Tree

Climate Change And Religious Hysteria

  • PublishedMarch 22, 2010

Pat Robertson, the American “evangelist”, sought to lay the blame for the recent Haiti earthquake on a “pact with the devil” (he called it voodoo) which the people of Haiti had made to gain their freedom from France. Really? What about the tsunami in Asia, the Katrina floods in New Orleans, USA, and the earthquakes in China and Chile? The apocalyptic template is one of the reasons why the Copenhagen climate talks counted so much to the world. But alas, they couldn’t deliver.

The story is told of how two Ghanaian old ladies emerged from church one Sunday morning in June 1967. During the service, the minister had asked for prayers for the people of Israel, who were under attack. “Akosua,” one lady turned to the other, “what are we going to do?” “Do about what?” the other asked, perplexed. “Didn’t you hear the priest? Jerusalem is about to be destroyed!” “Oh that…”

“Is that all you’re going to say about Jerusalem being destroyed?” “Well, what do you want me to do? My son deceived me one day and said he was going to Kyebi. Before I knew it, he was sending me allotments from somewhere called Burma.”

“Oh, you got yours, did you? When my son came back, he said he had been sending me something called allaatment. I never got anything. Only letters asking me to look after his girlfriend. It wasn’t as if she was beautiful, either. She had scrawny legs!” “Oh, men and their choices when it comes to women. Hmm. I shall not go into that!” “My son went to fight in Burma and he never came back. I am not about to ask you to go and enlist to fight a war – at your age!” “Oh it’s all right. Laugh if you will. We all know you are a spring chicken yourself. That is why your husband has married the palm-wine calabash and can’t sleep one night unless he has given it a kiss…”

“If we had not just received God’s blessing from the priest…” “Yes, I was coming to that. You and I have been paying our church dues regularly – even if we allow a month or two to pass before sending it in.” “Speak for yourself. I pay mine, without allowing even a week to pass between dues.” “Boastfulness will get you nowhere. Even God Himself did not create all the fingers of the hand to be equal in length.” “So if I pay my dues on time, I shouldn’t say so? You use more money on buying foul-smelling tobacco than I use in buying ‘black’ to polish my sandals. How can you have any left over to pay your church dues?” “Ho, it isn’t that.

Sometimes my son who is in Ammrika tells me he has sent me money when he hasn’t done so. If you ask him again, he says he gave some paper called a kyerk to a man to send me, and when the man went to cash the kyerk, there was no money in the account, because he had sat on the kyerk for so long that my son had forgotten about it and spent the money in the bank on something else. So he had to issue another kyerk and then the man coming over with the money cancelled his flight because his friend died in some place called Sikaago. These boys have so many stories to tell when it comes to money. What do you expect?”

“Ah, they know we Ghanaians are miracle workers. We can exist on air. They think everything is always like it was before they flew away.” “Hmmm. As for this money trouble, if we continue to talk about it, we shall never finish. Well, you have borne out what I was saying. We have tried, by messages sent personally or by telephone call where you shout ‘hello hello’ and get no answer back, and before you know it, your money is finished…We have tried to get money to pay our dues. We have also been coming to morning service without fail, in addition to ordinary service.”

“Don’t forget the ‘Singing Band’. We have to come to practise hymn-singing, even when we have just eaten fufuo and are so full that we just want to go to bed.”

“And then, there are harvest festivals. We have to go to the farm and bring our most precious crops and sell them and put the money into the coffers of the church.” “Hahahaha. That is what made that man Kofi Boah ask whether anyone thought he could go to the Presbyterian church with his mouth only? Kofi Boah said: ‘You will pay afenhia tuor (annual dues), the asafo tuor (church membership fee) and adidituor (contribution to communal feasts).’ ”

“So when did Kofi Boah become sober enough to go to the Presbyterian Church to learn all this? He’d become drunk so often that all he needed to get drunk was to smell a palm-wine calabash!” “Hahahahaha.” “You can be so funny. He got drunk out of thin air?” “So long as it had been flavoured with palm-wine fumes!” “Hahahahahaha!”

“Anyway, as I was saying, we’ve discharged all our duties to the church faithfully. But now that we are approaching the time when we shall leave this place of suffering and go to Jerusalem, our Heavenly Home of Eternal Peace, or as the Bible tells us…”  “Let me quote the text! I too learnt it by heart. Do you think only you have still got a head on your shoulders? It says: ‘And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.’ ” “Ahaah?”

“I remember it! It continues: ‘And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.’ ” “Ei, heor! Heor! Heor! Let me clap for you – you have said it all! Yes, they say that … They say that that place, too, is going to be destroyed!” “It’s not fair!” the other old lady assented. “Now that we are going there, it’s to be destroyed? All our good deeds have been done in vain!”

This story illustrates a phenomenon very common indeed in Africa: many Christians on the continent take what the Bible says about almost anything quite literally. It is therefore extremely worrying that climate change is already changing the African topography irreparably. There have already been very frightening pictures coming out of Kenya and other parts of East Africa in recent months.

Apart from the suffering of the people, and the dying of the cattle and other livestock by which they measure their economic wellbeing, disaster is also staring them in the face in the form of the loss of the wild animals that have made East Africa a tourist paradise. One of the most beautiful creatures in the world, the giraffe, for example, is already perched on the razor’s edge of extinction. Estimates of the number lost already are as high as 95%.

If climate change makes things worse – as it most undoubtedly will do – it isn’t only nature that will take its toll on the African people. The many “prophets” who have set up “charismatic” churches all across Africa, and who already prey economically on the poor and the rich alike in Africa, will redouble their psychological assault on the people. Already, they charge “tithes” from their poor church members to – especially in Nigeria but also elsewhere – buy themselves executive jet planes and build huge mansions for themselves. They can use Biblical quotations to explain away their wealth without blinking, if challenged. “God wants you to be rich – as He has made me rich,” they preach. They don’t mention that their riches come from their gullible members.

As climate change takes its toll, they will read passages to their congregations from the Bible, such as this from Mark 13:14-28: “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be, then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. And let him who is on the housetop not go down, or enter in, to get anything out of his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak. But woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days! … Those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of creation, until now, and never shall.”

Of course, give a nebulous passage like that to a practised orator, and give him concrete evidence on the ground with which to illustrate his literal interpretation of “abomination of desolation”, and you have a wolf and a flock of sheep which he can pick off at will. An American “evangelist”, Pat Robertson, even sought to lay the blame for the recent Haiti earthquake on a “pact with the devil” (he called it voodoo) which the people of Haiti made to gain their freedom from the French!

The apocalyptic template is one of the reasons why the Copenhagen talks counted so much to the world. But alas, they couldn’t deliver. So, if we go on like this, we can consider that the countdown for Armageddon has begun not only in Africa but all over the world. In the past decade alone, any preacher can – off the top of his head – reel off a series of major disasters: the tsunami in Asia, the Katrina floods in the USA, the earthquakes in China, the aforementioned one in Haiti and most recently, Chile – as disturbing warnings to humanity. We will have brought it all on our own heads, if apocalypse happens, the prophets will say – with some justification. For if you live in somebody’s house (God’s Earth) and you don’t heed His warnings on how to behave but over-carbonise the place, then where do you stand?

Written By
Cameron Duodu

Cameron Duodu (born 24 May 1937) is a UK-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor and broadcaster. After publishing a notable novel, The Gab Boys, in 1967, Duodu went on to a distinguished career as a journalist and editorialist.

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