Thu, 15 Jun 2023 Feature Article

The Deadly Side of Faith

The Deadly Side of Faith

As Kenya’s President William Ruto continues his touring of neighboring African nations to promote the deepening of political and economic ties, his nation is still in shock over the revelation that a pastor in Kenya encouraged hundreds of his flock to starve themselves to death to fast track their rendezvous with Jesus. The macabre details of this Kenyan religious suicide cult are reminiscent of a similar suicide cult in the Caribbean state of Guyana in 1978.

Kenya and Guyana are not alone in this very unfortunate religious phenomenon. In the US in 1997, deputies of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department discovered the bodies of 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult. This suicide pact coincided with the approach of Comet Hale-Bopp. Cult members seemed to have embraced the idea that the appearance of the comet was a harbinger that their graduation from the human evolutionary level was at hand.

The Order of the Solar Temple, headquartered in Switzerland with a presence in Canada, was also responsible for another pernicious religious suicide pact among some of its members. In 1994, after allegedly ritually sacrificing a three-month-old boy suspected of being the Anti-Christ, forty-eight members of the cult were found dead with gun shot wounds to their heads.

Religious suicide pacts are not limited to cults with a Christian orientation. Masada in Jewish history points back to a sad chapter where over nine hundred Jews chose suicide rather than surrender to the Romans who had besieged the fortress of Masada. It is believed that only two women and five children survived the mass suicide at Masada. Similar to the mass suicide of Jews at Masada was the practice of Jauhar or self-immolation in which Indian women and children would throw themselves into a bonfire rather than submitting to be raped or enslaved by invading armies.

Buddhist monks also practiced self-immolation as a protest tactic during the Vietnam war. Prior to the infamous advice of Bartholomew de las Casas, many of the indigenous people of the New World embraced mass suicide over servitude. It is also believed that some enslaved Africans drowned themselves in the belief that their souls would find their way back to Africa.

In the era of the clash of civilizations, suicide bombers have become an explosive part of our landscape. These bombers, armed with their deadly payload of destruction and the firm belief that they are fast tracking themselves to paradise and a super abundance of beautiful virgins, think nothing of ending their own lives and the lives of those within the explosive blast range.

Religion no doubt was a vital component in most if not all these instances of mass or individual suicide. The power of religion is on full display as men and women surrendered their very existence in the belief that they were moving on to something better. Members of the Heaven Gate Cult, the Solar Temple, The People’s Temple and the Muslim suicide bombers all viewed their suicide death as a gateway to a higher form of existence.

There is a certain fiendish logic to suicide if death is perceived as a gateway to something better. If to be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord, then this provides Christians and other religionists who share a similar death philosophy, all the incentive they need to pull the trigger on themselves or maneuver others to pull the trigger for them.

Maybe this is what our great ancestor John Henrik Clarke meant when he told us that that most religions were murder cults. Since heaven and hell begins at death, religions were therefore heavily invested in getting people to both destinations. For some strange reason, religious authorities down through history seemed more motivated to do booking for hell by sending millions of witches, heretics, and pagans to that destination amidst a fiery inferno called the auto-de-fe and by all other available means.

Lacking a satisfactory justification for suicide most religionists are quite content to manipulate others to push them towards their desired destination. Religionists will deliberately assume a position which will make them targets for the animus of the masses. They will insist that their position is demanded by their faith and that they are willing to die defending their position. In communist countries and in other non-Christian communities, many Christians have suffered martyrdom which incidentally is what many were hoping for so they could be absent in the body but present with the Lord.

Conservative religionists seem to up to this old game of martyrdom in the modern context. As the world moves away from the old, prudish, Victorian moral order, conservative Christians are digging in and doubling down on their intolerance and prejudice. Notwithstanding the generous amounts of cherry-picking engaged in by conservative religionists, many insist that they are non-negotiables in the moral arena. A coalition is forming as conservative religionists prepare to make their last stand against a world that has moved on to something that is ethically superior to anything ever envisaged by religion. Our world seems to be on a collision course with the deadly side of faith.

Lenrod Nzulu Baraka is the founder of Afro-Caribbean Spiritual Teaching Center and the author of Oreos, Coconuts, and Negropeans: Rediscovering Our African Identity.