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DOUBTING THOMAS. Dare to question Issue 4: May 24-30 2014. “Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” ? Albert Einstein

Sata, God and Rule of Fear Kingsley Kaswende, writing in the May edition of Bulletin and Record magazine, discusses the climate of fear that has pervaded various circles in Zambia.

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e writes that government officials fear President Sata “more than they fear the actual cobra after which he is nicknamed.” The officials are afraid to talk or even to make decisions, making it difficult for journalists to obtain information for publication.

don't believe.

Kaswende adds: “It is not government officials who are frightened either. Business people, including investors, are frightened of the possible repercussions of displeasing those in authority; non-citizen residents watch as others in their ranks are deported for unexplained reasons; people in cafes, restaurants and clubs often look over their shoulders before openly expressing controversial opinions. Why? Are there spies and informers everywhere?” Kaswende is quite candid is his assessment of the situation, but he omits to draw attention to the possible correlation between the existing fear factor and Christianity. Fear is a visibly recurring theme in the Bible. We are told to fear God if we wish to be wise (Proverbs 9:10); if we are to receive His mercy (Luke 1:50); if we are to receive His protection (2 Kings 17:39) and if we wish to be perfectly holy (2 Corinthians 7:1).

God uses fear to ensure unquestioning compliance and obedience. It's a method also favoured by those world leaders who claim to be avowedly religious. Soon after assuming office, Sata announced that he would rule Zambia on the basis of the Ten Commandments. God takes any breach of His commandments severely, warning that those that disobey will be put to death (Leviticus 24:16). Given the strong mental stranglehold that Christian belief has on most Zambians, it should be obvious why many Zambians are afraid of crossing Sata's line with his assumed position of custodian and executioner of God's commandments. They perceive Sata as God's chief spy and informer. Disobey him, and you have disobeyed God. For the majority, the consequences of disobedience are too ghastly to contemplate. It's not coincidental that many world leaders who profess to be religious also tend to be dictatorial (Hitler, Pinochet, Obiang -Nguema, Kamuzu Banda, Mobutu, Mugabe, etc). Being a devout Christian himself and a wily political strategist, Sata knows too well the Bible's intimidating influences on Zambians and he is using this to his political advantage.

Ecclesiastes 12:13 even says that our only duty as humans is to fear God. In fact, it appears that belief in God entirely hinges on fear. Fear of death. Fear The rule of fear is, indeed, upon us but for how long of punishment. Fear of going to hell. Fear of being shall we tolerate this Bible-inspired tyranny before labeled a Satanist. Fear of being ostracised if you we free ourselves?

God's Own Politicians It seems God is never short of people to represent him even in politics. While President Sata is, presumably, the government's chief enforcer of God's Ten Commandments, the opposition ranks have their own God squad, too: Father Frank Bwalya, Dr Danny Pule, Dr Nevers Mumba and Elias Chipimo, Jr.

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hese figures are never shy of publicly proclaiming their faith in God and quoting the Bible whenever God, presumably, instructs them to speak to us. But what, precisely, would a Pule presidency or Bwalya presidency or Mumba presidency or Chipimo presidency entail? What would they do in the name of God if and when Zambians (no, God) elected them

as our republican president? Pule recently announced that, if he became president, he would make Bible studies compulsory in all schools, presumably to promote Christian morality, although we wonder whether Pule's widely-publicised litany of sex scandals is an example of Christian morality which our school children should emulate.

Given what we know or have heard or read about these men, would their presidency be something to celebrate about or to makes us gnash our teeth? Would these “God-fearing” politicians be answerable to the people since they would, presumably, be elected by God directly and since God is the only authority they fear? What do you think?

If You Care About The Truth, Don't Make Weird Claims Doubting Thomas has noted with happiness the growing international outrage against the abduction of more than 200 Nigerian schools girls by the extremist Islamic group, Boko Haram. This episode demonstrates, once again, the dark side of religion although other Moslems have been quick to denounce Boko Haram for “misrepresenting” Islam.

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n Zambia, the campaign to release the abducted girls is being led by Zambia Cares, an alliance of political and religious leaders, government, civil society, the private sector, media practitioners and the UN System.

It was during a solidarity rally organised by Zambia Cares on May 17 at Lusaka's civic centre that First Lady Christine Kaseba spoke for the first time to press for the release of the girls (Where is President Sata on this?). According to Sunday Mail, Kaseba delivered an emphatic speech, urging her listeners to take a moment for individual prayers on behalf of the Nigerian girls. “Pray, tweet, send that twitter message to God, send that SMS to God,” she said. Kaseba's participation in the campaign is commendable. It helps to raise Zambia's concern about the issue given her profile. However, we doubt the efficacy of Kaseba's proposed solution. Prayer doesn't work. We are yet to see anything that ever resulted from prayer and that doesn't have a natural or rational explanation. Without underrating the gravity of the matter, a call to prayer is a call to fantasy. The abduction of the girls is real and so it needs a real solution. If, on the other hand, Kaseba merely tried to grab media attention by making such an irrationally religious call, she surely got it: three of the four Sunday papers had her as their lead story, with a photo of her carrying a placard with the campaign's hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. But no one in their right senses would accept that it's possible to tweet or SMS God. If it's possible, we ask Kaseba to provide us with God's Twitter handle and SMS line so that we can also contact Him. On which mobile phone network is God? If Kaseba can't supply such information, then we will be entitled to conclude that she was merely hallucinating about a supernatural agency whose supposed existence and powers are more imaginary than real. If one cares about the truth, the rational thing to do is to avoid making weird and untruthful claims. But we will let Kaseba prove her claim. We are waiting.


Church, Unbelief and Being Zambian “The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God'” – Psalm 14:1 –NIV What church do you go to? It's a fairly simple question, right? Along with “what's your name?” and “what tribe are you?”, this is one of the questions that I'm frequently asked in Zambia. The thing about this question is that the person asking assumes that they are talking to a fellow believer. I'm a black Zambian, so the automatic assumption is that I'm a Christian. Should I say I'm not, the only other possibility people will consider is that I'm Muslim but even that thought can leave some Christians mystified.

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t strikes me that in my several years of living in a secular Western country where the majority of people are Christians, not a single person asked me what church I attended or what Christian denomination I belonged to. People only ever asked if I was religious. They didn't make assumptions beforehand but instead considered that I could belong to one of many world religions or even that I may not belong to any religion at all. Of course, most Zambians are Christians and official statistics would have you believe that everyone else belongs to minority religions. Atheists, agnostics, sceptics, freethinkers or humanists do no factor in at all. It's as if we are all expected to be Christian first before we can qualify to be called Zambian! Yet the hard reality is that there are some Zambians that are apathetic towards religion or do not subscribe to any religion at all. Indeed, such a group is a tiny minority but we do exist and there are more of us than you realise. When you ask us what church we go to, we may simply say that we just don't go to church or haven't yet found the right church for us. I know a couple of non-believers who will attend the occasional church service to keep up appearances. In my case, I last attended a service because my siblings were getting confirmed and it was important to them that I attend despite the fact that they know about my godlessness.

When you ask us what church we go to most of us non-believers would rather withhold the truth than potentially have to deal with a bigoted and ignorant response, but we are more than willing to debate the matter with rational people.

Press review:

Finally, A Tabloid of His Own? I recently bought a copy of The Church, a weekly tabloid, whose bragging motto is “Zambia's First and Only Christian Newspaper.”

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ow come I had not seen this paper before, I wondered after I noticed that this was the paper's 66th edition. An introductory blurb “About The Christian Newspaper” on page three tells me the tabloid was launched in November 2012, “with the vision of delivering up-to-date news, information, and commentaries relevant to Christians across denominational lines.” The Church says it provides a Christian look at Zambia's social, business and political happenings. And true to this, the edition has lots of Christian content, including the lead story on Colonel Kenneth Kabungo, a former ZAF pilot who claims to have survived three plane crashes and presents himself as “a living testimony of God's mercy, greatness and miraculous works.” Kabungo's claims are naturally questionable, however. In the first crash, he was flying tourists to Mfuwe when he saw smoke coming from the plane's engines, just 30 minutes away from the airport. He got scared but “I quickly closed my eyes and asked God to help me find a flat piece of land, say a maize field or something. ...God, being the great God that He is, told me to look to my left and when I did, guess what I saw. A great field of maize! God then told me to land there!” The story makes interesting reading, but it invites more questions than answers. In what language, dialect or accent did God tell Kabungo to land in the maize field? Why did Kabungo ask God to help him find a maize field instead of a rugby field, for example, which is flatter? Mfuwe is a farming area, so was the request for a maize field done knowing too well that it would be easier for God to “find” it than a rugby field? Just how clear was this conversation between Kabungo and God since we are told the plane's passengers were screaming and crying? Was this conversation recorded by the plane's black box so that we can verify it? The edition carries other equally dubious stories, including a “prophecy” by Nigeria's pastor William Kumuyi about Zambia's economic boom (page four). The “prophecy” is based on the assumption that God anointed President Sata to run the affairs of the country, although it's too obvious that it's the people, not an invisible mythical figure, who elected Sata. On page six, the tabloid has a fictional “A Letter From God To You” in which God complains about not receiving enough attention from His ever-busy friend and pleads to spend some time with him. Fictional indeed! Why would a being that claims to be all-powerful have to beg for attention from inferior humans? This picture of an impotent God is in contrast with the image we are given in an article on page seven “7 reasons the Bible is so relevant” in which the writer boldly declares: “No one in the universe is more relevant than God.” However, that divine relevance is something that we humans have created in our fertile imagination. It's wishful thinking. The Church may take pride in preaching the Word of God, but the 66th edition is far from being factual, truthful and reliable. How can we rely on it when it can't get basic facts right, including names of its news subjects? (on page two, one subject's name is given in the same story as “Bishop Chelewa” and “Bishop Chelekwa”; on page 4 “Pastor Kumuyi” is also spelt as “Pastor Kimuyi” in the same story). Moreover, The Church is not Zambia's first Christian newspaper. Hasn't the editor heard of National Mirror, a religious newspaper established by the three Christian umbrella groups in 1972? Why didn't God help His “own” newspaper get such historical facts right? If such basic information is incorrect, how can we take The Church seriously or indeed the supernatural entity it claims to represent?

Did They Or They Didn't Die? Sunday Mail recently published a “from heaven and back” article, quoting three people who claim to have died and come back to life.

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uch stories are common, including in Zambia, although not as common here as in other places. But the accounts of Mary Neal, Anita Moorjani and Benjamin Breedlove are not a logical proof that they indeed took a trip to heaven or that such a place is real. The reason that all of them can recount their experiences is simple: they did not die. If they had indeed died, they would not remember their experiences since memories are a product of neural activity which ceases when we die. All three were sick. Neurologist Oliver Sacks has debunked near-death experiences, noting that such experiences are byproducts of accidents, traumas, diseases, or manipulation of the brain by experimenters. For example, he says, people who suffer from severe migraine headaches often see a

“shimmering light” that is “dazzlingly bright.” Neal's and Breedlove's “bright light” experiences should be seen in this context. Following personal experiences of social isolation and deprivation, some people who claim to have died report of having gone to heaven or other “nice” place of peace and love. These are mental imaginations of a perfect world in which such people have the things they yearn for. Moorjani's experiences of being socially rejected while growing up in Hong Kong perfectly explain her “death” story. These accounts are neither new nor credible. They are an attempt by those who believe in heaven and hell to drag sceptics into their imaginary world. We reject such fantasy.

We are interested to hear from you. Email your comments to dtzambia@gmail.com. Comments may be edited for purposes of clarity and space.

Doubting thomas issue 4