Saturday, October 20, 2007

Does religion improve a nation’s well-being? (Part 1)

South Africa as a case study

Does recognition of God make a difference to a country? Some Christian organizations think so. The (South) African Democratic Christian Party (ACDP), for example, appeals to Deuteronomy 28 and sates:

All authority and law originates from God, therefore obedience brings blessing to a nation and disobedience brings cursing

If obedience comes from following God’s law, what might encourage disobedience? The Christian website Frontline Fellowship argues that secular humanism is the factor that has caused societal decay in South Africa since the adoption of democracy:

In 1994 the African National Congress (ANC) came to power and established a human rights culture. It has been busy replacing laws founded on Christian principles with humanistic laws. . . .The social decay is such, that, according to the police, 2,5 million crimes are committed in South Africa every year, an average of 7000 a day.

Before the adoption of democracy in 1994, South Africa was ruled by the apartheid government that adopted Christianity as a state religion. Have things really worsened, as Frontline claims, since the Christian God was removed from the constitution?

Frontline Fellowship fails to mention the fact that the “Christian” apartheid state was responsible for mass forced removals, torture, cross-border raids, death squads, detention without trial, and dehumanization on a grand scale. Crime may be a problem in post-apartheid South Africa, but it was much worse during apartheid because crime was state condoned.

The 1983 constitution declared that the country was “to uphold Christian values and civilized norms”. Apartheid’s leaders believed they were accountable to no-one but God, but they also believed that what they did was condoned by God. Without being accountable to those they governed, they could do as they pleased with what they thought was divine backing.

Frontline also ignores the great improvements that have occurred since South Africa adopted “humanistic secularism”. Not only has the economy boomed under democracy, but great strides have been made improving fiscal policy, GDP growth, protection of human rights, and access to basic services. There are still problems, but these can be better tackled under a forward thinking democracy than under the backward mind-set of the apartheid state.

I’m not blaming Christianity for apartheid; in fact, there were many Christian organizations that fought effectively against the system. Rather, I am arguing that having a religious foundation for a country does not guarantee a moral system of governance, or a prosperous nation.

Part 2: A global view
Part 3: Idealising the past


digitaldion (Dion Forster) said...

Hi Kevin,

I have often considered this same point myself... I am of the mind that whilst all religion does have some moral effect it does not in and of itself bring about positive change.

Hitler, after all, used the church in Germany, as did the South African apartheid government here in SA (as you point out). Then of course there are more strongly moral orientations in faiths such as Islam with Islamic law. I would certainly not consider some of the human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of Sheria law, or Christian fundamentalism, as for the good of society, of even within the will of God.

To my mind, though, whilst I don't think that religion should get mixed up with 'party politics', any religious ideal is fundamentally political in that it seeks to address the manner in which people relate to one another, structure their lives, and interact to form community.

I had the good fortune of being a white Christian minister who lived and ministered in a black South African township before 1994. So much of what I did could be considered 'political' in nature - in fact many of the people in the small (wealthy) white Church that I also served in the area left because they thought I was confusing politics with religion. However, if you read my blog you will find that I still attempt to be as critical and prophetic of the new regime as I was of the old... It is not the party that I am wishing to address, but rather, that I have fundamental religious conviction that the world should be structured in such a manner that no one has too much while no one has too little. That all persons, regardless of race, gender, age, economic, or health status, sexual orientation, or faith conviction, should have the joy of living life in peace, harmony and blessing.

Personally, I believe that these are the values of the Gospel of Christ's Kingdom - these are radical values that scare many who only live for individual gain, and hedonistic fulfillment. Heck, the even scare me!

So, would I vote for a Christian political party - no, I would not. Then again, I also wouldn't vote for a Muslim, Hindu, or any other overtly religious party.

Sadly though, I have double standards. I have voted, many times now, for the ANC who consider themselves to be engaged in 'secular spirituality' (i.e., finding and creating transcendent meaning by secular means...) Do a search for Cedric Mason, himself a Methodist Minister, who heads up the ANC's religious desk.

Thanks for another incredibly thought provoking post!



Steve Hayes said...

Well Enver Hoxha certainly didn't think so!

If he was right, then Albania between 1967 and 1991 must have been the best country anywhere, ever.

Curtis said...

It is the people that make the decisions. They may base their belief system one way or another but it is what they do with it that matters. Do they use it as justification for their actions?

Thanks you always make me think


Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin,

Here is the Philippine 1899 Constitution contrasted with US Constitution:

We, the Representatives of the Filipino people, lawfully convened, in order to establish justice, provide for common defense, promote the general welfare, and insure the benefits of liberty, IMPLORING THE AID OF THE SOVEREIGN LEGISLATOR OF THE UNIVERSE for the attainment of these ends, have voted, decreed, and sanctioned the following:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Filipinos had to ask Uncle Sam for permission to do anything back in the day. Their original Constitution was drafted and approved basically by the United States. They're worded pretty much the same except an imaginary god is mentioned. I'm sure the Catholic Church had a lot to do with inserting the "legislator of the universe" part. Those priests are well intentioned scam artists. They ALWAYS meddle in politics. Just last week the Church came out in opposition to the government's proposed condom use plan because it's "sinful." How can these evil and sexually repressed men make these proclamations when the only way their country is ever going to ease the poverty crisis is by controlling the birth rate and empowering women? It makes me sick. Indonesia (Muslim) and the Philippines (Catholic) are ranked 1 and 2 as being the poorest and corrupt countries in Asia. Religion doesn't guarantee anything.

But at least they're democratic right? It's always funny when our President talks about "spreading" democracy. Makes for a great soundbite. But in my opinion what makes our Constitution worth defending and even dying for is the First Amendment. You can have my vote. But the minute you take away my freedom of speech and church and state separation then we have problems.

Kowie said...

Yes, I do think that a true Christian government who know and live the example of Jesus Christ the Lord, will and can make a difference in that country. The individual will also have freedom - God gave man the ability to choose - but also with the warning that you will live with the results of your choice.Freedom is only freedom as long as it is within the framework of Jesus. Freedom is only freedom if it does not negatively influence other people. I am not sure where your ideas from being a Christian comes from, but the New Testament will give you insights, not the old covenant - that was renewed and replaced by Jesus. If you believe in Christ, you cannot be under the Old Testament law, because Jesus on the cross replaced that. My idea of being a Christian can be summerise in the following:

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not shouting "I'm clean livin'."
I'm whispering "I was lost,
Now I'm found and forgiven."

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I don't speak of this with pride.
I'm confessing that I stumble
and need Christ to be my guide.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not trying to be strong.
I'm professing that I'm weak
And need His strength to carry on.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not bragging of success.
I'm admitting I have failed
And need God to clean my mess.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not claiming to be perfect,
My flaws are far too visible
But, God believes I am worth it.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I still feel the sting of pain.
I have my share of heartaches
So I call upon His name.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not holier than thou,
I'm just a simple sinner
Who received God's good grace, just like you !

Anonymous said...

Kowie wrote:
If you believe in Christ, you cannot be under the Old Testament law, because Jesus on the cross replaced that.

"Most Christians imagine that Jesus did away with all this barbarism and delivered a doctrine of pure love and toleration. He didn’t. (See Matthew 5:18–19, Luke 16:17, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 20–21, John 7:19.) Anyone who believes that Jesus only taught the Golden Rule and love of one’s neighbor should go back and read the New Testament. And he or she should pay particular attention to the morality that will be on display if Jesus ever returns to earth trailing clouds of glory (e.g., 2 Thessalonians 1:7–9, 2:8; Hebrews 10:28–29; 2 Peter 3:7; and all of Revelation)"--Sam Harris The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos (Free Inquiry Magazine)

digitaldion (Dion Forster) said...


I forgot to mention a website I thought you may enjoy. It is from a very off the wall Christian, it is called stupid church people.

I like the way he thinks! Check it out, you may enjoy it yourself.

CanajunFlyBoy said...

HI Kevin,

Whew. What a big topic...

I lived in SA for 12 years. I am a Canadian, white, male, Christian (oh boy, in some people's eyes I'm already done...) and I found my experience of living there from 1983-1988 and 1990-1997 absolutely life-transforming. I was never supportive of the Nationallist government nor of apartheid. I absolutely rejected the historical fact that apartheid was based on certain biblical passages. I was very involved in speaking out against apartheid wherever possible because it was wrong. However, I would argue that I could defend my contention that it was wrong precisely because I had a biblical world-view. Just because the Bible has been used by all kinds of governments and groups and individuals over the centuries to justify heinous acts does not mean the Bible is a heinous book. Every one of the cases that you can mention where these abuses have occured can be easily refuted and denounced as abuses of basic hermeneutical principles of Biblical interpretation.

Your blog really raises the issue of the basis for Law. I would argue that it has been abundantly shown that bad philosophy informs bad law. The Nats gov't of SA is no exception because their philosophy wasn't Biblically based. It was based in their own perverse selective application of obscure passages of the Bible.

William Wilberforce was Biblically informed when he spoke out against slavery. Most of the laws on the books of most Western countries today are informed by a wholistic view of the Bible. I would argue that the laws of countries should not be informed by religion but they should be informed by the best and most philosophically defensible world-view. For me, that view is the one the Bible tells. I know of no other world-view that comes close. I don't like the polarisation that is taking place in the US today between so-called evangelical Christians and everybody else. I have no desire to see a religious country be it Christian or not. But I would dearly like to see a country where its people and its laws are informed by Christianity in general terms. What do I mean? I mean, I would never want to see a theistic country where people MUST do anything "because it says so in the Bible" but I would love to see a country where the social programs are informed by "do unto others as you have it done unto you" and by those who understand that love is the essential nature of God.

Finally, I must respond to Kowie. I don't like the argument that "Christians aren't perfect...just forgiven." I don't like it because what you are saying is "My behaviour is similar to yours but I'm forgiven and you're not". It reeks of arrogance. As a Christian, I believe that we must never defend wrong behaviour by other Christians as simply imperfection. Non-believers rightly rejects this double-speak for what it is...arrogance. Having said that, I believe that true Christians really are different. And yes, we aren't perfect but it's wrong to link this to forgiveness....grace, as they say, ain't cheap.

CanajunFlyBoy said...

Oops. In the second last paragraph of course I mean't "do unto others as you would have it done unto you".

Talk about misinterpretation...whew, that was close.

Resources for Christians said...

Existence of god: The Way Christian resource centre has UK and World news, church directory, bible study. Existence of god