Towards June, adverts on some of our Pentecostal radio stations were giving a flavour of things to come.
Apparently, June is for outright war against all human challenges, and for spectacular miracles affirming God’s stupendous power; but then, again, the beginning (!) of another cycle – another protracted quest – that culminates into “Namboole” at New Years Day.
In effect, two high points have been engineered in the Pentecostals’ calendar, January and June. Whether it is God’s inexhaustible inspiration or tireless charlatanism, the visible goal is mammoth congregations and piles of cash.
Travelling on Sunday, May 31, I saw a truly amazing spectacle. Under the canopy of the soaring Mabira forest on Kampala-Jinja road, thousands of people were heading to the martyrs’ shrines at Namugongo. With three days and 40 miles to go, the staggered formation of human bodies was advancing at incredible speed.
Coming from Kenya and remote north-eastern Uganda, some of the pilgrims had already covered hundreds of miles on foot.
Looking at their clothes, footwear and the simple bundles they carried, all these were almost certainly ordinary people from near the bottom of the pile. They were more or less the wretched of the earth, whose entrance into the Kingdom of God was probably a little easier than getting a camel through a needle’s eye; unlike the rich. And you could almost touch the enthusiasm, joy and hope radiated by their faces.
So, tens of thousands of such people from all directions were converging on Namugongo. Some indeed had ulterior motives (including ordinary revellers and pickpockets!); some came for a miraculous cure; but from past and fresh testimonies, most were coming to pray for the intercession of the martyrs/saints, and through symbolic and related spiritual experiences deepen their faith in God and ensure their places in heaven.
The significance of Christian martyrdom probably has its origins in ancient pagan rituals of human and animal sacrifice, in the propitiation of angry savage gods.
Under Abraham, the devotee appeased or reconciled with God by giving Him an offering. God partook of the flesh and blood; or of the aroma, if it was a burnt/roasted offering.
The ultimate offer is the sacrifice of the self.
Typically, rather than direct suicide, the devotee creates (or is lured by spiritual mentors to enter) a controversial or antagonistic situation in which his beliefs or ideas offend another party to the point of murderousness. It does not matter whether the devotee’s beliefs are rational or delusional.
Perhaps guilt-ridden over his peculiar taste for human flesh, God prefers to “eat” his martyrs when there is a third party who does the killing and can be demonised. In the case of the Namugongo martyrs, the 19th Century king of Buganda, Mwanga, is the “villain”. The responsibility is thus ascribed to the killer rather than the agents of God.
But there is another version of God, which is propagated by Born Again Pentecostal Christians.
Instead of the meek self-sacrificial devotee who gets devoured, His followers are aggressive seekers of worldly things.
His “successful” priests are flamboyant roguish exhibitionists.
Indeed, the title “priest” or “pastor” no longer inflates them enough. Increasingly, they are calling themselves “prophets” and “apostles”.
Their version of God delivers mega miracles virtually on demand – at a price!
He does not want animal or human sacrifices, be they raw or burnt. He wants money; and serious money too.
He loves witchdoctors and narratives that confirm Satan’s presence, because it is against them that He and His pastors can show off their greater power.
Not to be obliterated by the power of the Catholic and Anglican event of Namugongo, the Pentecostals have designated June a month of naked “combat”.
In the radio adverts I referred to, bombs, gunfire and falling stones paint the image of God, His warrior priests and their armed followers in action. All devils, evils and other obstacles are to be defeated or demolished. Wealth and all other desires are to be seized as booty by the conquerors.
It is a God shaped by Rambo and Kung fu videos, third-rate escapist fantasies of neo-Christian paganism.
Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.