Last Sunday, I contrasted the Catholic/Anglican exaltation of martyrdom with the Born Again/Pentecostal preoccupation with miracles.
In reality, of course, there is no God out there who needs martyrs, or who actually delivers miracles beyond the natural rules, patterns and randomness at play in the universe.
The celebration of martyrs may strengthen a believer’s faith, but it does not give God more substance than the figment in the believer’s head.
By the same token, the intensity of prayers for miracles does not swing randomness to increase the frequency of good luck; nor does it by itself improve the effects of intelligence and hard work.
The prophet, apostle, pastor or imam, who claims to miraculously improve your “game” within these determining variables because he is “anointed” is a fraud, a charlatan.
Now, we could ignore this type of charlatan if he did not fish for supposed evil supernatural powers from a primitive past and spread them as common currency among the most vulnerable of our social groups; children, young adults, the under-educated, ailing people, abused women, the poor, the disoriented.
From the pulpit, the woes of all these people are now routinely attributed to “ebyakusiba”; to demons, malevolent ancestor spirits and witchcraft.
In the Sunday paper where my article appeared, there is an instructive page-six story of Nakawala Primary School in Mubende District. I had heard the same story on radio.
Nakawala is a Muslim school of 800 children. But only 30 were reporting; so the school was closed.
Reason? The children were being attacked by demons!
As the Sunday Monitor reporter noted, demon-related narratives are now common in schools. Why?
The answer lies in a paradox that very few people – and almost no one in government – dare address.
Precisely because it is a paradox, many of those who reflect on the subject find it difficult to accept that it is mainly (eccentric) religious preachers who have fuelled the mental disorder of which “demonic” experiences are a symptom.
The very idea frightens them, because they were taught that religious leaders are inherently good, and that Heaven and Hell are after the next junction, and these men of God could be manning the gates.
Yet every day, in makeshift churches, on broadcast media, on every street, thousands of thunderous voices are spreading weird interpretations of our world, making a knowledge-based rationality increasingly difficult.
Regardless of their faith, school-aged children listen with awe, the damage getting buried in their heads.
Ironically, to increase the damage, at Nakawala Primary School, the radio report had clips of grown-up people calling for both religious people and Maama Fina (a kind of witchdoctor) to come and pray for the school and exorcise the demons.
In the fierce competition for souls and the money that comes with bigger congregations, the fanatical exploitation of vulnerable groups by Pentecostal preachers is being copied by the country’s more traditional (and calmer) faiths.
To add a touch of provocative triumphalism, there is also a tendency of parading former Muslims as “trophies” won by the Pentecostal faith.
But the Pentecostal preachers now face a dilemma. How can they establish a united hierarchical structure that relates with government and at the same time maintain their anarchic and cult-like independence; each in their little empire; each with their doctrinal idiosyncrasies and niche miracles; each with their greed-fattened little ego?
If new legislation will no longer classify their churches as “NGOs”, which are regulated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, their future is in abeyance.
They would probably want to belong to a half-dead ministry, where they can throw their weight around with impunity, opportunistically exploiting the common (but demonstrably false) assumption that morality and integrity cannot be separated from religion; a ministry like Ethics and Integrity.
But as has been implied, their practices profoundly affect the education, health and security of our people.
They must therefore be subject to firm regulation by a secular authority with a reach into all these spheres; perhaps a special commission that recognises the right of the freedom of worship but jealously guards the higher right of the citizens to a modern education, health care and security.
Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.