If the State dabbles in religion, it must regulate it (Daily Monitor (Uganda))

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  • August 30, 2015
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Last Sunday, I finished by looking at the different faces of a would-be minister for religious affairs and decided that Uganda would be better off reasserting itself as a secular State.

In a Sunday morning discussion on Impact FM, Mr Joseph Sserwadda hooked onto this thing called secularism, as if it was some exotic concept that was as impracticable as undesirable.

His fellow discussant a clerical lackey and programme underling jumped in with the word “obuvundu”, the rottenness or extreme immorality that he believed characterised secular states.

You can see the dimness surrounding our religious fanatics.

This gentleman could not rise above his bigotry to remember that virtually all Western democracies were in practice secular states, the trappings of religion usually only featuring in rhetorical forms and traditional ceremonial functions.

In their workaday goings-on, legislators make laws, courts make judgments, executives initiate policies and various government departments implement them.

Oversight institutions demand and get accountability, the decency of high public officials is scrutinised political elites compete for power without whipping their opponents or stealing votes ethical implications of mind-bending advances in bio-technology are explored all these things happening in a secular frame of social organisation.

Indeed, even in the private sphere, the citizens define good and evil mostly on the basis of human social enlightenment less and less because of commands in the holy books. You have to be pathologically self-righteous to sweep all these people onto the heap of rotten nations.

By contrast, the only theocracy in Western Europe, the Vatican, has also been the most degenerate in some respects.

The authoritarian domain of the pontiff and his Curia has for generations been associated with secretive dubious financial practices and a minimum of accountability.

The Vatican is the only state in Western Europe where women cannot rise to the top.

Far more disturbing, although change may be coming, the Vatican has also systematically concealed sexual crimes (and protected offending priests) against children.

In the Middle East, theocratic rule in Iran and heavily Islamic-influenced Arab regimes and movements always end in repression.

In Israel, whenever their democracy looks grotesque and the political elite backward, the religious parties are probably shifting the balance.

Our Godly men on Impact FM carefully avoid exploring these issues, because the facts negate their trade message that more religion yields a better state.

An ideologically bankrupt and vote-hungry NRM establishment is always “catering for” some interest group. But as the State dips its fingers deeper in religious affairs, the key word should be “regulation”, not “catering for”.

The disease already in our midst is impunity. Some Third World religious operators seem to take for granted their unlimited freedom to do things any fashion they want, however anti-social.

They want freedom to build their churches or temples in any neighbourhood they fancy.

Despite their heavy use, they do not want the makeshift structures to be subject to safety building regulations. And they want these structures to be exempt from any general demolition exercises.

Once in place, they generally assume that the goings-on in the church are the most important business in the neighbourhood.

If they are renting a room in a large building in our urban centres, they want the freedom to make amplified noise for hours on end, regardless of the disruption or discomfort suffered by the other people in the building and the centre.

They want to be free to concoct and advertise the most outlandish lies.

Their narrative of our place in this world is expressed as a slavish psychological dependence on cult priest-figures. We are surrounded by demons and are hostage to the mischief of witchdoctors.

At the intervention of the pastor/apostle/prophet, everything evil is reversed. Wishing and praying for wealth (almost) guarantees acquisition for a tithe!

And just as easy is miraculous healing polio cripples, blind people, Aids victims nothing is beyond the anointed.

For the really bold (targeting the really stupid), even resurrections are possible!

The State is for the people, and its department of religious affairs can define a new role of protecting the citizens from these medieval falsehoods.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.