Of false prophets and the enormity of Shakahola tragedy

Detectives tally so,me of the bodies that were exhumed at a grave site at the farm of controversial Pastor Paul Mackenzie of Good News International at Shakahola , Malindi in Kilifi County. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

The recent happenings in Shakahola, Kilifi, have made us to question deeply, what many actually regard as "faith in God". It seems the season of false prophets, religious conmen is with us again. We in Kenya are used to the drama of trickery of pseudo-messiahs, of self anointed miracle workers, and the end-day prophets who predict the end of the world. We have given too much space to evil doers, thieves and conmen, preacher impostors, and wolves dressed in sheep's clothing. Now they have started devouring the sheep.

We are all heartbreaken: A cult that passes for religion claiming more than 120 people in cultic deaths. How can such a disaster happen in the name of God?

Yet it reveals the type of religiosity many Kenyans subscribe to. We seek only miracles, and often our doctrine of blessings, is akin to superstition. We are craving for unimaginable divine action totally divorced from any reason. Yet of its nature, Faith follows reason.

How such a disaster escaped the eye and surveillance of the entire state machinery is a mystery. The key to this mystery is no doubt the deep corruption of our security system. "Well oiled" pacts that give financial benefit to several along the chain have given birth to an unimaginable catastrophe.

For sure the devil's hand is somewhere in the mix. But clearly we have allowed unscrupulous individuals too much space, that such criminal and hideous acts can be unleashed with ease.

The latin saying: "corruptio optimi pessimi", "the corruption of the best produces the worst people", expressed well the terrible consequences of "Corruption of Religion".

This is an enormous tragedy. When the American Embassy in Nairobi was bombed, we lost 200 lives. This was huge on the "richter scale" of human disasters meriting a global headline. When the Westgate Mall attack which claimed 71 lives happened, the country was shaken. Perhaps, we Kenyans, are not shocked enough, nor do we appreciate the enormity of this tragedy, caused by one man, under the very nose of our security forces, claiming close to 120 lives. This is not a time to take it casually and make light remarks without effect. It calls for the people responsible to face discipline actions and even lose their jobs.

"Kikulacho Ki Nguoni Mwako" says the Swahili Proverb: "That which eats you is in your own clothes". We Kenyans have created the fertile ground for such tragedies through our amazing gullibility. A certain artist went so far as to call us "wajinga nyinyi"! Does it not surprise the ease with which we fall for any kind of belief, presented to us under the guise of religion, faith or divine power? We need to purify our religious beliefs to arrive at true faith.

Religion is meant to bring people in contact with God, facilitating communion and relationship with Him. It ought to preach fullness of life and goodness. The business of religion is to give hope for people, uplifting their spirit even in face of adversities. It should never become the vehicle for death but rather it should restore and celebrate the dignity of human life. We must make sure this is not distorted by new forms of "pseudo-religions".

Shakahola speaks of the ill and corruption of religion, for personal benefit, or show of power. This is the other side of the coin of the self proclaimed prophets, miracle workers, and multipliers of money by deceitful tricks and manipulation. It is this distortion we decry! Religious powers are claimed by individuals who cannot proof them, and these preachers become God himself, to be worshiped and obeyed without question. Did you not see the famous cellphone-M-Pesa drama?

Shakahola speaks of poverty and misery which makes people vulnerable to manipulation and deception. We seem in Kenyan society to have institutionalised the instrumentation and manipulation of misery: Political leaders rush to scenes of tragedy for the photo and a tough statement; they also rush to funerals of tragic cases to spew vitriol; religious crusades parade the crippled (and fake cripples), blind, sick, many times all stage-managed to win fame; media and other NGOs thrive in gory reports and images of dying children. Let us give back dignity to the suffering and the poor and plan truly to alleviate their state!

We must condemn all forms of manipulative practices. We should enact laws that protect the citizens from unscrupulous persons, who come in all forms, who seek to abuse the space given to religious freedom. And we are not speaking of State policing!

Finally, we Kenyans must decide to purify our sense of religion, our expectations from religion, and aim to halt the proliferation of self proclaimed prophets and healers. Without a congregation these imposters would not survive. Wake up Kenyans!

Don't just belief anyone who claims he is a pastor. Examine the religion to see if it has God , and Ethical behaviour at its core. If the leader claims to be the only avenue of getting blessings or messages, beware, for this is a clearly a deceptive religion. If moreover the religion is shrouded by many secrets and prohibitions, exclusive knowledge not to be shared with people outside the circle, or hidden special messages only for the inducted, then recognize this is a full blown cult: get out immediately.

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