There is something really special about public transport in the city of Cape Town. Nothing close to what people often rave on about European public transport but special nevertheless. However, if you come from the Joburg townships, you can see the difference between taxis and trains over there and what’s happening here (especially the southern line). Of cause it has very little to do with who runs the city politically (it was the same in 1995 when I first arrived). You can take the train in Cape Town for a day trip to Fishoek beach.
So, yes I do indulge once in a while (probably more often than that). The peace of mind I find in disappearing into inconspicuousness (I could be anyone in this space) as I listen to my favourite talk station or some worship tunes. I am probably even more enticed by a general avoidance of traffic jams and the occasional road rage on the N2. While traveling, I often engage in interesting convos with the social media addicts particularly during the politically colourful election season we just came out of as a country.
Today, as I travel home, I came across an interesting Tweet. A one sentence statement that simply states “Religion is the ritualization of mindless superstitions”. Those of us in the Christian faith often move right along to the next subject as people generally look for controversy this way (particularly those who like to refer to themselves as “atheists”).
Today however, I was intrigued. Why, you might ask. Well I had a sense of déjà vu on all the religious activities I got accustomed to prior to my choice to directly commit to Christ some 11 years back. How each Sunday morning service would be simply a collection of reading (even hymns and prayer were mostly just reading), procession, rituals and rules. There were rules on baptism, confirmation, holy communion, the seven words (amazwi esicenxe), Easter/ascension, tithing and so forth. The hierarchy of the local Lutheran church congregation ensured there was order and conformity. The rituals and rules my mother and grandmother did very well in enforcing from home.
So, how much of religion (read church practices) is just ritualized superstition in what we call the charismatic church today? I have had an opportunity to experience many churches across the 9 provinces of South Africa and the formula is generally the same. A man (woman) with a gift to preach (and often lead) working tirelessly to shepherd a local community, down to earth, never too busy for the poor and downtrodden and generally happy with simply preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. The community sees him (her) as a pillar of strength, a councilor and parter.
Suddenly the church start to grow and attract lots of people. Some of these are people who can fund the “building fund”, the band and pastor’s upkeep. Suddenly the changes get introduced. This normally happens coincidentally as some well to do individuals also start digging deep into their pockets to help with paying for church expenses. What follows is the turning point with funding coming with unpronounced conditions which lead to compromise in teaching and slowly the pastor becomes very important to bother with ordinary people and with that a busy schedule to speak and preach beyond the church.
Before you know it, there are rituals and rules /practices accompanied by “symbols” of church success: a shrine (call it a pulpit or stage), cushy arm chairs in front (reserved for the pastor and a few “elders”), security/body guards (no one has been able to explain the need for security to me), armour bearers (pastor can’t carry his/her own bible anymore), a hierarchy (often with the big funders staffing the structure and heading committees) and simply, the church becomes a huge administrative and logistical process not different from any business organization (NGO, political party etc).
As I get to my destination on this train, I ask, how different is all this from the traditional church (Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian or even Baptist) and it’s rituals, rules, hierarchy and general “religious nature? Also, why is it that the church has become so worldly (instead of making the world more churchy)? The adoption of the world’s trends in an attempt to attract masses of people has interesting implications. What happened to the salt of the earth?