What you need to know:
- It is not difficult to recognise “McDonaldisation” spilling over to religion. Our busy urban life calls for fast-food and instant solutions. Through the week, we reach out to instant coffee and tea, and desire instant relief from headaches. On Sundays, we ask God to heal us instantly, and to enable us to become rich instantly too.
- Religion bereft of reason is very dangerous. Emotionalism can make people victims of brainwashing. And the literal reading of the scriptures is at the root of radicalisation of religion, which serves as the backdrop for the recent rise of global terrorism
The subject of a recent investigative TV programme was the so-called Prophet Dr Victor Kanyari, whose alleged con activities in church have been the talk of the town in the past week.
However, it may not have come as a surprise to most of us. It is only that the Kenyan society has a very short memory about its recent history, whether it is in politics or religion.
From the attempt by Goldenberg scandal architect Kamlesh Paul Pattni to launch a church, to the infamous case of Pastor Gilbert Deya’s “miracle babies”, we have had suspected criminals masquerading as “born again” preachers and former house-helps declaring themselves “bishops”.
After all, most of us do believe that there is nothing impossible for God! We are indeed notoriously religious, as the African anthropologist John Mbiti quipped.
It seems to be an unwritten dictum that if you want to become a multi-millionaire in this country, you either join politics, or become a preacher.
Once you are successful in one of the two professions, you could also switch over effortlessly.
Your congregation becomes the vote-bank, or your voters become your disciples. Politics and religion are dangerous bedfellows indeed!
Sociologically speaking, what is happening here? About two decades ago, in his ground-breaking book, McDonaldisation of Society, sociologist George Ritzer suggested that “the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as of the rest of the world”. It is not difficult to recognise “McDonaldisation” spilling over to religion.
Our busy urban life calls for fast-food and instant solutions. Through the week, we reach out to instant coffee and tea, and desire instant relief from headaches. On Sundays, we ask God to heal us instantly, and to enable us to become rich instantly too — so that I could have my dream house in Nairobi’s Runda Estate or in Karen. For “pastors” such as Kanyari, this is the ideal bait to fish followers.
After all, the concept of panda mbegu (plant the seed) is not the invention of Mr Kanyari. It is a common practice in many self-instituted churches, as well as in main-line churches. Tithing is a frequent theme in sermons.
Sadly, faced with the waning church aid from the West, largely due to the credit crunch of the recent years, the tithe-fever has caught up even in my own church.
A priest in a rural Catholic parish was once reported to have told his congregation that he does not want to hear the noise of coins being dropped during the Sunday collection.
Religion bereft of reason is very dangerous. Emotionalism can make people victims of brainwashing. And the literal reading of the scriptures is at the root of radicalisation of religion, which serves as the backdrop for the recent rise of global terrorism, as well as for cases such as those that we witness in the media.
It is not merely the illiterate masses but also the most educated could be vulnerable to this phenomenon.
A church that forces its followers to keep their brains in the pocket is off to some dirty trick.
When people are desperate for something, they are likely to be more vulnerable to be misled by these religious gimmicks. It may not be an overstatement to say that in countries such as Kenya, almost everyone is desperate to make a fast buck overnight.
As for the mega-churches they employ, with high precision, the trade secrets of multi-nationals such as McDonalds and Coca-Cola.
They use the mass media very efficiently to market their faith-products! They rely on branding. They hire celebrities, or at least some avaricious witnesses, to endorse their brand.
The members of the staff are uniformed and their setting meticulously standardised in terms of ergonomics.
Their success is quantified in increasing membership, rather than in the authentic experience of God, which of course is unquantifiable!
If they indeed perform some charity, it is only out of their budget for Corporate Social Responsibility! This is what I call the “McDonaldisation” of religion.
It is not by accident that the modern Pentecostal Movement has its origins in the United States of America – the land of dreams!
It is not bad in itself that the churches should adopt the best practices of the contemporary world in spreading their truth-claims. But when the draping becomes the centre of focus, then it is like the fence devouring the crops.