Don’t outlaw the charlatans – revive the miracle of doubt

Ideas

Don’t outlaw the charlatans – revive the miracle of doubt

Laws cannot change the mindsets and behaviours of ordinary citizens. Good education can

Columnist


Not since Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead have South Africans been so intrigued by the resurrection of a man at the hands of locally based Congolese pastor Alph Lukau.
It was hilarious from beginning to end, or the other way round, from the end to new beginnings.
A black man in an all-white suit is found lying dead still in a coffin until you see him swallow and immediately you smell a rat.
The supporting acts were even funnier – the near-fainting aunties in grief, the white man staring intently as if there was some great miracle about to unfold and the voices of praise from those with hands raised using holy names in vain.
Pastor Alph in bright blue apparel moves his hands up and down the length of the coffin and then over the suited corpse with such dramatic flair the Oscars beckoned.
On cue, the dead man rises with an expression on his face that made a mockery of rigor mortis.
Looking left and right, the former corpse stares into space with seeming bewilderment.
Helped from the coffin, he stumbles along and instantly becomes, as one of the Twitterati would have it, the first man ever to have a meal on the day of his funeral.
The black device on the inside of his jacket was probably a cellphone; now we know, there’s wifi in heaven.
Enough.
I am truly less interested in this crook who feeds off the poor to live a life of luxury involving a private plane and any number of the most expensive cars on the market. What bothers me is that ordinary people fall for this nonsense.
It is hardworking, struggling folk who prop up such charlatans and enable them to move up and down the continent living like kings, and don’t forget the queens.
Then, to prove his supernatural powers – this is critical to build and maintain a following – stunts of this kind are on offer from stepping on poisonous snakes to swallowing poison to raising the dead.
Turns out our Lazarus was spotted alive and well just before the incident.
What sells the fake resurrection is not simply a limited education but a poor education. We have failed to instil among pupils the ability to distinguish truth from lies. We have not developed the critical faculties necessary for confronting tricksters in politics or in the pastorate. We have not cultivated among young people the art of asking questions that confront deception – like the shameless assertion in the Sona address that every child will have a tablet computer which, of course, is not going to happen.
Maybe this is a form of escapism, an opportunity to be lifted from, even briefly, the harsh realities of a hardscrabble life and enter a world of ceaseless miracles and utopian dreams.
Hundreds of young women apparently paid the same Pastor Alph to attend a marriage conference promising an end to their single lives. Desperation sometimes leads people to do strange things, only to experience afterwards the depths of disappointment and frustration at their unchanged lives.
No, the appropriate response to the likes of Pastor Alph should not be new laws to restrain those who exploit the poor for their own gain. Adults make choices, and laws of this kind cannot change the behaviour of ordinary citizens.
What is needed, rather, is a quality education for young and old that empowers citizens to see the connection between prophets and profits. Discernment, judgment and criticality should be the hallmarks of a good education that goes far beyond prepping pupils for the next examination.
No doubt one of the reasons Pastor Alph thrives in SA is because of our long years of isolation under apartheid.
We were naïve going into this new democracy as our borders opened up to everyone from the Polish hitman who assassinated struggle hero Chris Hani to India’s Gupta brothers who fleeced the national treasury before our very eyes.
Now, go through any of our main city centres and you will see congregations sprouting like mushrooms in old and abandoned buildings with the word “international” added to the flashy names of a church whether in heavily populated Wynberg Main Road in Cape Town or along the broken road at the lower end of Corlett Drive in Johannesburg.
While the vast majority of foreigners from all over the world have enriched our social and economic lives there are also these travelling hucksters who abuse something sacred, the faith of people, to boost their egos and their bank accounts in equal measure.

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