Prophets in pulpits and in politics will not be our salvation
The 'miracle workers' grabbing headlines reveal SA’s fatal weakness for outlandish claims made by glib men
Yes, Moses invented the listicle, and yes, his beard was magnificent. But as an expedition leader he was, you have to admit, absolutely useless.
This isn’t heresy. It’s geography. According to the Old Testament, Moses took 40 years to lead his people just over 400km. I know they would have had to stop every so often to pour the sand out of their sandals, but even so, Moses could have organised a game of hopscotch every morning, pointing roughly north-east, and then done nothing for the rest of the day but peer at the Commandments to see if God’s handwriting revealed any personality traits, and the Israelites still would have got there sooner than they did.
(The Bible tells us that Moses died on Mount Nebo, which is in modern Jordan. This means he led his people out of Egypt, into the Promised Land, out of the Promised Land, and finally up a mountain where, I assume, he died of embarrassment.)
The moral of this story has been clear to anyone who’s watched millions of South Africans vote for Jacob Zuma’s ANC: if you’ve led your people out of oppression, they’ll follow you for decades, even if you’re leading them nowhere.
To be fair, those desert wanderers weren’t only following Moses for his orienteering skills. (They must have realised something was up the first time he said: “Oh, wait, sorry, hang on”, and turned the map the right way up.) No, they followed him because he had spoken to God.
In this regard, Moses got off pretty lightly. When God got in touch it wasn’t to order him to murder his first born or to build an ark or to see his wife turned into a condiment. Instead, God just wanted him to go for the slowest walk in history.
Still, it was enough to install him in the pantheon of prophets, and there he remains, politely asking: “Are we there yet?”
Of course, not everyone survived into posterity. There must be thousands of prophets we’ve never head of, perhaps because they did their prophesying for a small band of pacifists and got massacred by the followers of the God of Love, or their first born said: “Dude, what the actual, guy?” and slew them in self-defence, or as they were coming down the mountain it starting raining and the tablets turned to mud and all they could do was hold up small blobs and say: “I think this one was about murder?”
Then again, some haven’t made it into the pantheon yet because they’re too busy making fat stacks in SA; living large in the con man’s Promised Land and gorging on milk and honey.
Last week you couldn’t open a newspaper or Twitter without seeing some oily charlatan in a loud suit, thronged by idiots, promising future salvation in return for money. And that was just the politicians and the advertising agencies.
It’s the self-proclaimed miracle workers, however, who have been making the most dramatic headlines, resurrecting, Lazarus-like, the old adage that fools and their money are easily parted as they glue a Groucho Marx disguise on Mammon and call him Jesus of Nazareth.
But they aren’t the only one raising eyebrows as they raise fortunes by raising ham actors out of coffins. The media, too, has been taken to task for covering their zombie-making shenanigans.
Some of this is warranted. Scraping drivel off Twitter and publishing it as some kind of précis of events is lazy, insulting to readers, and validates everyone who still refuses to pay for their news. At least one major website covered the resurrection con as if something complex and controversial had happened that needed closer study.
And yet I wonder if the worldly secularists telling off the media for the sheer volume of their coverage aren’t doing so to avoid an unsettling reality: that the media supplies demand, and that in this case, the demand was on a biblical scale.
In the 2016 local government elections, eight million South Africans believed that the ANC was the best party to run their ward, despite the Nkandla scandal and the visible implosion of ANC-run municipalities. At least one million currently believe that the EFF can make SA richer by detaching it from capitalism. Many hundreds of thousands do not believe that apartheid was a crime against humanity.
I’m not saying we’re a country of rubes and suckers. We all have reasons to believe what we believe. But it’s also patently clear that we have a fatal weakness for outlandish claims made by glib men, and an ambivalent relationship with reality.
We might still reach the Promised Land. But if we’re relying on prophets to get us there, whether they’re in a pulpit or parliament, it’s going to a very long, dusty walk to nowhere.