Last week we were honoured to attend the Russel Botman memorial lecture in Stellenbosch presented by Artscape chief executive Marlene le Roux. She dealt with a lot of important lessons, some of which I have believed most of my life, and it was good to see it affirmed.
The lecture honoured the legacy of the former Stellenbosch University vice-chancellor in the best way possible: by questioning certain beliefs about society.
Botman, who passed away on June 28, 2014, would have turned 65 on the day of the lecture, Thursday October 18. He was in his second five-year term as Rector of Stellenbosch University. He was always a committed but questioning Christian.
One thing that I have thought about a lot - especially in the past few weeks when some so-called religious leaders have been accused of heinous behaviour and bad things have been done in the name of religion or group identity - is the concept that Marlene raised: we are not born into religion and culture, but we are taught this by our parents and community.
I have always wondered why we put so much emphasis on religion in our society. Most people would not question their allegiance to a particular religion and would want to crucify you (I could not resist that) if you question their commitment to their religion or part of a religion. I suppose religion in some ways satisfies many people’s need to belong.
The revelations in the Port Elizabeth High Court about what is alleged to have happened in pastor Timothy Omotoso’s Jesus Dominion International Church have been shocking and those people who have come forward to testify must be applauded for their bravery, especially Cheryl Zondi, whose life could have been destroyed by the sexual assaults she related in court. The alleged abuse started when she was 14. She is now 22.
The one thing that nobody has really spoken about is how this church has for many years had a stranglehold on its congregants and continue to do so, if the support for Omotoso at court is anything to go by.
It is not unlike the support shown by members of the ANC, particularly the ANC Women’s League, when then ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma appeared in court on rape charges.
But then, there are many similarities between politics and much of what passes for religion nowadays.
Both are based on almost blind loyalty by their supporters to those in senior positions who proclaim the gospel or the political line. In the 1980s, when I was a journalist during the day and a Struggle activist at night, I grappled with the notion of following political directives without raising any questions.
This was one of the reasons why I withdrew from political activism and decided to concentrate on journalism. While there are good things about both religion and politics, there are many villains who give everyone a bad name.
Throughout history one has seen how blind followers of religious, political leaders, or even leaders with lots of money or power, have committed atrocities on behalf of their superiors. One example is the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in his country’s embassy in Turkey - by people loyal to the Saudi Crown Prince. There are some people who will argue that the blind loyalty to politicians or religious leaders is mainly found in the working class. This might be true, but it does not rule out foolish behaviour by middle-class supporters of those with power or influence.
I have never believed in following anyone blindly. The best way to avoid being disappointed is to always keep an open mind about everything and everyone.
* Fisher is an independent media professional. Follow him on Twitter: @rylandfisher
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.