Tuesday, 30 December 2008

A surprising article.

I finally caught up with Saturday's copy of the Times and an article by Matthew Parris. Although he is an avowed and convinced atheist, he was arguing that Africa needed God. He noted that his experience of Africa where he grew up in part was that many of those working in Aid agencies (including secular ones) were Christians and seemed to make a greater difference than the non-believers. Similarly the role of missionaries in medical and educational efforts were incredibly valuable. Why? Because the Christian stress on a personal relationship with God, personal responsibility for actions and the dignity of the individual assumed and assured by redemption was a vital counteractive agent to a fatalism and resignation that seems to him to be endemic in African culture. A strong sense of personal responsibility and rights is needed to counter the assumption that the rights of the individual as less important that the right of the dominant group or tribe in power.

I was intrigued and can see the point of the argument but I am slightly worried that it pre-supposes that Western democratic culture, derived as it is from the Christian and particularly from the Protestant tradition, is inherently and automatically superior to native African values. Just a touch of the Victorian Imperialist mindset in there I think. perhaps the best hope for Africa is a Christian ethic that blends the best of traditions. The Protestant Work Ethic and the respect for individual rights and dignity which to my mind are inherent in the Christian tradition (all made in God's image and of equal and infinite value and worth as vouchsafed by the Incarnation and the Cross) are certainly vital to the development and deliverance of Africa from Maoist maniacs like Mugabe, but the African stress on the importance of social units such as the tribe, village and family have their great strengths too.T o cite a simple example: in Uganda many families take in the children of relatives who have died from HIV or Malaria. That responsible reaction comes as much and as validly from the tribal tradition as from the Christian one. To my mind, a creative synthesis is the solution, not the imposition of an alien cultural tradition. That much we have learnt from the mistakes of 19th century European missions.

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