Sunday, April 18, 2010




Posted Saturday, April 17 2010 at 16:12

The removal of the high priest as mediator between God and the individual was Protestantism’s point of departure from Roman catholicism. In Catholicism, the Pope remains the bridge – the Pontifex – through whom an individual can ascend to heaven.

In Protestantism, the priest is still highly important. But he does not claim to be the sole medium through whom individuals can reach God. At best, he is a guide to scripture and a leader in liturgy.

Instigated by Martin Luther, the Reformation was simply the religious side of the intellectual revival known as the Renaissance. Both had, as their essence, the general uprising against the feudal aristocracy by a class of urban artisans called Burghers (or “townsmen” – the future Bourgeoisie).

When the feudal tyranny came to a head, the burghers – the nascent capitalist class – took up the cudgel to liberate the individual property owner from hundreds of tyrannical agrarian bonds perpetrated by the feudal regime in alliance with the Catholic Church.

That was what triggered the series of liberal-bourgeois revolutions – England (1688), America (1776), France (1789) and Germany and Italy (1870) – all permeated by what Max Weber called the Protestant Ethic. What exactly was this “ethic”? What did these revolutions achieve?

In a word, they achieved the Enlightenment. In general terms, the individual was freed from all feudal bonds and tithes so that he could fend for himself in pursuit after a will-o’-the-wisp which a starry-eyed revolutionary called Thomas Jefferson claimed to be “happiness”.

The religious expression of this was that the individual could now appeal to his own God directly without the officious intrusion of pope, cardinal and suchlike. None of the complex ecclesiastical hierarchy was needed any longer to intercede with God on any individual’s behalf.

In the history of religious thought, it is an intellectual achievement second only to Pharaoh Akhenaten’s Nilotic god Aten — history’s first known formal monotheon, the one still worshipped today under various names by the three theistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).

Although I am not a Protestant – although I blame Protestantism for the extreme individualist greed and hypocrisy which have eaten into the very core of humanity’s natural gregariousness and are tearing the human society asunder – I insist that, intellectually, Protestantism is higher than all its predecessors.

The Enlightenment, the liberal revolution and the Protestant Ethic are one and the same thing. It is what has produced all our modern ideas about freedom, democracy and human rights. This is true notwithstanding the fact that – even as the Church watches – even our most democratic governments pay only lip service to these things.

Nevertheless, I buy the Protestant teaching that, in relation to the secular state, religion is a purely personal matter. This is the essence of that freedom of worship of which the priests keep reminding us. Yet few people – including the priests themselves – seem aware of its prime importance.

It is what liberates and separates the political state from control by any one religious or sectarian interest. It means that members of all religions and sects – and even myself – can serve the state without any prejudice.

This was my inalienable right which a Kanu appatchik and a university professor violated when they prevailed upon President Moi to sack me from The Kenya Times, saying that, because I was not a Christian, I could not serve a “Christian country” like Kenya faithfully.

For the Protestant, free worship tallies exactly with the policy that the individual does not need any priest or church or any other shrine to be able to communicate with God. You can do it effectively from your bedroom without any third-party insurance however divine.

I know these things because (a) I grew up under Protestant tutelage and (b), even now I read the history of religion well beyond my professional or spiritual needs.

The reason is obvious. When a teaching affects your people’s psychology as thoroughly as European Christology does, you, as an objective student, need to know that teaching from all angles, including from literary and archaeological sources other than those prescribed by the authors and agents of that teaching.

That is how I know that, above a certain level of morality, the Protestant priest has no right to impose his own political prejudices on his congregation.

The doctrine of direct personal access to God bars the priest from dictating to his congregation on what political party to join and how to vote in an election or referendum.

As the Rev Tim Njoya told NTV the other day, to behave like that is to violate the very same free worship to which the Christian Church itself readily invokes us every time the state intrudes into its affairs to prevent it from violating people’s secular rights in God’s name.