Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Religion, The Japanese Way

I would like to think that I do have some religious values within me.
Okay, so I hear you baying for my blood but yep, I don’t go to church
most Sunday’s and while I might believe that we do need some form of
divine intervention, I am overtly suspicious about the utterances that
some of the clerics make and their real intentions.

When I was growing up, church meant All Saint’s, Namirembe, Rubaga and
Christ the King Church for example.
And church then, was an all too sombre affair that went along the
lines of stand up, sit down, stand up again to sing a hymn, sit down,
kneel, sit down again and listen to verse from the bible, stand up –
yet again, sit down and kneel yet again.
The divine light that indicated that the service was drawing to a
close was when the sermon started and the offertory baskets were
passed around.

However, over the years, just like the revolutions made in technology,
telecommunications and heavy industry for example, religion too, was
not bound to be left out and it adapted to the changes in the world.
It ceased to be mainstream as in the way that I used to know it. It
went musical – a blend of rock, pop and RnB. Guitars, drums, the sax
and other instruments were introduced into the church, that going to
church was no longer a mundane affair but akin to going to a musical
concert that was interspersed with religious overtones.

In Uganda people were watching what was happening abroad. They figured
that if church can be turned into a musical concert in the US and
still attract a huge following, then, the same thing can happen here.

One of the first churches that ushered in the new style of service was
Kampala Pentecostal Church – now Watoto Church under the helm of
Pastor Gary Skinner. What Pastor Skinner’s contribution to religion if
any, was to spawn new and ‘unorthodox’ churches that for example today
we have Pastor Kayanja and his Rubaga Miracle Centre, Imelda
Namutebi’s Liberty Worship Centre, Ssenyonga Christian Life Church and
Pastor Kigganda’s Christianity Focus Centre.

Each one of these pastors has a different interpretation to religion
just like two infamous American’s did - David Koresh and Rev Jim
Jones.

David Koresh, was the leader of the Branch Davidian religious sect,
with him as its final prophet. The Branch Davidian’s, were a religious
group that originated from a schism in the 1950s from the Shepherd's
Rod, while Reverend James Warren "Jim" Jones was the founder and
leader of the Peoples Temple. But Koresh and Jones were not exactly
into religion. They were just about having sex with their flock and
brainwashing them. And tragically when the end was nigh, all of
Koresh’s members died in huge fireball, while Jones’s members were
made to drink poison – supposedly to go to heaven.

A few weeks ago posters and banners sprung up all over Kampala while
adverts were placed on television and radio. The gist of the adverts
was to promote Ryuho Okawa, a Japanese preacher, who was coming to
town with his own brand of religion called Happy Science. And
according to his advance team, Okawa is not somebody you heap into the
same breath as the Pope, Pastor Kayanja, Imelda Namutebi, Pastor
Ssenyonga or Pastor Kigganda. He is above them, he bigger than them
and more importantly, he is ‘the reincarnation of Jesus Christ’.

So what was Happy Science all about then? In the videos that they
showed me, it was all about a Japanese chap who dressed himself up in
white suits and who lives in a huge house – no change that to palace
and a man who the Japanese and the people he has managed to convert
see as a demigod.

His entourage referred to him as ‘The Master’ and one of the
conversations that I had with them, went along the following lines.

Japanese: “TB, when The Master arrives and is on stage, nobody is
allowed to eat or drink”

TB: “Excuse me?”

Japanese: “Nobody is allowed to eat or drink. If you see anybody
eating or drinking you have to go and stop them.”

TB: “But how do you go into the middle of a crowd in Namboole Stadium
and ask them not to eat or drink?”

Japanese: “The Master does not like it. Also when The Master is
talking, nobody is allowed to leave the stadium. You have to make sure
that all the gates are locked.”

TB: “Are you sure about this? You want us to stop people from leaving
the stadium when The Master is preaching?”

Japanese: “Yes!”

Let’s pause there for a while and do some recapping. When The Master
is on stage, nobody is allowed to eat or drink. And you have to bear
in mind that we are not in a church but in the sweltering heat of
Namboole Stadium. Secondly, we are not to permit anybody to leave the
stadium. Just what on earth is this kind of religion and what kind of
crowd were they targeting?

The crowd that they were targeting was easy enough to identify for
when the buses, coaches and coasters started rolling in the people who
alighted were people who can easily be confused, manipulated or
disorganised.

They bussed in the poor of the poor from Jinja, Iganga, Bugiri, Mbale,
Tororo, Soroti, Kumi, Gulu, Pader, and Adjumani to Kitgum and beyond.
And they came not dressed in their Sunday best but like they had
seemingly been digging for yams and nsujju (pumpkin) when the bus
stopped by them and asked if they would like to go to Kampala and
witness something called Happy Science.

One thing though that they didn’t do was to go to the western region
and there was a reason behind it. They perceived that people from the
west do have money and are therefore not easily susceptible to ‘being
confused, manipulated or being disorganised.’

After having fed them a chapatti, a kindazi and a bottle of water,
they were ushered into Namboole Stadium proper to listen to the great
words from The Master.

When The Master eventually took to the stage he was far from being a
charismatic and inspiring preacher. He didn’t have the savvy of
Muhammad Ali or Will Smith. He didn’t have the appeal of a David
Beckham nor did he have the vibe of a Moses Goolola.
What he did have were the inaudible utterances like that of Muhammer
Gadaffi when he was last in Uganda for the African Union Summit and
who screamed into the microphone for nobody to understand what he was
on about. And with that, the faithful with all their poverty from the
villages stood up and started to walk out – a move that did not go
down well with his aides.

With that, the radio calls crackled into life with a very explicit
order from Japanese. “Lock the gates. The Master is talking! Nobody is
allowed to leave the stadium!” And the gates were duly locked.

I too was locked inside but seeing that I was doing some jobo for
Japanese, I had no choice. At the gates, people screamed, shouted and
bayed to be let out but that was not going to happen until The Master
was done.

I had my concerns too. Had I been caught up in some religious sect
where fire might rain down on the stadium in some form of doomsday
occult when The Master is done with his spiel? Are we going to end up
like David Koresh’s victims in a huge fireball that is supposed to
take us to heaven while some elite paramilitary group from the UPDF
try to storm the stadium in a bid to rescue us or were they going to
end up like Jim Jones and his followers?

While I do have some faith in religion, to be honest I do not put both
my feet into it. One foot has to be on the outside – just in case. And
just in case when one of the gates was opened up to let in a police
patrol pickup, I slithered out and sought the relative comfort of
Namboole hotel and a Club beer.

I returned to the stadium when all was safe and the gates had been
opened and to be greeted by Japanese telling me that: “The Master is
happy”.

My retort? “Yeah whatever you say. Sayonara"!”

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