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In our Pursuit for Miracles over Faith, are we being captured by Neo-Religious Institutions?

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For most of us, the concept of capture is only synonymous with the state, hence the term “state capture.”  It never occurs to us even in the slightest that it can happen in a holy and benevolent institution like religion. Make no mistake, I am not an atheist, I fully believe in God but I am not highly religious. I favour the direct establishment of a relationship with God more, over that which is cultivated through intermediaries like the institution of religion. I have reservations about religion as a human construct especially now with its transition towards the new version which is highly transactional and is devoid of criticism.
There is a profound difference between classic and neo-religious institutions and the most notable one is the pursuit of faith and miracles. Faith is the subscription to the concept of an existence of a higher being, like God in Christianity. Miracles are a hope for an absolution, something beyond the comprehension of a human mind. Yes, it is true; the biblical scriptures are full of both accounts of faith and miracles. Like Job, the man of God who lost everything but still held steadfast in his faith, even when people around him like his wife told him to curse God and die to be relieved of his misery. And then there is that miracle of Paul, who was incarcerated and an angel appeared to rescue him from captivity.
But times have changed; perhaps it is the latter days as predicted in the book of Revelations. Trials and tribulations are becoming overwhelming for the comprehension of mankind and the only solution being to turn to God and religion for hope, comfort and salvation.  We have most people opting into neo-religious institutions which promise paradigm shifts to our troubled lives by preaching miracles. Who at their lowest point in life would say No, to the promise of a better life, the end to our troubles as we know them?
Faith and believing in God can exist and work perfectly fine without religion, especially the neo-religious version. This is a relationship that we form directly with God. Then religion is more of when we now seek to subscribe to a community of people who have the same beliefs and convictions as we do. Often for most of us, in desperately seeking an inclusive community we let that desire cloud our better judgement. We become uncompromising subjects of the institution and submit fully to the course. The decisions we make are not truly those of free beings as they are made without thorough interrogation and we find it hard to question them just because we are in pursuit of miracles.
For some time now, religion and its leaders have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons, which are mostly associated with unholy places which can be likened to Sodom and Gomorrah in the scriptures.  The disturbing images which came out of Pretoria, where the leader of End Times Disciples Ministries, Penuel Mnguni made the congregation consume a snake as he had declared it a bar of chocolate. And then there was Uebert Angel who cashed P2 million in a miracle crusade in Gaborone.
The concept of miracle money has become the point of reference for these neo-religious institutions. The endless posts on social media requesting us to ‘type amen’ and receive a huge bank balance or waking up to find a car parked in our garages. We even overlook the simple logic of maybe how will this car will suddenly appear in our garage when we don’t have a garage to begin with. In contrast to classic religious institutions which value faith and hard work more, the new ones believe and trust more in finding miraculous solutions to our problems. We have been easily exploited because they know how gullible human beings are especially when in a troubled state.  The church has become more of a market place where people can trade in money for miracles. We hear much of products being sold, like miracle waters and other cosmetic products which are applied to increase our chances of success. True faith is lost in this state of capture we are in, because now we place more value in the ornaments we acquire from self proclaimed men and women of God. This can be seen as the equivalence of obeying false gods, something which the foundation of faith and religion is strongly against as reaffirmed in the commandments we ought to live by.
Not only are people being robbed of their hard-earned money, they are being sexually exploited in churches, some in broad day light on days as holly as a Sunday. Who can forget the tragic story of twenty Nigerian women who were impregnated by a charismatic pastor who claimed that the Lord had instructed him to have sex with these women? Or that of Robert Gumbura in Zimbabwe who was convicted of raping six members of his congregation. The most striking one has to be those pastors who manipulate women into stimulating their sexual organs as they are adamant that their sperm is the divine milk of the Holy Spirit. The classic example can be that of Pastor Valdeci Picanto in Brazil. People are surrendering their sexual rights and autonomy to wolves in sheep skin because they believe they are ordained by God and can perform miracles. They overlook the biblical significance of sexual and conjugal privileges which are reserved for married people or the universally normalized case in which they are to be reserved only for people we are in relationships with.
A concept as powerful as religion, if left unchecked can be hijacked by opportunists who will do a lot of irreparable damage which can lead us to questioning a lot of things, like our faith in God. We feel used and betrayed because what we had hoped to gain in pursuit of miracles never surfaced. In the process, we had given up our moral compass to neo-religious institutions which only wanted to use us to benefit only themselves and indoctrinate us by misinterpreting the holy scriptures which we use a source of spiritual enlightenment. Something as central to our identity as faith and religion cannot be pursued blindly as it directly translates to the kinds of societies we can construct. We cannot afford to fiddle while Rome burns just because we are desperate for miracles over faith.
Boemo Delano Phirinyane

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