The recent exposure of "Doctor" Victor Kanyari's antics at his Cross Road Church in Nyamakima by the investigative show Jicho Pevu and the on-going primary elections here in the United States to elect President Barack Obama's successor got me thinking about religion and politics.
Kenyans and Americans, indeed most humans are susceptible to smooth-talking "men (and women) of the cloth" and politicians alike. On the vulnerability of Kenyans to the wolves in sheep's clothes, Daily Nation's Macharia Gaitho echoes the very sentiment in the piece aptly titled "Our own gullibility invites politicians, con men and charlatans to fleece us".
"Professor" Kanyari's gambit brought home the gullibility of the folks who attend "prayer rallies" and campaign rallies alike. The spectacle of the Range Rover-driving "pastor" reminded me of the entry into the national spotlight of the hitherto unknown Alaskan governor and John McCain's running mate Sarah Palin. Not surprising, the same phenomenon is currently on display in the on-going primaries for the nominee for the Grand Old Party's (GOP).
A consistent observation in both Kenya and America is that the same people who wrap themselves in religious language and symbolism are the very ones who demonize others:
Think of the self-proclaimed Christians who preach "hard work", supposedly eschew "handouts" or "entitlements"; the very ones who sermonize about "pulling themselves up by the bootstrap" while pilfering from the public coffers. These are the same people who propose policy positions that are antithetical to the teachings of Christ while bloviating about "compassionate conservatism", "binders full of women" or their love for the "poorly educated".
The reaction of the crowd and the language employed by the politicians and their supposedly religious supporters at rallies across the respective countries (Kenya and America) is disconcertingly similar.
The unabashed references to their faith by these self-avowed Christians even as they concurrently render judgment unto others belie their proclamations of said faith and adherence to the teachings of Jesus Christ. The animus directed at opponents -- perceived and otherwise -- at the campaigns, "prayer rallies" or at funerals that more often than not morph into political rallies bring back memories of the vitriol directed at then-Senator Barack Obama at campaign stops in remote areas of these United States such Henderson, Nevada or Johnston, Pennsylvania.
In his book Ethnic Groups In Conflict, Donald Horowitz writes about the use of language and symbology as calculated attempts to mask claims in ideas and associations that have moral force ostensibly behind issue at hand. This attempts then hides the true intentions of those making the claim even as said intentions are readily understood by the base i.e. "dog whistles" to the faithful. By repeatedly claiming that their opponents are "un-patriotic tools" of "foreigner masters," Jubilee/GOP succeed/ed in casting their rivals not as people with differing policy positions, but as "un-Godly" and "other" entities voters should be very wary and leery of.
Thus here in the US, the first non-black president of Harvard Law Review, Barack Obama morphed into Satan, Osama (bin Laden) and/or Hitler! The current POTUS became an "Arab" as one woman curiously claimed at a McCain town hall campaign rally.
On a side but related note, the summons (for Mr. Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto) to appear at The Hague mutated from "personal challenges" as famously characterized by then-candidate Uhuru Kenyatta into attacks against "Kenya's sovereignty" and specifically against their presidential aspirations. Unsurprisingly, those attending the "prayer rallies" were told that these "attacks against Kenya's sovereignty" were orchestrated by the same "foreigners" (ICC) who had imprisoned Jomo Kenyatta during Kenya's fight for independence against the same "foreigners" (British/West)!
So just as the language used by folks claiming to be Christians evokes their faith and relationship with Jesus Christ, invariably at the expense of their opponents, so did the language used at the rallies organized to support now-President Kenyatta and his deputy. And like some of the language heard at the GOP (campaign) rallies, it is language and symbolism that could have been drawn up and staged by the same campaign/political strategist.
The same people who willingly surrender their money to the likes of Kanyari, Njohi, Jimmy Swaggart and Benny Hinn are the same folks who will swear by these self-styled (political and religious) leaders, in some cases physically attacking and/or spewing the vilest of hatred at perceived opponents. They will do this even as their chosen leaders "...share the national wealth among themselves amid great hilarity and copious gulps of the finest champagne at those exclusive hideaways they build" and drive in their Range Rovers, "to get away from the foolish hoi polloi" who support their duplicitous lifestyle!
Like the subjects of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, there is something puzzling about folks who effectively vote against their economic and social interests.