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Ndu­miso Ng­cobo wouldn’t thrive in Bib­li­cal times

Richard Dawkins, bi­ol­o­gist and author of many books, in­clud­ing The God Delu­sion, has one of the most bril­liant brains I’ve ever had the plea­sure of get­ting a glimpse of. It there­fore took a lot of courage for me to ques­tion some of his logic on Twit­ter, about five years back. He dis­dain­fully brushed me aside with a bor­der­line re­mark be­fore get­ting back to the ar­du­ous task of heal­ing the world and mak­ing it a bet­ter place like Michael Jack­son. I wasn’t so lucky with his apos­tles, though. A bunch of an­gry athe­ists de­scended upon me like AfriFo­rum mem­bers on a land ex­pro­pri­a­tion hear­ing.

The most vo­cif­er­ous an­gry athe­ist was an Aussie bloke who was in­censed at my very au­dac­ity in ques­tion­ing the de­ity that is Dawkins. The summary of his ar­gu­ment was: “Athe­ism is in­tel­lec­tu­ally su­pe­rior to re­li­gion by def­i­ni­tion so how dare you?”

When I sug­gested that Dawkins’s ideas sounded more ag­nos­tic than athe­ist, he lost it com­pletely and went all Red Beret on me. Ac­cord­ing to him, you could go to bed be­ing of av­er­age in­tel­li­gence and wake up the fol­low­ing morn­ing dis­avow­ing God and voila! — you’re a ge­nius! It’s a mir­a­cle!

I know a be­liever and the­olo­gian who makes sig­nif­i­cantly more sense than 99% of the athe­ists I’ve ever en­coun­tered. He is one Bishop John Shelby Spong, a re­tired cler­gy­man of the Epis­co­pal Church in the US. He, too, has au­thored sev­eral books, in­clud­ing Be­yond Mo­ral­ism: A mod­ern view of the ten com­mand­ments, Lib­er­at­ing the Gospels: read­ing the Bi­ble with Jewish eyes, and my favourite, Res­cu­ing the Bi­ble from Fun­da­men­tal­ism. This may seem odd com­ing from a lapsed

Catholic who re­cently had to sit his mother down and break this 20-yearold bad news.

My fas­ci­na­tion with Spong prob­a­bly stems from the fact that I’m a no­to­ri­ous fence-sit­ter and bet-hedger on matters of spir­i­tu­al­ity. At least this is what my hardcore athe­ist and fer­vently re­li­gious friends alike tell me. One of the rea­sons I love the good bishop, for ex­am­ple, is that he doesn’t be­lieve hell ex­ists.

In his words, “the church in­vented hell” be­cause it “has al­ways been in the con­trol busi­ness”. This sort of talk ap­peals to me mostly be­cause if hell re­ally does ex­ist, I’ll def­i­nitely end up in the place of the wail­ing and gnash­ing of teeth, be­ing turned over with a fork by Sa­tan for eter­nity.

I have this pas­sion­ate and stub­born need for things to make sense to me be­fore I do them. Let me give you an ex­am­ple. I have done a fair bit of read­ing the Holy Bi­ble in my time, hav­ing been raised Catholic. Take the story in Gen­e­sis in­volv­ing Abra­ham and his son Isaac.

The rea­son Abra­ham is so revered is that he possessed enough faith to heed an in­struc­tion to of­fer his only son,

Isaac, as a sac­ri­fice. If I’d been in that story, in Abra­ham’s shoes, there wouldn’t even be a story. I could never sad­dle a don­key, put my son on it and tie him down to a pile of fire­wood with the in­ten­tion of burn­ing him. I’d be that guy busy back-chat­ting the Almighty, ques­tion­ing His wis­dom.

This is why Abra­ham is re­mem­bered thou­sands of years af­ter he lived and no-one will re­mem­ber me 10 years af­ter I die.

My story would be like that of one of the least sig­nif­i­cant char­ac­ters from the Bi­ble, Onan. The fact that many will stop read­ing this and go search­ing for Onan on Google proves my point. Ap­par­ently when Onan’s elder brother Er passed on, his dad Ju­dah in­structed him to sleep with Er’s widow, Ta­mar, to pro­duce an heir for their clan.

This is called a levi­rate mar­riage and used to be prac­tised widely in these parts. Look, none of my brothers are mar­ried, but if they were — even though I have been gen­er­ally im­pressed with their taste in women — I would not be able to ac­cede to this re­quest.

Onan’s re­sponse was a bit on the punk­ish side. He obeyed his dad’s in­struc­tion and lay with Ta­mar. But de­cided to prac­tise coitus in­ter­rup­tus at the cru­cial mo­ment, os­ten­si­bly to en­sure that he in­her­ited the lion’s share of his dad’s es­tate in­stead of shar­ing it with an heir. The Almighty ap­par­ently slew him for this prac­tice of the rhythm method.

Quite frankly, I would have suf­fered the same fate. What I’m not too cer­tain about is whether I would have even gone as far Onan. (Al­though it’s easy to judge poor Onan, but what if some­one told you Ta­mar looked like Beyoncé? So, judge not lest ye be judged.)

And then there was the prophet Isa­iah, in­structed by God to preach in his birthday suit for three years as a sign and a por­tent against Egypt and Cush. Again, I would have failed this test abysmally. I like to be­lieve that I am con­fi­dent about the state of my fleshy bits, but I could not pos­si­bly walk around in the nude for three years. Es­pe­cially not on re­ally cold days that don’t ex­actly flat­ter one. My weak faith would have let me down on this one as well.

My point is not that these bib­li­cal sto­ries are ab­surd. Far from it. My point is that not ev­ery­one has had the gift of faith be­stowed upon them.

It is not easy to put one­self in the shoes of some­one whose faith leads them to the point where they eat grass, drink Jik and get sprayed with Doom in the name of faith. But also, a great re­spon­si­bil­ity rests upon the shoul­ders of those who lead folks who pos­sess faith. With that said, un­til I re­ceive the gift of faith, I will not lis­ten to any­one who tells me to pay R1,500 for a bot­tle of mir­a­cle wa­ter to cure erec­tile dys­func­tion. You’ll find me at the DisChem counter with a pre­scrip­tion for blue pills.

I have this pas­sion­ate need for things to make sense to me be­fore I do them

I’m con­fi­dent about my fleshy bits, but I could not walk around nude for three years


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