One of the odd things I encountered when I first arrived in South Africa in December of ’79 – among a bucket load of odd things in a country still entrenched in Apartheid – was the fact there were quite a number of items I couldn’t buy on Sunday based solely on religious reasons.
I had absolutely no interest in religion in those days so I never bothered to find out the exact reasons why such things as toothpaste, deodorant and soap were ”off limits”.
This was part of what was called Sunday Observance and included the ban on the sale of alcohol.
It was strange to walk into a corner cafe or national supermarket such as Checkers to find several isles ”roped off”.
But much like garages that were not allowed to sell petrol or diesel over the weekends, (because of fuel shortages) one got used to it.
Stranger still, while such puritan by-laws meant you might have to walk around with smelly pits on Sunday you could still purchase a magazine such as Scope, which was a sort of cheap and very watered down SA version of Playboy. Topless was as risqué as it got, as far as I can recall, and all the featured models had stars covering their nipples. They were part of the photograph and could not be scratched off – so I was told.
Another law with a religious foundation was one requiring Black South Africans who wished to work in the city to produce ( along with a ”Pass”) a Baptismal Letter. (proving they were Christian!)
During Apartheid, black South Africans couldn’t work in the cities if they didn’t have a baptismal letter, and so responsible parents baptized their children and gave them English middle names.
Thank the gods all that nonsense has disappeared from the SA landscape. Although, I can allow myself a wry smile at the demise of Scope magazine.
Anyway, the primary reason I raised these issues is because of the constant – and somewhat erroneous – assertion by a number of apologists, and especially many of those on the internet and other social media, that Christianity is growing.
Simply looking at the direction South Africa is taking; a country which would once have been recognised as one of the most religious (Christian) countries in the world with around 83% claiming to be Christian in 2005 to 64% in 2012. It is fairly obvious which way this country is going.
From a purely numbers perspective the claim is correct: there are more Christians – and the ranks are being swelled from countries such as China – a vast pool of untapped impressionables just waiting to be indoctrinated via the missionary position.
The same could be said of many countries in sub-Saharan Africa – although I have already mentioned my country and the way it is heading since the shackles of Apartheid were removed.
While the USA remains somewhat of an anomaly, being one of the most religious nations on the planet the rest of what would be regarded as Western Civilization is moving away from traditional Christian religion and embracing secular humanism – something the vocal apologist types claim is not happening – hence the misleading ”increasing numbers” claims.
And yet …. we regularly read posts where Christian hosts and their minions bemoan the decline in church attendance and church closures and the apparent negative impact secularism ( read atheism, and other associated ‘isms’) is having on society in general, and Western Civilization in particular.
If Christianity truly was the right direction for civilization to take then after 2000 years it is not unreasonable to expect its adherents to at least have sorted out which is the right form of Christianity?
Yet, we know full well this is not the case, and we still have several major different sects and tens of thousands of separate denominations, each one claiming its superiority and in many cases damning every other sect as heretical.
And of course there are also the fringe/extreme elements such as Young Earth Creationists.
So while the in-fighting continues, more and more people quietly walk away.
So what of the ”New Christians” from countries such as China?
Well, as my father might say: ”Doug, it’s a phase they have to go through.”
Based on the history of other countries who’ve been obliged to put up with such supernatural nonsense these ”New Christians” will get over it as well. It’ll take time, and there will always be some religion around, but eventually it will be regarded in a similar way as most people regard every other religion that has passed into the pages of history.
And for those religious folk reading along who might perhaps be grinding their teeth and mumbling imprecations along the lines of ”Just you wait ’til Jesus hears about this!”, or other even less savoury diatribes involving Pitchforks and Eternal Bonfires, it is worth considering that, genuine freedom to practice one’s religion (or not) is only possible in a secular democracy.
And Amen to that, right?