Caller Mike vs the Useful lies

On Redi Tlhabi’s show yesterday, Caller Mike made an impassioned argument against the teaching of religion in schools. It is well worth a listen.

Mike’s view seem to be sincerely held, but he did not go far enough. He seemed to accept that morality was a good idea and that it has “got to start in the home and finish in the home.” Morality does not start nor end in the home, it is accumulated from books, media and every person that touches a life. It builds up in the minds of children and adults alike in a mess of intertwined beliefs with little truth and less consistency.

Maybe, as Mike says, religion should not be taught at schools. Maybe, as the High Court said, no one religion should be taught over another at any school. If so, however, maybe we should stop other fictions being taught at schools too.

South African democracy is one that springs easily to mind.

Our elective process is a lie so thin it is a surprise anyone believes it at all. It is an invention based on the myth of the political party. Dig into that myth and you will find it less credible than any religious faith.

A political party is nothing more than a brand. It maintains the fiction of being a consistent entity despite changes in leadership, policies and constituencies. It claims moral and intellectual authority even as it’s leaders and members careen from nefarious action to irrational speech.  It’s past and it’s principles are just stories the brand tells to entice the consumer to associate with it.

Yet in South Africa, we can only vote for political parties. Party leaders are chosen through opaque processes by representatives who are themselves chosen by similarly foggy machinations. These leaders then create a list of the faithful and favorites that will become the theoretical representatives of the people. To think that this process will lead to anything other than cronyism and factionalism is to express a faith that would make the most zealous Christian blush.

Even the most honorable and principled politician is constrained and muzzled by their association with the party. There is no place in our body politic for the person who prefers principles to party prejudice.

Morality, democracy, money, love… hold these or any other belief to the light that Caller Mike held religion to and it will vaporize in a moment.

Yes, all religions are a hot mess of contradictions and anachronisms – so are all our treasured beliefs. But they are the lies that sustain us and give order and meaning to our lives.

Mike, like all of us, has his biases but I would ask him and everyone who chooses to bring the hammer down on others beliefs: Please be gentle, it is the necessary lies that hold our society together.

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