Thursday, October 1

Freedom

A friend is working in the Great Lakes region of Africa and talked about traveling by bus from a small community in the southern part of Zambia to the capital city. New to the country, she looked forward the jostling three-hour ride, chatting with seatmates and catching quick glimpses of the countryside. Soon after the bus got rolling, a man stood and started pacing back and forth in the aisle, issuing what was for her a surprise sermon. The preacher shouted about Jeremiah, one of the major prophets of the Bible who had the lonely task of warning about the judgment of God and the people of Judah who refused to listen about the threat of invasion.

The passengers had little choice but to listen to the message on impending threats, the need for caution, fear and shame. He railed on about Jeremiah's warnings, frequently pausing to lean over a passenger and challenge the individual with the question, "Do you believe in the Lord God Almighty?"

The incident was nerve-wracking, calling to mind similar incidents in northern areas of Africa, where extremists board buses and demand passengers to recite a quote or two from the Koran to prove they are not infidels.

Some passengers pointedly ignored him. Most nodded nervously. He did not confront my friend, but the  sermon went on for 90 minutes, intruding on any plans for passengers to converse, read or contemplate the scenery. Shortly before his destination, he passed a hat for donations. Not all gave. Videos of the clean-cut preachers in dress shirts and ties dating back a few years can be found on YouTube, and my friend was told the preachers receive a free ride in exchange for a sermon.

 There are varying statistics for the demographics of Zambia: The CIA World Factbook suggests that 75 percent are Protestant, 20 percent Catholic, and the remaining a mix of Hindu, Muslim and indigenous tribal religions. Others report the percentage of those who are non-Christian may run as high as 12 percent. No surprise that there are reports of Muslim preachers are taking up the practice, too.Christianity is the country's official religion, but the constitution protects the freedom of conscience or religion for all. Religious instruction is required for grades one through nine: "Religious education focus on Christian teachings but also incorporates comparative studies of Islam, Hinduism, and traditional beliefs," reports the Zambia 2013 International Religious Freedom Report.

A lack of consideration by any one religion can diminish faith in general among the wider populace. A generous spirit, open minds, support of equality for all including women and men, common courtesy, all these can restore one's faith in human nature and the power of religion.

In Fear of Beauty and Allure of Deceit, characters must wrestle with doubt over longstanding religious beliefs, especially when values come in conflict with protecting the ones they love.  And as an author, I feel very fortunate that few suggest that the topic is inappropriate for a mystery novel. I had one memorable experience a few weeks after Fear of Beauty. I was on a panel for a book festival in Charlottesville, Virginia, an older woman snapped, questioning why I would even think about writing about the Muslims in Afghanistan. But such a response has been a rarity. Most readers express curiosity about the books - and especially so in rural areas of Michigan, North Dakota, Georgia and Louisiana. So few are closed-minded or mean-spirited, and as I have said before on these pages, our values are strengthened by comparing and contrasting those held by others.   
 
Jeremiah offered another warning that may not have been mentioned during the bus ride: "From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit." 6:13.

Photo of a road in southern Zambia, courtesy of Amantia Phalloides, Namwianga Mission and Wikimedia Commons.


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