The letter by Armas Shikongo (‘Extremist secularism is supercilious,’ The Namibian, 11 May) seemed to imply in its heading that secularism is condescending and haughty. However, we should immediately set the record straight and say that the main reference point for secularism is indeed democracy.
This explains why secularists first and foremost argue that there should be a separation between state and religion. Certainly, this is not being supercilious. On the contrary, we are indeed well aware of the dangers of a theocracy, whether Christian or Islamic. This is why secularism is so crucial in Namibia.
The central theme of Shikongo’s letter reflects a high level of hostility towards Marxism as a school of thought. Although the topic being debated is secularism, Shikongo launched an attack on Marxism. And he seems to confuse Marxism, Stalinism, secularism and atheism.
Firstly, we are not atheists because we think the reference point for them is religion, not democracy.
We do not define ourselves in relation to religion. In the same way that there are many secularists who are not Marxists, it is also the case that all Marxists are not atheists.
Hugo Chavez [President of Venezuela], for example, regards himself as both a Christian and a Marxist.
The conservative Pope – who criticised Marxism – despite being the head of an organisation that grew rich from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, was recently a guest of the Cubans. Religious people have never been persecuted in Cuba or Venezuela. There is a huge difference between religious persecution and the protection of a Marxist state.
In fact, Shikongo confuses the two issues and the many examples mentioned by him actually fall into the latter category. For the record, a Marxist state has never been given a chance to succeed by the right-wing forces.
This applies from the very beginning with the Paris Commune right up to the Cubans today. It is also undoubtedly true that religion is usually used to promote a right-wing political agenda. We should always highlight the very real political implications of religion.
Shikongo unfortunately exaggerates the persecution of religious people. He writes that ‘atheistic secularists’ have ‘murdered religious people en masse...’ in ‘Germany, Russia, Cambodia, North Korea, Cuba, China and many places...’ Just where exactly is the evidence for this? This sounds so much like colonial propaganda.
One issue that colonialism hammered on in its incessant propaganda was that Marxism would compel people not to practice religion. So instead of having a discussion about social inequality – the primary focus of Marxism – people were side-tracked by the red herring of religion which is a topic of little importance in the context of real social transformation (e.g. creating jobs, building houses, schools and clinics, etc). Shikongo predictably falls into this trap of colonial propaganda.
For Marxism, the issue of religion is hardly so important that it would be a priority. In so many ways, religion is indeed much ado about nothing. Despite what religious people might think about their supposed importance, Marxists have greater concerns that revolve around social justice.
Of course, a Marxist organization could also never be so opportunistic to call itself ‘a party of god,’ but religious people are welcome in our organizations as long as they can adhere to democratic debate. There is simply no reason why a religious tendency could not co-exist with a secular tendency in a mass workers’ party. This has been the case, for example, in the Brazilian Workers’ Party. The radical priests of Central- and South-America have supported a Marxist political program.
The emotional tone of the letter by Basilius Kasera (‘Religion is not superstition,’ The Namibian, 11 May) is quite different from that of Shikongo. Indeed, the letter does not present an iota of evidence for the existence of a god.
Should the onus be on secularists to prove that there is no such thing as a heaven? Surely, those who believe in a world above the clouds filled with cloud people must give us evidence of it. They have had two thousand years to provide some proof. And, for the record, we should say to Kasera that we reject the Third Worldism of Jean-Paul Sartre and Frantz Fanon or the profound limitations of a Sigmund Freud, but see worthy interlocutors in Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Gramsci and Leon Trotsky.
We concur with the refreshing letter written by Bully Kapepu (‘Lifting the lid on religion,’ The Namibian, 11 May) that religion should be subjected to criticism. In fact, a world-wide debate about religion has been raging for the past few years. It is about time that we have this discussion in Namibia.
We would like to draw Kapepu’s attention to the writings of the liberal Richard Dawkins who penned ‘The God Delusion’ (2006) or the book by the conservative Christopher Hitchens entitled ‘God is not great’ – How religion poisons everything(2007). Let the democratic debate continue.
T Itembu and K Basson