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Biblical Teachings and the Tragedy in Uganda

Norm R. Allen, Jr.

The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 16, Number 2.

As of this writing, 591 bodies have been found in what authorities are now describing as a mass murder by members of a Ugandan religious cult. Three excommunicated Catholic priests and two excommunicated nuns headed the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God. One of the nuns, Cledonia Mwerinde, 40, was a former prostitute. She and Joseph Kibweteere, 68, one of the former priests, were the most influential leaders of the group. At least 330 members were led to the cult's main compound and burned alive amid the agonizing screams of men, women, and young children. It is not yet clear whether Kibweteere burned to death in the inferno, or if he and some of his associates escaped.

Many other members were stabbed to death and apparently strangled. The mainstream media and Christian apologists frantically rush to distance such tragedies from "true" Christianity. In truth, however, biblical teachings are largely—if not entirely—responsible for many deadly Christian cults. An objective examination of the Bible and religious cults makes this point abundantly clear. 

Cults attempt to divide families and exert complete control over their adherents. Similarly, Luke 14:26 reads: "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple." A cult leader could not come up with a better formula for mind control if he or she tried. The Bible clearly and smoothly paves the way for blind conformity.

The Bible is filled with supposed prophecies. According to the most important prophecy, the end time was supposed to have occurred during the lifetimes of Jesus' original followers (Matthew 16:27-28, 24:29-34; Luke 9:26-27, 21:25-32; Mark 9:1; 1 Peter 4:7; and so forth). Rather than acknowledge this failed prophecy, many true believers have decided to wait indefinitely for the return of Christ. Christians throughout the world were certain that January 1, 2000, would be the big day. Likewise, Kibweteere predicted the end of the world. And like Christians before him, after the prophecy failed, he revised the prophecy for a later date.

The Bible teaches that Satan is a great deceiver who seeks to drive people away from the Lord. The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God embraced the same belief. Joseph Mpanimanya, 27, is a taxi driver from north Uganda. His wife, mother, father, and two children joined the cult. All died in the inferno. "I begged them not to go. I said the end of the world wasn't coming," he said. "They called me 'Satan' and said I didn't know what I was talking about."

According to the Bible, true believers are capable of feats that would kill the average person. Mark 16:17-18 relates: ". . . these signs will accompany those who have believed [in me]. . . .They will pick up serpents, and if they will drink any poison, it shall not hurt them. . . ." Not surprisingly, 914 people died at Jonestown, Guyana, in November 1978 after drinking Kool-Aid laced with cyanide.

Why are so few Christians trying to rescue the Bible from fundamentalism? Where are the responsible progressive Christian scholars, ministers, and theologians that will rewrite the Bible or abandon it altogether? If Christian leaders and intellectuals do not take the lead in challenging dangerous biblical ideas, will the job be left to secular humanists?

Due to grinding poverty, the rapid spread of AIDS, and other problems, religious sects and doomsday cults are proliferating at an alarming rate throughout Uganda and other parts of Africa. Certainly critical thinking in the area of religion would go far to combat religious fanaticism. After all, one never hears of cults of suicidal or homicidal critical thinkers. It is time for critical thinkers from all backgrounds to get involved in educating people at the grass-roots level about the negative and irrational aspects of religion. This means that religionists will have to choose between blindly defending the faith and defending the victims of religious extremism.

Norm R. Allen, Jr., is the executive director of African Americans for Humanism.

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This page was last updated 12/15/2003

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