'Christian Cults' And Mass Suicides: Why India Resisted What Kenya Suffered

'Christian Cults' And Mass Suicides: Why India Resisted What Kenya Suffered

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Sunday, April 30, 2023 05:20 PM IST
'Christian Cults' And Mass Suicides: Why India Resisted What Kenya SufferedMass graves discovered in Kenya
  • The discovery of mass graves in a forest land in Kenya has focussed attention on 'Christian cults' in the former colonies of the West.

At least 90 dead bodies were exhumed from the mass grave of a charismatic evangelical Christian cult 'Good News International Church' run by pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie in Kenya.

Charismatic evangelists are more cultish than the mainstream Churches. But mainstream Churches, particularly Protestant churches, use charismatic evangelists as recruiters of the faithful. It is only when there is inter-denominational poaching that the charismatic evangelists become problematic.

However, there is also a basis for such preachers in theology and colonial history.

Christianity has at its core not just the teaching of Jesus. It also has an apocalyptic worldview. Humans in this worldview move from Adam's creation in Eden to Armageddon. There is the ultimate apocalypse and the judgement day. On Judgement Day, all dead would be resurrected and sent to heaven or hell based on their beliefs and not deeds.

With the advent of Enlightenment, secular humanism and science exerting heavy pressures, Western Christian theology adapted these core beliefs into more sophisticated and convoluted theology.

Yet, there was always a fundamentalist backlash. That backlash was Protestantism - it was the Christian equivalent of Wahhabism.

Protestant fundamentalist revival also generated a lot of Christian cults in its wake. Each denomination considered others as doomed. But with the 'discovery' of the 'New World', what the West discovered was that Protestant Christianity, with its fundamentalist cult nature, could be put to use for psychological justification of colonial expansionism.

Protestant fundamentalism helped in what was called 'promised land syndrome'. Every 'other' land the Europeans moved in became the 'Promised Land' - the Americas, Africa, Australia and India.

The inhabitants of the land became the Canaanites to be eliminated. Of course, the European colonisers were the New Israel. With vast stretches of land at their hands, the cults proliferated.

When threatened with modernism significant number of them became apocalyptic cults, while others kind of mellowed down to integrate themselves with the mainstream.

But in the continent of Africa and in India, when the physical elimination of 'Canaanites' failed, the missionaries started engaging in the-colonialism. Let us essentialise 'the natives' with what was perceived by Europeans as 'sins' and destroy the native religions. Here charismatic evangelists played an important role.

One should remember that with no sophisticated theological engagement with Enlightenment as in the West, this imported Christianity was more medieval than modern but equipped with the modern West's technological superiority and financial backing.

While India still resists on this front, Africa has been a victim of this theological invasion.

So with a literalist apocalyptic worldview and end-of-day sermon, it is easy to make believers out of a population already suffering colonial wealth drain and, in many cases, corrupt regimes.

This post-colonial corruption, often blamed on Africans, is a by-product of the colonial import of Protestant fundamentalist ethics. It is thus an important time to revisit the notion of the much-acclaimed Weberian Protestant ethics and see it for what it really is.

For example, Christian fundamentalist elements in the West systematically churn out Christian theo-horror movies like the Omen series and Exorcist series.

Both movies, huge financial successes globally, show the demonising, torturing and even ceremonial killing of children in graphic detail. One can even argue they justify them.

This, in turn, had led to isolated incidents of exorcism killings in the West. But in Africa, it has created waves of labelling children as 'Satanic' if someone in the family were to die proximate in time to the birth of the child.

Clearly perceived as Satan in a Christian context, these children are made orphans or, worse, made to undergo inhuman exorcism by charismatic evangelical exorcists.

But the blame for all of this is put on African cultural elements rather than that branch of Christian theology and its Hollywood propagandists.

Even in the United States, Christian cults have a history of mass suicides and murders—The Jonestown massacre in 1978 and Branch-Davidians in 1993 are examples of this kind. There is also widespread child abuse in these cults of charismatic evangelists who were self-proclaimed prophets - proclaimed in a fundamentalist Christian context.

In India, such incidents might be happening too. There have already been sporadic incidents of deaths in evangelical camps.

Refusal to take medicine is another aspect of cult behaviour in evangelical Christian camps. During the Covid-19 pandemic, a prominent tele-evangelist telecasted a drama where saffron-clad government officials were seen forcing on people a vaccine that contained the mark of the beast - foretold in the Christian 'Revelation'. The drama also showed a converted Christian woman fighting against the devilish vaccination.

Today with India fast developing, there are bound to be social anxieties and psychological tensions - which are the hunting grounds of evangelicals.

These evangelicals in India so far have been indulging in hate speech against Hinduism. Charges of sexual abuse surface, too, but they get effectively silenced. Still, in India, they have not yet progressed to the level of making people commit mass suicide.

The reason may be the very life-affirming Hindu culture in which even the victims of evangelical cultists live their every day. More the Hindu culture weakens the probability of cult suicides and the discovery of mass graves in evangelical cult campuses.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.

An Appeal...

Dear Reader,

As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.

Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.

We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.

Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.

Become A Patron
Become A Subscriber
Comments ↓
Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.

Latest Articles

    Artboard 4Created with Sketch.