African industriousness

Homespun Wisdom provides some quotes from Wangari Maathai’s The Challenge of Africa, including one of the best examples of unintentionally-funny liberal cluelessness that I’ve seem in a while:

As Christianity became embedded in Africa, so did the idea that it was the afterlife that was the proper focus of a devotee, rather than this one—a legacy that continues to affect development.  Putting so much emphasis on the delights of heaven and making it the ultimate destination devalues life in the present.  It is as if all happiness and satisfaction, as well as relief from material wants and needs, will be found in heaven, not on Earth.

In my view, such an attitude allows institutions (such as the church) and powerful people (a member of parliament or other politician) to encourage people to remain passive.  The people come to believe, in effect, that they will ultimately be saved by an outside force rather than by the sum of their actions…

That’s it!  I knew there had to be a reason why sub-Saharan Africa has always been so industrious and prosperous, while Christian Europe has been a backwater shithole.  It can’t be pure coincidence that civilization has so long been synonymous with African animism.  Now the Europeans, in one of their fits of mindless passivity, have spread their otherworldliness to this bright continent, and if the Africans aren’t careful, they’ll sink to European levels of torpor.

Still, I don’t think Africans have to give up entirely on the idea of an afterlife if they fancy it.  After all, the Muslims also hold such beliefs and are an enormous presence in Africa, and Maathai doesn’t indicate that that is a problem.  Presumably it’s just belief in an afterlife contaminated by Christian-Western cooties that’s the problem.  Also, I’m sure that the Leftist belief that whites are responsible for all of Africa’s problems and have a duty to fix them has nothing to do with African passivity.  Got it.

10 Responses

  1. That’s funny. It’s a strange and interesting blog, too. What led you there?

  2. I have random clicking at The Elusive Wapiti‘s blogroll to thank for it.

  3. Secular critics of evangelical missions in Latin America seem always to be complaining that Christianity is converting amerindian peasants to Weber’s “work ethic.” But I suppose that Chesterton was right when he wrote that “any stick is good enough to beat Christianity.” Christianity fills the natives with restless lethargy, or languid fervor, or something like that.

  4. I should have mentioned ardent apathy.

  5. Wangari Maathai is no clueless liberal. Dr. Maathai was born and raised in Kenya, educated in the West (a B.S. in biology, a master’s degree, and a Ph.D). She then came back to Kenya and founded an environmental movement to halt soil erosion in Kenya and other central/eastern African countries. Dr. Maathai spent many years before her death studying the on-the-ground situation in various African countries and I trust that she knows what she is talking about.

    That’s it! I knew there had to be a reason why sub-Saharan Africa has always been so industrious and prosperous, while Christian Europe has been a backwater shithole.

    Dr. Maathai doesn’t say or even imply that the only reason Africa has been underdeveloped for so long is due mainly or solely because of the influence of Christianity–it’s just one factor among many, such as how Cold War politics played out in Africa, lack of indigenous leaders capable of governing nations after the colonizers rapidly left, poor and illiterate people citizens who did not know/understand their responsibilities as citizens, etc.,

    After all, the Muslims also hold such beliefs and are an enormous presence in Africa, and Maathai doesn’t indicate that that is a problem.

    Maathai briefly speaks on the presence of Islam in Africa in her book. For the most part, Islam is largely confined north of the Sahel zone, not in Sub-Saharan Africa. Also, since Western trade in slaves occurred after the Arab slave trade, it would be expected that Christianity rather than Islam would be more widely practiced (and therefore more influential) since it came later.

  6. If we leave aside the most important thing in the world, Sub-Saharan Africa was probably a much ‘better’ society before contact with the West: the population was kept low by very high mortality from disease, and those who survived did not need to work very hard to get plenty of food (more food per capita than in Europe or East Asia). It was violent, compared with Eurpose and East Asia, but less violent than at present.

    Reference: Gregory Clark – A Farewell to Alms

  7. Maathai really is a fool. She proposes a universal mechanism whereby Christianity should produce civilizational torpor, and it doesn’t even occur to her to see if the comparative record of civilizations across the world backs this up, when in fact what we do find is the exact opposite of what her theory would lead us to expect. Why, then, does this idea that Christianity makes one stupid and passive seem even superficially plausible to her? We all know the answer to that. It comports with the bigotries she imbibed during her Western education.

    I don’t really see why we need to look for some recent exterior imposition–Christianity, the Cold War, neocolonialism, whatever–to explain why Africa hasn’t turned into a Western-style industrial power (leaving aside for the moment the question of whether they should want to be more like us, something I don’t think we should just assume). Africa was “underdeveloped” for millennia without Christianity.

  8. Christianity is an upper-crust movement in Africa. Many people don’t know Christianity is now the largest religion in black Africa. I still find that many religion textbooks still list black Africa as “tribal religion” or something.

    Contra Jamila’s implication above, Christianity did not take off in Africa under Western colonialism. Quite the opposite, it only took off in the post-colonial era.

  9. Maathai really is a fool. She proposes a universal mechanism whereby Christianity should produce civilizational torpor,..

    Clearly you didn’t read the book and you know nothing about Waangari Maathai has or hasn’t said. Good bye.

  10. This reminds me of Gibbon’s argument that Christianity led to the downfall of the Roman Empire for the same reason, that they became fixated on matters divine and neglected the administration of the world. Was he ever able to square that argument with the fact that the eastern Empire became Christian at the same time yet lived and thrived for another 1,000 years?

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