Politics has been one of our major preoccupations, sometimes to the detriment of productive talk.
One consequence of the increased discussion of politics since the marriage between Malawians and politics in 1994 is that significant ideas about religion occasionally become glossed over with the unexamined justification that the Gospel is universal, and spirituality should be left to govern itself.
The consequence: Fear and myopic thinking have quickly replaced careful analysis.
But, the truth be as clear as a cloudless sky, all self-serving religious leaders should be confronted with the inexorable fact that money belongs to Caesar, even if it’s done to achieve a general good, and that, even when generated for God’s purposes, part of it should go back to Caesar.
What am I driving at? Well, that time has come for tithes and funds generated by religious groupings to be taxed!
You see, it’s funny that religious groups, which teach us about how good life shall be beyond the veil of this life, are treated by our governments as if they are already in, eer, for lack of a better word, the heavens.
We all know that the central theme of religious thought and practice is the idea of eternal rest. What the church suggests, subtly of course, is that we all have one general problem: the chance of missing out on eternal rest.
The church, then, cleverly, suggests that the solution to this problem is ‘discovered’ by either getting initiated into religious doctrine so that our souls may be extricated from their self-imposed corruption through spiritual rebirth, or discarding prospects of a good here-after by embracing worldly things.
Predictably, human beings have been hooked to the first option and abandoned rational thinking at the slightest mention of hell. I think the fear of hell has left our policy-makers so thoughtless that they can only watch as some religious groupings become obscenely rich without suggesting that, perhaps, it is high time these institutions started contributing tax to the national pulse.
That is why, I guess, they don’t pay taxes from money generated through tithes and other offerings. The truth, however, is that the religious institutions and Malawi (as a country) are tied together in our awareness of personal existence.
Actually, the heavens and the earth are not two extreme, irreconcilable opposites. The relationship between the two is organic because their focus is on the human being, the very same human being whose main weakness is to go bad when not embalmed.
Our location and the location of the religious institutions are inseparably fused. But I fail to understand why these simple truths are scarcely understandable by us today. By this, I mean our policy-makers.
Come to think of it. Why should a bachelor like me, too resource-whipped to manage a girlfriend, be over-taxed when religious institutions, with their buildings and vehicles and tonnes of funds generated through tithes and other coerced offerings, are left scot-free?
Are our policy-makers so cowardly that, in their fear that they may miss the train to the heavens, they have become blind to the mountain of banknotes piling up in religious institutions?
I think it high time they pulled the brakes on fear and embraced rationality; especially now that religion has become a medium-scale enterprise. Yes, enterprise. There is money in this ‘business’ as evidenced by hordes of Men of God driving fancy cars.
Six years ago, I laughed my lungs out when some church leaders suggested during budget consultation meetings that the government needed to re-introduce duty-free status on vehicles meant for church use. Why should religious organisations get everything for free yet obedience to their doctrines requires followers to contribute in cash and kind?
Your guess is as good as mine.
And there lies our problem. The burden of underdevelopment lies, in large part, on our obedience to fear. We focus too much on the unknown while neglecting the world around us.