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Meditation 794
Toxic Spiritual Rubbish

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Last week in Rome, in opening a synod of African Catholic bishops, Pope Benedict XVI stated that the developed world was exporting materialism to Africa, and he called materialism "toxic spiritual rubbish."

On the other hand, he referred to Africa's rich cultural and spiritual treasures as the world's "spiritual lung."

And he stated that Catholic evangelism was urgent for Africa.

All this in the same speech.

Now I'm going to agree with the Pope on one thing; Africa has a rich cultural heritage. So does every other continent except Antarctica, but that does not diminish Africa's cultural heritage.

Let's now look at the other issues.


Materialism is not the problem in Africa. The problem is inadequate governance. The problem is rulers who will not willingly let go of the levers of power and who focus on enrichment of themselves, their family, and their associates. And, rulers generally have the bootlicking support of local religious leaders, including the Catholic leaders.

If the Pope wants to look at materialism as toxic spiritual rubbish, he has no further to look in Africa than at the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro in Côte d'Ivoire (or The Ivory Coast) which is the largest church building in the world. It cost $300,000,000 and was a personal project of the country's first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny and part of the package when he conceitedly made his birthplace the country's capital

This Catholic basilica was consecrated by Pope John Paul II, which to me illustrates the willingness of the Catholic Church's leaderhip to support corrupt leadership and the waste of money on useless material things. The church "sits in the middle of the African bush in an impoverished city where only a minority of homes have running water and adequate sanitation. The cost of the basilica doubled the national debt of Côte d'Ivoire."[1]

Just think what material improvements that $300,000,000 could have brought to the people of Côte d'Ivoire is spent on true national needs rather than an edifice to foreign spirituality.

As for materialism itself, I would suggest more is required in Africa. People need to be materialistic enough to demand infrastructure for the common people; roads, housing, sanitation, water, schools etc. The materialism it does not need is that which leads to waste of resources on churches and on corruption.

Spiritual Treasures

Well, what about Africa's spiritual treasures? If the Pope was talking about the traditional religions of Africa, then he was talking about pantheons of gods, animism, and witchcraft. Essentially he had to be referring to the same types of religion that predominated on every continent prior to the expansion of the two major monotheistic faiths. And he regards these old time religions as the world's spiritual lungs? Poppycock!

And when traditional African religious beliefs make the news, what do we read?

I'm not saying every African has these beliefs by a long shot, but they are part and parcel of the African spiritual heritage lauded by the Pope. (And of the spiritual heritage of every other society in the world, even though most have put the ancient beliefs behind them.)

Catholic evangelism

And this is where I get truly confused about the Pope's thinking. If he truly believes Africa's rich spiritual treasures are the world's spiritual lung, why would he urgently want to convert Africans to Catholicism? It makes absolutely no sense. But of course he really does not believe it. He was just babbling mindlessly.[2]

Toxic spiritual rubbish?

Toxic spiritual rubbish? Perhaps the Pope should use that phrase to classify his own words.


  1. Wikipedia
  2. That's a more charitable interpretation than saying he was knowingly lying.