CRL proposes code of conduct to deal with dodgy prophets, wants traditional healers to have same rights as religion

According to eNCA the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural and Religious Rights (CRL) has proposed that religious leaders submit to a code of conduct.

According to The Citizen the move comes amid the antics of ‘prophet’ Rufus Phala of Ark Centre Ministry in Makgodu village outside Polokwane in Limpopo, who has apparently been giving his congregants Dettol and bleach to drink.

There is a reason why warning labels on these substances tell you not to drink them, they are toxic and can cause serious health complications including death.

In an earlier report, The Citizen explained that congregants were assured that the toxic substance they were ingesting has been transformed into the blood of Christ, similar to the way the Catholic Church claims transubstantiation occurs with its wine.

At the same time however Times LIVE reports that the chair of the CRL, Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, has called for traditional healers to be treated the same way religions are – and allowed to regulate themselves.

She apparently told traditional healers, “It’s time you stood up and said‚ ‘We are a religion – it’s time you treat us like a religion’. Let’s demand the same treatment.”

My Take

One of the chief harms with religion I think is the way it intersects with alternative medicine – because this is really what these miracle pastors are peddling.

The whole sales pitch is that God can work miracles and cure the stuff that science can’t, much as alternative medicine claims to be able to achieve things that science can’t.

When we turn to science with these cures, we find they don’t work. The Templeton Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting religion, at one point did a study on the power of prayer and found if anything there was a negative correlation between people being prayed for and them recovering from heart surgery.

One cannot in one breath endorse miracles, and in the next act like people are idiots for believing in miracles. Drinking bleach and believing it is the blood of Christ is thus no dumber than drinking wine and believing it is the blood of Christ.

To believe a traditional healer can cure your illnesses is pretty much the same as believing that – what is by now highly polluted –  holy water can cure your illnesses.

So I look at what Mkhwanazi-Xaluva is saying and there is a justice there – religion does get a pass where we wouldn’t provide one for traditional healers and there isn’t really a good reason for that.

The thing is, I don’t think that there is a good reason for either group to get that pass.

Personally I value human lives over human feelings, I think that if someone is peddling lies that can kill people, even if those lies provide comfort they should be challenged.

If you claim that your medicine can cure things, then you should be able to demonstrate that it does better on a consistent basis than a placebo would. At the end of the day science-based medicine just means the testing for the medicine has passed peer review, its efficacy has at least somewhat been demonstrated.

Sure peer review can be corrupted, but the corruption generally comes in the form of companies faking results to get their drugs approved, they want false positives not negatives. They don’t want to spend years of research on a drug they can’t sell.

Medicine that doesn’t even pass this low a bar – we can say with fair confidence that it doesn’t work.

And selling it as if it does is just the most despicable form of fraud, at best it preys on the desperate seeking cures to the incurable, at worst it can cause the death of those whose diseases are curable.

We do not allow medical science based companies to self regulate, because we know that they cannot be trusted with that power. When I reject the claims made by religion and tradition I do not demand that they meet a higher bar than Western medicine, but rather that it meet the same bar – which was placed there because without it people died.

All of that said, I’m an atheist so I’m not comfortable with government getting to tell people whether they can or cannot believe in whatever religious idea they have because generally my views on religion are not the popular ones.

Historically atheists have been jailed, tortured and killed for not believing the states’ favoured dogma, in fact much of the history of South African racism is bound in the k-word, which is an Arabic term for “atheist” or “non-believer”. There is something dreadful about giving the state the power to enforce a given dogma.

Even when the state is atheist, giving it that power has caused millions to die through the ignorance, arrogance and malice of dictators.

So I’m not entirely certain that the solution to the problem I’ve laid out here is something the state can achieve without costs that outweigh the benefits.

But I think there is a need for all of us to be honest about the compromises we’re making, to accept that really the claims made by pastors and healers and quacks that don’t meet that low bar set by science – are not sufficiently evidenced to say they’re true.

We cannot regulate away from nonsense, we can only allow a culture where we can be honest even if such honesty is seen as offensive, where we value lives over feelings.


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