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Teaching Religious Intolerance

By Frances Patterson

In general, A Beka's history textbooks emphasize Africa's need for Christian evangelism. 4 In addition to derogatory comments about the religious beliefs of non-Christian Africans, the textbooks assert that their religious beliefs have been the major cause of the continent's lack of cultural and material progress and political instability and repression.

In A Beka's fifth-grade text, students read that traditional African religions were “false religious beliefs.” 5 In one text box, students are introduced to a Christian convert, Chief Khama, who successfully ruled his people even though the “land was ruled by witchcraft” and the people drank their traditional corn beer which made them “lazy and wicked.” 6 While discussing the work of Scottish missionary Mary Slessor, the text uses the term “savage” on three separate occasions.7 The text also notes that “ The witch doctors used many evil and cruel practices. Some of the people were cannibals.” 8

Oppressive governments are ascribed solely to the influence of traditional African religions: “In countries where the people are still held in fear by witchcraft and spirit worship, [postcolonial] self-government soon turned into dictatorship.” 9 A Beka's senior high text ascribes southern Africa's economic problems to the absence of Christianity: “For over a thousand years, there was no clear Christian witness in the vast heartland of Africa; the fear, idolatry, superstition, and witchcraft associated with animism (the belief that natural objects and forces are inhabited by mostly malignant spirits) prevented most Africans from learning how to use nature for man's benefit and thus develop a high culture like that of the other African empires.” 10

Bob Jones' seventh-grade text takes a particularly strong stance regarding the spiritual error of traditional African religions: “This religion, like all false religions, is based on works and cannot give blessing or salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). The strong influence of magic and demonism on African religion made much of African life unhappy and savage. Satan's strong hold on these people kept them worshiping him rather than the true God.” 11

Teachers are advised to “emphasize that African religion was one of superstition and demonism. This kind of religion is growing today in the West, and Christian students must be prepared to stand against it. Satanism is especially prevalent in contemporary music ... .” 12

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