Gullibility of some on religion is breathtaking

Nigerian Pastor Timothy Omotoso
Nigerian Pastor Timothy Omotoso
Image: Eugene Coetzee/The Herald

The Timothy Omotoso rape trial under way at the Port Elizabeth high court has once again thrown the abuse of religious beliefs into the national spotlight as it highlights the level of the gullibility of some sections of the religious community.

If the evidence of the rape complainant, Cheryl Zondi holds, then Omotoso's "church", the Jesus Dominion International Church, was a mere front to cover his nefarious activities. Judging from her testimony, Omotoso used religion to manipulate and to an extent brainwash his potential victims in the quest to control them completely.

Several questions are raised with the fact that the alleged sexual assault started when the complainant was 14 and continued when she had reached the age of 19. Notwithstanding the contradictions, what irks the most is that the mushrooming of these controversial and charismatic churches continues unabated.

At the risk of sounding xenophobic, one cannot imagine a situation where a South African can emigrate to Nigeria, Omotoso's home country, start a church and dupe its congregants to the extent of violating them.

The gullibility of some of our countrymen is breathtaking indeed. It would seem some South Africans are ready to fall for any ruse based on the promise of salvation. Incidents of congregants made to eat grass, drink petrol and other outrageous gimmicks were widely reported on which triggered an investigative study by the CRL Rights Commission to look into the commercialisation and abuse of people's belief systems in SA.

One of the study's briefs was to "understand the deep societal thinking that makes some members of our society vulnerable and gullible on views expressed and actions during religious ceremonies".

The study culminated in the release of a report which is a must-read for any self-respecting church as it makes recommendations into relevant mechanisms towards self-regulation and peer reviews which does not pose any threat to freedom of religion. The fact that the majority of Omotoso's supporters are women is even more worrying, considering SA's astronomical rape statistics.

On the proliferation of the foreign element, the commission avers "there is an established and exponential increase in religious organisations and leaders of foreign origin".

"There is an appreciation for bona fide foreigners serving the SA nation, but. in some cases they display a propensity for amassing money. The department of home affairs should play a crucial role in curbing this abuse when considering visa applications."

In the criminal case of Omotoso, one can only hope the law will take its course. South Africans must be more circumspect in matters of religious beliefs and not be so gullible and thus avoid falling prey to charlatans.

Nathaniel Lee, Klipspruit

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