I may step on some toes here, oh well, it’s my blog, right? This will be a two part blog. First I will pass on my knowledge of religion in Ethiopia through my experiences. In part two I will give my personal thoughts on religion, get excited for some existential ramblings.
Religion in Ethiopia is separated into three distinct, categories. Muslim, Orthodox Christian and Protestant. My town, Lalo, is predominantly Muslim but many teachers and government workers are Protestant and Orthodox.
For example, my counterpart, and best friend Geniti is a devout Protestant. Everyone in Ethiopia is religious, I haven’t found an exception yet. Some are extremely devout others apathetic towards religion, but everyone has a religion.
In Lalo the farther away from the town center one goes the more dominate Muslim is.
I’ll begin with Protestant. Most of my neighbors and, as mentioned, my counterpart are Protestant.
The closest comparison to American Christianity is conservative Baptist. They cannot dance or drink, some extraordinary cases don’t even drink coffee.
My counterparts favorite TV channels are one of the many Protestant TV channels. Pastors shout the presence of the devil then toss an ad in at the end to donate to the church and buy their how to live through Christ guide for $19.99 a month.
I should also mention how TV works here. You buy a satellite and box hook it up to a TV and boom, 1000 channels. No monthly fees, nothing besides the upfront cost. Ethiopians laugh when I explain the American system.
Back to Protestants. There is one youth channel that is constant panels discussing Christ, I approve.
Many of the preachers on TV and at the Protestant church here in Lalo invoke the odd practice of shouting while simultaneously waving their arm across the congregation. People fall down writhing and rolling on the ground, I’m told they’re possessed by the devil.
Exorcisms also happen in my compound (I’m told they happen all over town, but I don’t have any reason to be out late at night to confirm) about once a month by the Protestants.
Check out my post in the random thoughts thread to hear my petrified account as I experience my first exorcism.
The brand of Christianity here follows the old testament rules, well, some of them. I’m not sure the rhyme or reason, maybe there isn’t one. But, for example, my kindly mother sent me bacon. The precooked kind that can be popped in the microwave. I wanted to share one slice with my friend and neighbor Fanta. I slap the slice on my stove, and wait to hear the
forgotten sound of bacon sizzling. I bring the bacon to him and he says he can’t eat it. The bible says so. I call bullshit on him. The bible doesn’t say that, Muslims can’t, Christians can. He pulls up Leviticus 8:12 and sure enough swine can’t be eaten. Checkmate Fanta. I then ask him if he can eat fish, (explicitly banned about 3 verses down), some kinds he says. I go full doucher and ask him if he can wear polyester blends, he didn’t understand me.
We’ll stick with the Christianity vibe and move on to Orthodox. For 3 months I lived with an Orthodox family in a town called Einchini before moving to Lalo. They are the most liberal religion. They drink, and dance. The church service I attended was a boisterous party to Jesus. I couldn’t understand a word of the service but church goers sure were happy. For the New Year Orthodox have a delightful tradition of a bonfire and farso (local beer brewed from barley). As Mesfin, Habti and Bontu tended the fire I chuckled to myself at their disregard for fire safety. In American parents would have a hissy fit if their children were competing to see who could get closer to the fire. Here, just another tradition.
Lastly Muslims. Growing up in America I always pictured Muslims fellows as devout and strict. In Lalo that is not the case. Not to say there aren’t strict, devout Muslims, there are, but by some warped propaganda I assumed all were. I will be playing volleyball with Muslims and hear the call to prayer, I once asked Abdellah a friend I was playing with if he was going to go. He told me nah, he’ll catch the next one. The two most common names in my classes are Jihad and Mohamed. I haven’t shaved in about 3 months. People ask me why I have converted to Islam. Only Muslims have long facial hair.
I shrug it off and tell them not yet.
Muslims can’t drink alcohol but notoriously devour chet. A plant’s leaves that can be chewed to have a slight narcotic effect. At any time during the day I can walk out to my main road and spot a Muslim man walking down the street with a bushel of chet tucked underneath his armpit.
Religion is an integral, vibrant sector of Ethiopian society. Every single person has a religion, yet there are devout and apathetic followers of every religion. In Lalo, Sundays are the only day for meat. Once the slaughtered cow, sheep or goat is finished, the meat is done for the week. Normally around noon. You better believe if you walk in at 10 A.M. the meat house is chalked full of Orthodox and Protestant followers.
I think frequently about religion. I talk frequently about religion. I read frequently about religion. I know little about religion.
I was raised Methodist and have nothing but respect for the church, Community of Hope, I went to. In college my freshman and sophomore year I was heavily active in the Christian organization Intervarsity. Once again I had a great experience. Despite these, delightful, intelligent people I was never convinced. I couldn’t put my finger on why. I wish I could. I am jealous of the people with true belief. I have tried and will continue to try but as of now, nothing.
I still remember the car ride with my mother when I told her I didn’t believe in Jesus Christ. She did everything right. She took me to youth group. She found a vocational outlet for me running the words on the screen as the band played songs or notes as Pastor Dale went through his sermon. And she drove me to vacation bible school every summer. I never revolted against the church or had anything but positive experiences. Except waking up at 7:30 A.M. on a Sunday at 16 year-old, I hated that. I just couldn’t convince myself in belief. I tried, I try, I will try.
The way I see religion is like marriage. We all agree there shouldn’t be arranged marriages, right? Why do we have arranged religion? It is every bit as important. I don’t see Christianity as wrong, I just think I am too ignorant to make a definite, massive leap into believing Jesus Christ is the King of Kings. I look at the edict of Christianity and see explanations for its historical rise. The religion spreads because it calls upon its believers to spread the word, unlike Judaism or Buddhism.
I was educated to examine evidence and facts before accepting a conclusion. Question everything. I have examined some facts, but others I haven’t. I am ignorant of Hinduism, Zoranstraism and many others. Why are they wrong? Like marriage I feel I should take out each religion on a few dates, maybe my first religion isn’t my true love. For some it is, for me it’s not.
Another issue I have with religion, particularly Christianity, is the hate done in conjunction with it. How about southern slave owners who were devout baptists. They truly believed in Jesus Christ and truly did wretched deeds. Are they in heaven? If they’re in hell did they go their entire lives misinterpreting the bible, their preachers and their beliefs?
How about the Spanish systematically converting large swaths of indigenous people in South and Central America? How about clergy accepting indulgences. Who’s to say the current interpretation is correct and theirs wrong?
How about different sects of Christianity, Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, etc. ultimately someone is wrong, right? If the Lutherans are wrong are the Baptists and Methodists in hell?
I know my mother did a damn good job raising me. I don’t need a higher force to tell me right from wrong, when to leap, take a risk and when to back down for security. I have learned from experience, from trial and error.
I am still young and ignorant. I will have more experience in 5 years and even more in 10. But my moral compass isn’t shaped by god. It’s shaped from punishments, encouragement, and curiosity from my upbringing. To me god can be a way to take accountability away from oneself.
I have a tough decision coming up, let me ask what I perceive to be a higher force to take the call out of my own hands. Or, if a relative is dying a religious man or women prays to their god. It feels as if one is doing something, gaining power, despite having none.
I worry my religious choice is constrained by my geography. If I was born in the South would I be a Baptist or in Saudi Arabia would I be a Muslim or in Russia secular? Probably to all three.
I am scared this intimate, wildly important choice is determined by little more than the region and time I was born in. Are two thirds of the Indian population going to hell because their family told them Hinduism is the way to go. Am I going to hell because I don’t believe in Hinduism, it got them this far, right?
If you read this post and have a wry smile because you used to be the same way, let me know.
What was the tipping point? Write me a Facebook message, or heck, write me a letter, I’ll get it quicker. I am open to, in fact, I want to be wrong.