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Two visions for Africa

One is deeply rooted in Christianity, the other represents imported secularism

A woman takes a selfie with her phone at sunset on the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe. Associated Press/Photo by Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

Two visions for Africa
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I recently traveled in East Africa and in the course of my work met two female college students. These two young women provide two very different faces of the future of Africa. Indeed, they demonstrate the war that is going on for the soul of their country. Will sub-Saharan Africa remain highly religious, and highly Christian, or will the next generation of students reject religious truth and religious freedom in favor of the anti-religious ideologies of that are taking over the West?

The first young woman is studying law at a European university. She sounded like any other Western college student: She had just finished up the school year. She looked forward to a beach vacation to unwind with girlfriends before heading home for the summer. She’s an urban young woman, well-educated, and she dressed and spoke like many students I know from my home state of California.

When she asked what I did for a living, and I told her about my organization’s work championing religious freedom at home and abroad, she immediately became suspicious. She challenged my view of the religious nature of humanity and religion as a source of social flourishing, arguing that religion is typically repressive and violent. She had a deep skepticism of religion in its own right, and of religious freedom as protecting superstition, anti-science, and hierarchy.

In sum, she is one face of Africa’s rising generation of citizens. Hers is a minority viewpoint in East Africa at present, but social media, digital platforms, global travel, and secular education are all propagandizing anti-religious messages straight from San Francisco and New York.

A few hours later I met another young woman, a campus leader in a national Christian student movement. I witnessed her addressing a group of fellow students with a beaming smile and a sunny attitude. Her call for spiritual renewal was audacious and yet simultaneously humble. She speaks proudly of her country's Christian history, and she prays for revival on the scale that her grandparents witnessed. She envisions a 21st century Africa where religious faith is protected in stable societies with good governance and ordered liberty. She winsomely called on her fellow students to be testimonies for God’s love and truth against the anti-faith, sexualized, and materialistic content coming through university courses, movies, and their smart phones.

She represents an alternative face of Africa. She recognizes that the gospel of Jesus Christ is life-giving and the antidote to self-defeating, untruthful, harmful ideologies that confuse and hurt Africa’s students.

Africans must protect public institutions from secular approaches that push religious people and religious ideas out of public life.

So, what is to be Africa’s future? On the one hand, these are highly religious societies with religion and tradition informing what it means to be a man, a woman, and a family. These are the building blocks of any successful society. There remains more respect for the wisdom of elders here, and one only need to glance around to see the spiritual and religious resources deployed to help the most vulnerable in medical clinics, education, and food programs.

Yet, it is not clear that their parents realize how much influence state universities and social media have on the children and adolescents of Africa, as well as in Latin America and Asia. Ubiquitous cell phones, Hollywood movies, and social media portray a very different vision of the world. Sound familiar?

At present these countries have a majority of those who identify as Christians and church attendance is far higher than in the West. Will they be able to keep the faith in the next decades of the 21st century? If so, how?

First, Africans must protect public institutions such as schools, government, media, and the like from secular approaches that push religious people and religious ideas out of public life. Unfortunately, plenty of Africans have been trained that the model should be the secular social welfare model of Western Europe and Canada, with religion privatized and restricted to the margins of respectable society. This is simply wrong: A representative government should represent the views of the majority of the people, and in this case, that would mean a religion-friendly African democracy that would have much in common with America’s past.

Second, African parents will have to take control, as we Americans are learning late in the day, when it comes to what their children see, experience, and are taught, especially in Western-funded educational initiatives and via media and their smart phones.

Both young women impressed me. They are talented and intelligent and a credit to their country. But, they represent two starkly contrasting views of the future based, first and foremost, on their views of Christianity in private and public life. My prayer is that the one skeptical of faith will change course by seeing the disintegration of Western civilization and realize that it is the loss of Christian truth that is causing so much confusion and suffering.

Eric Patterson

Eric Patterson is president and CEO of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., and past dean of the School of Government at Regent University. He is the author or editor of more than 20 books, including Just American Wars, Politics in a Religious World, and Ending Wars Well.

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