Do we pay too much reverence to pastors?
05 November 2021
| Academia Nomad
PORT MORESBY - Do pastors, clergymen and religious authorities enjoy too much respect in Papua New Guinea?
Disclaimer: I’m a Christian. Baptised by a Four Square pastor. I once read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. And I completely read the New Testament twice.
That’s to say I’m not an atheist even though I’m about to rant like an atheist.
I left three WhatsApp groups. Everyone in those WhatsApp groups was a Christian. In fact I was added to those groups because I was a Christian.
I left because I couldn’t stand the pastors.
I’m not talking about differences in opinion. I do not have a problem with that.
I’m talking about pastors trying to become scientists. And pastors sharing fake news news.
But what is fake news?
Fake news is basically content – videos, documentaries, articles etc - that are not true, misleading, misinterpreted or even outdated.
A more academic definition includes deliberate sharing of fake content with the intention to mislead the public for a specific purpose.
For instance, a candidate’s campaign team intentionally running untrue claims to discredit the opponent.
But for our shake, let’s stick to a simple definition stated earlier. Anything that’s not true.
For the most part during my time in these groups, I tried to make sense with the members. For instance, when it came to debates on Covid-19, I told them not to trust YouTube videos.
YouTube videos are not vetted. You can put whatever the hell you want on YouTube.
It’s the same with Facebook posts, or online articles. Even news outlets like CNN or Fox news are not reliable sources.
If you want ‘relatively’ reliable content, go to top peer-reviewed journals. For scientific content, for instance, go to top five scientific journals of the world. And read what is been written about the topic you’re interested in.
Why these journals?
Because unlike Facebook posts, these articles are put through rigorous scrutiny by experts in the field that the article addresses.
It’s not the best, but it’s better than a YouTube video. Just because someone is a ‘doctor’ or a ‘scientist’ doesn’t mean they’re telling the truth on YouTube.
They must publish their ideas in a scientific journal, where their peers can scrutinise claims, test evidence and verify sources.
This goes both ways: for pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine. Or any other topic.
So why did I take offence with the pastors?
In PNG and the Christian community, pastors are held in high regard. There’s respect for pastors.
An educated man can sit in a church for two hours and listen to a pastor, without a degree, share his interpretation of the scriptures and not challenge him.
That respect is accorded to the office the pastor occupies, not accorded to the pastor’s education or expertise.
In the groups I was part of, there were many materials shared: some true, others fake.
But I took the most offence when the articles were shared by pastors.
For instance, a pastor shared a photo of a coin getting stuck on the arm of someone who was vaccinated.
And this was shared by one of the so called ‘fathers of the nation’. A senior pastor whose name, if I mentioned it here, most, if not all, Papua New Guineans would know.
Why is this fake?
A 20 toea coin will stick to your arm after you do a bit of work even if you’re not vaccinated.
More recently, the same pastor shared a Facebook post going viral at the time.
It said that Australian soldiers were locking up PNG Defence Force ammunition nationwide, and questioned why that was happening.
I didn’t see the Facebook post until the pastor shared it in the WhatsApp group, but as soon as I saw it, I knew it was fake.
Again, what bothered me was the fact that this was a very senior pastor, respected in PNG, misleading the people.
If God is truth, and if His word is the Truth, why do pastors find it easy to share fake news?
If they are misled by fake news to the extent they believe it, what does that say about their interpretation of the Bible? Do they casually interpret the scriptures like they do with the fake news?
Similar instances happened in the other two groups I was part of and I left all.
And just yesterday I came across a street preacher who was conducting an awareness about 5G, vaccination and mark of the beast or 666.
I joined the conversation and told the guy that what he was saying wasn’t true.
One of the women came to his defence and said I shouldn’t say that because the street preacher was ‘wok man blo god’ (servant of god).
It reminded me of the pastors in the WhatsApp groups: I hardly saw anyone challenging the fake content the pastors were sharing.
So it made me wonder: are pastors and clergy in PNG enjoying too much respect?
I think they are. People look upon them with respect as servants of god (I’m intentionally using small g for god because I don’t think they represent the God with the capital G when they start talking science).
I think Papua New Guineans should begin to challenge their pastors, and even tell them to shut the hell up when they talk about science.
Unless they are medical science graduates turned pastors, or have a degree in the relevant area they are talking about. There’s too much reverence for pastors, and some are abusing it.
I understand opinions will be divided over issues like vaccine, but those in religious authority, who are respected, cannot use their biased opinions to mislead people.
Pastors are respected because they are supposed to preach the Gospel. They should not be respected for their opinions on science. They aren’t scientists.
Either preach the Gospel, or go back to FODE [flexible open and distance education], matriculate, and go to UPNG and take up science.
So the next time your pastors begin talking about subject matter that you know are untrue, or subject matter that you know the pastor has no knowledge of, you can tell them to shut up.
You won’t lose your salvation if you do.
I know of pastors who are well informed because they read a lot, but talk less.
And I know of pastors who know the Bible well, and they stick to it.
Then there are those who talk about everything: prophecies to sharing fake content.
I have respect for the first two. I have lost respect for the pastors in the third category.
And I offer no apologies.
Paul Pala mentioned that the Catholic and Anglican bishops could have been scientists. They have pastoral concern over their flock and normally promote social justice and liberation theology.
Their concern is freedom and justice for all people. They have also addressed issues of health, education, climate change, social issues and other cross cutting issues.
Just for your information, the Pontifical Academy of Science is the biggest scientific organisation in the world with members from other churches as well.
The churches contribution to science is enormous - and this benefits the people.
Posted by: Philip Kai Morre | 16 November 2021 at 07:35 PM
You will never stop seeing the Catholic bishop talking politics and also about Covid-19. And also an Anglican bishop talking about Covid-19.
These two bishops must have been scientists?
Posted by: Paul Pala | 15 November 2021 at 05:40 PM
Finally someone said it. Many educated Christians are yet to understand that the title 'pastor' does not set one above criticism, neither does it make one infallible.
It's the same kind of respect that allows our big men to steal with impunity.
Posted by: Wardley Barry | 14 November 2021 at 03:47 PM
I agree with Michael Kabuni. I have come across wannabe pastors in the third category who have no shame at using the Bible for personal gain or taking advantage of someone who isn't a pastor.
Posted by: Joelson Anere | 09 November 2021 at 03:09 PM
I commend Michael Kabuni on a fine article about a problem we experience every day with some pastors and street preachers.
Most pastors from Pentecostal churches are not educated in both biblical studies and science. Pastors are not scientists or medical doctors and they are not educated in the causes, effects and treatment of disease and the working of vaccines.
They have fixed and false beliefs, they tell lies and mislead people. Any knowledgeable scientific and medical explanation of Covid-19 is lacking.
How can we stop such false and misleading information that has such sinister impacts on the general population - on people who are ignorant and lack scientific knowledge?
Such ignorance of the medical sciences and the failure to understand the causes, effects and treatment of sickness affects a lot of innocent lives.
Pastors try to shift the blame to who created this virus that spreads like hell. They don’t look at what causes it.
In science and medicine, we understand that most diseases have a known etiology and a known outcome, including death.
When vaccines are manufactured in laboratories, they must go through clinical trials and testing first with animals, then human beings with prudent and careful scientific analysis.
They have to be certified and approved by leading medical authorities like the World Health Organisation and other medical and scientific organisations or boards in various countries before being used.
The substantial clinical trials establish scientific data and what safety measures may be required. Standard measurements verify a vaccine's proven ability.
We know from worldwide experience that the Covid vaccines work to keep people safe and reduce the harm to people who do catch the disease. They help eliminate the pandemic.
After administering the vaccines there is monitoring of patients for safety and effectiveness.
We also face another problem. When a pastor prays over a sick person, his sickness is said to be magically taken away so the sick person is free from Covid or HIV AIDS or any other similar serious illness.
So called miracle pastors add more problems as sick people are then allowed to mix freely in the population, spreading the disease and causing further serious health dilemmas. The problem is like the blind leading the blind.
I heard from preachers who are conspiracy theorists that the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is produced in laboratories in Wuhan, China, and is a biological weapon to wipe out the human race. There is serious doubt about how scientific those pastors are but those who hear them accept what they say as true because of ignorance.
The preachers and conspiracy theorists also blame Bill Gates, the Pope and Vatican, the USA president and others.
Some conspiracy theorists preach that 5G telecommunications is the cause of coronavirus without knowing that God gave intellectual ability to scientists to create the latest version of communication technology.
Other diseases like cancer, diabetes, TB, asthma and memory loss are also attributed to 5G.
The problem now is that there is no theological board to approve and certify pastors to ordain people as preachers. They lack proper theological training so they confuse themselves with theology and a scientific explanation of events taking place in the world.
In the Pentecostal churches as long as you are a believer and a faithful Christian, you can be approved and ordained as a pastor. They make fools of themselves in the scientific world.
The four mainstream churches - Catholic, United, Anglican and Lutheran - are members of the Melanesian Association of Theological Studies (MATS) and their degrees and diplomas are approved by MATS after many years of study.
In the Catholic seminary, after Grade 12 a person requires another six years of theology and philosophy study before being certified for ordination.
This means those priests and pastors in the mainstream churches do not spread conspiracy theories or false information concerning Covid-19 or other things. They embraced scientific knowledge and their preaching is based on God’s salvation history of Christ teaching of faith, hope and love.
Posted by: Philip Kai Morre | 06 November 2021 at 09:17 AM
Back in the early 1970s there were 600+, yes, more than 600, different Christian denominations/ sects/ whatever operating primary schools in Papua New Guinea.
That was around one for every distinct language group in the country, and all, allegedly, preaching the one 'true word'. Or was it 600 different versions of the 'truth'?
Posted by: Ed Brumby | 05 November 2021 at 04:08 PM
With thanks to Wikipedia: "The Royal Society, formally The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, is a learned society and the United Kingdom's national academy of sciences. Founded on 28 November 1660."
The Motto of that Society "'Nullius in verba' is taken to mean 'take nobody's word for it'."
With thanks to Britannica: "Royal Society, in full Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, the oldest national scientific society in the world and the leading national organization for the promotion of scientific research in Britain."
That model has evolved and rapidly with the facility of the Internet, such that information can be searched and found and cross checked so much more readily.
It is a duty to your own intelligence and health and family that you do the best you can in this endeavour. Maybe join with others in doing this.
For example the website Listverse. Listverse claims "expert authors are cited daily by top magazine and online publishers." and (yes, has a list) including BBC, New York Times, Forbes, Time, USA Today, Business Insider, Cnet, Bloomberg, CNN, Daily Mail, and Gizmoddo.
So don't take this word for it. Check it out. And rather than grumbling about some crowd hugger/ swayer/ soother/ smooch/ or even spiv, go on ahead, join the process of being amazed at your own discoveries.
Also seriously, whether at side of road or social media, if a crowd gives its time to someone or some idea, that place is likely not the theatre for them to be accounted, accused or accosted.
In 1815, the Duke of Wellington chose carefully the ground on which to withstand attack, and later, having won, he lamented “Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.”
So the 'battle' is of how best to invest your own time so that the fruits are beneficial and pleasing to you.
Having said all that, the camaraderie of fellowship in 'mainline' Christian organizations is a source of support albeit not without humanity's lesser traits.
One remarkably devoted missionary (having responded to need from the event of Mount Lamington) said near the end of her life, "We were lucky".
We are lucky to find facility and frankness. We are bid by our each own self to be honest, and intellectually so.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 05 November 2021 at 10:51 AM
Scientism has an established tradition of manipulating evidence, data and analysis to create and maintain an auspicious environment for industry at material and ideological levels.
"Scientific theory is a contrived foothold in the chaos of living phenomena" - Wilhelm Reich
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 05 November 2021 at 08:52 AM
The Christian religion is perhaps one of the most pervasive legacies of PNG's colonial era.
It was imposed or gifted, depending upon your outlook, through the efforts of many dedicated and determined missionaries.
As with any group of humans, some of these people were genuinely wonderful advocates for their faith and for humanity generally while others offered only a form of doctrinaire rigidity typically displayed these days by America's infamous tele-evangelists.
Organised religion is, in my judgement at least, mostly bad.
It asks adherents to suspend disbelief about ideas and events that have no basis in demonstrable fact.
It demands that adherents abandon their critical faculties in discerning what is real and what it false.
It very often leads to dogmatic and rigid thinking about the world and has been an engine for enormous suffering and grief.
Because religion is fundamentally and inescapably anti-intellectual in its nature, it necessarily has an uneasy relationship with science.
Science is not a religion. It insists on examining the empirical facts about the world.
Scientists know that their peers will regard their ideas with polite but resolute scepticism unless and until they are shown to be incontrovertibly true and correct.
Scientists know that there are and will always be some things about our world and universe that we are never likely to know or understand. They offer no path to spiritual redemption or a ticket to a post mortem nirvana.
Everything that we know about life on this planet has come from science.
Theology has produced almost nothing of value in terms of furthering our understanding about life because it deals exclusively in speculation, supposition and superstition, not the rigorous examination of the facts.
This is the context for the behaviours and attitudes that have caused Michael to recoil from some of the pastors he expresses so much concern about.
Turning to religion for spiritual comfort and support may or may not be a useful thing to do but relying upon religious advocates for advice on scientific matters often is a serious mistake.
Michael's pastors lack PhD's in virology and immunology but apparently still feel able to spruik ideas about the pandemic that are nonsensical and harmful.
These ideas have evidently been gathered through social media which, as Michael rightly points out, is full of dubious sources of misinformation.
No-one is curating Facebook or Snapchat or TikTok to ensure the scientific veracity of what is posted.
Thus the religious predisposition to believe unproveable and anti-scientific ideas combines with social media's tendency to promulgate exactly such ideas to the ignorant and the credulous.
This has caused a great deal of harm during the current pandemic and it is not an exaggeration to say that many people have died as a consequence.
So Michael has been wise to cease listening to the pastors the mentions who, in the end, are merely mouth pieces for antiscientific nonsense.
Sadly, as long as people insist on clinging to religious ideas that require supernatural explanations, they will always be prey to such egregious nonsense.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 05 November 2021 at 08:47 AM