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Sat Oct 25 01:12:11 SAST 2014

Why I can't feel the Spirit

Zama Ndlovu | 18 December, 2012 00:00

MY NAME is Zama and I'm not a Christian.

My neighbours, friends, municipality and potential boyfriends do not know how to deal with a black woman who is not a Christian.

Christianity is part and parcel of black identity, especially that of black women. Just go through any black woman's social media bio and chances are that something along the lines of "God-fearing" will be mentioned.

Some people even pray on their Twitter and Facebook timelines.

So when a black woman admits to being a "non-believer" jaws drop, parents are called.

Black people are usually excused from this identity only if they exchange Christianity for another religion but being spiritual, agnostic or, God forbid, atheist, is not really allowed.

Such a black person is treated as lost, half-finished, malformed or too lazy to go to church.

Being Christian is the highest confirmation of great values and moral standards, like an SABS stamp of approval.

You could save the children, feed the poor and clean the streets but, unless you are a God-fearing Christian, you cannot be too sure [that you have] upright credentials.

There is a very good reason the ANC aligns itself with the church.

Even those who seem to be open-minded want a concrete explanation as to why one would choose to be non-religious; often so they can give an explanation (sermon) that would change your mind for good.

Believe me, it's not like I have not tried to locate the spirit within me. No one wants to be the outcast, the odd one out.

My relationship with Christianity hit a snag from its very early days.

I was still in primary school when I started questioning the logic of being born into sin. It did not help that my parents were not very eager to explain this concept to me, expecting me to simply accept that everything in the Bible was true because they said so.

In high school, church was a cultural ritual I felt no connection with. The entire exercise was purely academic: if I go to church, pray, sing, the world will leave me alone. So that's exactly what I did.

But, by university, I felt like an outsider, always the only one who could not feel the Holy Spirit.

I was really jealous of everyone else in church who seemed moved by every sermon, with their hands in the air, crying and shouting to sweet Jesus.

I wanted that, too. So, time and time again, I would awkwardly raise my hands at the local His People Church asking to be saved and hoping that God would take pity and fill my worried heart with love and forgiveness - but that moment never came.

Eventually I just stopped trying, gave up on the entire practice and resigned myself to incompleteness.

To some extent, black society is accepting of non-religious black men, but a woman has little right to not being some kind of moral compass because, by virtue of not being religious, you have no morals.

I have accepted my fate, which includes a significantly reduced dating pool, my mother's yearly "How many years has it been since you were in church?" interrogation sessions, and the assumptions that if I can't praise the Lord I probably can't cook or change a baby's nappies.

Reneging on my moral responsibilities has not made this time of year less significant for me and, like everyone else, I look forward to spending more money and more time with my family.

Whatever significance you place on this time of the year I wish you a safe, restful and fulfilling festive season and a prosperous new year.

  • This is Ndlovu's last column for The Times

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