Many people find comfort and inspiration in religion, which gives them a sense of belonging and direction. But blindly adhering to a religion without questioning its tenets and ways can be risky because it can breed extremism and radicalization. The world has seen many instances of people and groups who have taken their beliefs to the nth degree, harming themselves and others.
Bungoma County is home to most of those claiming to be Jesus Christ’s reincarnation. Some call themselves prophets, angels, John the Baptist, and, on rare occasions, gods. Nabii Yohana (Ronald Wanyama), Jehovah Wanyonyi, Yesu wa Tongaren (Eliud Wekesa), and Elijah Masinde wa Nameme are among the most well-known.
This week, Kenyans have been shocked by followers of a rogue pastor who have fasted to death per his instructions. Children and adults have died as a result of these instructions. What’s shocking is that some followers who have been rescued have vowed to follow their pastor’s teachings. I must admit, having closely observed the pastor, he appeared well-fed.
But why do people convert to these strange religions and become radicalized? It frequently happens because people are disenchanted with traditional religions or because they want to be a part of a group that gives them a sense of meaning and purpose. Due to socioeconomic factors like poverty, illiteracy, and other disadvantages, they may also be more susceptible to extremist ideologies.
Another factor contributing to the radicalization of adherents of such “weird” religions is the charismatic and frequently deceptive leaders who persuade their flock to adopt radical practices and beliefs. Some followers are kept apart from the rest of society, and they are taught to distrust and even hate those who do not share their beliefs. As a result, there is a sense of righteousness and superiority that can motivate extremist behavior and violent acts.
There are a number of warning signs that can suggest that a religious movement or group is “weird” or departs from accepted doctrine. A charismatic and authoritarian leader who asserts to have special knowledge or direct access to a higher power is one red flag. These leaders frequently have great authority over their followers, who are expected to do as they are told without question.
The group’s belief in a doomsday or apocalyptic scenario, where they see themselves as the chosen ones who will survive the end times, is another warning sign. Due to the urgency and desperation, this belief can instill in the group, radicalization, and extreme behavior may result.
Isolation from the general population is another sign that religion is “weird” or “strange.” These groups frequently reside in isolated communities or compounds where members are urged to sever ties with relatives and friends who do not belong to the group. Because of this seclusion, it may be challenging for outsiders to spot the signs of extremism and radicalization within the group.
Another warning sign is if there is a rigid hierarchy within the group, where dissent is not tolerated and obedience to the leader is required. A hierarchy like this can instill fear and control in the group, making followers afraid to disagree with or challenge the leader’s rules.
Extreme beliefs or practices, such as rituals involving violence, sex, or drug abuse, that depart from accepted religious doctrine are also cause for concern. These behaviors can be dangerous and harmful and can be used to manipulate and control followers.
A sense of righteousness and superiority is another red flag. This can lead to contempt for outsiders and people who do not share the group’s beliefs, which can be encouraged by leaders who claim to have special knowledge or to be in contact with a higher power.
Even if not all religious movements that exhibit one or more of these warning signs are necessarily harmful or dangerous, it is critical to exercise caution and critical thinking when dealing with religious movements that appear strange or divergent from accepted beliefs and practices. To prevent religious organizations from becoming havens for radicalization, extremism, and violence, it is critical that each one promote transparency, accountability, and respect for human rights.
So what can be done to stop people from becoming radicalized by blindly adhering to strange religions? Education and awareness are essential first and foremost. Communities need to be made aware of the perils of extremism and the necessity of approaching religion with skepticism and critical thinking. Instead of promoting a “us vs. them” mentality, religious leaders must spread a message of tolerance and respect for people of other faiths.
Governments must also take steps to address the fundamental causes of extremism, such as poverty and illiteracy. They should work to develop opportunities for marginalized communities, advance inclusive policies, and take action against radical organizations.
Finally, brethren, emulate the Bereans in Acts 17:11 who studied the Bible to ensure that what Paul had taught them was accurate. Do not accept everything that is said as gospel truth; instead, read the Bible for yourself, and join a church that teaches the Bible rather than one that appeals to your emotions.
Acts 17:11 TPT. They found that the Jews of Berea were of more noble character and much more open-minded than those of Thessalonica. They were hungry to learn and eagerly received the word. Every day they opened the scrolls of Scripture to search and examine them, to verify that what Paul taught them was true.