I rarely get really righteously indignant. But this bollocks by Matthew Parris that 'Africa needs God' pisses me off. So Parris, a South African-born English journalist and "confirmed atheist", traveled to Malawi and became convinced that Christianity makes an enormous contribution to Africa, distinct from its charity work. 'The rural African mind', you see, is deeply superstitious and fearful (its bugbears are 'evil spirits, ancestors, nature and the wild, tribal hierarchy, and quite everyday things') and focuses on 'the collective', which "grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity". Christianity, Parris contends, "smashes straight through [this] philosphical [sic]/spiritual framework" and, unlike other Africans, its converts thus "stand tall" and are 'liberated, relaxed, lively, engaged with the world, and curious'. "Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation," he concludes, "may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete."
There is so much wrong with this that I don't really know where to begin. But... The rural African mind? Wtf is the definite article doing in there? Let's do some revision, shall we? According to Wikipedia, Africa covers over 20% of the Earth's land surface and has almost a billion inhabitants, over 2,000 languages, hundreds of ethnic groups, and extremely diverse religious beliefs. (Traditional African religious beliefs are even more disparate). Generalizing about such a large number of diverse people strewn across a huge continent is difficult at best, and literally impossible without rigorous and statistically representative surveys. Wandering semi-randomly across the continent making biased observations will never, ever, equip you to make valid generalizations about Africa. (I'm not saying one cannot generalize, I'm saying doing so is impossible without proper statistics). At the absolutely minimum, then, Parris presents no evidence that his characterization of 'the rural African mind' is accurate or captures even a small amount of the variance in beliefs.
Similarly, Parris presents no compelling evidence for his hypothesis that conversion to Christianity causes Africans to 'stand tall'. All we get from him are some anecdotes: non-Christians are fearful and superstitious and Christians aren't. (Apparently, believing in a cosmic Jewish Zombie isn't an example of superstition). Someone really needs to tell Parris about confirmation bias: he sees support for his hypothesis everywhere only because he expects to and ignores disconfirming instances. Moreover, in the absence of experimental control, it is impossible to determine the direction of causality even if we grant the existence of a correlation: does Christianity make Africans more confident and curious (etc.) or do more confident and curious Africans become Christians in larger numbers? Or is there a third-factor (access to the education and support Christian charities provide, for example) that accounts for both? Pariss makes no observations that can distinguish between these alternatives.
Furthermore, why does Africa specifically need Christianity? While I grant that some ideologies may be more conducive to economic and societal success than others, Parris presents no evidence that Christianity (let alone only Christianity) is the right sort of ideology for Africa. Does Islam not "smash through" the African "philosphical [sic]/spiritual framework"? (Assuming such a thing exists and needs smashing). Does communism not teach people to "stand tall"? How about Afrocentrism? Or humanism? Or liberalism? Or, for that matter, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, or Frisbeetarianism? Is there any reason to think that the only (or best) way to a better future for Africa is via a detour through the Bible? Is cultural evolution strictly linear, so that Africans can only reach Europe's vaunted current state by going through a period of Christian superstition? Apart from asserting the tautology that one belief system must be replaced with another, Parris addresses none of these questions.
Parris, in short, overgeneralizes crassly, leaps to unwarranted conclusions, ignores a multitude of confounds, pays no attention to complexities, and disregards possibly disconfirming evidence. That his conclusion is also deeply insulting, borderline racist and mind-bogglingly patronizing is, of course, strictly irrelevant to its truth. Had he presented some evidence for his conclusion, I wouldn't have minded as much. But that he confidently asserts such an insulting proposition without any reasonably good evidence whatsoever is entirely unacceptable.
Mr. Parris, shut up.