Religious Starvation In Kenya – OpEd


In Kenya investigators are uncovering what could become one of the worst mass suicides in recent memory. Detectives say that the Christian cult was split into eight separate settlements with biblical names like Galilee and Bethlehem; and shallow graves where more than 315 starved bodies have been recovered. Kenyan interior ministry officials say that scores of mass graves remain. 

Kenya’s state pathologist says many of the remains found show signs of extreme starvation, some were smothered, and a few showed blunt force trauma. There were scores of children amongst the dead.

A Kenyan court has ordered 64 followers of a controversial starvation cult to undergo psychiatric evaluation as they continue to refuse to eat.

The death cult case has rekindled debate on the regulation of religious worship in this very Christian country, which has 4,000 different organized “churches”, according to official figures.

In Uganda 23 years ago, over 700 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God – a doomsday cult that believed the world would come to a fiery end at the turn of the millennium: died. “The end of present times”, as one of its books phrased it, came on 17 March 2000. The Movement’s compound and the cult had tenuous links to Catholicism as  its leadership was dominated by a number of defrocked priests and nuns

Yet in the early 2000s, Pastor Mackenzie abandoned his job as a taxi driver and launched the Good News International Ministry. Mackenzie became known for his fiery sermons. He drew a significant following, says an assistant pastor who worked with him for years until they had a falling out.

“In the beginning, the church was good, there were no issues. The sermons were normal, but from 2010 his ‘end time’ messages began.The assistant pastor says Mackenzie told his followers to pull their children out of school, discard their national IDs, avoid hospitals, and start preparing for the end of the world. The Good News International Ministry was turning into Bad News. 

Jews, whose biblical prophets were the ones who first wrote about the end-times, and a future Messianic Age of worldwide peace and justice, recognized that the birth of a Messianic Age must be preceded by its birth-pangs, but emphasize mostly the glories of a world living in peace and prosperity with justice for all. 

Ancient Jewish prophecies did proclaim that there would be an end to the world as we know it, but they did not prophesy that the world will come to a fiery end. 

The Jewish date for all this to happen cannot be fixed ahead of time because humans have free will and in part, what humans do influences what God decides to do. The pre-Messianic Age marks the beginning of a time of major transition from one World Age into another. 

How we move through this transition, either with resistance or acceptance, will determine whether the transformation will happen through cataclysmic and violent changes or by a gradual religious reform of human society which will lead to a world filled with peace, prosperity and spiritual tranquility.

The Messianic Age is usually seen as the solution to all of humanity’s basic problems. This may be true in the long run, but the vast changes the transition to the Messianic Age entails will provide challenges to society for many generations to come.

But even when the events are rapid and dramatic, people rarely connect them to their Messianic significance for very long. The amazing rescue of 14,235 Ethiopian Jews in a 1991 airlift to Israel, lasting less than 40 hours, stirred and inspired people for a few weeks. Subsequently, the difficult problems the newcomers faced (similar to those of the 900,000 Soviet immigrants) occupied the Jewish media. Now both are taken for granted. The miracle has become routine. 

But if you had told the Jews of Ethiopia two generations ago that they would someday all fly to Israel in a giant silver bird, they could only conceive of this as a Messianic miracle. If you had told Soviet Jews a generation ago that the Communist regime would collapse, the Soviet Empire disintegrate, and hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews would emigrate to Israel, they would have conceived it only as a Messianic dream. 

In our own generation therefore we have seen the dramatic fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “I will bring your offspring from the (Middle) East and gather you from the (European) West.  To the North (Russia) I will say ‘give them up’ and to the South (Ethiopia) ‘do not hold them’.  Bring my sons from far away, my daughters from the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 43:5-6)  Isn’t it amazing how people adjust to living in a radically new world and forget how bad things were in the past. 

Repentance produces changes in the future of both individuals and nations. Repentance enables some individuals and communities to escape the consequences of prior evil. On the other hand, God’s promise is that evil powers will never succeed in destroying Israel or in overcoming justice in the long run. Thus even without full repentance, God will act if the Divine promise of a Messianic Age is threatened. 

As Isaiah states, “The Lord says: you were sold but no price was paid, and without payment you shall be redeemed.” (Isaiah 52:3) i.e. all your suffering in exile was not really fully deserved, and your redemption from exile will not really be fully earned. Both are part of God’s outline for human destiny and will occur sooner (through repentance) or later (in God’s own time). 

Reciprocity and interactively are the fundamental basics of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, and make Judaism special, just as all kind and  loving relationships and religions are special and unique.  

God shines that light into the world, illuminating pitfalls and stumbling blocks along the way. Yet Torah remains merely a book, its instructions mere words, if we don’t translate them into living deeds. It is in our hands to take the teachings of the Torah and of later rabbinic insights and to let them shine through our example and by teaching others. 

The Passover Haggadah (a book that’s been revised, reprinted, and republished over 6,000 times, mostly in the last 200 years) states: Passover is a journey “from sorrow to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to light, and from bondage to redemption”.

And as the Qur’an states: “We certainly sent Moses with Our signs, [saying], “Bring out your people from darkness into light, and remind them of the days of Allah.” Indeed in that are signs for everyone to be patient and grateful.” (14:5) and “Allah is an ally of those who believe. He brings them out from darkness into light.” (2:257)

Finally, if one believes that God inspired prophets are able to describe scenarios of various developments in the distant future then one has to accept that the understanding of these passages should change and improve as we come closer and closer to the times they describe. As an example, Jeremiah describes a radical future in which women surround men, “The Lord will create a new thing on earth-a woman will surround a man” (Jeremiah 31:22). 

The great commentator Rashi understands ‘surround’ to mean encircle. The most radical thing Rashi can think of (and in 11th century France it was radical) is that a woman will propose marriage (a wedding ring, or the encircling the groom at the wedding ceremony) to a man. Now the proportion of Australian women in managerial occupations rose from around 18% in 1966 to nearly 40% in 2021. And the proportion in professional occupations grew from 35% to 56%.

In today’s feminist generation we can see women surrounding men in fields once almost exclusively male such as law, medical and rabbinical schools. Of course, this means that a few generations from now we might have even better understandings of some predictive passages in the prophets so humility should always be with us. 

Prophet Joel (2:20) provides Many details about the demise of the northern alliance of Iran, Iraq, Syria. Lebanon and most north, Russia. The Lord promises to repel the northern army and  have the defeated northern army face the east sea (the Dead Sea) and its rear end towards the utmost sea (the Mediterranean Sea): “But I will remove far off from you (Israel) the northern army, (of  the northern alliance of Iran, Iraq, Syria. Lebanon and most north of all, Russia) and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the east sea, and his rear end toward the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, because he has done many (destructive) things.” (Joel 2:20)

But the real lesson from all this is that humans should not look forward to a Judgement Day when all our enemies, and all evil, will suddenly disappear in a cataclysmic purge. Instead, we should have faith and trust in the ability of religiously inspired human stewardship to expand and transform our world into a Messianic Age of political and ecological justice and peace. As Prophet Jacob says: “O my sons! go you and enquire about Joseph and his brother, and never give up hope of Allah’s Mercy: truly no one despairs of Allah’s Mercy, except those who have no faith.” (Qur’an 12:87)

In the words of a 15 year old Jewish girl who was soon to die: “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. 

“I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again. In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the day will come when I shall be able to carry them out.” From the Diary of Anne Frank” whose words have been read by tens of millions of people throughout the world.

Indeed, there is a view, espoused by the well known Jewish writer, Franz Kafka, that the Messiah will come not at the beginning, but at the end of the Messianic Age; to congratulate humanity for achieving the vision of the Biblical prophets.

So we will fulfill the 2700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah: “On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will join a 3-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance. (Isaiah 19:23-5)

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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