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Living Beyond God – the effects of the Scientific Revolution


Busani Ngcaweni is Director-General of the National School of Government, South Africa.

We live in an era where, at more than any other time, objective material conditions shape our existence, consciousness and governance beyond original imaginations and machinations of God – God, both as the existential idea and reality. This may be due to a combination of discontents with globalisation, ultra-nationalism, consumerism and the fourth industrial revolution – all drivers of inequality without reprieve from the supernatural being.

There are disruptions and pandemonium everywhere in the worlds of politics, technology, economics and social spheres. Desert storm became star wars in the destabilisation of regions and geographies. Then came cyber wars which profoundly interrupted the national sovereignty of states and state secrecy. In these maelstroms, the very existence of humanity is threatened by a determined forward march to a possible nuclear war. As if climate change hasn’t already causing suffering to many, from Mali to Miami. Again, some might say, reprieve from God.

This is an era where multilateral institutions (like the OECD, G20 and the IMF) and global monopoly capital (like George Soros and Bill Gates) agree that inequality is the greatest scandal of the 21st century. But that is where it ends; nothing beyond concessions and declarations.

God, perhaps, will eventually intervene if authorities cannot.

And if, as Nietzsche said, “God is dead”, what is the source of succour for people and where can meaning of life be found?

Religious zealots of mainstream faiths are struggling to make sense of the seemingly “faithless lifestyles” of the LGBTI community, tree-hugging environmentalists and technology worshippers like most millennials. The devil is on the cross! Many are hell-bent of annihilating each other in the imperial wars of faith, not wars of economic justice.

And if the fourth industrial revolution looks set to dominate all aspects of our existence and our very being, what would be the relevance of religion when it is replaced by reverence for Apple, Google, Samsung, Facebook and other software and hardware?

The belief system of Twitter and Instagram is instant gratification. We worship it. The number of likes is our currency, not how we treat each other and advance struggles for social justice.

There is angst about the takeover of technology which will run our lives through algorithms, super-robots and artificial intelligence. Everywhere we go, whatever we do, we leave fingerprints through #hashtags and selfies. We are near-naked, without privacy.

Once upon a time the sky was the limit. That was before man stayed in the moon and did free falls from space.

Beyond the sky was God, we were told. Today God is not the limit. Power and wealth are. God is dead. Men are on permanent tenterhooks

The gods of power and wealth exercise their free will over humanity. When we exercise free will we pretend that there is no God good, symbol of circumspection. When we stumble we want to kill him.

Change and innovation has, since the beginning of time, been at the centre of the history of human evolution and culture.

Humanity has had little or no choice but to embrace it. The tragedy however has been that the benefits of scientific revolutions have in the last two centuries not benefited humanity equitably.

With each innovation and invention discovered to make life easier, those in control of intellectual property and the markets have put price tags to make it unaffordable for many.

In many instances, technological advances have facilitated social exclusion and marginalisation of the poor. Workers have witnessed the end of work and the globalisation of poverty. In knowledge intensive economies, when work disappears, inequality rises.

In these knowledge intensive economies, neither appeals to God, human solidarity nor moral conscience matters. Life has been disrupted. We dare not think that those who profit from disruptions are the children of God who know that their destiny is intertwined with the majority of impoverished communities especially those from the global south. Perhaps the arrow of God is pointed elsewhere, away from the images of God we have created.

Like the Igbo, maybe we must recreate god who will live besides us, and serve us.

Let us not be deceived. The same artificial intelligence supermen can’t save us from mortality – that is where human knowledge ends and God returns to outlive us.

For her part Viviane Forrester writes: “We are living in the midst of a masterly deception, in a world gone forever, although we stubbornly insist on denying it… We are fiddling with the vestiges of that world, busily plugging gaps, patching up emptiness, fudging up substitutes around a system that has not just collapsed but vanished.”

In the same light, Slavoj Zizek announced some time back that we are “living in end times”. What will replace this end? Perhaps it will be the age of uncertainty where we will seek temporary refuge from the shifting meanings of our being. For poor communities and nations, uncertainty is their existential marker where survival means not dying or plunging into civil strife.

For those who have climbed the social ladder, conspicuous consumption is the zeitgeist.

Kardashianomics is here – a post-God phenomenon where the chosen ones make money from staging their lives, documenting and selling it to gullible reality TV and social media junkies.

Whilst others sell labour, knowledge, talent, produced goods or sell sex for sustenance, the Kardashians sell “life” for glory. Their economics are basic: live your staged life and the tills shall ring. We worship them for that: the gods of lifestyle and ideal living.

Not only do we want to keep up with the Kardashians, we want to live like them, whatever it takes. But something tells me that, it is undoubtedly more than just living in the end times that Zizek speaks of.

This is the era of living besides and beyond God. The era of the tyranny of the markets and the dictatorship of individualism. Servant leadership is confined to text books, an elusive virtue of the non-existent righteous.

Danny Archer might have had a similar idea in mind when he observed: “Sometimes I wonder if God will ever forgive us for what we’ve done to each other… Then I look around and I realise… God left this place a long time ago…”

He couldn’t have said it better. God long left this place filled with examples of human imperfections such as conflict, climate change, narcissism, religious intolerance and inequality.

Amid the inequality of the 99% (in material wealth, opportunities, technology) we are now left to dance to the capricious tunes of the 1% who are powerful, bullying us through slave-like work, World Wide Web, wealth and weapons.

In such an unequal world, reminiscent of the gilded age of previous centuries, which gave birth to the two World Wars and great depressions, humanity turned into objects. In our times of similar subjugation, we are exiled into a dehumanising sub-city which Tracy Chapman lamented: “Government and big business hold the purse strings / When I worked I worked in the factories / I’m at the mercy of the world / I guess I’m lucky to be alive / Here in sub-city life is hard.”

Seen with the prism of the mirror projecting the past and the path ahead, this death of God and the upright means we are deep inside the age of conceit where only the Darwinian strongest shall prevail.

For the weakest, your fate is slavery and poverty, if you don’t get raped, killed and your body parts eaten. How else can reconcile with nihilism in the presence of god where the powerful play god on the rest of us.

Are we children of a lesser God, our forebears have asked. Will we only inherit the sub-city or some other eternal borderless egalitarian kingdom as preached by the neo-Christian money-loving evangelists?

Without necessarily slipping into a degenerative state of helplessness, which Martin Luther King Jr warned against, we cannot be blamed for sometimes doubting whether the world will eventually become a better place for all, especially the people of the global south. How can it when Heaven hasn’t helped the man who makes another crawl!

Can we become fully human within the subjugating and patriarchal Euro-American networks of power that have smashed and grabbed us for centuries? Or like the “lost boys of Sudan” we must contemplate that perhaps god grew tired of us.

When there is so much political indifference, who will speak for and serve the children of the sub-city whose lives have been disrupted by the first, the second, the third and now the fourth industrial revolutions?

Hopefully, in our lifetime, these children of a lesser God whose being and belongings were smashed and grabbed for centuries will eventually be free, “now that god is dead”.

Certainly, the superstructures that govern our being and sustenance mark our existence beyond God.

Kulungile baba, as Ncwane said, it is A Luta Continua for the children of the sub-city who yearn for the post-oligarchical world order. DM

Busani Ngcaweni neither believes nor disbelieves in God


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