South Africans are religious.
We practice our religion whenever we are not working – and often while we work. Right now our religion has taken on proportions of national intensity. Newspapers headline our faith – or lack of it. Radio and TV commentators all offer their input into how well we worship.
Some gather in small groups in one another’s homes. Others gather at local community centres. There also those solitary individuals who prefer to worship alone. Many people have the clothing of our religious practice, and dress for the event. And many – if not most – prepare the sacramental elements that enhance sensory stimulation. Sometimes a sacramental fire has been lighted and the sacrifice is ritually burned over hot coals. The smoke adds to the occasion, and the offerings from the fire brings out the best in the worshippers. When the burned offering is added to the ritual drink, we enter into a state of religious readiness.
As with many other acts of religious worship, the time of worship begins with a song. Those who participate most fully in this moment will rise to their feet and place a hand over their heart. Some will even sing with tears in their eyes. But no-one can escape being moved by this moment. In response many will lift the sacramental cup in a toast to the blood soon to be shed.
Our worship is passionately pursued: cell phones are stilled, the non worshippers are banished from the room, and we sit shoulder to shoulder for the next 80 minutes. Worship is participatory: comments, outbursts of wisdom, corrections to the decisions of the levitical adjudicators, and shouts of joy, or groans of passion are often heard.
Our object of worship is a Golden Grail. And the means to recovering the Holy Cup is a small oval ball. There are 15 good high priests who protect this ball from 15 bad high priests. Sometimes the ball needs to be physically rescued from the evil high priests – an act that requires daring courage reminiscent of the quests undertaken by the knights of old. Our high priests wear green and gold. As of now the evil high priests wear white, or blue. But we will overcome them because our cause is noble.
And within two weeks we will have the Holy Grail in our possession.
And the nation will sings songs of gratitude and weep tears of mystical joy.
*(Robert Bellah wrote about “Civil Religion” as a way to describe the social activity that gave a nation its cohesion).