One of the first things that anyone notices during the 45 minute drive from Faleolo airport to Apia in Samoa is the number of churches that abound. There are churches of all denominations – Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Mormon, Catholic, Jehovah Witness, the list goes on. My older sister was struck by this as the taxi driver proudly pointed out the very large Congregational theological college and a bit further down the road the very large Methodist theological college.
This photograph was taken at the theological college near the Piura Cave Pool (which you have to pay the church to use – I’m not sure which denomination). No one seems to use a lawn mower so the entire area had been whipper snipped and then the women swept the grass into piles. It reminded me of Claude Monet’s series of paintings, The Haystacks (although there are no haystacks in this photograph – it’s the working the fields image that I have in my mind). It’s always important in religion to keep people occupied so that they don’t think for themselves.
The churches are the best kept and largest buildings in Samoa and each village has more than one church (except for Lalomanu). Many of the churches were the first to be rebuilt following the tsunami. People’s homes had to wait until the house of the lord was rebuilt. The church in Satitoa was untouched by the tsunami, surely a sign of the saintliness of the locals.
The churches insist on very strict obligations from their flock. The people have to pay a tithe of upwards of 30 per cent of their income and then the churches ask for more. It was suggested to me that some Samoans were enlisting in the Mormon church as the Mormons only required a 10 per cent tithe because most of their money came from the USA not from the locals. In a competitive environment, the cheaper option can become the better option. As Aristotle explained in Politics impoverishing your subjects and keeping them working hard prevents them conspiring against you. He was discussing tyrants but I don’t see the difference between tyrannical government and tyrannical god.
The people’s lives revolve around these churches. Sundays are days of rigid duties to family and church. People rise early on Sunday mornings to prepare for the long and arduous day ahead. Dressed in pristine white dresses and hats, the ladies walk to the churches after making sure lunch has been prepared. It seems that there are services at every hour of the day because there are constantly people in white walking to church, any church.
It would be impossible to fill and up-keep all these churches with such a small population (about 180,000 people across Samoa). The industry of theological colleges seems to be the most productive export industry in Samoa. They train them up and send them forth across the ocean to Australia and New Zealand who have a distinct lack of ministers for the various denominations.
In Samoa, the churches keep people in poverty by seeking more and more money to build the monstrous houses of god (I’m sure that’s what they would call them). The Catholic cathedral in Apia is estimated to cost $WST11 million to build. It will never be filled and the congregation will never collect enough tala to pay for such a monstrosity. It is quite disgusting to see the power the churches have over the ordinary people; all in the name of fear and brownie points.
The Christian schools are also well-kept and well-attended. It seems that only the poorest of the poor attend the government schools and hence, the lack of funding available for these schools. Once you’ve paid your dues to the church, there isn’t much left over for any necessities.
Samoan priorities seem to be very twisted; along with their reasoning. After the tsunami, many lauded the miracle of survival yet their neighbour, who was probably just as pious, wasn’t granted such a miracle. Why not? Didn’t they pray as hard? Didn’t they pay as much? I wouldn’t think that any Samoan would want to engage in such a discussion.
I have never tried to explain my atheism to the Samoans as they simply would not understand. The idea that you can be good without god would be beyond their comprehension. They have no concept of a life without a church. It takes over their entire existence. The missionaries may have taken away the cannibalism but in its place is something equally as poisonous. I know my atheism upsets my friends and family of faith but it upsets me that they can believe in such an inhumane and evil entity. As a family friend oncetold me, if god is real then it is the devil.