IT IS not too often when journalists in Lesotho write about religion.
Religion is a beat that is often ignored.
We tend to write about religion when something dramatic and controversial happens.
As in last week’s shocking report carried in the Sunday Express.
Ten students from Sacred Heart High School and Holy Family High School in Maputsoe were reported to have disappeared from their schools a week ago.
The students, aged between 13 and 17, vanished after receiving some “revelation” about the impending “end of the world”.
The students left an almost incoherent letter which was addressed to their parents about the impending “end of the world”.
The letter said they had gone into the wilderness “to meet Jesus”.
The one-page missive was laced with a raft of verses from the Bible on the subject of the end.
At the time of writing, the students had still not been found.
Their whereabouts were still not known.
I hope they are found in good health.
This is by all accounts a tragic story.
The “end of the world” is a controversial and emotive subject even among religious groups who teach conflicting ideas on the matter.
It elicits both fascination and derision in equal measure.
Of course the Bible talks of the great, fear-inspiring “Day of Jehovah” where the earth and all the things in it shall melt.
The Bible therefore does warn of an impending global catastrophe.
Somewhere within its pages, we find this fear-inspiring warning: “The great day of Jehovah is near. It is near, and there is a hurrying of it very much . . . By the fire of his zeal the whole earth will be devoured, because he will make an extermination, indeed a terrible one, of all the inhabitants of the earth.”
I believe those words.
But it would be an injustice not to interrogate the “end of the world” narrative as peddled by these youngsters from Maputsoe.
It would also be dereliction of duty to fail to interrogate the “prophets” who have put those huge billboards about the May 2011 “end of the world” date.
The problem with this approach is that it violates a key scriptural principle — that neither Jesus, whom the students were so eager to meet in the wilderness, nor the angels “know that date or hour”.
Attempts in the past to read the mind of God on the subject of the date have drawn a blank.
In fact it resulted in disappointment and pain.
Those attempts resulted in derision for religion and believers.
I do not subscribe to Karl Marx’s infamous description of religion as the opium of the people.
On the contrary I believe religion has intrinsic value to humanity.
It also acts as social cement, uniting people from various backgrounds for a common good.
The church has played and continues to play an important role in society.
Early missionaries set up schools and hospitals.
Church-affiliated linguists designed writing systems for languages that had not been documented and had remained only in oral form.
Of course these missionaries also did terrible things, especially here in Africa.
They often saw their role as that of converting the native who was by all accounts a mere “savage”.
Where persuasion failed they often used brute force.
Reports of natives being whipped for failing to attend church were common.
The church’s harvest on the continent has therefore been mixed.
While religion is largely a force for good it is important that we do not allow gullible youngsters among us to be led astray by religious quacks.
I hope the 10 missing students are not led into some kind of suicide pact in the wake of unfulfilled expectations.