‘May He give you all the desires of your heart” – Psalm 20:4.
A Belgian man, who was friendly with my father and would often visit our family when he was in the country, once gave me his old typewriter. It was a big, heavy, prison-grey Olivetti, with a tiny digital screen at the top and all the moving parts at the back. I loved it, but there was just one problem: I actually wanted a personal computer, one that I could write with and play Fifa.
I asked my parents and learned for the first time of that great divider of people: moolah. The Hlongwanes could not afford the expensive toy asked for by their eldest son. My mother told me to ask for it from God, who would provide it if it was right. “Pray for it,” my mother said. “The Bible says we ask God.”
I worked myself into a frenzy of spiritual fervour. I was sure God would magically transform the typewriter into a new computer.
Not a chance, mate.
I never thought to ask my mother if I had prayed to the right God or not. Because the one I grew up with isn’t really Santa. He’s the God of Galatians 5, whose gifts are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and control of the self.
There is another God at work. You may have come across His work on your friend’s Instagram photos – where she’s displaying her newest expensive purchase with the caption #blessed. Or perhaps that cousin who’s just obtained a new pair of Yeezys, also tagged #blessed.
His fruit are designer handbags, Hennessy swigged directly from the neck, exotic locations, new Jimmy Choos, that German sedan you have always wanted, sushi eaten off the bodies of naked models, and that beautiful new hair. And freedom from guilt.
Yes, this particular God works wondrously, does He not? Is there not a prayer He will not answer? Tacky new Louis Vuitton handbag? He’s your #blesser for that. Sponsored trip to Dubai, courtesy of your sugar daddy? You best tell your Instagram followers where that really came from – tag it #blessed. New car? Doesn’t count if you don’t show it off, bbz. Don’t forget to acknowledge on Twitter who gave it to you! Best tag that show-off photo #blessed.
Ah, the Heavenly #Blesser. (You know what a #blesser is. He’s that older man, that patriarch lurking on campus, who lavishes gifts upon a young, #blessed person who in turn provides certain services of the flesh.) What a quintessentially South African God. He definitely looks after the material comfort of His chosen ones. Have you seen what some of these pastors and prophets drive?
A team at the University of Chicago concluded after a study in 2009 that we make God in our own image. Their report said: “People may use religious agents as a moral compass, forming impressions and making decisions based on what they presume God as the ultimate moral authority would believe or want. The central feature of a compass, however, is that it points north no matter what direction a person is facing. This research suggests that, unlike an actual compass, inferences about God’s beliefs may instead point people further in whatever direction they are already facing.”
This is a hyper-consumerist country. The only countries in the world with more shopping malls than us are the United States, Japan, China, Canada and the United Kingdom.
You could say that these are our cathedrals of worship, where we journey every weekend to offer our praise to the Heavenly #Blesser. Hell, in April the Mall of Africa opens in Midrand – at more than 100 000m2² it will be one of the biggest in the world. Bigger than perhaps any church building in the country that you care to name. Subtle.
Consuming, eating, is who we are.
It should not surprise anyone that we aspire to consume, given the sheer volume of advertising bombarded at us and the example set by our consumptive elites of all racial groups.
Poor and marginalised South Africans will find ways to make it happen for them, too, says Nomalanga Mkhize, who teaches history at Rhodes University. They find themselves a #blesser. “We are materially aspirant as a society, but most people do not necessarily have the means to satisfy this aspiration.”
And those who do must lord it over the rest, apparently. Have you driven through Sandton or Constantia recently? The #blessed Instagrammers didn’t start the trend. There is solid precedence of extravagance all around us.
The Heavenly #Blesser is a narrow and reductive God. He’s the God of capital, of rewarding his select 1% while the 99% starve. He’s the God who brings you into a world of absurdity: the typical South African is a poorly educated black woman with either no job or a menially paying one. This person will be told to measure their worth and standing by how much they eat. Eat what with no money? Exactly.
He’s a God that South Africans must necessarily make, to reflect our deeply messed-up society and to comfort those who have made it that their eating is blessed from above. It’s not showing off, it’s thanking Him! It’s not callousness, it’s gratitude!
Eating is our religion. Eat your fill, child. I do not blame you. From the very beginning you were bred to want. Get that paper. Live your best life.
Our Heavenly #Blesser is at the shopping mall, and His credit card is limitless. Pray, and ye shall enter into His shopping basket. Just don’t forget to hashtag. Be #blessed!
Sipho Hlongwane is a freelance writer.