by Odimegwu Onwumere
Monday, 13 February 2012 13:24, Published in Left magazine,
Rome, and translated by George Wright
The increasingly aggressive mindset of many organized religionists in Nigeria today is having a devastating effect on the unity of Nigeria.
These people think that God is their personal property because the constitution of Nigeria stipulated Christianity and Islam as the two official religions in Nigeria. They’re oblivious to the fact that this was the British imperialists’ way of looking at things.
This marooned way of looking at issues that misinformed one Adamu Adamu who on the 10th of February 2012 wrote an article in Daily Trust, titled, “Soyinka – Still in Bo-Ro-No State” accusing Professor Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Laureate, of being totally ignorant about the most burning issues in international current affairs, as well as of a related issue at home.
Inter alia, Adamu exposed himself to the gallery when he said that Soyinka suffers from tribal hubris and needs to be cured; claiming that the pagan practices that Soyinka was proud of now only belong to the past, and are no accomplishment because every tribe has had them.
Adamu believes that there is no religion like Judaism, Christianity and Islam (1) and sees anything short of these as heathen.
He characterizes Soyinka’s traditional Yoruba beliefs, such as the Ifa Orisa divinations, as primitive nonsense. (2)
In fact Adamu is merely envious of how the Yoruba hold on to their culture so stubbornly, and when confronting Boko Haram – a drastic Islamic wing – doesn’t know that God is neither Jewish, Christian or Muslim.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu tried to educate schooled (but not well educated) religious dogmatists like Adamu in his book “God Is Not A Christian: And Other Provocations.” In 1989, during a mission to the city of Birmingham in Britain, Tutu addressed a forum of leaders of different faiths, where he corrected the mistaken impression given by many organized religionists who see God as their birthright.
Tutu explains succinctly in his book the awe-inspiring fact that accidents of birth and geography determine to a very large extent to what faith we belong: the chances are very great that you will become a Muslim if you were born in Pakistan, a Hindu if you happened to be born in India, a Shintoist if you were born in Japan, or a Christian if born in Italy.
He regrets not knowing the real significance of this (3) – perhaps that we should not succumb too easily to the temptation to exclusiveness and dogmatic claims to a monopoly of the truth of our particular faith – you could so easily have been an adherent of the faith that you are now denigrating, but for the fact that you were born here rather than there.
Tutu also warns chauvenists like Adamu not to insult adherents of other faiths by suggesting they are really religious without knowing it – as sometimes also happens when Christians, for instance, tell adherents of other faiths that they are really Christians without knowing it.
Instead, Tutu asks us to acknowledge, welcome and respect adherents of other faiths for who they are, in all their integrity, along with their conscientiously held beliefs, and walk reverently on their holy ground – taking off our shoes, metaphorically and literally. While holding on to our own particular and peculiar beliefs tenaciously, we should not pretend that all religions are the same ( for they are patently aren’t). Instead, we must be ready to learn from one another, without claiming that we alone possess all of the truth and that somehow we have a corner on God.
Tutu admonishes hypocrites like Adamu that we should acknowledge in humility and joyfulness that the supernatural and divine reality we all worship in some form or other transcends all our particular categories of thought and imagining, and that because the divine – however named, however apprehended or conceived – is infinite, and we are forever finite, we shall never comprehend it completely.
So we should seek to share all the insights we can, and be ready to learn, for instance, from the techniques of the spiritual life available in religions other than our own.
He admits that most religions have a transcendent reference point, a mysterium tremendum, that comes to be known by deigning to reveal itself, or himself, or herself, to humanity; that the transcendent reality is compassionate and concerned; that human beings are creatures of this supreme, supramundane reality in some way, with a high destiny that hopes for an everlasting life lived in close association with the divine, that can be absorbed either without distinction between creature and creator, the human and divine; or in a wonderful intimacy which still retains the distinctions between these two orders of reality.
Tutu advises bigots like Adamu to read beyond their own prayer mantras, because the classic texts of various religions reveal substantial convergences in matters of prayer, meditation, and mysticism that we can discover and rejoice at. We have enough that conspires to separate us – instead let’s celebrate that which unites us, which we share in common…
Surely we can rejoice that the eternal word, the Logos of God, enlightens everyone – not just Christians, but everyone who comes into the world; that what we call the Spirit of God is not a Christian preserve, for the Spirit of God existed long before there were Christians, inspiring and nurturing women and men in the ways of holiness, bringing to fruition what was best in all.
We do scant justice and honor to our God if we want, for instance, to deny that Mahatma Gandhi was a truly great soul, a holy man who walked closely with God. Our God would be too small if He was not also the God of Gandhi. If God is one, as we believe, then He is the only God of all his people, whether they acknowledge him as such or not.
God doesn’t need us to protect Him, so many of us perhaps need to have our notion of God deepened and expanded. It is often said, half in jest, that God created man in His own image and man has returned the compliment, saddling God with his own narrow prejudices and exclusivity, foibles and temperamental quirks. God remains God, whether God has worshippers or not…
When interviewed by Timothy Dalrymple on August 15, 2011, R. Kirby Godsey, a theologian, philosopher and university president, reflects on salvation, grace, and the problem of other religions, as explored in his book , “Is God a Christian?”.
Godsey asserts that the stakes for mankind have grown too high for any of us to engage our faith as if our understanding of God represents the only way God’s presence may be known in the world. Just like Tutu, Godsey is convinced that we cast our vision of God in terms that are too narrow and limited.
Many of us who’ve grown up in the Christian tradition may think it’s obvious that God belongs to our tradition, that God is one of us, but it’s just as apparent to people who grew up in different religions, that God’s word and ways are not the exclusive property of the Christian or Islamic traditions. At the very least, people of genuine piety and profound religious conviction, who have come to that piety through other avenues, deserve our respect and a listening ear.
Godsey tells racists that each religious tradition is only one avenue by which human beings have sensed and expressed their own sense of God’s presence, and we should never impose the limitations of our own perspectives and understanding upon God, who is neither Christian, Jew or Hindu. God is above all of our own perceptions and expressions of God.
Godsey says, “This in no way diminishes my own Christian commitment” and warns that we should never assume that the validity of the Christian tradition is dependent on the invalidity of every other tradition. While the light of God’s presence in the world came to him chiefly through Jesus Christ, others can have experienced God’s presence in the world outside that tradition, so he cannot deny that God has spoken in other languages than the Christian language.
Godsey had written his book before adamant Adamu’s attacks on Soyinka’s beliefs and Yoruba cosmology, and also before the slaughter in Norway, where Anders Breivik cited the defense of Christendom as a justification for the murder of innocent men, women and children. Wasn’t this just another depressing confirmation of the urgency of creating communities of conversation across religious boundaries?
Godsey would say it is, and cry out to the many Adamus of this world that there’s a mountain of bad religion in the world – every religious tradition, including Christianity, has its dark side. Religion goes awry when it’s used for evil purposes. “People kill and maim in the name of God, or Allah, or Yahweh,” Godsey says.
While Soyinka might hold stubbornly to Yoruba traditional belief, this does not make him an evil person merely because, in the eyes of the Adamus, he isn’t from the Jewish, Christian, or Islamic traditions.
As Godsey points out, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Hindu fundamentalists – they’re all cut from the same cloth.
Fundamentalist exclusivity identifies God with the Christian order. Therefore everything that challenges that social order is a challenge to God, to every Christian, and to humanity; leading to the kind of terrible human tragedy we have witnessed in Norway.
Another writer, Farouk Martins, in an article entitled, “Africa Ignores Its Religious Actualization For Economic Growth”, published on Sunday, 29 January 2012 in the Nigerian Village Square, warns us that many Africans are too susceptible to foreign religious bigotry.
Martins tells the conceited religionist Adamu that Africa’s indigenous religions have no identifiable or official role in causing its religious, ethnic or economic problems, whose root causes lie in deprecating its own relatively peaceful indigenous religions that have no drive to dominate others.
Instead, religions that have often benefited Africans, and could have been geared to meet modern political and economic challenges, have instead been discarded in favour of Muslim and Christian religions that often work to the advantages of others at Africa’s expense.
He warns the brainwashed Adamus that there is much more to religion than many people realize. While many countries on every continent but Africa are proud of their own indigenous religions, the only officially recognized religion in most African countries is either from Europe, Asia or the Persian Gulf. As long as this is the case, we will never get to root cause of the insoluble ethnic and economic problems within Africa, because of a lack of self-actualization.
The religious actualization of a country’s economy (4), Martins says, can be seen in Indonesia or Saudi Arabia, in the Indian caste system ( which emphasises the division of labor ) and in the Judeo-Christian capitalist system in North America ( “In God We Trust!” ). On the other hand, religion was suppressed to actualize political and economic growth in China (Buddhism) and in soviet Russia ( all religions).
“Africa lost out on either actualization, by suppressing indigenous religion while actualizing those of Muslim and Christian to others’ advantages,” Martins tells the Adamus of this world.
Martins goes further to say that the Hindu, Sharia and Judeo-Christian economic systems culturally enhance the economic base of their societies, while China and Russia saw religion as an impediment to their political economy. He says that what is common in all of them is the furtherance of their economic systems. Africa is similar to the communists in rejecting its own indigenous religion in its political economy, but lost the advantages since Muslim and Judeo-Christian economies were established to further their own commercial interests and not those of Africa.
“Africans also use indigenous religion in praying for good harvest, rain and guidance in our local commercial transactions,” Martins reminds the blind Adamus. He also cites as examples of our own neglected indigenous political economy, the commercial transactions of the Esusu banking system, and the cabinet form of government in the Oyo Empire.
Martins goes on to argue that Africa’s deep religious and ethnic problems are caused partly by a lack of national focus or loyalties in its individual countries. If loyalties to their own nation, or to one religion, had united
– the Tutsi and Hutu peoples in Rwanda,
– the descendents of Liberia’s indigenous peoples and the freed slaves who settled there, and
– the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba peoples in Nigeria,
it would have drastically reduced the ethnic and religious conflicts in their countries to the benefit of their economic and scientific progress.
Martins also warns partisan Adamus to note how the Somalis have the same language, but not the same national loyalties, because their different religions contribute significantly to their outlooks in life…
He warns that domination creates a pyramid, with most contributions going to the top, which is usually occupied by the conquerors.
This rarely admitted fact is amplified in many countries on every continent by officially recognised religions that organise prayers to their God for mercies and solutions, before assemblies, meals and at ceremonies at election-time, official jamborees and cultural events.
Also, after any tragic events, most people seek consolation in their religious leaders through atonement, sacrifice and trust in their God. Similar rituals are repeated in Africa today as on other continents, but only the Muslim and Christian religions are officially recognized!
Instead of Africa’s own religions being recognised at official government ceremonies, and in the country’s constitution, as on other continents, Martins regrets that Oya, Shango? and other African gods are only tolerated in the lands of their origin at some cultural events.
Even this makes the Adamus in Nigeria unhappy because they have turned against our own religion. Many African scholars believe that the conversion of Africans to a foreign religion is the first step into being domesticated, softened and made receptive to others’ ways of life. After all, throughout African history, coastal traders in gold and slaves soon followed foreign religious emissaries. (5)
Although there’s a universal culture to be polite to strangers, many invaders who were short of goods and resources in their own islands or continents threw that culture away in order to conquer others, merely assuming friendly faces to deprive their hosts of their resources. Meanwhile, those at home remained cordial, attracted to a new religion that was kind and considerate, to clean up cruel practices such as human sacrifice.
“Indeed, the evil ways and human sacrifices would only come later in form of exploitation and outright war with far deadlier weapons if resisted,” Martins argues, and the keepers of foreign religions that displaced our own, put their traders at the top of the pyramid, to dictate the stages of economic exploitation of resources that would follow for the people at the bottom. The bottom-line is that whatever is returned from the top as foreign aid enhances more of what is needed from the bottom…
Moreover the Adamus of this world would readily adopt religions from outside the Continent so that they can be seen as contemporary members of a universal society. While Adamu sees the Yoruba culture and everything African as primitive, and only to be studied as history, Martins has forebodings when he often hears Africans refer to the “civilized world, society, or people” without realizing the implication of such comparisons.
Because of intimidation by the Adamus in our country, the Igwe, Oba, Obi, Emir and other leading religious figures lost their power to govern after the introduction of the secular state.
A friend, once a seminarian, who is deeply rooted in the cosmology of the West, and is now an Igbo Spiritualist, narrates the nature of God by explaining that the Truth is beyond objective reality – a reality which itself becomes an ungraspable abstract when pursued extremely – God is not an ENTITY.
God simply IS, and the proof of this is Mortality – both man and nature may cease to be, but the supply-means of both continues to BE and will never cease. Therefore, logically, the source from where man and nature progress and gather their life-force, has to be far greater in all magnitude. Hence this other realm which supplies the life-force, although it cannot be seen, is much more ALIVE than that to which it gives interrupted-Life.
Hence, this other realm and the entirety of its force and impact, is attributed to Chukwu (meaning “Almighty”) , and “Yaweh” is simply one among many attempts of man to identify THE GREATER SOURCE of all that can be seen.
Further, he denies that God has a gender, because God created gender. So there is no such thing as a “He-God” , and the attempt by Judaism to view God through the lens of masculinity already flaws that religion and everything it expounds.
This is why he highly appreciates the wisdom of many ancient spiritual systems, including Igbo Spirituality (Odinala) and Yoruba Spirituality, which do not claim that God is a He, but that God simply IS.
Hence, according to Odinala, God is Chi-na-Eke (Igbo) – Spirit and Matter – because both aspects are found to proceed and abide within God.
Even those Western philosophers considered as holistic would have agreed that ultimately the greatest knowledge that one can attain is to know that they know nothing. ( 4) Hence, even such Western thinkers were close to realizing that God does exist. They simply didn’t have the spiritual patience and fervor to pursue the matter further, because if they had done so, they might have found God in themselves. “Your cosmology of God is as fair as it gets,” he declares, warning us that there’s no need to complicate things, as both scientists and religious leaders tend to do.
Chi-Ukwu (The Great Force) can be likened to things that are seen with the eyes, but Chi-Ukwu (Almighty) is not what is SEEN, but rather it gives force and provides nourishment for that which is seen. Hence, Chi-Ukwu’s persona is revealed in all that is seen.
Odinala offers one of the very neatest, clearest and applicable theologies on God: Chi-na-Eke bu Agbara. Agabra is a spiritual edict applied when explaining the perfection, or The Sacredness, that is God. Hence, Agbara becomes a deity or an aspect of God that Man can attain for himself. This aspect is the Holiness of God.
“I attended the Bishop Crowther Seminary in Awka. But after that phase of my life, I was blessed to find even greater truths than was offered within the seminary. And that is the knowledge of Self,” he acknowledges. “It is this knowledge that opened my eyes to appreciate the spirituality of Odinala.”
Some Christians too are wondering if Jesus Christ is the only way to God.
A commentator on an exerpt from Tutu’s book says that “as a Christian I have always felt conflicted about how Jesus could be the only way. Even as a child it didn’t sound quite right or fair but I felt disloyal even thinking that.
A few years ago a book entitled “Building a Noble World” came out and its author finally answered this question for me in a completely logical way…”
This same commentator says that such ultimate claims as “I am the only way” or “I am the only God” cause confusion to many, and are contradictory – how can Jesus, Mohammed or Buddha all be considered as representing the only God?
“The answer lies in this analogy: When a river merges into the vast ocean, it loses its identification as a river. Then, the river’s declaration “I am the ocean” becomes true.
Similarly, when a prophet merges his sense of individuality with the all-pervasive Consciousness, his declaration “I am the only God” is entirely true.
As far as the ultimate realization of every founder of a religion is concerned, it is the attainment of the same Absolute Reality. It is for this reason that the title Christ conveys exactly the same universal consciousness as does the title Buddha,” – Shiv R.Jhawar
This question may be as much about the operation of the human imagination as about religion – any God is as real as our imagination – but the Adamus of this world feel that they should hold a monopoly on the human mindset of God, and hence the Soyinkas are in error.
To customize God they will tell you that JESUS IS GOD and GOD is JESUS; or Mohammed is God, or God is Mohammed.
It is saddening how the Adamus’ organized religions have always protected God, who needs neither human protection nor being saddled with their own narrow-mindedness. The Christian bible says that God created man, but it is very sad that man is creating God in recent times.
The Adamus’ religious intolerance in Nigeria, and by extension in the world, is a blight on humankind, even when they’ve never in point of fact heard God speak to them whatever their age. Instead they’ve relied on religious dogma to imperil humankind at times, without furthering the understanding of God’s nature, as manifested even in ‘non-religionists’ that include agnostics, atheists and naturalists.
Billions of people somehow accept organized religions, and one observer claims that for many of them, fear is the main reason why – fear of ostracism, fear of hell, fear of loneliness, or fear of the devil; – and intellectual dishonesty is often behind this.
Another observer says that some Catholics have only been indoctrinated in their faith through fear of the pillage, murder, rape, torture and deprivation once sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church in the past during their bid for world domination and power – under the threat of hellfire, brimstone and the “devils” embodied in the gargoyles still present on churches to this day – to cow the illiterate and gullible masses. And many still firmly believe in the bill of goods they were sold.
Muslims also became what they are today by exactly the same means. “The only difference is that Islamic indoctrination as tiny tots expressly forbids them from changing their religion and the interpretation of the archaic rules they follow is the whip that rules them.
Orthodox Jews are just as blinkered except I have not seen historical data of any atrocities they perpetrated to force others to join their religion……… I believe the man named Jesus Christ in your bible “christened” us all as such with the exhortation to love your brother” the observer says.
Sadly, many of these religionists in the world today do not follow God but only God’s so-called intermediaries, narrowing the scope of what is explicitly Godlike.
“The Bible is political history: inclusion or exclusion of writings and events have been altered many times throughout history by men,” another commentator says. “God is more than we can fathom.”
This sheds light on the description in the New Testament of how Jesus Christ prayed to God before his crucifixion, asking if there was another way, before surrendering His own will to that of the Father. So either Christ prayed to himself and gave up what He wanted for what He wanted, or they are two individuals that are one in purpose.
Scripture tells us that a man and woman become one in marriage. Not the same person though.
Many passages in scripture tell of Christ praying to his Father, doing his Father’s will, returning to his Father, etc. When Christ taught His disciples to pray, for example, He said they should address the Father, in Jesus’ name.
He never said “pray to me, in my name,” pinpoints a commentator.
“Part of the problem here is the same that many make: conflating the person with the faith.
Far too many Arabs, for instance, are “Muslim” without ever making a real decision about that identity. Same goes for many Hindus, Catholics and Evangelicals.
Our problem is not that people fight over faith but that they fight over faith without even understanding or choosing faith,” another says.
The same Soyinka, that Adamu’s poor and embryonic mindset tries to debase for his rational opposition to the bloodbaths of the radical Islamic sect called Boko Haram, is honoured without reservation across the world, and widely regarded by the Yoruba people as a nobleman.
While Adamu swaggers as an educated person, he refuses to abide by an age-long rule seeing no ethnic group, tribe, religion, culture, etc., as superior to another. Some commentators on Adamu’s article have even questioned the contributions of his own ethnic group and religion to the advancement and development of human society; logically, morally, intellectually or spiritually.
“What have been the contributions of the Hausa/Fulani culture or religion to the advancement of humanity?
And if I may ask, why must you always think that your Hausa tribe and your Islamic religion should be imposed on other tribes and religions?
Truly, Boko Haram is a creation of the mindset and backwardness of the North, and should therefore be curtailed by the collective will of Nigerians through the Federal Government by using superior intelligence and technology in bringing this Northern-Creation to its Waterloo,” a commentator enthuses.
Another fellow says that Adamu is writing from the point of a brainwashed person who sees salvation only in the religions of his Arab and Caucasian masters, and tells him that for each negative of African Paganism, there are 100 nasty negatives of Islam and Christianity. This person says that the bestiality, racism and hatred of some Jihadists and Christian missionaries cannot be compared with native practices.
“Mr. Adamu is a Voice of Intolerance,” says this commentator. “If someone writes a similar nonsense against Adamu’s much adored religion of Islam or Christianity as he has done to Soyinka’s belief, you will see them going around beheading people and destroying property. Alas! We, Proud Pagans respect freedom of speech.”
Adamu is getting his reward for being too hasty to write uncouth diatribes against Soyinka, a national icon and a hero to many Nigerians and foriegners, without thinking first.
Another critic says that indigenous Nigerians would have been better off being animists and heathens than supporting those organized religionists of this world who sacrifice their fellow human beings because of their intolerance. The rich cultures of the Latin Americas, especially Brazil and all the Caribbean countries, owe their existence to Africa’s great variety of local cultures and languages – including those of the Edo, Efik, Ibibio, Igbo, Ijaw, Ilaje, Isoko, Itsekiri, Ogoni, Uhrob amongst others, as well as Yoruba.
Because of his humanistic approach to national issues, Soyinka is often seen as an avatar like Gandhi, Buddha and other humane and ethical leaders; while a reader describes Adamu as merely a little-known writer, lacking both exposure and integrity, who is seeking unmerited popularity by taking on the altruistic Soyinka. By calling Yoruba culture primitive, Adamu behaves like a nursery school bully with multifarious inferiority complexes, unable to value other people or their cultures.
Other Adamus who only see God through Muslim or Western periscopes are no less guilty of wanting to pour their ideas down the throats of others, a real example of taking God’s name in vain. They should know that the future belongs to God, not to the organized religions in Nigeria and their adepts.
Odimegwu Onwumere, Poet/Author, Media/Writing Consultant and Motivator, is the Coordinator, Concerned Non-Indigenes In Rivers State (CONIRIV); and Founder, Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA), Rivers State. firstname.lastname@example.org