If the amount of prayers said by Nigerians is anything to go by, we should be not only the best but also the most peaceful country on earth. But alas, we have so much hate and greed in our hearts. We deny it all the time but it is evidently there. What we need and I hope becomes pervasive in our hearts is better knowledge of our faith, sincerity of purpose, selflessness…
I am delving into an area in which I have absolutely no clue. Notwithstanding, I write on the presumption that this would interest some people because it touches the very heart of humanity. I will ask the simply question: Why are we the way we are? I premise this piece on two fundamental assumptions. The first premise is that you believe in God, and the second is that you are Nigerian. If you are neither, then this piece is probably not for you. I am hoping I can steer a conversation by asking more questions than providing answers. This is particularly provocative because there is probably no right answer but a set of paradoxical views. The answers are neither white nor black but perhaps several shades of grey. A recent neuroscience research by Tony Jack suggested that humans suppress areas of the brain used for analytical thinking and engage the parts responsible for empathy in order to believe in God. They, however, do the exact opposite when thinking about the physical world. Fascinating, isn’t it? The deeply spiritual (read religious) individuals may find themselves in a bottomless sea of narratives. I prefer these discursive engagements over compulsive religiousity any day.
Concerning human nature, human salvation and the hereafter, far too many people claim expertise; they claim individual experiences that for them are “incontrovertible”, and some even claim divine messages. I am certainly not one of such people. Yet, I can’t stop myself jumping into this head-first because I am convinced there might just be some messages for a few people there. Please come along with me and let us do this together in the simplest way I can – no complications, no academic aerobatics, no Wole Soyinka stuff, no “Igilango Geesi” a la Biodun Jeyifo or even a Patrick Obahiagbon naughty stunt.
I was in reminiscence over why we often have difficulties in some aspects of our relationships with other human beings. Religion, prejudice, bigotry came highest in my thoughts. The problem with us human beings is that we are pretentious and conceited of our knowledge, yet mostly ignorant. We pretend that we are smarter than God without putting it in those words, but this is often manifested in our actions and attitudes. We pretend that we (not God) make things happen. We pretend that we are justified in all our little prejudices and “battles”, while denying we have any. We then pretend that we are Christians and Muslims but we are actually neither of those things. The believers in God prefer to fight each other, often because we believe our God is better than the God of the other person. Interestingly, the same believers are fine with the several millions of other human beings who have absolutely no belief in God.
Paradoxically, many non-believers tend to have better conduct in their deeds, well-developed consciences and often have much less hatred in them. It is such an irony, but what is my proof? I have none! You can’t prove these things, because it is faith! We claim that GOD can do all things; that God has made ALL things and that ONLY GOD can unmake ALL things. But it is all lip-service because in our hearts and more importantly in our actions we don’t really believe any of that – why?
I will explain.
If God can do and undo, then God can easily decide to make ALL of us of one religion (one faith) but God did NOT! It is not about choice, as some may want to argue. This choice is not available to all people in the world. What makes our ignorance convincing, at least to my naïve mind, is that there are over TWO billion Buddhists, Hindus and followers of Chinese traditional belief and religion in Asia (just China and India alone will take the lion share). There are also over ONE billion self-professed non-religious people, agnostics and atheists in the world. Many of these people are good people, even pious people. Adherents of the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) total about 3.8 billion (54 percent) of the 7.1 billion people who constitute the world’s population.
Remember to think about the potential multitudes within the self-professed 3.8 billion Muslims or Christians or Jews who just mouth it and never really worship in one way or the other. This group are probably likely to be more in number than those who actually worship and are committed to the doctrines of their faith! And we are not even sure how God will judge them; so let us not hasten to make judgements. At least so says Christianity and Islam – do not judge others. Let God be the judge.
Since I was going to be asking questions, here goes the first one: Has God made a mistake which He cannot correct despite His omnipresent and omnipotent and limitless powers? What do we hope to achieve for society and for the greater good when we do the following: fight and kill each other (Muslims and Christians) for dominance; deliberately and mischievously falsify and twist information about other faiths to make ours look better? Another question concerns the non-religious and non-believing people, who are in billions. To what extent do we sincerely bother about the rest of these non-religious and non-believing people?
Consider the following challenges Nigerians of both faiths are confronted with daily: False information designed by people of one faith deliberately to malign another faith. Often this is circulated widely on social media deliberately crafted with a malicious intent and completely oblivious of the likely attendant acrimony in society. The concerted efforts by some religious leaders to further impoverish their already downtrodden members, rather than help them to salvation, whatever that is. The obscene display of wealth, the competition to flaunt wealth among religious leaders, sometimes even within the same religious group. The poor are not left out of this relentless competition exemplified in the name they give their tiny power generator, when they get one – “I better pass my neighbour”!
In the workplace where Nigerians spend considerable time daily, complete disregard of minority beliefs/religions is prevalent. It is common practice to find insistence on praying at all gatherings and meetings both at the start and end. Yet, nearly all people apprehended for crimes, for corruption and for immorality in Nigeria are professed Muslims and Christians. In this instance, the non-believers are almost entirely marginalised!
In the places of worship, the proliferation of religious groups through several breakaway factions is unending, with most claiming they have had a calling to personally lead their own religious groups. We are corrupt both individually and collectively, despite having the most religious centres in our country. Therefore, we ask no questions about sudden wealth so we are not suspected or accused of jealousy. The rush for material wealth and prosperity has taken precedence over salvation or the hereafter. In a corrupt and decadent system like ours, decent people have two options: they either conform or they are crushed.
In our personal lives, we can also find much evidence. The ostentatiousness and flagrant display of opulence by people of faith, including the often claim that such is an evidence of answered prayers is a classic example; the desperation to insist on miracles as the most convincing evidence of spiritual powers and closeness to God. The insistence of Nigerians that only people in their close-knit group will go to heaven. The paradox of our personal lives, however, lies in the continued belief in witchcraft and the efficacy of potent supernatural powers as evident in “juju” usage and patronage. Also, our unrelenting commitments to the elimination of enemies who, by the way, we believe are all around us and are responsible for every disappointment we face, including traffic delays. Prayers are incomplete without a serious attention to enemies, who must die, but not change. And why do we have so many enemies? The presence of fetish materials, even in religious places? The conviction that there are given individuals who can remove all our problems and afflictions – the dibia, babalawo, boka etc. There is also our unwavering commitment to superstition, even in the face of scientific refutation.
I am befuddled when I think about these endless pretences (maybe even occasional stupidity) and complete intolerance of each other. Here and now I think of the several killings by violent groups, by kidnappers and the more significant but often ignored millions killed by our corrupt politicians. Our faiths, our prayers, our songs, our “devoted” daily worship, even religious leaders do not touch our heart to enable us make peace with our fellows. Sometimes animals seem better than us because animals tend to show more sensibilities and tolerance of each other than we human beings. Please do not come with the argument that animals kill because they do not kill for fun. We do!
If the amount of prayers said by Nigerians is anything to go by, we should be not only the best but also the most peaceful country on earth. But alas, we have so much hate and greed in our hearts. We deny it all the time but it is evidently there. What we need and I hope becomes pervasive in our hearts is better knowledge of our faith, sincerity of purpose, selflessness, and a desire and determination to contribute to the common good. So that we as a people as well as the indolent leadership we have had in Nigeria will also come to care about the common good.
Gbolahan Gbadamosi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org