By Babatunde Jose
Colonialism had a total influence on the society and the life of the colonized. Not only did it affect their culture and values, it engendered a lasting influence on the mindset of the colonized, especially their values and religious orientation; particularly their conception of God. Today, rather than concentrate on the needful and think of how to catch up with the rest of the world, we are daily engaged in unprofitable debate and discourse about religious domination and hegemony. We waste quality time and energy on mundane issues mostly ethnicity and religion, as if these would translate into better life for our people. We do not allocate time to query the quality of leadership we self-imposed on ourselves; rather we dodge these issues and escape into fantasies about separation or secession as if that is the panacea for our problems. We have failed to feed ourselves, provide decent and adequate shelter, school our children, provide basic healthcare, security of life and property. With all these failures, even if each village becomes a nation state on its own, they will not make headway if the problems are not adequately addressed.
Yet, we kill ourselves over whose god is more powerful than the other; which one works more miracle than the other. In this post-colonial state, we have lost all sense of value, vision and mission. Without a sense of history, we traverse the world like rudderless sailing boats; destination unknown and at the mercy of prevailing winds and stormy weather.
Our God from ages past is Olodumare, Chukwu, Ubangiji, Osanobwa; with all the attributes of God espoused in the Book of Deuteronomy in the Bible: The same God whom the children of Israel refer to as Yahweh; which they appropriated. We refer to him as Olorun in Yoruba which in ordinary parlance means the Olu Orun or the King of heaven. ‘He begets none and neither is he begotten’. We can only contemplate him and he is the creator and owner of heaven and earth. Up there in heaven, there is only one God: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God, is one! (Deuteronomy 6:4.) We also find the same theme in: Mark 12:29; Job 23:13; Mark 12:32; Romans 3:30; Galatians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:5; Zechariah 14:9; 1 Corinthians 8:4; James 2:19; Ephesians 4:6; For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13
There is no doubt, every people have a consciousness of God and the Supreme Being is encountered in different cultures and tradition. The God of Israel and His Covenant with his people is the basis of the Old Testaments which perceives Yahweh as an exclusive God to the exclusion of the Canaanites and other people’s mentioned in the books of the Old Testament. He was not the God of the Philistines, Edomites, Jebusites, Hivites, Hittites, Maobites, Ammonites, Perizzites and Midianies. This is the paradox of religion and the particularization of God. Paul in The New Testament widened the scope to include the Gentiles and later, peoples of other nations. But He was not to be the God of the Arabs and Muslims who were regarded as foes; And with whom many wars were fought.
He was definitely not the God of the Africans as espoused by racial bigots and anthropologists. “Emil Ludwig, an eminent biographer said: “How can the untutored Africans comprehend God? Deity is a philosophical concept which savages are incapable of framing.” Can you imagine? These show the ignorance, racial prejudice and arrogance of these theorists. These are the people who brought Christianity to us. Racist and patronizing, they still see us as less than human. Whatever religion they met us practicing were denigrated, vilified and condemned with dehumanizing epithets. The colonial situation, according Georges Balandier, French sociologist, anthropologist and ethnologist, defined as the domination of one people by another, acting in the name of racial, religious, cultural, and technological superiority: We were not only denied our God but our humanity was deprived of and denigrated. However, it is clear that the denial of our religious traditions and all its meanings for our spiritual existence, led to the debasement of our culture and its values. At that point, they stole our God! Their neo-colonial successors still behave in like manner.
Before the advent of these faiths, did our forefathers not have the concept of God? Were they polytheists as we are being made to believe? What is the concept of Olodumare, as espoused by late Professor Bolaji Idowu, President of the Methodist Church, in his book, Olodumare: God in Yoruba Belief: The most referenced book on the Yoruba concept of a supreme God.
Yet, we hold this truth to be self-evident that God is one, not many; and that to the one God belong the earth and all its fullness. 1 Corinthians 10:26. The God of Abraham is also the God of Babatunde and the God of Chinaka. The Quran is also very explicit on this theme:
Say: He is Allah. The One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him. (Quran 112:1-4)
It is this God, therefore, who reveals himself to every people on earth and whom they have comprehended according to the degree of their spiritual conception, expressing their knowledge of Him. It would be looking at facts through the prism of racial pride and superiority to deny this. Fortunately:”The societal values and sanctions of the old religion have been proven to be more effective than the new faiths. Despite our Bible thumping and Quran mouthing, there is more corruption, crime, delinquency and waywardness in our society today. Our religiosity has become a transparent sham, and our prayers to God an opaque sham. Our leaders do not fear God anymore. They are today more brazen in their thievery. We continue to live a lie and our whole lives have become truncated; our education, progress and development as a people are stunted.
Religion has its own evolutionary trend and Christianity and Islam are not exempt. We could trace the Bible to thousands of years before Abraham. Most stories in the Old Testament have their original sources in Sumer: Most outstanding is the story of the flood, which is found in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Churches are decorated with ‘graven images’ and there are widespread beliefs in patron saints, angels and even demons. Belief in evil spirit abounds; if not, what did Jesus cast out of the woman in the Bible. The Christian Cross predates Christianity by thousands of years, as it was a symbol common in Babylonia and Egypt. Even the Psalms are found in the Sumerian epic.
They coined all unsavory epithets to condemn our culture and values, to make us develop a spiritual inferiority complex. Rather than chart a new course for ourselves, we are busy fighting and killing ourselves over religions we know next to nothing about. Millions of Muslims in this country have no idea what the Imam is saying when leading the prayer, while millions too, including many Imams cannot recite most chapters of the Quran in our language. Like the Catholic Church of old that conducted its services in Latin, many of us are spectators at Juma’at services conducted in languages other than our own. I had to ask my friend Mustapha the meaning of the words we were chanting during Hajj as none of us spoke Arabic except him; just as millions of Muslim pilgrims do not know why they have to circumambulate the Kaaba 7 times!
Finally, we should realize that religion; all religions are man-made and evolved from the values, culture and perception of a people, be they Hebrews, Arabs, Kikuyu, Azande, Indians or Chinese; including the idiosyncrasies they have evolved to uphold these values; which today we call religion. Echoing Jesus; the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Let us leave religion to take care of our moral and spiritual precepts. It should not matter if you are Muslim, Christian or other faiths; there is only one God up there. And only one moral principle: Do onto others as you would love them to do onto you.
Let us face our real problem which is catching up with those who have left us behind: Seek ye the political kingdom and every other thing shall be added unto you. We owe it to our children and children’s children to lay a sound socio economic foundation on which sustained development can be built. Quod Erat Demonstrandum!
Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend
Parting Shot: “There is no religious consideration when the conclave sits to deliberate on robbing the national exchequer”!