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.
Our God from ages past is Olodumare, Chukwu, Ubangiji, Osanobwa; who has all the attributes of God espoused in Deuteronomy in the Bible: The same God whom the children of Israel refer to as Yahweh. We refer to him as Olorun 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
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. Who then, is 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: “Africa as the “Dark Continent” where people had no idea of God and where the Devil in all his abysmal, grotesque and forbidden features, armed to the teeth and with horns complete, held sway.” These theorists had fantastic tales to tell about Africa. And one such tale was recorded in a Berlin journal which Leo Frobenius (an ethnologist and archaeologist and a major figure in German ethnography.) brought to our notice: “Before the introduction of genuine faith and higher standards of culture by the Arabs, the natives had neither political organization nor strictly speaking any religion ….Therefore, in examining the pre-Muhammadan conditions of the negro races, to confine ourselves to the description of their crude fetishism, their brutal and often cannibal customs, their vulgar and repulsive idols and their squalid homes.”
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 that human. They dismissed Africa as a spiritual desert: While some scholars admitted that the whole of Africa could not be a spiritual vacuum, they raised doubt as to whether the God that the Africans believed in was the “real God” or their own God. What racial and spiritual arrogance!
Whatever religion they met us practicing were denigrated, vilified and condemned with dehumanizing epithets. The colonial situation, 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. Though Islam preceded Christianity in our region, the colonizers did not see anything good in Islam too, so much so, that when the Christian missionaries opened their schools, Muslim students had to change their names and sometimes their faith before they could gain admission. 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!
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 spectacles of racial pride and superiority to deny this: It would be blasphemous to say that while the loving God cared for a particular section of His world, He had nothing in a clear, unmistakable way, to say to, or do with the rest.
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 and 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.
Misleading terms have been conjured over the ages to denigrate us and we accepted them with relish. Among such terms are; primitive, savage, fetishism, juju, heathenism, paganism, animism, idolatry and polytheism: The etymology of these words do not justify their application to our beliefs. Today many of our ignorant brothers and sisters use these terms too, to describe their brethrens; particularly our ignorant Muslim brothers; without any apology!
They coined all these 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. This is the fate of a Yoruba who attends service in a Hausa mosque. Wahala de oooo! 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! What then is the way out?
My friend, veteran film-maker, Tunde Kelani opined: We therefore should focus on pressing issues, security, food, economy, health, education and good governance. And God knows, we have to also unlearn because we have been so miseducated over time. The fact that this discourse is carried out in the language of our enslavers is a disgrace enough. Very few lettered people today in Yorubaland can write a page in Yoruba: Ditto for Igbos and many others. Very disgraceful! Neither can millions read D.O. Fagunwa’s, Ogboju Ode! Yet, we have the capacity to rethink and start a process of reorientation, at least for the sake of our children and our children’s children. We should return to our indigenous language and culture and take the advantage offered by science and culture to leapfrog into the 21st century; our culture and language are already dead but hasn’t disappeared.
We need an urgent reawakening and the sooner the better. Recently, the Yoruba Socio-Cultural Group, Voice of Reason (VOR) suggested among other things that schools in the Yoruba country should enforce the use of Yoruba in learning from Primary to Secondary School; a suggestion made earlier by late Professor Babs Fafunwa. This could be a new beginning.
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