My thoughts: Religious, Social and Ethnic Hypocrisy

Posted: July 8, 2012 in POLITICS, TRAVEL. LIFESTYLE. FASHION
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A few months ago, I received a forwarded email from a friend, transcribing his pastor’s preaching from that Sunday morning. This preaching included intricate details and accusations that summarily described Islam as a violent religion, a religion that is designed to bring down Christianity & all mankind, and a religion that is dedicated to tearing Nigeria apart.

After three or four reads of this email, I was at the brink of a full-blown panic attack. Not panic because I believed or even cared about the content of this preaching, but panic that a number of people would believe every single aspect of this preaching, in their blind followership of yet, another religious leader and his interpretations of the holy book.

Today, I have decided to quietly reflect on what all of this means to me, and to put things in context, on religion, and on a number of other issues.

I am a young Christian-Catholic, who has been privileged to travel all around the world, break bread with people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, be shown hospitality and love by all kinds of people, despite our differences in language, race, culture, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. I have tried ceaselessly to gain insight into some of the workings of other religions and ethnic backgrounds, as well as the perspectives of people of different sexual orientations. In simple terms, I may have become so open-minded, that my brain is finally ready to fall out ☺

Through all of these, I have come to develop certain perspectives on life and life’s issues and I would like to share a few musings, and hopefully get other people thinking.

Pluralism
According to the New Oxford American dictionary –
Pluralism |ˈplo͝orəˌlizəm| (noun)
A condition or system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority, etc., coexist.
a. A form of society in which the members of minority groups maintain their independent cultural traditions
b. In Philosophy, a theory or system that recognizes more than one ultimate principle.

In a previously shared article, by Isaiah Berlin on Pluralisms (http://www.cs.utexas.edu/~vl/notes/berlin.html), he points out that “If pluralism is a valid view, and respect between systems of values which are not necessarily hostile to each other is possible, then toleration and liberal consequences follow, as they do not either from monism (only one set of values is true, all the others are false) or from relativism (my values are mine, yours are yours, and if we clash, too bad, neither of us can claim to be right).

I have over the years, embraced pluralism in many aspects of life and life issues, and it may account for my open-mindedness, respect and appreciation of different ways of life and all kinds of differences between people. It may also account for some of the views expressed here.

Muslims are Terrorists? 
On December 25th, 2011, there were a series of church bombings in Nigeria, and I listened to many young Christian Nigerians bash Islam and make all forms of reckless accusations about how Islam is a religion of violence and how all suicide bombers are Muslim and how Christianity is such a perfect religion and all else is wrong. I also received a lot of social media backlash, from some people who thought I was Muslim or Atheist, because of my utterances.

It is verifiable fact, that through the history of mankind, Christianity as a religion has shed as much innocent blood, as any other religion. And also a fact that every religion has extremists. It is also known that the Holy book of every religion is subject to manipulation and different interpretations.

My knowledge of Islam, though limited, shows that Islam is as much a religion of love and peace as Christianity itself. The holy Qur’an teaches about your individual war against your flesh and your humanity, in your aspiration to be as Allah has made you to be. This war, the holy Jihad, has quite often been interestingly (and in my opinion, wrongly) described as an individual war against Christians and infidels. Islam teaches kindness, understanding, love and strive for perfection. Christianity teaches the very same things. However, local and global media would always like to maintain a stereotype and paint a picture of Islam as violent, a production line of terrorists and a people with primitive practices. All the news and half the movies emphasize this. Almost no one is taking time out to point out the basic fundamentals and foundations of Islam and Christianity, and how they share more similarities than differences. The few people who do are branded atheists, confused or ignorant.

On what basis do people say that Muslims are terrorists? Is it possible that a misguided Christian can be used to shed innocent life? Will such a Christian be branded a terrorist? Is it possible that terrorists and suicide bombers are just people, whose faiths and beliefs are manipulated to the benefit of others?

The holy Bible teaches us Christians, that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that no one can go to the father, except through Christ. Some will argue that “the way, the truth and the life” is guaranteed by believing in Jesus Christ (ultimately declaring Christianity the only viable religion). The real question however is “Was Jesus teaching us that the way, the truth and the life, is simply living a Christ-like life of kindness, understanding, love and perfection?” This interpretation of “the way, the truth and the life” complements every other teaching of Jesus and the bible, and is definitely my personal standpoint!

We Christians are regularly taught that we are nothing without the grace of God, that none of us knows the extent of God’s grace, that none of us can know exactly what God plans for us and that we are not allowed to judge. Half the world might be made of Christians, but the implication of these teachings is that none of us knows exactly how God will judge us, in regards to his teachings or our fellowship of his will.

Is it not then presumptuous to think and say that we do know how God will judge, especially when our understanding of the holy book is limited? Is castigating another religion, not abuse of the teachings of the Bible?

I do not claim to understand any religion completely, not even my own. I however know enough to know that Religions are perfect, but man is not. I know that time and time again, man’s fallibility has resulted in a manipulation of religion and faith, to political and economic benefits. I know that this will not stop after you and I are dead!

My simple reply to the aforementioned friend, whose email kicked off these thought process? “Be careful not to spread messages that will incite people to violence, based on a shallow or misguided understanding of another’s beliefs!

My religion has taught me to love, to understand, to be kind, to strive for perfection. This means that I must openly welcome and respect religious pluralism. I must openly welcome an opportunity to teach my religion, and yet, understand if the other person believes differently. Most importantly, I must teach the misguided and also cooperate with the next person in our strive to fish out men who do evil and manipulate people’s beliefs in order to secure political and economic points. My Muslim friends want the same. My Muslim friends want you to see their religion for what it really is.

I believe that Christianity and Islam both mandate that we understand and love each other, despite our differences!

Homosexuality is evil?
I am a law-abiding citizen. However, obeying the law can never be interpreted as agreeing with the law. Men, for men, make laws. This means that we are all allowed to disagree with a law in theory, and we are allowed to protest a law, within the confines of existing laws. This means that I can be outspoken about my disagreement for any law, so long as I am not disrupting law and order or constituting a nuisance.

I completely disagree with anti-gay laws. I believe that anti-gay laws infringe on the rights of individuals, on arguments of usually a cultural and religious nature. I believe that laws must not promote or advocate discrimination based on racial, ethnic, religious or sexual orientations. I believe that laws must protect the individual, every individual. Laws can never be designed to only protect the majority, at the expense of the individual. If an individual or a group of individuals are among the minority, they too must have laws that protect them.

The laws of a number of countries are anti-gay, and it is only right that people, who live in these countries, obey the law. It does not however make the laws fair, just or equitable. Laws are meant to make the world a better, more peaceful place. A law that fuels hate and discrimination is definitely not fulfilling this requirement.

Sexual orientation is complex in many ways, whether from environmental, social, psychological or medical perspectives. It is too simple minded to describe it as a choice that people make, and therefore one that can be unmade. Having been privileged to live with and work with many people of different sexual orientations, I am quite confident that we, who are heterosexual, can never fully understand homosexuality. In our fear of something that we do not clearly understand, we apply a label and quickly resort to discrimination and simplifications. We are quick to pull the religious cards and apply the socio-cultural stamps.

As a young, tech-savvy, Nigerian, Christian, I fail to understand how we can go against something purely on the basis of it being “foreign” to our culture or it being branded “evil” by our religion. We have embraced non-traditional religions, technology and entrepreneurial skills that are foreign to our culture. Very little of what makes up our every day lives, reflect the traditional African culture of yesteryears. Additionally, Christianity and Islam both mandate that we understand and love each other, despite our differences. They also mandate that we show kindness and strive for perfection in our lives as individuals. I am not really sure how well we are practicing the teachings of our holy books, if at the slightest show of a difference, we seek to take up arms and brand and ostracize. Is this what our religions really teach us?

If Homosexuality is “wrong” by virtue of religion, and hating, abusing & discriminating homosexuals is wrong by virtue of religion, how then can we, so-called religious people, make it right? Ever wondered about that?

How would you feel to be branded and ostracized because you are Nigerian or black? How would you feel about being branded and ostracized because you are Christian or Muslim? How are these brandings different from the ones we apply to homosexuals? Aren’t we all already branded and ostracized enough, for one thing or another?

Ethnic divides within Nigeria
A lot has been said about ethnicity in Nigeria and power shifting and geo-political zones, that it is redundant doing a recap. A lot has also been said about how there are too many Hausas, Igbos, Yorubas, Northerners and Southerners, and not enough Nigerians. I will only share a small narrative, and some questions that keep me up at night.

I recently wrote a friend, about how I have failed to understand the need for Geo-political zones in Nigeria and how I do not understand people casting a vote for a weaker politician or leader, on the basis of an ethnic bias and how it makes no sense to hire a less qualified individual for a job, simply because we share a similar ethnic root.

He replied thus:

You know that you have to be careful with the Northerners, they have been holding unto power for a long time and do not want to relinquish it. It is not fair or right. We need to rule small. The zoning is good because now, power can shift and everyone can do something small for his or her people, when they are in power. Development will be going around, through the zones and everyone gets their shot eventually. It does not matter who the better politician is, we must utilize the zones and make the best of our time to rule, as southerners.

As for the Yorubas, wait till you marry or work with one of them. They dislike you just because you are Igbo. They say you are disrespectful, greedy and not well exposed. They always want to have discussions in their language and they only plot to favor their own people, while leaving you out in the cold.

This response came from my 25-year-old Nigerian lawyer friend, who is obviously Igbo.

I cannot even begin to highlight how flawed this argument is. None of the added arguments, that other people have thrown out make any sense either or can stand up to scrutiny.

The questions I ask myself are a lot.

Do you even know what people from other tribes think of you, on the basis of your tribe? When you allow each tribe or ethnic group, to tell you their opinions of the other tribal groups, will there be anything left to like about any of the groups? What does it matter who is ruling or where he is from, if we have a democracy that fights corruption, improves health and education, creates jobs, improves transportation system, invests in industry and infrastructure, revitalizes our judiciary and purges the oil and gas sector of misdemeanors? What does it matter who is ruling or where he is from, if every state and corner of the country gets adequate support, defined by a transparent need assessment? How come my Yoruba or Hausa friends, colleagues and housemates never liked me less or cared that I was Igbo? How come I lived with people from different tribes, through Uni and we never cared about who was from where? Was this all because we were living outside Nigeria? If we see ourselves firstly as Nigerians, when we are outside the country, why do we not see ourselves firstly as Nigerians, when we are in the country? 

These questions keep me up at night!

One of the problems with ethnic divides and wars, is that neutrality does not always keep you away from the crossfire. In a country, with intricate dynamics, it is even worse, because so many people are either neutral, biased or are just not sure of what the war really is about, and they all get caught in the crossfire.

When you ask for a division along ethnic or religious lines, do you even understand what it means? When you make sentimental choices, based on ill-defined subjectivity, do you really understand the implications?

The Hypocrisy of it all
I will end this, by insisting that my views are mine. I will insist that my views are not meant to convince you or to demand that you discard your beliefs and take up mine.

I am only putting out my musings. I am only pointing out the hypocrisy of selectively utilizing religion to fuel our hate for people of different religious or sexual orientations. I am only pointing out the hypocrisy of putting ethnic allegiance before national allegiance (even though it is at the detriment of the whole country), while we are daily advocating for a better country and for better governance.

You probably disagree with at least one point made here. You probably find a flaw with at least one argument. Share your perspectives in the comments’ section. And please remember, we do not have to agree. A difference in ideology or opinion is in itself the basis of diversity, democracy and a free spirit.

One love….

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Comments
  1. OB says:

    Great read Doc. soo many things to say ,but i’ll ask only one question .Though your opinion or ideology is reflective of a perfect/utopian state,time and again don’t we find that reality even,with/ in the midst of the most civilized peoples shows that it is seemingly a natural inclination of man to choose sides in any divisive issue no matter the level of education or exposure he/she enjoys. And support his side of the argument by often times only looking at evidence which supports his/her argument or at best seeking to conform to the reigning issue at the time?
    If this holds true then a natural predisposition as well as personal experiences and stories heard by the Ibo man and the average christian including said pastor would reflect their arguments against your proposition of perfect religions and imperfect men.Mind you, the concept of religion refers to a system of beliefs made by man reflecting the will of God and as such as everything man made,it cannot be considered perfect. I believe a persons socialization aids in shaping his mind set about these social issues talked about and if the family is the primary source of socialization then the experiences of parents and their fears are more often than not passed on to the future generation . So we find the Ibo man always skeptical of the Yoruba man both home and abroad and the Yoruba man also vice versa. Perhaps the blame of this great invisible divide should rest on the formal education system especially with its expanding influence. Failing to teach from an early age tolerance and patriotism, it develops certain basic mental skills in people but it fails to teach human and interpersonal skills especially in developing nations. 1st world countries have placed increasing importance on courses that reflect civic responsibilities and social skills. Wouldn’t you argue that the great ethnic division experienced in Nigeria is a reflection of our failing educational system then. Nigeria is becoming more and more a couple of nations inside a nation.
    Concerning homosexuality and its acceptance in our society.I think you are spot on in your analysis. We have a system built on imbibed beliefs and practices from our colonial masters. If they have accepted it then we should feel no great pains in also following suit after all we are the great followers aren’t we? Finally as regards homosexuality, the church/mosque/shrine should be a distinct entity from the state and so though anti-gay policies in the work place and general polity should be enacted these laws should not encroach upon the church or force the church/shrine/mosque to accept such practices. You can force people to work with them and probably not kill them out of hate or disgust, but you should not force people to love them. Forcing them into religious gatherings or ensuring they partake in religious rites would essentially be what you would be doing.In my opinion. If a state does that ,then the state might as well make itself GOD. like in V for Vendetta.

  2. racingstones says:

    Well said.
    In my sad experience whilst encouraging conversation between young, vibrant, educated and seemingly exposed Nigerian youth, it is depressing to see and hear that expectations fall short when they rationalize their reasons for supporting tribalism or political zoning.
    Yes, our views of the world and of people are initially learned or passed down to us by parents, peers and society, but I believe that they can also be un-learned especially where they do not bode well for a Nation and her people. This process of un-learning doesn’t have to happen through the formal educational system (which will probably continue being nothing to write home about if we let our sentiments vote for us); it can start through simple conversations and dialogue not necessarily geared at magic-wand instantaneous transformation of peoples ideologies, but at least to get the conversation going. If we start talking about it more, then we’ll start thinking about it more and more people will be awake at night changing and evaluating different perspectives until the process of transformation yields better results.
    It would be foolish of us as a Nation to continue doing the same things repeatedly yet expect different results.

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