By; Olaniyi Olayemi, Ile Ife
The doctrine of the Hereafter is Christianity’s – and indeed for religion for the most part – most proselytized tenet and by some stretch of criticism, its most enslaving mentality to some sublunary realities that affect our existence before – whether rightly or wrongly – transitioning to ‘the great beyond’ . To save myself from an unnecessary cataclysm of denigration prejudiced Christians may possibly pour at me, disclosing that this piece isn’t in the most sincerest of intents laden with any guile of sarcasm on certain sectarian views in Christianity is prophylactic. I hope that helps. As a secularist who daily fails to see why people get so much animated when it comes to defending their religious views sometimes to gruesome heights, I’m fully aware how incendiary the subject of religion can be to discuss.
It was on a recent Sunday I heard my pastor preach with an uncommon élan against the ‘sinfulness’ of criticizing the government using 2 Peter 2:10 as his premise.
“I wonder why many people criticize the government; they write against the government and speak against the government. But see what the Bible says. A heaven-minded Christian does not have time for all that. We do not despise the government. Leave the government alone.”
Goodness me! It was quite much for me to stomach. I cannot deny though that the urge to defend my profession as a social critic got the better of me more than I was willing to allow objectivity in reasoning because in his scorecard, in his homily, I for all my critical opinions against government in speech and orthography had erred by dishonoring the divine backing of government.
My grouse is not about the preacher trying to obey the Bible to letter, rather, his interpretation of text outside context. When the apostles wrote variously in their epistles on the need to obey authorities – imperial in their own era- that in my opinion was done to ensure that a fledgling Christianity didn’t get deracinated by an absolutist totalitarian Roman empire. But things have changed. Government is now popular and that means people determine their fate by balloting in the government of their choice. For this, at least, the government owes the people the latitude of speech. But with latitude comes consequences like criticisms for without pain, the human psyche is void of wisdom. So, is a Christian – heaven-minded – right to exercise this latitude especially against certain actions of government perceived as excessive?
Before the hereafter is ‘here’. We are duty-bound to make ‘here’ as habitable as possible for ourselves and posterity. Absolving ourselves of civic obligations – which may involve censuring the government – is deleteriously myopic. I don’t subscribe to the theory of God ruling a country; people do. If the claim of God holding the reins had verity, then indeed we all could participate passively in the polity of our land from the fringe minding our business.
I’m reminded of Martin Luther king, the great Civil Rights activist who crusaded against the racial disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the days when skin pigmentation determined where you were on the food chain. He was a Baptist minister! His Christian calling notwithstanding, he spoke against racial injustice and influenced the government of Lyndon Johnson in formulating policies that helped grant suffrage to African Americans. Bishop Desmond Tutu in the 80s was the fiercest critic of apartheid in Southern Africa. These personages believed in the hereafter but also believed in making the ‘here’ as just as possible. They knew that silence as a form of political participation lends credence to government’s actions and inactions. You see, in political participation there are no middle grounds. You either laud with your silence or speech or you remonstrate with your speech. Indifference as innocuous as it may be misconstrued as support. If one so decides to be apolitically indifferent, it shouldn’t be because of a religious dogma.
However, I do not rule out opportunism in any human undertaking. There are of course those who for vested interests will use free speech to vitriolate the government to score partisan points. They substitute idealism with realism and vice versa when talking about the flaws of government. This is type of criticism I’m against. In the field of Literature, reviews aren’t meant to undermine the intellectual adventures of writers. Reviews and literary criticisms are meant to critique and correct and so should political debates and criticisms. One knows that even the greatest of writers for all their orthographical intelligence still come under dispassionate evaluations. Politics is no different.
For the avoidance of doubt I hasten to conclude that I acknowledge the fact that religion serves as the nurturer of the people’s conscience and not as a platform for political discourse. Given that, it shouldn’t be used to repress people from exercising their rights by way of dogma. Not all citizens are interested in exercising this right and I have no problem at all with this. In fact, not everybody can successfully air their voice like it was done in the cradle of Democracy in Athens. But any teaching that shuts the mouth of the critical few is slaving and repressive.