Thursday, December 15, 2011

Some are smug and some are afraid

The words of Orhan Pamuk, Nobel laureate from Turkey (where East meets West, I suppose, although East meets West inside Nigeria too, through the religions) :

What literature needs most to tell and investigate today are humanity's basic fears: the fear of being left outside, and the fear of counting for nothing, and the feelings of worthlessness that come with such fears; the collective humiliations, vulnerabilities, slights, grievances, sensitivities, and imagined insults, and the nationalist boasts and inflations that are their next of kin ...

Whenever I am confronted by such sentiments, and by the irrational, overstated language in which they are usually expressed, I know they touch on a darkness inside me. We have often witnessed peoples, societies and nations outside the Western world–and I can identify with them easily–succumbing to fears that sometimes lead them to commit stupidities, all because of their fears of humiliation and their sensitivities.

I also know that in the West–a world with which I can identify with the same ease–nations and peoples taking an excessive pride in their wealth, and in their having brought us the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and Modernism, have, from time to time, succumbed to a self-satisfaction that is almost as stupid.

Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Lecture (translation by Maureen Freely)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Must religions be in competition?

The purpose of all religions was/is to direct large groups of human beings in improving their lives.
All religions teach tips for emotional health like tolerance and peace; they try to help us get past our attimes destructive impulses; they try to make us higher in our understanding of the natural and social and unknown worlds that we live in.  No religion is perfect (but if you want to argue this, please try in the comments section.)

If all are trying to accomplish the same thing, why fight over religion?

In Dialogue of the Deaf (yesterday's Daily Trust newspaper), the writer Adamu Adamu points out that such fights are over nothing. I quote:
"[Story of] the famous travellers in the Mathnawi of Maulavi. Four people were travelling together—an Arab, a Persian, a Turk and a Greek—and, as is the nature of travel, they soon became very hungry; and just when it was getting unbearable, they found a dinar. They gave thanks to God, but in trying to decide what to do with it, a bitter disagreement broke out between them.
The Arab said they must buy inab with the dinar or nothing. The Persian angrily said he would have nothing to do with that inab; they must buy angur. The Turk said they must buy uzum; while the Greek said there would be a war if they didn’t buy isitafil with the money. And the sabre-rattling began.
The Arab, who had the money in his hands rushed and bought inab and it was only when he returned that each realised that inab, angur, uzum , and istafil all mean the same thing—grapes, respectively in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Greek. And war was averted when they finally realised that they were saying the same thing but in their different languages."

As a good Christian, must I defend Christianity to make sure that it survives?  So what if my inherited religion disappears?  Christianity was born out of the ashes of previous beliefs anyway - e.g. Roman paganism, Jewish myth, and in Nigeria for instance, African religions.  And where did Roman beliefs come from?  And the Jews who had travelled widely within a 1000km radius at the time?
Now you can imagine some of the origins of Islam, a big influence may even have been Christianity.  My point is that religions evolve, and God may not be asking us to keep them static.

In the same article, Adamu says that the path to peace may lie in abandoning the desire to win the most territory for our religion.  He writes: "... so long as Christians do not allow themselves to be agents of imperialism and Muslims do not allow themselves to be agents of imperialism-affiliated conservative Arab reactionary forces, they will have no reason for quarrel; for, in the real sense of the word, they are not in competition when each is involved in the doing of good or in accomplishing God’s work."

Ramadan Millennium, 1999, View of Al Aqsa Mosque through Church Spire, Jerusalem, By Rula Halawani

    Read Dialogue of the Deaf, an article about the inter-faith dialogue necessary to stopping religious violence in Northern Nigeria.