9th February, 2011
Any society that prioritises ignorance will fail to live up to its potential.That was the crux ofÂ Damola Awoyokunâ€™s piece â€œThe Next Einstein and the Expressway Churchesâ€ published in The Guardian ofÂ May 22. In contemporary Nigeria, the miracle-hawking Pentecostal churches are the bastions of theÂ crude tendency to ignorance. For them, God is Mr. Fix-It-All who will descend in full glory to solveÂ all our personal and national problems. Consequently, diseases are cured not by demanding for aÂ well-equipped public health care system and functioning research laboratories but by prayers.
Accidents are prevented not by good motorways, effective traffic policing, and sane road habits but byÂ prayers. Examinations are passed not by diligent study but by praying.
Armed robbery attacks are foiled not by a revamped police force and the provision of enough jobs forÂ the unemployed but with prayers. What these churches find primary is being dabbed on the head withÂ anointing oil by pastors speaking with false American accents, with each pastor clad in a designerÂ suit and wearing a gold wristwatch that costs more than the average monthly income of his impoverishedÂ congregation. Seek ye first the anointing oil of a prosperity preacher and every other thing shall beÂ added: this is the prevailing creed.
Mention must also be made of how these establishments encourage corruption by placing the tags ofÂ miracles on suddenly-acquired wealth. Questions are not asked about the provenance of the riches, asÂ evidenced by the recent case of an employee who looted money from the coffers of his workplace, anÂ upscale hotel in Victoria Island, and donated it to one of the more visible miracle churches in Lagos.Â The only thing that matters is the paying of oneâ€™s tithe, even from fraudulent funds. Obviously, whenÂ a delusion afflicts a sizable chunk of the population, people tend to forget it is a psychosis andÂ they begin calling it a religion. A delusion though remains a delusion even when championed byÂ millions of believers. Remember: the fact that millions once believed the earth was flat did not makeÂ it less spherical.
Regrettably, Jude Fashagbaâ€™s piece â€œEinstein and the People of Faithâ€ published in The Guardian onÂ Sunday of June 1 failed to engage with these
relevant issues. Rather than writing a worthwhile response to Mr. Awoyokunâ€™s submission, Mr. FashagbaÂ preoccupied himself with stringing togetherÂ disconnected and evasive sentences. Resorting to such aÂ stratagem is the only option when one has a bad product to sell, and there are few products lessÂ marketable than Mr. Fashagbaâ€™s pitch that science and faith are not oppositional. Science foregroundsÂ observable evidence as it is basis for understanding the world; faith, in contrast, privileges theÂ unquestioning adherence to a body of received claims even when unsupported by evidence.
A committee of the National Academy of Sciences recently said â€œthe goal of science is to seekÂ naturalistic explanations for phenomena… within the operational rule of testabilityâ€ while St. PaulÂ wrote in the Book of Hebrews that â€œfaith is the assurance of things hoped for and the certainty ofÂ things not seen.â€ Anyone who fails to see a fundamental difference in both approaches needs to getÂ himself a better education. Science is a continuous process of empirical inquiry, not a static body ofÂ knowledge. That is why there is something known as the scientific method. Science does not fear changeÂ because its method is served, not compromised, by new insights;religion, on the other hand, findsÂ nothing more frightening than new ways of thinking which it labels heresy. Those who revised Daltonâ€™sÂ atomic theory were not burnt at the stake by scientists; prelates of the medieval Church murderedÂ Giordano Bruno for querying the validity of their theology. It is because of this open-mindedness thatÂ science has explained and predicted the universe better than any religion and, despite theÂ lamentations of people like Mr. Fashagba, will continue to do so.
Since Jude Fashagba is a staunch believer in miracles, he could consider it a major miracle that hisÂ write-up did not choke on the barrage of its diversionary questions. The Bible teacher wondered ifÂ Albert Einstein was the atheist he was â€œpaintedâ€ to be. It is on record that Einstein considered allÂ religions to be childish superstitions. The scientist wrote: â€œThe word god is for me nothing more thanÂ the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but stillÂ primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle canÂ change this.â€
Attempting to exhaustively answer Jude Fashagbaâ€™s avalanche of questions would only succeed inÂ dignifying his pathetic redherrings. He could spend his time more profitably in researching answers toÂ his endless questions rather than indulging in the voyeuristic sport of â€œgooglingâ€ out Mr. Awoyokunâ€™sÂ name on the internet. And what connection does a personâ€™s accomplishment have with the validity of hisÂ or her statements? It is instructive to remember the case of James D. Watson, a Nobel Prize winner inÂ Medicine, who was fired from his prestigious position in 2007 after making racist statements thatÂ lacked any scientific backing about the intelligence of black people. Perceptive human beings know howÂ to separate a person from the validity of his or her assertions. Clearly, Mr. Fashagba is not soÂ discerning.
At this juncture in our national life when Nigeria is troubled by a myriad of social and economicÂ problems, what the citizens need is clear-sighted reasoning and not mystical abracadabras. In theÂ decades during which religious fervour has gained ascendancy in Nigeria, it has become obvious thatÂ blind faith is creating more problems rather than solving the ones on ground. Witness the routineÂ traffic hell caused on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway by the Pentecostal business centres situated alongÂ the route. And the ongoing case of Pastor King. And the Miss World and the Danish cartoon riots. AndÂ many other cases too numerous to list. Religions do not encourage reasoning; instead they promoteÂ rationalisation, something entirely different.
This was why St. Augustine, a prominent theologian of the Church, said: â€œI believe so that I canÂ understand.â€ Blind faith comes first and then justifications for it follow. For the centuries EuropeÂ followed that precept, its citizens were locked in the Dark Ages, and only when the Renaissance
ruptured that dogmatic mode did Europe begin making intellectual progress. In the liberal era ofÂ Averroes, Al-Razi, and Avicenna, learning was far more advanced in the Islamic world than in the West;Â not until religious suffocation came in the wake of Al-Ghazaliâ€™s attacks on rationalism did thatÂ civilisation fall way behind. The fate of the forerunner who tumbled into a pit should suffice toÂ instruct those coming behind, says an African proverb. In relation to the matter at hand, one can onlyÂ hope it does.
Jude Fashagba should be advocating the entrenchment of a logical and evidential attitude in theÂ decision making process of Nigerians, both in our personal and public lives, not the opposite. We areÂ bored with seeing political figures consecrated in public by religious leaders, only for us to watchÂ in horror as these public officers go ahead to spend eight years looting the treasuries and committingÂ atrocious human rights abuses.
Mr. Fashagba is also an architect. I hope he does not believe that the epidemic of collapsed buildingsÂ in Lagos was caused by the machinations of evil spirits. If he does, it will be of great relief to allÂ if he restricts himself to designing his personal residence and to his other profession of BibleÂ teaching.
In his second calling, he could promise his congregation a thousand miracles and deliver zero. None ofÂ his credulous flock would find it necessary to bring him to book.
â€”R. Babatunde & Kola Afolabi