GOD DON’T LOVE AFRICA AND AFRICANS!
I hate to break it to you, my fellow Africans—continental and diasporic—the world over. I am now convinced beyond all doubt that God has no place in His\Her\Its heart for that segment of humanity called black and, especially, its sub-segment that is resident in the continent of Africa. I make the case for this claim in what follows.
But, first, a clarification. When I speak of God in this discussion, I refer solely to the supreme being of the two alien religious traditions that now dominate Africa and have so contorted Africans and warped our sensibilities that the two religions now constitute the origin and limits of what most Africans consider their world, its processes, their morality, their understanding of their world and how they think they ought to be in it. This is the God to whom they sacrifice themselves and all that pertain to them, their spaces, their ways through life, and what happens to them after their death.
It is in their unceasing devotion to this God in expectation of significant improvements in their lives here and now that we find the best evidence that, if God exists, God must be playing the cruelest joke on pious, devout, God-intoxicated Africans.
I chose my words carefully. Yes, Africans are God-intoxicated. Want evidence? Where do I even begin?
Let’s take Africa’s rulers, for one instance. For, as it is said, the fish rots from the head. I once listened on the radio to the late Ghanaian president, an eminent professor of law no less before he acceded to the presidency, proudly affirm, in response to complaints by some of his citizens that he had turned the presidential palace into a prayer camp something along the following lines: Yes, it is true. If I had my way, I would turn all of Ghana into a prayer camp. Why is it important that he was an academic before he became president? Either he did not understand the significance of the secular nature of Ghanaian state, constitutionally speaking, or he did not take it seriously. For had he taken it seriously, some respect for his nonbelieving citizens would have inclined him not to share with the world such private desires.
Ultimately, he joined the lineage of African heads of state who have made themselves disciples, yes, disciples, of a Nigerian evangelist. Their discipleship was demonstrated, in part, by their going to spend nights at his church. The list includes Frederick Chiluba, Bingu wa Mutharika, and the latter’s successor, Joyce Banda, late last year.
To show his godliness and piety, the Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, went to debase his office—he is at perfect liberty to abase himself, in his person—by kneeling in full view of the world before another Nigerian man of God, again with absolutely no thought for what that would mean for his nonbelieving citizens in the context of a country whose constitution proclaims its secularism. In this case, too, the president is an ex-academic, a fishery biologist, no less.
When the government of Jaafar el-Nimeiri in the old Sudan felt its grip on power waning as a result of popular protest, it quickly discovered how lucrative state-sponsored Muslim piety was and proceeded to impose Sharia law on the people of the country. And Omer el-Beshir could not find it in him to let up a bit on his religious intoxication to make the separation of South Sudan more onerous.
Meanwhile, in Nigeria, since 1977 when the northern segment of the ruling class decided to force Sharia into the Nigerian Constitution, that part of the country has not known peace for any length of time. It got worse when a state governor from the region, who stands accused of marrying underage girls into his harem, thought he needed to impress God; he made the Sharia the law of his state, in clear contravention of elements of the Nigerian constitution. He quickly set about burnishing his credentials for paradise by having a few limbs hacked off a handful of unfortunate citizens trapped in his state. Others in the region quickly followed suit. As is usually the case in such situations, new guardians of the faith have emerged who insist that the state-inflected piety is not deep or genuine enough. They have been busy killing, maiming, and rendering hundreds of thousands of innocent Nigerians refugees in their own country.
Ordinary people, too, are not left out of this intoxication spree. If the constraints of office do not allow our inebriated leaders to go the whole hog, the rot that they embody festers in the extreme in their constituents. So God-intoxicated are some African parents that they are willing to starve their own children to death on account of ridding them of their witchery powers. There was the case of Nigerian parents who drove a nail into their own child’s skull because their church had picked out the poor child as a witch. So widespread is the scourge of visiting unspeakable violence on children that there are now non-governmental outfits in Nigeria and Ghana dedicated to the cause of taking children in that would otherwise have been eliminated or severely abused by their parents and guardians because the Holy Spirit had outed them as witches or some other malevolent spirits. Our intellectuals, among other duties that they perform, go on interminably about the intrinsic religiosity of the African, how religion pervades the very air that we breathe in every nook and cranny of the continent. I doubt that any continent comes anywhere close to Africa in the multitudes of spirits that inhabit it and the preponderance of them are evil! God must have released all of the legion of the fallen spirits from heaven on condition that they all relocate to Africa and other places mostly populated by black folk.
This intoxication extends to Islamic ruling parties in countries that have recently overthrown dictatorships. Such parties mistake electoral victories, however slim, for mandates to impose what they are convinced is God’s word on their long-suffering peoples, whether the latter were open to this course or not. Imposing God’s word meant rolling back, in God’s name, the gains that had been made by women in such countries where women’s right to equality with men is concerned. This has meant widespread sexual harassment for women in the countries concerned, suppression of heterodox views and, on occasion, violence against those who are held to have crossed God’s lines in their behaviour or their thought.
In other countries, God-intoxicated rulers enact laws criminalizing homosexuality. They thereby ensure an open season on the most vulnerable sections of their citizenry and make it impossible for their homosexual compatriots to have any reasonable expectations of equal citizenship in the lands of their births. In those situations, the law-makers and the religious leaders drink the same strong stuff for shared chalice that makes them absolutely incapable of common consideration for the sheer humanity of those they are so quick to demonize, regardless of what they think of the behaviour of their fellow citizens.
No cause will be served by my multiplying instances of God intoxication all across Africa. I hope that the preceding sections show the reach of the scourge.
God is not supposed to be moved by good works. At least, so say the protestant Christian denominations. The Catholic Church and Islam may appear to suggest that good works might augment one’s eligibility for entry into paradise. But not even they say that our piety and demonstrations of our commitment to God while we are on earth alone will do. In all, to think of all our activities in God’s name as capable of impressing and enhancing our standing with God is, if I am not mistaken, adjudged blasphemous. To think that they do is to hint at God taking bribes to bestow rewards on us mortals.
Even I know enough of God-talk not to assume that Africans stand to gain any favours because of our God intoxication. Yet, even granting this, one must be astonished at the distance between Africans’ prostrate position in the world and Africans’ much-vaunted love of God. In other words, however one looks at it, the showers of blessing that are supposed to attend the lives of those who worship God are nowhere in evidence in Africa. Worse still, the sheer beneficence that is supposed to attend the earthly being of God’s children is not a feature of the African world. Not even the sheer having of life and sustaining it show any hint of divine munificence: Africans routinely have the shortest life expectancies on planet earth! I am suggesting that it is not even given to Africans to hang around long on God’s earth. Our babies die in their infancy. Our adolescents die in large numbers before full adulthood. Our adults move on in what would be middle age in better-circumstanced societies. Few Africans ever enjoy the privileges of old age spent in relative comfort. Certainly, some might see all this as instances of God showing love by calling us early to heavenly bliss. I beg to differ.
I cannot hold God responsible for our predicament. I have no interest in turning this into a discussion of the perennial issues of theodicy. All I am saying is that one cannot look at Africa and say with honesty and candor that human life there manifests anything that resembles love for the creatures that inhabit that space. This is why I came to the conclusion, sadly but firmly, that God cannot be said to love Africans. This judgment is without prejudice to God’s relationship with other segments of humanity. I speak only from my exploration of and familiarity with the African situation.
Here are a few other dimensions to support my case. It is now common place to talk about the global dimensions of slavery. Slavery is widely distributed across the globe and we can only talk about different adaptations of the practice. This is increasingly becoming the accepted wisdom on the phenomenon. I beg to differ. The European Slave Trade, otherwise known as the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the slavery that it spawned in the New World, specifically in the United States, has no peer in human history: it was racialised and its victims were turned into chattel, things, with no more quality attached to them than the farm implements and animals that they were lumped with in the accounts of their owners.
I start with slavery and the Euro-American slave trade because it inaugurated the place of Africa and Africans in the global imaginary that continues to structure the world’s view of Africa, Africans, and African phenomena. At the heart of it is the fundamental denial of the humanity of the African. Given the global distribution of slavery and slave trade, how did Africans become the victims of a sui generis one the impact of which continues to burden Africans with a need always to push back against the denial of our common membership of the human community along with everyone else? What kind of love, God’s or any other, selected us for this unprecedented type of slavery? Everyone else suffered the ravages of some kind of slavery or the other; only we got saddled with the burden of chattel slavery. This demands attention, if not explanation.
When Christianity came back to Africa in the nineteenth century, especially in West Africa, it was with a promise to help Africans become whole again after the ravages of the European slave trade. Helping Africans to become whole was seen as a way to expiate Christianity’s guilt in having helped to construct the slavery house of horror. This period did not last long and the Africans who had thought that Christianity would be their vehicle to ensuring a better future for their continent spent the rest of that fateful century battling new colonial and Christian overlords who were determined to hold Africa down and back. The progress that could have been made through freewheeling theological discourse—after all, God’s mind is not simple to know—was stymied. Is it any accident that our contemporary Christianity does not evince the robust theological debates, discourses, and controversies that enable Christianity to remain dynamic and, most important of all, acutely aware of the insufficiency of the tools with which we mortals, perforce, seek to know and disseminate God’s word?
Unfortunately, in today’s Africa, our high priests have turned blasphemy into liturgy and they now lay claim to powers that are beyond the ken of ordinary humanity: the gift of infallibility. And infallible they must be when they insist that they know what God wants and who will or will not be saved on the Day of Judgment. It does not much matter whether they are Christians or Muslims. A Nigerian Cardinal is so sure that God speaks through him, but not his Pope, when he commends the Nigerian government for criminalizing homosexuality. It does not occur to His Eminence to share the humility of the Pope, the only member of the Catholic Church vested with the gift of infallibility and then only with respect to certain matters of doctrine, not on who deserves to be called ‘sinner’ and therefore unworthy of God’s grace. Intoxication will do that to you.
The case of the African branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion is much worse. It would have been funny were it not so tragic. It would be presumptuous of me to suggest that the prelates of the Anglican Communion in Africa do not know the history of their doctrine or that of the faith tradition and its institutional form—the Church—of which theirs is a mere denomination. That they routinely ignore this history and its doctrinal vortex is bad enough. That they would turn their office into infallible commissions and invest their pronouncements with what often sounds like God’s own must make us wonder how they could continue to claim fidelity to their calling or their faith or even to the author of their faith: the Christ.
To begin with, there is only one historical reason that we have more than one church today in the world: controversy and divergence over the meaning of God’s word and who ought to have magisterial control over its meaning and its dissemination. There was this monk named Martin Luther who insisted that the orthodoxy into which he had been socialized and the rightness of which he was sworn to in his ministry was untenable. The Reformation ended the unicity of the Church in the Western section of Christendom. I refrain from commenting on the ever fractious history of Christianity from its very inception. There is a reason why non-Catholics belong to a huge pool of denominations called ‘Protestants’. What bears emphasis is that the cleavages in the Church have always turned on contestations over the meaning of the word of God.
The case of non-Anglican churches in Africa—Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc.—within the protestant fold is a bit more tragic. Their origins lie in specific reactions to orthodoxies. As usual, their African editions either do not know this or cannot be bothered to take their genealogies seriously. We know that if the Roman pope would just have allowed the English monarch to do as he wished with his women, there would not have been a Church of England to start with. But even as the closest to the Roman Catholics among protestant denominations, the Anglican Church has not lacked fundamental contestations over the meaning of the word of God. These contestations are particularly poignant for their impact on our experience as black or African peoples in the last half a millennium since we have been imbricated in the web of post-Reformation Christianity.
For almost 400 years, the Church—Catholic and Protestant—provided theological justification for the traffic in Africans that later wisdom has called a crime against humanity. Their parsons not only blessed the slave ships; they served as unrepentant chaplains on the ships and on the plantations. They worked assiduously to steel the slaves in quietism and obedience to evil concocted and practiced by their owners to the eternal shame of those priests and their lineages. Just as it was hypocritical then for those vicars to preach the equality of all humans before God as God’s children while, simultaneously, actively cooperating in the subversion of the humanity of some of God’s children, so it is now for our cardinals and primates who are actively conniving at the subjugation and brutalization of another group of God’s children in our own day. And just as Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, in our day, have had to distance themselves from and apologise for the theological expostulations of their forebears now exposed for what they are—special pleading on behalf of power—so do I envisage future descendants of our present-day vicars-to-power disowning the wisdom of their parents that seems so obvious today.
I do not expect God-intoxicated prelates, alfas, and imams, to realize how arrogant their pronouncements are and how their inebriation makes them unaware of how ungodlike their behavior is. Worse still, African protestants are too God-intoxicated to recall that the phenomenon of African-instituted churches was precisely the result of Africans refusing to concede that there is only one way to be ‘Church’ and that when all is said and done, each one of us, as believers, is struggling to make sense of the word of God and that any human being arrogating to him or herself the ultimate capacity to decipher God’s word in the flesh is the chief of fools and blasphemers.
Again, there is no surprise there: inebriation makes a fool of the wisest among us while it lasts. The Anglican Communion in Nigeria may wish to reacquaint itself with the wisdom of Henry Venn, Ajayi Crowther, and James Johnson. As things stand at the moment, they seem to be more in the cast of those who drummed Crowther out of office for his reluctance to play God when it came to the sinner status of his African converts.
May I remind our Churchmen that the lack of the gift of humility led the Church to sanctify slavery and, later, Apartheid in South Africa. I have no doubt that when the intoxication shall have passed—remember, the Church back then, too, was high on God, claiming to be doing God’s bidding in blessing slave ships and concocting theological justifications for slavery and oppression—future inheritors of the faith would be busy apologizing for the moral bankruptcy of their forebears. In the same way, the Church in Africa today will, in future, be held in the same contempt that we now bestow on the previous Churches that connived at the subjugation of common humanity in their respective domains. History is yet to provide us with an example of the exaltation of those who helped in the cause of the degradation of our humanity.
In sum, I am arguing that it is an index of the absence of love that I am talking about that none, repeat none, of the progressive life-affirming tendencies of Islam and Christianity of the last century found its way to Africa. All the while that Latin America was inventing Liberation Theology and turning the Church into the scourge of oppressive regimes in much of South and Central America, the African Church—Catholic and Protestant—remained firmly ensconced in the corridors of secular power. Our Imams are no different. Pseudo-orthodoxies reigned and still do. Caliphate Islam allied to Palace Christianity ensure that in the post-independence period, the two world religions have educated Africans to abjection, ministered to the powers that be, and abetted unspeakable evils all across the continent.
How could a people who are beneficiaries of God’s love be cast in theological deserts with no oasis of liberation in the vicinity? What they got instead are snake-oil salesmen and women who are peddling salvation bottled in mindless drivel, stacked on bookshelves, and oozing from their pulpits and minarets. How badly have we transgressed to deserve this earthly damnation?
Our continent is now hostage to intellectuals for whom the life of the mind is a sin. Talk of God-intoxication! They have surrendered all to God. Unfortunately, only people who are God-intoxicated would think that submission to God means vacation of that which theists of all stripes insist is God’s peculiar gift to us among all of God’s creation: the gift of Reason. Our scientists seem to have given up on discovering the underlying principles of all that exists in ways parallel to how our religious leaders have abandoned theology, the science of deciphering the Reason of God! We are training generations of Africans who will not merely stagnate in comparison with the rest of humankind but are actually regressing by leaps and bounds.
Where’s the love that our belonging to God promises? Where shall we get a break? When shall we get a break? Who shall give us a break? Maybe if we would break free from our addiction to God, we might begin to mimic the lives of those marked by God’s love: good lives led in decent environments, with great hope for the future, love for all of God’s creation, and respect for their being in their singularity and complexity. That, I submit, will be the best demonstration of love, God’s or whoever else’s.
Published in http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/90438