E O EkeSaturday, February 1, 2014
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eligious extremism is a serious problem in Nigeria and it transcends Christianity and Islam. In Islam, we see it in those at the fore front of pushing for an Islamic identity for Nigeria. In Christianity we see it in some born again Christians, who believe in Bible literalism and speaking in tongues as evidence that one has the holy Spirit. These people are united by their intolerance, contempt and prejudice against sinners, especially homosexuals and they see no reason why they should not be locked up and the keys thrown away, if they would not repent. They do not care when suspected homosexuals are lynched, by an ignorant, hate filled mob and actually tacitly support this, by their dehumanising value laden comment about homosexuals.

I continue to raise this issue, because of what I know, have seen, heard, read and experienced in the hands of these intolerant Nigerians, who believe that their religious beliefs and convictions give them the justification for their prejudice and intolerance. I think the government and right thinking Nigerians would be failing in their responsibility to all, if they do not take intolerance and bigotry very seriously with the view to stamping them out in the polity. They are the foundation of all, religious wars, ethnic conflicts and genocides. Hitler demonstrated the same attitude towards homosexuals and later towards Jews.

In the last few weeks I have experience how vicious, hateful, Machiavellian, unscrupulous and out right evil these crusaders of a moral society can be. I also want a moral society, but not one built on bigotry. They are ready to do defend their prejudice and attack anybody who advocates a better and more encompassing attitude to what they object to. They are prepared to lie, misrepresent facts, threaten, abuse, malign, start a vicious campaign and dehumanise anybody, who confronts their intolerance and prejudice.

They do not focus on the issue with the view to understanding the point of view of those who oppose their position, but attack the person and seek to undermine their integrity. Instead of arguing their case to enlighten people on the reasons behind their intolerant and prejudiced attitude, they preach and quote from the Bible or Quran, oblivious that were their opponent sharing their interpretation and understanding of the verses quoted, they would not be having the argument in the first place.

They are unaware that quoting from the Bible or Quran is only relevant when people are having doctrinal or theological differences either as a result of belonging to different religions or different denominations and that in matters of attitude, equality and justice take precedence over religious beliefs and convictions. Therefore they seem unable to differentiate between attitudinal differences, which can be examined through the principle of equality, diversity and justice as fairness and theological differences, which are in the realms of theology and religious beliefs. By confusing these two issues, they apply moral judgment where justice is required and appeal to Sapiential authority, when only the logic of their argument would suffice. In this way, religious extremists convert issues of liberty and justice into doctrinal and theological argument, where they believe only what is written in their holy books are true. The stage is then set for intractable conflict that would never end.

God has not created any problem for human beings. All problems have been created by ignorance, intolerance and prejudice emanating from lack of understanding of the scriptures and what constitutes the will of God. It is extraordinary that for several years, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, and Sunni and Shia Muslims in different Islamic countries, have not sat down to looks at the logic of their differences and understand the real reasons why they must fight each other because of their understanding of God. This is just one example of how irrational men can be in issues of religion, beliefs and morality.

The current anti-homosexual frenzy sweeping through Nigeria and many African countries fuelled by religious intolerance and bigotry and defended by a good number of black preachers, many of whom are the most unscrupulous of people anyone would ever meet, remains a great concern. These preachers show very high traits of personality disorder and schizophrenia. When they mount their pulpits, they constantly lie to their congregations that God told them so and so, when God has not told them anything and they are unable to explain how God told them what they claim and how they made sure it was God.

They also claim to hear the voice of God, or see visions, which are either lies or auditory and visual hallucinations, which are features also seen in schizophrenia. They urge faith in place of knowledge and disparage those who bring reason to things of faith. They manipulate the people with dichotomous conceptions of religious cosmos like heaven and hell, and God and Satan, to entrap their ignorant and vulnerable victims in the fear of a God of love who will burn them in hell forever for their sins. They constantly allude to a cosmic war between good and evil and urge their members to enlist in this war by supporting the church. A people so conditioned and indoctrinated will do anything to get God on their side. This is how they soften their victims, who then are willing to take their resources to them in the misguided search for the blessings of God, creating the millionaire pastors exploiting the ignorance of the most vulnerable members of the society.

People often wonder why this is not common in white population and the answer is very simple. ‘The white people’, Europeans and America and all other people who share their values and understanding of God, have had their epiphany and understand the ignorance and limitation of religious narrative of life. They have become enlightened. Moreover, they went through the same period in their history. People often forget that 15th century European attitude to religion was exactly as it is today in Nigeria. Misguidedly, these pastors regard the white population as being in darkness, even though they have achieved a culture of equality, honesty and accountability, while inequality, corruption, impunity and bigotry are devastating Africa and many black countries.

These unscrupulous black preachers are more likely to own their churches, which they register in Britain as charities, but run as a private limited company. They have also been found not to be accountable to anyone and secretive about the finances of the church. There is no transparency in the area of finances as many of them operate a policy of not counting church donations and only declare whatever the pastor decides, as the offerings. They may not like these facts because they are negative, but they are the facts and, it does not mean that they are not doing some good. I am saying all these to enable people with religious prejudices to appreciate how often good and evil coexist in our world and why a ‘black and white’ and bigoted attitude to sin is hypocritical and unhelpful as Jesus demonstrated. What those with bigoted attitude justified with religion do not seem to appreciate is that sin, which many of them conceptualise as alien to human nature, was a mutation in a righteous being. As the Bible would say, where sin abounds, grace much more abound.

Some years ago, I was working with a Nigerian nurse, whose husband was a trainee of a pastor of one of the financially buoyant Nigerian churches in London. She told me how they ‘bless’ the overseeing pastor by putting all the offerings into a bag without counting the money and sending it to the overseeing pastor, and that after her husband has served this pastor they would become owner of the church and another pastor will serve and bless them. I asked her if she was aware that what they were doing in their church is a crime, and that if the charity commission hears about it that her husband and the pastor he was blessing through corruption, may go to jail, she said that she did not know. Then when the time came for the blessing to end, katakana busted’. I have also heard stories of how politicians use pastors to launder stolen money in Nigeria. This is the level of probity that operates in some of the organisations run by those, who are most vociferous in support of criminalisation and persecution of sinners. The more reason why the EFCC should also pay closer attention to the movement of monies from the bank account of churches and religious organisations, if corruption in Nigeria would be brought under control. Corruption in Nigeria is no respecter of religion or religious beliefs.

These unscrupulous pastors exploit the ignorant and venerable, with exegesis on Jewish tales and wise saying frozen in time. They urge faith where understanding is needed and trust in God, when men should use God given reasons to asked questions and hold people to account. They offer the people no new way of examining the same old reality and urge the same attitude and beliefs in a changing world. They use religion to enable evil men benefit from their crimes as they persuade men not to judge, what they should and encourage them to judge those who they have no right to judge. More than any group, they are responsible for the underdevelopment of the black race and the persistence of old prejudices and intolerance like the one currently directed at homosexuals.

In a way, they are the chief priests and their followers are the Pharisees. They target those who preach new attitude to old sin, and misconstrue it to mean acceptance and normalisation of old sin. They are good at misrepresenting the intentions of those who advocate new attitude and cast them as inferior in the understanding of God. This is an old trick, which they apply by attempting to undermine the moral authority of their nemesis.

They question the integrity of people who they know have no other interest, but in justice as fairness and project then as people who want sin to flourish in other to silence their criticism of their bigotry and hypocrisy. This was exactly the same attitude demonstrated by the Pharisees towards Jesus; when he preached preach new attitudes to old sins.

This is why I am not concerned by the sanctimonious, pretentions, Bible and Quran bashing and bigoted attitude of many Nigerian Christians and Muslims towards homosexuals. They are demonstrating like the Pharisees that they are unable to make a distinction between the sin, homosexuality, which should be targeted, and the sinners, the homosexuals, who we should love. I remember they said of Jesus, this man eats with sinners; he cannot be the son of God. I continue to wonder how I can love my fellow men by supporting their incarceration for holding on to a sin, which I hate, when I am very much aware that I am also a sinner. I keep asking myself, if Jesus was a Nigerian, what would be his attitude to homosexuality and homosexuals. Will it be any different from his attitude to all sins and sinners?

E O Eke is qualified in medicine. At various times he has been a General medical practitioner, Medical missionary, Medical Director and senior medical officer of health in Nigeria. He specializes in child, Adolescent and adult psychiatry and lives in England with his family. His interest is in health, religion philosophy and politics. He cares for body and mind.