ast week, a building belonging to one of the major Christian private enterprises exploiting Nigerians in the name of God collapsed. There are now evidence that the building had no approved plan. If this is true, then the site is a crime scene and the owner of the bulging may have committed serious a crime and may be held personally responsible for the death of the victims.
Typical of Nigerians' attitude to things, he has declared that the victims are martyrs and the president has paid him a visit. This is unbelievable, the president visiting a man who built a collapsed building, without building plan, in which many innocent people have died.
The question is why do Nigerians think and behave the way I have described above. I think an examination of how people think may throw some light, which is why I would be discussing understanding in this article and a few that would follow.
Some of the mistakes people make when they read, including those who claim to believe the scriptures, the way many Christians and Muslims believe the Bible and Quran, are that they forget that sentences are attempt to convey the thought of the authors, that there is usually one thought at a time and that every statement is a reflection of the thought of the author at the time they were uttered or written.
Therefore, they are unable to correctly put the sentences in the right perspective and correct context, and simply accept them as gospel truths, which must be believed and defended. Instead of statements of facts, which should be understood.
Consequently, when believers (Christians and Muslims) read or hear a sentence from the scripture, instead of attempting to understand it, they read what they already believe to be true into the statement.
By so doing, they commit error of understanding, like attributing meaning that can only be inferred from reading the whole, sentence or paragraph to the first or last conjunct, depending on what they already believe.
The result is people who hold certain sentences as truth, without a logical understanding of the thought behind the statement, which the author wanted to convey, the intention of the author in uttering the statement and the context which made the statement necessary, relevant and true at the time it was uttered.
And Without a clear understanding of meaning, they cannot appreciate the object to which words apply, the sense of the statement and its referential account.
The result is that they end up as believers, oblivious of what it says about their insight and ability to understand. Men and women who hold certain statements as truth, without any deep understanding of how they originated in the mind of the authors and why the authors had the need to make them, when they did, can be inspired to do anything without applying the scientific method to see, if what they are doing is reasonable, just and lawful.
It is this tragic discarding of the scientific method in the evaluation of what it accepts as truth by religion and many dogmatic people that is at the heart her confusion and many conflicts.
How can we or religion find the truth, without the help of science, when science is our only and greatest tool for finding the truth?
How can anyone honestly claim to have found the truth, when he excludes what it has found from scrutiny?
How can we claim that what we have found is the truth, if we are unwilling to expose it to verification of those who doubt its truthfulness?
This is the tragic situation of religion as we have it in Nigeria today. Many people have also found themselves in the same situation.
The sad and unfortunate result is that by dismissing the only thing that can help us understand our errors, religion and many of us have ensured that we will defend our ignorance and prejudices to the end in the name of faith, belief and convictions.
For example, if the scripture says that playing games is good. How does the believer know which aspect of games the statement endorses and why?
Is it because games allow people to exercise, lose weight, be amused, or learn competitiveness? Is it because games create winners and losers? All of the above or for reason we do not yet know?
If it is for any of the above, how can we know the right time to play games and what rules to apply, since the scripture simply says that playing games is good without stating how, when, in what circumstance, the right way and with whom.
One can begin to see the danger in reading and accepting scripture the way and manner many religious people do and the risks involved in indoctrination, dogmas and making believers out of people.
I suppose what we really need for a more tolerant and peaceful world is the ability to understand what we read, in order to capture both the thoughts and intentions of the authors and contexts in which they wrote.
In this way, we will understand for instance, that what inspired Jesus to say, ‘suffer not little children to come unto me’ was because his disciples were literarily stopping some little children from getting to Jesus, when they judged that he was engaged in adult matters and did not have time for children.
He saw the innocence of the children, their friendliness and lack of prejudices and, it inspired him to wish that men could be like children and then added, the kingdom of God is for people like children.
Jesus was capturing something in children, which he knew if they endure in adult life, would make people better human beings. He did not say that adults should ‘behave like children, all children will enter the kingdom of God or that heaven will be full of children as some people have read into this statement. Understanding is everything.
Philosophers and linguists have examined how people understand the meaning of sentences and words and discovered that there are about three acts in making a sentence, which they call locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary acts.
The locutionary act consists in making statements with words, especially when used to refer to particular objects. The illocutionary act consists in the action the speaker performs, while making the statement (in the case of Jesus in the example, he was speaking to the people urging them on the necessity for change in their lives and attitudes). This might also be informing, warning or promising.
The perlocutionary act consists in the effect the utterance has on the hearer. Today, the words of the scripture can turn some people into Jihadists,and fanatics, who are willing to behead their fellow human beings, justify discriminations and prejudices and commit unspeakable atrocities against innocent girls, or into born agains with over valued ideas about about the mystery of life.
Once a person can distinguish the illocutionary act in a statement from locutionary act of the uttered words, the person will be in a position to understand the statement and the different ways it may be misunderstood, with serious consequences to the individual and others. This is a wonderful skill which good education can impart.
If religious people can employ these skills in reading the scripture, maybe, they will gain new and better understanding of what the scripture is saying, which will enhance world peace, interpersonal relationships and relatedness, and improve understanding of the mystery of God.
Sadly, ignorance has left great number of people damaged by religion and a danger to their fellow human beings. This is the real tragedy of our time. Understanding is everything. Will Nigerian leaders take up the challenge of enabling Nigerians to truly understand what they read in the Bible and the Quran or will we continue to take Jewish tales, Arabian fables and wisdom frozen in time as absolute truth, which must be believed? Time will tell.