Monday Discourse (189)
Pope John Paul II
This is a tribute to the late Pope. I think his departure has accorded me as a Muslim to reflect on the relevant values of religion which all adherents to the belief in God must share, amidst bombardments from atheistic and libertarian orders of Western civilization. To some people the Pope was a Christian and represents only Christianity; his tributes and eulogy should is the prerogative, concern or monopoly of Christians. A millennium ago this would have been true. The Muslim and Christian World then were not only living apart and separated by geography, politics and ideas. It was the period of the Crusades, when Islam went knocking right at the gates of Europe and the Christiandom strived twice to reclaim Jerusalem. Then the idea of Islam in the West did not go beyond a religion of the sword, polygamy, concubines, Arabian Nights and other oriental tales.
In today’s globe, geography has been emasculated, distance conquered. The old misconceptions are gradually giving way, thanks to technological advances in transport and communications, to understanding and dialogue among men of reason. After the great debates in oriental scholarship and over two centuries of interaction, the West has finally come to regard Islam as a religion. Beyond that point, dynamic Christian leaders today view Islam as a veritable partner against the assault of Western philosophy and practice. This partnership has evolved not as a result of a dispassionate study of the two religions, one of the other, but as a result of experiences threatening to extinguish divine guidance itself.
It started with Christianity, which has suffered and has been on sharp decline during the past five hundred years as a result of onslaughts from science, western philosophy, and libertarianism. The discoveries of science especially in the area of physics have discredited many doctrines of the Church; the French Revolution and the others that followed have estranged the Church from political control; finally, democracy became the supreme doctrine in politics. Earlier, philosophers, like 19th Century Frederick Nietzsche, whose predecessors have suffered in the hands of the Church, have questioned the most fundamental beliefs of the Church. Among his most memorable contributions to Western Philosophy is his proclamation that God is dead. Yet, Nietzsche, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, “deeply affected generations of theologians, philosophers, psychologists, poets, novelists, and playwrights… (and) determined the agenda for many of Europe's most celebrated intellectuals after his death.”
The increasing shift towards democracy and market economy, as Francis Fukuyama would be eager to prove, has made materialism the transcendent philosophy of today. The dogma of faith has been abandoned since the secularizing influence of Enlightenment; today, it has been replaced by its antithesis, the lust of human mind, which commands the respect of civil societies and libertarian groups. All people of religion have helplessly watched with sympathy at the enormous pressure which these groups have subjected various orders of Christianity. This is an onslaught different from that of Nietzsche and his ilk, who did not claim to believe in God in the first place. The demand for the Church to ordain women and homosexuals as priests came from within its fold, by people who do not only subscribe to the idea of God, but also who claim to believe in Him and work for His cause. Homosexuals and adulterers according to all divine religions are supposed to be stoned to death. Now making such people priests is a deadly blow that goes straight to the very heart of Canon law and Christian morality. Thus we can only watch with grief, how in America and some few European countries, the Church is yielding to this Satanic pressure. It is promising to Muslims that our African Churches have stood firm against this. Morality is what defines religion. All religions have codes of conducts dictated by their moral precepts. Once the Church will yield to the libertarian pressure, then it can as well call it quits. Here, the late Pope remains exemplary for others to copy. He stood against the growing pressure and we hope his successors will remain resolute as he did.
On the issue of women celibacy, we must appreciate that extending the notion of constitutional rights to the domain of Canon law has no validity in the logic of religion. While the former is subject to rationalization, rules regarding religious behaviour and rituals are best obeyed than questioned. We cannot ask why God did not appoint a single woman as an Apostle. And if that has been the choice in Heaven why should the Church be under pressure to twist its laws to accommodate women in roles that are, by law, not theirs in the first place? What we are doing today is simply knocking at the doors of God and telling him, “Hey, take Your rules. They have no place in a modern, enlightened and free world.” But if we are not ready to abide by His rules, why chose to remain in His domain? Why not abandon God and religion entirely if we feel we have discovered or possess an intellect better than His?
It is not surprising to learn the attempt to introduce this perfidy into Islam by some “Muslim” women libertarians. A month ago, a lady in New York was reported to have led a Friday Congregation which was given wide coverage by all major media organizations in the West. This rubbish will not go anywhere in Islam, no matter the patronage from Western political and academic establishments. Here, also, we share a common ground with Christian brothers, especially those in Africa.
Family values are among matters which the late Pope upheld. In a world characterised by liberty, and particularly in the West, family has been on the decline. The legalisation of adultery and abortion has po0sed a new challenge to the Church which has remained the only custodian of family values in the West. While legalisation of adultery makes marriage an avoidable or even unnecessary burden, abortion threatens not only the life of the unborn child but also that of the living. The two combine to result in dwindling populations. Thus, it is not uncommon to learn how in many Western communities death to birth ratio has declined to something like 20:1. Not far from the Vatican, in Italy, CNN once reported a town where the ratio is 37:1. This means that such communities are aging fast and life must close down very soon, unless immigrants will be imported to provide for the workforce required to keep services going.
To maintain a reasonable degree of moral rectitude in a society, children must be raised by their parents: at a point they require the attention of their mother; later they need the crucial guidance, support and protection of their father; and lastly, if they are women, they require the compassion and protection of their husbands. Outside this family domain and values, I cannot envisage a school for cultivating moral consciousness that will breed the tolerance, endurance and compassion required in human civilization. It worth noting here that in both Beijing and Cairo Conferences, the Vatican stood side by side with Muslim countries against resolutions that attempt to disenfranchise the world of family values.
In all these, the Catholic Church and the late Pope have kept an enviable record. How far will they carry on depends on the choice they make for the future. Given the growing power of the United States and the inordinate manner with which it exercises that power, it is important that the Church chooses as a successor to the pope an ultra-conservative who will not yield the power of the state nor acquiesce to the Satanic pressure.
On the other side, politics is once more at the centre of discord between Islam and Christianity. The West is obviously transcendent in terms of military and economic might. The Muslim World is only recovering from centuries of decay and colonialism. It is this revival of Muslim consciousness that is seen as a threat to Western political hegemony which depends on the exploitation of human and material resources of developing countries. In its battle for consolidating that hegemony, the West has recruited Christianity as a foot soldier: Nowhere is this manipulation eloquently presented than in The Clash of Civilizations of Samuel Huntington. He contends that religion is at the centre of the growing hostility between Muslim World and the West. The West, he advises, must exclude from its club, like NATO and EU, countries from other civilizations – apparently referring to Muslim Turkey – if its present hegemony is to be maintained. It must also suppress, by any means possible, he continues, the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by other civilizations, especially Muslims. Hence, the passion of George Bush to destroy Iran’s nuclear plant. Has the God of Christianity who is also the God of Islam, approve of weapons of mass destruction?
Huntington has even failed to see the contradiction between Christian and modern Western values, some of which we have highlighted above. In politics, though, anything can be a weapon. Here there are desperate efforts to use Christianity as a rallying point. The invasion of Iraq is declared a Crusade by Bush; Iran is an axis of Evil; Turkey is not fit for admission into NATO for conflict of culture; etc. If Christian leaders will take a dispassionate look at affairs, they will readily confess that Islam poses only a small danger compared to the wholesome destruction caused by Enlightenment and Western libertarian doctrines. The struggle is between freedom and imperialism, not a clash of civilizations, dear Mr Huntington.
It delights here to recall that the late Pope has stood against American invasion of Iraq, though he was in no position to avert it, another proof that it is not a crusade but an imperial undertaking. In the same vein, we expect other Christians to speak for the freedom of Palestine and against Western support for monarchies and dictatorships throughout the Muslim World.
The late Pope has paid particular attention to Muslim Christian relations and appointed a Nigerian, who will possibly become the next Pope, to manage that desk. I cannot tell how well he carried out that job. But if what happened in his home country in the past five years is anything to go by, it is difficult to say much about his achievement. Where is this son of ours when Muslims and Christians were killing themselves Kaduna and Jos, for example? I expected his intervention which was badly needed to save the lives of thousands and their properties.
The Catholic leadership here at home, sorry to say, did not do better in such situations. No one has threatened the destruction of this country in the late 1980s and early 1990s as did Arch Bishop Okogie, the former leader of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, Even his successor did not do better to extend the hands of friendship to the Muslim community in the country, given now that he has the listening ear of the President and a position of influence in Aso Rock.
I was equally taken aback by the recent comments of Reverend Mathew Kuka on Muslim apprehensions about the political reform conference. The Father resorted to street language to describe the fears of fellow Nigerians, instead of re-assuring them as a man of religion and secretary of the gathering. He described their fears as “nonsense… irresponsible.. and … a means of making money.” My God! If these words are coming from a man of religion, I wonder what will be coming from our mouth, we the laity who should be confessing our sins before them. And for the second time, I watched Reverend Kukah striving to prove that he is more given to sentiments than to reason: He once denied a Christian ever becoming the VC of ABU Zaria, until he was reminded of the many Christians who occupied that seat. Recently, he reminded us Buhari and Idiagbon, both Muslims ruled this country, as if he was not alive during the Gowon era when both the Head of State and his deputy were Christians. We have a long way to civilization and certainly some people are better placed among politicians than among priests.
What I am trying to say is that these priests are not living by the standards of the late Pope John Paul II. He had the means to rubbish Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, and all non-Christians; he could also have gone into confederation with politicians like George Bush to unleash terror on non-Christian lands, as some would have eagerly done were they to enjoy a fraction of the opportunity he had. But he remained in the lofty positions of priesthood and threw away the yolk of bigotry, sentiments and pedestrian vocabulary. Mutual respect is what he preached. He did not pray fire and brimstone for his country or the World but peace and protection from God. As he turned his back to his home country on his journey to the Vatican, he prayed: “God, protect Poland.” I wish Nigeria were blessed with priests with great hearts like his.
In conclusion, I have tried to use the opportunity of the Pope’s death to scratch over matters that we share in common with our Christians brothers. The evil of secularism which has grown to the level of denying the existence of God, the evil of libertarianism, the evil of using religion to promote American expansionism, the evil of Zionism, the evil of making religion a subject of politics, should all form a common ground for the advancement of humanity, freedom and justice in the present world. These are values which the Pope stood for and people of all faiths should stand up to be counted at this crucial moment.
I learnt that a Nigerian is ranking high among the candidates to be considered for the Pope’s seat. That is good news for it will add to our c.v. as a nation especially at a time when we are standing among the three most corrupt nations on earth. My hope was that Obasanjo will not attend the funeral, otherwise the chances that he will infect them with the virus of rigging and corruption is very high. But my Christian friend assured me that he will not have the chance to meet with members of the conclave. Nigerian priests and President attending the funeral can as well leave our loads of Ghana-must-go and election rigging handouts behind. The Papacy does not need them.