Why should highly educated people exhibit behaviours which generate shock and disbelief when religious issues are concerned? How should violence on people who hold different religious views be explained? When people carry out irrational acts on matters of religion how can such acts be justified or at least explained? Scientists say certain human behaviours in matters of religion come about because human beings are hardwired for religion. Religion is embedded and entrenched in the genes such that human beings can hardly do anything about it.
Professor Addison Wokocha (God rest his soul) once told a story of a man with PhD in astrophysics who left his village in a hurry when rainfall and high sunshine occurred simultaneously. In the man’s village it is believed a mighty python would emerge and swallow people during such natural occurrence. He learned this at birth and all his science did not displace such belief. This is magic which is an aspect of religion.
Professor Bruce Hood of Bristol University, United Kingdom holds the opinion that religion is inbuilt in the human gene. Magic, the afterlife, and deities are part of the biological structure of humans and religions exploit this given sometimes to cause violence through justification and indoctrination. Professor Hood says effort to convince people to abandon their beliefs is usually futile.
Biologist Dean Hamer of the United States National Cancer Institute at Bethesda, Maryland has written a book on the “God gene.” Belief in God and other deities and the supernatural are in our DNA from birth so we only respond by using it for good or for ill.
The question one may ask is why some people are atheists. These persons believe there is no God or anything transcendental. But such belief I argue, presupposes knowledge of what is disbelieved as well as belief in something – nothing. If you believe nothing exists (as nihilists do) you are by extension and deduction believing in something. No human mind can be blank nor can any human mind belief in nothing.
One should as a natural sequence ask what religion is. Oxford encyclopaedia defines religion as “Believe in and worship of a superhuman controlling force.” An individual believes first, then out of awe or establishment of truth or even confusion worships such supernatural being. Africans believed and worshipped several deities but as in Ibibio cosmology, people acknowledged the existence of a Supreme Deity which they venerated but did not worship. For instance, every libation (drink offering to the gods and ancestors) was preceded by the phrase “God of the sky” and such proverb as “The yam stick must first inform the Sky God before it bores a hole on the ground.” The people could not establish the nature of the Supreme Deity, so they offered nothing and made no attempt towards worship.
Such stance aligns with what James Lovelock, British scientists said when BBC interviewed him on his 100th birthday. He does not belief in God because he has insufficient proof (arguments for the existence of God had been a preoccupation of several philosophers such as St. Anselm). For me, hardwired or not, even if I want to disbelief the existence of God my in-depth study of the planets to enable me to write a fantasy consolidated my position that God exists. Earth is one of the planets, but it is the 5th in terms of size (Jupiter is 1,120 times the size of earth). How come these massive structures without intelligence stay in their orbits and never run into one another? To explain this wonder through gravity alone cannot convince me. Nor can the Gaia theory by James Lovelock on the interaction of earth’s systems to keep the earth running enough to discount in full the invisible hand of the Supreme Being to regulate the earth to facilitate existence of life. There are more than meet the eye. In essence I hold that there is an intelligent being which controls activities in an ever-expanding universe.
Back to religion which has caused so much mayhem on Planet Earth which should be a massive mythological Eden. What is the essence of religion? Now let us agree that human beings are wired in their brains to look upward and beyond self for explanations of phenomena beyond their comprehension. I hold that religion as part of individual makeup should be applied for good in a way that our earth is more beautiful to live in by the day. For instance, ALL religions teach moral principles and all of them preach peace and good neighbourliness. Why should a handful of people interpret their religion to cause havoc in a multicultural, multi religious society?
Imposing religious orientation is almost as old as Christianity. Emperor Constantine of Rome way back in 321AD issued a decree to ban Sunday trading. Sunday in Christian Rome was regarded as a holy day. In Canada there was a Pious Day Act which disallowed Sunday shops. Till today some cities in USA allow shops in very few items or services to operate on Sundays. But such cities have several other religions operating. Why should there be an official policy on Sunday commerce if not because religion is at the centre?
The one that makes news since the 20th century has been Islam. Difference even in history can cause serious problems. This is the case of the Shiite and the Sunni Moslems. Where does that leave us? Why should priests of the gods (traditional African religion) invoke negative powers to destroy people? Why should ritual killing be a part of the 21st century?
In the 21st century religion should in fact be the greatest binding force in every society. If people were to adopt the moral themes of do not steal, kill, commit adultery, violate rights, be your brother’s keeper (including alms giving, a pillar in Islam), why would we not already be in the 1,000 years of peace and progress which Nostradamus predicted?
What happened to Nigeria anyway? Once upon a time we lived together and ate together and intermarried. Today we move farther apart by the second. We were in quintessence the classic case of magnets: unlike poles attract. “Though tribes and tongues may differ in brotherhood we stand” rang Nigeria’s first National Anthem. What went wrong because the three principal religions – Christianity, Islam, and Traditional Religion have been with us since the artificial union of 1914?
Have we asked ourselves whether there will be a way out? Is break up the solution? I doubt, for within the resulting splinters cracks are already very prominent. We must not be hopeless either.
We should regularly remind ourselves of the immortal words of German sociologist, political theorist, and philosopher, Karl Marx whose thoughts fathered communism. He said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Opiate is a derivative of opium which is a narcotic that makes the brain dull and uncoordinated. Religion, wired into our brains has the capacity to make people fail to think straight and in a rational way. Is that what religion should be about? But it is, when people kill “in God’s name” (David Yallop’s book). If killing should have religious undertone it should be on grounds of self-defence only. Turning the other cheek is an Old Testament philosophy but it coexisted with an eye for an eye (which Israel practices till this day). There can be no wisdom (the two Testaments are filled with calls for wisdom) in waiting to be slaughtered. Only living people worship deities. Religious organizations which preach coercion and violence should change to moral suasion. Several atheists have become Christians on being convinced of the need to be so. About the most famous person to leave Christianity to Islam was the greatest boxer of all time, Mohammed Ali of USA. The Moslem world rejoiced. When the alternate takes place there should be enough large heartedness to accept such individual decision.
It is not over for Nigeria any way. Nor is religious tolerance an unachievable dream. If it occurs, everyone will benefit. In which case everyone should avoid what the other group feels sensitive about and regards as a red line. Rather all religions should work towards a better society.
The summary of this piece: we need not continue to blame people who behave in ways we don’t expect when matters of religion come up. This is because human beings are most likely hardwired for religion. Just as hypertension is genetic, religion is genetic. A better way to manage hypertension is to have adequate knowledge about it, avoid the avoidables, and manage the situation when it arises.
No two human beings react alike to the same stimulus. A better approach is to avoid doing things others don’t like. If Moslems say don’t draw something and say it is the Prophet’s image, why must anyone do it? In our lives we have red lines we share with family, friends, and associates. We react when such red lines are crossed. Relationships are best when people consciously avoid red lines. For those living with the fundamentalists, if you are warned once, don’t look for a second warning.
For Moslems, if your orientation tends towards being easily provoked one approach is to avoid situations of that nature. Such may include relocation. One of the most fascinating verses in the Quran is Q. 4:97 which asks, “Is Allah’s earth not spacious enough for you to move yourselves away (from evil)?” It baffles me how people migrate to other people’s lands, settle, then demand that the owners of the land must accept their lifestyles and abandon theirs. If you are at a place which has a tendency to provoke you, leave that place. Most married men do so and thus avoid beating their wives.
I rest my case.