The tradition of deploying analytical tools and methods to challenge settled religious orthodoxy has been long coming. Adherents of the established order have always held critical analyses or inquiries into “settled” values of religion as heretical or ungodly. It is generally held that scholarly, intellectual or academic searches into matters of faith can only compound our understanding of revealed orthodoxy and leave us totally bereft of the true or inspired reason for its practice. Over the ages, however, religious orthodoxy has received defiant challenges that have produced, in a progressive fashion, further orthodoxies.
In spite of the abhorrence of organised religion for cerebral inquiries into its form, content or mode, it has, probably more than any subject matter, received serious intellectual assaults or attacks on its normative validity, its theoretical thrusts and its philosophical underpinnings. It has been unable to stem the tidal waves of reasoned critique. It is to the eternal credit of its resilience, however, that is preachment, transcendental values and mores are embedded in the inner recesses of our individual consciousness. The universality of our humanity is underscored by the shared values of our sense of propriety, of right or wrong, and/or of a supreme order.
Some are wont to disclaim the centrality or appropriateness of organised faith in our private, individual or social life. Their position is empirically buttressed by the absence of the true faith values of piety, self-denial, moderation and good judgment, among others, in the lives of faith leaders. Church leaders, for instance, are known in their large number, for ostentatious life style, impious carriage, crude acquisitiveness or lustfulness, and so on. The family unit, the most fundamental segment of our social set-up, which requires to be protected away from negative influence is exposed to the defilement of its soul by what it sees or perceives of the desultoriness of what should be its compass or direction into goodly conduct or acceptable behaviour.
The thematic focus of this article revolves around the visible and surreptitious outward deeds of men and women of faith contrary to the solemn dictates or prescription of their faith; their posturing which contrasts gravely with the presumed message of their faith. Men and women of faith self-gratifyingly cite the scriptures, draw allegoric parallels between our lives and the life to come and charge us to be of good or Godly behaviour so we may inherit the blessings of the hereafter.
But generally and most disappointingly, these ones are different from their congregations only by a hair’s breadth, if ever. Church leaders’ grandstanding notwithstanding, the people are aghast why elementary principles of living which men of faith preach inexorably, are practised by them more in the breach than in their observance even in the fierce stare of the congregation. The Atlantic Slave Trade, for example, was allowed to exist co-terminously with the Christian religion for about 450 years. Our morality was lulled to sleep for all that period even as slave-owning dealers were the curious prime propagators of the ethos or values of Islam; of the presumed universality of the human kind all through the ages or before and during the Trans-Saharan Trade.
There is a requirement of a fundamental protest against the concept of unquestioning obedience by insisting on the relevance or importance of our own moral or rational assent to what is commanded to be obeyed. Our fear of being visited with misery or cant as a result of our deviation from societal norms particularly in societies where religion has been in a position of authority is solely responsible for the pervasive confusion which makes it difficult to discern high ground morality from muscular or organised religion or even religious fundamentalism. The power and integrity in the claim of fundamentalism, we must remind ourselves, subsist only in its sentimental effect, not in unyielding rigour.
By their activities, the various faith-based organisations may have accentuated a new sense of inequality deprivation, injustice, and so on. Even as members of their congregations, for instance, are unable to afford the egregious high tuition and other fees charged by schools owned by their denominations. It, therefore, follows that the mediation of the church, for example, in the area of education or skill acquisition is not free or munificent; it is arguably at a cost to a significant segment of the population.
Organised religion is presumed to offer succour for people. It has, therefore, found a natural habitat among people who are naturally opposed to tyrannical exactions which are the order of the times. The tendency towards syncretism has emerged whereby a member of a faith congregation could combine regular consultation of seers and magicians with his rigorous or unfailing attendance of church ministrations all for combined effect. This practice is pervasive or general. A strong, emerging trend towards ecstasy and puritanism will also be noticed as one of the features of organised religion in Nigeria today. This may be understood as a response or reaction to the cold formalism and lax morality of orthodoxy. It is in a sense a reaction against syncretism of the “wrong sort” It may also be noted as a reassertion of the vigorous elements of the indigenous traditions which imported religion can ill-afford to ignore or ignore to its detriment or diminution.
The important point to make at this juncture is that there is a dialectical relationship between faith-based organisations [as represented by the church, for example] and the state. The continuing decline in societal values properly situates the church and promotes her strong social and moral conscience credentials.
Happily, we live in an age in which we do not instinctively obey orders from above (“above” being euphemism for transcendental heavens) even as justifications are now required to be offered for moral restraints upon individuals. Paradoxically, our era is also one in which restraint is recognised as a necessity for demythologising previous moral traditions even as we strive to construct new traditions so we may continue to earn our appellation as “homo sapiens.”
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and commentator on public affairs, wrote from Benin City vide email@example.com.