The Nigerian Nobel Prize laureate Professor Wole Soyinka has delivered a stinging, comprehensive analysis of the manipulation of the institution of religion in his country and on the continent and concluded that we are on a course of destruction unless we find a way to keep the excesses of religion in check.
Professor Soyinka, speaking at the launch of a book – Religion and the Making of Nigeria, written by Prof. Olufemi Vaughan – in Abuja on Thursday, said that the history of the institution in Africa has been one of an unmitigated disaster and that unless we tame it, religion is going to tame us.
Wole Soyinka tackled the issue of religion through the prism of religious extremism (Boko Haram) and its manipulation by the powerful in society to the detriment of the powerless, declaring that he often wondered how much better off the world would be if religion had never come about.
Soyinka began his speech by echoing the words of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who said that corruption would kill Nigeria if Nigerians do not kill it.
“I would like to transfer that cry from the moral zone to the terrain of religion. If we do not tame religion in this nation, religion would kill us.” Professor Soyinka declared.
“I do not say kill religion, though, I wouldn’t mind a bit if that mission could be undertaken surgically, painlessly perhaps, under anaesthesia, effectively sprayed all over the nation or perhaps during an induced pouch of religious ecstasy.
“However, one has to be realistic. Only the religiously possessed or committed would deny the obvious. The price that many have paid, not just within this society but by humanity in general, makes one wonder if the benefits have really been more than the losses.”
Soyinka added that religion, which was simply a means of understanding the world and not necessarily the sole arbiter of truth in it, had been an unmitigated disaster for us Africans.
“[Religion is] simply the structuring of the unknowable to which human beings attach rituals, laws and taboos usually under a reverential relationship between mortals on the one hand and the unknowable supposedly supernatural on the other.”
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“Religion in the history of this continent has been a disastrous venture,” he added. “A disaster in many zones and continues to be even so today.”
Soyinka, speaking on, said that religion, “rather than solace and the consolation of spirituality which many religions claim for themselves.” – has been transformed into a killing machine by its adherents.
“As for the custodians of religion, especially those called world religion, they cannot denounce the murderous tendencies of religion.
“For both the monk and the cleric or spiritual leaders, it is simply no longer sufficient to say this or that form of conduct is not permitted by this religion or the other. Or those who do this or that are not true believers of this prophet or that avatar or sage for the simple reason that others, who dissociate themselves from conduct, which universally is condemned, are themselves declaring themselves partisan of their own in contradistinctions to others.
“What, however, concerns the rest of us – no matter the internal wrangling, rivalries or controversies within any religion – what concerns us is that the innocent are often those who pay the highest price.” he added.
It is nearly impossible to find an African public figure willing to criticise religion so much to its core, even considering its detrimental efforts which are usually glossed over. Soyinka, from noting the human origins of religion, to its colonial past and legacy, plus its continuing contribution to the underdevelopment of the continent and its lending itself so easily to violence – speaks the truth on this benighted institution. The only folly is nobody on this brainwashed continent, one in any position of influence anyway – would be ready to take the truth and make the necessary adjustments to save us all from being enslaved to the religions of those who once enslaved us.