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Wole Soyinka: Religion Doesn't Justify Mayhem

 

Your Take: A Nobel laureate says we must stop excusing religion's role in crimes against humanity.

 
 

The following is the text of an address titled "Religion Against Humanity," given by Nobel Prize-winning writer Wole Soyinka, a member of UNESCO's International High Panel, at the 2012 Conference on the Culture of Peace and Non-Violence at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Sept. 21, 2012.


(Special to The Root) -- To such a degree has religion fueled conflict, complicated politics, retarded social development and impaired human relations across the world that one is often tempted to propose that religion is innately an enemy of humanity, if not indeed of itself a crime against humanity. Certainly it cannot be denied that religion has proved again and again a spur, a motivator and a justification for the commission of some of the most horrifying crimes against humanity, despite its fervent affirmations of peace. Let us, however, steer away from hyperbolic propositions and simply settle for this moderating moral imperative: that it is time that the world adopt a position that refuses to countenance religion as an acceptable justification for, excuse or extenuation of crimes against humanity.

 

While it should be mandatory that states justify their place as members of a world community by educating their citizens on the entitlement of religion to a place within society and the obligations of mutual acceptance and respect, it should be deemed unacceptable that the world is held to ransom for the uneducated conduct of a few, and placed in a condition of fear, apprehension, leading to a culture of appeasement

 

There are critical issues of human well-being and survival that deserve the undivided attention of leaders all over the world. Let us recall that it is not anti-Islamists who have lately desecrated and destroyed -- and with such fiendish self-righteousness -- the tombs of Moslem saints in Timbuktu, most notoriously the mausoleum of the Imam Moussa al-Khadin, declared a world heritage under the protection of UNESCO and accorded pride of place in African patrimony. The orientation -- backed by declarations -- of these violators leaves us with a foreboding that the invaluable library treasures of Timbuktu may be next.

 

The truth, alas, is that the science fiction archetype of the mad scientist who craves to dominate the world has been replaced by the mad cleric who can only conceive of the world in his own image, proudly flaunting Bond's Double-0-7 credentials -- Licensed to Kill. The sooner national leaders and genuine religious leaders understand this and admit that no nation has any lack of its own dangerous loonies, be they known as Ansar-Dine of Mali or Terry Jones of Florida, the earlier they will turn their attention to real issues truly deserving human priority.

 

These cited clerics and their ilk are descendants of the ancient line of iconoclasts of Islamic, Christian and other religious molds who have destroyed the antecedent spirituality and divine emblems of the African peoples over centuries. Adherents of those African religions, who remain passionately attached to their beliefs, all the way across the Atlantic -- in Brazil and across other parts of Latin America -- have not taken to wreaking vengeance on their presumed violators in far-off lands.

 

These emulators are still at work on the [African] continent, most devastatingly in Somalia, with my own nation, Nigeria, catching up with mind-boggling rapidity and intensity. Places of worship are primary targets, followed by institutes of education. Innocent humanity, eking out their miserable livelihood, are being blown to pieces, presumably to relieve them of their misery. Schools and school pupils are assailed in religion-fueled orgies -- measured, deliberate and deadly.

 

The hands of the clock of progress and social development have been arrested, then reversed in widening swathes of the Nigerian landscape. As if the resources of the nation were not already stretched to breaking point, they must now also be diverted to anticipating the consequences -- as in numerous nations around the world -- that would predictably follow the cinematic obscenities of a new entrant into the ranks of religious denigrators, who turns out -- irony of ironies -- to have originated from the African continent.

 

In sensible families, while every possible effort is made to smooth the passage of children through life, children are taught to understand that life is not a seamless robe of many splendors, but prone to the possibility of being besmirched by the unexpected and unpredictable. A solid core of confidence in one's moral and spiritual choices is thus sufficient to withstand external assaults from sudden and hostile forces. That principle of personality development is every bit as essential as the education that inculcates respect for the belief systems and practices of others.

 

The most intense ethical education, including severe social sanctions, has not eradicated material corruption, exploitation, child defilement and murders in society, not even deterrents such as capital punishment. How, then, can anyone presume that there shall be no violations of the ideal state of religious tolerance to which we all aspire, or demand that the world stand still, cover its head in sackcloth and ashes, grovel in self-abasement or else prepare itself for earthly pestilence for failure to anticipate the occasional penetration of their self-ascribed carapace of inviolability?

 

It is time to demand a sense of proportion, and realism. Communication advances have made it possible for both good and evil to transcend boundaries virtually at the speed of light, and for the spores of hatred to travel just as fast and as widely as the seeds of harmony. The world should not continue to acquiesce in the brutal culture of extremism that demands the impossible -- control of the conduct of millions in their individual spheres, under different laws, usages, cultures and, indeed, degrees of sanity.

 

What gives hope is the very special capacity of man for dialogue, and that arbiter is foreclosed, or endures interminable postponements as long as one side arrogates to itself the right to respond to a pebble thrown by an infantile hand in Papua New Guinea with attempts to demolish the Rock of Gibraltar. I use the word "infantile" deliberately, because these alleged insults to religion are no different from the infantile scribble we encounter in public toilets, the product of infantilism and retarded development. We have learned to ignore and walk away from them. They should not be answered by equally infantile responses that are, however, incendiary and homicidal in dimension, and largely directed against the innocent, since the originating hand is usually, in any case, beyond reach.

 

With the remorseless march of technology, we shall all be caught in a spiral of reprisals, tailored to wound, to draw virtual blood. The other side responds with real blood and gore, also clotting up the path to rational discourse. What we are witnesses to in recent times is that such proceeding is being accorded legitimacy on the grounds of religious sensibility. It is pathetic to demand what cannot be guaranteed. It is futile to attempt to rein in technology: The solution is to use that very technology to correct noxious conceptions in the minds of the perpetrators of abuse, and educate the ignorant.

 

I speak as one from a nation whose normal diet of economic disparity, corruption, marginalization and ethnic and political cleavages has been further compounded by the ascendancy of religious jingoism. It is a lamentable retrogression from the nearly forgotten state of harmonious coexistence that I lived in and enjoyed as a child.

 

One takes consolation in the fact that some of us did not wait to sound warnings until the plague of religious extremism entered our borders. Our concerns began and were articulated as a concern for others, still at remote distances. Now that the largest black habitation on the globe has joined the club of religious terror under the portentous name Boko Haram -- which means "the Book Is Taboo" -- we can morally demand help from others, but we only find them drowning in the rhetoric and rites of anger and/or contrition.

 

Today it is the heritage and humanity of Timbuktu. And tomorrow? The African continent must take back Mali -- not later but right now. The cost of further delay will be incalculable, and devastating.
 

The spiral of reprisals now appears to have been launched, what with the recent news that a French editor has also entered the lists with a fresh album of offensive cartoons. To break that spiral, there must be dialogue of frank, mature minds. Instant, comprehensive solutions do not exist -- only the arduous, painstaking path of dialogue, whose multitextured demands are not beyond the innovative, as opposed to the emotive, capacity of cultured societies.

 

So let that moving feast of regional dialogues -- which was inaugurated by former President Khatami of Iran in these very chambers -- be reinforced, emboldened and evenhanded. The destination should be a moratorium, but for this to be strong and enduring, it must be voluntary, based on a will to understanding and mental reorientation, not on menace, self-righteous indictments and destructive emotionalism. Perhaps we may yet rescue religion from its ultimate indictment: conscription into the ranks of provable enemies of humanity.

 

Wole Soyinka, a native of Nigeria, was the 1986 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature.


The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.


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"I'm just trying to make a way out of no way, for my people" -Modejeska Monteith Simpkins

 

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THE BLACK RACE IS AT WAR

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  You know...religion aside?  I can't even get to understanding a "human" [male] subjegating another human [female] based on a two-thousand year spiritual conjecture.  It was HUMANS who took over and destroyed African nations, it was HUMANS who took and destroyed Native American nations, where oh where is the so-called GOD in that?  So until I get the reasonable humane answers to the WHYs...Africa will NEVER be free or regain what the riches she had before and the Latino/Hispanics population will NEVER embrace the legacy of their Native American/Amerindian hertiage.  And those TWO things must happen in order to begin to resolve the genocide placed on these important human groups. Every thing else is just a bunch of noise talking about absolutely nothing.  The fact is the social war of thousands of years isn't among men...the real social war is between man and woman.  Bottom line.  But! 

Yeah .... it's kinda hard for me to put the blame "religion" .... before I put it on the HUMAN BEING factor that corrupts it!! 

 

Simply introducing Christianity to our slave ancestors may not have been such a bad thing ... but using abuse, torture and death to force the acceptance of it ... on people who already had/practiced their own form of "religion" is what makes our unwavering adherence to it all the more disgusting and inhumane, IMO. 

 

Religion may be the 'vehicle' by which 'crimes against humanity' are brought/committed ... but it's the 'driver' that gets it to its destination and causes all of the destruction.  

I think the author is saying as such, Koco/ER, when he states/speaks of:

 

 

"The truth, alas, is that the science fiction archetype of the mad scientist who craves to dominate the world has been replaced by the mad cleric who can only conceive of the world in his own image, proudly flaunting Bond's Double-0-7 credentials -- Licensed to Kill"




I read it as the "you" was understood in that it is/was man(human beings) who/that created/concocted all these religions that extract the worst from humanity in the first place.

 

In my view, he should has used the words "organized religion", however, he is speaking from a perspective relative to Africa, I on the on the other hand, see what he has to say as true throughout the entire world.  

 

I too, also believe that religion is the origin of the hate, evil, extremism, racism, sexism and crimes against humanity, not just in Africa, but throughout the world.  I too, also believe that, religion/organized religion, has been given a free ride regarding its part in the corruption and depravity of humanity.  


Ummmm ... well, actually, I see it kind of differently, Sunnubian ...

 

I don't see "religion" in and of itself, being anything necessarily bad.  Pretty much all the religions that I have any personal knowledge of tend to have the same basic fundamental tenants:  1) There is a "God"/"Supreme Being" that it's centered around; 2) it has a set of "rules"/"laws" that govern it; and 3) there is some directive to somehow acknowledge/worship/show reverence to that "God"/"Supreme Being" in some way.

 

And that's pretty much the basis of them all.

 

Now, when it comes to the particular "rules"/"laws" that the followers of any religion are supposed to live by, I don't know of any that actually advocate violence or hate or evil towards other people.  Most preach some forms of respect, love, kindness towards mankind or nature or other living organisms. living a moral and respectable life, not to cheat, rob, steal, etc., etc.

 

When you look at what is supposed to be the actual "religion" itself ... what is written down in each one's Bible/Holy Book/Scriptures or whatever they call it and the way that that religion is supposed to be practiced ... it's usually quite harmless.

 

But it's when those religious edicts are (mostly mis) interpreted by whatever Tom, Dick or Con-man wants to call him/herself a "preacher/cleric/leader/" and is able to manipulate others into listening to their agenda-/money-/power-induced hogwash .. that religion becomes evil, violent, dangerous, hate-filled, murderous and/or creates extremists, fanatics, or other overly-aggressive types that end up giving "religion" it's bad name. 

 

I have never been able to understand why sooooooo many people - almost everybody, it seems - when it comes to religion/spirituality .... feel that they need somebody else to interpret or tell them what they can pick up their Bible/Holy Book and see/read/understand/interpret for themselves!! 

 

Why do they feel compelled to have to go to the same place once a week to sit down with a room full of other people just to let someone else stand up and tell you what the book YOU are sitting there reading means to YOU while you're sitting there reading it?? 

 

Seems to me, if you want to live a Christian life, read the Bible and do what it says!!  Same with Islam/Muslims and the Koran.  Or with Hindus and their Scriptures.  Or Buddhists and their Holy Book. Or, in the case of Native American Spirituality or Traditional African Religions .. there is no specific "Book."  There are ceremonies... but, for the most part, "followers" of those religions live their religion everyday.

 

But, again .... in most cases, it's not the religion itself - nor "the Book" - that advocates hate and evil.  It is a (jacked-up, mental, disillusioned, unstable, greedy, or psychotic) HUMAN BEING, that, in the "name" of that religion, directs/perpetuates/advocates/encourages/demands/enforces violence, hate, abuse, murder towards other people who are NOT a part of that particular religion.

 

And it is the people/human beings/followers/disciples of that/those lunatics ... believing what they are TOLD by somebody else (who has negatively (instead of positively) (mis)read/(mis)interpreted/lied about the doctrine of that religion ...  that actually go and carry out the heinous, psychotic, violent acts of "crimes against humanity."

Last edited by EbonyRose

I don't believe it is necessarily religion itself, especially in this day and age, but, I do believe that it has been man all along that has distorted what the religion is supposed to be or mean for his own gain and/or control over the masses (in the place of God, really).  

 

But, there is plenty of violence and encouragement to commit violence in most religious texts.  In the Bible, alone, the Old Testament conflict with the New Testament, and in the Old Testament there is a lot of references that encourage committing violence, there is plenty of sexism against women, and there is plenty of information that basically teaches condemnation, segregation and condescendence against those who do not believe/practice the same religion.

 

So, of course it is not religion per say, but how people have manipulated, not only what others will actually know, of what was really in (or supposed to be in) the religious text in the first place, but how the deliberate misinformation and subjective revisionism of religious texts have played THE part in reshaping (or shaping) the psychi, basic instincts, fears, and perceptions of human beings.

  Lemme say one better: so-called religion was primarily created to control women and children and start wars.  The true religion was actually STOLEN from the characteristic-base spirituality of women.  It has been historic FACT men NEVER knew what to do with their testerone....other than chase wild beast for food and lift a few heavy rocks....other than that they were like energic bunnies.  Cuz if you look at the Greeks and Romans that's actually how they were but they took a step further and became MONSTERS by sexually abusing young boys with a twisted justification.  The whole Olympic competition was a result of being restless and wanting to show off the male body.  There was no religion in that.  But I will say that the Crusades liberated women i.e Christian Crusades that is. However the payoff was if the image of God evolved into a male persona-which it did.  On the other hand, women in the eastern hemisphere are still suffering even though there is a male image for their God.  And until they are freed....this so-called righteous religious propaganda is nothing more than a lotta yapping among men who STOLE the concept from us.  I would go into it a little more but I have a brain freeze  from studying so much...my eye ball HURTS!!!  But I will say that I am doing a dissertion on this very subject.  Cuz I believe that sodomite/homosexuality is a bio war weapon USED historically to effeminate the weaker male i.e. the younger male.  Once that is done it is easy to conquer the rest of the population.  It makes sense cuz it is done in prisons all over this country AND aboard.    And it answers all these questions I have about the origin of male homosexuality cuz the fact is every homosexual male is NOT born looking at every male at five years old.  Something subliminally has happened and is one of the reasons why macho men make sure they are taken seriously and their "manhood" is in tact.  If you look at the old holy books and world history and really read between the lines....you will find what I am talking about is true and there is a connection.  Religion [aside from infectious diseases] is just one of the those tools used historically for mass destruction/control/brainwashing....but!  The difference is it conquers the mind....instead of the body.  When you have convinced the mind....the war is already won.  Cuz when the sodomites were banging on the door demanding Lot to send the angels out....they weren't referring to the women.  And we know about the Bishop and Sanduzy and the veil they hid behind...right?   So...I'm Just sayin  

Originally Posted by sunnubian:

I don't believe it is necessarily religion itself, especially in this day and age, but, I do believe that it has been man all along that has distorted what the religion is supposed to be or mean for his own gain and/or control over the masses (in the place of God, really).  

 

But, there is plenty of violence and encouragement to commit violence in most religious texts.  In the Bible, alone, the Old Testament conflict with the New Testament, and in the Old Testament there is a lot of references that encourage committing violence, there is plenty of sexism against women, and there is plenty of information that basically teaches condemnation, segregation and condescendence against those who do not believe/practice the same religion.

 

So, of course it is not religion per say, but how people have manipulated, not only what others will actually know, of what was really in (or supposed to be in) the religious text in the first place, but how the deliberate misinformation and subjective revisionism of religious texts have played THE part in reshaping (or shaping) the psychi, basic instincts, fears, and perceptions of human beings.

 

Okay ... well, I probably mixed my apples and oranges together here ... so let me try to clarify some of my confusion for y'all! 

 

For the most part, we seem to be talking mostly about the man-made created religions (i.e., Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc.) which were basically concocted and corrupted for agenda-driven purposes and fed to the masses as authentic spirituality.  However ... there was also "religion" practiced "Before Christ" or any of the other Prophets/manifestations that are popularly used as the "religious leaders" of the more common religions of today.

 

To Ms. Koco's point ... there are certainly the deceptive practices of male homosexuality as it relates to and used erroneously by the Christian faith/church  ... but, back further in history ... before the beginnings of Christianity, homosexuality was also rampant by Romans and Greeks - not so much decreed (or used to manipulate) by "religion" as much as it was used under the guise of being more "political" or a matter of "position" that boys were commonly sexually abused in that manner by grown men. 

 

Because back in that day, politics and "religion" (as it were) were strangely intertwined and interconnected into a social mess that's still hard to decipher to this day!!

 

But ... going back to the origins of the various "First People" (for lack of a better term that I can think of right now!!) ... i.e., such as the African's 'traditional religion' and/or the Native's traditional ancestral worship ... or even Hinduism and Buddhism for the traditional  "religion" for the Asian/Indian peoples .... none of them, that I'm aware of taught/preached/advocated for violence, hatred, murder or annihilation towards others. 

 

It's more those religions where "man" stepped in and made the rules that we find that kind of craziness.   Which is more to what I was thinking ... even though I know I didn't say it just right! 

Exactly sista ER!!!!  Initially the Romans and Greeks didn't really have a religion per se.  That came afterwards.  And cuz the doctrine of religion is NOT perfect, it has a lotta loop holes....where "craziness" can jump through and be justified-which makes the whole dynamics of "religion" hypocritical/and manipulative. Cuz the words can be taken in so many ways..which is absolutely DANGEROUS.  I say give me STRAIGHT talk...say what you mean....and mean whatcha say.  Cuz no matter what YOU say...it's your behavior that proves otherwise i.e. violence, wars, genocides, corruptions, sexual abuse, gender-abuse, etc.  But.     

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