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Born Again Christians and The Destruction of African Culture
Too many born-again Christians in Africa, Nigeria in particular, believe that a good Christian must destroy the African culture. They are categorical in their belief that all the elements and artifacts of African culture are idols, and forever evil. They believe that it is not enough to denounce an idol and reject idol worshipping without completely destroying everything related to it. So, they are on rampage, demolishing all the elements of our culture and cultural heritage, which define us as Africans. Their actions are based purely on wrong interpretation of the Holy Bible. They have suddenly discovered the notion of born-again Christianity that has always existed in the Holy Bible, and now, putting it in local Nigerian parlance, it is shacking them like ogogoro. This implies that the new-wave Christians are getting drunk on the concept of born-again Christianity, and they are waging a war against all the traditions that make up the culture of the land.
Information Vs Ignorance
Contrary to the views of the new-wave born-again warriors, more liberal Christians, who we refer to as the progressives, insist that reformation, and not destruction, is the answer to the ongoing dispute over supremacy and legitimacy between Christianity and Culture in Nigeria. They insist that religion and Clean Culture can, and must be encouraged to coexist in harmony. They insist that culture is not synonymous with idols, or synonymous with evil. They maintain that repentance and spiritual purity are all in the heart of the Christian, and not in physical demolition of cultural artifacts, nor in the extinction of the entire African traditional system.
With these opposing views, there are clearly two factions currently in the Nigerian Christendom. One faction is for the Christians who believe that Christianity and culture cannot mix, and the second faction for those who insist that the two can coexist in harmony. It is no exaggeration to say that a battle line has been drawn, quite literally. The two factions do wage physical war in various regions of Nigeria where Christianity thrives, some of which have resulted in great damages to life and property. Churches have been attacked in some cases, in retaliation of the damages that the extremist Christians are doing to the culture of the land. One of the notable conflicts in Igbo land degenerated to setting ablaze, and complete destruction of a local church building in a community known as Nsirimo Village in Umuahia Town, Abia State of Nigeria. Members of the Pentecostal church, going by the name Charismatic Renewal Movement, had gone on rampage against the culture of the land. Their casualties included a couple of peculiar, ancient trees, which had already been approved by the State government for Tourist Attraction development project. The overzealous born-again Christians decided and succeeded to fell the trees, along with the destruction of the village shrines. In retaliation, irate youths simply marched to the local church on December 1, 2007 and burned it down. The message from the youths was very clear:
It is very important to note that the Christian Warriors do violate the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria when they go on their destruction rampage. They actually forcibly dispossess villagers of their cultural artifacts and burn them amidst protest by the owners. This has resulted in another ugly trend in Nigeria—Nigerians are selling off all the artifacts of our culture, the cultural heritage that we are supposed to pass on to the next generations for the preservation of history, the story of our sojourn on earth. Some people, rather than being persuaded by quack brainwashing pastors, or forced by their converted and zombified brethren in the village to destroy the artifacts, choose to sell them off to foreigners who have great values for them.
There is a law against willful, wanton destruction of another man’s property. The law does not exempt anybody, with or without a Holy Bible in hand. The Nigerian constitution also clearly guarantees every citizen the right to freely associate with other citizens of choice for whatever interest that they may share. This means that one also has the right not to belong to a church, and, nobody has the right to force another to obey the tenets of a religion that he or she does not agree with. This, in turn means, for instance, that a Christian may destroy all the cultural artifacts that belong to him or her personally, but he or she definitely has no right to destroy another citizen’s property.
What Would Christ Advocate?
The situation in Nigeria’s Christendom is critical, and it calls for some very pertinent Christian questions, and sound reflection. Some of the questions are posed here by Culture Watch Africa:
It is our humble presumption that most sane and rational Christians are likely to answer a capital NO to the above three questions, no matter how one looks at the situation. Christ would never support anybody to fight another person for any reason whatsoever! He did not even allow Simon Peter to fight in order to save his (Christ’s) life just before his crucifixion. He asked Peter to sheath his sword, because, “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” In another instance, Christ said: “If a man slaps you on one cheek, give him the other cheek to slap also.” He did not say fight back! In yet another illustration of his position against violence and forcible approach to anything, we refer to the instances that abound in the Holy Bible where Christ emphasized “winning of souls” for the Christendom. He never asked anybody to force people to convert to Christianity. Violation of this all-important principle of choice in Godliness is one of the greatest errors perpetrated by today’s born-again Christians in Nigeria who force citizens to burn their cultural artifacts.
If we do agree that the above stated positions of Christ in the matter of Christianity are correct. And, the born-again extremists do know that there are people who are ready to fight in order to stop them from destroying the cultural artifacts. Then it makes sense, following the above stated Christian principles, that they seek “peaceful,” “soul-winning,” “non-combatant”ways to resolve the disagreement. It does not really make any difference who is right, or who is wrong. Christ would never support non-peaceful, forcible, combatant approach to win souls for God, no matter what! In essence, Culture Watch Africa is merely asking the extremists to slow down their tempo and ask the question: What Would Christ Do in a situation like this? It is our opinion that if a Christian endeavors to win and save a soul for God through Christ, then the approach has to be Christian, or Christ-like in nature.
The Almighty God Himself instituted the OPTION OF CHOICE in the world by allowing us the choice to either do good, or do evil; the choice to either follow His ways, or follow the ways of Satan. He has the power to destroy Satan who leads us to do evil. He can force all humans to do good at all times. But He does not destroy Satan because He wants to give us the chance to choose good or evil. We are saying, therefore, that even if they were correct in their view that the entire African culture is evil, the burn-again zealots are approaching their mission in very wrong un-Godly manner.
Culture Watch Africa is all about peaceful approach, with a systematic campaign to dispel the darkness of ignorance, armed only with the effective power of information about true Christianity. It is absolutely imperative to emphasize that this is not a war of culture against Christianity or any other religion. This is a campaign against misinterpretation of the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. In essence, what we want to wedge in Africa is a war between Ignorance and Knowledge in matters of Culture and Religion.
Egypt is favorably known all over the world today, and she enjoys huge revenues through tourism and various other culture-related avenues, all because ancient Egyptians had the foresight to preserve the artifacts of their culture. Far beyond the economic values of culture-preservation to Egyptians, are the scientific and historical values that benefit the entire world. Thanks to the ancient Egyptian artifacts, the world now knows a lot more about humanity, past, as well as present. Also, five thousand years old mummies recently exhumed in China have vastly enriched humanity and science in various ways. These are only a couple of many global instances of the benefits of protecting, preserving and celebrating one’s culture.
Museums in the western world are graced with artifacts of the African Culture, some of which were ignorantly given away by Africans, and others stolen from Africa by westerners who know their present and ultimate values in the history of the world. It is very ironic back home in Africa that misinformed new-wave born-again Christians are busy destroying what is left of the culture, all in the name of God.
What Is Culture
No doubt, many people that will get to read this brochure do not need a lecture on the definition of culture; they perfectly understand what it is all about. However, this campaign is not only for the intellectual elites, but also, indeed, mostly for the less intellectual masses. It is a campaign geared mainly towards the masses in the grassroots communities in Africa, who are the real custodians of our culture. And if we must convince the custodians to do a good job of nurturing, protecting and preserving our culture, then they must understand the essence of authentic cultural identity of Africa in the larger global community. It is imperative, therefore, to state a couple of functional definitions of culture.
In his 1949 treatise titled Christianity and Culture, T. S. Eliot wrote: “Culture may be described simply as that which makes life worth living.” Emil Brunner, a theologian, stated in his 1948 treatise titled Christianity and Civilization: “Culture is materialization of meaning.” Another theologian, Donald Bloesch, had this to say: “Culture is the task appointed to humans to realize their destiny in the world, in service to the glory of God.” Later, in 1966, an anthropologist, E. Adamson Hoebel wrote a text—Anthropology: The Study of Man—in which he said that culture "is the integrated system of learned behavior patterns which are characteristic of the members of a society, and which are not the result of biological inheritance."
“All of these definitions can be combined to include the world views, actions, and products of a given community of people,” summed theologian Jerry Solomon in his 1995 text titledChristianity And Culture. And, in Christ and Culture in Dialogue, Angus J. L. Menuge said, “It is impossible in practice to separate oneself from culture; as culture permeates our thinking and language, it is as much in us as it is around us. We may keep out some bad influences of culture but others will remain inside.”
Did Christ Preach Against Culture?
The source of the apparent confusion about culture (traditions) in the Christendom is the Holy Bible itself, which was built on parables. The biblical parables beget ambiguity, which means that one single line in the bible may be interpreted to mean so many different things, depending on who is doing the interpreting, and what his or her motive is. Progressive interpretations of relevant passages in the bible posit that Christ never preached against culture or traditions. He preached the coexistence of culture and Christianity, recognizing that religion may not exist in a society without a set of traditions. Indeed, Christianity itself becomes part of the traditions of any society that adopts it. Passages abound in the Holy Bible, which affirm this position. Christ actually encouraged and attended a good number of cultural events. He also partook in a number of cultural traditions/ activities, such as Jewish weddings, and the annual Passover festival. He went as far as making contributions to support some of the events. For instance, when wines were exhausted during a marriage ceremony at Cana in Galilee (John Chapter 2), Christ did contribute kegs of wine, which he made available through his very first miracle of turning water into wine. Christ also attended the funeral of his friend, Lazarus, where he performed his greatest miracle of raising the dead (John Chapter 11).
Christ, of course, did preach against hypocrisy amongst the people that make/ made up a culture. His teaching in the book of Mark chapter 7 verses 1 to 13 (New Living Translation version) is appropriately titled “Jesus Teaches About Inner Purity,” and his very first statement in verse 6 is, “You hypocrites!” Before this response, verses 1 to 5 condemn ‘window dressing’ within the culture, and not the culture itself. Pharisees and Teachers of religious laws were making a fuss about the violation of their tradition of dipping hands in water for “cleansing” before any meal, and Christ chastised them for hypocrisy (window-dressing), because they cleaned their hands whereas their minds and souls were dirty. He lamented that they still hated their neighbors; they still showed no respect to their parents, and still violated all the other components of the Ten Commandments. In other words, they were pretenders who were putting up a show of being pure, whereas they were actually evil at heart. This is absolutely true of many of today’s new-wave born-again Christians who are destroying the African Culture.
Reform It; Don’t Destroy It
It is recognized that some of the African cultural artifacts were actually symbols of deities that were worshiped by our forefathers. The reformists also admit that there are cultural traditions that are obviously unwholesome, whether viewed religiously, or from any other perspective whatsoever. For example, human sacrifice and killing of twins are clearly wrong, bad and condemnable any day, no matter what perspective they are considered from. Naturally, the reformists insist that such archaic and bad cultural traditions must be eliminated, but definitely not by completely condemning our entire culture. They also argue that violated artifacts can be demystified, sanctified, reduced to mere objects of cultural identity, and preserved for the history of the land. In other words, the reformists are saying: Let’s reform it, and not destroy it! Essentially, this argument strongly upholds the wisdom behind the adage: Do not throw away a baby along with dirty bath water. We must rinse our baby up with clean water, keep the baby, and then throw away the dirty water. In other words, we must protect and celebrate a purified form of our cultural identity.
For instance, masquerade is a cultural entertainment concept, which actually exists in various cultures of the world besides Africa; but Africans, particularly Nigerians have suddenly redefined the concept as evil. We do recognize that some masquerades have been associated with deities in non-Christian ways in the past. However, the reformist argument insists that we may not condemn every masquerade as being evil. If indeed our fathers and forefathers dedicated some of their masquerades to deities in negative ways in the past, the reformists insist that they can all be demystified, purified or sanctified, then retained as elements of art and entertainment in our culture. As a compromise, we can put our fathers’ masquerades aside as artifacts, and make new ‘clean’ replicas for ourselves. One way or the other, the tradition must not be allowed to go the extinction-way of some other traditions that we have lost due to ignorance, simply because they had flaws. By comparison, there are so many bad people among the anti-culture crusaders, and also among Christians all over the world, but nobody goes around campaigning for the abolition of Christianity for the sake of the bad Christians.
When we speak of reform, we speak of reforming everything that makes up the culture, including the human minds. The aim is to have all things made by God to glorify Him. The important message in this segment is on the power of infotainment and subliminal education in spreading the word of God. We emphasize subliminal education as the preferable Christ-like alternative to the current approach of extremist Christians. The infotainment approach is founded on the proven fact that people learn better, and they are amenable to changes when they are informed while being entertained.
On the matter of culture, Christians should learn to design their soul-winning programs and gospel with cultural elements in a manner that venerates Christ and glorifies God. They should effectively utilize the concept of subliminal learning. For instance, many youngsters have nothing against church revivals, but they would rather see some masquerades sometimes as well. This is where reformation can work hand in hand with the concept of Infotainment to achieve maximum result that cannot be attained otherwise. Give the young group some masquerades, but ensure that the masquerades incorporate the Christian scripture in their entertainment songs and music, and not foul lyrics. The expected result is actually very obvious. They would learn about Christ and God without making any effort. Indeed, they would not even quite realize that they are learning important messages about God, until the messages start to manifest in them. That is the proven power of subliminal education through infotainment!
Reforming The Masquerade For God
It is always advisable to proffer solutions when one condemns an existing policy or practice. Hence, Culture Watch Africa proffers the following as preliminary alternatives to the extremist approach of some Christians in Nigeria:
The Role Of Traditional Rulers
It is ironic that the struggle to destroy African culture is often led by some traditional rulers who are actually supposed to be the custodians of the culture. Primarily, our traditional leaders swear to protect and promote the culture of the land as they take their oath of office when they ascend their thrones. Now the new-wave born-again Christianity has changed some of them, negatively affecting the way that they look at the culture of the land. In their newfound mission to purify and sanctify the land, they have gone against their oath of office by aiding the destruction of the same culture that they swore to protect and promote. Again, sanctification, of course, is great. The problem is that they have bought the new born-again idea that the only way to do it is by destroying the culture of the villages that they preside over. The genesis is that they blame all the mishaps in business, professional and social lives of all the members of the communities on the pagan ways of our forefathers, as well as the witchcraft of the contemporary generations. If anybody’s business suddenly goes sour due to conditions that have easy-to-understand scientific explanations, they find it easier to blame it on our culture and witchcraft.
As they obliterate, rather than seek to purify key elements of our culture, the traditional rulers must realize the fact that an assault on the culture ultimately means an assault on their traditional thrones. They must recognize that if the culture goes down, then the thrones will, sooner than later, go down with it. The logic is very simple: The thrones derive their powers of influence over the subjects from the culture, and they cannot survive without the culture, or the traditions of the people. Culture Watch Africa wishes to remind our beloved chiefs and kings in Nigeria that they cannot eat their cake and still retain it in their possessions. They should not continue to keep custody of the culture if they are bent on destroying it. They should decide either to protect the culture that has been placed in their custody, or give up the thrones.
The High Points
Far beyond the protection of African masquerades, the following are some of the objectives ofCulture Watch Africa, and the methods through which we aim to achieve them:
The struggle to protect and promote the African Culture in Nigeria can easily be won through concerted efforts of various relevant institutions. The following are some of the obvious stakeholders:
Beyond the above listed bodies, we call on corporate bodies and philanthropist everywhere to support this very, very important campaign to halt the extinction of the African Culture. We consider this a call to civic duty and cultural patriotism.
The Invasion Of The Funky Pastors
The convener of the Culture Watch Africa Movement, Harry N Agina, has written a book on this subject, which is titled The Invasion Of The Funky Pastors: Church Business At War With The African Culture. Published by AuthorHouse USA, the electronic version of the book is ready for purchase through www.funkypastors.com .The hard copy debuts in the global book market on March 31, 2010.