The World Book Day celebrations at Regent School Abuja had ended. The Jos-born crooner and multi-instrumentalist, Jeremiah Gyang, the wave making 21years old novelist, Onyeka Nwelue and I were chilling out in the air-conditioned interior of the well-stocked library of the school waiting to have our lunch which was ordered from one of Abuja’s exotic eateries, Drumstix. While the wait lasted, I cuddled and fiddled with Jeremiah Gyang’s two thousand pounds-worth acoustic guitar. For over 10 years, I haven’t mastered as much chords besides the elementary CFG chord, and I strummed the guitar to make sure I still remembered my rudimentary guitar playing skills, and my personal acoustic guitar has been lying-in-state for over 4 years in my living room.
We were an artistic trio that expressed our creativity in different ways but one gene we shared in common is writing. Besides composing and writing songs, Jeremiah’s writing skills and depth of understanding had always amazed me since we became friends few years ago. Onyeka since I met him in 2004 has been consumed by an unprecedented passion to write. And for me, there has been a little grouse between the silent photographer in me that seeks recognition and the restless writer within. Jeremiah had broached a question, ‘what is the most-important tool needed by a writer?’ and this got Onyeka and me thinking. The musician can point to his musical instruments/studio or his voice if he is strictly a singer. The visual artists will always guard his paint, brushes and canvas till the last drop of his blood dries up. The actor holds unto his scripts and rehearses till the lines and voice of the dramatis personae swallows up his. How would one identify a writer? Is it his pen, his notepads and journals, his computer and sundries? I thought deeply about the most important tool that a writer possesses. And what I sensed to be the right answer is ‘an uncluttered and open mind’
As we talked and exchanged ideas, the topic veered into the realm of religion and two other people joined the debate .Along the line one of us unequivocally announced he’s a ‘Non-theist’ to the shock of our host who hinted he’s a pastor and tried to impress it upon the ‘non-theist’ to accept the Bible as ‘written’ by God as his word while alluding to the important role played by our conscience in terms of right or wrong which to a non-theist doesn’t really hold water. To Jeremiah Gyang, the bible could be seen as a manual of life which God the manufacturer had provided as a means to provide guidance on how we can navigate through life. I made little effort to join the ‘argument’ for or against the Bible which the pastor spoke about passionately. And if I were a non-theist / agnostic or even an atheist, there was no way the pastor’s passionate ranting in defense of the bible would have convinced me to believe in the God of the bible since his arguments or points did little to appeal to my intellect. The Christian will always feel shocked and alarmed when non-believers puncture and counter their arguments to prove the existence of God or the veracity of the Bible.
I have been there in the past when I battled with doubts and questioned the veracity of the bible though I was actively involved in Christian church activities. I had access to a Christian library then, but all the books I glanced through didn’t make much sense, and had no convincing answers to deflate or even assuage my doubts. I attended bible studies and heard the fiery sermons of firebrand pastors and preachers but they did little to clear my doubts. The average Christian believer thinks that the gospel is so simple enough to appeal to anyone who is afraid of life hereafter, without realizing that scientists and philosophers have equally convincing arguments that would make a Christian feel scandalized. The prevalent culture doesn’t allow the Christian to ask, seek and find answers to questions raised by those who are seeking for truth without realizing that ‘the truth you KNOW’ is what actually carries you through in life. We are so content with the weekly manna dished out from the pulpits. but is that really enough to get one grounded in his faith amidst the growing apathy in the world towards God and Christian religion?
As Christians we are wary and even afraid of entertaining questions that challenge the veracity of the bible and the gospel message, and anyone who differs in their reasoning is qualified to die at the stakes like it was in the medieval ages. The God concept was etched in my psyche pretty early like most Africans that grew up in the village. I saw graven images of Igwekala (the god of heaven that is greater than the earth), Amadioha (god of thunder) and other deities that my grandfather and his generation used to worship their ancestors. He was a priest of sorts and upon his death, his head was forbidden from dropping to the ground. He literally sat in a reclining and dignifying positioning in his grave and his skull had a head rest. In that way he went to join his ancestors to whom libations were offered to invoke their spirits to intervene in the affairs of the village. But when the missionaries came, my father and his brothers accepted the ‘religion of the Whiteman” and became Catholic Christians and I joined after I was baptized as an infant.
As a growing child, I still saw the blood of cockerels spattered on some of the surviving shrines in some parts of the village composed of Uha and other trees that stood as staking sticks in a farm. The giant and senile Iroko trees at the eerie village square reminded me of the fear and awe that characterized the worship of Aja-ala (god of the earth), the deity whose residence was the community shrine in my village. As African ‘idol’ worshippers my grandfather and his generation were too scared to question the sovereignty of the gods and their hallowed messengers. Hence when we embraced Christianity we carried on with that attitude of ‘hush-hush-before-the-gods-strike-you-dead attitude for questioning their authority was an invitation of death sentence by thunder and lightning.
So we grew up as Christians who see intellectual curiosity as alien and inimical to the Christian experience’s of spirituality and too afraid to question whatever that is dished to us from the pulpit. Jesus Christ notably challenged the rabbis, and religious leaders of his day and his insightful response to their questions earned him great admiration and respect, besides the supernatural powers he displayed. Apostle Paul, who is one of the most astute and intellectually-sound Christian that ever lived had commended a group of young converts of his in a Greek settlement called Berea because of their intellectual curiosity for they evaluated the veracity of the gospel that Paul had preached to them. Paul’s conversion to Christianity was dramatic as it started with a divinely-instigated question . “Saul Saul, why are you persecuting me.?” which shook and challenged everything he had been though by the rabbis.
For a couple of days, Saul thought deeply about this question and when he was through with the self-discovery and introspection, he became transformed by the TRUTH he encountered and would suffer peril and persecutions for what he believed and propagated. He didn’t need a second opinion to believe in what he preached since his belief system had translated from mere emotional response to a mental assent of truth ratified by his heart. He acquired volumes and collections of parchments and scrolls which he valued so much and would advice young Timothy, his protégé to ”. study diligently to be able to ‘teach all patiently and, and in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will ”. So Christians should be comfortable and considerate enough to empathically listen to the questions and musings of those who don’t feel persuaded to join the Christian bandwagon and there are so
many of them in today’s world and their numbers are increasing exponentially to the chagrin of Christians.
As a teenage boy, I came to a point that I somehow began to question the things I had been taught by organized religion; Christianity. The books published by the clergy presumed that no one had the right to question the existence of God and the infallibility of the doctrines and dogmas of my church. I had to resort to reading books and my curiosity saw me stowing away to a close relative’s library, and shielded from prying eyes of family members, I read his Rosicrucian Digests and journals. I read about Egyptology and stuff like astral travels and telepathy. I gazed at the mirror of his mini-temple wondering how they invoked their ‘master’ to show up after each experiment that they were expected to practice at the end of each lesson. Like the Amok member would say, I wanted to translate from the realm of ‘belief’ to the realm of ‘knowing’ which the master assures his adherents and who would choose to believe a thing when the opportunity of knowing and interacting with that thing is at your beck and call.
The Confraternity’s publication ‘Mastery of Life’ had assured me that a lot of the respected scientists I admired had been members of the group which helped them sharpen and stretch their intellectual muscles through the ‘hidden wisdom’ which dated back to Ancient Egypt . Thereafter, I chanced on the psychoanalytic works of Sigmund Freud and I swallowed his secular teachings hook-line and sinker and this began to change my world view. And in my early years as an undergraduate, I became a small disciple of Charles Darwin after reading about his scientific discoveries which made so much sense them. And after my exposure to social theorists and philosophers, I became a Christian-skeptic and the chequered journey of my search for TRUTH heightened.
Many argue that truth is not absolute and it’s up to truth to take up arms and defend itself but one discovery is that when the truth you seek for hits or dawns on you, you have the choice of either denying or reject it. The luxury of ignorance is that it offers seemingly plausible excuses and leeway to denying the veracity of that truth. Somewhere along the way, the truth filtered into my heart in the course of the quest; and I realized that the truth operates its own system of administration and one either accepts to obey its dictates or would choose to live outside its fringes where ignorance rules freely and provides dividends that pale in value to that offered by truth.
I don’t know why the journey ended when it did but I realized that as you steadily continue with the search, truth finally finds you, and not necessarily the converse. When truth finds and rescues you from the grips of ignorance, you end up losing your freedom to live outside the bounds of truth. You become enslaved in a literal sense to that which you know to be the truth and it will demand reparations whenever you contravene its dictates. Freedom thus becomes a relative reality. you either bow to the sovereignty of truth or be bound to whatever that contradicts the truth that has been revealed to you. In the end Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin lost me as their young and immature disciple though I still respect and hold their ideas and intellectual excellence in high esteem for they truly subjected their brains to think deeply and rationally. The atheistic and secular worldview lost its grips on me and I fully embraced Judeo-Christian ideals espoused by Christ which didn’t even seem to be as rational as the secular and psychoanalytic theories of Freud at face value though.
C.S. Lewis was one of the brightest minds whose writings, poems and deep thoughts rank him among the top philosophers at Oxbridge. He had been an atheist for about 30 years based on the arguments and philosophical writings of Freud. After reading and analyzing the Bible, he capitulated and submitted to Judeo-Christian principles and worldview and eventually became one of its leading apologists. At least he was a man with a high level of cerebral acuity and one would wonder what made him too ‘gullible’ as to accept as truth what was seemingly an irrational system of belief. That is the appeal of truth. it humbles you and sometimes sets aside your insightful arguments until it berths and anchors its deep roots inside your heart and soul. You buckle at your knees and your heart melts and it takes over you stealthily like a stalking lover.
Dr. Armand Nicholi’s of Harvard University has been teaching a legendary course on Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis for over 35 years which perennially draws students’ top ratings. Some students cite it as a turning point in their lives: “my most redeeming intellectual experience”. “an oasis” . “what I was starved for.” In 2002, Dr Armanda decided to write a book on the ultimate parlor game from decades of probing the question of God with sharp young minds at Harvard and his own rich database of experiences and study. In the book titled THE QUESTION OF GOD: C.S. LEWIS AND SIGMUND FREUD DEBATE GOD, SEX, AND THE MEANING OF LIFE he pits the two men’s parallel worldviews side by side and how this influenced their certainty of purpose, pleasure in sex .and fear of death and allows the fascinated reader to draw their own conclusions.
Lewis’ and Freud’s spiritual worldviews differed mainly in how they lived their lives and how they confronted their own deaths. Lewis was said to be quite despondent before his conversion and quite cheerful and outgoing afterward. He actually looked forward to the time when he would enter into the life that he felt every believer in Christ had waiting. Even until the end, he was cheerful and outgoing and said, “Why shouldn’t we look forward to that time without people thinking we’re morbid? St. Paul actually looked forward to it.” However, Freud lacking the privilege of spiritual resources available to Lewis was said to be so preoccupied with death and the fear of it. Superstitiously he checked into room 41 of a hotel thinking he would die at 41 and when he didn’t die at 41, he would come across a new phone number and be absolutely sure he’d die in the year mentioned in the number. His official biographer had said that when Freud was still young, he’d shake hands and say, “Goodbye, you may never see me again.”