By Mohammed Adamu
The truth is America’s claim to being ’God’s Own Country’ is logically in conflict with her being ’secular’ for the simple reason that we have been told to be ‘secular’ is to be ’concerned’ with the ‘profane’ in disregard of the ‘sacred’?
It can thus be seen that even the ‘most secular’ nation on earth inevitably strikes us either as a beneficiary of ‘God and Marmon’ at the same time or an equi-balanced benefactor both of a ‘jealous God’ and a spineless Caesar, on the other! Making America therefore neither truly secular nor wholly religious but rather a player on both extremes -of the divinely sacred and of the profanely debouched!
And although the US does not have, like the UK, an established State Church to which she is beholding; nor, like Germany and Italy, political parties that are plumed in the feathers of religion, nonetheless we see that America, more passionately than any other nation, prides herself as a ‘Nation Under God’. And in moments of great national calamities as indeed even in those of ecstatic triumphs, America is also known quite un-secularly again to take solace or to regale (respectively) in the pathos of two spiritual refrains namely: ‘In God We Trust’ or ‘God bless America’.
Thus whenever the need arises to brandish the anointing and the providence of God on her, America has proved herself after all to be eminently non-secular. nor does that non-secular pedigree lie only in showing that George Washington had proclaimed for America a Christian National Prayer and Thanksgiving Day; or that Richard Nixon had instituted for the White House ‘Daily Religious Devotion and Sermons’, or indeed Ronald Reagan promoting official Christian Prayer in public schools.
To be candid, America just like Nigeria, only by an article of its Constitution (in which expressly the creation of an officially established State Church is forbidden), is her claim to ‘secularity’ tenable –if indeed it is tenable enough. Because we have seen thus far how no longer are states anywhere in the world completely disentangled from the dominant religious tendencies of their climes.
In fact theorists say that the practical definition of the term, ‘secular’ in a democratic state nowadays “has more to do (only) with the extent to which governing (political) parties are really independent of religious affiliation” than with the ’concern’ of a State publicly with ‘temporal, worldly’ affairs to the exclusion of ‘religion’.
And if anything therefore it is to that simple extent that UK and especially the Scandinavian countries (in spite of their established State ‘Churches’), are said still, to be ‘secular’ –more for the reason that their ‘governing political parties’ are not, themselves, Church-affiliated, than that their States themselves are! And conversely it is to that same extent that Italy as a ‘state’, is still considered ‘non-secular’ -more because its governing Christian democratic ‘parties’ have ‘vital links’ with a State Church than because of the presence of a State ‘Church’.
Going by this school of thought therefore, it is the governing parties’ ideological inclination to ‘established religion’ in a state -and not the administrative or constitutional concerns of that State for the religious conveniences of its believing citizens- that determines the secularity or otherwise of a nation.
And so given the two definitions of ’secular’, one as concern with ‘temporal, worldly’ affairs to the exclusion of ‘religion’ and the other as ‘the extent to which governing (political) parties are independent of religious affiliation’, Nigeria is thus both secular AND non-secular, -or rather secular OR non-secular- depending on who is looking or where they are looking.
And interestingly, either way it will matter not, for example, that Government is involved in Christian and Muslim pilgrimages or that our Constitution recognizes two legal systems, (the Christian-based Common Law and Islamic-based Shariah); or that Nigeria has a State-built-Church, (the Ecumenical Centre) and a State-built-Mosque, (the National Mosque) in Abuja; or that she allows Church-sponsored and Muslim-funded universities to operate; or yet that she now allows Islamic banking for those who want it and is ready to allow a ’Christian’ version of it for those who may want it.
And maybe it is because of this thin, foggy line between what is truly secular and what is not that most modern dictionaries of politics nowadays have a purely libertarian, rights-respecting perspective to the definition of ‘secularism’. In fact that by David Robertson clearly leans towards the objective of ‘religious freedom’; more, it says, the freedom of citizens to practice their faiths without hindrance than say, the freedom either of ‘state from religion’ or of ‘religion from state’ (as many of our Christian clergies erroneously believe).
And that freedom is explicitly enshrined in all modern constitutions as safeguard under Fundamental Rights: namely the right to freedom of religion, of thought and of conscience.
All of which, ironically, the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, in its present dogmatic opposition to Islamic banking, is uncharitably in the way of. So that even if we suppose that Nigeria is ‘secular’ in line with this civilized definition, it is not the legitimate yearning by Muslims for non-interest Islamic banking that will vitiate that ‘secularity’; rather it is CAN’s religious intolerance or her bent on denying Muslims that religious freedom of worship, which evidently affronts that ‘secularity’!