By Muyiwa Adetiba

One of life’s most endearing sights is seeing two children of diverse backgrounds and even skin colour who have never seen or met before, reach out in affection and expectation to each other. I have seen this so many times in different circumstances – parties, hospitals, offices etc.

But it is very obvious at the airports where people of different nationalities converge for a short while as they connect their flights. The time is usually so short and the respite from the rigours of checking in so fleeting that people don’t have the time or the disposition for idle talk let alone to make friends. But not so the children.

A child’s gesture of friendship to another child is instantaneous. A toddler surveys his new environment with all the curiosity in his little frame as he looks for areas of interest. His face lights up when he sees another toddler across the aisle. He reaches out tentatively at first but with the trust and expectation of an innocent being. This gesture is hardly ever rebuffed by the other party irrespective of gender, or race or religion – none of which they are conscious of at that age. Soon, two comrades-in- arm set off to explore the sights, often hand in hand. No language is spoken. None is needed. It proves the truism of the statement that love is natural to man. It is hatred that is learnt.

A friend and classmate sent a message to me from the blues a couple of months back. Everybody in our set knows this guy’s philosophical and Rosicrucian bent. Only the very brave engage him in those areas. Especially when it comes to discussing the basis for our various religions. Religion is about faith not logic – which is probably what makes it potentially dangerous. But that is a topic for another day. I have flirted with him in the past on certain topics.

But I too draw the line when he tries to challenge certain assumptions about Christianity. I thirst for knowledge however esoteric. But I also like the religious anchor which has sustained me over the years and I am not about to become rudderless under the guise of new knowledge at this stage of my life. In any case, he must have read me as being ‘open’ to new ideas. Which is probably why he sent the message to me.

The first part of the message was to try to arouse my curiosity in ‘unearthing’ the secret power of the Catholic sign of the cross. I refused to be drawn in. It is the second part however that has prompted the theme of this article. It said ‘A general flaw in spiritual engagements which I have observed over the years, is that there are very little interactions among members of the so called different faiths as though God had different laws for different faiths’. Those were his words.

My tentative response to him was ‘I suppose the laws common to all faiths must include love and justice’. His next response was ‘yes, love and justice are paramount. In fact love incorporates all other virtues’. He was obviously spoiling for a lecture. But again, I pulled back. But not before having a theme for a column.

Nigeria is a very religious country – which should mean love and justice should permeate our being like the air we breathe. All our political leaders are either Muslims or Christians – I am not aware of any owning up to being an atheist. Many wear religion on their sleeves like a badge of honour. The more ardent they are, the more the society defers to them.

Unfortunately, the more intolerant many are to other faiths. Yet, how can you love God who you cannot see and hate your neighbour irrespective of their faith or race? I can understand why many in the society are reluctant to subject their religions to intellectual rigour and alternative history. They may not like what could emerge on the other side.

Unfortunately, this attitude makes the clerics seem infallible. Even when they contradict themselves. It also makes weaker minds easier to manipulate – which is what the likes of my friend are trying to fight with their predisposition to logic and at the risk of blurring religious lines.

Many of the clerics and leaders have used religion to manipulate themselves into positions of authority, power and wealth. Once there, they need religion to keep themselves there. Even when the fabric of the society is tearing around them. We see the evidence of rent fabric everywhere, including our dear Nigeria where the proclamation of Sharia in certain parts of the country has caused more problems than solutions. We see the evidence in places where Pastors have become demi-gods, feeding on the poverty of the people. We see it when clerics are ‘consulted’ to help put a politician in power. We see it when religious police increasingly become intolerant and repressive.  Our country is poorer in every definition of the word because of religion and not necessarily in spite of it.

Yet the two main religions of the world preach tolerance, justice and love with dire consequences to those who breach those laws. Very much like the laws of nature where love meets with love and hatred meets with hatred; where what you sow is what you reap. The major difference between religious doctrines and the laws of nature is the prerogative of mercy which all religions hold on to and sometimes use or abuse to manipulate minds when it suits their purpose.

Love, tolerance and justice. If only our leaders could practice these in their daily lives; if only they could look beyond gender, tribe and religion to see fellow Nigerians, fellow way-farers and more importantly, fellow human beings. Then the invisible cleavages that separate us; the bitterness that is gnawing at our intestines, will begin to disappear. Love is what we were born with. Hatred is what grows with us.

The Bible, the guiding lamp of Christians, teaches its adherents to come to Jesus like little children. Children like we said earlier, are trusting, accepting and loving. They always reach out in love and friendship. Until they learn hatred, bitterness and divisions at the feet of the very people who should nurture the love in them – their parents, clerics and the environment.

My last words will be to use a quote credited to Mahatma Ghandi ‘The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace’ and put in the Nigerian context ‘The day Nigerians practice the love that their different religions profess, Nigeria will know peace’.

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