Wole Soyinka: Religion Doesn’t Justify Mayhem

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

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Islamic demonstrators in Kaduna, Nigeria (AFP/Getty Images)

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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?

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