By Wale Fatade
One of the courses I took in graduate school was Covering Religion. I had fun and learnt so much about other religions that most of the friends I’m still in touch with from that period were in that class with me. Anytime I’m in NY, I must have breakfast or dinner with our professor who taught the class with a rabbi.
We took a trip to Israel and Palestine at the end of the course and I was shocked to find out that muslims were the ones guarding some Christian heritage sites. Intrigued, I asked a guide at the place where it’s believed Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem why. He answered simply, “This is a major means of survival for us, we can’t fight Christians who are supporting our economy.”
We were assigned different faiths to cover and mine was reformed Judaism which emphasises the evolving nature of the faith. I attended services at a reformed synagogue, learnt most aspects of the faith, shared meals with them and even became friends with the rabbi of the synagogue who invited me into his house. This went on for over three months. I also saw a new perspective to Islam and the different ways it is practised. One aspect of the class was that students could not report their faiths and so we had to report the faith you were unfamiliar with. So, an evangelical Christian became a reformed Judaism reporter. I also visited the Al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam, which many moslems have not had such privilege.
Till date, I remain a Christian.
This background is necessary because of the unnecessary furore generated by a proposed conference tagged Witchcraft: Meaning, Factors and Practices at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. My former colleague, Nicholas Ibekwe, former altar boy and a lapsed Christian had addressed this issue in a twitter post just like my friend, Olugbenga Osinaike, Christian and publisher of Church Times Nigeria. We’re still praying for Nicholas to retrace his steps to the church. But I’m afraid our disposition to issues like this conference might continue keeping folks like him away from the church. Christianity is not anti-intellectualism, please.
Acts 15:7 shows us that there were debates and disputes in the church just as Acts 17 affirms that Paul usually go to synagogue to “reason” with them. Folks, Paul never ran away from debate. One of the problems confronting christianity today in Nigeria is vicious anti-intellectualism, holding us by the jugular and we must rise up and say no to its proponents. Most universities that are leading academic centres today were started by Christians just as the highest joint ranked university in Nigeria today is operated by a church. Universities connote universal, not parochial outfits not willing to tolerate dissent or critical views.
Calling off this conference is an affront on tolerance, intellectualism and scholarship. If you’re not interested in the conference, stay away and let those who are attracted do so. As Baptists, our theological institutions train students in islamic studies and Africa traditional religion and yet we do not practice both. There are many things militating against the church today and this conference is not one of them.
I’m a Christian and still proud of my faith.
Wale Fatade, journalist, writes from Lagos.