DIVIDED WE FALL?
This is a very straightforward question and probably requires a direct answer. There is an old adage which says United we stand, Divided we fall. I think that in pursuit of the goal of this conference, which I understand to be - building a moral, peaceful, progressive and crime-free society, we cannot afford to answer this question in the negative. But before I go on to give what I may consider my own answer, I need to ask a short question, Who are the we?
Invariably, I understand the we to include men and women of good will, who want to build a strong, virile, morally strong, peaceful, progressive, economically viable and politically stable society. Nation building is not the exclusive preserve of the politician, the religious leaders, the business men or women, the police, army, the academics, the old or the youth. It includes every one irrespective of age, religion, gender, colour or political ideology. It is the work of all of us here and those we represent in our constituencies. It is a collective responsibility. It is therefore expedient for each and everyone of us to join hand together with others and work hard to make this universe a better place than we found it.
A Decaying Society
Although the onus of building a morally clean and pure society for the coexistence of various people lies in the hands of all of us, there are others who carry a heavier responsibility because of public position of trust they occupy or because of the Spiritual leadership bestowed on them and the Spiritual authority they exercise. Those who profess faith in God who is Mighty, just, Moral, Holy and Loving owe it as a debt to represent him adequately in the world he created and sustains. Any Theistic belief which does not entrench moral teaching in the lives of its adherents has lost its primary responsibility. For us Christians, Jesus Christ our Lord, commands us and encourages us to be the Light of the world, the Salt of the earth. If we fail to fulfil any of these roles, we let him down and mislead the people of the world.
If we lose our character and qualities expected of us by our Lord in a world that is dangerously degenerating into chaos or self destruction, then we have betrayed him and at the same time lost our focus and bearing. Christianity, for instance, is not Morality, but there is no way one can divorce strong moral principles and practice from the body of Christianity. It is an integral part of it and in fact, of any true and Iiving faith represented in this conference. Many WorId Religions especially those represented here have such solid moral principles and ethos and teach same to their adherents.
Have you noticed how dark it is getting all over the world these days? The rise of crimes is alarming. Every day sees new crimes of abuse, and new laws permitting the unthinkable. What are we to do about it all? I do not want to bore you with statistics of crimes committed in each country in the past one year. Crime is an every day experience and most of them are drug-related! We are in a Drug- Generation and some parliaments of the world are reclassifying them to allow less strict laws on drugs use and abuses. What a tragedy! The whole moral order is rapidly collapsing. It is no longer the religious leader alone who is complaining of utter darkness covering our society these days.
Politicians, law enforcement agents, house wives, parents, teachers etc. now complain of the increasing rate of crime that is threatening our corporate and individual existence. The Lord Jesus Christ stated of Himself that I am the Light of the World ( John 8: 12). He said also that as long as he was in the world, he would be the Light of the world ( John 8:35). Jesus went further to say of his followers and believers in Matthew 5 : 14 that You are the Light of the world. He then gave out the challenge that we are not to hide our light under a bucket. ( Matthew 5: 15). But society seems to be getting darker. Yet those who profess faith in Christ are increasing in number each new day. We therefore need to trim our wick for clearer shinning, get out from where we hide or our comfort zone and shine again as we go about our daily tasks - be it in the office, market, bus station, in the train, or stadium. We must remember, however, that the Light of God in us is not for self admiration but for the illumination of others' paths.
Christians today and in fact all who profess faith in God, are confronted with enormous pressure from their surrounding culture and environment. Magazine advertisements foster greed, self indulgence and consumerism. Some television programmes ridicule traditional values and extol base living. Movies and more recently the Internet assault us with pornographic pictures and violence. How can we resist the temptation to conform? How can the child born and bred in a well-behaved and disciplined home avoid the devastating influence of peer-group, outside world and others around? More importantly, how can we who profess one faith or the other, who believe in the sanctity of human life, who believe in the dignity of the human person, who worship a Holy, Glorious and Righteous God, who believe in Rights and Responsibilities of the Human Person, have a positive influence on those around us? Is this not the question we started with - Divided we fall?
The Challenge of the Global Village
The problem of the Moral Vacuum can, to some extent, be traced to the failure of the Religious Systems which are the vanguard of moral life to provide effective moral control mechanisms to direct the excesses of human mental development. Humanity is breaking loose in its conception and manipulation of the invented gadgets without the Religious Faiths providing adequate moral guide lines on how to face the challenges of the new order. During the past 50 years or so, a lot of rapid social, economic and political changes had taken place. Unfortunately, many of the World's Religions did not fully embrace or understand the stark reality of the devastation of some of the changes.
For instance, until recently, each of the religions represented here at this conference was confined to or rather associated with a particular geographical area. Hinduism lived in India, Islam occupied what used to be called the Middle East, Buddhism lived in South-East Asia. Christianity was usually seen as the Faith of West European countries, North America and parts of the former colonies of the European Powers. This religious map has changed radically and irreversibly. Today, followers of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhs, African Traditional Religion, etc. are all living together, attend the same markets, rub shoulders on the streets as they struggle for buses to work. Children from such homes attend the same schools, colleges and universities, play with one another in the fields and on the streets. The distance from one country to the other has been greatly reduced. One can have breakfast in one continent, lunch in the air and supper in another, all within six hours. A magazine published in the street of London this night, is found in the hands of children in the city the next morning and in about two days, in the hands of children of similar ages in another country about ten thousands miles away!
The cosmos seems to be contracting, thus drawing people from diverse backgrounds closer than ever before, making it a global village. Those who live in some major cities of the world, especially in the West, may not go far to find a Buddhist Vihara, a Christian Church, a Hindu Temple, a Muslim Mosque, a Jewish Synagogue, or a Sikh Gurdwara. Each of these places of worship is full of people who are both the victims and perpetrators of the crimes that plague our world. So all must join hands together to clean the society of the moral impurity that is plaguing it.
I have been an Evangelical Anglican clergyman and senior university academic for over ten years. Yet I am not sure that the leaders of some of the World Religions ever thought that they would come so close to one another in the same territory within so short a period of time. Throughout the number of years of my study and practice of my faith, teaching and research in the universities, I have come to notice a lot of similarities and differences between me and some of my non- Christian neighbours who profess faith in one religion or the other. They are bothered just as I am by issues of Social Justice, Peace, Poverty, Terrorism, Drug-trafficking, community living, aspects of family life, moral issues, wars, etc.
There are also significant differences which should not necessarily divide us but should enrich us as people living in the same community. My Muslim neighbour in the University wept bitterly when he lost his only son, a third year engineering student, in an auto accident. Just in the same way I wept when I lost my younger brother in similar circumstances three years earlier. I noticed how encouraged he was on three occasions I went privately to pray for him and with his family. I saw how he was struggling to go through the same type of agony my family went through some years earlier, when we lost my brother. I concluded from there that humanity is basically the same everywhere irrespective of colour, gender, faith, age, etc. I saw the effect of human sympathy and sincere love on them just the same way I felt when people came to us during our own dark days.
I have on several occasions looked at the Ten Commandments in my Christian Bible ( Exodus 20) and compared its teaching with some rules in the Scriptures of other non-Christian Religions. I have not seen any of the major World Religions that condemns or rejects the ethical or moral principles stipulated in the Decalogue. No parent would be happy to see his or her teenage daughter raped or murdered on her way back from school.
I am not saying that there are no major differences between the ways we understand, explain and practise our Faiths. It would be foolish or dishonest to ignore, forget or brush them aside. They are real in themselves and should be confronted in a spirit of openness, sincerity, love and understanding. That is where the Principles of Dialogue comes in. It is a genuine willingness to listen, understand and respect the views of others, even when we do not approve their stand. Topics as diverse as the Uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the meaning of Salvation, the Authority of our various Scriptures, the exercise and consequences of the Shariah Law, matters concerning diet, medical, social behaviour, education of girls, sexual mores and attitudes to family life need to be considered and discussed in a spirit of openness, sincerity and humility. The major issues in our new pluralistic society can and often lead to conflict in different parts of the world.
The Need of Unity not Uniformity
I think God is not stupid because I know him to be very wise. He enjoys variety and that is why he created us the way we are in order to use us the way he wants. There is variety in weather, time regulation, etc. While we are awake now, there are others asleep or preparing to go to bed or coming out from sleep. So every hour of the day, there are people worshipping Him at different times and in different places. In spite of all these and other differences, there is a common index of our humanity: miserable and helpless birth as little milk-drinking vulnerable infants. There is the absurd reality of our death and mortality. No one particular group of people can solve all the problems of our fallen world. It takes humility to accept this fact.
The current challenge in education, employment, penal reform, racism, arms trade, drug abuse, sexual perversion, etc. demands that all religious groups must lend their support in the effort to bring sanity to our humanity. It is a big shame that religious groups have allowed many secular authorities to destroy the traditional moral values by allowing many immoral laws go unchallenged. The religious groups have allowed rationalists to take soft stands on crimes, thus condoning some immoral practices. Many religious faiths in some countries have allowed secular authorities to direct and set the moral standard of the society. There is an urgent need now more that ever before for religions to come together and refocus the world on the path of rectitude and morality. There is no need for the religions to fight against one another primarily for territorial expansion and drive for membership instead of facing a common enemy that is destroying the Moral life of the society. It is for this that I sincerely admire the Christian theologian Hans Kung who stated that there will be
No peace among the nations without peace among the religions
Since we all are interested in the welfare of humanity, the peaceful co-existence of all that live on earth, we must join hands to fight together against the devils that plague our society and mislead man and woman into immoral living. It is for this type of joint effort that the organisers of this Conference have assembled a galaxy of religious thinkers and practitioners to deliberate and come out with a common view on how to move forward. It would be a mere useless academic exercise and waster of huge material and human resources if we do not work out practical ways the world can adopt now be fill the moral vacuum that threatens to swallow our society.
Dangers of Divided Efforts
Let me as a resume, give seven reasons why we who profess one faith or the other should not be divided in our efforts to fight against moral decadence in our world today.
i. Inter-religious or intra-religious wars and suspicion reduce the
moral standard of faiths and weaken integrity of religions.
I have tried to make this paper a non academic treatise but a practical manual for moral reorientation of our people. I see it as a practical answer to the question - Divided we fall? If the human society is going to be rid of evils of crime, moral depravity, drugs, war, bribery and corruption, racism, etc. that plague us today, those who practise one religion or the other, or no religion at all, must learn to live together with one another in peace. They must be practitioners of what they preach or believe as there will be no other positive forward to give a concerted battle to the devil of immorality than for all religions to join hands together to build a clean society. Discord among religions will only bring more confusion, chaos and destruction. War against drugs, prostitution, etc. can only be won when we join positive forces together.
Venerable Professor Udobata Onunwa Ph.D.