Practice What You Preach

You speak as though religion was created to unite humanity as a collective – yet, you espouse words of division and hatred. You speak of spreading peace amongst the land – yet, you attack those who do not share the same beliefs as you. You speak against the evils of hypocrisy – yet, you struggle to admit that you conspire in the very act you condemn. To the religious zealots of the world, I implore you to cease the messages of hating or looking down upon people who do not share the same view as you. By treating others with malice, you only serve to weaken the very foundation of your religion and drive the people you aim to convert away from you.

Hate begets hate begets hate. By preaching violence unto those who do not believe in the same faith, you are only perpetuating more violence. In propagating the act of violence, you are actively working against the notion of peace that you claim your religion creates. Take the novel Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor for example. In the novel, the protagonist, Adaora, criticizes the abusive advice given by the bishop of her husband’s church. She says, “How does him slapping me in the face bring peace, Father? Eh? How can a man slap his wife ‘in the name of Jesus’?” (Okorafor, 56). Adaora is right. How can peace be brought upon by violence? Simple. It cannot. The very act of harming another individual goes against the nature of peace itself. Similarly, violence cannot be justified through the verses of a scripture because there exist other verses that forbid such violent acts.

Justifying violence through scripture is also unacceptable because there are other verses in scripture that condemn that very behavior. In a research journal written by Henry Munson, he writes, “The same Gospel of Matthew that declares ‘His blood be on us, and on our children’ (27:25) also declares ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you’ (5:44). Similarly, the same Quran that states ‘slay the idolaters wherever you find them’ (9:5) also states ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’ (2:256).” Just as there are verses that can be interpreted as justifying violence, there are verses that prohibit committing acts of violence. Munson goes on to say that “one often has to wrestle strenuously with ancient sacred texts to make them tolerant and tolerable in an age when the slaughter of the Other is no longer generally deemed an act of righteous zeal.” Munson is saying that because these scriptures were revealed long ago in a different context than today, the interpretation of these verses becomes difficult to truly understand at face value. That being said, it is imperative to interpret these texts in a modern day context – one where senseless acts of violence are not acceptable by any standard. Furthermore, maintaining an “Us versus Them” mentality only serves to drive away others from your belief.

Maintaining an “Us versus Them” mentality only serves to divide people and further drive a wedge between the followers of your faith and those who do not follow. The divide created by such a divisive mentality is seen in Lagoon when Okorafor writes about the relationship between Adaora and her husband Chris: “Neither of them had ever called the other evil or illogical … until the last year after Chris had had the scare on the airplane from Lagos to Owerri and became born again. Since then, things had unraveled,” (Okorafor, 170). Chris’s abusive behavior towards Adaora only began after he became religious to the point of extreme devotion. While there is nothing wrong with being devoted to your personal beliefs, there is something inherently wrong when those beliefs force you to ostracize and even harm those who do not share the same ideals. As a result of Chris’s abuse, Adaora strayed further and further from the religion that Chris believed in and Father Oke preached about. Nnedi Okorafor even wrote in her blog about Lagoon that what she fears the most about certain forms of Christianity is not the bizarreness of them, but rather that too often they promote the hate of indigenous traditions and spiritualties of Nigeria. Consequently, Okorafor highlights these extreme sects in a negative light within her book, essentially dispelling her readers from even considering about following such a hateful ideology. If your duty as a representative of your religion is to bring as many people into your fold, then there is a clear dissonance when your actions lead others away from your guidance.

As a devout believer, your goal is to present your religion in a way that attracts others to your cause. How can you achieve this goal if your actions contradict the teachings of your belief? How can you expect to draw people in if at the same time you push them away? You cannot. Therefore, you must abandon the hateful rhetoric and instead embrace compassionate teachings. For if you continue to burn those around you, what will be left except ashes?

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Listen to All Sides of the Story

A concept that I found to be important while reading the beginning of Lagoon and watching the subsequent TED talk by the author, Nnedi Okorafor, was the notion that there are multiple viewpoints to a single story and how crucial it is to be able to understand and listen to all the different facets surrounding that story.

Nnedi Okorafor opens up her novel Lagoon with a short introduction about how the name for the city of Lagos in Nigeria came from the Portuguese word for “lagoon”. She then goes on to criticize the naming of the city, for the Portuguese “could not come up with a more creative name.” Okorafor then comments about how the colonizers were so ignorant as to not even think of asking the natives for suggestions of what to call their own land.

This short excerpt from the novel fascinated me because of the way Okorafor describes the nature of colonization in the past. She does so in a way that exemplifies the innate ignorance of history as we know it today. Simple constructs such as city names like that of Lagos were made without the consideration of the very people who had lived their whole lives there. This notion of a “white history” is important because it is what differentiates traditional science fiction texts from those rooted in Afrofuturism.

Traditional science fiction, whose authors include the likes of Isaac Asimov, George Orwell, and H.G. Wells, are rooted in a predominantly white, male context. Afrofuturism differs in the sense that it imagines a historical context that hasn’t been influenced by white colonialism – a “what-if” scenario that hypothesizes the advancement of African civilization without the consequences of outside influence.

Nnedi Okorafor makes references back to this difference between the sub-genres in her TED talk. What’s interesting is that in the TED talk, she doesn’t outright put one sub-genre over the other. She merely explains that the two are different in some regards, but that both have merits in the way they form their speculations. A commentary that I appreciated was the octopus analogy she mentioned in her talk.

The octopus analogy goes by saying that, like humans, octopi are among some of the most intelligent creatures on earth. The difference between octopus and human intelligence is that they diverged down different paths in the evolutionary line, and therefore the very foundation of that intelligence is different. I took this to mean that just because the foundation of some ideas are inherently different, it doesn’t mean that there can’t be something to take from it.

To put things into a more modern perspective, we can’t be so ignorant as to not consider viewpoints that might be different than ours. Doing so only limits our understanding as a whole and serves to diminish critical thinking in its entirety. Instead, we should strive to try and understand where the opposition or other side is coming from and try to learn from a viewpoint that is different from our own.