Opinion

Why it’s not right to call Christianity alien religion

In his widely publicised Open Letter to the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, made reference to Christianity and Islam as “alien religions.”

Here are his exact words, “This continent has endured centuries of disdain and despoilation at the hands of alien religions – Christianity and Islam at the forefront.”

He also spoke of the dehumanisation of the black race and atrocities committed by these “alien spiritual dogma.”

With this obnoxious tag, he has said nothing new; he was only following a similar tradition in Nigerian scholarship and even public discourse. Several scholars have used the same and similar pejorative epithets to describe Christianity.

Niyi Osundare, celebrated poet, in his book, ‘The Writer as the Righter’, sees Christianity as “ally of imperialism”.

Chinweizu, radical pan-Africanist and firebrand scholar following in the footsteps of Walter Rodney, sees Christianity as a tool of enslavers to the black race.

Ayo Olukotun in his column in the PUNCH newspaper once referred to Christianity as “foreign religion”.

Femi Osofisan agrees with this as well. Remi Oyeyemi was even more brutal and caustic as he calls Christianity “Euro-America slave religion” or something like that.

These are eminent writers and professors (except Remi Oyeyemi) and who can disagree with these eminent men of letters?

The late Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, was more lenient as he described Christianity (and possibly Islam too) as “guest faiths”. In a speech delivered at 1st Brazil- Nigeria International Seminar to Preserve Cultural Heritage, held at Salvador/Bahia, Brazil, the revered monarch said, “The parlous socio-economic conditions in Africa, a creation of neoliberal economic policies have continued to impoverish many African states. The guest faiths are therefore feeding on this to preach the gospel of individual prosperity and well-being on earth…” [See Daily Sun, Jul.29, 2014. p.4]

Since he was a Muslim, he could not be referring to Islam as guest faith; obviously he was referring to Christianity.

I can go on and on, but this sample is enough to make my case.

The question then is: Is Christianity indeed an alien religion, foreign religion, a guest faith, imported religion or – which is worse – a tool of imperialism and the Western enslavers?

If it is alien, what makes it alien, foreign or guest; by its contents, calling, founding, manners, teaching or what? How is foreignness to be defined or constructed? How is the concept of being alien or alienation to be understood? The Oxford Dictionary has some definitions of the word foreign that are amusing. One in particular says something that should not be there.

The word alien is even worse for a religion. Here is how Oxford Dictionary defines it: Strange and frightening, different from what you are used to … not usual or acceptable.

So, the term foreign or alien religion also connotes unacceptability and strangeness. Not just alterity but also otherness is conveyed in these epithets with a profound sense of nostalgia and indifference if not violence.

This leads me to the question: Can a religion be alien to the land of its birth?

I must confess that I have carried this burden for a long time. I must also confess that I have a lot of respect for the men whose comments I have sampled, and it is painful somehow for me to have to publicly disagree with their opinions. However, I am left with no choice because this issue must be addressed once and for all, one way or the other.

Is Christianity a foreign religion? Foreign to where and to who? It is my considered opinion that the eminent men whom I want to dignify as cultured despisers – a phrase I have borrowed from Friedrich Schleiermacher – have not fully interrogated this issue.

It is my purpose in this essay to deconstruct the very idea of describing Christianity as an alien religion, alien dogma, imported religion or guest faith etc. Christianity might be foreign or alien to certain cultures but not to Africa, for as I will soon show, Christianity was an African religion because Christianity has never been missing from Africa from the very beginning. How then can such a religion be foreign to Africa and to an African?

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In this quest, I want to build my case on 12 fundamental pillars.

The first pillar is The Abrahamic Factor. Christianity like Judaism from which it sprang (and even Islam) are called Abrahamic religions, and rightly so because each religion lays claim to Abraham as its father. Jacob the father of the Israel nation was a grandson of Abraham; the Lord Jesus Christ was of the seed of Abraham and even Ishmael, the father of 12 Arab kingdoms from where Muhammad and Islam sprang is also a seed of Abraham through Hagar.

It is erroneous to call any religion that came through Abraham a foreign religion or alien religion in Africa. Abraham lived in Egypt and prospered there and even procreated with an Egyptian slave girl and Keturah, an African woman after the death of Sarah. In the light of this, an Abrahamic religion cannot be legally referred to as a foreign religion in the land of Africa. It may be foreign or alien to other parts but not to Africa.

The second pillar is the Moses Factor. We cannot rightly talk of Christianity without its Judaic antecedents. Actually, Christianity was once “a cult or segment of Judaism” and both early Christians and Jews worshiped together in the same Temple until 70 AD. That is why even today the Christian scripture, the Bible, consists of both Old & New Testaments. The Old Testament canon of the law was given to Moses and it is part and essential segment of Christianity because as Saint Paul says, “the law was given to bring us to Christ, to prepare the way for Christ.”

Now, who was Moses? In essential fact, he was an African prince by birth, residence, training, schooling, upbringing and even by marriage. Except that he was of Jewish parentage, he was essentially an African. If Moses was an Egyptian and therefore African and married to an Ethiopian/Midianish woman, how could Judeo-Christianity be foreign to Africa? Moses was more African than Jewish and was learned in the art of Egypt and never even stepped the Promised Land even once. A man cannot be foreign or alien to the land of his birth and residence and training.

In the third pillar, we consider the significance of Sinai. In the light of the second pillar above, there was Sinai before Zion. Without Sinai, there would be no Zion. That is why we often use the expression ‘Judeo-Christian’.

Why is Sinai so significant? At Sinai Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Judeo-Christianity appeared to an African prophet and a few weeks later made His appearance to his people in a pillar of fire and smoke. (May all Glory and Honour be to Him that liveth forever and ever).

It was here that the 10 Commandments written with the fingers of God were given, the highest and most profound moral code ever given in any age and a principal document even in Christianity.

Now why is this important? Simple. Sinai is in Egypt, in Africa. The very first time that God appeared and men heard His Voice was in Africa – Sinai. One of the religions that came out of this visitation is Christianity. Isn’t that obvious to anyone?

So, when you say Christianity is an alien religion and they serve “foreign God” you are confusing issues. How can a religion be alien to the very land of its birth and revelation? How can the God who appeared physically first on Sinai in Africa be alien or foreign to Africa?

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If there are any foreign gods they are probably the gods of Yorubaland – Ogun, Obatala, Ifa, Sango, Oya, etc. These came much later to Africa, long after Moses. I hope our scholars know the logical consequences and implications of some of the things they say. Since no one has taken them up on some of the claims they make, when fully interrogated, they may realise they are the ones who have to give way.

The fourth pillar is the Jesus African Connection. Jesus was in Africa. No, He didn’t just visit, He lived here. Not just for one week or one month or year but for years. In actual fact, He lived His most formative years in Africa – right from infanthood till he was a child. There is no agreement as to the exact number of years Jesus spent in Egypt but it usually revolves around four to eight years.

There is now a plethora of studies in the field of psychology and behavioural genetics showing that environment is crucial in determining a child’s innate characteristics, especially socialisation – the period when a child adopts culturally approved patterns of behaviour and ends up behaving more alike. (Harris, 2000)

Psychologists now agree that a child’s most formative years are between three and eight years, which are the most “critical for cognitive, social, emotional and physical development”. (UNICEF)

In the providence of God, these were the years Jesus spent in Africa. Prof Harris has demonstrated in a series of studies that both language and accent are developed and easily acquired during this period for a child. Could this be the reason why the Jews branded Jesus a Samaritan possibly because his accent was not really Jewish?

How, in the light of these can Christianity, a religion which crystallised around the Person and Divinity of Christ – the same Christ who lived His formative years in Africa – be called a foreign religion, an alien dogma in the land of Africa?

I shall come back to Egypt later.

The Christ mandate/manifesto is the fifth pillar. In His Manifesto to the world to declare His mission and commission from the father, he made no mention of any tribe or nation or colour. He spoke to the entire human family. Quoting from Isaiah 61 he declares: “ The Spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of prison to them that are bound….”

It is clear from the tenor of this message that no tribe is mentioned, no race is privileged above others and none is excluded. He came to all men and His commission is to all men. Three and a half years later when He was departing, He restated the same commission with clear and unmistakable details: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creatures, make disciples of nations, tongues and people…”

To call a religion around such a figure as alien religion is to do great violence to language and even truth.

Yes, it is true that certain votaries of Christianity have used the religion to perpetuate racism, white hegemony, wars, violence, cruelties and atrocities as Soyinka rightly noted but we are to judge Christianity by its message, founder, contents and not by hypocrites who are looking for a medium to achieve their personal and national sinister purposes.

Guns have been used to steal, rob, rape, take government by unconstitutional means but no one blames Kalashnikov for it? And we must blame Christ and His alien religion for atrocities to our continent committed by people who neither knew Him nor understood even the message?

And come to think of it, is the African Traditional Religion free of those atrocities to our continent and its people? How many subjects, Africans, were sacrificed to gods that cannot speak nor hear during rituals? How many were sacrificed as accompaniment at the departure of a king? We are talking of a religion that allows kings and chieftains to sell and exchange their subjects and citizens for a piece of mirror, and trifles like trinkets and gunpowder. Is there any atrocity worse than these by so-called indigenous religions? Prof, I beg you not to open that can and do not go there, you may have more to apologise for on behalf of native religions than even Christianity, the so-called alien religion.

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The sixth pillar is Africans as pioneers of Christianity. Another major reason why it is not right to call Christianity an alien religion in Africa is because Africans were pioneers, stakeholders and foundation charter members who enrolled the very day Christianity was founded. They didn’t join as inferiors or underdogs but as equals, stakeholders like others from the nations.

Christianity was officially born on the Day of Pentecost, a period during which Jews from all over the world usually gathered for the Feast at Jerusalem.

We are told that after Peter preached that day about 3,000 enrolled in the new faith. Dr Luke tells us the composition of this new membership in his narrative and it is this that interests us (Acts 2:9-11).

Egyptians were there, Libyans were there and other areas around and within. Thus, on the very day Christianity made its debut on earth, Africans were not wanting, even if they were only Africans by residence, Africans were represented. How, in the light of this can Christianity be called an alien religion in Africa or any part of Africa?

Within a few years after this, Christianity was comfortably seated in Africa through the Ethiopian eunuch who was converted by Phillip in Acts chapter eight. This was long before the conversion of St Paul who took Christianity to Europe. Thus, Christianity was in Africa long before it got to Europe. So, how can it be an imported religion from Europe if it was already in Africa even before Europe?

It is a fallacy of no mean proportion. America does not even exist at this time, America as we now know it. Those who say Christianity is a Euro-American slave religion are therefore in a grievous error.

Considering the Notable Contributions of Africans to Christianity is the basis of the seventh pillar. It is also erroneous to brand Christianity as alien religion or foreign religion because Africans have made notable contributions to Christianity, enormous contributions that are even more than others. At a point Alexandria, Egypt was one of the most vibrant fulcrums of Christianity. Some of the greatest theologians of the Early Church who saved Christianity at its hour of great peril were Africans.

 Athanasius who saved the day for Christianity against the heretical but influential Arius was an African. Tertullian who coined the term “Trinity” was an African. Origen who laid the foundation of philosophical theology was an African. St Anthony of the Desert fathers who started the monasticism in Egypt was an African. St. Augustine the most influential father and theologian of the Early Church was an African from Thagaste in present Algeria. He was an African.At Nicea the most significant Council of the Church, African bishops were heavily represented from Egypt, Libya and other places and none from Britain. The Creed would be named after an African, Athanasius ( Àthanasian Creed).

So, if Africans were stakeholders in Christianity and major contributors how could Christianity be called an alien religion in Africa? How, can a person be an alien in a venture or company in which he is the major shareholder and investor? Can someone please help me?

To be continued.



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