Sunday, 20 July 2014

Theresa Omoronyia: When Prayers Are Not Enough

In the aftermath of the recent bombing of Emab plaza in Abuja, the dialogue below gives an idea of how typical Nigerians reacted, both in online and face-to-face conversations:
Religious person: Hmmm…na wa O! God, please save us!
Not-so-Religious Person: Aren’t you tired of disturbing God? Heaven helps those who help themselves!
R.P: So what should we do?
N-s-R: Well…ermm…we could…
Hot head interrupts…
HH: Revolution!!! We need to revolt. See the Arab Spring? We need a Nigerian revolution! Only a revolution can rid this country of all the corrupt people that have kept us in bondage…
Who is right? Interestingly, I think all the views are correct. We need God’s intervention and a revolution.
The Religious Angle
Nigerians are religious. Fact. And it seems natural for us to cry out to God for deliverance from an enemy like Boko Haram that has defied military intervention and foreign assistance. Didn’t the Holy Bible say the prayers of a righteous man/woman availeth much? So yes we should pray. But wait, it said ‘righteous man/woman’ not religious man/woman. What’s the difference? It means the prayers of a person who is in right standing with God, according to God’s specifications. So irrespective of how much we go to the church/mosque, and appear religious, if we fail God’s tests of righteousness, our prayers are worthless. They don’t move God and will not avail at all. In the same Bible, we are told in Isaiah 59:1-2, “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short That it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.
Our country is full of selfishness and greed often committed by ‘religious’ people. From the highest to the smallest, we have become unfeeling and consumed with ways of satisfying only ourselves, even when our actions affect others negatively. How then can we expect our prayers to be answered? God is no respecter of persons, and He does not change. He demands love, justice and mercy. Until we repent and start living right and caring for others, He is not obliged to help us and heal our land.
Now for the not-so religious person, I realise this might not be your cup of tea. You are probably disillusioned with religion, you are not ready to live under God’s principles, because you have issues with Him, that’s if He even exists at all. So I understand you would prefer to solve our national problems in a non-religious way. Like Hot-Head in the conversation said, revolution just might be the way out. It seems easy, straight-forward and rids the country of the ‘bad eggs’, what’s not to like? But do revolutions always solve problems and usher in a utopia? Let’s find out using history and current events.
The Revolution Angle
Revolution has been defined by Jeff Goodwin, a professor of sociology at New York University, as “any and all instances in which a state or a political regime is overthrown and thereby transformed by a popular movement in an irregular, extra-constitutional and/or violent fashion.” The key word here is violence and though not stated, spontaneity is implied. Very rarely will you find a bloodless revolution, even though it may have started out as peaceful demonstrations. Because revolutions are predicated on blame games, there is usually a need to get rid of the hated bad eggs, usually government officials, and that often involves violence.
The tragedy of a revolution is that more often than not, it simply replaces one autocratic government with another. This is the view of assistant professors Michael Albertus and Victor Menaldo, in their New York Times article “Aftermath of Revolution”. Sadly this view is quite true of many revolutions we have read about and even the current ones. The countries that participated in the Arab Spring are still grappling with chaos, instability and weak politicians who have no power to halt insecurity. Has it really been worth the sacrifice of innocent lives and suffering?
Mass protests are often as a result of understandable frustration and anger aimed at the elite. But when these are allowed to spiral out of control, they lead to violent attacks and a baying for blood by the masses who heap blames on anyone different from them. The French, Russian and Chinese revolutions are notable examples of the horrors that happen after misguided masses drunken on anger and seeking revenge, unleash unimaginable tragedies on perceived enemies. These countries prove that dictatorial leaders often arise from the ashes of revolutions. The French sent their monarch and aristocrats to the guillotine, but were then made to face the dictatorial Committee of Public safety. Under their Reign of Terror, just about anyone suffered a similar fate; the clergy, the middle class, and even peasants who were the vast majority of their victims (72%) according to Wikipedia’s article Reign of Terror.
The Russian revolution in 1917, led to the execution of the Tsar and his family and the emergence of the dictators Lenin and Stalin. Under their leadership, they caused untold misery, with millions of Russians dying unnecessarily. The story is the same for the Chinese who deposed their monarch and ended up with brutal warlords in the different provinces.
Even in our own dear Africa, there are examples of revolutions which gave rise to tyrannical dictators who had initially claimed to be fighting for the masses, only to turn round and rule them with a greater fear than their initial rulers. Nigeria, Ghana, Libya, Burkina Faso, …etc the list is endless of how revolutionaries carried out coups to ‘help’ the poor masses, only to end up destroying them.
But there was one revolution that broke the mould. It was the American Revolution which occurred between 1765 and 1783. What made it different was that prior to that, there had been the Age of Enlightenment(intellectual reasoning) and The Awakening(spiritual revival). Both movements, challenged individual Americans to break free from long held beliefs that the monarchy/politicians and Church/religion were responsible for their survival. The Founding Fathers encouraged the idealogies of liberalism, republicanism and fear of corruption as virtues required to transform their individual and collective lives. According to Wikipedia, these concepts fostered an intellectual environment which would lead to a new sense of political and social identity. And this is why the American Revolution was successful, long after the war with their colonialist Great Britain, was won.
Mental Revolution
So yes, I think that there should be a revolution, but I think it has to start from us mentally. We need to start asking ourselves some hard questions, seeking truthful answers and creating an identity based on intellectual discourse and not just sentiments.
  • I think we should challenge if our loyalties to our leaders, whether religious, tribal or political are rightly placed. This will require courage to know the truth, not half-truths about the motivations of these individuals. Do they really care about us, or are we the means to their selfish ambitions?
  • I think we should also begin to question the basis of our self-worth and identity. Is it based on our material possessions or our uniqueness as individuals with strengths and weaknesses? Until we do that, we will view people who are different as less important because we see only their weaknesses and not their strengths.
  • We need to appreciate the diversity of our country and learn to respect and learn from each other. Peace is the decision to get along even when we don’t see eye to eye on the same issue. Like Nelson Mandela said, it requires courage to forgive for the sake of peace.
  • We also need to take responsibility of making our lives and the lives of others better. No politician or leader will do this, it is our duty to start little acts of kindness.
Throughout history, very rarely have violent and spontaneous revolutions brought about the peace and reforms that majority longed for. On the contrary, these revolutions end up devouring their children, like French revolutionary Georges-Jacques Danton noted. To have a decent revolution, it must start in our minds first, with a change in our worldview. I admit it will not be as spontaneous and romanticised as we would like, but nature has shown that the most beautiful and perfect things often take longer to mature. If we dash ahead to achieve political revolution without a mental revolution first, we will end up with more chaos and unnecessary pain.
Who knows, perhaps a mental revolution may just be the prelude to God answering our prayers.
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