Friday, 20 January 2012

Nigeria: Our acceptance of religiously sanctioned child abuse

The rights of the child
This is one subject that I have always found myself returning to – it is the dehumanisation of children by adults in society to all sorts of ends which we today have to question, contemn and condemn.
In a conversation with a friend I met in India, though born in the United States, he had a Sudanese heritage and he worried about bringing up his children in the United States because children appeared to have certain rights that he thought trammelled the control parents should have over their kids.
Now, whilst I appreciate the need for discipline in the home, it does not completely remove the right of a child to be able to respond, react or protest – in my retort I suggested that the West appears to give anyone born into their society a modicum of rights which the state does well to protect.
Child abuse in our society
If parents have not for all sorts of reasons been able to foster an atmosphere of love and care that prompts the child, the neighbours or other vested persons to report the parents to the authorities for alleged abuse, it cannot be the fault of the child that certain elements of good parenting have failed.
Child abuse remains a problem in many societies be it emotional, physical or sexual and nowhere is it more prevalent when we attempt to find cultural or religious justifications for meting it out, condoning it, tolerating it or covering it up.
In Nigeria, we have acquiesced without question the egregious abuse of children with impunity by our religious leaders who we hold in thrall and are so fearful of by reason of terror that originally derives from expected instant retribution of animist gods and fetishes than from the more reasonable and just deities of the religions we have acquired.
Recent examples
Recently, it has been child sexual abuse that has thrived and been swept under the carpet for years until the intervention of foreign law agencies intervened and brought the perpetrator to book.
There was another where a child was given in marriage and this was approved by religious bodies ready to go nuclear if the civil authorities dared to question the offender.
However, the most heart-rending has been the stigmatisation of children in South-Eastern Nigeria accused of witchcraft then physically abused with acts that will not be foreign to mediaeval torture dungeons. Sadly, even the reasonable and the powerful found it difficult to stem this atrocious heinous criminality in the name of religion that it took an NGO to publicise these nasty harmful practices for the government to attempt to curb the injustices.
The methods of determining the witchcraft abilities of these children are more than suspect, the code simply finds its strength in superstition and the wanton abuse of the vulnerable, the dramatic scenes enforcing the vague dread of the supernatural on the faithful as they lose the sense of justice and gumption in aid of these cultish and abhorrent acts of unconscionable religious abuse.
A Bishop’s strange example
The one that however causes the greater consternation is the YouTube video that went viral a few weeks ago though the recorded event happened some years before. Bishop David Oyedepo who is the presiding bishop of Living Faith Church World Wide also known as a chain of churches called Winners Chapel and the chancellor of the “Christian-based” Covenant University slapped a girl in a church service during a session of ministering to people who had come forward for spiritual help.
The bishop has gone on to boast about what he did and that is his prerogative but there is a more fundamental point that needs addressing on this matter.
One should find it incredulous that a supposed witch ready to exhibit witchcraft powers regardless of her utterances would have gone forward for an altar call to be assaulted and humiliated in what some might call deliverance but sadly, the bishop was not disposed to offer the deliverance the supposed “witch for Jesus” went forward for.
And compassion?
Now, Bishop Oyedepo holds a doctorate degree in Human Development and even from a secular perspective one would suppose he understands mental health issues that should separate the core personality of an prospective patient from the influences that alter the character of the person.
On watching the video again, the bishop appeared to be addressing two different personalities, the first with regards to whoever or whatever he might have termed the “foul devil” and the second with regards to where the girl came from.
There are many instances in the Bible during Jesus’ time where it was narrated the people were possessed and exhibited incredible and unnatural tendencies by reason of the influences they were under but fundamentally Jesus reached for the person in compassion delivering them from their afflictions because that was His mission – to set the captives free.
The bishop with his posse of almost 10 men who took the stage behind him did not feel inclined to minister grace, love, compassion or the slightest sympathy to those who stepped forward that it looked like a spectacle for the audience that would not have been out of place at the Roman Coliseum when Nero fed Christians to the lions for entertainment.
What we saw
However, the bigger issue is what example and what message this sends out to other practitioners of deliverance or exorcism in the guise of religious authority because what was evident from that video and many related to this matter is that the vulnerable are open to abuse with impunity from religious leaders and these religious leaders will face no sanction or prosecution.
Meanwhile, these sometimes helpless and vulnerable persons who have hoped and wished they will get some succour and respite from their torments or afflictions are forced back down; back into their shells twice humiliated for coming forward, then getting assaulted and left literally bereft of the possible last hope they might have had for what in our highly superstitious environment is spiritual bondage and outside the purview of medical help.
Our religious leaders are human
Religious leaders in Nigeria seem to have untrammelled fiat to act as they will as if instructed directly by omniscient deity and our supernatural dread borne of residual animist belief systems allow us to acquiesce to any of their actions without question.
The reality is, subconsciously we have allowed mortal and fallible men of God to become the gods of men, overarching in their power, overbearing in their influence and never answerable to the temporal but only to the spiritual to be absolute domineers of our will, intellect and intelligence in feckless display of appallingly supine humility.
Whilst, what a religious leader does within the setting of their followership might well be argued to be their prerogative and undergirded by the freewill of their flock, the extremes of such unquestioned followership are exemplified in the Jonestown massacre.
We have to ask ourselves time and again of our religious leaders, how closely are we so ready to follow them that we cannot cut loose if beyond the mesmerism of their control our intellect informs us that we are on the road to perdition?
Our responsibility
What is wrong is wrong and the sooner we realise that religious leaders are flesh and blood like us, suffer that same issues we do, are tempted as we are and can be as error-prone as anyone of us, our folly will get the better of us and we will only have ourselves to blame for helping to perpetrate criminality masquerading as religious activity.
The responsibility remains that of the adult and enlightened individual to have the discernment and ability to see right from wrong, question the atrocious and make independent decisions. If we lose rational thought in the pursuit of faith, I dare say we are neither rational nor in faith but stupid.

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