Published On: Thu, Dec 27th, 2018

Much ado about secularism (I)

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THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu

(08035892325 sms only) | dankande2@gmail.com

What better time to talk about state and religion than now. What better time to expose our pretentions to being secular, or our denial of being a multi-religious nation, than now. Annually, by this time, we shut down the entire Federal and State bureaucracies in deference to series of religious activities by our Christian brothers. As we do also at other times for Islamic festivities such as Eid-l Fitr, Eid-l Kabir and Maulud. Christian and Muslim holidays are some of the clear examples that although the Constitution purports to be secular, the people it provides for are deeply sectarian. And it prompts the question again: are we truly a secular state or a multi-religious society? Or how can we be secular when the Preamble to the Nigerian Constitution says that we are a ‘Sovereign Nation under God’? Or how can a Constitution be secular which recognizes the application of the Islamic personal law? Section 10 of the Constitution merely prohibits the adoption of “ANY religion as state Religion”. But does it therefore allow the adoption of the two major religions as state religions? These are some of the questions I intend for us to muse over during this wonderful period of Christmas. I will give mostly a universal outlook on the subject this week, and conclude next week mostly with our situation at home. Merry Christmas to my readers; Felis Nevidad; Happy Kwanzaa!

State and Religion
I had Nigeria particularly in mind when about three years ago I wrote ‘Secularism Is Not The Enemy Of Religion’ (04/04/16); because going by the English dictionary definition of the term ‘secular’, meaning ‘concern with temporal, worldly matters’ to the exclusion of ‘religion’ Nigeria cannot be said to be secular. Evidently our ‘concern with temporal, worldly matters’ is not to the exclusion of ‘religion’. In fact going by that text book definition, many so called ‘secular’ nations are not necessarily secular. Most Scandinavian countries especially Sweden, Norway and Denmark with state-established Lutheran Churches many of whose Ministers are drown from the civil service, can in fact pass for theocracies. Or bluntly put, ‘governments by God’; which, in a sense, is no less than what our Constitution says that Nigeria is a ‘Sovereign Nation under God’. The Scandinavian example provides an apt, existential definition of ‘theocracy’ in its blending of the ‘clerical’ with the ‘clerk-lical’; the ‘spiritual’ with the ‘temporal; or -to use conventional clichés- the fusion of ‘religion and politics’ or of ‘state and the church’. It is ironic that the Scandinavian countries appear more ‘theocratic’ than even a Vatican-hosting Italy which, in spite of its Catholic baggage and its fusion of ‘church’ and ‘governing party’, yet officially could disavow ‘Roman Catholicism’ as state religion. And the question again may be asked: if even after publicly disavowing ‘Roman Catholicism’ as state religion Italy is still not wholly ‘secular’, can the mere declaration by the Nigerian Constitution that no religion shall be made a state religion alone to the exclusion of all other socio-religious considerations, make Nigeria secular?
By the way although almost all European nations, on the face of it, are considered ‘secular’, the truth is that in virtually all of them, religion (in this case Christianity) has always played a significant role in their politics. Meaning that in spite of all theoretical claims to the contrary, ‘religion and politics’ on the one hand, and ‘state and religion’ on the other, are essentially ‘inseparable’ in the affairs of these states. And you do not have to go beyond the confines of the Church or even outside the very bastion of secularism herself, America, to grasp the echoes of these verities: In 1795 America’s first President, George Washington proclaimed the 19th of February for National Thanksgiving and Prayer, and at the inaugural of which, Bishop James Madison (cousin to the 4th President James Madison), while speaking on the subject of ‘Divine Providence toward America’, projected a commitment both to the spiritual and the temporal realms. His choice of the biblical “Dear Brethren” and the political “Fellow citizens”, his reference to “American Christians” and to “American ‘patriots’, projected the promise of a nation that was not about to lose her ‘spirituality’ for her ‘secularity’ or vice versa. And George Washington, to affirm the Bishop’s vision of a ‘secular’ America ‘under God’, proceeded also to spice his speech with generous quotations both from the Bible’s ‘Psalms’ -to indicate America’s readiness to give to God what’s God’s- and from John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ -to underscore her readiness to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

Nation Under God
William Safire, in his ‘World Great Speeches’ collection ‘Lend Me Your Ears’ said that not only did a Bishop and a symbolize the ‘secular’ and the ‘non-secular’ but that the two had made no pretence about their desire to “link the notion of church and state” and to build a “common ground(for) religion and government”. In fact Richard Nixon in his days was also said to have instituted a series of sermons delivered on Sunday mornings in the White House and at the inaugural of which also Rabbi Louis Finkelstein, America’s preeminent voice of conservative Judaism, in a deeply philosophical sermon, reminded American secularists (who had criticized Nixon’s idea of ‘Sunday-Sunday Sermons’ as “a breach between church and state”) of the need to recant their ‘exclusion’ of God in the temporal affairs of man. Said the Rabbi: “How little the mightiest of us can hope to accomplish, and how much we have to leave to God!” Then there was Ronald Reagan, a known proponent of prayer in public schools, who, in 1983 while speaking on the sources of evil in the modern world to the ‘National Association of Evangelists’ meeting in Florida, accused Communist Russia of preaching “the supremacy of the state” and “its omnipotence over individual man”, alleging that “The crisis of the Western world exists to the degree in which the West is indifferent to God, the degree to which it collaborates in Communism’s attempt to make man stand alone without God”.
Then in 1776 there was Reverend John Whitherspoon, the only Clergyman to sign the American Declaration of Independence, who preached the controversial subject of ‘The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men’ and in which, while laboring to couple religion with politics, he said the best friend to American liberty is one “who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion, and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down profanity and immorality of every kind”. Said Reverend Whitherspoon: “God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable”; and he prayed “that the unjust’s attempts to destroy the one may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both”. Again there was Bishop Fulton John Sheen, a long time preacher of the philosophy of religion at the American Catholic University, who, in one of his popular 1941 ‘Catholic Hour’ Radio Sermon -titled that week ‘The Cross and the Double Cross’- warned that “the hour of false freedom is past. No longer can we have education without discipline… individual existence without moral responsibility, economics and politics without subservience to the common good”.

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