Monday, August 01, 2005

Morality vs Religion

Had an interesting conversation with B's sister last night which reveals a lot about the mentality of both young and old in Nigeria. She is studying Law at Ilorin. As an evangelical christian, we started discussing vegetarianism, pointing to key passages in the Bible which show that Christianity really ought to be fully associated with not eating meat. We pointed out the passage in Genesis which talks about man eating only seeds and fruit, and the celebrated passage in Romans which emphatically denies the validity of eating flesh. F then accused us of taking the text too literally and pointed to the passages being figures of speech. So then I asked her if 'Thou shall not kill' is a figure of speech. Her argument was that killing only applied to humans and that we were interpreting the commandment to our own ends. For her, the deeper meaning of the commandment is to avoid killing humans, and even this can be excused in certain circumstances (self-defence etc).

We moved on to discussing morality and its relationship to religion. She had a hard time understanding that morality could actually exist outside of a religious context. Eventually, she was persuaded that one doesnt need a religious framework to be a moral being (and so not kill etc) but that theology could act as a guide and a corrective.

It seems to me its precisely this difficulty in separating religion from questions of what is right and wrong that erodes any possibility that Nigerians across different ethnicities and belief systems can see each other as moral agents, outside the compass of their faith. Without any common moral glue, Nigerians tend to retribalise themselves around cliques such as their local church. What is needed are citizenship classes which examine morality, rights and duties outside of any religious framework, to demonstrate to young Nigerians that the moral sphere is in fact separate from the private world of faith.


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