Saturday, December 03, 2005

On satire and language

I've loved some of the comments to some of my recent posts - especially Afrofunkycool's short history lesson on alternative sexualities in Nigeria and the wonderful satire on a Levitican theme: whoever wrote that should develop it into an essay or something. It confirms my belief that the best way to shut evangelical bigots up is to quote the Bible back at them. For all the prosperity-doctrine delusionists who pray only for business success and wealth, one can simply quote Matthew 19:24 on camels and needles to swat at their crass materialistic perversion of spirituality. The same can be done for Christian carnivores..

At a friends house recently I was flicking through a glossy brochure for a Camp (religious gathering) they had attended - one of those Ibadan expressway mass gatherings. The Church involved is one of the largest and oldest of the mushroom churches. The brochure's theme was 'breakthrough' (this means success after struggle I think). Not once during the brochure was there any mention of compassion towards others, love of neighbour, tending to the sick or the poor or anything remotely resembling the Christian values I absorbed through my quasi-Methodist upbringing. All there was was memememe and how memememe is going to breakthrough. The brochure could have been written by a computer, randomising a set of the following words: Jesus, breakthrough, faith, success, evil spirits, Holy Ghost, prayerful - with filler words such as and, the etc. I'm never failed to be shocked by the utter lack of meaning and the sheer material superficiality of Evangelical christian discourse in Nigeria.

In a conversation with Bibi a couple of days ago, we were discussing how although irony and satire seems dead and buried in English conversation, Yoruba is replete with double meaning, puns, subtle mockery etc. on a Shakesperean scale.

The question is, why has Nigerian English (particularly as it appears in popular media such as journalism) become so unruly and staid? A journalist friend yesterday suggested that the problem of poor writing is a fundamental one that ordinary writing courses cannot rectify. For Bibi, the problem began when parents and teachers stopped teaching their children first of all in whatever native language: Yoruba/Igbo/Hausa and began with English. To young minds grappling with a second language, it is vital that one is fully grounded in the first. The result of this switch was a confusion between local languages and English, undermining children's ability to distinguish between different grammatical systems. There would seem to be some truth in this, in that many grammatical mistakes in the paper's do seem to be motivated by another language (for instance, confusing him and her for Yoruba speakers - where Yoruba does not have gender difference coded into the language). It will take a lot of time and effort to build up the quality of written English here, and a concerted effort to separate the learning of local language from acquiring linguistic competence in English.


the flying monkeys 8:24 pm  
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Nkem 4:27 pm  

Written English in Nigeria makes me want to cry. I see advertisements looking for people with English degrees to proof read. A degree in English to proof read a celebrity rag? I wish there was a way to guarantee an improvement in the quality of written English, but I fear that the way they write now might be too far ingrained in them. I look to a future generation. The present one may be lost, but I hope I'm wrong.

Anonymous,  10:02 pm  

It makes me sad to hear the way in which christianity is presented to people in West Africa. The presentation, whilst appealing to many with its promises of wealth, success and an 'easy life', to me seem to be focusing on the 'consumer friendly' aspects of the christian faith. Whilst they are good in drawing people to the church they also, frequently, cause churn in the church when the claims are not realised which is sad.

Throughout history people have created bible spin to make it appealing. Whilst the very essence of the message is life changing it does not mean an automatic easy ride something it has taken me years to recognise and internalise. I do not find faith easy or if I am truly honest with myself contonually appealing as it requires self reflection, change, patience and sacrifice.

the flying monkeys 3:24 pm  

Religion demands that one follows the gospel and this is constraining. Superficiality is the name of the game in any religion, twisted for the benefit of those espousing faith, belief, prayers, goodness etc. Religion is era specific what is acceptable past and present are never the same things. This is evident in the fact that these very people are capable of the most heinous crimes yet claim a spiritual basis for their evil doings.

Forcing an imperialist system on the Africa, resulted in much confusion for those seeking truth and understanding, preventing anyone from exposing the hypocrisy that lies at its base, the language remains sexist, behind the times and unable to accommodate the real world view. Steeped in superstition, it makes generations afraid to speak out to make things clear, but forces itself unexplained on the masses. It remains a powerful means to control the masses, no one will ever know how or why anything is the way it is, it riddles your minds with half-truths and lies, and can cause wars, suffering and pain for those trying to break away from it. From birth to death, you are told how to think, this is religion and it’s not open to criticism or amendment. Having said all that, at the end of the day, if one wants to believe, one will!!! These people are insecure, and need something to believe in. Have you ever heard anyone tell you what happens after death? This after all is what religion is based on.

I think many more of us would need to follow the steps of leaders like Afrofunkycool who broke out of control-mode to pursue what he believes in, following his dream.

Anonymous,  11:58 am  

Obokun - As I said earlier I think it is a shame that that has been your experience of religion. I hope one day you will meet a christian, maybe unknowingly at first, whom you are impressed and not repulsed by.

the flying monkeys 6:45 pm  

my grandfather was a reputable ifa priest and not related in any way to Christianity. Ifa is my religion.

Anonymous,  8:51 pm  

i share many of obokun close's perspective. Unlike the one of the writers, i have yet to meet a christian that I am truly impressed with - especially those inclined to the pentacost mode. You can only go a certain mile with them intellectually before they start becoming incoherent and senseless. I have many people in my life who I admire and respect, but i do so inspite of their christianity. In fact what i find most repulsive about them is their smog religiousity. Because i admire them so i find it difficult to believe some of the babble that they espouse.

Harmattan Ray

Anonymous,  2:43 pm  

I believe I did not write my point very clearly in my earlier post and I am not sure I will do any better now but here goes....

I agree with you that Christianity in West Africa can get to the point of near brainwashing as my experience has also been that it encourages those following certain religious leaders not to challenge and think for themselves. I would also agree that this has unfortunately been associated with the Pentecostal religion.

However, what I was trying to get across was that you should appreciate that not all christians worldwide, indeed also pentecostal christians, are not always that way. Please do not let the experience you have had of christians in West Africa be your view on them in general or indeed your view on them for life - appreciate that you may change your view just as I may.

I attend a Pentecostal church in the western world and I still believe I question my faith. I have not been shunned by my church or friends for the questions I bring, in fact many people find me approachable for the very reason I do question!

At the oment, living in the western world I could easily make the mistake (and be encourage dinto it by certain media) that muslims are murderers / bombers / violent due to recent world events but I know this not to be the case and would never dare to call myself an educated person if I held that opinion.

All I'm asking is that you respect my faith and do not label me as someone who does not consider the world around them with as much rigour as yourselves purely because I call myself a christian.

the flying monkeys 3:18 pm  
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the flying monkeys 3:20 pm  

Come and join my religion Ifa which in fact warns against disrespect for other religions.

This point was indeed echoed by one of our leaders Wole Soyinka in a piece published in the uk guardian where he said "...Ifa, like the orisa, does not proselytise. Ifa does not anathematise non-believers; on the contrary, there are verses in Ifa that warn against disrespect of other religions.
The full script .

yoms,  4:43 pm  

I refer to your comment of (in your words) the ‘mememe’ nature of the Pentecostal church with specific reference to the 2005 Holy Ghost Congress (commencing today 12/12/05) of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) titled ‘Ultimate Breakthrough’.

The idea of the congress is to provide a forum for members of the church to come together in love praising and worshipping God; helping each other through bible based teaching. This includes spiritual as well as practical guidance on matters that empower the individual to help himself rather than merely rely on handouts. If you looked deeply at the congress program you would have noticed sessions such as…breakthrough in small and medium scale enterprises, breakthrough in small scale farming, breakthrough in home management…

Unlike many of us that have the opportunity to attend courses or tap the minds of those in the know for entrepreneurial advice (say) many of the attendees of such workshops (at the congress) are simply not so privileged…indeed what you’ll discover if you ever decided to take the trek up the expressway and do a bit of research is that this forum is the only place where attendees can access such advice freely and without the necessary qualification of being a member of the RCCG.

Now, it would be dangerous to discard such teaching as self-centred merely because none of the titles are worded ‘How we love you by showing you how to run a business in order to be able to feed yourself and not beg for food’ – what’s that saying? ‘Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life, give him a fish and you feed him for a day’

More so, to judge the teachings of the church merely on a brochure for a particular congress would be tantamount to criticising a specialist technology conference for ignoring to share the fundamentals of IT (say). Again, a little more research would reveal to you that most if not all RCCG parishes distribute food and provide financial and emotional assistance to the needy on a regular basis.

It’s a shame that all you ever see of the Nigerian Evangelical movement is (in your words) ‘…the utter lack of meaning and the sheer material superficiality of Evangelical christian discourse in Nigeria…’ I suggest you get your vision improved by getting down to the basics either at the Camp, a local RCCG parish or maybe even your friend’s house and discover what God is doing in the lives of millions of Nigerians through His church. Note that just because Christians are not shouting from the rooftops bragging about what they do for the man on the street or the next man…does not mean they are not doing something!

Anonymous,  8:16 am  

but they do shout from the top roof about what they do for others. You may not do, but many do. It is not what you do for the needy that is important (as such), it is what is inside your heart. It is not enough to go round feeding people or sending clothes to the motherless baby when you still believe that there is no place for infidels or unbelievers in the kingdom of god. What about if those you help who are unbelievers? I think while Jeremy should get himself down to the camp, and I would actively encourage him to do so, we must face the fact that many of these new churches that many of us belong to preach intolerance and are quite unforgiving of difference. I am a redeemer myself, but i am always aghast to hear some of the preaching of my pastor and other pastors. But i continue to attend church because of fellowship and my recognition of the importance of the stories in the Gospels, especially those which talks about the life of Jesus the man. I am totally uninterested in the non-gospel side of the new testament - the one written by Paul where we start getting to stories about Christ.

Yoms, I don't think you and Jeremy are really in disaggreement, I think you are arguing on semantics. Apart from the breakthrough programme which I think are important, I think our movement is so powerful that its continous apoliticalness is disquieting. Jesus was an extremely political figure. He wanted the romans out, he wanted the end of colonisation. Today we are still colonised by the ruling elites, but our movement has nothing to say about this - even in veiled terms. Instead they are in complicit with oppressive regimes. You might think why do I continue to attend because I still believe in the teachings Jesus - not Christ and importanly the spiritual fellowship i enjoy with my fellow redeemers (as well as my islamic fellows). I have enjoyed untold breakthroughs since i converted to Christanity - essentially because i was not having much success in my life now I do. But I am clear that it is because of the church i attend have powerful members of society in them who have been kind and helpful to me and I doubt it if i was attending a poorer church I would have the breakthroughs i have enjoyed.

peace to you Yoms for bringing a different perspective to Jeremy's sometimes rant and apparent anti-christanity.

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