Some years ago, a new social culture emerged in Italy: many parents stopped introducing their religious faiths to their children. They chose rather to let them reach the official age of adulthood, so the latter could choose for themselves which faith to identify with, upon objective inquiry and conviction. For such parents, the commotion of truth claims had left them confused rather than convinced, and they did not want to instill error in the innocent teenager. Truth is, many people are not totally convinced about their faiths. Some have questions that have not been properly addressed by their Scriptures, but they stick around either because they have not found a perfect alternative, or because of the social consequences of apostasy.
Yet some parents are totally convinced. Whether that conviction is a result of dispassionate inquiry into their worldviews, or a result of cultural heritage, is a different thing entirely. What is paramount for them, however, is that they have embraced ‘truth’ and, just as they would force medication down the throat of an unwilling, sick child, they must force their faiths on their children. That was exactly what Mubarak Bala’s parents did.
The young man had embraced atheism consequent upon his intellectual persuasion to that effect, and was bold enough to declare same to his devout Muslim parents. His family members would not accept that. They beat him up, injected him with sedatives, and took him to a psychiatric hospital where he is now being ‘treated’ as a mad man. With a phone smuggled into his psychiatric ward at the Amino Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano, he sent messages across to a humanist friend of his, who has since contracted a lawyer to handle the matter. His father and doctors in the hospital insist he had psychological problems before he renounced Islam.
Two days ago, the lawyer was seeking to contract an independent psychiatrist to examine him. Problem is, with this kind of persecution already meted out to him, he would be lucky to come out negative from tests on psychological trauma.
Sometime last year, an adult Christian lady, daughter of a pastor, converted to Islam. When her father failed to bring her back to Christianity, he resorted to violence. She went through myriad persecution from her family, to the point that she had to seek refuge in the palace of an Emir, much to the chagrin of her father who alleged ‘Islamic’ diabolical entrapment.
Meanwhile, Mubarak’s father claimed that he took the action to prevent his son from being mobbed by the people. Sadly, that excuse, unfortunate as it is, protects a legitimate fear. As a society, we seem unaware that education, in its true sense, confers on the individual the privilege for rational skepticism. True education forbids the acceptance of dictated truths, and prepares the mind to ask hard questions about arrogant conventions. The search for meaning, for truth – for intellectual or religious convictions – is best when the individual is allowed to tread his own path with his bare feet, unshoed with traditions and dogma. That adult individual, escorted by ‘objective’ parameters of engagement, will most likely arrive safely in the journey.
When the mind is zipped up against an inquiry for which it is hungry, the lips buttoned against the expression of legitimate thought, there will be consequences. One of such consequences is that the individual becomes a mere captive of mind terrorism, an unwilling practitioner of the faith or ideal imposed. A forced member of any faith is even technically no different from an atheist, since the person involved performs hollow rituals lacking internal support. The baggage of unresolved doubt will never allow anyone to practise an imposed faith creditably. So what is the point in enforcing religious adherence? The better approach would be to counter the differing mind with factual proofs and other rational means of persuasion.
Another consequence of muzzled thought, this time with respect to the silent onlookers who would not condemn the kidnap of the mind, is that such bystanders unconsciously promote an ugly psychology. That mindset that frowns at otherness, one in which terrorists are implicated, is the same one receiving the blessing of our silence. Some may say, “after all he’s an atheist and therefore deserves it.” They forget that these ‘little’ encroachments, these private tyrannies, are the social elements that guarantee ideologies like Boko Haram.
We must all speak out and condemn this young man’s incarceration. We must reach out in love for, in the final analysis, we are still family – members of that clan of intelligent animals called humanity. We must embrace contrary opinion – whether as theists or atheists. We should recognise that religious truths are relative, not absolute, given the imprints of factors like socialisation, geography, social exposure, etc. Let us understand that each person in this pursuit of meaning and truth, is most likely an innocent violator of our own grounds, just as we are, to theirs. If God wanted us to reason alike, He would have made us all look the same.
Immanuel James is the author of the new book, ‘Under Bridge’. He lives in Lagos. You can reach him on Facebook – Immanuel James Ibe-Anyanwu | Twitter: @Aristotlejames | 08035711153.