Going to church every Sunday was the way of life in my small town when I was growing up in Nigeria. I was raised in a Christian home so the idea of GOD was introduced to me at a very early age. I remember going to church and sitting with other children in a place reserved for children during the yearly harvests. It is funny that a fishing community celebrates harvests every year. My people are not farmers and the idea of celebrating harvests sounds foreign but that was the religious calendar at the time.
Before school age I lived with my grandmother in the plantation and often looked forward to the yearly harvests and Christmas celebration because of gifts and lots of food. My mother always bought me new clothes. Later my grandmother enrolled me in the Anglican elementary school close to the plantation where we lived. I walked about a mile to school every morning.
Going to church on Sundays was part of the requirements for attending the school. Since we where Christians, it was not a problem for my grandmother but we didn’t go to church every Sunday. The penalty for not going to church on Sundays at the time was whipping on your buttocks if you are a boy and on your palm if you are a girl. I remember one occasion when we did not go to church so I was absent when they took the roll in the church. The next day during the morning assembly those who went to church were separated from those who did not go to church. Those who went to church were asked to go straight to their classes while those who did not go to church remained behind.
As we stayed there waiting for our punishment for not going to church two teachers came in with canes in their hands and called on each of us for whipping. Fortunately for me that day I was on the side of a teacher my family knew. When it was my turn, he asked me why I didn’t go to church last Sunday? I don’t remember exactly what I said to him but he advised me never to be absent again and pretended to whip me. That was the only whipping I had that was fun in my life!
As I became older I joined the church choir and went on to read the lessons every Sunday. Later I became part of the Youth Group that infused new life into the church with non-traditional Christian songs. One of my favorite songs was about the drama between Esau and Jacob in the Tanakh (Old Testament). The song was written in Igbo (one of the major languages in Nigeria). I liked it so much that I sang it in an American church in Portland, Oregon. For the record I didn’t like it because Esau got cheated of his birthright but because of the melody.
After High school and as I became more aware of my environment I began to doubt the truth in the Bible. I had issues with the following teachings:
- The need to accept Jesus or any foreign God for salvation. Salvation is generally believed to be deliverance from sin but why should a foreign God hold the key to salvation?
- The need to use Foreign Sacred Texts. Foreign sacred texts contain the experiences of the foreigner; they have nothing to do with the experiences of the natives and as such they should occupy an inferior position in native lands irrespective of their promises of heaven and threats of damnation!
- The idea of a chosen people. This is an attempt by humans to feel superior to others in order to take advantage of them. There is no indication, not even a hint to show that any group of people, culture, nation, or religion occupy a special place in the cosmic scheme of things!
- The idea of a foreign Holy Land. This is an attempt by foreigners to promote their culture and enrich themselves at the expense of others. There is no holy place in foreign lands; the land on which you live now is the holy land!
- Foreign Sacred Texts as the TEXT. Is GOD so small that HIS word can only be found in foreign texts? The idea profoundly diminishes the majesty and grandeur of the GOD of the Universe! Sacred texts contain the words of men but the word of GOD pervades the universe!
- The teachings about heaven. Why spend a lifetime preparing to go to someone’s heaven when you could also create your own heaven? The infinity of the universe opens the door wide open for anyone to create what he or she wants. You do not need another person’s heaven!
- The idea of hell. Do not sweat about hell anymore because it does not exist. You live in a Friendly, Loving, Giving, Guiding and Healing Universe so no power on Earth or in heaven can put you in hell!
I did not discuss these ideas when I was in Nigeria because realizing my American dream occupied most of my thoughts. Once in the United States I concentrated more on my studies than on religious matters but a friend gave me the Bhagavad Gita during my college years. I accepted it with pleasure and left it among my other favorite books. It has been with me up to this day but I started reading it only during my doctoral program about 5 years later.
It is important to note that in spite of the ideas I had when I was in Nigeria about my religion I still considered myself a Christian at the time and I attended church without any reservations in the United States. At one point a Baptist church and World Vision even came to my aid when I needed help. It is very difficult to walk away completely from your beliefs even if you have a mountain of evidence against it. But I waked away after my oral exam at Oregon State University on April 13, 1993 and this was when I officially fired my foreign God!
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