Enlightened Religious Participation In Nation Building

by Fr (Engr.) Okey A. Udeh – FRC, GC

The simple definition of a nation is a large community of people living in a particular territory under one government.

Nation building refers to the process of constructing or structuring a nation. The process aims at unifying the people or peoples within the state to remain politically stable and viable in the long run. It involves fostering social harmony.

When we talk of the Nigerian nation, we are referring to the individuals that populate the area known as Nigeria. Consequently, building a nation refers to building a people.

People with strong character are knowledgeable, truthful, tolerant and just. At a deeper level, national identity must be deliberately constructed by moulding different groups into a nation. This implies that all individuals and groups need to play specific roles and participate in achieving this objective.

National development will make great progress if the spirituality of a nation is enhanced.
Enhancement of a Nation’s spirituality is the role expected to be played by the Religions.

Spirituality is the character or quality that makes one transcend the barriers of worldliness, caste, creed and sensuality; and realise one’s connection with the Truth.
In a nation with enhanced spirituality, there is love, tolerance, peace, harmony, selflessness and justice.

What do we have in Nigeria? We have intolerance, disharmony, selfishness, corruption, crime, injustice and other social ills.

Is religion playing the role expected of it? What is religion?

There are three fundamental and indisputable truths. These are:

  • God the creator exists
  • Man the created exists
  • There is a definite relationship between God and man.

Man’s quest for understanding and interpreting this relationship between God and himself gave rise to Religion. Simply put, there is a unity of purpose in all religions.

To quote from the catholic document on inter-faith relations entitled Nostra Aetate: ‘In Our Time.’

“From the beginning, Christian Revelation has viewed the spiritual of man as including, in some way, all religions, thereby demonstrating the unity of humankind with regard to the external and ultimate destiny of man. There is only one community, and it consists of all peoples. They have only one origin since God inhabited the entire earth with the whole human race, and they have one ultimate destiny, God, whose providence, goodness and plan for salvation extends to all.

Men turn to various religions to solve mysteries of the human condition, which today, as in earlier times, burden people’s hearts: the nature of man; the meaning and purpose of suffering; the way to true happiness; death; judgment and retribution after death and finally, the ultimate destiny of our existence.”

The word religion is derived from the Latin noun religion, which denotes earnest observance of ritual obligations and an inward spirit of reverence. Generally, religion is a set of beliefs and practices, often centred upon specific supernatural and moral claims about reality, the cosmos and human nature. It always has a doctrine, the cardinal principle of the religion, and the theme that runs through the religion.

The two organised religions familiar to us here, Christianity and Islam, each have its cardinal principle.

The cardinal principle of Christianity is Love.

The cardinal principle of Islam is Peace.

Christianity is about the love of God for man and the demand from man to love God and love his fellow men as God loves him.

The Peace in Islam arises from submitting to the will of Allah.

Where there is love, there is tolerance, there is justice, and there is peace.
Where there is peace, there is harmony, there is unity, there is stability, and there is progress.

The fact is that expressing God’s Love and submitting to Allah’s will are inseparable: none can be truly practised in isolation. The disturbing trend is that most leaders and practitioners of these religions do not live according to the tenets and cardinal principles. Between Christians and Moslems, distrust, intolerance, and hostilities result in loss of life and property.

One cannot but ask: Where is Love as espoused by Christianity? Where does Islam espouse Peace?

There are many Christians among us today who will not touch the Glorious Holy Koran. Some Muslims will not touch the Holy Bible with a long stick, no matter how long the stick is. We even have a situation where there are divisions, disagreements and disunity within Religions.

Within Christianity, for example, there is the Orthodox and the Pentecostal; within the Pentecostal, there is the ‘Dead’, and there is the ‘Living’; within the ‘Living’ there is the ‘Bible Believing’ and the ‘Non-Bible Believing’ etc.

Has the creation of several denominations helped religion in performing its role of enhancing the spirituality of the nation for development? The answer is no.

We have an increase in religiosity and a decrease in spirituality. As there is an increase in religious activities in Nigeria, there is, unfortunately, an increase in crimes and other vices such as corruption, injustice and immorality.

Why? Religious leaders and practitioners emphasise materialism rather than spirituality. Selfish interests drive them. We are practising religion without enlightenment.

Immanuel Kant, in his essay entitled “What is Enlightenment?” written in 1784, challenged his readers to “dare to know”, arguing that it was not only a civic but also a moral duty to exercise the fundamental freedoms of thought and expression.

Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity.

Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another.

Such immaturity is self-caused by a lack of determination and courage to use one’s intelligence without being guided, whether this guidance is by another person, group, dogma or creed.

Through laziness and cowardice, many Nigerians gladly remain immature, encouraging and making it easy for others to usurp the role of guardians.

It is so comfortable to think, “If I have a pastor who has a conscience for me, a pastor who prays for me, I do not need to exert myself. I do not need to think; if I can pay, others will take over the tedious job for me.

Enlightenment is less a set of ideas than a set of attitudes.

Enlightenment demands that religious leaders and practitioners ‘dare to know’ about their religions as well as other religions and, in the process, identify the unity of goals of all religions.

The thoughts, words and actions of religious leaders and practitioners, in line with the new knowledge, must be in perfect connection.

In their thoughts, they must meditate and pray for the good and progress of the nation.

In words, the leaders must counsel their membership to live and act in line with the cardinal principle of their religion.

They must deemphasise materialism and emphasise spirituality. They must have the courage to abandon their parochial and selfish interests for the interest of the generality. They must act in consonant with the new knowledge.

They must create centres of knowledge and schools for the general good. They must engage in productive ventures. By so doing, they will be participating and contributing positively to nation-building.

Enlightened Religious Participation In Nation Building

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