I get asked this question very often. ‘Peter, why do you criticize beliefs you don’t hold?’ Why can’t I just face my own business? Why do I spend my time and effort in talking about other people’s beliefs? And why should I be bothered about a belief that’s not mine? Why not live and let live? Why criticize Islam I don’t believe in? Why criticize Adeboye, Oyedepo, etc in whose stuff I don’t believe in? Why not let those who believe in whatever they believe in hold their beliefs peacefully?
Well, this article is to answer these questions and to also show you why you too need to join me in talking about other people’s beliefs. By the end of this article, you will realize the importance of being concerned about other people’s beliefs even though you don’t hold them.
Let me start from ‘live and let live.’ That instruction doesn’t apply to this situation. Taking about other people’s beliefs doesn’t amount to not letting them live. Or since I’ve been criticizing people’s unfounded beliefs, has anyone stopped living? Have I snatched your life from you? Being preoccupied with what others believe won’t make you an extremist as some people erroneously opine. I guess the title of my previous article, ‘You’re not always entitled to your opinion’, sounded to the uninitiated as ‘Hey, I’m now a terrorist.’ Well, that’s so far from the truth.
I’ve never taken up weapons to fight folks who believe what I consider stupid. If I find any of your beliefs funny, I simply start a discussion about it. That can’t be extremism. You’ve exercised your fundamental human right to propagate your beliefs while I’ve also exercised the same right to propagate my views about your beliefs. Is there anything wrong with that? If your belief is true and sound, it should withstand any kind of criticism, shouldn’t it?
One of the people that recently told me to ‘live and let live’ is actually a Christian. But Christians go about reminding all non-Christians about how they will go into the everlasting fire for not accepting Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour. How much does that sound like ‘live and let live’? In other words, while you have a right to hold any belief, other people around you have a right to criticize that belief. Let’s get that straight to start with.
Yes. Boko Haram militants believe that they’ve been commissioned by Allah to kill those who embrace the Western culture. Shouldn’t we leave them alone with their beliefs? Shouldn’t we let them be entitled to their opinions? Why should we criticize their beliefs? Should we bother ourselves with their beliefs knowing that we ourselves don’t share those beliefs?
That’s how you sound when you say folks who don’t go to Pastor Adeboye’s church shouldn’t criticize what he tells his church members. If they prevent us all from having an easy passage on the highway for so many days a year, then we have a right to talk about them. That’s how you sound when you say some people are always talking about a God they don’t believe in. It’s because you’re being a hypocrite. You need to know that the human society is one entity. Nobody lives as an island. We’re all interconnected in a tightly woven fabric called ‘human society’. Thus what you believe or do affects me whether I believe the same thing with you or not. I’ll follow with examples.
I sincerely do not believe that the whole neighborhood should hear about Jesus early in the morning. Someone else believes that that’s the right thing to do. Because he has a right to hold his belief and practise it, he wakes up at 5 am, carries his megaphone, and starts screaming into the ears of every innocent person that’s trying to catch some sleep. You work late into the night perhaps to meet a deadline and you’re just about to catch some sleep at 4.30 am. Then this evangelist screams Jesus into your ears and your little sleep fades away, leaving you with migraine-like headaches for the rest of the day. Should you criticize his belief even though you don’t share it?
There’s a Muslim who believes that the best thing a nation can do is to help its citizens move closer to Allah. He becomes the president and directs that the funds of the multireligious nation be spent on sponsoring Hajj pilgrimage. Should you criticize his belief? There’s someone who believes that contraception is a sin. She ends up having an unplanned child, a child she can’t cater for, a child who grows up to become a thug on the street. This thug is planning to come and rob you in your house. Should you criticize the nonsensical belief that says contraception is a sin?
There’s someone who believes that he can become rich by using a human head for money rituals. You say he should be left alone with his beliefs. You proclaim that he’s entitled to his beliefs. The following day, he kidnaps your 3 year-old daughter only for you to find her decapitated body by a bush path. Should you criticize his beliefs? Shouldn’t you live and let live? Shouldn’t you let those who have beliefs that you consider stupid just enjoy their beliefs?
There’s someone who believes in unmerited favour and supernatural success. Without being very qualified for a particular post, supernatural favour inexplicably pushes him into the position in the company you own. Few weeks after getting employed in your company, he ruins the whole place with his incompetence. Next thing, your company folds up irredeemably. Should you be bothered about someone’s personal beliefs?
Someone believes that vaccines are dangerous. She thus refuses to let her children be vaccinated. Her children then pick up measles from somewhere and become the source of a measles outbreak in your neighborhood. Should you be bothered about her personal beliefs? After all, it’s her daughter she’s preventing from taking the vaccines, not yours, innit?
There’s someone who believes in miraculous healing. He has a cancer and instead of coming to the hospital, he keeps attending miracle and anointing services in churches all over the place. He believes that TB Joshua can heal him, or he’ll be healed if he reads a few of Oyakhilome’s books, or he’ll be healed if he sows seeds towards Bishop Oyedepo. By the time he presents in the hospital, his cancer is in the advanced incurable stage. You’re the doctor. You’re helplessly staring down on him, being disappointed with your inability to help him. You feel frustrated that once more, an avoidable death is about to happen. Your colleagues in other parts of the world are publishing their work, reporting high treatment success rates while you can’t publish yours because of your higher mortality and morbidity rates. Should you, who don’t believe in miraculous healing, worry yourself about someone else’s belief in miraculous healing?
There’s someone who believes that the earth is flat. (Well, there are so many people today who believe that the earth is flat and claim that believing otherwise is against the Bible. Google ‘flat-earthers’ for more info). He becomes the president and thus stops all NASA funding. Next thing, we no longer have the scientific advancements we have through the numerous space programs. Should you be bothered about his beliefs?
I can go and on but I’m sure you get the point now. It’s totally irresponsible for you to leave people to their beliefs. In fact, it’s very dangerous. The side effects of people’s personal beliefs aren’t confined to their personal lives. The side effects flow towards you who don’t share the beliefs. That’s why letting everybody be entitled to their beliefs is like you leaving the security of your life into the hands of someone else. It’s a dangerous game.
I remember when Boko Haram started. They didn’t start as a violent group. They were just a group of harmless, genteel Muslims who were just organizing peaceful symposiums and public lecturers across the northern part of the country. However they had a crop of strange beliefs but everybody felt they should be left alone as they were entitled to their beliefs. Now the Nigerian government is planning a deradicalization process. According to a clinical psychologist who was on radio yesterday, this process will include 3 components: behavioural intervention, theological reorientation, and social reintegration. The theological reorientation aspect is exactly what I call ‘not letting everybody be entitled to their beliefs.’ Unfortunately if we had engaged in it initially, we might have prevented the carnage that has happened and is still happening.
Democracy is not anarchy. In democracy, views are regulated. That’s why in a democracy, there’s a constitution with large volumes of laws. So you can’t make your own laws that are against the laws of the land. Robust discussions are done before anything is accepted as law. That’s the function of the parliament. If a human society needs critical discussions about behavioural codes to progress, it can do with critical discussions about beliefs too.
So this is not bigotry. As a freethinker, I welcome all beliefs and I encourage all views. But there’s a caveat. For your view to be respected, you need to prove to us that it deserves respect. It must be open to discussion. It must be true. It must be based on objective facts and evidence. If you won’t let us talk about your beliefs and if your beliefs can’t be reliably proven to not have negative impacts on the human society, we will shut you down as I said in the previous article (click here to read it). Humanity has progressed because interpersonal interactions and dependence increased. Ever heard of ‘the world is a global village’? I’m sorry to inform you that the days of jealously guarding your nonsensical beliefs are over!
Truth is not relative. There’s the truth. There’s what you feel is the truth. So per time, logical reasoning and critical thinking can lead us to the truth. For instance, it’s a truth that praying to Jesus can’t develop a nation’s economy. The facts support that assertion. Citizens of countries like China, Netherlands, South Korea, UK, and Canada that are the most economically developed nations don’t take prayer seriously. Another fact is countries with the best health indices didn’t get there by having so many pastors claiming to heal people. They got there by the government investing in their health sector. So I can make my claims and back them up with contemporary evidence. Can you do the same with your own beliefs?
If you have a modicum of common sense left, you need to help out with this country. Nigeria looks exactly like a place where large portions of the citizenry carry the wrong beliefs. We’ve sung the ‘everybody is entitled to their opinion’ slogan so much that so many disastrous ideologies have established themselves all over the place. Everywhere you turn, listening to Nigerians exhibit their personal beliefs and opinions enlightens you on why we’ve not developed and why we might not develop in a long time to come.
One person recently said ladies that can’t cook and pray for 1 hour should be stigmatized and victimized. They’re condemned to singleness forever. We criticized that belief, providing sound rebuttals. We enlightened them that the concept of marriage has gone beyond that kind of simplistic, negative dogma. They said he had a right to tell his ‘children’ whatever he wanted. But would these ‘children’ form their own secluded, closed society in which they would never interact with folks who aren’t part of the ‘cult of Adeboye children’? Would an increase in the number of frustrated young ladies affect my society as a whole? And how much would the productivity and the ability of such frustrated, unfulfilled ladies to contribute to societal development decrease and affect the progress of the society as a whole?
Of course, so many people can’t think holistically. They just reason within the microcosm of what other people have drawn for them. And when they ran out of ideas to defend their idol, they said the man has always said what’s culturally African and what most African parents would tell their children. But can’t we just go back to how the African society operated eight centuries ago so that we could remain truly African? Well, I never wanted to reply those people. I just did to show you that nowadays critical thinking is the yardstick with which to measure opinions and beliefs, not sentiments and authority from public figures.
Because beliefs determine what people do and because what people do affects me whether I hold the same belief or not is why I criticize other people’s beliefs. Because the destiny of the nation depends on how the inhabitants reason and think is why I’ve taken it up as a task to uproot any retrogressive belief and view. That’s my contribution to the development of my society and I’d be happy if you too can join me in this noble endeavour.
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