By Reverend Father Dr Romanus Ike Muomah
THE popularity of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is worldwide. Her prowess stems from her novels which are being read by her fans and foes all over the world. The majority of her fans are youths from different races and continents.
Adichie is a creative writer. It is difficult to pick up any of her numerous works and drop it without finishing it. Her reputation is spreading like a bush fire in harmattan, as Chinua Achebe would put it. It will not be overlabouring the obvious to say that she has become a household name in many countries.
Her unassuming nature is another ingredient that makes her an idol to many a heart. She is alleged to have a soft spot for feminism. She does not hide it. And she manifests this in speeches and writings. She does not believe in injustice. The role she played in the Ukpo and Abba land dispute is a testimony to this. It is also alleged in some quarters that she strongly believed it was a case of injustice and intimidation.
Many people like Chimamanda Adichie. They emulate her in so many ways. The number of people that recently named their babies Chimamanda bears witness that she is now a role model to so many people, especially in Igboland, the place and land of her birth. Chimamanda’s simplicity and forthrightness infects people, especially the youths. And many youths like and follow her. They are even ready to fight her wars.
And then Chimamanda grants a very long interview conducted by a reporter of BounceRadio that disturbs the peace. In the interview, she told the world that she is now an agnostic. She also said that she no longer attends the Catholic Church once she is in Nigeria, except when she finds a progressive one. According to her, most Catholic churches in Nigeria are way too much about money, fundraising and thanksgiving. She attends Mass in the Catholic churches outside the shores of this country, when she sees a progressive parish. And, be it as it may, she loves the Pope and believes that Catholicism is a culture to her.
The first thing a practising Catholic , and indeed, a Christian, will be inclined to do, on reading Chimamanda’s submission, is to get angry with her. The next thing is to conclude that she has crossed the boundary. But has Chimamanda really throttled beyond limits? And has she crossed the Rubicon?
The aforementioned points are very important, and it will be good for us all to bear them in mind. Adichie once presented a paper in America entitled The *Problem of Single Story* . In it, she accused the western world of drawing conclusions on Africa without ever being to Africa to really know how things are. It was a very good presentation that received a wide applaud. It was so sequentially cast and very logical that there was virtually no need for any questions after the presentation. Indeed, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a bundle of intelligence.
Nonetheless, her recent critique of the Catholic Church in Nigeria appears to be contrary to her position on single story. Adichie seems to have told the world a single story of the Catholic churches in Nigeria. She said she stopped going to Catholic Church in Nigeria because the Catholic Church in Nigeria is too much concerned about money and fundraising and thanksgiving. So, by implication, her stand in the light of Frederick Nietzsche, is that God is dead in the Catholic Church in Nigeria . But in how many parishes did Adichie attend Mass, and how many times a year? Is it not likely that of late she used to attend Masses of thanksgiving, where many high class people invite her as a celebrity to grace their occasions? I, too, will like to invite her, when next she comes home, to grace an occasion for me.
Chimamanda mentioned she was brought up under a strict Catholic family. This should be a thing of joy. Her parents should be applauded for this. It may be that things were really not exactly what they should be in some Catholic parishes then, as regards child’s upbringing, but the childhood training ostensibly made Chimamanda what she is today.
To declare to the world that she is now inclined to agnosticism is not wonderful. And to say that she does not go to Confession can upset a pious Catholic. Her stand is capable of leading many people especially the youths astray. And they are greatly endeared to her.
Ngozi should understand that writing and intelligence are a gift from God. She should use her person and writings to promote religion, and not discredit it. People should be helped through her books and utterances to seek and find God. There are millions of souls still searching and thirsting for God.
Her mentor, Chinua Achebe, did much in this regard. He fought osu caste system, the killing of twins, belief in ogbanje, human sacrifice etc. He did not cast aspersions on religion or his denomination in a way that may dampen faith.
There are three things I believe Chimamanda should try to understand. The first is that the Church is made up of saints and sinners. Again, one ought not set one’s house ablaze simply because a rat or snake entered into it. The third thing is that one should not wash one’s dirty linens outside, although this does not suggest that wrongs should not be exposed and condemned.
There is no need overlabouring the obvious. There is a fallacy of overgeneralization in Chimamanda’s utterance as regards the Catholic Church in Nigeria. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie does not know how all the respective parishes in Nigeria are. Also, does she mean that the Catholic churches outside Nigeria do not talk of money when there is need, do fundraising when there is need and do thanksgiving when God blesses His people? Even the church of her dream may talk of money more than the Catholic Church. Besides, it is an act of cowardice to run away in the face of a purported evil in the church . She could have made some inputs by writing. In Nigeria, the Catholic Church is a large house. And she has an excellent mind and a unique skill and style of writing. So, what did she do to correct the anomalies? Adichie seems to be busy cursing the darkness. But she can light one candle. It may eventually be that she brought out some linens to wash. But are the linens really dirty? And is she washing them at the proper place? Does she understand that the Catholic Church has her rudder of measuring what should and should not be? Does she really consider that there is a big difference between the holy and the mundane?
She claims to be an agnostic. An agnostic, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is a person who does not have a definite belief about whether God exists or not. I do not even believe that Chimamanda means this. Be that as it may, should she as a Christian role model say this courageously and openly to the youths of her day? Her works are being read all over the world by these youths. And her words are creed to many of them. Indeed, the great Amazon appears to have misfired.
But all hope is not lost. We all, including Adichie herself, should understand that everything may be possible to say. But it is not everything that is possible for us to say or do that is expedient. I do not think that a role model like Adichie should say what can cause her teeming fans to derail.
The Amazon of our time should remember her 2009 presentation of the danger of a single story in U.S. In that presentation, she appealed that we should always hear from more than one story before drawing a conclusion. The summary of it all is that if we hear about a people, place or situation from one point of view, we risk accepting or adopting one experience as the whole truth. This is true. But did the Amazon apply it?
It is possible that some churches in Nigeria, Catholic and non Catholic, are way too much about money, fundraising and thanksgiving. But this happens in time and in some places, and indeed it can be worrisome. Again, I think there is need to find out whether this is a norm or an abberation. And if it is an abberation, does the Church hierarchy know of it? I remember there was once a report of the faithful being forced to raise and show their offertory money before offering it. It is damn too appalling.
Again, as an agnostic, in her own understanding of it, Adichie struggles with her faith in God, even while in the Church. Thank God she still finds time to attend Masses outside Nigeria. Thank God Chimamanda says that Catholicism is already embedded in her. May that seed of faith planted in her many years ago follow her and help her make heaven at last. Amen.
I am seeing what happened to Chimamanda recently as a case of a beautiful woman whose headtie fell off on the street. This is very natural, and it happens to women from time to time, without any fault of theirs. It happened to my mother when I was a small boy at least once. When it happens, the woman may either summon courage, pick it up and place it back on her head. And life continues. Or she melts in shame rooted in pride, and goes on, moving away quickly from the scene, moving on and leaving the headtie behind. It is indeed a matter of choice. My mother picked up hers and placed it back on her head. And we moved on, mother and son, not remembering that something happened.
Let Chimamanda Adichie bend down and pick up her headtie. And let her and her mother, the Catholic Church in Nigeria, move on, as if nothing happened. Good enough, she has a special liking for the Pope. As a father, he will readily offer her spiritual support and clear her doubts about Confession and Catholicism. The Mother Church will embrace her more and even wash off the dirt on the headtie. And we are her brothers and sisters. We love and admire her. We are here for her. Her headtie is still on the ground. Let her just bend down and pick it up. We will help her put it back. For she is a gift to our race and our time.
A beautiful woman should not sew her dress with a poor quality material. It is infra dig for her to do that. Chimamanda Adichie seems to have contemplated sewing her dress with materials that are very poor. And yet she is a very beautiful woman. She is a bundle of intelligence. She is an epitome of beauty and charm. Our love and respect for her remains intact. This is because we are in a free world. Ngozi, just like every other person, is entitled to her freedom of speech. This would have been allowed to pass on in silence. But she is Ada Igbo, a role model and a trail blazer. The youths, especially the African youths, should not be allowed to swallow unprepared this hard loaf of modernism and liberalism from the western culture. I am feeling that Chimamanda did not set out to disparage the Catholic Church or dampen anybody’s faith in that interview. She only bared her mind there in her forthright manner, as a social crusader. And this is why the response to this issue calls for love, restraint and respect. I simply believe that her emotions got the greater part of her on the day of that interview.
Perhaps, it was not the Chimamanda I knew that spoke. The one I knew is from Africa, the land of the rising sun. The one that spoke may be from the western world. My prayer in this matter is that the locust may not visit our homestead again. There is no love lost.
**Rev Fr Dr Romanus Ike Muomah is a facilitator at the National Teachers’ Institute, Kaduna Nigeria.
– Jan. 14, 2021 @ 19:25 GMT /