There Will Be A Country:
A Paradise Shrugged
There Will Be A Country: A Paradise Shrugged
Copyright 2015 Frank Achebe
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Vingt ans du regne de la Lune passez,
Sept mil ans autre tiendra sa monarchie;
Quand le Soleil prendra ses lours lassez:
Lors accomplir and mine ma prophetie.
In memory of Onyebuchi ‘Ozone’ Okonkwo.
The solitude in me remembers.
I know I’ve always been destined for this,
This path that I’ll go.
The music breathes on me
A suffocating feeling of helplessness,
Bring mellow melodies, bind clandestine claims
For I am your straggler, Mother Light,
Bide me to that resplendent region,
Clasp me in waltering iridescence, but, let me know
The variegated rumble from your drum,
Tambourines drone still,
I tread this path solitary.
Yet the shores are slippery.
I can stay till dawn if now is midnight.
But I cannot know,
Because they have made my future so uncertain.
Help me, Mother Light of Wisdom.
—Onyebuchi Okonkwo (1992-2012) On His Suicide
This book is presented as a continuing postscript to There Will Be A Country: A Report to History. The original edition of the book contained A Paradise Shrugged as its fourth and final part. That is to say that this volume does not necessarily speak for itself. A large chunk of it may not make an independent sense. So I recommend that the reader begin at the Report. However, in relation to the primary subject matter of the Report which is a ‘setting-forth of matters that relate to world-history’, it achieves more than the first volume. With it, I seek to offer a brisk philosophy of history, a subject that has interested me for a long time now. In the future, when I have certain economic means at my disposal, I will do more scholarly work on the subject. I expect to present it to the public it in the form of a scholarly dissertation titled: Word and Time.
Chinua Achebe’s memoirs There Was A Country gave the volumes their interest and their titles. The title was not a selling point. It was an attempt to comment and criticise his vision of the Biafran Myth. I found his retelling of the Biafran Myth unjustifiable by a philosophy of history. He was a poet, one of the highest order and his retelling of the Biafran Myth was more or less, a failed attempt at romanticizing the Biafran Story—or some of its ‘human’ elements.
The Report was my attempt to demythologise the Biafran Myth into a workable idea of state. This result is approximate. But to be able to do this, I needed a psychological environment in the backdrop of which I can give some ‘historical credibility’ to my psychoanalysis of the Nigerian peoples and my own retelling of the Biafran Myth.
Secondly, I wanted to transform the Biafran Myth from a poetic myth into a prophetic myth, one that looks to history for its justification, not one that vainly resists submitting itself to the scrutiny of history. Every other book I have read on the Biafran story usually followed the poetic trail, which is arbitrary.
Thirdly, in light of the so-called Islamic Awakening and the deterioration of Europe and America, I felt called upon to give a word of prophecy concerning the future. Islam stand next in line to inherit the World Spirit—or at least try to lay claim to It. And Biafra as a Christian Humanism seemed very much a lesson that can be taught about it like Israel in the Middle East. The threat of Islam can no longer be ignored—nor can its promise be denied.
In matters relating to world-history, I consider myself a Christian thinker but I do not see the Rise of Islam as a ‘threat’ to history. The true threat to history are the demons that undermine human ideals by creating a negating tension within them. And Islam much more like Christianity and every other religion, every ideology and every confessional of human self-consciousness can submit to a demonic extreme. It has happened countless times. Islam has shown its own susceptibility to demons. Much more like Communism, it is a dangerous threat to Western ideas of human freedom and Humanism. What we cannot say for sure is whether history will execute Islam’s claims to the World Spirit. It looks less likely. But this claim is being made in ways that can no longer be ignored or taken for granted.
Fourth and most importantly, Achebe’s was a tribalist and he saw and told his story of Biafra through the eyes of a tribal propagandist. I wanted to reduce the Biafran Myth to a true Humanism, as a declaration of the rights of Man against its own fate and against Islamic hegemony.
Every attempt to offer a criticism of the Report must begin with acknowledging the extent and depth to which the writer approaches and fulfils these ‘wants’. In any case, I shall offer a criticism of my own attempt at penetrating these mysteries since I am the greatest critic I know.
The Report itself does not prove to be a deserving a means to these ends. It lacks any literary merits and overreaches itself in many ways. It’s an approximation, an introductory text more or less. Thus, additional volumes are demanded.
The Report was also an attempt to lay claims on a future, a distant future united with the past in a fictionalised ‘present’. As an astrophysicist, I know that according to relativity physics, that there is no state of absolute rest in the universe. I know also as a student of philosophy that an ‘absolute mind’ is unattainable within history. The implications of these realizations imply a looseness towards the distinction between past and present and future and between thesis and antithesis. I even managed to convince myself that the Report is a work of science fiction, one that deals with time as an illusion and the idea of progression as a myth.
Apart from those, the Report is my story as a thinker and poet. I accept the Biafran Myth alongside many millions who see and take themselves as ‘Biafrans’. The Myth, like all such incorruptible dreams has endured many generations and many persecutions. In this is its greatness, one that appeals to me as an individual and poet. I wrote the Report as an individual’s search for this Myth through the Waste Land called Nigeria.
The Biafran Myth has a strong mythical appeal. Many writers have searched through the Waste Lands of the past for this Myth. I felt that it was imperative that I begin at this point. What I found of this Myth may be different from what others found. But we are united in spirit in a honest search for it as our shared past. But while the most of them sought and found this Myth in the past, I sought and found it in the future.
The Biafran War can be described as a failed attempt to transform this Myth into history. But even if this Myth fails to become history, it has shown that it is a vital Myth through which our see themselves. No people can live without a myth that unites their historical fate and their own ideas of self-creation. If such a myth does not exist, it is the task of the Poet and mythmakers of the age to either find one or create one. It is the task of the mythmaker to create those myths out of a shared consciousness with the people if he fails to find one.
The old religious myths are no longer relevant for the modern mind neither can they deal with the anxieties of our present historical situation. They have lost their vitality in their encounter with the Christian religion. They have lost their vitality as symbols of communal self-affirmation. Moreover, they have been profaned. A New Myth is needed, in light of new anxieties and new experience of the world. A Report to History is an attempt to create a prophetic myth out of a historical consciousness and a people’s sense of themselves. That, I suppose makes the Report a mythopoeia. Against a religious myth, it offered a prophetic myth and attempted to reduce this myth to an ideal of state and national self-affirmation.
I consider Christopher Okigbo the greatest of the Biafran mythmakers. He imagined our religious myths through his own individual experience of them. He was not necessarily ‘prophetic’ in the way he rendered them but his poems has abundant prophetic value. The War for him was not so much of a political crisis as much as it was a threat to his vision of the world and himself. It is safe to say that if he had survived it, that a lot about his poetry would have taken on an immediacy that would have been prophetic. This modulation had already become evident as he approached the War and as he lived through its eventual tragedy.
My discovery of the prophetic in Okigbo’s poetry was crucial to the vision of the Report. Okigbo was certain of the tragedy of the Biafran Myth. He never sought to remove the seriousness of the ‘death’ of the Biafran spirit. But he was certain also, with the same measure of passion, agony and struggle, that this spirit would one day witness his homecoming. Thus, he spoke of the fennel branching on an empty sarcophagus.
In a most humble way, I wrote the Report because I wanted to account for the death of Okigbo. I trace my poetic ancestry to him. A lot about this death has been dismissed as vanity. I so much did not want to argue its implications for understanding him or his poetry.
I am among those that anxiously await his homecoming, not now to Mother Idoto, but to the Thunder. And we must wait.
There Will NOT Be A Country: An Attempt At Self-Criticism.
The book There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra gave me the interest to write mine. However, the original idea of the book was about the bishops. I remember having a conversation while on a short walk with a friend. We were discussing a news about a bishop and as I walked home, I thought to myself: well, this is something. And I stored the idea in my working memory. I made notes. And I think I wrote a chapter or two before abandoning the whole thing.
A year later, Chinua Achebe published his memoirs. I showed no interest in them. I was nonchalant about it, not until it slipped into my library. The beginning was pure magic but as he slipped into the main subject matter, the Biafran story, I fell into despair. I had read a lot about Biafra and Nigeria to know that using more than a quarter of the book for citations and references did not justify Achebe’s claims to being a ‘historian’. I was not the only one who was ‘disappointed’, many more were. My main problem with the book was its patronizing nature. The author’s vision of the Biafran story was anything but self-critical whilst taking onto himself the title and task of the critic. He sought to tell the Biafran story as a ‘human story’, employing and using words like ‘genocide’, ‘pogroms’, ‘killings’, and recklessly using them without any sense of guilt. The author was supercilious and for all his attempts at criticizing others, he was reluctant to open the Biafran story to any form of internal self-criticism. More than that, he employed what is called ‘prolepses’ or an attempt to anticipate criticism and objections and then neutralize them. There is another Igbo popular writer that is known for just that. All this is an attempt to dogmatize and to undermine the supremacy of ultimate truth over personal opinion. Of course, like every other writer, he sought a ‘peace of mind’ for his work considering the emotional duress of starring into the abyss of that portion of tragic history. The escape from this despair is to reduce a philosophy of history to a matter of personal opinion and to appeal to one’s authority as an institution or to the right to personal opinion. This is profoundly immoral as it is anti-thought and the height of philistinism.
I knew I had to do something about it—for my own esteemed pleasure. Moreover, Chinua Achebe used the language of a victim in telling his own story. He even felt it was a moral duty for him to do so. He accepted to do so because being the victim would ‘authenticate’ the ‘humanness’ of the story. But I sought to tell the story of Biafra using the language of a victor whilst being as critical as possible.
So these two ideas now had to converge into one. I sought to write a long thriller-like war story. But I had to stick to the form of the book I had set out to criticise in its vision of the Biafran peoples. Wiring the war-thriller would be harder and more demanding in terms of research materials. In addition, I am an impatient man. TWBAC was not the book I dreamt of writing. I was merely forced to it and I could not spend my whole time on it. When it was settled that it would be written, I chose instead to stick to the linear narrative type, especially as used in popular fiction or newspaper commentaries.
African literature and in fact, all Anglophone literature show more interest in the prose than in the narrative. I love F. Scot Fitzgerald to death. But it is not his prose that I love, it is rather the delicateness of his characters and the situations out of which grows their stories. His prose is too high-sounding and on many occasions, too stiff and too extravagant. Stephen King is a great writer who uses an abundance of original and imaginative metaphors. But most of the times, his metaphors, which he uses instead of adjectives, are distracting and they variate the tone of the story. So long as your prose is high-sounding enough, then you win the awards. That is the measure of a true work of fiction. But I wanted to narrate a story about a number of people in the backdrop of a crisis that reveals their relation to each other and to the crisis. I wanted to unhinge the narrative from a high-minded and ambitious prose style that may turn to be a failure and not impress the critics. I just wanted to tell a story and shit, that people would gather to discuss in pubs, newspaper stands, betting shops, blogs, social media. In terms of a literary value, TWBAC has absolutely none. The literary critic has very little part in it. It was more Orwellian-type journalism than a ‘story’, in the traditional sense of it. It was meant for the general public. I knew the soil from where my thoughts about life and Biafra took their roots and I wanted to plant my story in that soil.
Those are the excuses I needed to not try to craft a prose style. My pride was the only judge to whom I submitted the book.
The first important things I wrote were rap rhymes. I still write those. My sensibilities as a writer were primordially shaped by hip-hop music because they were the first things I wrote that people took serious. Then came poetry, stories, and then essays. Poetry is a more personal and intimate way of writing. You don’t expect a lot of people to like or appreciate it because of its tedious nature. But rhyming at birthday parties, Sunday services or freestyle sessions were much rewarding to the ego of the writer. With TWBAC, I was interested in merely saying something about what had troubled me as a person. People that know me know that I am ‘expressive’ either emotionally or verbally. In the midst of what can fittingly pass as ‘Biafran propaganda’, I was merely self-indulging. I wanted to tell my story, peace of mind or not. I wanted to document the little portion of my life and my thoughts and leave them behind me. It was a personal experience more than a literary one. The characters that appear in the story were more or less tributes to people I knew in real life, whom I think I owed it myself to tell their stories. It is my story. I had no interest in being the next this or that. I needed that freedom. The other characters had their ‘stories’ approximated and shallow. Paul Rogers was almost an invisible shadow though the narrative was supposedly built around him.
I had no ‘peace of mind’ when writing it. I was wrestling with myself as much as I was with what I wanted it to be for the public. Moreover, there was a sense of urgency with which I wrote the book, urgency over the state of our nation Nigeria and the world. I failed at convincing either myself or my readers that I was not propagandizing. It is pointless to try to do that now.
It is my claim to a place in the public intelligentsia. It is my own public hearing of my own identity crisis. I am a seeker of attention though I don’t take it when it is given. I consider myself a candidate for world citizenship. I am not an African writer. But there was not another way for me to make such a claim.
The first person that read a synopsis responded by dismissing it for containing too much Jesus in it. Religion was not a matter for the writer, he said. It was going to ‘polarize’ your audience and shit. I’m afraid that until now that I still don’t get him.
Like George Orwell had said, ‘every book is a failure’ and I am consoled in that. For a book that I wrote for thirteen different times over a period of three years, my pride and my estimation of my talents were hardly satisfied. Going back to it each of those thirteen times, and the fourteenth for the second published edition, was emotional torture. It is one of those youthful books and I outgrew it almost immediately I was done with it.
No one has the right to question its ‘originality’. Its shit to try to do that. Anybody who does that is hating. It’s a new voice altogether.
It is full of endless and overbearing internal monologues and melodramas. It does not inspire any aesthetic feeling. It is not made to awe, rather to irk and to impress the reader. The characters are my spokesperson, they have nothing of themselves to say.
TBWAC cannot measure up to the greatness of that book or the author that stirred up its writer. Chinua Achebe has earned himself every accolade that has been accorded to him. It was not my aim to wrest those away from him, I was merely seeking me some and TWBAC is certainly not it. The world can wait a while longer.
TWBAC, like its writer, is a proud, cynical, hasty, watered-down and a bad book, a failure, though not unlike many other books. It has no taste, and no magic. It’s too plastic. There is little chance that history would justify its prophecies. It should rightly have waited.
Nsukka, April 04, 2016.
OF CHRISTOPHER OKIGBO
1. In Search of Peace of Mind: The Escape From History
I have come to accept the fact that one cannot stare at the broad sweep of history with ‘peace of mind’. There is a tendency for us to want to escape the witness of history, one that manifests itself as a tendency to move towards the superstitious. A despair follows every attempt to face the witness of history. In escaping this despair, we find ourselves exhibiting a cynical attitude towards history. We escape to a myth or to a ‘prophecy’, an eschatology, or a conspiracy theory or to a call to social action and self-creation, or to an idealized ‘future’ or a vanished past that exists only as artefact and memory. All this is despair for our despair reappears in all our attempts to propagandize, sermonize, poetize and remove the seriousness that ought to define our relation to the witness of history.
Chinua Achebe’s retelling of the Biafran Myth was an attempt to remove the seriousness of a philosophy of history. But before coming back to Chinua Achebe and the Biafran Myth, let me present a brief analysis of the positions that define different attitudes towards the witness of history.
Feminism is the ideology that seeks to negotiate a place for the woman in a shared experience of the world. It seeks to offer a dialectical criticism of the religious and pyscho-socio-cultural view of the woman. But when this ideology is radicalized, it becomes an attempt to ‘rename’ the world and history in feminine non-patriarchal terms both in language and in experience. In relation to the history of revelation, Patriarchy is taken to be the sin and the culmination of the history of salvation is to be saved from Patriarchy.
The question that follows becomes this: Can this relation to history be justified by history itself? Like Dostoyevsky has asked, can one truly ‘spit upon history?’
Even the Radical Feminist realizes that this is not possible almost as soon as she finishes setting forth her first theses. And seeing the impossibility of making such a claim upon history or even executing it, she withdraws into a subjective experience of the world, the ‘goddess’ experience. This experience is not tenable to history. No single individual can make such a claim upon history. There is no true redemption for the woman in such an experience. In a sense, such a recommendation when heeded can lead to a form of ‘ideological schizophrenia’.
All this is despair.
New Age philosophy follows such an attempt, except that it seeks to ‘rename the sacred’. It embraces a mythological language and pseudo-scientific terms in describing its vision of the world—golden child, age of Aquarius, aliens, spaceships, etc. The consequence is a gradual withdrawal into an actual schizophrenia and disoriented personalities.
In America, with a vast and painfully inescapable history of racial prejudice and persecution, a response is demanded of the African-American mind towards such a history. I have a personal interest in this matter since I consider myself a real nigga.
Should the African-American accept as his own history a history that sees and treats him as a perpetual victim of the colour of his skin? Should he accept Christianity, a religion that had provided his persecutors the theological justifications for their actions? Should he accept a history that sees and treats him as a perpetual victim or should he escape to one where he is depicted as a victor over his historical fate?
Poetry, whether expressed as protest verses, or Quaker hymns or more contemporarily, hip-hop, has provided the Nigger an escape from this history. Noteworthy is the fact that Pentecostalism took its roots among African-Americans alienated socially from the high churches. The Afrocentric Preachers offer more though. They offer an alternative history for the Black man. In this history, he traces the history of the Black man to the great African dynasties and bypasses that handed to him by the historians of America.
This too is despair.
The myth of progression in the West, is an attitude that seeks an escape to the future. This attitude has found an heir in the American mind and a custodian in modern science. The consequence is that the philosophy of history and the history of philosophy is totally dismissed as frivolous insofar one considers itself as something radically new and radically different rather than a qualitative moment in the long sweep of history.
Modern science has inherited this myth and is now the custodian of it. Modern science-derived mythologies, the ones that uses scientific language in prescribing a mythical vision of the world, or what is called ‘science-fiction’ has acknowledged the greatness of science. But they have repeatedly prescribed a warning, one that reminds science of its own susceptibility to demonic powers. This is not so much of a ‘warning’ as it is the expression of the certainty of tragedy both to the deterioration of our individual existences, nature and humankind in general. This certainty is embedded in science itself that it has become a witness to this ‘warning’ that a future ruled by the greatness of science is not the best place to escape to—but Eternity.
Christianity in the West is facing a severe crisis of its historical identity. This crisis is manifested in the apologetic struggle there. There is a pressure on Christianity there to fight for its status as an absolute in ethical, cultural and philosophical realms. This is a historical problem and not necessarily a problem of thought. The revival of apologetics is not at all deliberate, it is a reaction to a historical problem. In this historical problem, Christianity has lost its status as an absolute of Western civilisation. America has been dechristianized rather than secularized.
Christianity had long lost its long-standing status as an absolute of Western civilization. In a direct sense, the Christian God has died. That proclamation is not a philosophical one rather but a historical. The idea of a regression to a ‘Christian worldview’ and morality as the guarantee of historical salvation are central to apologetics. Apologetics is a refusal to accept the reality that the Christian categories no longer have a prominent place in Western thought. This regression is no longer possible, at least historically. But Christian apologetics is not willing to accept the death of the Christian God.
It recently came to my knowledge that in America, the Christians there are praying for the fall of America—or even waiting for it. The rest are willing to become the ‘prophetic minority’. Both are indirect ways of accepting the fact that America has been dechristianized and that Christianity is no longer the majority but one minority among many others, one relative among many relatives.
All this mirror an escape to a history of Western civilization and American culture that is ‘Christian’ and a rejection of the part of history that is cannot be identified as ‘Christian’—one that Christianity still holds an absolute status.
All this is despair. The claims of Yahweh to history cannot be trapped within a portion of history against all others so much more as it was not restricted to the history of the Jews. The death of the Christian God in history contains abundant prophetic value and it is not for Christianity to seek to escape it or apologize away its seriousness. The death of God is not so much as the rejection of God as it is the work of God in history.
The man who is credited as being the founder of ‘prosperity theology’ had infamously written in a tract thus: “We have looked back for it (prosperity theology, or as according to him ‘A New Type of Christianity’), but it is not in the past. The early Church did not have the thing for which hearts are craving. You understand that the early Church did not have the Pauline Revelation of Christ, of His Substitution, of the body of Christ, or of His ministry at the right hand of the Father for us…They were New Creations; they had experienced all that God reveals to us through Paul, but they did not understand. They knew of His death on the cross. They had seen it. They knew of His resurrection as a reality. They had eaten with Him, walked with Him, and fellowshipped with Him after His resurrection. They had seen Him ascend. They were present on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to the earth, when the Church was born… They did not know that they were New Creations, however. …The early Church walked in the realm of the senses. God permitted it because the fuller Revelation had not been given. The Pauline Revelation did not get into the hands of the Church until after the beginning of the second century.”
All these are attempts at reimagining our distinct and shared histories through a lens that mirrors our individual or communal ideas of self-creation and self-affirmation. No one accepts history totally and absolutely and no one rejects history either totally or absolutely. There is always a smokescreen from behind which we look upon the witness of history. Historical facts do not necessarily constitute a truth about a history and their people. Facts never constitute a body of truth about any reality. Every fact must be subjected to a condition of reality that exists outside the body of facts.
The African historians disputed certain stereotypes, and highlighted certain elements of African self-affirmation whilst downplaying others. They necessarily distilled history and removed elements from it that undermined their own idealized vision of the African experience in an encounter with Western civilizations.
Marx was willing to accept the history of Christianity only as an instance of a revolution of the masses against the ruling classes. He could not accept it as any other thing. The proletarian masses were adamant towards the past and highly ignorant of it since they sought to move into the idealized future by political revolution and class action. The Afrocentric preachers would not want to have anything to do with the figure of Jesus Christ unless he has nappy air and blue eyes.
I have a lot more instances to give but for brevity sake, I shall take these few as sufficient for this purpose.
Chinua Achebe’s report to the history of the Biafran revolution was an attempt to criticize certain tribal and human elements and romanticise certain ‘facts’ behind many others.
Every historicism tells us about the character of their patrons since it mirrors what they accept and what they reject as their history. It mirrors their sense of self-creation. Thus, Chinua Achebe’s retelling of the Biafran story tells us more about Achebe than it does of the Biafran Story. It tells us that he was a humanist and socialist, as much as he was a tribalist, a sentimentalist and a propagandist. This does not necessarily undermine his greatness as a poet, it even mirrors it. It provides us a totally new and unexplored vantage point through which we can look upon his works and the psychoanalytic, poetic and prophetic value they can offer us.
In any case, my own retelling of the Biafran Myth mirror something about my own intellectual and poetic character since I can lay no superior claims to ‘objectivity’. What I tried to do, and I am not sure whether I succeeded, is to locate my own retelling of this Myth, in a psychoanalytic of the Biafran peoples.
1. (2) In Search of A New Myth
The Mythology of a people represents their collective ego as a people. This is the central thesis of TWBAC. The Report takes this thesis for granted. It begins at it. No attempt is made a priori, at proving its validity. Reality is not only history or idea, that which exists as consciousness is reality as well. The task of all psychoanalysis is to show the dialectical relation between Act and Ego—or between consciousness and reality.
This collective Ego is mostly expressed using human symbols, rituals, paradox, legends and other consecrated symbols of communal self-creation and affirmation. Like all symbols, they point to what is ultimate in the collective consciousness of the people. The task of the Symbol is to mediate the relationship between object and subject. Demythologizing these symbols will reveal their ontological relationship to the reality to which they point. And since all symbols to an extent paradoxically participate in the reality to which they point, these symbols are as holy as the things to which they point in the consciousness of the people in their history or in the shared religious experience.
The Myth apprehends reality with consecrated symbols. Only as such is it ‘Myth’. But the paradoxical nature of myths is that there can be no true ‘demythology’. For instance, Bultmannian demythology was more or less an attempt to relate the Christ Myth to an existential myth. Mythological language is inescapable because only the symbolic can express that which is ultimate in human consciousness. All ‘demythology’ is more or less relating a myth to another myth. For an instance, all mathematical language, and equations are more or less ‘symbols’ that relate scientific reality to the human mind. They have no reality of their own, except as symbols that mediate the relationship between mind and matter. Art expresses the same thing using definite symbols that can be appropriated by the human mind. Poetry uses language symbols to express a definite experience of the world. Music uses tonal symbols to express a state of existential, aesthetic or cultural being.
A mythological attitude pervades human experience because only a symbolical language can express what is ultimate in the consciousness of a people. Its implications is that we can no longer trap the Myth in the religious. Even a scientific experience of the world is founded on its own myths, as is a philosophical representation of it. Even a secular consciousness is founded on its own myths, though these myths may avoid using a ‘religious’ ritualism. Not even science exists outside of a mythical consciousness of its own experience of the world.
I explain a bit further:
The Theory of Evolution is a myth of its own time. In relation to eternity, it is an inferior myth anyway. It is inferior because it takes endless time more seriously than it takes eternity. The greatness of the Jewish mythmakers was that they strove to show how the eternal order breaks into the historical order and elevates it to its own power and changelessness. Unlike the inferior myths, they showed that no matter its greatness that the historical order cannot be consecrated into the eternal. And they consecrated this consciousness of eternity into the symbol of the ‘Messiah’, one that the apostles pointed to a man named Jesus as its fulfilment in history.
But as a myth of its own time (and our own time), the Theory expressed what was the ultimate in the historical consciousness of its own time and our time. We cannot speak of the Theory outside of its own time. The modern mind has accepted this myth only because it cannot accept any other and only because it supports the original myths of origin and mission that gave birth to it. The Theory offers an alternative explanation of a human experience of the world, and as such is it ‘science’. And like every other myth, it offers the answer not only for the origin of man but also for his fate in history and his destiny in time. And as an expression of an anxiety over its own historical fate, the modern mind has accepted this myths and all its transtheistic variants.
The Theory took form in the backdrop of a growing self-consciousness in European Romanticism that reached its climax in the French Revolution. That it was widely accepted and built upon in its time is a proof. Like all myths, it was used to explain away other means of humanity’s search for historical possibility. It reflected a ferment in its own day to deconstruct human phenomena and the origin and destiny of man using Man, the Struggling Man, the Revolting Man, as its premise. It consecrated the symbol of the Struggling Man, against all casualty, as the ultimate human reality in the consciousness of the time.
In Darwin’s case, he used biological language to express his own myth. This Myth was adopted in many other forms, in an economic and political form (Marx), in an existential form (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche) and in cosmological and scientific form (Einstein). And this Myth continues to be handed down from generation to generation as the truest expression of the origin, fate and destiny of man. Of course, this Myth will one day pass with this age and then we will search for a new myth or will create one out of our shared consciousness and a new experience of the world.
In any case, this Myth has died many deaths and continues to die. Its only surviving form is that of science. A definite historical tragedy will bring it to its ultimate death. That is how all Myths die—through tragedy.
The Hero And The God
The Myth grows as a people’s expression of an anxiety over their historical fate.
Reality is subversive. But man is known to seek for possibility over his own fate or to create one. All religion, all philosophy, all science and all art is a search for possibility. The art/science/philosophy of mythmaking is the loftiest expression of this search for possibility. The idea of mythmaking is to sanctify history and consecrate it to eternity.
The mythmakers saw the wonders of technology before the scientist and spoke of it in symbolism before history saw any of it. Our time is no more ‘progressive’ than times past for everything that now ‘exists’ as physical reality was once expressed prophetically in the myth of an age as conscious reality. And wherever the prophetic was proclaimed and accepted, it reveals itself as something already present though those to whom the word came did not yet possess it. Our ideas of progression will be a ‘myth’ for generations to come for they will look to our own age and demythologize our own idea of progression in the backdrop of theirs.
Anxiety is the state of being aware of the threat of nonbeing. As such, the Myth grows as an urgent reaction of immediacy to the threat of nonbeing. For an instance, myths of the afterlife were created as a reaction to the threat of the anxiety of death and finitude. Myths of self-affirmation were created as a reaction to the threat of the demonic. Myths of atonement were created as a reaction to the anxiety over our moral fate, or guilt. Likewise, prophetic myths are created as a reaction to the anxiety of historical fate.
The Biafran Myth is a myth of self-affirmation against the threat of nonbeing implied in the will to power of one tribe over another.
Myths can grow as such out of a consciousness of eternity. Because Eternity embraces every moment of time, the mythmaker merely seeks to elevate a portion of history to the power and changelessness of Eternity. For in the consciousness of Eternity, the threat of nonbeing is absolutely removed. Eternity is that which cannot be violated by demons. All mythmaking is more or less the laying of claims upon Eternity during times of historical anxiety.
My thesis about it is that Eternity Is Now. And the goal of all mythmaking is to elevate itself to the power of eternity or to transform itself into eternity. In other words, it is an attempt to transform Now into Eternity, or fragments of It. But since Eternity can only be possessed as something that cannot be possessed, the mythmaker can only express the prophetic as a consciousness of Eternity rather than Eternity itself.
All Myths fail when they seek to report to history and oftentimes, the mythmaker resists all such attempts to transform his vision of eternity into history because of the threat of tragedy. But this failure is not always absolute due to the presence of the demons. Moreover, all of man’s claims to be god has been rejected by history. A human relative cannot be transformed into an absolute. Eternity can only be possessed as that which cannot be possessed, as that which is beyond human possession and as that which can only be given to us in fragments of time. Nevertheless, history admits most of man’s claims to Eternity since after all, human history is human’s history.
The Myth is an expression of man’s search for possibilities. In this regard, all the world’s myths are fundamentally identical and organically related. It is in the nature of man to resist necessity and to refuse to spread its handkerchief and bow before necessity. That may explain why it has been said that necessity is the mother of all inventions. In all nature, only man is known to shift the limits and bounds of his own existence and to move towards where there are more possibilities than necessities at his disposal. The scandal of classical philosophy was that it sought to hand man over to the power of necessity (Shestov). Of course, this search flows out of a consciousness of Eternity and the hope that man can ecstatically participation in Its greatness and by it, conquer the power of necessity over him and over history.
For an instance, men created gods and heroes in the shadows of whom they confronted and conquered the deteriorating power of time, of history, and of their own humanity. By creating gods out of this desire to redeem themselves from the deteriorating power of time, they gave an astonishing revelation of the frustrations of man at historical and human reality, his desire to reach beyond it, and of his aspiration towards Eternity, toward the inviolable, the unchanging, the pure and the Unconditioned.
The Hero was the way that men outlived and outdid themselves for only the Hero was allowed to survive the deteriorating power of Time. The Hero expressed the search for possibility over a deteriorating human nature and the demonic. In the Hero was expressed the people’s sense of spirit, will to power and courage of self-creation and affirmation.
When Men created the gods, they did so to find redemption for their own humanity in the god’s divinity. They did so to find something pure and sacrosanct, beyond the whims of a historical existence, projected to a plane beyond history, in which he can participate—even if only as consciousness and ritual. When Man created the gods, he consecrated in them as a pantheon of his desire to discover possibility or to create possibility outside a subversive reality for the ‘god signifies that everything is possible, and that everything is possible signifies god’. (Kierkegaard)
To the very extent that the gods participate in the making of Man, the mythology calls men to participate in the making of their own gods. As such, we find both ever always identical. The gods—as the highest form of the mythology—represent the common prophetic ideals of the people in its purest forms. The gods became the purified sense of the people’s self. The gods become the people’s articulation of their sense of eternity, the profound, the deep, the inviolable and the unconditioned. In the gods, the people deposit their sense of justice, goodness, truth, posterity and unionity. The gods are called upon to be the mirror through which a people come into their own. And thus wherever men exist in a shared struggle towards historical possibility, the mythology exists with them!
The mythology is not pure poetry (self-creation) neither is it mere history (accident). No mythology comes into existence outside of a need and a conscious struggle to confront history and to transform every moment of Time into a fragment of eternity. As history, it is an attempt to make sense of the world in light of human experience and as creation, an attempt to make spirit of it. As a mixture of the two, it describes a tension between what is a deliberate desire and what is an immediate need.
As the holy, the Myth provides the people or its own time with the essence of their culture, life and art. The holy is omnipresent. It permeates the daily life, thought, art and liturgy. As such, this Myth finds its fulfilment in history as ‘fate’ (Schiller). As ‘fate’, history happens as accident for the people act out of a spirit that cannot be negotiated either by conscious reason or by deliberate will to power. As ‘science’, the Myth provides a people with an explanation of their physical and psychological world. Thus, no people can come into their own apart from their own Myths and the conquest of a people’s myths is the conquest of that people. This explains the challenge of thought and art in the encounter of other cultures. Every culture and school of thought faces a threat to its own internal structure in the encounter of other cultures and schools of thoughts.
Most cultural conquests occur firstly on a mythological level. It is either the consecrated symbols that form the essence of a culture are profaned by the conquering culture and demonized. Or they are absorbed into the pantheon of the conquering culture. Every other conquest is more or less, an effect of the conquest of a people’s myths. This has been the case of the encounter of the African religions with Christianity and Islam. Islam entirely removes every other symbol of cultural self-affirmation and replaces it with the authority of the prophet. Christianity has known to be much more accommodating. In most cases, it profanes the victim culture, in other cases, it absorbs certain elements of the cultural sacred and renames them in its own theological language and spiritual experience. Examples are ‘Chukwuokike Abiama’ and ‘Ekwnesu’. ‘Ekwnesu’ has come to be associated with the devil but this is not a proper association. Ekwnesu was more or less, a trickster god than the source of moral and physical evil. Concepts like ‘Son of God’, ‘Messiah’ are alien to traditional African consciousness. They have no parallels in the African religions. Those are symbols that relate to world-history, and the African religions are nonhistorical. That is why they are harder to be appropriated by the people. I have interviewed many people, especially those in rural areas, who are culture practitioners and Christians as well. They admit that they cannot relate to those symbols. Those symbols would have been much easier to appropriate if they had parallels in the traditional cultures.
Till today, because of our typical Barthian arrogance and an exaggerated sense of Christianity’s ‘exclusivity’, fundamentalist theologians refuse to relate the sacred symbols of Christ to its distant parallels in the victim cultures. In this area, Catholicism has achieved the most because of its cultural openness. That is why on a very intricate level, the Christ symbol is still largely alien to the traditional Christian African mind. Most people still see him as an exceptionally good man who was victimised by the political and religious order of his day but who was victorious over his fate in death and suffering. Even though this view of Christ is not without its merits considering abundant suffering in these parts, which must be taken with all seriousness, in a philosophy of history, it is inept and inadequate.
On another level, with every political or economic conquest follows a profanation of a people’s myths. Because no conquest is complete on a superficial level as such. The conquest of a people is complete only when their myths have been taken away from them and replaced by a new myth.
In every people where their myths of self-creation have been profaned, there is entrenched in them a crisis of their own identity. I can say that of my own people if not for any other people and that is why I take the task of creating new myths with unqualified seriousness.
As far as Frank Achebe is concerned, the poet must strive towards the prophetic. We must accept the seriousness of the deaths of the old myths. Nothing in history justifies our victim-blaming and our mourning of the death of the old gods. The gods lie in state. They have died in their encounter with the gods of history. At the same time, we must take with the same measure of seriousness the task of reimagining these myths in light of new anxieties and new experiences of the world.
There is no place behind the prophetic—at least not for the poet that wants to participate in the regeneration of his own people. This is what the poet means to me. He carries within himself the sensibilities of his own people. The demystification of the poet to some extent I believe is the demystification of the world of his reportage, its despairs and its hopes, its cynicisms, its griefs and its joys. Wherever the writer goes, he goes as the mirror through which the age must see itself, judge itself, reject the truth about itself and if it considers Eternity worthy of its attention, transcend itself.
This may sound too farfetched for some but it is as Christopher Okigbo once stated: “any writer who attempts a type of inward exploration will in fact be exploring his own society.”
This is the poet’s spiritual service to the age. Nothing else should be required of him until he has fulfilled this and nothing else should be demanded of him until he has procured the age with this. In this, the poet must strive to transcend himself. He must strive towards the prophetic. The poet, especially the one who finds himself in Africa, must take his art beyond the self-indulgence of the aesthetic and the naivety of the folklore. He must participate in the creation of the fate of his people. He must create, beyond ‘culture apologetics’, beyond social commentary and criticism.
There is no more a place behind the prophetic where the poet or the writer can hide and indulge in his talents and win awards for it. The generosity of the poet must transcend his own artistic and existential needs for self-affirmation. There is no promise of ‘peace of mind’ in this. But the greatness of the Poet must reach beyond him. There is a security in ‘minding one’s business’, in singing one’s songs in a strange land, but not enough security for those Poets who recognize that they are the mirror through which their people comes into their own.
The Poet as a man of the profoundest desires, as a man or woman of the deepest cultural and social and existential sensibilities, who carries within his art the spirituality of his age, as far as Frank Achebe is concerned, must face Eternity in all its profundity.
This and this alone, is the burden laid on him by Eternity.
In history, every Myth is tested by its claims to Eternity and in its encounter with other Myth. If the Myth passes its ultimate test in history, it judges all other Myths and elevates them or reduces them to its own substance. Its own symbols becomes the holy in the new order of consciousness.
Christianity makes a lot of claims to history, and these claims are not a matter of philosophical facts or theological arguments. Those claims were made through prophets and apostles, not thinkers, and are fulfilled in history and as history. Yahweh never made any special claims to being the god of history outside of an encounter with other gods. Therefore, it is not proper to speak of the ‘exclusivity’ of Christianity since Yahweh throws Himself at other gods and as such condemns them, through His prophets by whom He has repeatedly shown that He understands the meaning of history. Yahweh’s claims to absolute and exclusive monotheism is realized as history, not as a matter of facts, but in an open encounter with other gods in history. Only as such does He set Himself apart and only as such can He call all men within history to Himself as the god of history.
In His encounter with other gods, His own claims to and in history are tested. In His encounter with the demons and the deteriorating power of time, His own claims to history are tested. In these tests, of which we have the witness of history, we find that these claims have been executed by history despite tragedy and against the demonic. The claims He made through the prophets have been fulfilled in history and the apostolic claims upon eschatological history, to be fulfilled through Christ and the Church stand as the ultimate test of the specialty of the claims of Yahweh to history.
This is to say that history is the ultimate judge of all Myths and that the prophetic word looks to history, to Kairos and Logos, for their justification since after all, they were taken from an encounter with history.
From His encounter with the gods of the east, Egypt, Persia, Babylon, Assyria, etc., to His encounter with the gods of the West, humanism, fascism, communism, capitalism, secularism, etc., the prophetic word given by Yahweh continues to fulfil its own claims in history. To the modern mind, nothing justifies classifying ideologies as ‘gods’ or as ‘myths’. But these ideologies transformed themselves from mere economic or socialist ideologies into ‘absolutes’ and made absolute claims upon history, demanded ultimacy, became ‘omnipresent’ by pervading all spheres of life (ethics, law, art, politics, religion) and gave an absolute threat and an absolute promise. As Myths, they idealized their claims on the world rather than symbolized it. These and many more attributes made them quasi-gods. And Yahweh in His encounter with them continues to show that He understands history more than them and as such can condemn them in their vision of themselves in history.
Thus, the claims of Yahweh to history are a matter of fact, but historical facts alone.
This too has happened in Africa. In the face of Yahweh, the African gods have failed to answer to their own claims to history. Their claims to history, of course, are limited. The African gods have lived on in isolation, choosing only to exist for their own people, without any special claims to history, as symbols of their people’s self-affirmation. These symbols have been profaned and their vitality emasculated by an encounter with the god of history as well as by their inability to deal with new historical anxieties.
This is not an attempt to ‘prove’ the specialty of the bible myths. I have only tried to show that a Myth grows or dies out of an encounter with other Myths and history. Since every Myth implies a claim on Eternity, it is to history to execute these claims or reject them and we history bear witness to failed Myths and the birth of new ones out of their deaths.
In relation to Biafra, the old Myth failed and a new one was needed. The old Myth was a failed one, there is no arguing away the seriousness of its death. Death is a serious matter for me and in a philosophy of history, it should be taken very seriously. It was not my aim to hold on to this dead Myth or to romanticize over it. My aim was to create a new Myth out of a new anxiety and a new experience of the world, not merely to repair the old Biafran Myth or to escape to it. Chinua Achebe’s instinct as a historian led him to lay a stone over the tomb of Biafra in full acknowledgement of its failure. Okigbo saw with a far greater prophetic insight the death and failure of this Myth in its test by history. But he saw with the same insight his own homecoming. I merely wanted to role away the stone that had been laid upon this great Myth of a people’s ecstatic self-affirmation.
1. (3) The Idea of The Prophetic
The prophetic word issues out of a consciousness of Eternity, and as a consciousness of Eternity.
In every man, alongside the consciousness of Time and of fate, there is a consciousness as such of that which is changeless, and that which cannot be subjected to the deteriorating power of Time. Our historical existence, however, is subject to tragedy and because it is characterised by radical changes, we experience the anxiety and threat of change. There is always an ending that undermines every beginning, no matter its greatness. There is no Being that is not aware of the threat of non-being and there is no Being that can close itself to this threat. In every Yes and No of our daily lives, we feel great anguish for there is no rational and conscious Yes to life that does not contain an irrational fear of the unknown. Suffering is inescapable in Life. We suffer in good as we suffer in evil. We suffer for truth as we suffer for falsehood. Thought and Life are subjected to demonic tensions that undermine them from within. Human ‘reason’ is scandalous for it betrays our dependence on it to tell us about ultimate reality by distorting reality. The passions and struggles of every human relationship are against the threat of death, which is separation from those that participate in our lives and contribute to its meaning. All indeed is vanity.
The prophet exists because he offers an escape from Time to Eternity. No one can truly face the ultimate end of history and no one of us can stand the witness of history. No one can truly supress within himself the certainty of the ultimate end of his own historical existence. Eternity exists so that men can escape to It. The prophetic word more or less is an offering of this escape.
Eternity is changelessness. Eternity is the Unconditioned. Eternity is that which cannot be violated by tragedy. Aristotle has shown that tragedy exists in the abundance of life. But Eternity is exuberance that cannot be subjected to tragedy. It is that which cannot be measured and that which cannot be exhausted. Eternity is not endless time either. In any case, we cannot even name It. But in every man, such a consciousness exists alongside the consciousness of our historical existence and all history bears witness to all of man’s attempts to reach to Eternity or to transform his historical existence into Eternity.
The consciousness of Eternity is the consciousness of something far more profound than Time at work in Time. We are It’s offsprings. We participate in It. We originate from somewhere beyond Time. The fibre of Dasein is made with something that originates from outside Time. We know this because all of man’s striving is towards Eternity. In It, we recognise that death is never the end and that death possesses no ultimate power. In It, we find that our sufferings and the demons have not kept the human race from reaching its greatest potential. In It, we encounter the truth about ultimate reality and are transformed by this truth. In It is made possible every Yes said to life in all its fatalities. In It, we experience a unity of destiny with all that is in nature, one that causes us to participate in their greatness and in their suffering. In It, a glorious destiny is made out of the most tragic events of history. In our personal lives, fragments of eternity is given to us in the moments of immense joy, in the midst of great pain, out of infinite hopefulness in the midst of infinite despair… an offering that only the poet in us can articulate, sometimes in profound silence….
The world indeed is deep in its grief, but Eternity is deeper in its joys.
We recognize Eternity as the preserving power of a reality that transcends Time, the self-sustaining principle that embraces Time and rids it of its destructive power. No human optimism can guarantee survival and progress. No human strength can withstand the demonic when it runs its rampage in our minds, in our lives—, and in history at large. Eternity is the only guarantee that man is not alone in the world.
There is no man that can live without the consciousness of Eternity, for realism sake. In proclaiming that man is not alone in the world, the prophetic word merely takes this consciousness with quantitative seriousness.
It was the Jewish prophets discovered that it was only eternity that could offer infinite hope in infinite despair. No mere words of encouragement could no matter their weight. And so, he strove—or by the divine choice was given—to discover the point where Eternity intersects with time and break that boundary between the two. It is in the discovery and proclamation of infinite hope in the face of infinite despair that the prophet realizes his task. He renounces Time but returns to speak to it and of it with the passion of Eternity.
The Poet became a prophet, in the discovery and commitment to Eternity. Thus, it is spoken of him as one who is ‘inspired’ for as such, he stands on the bridgehead of time and eternity. We recognize that they spoke not of their own power, but were moved to speak to their fellow men of their fate and destiny, and of infinite hope in the midst of infinite despair out of an encounter with Eternity. In the same way, Nostradamus became a prophet, not of his own authority, but by taking seriously the ancient superstition that man’s fate was written by God in the movement and positioning of the stars and planets (astrology). The Greek poets became prophets when out of an experience of that which was immortal and eternal, they called themselves ‘mortals’. Like Paul Tillich brilliantly observed, the American soldiers that walked the ruins of Europe and rescued prisoners became prophets because they saw with ‘visionary clarity the doom of their own towns and cities’ in the knowledge that one day, America’s national and cultural will to power will be judged as happened in Europe. The scientist became a prophet when he saw that man could subdue nature and use it as means for his own end. He also became a prophet when he saw that the idolatry of science had become the greatest threat to humankind and nature. The scientist in receiving such great power unto himself became a prophet for he saw with anxious clarity that Armageddon or the ‘shaking of the foundations’ of the earth was no longer a superstition or a moralizing tale but had become actual science and a possibility in history. The Jewish prophets became prophets because they looked on to a future when their national tragedy as a people would be resolved and called their people to receive this redeemed future into their present. The apostles became prophets when they proclaimed that the New Being had appeared in history and had passed the ultimate test of Its claims to being the New Being and that mankind can now participate in the New Creation. Marx became a prophet when he challenged man to decide his own fate in history without recourse to any working other hypothesis outside of history. My grandmother became a prophet when she proclaimed out of the deluge of blood that flowed around her that none of her children would be lost to the War. My own mother became a prophet when she spoke to her children of the promise of their greatness in times of great need and out of extreme poverty. Esiaba Irobi became a prophet when expressed the hope and faith that the despair and anguish of the socially alienated, one that destroys individuals and societies, can be overcome by self-affirmation. Christopher Okigbo became a prophet when he spoke of his homecoming. Chinua Achebe became a prophet when he showed through Okonkwo and Ezeulu the anguish of living through the breakdown of individual lives, cultural orders and societies and the greatness of participating in the tragic fate of our world.
In each of these cases, the prophetic word was ‘forced’ upon these people by their encounter with Eternity. They could not have resisted it as much as they could not have initiated it by themselves. Since the word did not originate with them, they did not speak of their own authority, they simply reported to history. They spoke against all instincts of pessimism and optimism in them and in the people that heard them. But they were not optimists either. The prophetic word cannot be reduced to mere optimism. They were also not being merely ‘positive’ and they were not in denial of the angst out of which their words and their vision of Eternity were formed either, they were compelled to speak out of an encounter with Eternity.
In every life, in every work of art, the prophetic word is always present since Eternity is Now. Behind every experience of our Nowness is the experience of our eternality. The task of the prophet is not so much to give us Eternity as it is to point us to Eternity in our lives and call us to receive It and open ourselves to It.
In our individual lives, Eternity is given to us and one day, Eternity will judge us as It judges us every other day in our rejection of the moments It offers us.
We experience Eternity by reaching the depths of our beings and by fulfilling our highest potentials as well as by helping others do the same. But how many can truly saw that they experience and live out in their daily lives from the depths and vastness of eternity that they bear in themselves?
4. The Moment
At the museums—, at the monuments, or in the history books—what are displayed for us are not mere objects but the vastness of an age squeezed into a fragment of it. These objects inspire in us a sense of time and worldliness, a sense of unity with an age from which we are infinitely isolated. In other words, the museums do not display objects but an epoch of history, a fraction of time, compressed into a fragment of it. We feel a greater sense of history in proximity with these objects than with any other thing because likewise, we are all fragments of our age.
If an epoch or a fraction of history can be contained in an object, I have always wondered whether eternity in all its immense vastness and boundlessness can be trapped in a moment of time. If it were possible, then I would call such moment of time, The Moment.
So long as eternity is concerned, The Moment, in its depth, its exuberance, its urgency is impossible for repetition, except as poetry. Regardless, The Moment even if it remained as memory contains within it redeeming power. The Moment, in its urgency proves to us of our divine origin and assures us that time in its deteriorating power is embraced by something that has the power to make us whole.
We all have such moments because we are closer to Eternity than we are to our own skin. But only a few recognize it as the work of Eternity bounding its way into a fragment of time and elevating the moment to its power. And the fewer receive it.
For those of us who are open to Eternity and The Moments in which It assures us of our triumph over our fate, we can identify those moments. They were in the moments that we experienced the healing power of our own sufferings and the sufferings of others—the revelatory moments that we encountered the truth about ultimate reality and was transformed by it—the moment that we said a Yes to life all its demonic forms regardless—the moment that we experienced a unity of destiny with the rest of creation and were willing to participate in its predicament—the moment that a glorious destiny was made out of the most tragic events of life—the moment of immense joy in the midst of great pain,
And as soon as we discovered this, it seemed that all hell was let loose for time in its subversiveness always contends with us for the greatest gift of life—the ability to be larger than life.
I find those moments and place them at the ‘museum of my life’ as the ‘objects’ that give me a sense of my proximity to Eternity, to that which cannot be exhausted, or violated. Life has contended with these great gifts of Eternity to me. But a man should not relinquish his sense of Eternity for realism sake. No, a man should find strength in It when all has failed, when reality is intolerable and when reality has subdued him. When he finds It, the rest of his life should be a striving towards making every moment of life the moment, towards transforming every moment into Eternity, towards discovering the moment in every moment and towards consecrating every moment to Eternity.
The greatest theft is the theft of Eternity and the greatest discovery is the discovery of eternity for the man who has discovered Eternity has discovered as it were the bridgehead of his origin from where he can begin his journey back to it.
But let us not fool ourselves, Eternity is not only the assurance of infinite hope, in Eternity is also infinite despair. Eternity is not a promise, It is also a threat.
In the prophetic word is the assurance that all of man’s attempts to transform a fragment of history into Eternity will be rejected as idolatry. In the same spirit with which they spoke of Eternity as the guarantee of redemption, the prophets spoke of Eternity as the certainty of destruction. The central thesis of the Greek tragedy was that all of man’s attempts to identify the holy outside of itself would be resisted. The bible prophets saw man’s susceptibility to idolatry and they reported the certainty that Eternity will judge all such idolatry both in their own nation and in all other nations around them. This became a serious matter for them. They were particular about the fact that all such tragic endings were not a matter of chance but were the direct work of G/d, who they saw as the sole custodian of Eternity. The legend of Nebuchadnezzar among the wild beasts were prophetic words that they spoke into our own time matching the Apostle Paul’s report that G/d judged every rejection of Him by subjecting them to depravity and tragedy.
They spoke of destruction against the optimistic and progressive spirit of the times, and were rightly dismissed as pessimists and cynics. They spoke of the deluge while the people to which they gave their report married, feasted and partied. And if they could, they would have held back their words. But which prophetic word was not given under the compulsion of hope, anxiety, seriousness and despair? It has always been to man’s pride that he does not listen or heed the prophetic word until he cannot do otherwise. The prophetic word wherever it has been heard has been persecuted and rejected for it is in the character of man to reject that which condemns him in his pride. But history bears witness to the fulfilment of their words. And since our age has closed its ears to the words of the prophets that have been sent to it, the witness of history itself still speaks far more eloquently a more sure word of prophecy from which we cannot hide or close our ears.
Christianity’s own self-idolatry in the West has been judged. The atheistic mood there is an evidence of this. The ideological idolatry of Europe has been judged. Today we see an economic, religious and political ruin in Europe. None of that matches the greatness of European civilization. Islam’s growing self-idolatry cannot escape the judgement of history. The idolatry of America has been judged, more or less. I am very particular about this. For me, it is not a matter of hate or anti-Americanism. It is also not a matter of apologetics or an escape to a Christian ‘worldview’ or morality. It is a matter of history and the consciousness of Eternity guaranteed by the prophetic word that all will to power and idolatry are under judgement.
1. (4) Things Fall Apart, An Introduction
Chinua Achebe was a man of great sensibilities. What was even greater was the way he expressed his grasp of human reality with the English language. It has rightly been described as ‘magical’. As an individual, we remember him as a man of our blood and tears, as one of our own. And as an individual that has been made into a literary institution, his shadow is forever cast over all thinking and culturally-aware Africans.
Chinua Achebe was self-aware in ways that might have been for granted. And as he encountered the world and grew in self-awareness, he faced a continual crisis of his own literary and cultural identity, the manifestation of which was in his attempt to outdo himself in many ways. For an instance, he became a ‘politician’ when he politicized with the English language. His use of the translational method was more or less his way of showing that one language could stand and hold its ground against another. He sought to claim the English language as a servant and not as master. Faced with an anxiety of the growing strength of his words, he sought the authority of the ‘teacher’ and tried to fulfil his task as such. Faced with an anxiety over the state of the nation, he became prophetic and sought the authority of the prophet who had foreseen the deterioration of the Nigerian nation. He attempted writing modern-style thrillers. He tried to explore the social and religious sensibilities of contemporary society. He criticized European views of the black man, sometimes to his own embarrassment, and sought the authority of the ‘historian’ for his works, by employing pedantic citations. During the Biafran War, he propagandized and poetized as the ultimate revolutionary humanist and socialist over the greatness and tragedy of the Biafran dream. Ideologically, he upheld Mandela as the example of the true leader. As a self-styled radical, he refused to associate with the Nigerian political elite and took the title of ‘African writer’ very seriously, sometimes to his own detriment. But whatever success he may have achieved at those other tasks of his life, none can compare to the greatness of Okonkwo. He was thrown at those other tasks by necessity and the anxiety of his own fate as poet and position as a literary intuition both from which he could not escape. However, Okonkwo came from a place of ‘peace of mind’.
Okonkwo is the greatness of the most accomplished African writer. In retrospect, Achebe never outdid Okonkwo. It is almost as if every assessment of his contributions to human self-consciousness has a justifiable right to refuse to go further than Okonkwo. His other works lacked the psychological precision and delicateness that hallows Okonkwo. Without Okonkwo, a great doubt would overhang Achebe’s greatness. Without Okonkwo, we will respect him but not love him. And for we writers, without Okonkwo, he would never have been a ‘problem’ that needs be overcome or a ‘culture myth’ that demands a response from us.
Okonkwo was born at Achebe’s youth. Youth is innocence. Youth is openness. Youth is ‘peace of mind’. Okonkwo was one of those rare moments in literature where the author is wrestling with himself and himself alone. Okonkwo was a long and courageous stare into the abyss of history with a rare ‘peace of mind’, one that eluded him for the rest of his life. The more self-conscious Achebe grew to become, the more narrowness entered into his vision of the world. Of course, this is almost always the way it goes with every human being, moreso with every artist. But Okonkwo himself was very far removed from every alien sentiment that was not his own. The idea of Okonkwo as a political weapon in the hands of a protest writer or a symbol of self-affirmation is not self-evident in the tale itself. That sentiment exists outside Okonkwo. Okonkwo cannot account for anything other than himself. Whatever he became for Chinua Achebe, he became only because he was eventually baptized as the ultimate Socratic irony of one culture protesting against another. By that, Okonkwo was profaned.
Every writing is in many ways in the service of an ideal, which is not always self-evident. In every writing, there exists a commitment to an ideal which may be implicit or explicit in the writing itself. Achebe cannot be excused from this. The great Socrates, for an instance, used the irony to disarm his opponents. There was nothing ‘innocent’ about the Socratic irony. In a similar vein, there was nothing ‘innocent’ about Okonkwo, as the ultimate Achebean irony. It is plain dishonest to try to take Okonkwo away from his creator and visionary in the search for literary modesty. For whatever he sought to accomplish with Okonkwo for himself, such a ‘modesty’ should not be demanded from Chinua Achebe.
But whatever Chinua Achebe sought to accomplish with Okonkwo for himself existed outside the margins of the pages of that great classic. And when we encounter Okonkwo, he has nothing to tell us about it. His tragedy happened in such a way that Achebe was denied every say in the matter. Okonkwo was not a murder as it were, but a suicide, one that can be given an ontological status. He was not even the creation of the poet, at least, not so much as he was the creation of his own ecstatic and exuberant will to life.
Okonkwo was in his own terms, the story of a strong man. Chinua Achebe was able to take the ontological meaning of tragedy with both psychological seriousness and artistic urgency. For Aristotle, and then Donatus, tragedy existed at the abundance of strength. Of course, Aristotle was particular about man’s relation to necessity more than he was with man’s relation to freedom. Tragedy was a matter of will to power being condemned by the gods who were the ultimate necessities as long as human existence was concerned.
There have been attempts at retelling the story of Okonkwo. But such stories, in comparison to Okonkwo are pitiful failures, since the story of Okonkwo could not have happened outside of its own time. And unlike Okonkwo, the narratives are dragged on by high-sounding and poorly embellished prose.
However, Okonkwo can be used to tell other stories that can happen outside his own time. As the ultimate self-made man, he can match the great Robinson Crusoe. As the despairing self, he can match Shakespeare’s Hamlet and King Lear. He could pass as the self-styled radical and revolutionary who was self-martyred in protest against the profanation of the land. The communist would have made some claims on him as the self-renounced individual through whom the society upheld its institutions against all individuality.
He can also be abused and profaned. I once came across a reckless and mindless attempt to interpret Okonkwo as ‘the misogynist who suffered for his treatment of his women’.
But whatever we allow him to become for us, and whatever he was for his creator, he was one thing for himself and for the time in which he lived. He was the strong man who lived in a time best described by Yeat’s poem from which the story takes its title. He lived at the melting pot where the known world was fading into legend and with the disappearance of the known world came with the loss of his place in it. And for a man who had fought all his life and had won rather than received whatever he had, he felt challenged to fight for his place in the old world. What was not guaranteed was his victory over it.
It is this spiritual vision, this psychological grasp at the pathological anguish in the heart of a man who lived in a time of the breakdown of the old orders, and this alone is what makes Achebe sacrosanct. With prophetic insight that was fulfilled in the history of the people from which he took his spirit and blood, Achebe saw the despair of Okonkwo over his inability to protect the old order from its inevitable tragedy and allowed him to participate in its tragic fate.
1. (5) The Homecoming of Christopher Okigbo
I. World And Spirit
Sometime in the tail of 2011, I had a trance-like vision in which Okigbo ‘appeared’ to me in my room. It could have been anything but I will leave it at that. I did not see him per se but I felt in that moment, embraced by that grand spiritual mystique and presence that made me obsess over his poems from the very first time I encountered them. I was not used to such experiences anyhow so my response was to fight my way back to reality.
I cannot attach any qualitative significance to the event anyway except that it shows how immersed I was in his poetry at the time. From the first time I encountered them, Okigbo’s poems became an elaborate ritual to me. I read them with the seriousness with which he wrote them. I memorized large sections of his poetry. I said them the way they were meant to be said: like incantations, litanies or under-breath mutterings. He was like the bible prophets and poets: holy and sacrosanct, untouchable and grand in his vision of the world. He could have been Pushkin or Hesiod or even Moses. He could have been a commandment! And for the poet in me, he became a commandment. I met Okigbo at my ‘youth’, a time of ‘openness’ and he unwittingly become the standard and canon that I used to judge other poets, I myself included, in their own experience of the world. I outgrow many writers almost immediately I meet them but Okigbo was one of the few that I knew would grew into ‘adulthood’ with me.
That one encounter was remarkable as it was at the most troubulous period of my life, both as an individual and as a poet. After that night and with the passage of many other nights and days of such ‘visits’, Okigbo’s works took on a new meaning for me. I discovered in him a ‘spirit in its highest ecstasy’. He became to me the purest form of the human spirit and its quest to transform itself into the holy. Okigbo had spirit and it was easy for me to understand and accept him as such. He was a man in search of a spiritual self that was united with the world and expressed using the paradox of poetry. And since this was not something he could necessarily ‘find’ with the disappearance of the old world and the profanation of the land—not even upon his ‘homecoming’, he chose to transform his own remote experience of the holy into the holy itself. We can say the same of his life, of the passionate intensity with which he lived, loved and performed his life tasks.
Poetry became the ultimate paradox and passion by which he expressed his grasp of the paradox of his own world and existence. In that, I discovered the greatness and promise of poetry and that the Poet must become the custodian of the Myth of his people. Poetry became a matter of existential, cultural and philosophical seriousness for me.
The discovery of Okigbo was a momentous event for me both as an individual, as a man who seeks above all else to know the world, and as a poet of the spiritual life. When Ozone committed suicide, it was easy for me to understand for then I had his profound love of Okigbo as clues in understanding his frustrations and hostility at the powers that were trying to control him and undermine his artistic self-affirmation. And of course, his eventual will to power, which for him was a moment of spiritual ‘self-creation’, which led him to his ill-fated tragedy.
I came to understand that the very meaning of Okigbo’s life and work was underlined by a desire to transform history into eternity through a ritual of myth and symbolism. This is what makes his poems ‘religious’. This is the meaning of his poetry. In this was his greatness as well as it turned out to be his tragedy since for him, as a true romantic, there was no distinction between what is ‘real’ and what is ‘self-creation’—between what is history and what is eternity. His marriage and his death in the Biafran War hold even far more mystery than his poems. They ultimately represent the points in his life where the lines between his poetry, his personality as a poet, and the reality of the times in which he lived had dissolved into each other.
This is vanity.
As is with poets everywhere, he felt more deeply than others the attending threat to the land, and its spiritual identity. This is a major theme in his poetry. He carried within his poems the spiritual urgency of the identity crisis of the time. And he did more than just warn, out of an individual experience, he expressed an earnest despair over the land, the same we experience in the works of Samuel Butler, George Orwell, Chinua Achebe, T. S Elliot, Soyinka, Senghor, D. H. Lawrence and Bonhoeffer. Except for Bonhoeffer, who is not necessarily a ‘poet’, he outdid the rest for he sought to recreate a new mythology out of his experience of the old one. He did more than just whine and complain about the passage of the old ones into legends. He became creation.
We must stand in awe of this. More than just stand, we should tremble.
However, in the matter of his death, I would like to join the Bible prophets and the Greek tragedians to say that the historical order, no matter its greatness cannot be transformed or consecrated into the eternal order. An attempt at this proved to be the ultimate tragedy of the man who I have come to idolize—as it has for many others, nations, civilizations, kings, and classical heroes. For that, we must not romanticise Okigbo’s death as much as we should come to stand in awe. It should remain a mystery for us.
That Okigbo took to fighting and dying in the Biafran War is remarkable. We must probe that one decision more than merely stand in awe of it. We cannot walk on by, as we cannot keep quiet over its mystery.
Okigbo was a poet who was concerned with the spiritual life, above all else. As such, he demands of us to interpret his life through his poetry and vice versa. It will be frivolous to loosely remove one from the other and make a distinction between the man and the poet and then try to interrogate one against the other. As I have shown, his decision to fight in the Biafran War was not a necessity, it was one done in ecstatic belief, that is, a belief that united his self-vision as a poet, his vision of the world and the times in which he lived. His marriage forms another parallel where Okigbo took his self-vision with a great deal of seriousness. In short, everything in his life reflected such ‘ecstatic belief’.
It is demanded of the poet by the gods that he be found a socialist, through whose individual experiences, we see and know the land and vice versa. It is through his eyes that the people see themselves and through his mouth that they speak for themselves. The greatness of the Prophets, most especially, Jeremiah is his heart for the Jewish people through which is expressed the heart of Yahweh as a god who can be involved on an existential level. His anger, his frustration, his despair, his rage, his anxieties, his jealousy, are all an expression of the divine affections and suffering over the fate of his people. The Prophet stands between the people and the god, to the people, he speaks for the god and to the god, he speaks for the people.
This explains why the Prophets are true forerunners of the Christ. They not only spoke of his sufferings and his affection for the world, they participated in his sufferings and his affection for the world. In their own rejection, they saw his rejection. In their affections, they were able to speak about his.
Thus every mythmaker represents an ideal that is not necessarily his. This has to be true for Okigbo as well. He represented an ideal that belonged to him as an individual as it did to the age in which he reported to and the land to which he reported.
I do not have enough materials at my disposal to be able to make a judgement on parts of his life and his work; I seek to penetrate the mystery of the whole.
The whole of his life and work represent a self-vision and a vision of the world. So for Okigbo, the distinction between ‘art’ and ‘life’, ‘world’ and ‘spirit’ did not exist. We have no right to ask him ‘why he sacrificed one for the other?’ It is such a cruel question to ask a man who exhibited the same intensity in all areas of his life. There were no such distinctions, at least not for him since it was of the same temperament and from the same spirit that he lived and worked. Such distinctions may have existed for other artists and poets but since his poems were rooted in a direct personal experience of the world, not just in an ideology or in a style, such distinctions did not exist.
His life expressed a profundity of spirit that is condensed in his poetry. But it is his poetry that expresses what is ultimate in that spirit, a reality in which an actual existence is united with an imagined and a mythic vision of the world. His poems express a unity of world and spirit that is only approached in particular and isolated experiences of his life.
If Okigbo sacrificed his life for the Biafran spirit in a deliberate unity of world and spirit and not out of accidental necessity then we are condemned to ask: what did he think of Biafra, of that decision? What justified him in that? Was it merely out of a tribal sentiment? These are the proper questions to ask. That was the questions that gave birth to TWBAC, as an attempt to probe the case of Okigbo’s self-sacrifice for the Biafran dream.
The circular nature of Okigbo’s poetry and his temperament made him return time and time again to himself. And he saw that the end was not in sight, not in his self-affirmation, not in his vision of the world. The question that he asked and found the answer was: Can the dry bones rise again from its burial place?
He was not too quick to answer with a yes. But when he managed to do so, he saw that the spirit can be only be transformed in its wounding rather than destroyed by it. And I think it was this vision, which he represented in his poems, that led him to make the ultimate sacrifice of his life for it.
Even if I fail at interpreting Okigbo’s poems, the mystery of his death reflects what cannot possibly be misinterpreted. Into that event, all others can be allowed to disappear for we see in it a greater vision of self, a profound spirit seeking unity with the world. I speak as a poet as well as a reader of poetry.
We must consecrate that sacrifice as the ultimate sacrifice for the Biafran spirit, among many others. We must hallow its meaning for the human spirit and the spirit of the land to which that spirit reported to. We have the right to do with Okigbo’s death as is done with Socrates’s in philosophy and Christ’s in theology. We are condemned to halt at these events and go no further until we have unravelled their mysteries.
This is the vision of the report to history: There Will Be A Country. It is a vision that one book cannot even begin to approach. What I will leave to the critics to decide is whether this vision was actualized literally, scholarly and otherwise. I personally do not think it did so. I think it was good enough to introduce those discussions into the public domain again.
But whether the giant fennel will one branch on the empty sarcophagus is not mine to decide for history. I merely wanted to be its prophet as well as its greatest critic. More or less. I cannot be the activist or the soldier, I want to be the poet. That I praise Okigbo does not necessarily mean I can share in his courage or imitate his example. As to using him as an ally for my own vision of the world and as a guardian angel for my own mission, I stand guilty as accused though whilst insisting that my subjectivity has not removed his own.
Whether Okigbo’s spirit will eventually witness his homecoming is beyond what I can decide for history. And whether we accept Okigbo’s vision of the world and his report to it is not as important as whether we show we understand and accept his greatness as a poet. Perhaps only poets can understand a bit of it.
But each year, we are reminded that the Biafran spirit has never even left us. From Uwazulike, to Ekwenche to Adichie to Chinua Achebe to the memory of Christopher Okigbo to Frank Achebe and now Nnamdi Kanu, we are haunted by the ghost of this one spirit that embraced its tragedy in courageous self-affirmation. And are reminded that it never even left or died in the way that made Chinua Achebe lay a stone over its tomb.
I merely wanted to be the one who will roll away the stone that Chinua Achebe had laid over the tomb of the African spirit in that legendary womanliness of his. In any case, it is not proper to say that there was a country. Okigbo thus, must be to us the true poet of the Biafran spirit for he saw, before anyone else, and with greater profundity it’s impending and certain tragedy. And he accepted this tragedy without trying to remove its seriousness choosing only to participate in it. But he also saw its certain resurrection and his homecoming to the land of the rising sun and called us to accept it.
It is not easy to call him a prophet and I doubt if he would have accepted such for himself but only time would tell.
When Christ told His disciples that He would resurrect on the third day, it was apparent that they did not expect or believe that He would. They did not wait on His dead body and when He eventually appeared to them, they had a hard time believing that He had actually risen from the place where the world had laid Him.
Whether we wait and whether this spirit reappears as prophesied is not mine to tell. Hope compels us to receive what is promise as fulfilment and exist in it while we wait for it. Thus the Achebe that says: There Will Be A Country is as wrong as the other. Many generations have waited in passionate hope. The challenge to the greatness of the Biafra spirit is to resurrect in its own power, transformed in its wounding. None of us can make this happen as none of us can stop it from happening.
The shadows of Biafra will always overhang our skies. We can run from it but we cannot hide. On the other hand, we can stand in awe at its greatness. I chose to stand in awe. This should point us to its greatness. No nation that has suffered a fraction of what Biafra suffered has survived its wounding, except of course, the Jewish nation. That comparison is an exaggerated one but it does not matter. It should cause us to wonder. And more than anything else, it should cause us to remember!
II. Conversations With the Dead: A Speech In Prospect
“Should we attempt to carry on conversations with the dead?”
It was not hard convincing myself that I wanted to be a writer and a poet. However, what was hard was asking and answering the question: what kind of writer and poet did I want to be? It wasn’t an easy question and as such, its answer was hardly easy. I found myself standing before individuals and traditions and individuals that have been made into institutions. I found myself standing between ‘us’ and ‘them’. And for a few years, I struggled with a crisis of my own identity as a poet. Was there something as ‘African literature’? If yes, should we take it serious? Or should one perform one’s task as a poet of the spiritual life from the centre? What about the reality of the ‘world’, should we take it very seriously? At what point should poetry become simply self-mystification? At what other point should it transcend the self?
Every writer, if he is a good enough writer, begins on this note so it was not much of a big deal, as I wanted to take my task as a poet with qualitative seriousness. But I took it very seriously, perhaps more seriously than the average writer. If I failed here, there were chances that I would fail at every other thing.
I saw in the reflection of these questions, a different crisis of identity, one that reached beyond my poetic self but now to who I was as an individual and a human being. This could have been anything but it mirrored the seriousness of the situation and of course the fact that I was beginning to take ‘the world’ seriously. I remember listening to a sermon by the American preacher, Noel Jones, where he spoke about the crisis of identity facing modern Christianity in its encounter with the world. It helped me articulate my situation at the time in a very clear way. It was like a doctor presenting a prognosis to a patient. Before then, I could hardly articulate my discomfort and rage at many traditions. I just felt restless on many levels with so many things and so many persons. With that one encounter, I was now ready to deal with my problem.
After that, I decided to throw myself into the reality of the ‘world’ and do my work from there. I moved away from the original fundamentalist ideas that I had experimented with at the first: Christianity, apologetics, culture apologetics, allegories, etc. History became the ultimate mystery that I wanted to explore as a writer. I moved closer to the individual as a fragment of the mass society and the mass society as a reflection the individual. I saw that we could truly say, with a similar amount of hope and despair that Eternity is now. Standing on the edge of eternity, I began to see the mystery of human existence, the inescapability of religion as the ultimate paradox of a historical existence in search of possibility, the ultimacy of spirit over mind, the meaning of tragedy, the subversiveness of reality, the true meaning of ‘magic’, as a purification of reality, etc.
More bullshit filtered into my consciousness from my encounter with history. Seeing that our age was one of a transition, I was ready to experiment with radical ideas. I found myself ready to question and criticise the old orders, not necessarily in the name of progression but as the necessarily groundwork towards mediating a new order. I discovered the human spirit in both its deteriorating and purified forms. I returned to Christianity and accepted it more than a mere confession, but a universal language of the human spirit and one that I could learn to speak. But more than those, I saw that all I wanted to be was a true romantic.
Of course, for this I owe a lot to the Existentialist literature.
Before I proceed to my main object, let me bring to your notice some lessons that I learnt during my time of soul-searching. I learnt that apologetics has ruined the taste of the Christian arts in America especially as culture apologetics did in Africa. Yeah, it’s all part of the identity crisis, which mirrors the reality of the pressure on Christianity in the West to fight for its status as an absolute in the ethical, cultural and philosophical spheres. I have never seen it as a matter of doubt or a problem of thought. I doubt if we can still take this fight seriously. I recently learnt that the American Christians are now praying for the fall of America—or waiting for it, whilst the most are choosing to become the ‘prophetic minority’. Both are indirect ways of accepting defeat. However, mainstream apologetics is not ready to accept defeat or the reality of becoming a ‘prophetic minority’. As a movement that provides criticism against the new absolutes, it is doing a great job. In other places, it has profaned the works of great thinkers and the arts all in a bid to prove its relevance. All this is despair.
The main problem of American thought, which is with both the secular and Christian thinkers, is that it considers herself to be something radically new and different rather than a qualitative moment in the long line of history. It is easy to take one too seriously as that without any reference to the history of philosophy or the philosophy of history.
Let me not go further than this.
The second lesson brings me to my main object.
The untold consensus in the world of African writing is that language and form is supreme. Qua this consensus, the work of the critic is reduced to an analysis of language and forms. Anything that exists outside language is not to be invoked by the critic. The lyricist is allowed to exist with a greater measure of comfort than the satirist. Otherwise, he is not to be ‘enjoyed’. Language, in its plastic form is regarded as supreme in the work of the critic.
This attitude is common among Anglophone countries. It is similar to the false divide that exists in contemporary philosophy: continental vs. analytic philosophy. This does not necessarily define schools of thought, rather the distinction defines the dynamics that define the philosophical attitude. The attitude of analytic philosophy reduces thought to an analysis of language. Anything that exists outside language (mostly Aristotelian logic) is even dismissed as anti-thought. The belief behind it is that only an analysis of plastic language can reveal thought. Whereas continental philosophy makes extensive use of history, satire, poetry, criticism, irony, humour, lyric, paradox, religion, drama, art, and indirection, etc., analytic philosophy reduces its task to just logical, argumentative and mathematical language. Anything that exists outside language is dismissed as anti-thought.
Continental philosophy on the other hand, makes extensive use of ‘spirit’ in performing its philosophical task. It refuses to speak only of thought but of the thinker and of the spiritual processes that gives birth to his thoughts. It refuses to renounce the thinker in that manner that is common with the positivists. Continental philosophy is more personal and subjective. It is more robust and more realistic a philosophical dynamic than analytical philosophy. It owes its origin to the old order where theological problems were absorbed into philosophy and vice versa. Analytic philosophy is a search for independence from the theological orders.
In searching for ‘spirit’, we know to go to history and in describing ‘spirit’, we know to use more than mere language since only the symbolic can express that which is ultimate. Religious language, as the ultimate expression of the paradox of human existence, makes more use of human symbols, events, rituals, paradoxes, than it uses plastic language. In most cases, the religious experiences are reducible to ‘encounters’ and ‘ecstatic’ communion, which can only be ‘participated’ in rather than expressed linguistically. The pagans that described the world in mythic and religious forms used more than mere theological language.
I can say that I owe my development and upbringing as a thinker and a poet to the modernist traditions: Hegel, Nietzsche, T. S Elliot, Kierkegaard, Tillich, Shestov, Elliot, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Bonheoffer….and Christopher Okigbo. Besides, my personal inclinations demand that I exercise more of ‘spirit’ in my task than otherwise. It is hypocritical to dismiss a system of thought because it does not necessarily take any one of these routes. It is hypocritical and dishonest to judge the merits of a work qua any of these. Often times, it is our personal inclinations that decide for us which way to go. However, I cannot necessarily say the same for any other writer.
I expect my reader to demand more from me than a mere ‘setting forth’. I expect him to demand that I demand of him some personal relation to the matter. For after all, the task of the apostle is to get men to ask: what shall we do to be saved? If he stops at the presentation, his work is not quite done and he is not worthy of an apostle. Not that I have the courage to call myself an ‘apostle’, but I have accepted the greatness of the apostle as the measure of the greatness of a poet.
This distinction necessarily exists virtually everywhere. We have had—and have heard—arguments like: Between ‘Pac and BIG, who was greater? We have gathered to have those discussions and to give our opinions about it. It has been said that Kendrick Lamar, contra Drake, is not ‘enjoyable’. Nabokov busted his brain trying to dismiss Dostoyevsky’s merits as a writer against Tolstoy, Gogol, Chekhov, Turgenev, and Gorki—since for him, Dostoyevsky introduced ‘extra-sensual’ elements, elements that cannot be ‘sensed’ into his work. The limit to the novel and its structure had to be purely sensual.
If we see hip-hop as just throwing rhymes and punches and shit about, then we will all agree that BIG was the greater of the two rappers and that there are many others who were. No one argues that. But if hip hop becomes something more, we turn to ‘Pac, every other rapper must hold his tongue momentarily. His life holds mystery for us since he lived through his own music and made music that we can live through in almost every paradoxical moment of our individual and social lives. His death has become the stuff of legend and he has been rewarded by being made into a cultural institution. We dismiss other rappers, like Nas as ‘hypocritical’ when they style themselves as ‘radicals’. The passion with which Pac lived and did is work is beyond imagination. If not his rhymes schemes, the depth of his vision of his own social and existential situation and the means through which he made his way is almost mythical. To most of us, he has become a human symbol with which we associate the hip-hop culture, both as an art form and as a means of cultural and existential self-affirmation. Even when we don’t understand, we accept him unconditionally. And almost before we have gone halfway through the argument, we are shouting our opponents down.
As to Kendrick, the argument does not even go further than the introduction and we all know why. He is pristine, and untouchable by both the critic and the average listener.
This distinction exists virtually everywhere.
In theological circles, in biblical criticism, there are those that reduce the Testaments to Greek and Hebrew handbooks. To them, their work is to wrestle with the language structure of the texts; sometimes they do this to the point of despair. Every such analysis of a text is purely groundwork. A robust critical analysis of the Testaments will involve a textual criticism as well as references to culture, tradition, history, and many other factors and elements that exist outside the texts themselves. There is no text in the Bible that is self-interpreting. Those who believe such things show their indolence and narrow-mindedness, both of which are untheological enough. The Bible is a book of history, with cultural, psychological and mythological references, all of which must be taken into consideration in the task of criticism.
Okigbo has been dismissed as ‘obscure’ and devoid of ‘meaning’ because the analytic attitude of criticism permeates the literature of Anglophone countries, Nigeria included. The work of the critic is all too simple and all too this: to subject a work to an analysis of language. In the hand of such a critic, Okigbo, in all his greatness will be profaned. It has happened many times. Okigbo has been dismissed as such because such an analysis cannot provide any immediate basis for meaning, not for a work that has religious leanings. But if we take his poems as an extension or creation of his life, then more is required of the critic in his task. An analysis of his works will inevitably lead to a place outside traditional semantics—outside the works themselves. The question will follow that: should take that stress? Or do we find in that a justification to profane the greatness of his works?
Wole Soyinka, in his greatness, has also been profaned and dismissed as an ‘obscurantist’, almost all too quickly and all too spitefully, by the impatient.
But what if Okigbo’s works in their urgency reflected what he saw as a religious task, and a fulfilment of his priesthood? If we stand there, we have no need to seek for an extra source of meaning in the structure of language. If we see Okigbo’s poetry as an express of a spirit’s ascendency, we demand nothing more from him. If we see Okigbo’s poetry as a ritual, in which a fragment of history is elevated to the sacredness and vastness of eternity, we lack the will to demand more of him. If we see Okigbo’s cultural despair and existential passion as series of moments and fragments in which a paradoxical unity of life is expressed both with itself and with its inevitable fate, we see that we lack the courage to demand more of him—that more cannot possibly be demanded of him.
These are what express the greatness of Okigbo as a poet. They are his meaning. There are no other meanings and no other source of meaning. Okigbo is his own meaning. Every other thing in the analytical process will be merely groundwork. If we see every other thing and not see this, then we have not seen the greatness of Okigbo.
Yeah, the critic can so dismiss Okigbo but I do not know any poet who, in an encounter with Okigbo, does not see in him the greatest, the purest expression of spirit, beyond which no other can possibly be conceived. An encounter with Okigbo is an encounter with something altogether holy and sacred in a mortal form because Okigbo is incarnation. No poet can walk on by such an encounter. Such an encounter is always a religious encounter in which one feels a participant in eternity since after all eternity is given to us in rare fragments of time.
In our psychoanalysis of the Igbo mass society, we were able to show that in the Igbo mass psychology, the individual is ultimate. That is why the Igbo leader must be a man of will, charisma and personality. These are the images that inform the Igbo’s ideas of the hero.
The ancient Igbo societies have been shown to have been decentralised and highly democratic with the individual being given the full rights of social and economic affirmation. This attitude continues to this day.
I have used the Biafran War and Achebe’s Okonkwo to show this attitude in history and poetry respectively. I used the Biafran War as an immediate expression of a people’s sense of self and will to apartness, which was not recognised or accepted by history. I also advocated a free-market fundamentalism as the economic theory that can match such a spirit. I was able to show how Okonkwo is a mythograph of the Igbo type and temperament, who is motivated solely by his own idealistic self-vision.
In this and this alone lies the greatness of Chinua Achebe. Okonkwo has great psychological and literally value. It was until recently that I was able to show that he has historical and mythographic value as well. Okonkwo’s tragedy represents a despair over the historical fate of a people. But it was a despair that chose to affirm one’s essential self over and above fate. Maybe Chinua Achebe ought to be seen as a prophet for in Okonkwo, he saw the tragedy of such a decision but its inevitability, a vision that was fulfilled in the Biafran War.
In our psychoanalysis of the Igbo mind, we were able to show also that individual opinion is valued above ultimate truth. And this is where Okigbo’s greatness shines forth again. We have seen this attitude virtually everywhere Achebe has trod, as a poet and as a thinker. This relativism continues to this very day. The universal sense of the Biafran spirit has been removed or suppressed to a cultural relative by the ignorant. Those who accept it accept it as a declaration of the rights of the Biafran man, rather than a true Humanism in its own rights and the declaration of the rights of man.
I introduced the character of Socrates as a way of remedying this attitude.
But Okigbo performed his task as a poet from the centre of the world, not from a corner of it. He accepted the world in spirit and not out of the necessity of the time.
He may not have lived to become a ‘world citizen’ in actuality but he was one in spirit.
In accepting and conversing with the spirit of the world, he rightly rejected ‘African literature’ as myopic and narrow. African literature is an opinion among others. In the encounter with ultimate reality, its seriousness is completely removed and Okigbo did this without any guilt.
In his memoirs, Achebe tells us that he considers certain questions, questions like: Who am I? Whose world is this? What am I here for? as frivolous and not worthy of his attention as a poet and a thinker. He does not believe that anyone can truly and anxiously ask those questions or even find answers to them. I cannot say that whatever other questions he has asked with his life and works and answered that I want to know his answers to them, or that I even want to accept them. What I have shown is that those questions are the ones that obsessed Okigbo to the point of his death. And those are the same questions that have driven me into the world. They are the questions of the spirit, ones that has been asked through history by men of spirit.
Finally, on a personal note, I should like to bring to your notice and the notice of all of us who fulfil our tasks from the underground that I am working on transforming Okigbo’s poetry into modern narratives, or a modern legendarium in the order of Tolkien, anyone that avails the need and taste of the artist in me. This in no way is a mean task. It is an ambitious one and I expect to please no one but myself. It may take a lifetime to even get comfortably close to expounding on them to even begin to think of transforming them into narratives. To the gods, we ask that they ensure that we live long enough to see the end of the matter. If we cannot see the end, then we must make the necessary preparations for a true heir to the spirit of Okigbo to arise who will. But I have promised myself that I will try as much as I can for among all those who have died, as Shestov has asked, we must carry on conversations with Okigbo. His dust may have returned to the earth but his spirit must not be allowed to go the same direction. We must not be too quick to write a eulogy to his name not in his death, as was done by many others even while he lived. We must carry on conversations with him, conversations about the human spirit, until the end of time.
This is nothing more than my way of telling you all to demand of me the posterity of Okigbo. Thank you.
In the Form of Portraits
The existential philosophy is an attempt to take a human experience of the world with intellectual seriousness. It is a refusal to leave off a human experience of the world on the fringes of philosophical and theological thought.
It is not so much of a philosophy in and of itself, as it is a criticism of philosophy. But unlike the Kantian-Humean critical philosophy which is positivistic all the same, the existential philosophy as a school of critical philosophy, takes existence, and not ‘reason’ as the source of philosophy though it is takes its root in the history of philosophy. It assumes life as a source of criticism for thought—and vice versa. Unlike Aristotle, who saw ‘wonder’, and Plato who saw ‘perplexity’ as the ‘origin’ of philosophy, the existential philosophy begins with despair, suffering, passion, struggle and the consciousness of death. As a religious philosophy, it tries to take with philosophical seriousness every encounter of the holy. Doubt, will, despair, anxiety, suffering, death, guilt…etc., are the main experiences that this philosophy seeks to interrogate. The Books of Job is a known precursor to this way of interrogating a human experience of the world, as are Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah and the Epistle to the Romans.
Tragedy is a primary source of existential philosophy. Questions about the existence of God, suffering, death, fate, etc. are inescapable in the face of tragedy. Both in the individual and national realm, tragedy opens us up to an internal discourse about existential problems.
It uses the Socratic dialogue and the dialectical method as its mode of enquiry. The Book of Job, which predates Socrates, employs this method in its enquiry into the problem of suffering, fate, despair, anxiety, human good and the existence of God.
Post-war European theological and philosophical literature is rife with the despair of the modern man over the ultimate end of all modernism. The most were an attempt to take this despair seriously, the rest were an attempt to escape to or embrace this despair or to flee from this despair. America inherited the former attitude. It is not until recently that a new wave of despair is being rekindled in the American mind as it faces the failure of American civilization and prepares for its end. Of course, the seriousness of this despair is inescapable whether either as ‘apologetics’ or as ‘atheism’.
The existential philosophy sees ‘will’, not reason as the centre of Dasein and the source of all human behaviour. And since the will is irrational and does not necessarily obey the principle of sufficient reason, this philosophy tends towards the irrational and the transrational. Kierkegaard redefined ‘religious faith’ as a response of the human will towards the Infinitely Unconditioned. For him, the religious faith was not a relation to theological or philosophical facts, but a passion and struggle of the will, expressed as existential passion, towards the Absolute Paradox. Terms like ‘will to power’, ‘will to system’, ‘will to economy’, cannot be understood apart from Nietzsche himself. For Nietzsche, human history is not a series of ‘unmoved’ events but a crystallization of the will to power of the strong against the indifferent. ‘Will’ means then that we must take the world very seriously instead of seek an escape form it. Death and suffering as part of the experience of the world, for an instance, are not to be escaped but to be accepted as existential and philosophical problems. By taking the world very seriously, the existential philosophy proves to be a true humanism.
The existential philosophy is highly artistic. Unlike analytical philosophy, which is a British-American reaction to what has been called ‘continental philosophy’; it makes extensive use of criticism, history, poetry, drama, biography, etc. in its philosophical attitude. It is more or less, an attempt to dissolve philosophy into an explicit form of art and vice versa. It takes history very seriously. In fact, it is an attempt to dissolve history into a concrete philosophy. It prophetic value only follows as such, since by penetrating human history, it can predict history as the cause or effect of human conduct, since after all, human history is human’s history.
This philosophy does not try to separate the ‘thinker’ from his thoughts. It investigates the thinker as the source of his own thoughts. The charge is given to man thus: ‘Man, Know Thyself!’ Questions like ‘What Am I?’ (Tillich), ‘What is this life of mine?’ (Kierkegaard), are the questions that the existential philosopher seeks to ask and answer. If one asks these questions with anxious concern, one becomes a ‘philosopher’. This philosophy challenges us to become philosophers since those are the ultimate questions that define our humanity. We are concerned with finding meaning in our lives or giving meaning to our individual or communal lives. This concern may be expressed using religious rituals, works of art, songs, cultural symbols, systematic theologies, etc. This is a philosophy for the philosopher, the psychologist, the teacher, the counsellor and the theologian as well as that of the drunkard and the ‘madman’. While some find answers to these questions in religious faith, others find their answers in unbelief. This philosophy is very personal and subjective and often times, it takes and offers its criticism of philosophies and works of art as subjects rather than objects. ‘Subjectivity’ in the ethical realm is very central to this anti-dogmatic philosophy. The strongest criticism that this philosophy offers is always against all attempts to dogmatize. Unlike traditional philosophy, which sees itself both as ‘truth’ and as the means to truth, the existential philosophy makes no such claims. Its ultimate truth is that it possesses no truth, only the desire to seek truth.
Existentialism as a type of an existential philosophy became prominent and popular in Europe during the World War period. It received a new warranty with the failure of European civilization. It took onto itself the problem of the despair that overhung all Europe at the time. An attempt was made to redefine Humanism, now in its wreckage, as an existentialism. With the passage of this ‘despair’, and the rise of America as an economic and political power, the coming of the ‘information age’ unforeseen by both socialism and communism, and the fortuitous flourishing of relativity physics and space technology, which defined the next three decades following the Wars, Existentialism faded into these new hopes. But this is merely a given for every generation must face or attempt to escape its own despairs. Buddhism came to the West with a transtheistic reading of this despair. Evangelicalism was forced into offering more conservative readings of history: Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. Platingan apologetics attempted to offer philosophical readings of this despair and Doctrines about Biblical Inerrancy were formulated to deal with its anxieties. Whatever remained of Existentialism was absorbed into modern psychology. However, with the 911 attacks on America, a fresh despair fell upon America and most parts of the Western world.
Well, like all philosophy, the existential philosophy on its own is an approximation, one of the numerous ways of asking and answering the question: WHAT AM I? It is one voice in the Great Conversation revolving around that one question, which is a statement of our search for our humanity.
When I was eleven, a lady caught me and a friend smoking weed in an uncompleted building and reported the incident to my mother. There was no mercy in it for me both physically or philosophically. From then, the experience of guilt became a serious intellectual matter for me. I grew into adulthood wondering why it was not a serious problem for every other person.
In the year 2012, on a Thursday morning, I got into school to hear that a poet friend of mine had committed suicide. It became a matter of thought for me as well as that of guilt since I felt I had failed at penetrating the anguish that he carried about with him. In time, I came to accept the suicide as a failed attempt at ‘self-creation’ against the hostile attempts to ‘undermine his self-affirmation as an individual, since he was a poet. It does not necessarily tell the whole story, but it was consoling. And I carry that consolation with me. He was one life that was potentially worth a generational greatness, one that cannot be thrown away.
I have investigated a lot more events both personal and social. These ‘interrogations’ provide me with my own source of philosophy.
I have interest in works of fiction that explore religious sensibilities of individuals and societies. The more delicate and penetrating, the more the appeal. And when I encountered Dostoyevsky, I knew I had to take him not only as a psychologist or a philosopher of life but also as a ‘Christian writer’. Of course, the existential situation is oriented towards the religious and thus, no existential reading of the human condition or history can escape taking the religious life very seriously.
Dostoyevsky was truly Russian as he was truly Christian—he had dressed up Christ in the ‘garbs of a serf’. He lived in a time as such, where the old order was fading into a new, unknown and experimental order, which was being embraced with an enthusiasm of spirit both by the individual and by the Russian people societies. He was reluctant to accept that change without first questioning its merits.
He foresaw in Rascholnikov’s vision of the plague as in all his villains that mere atheism or atheism radicalized into nihilism was not so much of a philosophical problem as it was a demonic threat to the human mind. He believed in the Russian people and in the greatness of the Russian mind. He expressed the half-hearted belief that of all Europe, only the Russian mind could be trusted with the leadership of mankind. But Dostoyevsky was not one to take the human mind for granted. He had spent his lifetime penetrating the mystery of the human spirit with astonishing profundity. He hollowed out with great care and delicacy the passions of the human heart in their most natural tones. Never since the Gospels have such passions been captured and expressed as Augustine had described as more than mere ideologies but a ‘restlessness’ of mind and spirit. He was closer to the Christ of the prophets and the Gospels than he was to the Christ of the Epistles. He walked Christ through the mind and streets of Russia than he walked him through her churches. He conversed with lunatics, those in whom the Russian spirit had been volatilized, than he did with theologians. These passions inspired in him a despair over the fate of mankind. He had stood on the edge of eternity and took vengeance on man. He was sure that man could not effectively decide his fate in the world.
He foresaw a time, recognizably, the last century, where ‘ideas’ and ‘theories’, philosopher kings would stand to decide the fate of the world. He foresaw behind all that, that men would batter their freedom of mind in exchange for the promise of utopia. This exchange troubled him greatly. In his vision of The Grand Inquisitor, he expresses this despair knowing that the man Jesus Christ had called upon men to take upon themselves the anguish of their own freedom against all offerings of bread.
Dostoyevsky saw the human mind as in a perpetual state of ‘restlessness’ and agitation. His idea of redemption was so much of finding rest. For him, the realm of demonic operations was in the human mind. He was as restless as his characters. He demystified himself, his doubts, his anxieties, his despairs and his hopes and showed us the thorns in his own flesh. For him, there was no place of escape, no apology, no offer of certainty that could give absolute rest. One could only face his restlessness.
Of course, it is good that a writer keeps enough distance from his own characters. But at the same time, it is a dishonest thing to do what George Orwell accused Tolstoy of doing, that is, taking the thoughts and ideas that the reader can decipher as being his own and putting them in the mouths of his more respectable characters. There is no perfection in the moral life of any man and there can be no such perfection in the intellectual life as well. Reducing one’s work to mere art could be a good way of escape but there is no redemption in that.
This is a burden that an artist can either take seriously or try to escape. I have lived through my own restlessness. But they are now a matter of indulgence for me. I want to look upon the Face of God with both eyes and I will continue to struggle against my own resistance till I find rest for my soul.
Dostoyevsky was pedantic in the way he dealt with suffering. The greatest suffering for him was not in the body but in the mind. The agony of the Cross was for him the great answer to the problem of suffering. It was the assurance that man was not alone in his suffering. And he took this answer very seriously. Every promise of a world without suffering was too much for him to take.
Dostoyevsky and Okigbo gave me the courage to seek a commitment to the spirit of my people. This is more or less, the prophetic task of the poet.
I sought the ‘Christian writer’ at the beginning of my adventure as a writer as I sought for the ‘African writer’. I was convinced that Christianity was a ‘universal language’ that any and every human being could understand. I can’t say I’ve read all but the ones I read were outrightly frivolous, with cheap fundamentalism, banal and deadbeat apologetics, twisted psychology, a poor reading of the human problem, botched allegories, and…. It seemed that they all lacked a commitment to the project of discovering spirit, which made greats like Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Pushkin.
I can never be as great as Okigbo and Dostoyevsky. I have taken their greatness as mine. It is most wonderful that men like that lived and performed a life task as such. It is of very little significance in the cosmic order of things if I myself live and write.
When I once said Dostoyevsky has to be the greatest of all writers, I was accused of making a ‘theological statement’, I did not refute that immediately as I did not understand that until after a while. The supposition is that Dostoyevsky was the writer for the theologian. But Dostoyevsky was as one among us. He belonged to all and when he came, he achieved nothing for himself, but for all.
Of course, his prose is far from ‘polished’ and Nabokov had the right to accuse him of seeking ‘converts’ and setting the stories within his characters rather than around them. But there is nothing that we cannot make ample use of in Dostoyevsky.
I remember praying to God to give me eyes as those of Dostoyevsky’s. eyes that seen men out of blood, eviscerating eyes. Eyes that insist on taking vengeance on man with one look. Of course, one risks one humanity in making such prayers. One must either be a god or a devil—or an animal—to possess such eyes.
The most important thing that Dostoyevsky did for me was get me to take the Gospels seriously again. It was a revelation. I was invited to see how the figure of Christ walked among men, how he redeems men from the restlessness of spirit and soul.
Through his eyes, I saw the living Christ as the risen Christ. Christ declares himself to be the messiah simply by living among men. Immediately he appears among us, we recognize him as the Christ. There are no philosophies attached to his person. He comes dressed in the garbs of a serf, with no religion, no ideologies appended to his name, just to certainty that he shares and understands our humanity.
Coming from a fundamentalist background, this image of the Christ was too much for me to take, it was almost a scandal. But it was liberating for me as an individual and as a religious thinker. I remember now the poetic awe that accompanied my reading of The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov. I carry around that feeling. They made quasi-mystical and transformative impressions on me. It changed my life and my relationship with others.
The comparison with Dante and Bunyan as the greatest visionaries of the human journey through restlessness are not highfalutin. It is justifiable.
As a preacher of the Gospel of Christ, and as one who seeks to explore the delicate religious sensibilities of our people. Yes, I am aware. I have not seen anyone doing that. Religion has never seemed to interest our writers, moreso publishers. But I believe that the most profoundest expression of the human spirit in its restlessness and agitations is in the religious life.
If I seek anything to achieve for ‘African writing’, it is introduce the figure of Christ into African literature as a scandal to his own fame, and as a man of our blood, our sweat and our tears.
Let no man trouble me for I too bear on my body the marks of Jesus Christ.
2. Hail Mary
Let us Hail Mary.
Let us hail Mary and let us bless the fruit of her womb. Every other Christmas, we are challenged by this image that has become divine for many people of the world. But how many individuals and societies can really stand before this image without guilt, the eternal guilt that makes us unworthy of its greatness.
It is no accident that the Mother of Christ is venerated alongside her Son. In the Immaculate Conception, God, the Highest, identifies with the woman and the child, both of whom exist in the shadows of their world. In the image of the Holy Mother and her Child which is divine for many as it is an offence for many others, the forgotten women of the world look up to find the greatness of the woman in childbearing and child nurturing. In this, they find the consolation that they are not forgotten in the world. This image becomes for the society and the men who rule it, a condemnation of the unfairness with which the woman and her children is regarded. Blessed, it is said is the fruit of her womb. In this blessedness in which she participates, the woman finds her greatness in that of her child. In this blessedness, by which she becomes divine for the women of the world and her children, she achieves the greatest for those who are the least—and for the society that despises her.
We rebel against the ‘Father Image’, an image that haunts us everywhere in society, moreso in our religious existence. We are told to accept authorities that are mostly strange to us and we are abused by these authorities. The woman suffers the most on account of this image. She becomes the ‘prostitute’ and the man thrive on her pain. She is forgotten, rejected and downtrodden. The line is drawn and she lives on the frontiers of the society. But God, in an unconditional participation on her fate and in the fate of her children, slips into the world as a child wrapped in the arms of a teenage girl. Every Christmas, we are confronted by this image. At this image, we must ever always halt in guilt.
It is by this image that God condemns us all in our subversiveness. And it is by this image alone that we condemn our own age in its treatment of the woman and her children.
Let us hail Mary, the mother of the One who is the Christ.
3. A Postscript On Socrates
“Socrates, Socrates, Socrates! Yes, one may well call thy name thrice, it would not be too much to call it ten times, if that would do any good. People think that the world needs a republic, and they think that it needs a new social order, and a new religion—but it never occurs to anybody that what the world now needs, confused as it is by much knowing, is a Socrates. But that is perfectly natural, for if anybody had this notion, not to say if many were to have it, there would be less need of a Socrates. What a delusion most needs is the very thing it least thinks of—naturally, for otherwise it would not be a delusion.”
—Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death.
Philosophy is a man’s preoccupation with his ignorance—and the ignorances of those who indulge him in their time. If this were not in any way true, then I am in no way a ‘philosopher’. And if this is not true — in the Socratic sense at the least —, then there has never been any philosopher. Only with that said can we speak of philosophy as the consensus of the wise. To talk of ‘truth’ as the outcome of philosophy, as the end of the philosophical process is a hypocritical way of sanctifying the authority of the philosopher over all others. Philosophy has no right to make such a claim, not without acknowledging religion and science’s claims to being sources of ontological truth about reality as well. To talk of philosophy, as ‘free thinking’ is a far worse illusion for there is absolutely nothing ‘free’ about thinking. Every thinker is aware of a demonic despair that overhangs the thinking process, and the challenge of his own finitude to his own thinking process. Not even an escape to a ‘system’ can mediate this tension that scandalizes every philosophy, every religion and every science.
As such, there has been only one philosopher—Socrates.
Shestov has said that as there were two trees in the Garden of Eden, there are two ‘trees’ of philosophy: the philosophy that is concerned with life and the one that is concerned with knowledge. It is rather easy to categorize philosophy into that which ‘naively’ concerns itself with itself and that which overreaches itself—that which wants to be like the gods.
A philosophical ‘discomfort’ accompanies facing one’s reflection in the mirror. It takes great and eloquent courage of spirit to curse the day of one’s birth. As the philosopher’s authority grew, he strayed farther from the divine charge: Know Thyself. Even the mystic schools offered nothing beyond this. They insisted that it was only the self-commanding man who can command others.
Socrates mastered his own ignorance, that the only thing he was sure that he knew was that he knew nothing. His own ignorance became the only source of knowledge he could trust. He halted eternally at that charge. He could not wilfully speed past it. His irony was merely a way of bringing men back to that charge. By calling men to halt at their own ignorance, he became the single most important irony to the philosophers of his day. And of course, to the Athenians who lacked any philosophical relationship to irony.
If a man must follow Socrates, then let him strive above all things to know himself. Let him refuse the truth when it is offered to him, rather let him judge himself in his ignorance. Let him clutch at the reflection of his own face in the mirror. Let him be his own great irony of life. Let him not seek an escape from it. Let him not want to be like the gods.
Socrates saw what others had seen in him. He saw himself as a sickness, and an insufferable ugliness. He readily agrees when accused of being a mostrum. He gives the answer when so called: ‘You know me, sir!’
He readily admits that he is as ugly on the inside as he is on the outside—face like a satyr.
He is ugly but for his ugliness, he still found the courage to take his bath in the open. He rabidly flaunts his ‘wisdom’ as a whore does her wares. In being overly dialectical, he gives too much of himself away and becomes something worse than a midwife—a prostitute and a street-corner babbler. He is too modest for my taste (for good taste), immorally immodest. He sacrifices a lot for being too honest and open with his contemporaries.
Over and over, he refuses to hide his ugliness. It is a thing of pride for him that he has become attractive by being ugly.
He uses the irony against his opponents as a vicious weapon to disarm and seduce his opponents into listening to his babbles. There is absolutely nothing ‘honest’ or modest about the irony as crafted by the mouth of Socrates.
But even in his ugliness, Socrates still stands above and beyond all criticisms. He is the most beautiful of them all.
He gives all of himself away and despairs in that there is not much left to give away.
Who can dispute on the streets that he is no monster? Who can say to such an accusation: ‘you know me sir!’ Who can stand this witness? Who can say to this witness: “You know me sir!”
But Socrates wins because he accepts this witness. By being ugly, he finds beauty. By being weak, he gains strength and by being foolish, he gains wisdom from the gods.
Socrates knew that all Archimedean points of departures are illusions. Archimedes wanted a place outside the earth from which he can stand and move the earth. Socrates recognizes this as the very height of folly. Such a position belongs to the gods and to the gods alone, he insists. In his despair, he resolves to moving the earth from inside it. Thus, what all Archimedeses find impossible to achieve in history, Socrates does perfectly well though it costs him the ultimate in his life.—He moves the world by moving himself.
It is evident that at the centre of all things Socratic is a form of self-knowledge and infinite self-interestedness. And this is the highest.
The witness of the god has always been that men are weak and ugly, that all men are sinners, that there is none among them that is righteous; that ‘philosophy’ is the baptismal name that men give to their folly. Who is the man that thinks he is not so weak a man? Who will disagree that the best of men is worth a few pieces of silver? Let such a man step up to the set and let us put him to a Socratic trial.
The Christian witness, which I proudly represent, is even far too damaging to man and his desire to be like the gods. The Gospel has not been preached to tell men that they are ‘divine’ or that they are close to ‘divinity’; that with a little religious/intellectual indulgence, they may ascend into godhood.
The man who has understood the meaning of the Cross understands that Christ’s introduction into history has brought a Socratic indictment upon every religion, every philosophy, every civilisation, every culture, every individual, in short, upon everything in creation, and mostly upon every man concerned with self-overcoming. Every ‘truth’ has been question-marked by the introduction of the Truth himself and all the self-styled ‘truth-makers’ as they have come and gone have been disparaged as ‘liars’.
Let G/d be true and let all men be liars.
4. Ayn Rand and the Escape To Psychology
The pride of we, the self-styled philosophers of life is that we are rather faithless enough in man to believe that we can transform or school him into our own image and likeness. We divide the species of men into classes and groups and then we examine the tension between them and then offer a redemptive escape to a ‘nobler’ version of the species, as created in our own image and likeness. We divide history into graduations of consciousness and we work very hard to criticize each ‘epoch’ of history and to show how our own prophetic epoch of history atones for the tension in all the other epochs. We mumble away at some obscure, untested, and indeterminate psychology or dole out a few instances in history as the ‘proof’ of the validity of our assessment of the species. The goal, of course, is to proffer our own ideal specie against all other species in a fulfilment of that great self-anointedness of insight.
A philosophy of life is implicit in all philosophy from Socrates to Plato to Spinoza to Kant, to Marx to the pragmatists and even to the New Agers. They all had their own image and likeness out of which they sought to create the ideal specie. Of course to be able to do that, one must first convince oneself that one has human nature and reason at one’s service since after all, those two are decisive at the end of the road. Then a psychological language or jargon is needed to show that the said philosophy of life is compatible with human nature. No such philosophy of life can escape a psychology, either in language or in dynamics insofar as it does not want to exist only in an abstract form, insofar as it wishes to make its own claim upon history with its own specie.
Nietzsche’s philosophy was not so much of philosophy as it was psychological babbles with patches of history here and there. He even styled himself a ‘psychologist’. He divided men into classes: masters and slaves, men and overmen, ascendents and décadents, etc.
An absolute form of knowledge—or ignorance—of human nature is implied in Marxist ideology. The individual must renounce himself. The I must become a We.
Spinoza wanted the man who would not weep or cry but who would understand.
The apologist insists that only in a reversal to Christian morality can man be saved both intellectually, culturally as well as from existential despair over his failed modern-postmodern existence.
Their philosophy becomes more or less, a hasty approximation of an idealized vision of man, which is resemblant to their own personal character or the poetry of their souls. Phrases like ‘men are’, ‘men have believed…’, ‘men can…’ abound. They all seemed cocksure that they had found the answer, the ideal man and they took great pains at showing that the answer was workable to reason, to history and to human nature. And once that was done, the pen was laid to sleep on the page.
But Ayn Rand is too impatient with the title of ‘philosopher’ that she acclaims to herself. She is certain that she has discovered the ideal man hidden from the other seekers of the ideal specie. She is without any atom of soul and the ideal man must be eviscerate himself of his soul. Yes, the disembowelled man, for Rand is hero. The despairing self is the only place to escape to. This self is allowed to exist only in isolation from other selves and definitely in isolation from its own self. Man can be saved only by being rid of this or that.
This can pass as a reaction against communism, the soil where Rand’s irritating dogma-toned, high-sounding, ‘hollow’ philosophy took its root. In a sense, she is very particular about this. She seems set out to destroy all communism and collectivism, and enthrone capitalism and self-seeking in the human soul. All consciousness of the other must be expelled—or exploited. America is in deterioration and only such a soulless soul can save her.
Of course, it is to the pride of philosophers that they have and carry about with them an answer to every problem even before the question is asked. The aim is to give the answer and then try to show that the question no longer needs to be asked. The great Socrates would have marvelled at our grasp of the truth, the fear of which drove him to great despair. He would have fallen and broken his neck. Or rather, in a typical show of his irony, he would have spread his handkerchief and knelt before our greatness. He would have urged us to school him to that which he does not know.
But Rand’s egoist vision of man is inhuman, far more inhuman than the specie of the man she has set out to destroy. She has succeeded at convincing herself of her grasp of the problem and of the potency of her answer and the vitality of her myth of the hero to our common anxiety. But she has failed at convincing us that she was nothing more than a hasty and impatient post-Europeanist more or less impressed and enticed by the title of a ‘philosopher of life’ rather than summoned to its greatness and burden.
5. Haste Ye To the Spoil
It is hard articulating the problem of America, much more so, their solutions. One only rolls up one’s sleeves, fills his lungs with air and yells: Haste ye, haste ye to the spoil.
A PARADISE SHRUGGED
“It is self-deception, when profane interpretation of history of the progressive or revolutionary conservative or organic type considers itself capable of treating history without regarding the Christological question….To develop Christology means to describe the concrete point at which something absolute appears in history and provides it with meaning and purpose; and this is the central problem in the philosophy of history. This problem can be obscured by leaving that concrete point in history unnamed or rendering it invisible by general abstract formulations. But the problem cannot be escaped, for history becomes history only through its relation to a concrete point by which it gains meaning.”
— Paul Tillich, The Interpretation Of History
1. The Madman
My good friend, I have no interest in politics. So don’t judge my political instincts either as correct or incorrect. I am that perpetually loud bastard that prides in his ability to spoil people’s days.
The poetic instinct refuses to be ignored. I refuse to be ignored.
Once upon a rainy day, I remember leaving my small room to take a long walk. On a typical rainy day, my roof leaked in two places. I used pots to gather the water as it drops with an endless drip-drip-drip. When the rain was heavy, I would go to bed with my two feet in a pool of water and the two- or three-inch mattress soaked up to an inch and half. That particular day, the roads were dirty and I had no rain boots, only a pair of knife-edge bathroom slippers that leaked from the three holes that joined the straps to the soles. With that, I walked onto the streets following my thoughts wherever they would lead me. I thought of turning into the nearest monastery where I usually gathered my wits about me. But I instead chose to walk to the bookshop and read as many blurbs as I can and day-dream of how one day people will no longer ignore me and my thoughts.
As I walked pass a refuse dump, I saw a pair of little girls pace off upon seeing me. As I wondered what it was about me that excited them, I looked to see the older pointing out to the younger, the young man wearing an uncombed and tattered hair, rough shorts, thin slippers and an old shirt torn at a shoulder. She was telling her sister: “Sister, there goes a madman.” Both had engraved on their faces that half-curious, half-afraid stare that kids give to madmen and curios strangers. If not for the looks of the young man, the refuse dump in the background was enough justification for her assessment of the young man. From that day, I became conscious of little girls each time I passed them. I wondered if they saw what the other little girls had seen—a madman. I became so self-conscious that I could not pass people by without thinking to myself “Oh, they are seeing a madman!”
I am a madman after all. But I refuse to be ignored. I want to leave every pair of little girls encountering me with whispers of “Oh, he’s a madman.” I want to carry as much refuse as possible that they would not need one in the background for their assessment.
Modesty insists on not being noticed. But the poetic instinct refuses to be ignored. I refuse to be ignored. They will know that a madman named Frank Achebe wuz ‘ere.
When prisoners are about to leave jail, they sign their names on the prison wall with a ‘was here’ or ‘wuz ere’ to it. I should love the next prisoner to read the names on the wall and see mine before signing his.
The matter that now confronts me is to set forth a brief justification for my vision of world-history. As to the question of authority, it no longer bothers me. I am as one without authority. Maybe if I win a few fellowships or receive a few titles, I might be absolved of that age-old guilt. But what does it matter? No thinking man has the right to take me with intellectual seriousness. I just want men who will momentarily stop and stare at this curios stranger then lean over their shoulder and whisper to their neighbour: “There goes a madman!”
2. Poets, Philosophers, Politicians And Paradises
Every individual possesses a vision of the world and his place in it. My own vision of the world is not very much different from that of the average person. My franchise as a poet only allows me to add sophistication to it like those who write our poems, our constitutions, our charters, our stories and movies. This vision may be directly or indirectly implied or denied but there is never a genuine self-renunciation in relation to the world. No one can truly say that he does not care about the world that exists outside the bounds of his own individuality moreso the one that exists inside. We all want a world that will be a ‘paradise’—whatever may be our definition of ‘paradise’. And since human history is human’s history, we are allowed to craft our definitions of ‘paradise’ as it suits our individual and communal ideals.
But paradise can only mean a world that represents our most pristine ideals of life, a world which reflects our greatest human desires and ideals of life.
It does not even matter if these desires are judged ‘fantasies’, ‘unrealistic’ or immodest, we all have a vision of the world that corresponds to our idea of ‘paradise’. In short, only the symbol, the fantastical and the romantic can truly describe a vision of the world.
The ‘average person’ may not explore this vision either poetically or philosophically. But I suppose that every other person to a degree is concerned with a vision of the world, or at least that of his own world even if this vision is expressed as a mere wish. We move towards those that make the promise of its ultimate fulfilment. It is thus a legitimate concern, one worthy of exploration, for its own sake.
Sometimes this vision of the world is not ‘cosmic’ in that it is a modest vision of our own world. If we are way too ambitious, then this vision extends to the world as a whole. In that cosmic vision of the world, we not only seek unity with ourselves but we seek a brotherhood with mankind and a place in Nature as a whole. In any case, in one, the other is implied.
I must insist and unapologetically so that I consider myself a man of the world. My vision is ‘cosmic’ in its dimension. I am not only concerned with my own world nor with just the African situation but with the state of the world as a whole. As I write these words, I have a large map on the wall directly in front of me so whenever I lift my eyes from the computer, I have ‘the world’ before me in all its vastness. The ‘world’ is more of a ‘spiritual’ term than a geographical one. It does not only describe space, but also time. Using the term ‘the world’ does not mean making ignorant generalizations. It also does not mean referencing a nation or an institution as a ‘representative’ of mankind and building one’s vision of the world around them. The ‘world’ is a spiritual and empirical term expressing the unity of life that binds every individual, every society and every nation to the same fate and anxieties. Our age is closer to the reality of ‘the world’ than any other age.
That I suppose is way too ambitious. But that nevertheless, I also want to speak to the man who is modest in his own localized vision of the world.
It is this concern that makes us all ‘politicians’ and poets to a degree. We poets explore our vision of the world in our letters while the real ‘politicians’ do more than just poetize, they concern themselves with actualising their vision of the world. But even if I were that daring, I am sure that my vision of the world is way beyond what I can by some activisms or political strategizing accomplish. At that, I am condemned to be a poet.
There are ‘affordable’ and unaffordable’ ideals of life. If ours are affordable, then we have no reason to hope or to poetize about this vision. Mine unfortunately is not at all affordable so I am condemned to be a dreamer and a hoper.
Since the coming of Hegel, this concern has been explored with philosophical interest more than ever before and I am sure that no philosopher following after Hegel ever escaped his influence. Every philosophy that came after Hegel was to a degree ‘Hegelian’ either left or right. It is either you take history seriously or you try to escape it. This is not to say that Hegel was the first philosopher of history, nor was he even the first Hegelian, he is the most influential for he absorbed within himself the entire spectrum of Western philosophy both its worldly and other-worldly dimensions. He stands at the fulcrum of all critical and practical philosophy and in short all modern philosophy.
A ‘philosophy of history’ prescribes the forces or factors that are the cause and effect of history and the relationship between these forces and factors. Some see history as the battleground of the gods, others say its human nature and will against human nature and will. Some say it’s God against the devil. Some say neither man nor God can make a claim upon history, that history is pure ‘fate’—Que Sera Sera. For some, it is the tension of the united cause and effect of both human nature and fate. For instance, while Homer includes the gods in his histories, Thucydides does not. Plutarch was very particular about ‘fate’ or ‘fortune’ as he called it. The Bible prophets made Yahweh the centre of history. For Marx, it was classes in conflict with each other—and the relationship between the labourer and his labours. Some African historians are particular about the Europeans. For them, Africa was ‘destroyed’ by the Europeans. For Chinua Achebe, the forces that decided the Biafran Wars were forces external to the Biafrans themselves. In the East, these forces are named ‘light’ and ‘darkness’. In the West, they are named ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Et cetera. The task of a philosophy of history is to show the relationship between actual history and these forces/factors.
Our mythologies are all ‘philosophies of history’ in a special sense for they prescribe to the people a shared view of the world and reality—and the relationship between the forces that manipulate reality and our experience of the world. The Mythology is the highest expression of a people’s vision of the world, and as such, a philosophy of history is implied in the Mythology. The Bible prophesies and stories, the Homeric poems, Plutarch’s histories, Thucydides’ histories, Nostradamus’s quatrains all contain a philosophy of history. When market women, for an instance, gather to gossip over the news and say things like: ‘What is the world coming to? The world is coming to an end.’ something bordering on the philosophy of history is implied in those words and the many that follow. When our preachers say things like: Jesus is coming soon, a philosophy of history is implied in those words. When people express anxiety about the ‘Illuminati’ or an organized system of evil that tries to control our behaviour using mass media, a philosophy of history is implied. When the so-called ‘problem of evil/suffering’ is asked, a ‘philosophy of history’ is implied as it were, for such a question can only be asked if and only if, the G/d is taken as the presupposition for the existence of a sovereign power above all human nature, and all powers of fate.
As such, we are all Hegelians, more or less. However, Hegel’s philosophy is far more complicated and demanding than anything any one of us can claim to be a ‘philosophy of history’. What market women make out of the news is far less worthy of Hegel’s philosophy.
If not for anything, these questions and concerns for their own sake are expressions of a form of ‘world-historical consciousness’, which every individual must possess, and which for the sake of human existence that is grounded in the here and now but ultimately concerned with Eternity, every individual possesses.
3. The Interpretation of History, By Paul Tillich
Paul Tillich’s essay ‘Historical and Non-historical Interpretations of History: A Comparison’ reduces the many forms of interpreting history to two. The first is history which is interpreted through nature and the second is history which is interpreted through itself.
The ‘historical’ interpretation of history, or history which is interpreted in itself, according to Tillich: “…acknowledges history as an original reality which cannot be derived either from nature or from supernature, which, on the contrary, tries to draw nature as well as supernature into its own development.”
The other, the ‘non-historical’ interpretation of history, or history that is interpreted through nature or supernature: “…it is set forth in natural terms and denies an original and independent character to history. “Natural” in this context comprises nature as well as supra-nature in the sense of a higher transcendent nature.”
He continues: “The second type acknowledges history as an original reality which cannot be derived either from nature or from supernature, which, on the contrary, tries to draw nature as well as supernature into its own development. These two types exhibit entirely different structures. In the first type space is predominant; in the second, time is predominant.”
For the sake of brevity and simplicity, I shall not follow the ‘endless’ trails that this generalisation leave.
In the most layman’s terms, they ask the questions: Upon what is history dependent? On human nature, ‘gods’ or the powers of fate? Or on itself? (I have reduced nature to ‘human nature’ for the sake of solidity.)
In Western thought, the idea that history is an independent reality did not survive past the Greek Era. Western thought takes for granted the fact that history is determined by human will, interest and passion. Hegel, Schopenhauer, Darwin, Nietzsche, Marx, Rousseau all described the world in terms of will. The result is that history is to be taken seriously as is the will. The world and the will is assumed as good in themselves. The goal of the will is to redeem the world to itself, thus the prophetic nature of Western philosophy.
In the East, the Chinese Tao doctrine, the Indian Brahma doctrine and of course, Buddhism and the African religions all consider time as immovable cycles beyond the will. History is related to immovable powers that transcends the will and the world. The world is beyond ‘redemption’, hence their apocalyptic nature. Will and world is not to be taken seriously. The world is not good in and of itself and thus, possesses no value. The goal of the will is to escape the world. Space is predominant over time. The god is god over space and not time. The African gods for instance, exists only within cultural and geographical space without any claims to time. The transcendent powers that unites all historical events are the gods and the ancestors, thus the ultimate goal of life is reunion with the ancestors in the individual’s death. There is no escaping them either by the will or for the will. Works of tragedy express this dilemma.
Of course, complex tensions exist between these two ways of looking at the problem of history. Buddhism for an instance, interprets the world in terms of will, passion and interest. But its goal of the will is to escape the world. Modern cosmology as an interpretation of history cannot be justified in taking history very seriously in part or in whole if it takes paradoxes like the Mediocrity Principle, Fermi Paradox and Drakes Equations seriously too. If human history is a small fraction of the billions of years on which modern cosmology grounds its ideas of physical time, then history, as a finite portion of infinite time will frustrate all attempts to reach its own meaning. In the apocalyptic interpretations, elements of the prophetic are present as are present apocalyptic elements in the prophetic interpretations. For instance, the end of a cycle provides the soil for the birth and growth of new ones and the expectation of death, birth and growth is necessarily prophetic. And like I have shown, history cannot be completely renounced by the introduction of the prophetic word.
I briefly attempt to offer an explanation of the ‘forces’ that we may encounter in our attempt to create a ‘philosophy of history’.
“The idea of the demonic is the mythical expression of a reality, namely the structural, and therefore inescapable, power of evil…, the ‘structure/system of evil’ beyond the moral power of good will, producing social and individual tragedy precisely through the inseparable mixture of good and evil in every human act.”
Every historian would bear witness that there is nothing in actual history that can justify the supposition of the existence of such a structure. Therefore, this belongs to a metaphysical interpretation of history. (I consider the world’s mythologies, science, and religions as sources of philosophy of history as well as actual history.)
The Greeks had the idea of fate central to their philosophy of history and to a degree everything in Greek cosmology is subjected to fate. With it, they explained tragedies when they happen when every other thing had been accounted for.
Moirae, the Fates, the goddesses of fate personified the inescapable destiny of man. The meaning of their names were ‘Parts’, ‘Shares’ and ‘Allotted Portions’. Through them, the historians expressed the anxiety, acknowledged by all the Greek mythmakers that man is not always the architect of his own fate. And that history cannot be interpreted only in Schopenhauerian, Darwinian and Nietzschean sense as purely the movement of human will, ‘passion and interest’.
This idea is also central to Christian interpretation of history. The Apostle Paul exalts Satan as the ‘god of this world’. Jesus himself identifies Satan as the ‘prince of this world’. They reveal a facet to human history that belongs to ‘supernature, that embraces the movement of history and drives it towards negation.
Elsewhere, in Egyptian Mythology, Apep and his fiends represent the demons. That explains why exorcisms and incantations against Apep and his fiends formed a substantial part of the Egyptian religious experience. They are understood to be the cause of social and moral evil. Augustine insisted that man does not do good outside his own will. The Apostle Paul, spoke of an experience, which we are all familiar with in our individual lives: ‘When I want to do good, evil is always present with me.’
In Africa, there is a greater awareness of the threat of the demonic to human life. Pentecostalism takes this threat seriously too, thus its resistance of psychology, and in most cases, medicine and the grounding of its apostolic authority in its ability to bring ‘healing’, cause miracles and cast out demons. This is one of the many reasons for the rapid growth of Pentecostalism in Africa. In some cases, the traditional religions are dismissed as ‘demonic’ and the rite of initiation into Christianity must require as a prerequisite a renunciation of all affiliations with the traditional religions—or a rite of ‘deliverance’ from such ‘demonic’ influences. I lived through many rites of ‘deliverances’, for individuals and for families and communities. In so many cases, this took on a political meaning. In many others, it was just placebo but in the most case, these ‘deliverances’ were productive in mending individual lives and reinvigorating community life.
In astrology, the saying ‘our fate is written in the stars’ is taken with both scientific and mystical seriousness. When people say things like: ‘It’s the handwork of the devil’ in the face of individual mistakes, they express the concern and its consequent anxiety that we are not always the architect of our own individual and national fates.
There is in popular culture, an anxiety over the ‘Illuminati’, a mythical and inescapable organized system of evil that uses mass media, popular music, movies, literature, science, technology, etc. to control human behaviour and to bring about a global economy and an autocratic New World Order. This anxiety is an anxiety of fate.
Though we are called to be responsible for all our decisions and actions, we find that there is a demonic tension that undermines our actions and decisions from beyond and within them. There is therefore no Dasein that is truly ‘authentic’ and no human being that is truly ‘free’. As it were, the concepts of ‘freewill’, human equality and ‘good and evil’ cannot be infinititzed.
But the question is: What indeed is fate? What is the ontological meaning of fate?
In Plutarch’s Lives, fate appeared as ‘fortune’ when it was favourable and ‘fate’ when it was not. In Volumnia’s speech to her son Coriolanus, for an instance, we hear one of the most illuminating definitions of fate in Greek literature: ‘Fate has made that sight which should have been the most joyful into the most terrible of all…’
It clarifies that fate is not purely accident, necessity or negation, rather fate is the appearance of accident in freedom, the appearance of negation in self-determination. Fate is the crisis of freedom and accident; of necessity and possibility and of self-affirmation and negation.
Fate is a historical necessity that stands above the will of man and within it and drives its movement mostly towards negation and tragedy. Its inescapability gives everything demonstrably human a tragic dimension.
Not only is it in life that the demon is present, the demonic also manifests itself in thought as the irrational tensions that undermine thought from within it. Dostoyevsky repeatedly showed that nihilism was not a matter of fact but a demonic attack to the human mind.
The Greek philosophers understood their enterprise as an attempt to rid human thought and existence of the irrational powers of the demons. Thus they tried to subject the powers of fate to measures (Pythagoras), to mind (Socrates, Aristotle and Plato), to law (Democritus), to amor fati (Epicureans), to inner freedom (Stoics), etc. They were able to supress but not eliminate the threat of fate to knowledge. Today, the fight against the demonic continues. Medical science is well aware of the demonic undermining the normalcy of bodily functions. Psychology is probably the most aware of the positive sciences to the demonic threat to the human being, distorting and splitting the ego in its functions while sociology is a fight against fate in the society.
But the paradoxical and inescapable nature of the demonic means that philosophy in its effort to transcend the irrational powers of fate merely serves to advance it. Here we find that philosophy in its demonic service. Here we see that there are more demons in philosophy than there are in hell. (That’s for a laugh.)
Here we find, as the apostles did, that even scepticism is not a matter of fact but of fate. The demons are understood to be the contingent cause of scepticism, heresy and apostasy.
In our own time, the Liberal meaning of ‘human freedom’ and ‘human right’ are undermined from within. Abortion, homosexualism, sexual liberalism, planned parenthood, etc. as manifestations of the demonic expressing themselves as negative cultural absolutes. For an instance, anti-Semitism, racism cannot occur apart from demonic splits that appear in the unconditional affirmation of one’s race against and over all others. For another instance, abortion is a matter of economic, social and medical necessity, never of freedom. If the order is reversed, abortion can only be morally possible if the rights of the woman over her body is unconditionally affirmed as ‘fundamental’, against and over all rights and uses of her body. Homosexualism is an attempt to implement the main thesis of Freud’s psychoanalysis of the ego, which is “… that the power of the sexual instinct should be [socially] recognised, and the significance of the individual’s sexual life [and identity] revealed” [and affirmed]. The liberal principle transforms this into a basic and unconditional Yes against all other Yes and No. This principle cannot escape its own internal crisis and its crisis with the ideal of ‘marriage’ into which it seeks to transform itself. It can ignore its own internal crisis but such a tension cannot be eliminated.
In any case, all of this is followed by an attempt to supress the threat of fate to the liberal principle either by resisting or persecuting criticism, or by resorting to using pragmatism as justification for human conduct. Ultimately, the crisis between every Yes and No in every human relative cannot be supressed. Moreso such Yes/No cannot be transformed into an absolute Yes/No. Such a tension can escape the demonic by opening itself to the KRISIS of judgement and separation, and creation and criticism.
Corruption, sex-slavery, human trafficking, drug abuse, racism, Anti-Semitism, Western exploitation of poorer countries, American triumphalism, globalism, terrorism, insanity are all works of the demons undermining thought and national and individual self-affirmation from within.
We do not see this only in philosophy but also in science, technology and in the arts. Diseases, natural disasters are all works of the demons. In our own time, we encounter the destructive power of human good in our science and technology. Nothing holds more terror for the human race than the threat of nuclear annihilation. The so-called ‘freedom’ that the atom bomb secured for the world carried with it the threat of its eventual betrayal of the human race.
In the religions we see the demonic manifesting itself in the distortion of revelation, corrupting the divine witness in man’s vision of and encounter with the holy and sacred.
The more the freedom as it were, the more the fatality since fate appears in measure with freedom. All and all returns to fate. Tragedy exists in the abundance of life, height of reason and depth of existence. Tragedy exists in human good and in short, it is even potentiated by it.
This should cause us to despair.
However, the problem of history is pre-eminently the problem of man. It is as Cassius had memorably told Brutus: “the fault is not in our stars (fate) but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
5. The G/d
As far as history is concerned, the g/d is the ultimate necessity or the absolute which reduces all other realties, the will included, to relatives. There is no philosophy of history that can offer an interpretation of without taking the reality of the g/d into account. Very much like the demonic, it can be supressed but never eliminated. It can be denied as ‘atheism’ but it cannot be ignored.
The g/d, like the fates is only possible in the interpretation of history as metaphysics. A scientific historiography is justified in not considering the g/d as a source of historical material. However, a ‘theology’ is implied in all philosophies of history since man cannot formulate answers to questions about his origin and destiny in history without relating it to a necessary ‘transcendent element’. This element may be transformed into an immanent one, like in Marxism but it cannot be totally eliminated. The g/d must become either a problem or a presupposition of every philosophy of history.
When philosophy attempts to answer the metaphysical questions, that is, questions about the existence of God, the origin and destiny of man and the immortality of the soul, it ceases to become philosophy, it becomes a theology. Marxism had to take on a theological nature when it took Feuerbach seriously in his analysis of the g/d as an objectification of human neediness and religion as an attempt to escape or fulfil this need. Without such an assumption, the Marxist theory cannot subsist. If that is taken as an actual and underpinning thesis, then all analysis of history as the destiny of man can then begin as an attempt to either justify or nullify such an assumption. Of course, when an attempt was made to transform this theory into actual history, the Marxist theory proved itself a theological thesis more than an economic-political one. Darwinism is founded on a theological thesis that does away with the g/d as the ‘Creator’, as its foundational presupposition and problem, apart from which it falls apart. Removing a personal transcendent ‘casualty’ from history and the development of biological life is implicitly theological. The Big Bang Theory is as much of a scientific creed over the origin of the universe as it is a theological insinuation that does away with the necessity of a personal ‘Creator’. Hence, modern cosmology and all the physical sciences derived from it, is forced to use the Theory theologically. Its theological implications cannot be escaped.
It does not even matter if we associate the g/d with the fates as in some cultures and religions. In the world mythologies, the g/d is explicitly implied rather than remotely. The pagans understood the g/d as objects among other objects. Aristotle defined the g/d as the ‘Unmoved mover’. Thomas Aquinas followed him in theologically upholding this definition of the g/d. Spinoza identified the g/d with ‘Nature’. The Persian mystical religions saw the g/d as consciousness that can be attained to. Hegel was more abstract when he identified the g/d as ‘World Spirit’. His analysis of history could then follow, as the ‘phenomenology’ of this Spirit. The African traditional religions can be reduced to symbols of communal self-affirmation consecrated in the religions and cultural realms with the g/d as stranger. Nietzsche’s Prophet Zarathustra (I consider him the modern mythmaker par excellence) once met a fellow in ‘Snake Death’ whom he identified as the Ugliest Human Being, the murderer of God and in the conversation that followed, he was able to decipher the reason why the Ugliest Human Being had murdered God.—He could not ‘stand the witness’. “He had to die: he saw with eyes that saw everything—he saw the depths and grounds of human beings, all their hidden disgrace and ugliness.” But it was not so much the death of God that makes Nietzsche’s philosophy of history possible, it was the fact that the Ugliest Human Being submits himself to Zarathustra.
The Tao system could stand only by relating history to an eternal law beyond it. The Jewish prophets could only proclaim the coming of the New Creation by showing that history had its centre in Yahweh and that all of man’s attempts to claim ownership of the centre of history would be rejected.
The Jewish mythmakers placed Yahweh at the centre of all history. They did not see the g/d as an ‘Unmoved Mover’, nor did they identify him with a transpersonal character. They spoke of the g/d as one who acted, as one that can be moved. They were able to show through their own passions, and in the passions of the ‘Suffering servant of Yahweh’, the passions of Yahweh in history. History was possible only because the g/d acts in it. They spoke of the g/d as a participant in the human passions of hope, anxiety and despair.
Nevertheless, they spoke of the g/d as infinitely transcendent and beyond human history. The g/d is infinitely alienated from history, as he is infinitely involved in history. They were able to hold to the paradox of the Eternal Now without reducing it to a dualism. The world was good in itself. Thus, the goal was not to discard or radically reject it but to redeem it. They likewise spoke of the g/d using transpersonal language as well as a ‘presupposition for which there is no presupposition.’
However, the g/d could be moved. The g/d was not beyond human manipulation. Their idea of history was built around this idea of the g/d. The world is not so much the manifestation of the human will as much as it was the manifestation of the will of God in collision with the will of man.
The Theory of Evolution is incompatible with a Christian reading of history as is Marxism. Salvation is the reclamation of an estranged creation to its Creator. If the world is denied as being the direct creation of Yahweh, then Christianity as the redemptive work of the Creator over creation in history falls apart.
There is no philosophy of history that can take the idea of the g/d, as the ultimate necessity, for granted. The presupposition is that history is embraced by eternity and so cannot be set apart from it.
The Jewish prophets were particular about history not as man’s playground but as the event of God’s self-revelation. They vehemently denied every of man’s attempts to lay absolute claims to time as his. They also refused to withdraw into a cultural space and resisted all of the Jewish people’s attempts to reduce Yahweh to a national god among other national gods. Through His prophets, Yahweh made claims to being the God of history. Through His prophets, He resisted all other claims as such. And through the apostles, He made the ultimate claim upon history through His manifestation in history and participation in it as the Christ.
6. Human History Is Human’s History
The aim of all philosophy of history is to observe history from outside history—through the viewpoint of eternity—sub specie aeternitatis. In reality, there are no such viewpoints for every philosopher of history is himself an object of history. Thus, the philosophy of history belongs not to philosophy or history but primarily to metaphysics. Sub specie aeternitatis is metaphysics. As such, by concerning itself with what-is and what-ought-to-be, it is an attempt to make generalizations about history.
History is the accident of the will of man. According to Schopenhauer, history narrates to us the will and its ‘appearances’. Every individual is an appearance or manifestation of his own will as is every epoch of history. All history manifests as the will’s desire to claim everything to itself and its collision with both internal and external necessities imposed by the other will, the demons and the g/d. Moreover, the will is irrational. It is independent of time, space, plurality, casualty, reason and motive. It uses reason, race, to execute its claims.
The will may manifest as a fight for the control of the means of production. It may manifest as sexual libido, ‘will to power’, ‘survival’, ‘will to economy’, or it may manifest itself in self-renunciation. But all history is in some definite ways manifestations of the will.
To speak of history is to take man and the many manifestations of the ‘will’, with interminable seriousness.
Let us assume the word ‘paradise’ as a metaphysical term that expresses a pristine idea of the world and of man’s place in it. Let us briefly examine a few different expressions of this idea and their means of realization in the ethical, religious and existential spheres of thought.
Marx saw a classless society as the beginning of ‘real history’. All earlier history is ‘prehistory’. The final stage at the end of Marxist idea of history is a classless society in which justice, peace and humanity is realized, not for the individual but for everybody. He saw the proletariat as the means to this fulfilment of history. The proletariat must overcome its historical fate—by constant revolution and by the expression of radical class interest. In pursuing its own special interest, it will fulfil a ‘historical function’ not only in relation to its own fate but also for mankind as a whole.
The Indian-Tibetan religions, chief of which are Buddhism and Hinduism and the Chinese-Japanese religious and philosophical variants of the Tao principle do not ascribe to history any ultimate significance. There is no ‘fulfilment’ in history per se. History is an immovable cycle that revolves around the eternal law of Karma and the goal of history is to be liberated from history (Samsara). But, no radical rejection of history is implied in these religions, especially in Buddhism, at least, not in the way it is fashioned in the West. History is accepted, only as means, not an end and history is accepted, ontologically (that is, in relation to Dasein) than ethically. History is a projection of a reality that has been distorted by human desire, suffering, fears, and anxieties. Thus, the history of salvation is not so much an escape from history as distorted human reality but an escape to Nirvana, a symbol that expresses a true human reality—which may be historical or non-historical as the case may be—to which all realities and human experience of reality must seek to transform itself into. From here, we must now make a transition to New Age philosophy which attempts to reduce the religious character of Buddhism to a humanism.
Commenting on the New Age, David Spangler writes: “The essence of new age thinking is the process of seeing the heaven on earth every day, a process called ‘renaming the sacred.” In another place, the New Age is identified “…as a form of utopianism, the desire to create a better society, a ‘new age’ in which humanity will live in harmony with itself, nature, and the cosmos.” It unites the basic principles of Buddhism (heaven/Nirvana) and Hinduism (earth/nature) into a single symbol. This philosophy does not go further to clearly describe the means to this end. There are glimpses of astrology, occult philosophy, pseudo-science, mathematics, pharmaceutics, music, conspiracy theories, shrouded in an abstruse pseudo-scientific, pseudo-religious, pseudo-philosophical phraseology. It prescribes nothing more than a half-poetic, half-scientific kerygma of ‘spiritual humanism’. However, due to the openness and the arbitrariness of the symbols that express its core ideals, (aliens, spaceships, golden children, and Age of Aquarius) it is known to cause schizophrenia by causing a split in the ego in its relation to itself and its experience of the real world.
Nietzsche declares history to be an eternal return. Man is an eternal return—to the Last Man. His final vision of history is non-eschatological. He sees history as man’s continuous fight against the threat of nihilism. He is able to do this by putting his words in the mouth of Zoroaster who saw history as the extension of a conflict between ‘light and darkness’ beyond history itself. Zarathustra, in the end of his search for ‘higher humans’, must report despairingly “I still lack the proper human beings”, even though he has found in them ‘proper animals’. At the end, he has to leave his cave to resume his search from the beginning in what appears to be an irredeemable cycle of return. This view of history is profound because there is no attempt to impose an external teleos on history. It is as if he is saying: it is what it is, don’t try to do anything about it. Christianity must be rejected as it is an attempt to impose a teleos, one that is ‘inhuman’ on history. If any teleos is to be imposed on history, it must be the teleos of the self-overcoming man. This view of history must embrace fate and the experience of demons with a paradoxical sense of love and hate. The view of history must embrace the human nature as it is. The Overman is not so much of a ‘messiah’ as he is an accident of fate.
A historical attitude appeared in the history of the Church, which saw the Church as the fulfilment of the final stage of eschatological history, beyond which no other can be conceived. Augustine’s The City of God presupposes this idea. This idea of history reappeared in Luther’s theology of freedom except that the Church is conceived as united in the ethical realm with the State—or as the State. This attitude reappeared in America except in a Calvinistic brand. The apologetic struggle there presupposes this idea. American Evangelicalism also presupposes this idea. In America, this idea has been conquered as happened in 19th Europe. In a more direct sense, this attitude has been forced to submit to a more progressive and open attitude towards history. The ‘culture wars’ there mirror a reluctance of Evangelicalism to give up its conservative claims to America’s cultural space.
The Myth of progression is a non-radical and moderate search for utopia. It does not deal with space but with time. History is a stream of endless time open to human actions and decisions. The past is interpreted as graduations in the grid of human consciousness as the movement from instinct to pre-reason to reason or as the ‘purification’ of human goodness and reason. The goal of all historical activity is to reach to the fulfilment of the ultimate in human consciousness. The goal of all historical activity is to use freedom in the individual realm and democracy in the national real, education, social action and intellectual openness to crystallise human reason/goodness/intelligence into a primary source of human conduct. This historical attitude takes historical tragedy seriously but only as the soil out of which new sensibilities grow. We make mistakes, learn lessons, but we must move on. This attitude accepts human nature and reason as essentially good but underdeveloped. Religion is not an absolute but as agents through which independent reason must be nurtured. Authority is to be replaced with ‘leadership’ and might with ‘persuasion’ and ‘diplomacy’ in the national sphere. Independent reason or ‘intelligence’ is the means to fulfilling history. The Myth of progression has found its custodian in modern science. This attitude is institutionalized in United Nations. This is the myth of the modern world.
Islam considers itself an heir to the prophetic word found in Judaism. It accepts the prophetic burden over all space and all time, which is to uphold, against all individual and national idolatry that there is only one true God. It sees the fulfilment of history as final the actualization of the prophetic authority over all individual and nations. It is open to violent means. The necessity of the prophet’s return to and conquest of Mecca set the necessary precedence for all Jihad. Moreover, its view of the G/d as the ultimate necessity in history takes human freedom for granted. The G/d is represented as a cosmic tyrant in the league of tyrants and the prophet’s authority the only source of ultimate truth about the world. In its view of the G/d, it stands vastly antithetical to the prophetic word found in Judaism. It is chiefly concerned with the ethical realm thus the reach of its scope, from economics, politics, geography, travels, sexuality, to personal hygiene, etc. Islam offers a very rational view of the world but it is open to militarism as a means to its end.
8. The Kingdom of God
Each of them can be criticized in their own views and nonviews of ‘paradise’. But much more so, we can assume all of them as historically justifiable ways of looking at the problem of history, within the limits of their different specialized views of history.
As history cannot be described only in ethical but also in ontological terms, its fulfilment also can be described not only in ethical terms but also in non-ethical, ontological and religious terms well. History is fulfilled not only with the creation of a new heaven but also a new earth. The prophetic word cannot only be the proclamation of transformed individual existences but also of societies, nations, Nature and of world-history at large. To interpret the prophetic word only in relation to individual existences or in terms of personal guilt reduces the seriousness of the problem of history. The prophetic word cannot be interpreted only in religious terms. History cannot be fulfilled on for a small group of people as it cannot for the individual but for the whole of mankind. Qua Marx, the proletariat must conquer its own fate; class must be abolished, universal justice must be realized for everybody. Qua the Tao principle, man must conquer or escape the Kali, or the deteriorating power of time. Qua Hinduism, philosophy, man must conquer his fate in relation to nature. Qua Buddhism, Nirvana as the ultimate blessedness beyond all suffering and struggle or the cessation of all ‘restlessness’ and agitations must be realized. Man must escape his bondage to the mundane world. Qua Islam, a universal brotherhood under one true God must be realized. Qua the Jewish prophets, the Covenants made to the Patriarchs, Abraham, David and the prophets over the Jewish nation must be fulfilled. Historical tragedy must be conquered. The powers of fate must be destroyed and banished from history. The Will must reach its greatest potential in human history. The strangerliness of God must be overcome, the knowledge of God must become universal through the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Et cetera. History cannot be fulfilled independently.
The Jewish prophets, who provided Christianity with its prophetic background, were very particular about history, not only in terms of space but also time. Through them, Yahweh was able to make claims to all cultural and national space as His. In history, there was no escape from Yahweh. There is no space nor time that can escape the Inescapable Yahweh.
They saw history not as immovable but as having a beginning, a development and an end. The meaning of salvation was not to save from history but to save history. History is the history of salvation. They saw the Anointed Servant of Yahweh as the means by which Yahweh fulfils His claim over history and brings it to a fulfilling end. They saw an apocalyptic end to history but they saw it only in the background of a prophetic end to it. History must be fulfilled before it reaches its end.
They were also particular about the means to this end. Man cannot bring history to fulfilment. Man cannot redeem history. History can only be fulfilled as the ‘Kingdom of God’. They placed their own people at the centre of this Kingdom. God would bring about the fulfilment of history through the Jews. The call of Abraham to the fatherhood of the nations, the giving of the Law by Moses as the priestly consecration of the nation of Israel, the creation and consecration of the lineage of David as the source of posterity of the ‘Anointed Servant of Yahweh’, all pointed to the prophetic place that the prophets gave to the Jewish people.
The word ‘kingdom’ is a political term uniting rule and reign. However, in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He interprets it using ethical and existential phenomena. (Matt. 5 & 6) In his criticism of the rich, he uses it as an economic term. (Matt. 19, 20 & 21) The implications is that prophetic word cannot be used independently. It not only relates itself to the religious experience of the overcoming of personal sin and guilt but also to the existential experience of blindness, suffering and restlessness, and also to the ethical experience of peace, justice, freedom and brotherhood as well. New Jerusalem was an ethical symbol that expressed peace, freedom, justice, humanity and brotherhood. New Earth was a symbol that expressed the experience of a regeneration of Nature, both human nature and biological, geological and animal nature. New Heaven expressed the experience of the Nirvana. All things must be made new, only as such can history reach its ultimate fulfilment. Only as such can the meaning of ‘salvation’ or the redemption of all things to their source and ground of being be accomplished.
A very important question follows thus: Is the ‘Kingdom of God’ realized as an epoch in history exclusive from and beyond all other epoch conceived as ‘the final end’ towards which all historically conscious activity must strive? Or is the prophetic word in a state of a continuous independent self-development within history?
Both a Yes and a No to the question is problematic and damaging. If we answer Yes to the first part of the question and No to the second part, then a damaging choice is to be made, between the past/present and the future. Such an answer by choosing the future above all other epochs of history must deprive the past an independent meaning and purpose and assume an attitude of revolution and action towards the future. If we answer Yes to the second part and No to the first part, then a ‘conservative’ attitude must be assumed. Even the ‘middle-way’, which attempts a dialectical Yes and No is problematic because it introduces a space-time dualism into the nature of the Kingdom.
Both attitudes are potentially ‘idolatrous’ since they each seek to trap within their own structure the Kingdom. Both Marxism as in the first and Christianity as in the second have shown to be idolatrous in their proclamation of the Kingdom. This idolatry was condemned by the Jewish prophets who first gave the prophetic word about the ‘kingdom’ both in their own people who saw themselves as the conservative Yes, and in other nations who saw themselves as the revolutionary Yes. Ultimately, even a dialectical answer is not immediately possible for there will always exist a tension within the prophetic word itself which will always elevate it above both the idealist who sees it as historically impossible or the realist who must view it as unveiling itself in long periods of time.
9. The Christ Myth
A broader meaning of history was crystallized in the Jewish prophetic word. Yahweh was the God of history and as such all history is His attempts to execute such claims against man’s independent claims and against the devil’s claims. The prophetic word was to be fulfilled by Yahweh’s Servant or the Christ, the Anointed One.
The world was understood to be good in itself and redeemable. The goal of history is to reach to the full essential goodness of the world. Gnostic, otherworldly elements entered into these myths, especially in the period between the testaments. For an instance, a stronger awareness of angelic powers introduced a dualism into the ontological meaning of ‘fate’. However, the Apostles in their reading of the Jesus event absorbed and used these elements.
The Jewish rigorous religious myths dealt with the problem of personal sin, restlessness and the experience of guilt while their prophetic myths dealt with the problem of history. The Apostles pointed to the fulfilment of both the religious and prophetic myths in the event called Jesus Christ. However, as the old world continued to exist, a tension was introduced into the prophetic word and the apostolic witness to its historical fulfilment in the figure of Jesus as the Christ. The original nationalistic-ethical meaning of the myth were to be transformed into a universal-ontic one. The old myths were to be radically reimagined. A new universal ethic was formulated. The Apostles were left with the challenge to relate new prophetic myths out of the fulfilment and the end of the old ones, shifting custody of the myths from the Jewish people to the ‘Church’.
9.1 Only the suffering God can help
The ‘Servant of Yahweh’ was a suffering servant as He was a reigning king. Such a paradox was the basis of the prophetic word. It was beyond explanation. The aim was to expose the threat of idolatry in unconditionally accepting one against the other. The paradox was to be upheld and both the prophets and the apostles anxiously upheld this paradox.
The Christ must suffer and be crucified. He must be rejected. He must be wounded. The Jewish mythmakers were pedantic about individual and national suffering. Thus, they fixed their ideas about Yahweh around their experience of individual and national suffering. The Yahweh is a participant in the national suffering. They were able to show through their own passions, the passions of Yahweh over the sufferings of man. This is the greatness of the Jewish prophets for they were able to express divine agony, divine suffering, divine despair and divine anxiety over the state of man in the world unlike every other mythmakers in every other place. They themselves had participated in the divine suffering and in its anxiety over their own people. They would have disagreed with Aristotle when he described God as the ‘Unmoved Mover’.
The strangerliness of God to the world was to be overcome in the sufferings of Christ. God is no more a stranger in the world as a participant in its fate. The declaration that God is with us could be made only upon this grounds. The search for the g/d in transcendent space needs no longer be continued. God belongs to this world as a sufferer. The Apostles too were very particular about the sufferings of the Christ. They constantly charged it against all Gnosticism that ‘Christ suffered and died.’ Such a symbol could not be allowed to lose its meaning in the minds of the people of the world. The paradox must be maintained. It is an offence to many as it was an offense to both the prophets and the apostles. But by this offense, the prophets were able to show that they had understood the meaning of history. For here, not even our freedom is required of us in exchange for anything. By the greatness of that sacrifice, the Holy liberates us from Itself and points us not to Its greatness, but to our humanity.
“The Crucified Christ opens the dialogical relationship to God by revealing the Father’s self-humiliation and his acceptance of humanity’s destitution and forlonness…. Miserable and godless humanity is taken into full communion with God without condition or limit.”
“A God who cannot suffer is poorer than any man. For a God who cannot suffer is a being who cannot be intimately involved.”
All other depictions of the g/d in the other philosophies of history can be criticised in their own rights. But the sufferings of the Christ can provide a historical basis for all the other views of the g/d either in Marx as a projection of human neediness in transcendent space, in Judaism’s absolute monotheism, in Darwin’s denial of causation or in the Ugliest Human Being’s vision of the g/d as the Omnipresent threat to his subjectivity. The tensions in those theologies and in their human premises can be overcome in this symbol for only a suffering God can help.
9.2 The New Being
Heidegger brilliantly showed the priority of Dasein in all metaphysics in that its Being is an issue for it.—“…the analysis of Dasein is what makes up a fundamental ontology”. The Existentiell analytic as an analysis of existence will tell Dasein of its ontic state. The paradox that appears is that it is Dasein’s task to analyse its own existence. This paradoxical involvement must be taken seriously.
All analysis of Dasein whether from Dasein’s own viewpoint or sub specie aeternitatis betray an estrangement in Dasein. Being is estranged from itself in both its natural, supernatural and supranatural dimensions. Long before the birth of Metaphysics, the Jewish mythmakers were well aware, sub specie aeternitatis of the estrangement of Being from itself. They called this estrangement ‘sin’.
Man is estranged from himself as a matter of guilt, blindness and struggle. Man is estranged from his fellow man. And man is estranged from the Ground of Being from which he originates and to which he seeks to return. Existentialism and Buddhism is well aware of the first estrangement. All political, sociological and economic theories and Marxism are infinitely aware of the second. And all religions are infinitely aware of the third.
The greatness of man was acknowledged. Man is not ‘depraved’. Man is infinitely great. Man as a worldly creature is ‘good’. But a tension exists which estranges him from himself. Man’s entire struggle is to overcome this estrangement.
The Jewish mythmakers were able to show that there was an ought-to-be from which man fell and to which he seeks to return. Thus, their reading of history begins with the story of the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. The consequence was that Man had acquired an anti-nature.
The high and elaborate religious myths dealt with the problem of guilt. The Apostles pointed to the death of the Christ as the fulfilment of this myth—the Atonement. A new reading of the problem of personal sin and guilt was given. But more than personal sin which was a matter of guilt, a new community where brotherhood against man’s estrangement from his fellow man, was to be affirmed was needed, thus the ‘Church’ was created.
The history of man is therefore, the history of sin, its origin, its causes, its effects. The history of Christianity, which is the history of salvation, describes the point where the New Man appears into history, conquers sin and rids it of its destructive power over man and history.
The New Being was defined as infinitely beyond man’s creation. The Virgin Birth is an insistence that no man can lay claims to being able to create a New Being out of the old either with the instruments of reason, will, religion or science. And when the New Being was proclaimed by the Apostles its victory over the powers of fate, witnessed to by the transformation of fate into destiny was proclaimed alongside It.
The old creation needed to be overcome. Only a New Man can produce a New Heaven and a New Earth.
9.3 The Resurrection
The Resurrection or the Restoration, in the national consciousness of the Jewish people was the symbol of survival that expressed hope as the certainty of salvation, that they could conquer their own national and individual fate. The demons would not win the ultimate victory. If as expressed by their prophets that Yahweh is the God of History and if Yahweh expresses anxiety over their fate in love and concern, and acts through this anxiety regardless of their national apostasy, then they could speak of a ‘time of restoration’ and affirm their hopefulness in the face of national tragedies. This is at the heart of the national consciousness of the Jewish people.
It describes man’s ultimate conquest of his historical fate. It describes the point in history where the cycle of Being is broken—or rather, the point where it is demonstrated to be broken. It describes the point in history where the Eternal order rids time of its deteriorating power. The immovable law around which all Being and nature resolve and to which they must return has been overcome. The New Creation had conquered its fate against the old.
The Apostles pointed to the fulfilment of this in the event of Jesus as the Christ, both as a national event and as a historical event. He suffered, died and rose on ‘the third day’. They became custodians of a new prophetic word and religious ritual that had emerged out of the fulfilment and transformation of the old.
10. The KAIROS
The KAIROS according to New Testament Scriptures is the “fullness of time”, “set or proper time”. In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, it is “the good in the category of time”. It describes the beautification of all things according to a predetermined category of time.
It describes the appearance of a central historical point of reference or a ‘page break’ in the story of man, which in its coming will differentiate between myth and historical actuality, between aspiration and possession and between preparation and possession. It marks the end of an old historical order and the beginning of the ‘new’. As the dividing line between both, it is also the uniting line.
The Jewish mythmakers used it to describe the appearance of the Eternal in the historical, the dissolution of the wall of sin that estranges both, the confrontation of both orders and the conquest of that which is eternal over that which is temporal—and the establishment of a new historical order. The KAIROS described the end of the historical order in its old demonic forms not necessarily the apocalyptic disappearance of the world, but of its old form and the appearance of the new. The KAIROS meant history could not end apocalyptically until the prophetic word spoken over it had been fulfilled.
Jesus’ claims to the throne of David was tested in light of the KAIROS. But He died and the old world continued to exist in its old demonic form. And in His ‘reappearance’, he did not appear to the Jewish nation but to his disciples. As such, his claims to being the Messiah and the executor of the KAIROS was rightly rejected. The Apostles were faced with the challenge of showing that the appearance of the man Jesus had effectively removed the nationalistic and independent meaning of the KAIROS. The KAIROS had to be reinterpreted in terms of time against space. The Book of Revelations expresses this using a mythical but universal language.
The Leninist and Maoist orders tried desperately to abolish the old order so that the new, as prophesied by Marx could take root. But the old world-order continued to exist in its old exploitative forms. The KAIROS was the ultimate test of their world-historical claims.
In light of this, we find ourselves asking the same questions that Jesus’ disciples asked him as he prepared to ascend into the heavens: Will you at this time ‘restore’/’resurrect’ the kingdom? If you are the New Being, and if the New Reality had taken its root in history, why then does the old order continue to exist?
This question, which once underlined my criticism of the Gospels, is now of immense significance in my understanding of them. There I found Christ answering: the KAIROS has not yet come. This answer offended the disciples as it should offend us. It offended the Jews and the Pharisees who were custodians of the Law and Prophets, which determined their national destiny. But the question itself reveals the concern that the disciples and of course the Pharisees had towards the state of their nation.
This one question makes the Christ of the Gospels historically possible. The answer that followed provided the preface for the epistles. In the epistles, this question reappeared as a concern over the destiny of the apostolic church and its message of the Risen Christ in its contact with the Hellenistic world and thought.
Passively disregarding the answer that was given to them, the urgency with which the apostolic church anticipated the return of the Christ is obvious in the epistles. In light of that, they withdrew monastically from the day in anticipation of ‘the day of the Lord’. But they waited and the Christ did not ‘return’ and the promise which was not fulfilled in His first coming, was transformed into the prophetic-apocalyptic symbol of the second coming. The KAIROS had not come was the answer that was implied in their experience, both of the Risen Christ and of the continuation of the old world. With that, appeared a greater apostolic burden, which was fulfilled with the coming of the Apostle Paul, that is, to proclaim the New Reality in an old world in the assurance that It would fulfil its greatest potentials in history and by so doing, bring it to its prophetic end.
After the end of the apostolic church, the dispersion of the Jewish nation and the establishment of the church hierarchy, this question had completely disappeared. The established church, as it were, took itself as a localized answer to the question. Its implication was that a radical theological and historical criticism of the established Church had become impossible since it was assumed that the Church had inherited custody of the apostolic authority.
Western philosophy inherited a ‘Christian world’ and its first struggle was to assert its own intellectual autonomy from the old conservative and ecclesiastical orders, which as an expression of an anxiety over its own authority, had demonized autonomous exercise of human consciousness in the scientific and philosophical spheres. This assertion has been completed, this autonomy has been realized and the old religious order as the custody-keeper of human consciousness has disappeared forever. The man who lives in our time and our world runs the risk of never encountering ‘God’ in his social, intellectual or cultural existence. The Madman’s announcement of the Death of God has never been any truer that it is today. Even when he says that it will still be “more millennia before the shadow of this deed is overcome”, I think we have long passed those shadows—or the shadows have long passed us. With this, comes a redefinition of the meaning of the question: Does God exist? The question no longer means: Is there a God? – In the sense of God as the Eternal Other under whose eyes and watch all historical activities are performed. Atheism as the negation of god is no longer historically possible. Western thought has escaped that God before whom all subjectivity was condemned. The question is an expression of man’s anxiety over his own fate.—Is there a human need for God? Apologetics cannot answer this question. Only the message of the KAIROS could attempt to answer this question.
In the East, came the prophet Mohammed (peace be unto him). Mohammed (peace be unto him) asked this question and answered it with his own prophetic authority. But he too failed at his turn the ultimate test of the KAIROS. For the world that he tried to abolish continued to exist. This struggle continues till today.
Then came Hegel in the West, following the growing sense of the consciousness of world-history and man’s fate in it. Hegel asked this question and answered it with his own philosophy. His philosophy would be the birth of it. And at the centre of this birth, he placed the Germanic peoples apparently imitating the Jewish prophets who had placed the Jewish nation at the centre of their own ideas of the KAIROS. This failed at its turn the ultimate test of the KAIROS for the old order continued to exist after it was criticized and condemned.
In all this, we find that it is only Yahweh that can lay claims to the KAIROS as the God of history. He has proved through His prophets and his apostles—and most importantly—in His willingness to participate personally and transpersonally in the mystery of history, that He understands the meaning of history and can exercise ultimate power over it, over human will and over the powers of fate. Moreso, He has shown through the posterity of the Jewish people that He is the God of history. There is no philosophy of history that can account for the posterity of the Jewish nation, through the world’s most pernicious tragedies. Through them, the prophets show that their vision of the world could be fulfilled—in a fragment of space and time. And that Yahweh’s claim to monotheism were fulfilled in an open and honest encounter with history.
But what did this question entail to the ones that asked it, Hegel, the prophet from Mecca, the disciples—and what does it entail to those of us who still ask it?
It placed their individuality at risk. The individual man with his own interests can no longer be allowed to exist in the face of this question. In it was expressed the anxiety over the state of man and the world for this question as it were, must mean the pursuit of the destiny of the world in general as opposed to (and as containing) that of the single individual.
But this risk is one which the old socialisms took upon themselves and one which all those who ask this question must take upon themselves. The answer that the Christ gave to his disciples is an answer that drives the ones who ask this question into the world. And you shall be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.
STORMS OF OUR TIME: A SPEECH TO THE UNDERGROUND
The modern world was birthed with the French Revolution, though not necessarily in principle. The Humanist project had been in progress for more than three hundred years before the Revolution from the end of the medieval period. The Revolution in turn paved the way for what has been called ‘Romanticism’. Fresh and experimental ideas about human nature, society, science, nationhood, and world-history at large began to appear. Human reason and goodness were both criticized and sustained. Then came Napoleon who took it upon himself to spread the ideas of the Revolution and Romanticism throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Those romantic ideals spread throughout Europe in the most unlikely fashion, mostly through literature, crusades, trade and revolutions, and gave birth to many bizarre national spirits that plunged the world into two bloody wars, and a third, which is rarely spoken of except in whispers. Out of those ideals rose personal tyrannies and nationalist and socialist movements, such as has never been encountered in all history before. Women, children, workers, serfs, and other minorities won for themselves rare privileges and recognition. Africa’s case was largely different. Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt and the attempts of the British Empire at triumphalism made sure these ideals reached Africa as ‘colonialism’. But the ‘romantic era’ came to an end with the Second World War and the eventual appearance of the United States on the world-historical scene. This appearance represented the conquest of a universal humanism over nationalist ones, a conquest which was institutionalised in what is known today as the United Nations and her organisations.
The world was in a savagely restless phase—as always. The Industrial Revolution demanded a reaction. Problems of the use and management of land, labour and raw materials were addressed. Christianity fell into a more permanent decline. Romanticism helped the imagination—in the form of arts and literature—to flourish again, not as mere means of individual self-expression but as true custodians of human self-consciousness. In the same vein, ideas about Divine Providence and natural laws were replaced with ideas about harmony in the universe, and in the human mind. The daily life was to be consecrated. Human sexuality was celebrated as a cause and effect of human conduct. The role of reason in bringing history to its fulfilment was affirmed. The subconscious and the unconscious dimensions of life were discovered. Nature was hallowed as possessing its own reality. Races were consecrated as fulfilling a creative mission in history. But all this came to an abrupt end.
However, what was an abrupt end was more-or-less the finality of a gradual process of ‘separation’ between object and subject in the fundamental view of things, individuals, societies, realties, God and history itself. Science grew more ‘positivistic’ and offered an ‘objective’ reading and interpretation of both human and natural reality. The result of that ‘separation’ and the continuous objectification of all reality was that ideologies, technology, individuals, societies, God, etc. became ‘objects’ among other objects at the disposal and service of autocracies and tyrants. Marxism was the first decisive step at implementing an ‘objectified’ view of the individual subject. Nazism objectified the German society’s view of itself. The atomic bomb was invented out of a scientific necessity. Et cetera. It is the nature of subjects to resist all objectification. Kant had interpreted the whole ethical struggle of man as man’s attempts to resist all attempts to be objectified by the other. This separation continued in a dire time of historical necessity finally bringing it to an abrupt end.
Secondly, and most importantly, a new reality was created, that is, the reality of the world. The ‘World’ Wars opened the nations of the world to a single destiny. The world has become an empirical reality for the contemporary historian. A volatile ‘centre’ now exists around which nations and cultures revolve. A ‘global economic crisis’ is possible only as such. International law has taken effect. Terrorism now has global implications. National events in one nation has ramifications in many other nations. The coming of the so-called Information Age, personal computer and more recently the Internet has made the exchange of cultures much easier. Buddhism has finally arrived the West. Once Africa lived on the fringes of the world’ but that fringe has been eternally removed. In a sense, the Romantic Era did not end, it was absorbed into a new reality, one in which we all now participate. A scramble for the possession and control of this ‘centre’ is what now drives history. As long as this ‘centre’ continues to exist, the historical fate of humankind can be tied to a single event.
The rise of the United States as a global political and economic power was what saved the world at a time when the demons were running an unstoppable rampage. It was a fortuitous rise as it was at the same time, a predictable one since after all, these same romantic ideals has appeared in the United States to a far greater degree than in any other nation, except that these ideals were removed from obvious demonic extremes. There were doubts and anxieties, especially after the First World War that the ideals of the French Revolutionaries and the declaration of human rights would not be realized on a universal scale. Then the Second World War followed and then the Cold War, which volatilised these anxieties. The appearance of the United States on the back of these two global conflicts was a saving moment for the ideals of Romanticism. The United States inherited custody of everything that European Romanticism had struggled for and had won. Today, we can speak of ‘republics’ and democracies in which the state is truly—though not fully—ultimate over external controls, in the form of e.g. monarchs and religious powers. Today, we can speak of independent reason as the guiding light of the human race. The American Fathers consecrated the ‘American race’ as the creative spirit by which a new world-order would be brought into the world. The United Nations Charters and the Constitutions of all the worlds’, nations are founded on autonomous reason as are modern systems of education. The United States has provided modern science a place in which to thrive. Science needed such a creative freedom and prestige and when it was realized, it flourished in its task at the speed of light.
It is not important to expound on the politics of this rise, we are interested in its implications for the present and the future. To the historian of philosophy, it represented the conquest of the Liberal Humanism over all other Humanisms. It is a conquest since the World Wars were not only wars of nations but also of ideals, cultures, personalities and of Humanisms. Since its eventful rise, Liberalism balanced the nationalist and religious absolutes with a Humanistic relativism that provided the necessary and much-needed criticism, a relationship that has survived to this day. It retained most, if not all, the original elements of the original Romanticism. These elements were supported by criticism both from inside and outside, criticisms that it accepted until lately. It is the nature of absolutes to resist criticism. The old absolutist orders resisted all criticisms, both from inside and outside and when those criticisms were accepted, they were accepted without qualified seriousness.
This is not necessarily specific with the West since the World Wars created a ‘universal centre’—behind which exists the East-West dichotomy—that has long fallen into the hands of the United States, which now takes itself as a ‘representative’ of mankind and the custodian of this centre. This idea of the world was instituted into what is known as the United Nations, an organisation that has failed to live up to the price that was paid for it. It has been nothing more than a puppet in the hands of the West.
But Liberal Humanism has proved to be no better than all the other Humanisms. It has finally submitted to the same negatives as the other absolutes. It was only a matter of time after all. The old absolutes have been reduced to relatives and the relativistic attitude has assumed a position of absolutism in relation to other relatives and absolutes. It is very important that we speak of ‘relatives’ and ‘absolutes’ since after all, history happens out of the transformation or reduction of one to another. The most recent sanctification of homosexuality and its legalization among the nations of the West is a victory for Liberal Humanism in the cultural-ethical sphere. I could give more instances of where it has ascended in the scientific and philosophical spheres. But we are closer to the legalisation of homosexuality so let’s use it as an instance where a cultural relative is raised to the position of an absolute among and against all other absolutes. In this part of the world, we find it a problem for the very fact that it is being imposed on other cultures as a necessary absolute, and as is the nature of all absolutes, such sanctification has continued to actively resist both from within itself and from outside, all religious, anthropological, and scientific criticisms.
I could give many more instances. I could tell you of the political and economic exploitation of poorer and less powerful nations by richer and stronger ones, of which Africa has been a perpetual victim. I could tell you of the nationalist ambitions of the Americans that have hurt their Latin neighbours, their own citizens and the world at large. I could tell you how much violence has been part of the American Solution, a ‘solution’ that created the problem called ISIS.
I also could tell you that more than ever in the history of economic theory, an alternative economic theory is desperately needed, a need which the Economic Meltdown of the past decade has made inevitable. An economic theory more radical and revolutionary than the Marxist theories. Because it has become customary to criticise the Marxist orders simply because those orders prophetically reveal the demonic depths of human nature in relation to human nature, something that the current theories take for granted and exploit.
We live through a time when mankind is in search of another Humanism, or any other absolute ideal, religious or nonreligious, that will represent a historical absolute since no people can live without something which they take with unqualified seriousness both in thought and existence. The so-called Islamic Awakening in the West and the coming of Buddhism to the West are only the immediate proofs that we can call to mind for the occasion. These two events are primal in designating a ‘future’ for world-history. They mirror the end of the ‘Westernization’ of the world.
We are living through a transition era in history—or in a more profound sense, the end of a transition era that began almost a century ago. It is imperative that if we fail to find one, we must create one. As a Christian theologian and a Humanist, I would recommend a Christian Humanism supported and criticised by other Humanisms. As an individual, I would say nothing at all since after all Humanisms have betrayed us, even the Christian ones. Only a Messiah can save us. And if the world will listen, I would tell them of it.
In addition, we must once again go back to speaking of ‘mankind’ outside of the United Nations and the United States. They are not representatives of mankind! In addition, capitalism has survived to this day because it is more compatible with the human nature and its affinity for greed and its tendency to the exploitation of others. But we need a new economic theory and Islam has proved more than willing to provide us with one.
The situation is desperate in ways we have not come to fully realize. For brevity sake, I will not speak much of the religious or scientific implications of it. But let me make a brief mention of the current religious crisis of the West and the identity crisis facing Christianity there, a crisis that has been taken for granted by apologetics as a matter of doubt, rather than a radical rejection of the Christian absolutes and their reduction to relatives among other relatives. I will also mention the so-called spiritual break of the West and the East, inaugurated by the World Wars, a divide that has lasted since the Cold War until this very day.
When the invitation to discussions about world-history and in this case, the state and future of Africa, there is a hidden tendency towards the superstitious as an attempt to escape the despair of staring into the abyss. The thinking man cannot reflect upon the present or the future with what George Orwell called ‘peace of mind’. Orwell may have been a pessimist in his vision of the future, as all prophets are, but we all thinking men are well aware of his despair and angst since we participate in it. Science has won for itself a place of authority and security where the scientist can do his work with ‘peace of mind’. History has taken that from the thinking men. The changes of history have given the scientist more authority than the thinker. Even so in our age, the men of work and play stand above thinking men.
But we are condemned to speak and speak we must. We are no longer in a hurry to speak of the future since there is nothing to speak of. We live in an age, which not quite unlike all others, has refused to admit that its idea of progression cannot save it from its certain tragedy. Of the past, we can speak of with a measure of ‘peace of mind’ since we lack the courage to ‘spit upon history’.
We must therefore lay aside in humility all cynicisms, all ‘visions’, ‘prophesies’, conspiracy theories, eschatology and all of that. They are good if they are used properly but they will threaten the seriousness of these discussions if not remove it. We can use those but only after the final word has been said by thinking men and women. More is demanded of intellectual rigors than all of that. The time to poetize, sermonize and propagandize has passed. The situation demands of us desperate measures and we must ruffle our own feathers even without a good measure of ‘peace of mind’.
The verdict on the future is simply that the Romantic Era has passed. For the future, we are burdened to create our own Humanism out of the disappearance of the current Humanisms. We cannot escape this burden. The current order has already fallen, whatever we will see as ‘fall’ will be effects rather than cause.
But how much can we do when a lot has already been done in bearing this burden? Islam. Islam stand in line to inherit custody to the World Spirit. In non-technical language, Islam stand next in line to rule the world. They will produce the principle that will dictate the movement of world-history. This is a matter of fact; there is no debate to it. The Romantic Era has effectively ended. The ‘Westernization’ of the world is grinding to a halt. The East have grown stronger societies and economies that are prepared to inherit and lead the World Spirit. Christianity as an absolute of Western civilization has been reduced to a relative among relatives. The Humanist relatives has faded into relatives. Islam will present the world with a new absolute, new economic theories, new ideas of state, etc. What we cannot say for sure is how we are to respond to this since, as it were, they have come a long way.
Wherever I have said that Islam will rule the world, what marvels me is the ignorance of most people to it. Islam has fought hardest on both an ideological level and a political level. The suicides of the West have only made the fight easier for them.
As a Christian thinker, I am quite pessimistic about this. We cannot fight it or rather, we have already lost the fight. The least we can do is prepare for it or continue to fight on an apologetic level. Christianity has suffered the ultimate loss of its status as an absolute. The other Humanist absolutes have failed the ultimate test of their absoluteness. The relativistic and non-historical nature of Buddhism means that it cannot provide the much-needed resistance to the Islamic ideals when they are fully come.
Fundamentalist eschatologists may see this as the penultimate event world-history leading up to the establishment of the physical Kingdom. Personally, I doubt that. It is more or less, an attitude of resignation or a desire to escape the world. Those attitudes are frivolous and we have seen it more than once.
The question our present occasion demands of our asking is: What about Biafra and Africa as a whole?
It is a question may of us will jump at. The answers will not have much to do with these analyses, or even a knowledge of history, an approach that has always proved to be fatal. Let us not be too quick to answer this question. Excuse me but there is a therapy I once learnt about returning hormonal functions to the thinking brain. It is holding one’s breath and counting to ten. It works, really!
That is not a question we should be in a hurry to answer because we cannot say we know the answer, not with the haste of daydreamers. What we can say with utmost certainty is that we know the situation and the questions posed by it, understand their seriousness, and are prepared to find answers or create answers to them.
With that being said, let me proceed with what I suppose to be, not necessarily ‘answers’ but dynamics that can lead to answers. The situation of Africa and that of Biafra is in no way different from that of the world at large, new nationalist ideals and new economic theories are desperately needed. In addition to the will and human resource to pursue and implement them. But if we can win on the ideological front, we can make it easier for those who stand to actualise the ideals.
Africa has proven itself a colossal mess in the world-history project. Look, the thinking men of Africa have suffered from an inordinate complex that the problems of Africa are all courtesy of the Europeans. I really don’t care your ‘research’ or how many instances, citations and references you can put to it. We must listen to our conscience and if we have the type of consciences that have been ‘seared with hot irons’, then we must listen to the conscience of history. This complex did not help a young and growing African intelligentsia.
Even if all the problems of Africa, are truly courtesy of the Europeans, their solutions are now courtesy of Africa. And after more than sixty years of Africa’s political independence, we have proved on so many levels to be inept at dealing with the problems that confront us or even accepting them. I have said it and I wish to say it again that Africa was far better at the hands of the colonialists than it is now in the hands of Africans—whatever our idea of freedom is. I do not wish to contend with anyone’s rejection of that fact. It is not nearly my personal notion as it is the judgement of history. Few decades ago, Africa, especially Sub-Saharan Africa supposedly had very little ‘modern history’ as far as world-history is concerned. Achebe credits himself and his generation of writers as those who created a ‘history’ of Africa. Enough historical material have aggregated for us to be able to pass judgement on modern Africa as a colossal failure.
But let us not deceive ourselves. We gain nothing by that. We have no moral right to expect that ideals that are not our own can favour us in the least ways. We can escape with that idea sixty years ago since after all, we were virgins still trying to embrace the ideals of nationalism and implement them. But after more than six decades, we have lost our virginity in many ways. We can no longer point fingers except to ourselves. Civil and tribal wars, poverty, corruption, illiteracy have continued to plague the African peoples. The systems we inherited from the West have failed in our hands.
Africa has failed to decide its own fate on so many levels. We have not had leaders who have a sense of their ultimate task, which is to perpetuate or vitalise the fruits of independence and national sovereignty in the political and economic realms.
The Biafran spirit in a period of great necessity proved that it could subsist on its own terms. It is of good conscience that we harangue the West for paying dear ears to the cries of millions of Biafrans. They even exploited the crisis for there was more gain in it than in the secession of Eastern Nigeria from the monstrosity called Nigeria. The Americans would have jumped at it if there were immediate gains like they jumped into Colombia against the will of both Colombia and Panama to engineer the independence of Panama. The British faced a potential embarrassment if the nation fell apart in less than seven years of their departure. As far as the West was concerned, there was nothing about the Biafran struggle that directly represented their own interests. The Biafran idea of freedom fighting and their cries of a genocide, which was sounded in their own backyard, was not good enough reason, to those who see themselves as ‘the freest nation in the world’ and the many other countries that are their puppets. The help that trickled in lacked the seriousness that was desperately needed. Of all the things that undermined the struggle, the apathy of the West was one.
Biafra, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, etc., are instances that remind us that we can no longer continue to live off the ‘help’ of the West. We can no longer continue to appeal to their sense of ‘right’ for after all, politics has proved to be nothing more than a game of self-interests. We have to fight for our own lives with the seriousness and indulgence of a man who is alone in the world.
Biafra has proved that on many levels. Its claims are not necessarily hollow dreams of a people, a portion of history has shown that a nation can, out of the necessities of its historical situation, effectively decide its own fate.
To all other African nations, Biafra has to shine out as a lesson in both political and economic self-determination. This is not a lesson that any African nation has learnt so far. It comes with great sacrifices, ones that our leaders have shown that they are not ready to make. It calls us to lay aside our pride, our greed, our selfish interests and make those of our nations and the Black Man, the ultimate.
But I will ask: how many nations in Africa have a true sense of nationalism anymore? We sing the anthems and say the pledges but do those things actually hold any meaning for us? What about the Nigerians? In Nigeria, these nationalist ideals no longer exist, not in public consciousness or even among the intellectuals who have to bother more with what they will eat and drink than what they will think. The teachers who are supposed to teach it have no will to do so since after all, the country has no respect for its teachers. The discovery of the oil, following the Civil War, and a long list of military dictators, effectively ended all the sense of nationalism that the Nigerians have. In Nigeria, no one of our leaders have proven to be a true nationalist and so history, which is rarely studied, cannot teach us about our sense of nationalism since after all the so-called nationalists were at the least, representatives of a tribal interest.
Among the people, nationalism has become a joke since the discovery of the ‘national cake’.
Biafra as a nation has passed the ideological stage. As a socialist movement, it has held up the interests of its own people to the world as the ultimate. These ideals may one day degenerate, as all other socialisms and nationalisms, into something demonic but they are the first step in the formation of nations. And Biafra has taken that step.
Secondly, and very importantly, haven shown that new theories of state and economic theories are desperately needed, we can start with Biafra as a new and radical idea of state and a declaration of rights of the African man. This is an ambitious one indeed. But the much we can do about it will not be to merely speak or pontificate about it. We can ‘experiment’ on Biafra as an idea of state. Not much is required since after all, the Biafran ideal is closer to the world centre than we realize. With a little adjustment, it can fit into the future of world-history and play a paramount role.
Finally, Nigeria is presently being ruled by a nitwit, surrounded by a bunch of nitwits, who as far as the twenty-first century is concerned, has not been born. Call it what you want but it is a deliberate attempt to turn back the hand of the clock over a nation of 200 million people. And this is pathetic and pitiable enough to make us weep and wear sackcloth. But what makes this bunch of Nigerians different from the many others? Absolutely nothing. The Nigerian society and the Nigerian Mythology raised them and now it must accept its fate at the hands of those halfwits and dullards.
In the next decade, what should we expect from these men, who are no better in mind and spirit than touts that roam our streets? Absolutely nothing!
Do not injure yourselves with hope in them or in the Nigerian dream. You will dampen your spirits. I know a lot about hope to be able to tell you that it can damage the spirit of a man as much as it can save it.
I said exactly the same thing about the Oil situation in the world and today, we live on its edge. The oil market moves closer to the Middle East as has moved matters of world-politics. Nigeria as a nation that depends on its oil will be persecuted by its own stupidity and lack of foresight. The many millions that have stolen from the oil wells over years could have been used to build other areas of the economy. But there you and I have it!
The greatest struggle of the custodian of the Biafran project will be to protect the ideal it represents from internal corruption and degeneration. This was precisely the failure of those who were the custodians of the Liberal Humanist principle. They did not guard the ideal that had saved the world from a most demonic era. This principle fell into the hands of those who have used it to their own ends and have corrupted it. Now we live through a time when we are forced to reject this principle unconditionally. They are what Nostradamus called in one of his quatrains ‘the human destroyers of the West.’ These destroyers are not the terrorists and Islamic fundamentalist. This principle has died a suicidal death, not a homicidal one. The ‘human destroyers of the West’ is the West itself.
We cannot only bask in its victory when it comes, we must take this task of self-preservation with the same measure of seriousness that is demanded of us to create it. Anybody can get it; the hard part is keeping it.
We have heard the joyful sound:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Spread the message all around:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Bear the news to every land,
Climb the seas and cross the waves
Onward—‘tis our lord’s commands,
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Waft it on the rolling tide:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Tell to sinners far and wide:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Sing ye islands of the sea,
Echo back you ocean waves;
Earth shall keep her jubilee:
Jesus saves Jesus saves!
Sing above the battle strife:
Jesus! Saves! Jesus saves!
By His death and endless life:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Shout it brightly through the gloom,
When the heart for mercy craves
Sing in triumph over the tomb:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Give the winds a mighty voice:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Let the nations now rejoice:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Shout salvation full and free
Highest hills and deepest waves:
‘Tis our song of victory:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
— Priscilla J. Owens, 1882
A REFLECTION IN THE FORM OF A SERMON
Let us reflect on two passages of Scriptures.
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.
There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.
The words above are very familiar words. Life sucks. Life’s a bitch. They describe the sighs and anguish over our existential situation. We all carry this sigh about with us. They may become louder in certain situations and gentler in others, but it is never ever silent. The tones of this sigh and exclamation at our lives may vary from situation to situation.
We despair in our labour as we despair in rest. Both the man who finds reward for his labours and the man who is estranged from his are in despair.
We despair over our lives, in its transitoriness, in its abundance, in its emptiness, in the burden of its restlessness on our spirits. We despair over our moral and social state. The unity we share with our nations and societies laden us with guilt and despair over its fate. The existence of man is the very accident of the universe. Thus, we despair over the state of all that exists with us in the world. The deterioration of our climate and our wildlife, etc. are problems that demand intellectual struggle and existential passion from us. Repeatedly, Esiaba Irobi showed how environmental hazards gives rise to cultural and existential anxieties. The ‘rise of the machines’ and the proliferation of technology have become sources of anxieties for individuals and for nations. These anxieties arise out of our unity with our environment and the physical world. For anything that happens to our world, we are condemned to stand responsible for it. We can no longer escape that burden and we can no longer violate the relationship we have with the physical world without guilt. In our cultural lives, we experience despair over the state of our cultural institutions and the deterioration of cultural values and identities. The unity we share with our nations and communities mean that, of these despairs, both existential passion and intellectual struggle are demanded of us.
Ultimately, we despair in the anticipation of our death. Death is a very serious matter for both the man in death row and the man who is in good health. The poet who sings about death does not receive power over death by doing so. Death is a very serious source of anxiety and despair.
We despair over the future and over the past. We despair in abundance as we do in lack. We despair in bondage as we do in freedom. We want freedom and are willing to give everything for it. But there is no one who does not feel great anguish over his own freedom. We despair in good as we do in in evil. Our despair over all good lies in the fact that there is no human good that is subjected to fate. Our despair over evil lies in our inability to conquer it.
Suffering is inescapable in the world. We suffer for good as we suffer for evil. We suffer for truth as we suffer for falsehood. We suffer for our own decisions and we suffer for the decisions of others—leaders, parents, friends. In every Yes and No of our daily existence, there exists a hidden No said in guilt and an irrational fear of the unknown. This No is far less hidden in our religious life. Anxiety means that we are infinitely aware of the threat of nonbeing that overhangs our individual existence and all mankind.
We suffer as well as the hands of demons. There is no historical existence that can truly say that it has escaped the power of demons, moreso the deteriorating power of time. It is present in thought as it is in life. In our relationships with the other, we realize that a divide exists, one that friendship, sex, marriage, community, etc. cannot bridge. Every relation with the other is under the threat of abuse, betrayal, and ultimately death.
All is vanity.
The burden of life condemns us to take this despair seriously with existential passion and intellectual struggle. No one can truly embrace the abyss. All realism, radicalized to nihilism is an attempt to embrace the abyss. But there is no Yes to life that can exist alongside nihilism. The greatness of man is that he can take this despair with seriousness and do something redemptive about it. All nihilism is an intellectual threat to the survival of mankind. History is a witness to the abilities of man to neutralize the threats of his own despair. When we say that despair is the root of all philosophy, we mean to say that all philosophy is an attempt to take the experience of despair with intellectual seriousness.
The Preacher of Ecclesiastes gives expression to this despair. This is the state in which he finds us and in which we find ourselves, and all that is ‘under the sun’.
These are not the words of a pessimist. Unlike the pessimist who has refused to live, the preacher merely reports to us from his experience of life in its abundance and limits. In addition to that, he reports to us also of the experiences of others. He tells us not only of what he has experienced, but also of that which he has observed in the experiences of others.
The keywords in his report seems to be ‘under the sun’. The condition that his depressing words describe is a universal condition in which everything under the sun—man and nature—find themselves in. Our religiousness or irreligiousness does not exclude us. Neither does our race, our colour, our nationality. The preacher could have been a king who lived in the abundance of life. But even in the abundance of his life, he is still in despair. This despair does not exclude those who live their lives in abundance. It is with them as it is with those who live in the limits of life. There is none among them that is not in despair.
Let us reflect on another passage of Scripture:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with
patience wait for it.
Let us reflect on the Apostle’s own report. The Apostle sees virtually the same thing. There is a problem with everything in creation—man and nature. In similar poetic-philosophic terms and almost with the same words, he speaks to us of a ‘groaning’ and a ‘bondage of corruption’ and of ‘vanity’.
This vanity is not with man only but with everything in creation—the ‘whole creation’. It is not hard to see what the Apostle is trying to show, we only need look at our situation and at nature around us.
This state of struggle and anguish is one that we share with all creation. Our experience of the groaning of things in nature incites in us groanings because we are one with nature. When we see others groan we feel a unity with them that is present in their groanings. There is nothing that binds us together in our humanity more than suffering and ultimately, death. That is why we see our own death in the death of others and our suffering in the sufferings of others—no matter how hard at heart we may have grown to become.
However, the Apostle’s description of his observation though is more hopeful than that of the Preacher. The Apostle sees the same vanity as the Preacher but he refuses to succumb to despair. He has found hope in the Resurrected Christ and he shares this hope with us. And he can speak of it because he has experienced its greatness in his own life.
He speaks of this hope as ‘the glory that shall be revealed in us’. He speaks of this hope as ‘the redemption of our bodies’. He speaks of this hope as ‘the glorious liberty of the sons of God’. He joins the prophets of old to declare that all things will one day become new.
Oh, what beauty awaits the man who finds hope not only for himself but for all that is in creation! Such hope causes one to look upon himself and upon all that is in creation no more in despair but with joy that anticipates its own redemption. This joy and this hope can conquer all threats of despair. In this hope is the certainty of our redemption and the redemption of mankind.
In those few words, he tells us of the same thing that the prophet Isaiah when he says: ‘I will do a new thing… I will even make way in the wilderness and rivers in the deserts’. (43:19) ‘Behold, I create a new heaven and a new earth’. (65:17)
Hope is that which binds a man to eternity. The man who discovers hope has made the greatest discovery of all: Eternity! And the man who discovers eternity discovers hope not only for himself but for all creation!
WE ARE SAVED BY HOPE!
WE ARE SAVED BY HOPE
Hope is the paradox of possession.
Hope is the finite’s infinite passion for the Infinite.
To hope is to reach out of oneself and receive the future.
A passion of hope embraces the Infinite though it does not cease to be the finite. It receives within itself the power of being in the face of non-being against non-being.
To be able to hope in that which is Unchanging is precisely to be able to live in the ever-Changing.
Despair is to not subject oneself to hope and despair is sin. And the soul that sinneth shall die.
Hope renounces itself for that into which it seeks to transform itself.
The Jewish poets and prophets, otherwise their ‘mythmakers’, celebrated the coming Hope in the backdrop of their national and individual tragedies. By so doing, they received the future into the present even though the future did not cease to be the future and even though the present did not cease to be the present.
This Hope was held in a loose human symbol with which we have come to associate the Christ, the symbol of ‘the suffering servant of Yahweh’.
They found in this Hope the assurance that their tragic story as a nation and as individuals would be resolved at a time in history.
The hope of the transformation of our individual lives gives us the courage to be. And the hope of the transformation of out nations and societies gives us the courage to participate in its fate.
Nothing can justify any self-made hope or wish. And historical realism can be a form of despair when it revels in the fatality of life.
Eternity is not endless time. The Eternal Life is a life that cannot be violated by the powers of fate. It is a life that is warranted to fulfil its greatest potentials.
The Christian hope is the transformation of the world into the image of the Resurrected Christ. This is a hope that she is called to witness to in history.
Hope is the ultimate passion for Eternity.
Hope wherever it appears elevates the historical order to the Eternal and receives the Eternal within itself. And whatever is elevated to the Eternal, the Unchanging, the Unconditional, the Holy, it is transformed by it into the Eternal—even though it still remains and retains itself. In this transformation, hope passionately holds on to the present after passionately given it up for the future.
We are saved by hope.
1 The thoughts expressed here, and hereafter are not entirely mine. In any case, I cannot ascribe all of them, without qualification to Paul Tillich, so as not to harm the integrity of his works. My reading of Paul Tillich’s collection of essays and speeches, The Protestant Era, 1948 (translated by James Luther Adams), shaped my ‘philosophical’ interest in the philosophy of history. On a personal note, it was shaped by my readings of the world’s myths. My restatement of them may be erroneous and approximate. However, the aim is not to restate them but to use them and give a meaningful philosophical reading of our present historical situation. Or give a ‘setting-forth’ of matters that relate to world-history. Of course, I read countless other books on the subject matter, but Paul Tillich’s essays, like all his works, are wide-ranging and expansive in their sources and ambition while taking seriously a dialectical method. Not only in length of space (economics, political theory, arts, culture, theology, education, technology, etc.) but also in length of time (from the classical era to post-war 20th Century literature and philosophy). Moreover, they are a ‘setting-forth’ in a similar sense since they are argued not from any fixed point to another fixed point. In an age where philosophy, moreso all metaphysics and the philosophy of history, has been declared ‘dead’, it is important that interest in these matters are created and sustained independently either by seeking new means of exploring them or by assuming the philosophical method. Those aside, I am merely satisfying my own curiosity about matters that have troubled me since after I told my friends that all I want is to ‘know the world’. It is this personal interest that supports these enquiries. Most importantly, I consider these matters as a general preface to my general body of work and internets as a writer whose intellectual struggle is towards the mystery of history.
2 The words in parenthesis are mine, for emphasis sake.
3 Joseph Adolph, ‘What is the New Age?’ New Age Journal, (1988), cited by Randall Baer in Inside the New Age Nightmare.
5 In a theological setting, the term ‘imagine’ does not hold. It does not measure up to the seriousness of the struggle that the word was meant to convey. It cannot even be allowed to hold since such tasks are beyond the experience of ‘poetic ecstasy’ or what is traditionally called ‘inspiration’. Theologically, ‘revelation’ is a more meaningful warrant for such an experience. The prophets spoke not just out of an anxiety over their national state and the need for new and fresh symbols of self-awareness, the prophetic word was forced on them by their experience of the holy. It was from such an experience that they derived their authority.
6 A. J van der Bent, God So Loves the World: The Immaturity of World Christianity
7 Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God.
8 The interpretation of sin as ‘depravity’ is an inhuman reading of the meaning of sin. Nietzsche, for an instance, “usually thought to be removed from biblical themes, considered the problem of the Fall to be the axis or pivot of his whole complex of philosophical questions” (Shestov). He saw it as “a conspiracy against health, beauty, well-constitutedness, bravery, intellect, benevolence of soul, against itself …it is the self-violation of man,… the sickening of man…the concept of the peccatum orignale was invented to destroy the casual sense of man.” No humanistic reading of the problem of man can affirm such an interpretation of the meaning of sin. But this reading of sin has persisted in Christianity from the time of Augustine without its paradox being maintained. The problem of ‘original sin’ has been overcome by a more humanistic reading of the human condition. The failure of such a reading of the meaning of sin demanded a new Theology of Atonement and a new theology of the Cross. Luther initially provided this theology. Protestantism was the first step towards overcoming this problem for it upheld freedom of conscience in the matter of interpretation of scriptures and affirmed the priestly authority of the individual believer. This ‘freedom of conscience’ and an emphasis on individual consciousness against Catholic scholasticism and ecclesiasticism was able to match a humanistic affirmation of the goodness and expediency of reason. The concept of sin, no doubt sounds archaic to modern psychology and philosophy is justified in dismissing it as a false cause. But the matter of guilt still remains. The existence of psychology is itself an evidence. Moral philosophy exists because the problem of personal sin and the anxiety of our moral state, or guilt exists.
As a continuing postscript to A Report To History, Frank Achebe chronicles his search for a new Biafran myth and his intellectual struggle to find an answer to the problem of history.