Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Religions and Decisions

Religion, although thought to be only a positive presence in someone’s life, can also be negative and harmful. In Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease, the author describes many situations in which religious beliefs are referenced, and leaves it up to the reader to decide whether or not religion was used in a positive or negative manner.

A social situation usually does not involve the tenets of religion, but Obi Okonkwo soon finds that even a night dancing may be hindered by using religion as an inappropriate basis for reasoning. While Obi and his friend Christopher spend time with “two Irish girls who were very interested in Nigeria” (133), the men expect their experience to be light-hearted and free of any restrictions – they just want to have a gay night on the town. While dancing, “Obi won a couple of tentative kisses. But when he tried something more ambitious, Nora whispered sharply: ‘No! Catholics are not allowed to kiss like that!’” (134). When the men come to visit the girls another time, they are reproached with the response, “Then Nora explained quite simply without any false apologies that the Mother had spoken to them seriously about going around with African men. She had warned them that if the Bishop knew of it they might find themselves sent back to Ireland” (135). In these instances, the women use religion as a basis for their deciding not to form relationships with Obi and Christopher. Nora first uses her conservative religious tendencies as a foundation for not engaging in more promiscuous activities, while the Mother Superior uses the threat of telling the Bishop as a method to prevent the mixing of races. Instead of using their religion as a means of connecting one person with another, the women use their religion to form restrictions as a means of separating themselves.

The women’s use of religion to separate themselves from Obi and Christopher is the direct opposite of Obi’s technique while he tries to convince his father that Clara should be his wife. Obi’s family is firmly against his marrying Clara based on her being an osu, a descendant of someone who “had been dedicated to serve a god, thereby setting himself apart and turning his descendants into a forbidden caste to the end of Time” (82). Obi cannot begin to fathom the validity of this argument, and thus attempts to convince his parents that Clara is the perfect girl for him. While speaking with his father Isaac, Obi uses his religion as a basis for his argument, saying such things as, “I don’t think it matters. We are Christians,” “The Bible says that in Christ there are no bond or free,” and, “What is this thing? Our fathers in their darkness and ignorance called an innocent man osu, a thing given to idols, and thereafter he became an outcast, and his children, and his children’s children forever. But have we not seen the light of the Gospel” (151). Obi uses the belief that Christianity means “universal” in order to persuade Isaac to accept the differences that surround Clara’s family history. He also sights the teachings of Christ as the foundation for his argument, noting that Christ accepted everyone into His circle of believers and that everyone in Christ’s eyes is the same. Obi believes that his reasoning founded on religion will convince his father to overlook Clara’s ancestors.

Although this may seem to be a positive use of religion in decision-making, Obi soon learns that there is more at stake in his method. Isaac tells him that his use of his religious beliefs against his father demonstrates that he does not understand the true meaning of belonging to a religion. Isaac recounts his story regarding his decision to become a Christian, noting that he separated himself from his family in order to become a missionary. He states that his father never forgave him for this, and thus cursed him (157). Isaac’s choice to follow his religious beliefs in the face of being ostracized shows that he was ready to dedicate himself to one specific cause, particularly since the God of Christianity is more merciful and human than the god to whom his father adhered. His story recounts how Isaac’s father killed his boyhood companion because “…one day the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves decreed that the boy should be killed. Obi’s grandfather loved the boy. But when the moment came it was his matchet that cut him down” (158). Isaac took his stand against his father and his father’s gods by becoming a Christian and following a god who would not allow this type of blind sacrifice to occur. Isaac’s father’s situation is akin to Abraham’s experience when he is asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. God quickly intervenes, saying that this request was only a test in order to verify that Abraham would complete His every instruction. Isaac knows that the God of Christianity would have stopped the sacrifice that his father carried out. Isaac states, “I tell you all this so that you may know what it was in those days to become a Christian. I left my father’s house, and he placed a curse on me. I went through fire to become a Christian. Because I suffered I understand Christianity – more than you will ever do” (157). Isaac’s decision to become a Christian demonstrates that he used his faith in a positive way to combat the savage practices that occurred. Isaac learned that although becoming a Christian is difficult and leads to ostracism, it is worth the battle. Thus, he states that Obi cannot know the true meaning of being a Christian because he has not suffered for his beliefs. Therefore, Isaac refuses to allow Obi to thoughtlessly use these tenets in order to argue with him and persuade him to allow another familial problem to become construed based on religion.