Your Eminence, I pray that this finds you well. You may recall that when we met at the cathedral before I left to visit America, you asked that I write to Your Eminence through my beloved elder brother, Fr. Adebayo Francis, with occasional observations. The Lord has blessed me with a safe journey and this is my first instalment.
America is a strange place, full of unexpected contradictions. We learn, or we think we learn, much from the media. I also learnt much back home at St. John’s, particularly under Sister Theresa Oluwatoni (whom I am told went to her Eternal Reward whilst I have been away, and I pray for her soul). She would be pleased to hear how much that she taught was correct, but surprised by how some is not quite as she imagined it!
Happily, I have experienced little racism amongst the Americans, whom as we know have again elected a President with some African ancestors. There remains some bigotry of course, but maybe less than we find at home in Nigeria between our different tribes and religions. I am always made welcome by my American hosts. Much stranger is what passes for Christianity here, considering that it was scarcely more than a century ago that the Europeans and Americans first brought us the True Faith. Even though we Africans came late to labour in God’s vineyard, it may fall upon us to send our own missionaries to straighten them out. It will not be easy work.
I will postpone reports on American decadence of which we already see too much on television, often exaggerated and misrepresented. Also, I won’t beleaguer you long with news of our Anglican friends overseas, whose leaders never seem to have read the Bible very closely anyway. Suffice it to say that their Western leadership seems Hell-bent on restructuring to pave the way for unorthodox changes in gender and sexual practices that Anglicanism’s African traditionalists have opposed, so the most important among their elites regard our own Anglicans as savages. Brother Patrick Wakesa (a friend from Kenya) jokes half-heartedly that the white leftist Anglicans will soon accuse us of cannibalism for consuming the Eucharist. Anyway, Your Eminence knows all this.
Nor will Your Eminence be surprised that so many American Protestant Christians believe that Our Lord will make them rich in money in this lifetime, rather than reward them spiritually in the hereafter. Usually this is contingent upon a large cash donation up front. It is a church-based version of those emails sent by the thousands, usually by fellow Nigerians alas, claiming that they have billions of ill-gotten dollars, need to borrow someone’s bank account and will share the loot after the money gets laundered. On the other hand, while America’s Low Church Protestantism seems awash in these scams, there are just as many of our own fraudulent self-proclaimed preachers in Lagos and Abuja, raking it in from greedy and gullible worshippers.
I am most surprised to find otherwise conservative and educated, devout and traditionalist American Christians engaged in outright pagan worship of a kind that was removed from our most remote southern Delta States generations ago. I do not mean hillbilly preachers on cable; I mean many educated American Catholics, Lutherans and Episcopalians.
Yes, they go to church every week and take the Sacraments, but parallel to that they engage in true paganism; I suppose in the way in which some people in Haiti worship the One True God and ancient pagan false-gods simultaneously. This American false-god may be their primitive misunderstanding of the Old Testament Covenant. This auxiliary god of theirs, if propitiated often enough, protects them from evil, ensures a kind of good governance that we know from Christ’s life is impossible here on earth, and guarantees them the wealth, military power and the moral justification to dominate every other nation on the planet. Nobody even in the most malarial backwaters of the Congo, screwed up as it is, would fall for a story like this. It is as if these Americans read about the Old Testament Chosen People, forgot about the life of Our Lord, and tucked into the home-made palm-liquor rather too vigorously.
As Your Eminence said in your Ash Wednesday sermon two years ago, false gods fail, and here it is no different. Their false-god (whose name is Constitution and lives in a glass tabernacle somewhere in Washington, DC) died far more than a century ago if indeed it ever lived. It commands that only gold and silver shall count as official money, and yet their central government (which the god supposedly controls and restricts) began issuing paper currency more than 150 years ago and it has not been backed by precious metal for generations. The state governments which it supposedly protects have been over-run by their national government for much longer; and its legal and human-rights guarantees were junked by one of their Presidents as far back as the 1860s or earlier. It is sufficiently dysfunctional not to have saved the lives of more than fifty million unborn Americans who have been murdered for no more than individual convenience over nearly forty years.
While American law-makers blithely wage war without the officially-required approval of this paper deity, engage in torture and expand central power, persecute religion and raise revenue inappropriately, etc., no political party has respect for this national god beyond lip-service, nor do the ordinary worshippers of this nationalist deity, except when it suits them. Their judges genuflect and cite the paper god, but rule howsoever they feel inclined.
Were this US Constitution a hippopotamus just as dead, the ants would have picked the carcass clean long ago, and then someone would have cut the bones into beads and sold them to tourists. There’s nothing left but the paper that they keep worshipping, maybe in hope that the god will come back to life somehow. It is as if, long ago, some primitive pagan lady already had twelve children and still kept praying to the goddess of virginity; maybe just a bit too late!
Yet these thoughtful conservative Americans, so decent and even noble in so many regards, venerate the paper god, read and talk without stop about its origins by day and night, and sacrifice forests’ worth of paper in hagiographies discussing all who first perceived it and what they each thought of one another. Obsessive fails to describe them.
Remembering to hate the sin but love the sinner, we must be charitable to their retrograde pagan longings, I suppose. These Americans look back to an alleged Golden Age that lasted for only a few decades chiefly in the eighteenth-century, until man’s sinful nature resumed control of government. Now they want to “go back” to a circumstance that will only be sustainable in Heaven. We real Christians can sympathise if not approve.
I think that our faith may be the purer and stronger than theirs, because we have greater and more recent experience suffering under dysfunctional governments and brutal misrule. So we Africans maintain lower temporal expectations that more accurately reflect those of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Americans, with once-strong traditions long ignored, had such good fortune and talent in manufacturing clever gadgets and in generating great wealth that they assume that they can invent their way past man’s propensity to sin and do it with a piece of paper. As Your Eminence said in that same sermon, being too clever can manufacture its own Temptations and save Lucifer a lot of work.
What confuses me no end is how so many of these same conservative American Christians, tainted with paganism nevertheless, can on one hand worship a mere scrap of paper and beg it to wake up and deliver them from their systemic national disaster, yet still believe themselves divinely assigned to inflict the same system upon every nation on earth. And they are bankrupting themselves to pay their armies to do so. I suppose it recalls my late Uncle Abiola whom, as Your Eminence may remember, was usually too drunk to stand up and yet tried to share another bottle with everyone in the village. Eventually he would pass out unconscious and sleep off the inclination until his next pay-check.
In Africa we are poor economically, and our vast potential for stability and riches evades us consistently, yet maybe Our Lord compensates by giving us Grace and perspective. Poverty, as our faith teaches us, can be a blessing in disguise. Certainly we remain far from being so self-deluded as to assume that we are the envy of the world, and that Christ the Prince of Peace mandates us to bully everyone else. We have the True Religion and thus need no nationalistic pagan one. Indeed the only recent Sub-Saharan Africans who believed that they had such a divine mandate were the white Afrikaners in the days of apartheid; many of them believed firmly that they were doing the rest of us a favour, just as many Americans do now.
However, this Sunday at Mass please ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for the Americans. Even though they are mostly head-cases, they are good people and Children of God.
I remain, obediently, yours in the faith,
Thomas à Kempis Olusola
Stephen Masty is a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and has been a journalist, a development expert, and a speechwriter for three US presidents, British royalty and heads of government in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. He has spent most of his adulthood working in South Asia including Afghanistan, and he is presently a writer, poet and artist in Kathmandu.