Prof. Jeyifo: This I believe… By Steve Osuji

Prof.-Biodun-JeyifoAs thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.” Ecclesiastes 11: 5

This is trouble, dear reader. Yes, dear reader of EXPRESSO, as you read this, be sure that yours truly has court trouble; hot-soup trouble for deigning to understand, not to talk of interrogate the viewpoint of one of Nigeria’s pre-eminent intellectuals alive today.

This situation reminds of the effervescent Andy Akporugo of blessed memory, who at the peak of his era at The Guardian Newspapers, Rutam House, Lagos, left us this timeless anecdote: upon being told by his office hand that he enjoyed his last article. Andy, as he was known by all, was aghast and asked: “You mean you understood my article?”, he asked incredulously. The office hand answered enthusiastically, making emphasis with his hand and head and entire body. Thereupon, Andy walked away muttering to himself, “Andy, you are finished.”

That yours truly would read, understand and even question Professor Biodun Jeyifo who keeps a column, “Talakawa Liberation Herald” in The Nation on Sunday, would not mean that he is ‘finished’. Not by any breadth. Let’s just say that yours truly is a conventional Christian whose feathers have been ruffled. Let me confess upfront that as much as I try to catch up on Prof’s erudition every week, I do not understand him all the time. Perhaps I do not have the patience or intellect, if you like, to grasp the import of Prof. Jeyifo’s offerings every Sunday. I often take a look at the full page fair, pick, skip, pick and move on.

But the last one (September 27) is different. Is it dumbed-down, or is it ‘inspired’ to achieve the effect it has on me? It is titled: “Pope Francis, the talakawa Pontiff: a man for our times, a man for all ages.” I read it all up and for once, I grasped the professor’s lucid and perspicacious weekly piece in its entirety. But I was also struck by his faith, religion and more especially, his (mis)-presentation of Christ our saviour. And this indeed, is the reason for this piece.

Not that I have not heard of, or known intellectuals to interrogate Christianity or re-situate Christ and question his very Divinity. I have indeed encountered many such learned (and even unlearned) people who have completely cut themselves loose from the ‘shackles’ of this Jewish religion called Christianity.

In fact I have a ‘living’ example. A young friend recently travelled to Canada for a short study. Soon through with her programme, she got a job out there and began to live quite ‘comfortably’. All of these happened in less than two years. Speaking with her recently, she was quite chirpy about her good fortune. “I hope you do not forget to pray as always?” I was moved to pop the question at her knowing that she was quite ‘prayerful’ while in Nigeria.

“What am I to pray for?” she blurted, apparently prodding me. And we both laughed loud and long as we decoded the import of her knowing statement. We don’t pray here in Canada the way you people pray in Nigeria.

Most of the things you people pray so fervently about in Nigeria are taken for granted here; most of those prayers we pray there have been answered here by government, she surmised. You are praying faith; you are praying worship and belief and peace to man; I pursued. “Hmn, Pastor Steve, I hear o!” she dead-panned.

Surely, when you have ‘everything’ and perhaps know ‘everything’, you are wont to question faith and God, especially the God of the Jews as represented by Christ and Christianity. Prof. Jeyifo could be categorised as among the few living legends who could possibly know everything, or nearly everything. Even the Scriptures too, he has some grounding: hear him: …”back to my youth when Iwas a Christian who was drawn to the faith by the combined effect of my evolving moral imagination of some of the vivid, inspirational and transformative stories of Christ’s ministry.”

Prof. Jeyifo writes that in those days, he was an activist in the Students’ Christian Movement (SCM),“when I was the Secretary General of all secondary schools in Ibadan that had chapters of the SCM.”He was no doubt exposed to a bit of the Word, (the food of the spirit), in his youth.

But with words, the food of the world, Prof Jeyifo has few peers. A citizen of the intellectual universe, he has been a Professor of African and African-American Studies and Comparative Literature at Harvard University, since 2006. He has earned emeritus professorship at Cornell University (CU), New York, since 2008 after years of a glittering teaching career. CU, an Ivy-Leaguer, is ranked 15th among top citadels of the world, while Harvard is number one.

A man who took a first class at the University of Ibadan in 1970, whose abridged curriculum vitae runs into about 20 pages and who has such giants as Wole Soyinka, Abiola Irele and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. as referees would not be another earthling, in a manner of speaking. More remarkably, if he has not achieved some deity-hood in his universe, he must be inching towards it. He therefore would not hold any opinion lightly, especially in public. Worse, to ‘contradict’ him would be tantamount to facing a moving train wouldn’t it?

But Prof, an erstwhile Christian (by self-confession) or an unconventional Christian as he describes himself, is moved by Pope Francis’ speech at United State’s Congress last week. He was so touched by the Pontiff’s “eloquence, wisdom and humility with which he took up the cause of the poor (talakawas),” he begins to compare the Pope with Christ.

If Prof had stopped at comparing Christ with his disciple, the Pope, there would have been no basis for this piece, but his reductionist portrayal of Christ would certainly raise the hackles of any Christian who still believes in the trinity and divinity of Christ our saviour. Just because Prof has outgrown, or shall we say, circumscribed Christ and the holy faith does not mitigate the fact that some of us, indeed millions of us still find our essences Him…

And when Prof says such things as: “the story of the preacher who asked his disciples to sell all their worldly goods, give up their worldly possessions and take up the vows of poverty as a non-negotiable condition of their acceptance into his ministry; the narrative of the militant anti-capitalist who took up the whip to drive and scatter the profiteering money-changers and usurers from the temple and its precincts; the account of the radical and inventive allegorist who stated that it would be easier for a whole camel to be threaded through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God; the realistic and compassionate preacher… the tale of the man who, in the greatest of his sermons, gave us those eight so-called “beatitudes” that are almost unmatched in clarity and eloquence…” (emphases mine) we who still profess the faith cannot help but kick.

First, we must overlook Prof’s misapplication of some of the biblical allusions above. For instance, Christ is not a “militant anti-capitalist” on the other hand, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Psalm 24: 1). He was merely protecting the sacredness of His temple. When Prof. takes such liberty with Christ and describes him in words that diminish, we must worry and we must speak up. We must let our respected Prof know that we, (hundreds of millions of us) who still find anchor in Christ feel affronted when anyone derogate Him by describing Him as ‘man’, or  an “inventive allegorist” and all such.

We must not shy to say that this we know: that the world aches and ails today because it shuns that profoundly simple, teaching of Christ – “Love thy neighbour…” Why is the world in a maniacal race to churn out weapons of human destruction? Why are we plagued with endless wars? Why do bombs go off everyday? Why would two adult men or women live as husband and wife and go on toraise children? Why would a 14-year-old pick an assault rifle and go massacre worshippers in a church? Why would a 65-year- old man suddenly discover he was better off a woman and he goes ahead and procures womanhood?

The reason is simple; they have shunned the Light of the world. They are anchored on the flesh, on guns, on Big Macs, on dollars, on graven images and even sacred cows! Yes, over a billion people in Asia hold cow in deference and would indeed kill a man first! This is the world Christ seeks to redeem.

This I believe Prof.: Christ is not a man, He is God; the living God.