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Opinions of Sunday, 24 May 2015

Columnist: Morrison, Angelina K.

Navigating the Realms of Thinking & Faith

Note from writer: This is a rather long read (4,375 words). I advise you to read it at a sitting, then share and discuss it with your educated Christian friends.

Mountains and a valley
Mountains and a valley
Until Africans develop the exceptional skill of navigating the tightrope of right thinking and right faith, we will never see real progress.

It is quite essential that I map out the audience I intend to tackle or address in this piece of writing. This is important because while an essay may be available to all, it may not be necessarily aimed at everybody. On occasion, sense and prudence dictate that a writer reduces the perimeter, or narrows the range of people she aims to address. This should ensure that those who feel they fall into the class are able to comprehend the message communicated. Thus, in this riveting piece, I will hope to speak to practicing Christian graduates in particular, not just the professing type.

Having narrowed the field, I shall proceed with the liberty and flair that is needed as I freely express myself and embalm my deep thoughts in words and phrases that such a restricted class should be able to dissect and assimilate.

"A peek into my past"

I have consistently been someone who asks questions. In truth, I sometimes feel that my body was cast in a place and culture where my type, my resolve, my mien is not very welcome. Indeed, I could never understand why so many people always accepted the status quo when it was clearly obvious that such was not helping with our progress.

As a peek into my past, it was obvious that such an inquisitive and inquiring mind, one very hungry for more information could only but thirst for even more. This curved my bent down the path of pursuing more and more learning. Even at present, after so many years invested in learning, the quest and determination for more, still remains a fervid drive and quotidian desire. Perhaps, it is the way some of us have been created; and rather than questioning such a disposition, I have accepted this state of being.

As far back as my mind can recall, I remember engaging in a heated colloquy with my mum about matters of faith. It was surely me veering from the accepted norm, as with our culture, children must take whatever they are fed.

I found myself discussing why most things that occurred were deemed to be God's will. I was in perpetual revolt about such a held position. The answers given to me did not make much sense to my ever wondering brain. And indeed, several years after, when I think about that fateful day and the discussion, I still do not agree with the answers I was given.

It is such questions and many others that drove me to start searching and seeking out the truth for myself. Indeed, a person has to find their own path in life. Moreover, I always felt the brand of Christianity in our culture lacked that needed cutting-edge. I still do.

Interestingly, it has proved a lifetime search and discovery, and at the moment, the major question I have, and continue to wrestle with is: Where does our culture end, and where does Christianity begin? This is a monumental question, as what I see on the continent is some sort of freak maslin contrived by a hasty convocation engaged in an ill-thought out invention. In truth, we are in a perdurable confusion following not just the tracks of the Pharisees who "[made] the word of God of none effect through [their] tradition (Mark 7:13); for us, we have acquired and continue to follow some farraginous conflation which can only but leave us high and dry.

Without a modicum of doubt, questions of such nature, by themselves are very tricky ones to descant on. They lead one down circuitous, sinuous, and serpentine paths that the average mind will not construe its challenging prehensility. And it is that sort of ideas that lead me to consider the title of my chosen subject: Navigating the Realms of Thinking & Faith.

"I am Christian and sensible"

As a doleful observation, increasingly, the general assumption is that thinking and exercising faith are incompatible. In that sense, there are many who practise faith and leave their brains to rot. On the other hand, as demonstrated by many developed countries, most thinkers—as the world calls them—do not identify with Christianity. How sad when one considers that some of the greatest thinkers who changed the world were Christians. Influential people like Newton, Copernicus, Faraday, Kepler, Boyle, Bell, and Kirby, to name a few, were also Christians.

See how Alexander Pope, the English poet's well-composed epitaph captured the sublime fame and majestic achievement of Newton: "Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night: / God said, Let Newton be! and all was light." Even Voltaire was blown away by his funeral and recounted, "He was buried like a king who had done well by his subjects."

In stark contrast, today, in most parts of the world, when a person identifies themselves as Christian, there is immediately thrust upon them that unfortunate idea that they must be some ignorant narrow-minded species of a sort. And yet, when carefully scrutinised and debated, such a charge may find some grounds. After all, one has but to examine some of the things that people wearing the Christian tag do. Ecclesiastes 10:1 says, "Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour." By the standard of this text, such a label may in some ways be justified.

It is rather sad because there are those who presume that when a person chooses faith, then they cease to exercise their ability to think. This has led to some people surmising and categorising devout and serious Christians, or those who identify as such, as sort of dim-witted benighted souls. Moreover, these hasty generalisations and assumptions have gained credence and acceptance in the collective psyche and visible fabric of many societies. In any case, I can boldly state that: I am Christian and sensible. I have not lost my mind!

As a writer who prefers to quote more from the Bible than any other book, I have had comments where people have actually advised me to stop that helpful practice. However, this is a piece of advice that I never intend to accept and follow even if it means I lose some followers or readers.

In this day and age when Christianity is under the strident attack and vinegary rage of boisterous atheists; facing the furious and ferocious onslaught of fanatics in the East; and Christians are being persecuted through the courts in the West; at this pace, sooner rather than later, it will be very difficult for Christians to continue to step out and live forth their faith in the public square.

And in that sense, there are some of us who will continue to reference the Bible no matter what subject under the sun we will be given the opportunity to discuss or write about. That is our brand and we will not shy away from it. As I have averred a number of times, it is what I found in the Bible that pushed me to start writing and communicating my thoughts with people. It is never about personal accolades or awards.

"The difficulty"

The extremes of anything in life have consequences. In truth, I have tasted both extremes of thinking and faith and found out that both do not help. While in some countries the extremes of faith continue to hold sway, in others, it is a sense of thinking that determines the order of the day. However, both must go side by side if we are to live meaningful and successful lives. And here is where the difficulty presents itself: How do we navigate living a life of faith as Christians and at the same time continue to exist as compos mentis Homo sapiens? Sadly, it is finding this right balance that has eluded many people.

In my available short story Gravellatina, right in the first instalment, I tried to touch on a young Christian lady who gets into trouble, because although educated, she struggles to find that balance not just between what she wants but also what her grandmother advises, and this very much revolves around a priest and what he could offer. Her boyfriend's demands also not helping matters.

"Religion without garments"

What Christian graduates are prepared to do when the matters of faith come up are almost unthinkable. It is exactly what I will refer to in quotable language as religion without garments. Up and down the country, there are educated people who are being swindled and taken advantage of by charlatans who do their best to peddle their charade to the masses—they don't spare anyone.

It is a sensitive topic as faith and stupidity on occasion are almost indecipherable and inseparable. Believe me; a strong willingness to commit to our faith has led to the destruction of families, lost jobs, harrowing tales and even on occasion, cheap deaths.

This is a serious and delicate matter worth discussing. There is this brand and shade of Christianity presented, where one must swallow hook, line, and sinker without thinking about what they are swallowing. Indeed, for many, when they enter the church, they leave their brains at the door. In that sense, they become easy targets for those who wish to further not just their nests, but to also satisfy their flesh.

Moreover, in many congregations, there is neither room nor allowance made for the questioning type. If you are that person who asks relevant and searching questions, you are bound to be a castaway. In fact, you will not survive that sort of servile environment. You are expected to sheepishly swallow everything that is shoved down your narrow throat (no matter how it hurts), or be tagged as one stubborn soul who does not follow "direction".

Saying this, it is important to also mention that no organisation can exist, or be profitable, or make progress, if even its minuscule decisions are interminably critiqued, and more strength is used in endless dialogues and meaningless chatter rather than channelling such vital time into doing something worthwhile. In that sense, balance always wins the day. Proverbs 11:1 is clear: "A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight."

"Exiting the faith"

Many a man has been born into a Christian home, and as they have grown up and started on the shiny tracks of education, they have managed to not only question our cherished faith, in fact, they have gone further by exiting the faith. You can read my take on one such issue here

This is what is happening in the West as the churches continue to empty out. For those countries, Sundays are now days for sports or work, and not for attending church, which was almost standard tradition several years ago. In truth, most people have left the faith as the gospel has almost become incompatible with what they believe. In their view, it does not and cannot stand scrutiny; rather, they base their assumptions on what science has to say.

However, what they forget is that the faith has stood the test of time. And subjects of this nature have been with our little race for ages. It was the 17th century British biologist, Thomas Henry Huxley who perhaps appeared to suggest an understanding and rapprochement between religion and science. In Science and Hebrew Tradition (1893), he proffered, "The antagonism between science and religion, about which we hear so much, appears to me to be purely factitious—fabricated, on the one hand, by short-sighted religious people who confound a certain branch of science, theology, with religion; and, on the other, by equally short-sighted scientific people who forget that science takes for its province only that which is susceptible of clear intellectual comprehension; and that, outside the boundaries of that province, they must be content with imagination, with hope, and with ignorance."

Moreover, in reality, brilliant minds like Paul did not find the gospel to be foolishness. They still held on to it. Paul rather says, "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18).

In writing this article, I am bringing my own touch to the subject. I am not hoping to make a literature review for you. You are a graduate, and you can use your faculties of reading and research to gather as much information as your heart will be pleased with. My goal is to highlight the difficulty of being a Christian and a thinker; for such a state is never an easy life.

"Critical thinking"

Not too long ago, I had some people question whether I had backslidden when I started raising some relevant and valid questions. Indeed, I have found that the typical African does not want to go on their personal journey of discovery. We like to take it as we are handed—no questions asked.

However, as a graduate, I would expect that as part of your learning in school, you were taught critical thinking. And it is this sort that is very much missing in our brand of African Christianity. Nonetheless, it is this same act when not practised well—within acceptable boundaries and sensible portals—that drives people out of the faith.

Believe me when I say that I know what it means to rise to the coldest regions of thought where you have broken all barriers. It is a heavy weight to carry when you start putting all cards on the table and start questioning what you have learned and been told all your life—on occasion, it is scary, frightening, dangerous!

Right here, I can feel your curiosity is getting the better part of you. You are wondering what some of the thoughts or the questions that lead to such realms are. Let me mention a few, if it helps reduce your curiosity quotient: How can a virgin get pregnant? How can Jesus Christ be both God and man? How can a person die, be buried and rise up again? Who made God, and who made that person who made that person? You may know the name of the preceding question: infinite regression. Shall I mention more? No, you are intelligent enough to get the point. And for all the good works and invested efforts of apologists, there are still some very difficult questions to answer.

In the pages of the Bible, a book par excellence, incomparable, unsurpassable, inimitable (I could find more words that will not still capture its level)—there are some really interesting things written that are simply mind-blowing for use of a carefully thought-out and chosen word. In fact, for those of you who have not read every page, you are missing out: get your Bible out and read from cover to cover—you must accept my charge, if you are a graduate student and a Christian. There is no excuse for you to say you have read some parts; you must read the whole book.

Yes, there are many interesting [repeated for emphasis] things that are unexplained and are surely beyond the realms of usual thinking. And these are just some of the things hungry brains like mine used to feed upon as a sort of intoxicating pabulum. Pause and think about that for a moment.

"Room for faith and thinking"

Personally I have been in a position to call a sweet parley, a sort of fragrant armistice between what I refer to as the "thinking" realm and the "faith" realm. Nevertheless, I must confess it is a tricky road to decide where faith ends and your thinking prowess kicks in; or in another sense, where your thinking prowess should give way for your faith to assume full effect. In other words, a sort of heterogeneous medley of a sharp brain and a strong faith. By using these terms, I am deliberately not attempting to go down the lines of what some will call as reason and faith. Personally, looking at that body of information, I surmise a nuance between that and what I am seeking to espouse here. Some might see my argument as a microcosm steering away from the general debates about the universe and its functioning and rather concerning itself with how we live our day-to-day life; or even more, others may disagree, not sure exactly what I am perorating on.

Focusing cardinally on the African situation, I am concerning myself with how we practise our faith as Christians, and how we still continue to live our lives as people who think logically through issues. How do we find that priceless balance between the demands of the faith and the requirements or expectations that could be had, of persons who will be termed sensible? And here, I can say that with transparent clarity and stainless conviction, the current picture belies a grim observation.

"Play on their emotions"

Take an example of Tina, our figurative lady friend who is being deceived by a priest using concocted and twisted Scriptures to get her to do what she should never ever do. She is a faithful and devout believer, in fact, very educated by all indications. However, she has tried all that educated people will be expected to try, and she is still not successful in her quest. Like Naaman (2 Kings 5) she has had to put her pride aside and move from "Syria" to "Israel" in search of a "solution".

Now, right here, there are people who will think of Tina as being stupid for even going to see that "prophet". This is quite a vacuous conclusion. As I have found out with life, if you have not been through much, you are very critical and judgemental. However, when you have experienced what people experience, you understand why they do what they do. In our figurative example, Tina goes to see that "prophet" because she desperately needs help, as other sources have failed her. A prima facie case of she being dumb does not hold. She would have arrived at this conclusion following a logical decision making system.

The point above is to highlight why when stories break—usually almost as a staple, majority of those duped or raped or mistreated are always women—and I hear the comments of some people, I can easily tell that they do not understand what I call "The Dynamics of Desperation" which I explore in a book with a different title. People—men in particular—do not understand women and how they relate to the faith. It is no coincidence that when a prophet hits a town, there are more women than men in the crowds. This is a fact that does not need any scientific data to back it up.

As one will find out, there are many who will dip into the "Jordan" which is worse than "Abana and Pharpar", if they are told that is where they will get their breakthrough—even if they are in disagreement, many will urge them on. As to whether there are sharks or snakes in that river will not be a limiting factor. They are prepared to scale any imposing barrier to get what they want. While the biblical story could be termed as the will of God with a favourable ending, in most scenarios that follow this path, not all have such a sweet conclusion—a quick read online vindicates this view.

This in itself opens up a can of worms. Yes, the matter is a pretty kettle of fish. After all, anybody who chooses to follow God and uses the Bible as a guiding principle and not some contrived dogma or convoluted creed or some narrow doctrine, will notice there is a relative expectation of belief—just what the world will call incredulity—which must be a given, if you are to be able to fully practise your faith. Failure to have that and your shadow will soon darken the confused parlour of agnostics, or the crepuscular closet of atheists.

Thus, many people experiencing what we may argue as that "Tina syndrome" will continue to find themselves the targets of vicious crooks determined to play on their emotions and exploit their modicum of belief. After all, how many of our women have the rare temerity or the remarkable intrepidity to stand up and question these "prophets" or "preachers"?

"Stifle his faith"

An even trickier situation arises when our figurative friend, Sam, an educated person who is a Christian borders too much on the "thinking" side of the equation. Yes, he wishes to serve God, but the whole Christian thing is proving difficult for him. It is hazy and mazy in his view. Let's say, God really and truly speaks, but Sam has a problem not being able to discern God's voice from what his mind tells him is foolishness. Church services leave him scratching his head and raising his eye brows. In truth, and in many ways, Sam is no different from an atheist at heart, although he is a Christian on the outside. There is an intense conflict between the doubting interior and the accepting exterior.

True, being educated, he has read all there is to read and seen how many charlatans are out there. He is overly cautious, and such tendency continues to stifle his faith. As Scripture directs, "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6 King James Version). And faith will involve works: "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone... For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:17, 26).

It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who said that, "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." However, in the case of Sam, perhaps we should say because he has the "Sam affliction", he continues to struggle as his mind always wants him to see the whole staircase before he takes that vital first step. In many ways, he is a Thomas at heart. Remember John 20:25? Here is what it says: "...But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe." Thomas' mind will only believe what he can verify. And here is Sam's greatest trouble vigorously stirring right before our watchful eyes.

In all truth, time will fail us to cite the numerous examples that could very well fit our discussion. You are educated; I need not belabour the argument.

"Best of both worlds"

Personally, I have gone back to the Bible, and I will continue to keep digging its engaging, enchanting and enrapturing treasures. I will encourage you to do the same. What I keep finding is that navigating the realms of thinking and faith is not one that many will be able to successfully handle. For most people, they will sway or stray to faith only; or slither or sidle to only the realms of thinking. It remains a crucial decision that will prove challenging for many.

However, for those who want to remain in the middle, it will almost be like a tightrope walk. It requires daily care to ensure that one does not become an extreme and intemperate zealot and leave their mind behind. In another sense, that they do not "think" over and over again until they become almost "carnal", so to say.

Do I have a workable solution: Yes! I will suggest that you exercise faith in believing the God who gave you a brain to be able to use it appropriately within the limits that He expects of you. After all, it was Galileo Galilei who rightly stated: "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use."

I am in no position to suggest any other thing to you, my educated friend. You would have surely read many other things. I am only telling you the one thing that I am mindful and fully believe that if you do, you can still enjoy the best of both worlds. In that sense, you will not live like a fool, and also you will not lose your faith. In fact, you will benefit from the priceless nectar available in both realms. For a measure of faith is needed in order to be a Christian; moreover, a measure of sense is needed to be a successful believer. The two seemingly diametric components must fit together like a gestalt unit.

As an abiding aspiration, I hope many more educated people on the African continent will give the right place to faith. Furthermore, that those Christians who perhaps may have deadened the cutting edge of their thinking will give precedence to sharpening their powers of intricate thought. For, on the day when more persons astute in navigating the tricky contours of faith and thinking abound on the continent of Africa, a bright golden light of true emancipation would have surely dawned which will only but guide us out of the Dark Days in which we seem to be perennially stuck in.

I suggest you kindly forward this essay to all your Christian friends, and send me your deepest thoughts and candid opinions.

Angelina K. Morrison is interested in national development, true religion, and self-improvement. She enjoys thinking, and writes stories only when the muse grips her. Her first short story, Gravellatina is a breathtaking five-part gripping series available now at Amazon. You can email her at, or find her at or Facebook page.