Fr. Kukah's Catholicism
By Chima Anyadike (February 11, 2008)
I read with some interest Fr. Matthew Hassan Kukah's plea in The Guardian On Sunday, January 27, 2008 (p. 34) that we leave the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair in peace as he embarks on his "quest for personal salvation" through his new found faith in the Catholic Church. His plea is based on three considerations which I would like to discuss here.
Fr. Kukah points out that "in God's sight there are no Prime Ministers, Presidents, nor Queens" and that "... most of us ordinary people place those in public life on such a high pedestal that we forget that at the bottom of it all, "we are all ordinary human beings who love, fear or want the same things..."On reading this, two questions came to my mind: one, would Fr. Kukah have been interested in the Blair conversion issues if Blair had not risen to become in Kukah's view "one of the greatest leaders of his time"? As if to answer this question Kukah brings in the "beautiful" story of his successful efforts that led 'the former First Lady, Stella Obasanjo back to full communion with the Catholic faith...' It would appear then, that the only conversion worth talking about is that of people in the public eye, people saddled with grave responsibilities, the discharge of which have important implications for the secular and spiritual lives of millions of people.
Related to this is the second question: would Fr. Kukah include Popes in his list of prime ministers, presidents and queens? Not likely, because he would have us make a clear cut distinction between the realms of ideological disagreement (political life?) and spiritual life; rank and position and matters of faith; the heart and the face; "God judges the heart (spiritual life?) we judge the face" (material, political life?). If I read him correctly and I believe I did, Popes are not on that list because the author knows that when a Pope makes a policy statement, it has implications for what he probably would insist, concerns only the spiritual lives of hundreds of millions of Catholic followers all over the world.
All of these therefore lead me to my first response to Fr. Kukah: we may all be at bottom, ordinary human beings with same basic loves, wants and fears but not all of us will acquire the qualities to become great spiritual and political leaders whose great responsibilities as willing instruments of God help and continue to help determine how meaningful life becomes for all citizens of the world. The good part of his article is his recognition in Mario Cuomo, the former Democratic governor of New York, that the political and spiritual lives may not be so "distinct and different" after all. There may be many who can see a relationship between the glow in the face and the greatness of the heart. While this relationship is not for only those in high places, the actions or inactions; the pronouncement of the later may do a great damage to the former. It is instructive that Fr. Kukah does not give an example of a governor of Cuomo's ilk from our country Nigeria. It is not for nothing that even the Catholic Church would agree that to whom much is given, much is expected. If as Fr. Kukah tells us "the God whom we Christians believe in is not a God that engages in vengeance" and that ". . . no one ever comes late to the throne of Grace", does his Catholicism exclude the teaching from the parable of the talents?
Perhaps I have cleared the way sufficiently to enable me get to the substance of my response. Twice in the write-up in question, Fr. Kukah makes the same statement in slightly different ways. (i) "This God keeps no record of our sins and only wants our repentance" and (ii) "He keeps no record of our sins and is only interested in the present and not the past" He therefore concludes "Similarly, we should see Tony Blair's journey to the Catholic Church for what it is; the struggle of a man to save his soul and not his politics or his past". The 'struggle' is from this position, all about how to 'appreciate the reality of God's mercy' and truly say: please God, forgive me for the present (the past does not count!) misdeeds. And pronto: Fr. Kukah's Christian will be enfolded in God's mercy and since there are no records of the past, will be immediately given a new life. No wonder it is so easy for most Christians today to be 'born again' and ever ready to claim a special relationship to God!
Since as a layman and in the view of the author, may even belong to the ignorant 'secular fundamentalists', I depend, like many who may also be bewildered by Fr. Kukah's certain knowledge of God's aims and methods, on the man of God to explain a few things: Whatever happened to the Catholic doctrines concerning confessions of past sins, penance, purgatory and expiation of sins? Where did we get it wrong, those of us who understand by God's mercy the opportunities freely given to us all daily and not just to Christians or Catholics, to go beyond the easy mouthing of repentance and empty claims and do something to help clean up the mess left by our past wrongs? If God and the Christians have not, in the author's view, charged Paul with 'the sins of his past life as a murderer of Christians', is that not because Paul's conversion made him gravely aware of the wrongness of his past deeds and the need to spend the rest of his life living as an exemplary Christian? Why is it therefore necessary in the attempt to bring people nearer to God to promise instant divine amnesia? Why is it no longer important to emphasize that we must accept responsibility for our past acts of omission or commission rather than most times blame Satan or our enemies?
The pernicious effects of this kind of theology are all too evident in Nigeria today: all manner of criminals claiming to be men of God, dangerous armed robbers, thieving governors and political leaders who have wasted our common wealth and even lives suddenly converting and clutching the bible while they wait to 'enjoy' their loot and receive more local and national honours; many millions of Nigerians who fill the churches and revival grounds believing that after a few hours of 'repentance' they will obtain the redeeming grace of God's mercy that instantly gives them the insurance cover for greater future 'risks'.
Given that general situation, our hope will reside in the belief in a God who knows how best to continually bring out strangers who cry more than the bereaved so that they can be sent on all manner of shadow chasing errands, sometimes in the form of political positions and appointments where they can 'market themselves' as 'publicity stunts' and leave the bereaved in peace to quietly bury their dead and effectively plan how their life must not be permanently impaired by their losses.
Dr. Anyadike is of the Department of English, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State.
Originally appeared in Nigerian Guardian.