In a 2013 reprint of Ejike Aneke’s Africa Blames God (first published 2000), motherly Africa writes to the Christian God accusing Him for the woes befallen her and, we, her children; her questions: “Can’t you see how my children suffer? They are slaves, others masters. Why should they always be under? [. . .] Do you want me to believe that you are the God of justice? . . . why do you love those nations and why don’t you love the others?” God joins her epistolary and responds, “When you failed to do what you should do, why should you turn around to blame me for your negligence?” absolving Himself from Africa’s accusations.
In this book, Ejike Aneke runs a commentary on the dire state of the continent Africa, and especially his home country Nigeria, which is in ruins. But its citizens are quick to look outside for the causes of their problems. To Aneke, Nigerians, and not foreigners or God, are to be blamed for the country’s woes—and he stands in as the vox Dei, to exonerate God. For a people so religious, what better to make us listen to a voice of reason, if not by speaking to us as the God which we profess so much love to?
How shocked we are to hear God lament, that our over-religiosity—our zeal to pray (oh, blessed opium!) when action is needed—crafts our miseries. And here, the Christian God says nothing new; He is the same, as in the book of James, who says, “Thus also, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” But we have created a version of this God where “work” is replaced by “grace.” Will we charge Him with blasphemy, who Himself has said it is a prayerful nation that finds itself powerful, but who now tells us:
Africa, you said in your letter that I seem not to have been hearing your prayers. Let me tell you the truth, man cannot move a mountain by a prayer said at the foot of the mountain, but he can invent something with which he can move mountains. I don’t know what you think, Africa, but as far as I’m concerned, man’s exercise of creativity is his most potent act of faith . . .
It is important that Africa should not only seek to harness human capital and creativity to solve its problems, but that it must also distinguish between one form of creativity and the other. (This begins for me a weird kind of Godsplanation Aneke contrives in his book.) This distinction, God says in his reply, is based on personality. And it is between a psycho-spiritual personality, “whose body and soul always harmonized in contact” and a socio-cultural personality which “is always fascinated to distraction by the impression of the things of the earth”:
The psycho-spiritual personality is capable of inventive creativity while the socio-cultural personality is capable of emulative creativity. Inventive creativity is of a very high order, and through it comes to earth inventions and theories that have not existed on it before. Emulative creativity on its part, is of a lower inferior order and can at best improve on what has already been invented. But most times, it merely imitates. However, emulative creativity is essential to all of mankind because it elevates man higher than the animals. Through it, man learns and imbibes the social and cultural norms of his people – a crucial aspect of which is language.
A bit of authorial intrusion here: Aneke’s God is rather technical with his words, different from the God in Genesis who simply told man to subdue the earth. I find such grandiose classification and grading of creativity by Aneke’s God rather curious. How does this hierarchy come about? Can the politician whose oratory skill moves people to devote to causes—whether good or bad—be said to be of a “lower inferior order” of creativity (since from the classification, this politician is of the socio-cultural personality) than, say, the speechwriter who, though has the magic words, lacks the moving voice? Who is more important in an engineering firm: the engineer without whose ideas and skills no manufacturing will happen, or the administrator who harmonises ideas to keep the firm running? What is wrong with a type of creativity that “improve[s] on what has already been invented”?
As if He recognises this fallacy but won’t admit it, Aneke’s God tries damage control by telling us “emulative creativity is essential to all of mankind.” To Him, “[m]an’s ability to speak any language is a sign that he is creative. Rather than language making creativity possible, creativity makes language possible, but the invention of language by man signalled a new era in the history of his creativity.” How then is a form of creativity which helps man learn his language of a lower inferior order?
For the crucial role language plays in humanity, Aneke’s God adds man’s creativity in the literary arts to his creativity in science and technology, and pronounces them the superior, purest and most useful forms of creativity in solving man’s problems. But is He not unaware that many Africans will not agree with him on His position of the literary creatives in the continent. As He narrates to them from one of their folklore: to many, the literary creatives do nothing practical but tell “impossible fictions” which “can interest only the women and the children.” It is rather surprising. It shows God is a critic who has failed to self-critique. For how can he put down the emulative creatives and raise brows when the literary creatives are put down for the same reasons as for not being inventive, practical?
Literature truly plays a crucial role in human society; as God answers, “All technological innovations were some time ago fiction to the earth, before they became facts.” The fiction writer is as much an inventor as the scientist and the engineer. Explaining this, God says to Africa:
If an idealist sees in the spiritual world what mankind lacks on earth, he has conceived an idea. If he keeps gazing at the spiritual object until it becomes so vivid to him that he must create its image on earth for mankind to see and use, then he is inspired. If he actually turns that image into a concrete object, then he has invented. A pragmatist, who believes much in the facts of the earth, cannot do this. Therefore, idealism is greater than pragmatism and fiction is greater than fact.
As an aside, God weighs in on the debate of an artist’s duty. Should beauty be the central occupation of art or didacticism? Hear:
Actually this should be the primary function of any great storyteller, or writer – with the Truth in his soul, he should create a great future for mankind. And he can do this only by revealing the infinite creative possibilities inherent in the soul of man […] A work of art should be beautiful and its beauty should make it recognisable as art and nothing else. And the beauty of art must embody the function of art which is to express Truth well by any other means than its Beauty. So the function of art is the love between Beauty and Truth of art.
Nice middle ground you’re standing on there, man.
Africa Blames God is as bold as it is daring. Sometimes it reads like a piece on spirituality; it offers, using folktales and Igbo traditional philosophy, Afrocentric interpretations of the earth and of the Christian God. So that when in Genesis we hear that all God created is good, we know that the goodness is the perfection of the raw materials and not of the products. “If I had created the earth as a perfect world, there would have been no need for man to be creative […] Anyway, I did not create the earth even as a world, but as a raw material with which you should create your own world as you desire.”
This God reminds us that the earth is ours to make good of. Waiting for anyone, especially Him, to make it work for us is a counterproductive exercise. Same with neglecting it with the hope that heaven is the target. “If man cannot make his earth a perfect world, or a considerably good one at least, he would be foolish to desire to come to my heaven which I have myself made perfect.”
From the days of the Transatlantic slave trade when Bible passages were used by European masters to justify the dehumanisation and reduction of Africans to slaves, to today where it is, now, used by our own hands to enslave ourselves, Africa has always been in an unfavourable, even abusive, relationship with the Judeo-Christian God. Filled with accusations and protestations, Africa’s letter in Aneke’s Africa Blames God is the outburst of the oppressed. Finally, the oppressed is standing up to its oppressor—only that now, the oppressed is its own oppressor.
In the epistolary, God proves He is not the problem or oppressor. Religion is not as much the problem as is the religious. The Judeo-Christian God presented by Aneke is not waiting to answer man’s prayers; he has done that already. Neither is He the self-centered, worship-conscious God we have grown familiar with. Rather, He is one who removes Himself from the activities of humans, ensuring that any nation, any continent, can reap only as much as it sows. Thus, Africa Blames God becomes for all Africans, a call to action and to be humanistic in plotting our destiny; a call to disregard the foolishness and laziness that masks as religion, and become pragmatic and responsible for our future.♦