Over the past week, I have been at the receiving end of a most cruel and unusual punishment: sleep deprivation! Now, familiar though this torture style might sound, I do not live in or near the US’ terrorist containment facilities in Guantanamo Bay, nor close to or inside Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib prison. Neither am I a political prisoner in some Third World tin pot dictator’s lock-up shops. Instead, I reside in Iju (as close to suburbia as you can get in Lagos without becoming countrified, and close enough to the site of the Dana plane crash to have caused worry to kit and kin that day). So, what did I do wrong to have had this punishment inflicted on me? Along with the answer to the question around who my torturers are, this is where this tale gets Kafkaesque.
Lest I forget, I should aid this narrative by including in it, the fact that I do live in a part of the Iju suburb properly designated “residential”. Until, that is, this church decided to set up shop a couple of houses from mine. That was some three years ago. It feels like an eternity now, but in this period, it has been a damascene experience of sorts. A journey through infernal noise, in search of eternal values. Gingerly picking my way through a bog of moral and secular questions. In an increasingly virtual world, is there for instance a new moral to the Samaritan tale? Are we not building new incentive structures on the fact that one does not get rewards, coins, or expandable packs for selflessness in online role-playing games? Does it matter that the emphasis in our virtual experiences is as much on stealth, as it is on interdicting opponents with extreme prejudice? What about the old tension between the speck in my neighbour’s eyes and the log in mine? On the other hand, is that strange process, on-going, by which our lived experience is virtualised also resolving this contradiction in the person of the modern day pastor: urbane, witty, natty, and post-legal?
Moreover, it is safe to presume that somewhere in our modern reformation of the concept of “chance” (it no longer exist, business schools tell us, only the marriage of “preparedness” and “opportunity” do) we have lost the karmic resonance of the requirement that we “do unto other as we expect to be done by them”. Do “globalisation” and its shrinking of our shared space not compel a redefinition of that noun with which we have long described those living or located near us? In a global village, we are all “neighbours”. Would it then not be tautological to require that we “love our neighbours as we love ourselves”. Once I define myself as a “neighbour”, simultaneously dissolving the old contradiction between myself and significant others in the anonymity of the “World Wide Web”, am I not justified in a new narcissism: one that the high-resolution touch screen tablet computer is bound to exacerbate, going forward?
Through time even have I journeyed (as my “neighbours” succumbed to the scriptural injunction to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord”) trying to understand how a philosophy purportedly based on giving could create interpersonal relations this vile. I do not refer, in this instance, to the extremism of the Boko Haram sect: alienation of the same type as I have encountered, no doubt, but several notches higher, I believe. Nor to the diverse variants of terrorism that has arisen as religion, through the ages, deployed its proselytising legions. No! Those loud speakers mounted outside the churches, and turned our way, what purpose(s) do they serve, but to aggravate? Too loud to be turned in on the faithful, they become an auto-da-fé that kaffirs (remember, the only way one could suffer this brunt, is for failing to go to church) must endure. Is there a cause-effect relationship here? One that the Christ recognised, and on account of which He took His sermons out of town, atop mountains, away from built up areas: as always, giving unto Caesar what was his, and to God His dues?
And our modern day Caesar: the secular state? Most appeals to this arbiter failed. As secretary (for a while) to the residents’ association, and through the community development association, we did reach out to the Lagos State Government. Did it help that the building permit for this violator of sleep is not for a church, but for some form of parish residence? No! The adviser to the governor on religious affairs spoke to the need for good “neighbourliness” (that word, again), stressing the reluctance of the state to do anything that could poison the religious atmosphere. In a democracy? I thought that only a corporatist state would argue the interest of organisations over that of individual electors. On the other hand, we may just be witnessing the final stage of a very bad play: the resolution of the supposedly timeless and antagonistic contradiction between Caesar and God!!!