Cults, Counter Culture, and the Perils of Ignorance

Extract of a lecture delivered at the 50th anniversary celebration of National Association of Seadogs on December 13, 2002.

The existence of a counter culture needs not be a critique of the entire society. However, it can emerge as a response to another marginal tendency within society, one that is already endorsed or tolerated by society.

My message to the would be reformers of the cultic phenomenon therefore is this: stop attempting to apportion the blame for a malignant phenomenon on a benign beginning. It is a futile exercise in two ways: first, it is a mark of intellectual dishonesty, since you cannot indisputably trace a malignant deformation to an innocent origin, not even by the most twisted reasoning. Such attempts are morally deficient, since their purpose is to provide an alibi for contemporary society for its own moral degeneracy that resulted in the deformation of an original blueprint. The blamelaying part is clearly futile since there is nothing, absolutely nothing you can do to alter or affect that beginning in any way. It is done. It is a fait accompli, a historical fact. And if the malformation cannot be found at the beginning, then it is a pointless exercise to begin to suggest how else it might have been done to avoid the present condition since, as I have already reminded us, the time machine does not exist except in wishful thinking. Most contemptible of all, it is an escapist mechanism an act of social abdication. By blaming origin instead of tackling the present malaise, you rob yourself of the mandate, the social imperative of the present. You provide the present society a cheap alibi not even a case of: we are here because of how we started, which, in itself, is not a flawed approach but one, which, even if it were proven true, can become disproportionately elevated into an extenuating alibi, one which persuades yourself that the matter is out of your hands. You see, if only others hadn't done it this way, we wouldn't be where we are, and since we do not have it in our power to alter how it was begun, we can only wring our hands in helplessness. This is simply cheap.

Neither progress nor retrogression exists in a vacuum, they both exist as palpable measures of society in relation to a social context. If we find that the intervening period is when things go wrong, who is indicted? The overall society. In an attempt to shift the burden of guilt and therefore responsibility for corrective action from society, we cling to the flaws of the past. Consider this: everything that was inherited since pre-independence period has been marked by deterioration, decay and ineptness -educational institutions, the culture of social hygiene, health services, roads and road sense, the army, the police, religious institutions of every faith without exception and of course public service and moral values, including a respect for the quality and sanctity of life. Recent events that are directly related to religious upheavals make that last yardstick of a colossal societal retrogression unassailable.

Now all the foregoing is intended to be an exercise for the brushing of minds, and therefore it is important that we keep personalities out of it, even though certain would be commentators have not hesitated to drag the entire post independence garbage disposal truck that our society represents today and heap it on the head of an individual or two. While some of the foregoing remarks have been provoked by a cheap, pseudo analytical approach to the problems of violent cults in our tertiary institutions, it is only partially in response to such tawdry reasoning. A collective and robust response has already been made by the Confraternity to what ranks as one of the most tendentious specimens of such articles I understand it is being printed for circulation. That response is so comprehensively argued that we need not waste one more moment on the provocative article. There is, however, a more intimate critique, one that cannot be evaded, since it has arisen from none other than one of the Original Founding Seven. The difference between the two is that while the essay of Dr. Fabiyi is a straightforward article of denigration, a personal attack that is inspired by a craving for instant notoriety, the comments of our erstwhile colleague and personal friend, Professor Muyiwa Awe, stems from a deep spiritual questioning. All spiritual journeys deserve our greatest respect and support, and we can only pray that Professor Muyiwa Awe finds the peace of mind and sense of salvation that he so deeply craves.

However, both as a scientist and a man of God, he will understand that we cannot idly stand by while commonsense and logic are being turned on their heads. And first of all, let me say that I have taken into consideration the fact that some of his alleged remarks made early this year have been reported in such a way that there are misleading extrapolations, probably unintended, and due only to the peculiar reportorial style of the journalist. The article in question was written by a Godwin lfijeh and was published in THISDAY of January 2, 2002, and posted on the web the same day. But first, let me emphasise that we within the Pyrates Confraternity agree with our erstwhile colleague's description of "campus cults" as indeed evil, with no redeeming features. The real issue of course is what constitutes a 'cult' whether on campus or outside campus, or even outside the nation's boundaries where several chapters of the Pyrates Confraternity have been established world wide. We begin with the view expressed by Professor Awe, whose religious standing as a servant of the christian god, makes his word, we hope unassailable. He declares that the Pyrates Confraternity, at its inception, was never a cult. I quote: We did not swear to any oath of secrecy nor did we bind ourselves with blood convenants, we held public outings in which we paraded the streets of the campus in broad day light. Our identities were known by members of the University College, both staff and students, and no one felt threatened by the existence of the confraternity. He goes on to add: At one stage, there was a directory of the confratemity, showing the names of members, their fields of study in the University and their addresses.

I believe that it is possible from this to make a deduction of what is Professor Awe's definition of a cult. According to that definition, the Pyrates Confraternity was clearly not a cult. A more direct definition however crops up later in this reportage. It is contained in the following passage.

Pointing out that whatever were their intentions when it was formed, recent events have shown that they were essentially evil with no redeeming features, Awe said the groups recruit new members by enticement, inducement and intimidation, explaining that membership were kept secret and those initiated cannot withdraw upon pain of death.

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Now that is where the problem of extrapolation begins. This reporting style is downright sloppy, and possibly slanderous. Now, please recall that the just read passage is not in quotation. It is the reporter summarizing Professor Awe's comments and it is capable of various interpretations. First: whatever were their intentions when it was formed, recent events have shown? that they, were essentially evil with no redeeming feature. 'When it was formed 'it' refers clearly to only one, and that could only be the Pyrates Confraternit''. Now go on to "whatever their intentions", are we referring here to the intentions of the pioneers, or to the other mimic groups? Do understand this, I am not indulging here with some nitpicking semantics, we are dealing with the cursory reader whose mind is being manipulated here by some tendentious reporting. Let us say a thousand people have read that article. Imagine the process of word of mouth dissemination that thrives compulsively on evil news: Aha, says Mr .or Ms. Idi Oro Bus Stop, haven 'voys [fear it from the horse 's mouth, one who has turned a horse of a different colour. The Pyrates' Confraternity is one of those evil cults.

Now go back to the earlier quote I offered you -no, not a direct quote from Professor Awe but a quote from the reporter. Let me repeat it: "Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Ibadan,Professor Muyiwa Awe, has described campus cults as evil with no redeeming features". That version comes at the very beginning of the article. By the time we encounter that passage the second time in the same story, this time in its full context, the Pyrates Confraternity has heen placed squarely in the midst of Campus cults so that the description of 'irredemable evil' is lodged in the reader's mind as a description of the Pyrates Confraternity. This is how slander is turned to truth, and fantasy becomes reality in the minds of the innocent. This is how society is made a captive of irrational phobia, directed at the most prominent and social of all those associations that bear the name of fraternity. By the time that we come to the end of this article, we are firmly persuaded that Professor Awe has the P.C. under reference when he says, or is alleged to have said: their names are kept secret, and those initiated cannot withdraw upon pain of death ! This is precisely how the grostesque lie is born, nourished and expanded. This is how society is programmed into a self cosseting intellectual laziness, incapable of the rigours of enquiry, analysis and discrimination. Well, thank goodness Professor Awe, who has withdrawn from this society is still alive today, and nowhere does he suggest that he has been threatened with death. And so that last quote means one of two things: either it is the later initiates, the partakers of a new oath of allegiance who are condemned to death on withdrawal, or that statement does not refer to the Pyrates Confraternity at all. In these days of investigative reporting, it should not be difficult to ascertain if there are former members who are walking around not only alive and well, but remain friendly to existing members. And of course, it should not be difficult to ascertain whether or not there are former members who have been kicked out permanently for conduct that brought the confraternity into disrepute. Such individuals will be found alive and thriving in the larger society in which they have found a niche that is suitable to their disruptive, or even criminal temperament. In every association, there are to be found the usual rotten eggs.

Now of course, I will not deny that Professor Awe does not help matter when he regrets that he was ever part of the founding movement. That is his privilege, and we must respect it. Unfortunately his words have been conveyed in such a way that the reason one educes from his regrets is that he is now convinced that the intentions of the founding members including his were "essentially evil". On the one hand this is flatly contradicted by what else he says of both the nature and the operations of the founding association, especially as he categorically stated that their intentions were "innocent". On the other hand, however, the worthy preacher goes on to observe, regarding his own participation, that while his intentions were indeed good, "the road to hell are paved with good intentions." This is where I part company with the theologian.

I must begin by saying that I am not about to take issues with the human progression towards redemption here, which, for many theologians, is firmly associated with guilt. In other words, such a theology does not accept the possibility of eventual salvation unless there is sin. The extreme of these theologies actually believe that we are born damned, and that our only hope for salvation is by Divine Grace, this is what is known as the doctrine of Original Sin.

Muyiwa Awe has also joined the apostolic train, is his Ministry now to be lumped among the evil crop of ministries that are without the slightest redemption? The President of the Fullness of Christ's Minstry cannot deny that many of these ministries, especially the television soap opera type are nothing but jeun jeun (chop chop) ministries with not shred of spiritual leaning. I have more spiritual grace in my little finger than many of them have in their entire bodies, this is not my personal view alone but is based on the scandalous exposes that occur from time to time.

The Revered President of the Fullness of Christ's Ministry, assuming he was quoted right, stated that the seven teenagers, who created this counter culture, acted out of ignorance. He is definitely right. They acted out of ignorance, that of a society that has become some terrorised, so brainwashed by fear that it cannot separate a positive association from evil cults, a society that directs attention at distractions while palpable menace holds sway over our educational institutions. They were indeed ignorant of the possibility that a society could be so terrified of shadows that it allows itself to be smothered by the real incubus of terror.

You cannot stop counter cultures. Let every man and woman of conscience do his or her homework as a concemed citizen. Stop passing the blame, it only comes round to you as members who have failed your community. We have done our part. It is now nearly 20 years since we banned any chapter of our association on campuses, in order to put an end to the confusion with vicious, mimic upstarts, the predatory scions of corrupt classes. Now get off thc backs of this group which insists on the fundamental rights of association ! Join hands with other bodies no matter by what name they are called to root out evil wherever it exists. Otherwise, you may find that it is not good intentions that pave the way to hell but poor analysis, poor judgement, and the primitive doctrine of Original Sin!

Wole Soyinka
December 13, 2002.

 


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