It is a known truth that conscience is the moral domain of every human being. It serves as our first judge as to what is right or wrong and religion, on its part, is supposed to serve as the major fulcrum to help mould our consciences. But judging from the many ills in our society today, it is right to say that more wrong is conceived and hatched in the hearts of men, giving room to wonder if religion is influencing anything at all. This situation is what prompted the choice of a theme that concentrated on conscience formation in the just concluded theology week of the Good Shepherd Major Seminary, Kaduna. ISAIAH BENJAMIN writes.
Everywhere the world over, Africans are known to be religious, especially Nigerians, considering the number of religious establishments and activities organised by various faith groups whether Christian, Muslim or even the relatively negligible traditionalists amongst us. In spite of this ‘highly religious’ character, however, corruption, injustice, hatred, greed, tribalism and a huge level of intolerance, are all adjectives that describe our way of life as a people.
This conflicting personalities of our existence is what made the theme, ‘The Role of Religion in Conscience Formation of The Society,’ adopted by Good Shepherd Major Seminary, Kaduna, during their Theology Week celebration this year, timely.
Key speakers at the four day event, all hammered on the need for a rethink as to the part religion plays in the loss of morals that has become the bedrock of the decadence that we see in our society today.
In his own paper presentation which he titled ‘The Teaching of the Catholic Church on Conscience Formation and Responsibility to Society,’ Fr. Efeturi A. Ojakaminor, OMV, an expert in Catholic Social Doctrine, used the example of the Okonkwo character in Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart,’ to buttress his point as to the place of conscience in every man. According to Ojakaminor, it was Okonkwo’s conscience that convicted him, turning him into a weakling despite his courage, strength and valour, after he participated in the death of the innocent Ikemefuna. He defined conscience as being central to any discussion of morality, so such that: ‘‘it is a natural facility of our reason that reminds us always to do good and avoid evil, makes a judgement about the good and evil of particular choices in a specific situation and bears witness after the fact to the good or evil that we have done, like in the case of Okonkwo.’’
Another speaker, Rev. Fr. Samuel P. Gwimi, who is a lecturer in the Department of Pastoral/Spiritual Theology, Catholic Institute of West Africa Port Harcourt, believes that conscience formation is in the interest of society but unfortunately, the society seems to be fighting what is good at all levels. ‘‘Our society today has generally declared war on the morality of sin, evil and guilt,’’ he said. ‘‘The very concepts of sin, evil and guilt are considered medieval, obsolete and unproductive. In other words, there is a sense in which consciousness of sin, evil, guilt has vanished in the society; to such an extent that society encourages sinful, evil acts without any remorse or feeling any sense of guilt.’’
However, this should not be the case, especially if we allow our religious teachings get the best of us. For as religious beings, so to speak, one would expect that with every religious encounter we get better and this translates into a better society. Instead what we see is the presence of religious creeds and rules that are no longer taught and practiced. That is why religion, instead, has become a tool in the hands of many evil plotters and their daily actions, subject many innocents to pain and a loss that can be categorised as highly unnecessary.
From a Muslim perspective, as contained in Sheik Dr Ahmad A. Gumi’s paper presentation titled ‘Preaching and Conscience Formation of Society in Islam,’ delivered on the third day of the programme, the cleric insisted that the role of homilies in conscience formation relates majorly to the need for society to be constantly reminded of its obligation towards God and man. ‘‘But society is deviating and becoming more and more resistant to positive change and refusing to listen to sermons,’’ he said.
Sheik Gumi continued his argument thus: ‘‘generally, as man becomes more sophisticated and complex in his interaction with nature and his environment, he becomes penny wise. They say, intelligence perceives relativity while wisdom sees interrelationship. By increasing intelligence, personal interest is overriding societal and collective benefits because of lack of wisdom. The preacher needs a preacher. There is a loss of reference and moral compass to guide our conscience. Fake reformers with seductive slogans taking the stage, their fruits as bitter as gall with little or no option left.’’
The cleric, who had much to say, also gave the example of HIV/AIDs and how driving messages on the ills of sexual immorality among Muslims, has helped with reducing the scourge among them.
While delivering Keynote Address on the general theme of the Week which he titled, ‘Religion and Societal Conscience Formation,’ Fr. Prof. Anthony Akinwale, OP, the Vice Chancellor of the Dominican University Ibadan, made it clear that the thrust of the week is to find answers to such questions such as, “what is the role of religion in the political process of intelligent ordering of common life for the sake of the common good? What role is religion to play so that society does not end up in the hands of bandits disguised as statesmen? What concrete steps religion can play to ensure that society does not degenerate into a jungle inhabited by bestial beings?”
In order to do justice to these questions Fr. Akinwale went on to state that, “Religion goes with religiosity, society goes with our relationality, relationality goes with rationality, and conscience is the application of the achievements of rationality in the ordering of society.” In other words, “conscience is the deployment of our rational capacity in the act of making judgement of values, that is, judgement of the rightness or wrongness of a line of action in the numerous tasks we must assume if our society is to be intelligently ordered to the attainment of the common good.” Conclusively he stated that, “Religion, when it is not corrupt, forms the conscience of every participant in the implementation of the socio-political project, every actor or actress on the social terrain—candidates seeking to be elected or appointed into public office, as well as citizens who have to exercise the right to perform the civic duty of making political choices by electing people into public office. Conscience, when it is well formed, ensures that society does not degenerate into a de-ethicized or immoral entity, an enclave where what is right is wrong and what is wrong is right.”
There were other papers which were presented in the series such as:
‘The Role of Homilies in the Formation of Society: the Pentecostal Dimension.’ Presented by Dr. Clifford Gbasha Terhide and ‘The Content of the CRS/IS Curriculum for Primary and Secondary Schools Vis-à-Vis the Conscience Formation Role for Participation in Society’, presented by Prof. Mrs. Chinyere Nwagbara, a former director at the NERDC, which demonstrated that there is enough in the curriculum to help in the conscience formation of Nigerian children if the content is duly implemented.
On the essence of the Theology Week, Rev. Fr. Victor Usman Jamahh, the Dean of Studies at the seminary, said, the event often deals with topical matters that reflect current trends in the Church and society. This year’s event was also an avenue for the institution to foster some ecumenical relationships with participating students from the ECWA Theological Seminary, Kagoro and the Baptist Theological Seminary, Kaduna.
At the end of the programme, the central message to derive from all the paper presentations centered on the fact that as human beings, no matter our religious inclinations, the roles we play could either make or mar our society. While the thrust of the programme challenged religious institutions to reclaim their roles in the conscience formation of society, it also made it clear that the only way to change what hunts us today as a society is for each individual to consciously choose to do good rather than evil regardless of our faith, for in the end, we are all human beings who must care for each other.