By MURPHY BROWNE
Earlier this month as I boarded a Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) bus travelling a downtown Toronto route I was extremely distressed to witness an African woman being harassed by a White woman on a motorized scooter. I had previously witnessed this White woman harassing racialized passengers and TTC staff. The bus driver, a racialized man, did not intervene probably relieved that he was not the target of the woman’s vitriolic attack.
She seemed especially angry because the African woman wore a hijab and she went on at length about her superiority as a practicing Christian whose God is love. It was almost hilarious listening to this woman harangue everyone who was not White and Christian (who she identified by our headwraps and hijabs) as she spoke of her God’s love for his people (presumably White Christians.) Her professed love of God did not prevent the Islamophobic and racist rant she unleashed on all those she suspected of not being Christian.
After listening to the insults being heaped on those of us she assumed were not Christians and beyond the pale of God’s covenant/interest/love I felt compelled to point out to her that Christians were not the only group of people who believed in God and left her in open-mouthed shock as I disembarked from the bus. She had not recovered her wits in time to make a comeback before I exited the bus. Okay maybe I could have recited the 23rd or the 91st Psalm and that may have shut her up but I doubt it.
After getting home with no further mishaps (no more religious challenges from strange White women) and settling down to read my recently purchased May 2011 edition of New African Magazine I was pleasantly surprised to find that no less a personage than Archbishop Desmond Tutu agreed that God is not the purview of Christians alone, and that people of other faiths also believe in God. In bold letters the headline screamed: Desmond Tutu: ‘God is not a Christian.’
I hurried past the “Letters to the editor” section and important and intriguing stories with such headlines as: Nelson Mandela, the “family” showdown and Who are the people of Libya? and, of course, referring to Muammar Al Gathafi (that is how they spelled his name in the New African Magazine), Kissing him today, raining bombs on him tomorrow, plus Nigeria Chief Justice under Fire! And, there it was on page 86 almost at the end of the 90 page magazine! Accompanied by a photograph of the good Archbishop, full head of grey hair, lips pursed, an intense look from behind rimless glasses, one hand outstretched as if determined to convince all who came in sight.
On page 86 the full title of the book at last revealed: God is not a Christian – Speaking Truth in Times of Crisis with the further information that it was written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and published on May 5, 2011 by Rider Books.
Wow! Well if Archbishop Desmond Tutu could write a book with such a title, I had to read that book. The excitement kept me up late into the night reading the two-page article several times, making notes and early the next morning I was off to the library in search of the book. I was a bit disappointed that although the Toronto Public Library (TPL) has ordered 21 copies they have not yet been delivered but I placed my name on the “hold” list. I was also surprised that the name of the book in the New African Magazine article was God is not a Christian – Speaking Truth in Times of Crisis and at the TPL it was God is not a Christian: and other provocations. I had to get to the source of this mystery of the changing names. (When I was a child I dreamed of being a detective, not surprising because my Dad was a police officer.) So off I went to solve the perceived mystery.
Several weeks later I have some information from a mysterious source that a decision was made at the final printing to go with the subtitle: And other Provocations. I cannot reveal my source but I assure you that there have been some very provoked Christians since the book was published.
Oh, they have lambasted the good Archbishop (and naturally some of them had to comment on his race and make derogatory remarks about Africans in South Africa) for daring to write that Christians are not the only group that believes in God. Some of the good Christians who have access to post anonymously on the Internet used some very un-Christian language calling the good Archbishop everything except a child of God!
Not surprisingly, there was not this much furor last year when a White Christian published a book with a similar theme (God Is Not a Christian, Nor a Jew, Muslim, Hindu…: God Dwells with Us, in Us, Around Us, as Us.)
Here is an example of the very innocuous remarks that have some Christians up in arms at what Archbishop Tutu has written. “God is clearly not a Christian. His concern is for all his children. To claim God exclusively for Christians is to make God too small and in a real sense is blasphemous. God is bigger than Christians and cares for more than Christians only. He also wrote, very sensibly, I mean who can argue with this rationalization: My God and, I hope, your God is not sitting around apprehensive that a profound religious truth or major scientific discovery is going to be made by a non-Christian. God rejoices that his human creatures, irrespective of race, culture, gender, or religious faith, are making exhilarating advances in science, art, music, ethics, philosophy, the law, apprehending with increasing ability the truth, the beauty, the goodness that emanate from him.
In this day and age of rabid Islamophobia we need to think very carefully about these words from the good Archbishop: We must not make the mistake of judging other faiths by their least attractive features or adherents. It is possible to demolish the case for Christians by, for instance, quoting the Crusaders, or the atrocities of the Holocaust, or the excesses of apartheid. But we know that that would be unfair in the extreme, since we claim them to be aberrations, distortions, and deviations.
Honestly, how can any rational, right thinking person find anything to quarrel about when they read: I hope I have done enough to convince diehard exclusivists that the Christian cause is served better by a joyful acknowledgment that God is not the special preserve of Christians and is the God of all human beings, to whom he has vouchsafed a revelation of his nature and with whom it is possible for all to have a real encounter and relationship.
If you are looking to start your summer reading list this is as good a book as any to begin with. Good news! You do not have to wait until the TPL gets its 21 copies of the book. It is available at bookstores in Toronto including A Different Booklist at 746 Bathurst Street. In this year of observing the International Year for People of African Descent we need to at least begin the practice of buying our books from African Canadian bookstores.