I was not a great one for reading lists until I ran into Irving Wallace and his childrenâ€™s The Book of Lists. The book is fun – brimful of odds, oddities, quirks and quiddities: The number of men suspected of being Jack the Ripper, the archetypal serial killer. Sixteen cases of people killed by God. Lists of sundry coincidences, chance meetings, botched robberies. The number of people recorded to have died while having sex. Actually the Wallacesâ€™ Book of Lists is no more than a light-hearted procession of curiosities and eerie happenstances in the form of a book. At the time the first one came out in 1977, it was one of a kind and after several reprints and additions, now there is something close to a â€˜listâ€™ industry. Books, magazines, newspapers do not miss the opportunity to list the names of people doing one thing or the other.
I live in the UK and I read the Times, so I am familiar with the yearly publication of the British Rich List. Even if I am only a modest man with modest dreams, the biblical mental sin of covetousness is only barely repressed, pushed far into my cerebellum when reading the names of the richest guys in the UK. And the list of the most beautiful women in the world. My hopes here are even less fond. Iâ€™ll allow the Brad Pitts of the world to pore over the latter list â€“ his wife, Angelina Jolie, topped it last year.
I subscribe to a number of magazines too. Philosophy Now because of an amateur interest in philosophy. The Humanist because I am a humanist. Then the two big American-born rivalrous international magazines: TIME and Newsweek. And not long ago, three complimentary issues of Forbes magazines were sent to me. There was no way I could have got it across to the guys at Forbes that I did not really need the magazine, that Iâ€™m not the â€˜business executiveâ€™ they imagined, nor am I a prospective subscriber as saved up in their factoidal database. Anyway, it was in one of the Forbes that I was able to read up on the list of the five hundred biggest firms in the US. If there was anything that issue told me it is the vast wealth that seems to inhabit the space called the United States â€“ the last of the first hundred companies is worth tens of billions of dollars. If anything is ultimately going to make a dent on American economy – in other words the world economy – it would be macroeconomic giantism. We seem to be experiencing something in that guise now.
Expectedly Barack Obama is TIMEâ€™s Man of the Year. The conferment of Person of the Year has become an annual feature of the magazine – the winner, bad guy or good, is often trailed by a list of slightly less recognised men and women during the year. Einstein was deservingly named Person of the last Century.
The rivalry between TIME magazine and Newsweek is as real as it is mutually demure. Of course Newsweek often chooses its own Person of the Year, only in a slightly different way from TIME. When I received my copy of Newsweek this morning I was not surprised to see Barack Obama in the first page of a list of fifty of people called The Global Elite. Who else would be number one? And there is the Russiaâ€™s New-Czar, Vladimir Putin. Nicholas Sarkozy of France. Hu Jintao of China. Warren Buffet, the richest man in the world. Carlos Slim Helu, the second richest. Rupert Murdoch. Michael Bloomberg. The Dalai Lama. Apple boss, Steve Jobs. Osama Bin Laden. Toyota chief, Katsuaki Watanabe.
Most of the names in the list are recognisable. There is a couple of Islamo-political leaders. But apart from Pope Benedict, the only Christian leader who features is Pastor EA Adeboye of Nigeria. Well, I must say that was a name I was not exactly expecting to espy on the list. But why not? There are two columns, made as asides to the main list. In the box entitled The Power of Money, the five listed names are all influential Wall Street denizens. In the box entitled The Power of Tyranny, among the five listed tyrants are three Africans: Zimbabweâ€™s Mugabe, Sudanâ€™s Omar Bashir and Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea.
Of course, we donâ€™t often forget that one of our own, Wole Soyinka, has made probably the most significant list in modern times â€“ the Nobel Laureates. In the 1980s, some had thought Nigeriaâ€™s MKO Abiola was among Forbeâ€™s list of worldâ€™s richest. This was a myth. In those days the only African that featured in Forbes marginal roguesâ€™ gallery was Congoâ€™s dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko. It was not until this century that men like Sudanâ€™s Mo Ibrahim and Nigeriaâ€™s Aliko Dangote made the list.
So Pastor Adeboyeâ€™s name is still somehow a standout in Newsweek. And let me quickly declare that not being in the least religious, to say nothing of being a member of the Pastorâ€™s Redeemed Church, the appearance was taken dispassionately. For me, it is neither here nor there.
A wife of a friend who is a member of the church would have jumped for joy. The woman had once taken exception to it when I said â€˜I think I would like the man,â€™ the man referring to the good pastor. The woman was peeved that I addressed Mr Adeboye as â€˜the man.â€™ She said I should have called him â€˜Papa,â€™ â€˜Daddy,â€™ or â€˜the Overseer.â€™ It did not matter to her that I did not belong in the fold. Anyway, that sort of ebullience is understandable. And I am certain Mr Adeboye would not mind that I said â€˜the man,â€™ after all he is a â€˜man of God,â€™ a man who has not aggrandized himself with titles like ‘Archbishop’ or ‘Primate.’
Of course I would like to read a critical biography of someone like Pastor EA Adeboye, but what I have found is only a piece of hagiography. However, from all Iâ€™ve heard and from appearances, deportment, even tonality, Mr Adeboyeâ€™s charisma is the sort that eschews flash, dash and neopentecostal bling. Which is all very well.
The Newsweek article rehashes the spread of Redeemed Church both in Nigeria and outside. There are 360 branches in the UK here. A number of times, I have been invited to the Holy Ghost Night, the massive revival which sometimes caters to the supplication of upwards of twenty thousand people – mostly Nigerians, and mostly those who need immediate answers to their prayers. Again for reasons I have mentioned above, I see no point in solving practical problems that need a contemplative cool head with choral sleeplessness.
In the piece, Mr Adeboye enthuses over how his church has sent missionaries to places like Pakistan and China. The pastor wants churches to become the new Starbucks, or Macdonaldâ€™s, built everywhere, serving opiate soft-drink and soul food. He says: â€˜In the developing world we say we want churches to be within five minutes of every person.â€™
The question anyone has not convincingly answered for me is: Why hundreds of thousands of churches? Why not a few thousand libraries in every corner or neighbourhood as they have in the UK here? Why not functional research and development departments in all ministries (not Christian ministries)? Why not world-class universities in every major city and big town in the country – I donâ€™t mean the current mushrooming of private, unrated, and often church-owned institutions – universities that have well-resourced backrooms and scientific smithies where boffins can do their crucial work.
Lest I should be misread, I am by no means recommending the kind of clinical clockwork world Charles Dickens satirises in Hard Times. I am not in any way saying that churches should not be built or people should not attend them if they so choose. But for us in Africa, and Nigeria particularly, the long-term effect of such thinking as having a church within every five minutes of everyone will certainly return us to an abecedarian state of existence, a faux-Orwellian world where God breaths down on everyoneâ€™s neck like a sort of cloud-bound incarnation of Big Brother.
Mr Adeboye relates an experience of â€˜miracleâ€™ that happened on the Lagos/Ibadan expressway. The fuel in his car ran out and there was no fuel in every petrol station around. God spoke to the clergyman, told him to keep on driving and he drove for another 200 mile on damn-all. Well, there is no proving whether this miracle happened or not, although a hard-headed rationalist would start his explosion of such an anecdote from Popperian Falsifiability.
All right, the miracle truly happened. But the question for me is more sociological. When there was no war or disturbance, isnâ€™t something worth pondering upon that someone of Pastor Adeboyeâ€™s clout would even find himself cutting it fine, going on such a long journey without adequate fuel? Was it an act of faith that he even began the journey at all? Was the petrol tank leaking? And if the fuel truly ran out, what does that say about Nigeria, an oil-rich country where you cannot get fuel in your car for hundreds of miles?
Pastor Adeboye was as close to the former President Olusegun Obasanjo as a cleric could be close to a politician. He was to Aso Rock what Billy Graham was to a number of American Presidencies, and if such a personality depends on Divine Providence to run a car, then what about those who have neither the ear of the presidency nor the uncomplicated favour of providence. And one should not forget that Mr Adeboye is a former university don, a mathematics teacher. In one of my more secular moments as a younger man I had remarked to a born-again cousin that Iâ€™d rather Mr Adeboye remain a mathematics teacher, give us our own Principia Mathematica, solve one of the six remaining million-dollar Millennium Prize Mathematical Problems. But then Mr Adeboye said God called him, and that is that. After all one of the most important creedal bewilderments in the Christian religion is Freewill.
Now back to the magazine Newsweek in which Pastor Adeboye features. He is number 49, the pastor is captured kneeling in prayerful pose. This is a telling posture indeed. It confirms the obvious, that Mr Adeboye is truly a man who counts on his God, who is in servitude to his God, a sure-kneed, fearless supplicant-in-chief. But as I looked at the kneeling Pastor, I remembered Henry Kissinger – played by Paul Sorvino – in Oliver Stoneâ€™s movie, Nixon. In the dark depths of the White House, the fraught President Nixon asks his powerful Secretary of State, Kissinger, that they should get on their knees and pray. He says, â€˜I hope this will not embarrass you, Henryâ€™. The Jewish, though not quite religious, Kissinger is visibly embarrassed. He whispers to the president as he goes down on his knees, â€˜This is not going to leak, is it?â€™ A few days later Nixon resigns.