16 Sep 2016

Chimamanda Adichie’s first novel—a diabolical caricature of the Catholic Faith


by Jonathan Ekene Ifeanyi

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In his blurb on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s first novel, Purple Hibiscus, Prof. Femi Osofisan, himself a fanatical believer in African paganism, writes, partly:

“A touching and heard-rending story, told with an extraordinary self-confidence that is rare in a debut novel... Purple Hibiscus captures for us the traumatic moments of a wealthy Nigerian family as it gradually breaks up, mined tragically, on the one hand, by the cruel abuses of a father turned callous by an inexorable, fanatic brand of Catholicism, and on the other, by the familiar brutalities of the murderous military regimes of our recent past...”

Indeed, Osofisan is just “right.” I never had time to read the book until just this month. And what did I see? In short, Adichie’s novel is just a diabolical caricature of the Catholic Faith!

Little wonder why the book became an international bestseller—even overnight! I don’t need to say much on the contents of this book, but the following extracts taken from the book—verbatim, starting from the first page—may just suffice—carefully pay attention to see what makes her fictional “Papa” and “Father Benedict” Catholic fanatics:

Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère. We had just returned from church. Mama placed the fresh palm fronds, which were wet with holy water, on the dining table and then went upstairs to change. Later, she would knot the palm fronds into sagging cross shapes and hang them on the wall beside our gold-framed family photo. They would stay there until next Ash Wednesday, when we would take the fronds to church, to have them burned for ash. Papa, wearing a long, gray robe like the rest of the oblates, helped distribute ash every year. His line moved the slowest because he pressed hard on each forehead to make a perfect cross with his ash-covered thumb and slowly, meaningfully enunciated every word of “dust and unto dust you shall return.”

Papa always sat in the front pew for Mass, at the end beside the middle aisle, with Mama, Jaja, and me sitting next to him. He was first to receive communion. Most people did not kneel to receive communion at the marble altar, with the blond life-size Virgin Mary mounted nearby, but Papa did. He would hold his eyes shut so hard that his face tightened into a grimace, and then he would stick his tongue out as far as it could go. Afterward, he sat back on his seat and watched the rest of the congregation troop to the altar, palms pressed together and extended, like a saucer held sideways, just as Father Benedict had taught them to do. Even though Father Benedict had been at St. Agnes for seven years, people still referred to him as “our new priest.” Perhaps they would not have if he had not been white. He still looked new. The colours of his face, the colours of condensed milk and a cut-open soursop, had not tanned at all in the fierce heat of seven Nigerian harmattans. And his British nose was still as pinched and as narrow as it always was, the same nose that had had me worried that he did not get enough air when he first came to Enugu. Father Benedict had changed things in the parish, such as insisting that the Credo and Kyrie be recited only in Latin; Igbo was not acceptable. Also, hand clapping was to be kept at a minimum, least the solemnity of Mass be compromised. But he allowed offertory songs in Igbo; he called them native songs, and when he said “native” his straight-line lips turned down at the corners to form an inverted U. During his sermons, Father Benedict usually referred to the pope, Papa, and Jesus in that order. He used Papa to illustrate the gospels. “When we let our light shine before men, we are reflecting Christ’s Triumphant Entry”, he said that Palm Sunday. “Look at Brother Eugene. He could have chosen to be like other Big Men in this country, he could have decided to sit at home and do nothing after the coup, to make sure the government did not threaten his businesses. But no, he used the standard to speak the truth even though it meant the paper lost advertising. Brother Eugene spoke out for freedom. How many of us have stood up for the truth? How many of us have reflected the Triumphant Entry?”

The congregation said “Yes” or “God bless him” or “Amen,” but not too loudly so they would not sound like the mushroom Pentecostal churches; then they listened intently, quietly. Even the babies stopped crying, as if they, too, were listening. On some Sundays, the congregation listened closely even when Father Benedict talked about things everybody already knew, about Papa making the biggest donations to Peter’s pence and St. Vincent de Paul. Or about Papa paying for the cartons on communion wine, for the new ovens at the convent where the Reverend Sisters baked the host, for the new wing to St. Agnes Hospital where Father Benedict gave extreme unction. And I would sit with my kneels pressed together, next to Jaja, trying hard to keep my face blank, to keep the pride from showing, because Papa said modesty was very important.

Papa himself would have a blank face when I looked at him, the kind of expression he had in the photo when they did the big story on him after Amnesty World gave him a human rights award. It was the only time he allowed himself to be featured in the paper. His editor, Ade Coker, had insisted on it, saying Papa deserved it, saying Papa was too modest. Mama told me and Jaja; Papa did not tell us such things. That blank look would remain on his face until Father Benedict ended the sermon, until it was time for communion. After Papa took communion, he sat back and watched the congregation walk to the altar and, after Mass, reported to Father Benedict, with concern, when a person missed communion on two successive Sundays. He always encouraged Father Benedict to call and win that person back into the fold; nothing but a mortal sin would keep a person away from communion two Sundays in a row.

So when Papa did not see Jaja go to the altar that Palm Sunday when everything changed, he banged his leather-bound missal, with the red and green ribbons peeking out, down on the dining table when we got home. The table was glass, heavy glass. It shook, as did the palm fronds on it.

“Jaja, you did not go to communion,” Papa said quietly, almost a question.

Jaja stared at the missal on the table as though he were addressing it.

“The Wafer gives me bad breath.”

I stared at Jaja. Had something come loose in his head? Papa insisted we call it the host because “host” came close to capturing the essence, the sacredness, of Christ’s body. “Wafer” was too secular, wafer was what one of Papa’s factories made—chocolate wafer, banana wafer, what people bought their children to give them a treat better than biscuits.

“And the priest keeps touching my mouth and it nauseates me,” Jaja said. He knew I was looking at him, that my shocked eyes begged him to seal his mouth, but he did not look at me.

“It is the body of our Lord.” Papa’s voice was low, very low. His face looked swollen already, with pus-tipped rashes spread across every inch, but it seemed to be swelling even more.

“You cannot stop receiving the body of our Lord. It is death, you know that.”

“Then I will die.” Fear had darkened Jaja’s eyes to the colour of coal tar, but he looked Papa in the face now. “Then I will die, Papa.”

Papa looked around the room quickly, as if searching for proof that something had fallen from the high ceiling, something he had never thought would fall...”

Adichie, among other caricatures, also tells us how this “Catholic fanatic” eats food:

...Papa and Mama were already seated, and Papa was already washing his hands in the bowl of water Sisi held before him. He waited until Jaja and I sat down opposite him, and started the grace. For twenty minutes he asked God to bless the food. Afterwards, he intoned the Blessed Virgin in several different titles while we responded, “Pray for us.” His favourite title was Our Lady, Shield of the Nigerian People. He had made it up himself. If only people would use it every day, he told us, Nigeria would not totter like a Big Man with the spindly legs of a child.”

No time to continue quoting the utter crap, thousands—if not millions—of which have already been swallowed by the Nigerian youths, particularly those in secondary schools and universities where the book has been endorsed, endorsed, and endorsed! Imagine what a Catholic boy or girl can learn from this book!

As I recall listening to a Novus Ordo priest praising Adichie some years back, during mass, I just wonder what kind of world we are actually living in currently! That not a single learned Nigerian Catholic—the laity or the clergy—has bothered to make a diagnosis of this silly, nonsensical, devious, obnoxious, scandalous, sacrilegious and blasphemous book is indeed another GREAT SIGN for us, especially for today’s deluded Igbo people who currently celebrate the feminist (if only they can read this GREAT SIGN!).   
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