By Azuka Onwuka
Over the weekend, British boxer, Tyson Fury, defeated his American opponent, Deontay Wilder, in one of the biggest boxing bouts of the last 30 years. After Wilder was knocked down two times and bloodied, his team threw in the towel in the seventh round, to prevent more damage to him.
After the fight, Wilder was taken to a hospital as a precautionary measure. He was bleeding from his left ear and mouth before the match was stopped.
Trust Nigerians and their religiosity. A narrative was spread immediately after the defeat of Wilder. The screenshot of his tweet on January 14 was shared widely. The post read: “I told you before our first fight that I was going to baptise you. And I did. But, not even God can save you the second time around. I promise you that.”
Tyson Fury’s post was also shared widely. On February 1, Tyson Fury posted on his Facebook page a picture of himself kneeling down in a church in a prayer pose with the message: “All things are possible through God.” It was ended with the emoticon of prayer-cum-gratitude.
Fury has had a chequered background. He suffered depression, was involved in drug abuse, and was overweight. He was rehabilitated and came back from all that to become a boxing champion. That is inspiring. That experience must have rekindled his religious belief and made him unashamed to give all glory to Jesus Christ immediately after his victory over Wilder.
On the other hand, Wilder was proud because of the sterling record he had: 42 wins, zero loss, one draw and 41 knockouts. He had never lost a match in his career. Somehow that made him to feel unstoppable, indomitable and invincible. All that ended over the weekend. Fury won; Wilder lost. Promptly the whole thing was reduced to the narrative that God gave victory to Fury for his belief in Him and punished Wilder for dishonouring Him.
But the question to ask is: Does God support the violence of boxing and decide who should win or lose? Psalm 11: 5 says: “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked; His soul hates the lover of violence.” Some versions of the Bibles use the expression “God hates violence with a passion” to stress the depth of His aversion for violence. Many would argue that boxing is merely a game. Yes, it is a game. But it is a game in which people can get killed in the ring or suffer injuries that may eventually lead to death or permanent disability. Given the level of injury Wilder had suffered in the hands of Fury and his claim that he is a warrior that should not give up, if his coach had not thrown in the towel in the seventh round, his condition could have been worse. How then does one reconcile what is stated in Psalm 11:5 with the claim that God supported Fury and made him win the fight?
Can’t people enjoy the game of boxing without dragging the name of God into it? It is this same mindset that has hampered Nigeria’s growth. While other countries take actions that make their countries grow, Nigerians take actions that make Nigeria stagnate or regress, but pray that Nigeria will become great.
How can a country whose citizens are highly unpatriotic grow? How can a country whose people steal virtually all her resources and stash them away in other countries grow? How can a country which celebrates mediocrity grow? How can a country whose citizens produce millions of children who are left to beg in the street with no education grow? How can a country that imports virtually everything it uses grow? How can a country in which there is unending bloodshed grow?
Does God love some countries more than others? Does God love countries that practise some religions more than others? Does God come down to give some countries “expo” in the exam of life and nation-building to make them perform better? Does God love Nigeria more than other countries? What practical signs does Nigeria have to prove that?
The top 10 countries with the largest economies measured by GDP are USA, China, Japan, Germany, India, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Brazil and Canada. A look at these countries shows that they practise different religions and are from different continents. The USA is predominantly Christian and is in North America. Although there are different religions in China, the government of China officially espouses state atheism and China is in Asia.
Shinto and Buddhism are the two key religions in Japan, which is in Asia. Germany is predominantly Christian and in Europe. Hinduism is the predominant religion in India, which is in Asia. In the eyes of many bigoted Nigerian Christians and Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and adherents of other Asian religions all worship idols and don’t know God. So why do they have a better economy than the over-zealous religious countries of Africa and the Middle-East? Does God love these so-called idol worshippers more than the so-called worshippers of God?
In various human development indices, these same religious zealots of Africa and the Middle-East usually have the worst figures. They experience more instability, violence, misrule, poverty and infrastructure deficit. It is unattractive and even dangerous to live in such countries. The citizens of such countries risk their lives in the desert and the sea to cross over to better countries. Once they are accepted in such countries, some of these religious bigots start forcing their religious preferences on their host nation, rather than show some gratitude.
If God would intervene in violent acts like boxing, in which people can be killed or permanently disabled, then those who engage in alcoholic contests, sexual contests, smoking contests and the like can as well pray for Him to assist them to win.
It sounds queer to argue that God helped Fury to beat Wilder. That will be an acknowledgement that God supports violence. What can be argued is that Fury’s belief in God filled him with the inner strength, courage and determination that helped him to withstand Wilder and overcome him, while the boastfulness of Wilder made him go into the fight with over-confidence, thereby dropping his guard in such a crucial match. There have been many instances in life where the supposed underdog with better preparation defeated the over-confident but less-prepared top dog.
One lesson from the Fury-Wilder boxing match is that although people have the right to make any religious comment as they deem fit, they should also remember that we live in a world where people hold various religious beliefs and have a right to be respected for their beliefs. One, therefore, needs to be sensitive not to make comments that will be viewed as religious insensitivity.
Emotional intelligence demands that an international figure like Wilder who has fans across the world with various beliefs should know better than make comments that will be deemed blasphemous. The same comment he made could have been made without the mention of God. Whether he believes in God or not does not matter. But mocking the God that his opponent and millions of his own fans believe in is not wisdom.