By Akin Ojumu

Prior to the 1600s, the world's most renowned and learned scientists believed that the earth was stationary and at the center of the universe, with all the celestial bodies revolving around it. That was the Geocentric view of the solar system. It was also the view of the universe endorsed by the Catholic Church, and therefore one that carried the Papal seal of divine approval and authority. It could not, otherwise, be contradicted or challenged by anyone. And it remained unchallenged until Galileo Galilei, a rambunctious rabble-rousing Italian scientist came along with his Heliocentric theory of the solar system, punching a hole in the Papal’s holy armor in the process.

Galileo proposed that the earth was in fact not stationary or at the center of the universe. In his book titled, “The Book of Dialogues,” Galileo theorized that the earth, along with all the other celestial bodies, revolve around the sun which, in his opinion, is the center of the universe. This was a rather bold stand, that was contrary to the view of the rest of world-renowned scientists of the time, and it was a direct challenge to the omniscient authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church.

Back then, to hold a view contrary to your peers is a professional suicide, but to challenge the Church, is to be eternally damned. For his stance, Galileo faced severe backlash. His fellow scientists ridiculed and mocked him. The Church alienated him and put him on trial by inquisition. On June 22, 1633, the Church handed down the following judgement:

“We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo, have rendered yourself vehemently suspected, by this Holy Office, of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world. We order that by a public edict the Book of Dialogues of Galileo Galilei be prohibited, and we condemn thee to the prison of this Holy Office during our will and pleasure; and as a salutary penance we enjoin on thee that for the space of three years thou shalt recite once a week the Seven Penitential Psalms.”

For holding a different point of view and living true to his convictions, Galileo was mocked, despised, and ostracized. Simply because he saw the world differently than the rest – a view which has since been proven to be correct – Galileo was made an outcast, condemned to spend the rest of his life under house arrest, banished from his faith, family, and social circle.

In this day and age, the ordeal of Galileo may not come across as bravery to us, and it might be difficult for our generation to appreciate his heroism. Back then though, Galileo’s stance against prevailing opinion was unprecedented. The quaint little man defied the most powerful man of the time, the Pope. Yet, he had a choice to shut up and acquiesce. He could have allowed himself to be sucked into the “Spiral of Silence.”

The Spiral of Silence is a social science theory propagated in 1974 by the German political scientist, Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. It seeks to explain the tendency of people to remain silent when they feel that their views and opinions are in the minority. According to the theory, human beings have a “sixth-sense” which allows them to know the prevailing public opinion. We all have a fear of isolation and know what behaviors will increase the likelihood of being socially isolated. Therefore, we are reluctant to express our minority views out of fear of being isolated. However, when we believe our opinion is more in line with the majority, we are more inclined to express such in public. The louder the majority expresses their opinion, the more unlikely it becomes for us to express our own minority opinion, and thus we go into a spiral of silence.

Galileo was an avant-garde who did not allow himself to be cowered or silenced. He stood tall in the face of stiff opposition from powerful quarters. He refused to seek the safety of the majority opinion. He boldly exercised an independent thought, and he expressed his ideas fearlessly. Thank God he did, because the world is better for it today.

Thomas Aquinas once said, “If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.” Settling on the safe shores should never be the highest aim in life for any man. When we play safe, we remain permanently marooned on the island of the ignoramus. Passion gives us wings to fly out of the harbor of mediocrity. You can expect the sea passage to be stormy and rocky, but there will also be moments of calm and peace. That's what life is all about. 

The storms of life remind us that we are mere mortals, while the calm and peace that life brings are testaments of divine benevolence. We can't get to where we want to go without setting sail. We can never cross the ocean until we have the courage to lose sight of the shore. 

That’s the principle I live by. I study, I learn, I question, I pray and seek guidance from the Shepherd of my soul. Whatever He tells me to do I do, and wherever He leads me to go I go. My convictions serve as the GPS that directs me as I navigate the uncharted waters of life and the turbulent sea of relationships. I do not follow the crowd or subscribe to group think. Never, ever! Toeing the line is not what I'm accustomed to, especially when I'm convinced the line being towed leads to a definite dead end. I'm not one to go along simply to get along. I'm afraid of no one and would not be bullied or intimidated by anyone.

Playing coy doesn’t make anyone a choirboy, unwarranted silence is a cowardly ploy that brings no joy. Whenever I need to, I’ll say my bit, regardless of whose ox is gored. Telling it as I see it is my modus operandi, regardless of who is offended by what I say, or how I say it. However, on issues that aren’t worth my response, you can trust me not to waste my breath. I’ve made a vow to myself never to indulge those on the errand of fools.

Just as I have the license to express myself, so do others too. Of this you can be rest assured, I will always respect everyone’s right to say their mind. And I will always be mindful to judge others by their best intentions rather than by their worst examples. This is who I am, and it's the creed I live by. If you don’t like it, bugger off.

Originally published on January 18, 2018.


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